RIDE PROUD, REBEL!
[Transcriber Note: This is a rule 6 clearance. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
THE WORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY CLEVELAND AND NEW YORK
Published by The World Publishing Company 2231 West 110th Street, Cleveland 2, Ohio
Published simultaneously in Canada by Nelson, Foster & Scott Ltd.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 61-6657 First Edition
HC361 Copyright (C) 1961 by Andre Norton
Printed in the United States of America.
* * * * *
To those Reconstructed Rebels ERNESTINE and WILLIAM DONALDY with no apologies from a damnyankee
* * * * *
The author wishes to express appreciation to Mrs. Gertrude Morton Parsley, Reference Librarian, Tennessee State Library and Archives, for her aid in obtaining use of the unpublished memoirs of trooper John Johnson, concerning the escape of the Morgan company after Cynthiana.
1. Ride with Morgan
2. Guns in the Night
3. On the Run—
4. The Eleventh Ohio Cavalry
5. Bardstown Surrenders
6. Horse Trade
7. A Mule for a River
8. Happy Birthday, Soldier!
9. One More River To Cross
10. "Dismount! Prepare To Fight Gunboats!"
11. The Road to Nashville
14. Hell in Tennessee
15. Independent Scout
16. Missing in Action
17. Poor Rebel Soldier....
18. Texas Spurs
* * * * *
FROM GENERAL N. BEDFORD FORREST'S FAREWELL TO HIS COMMAND, MAY 9, 1865, GAINESVILLE, ALABAMA.
The cause for which you have so long and so manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless....
Civil war, such as you have passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and, as far as in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings toward those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed....
... In bidding you farewell, rest assured that you carry with you my best wishes for your future welfare and happiness. Without, in any way, referring to the merits of the cause in which we have been engaged, your courage and determination, as exhibited on many hard-fought fields, have elicited the respect and admiration of friend and foe. And I now cheerfully and gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers and men of my command, whose zeal, fidelity and unflinching bravery have been the great source of my success in arms.
I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers; you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.
N. B. FORREST, Lieutenant General
* * * * *
Ride with Morgan
The stocky roan switched tail angrily against a persistent fly and lipped water, dripping big drops back to the surface of the brook. His rider moved swiftly, with an economy of action, to unsaddle, wipe the besweated back with a wisp of last year's dried grass, and wash down each mud-spattered leg with stream water. Always care for the mount first—when a man's life, as well as the safety of his mission, depended on four subordinate legs more than on his own two.
Though he had little claim to a thoroughbred's points, the roan was as much a veteran of the forces as his groom, with all a veteran's ability to accept and enjoy small favors of the immediate present without speculating too much concerning the future. He blew gustily in pleasure under the attention and began to sample a convenient stand of spring green.
His mount cared for, Drew Rennie swung up saddle, blanket, and the meager possessions which he had brought out of Virginia two weeks ago, to the platform in a crooked tree overhanging the brook. He settled beside them on the well-seasoned timbers of the old tree house to rummage through his saddlebags.
The platform had been there a long time—before Chickamauga and the Ohio Raid, before the first roll of drums in '61. Drew pulled a creased shirt out of the bags and sat with it draped over one knee, remembering....
Sheldon Barrett and he—they had built it together one hot week in summer—had named it Boone's Fort. And it was the only thing at Red Springs Drew had really ever owned. His dark eyes were fixed now on something more than the branches about him, and his mouth tightened until his face was not quite sullen, only shuttered.
Five years ago—only five years? Yes, five years next month! But the past two years of his own personal freedom—and war—those seemed to equal ten. Now there was no one left to remember the fort's existence, which made it perfect for his present purpose.
The warmth of the sun, beating down through yet young leaves, made Drew brush his battered slouch hat to the flooring and luxuriate in the heat. Sometimes he didn't think he'd ever get the bite of last winter's cold out of his bones. The light pointed up every angle of jaw and cheekbone, making it clear that experience—hard experience—and not years had melted away boyish roundness of chin line, narrowed the watchful eyes ever alert to his surroundings. A cavalry scout was wary, or he ceased to be a scout, or maybe even alive.
Shirt in hand, Drew dropped lightly to the ground and with the same dispatch as he had cared for his horse, made his own toilet, scrubbing his too-thin body with a sigh of content as heartfelt as that the roan had earlier voiced.
The fresh shirt was a dark brown-gray, but the patched breeches were Yankee blue, and the boots he pulled on when he had bathed were also the enemy's gift, good stout leather he'd been lucky enough to find in a supply wagon they had captured a month ago. Butternut shirt, Union pants and boots—the unofficial standard uniform of most any trooper of the Army of the Tennessee in this month of May, 1864. And he had garments which were practically intact. What was one patch on the seat nowadays?
For the first time Drew grinned at his reflection in the small mirror he had been using, when he scraped a half week's accumulation of soft beard from his face. Sure, he was all spruced up now, ready to make a polite courtesy call at the big house. The grin did not fade, but was gone in a flash, leaving no hint of softness now about his gaunt features, no light in the intent, measuring depths of his dark gray eyes.
A call at Red Springs was certainly the last thing in the world for him to consider seriously. His last interview within its walls could still make him wince when he recalled it, word by scalding word. No, there was no place for a Rennie—and a Rebel Rennie to make matters blacker—under the righteous roof of Alexander Mattock!
Hatred could be a red-hot burning to choke a man's throat, leaving him speechless and hurting inside. Since he had ridden out of Red Springs he had often been cold, very often hungry—and under orders willingly, which would have surprised his grandfather—but in another way he had been free as never before in all his life. In the army, the past did not matter at all if one did one's job well. And in the army, the civilian world was as far away as if it were conducted in the cold chasms of the moon.
Drew leaned back against the tree trunk, wanting to yield to the soft wind and the swinging privacy of the embowered tree house, wanting to forget everything and just lie there for a while in the only part of the past he remembered happily.
But he had his orders—horses for General Morgan, horses and information to feed back to that long column of men riding or trudging westward on booted, footsore feet up the trail through the Virginia mountains on the way home to Kentucky. These were men who carried memories of the Ohio defeat last year which they were determined to wipe out this season, just as a lot of them had to flush with gunsmoke the stench of a Northern prison barracks from their nostrils.
And there were horses at Red Springs. To mount Morgan's men on Alexander Mattock's best stock was a prospect which had its appeal. Drew tossed his haversack back to the platform and added his carbine to it. The army Colts in his belt holsters would not be much hindrance while crawling through cover, but the larger weapon might be.
He thumped a measure of dust from his hat, settled it over hair as black as that felt had once been, and crossed the brook with a running leap. The roan lifted his head to watch Drew go and then settled back to grazing. This, too, followed a pattern both man and horse had practiced for a long time.
Drew could almost imagine that he was again hunting Sheldon as a "Shawnee" on the warpath while he dodged from one bush to the next. Only Chickamauga stood between the past and now—and Sheldon Barrett would never again range ahead, in play or earnest.
The scout came out on a small rise where the rails of the fence were cloaked on his side by brush. Drew lay flat, his chin propped upon his crooked arm to look down the gradual incline of the pasture to the training paddock. Beyond that stood the big house, its native brick settling back slowly into the same earth from which it had been molded in 1795.
In the pasture were the brood mares, five of them, each with an attendant foal, all long legs and broom tail, still young enough to be bewildered by so large and new a world. In the paddock.... Drew's head raised an inch or so, and he pressed forward until his hat was pushed back by the rail. The two-year-old being schooled in the paddock was enough to excite any horseman.
Red Springs' stock right enough, of the Gray Eagle-Ariel breed, which was Alexander Mattock's pride. Born almost black, this colt had shed his baby fur two seasons ago for a dark iron-gray hide which would grow lighter with the years. He had Eclipse's heritage, but he was more than a racing machine. He was—Drew's forehead rasped against the weathered wood of the rail—he was the kind of horse a man could dream about all his days and perhaps find once in a lifetime, if he were lucky! Give that colt three or four more years and there wouldn't be any horse that could touch him. Not in Kentucky, or anywhere else!
He was circling on a leading strap now, throwing his feet in a steady, rhythmic pattern around the hub of a Negro groom who was holding the strap and admiring the action. Mounted on another gray—a mare with a dainty, high-held head—was a woman, her figure trim in a habit almost the same shade of green as the fields.
Drew pulled back. Then he smiled wryly at his instinctive retreat. His aunt, Marianna Forbes, had abilities to be respected, but he very much doubted if she could either sense his presence or see through the leafy wall of his present spy hole. Yet caution dictated that he get about his real business and inspect the fields where the horses he sought should be grazing.
He halted several times during his perimeter march to survey the countryside. And the bits of activity he spied upon began to puzzle him. Aunt Marianna's supervision of the colt's schooling had been the beginning. And he had seen her later, riding out with Rafe, the overseer, to make the daily rounds, a duty which had never been undertaken at Red Springs by any one other than his grandfather.
Aunt Marianna had every right to be at Red Springs. She had been born under its roof, having left it only as a bride to live in Lexington. The war had brought her back when her husband became an officer in the Second Kentucky Cavalry—Union. But now—riding with Rafe, watching in the paddock—where was Alexander Mattock?
Red Springs was his grandfather. Drew found it impossible to think of the house and the estate without the man, though in the past two years he had discovered very few things could be dismissed as impossible. Curiosity made him want to investigate the present mystery. But the memory of his last exit from that house curbed such a desire.
Drew had never been welcome there from the day of his birth within those walls. And the motive for his final flight from there had only provided an added aggravation for his grandfather. A staunch Union supporter wanted no part of a stubborn-willed and defiant grandson who rode with John Hunt Morgan. Drew clung to his somewhat black thoughts as he made his way to the pasture. The escape he had found in the army was no longer so complete when he skulked through these familiar fields.
But there were only two horses grazing peacefully in the field dedicated by custom to the four- and five-year-olds, and neither was of the best stock. One could imagine that Red Springs had already contributed to the service.
Of course, Morgan's men were not the only riders aiming to sweep good horseflesh out of Kentucky blue grass this season, and here the Union cavalry would be favored.
There was a slim chance that a few horses might be in the stables. He debated the chance of that against the risk of discovery and continued debating it as he started back to the tree house.
Drew had known short rations and slim foraging for a long time, but the present pinch in his middle sharpened when he sighted the big house, with its attendant summer kitchen showing a trail of chimney smoke.
Alexander Mattock might have considered his grandson an interloper at Red Springs; certainly the old man never concealed the state of his feelings on that subject. But neither had he, in any way, slighted what he deemed to be his duty toward Drew.
There had been plenty of good clothing—the right sort for a Mattock grandson—and the usual bounteous table set by hospitable Kentucky standards. Just as there had been education, sometimes enforced by the use of a switch when the tutor—imported from Lexington—thought it necessary to impress learning on a rebellious young mind by a painful application in another portion of the body. Education, as well as a blooded horse in the stables, and all the other prerequisites of a young blue-grass grandee. But never any understanding, affection, or sympathy.
That cold behavior—the cutting, weighing, and judgment of every act of childish mischief and boyish recklessness—might have crushed some into a colorless obedience. But it had made of Drew a rebel long before he tugged on the short gray shell jacket of a Confederate cavalryman.
Drew had forgotten the feel of linen next to his now seldom clean skin, the set of broadcloth across the shoulders. And he depended upon the roan's services with appreciation which had nothing to do with boasted bloodlines, having discovered in the army that a cold-blooded horse could keep going on rough forage when a finer bred hunter broke down. But today the famed dinner table at Red Springs was a painful memory to one facing only cold hoecake and stone-hard dried beef.
He had circled back to the brush screening the brook and the tree house. Now he stood very still, his hand sliding one of the heavy Colts out of its holster. The roan was still grazing, paying no attention to a figure who was kneeling on the limb-supported platform and turning over the gear Drew had left piled there.
The scout flitted about a bush, choosing a path which would bring him out at the stranger's back. That same warm sun, now striking from a different angle into the tree house, was bright on a thick tangle of yellow hair, curly enough to provide its owner with a combing problem.
Drew straightened to his full height. The sense of the past which had dogged him all day now struck like a blow. He couldn't help calling aloud that name, even though the soberer part of his brain knew there could be no answer.
The blond head turned, and blue eyes looked at him, startled, across a bowed shoulder. Drew's puzzlement was complete. Not Sheldon, of course, but who? The other's open surprise changed to wide-eyed recognition first.
"Drew!" The hail came in the cracked voice of an adolescent as the other jumped down to face the scout. They stood at almost eye-to-eye level, but the stranger was still all boy, awkwardly unsure of strength or muscle control.
"You must be Boyd—" Drew blinked, something in him still clinging to the memory of Sheldon, Sheldon who had helped to build the tree house. Why, Boyd was only a small boy, usually tagging his impatient elders, not this tall, almost exact copy of his dead brother.
"Sure, I'm Boyd. And it's true then, ain't it, Drew? General Morgan's coming back here? Where?" He glanced over his shoulder once more as if expecting to see a troop prance up through the bushes along the stream.
Drew holstered the revolver. "Rumors of that around?" he asked casually.
"Some," Boyd answered. "The Yankee-lovers called out the Home Guard yesterday. What sort of a chance do they think they'll have against General Morgan?"
Drew moved toward the roan's picket rope. As his fingers closed on that he thought fast. Just as the Mattocks and the Forbeses were Union, the Barretts were, or had been, Southern in sympathy. Most of Kentucky was divided that way now. But what might have been true two years ago was not necessarily a fact today. One took no chances.
"You come back to see your grandfather, Drew?"
"Any reason why I should?" The whole countryside must know very well the state of affairs between Alexander Mattock and Drew Rennie.
"Well, he's been sick for so long.... Didn't you know about that?" Boyd must have read Drew's answer in his face, for he spilled out the news quickly. "He had some kind of a fit when he heard Murray was killed——"
Drew dropped the picket rope. "Uncle Murray ... dead?"
Boyd nodded. "Killed at Murfreesboro in sixty-two, but the news didn't come till about a week after the battle. Mr. Mattock was in town when Judge Hagerstorm told him ... just turned red in the face and fell down in the middle of the street. They brought him home, and sometimes he sits outdoors. But he can't walk too good and he talks thick; you can hardly understand him."
"So that's why Aunt Marianna's in charge." Drew thought of Uncle Murray swept away by time and the chances of war as so many others—and no emotion stirred within him. Murray Mattock had firmly agreed with his father concerning the child who was the result of a runaway match between his sister Melanie and a despised Texan. But Uncle Murray's death must indeed have been a paralyzing blow for the old man at Red Springs, with all his pride and his plans for his only son.
"Yes, Cousin Marianna runs Red Springs," Boyd assented, "she and Rafe. They sell horses to the army—the blue bellies." He used the term with the concentration of one determined to say the right thing at the right time.
Drew laughed. And with that spontaneous outburst, years fell away from his somber face. "I take it that you do not approve of blue bellies, Boyd?"
"'Course not! Me, I'm goin' to join General Morgan now. Ain't nobody goin' to keep me from doin' that!" Again his voice scaled up out of control, and he flushed.
"You're rather young——" Drew began, when the other interrupted him with something close to desperation in his voice.
"No, I ain't too young! That's all I ever hear—too young to do this, too young to be thinkin' about things like that! Well, I ain't much younger than you were, Drew Rennie, when you joined up with Captain Castleman and rode south to join General Morgan—you and Shelly. And you know that, too! I'll be sixteen on the fifteenth of this July. And this time I'm goin'! Where's the General now, Drew?"
The scout shrugged. "Movin' fast. Your rumors probably know as much as I do. They plant him half a dozen places at once. He might be in any one of them or fifty miles away; that's how Morgan rides."
"But you're goin' to join him, and you'll take me with you, won't you, Drew?"
The lightness was gone from the older boy's eyes, his mouth set in controlled anger. "I am not goin' to do anything of the kind, Boyd Barrett." He spoke the words slowly, in an even tone, with a fraction of pause between each. Men of the command had once or twice heard young Rennie speak that way. Although difficult to know well, he had the general reputation of being easy to get along with. But a few times he had erupted into action as might a spring uncoiling from tight pressure, and that action was usually preceded by just such quiet statements as the one he had just made to Boyd.
Boyd, however, was never one to be defeated in a first skirmish of wills. "Why not?" he demanded now.
"Because," Drew offered the first argument he could think of which might be acceptable to the other, "I'm on scout in enemy-held territory. If I'm taken, it's not good. I have to ride light and fast, and this is duty I've been trained to do. So I can't afford to be hampered by a green kid——"
"I can ride just as fast and hard as you can, Drew Rennie, and I have Whirlaway for my own now. He's certainly better than that nag!" With an arrogant lift of the chin, Boyd indicated the roan, who had raised his head and was chewing rather noisily, regarding the two by the tree house with mild interest.
"Don't underrate Shawnee." For an instant Drew rose to the roan's defense and then found himself irritated at being so drawn from the main argument. "And I wouldn't care if you had Gray Eagle, himself, under you, boy—I'm not taking you with me. Let us be snapped up by the Yankees, and you'd be in bigger trouble than I would." He gestured to his shirt and breeches. "I'm in uniform; you ain't."
"No blue bellies could drop on us," Boyd pushed. "I know where all the garrisons are round here—all about their patrols. I could get us through quicker'n you can, yourself. I ain't no green kid!"
Drew slapped the blanket down on Shawnee's back, smoothed it flat with a palm stroke, and jerked his saddle from the platform. He could not stay right here now that Boyd had smoked him out—maybe nowhere in the neighborhood with this excitable boy dogging him.
The scout was driven to his second line of defense. "What about Cousin Merry?" he asked as he tightened the cinch. "Have you talked this over with her—enlistin', I mean?"
Boyd's lower lip protruded in a child's pout. His eyes shifted away from Drew's direct gaze.
"She never said No——"
"Did you ask her?" Drew challenged.
"Did you ask your grandfather when you left?" Boyd tried a counterattack.
This time Drew's laughter was harsh, without humor. "You know I didn't, and you also know why. But I didn't leave a mother!"
He was being purposefully brutal now, for a good reason. Sheldon had ridden away before; Boyd must not go now. In Drew's childhood, his father's cousin, Meredith Barrett, had been the only one who had really cared about him. His only escape from the cold bleakness of Red Springs had been Barrett's Oak Hill. There was a big debt he owed Cousin Merry; he could not add to it the burden of taking away her second son.
Sure, he had been only a few months older than this boy when he had run away to war, but he had not left anyone behind who would worry about him. And Alexander Mattock's cold discipline had tempered his grandson into someone far more able to take hard knocks than Boyd Barrett might be for years to come. Drew had met those knocks, thick and fast, enduring them as the price of his freedom.
"You were mad at your grandfather, and you ran away. Well, I ain't mad at Mother, but I ain't goin' to sit at home with General Morgan comin'! He needs men. They've been recruitin' for him on the quiet; you know they have. And I've got to make up for Sheldon——"
Drew swung around and caught Boyd's wrist in a grip tight enough to bring a reflex backward jerk from the boy. "That's no way to make up for Sheldon's death-runnin' away from home to fight. Don't give me any nonsense about goin' to kill Yankees because they killed him! When a man goes to war ... well, he takes his chances. Shelly did at Chickamauga. War ain't a private fight, just one man up against another—"
But he was making no impression; he couldn't. At Boyd's age you could not imagine death as coming to you; nor were you able to visualize the horrors of an ill-equipped field hospital. Any more than you could picture all the rest of it—the filth, hunger, cold, and boredom with now and then a flash of whirling horses and men clashing on some road or field, or the crazy stampede of other men, yelling their throats raw as they charged into a hell of Minie balls and canister shot.
"I'm goin' to ride with General Morgan, like Shelly did," Boyd repeated doggedly, with that stubbornness which seasons ago had kept him eternally tagging his impatient elders.
"That's up to you." Suddenly Drew was tired, tired of trying to find words to pierce to Boyd's thinking brain—if one had a thinking brain at his age. Slinging his carbine, Drew mounted Shawnee. "But I do know one thing—you're not goin' with me."
"Drew-Drew, just listen once...."
Shawnee answered to the pressure of his rider's knees and leaped the brook. Drew bowed his head to escape the lash of a low branch. There was no going back ever, he thought bitterly, shutting his ears to Boyd's cry. He'd been a fool to ride this way at all.
Guns in the Night
There were sounds enough in the middle of the night to tell the initiated that a troop was on the march—creak of saddle leather, click of shod hoof, now and then the smothered exclamation of a man shaken out of a cavalryman's mounted doze. To Drew's trained ears all this was loud enough to send any Union picket calling out the guard. Yet there was no indication that the enemy ahead was alert.
Near two o'clock he made it, and the advance were walking their horses into the fringe of Lexington—this was home-coming for a good many of the men sagging in the saddles. Morgan's old magic was working again. Escaping from the Ohio prison, he had managed to gather up the remnants of a badly shattered command, weld them together, and lead them up from Georgia to their old fighting fields—the country which they considered rightfully theirs and in which during other years they had piled one humiliating defeat for the blue coats on another. General Morgan could not lose in Kentucky!
And they already had one minor victory to taste sweet: Mount Sterling had fallen into their hold as easily as it had before. Now Lexington—with the horses they needed—friends and families waiting to greet them.
Captain Tom Quirk's Irish brogue, unmistakable even in a half whisper, came out of the dark: "Pull up, boys!"
Drew came to a halt with his flanking scout. There was a faint drum of hoofs from behind as three horsemen caught up with the first wave of Quirk's Scouts.
"Taking the flag in ..." Drew caught a snatch of sentence passed between the leader of the newcomers and his own officer. He recognized the voice of John Castleman, his former company commander.
"... worth a try ..." that was Quirk.
But when the three had cantered on into the mouth of the street the scout captain turned his head to the waiting shadows. "Rennie, Bruce, Croxton ... give them cover!"
Drew sent Shawnee on, his carbine resting ready across his saddle. The streets were quiet enough, too quiet. These dark houses showed no signs of life, but surely the Yankees were not so confident that they would not have any pickets posted. And Fort Clay had its garrison....
Then that ominous silence was broken by Castleman's call: "Bearer of flag of truce!"
"... Morgan's men?" A woman called from a window up ahead, her voice so low pitched Drew heard only a word or two. Castleman answered her before he gave the warning:
"Battery down the street, boys. Take to the sidewalks!"
A lantern bobbed along in their direction. Drew had a glimpse of a blue-uniformed arm above it. A moment later Castleman rode back. One of his companions swerved close-by, and Drew recognized Key Morgan, the General's brother.
"They say, 'No surrender.'"
Perhaps that was what they said. But the skirmishers were now drifting into town. Orders snapped from man to man through the dark. The crackle of small-arms fire came sporadically, to be followed by the heavier boom-boom as cannon balls from Fort Clay ricocheted through the streets, the Yankees being forced back into the protection of that stronghold. Riders threaded through alleys and cross streets; lamps flared up in house windows. There was a pounding on doors, and shouted greetings. Fire made a splash of angry color at the depot, to be answered with similar blazes at the warehouses.
"Spur up those crowbaits of yours, boys!" Quirk rounded up the scouts. "We're out for horses—only the best, remember that!"
Out of the now aroused Lexington just as daylight was gray overhead, they were on the road to Ashland. If Red Springs might have proved poor picking, John Clay's stables did not. One sleek thoroughbred after another was led from the stalls while Quirk fairly purred.
"Skedaddle! Would you believe it? Here's Skedaddle, himself, just aching to show heels to the blue bellies, ain't you?" He greeted the great racer. "Now that's the sort of stuff we need! Give us another chase across the Ohio clean up to Canada with a few like him under us. Sweep 'em clean and get going! The General wants to see the catch before noon."
Drew watched the mounts being led down the lane. Beautiful, yes, but to his mind not one of them was the equal of the gray colt he had seen at Red Springs. Now that was a horse! And he was not tempted now to strip his saddle off Shawnee and transfer to any one of the princes of equine blood passing him by. He knew the roan, and Shawnee knew his job. Knows more about the work than I do sometimes, Drew thought.
Drew swung Shawnee to the left as Quirk hailed him.
"Take point out on the road. Just like some stubborn Yankee to try and cut away a nice little catch like this."
"Yes, sir." Drew merely sketched a salute; discipline was always free and easy in the Scouts.
The day was warm. He was glad he had managed to find a lightweight shirt back at the warehouse in town. If they didn't win Lexington to keep, at least all of the raiders were going to ride out well-mounted, with boots on their feet and whole clothing on their backs. The Union quartermasters did just fine by Morgan's boys, as always.
Shawnee's ears went forward alertly, but Drew did not need that signal of someone's approaching. He backed into the shadow-shade of a tree and sat tense, with Colt in hand.
A horse nickered. There was the whirr of wheels. Drew edged Shawnee out of cover and then quickly holstered his weapon, riding out to bring to a halt the carriage horse between the shafts of an English dogcart.
He pulled off his dust-grayed hat. "Good mornin', Aunt Marianna."
Such a polite greeting—the same words he would have used three years ago had they met in the hall of Red Springs on their way to breakfast. He wanted to laugh, or was it really laughter which lumped in his throat?
Her momentary expression of outrage faded as she leaned forward to study his face, and she relaxed her first half-threatening grip on her whip. Though Aunt Marianna had never been a beauty, her present air of assurance and authority became her, just as the smart riding habit was better suited to her somewhat angular frame than the ruffles and bows of the drawing room.
"Drew!" Her recognition of his identity had come more slowly than Boyd's, and it sounded almost wary.
"At your service, ma'am." He found himself again using the graces of another way of life, far removed from his sweat-stained shirt and patched breeches. He shot a glance over his shoulder, making sure they were safely alone on that stretch of highway. After all, one horse among so many would be no great loss to his commander. "You'd better turn around. The boys'll have Lady Jane out of the shaft before you get into Lexington if you keep on. And the Yankees are still pepperin' the place with round shot." He wondered why she was driving without a groom, but did not quite dare to ask.
"Drew, is Boyd here with you?"
"Don't be evasive with me, boy!" She rapped that out with an officer's snap. "He left a note for Merry—two words misspelled and a big blot—all foolishness about joining Morgan. Said you had been to Red Springs, and he was going along. Why did you do it, Drew? Cousin Merry ... after Sheldon, she can't lose Boyd, too! To put such a wild idea into that child's head!"
Drew's lips thinned into a half grimace. He was still cast in the role of culprit, it seemed. "I didn't influence Boyd to do anything, Aunt Marianna. I told him I wouldn't take him with me, and I meant it. If he ran away, it was his own doin'."
She was still measuring him with that intent look as if he were a slightly unsatisfactory colt being put through his paces in the training paddock.
"Then you'll help me get him back home?" That was more a statement than a question, delivered in a voice which was all Mattock, enough to awaken by the mere sound all the old resistance in him.
He nodded at the Lexington road. "There are several thousand men ahead there, ma'am. Hunting Boyd out if he wants to hide from me—and he will—is impossible. He's big enough to pass a recruiter; they ain't too particular about age these days. And he'll stay just as far from me as he can until he is sworn in. He already knows how I feel about his enlistin'."
Her gloved hands tightened on the reins. "If I could see John Morgan himself—"
"If you could get to Lexington and find him—"
"But Boyd's just a child. He hasn't the slightest idea of war except the stories he hears ... no idea of what could happen to him, or what this means to Merry. All this criminal nonsense about being a soldier—sabers and spurs, and dashing around behind a flag, the wrong flag, too—" She caught her breath in an unusual betrayal of emotion. And now she studied Drew with some deliberation, noting his thinness, itemizing his shabbiness.
He smiled tiredly. "No, I ain't Boyd's idea of a returnin' hero, am I?" he agreed with her unspoken comment. "Also, we Rebs don't use sabers; they ain't worth much in a real skirmish."
She flushed. "Drew, why did you go? Was it all because of Father? I know he made it hard for you."
"You know—" Drew regarded a circling bird in the section of sky above her head—"some day I hope I'll discover just what kind of a no-account Hunt Rennie was, to make his son so unacceptable. Most of the Texans I've ridden with in the army haven't been so bad; some of them are downright respectable."
"I don't know." Again she flushed. "It was a long time ago when it all happened. I was just a little girl. And Father, well, he has very strong prejudices. But, Drew, for you to go against everything you'd been taught, to turn Rebel—that added to his bitterness. And now Boyd is trying to go the same way. Isn't there something you can do? I can't stand to see that look in Merry's eyes. If we can just get Boyd home again——"
"Don't hope too much." Drew was certain that nothing Marianna Forbes could do was going to lead Boyd Barrett back home again. On the other hand, if the boy had not formally enlisted, perhaps the rigors of one of the General's usual cross-country scrambles might be disillusioning. But, having tasted the quality of Boyd's stubbornness in the past, Drew doubted that. For long months he had been able to cut right out of his life Red Springs and all it stood for; now it was trying to put reins on him again. He shifted his weight in the saddle.
"He's been restless all spring," his aunt continued. "We might have known that, given an opportunity like this, the boy would do something wild. Only the waste, the sinful waste! I can't go back and face Merry without trying something—anything! Can't you ... Drew?"
"I don't know." He couldn't harden himself to tell her the truth. "I'll try," he promised vaguely.
"Drew—" A change in tone brought his attention back to her. She looked disturbed, almost embarrassed. "Have you had a hard time? You look so ... so thin and tired. Is there anything you need?"
He flinched from any such attack on the shell he had built against the intrusion of Red Springs, for a second or two feeling once more the rasp across raw nerves. "We don't get much time for sleep when the General's on the prod. Horse stealin' and such keeps us a mite busy, accordin' to your Yankee friends. And we have to pay our respects to them, just to keep them reminded that this is Morgan country. I'll warn you again, Aunt Marianna, keep Lady Jane out of Lexington today—if you want to keep her." He gathered up his reins. "Boyd told me about Grandfather," he added in a rush. "I'm sorry." And he was, he told himself, sorry for Aunt Marianna, who had to stay at Red Springs now, and even a little in an impersonal way for the old man, who must find inactivity a worse prison than any stone-walled room. But it was being polite about a stranger. "Major Forbes ... he's all right?"
"Yes. Only, Drew—" Again the urgency in her voice held him against his will, "Boyd...."
He was saved further evasion by a carrying whistle from down the road, the signal to pull in pickets. Pursing his own lips, he answered.
"I have to go. I'll do what I can." He set Shawnee pounding along the pike, and he did not look back.
If he were ever to fulfill his promise to locate Boyd, that would have to come later. Quirk's horse catch delivered, the scouts were on the move again, on the Georgetown road, riding at a pace which suggested they must keep ahead of a boiling wasp's nest of Yankees. There was an embarrassment of blue-coat prisoners on the march between two lines of gray uniforms, and pockets of the enemy such as that at Fort Clay were left behind. The strike northward took on a feverish drive.
Georgetown with its streets full of women and cheering males, too old or too young to be riding with the columns. Mid-afternoon, Friday, and the heat rising from the pavement as only June heat could. Then they reached the Frankfort road, and the main command halted. The scouts ate in the saddle as they fanned out along the Frankfort pike, pushing toward Cynthiana. Sam Croxton strode back from filling his canteen at a farmyard well and scowled at Drew, who had dismounted and loosened cinch to cool Shawnee's back.
"Cynthiana, now. I'm beginnin' to wonder, Rennie, if we know just which way we are goin'."
Drew shrugged. "Might be a warm reception waitin' us there. Drake figures about five hundred Yankees on the spot, and trains comin' in with more all the time."
Sighing, Croxton rubbed his hand across his freckled face, smearing road dust and sweat into a gritty mask. "Me—I could do with four or five hours' sleep, right down here in the road. Always providin' no blue belly'd trot along to stir me up. Seems like I ain't had a ten minutes' straight nap since we joined up with the main column. Scoutin' ahead a couple weeks ago you could at least fill your belly and rest up at some farm. Them boys pushin' the prisoners back there sure has it tough. Bet some of 'em been eatin' dust most all day—"
"Be glad you're not ridin' in one of the wagons nursin' a hole in your middle." Drew wet his handkerchief, or the sad gray rag which served that purpose, and carefully washed out Shawnee's nostrils, rubbing the horse gently down the nose and around his pricked ears.
Croxton spat and a splotch of brown tobacco juice pocked the roadside gravel. "Now ain't you cheerful!" he observed. "No, I've no hole in my middle, or my top, or my bottom—and I don't want none, neither. All I want is about an hour's sleep without Quirk or Drake breathin' down my back wantin' to know why I'm playin' wagon dog. The which I ain't gonna have very soon by the looks of it. So...." He mounted, spat again with accuracy enough to stun a grasshopper off a nodding weed top, which feat seemed to restore a measure of his usual good nature. "Got him! You comin', Rennie?"
The hours of Friday afternoon, evening, night, crawled by—leadenly, as far as the men in the straggling column were concerned. That dash which had carried them through from the Virginia border, through the old-time whirling attack on Mount Sterling only days earlier, and which had brought them into and beyond Lexington, was seeping from tired men who slept in the saddle or fell out, too drugged with fatigue to know that they slumped down along country fences, unconscious gifts for the enemy doggedly drawing in from three sides. There was the core of veterans who had seen this before, been a part of such punishing riding in Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky. The signs could be read, and as Drew spurred along that faltering line of march late that night, carrying a message, he felt a creeping chill which was not born of the night wind nor a warning of swamp fever.
Before daylight there was another halt. He had to let Shawnee pick his own careful path around and through groups of dismounted men sleeping with their weapons still belted on, their mounts, heads drooping, standing sentinel.
Saturday's dawn, and the advance had plowed ahead to the forks of the road some three miles out of Cynthiana. One brigade moved directly toward the town; the second—with a detachment of scouts—headed down the right-hand road to cross the Licking River and move in upon the enemies' rear. From the hill they could sight a stone-fence barricade glistening with the metal of waiting musket barrels. Then, suddenly, the old miracle came. Men who had clung through the hours to their saddles by sheer will power alone, tightened their lines and were alertly alive.
The ear-stinging, throat-scratching Yell screeched high over the pound of the artillery, the vicious spat of Minie balls. A whip length of dusty gray-brown lashed forward, flanking the stone barrier. Blue-coated men wavered, broke, ran for the bridge, heading into the streets of the town. The gray lash curled around a handful of laggards and swept them into captivity.
Then the brigade thundered on, driving the enemy back before they could reform, until the Yankees holed up in the courthouse, the depot, a handful of houses. Before eight o'clock it was all over, and the confidence of the weary raiders was back. They had showed 'em!
Drew had the usual mixture of sharp scenes to remember as his small portion of the engagement while he spurred Shawnee on past the blaze which was spreading through the center of the town, licking out for more buildings no one seemed to have the organization nor the will to save. He was riding with the advance of Giltner's brigade, double-quicking it downriver to Keller's Bridge. In town the Yankees were prisoners, but here a long line, with heavy reserves in wedges of blue behind, strung out across open fields.
Once more the Yell arose in sharp ululating wails, and the ragged line swept from the road, tightening into a semblance of the saber blades Morgan's men disdained to use ... clashed.... Then, after what seemed like only a moment's jarring pause, it was on the move once more while before it crumpled motes of blue were carried down the slope to the riverbank, there to steady and stand fast.
Drew's throat was aching and dry, but he was still croaking hoarsely, hardly feeling the slam of his Colts' recoils. They were up to that blue line, firing at deadly point-blank range. And part of him wondered how any men could still keep their feet and face back to such an assault with ready muskets. By his side a man skipped as might a marcher trying to catch step, then folded up, sliding limply to the trampled grass.
Men were flinging up hands holding empty cartridge boxes along the attacking line—too many of them. Others reversed the empty carbines, to use them in clubbing duels back and forth. The Union troops fell back, firing still, making their way into the railroad cut. Now the river was a part defense for them. Bayonets caught the sunlight in angry flashing, and they bristled.
"You ... Rennie...."
Drew lurched back under the clutch of a frantic hand belonging to an officer he knew.
"Get back to the horse lines! Bring up the holders' ammunition, on the double!"
Drew ran, panting, his boots slipping and scraping on the grass as he dodged around prone men who still moved, or others who lay only too still. A horse reared, snorted, and was pulled down to four feet again.
"Ammunition!" Drew got the word out as a squawk, grabbing at the boxes the waiting men were already tossing to him. Then, through the haze which had been riding his mind since the battle began, he caught a clear sight of the fifth man there.... And there was no disguising the blond hair of the boy so eagerly watching the struggle below. Drew had found Boyd—at a time he could do nothing about it. With his arms full, the scout turned to race down the slope again, only to sight the white flag waving from the railroad cut.
More prisoners to be marched along, joining the other dispirited ranks. Drew heard one worried comment from an officer: they would soon have more prisoners than guards.
He went back, trying to locate Boyd, but to no purpose. And the rest of the day was more confusion, heat, never-ending weariness, and always the sense of there being so little time. Rumors raced along the lines, five thousand, ten thousand blue bellies on the march, drawing in from every garrison in the blue grass. And those who had been hunted along the Ohio roads a year before were haunted by that old memory of disaster.
Once more they made their way through the streets of Cynthiana, where the acrid smoke of burning caught at throats, adding to the torturous thirst which dried a man's mouth when he tore cartridge paper with his teeth. Drew and Croxton took sketchy orders from Captain Quirk, their eyes red-rimmed with fatigue above their powder-blackened lips and chins. Fan out, be eyes and ears for the column moving into the Paris pike.
Croxton's grin had no humor in it as they turned aside into a field to make better time away from the cluttered highway.
"Looks like the butter's spread a mite thin on the bread this time," he commented. "But the General's sure playin' it like he has all the aces in hand. Which way to sniff out a Yankee?"
"I'd say any point of the compass now——"
"Listen!" Sam's hand went up. "Those ain't any guns of ours."
The rumble was distant, but Drew believed Croxton was right. Through the dark, guns were moving up. The wasps were closing in on the disturbers of their nest, and every one of them carried a healthy stinger. He thought of what he had seen today: too many empty cartridge boxes, Enfield rifles still carried by men who would not, in spite of orders, discard them for the Yankee guns with ammunition to spare. Empty guns, worn-out men, weary horses ... and Yankee guns moving confidently up through the night.
On the Run——
"They're comin'! Looks like the whole country's sproutin' Yankees outta the ground."
They were, a dull dark mass at first and then an arc of one ominous color advancing in a fast, purposeful drive, already overrunning the pickets with only a lone shot here and there in defiance. They rode up confidently, dismounted, and charged—to be thrown back once. But there were too many of them, and they moved with the precision of men who knew what was to be done and that they could do it. Confederates were trapped before they could reach their horses; there was a wild whirling scramble of a fight flowing backward toward the river.
Men with empty guns turned those guns into clubs, fighting to hold the center. But the enemy had already cut them off from the Augusta road and the bridge, and the river was at their backs. Water boiled under a lead rain. Drew saw an opening between two Union troopers. Flattening himself as best he could on Shawnee's back, he gave the roan the spur. What good could be accomplished by the message he carried now—to bring up half the horse holders as reinforcements—was a question.
However, he was never to deliver that message, for the horse lines had been stampeded by the first wave of flying men. Here and there a holder or two still tried to control at least one wild horse of the four he was responsible for, but there were no reserves for the fighting line. And—Drew glanced back—no battle to lead them into if there were.
Men and horses were struggling, dying in the river. The bridge ... he gaped at the horror of that bridge ... horses down, kicking and dying, barring an escape route to their riders. And the blue coats everywhere. Like a stallion about to attack, Shawnee screamed suddenly and reared, his front hoofs beating the air. A spurting red stream fountained from his neck; an artery had been hit.
Drew set teeth in lip, and plugged that bubbling hole with his thumb. Shawnee was dying, but he was still on his feet, and he could be headed away from the carnage in that water. Drew, his face sick and white, turned the horse toward the railroad tracks.
Croxton? No, but somehow Drew was not surprised to see Boyd trying to keep his feet, being dragged along by two plunging horses, their eyes white-rimmed with terror. The only wonder was that the scout had heard that call through the din of screaming and shouting, the wild neighs of the horses, and the continual crackle of small arms' fire.
"Mount! Mount and ride!" He mouthed the order, not daring to pull up Shawnee, already past Boyd and his horses. The roan's hoofs spurned gravel from the track line now. And Boyd drew level with him and mounted one of the horses, continuing to lead the other. There was a cattle guard ahead to afford some protection from the storm churning along the river.
"Where?" Boyd called.
Drew, his thumb still planted in the hole which was becoming Shawnee's death, nodded to the guard. They made it, and Drew kneed the roan closer to the extra horse Boyd led, slinging his saddlebags across to the other mount. Then he dismounted, releasing his hold on the roan's wound. For the second time Shawnee cried, but this time it was no warrior's protest against death; it was the nicker of a question. The answering shot from Drew's Colt was lost in the battle din. He was upon the other horse before Shawnee had stopped breathing.
"Come on!" Drew's voice was strident as he spurred, herding Boyd before him. Two of them, then three, four, as they came out on the bank of a millpond. Across that stretch of water there was safety, or at least the illusion of safety.
"Drew!" For the second time he was hailed. It was Sam Croxton, holding onto the saddle horn with both hands, a stream of red running from a patch of blood-soaked hair over one ear. He swayed, his eyes wide open as those of the frightened horses, but fastened now on Drew as if the other were the one stable thing in a mad world.
"Can you stick on?" Drew leaned across to catch the reins the other had dropped.
A small spark of understanding awoke in those wide eyes. "I'll stick," the words came thickly. "I ain't gonna rot in that damned prison again—never!"
"Boyd ... on his other side! We'll try gettin' him across together."
"Yes, Drew." Boyd's voice sounded unsteady, but he did not hesitate to bring his own mount in on Croxton's right.
"You'd best let me take that theah jump first, soldier." The stranger sent his horse in ahead of Drew's. "It don't necessarily foller that because that's water a man can jus' natcherly git hisself across in one piece. I'll give it a try quicker'n you can spit and holler Howdy."
As if he were one with the raw-boned bay he bestrode, he jumped his mount into the waiting pond. Still threshing about in the welter of flying water, he glanced back and raised a hand in a come-ahead signal.
"Bottom's a mite missin', but the drop ain't so much. Better make it 'fore them fast-shootin' hombres back theah come a-takin' you."
Though they did not move in the same reckless fashion as their guide, somehow they got across the pond and emerged dripping on the other side. The determination which had made Croxton try the escape, seemed to fade as they rode on. He continued to hold to the horn, but he slumped further over in a bundle of misery. Their pond guide took Boyd's station to the right, surveying the half-conscious man critically.
"This hoorawin' around ain't gonna do that scalpin' job no good," he announced. "He can't ride far 'less he gits him a spell of rest an' maybe has a medicine man look at that knock—"
Croxton roused. "I stick an' I ride!" He even got a measure of firmness into his tone. "I don't go to no Yankee prison...." He tried to reach for the reins, but Drew kept them firmly to hand.
There was a shot behind them, three or four more fugitives plunged down to the millpond, and the last one in line fired back at some yet unseen pursuer.
"Then we git!" But across Croxton's bowed shoulders the other shook his head warningly at Drew.
He was young and as whipcord thin and tough as most of those over-weary men from the badgered and now broken command, but he was not tense, riding rather with the easy adjustment to the quickened pace of a man more at home in the saddle than on foot. His weather-browned face was seamed with a scar which ran from left temple to the corner of his mouth, and his hair was a ragged, unkempt mop of brown-red which tossed free as he rode, since he was hatless.
With Croxton boxed between them, Drew and the stranger matched pace at what was a lope rather than a gallop as Boyd ranged ahead. Another flurry of shots sounded from behind, and they cut across a field, making for the doubtful cover of a hedge. There was no way, Drew decided after a quick survey, for them to get back into town and join the general retreat. The Yankees must be well between them and any of the force across the Licking.
When they had pushed through the hedge they were faced by a lane running in the general northwest direction. It provided better footing, and it led away from the chaos at Cynthiana. With Croxton on their hands it was the best they could hope for, and without more than an exchange of glances they turned into it, the wounded man's horse still between them.
The cover of the hedge wall provided some satisfaction and Drew dared to slow their pace. Under his tan Sam was greenish-white, his eyes half closed, and he rode with his hands clamped about the saddle horn as if his grip upon that meant the difference between life and death. But Drew knew he could not hope to keep on much longer.
There might be Confederate sympathizers in the next farmhouse who would be willing to take in the wounded scout. On the other hand, the inhabitants could just as well be Union people. It was obvious that Sam could not keep going, and it was just as obvious to Drew that they—or at least he—could not just ride on and leave him untended by the side of the road.
"Boyd!" So summoned, the youngster reined in to wait for them. "You ride on! You, too!" Drew addressed the stranger.
Boyd shook his head, though he glanced at the winding road ahead. "I ain't leavin' you!" His lip was sticking out in that stubborn pout.
At that moment Drew could have lashed out at him and enjoyed it, or at least found a satisfaction in passing on some of his own exasperation and frustration.
"We got a far piece to travel," commented the stranger. "An' I guess I'll string along with you, 'less, of course, this heah is a closed game an' you ain't sellin' any chips 'cross the table. Me, I'm up from Texas way—Anson ... Anse Kirby, if you want a brand for the tally book. An' most all a Yankee's good for anyway is to be shucked of his boots." He freed one foot momentarily from the stirrup and surveyed a piece of very new and shiny footware with open admiration. It was provided with a highly ornate silver spur, not military issue but Mexican work, Drew guessed.
"You from Gano's Company?" the scout asked.
Kirby nodded. "Nowadays, but it was Terry's Rangers 'fore I stopped me a saber with this heah tough old head of mine an' was removed for a while. That Yankee almost fixed me so m' own folks wouldn't know me from a fresh-skinned buffala—not that I got me any folks any more." He grinned and that expression was a baring of teeth like a wolf's uninhibited snarl. "You one of Quirk's rough-string scout boys, ain't you? We sure raised hell an' put a chunk under it back theah. Them Yankees are gonna be as techy as teased rattlers. An' I don't see as how we can belly through the brush with this heah hombre. He's got him a middle full of guts to stick it this far. Long 'bout now he must have him a horse-size headache...."
Croxton swayed and only Drew's crowding their horses together kept the now unconscious scout from falling into the road dust. Kirby steadied the limp body from the other side.
"Keep pullin' him 'round this way, amigo, an' he'll be planted permanent, all neat an' pretty with a board up at his head."
"There's a house—back there." Boyd pointed to the right, where a narrow lane angled away from their road, a small house to be seen at its end.
Drew, Croxton's weight resting against his shoulder, studied the house. The distant crackle of carbine fire rippled across the fields and came as a rumble of warning. It was plain that Croxton could not ride on, not at the pace they would have to maintain in order to outdistance pursuit; nor could he be left to shift for himself. To visit the house might be putting them straight into some Yankee's pocket, but it was the only solution open now.
"Hey, those mules!" Boyd had already ventured several horse lengths down the lane. Now he jerked a forefinger at two animals, heads up, ears pointed suspiciously forward, that were approaching the fence at a rocking canter. "Those are Jim Dandy's! You remember Jim Dandy, Drew?"
"Jim Dandy—?" the other echoed. And then he did recall the little Englishman who had been a part of the Lexington horse country since long before the war. Jim Dandy had been one of the most skillful jockeys ever seen in the blue grass, until he took a bad spill back in '59 and thereafter set himself up as a consultant trainer-vet to the comfort of any stable with a hankering to win racing glory.
To a man like Jim Dandy politics or war might not be all-important. And the fact that he had known the households of both Oak Hill and Red Springs could count for a better reception now. At least they could try.
"No use you gettin' into anything," Drew told the Texan. "You and Boyd go on! I'll take Croxton in and see if they'll take care of him."
Kirby looked back down the road. "Don't see no hostile sign heah 'bouts," he drawled. "Guess we can spare us some time to bed him down proper on th' right range. Maybeso you'll find them in theah as leery of strangers as a rustler of the sheriff—"
The Texan's references might be obscure, but he helped Drew transfer Croxton from the precarious balance in the wounded man's own saddle to Drew's hold, and then rode at a walking pace beside the scout while Boyd trailed with the led horse.
There was a pounding of hoofs on the road behind. A half dozen riders went by the mouth of the land at a distance-eating gallop. In spite of the dust which layered them Drew saw they were not Union.
"Them boys keep that gait up," Kirby remarked, "an' they ain't gonna make it far 'fore their tongues hang out 'bout three feet an' forty inches. That ain't no way to waste good hoss flesh."
"Got a good hold on him?" he asked Drew a moment later. At the other's nod he rode forward into the yard at the end of the lane.
"Hullo, the house!" he called.
A man came out of the stable, walking with a kind of hop-skip step. His blond head was bare, silver fair in contrast to Boyd's corn yellow, and his features were thin and sharp. It was Jim Dandy, himself.
"What's all this now?" he asked in that high voice Drew had last heard discussing the virtues of rival horse liniments at Red Springs. And he did not look particularly welcoming.
"Mr. Dandy—" Drew walked his horse on, Croxton sagging in his hold, his weight a heavy pull on his bearer's tired arms—"do you remember me? Drew Rennie, of Red Springs." He added that quickly for what small guarantee of respectability the identification might give. Certainly in his present guise he did not look Alexander Mattock's grandson.
Dandy rested his weight on his good leg and swung his shorter one a little ahead. And his hand went to the loose front of his white shirt.
"Now that's a right unfriendly move, suh. I take it right unfriendly to show hardware 'fore you know the paint on our faces—"
The smaller man's hand fell away from his concealed weapon, but Kirby did not reholster the Colt which had appeared through some feat of lightning movement in his grip.
"You're not going to take my horses!" Even if there was no gun in Dandy's hand, his voice stated a fact they could not doubt he meant.
"Nobody's takin' hosses," the Texan answered. "This heah soldier's got him a mighty sore head, an' he needs some fixin'. We ain't too popular round heah right now, an' he can't ride. So—"
Boyd pushed up. "Mr. Dandy, you know me—Boyd Barrett. And this is Drew Rennie. We have Yankees after us. And you never said you were Union—"
Dandy shrugged. "No matter to me what you wear ... blue ... gray—you're all a bunch of horse thieves, like as not. You, Mr. Boyd, what you doing riding with these here Rebs? And what's the matter with that man? Got him a lick on the head, eh? Well—" he crossed with his lurching walk to stand by Drew, studying the now unconscious Croxton—"all right." His voice was angry, as if he were being pushed along a path he disliked. "Get him into the stable. I ain't yet took sides in this here bloody war, and I ain't going to now. But the man's hurt. Unload him and don't tell me what he's been doing back there to get him that knock. I don't want to know."
He led the way into the stable, and moments later Croxton was as easy as they could make him on an improvised bed of straw and clean horse blankets. Dandy turned to them with Croxton's gun belt swinging free in his hand, still weighted down with two revolvers.
"You want these?"
Drew glanced at his two companions. His own carbine was gone; he had dropped it at the verge of the millpond when he had taken charge of Croxton. Boyd was without any weapons, and Kirby had only side arms. Drew started to reach for the belt and then shook his head. If Sam was able to ride soon, he would need those. And the rest of them could take their chances at getting more arms. Boyd opened his mouth as if to protest, but he did not say anything as Drew refused the Colts.
"You keep 'em—for him."
The ex-jockey nodded. "Better be riding on, Mr. Rennie. They'll come looking, and I don't fancy having any fight here. With luck we'll get your friend on his feet all right and tight, and he can slip south when the dust is down a bit. But you'd better keep ahead of what can come down the pike now."
Kirby moved, the spurs jangling musically on his boots. "I've been thinkin' 'bout that theah road," he announced. "Any other trail outta heah we can take?"
"Cross the pasture—" Dandy directed with a thumb—"then a cornfield, and you'll hit the pike again. Cuts off about a mile."
"That sounds right invitin'." The Texan led the way back to the yard and their waiting mounts. "Obliged to you, suh. Now," he spoke to Drew, "I'd say it's time to raise some dust. Ain't far to sundown, an' we oughta git some countryside between us an' them rip-snortin' javalinas—"
"Javalinas?" Drew heard Boyd repeat inquiringly.
"Kid—" the Texan reined his bay—"there is some mean things in this heah world. Theah is Comanches an' Apaches, an' a longhorn cow with a calf hid out in a thicket, an' a rattler, what's feelin' lowdown in his mind. An' theah's javalinas, the wild boars of the Rio country. Then theah's men what have had to ride fast on a day as hot as this, swallerin' dust an' thinkin' what they're gonna do when they catch up to them as they're chasin'; an' those men're 'bout as mean as the boars—"
Drew lifted his hand to Jim Dandy and followed the other two through the pasture gate. Now he grinned.
"You sound like one speakin' from experience—of bein' chased, that is."
Kirby chuckled. "I'm jus' a poor little Texas boy, suh. 'Course we do a bit of fast ridin'. Mostly though I've been on the other end, doin' the chasin'. An' I know how it feels to eat dust an' git a mite riled doin' it. I'd say we could maybe help ourselves a bit though."
"How?" Boyd asked eagerly.
"You"—Drew rounded on him—"can cut cross-country and get home!" There was nothing in Boyd's clothing or equipment to suggest that he had been a part of the now scattered raiders. "If the Yankees stop you," Drew continued, "you can spin them a tale about riding out to see the fight. And Major Forbes's name ought to help."
Boyd's scowl was a black cloud on his grimy young face. "I'm one of General Morgan's men."
"Only a fool," remarked Kirby, "stops to argue with a mule, a skunk, a cook, or a boy what's run away to join the army. You figgerin' to take this kid home personal?"
"You'll have to tie me to a horse to do it!" Boyd flared up.
"No thanks for your help." Drew frowned at Kirby, then turned to Boyd again. "No, I can't take you back now. But I'll see that you do go back!"
Boyd laughed, high, with a reckless note. "I'm comin' along."
"As I was sayin'," Kirby returned to his half suggestion of moments before, "we can see 'bout helpin' ourselves. Them Yankees are mighty particular 'bout their rigs; they carry 'nough to outfit a squad right on one trooper."
Drew had already caught on. "Stage an ambush?"
"Well, now, let's see." Kirby looked down at his own gear, then critically inspected Drew and Boyd in turn. "We could do with carbines. Them blue bellies had them some right pretty-lookin' hardware—leastways them back by the river did. An' I don't see no ration bags on them theah hosses you two are ridin'. Yes, we could do with grub, an' rifle-guns ... maybe some blue coats.... Say as how we was wearin' them we could ride up to some farm all polite an' nice an' maybe git asked in to rest a spell an' fill up on real fancy eats. I 'member back on the Ohio raid we came into this heah farm ... wasn't nobody round the place at all. We sashayed into the kitchen an' theah, jus' sittin' easylike an' waitin' right on the table, was two or three pies! Ain't had me a taste since as good as them theah pies. But maybe with a blue coat on us we could do as well heah 'bouts."
There was merit in the Texan's suggestion. Drew, from past experience, knew that. His only hesitation was Boyd. The youngster was right. Short of subduing him physically and taking him back tied to his saddle through the spreading Union web, Drew had no chance of returning Boyd to Oak Hill. But to lead him into the chancy sort of deal Kirby had outlined was entirely too dangerous.
"You mean—we hold up some Yankees and just take their uniforms an' carbines an' things?" It was already too late. Boyd had seized upon what must have seemed to him an idea right out of the dashing kind of war he had been imagining all these past weeks.
"It has been done, kid," the Texan affirmed. "'Course we got to find us two or three poor little maverick blue bellies lost outta the herd like. Then we cut 'em away from the trail an' reason with 'em."
"That ought to be easy." Boyd's enthusiasm was at the boiling point. "The Yankees are all cowards—"
Kirby straightened in his saddle, the lazy good humor gone from his face.
"Kid, don't git so lippy 'bout what you ain't rightly learned yet. Yankees can fight—they can fight good. You saw 'em do that today. And don't you ever forgit it!"
Boyd was disconcerted, but he clung doggedly to his belief. "One of Morgan's men can take on five Yankees."
Drew laughed dryly. "You saw that happen just this mornin', Boyd. And what happened? We ran. They fight just as hard and as long, and most of them just as tough as we do. And don't ever think that the man facin' you across a gun is any less than you are; maybe he's a little better. Keep that in mind!"
"Yes, you read the aces an' queens in your hand 'fore you spreads your money out recklesslike," Kirby agreed. "So, if we find the right setup, we move, but—"
Drew swung up one hand in the horseman's signal of warning. "Something—or someone—is on the move ... ahead there!" he warned.
The Eleventh Ohio Cavalry
They had worked their way around the edge of the cornfield, and now they could look out on a hard-surfaced road which must be the pike. Riding along that in good order were a company of men—thirty, Drew counted. And four of those had extra horses on leading reins. He also saw ten carbines ... and the owners of those were alert.
"Stand where you are!" The slight man leading that skeleton troop posted ahead. His shell jacket had the three yellow bars of a captain on its standing collar, and Drew saluted. This was the first group of fugitives he had seen who were more than frightened men running their horses and themselves into exhaustion.
"Rennie, Private, Quirk's Scouts," Drew reported himself.
Kirby's salute was delivered with less snap but as promptly. "Kirby, Private, Gano's."
"Captain William Campbell," the officer identified himself crisply. "Any more of you?" He looked to Boyd and then at the cornfield beyond.
"Barrett's a volunteer," Drew explained. This was no time to clarify Boyd's exact status. "There're just the three of us."
"You headin' somewheah special, Cap'n?" the Texan asked. "Or jus' travelin' for your continued health?"
Campbell laughed. "You might call it that, Kirby. But if we stick together, I think all of us may stay healthy."
Kirby turned his horse into the pike. "Sounds like a good argument to me, suh. You have any idea wheah at we are, or wheah we could be headin'?"
"Northwest is the best I can say. If we strike far enough to the west, we may be able to flank the troops spread out to keep us away from the river. Best plan for now, anyway. And the more men we can pick up, the better."
"Scattered some, ain't we?" Kirby assented. "You give the orders, Cap'n, suh. We ain't licked complete yet."
There was a low growl arising from the company on the pike as the Texan's comment reached them. They might have run and gone on running most of that long day, but they were no longer running; they were moving in reasonable order and to some purpose, with a direction in view and a form of organization, no matter how patched together they were. Campbell spoke directly to Drew: "You know anything about this section of the country?"
"Some, but it's been almost three years since I was here. I know nothin' about any Union garrison—"
"Those we'll have to worry about as they come. But you ride advance for us now. Send in any stragglers you come across. The night is almost here, and that's in our favor."
So Drew and Kirby, with Boyd trailing, ranged ahead of the small troop. And pick up more stragglers they did—some twenty men in the last hour before twilight closed down.
"I'm hungry," Boyd said, approaching Drew. "There're farms around. Why can't we get something to eat?"
"Here." Drew fumbled in the saddlebags he had transferred from Shawnee to this new mount back by the river. He handed over a piece of hardtack, flinty-surfaced and about as appetizing as a stone. "That's the best you'll get for a while."
Boyd stared at it in dismay. "You can't eat a thing like this! It's a piece of rock." Indignantly he hurled it away.
"You get down and pick that up! Now!"
Boyd, flushed and hot-eyed, gazed at Drew for a long moment. The flush faded and he moved uneasily in his saddle, but not out of the range of Drew's attention. At length, unhappily, he dismounted and went to pick the gray-white chunk out of a weed tangle. Holding it gingerly, he came back to his horse.
"If you don't want it—give!" Drew held out his hand.
Boyd, realizing the other meant just what he said, fingered the hardtack and finally dropped it into that waiting palm.
"You eat hard and you sleep on the soft side of a board—if you're lucky enough to find a board. You ride till your seat is blistered and until you can sleep in the saddle. You drink mud green with scum if that's all you can find to drink, and you think it's mighty fine drinkin', too. This ain't—" Drew's thoughts flitted back to his meeting with Aunt Marianna on the Lexington road—"all saber wavin' and chargin' the enemy and playin' hero to the home folks; this is sweatin' and dirt on you and your clothes, goin' mighty hungry, and cold and wet—when it's the season for goin' cold and wet. It's takin' a lot of the bad, with not much good. And if you don't cut off home now, you'll ride our way, keepin' your mouth shut and doin' as you're told!"
Boyd swallowed visibly. "All right." But there was a firmness in that short answer which surprised Drew. The other sounded as if he meant it, as if he were swearing the oath of allegiance to the regiment. But could he take it? A few days on the run, and Boyd would probably quit. Maybe if they got into some town and the Yankees didn't smoke them out right away, Drew could send a telegram and Boyd would be collected. Drew tried to console himself with that thought all the time another part of him was certain that Boyd intended to prove he could stick through all the rigors Drew had just outlined for him.
But in any event the boy's introduction to war was going to be as unromantic as anyone could want, short of being thrown cold and untrained into a major battle. They must be prepared for a bad time until they made it out of the Union lines and south again.
The night closed down, dark and moonless, with a heaviness in the air which was oppressive. Campbell had to grant men and horses a breathing period. He put out pickets, leaving the rest of them to lie with their mounts saddled and to hand. Drew loosened the girth, stripped off saddle and blanket, and wiped down the sweaty back of his new mount. But he dared not leave the gelding free. So, against all good practice, he re-equipped the tired beast. No mount was going to be able to take that kind of treatment for long. They had a half dozen spare horses, and undoubtedly they could "trade" worn-out mounts for fresh ones along the way. But such ceaseless use was cruel punishment, and no man wanted to inflict it. War was harder on horses than men. At least the men could take their chances and had a fraction of free will in the matter.
Drew awoke at a tug of his sleeve, flailed out his arm, and struck home. Kirby laughed in the gray dawn.
"Now that theah, kid, is no way to go 'round wakin' up a soldier. He may take you for a blue belly as has come crawlin' into his dreams. It's all right, amigo—jus' time to git on the prowl again."
Feeling as if he had been beaten, Drew slowly got to his feet. Men were moving, falling into line. And one was arguing with Captain Campbell.
"It could work, Cap'n," the trooper urged. "Ain't a lot of the boys wearin' Yankee truck they took outta the warehouses? Them what ain't can act like prisoners. Jus' say we're the Eleventh Ohio—they's stationed near Bardstown and it would seem right, them ridin' down to take them some prisoners. The old man, he's got a rich farm and sets a powerful good table. Might even give us a right smart load of provisions into the bargain. It's worth a try, suh...."
"Rennie!" So summoned, Drew reported to their new commander.
"Know anything about a Thomas McKeever livin' in this section?"
Drew's memory produced a picture of a round-faced, cheerful man who liked to play chess and admired Lucilla's pickled watermelon rind to the point of begging a crock of it every time he visited Red Springs.
"Yes, suh. He's Union—got two sons with Colonel Wolford. Owns a big farm and raises prime mules—"
"You know him personally?"
"Yes, suh. He's a friend of my grandfather; they used to visit back and forth a lot."
"Then he'd know you." Campbell's fingernails rasped through the stubble on his chin.
"So Rennie heah could be one of our prisoners, suh. That theah might convince Mistuh McKeever we's what we say—" the trooper pressed his point.
"Could be. It's gospel truth we ain't goin' to get far with our bellies flat on our backbones. And it might work. Now, all of you men, listen...." Campbell explained, gave orders, and put them through a small drill. A dozen men without any Union uniform loot to distinguish them were told to play the role of prisoners; the others exchanged and drew out of saddlebags pieces of blue clothing to make their appearance as the Eleventh Ohio.
"They ain't gonna expect too much." The trooper who had first urged the plan was optimistic. "We can pass as close to militia——"
"You hope!" Kirby was in the prisoner's section, and it was plain he did not relish a role which meant that he had to strip himself of weapons. "You—" he fixed his attention on the man to whom he must hand his Colts when the time came—"keep right 'longside, soldier. If I want to get those six-guns, I want 'em fast an' I want 'em sure—not 'bout ten yards away wheah I can't git my hands on 'em!"
Their gnawing hunger drove them all into agreeing to the masquerade. Drew could not recall his last really full meal. Just thinking about food made a warm, sickish taste rise in his mouth. He brought out the hardtack which Boyd had so indignantly rejected the night before, and holding the chunk balanced on his saddle horn, rapped it smartly with the butt of a revolver. It broke raggedly across, and then he was able to crack it again between his fingers.
"Here—" He held out a two-inch piece to Boyd, and this time there was no refusal. The younger boy's cheek showed a swollen puff as he sucked away at the fragment.
Drew offered a bite to the Texan.
"Right neighborly, amigo," Kirby observed. "'Bout this time, me, I'm ready to exercise m' teeth on a stewed moccasin, Comanche at that, were anybody to ask me to sit down an' reach for the pot."
They rode on at a comfortable pace and for some reason met no other travelers on the pike. Drew found his new mount had no easy shuffle like Shawnee's. The gelding was a black with three white feet and a proudly held head—might even be Denmark stock—but for some reason he didn't relish moving in company. And, left without close enough supervision from his rider, he tended either to trot ahead or loiter until he was out of line. Drew was continually either reining him in or urging him on.
"Kinda a raw one," Kirby commented critically. "He ain't no rockin'-chair hoss, that's for sure. If I was you, I'd look round for somethin' better to slap m' tree on—"
Drew pulled rein for the tenth time, his exasperation growing. "I might do just that." Shawnee had been worth fifty of this temperamental blooded hunter.
"You take Tejano heah. He's a rough-coated ol' snorter—nothin' to make an hombre's eyes bug out—but he takes you way over yonder, an' then he brings you back ... nothin' more you can ask."
Drew agreed. "Lost my horse back at the river," he said briefly. "This was a pickup—"
"Tough luck!" Kirby was sincerely sympathetic. "Funny about you Kaintuck boys ... mostly you want a high-steppin' pacer with a chief's feathers sproutin' outta his head. They has to have oats an' corn an' be treated like they was glass. I'd'ruther have me a range hoss. You can ride one of 'em from Hell to breakfast—an' maybe a mile or two beyond—an' he never knows the difference. Work him hard all day, an' maybe the next mornin' when you're set to fork leather again, he shows you a bellyfull of bedsprings an' you're unloaded for fair. A hoss like that has him wind an' power to burn—"
"You raised horses before the war?"
Kirby swallowed what must have been the last soggy crumb of hardtack. "Well, we had a mind to try that. M'pa, he started him a spread down Pecos way. He had him a good stud-quarter hoss—one of Steel Dust's git. Won two or three races, that stud did. Called him Kiowa. Pa made a deal with a Mex mustanger; he got some prime stuff he caught in the Panhandle. One mare, I 'member—she was a natcherel pacer. Yeah, you might say as how we was gittin' a start at a first-rate string. Me an' m' brothers, we was breakin' some right pretty colts..."
His voice trailed into silence. Drew reined in the black again and asked another question:
"What happened ... the war?"
"What happened? Well, you might say as how Comanches happened. Me, I was trailin' 'long with this Mex mustanger to learn some of his tricks. When I came back, theah jus' warn't nothin'—nothin' a man wants to remember after. Someday I'm gonna hunt me Comanches. Gonna learn me some tricks in this heah war I can use in that business!" There was no change in his expression. If anything, his drawl was a little softer and lazier, but the deadly promise in it reached Drew as clearly as if the other had burst out with the Rebel Yell.
"This is it!" Captain Campbell rode back along their line. It was a larger company; they had gathered in more fugitives this morning and had no stragglers. All they lacked was adequate arms to present a rather formidable source of trouble behind the Union lines. "We're goin' into the McKeever place. You men—remember, you're prisoners!"
Very reluctantly those in that unhappy role unbuckled gun belts, passing their side arms over to their "captors." There was a graveled drive branching out of the pike to their right with a grove of trees arching over it, so they rode into a restful green twilight out of the punishing sun.
Fields rippled lushly beyond that border of trees. There was a cleanness, a contentment, a satisfaction about this place which was no part of them or any men who passed so, armed, restless, tearing apart just such peace as enfolded them here. They rode out of urgency when the gravel of that well-raked drive shifted under the hoofs of their mounts.
"I'm sayin' one thing loud an' clear," Kirby announced to those in his immediate vicinity as they neared a big brick house. "I may be playin' prisoner to you boys, but I ain't settlin' for no prisoner's rations. We all eat full plates in heah, let that be understood from the start."
Campbell laughed. "Noted, Kirby. We'll see that you desperate Rebs get all that's comin' to you."
"Now that, Cap'n, is jus' what I'm afraid of. We git all that's comin'—that sounds a right smart better!"
"Company ahead, Cap'n!" The trooper who had suggested this action, indicated a man walking down the drive to meet their cavalcade.
"That's Mr. McKeever." Drew identified their host for Campbell.
But the captain was already moving ahead to meet the older man. He touched fingers to kepi—a neat blue kepi—in a smart salute.
"Chivers, Captain, Eleventh Ohio, sir. We'd like to make our noon halt here if you'll grant permission."
Thomas McKeever beamed. "No reason not, suh. Take your men over in the orchard, Captain. We can add a little something to your rations. Glad, always glad to entertain our boys." His attention wandered to the score of "prisoners" in the center of the troop.
"Some of Morgan's horse thieves." Campbell glanced back at the shabby exhibit. "You've heard the news, of course, sir? We smashed 'em proper over at Cynthiana—"
"You did? Now that's good hearin', Captain. It deserves a regular celebration; it surely does. Morgan smashed! Was he taken too? Next time I trust they'll put him in something stronger than that jail you Ohio boys had him in last time; he's a slippery one."
"Haven't heard about that, sir. But his men are pretty well scattered. These aren't going to trouble any one for a while."
McKeever nodded. "I've a stout barn you're welcome to use for a temporary lockup, Captain. Though I must say they don't display much spirit, do they? Look pretty well beat."
Drew rubbed his hand across his face, hoping the grime there—a mixture of road dust, sweat, and powder blacking—was an effective disguise. No use recalling the old days for Mr. McKeever. Allowing his shoulders to slump dispiritedly as he was herded by his file guard, he rode sullenly on to the orchard.