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HOME > Classical Novels > The Tree of Appomattox or A Story of the Civil War's End > CHAPTER II THE WOMAN AT THE HOUSE
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 The men marched on for a long time, and, after a while, they heard the hum of many voices and the restless movements that betokened the presence of numerous troops. Dick, who had dismounted, walked forward a little distance with Colonel Winchester, and, in the moonlight, he was able to see that a large division of the army was gathered near, resting on its arms. It was obvious that the important movement, of which he had been hearing so much, was at hand, but the colonel volunteered nothing concerning its nature.  
The troops were allowed to lie down, and, with the calmness that comes of long experience, they soon fell asleep. But the officers waited and watched, and Dick saw other regiments arriving. Warner, who had pushed through some bushes, came back and said in a whisper:
"I've seen a half-dozen great mounds of fresh earth."
"Earth taken out to make a trench, no doubt," said Dick.
But Warner shook his head.
"There's too much of it," he said, "and it's been carried too far to the rear. In my opinion extensive mining operations have been going on here."
"For what?" asked Pennington. "Not for silver or gold. We're no treasure hunters, and besides, there's none here."
Warner shook his head again.
"I don't know," he replied, "but I'm quite sure that it has something to do, perhaps all to do, with the movement now at hand. To the right of us, regiments, including several of colored troops, are already forming in line of battle, and I've no doubt our turn will come before long."
"We must be intending to make an attack," said Dick, "but I don't suppose we'll move until day."
He had learned long since that night attacks were very risky. Friend was likely to fire into friend and the dusk and confusion invariably forbade victory. But the faculties that create anxiety and alarm had been dulled for the time by immense exertions and dangers, and he placidly awaited the event, whatever it might be.
"What time is it?" asked Pennington.
"Half past three in the morning," replied Dick, who was able to see the face of his watch.
"Not such a long wait then. Day comes early this time of the year."
"You lads can sit down and make yourselves comfortable," said Colonel Winchester. "It's desirable for you to be as fresh as possible when you're wanted. I'm glad to see the men sleeping. They'll receive a signal in ample time."
The young officers followed his suggestion, but they kept very wide awake, talking for a little while in whispers and then sinking away into silence. The noise from the massed troops near them decreased also and Dick's curiosity began to grow again. He stood up, but he saw no movement, nothing to indicate the nature of any coming event. He looked at his watch again. Dawn was almost at hand. A narrow band of gray would soon rim the eastern hills. An aide arrived, gave a dispatch to Colonel Winchester, and quickly passed on.
The men were awakened and stood up, shaking the sleep from their eyes and then, through habit, looking to their arms and ammunition. The thread of gray showed in the east.
"Whatever it is, it will come soon," whispered Warner to Dick.
The gray thread broadened and became a ribbon of silver. The silver, as it widened, was shot through with pink and red and yellow, the colors of the morning. Dick caught a glimpse of massed bayonets near him, and of the Southern trenches rising slowly out of the dusk not far away. Then the earth rocked.
He felt a sudden violent and convulsive movement that nearly threw him from his feet, and the whole world in front of him blazed with fire, as if a volcano, after a long silence, had burst suddenly into furious activity. Black objects, the bodies of men, were borne upon the mass of shooting flames, and the roar was so tremendous that it was heard thirty miles away.
Dick had been expecting something, but no such red dawn as this, and when the fires suddenly sank, and the world-shaking crash turned to echoes he stood for a few moments appalled. He believed at first that a magazine had exploded, but, as the dawn was rapidly advancing, he beheld in front of them, where Southern breastworks had stood, a vast pit two or three hundred feet long and more than thirty feet deep. At the bottom of it, although they could not be seen through the smoke, lay the fragments of Confederate cannon and Confederate soldiers who had been blown to pieces.
"A mine breaking the rebel line!" cried Warner, "and our men are to charge through it!"
Trumpets were already sounding their thrilling call, and blue masses, before the smoke had lifted, were rushing into the pit, intending to climb the far side and sever the Southern line. But Colonel Winchester did not yet give the word to his own regiment, and Dick knew that they were to be held in reserve.
Into the great chasm went white troops and black troops, charging together, and then Dick suddenly cried in horror. Those were veterans on the other side, and, recovering quickly from the surprise, they rushed forward their batteries and riflemen. Mahone, a little, alert man, commanded them, and in an instant they deluged the pit, afterward famous under the name of "The Crater," with fire. The steep slope held back the union troops and from the edges everywhere the men in gray poured a storm of shrapnel and canister and bullets into the packed masses.
Colonel Winchester groaned aloud, and looked at his men who were eager to advance to the rescue, but it was evident to Dick that his orders held him, and they stood in silence gazing at the appalling scene in the crater. A tunnel had been run directly under the Confederates, and then a huge mine had been exploded. All that part was successful, but the union army had made a deep pit, more formidable than the earthwork itself.
Never had men created a more terrible trap for themselves. The name, the crater, was well deserved. It was a seething pit of death filled with smoke, and from which came shouts and cries as the rim of it blazed with the fire of those who were pouring in such a stream of metal. Inside the pit the men could only cower low in the hope that the hurricane of missiles would pass over their heads.
"Good God!" cried Dick. "Why don't we advance to help them!"
"Here we go now, and we may need help ourselves!" said Warner.
Again the trumpets were sending forth their shrill call to battle and death, and, as the colonel waved his sword, the regiment charged forward with others to rescue the men in the crater. A bright sun was shining now, and the Southern leaders saw the heavy, advancing column. They were rapidly bringing up more guns and more riflemen, and, shifting a part of their fire, a storm of death blew in the faces of those who would go to the rescue.
As at Cold Harbor, the men in blue could not live before such a fire at close quarters, and the regiments were compelled to recoil, while those who were left alive in the crater surrendered. The trumpets sounded the unwilling call to withdraw, and the Winchester men, many of them shedding tears of grief and rage, fell back to their old place, while from some distant point, rising above the dying fire of the cannon and rifles, came the long, fierce rebel yell, full of defiance and triumph.
The effect upon Dick of the sight in the crater was so overwhelming that he was compelled to lie down.
"Why do we do such things?" he exclaimed, after the faintness passed. "Why do we waste so many lives in such vain efforts?"
"We have to try," replied Warner, gloomily. "The thing was all right as far as it went, but it broke against a hedge of fire and steel, crowning a barrier that we had created for ourselves."
"Let's not talk about it," said Pennington, who had been faint too. "It's enough to have seen it. I am going to blot it out of my mind if I can."
But not one of the three was ever able wholly to forget that hideous dawn. Luckily the Winchesters themselves had suffered little, but they were quite content to remain in their old place by the brook, where the next day a large man in civilian dress introduced himself to Dick.
"Perhaps you don't remember me, Mr. Mason," he said, "but in such times as these it's easy to forget chance acquaintances."
Dick looked at him closely. He was elderly, with heavy pouches under his eyes and a rotund figure, but he looked uncommonly alert and his pale blue eyes had a penetrating quality. Then Dick recalled him.
"You're Mr. Watson, the contractor," he said.
"Right. Shake hands."
Dick shook his hand, and he noticed that, while it was fat, it was strong and dry. He hated damp hands, which always seemed to him to have a slimy touch, as if their owner were reptilian.
"I suppose business is good with you, Mr. Watson," he said.
"It couldn't be better, and such affairs as the one I witnessed this morning mean more. But doubtless I have grieved over it as much as you. I may profit by the great struggle, but I have not wished either the war or its continuance. Someone must do the work I am doing. You're a bright boy, Lieutenant Mason, and I want you still to bear in mind the hint that I gave you once in Washington."
"I don't recall it, this instant."
"That to go into business with me is a better trade than fighting."
"I thank you for the offer, but my mind turns in other directions. I'm not depreciating your occupation, Mr. Watson, but I'm interested in something else."
"I knew that you were not, Lieutenant Mason. You have too much sense. Your kind could not fight if my kind did not find the sinews, and after the war the woods will be full of generals, and colonels and majors who will be glad to get jobs from men like me."
"I've no doubt of it," said Dick, "but what happened this morning made me think the war is yet far from over."
"We shall see what we shall see, but if you ever want a friend write to me in Washington. General delivery, there will do. Good-by."
"Good-by," said Dick, and, as he watched the big man walk away, he felt that he was beginning to understand him. He had never been interested greatly in mercantile pursuits. Public and literary life and the soil were the great things to him. Now he realized that the vast strength of the North, a strength that could survive any number of defeats, lay largely in her trade and commerce. The South, almost stationary upon the soil, had fallen behind, and no amount of skill and courage could save her.
Colonel Winchester gave the young officers who had been awake all night permission to sleep, and Dick was glad to avail himself of it. He still felt weak, and ill, and, with a tender smile, remembering his mother's advice about the blanket, he spread one in the shade of a small oak and lay down upon it.
Despite the terrible repulse of the morning most of the men had regained their usual spirits. Several were playing accordions, and the others were listening. The Winchesters were known as a happy regiment, because they had an able colonel, strong but firm, efficient and tactful minor officers. They seldom got into mischief, and always they pooled their resources.
One lad was reading now to a group from a tattered copy of "Les Miserables," which had just reached them. He was deep in Waterloo and Dick heard their comments.
"You wait till the big writers begin to tell about Chickamauga and Gettysburg and Shiloh," said one. "They'll class with Waterloo or ahead of it, and the French and English never fought any such campaign as that when Grant came down through the Wilderness. What's that about the French riding into the sunken road? I'm willin' to bet it was nothing but a skirmish beside Pickett's charge at Gettysburg."
"And both failed," said Warner. "There are always brave men on every side in any war. I don't know whether Napoleon was right or wrong—I suppose he was wrong at that time—but it always makes me feel sad to read of Waterloo."
"Just as a lot of our own people were grieved at the death of Stonewall Jackson, although next to Lee he was our most dangerous foe," said Pennington.
The reader resumed, and, although he was interrupted from time to time by question or comment, his monotone was pleasant and soothing, and Dick fell asleep. When he awoke his nerves were restored, and he could think of the crater without becoming faint again.
That night Colonel Hertford of the cavalry came to their camp and talked with Colonel Winchester in the presence of Dick and his comrades of the staff. The disastrous failure of the morning, so the cavalryman said, had convinced all the generals that Lee's trenches could not be forced, and the commander-in-chief was turning his eye elsewhere. While the deadlock before Petersburg lasted he would push the operations in some other field. He was watching especially the Valley of Virginia, where Early, after his daring raid upon the outskirts of Washington, was being pursued by Sheridan, though not hard enough in the opinion of General Grant.
"It's almost decided that help will be sent to Sheridan," said Hertford, "and in that event my regiment is sure to go. Yours has served as a mounted regiment, and I think I have influence enough to see that it is sent again as cavalry, if you wish."
Colonel Winchester accepted the offer gladly, and his young officers, in all eagerness, seconded him. They were tiring of inactivity, and of the cramped and painful life in the trenches. To be on horseback again, riding over hills and across valleys, seemed almost Heaven to them, and, as Colonel Hertford walked away, earnest injunctions to use his influence to the utmost followed him.
"It will take the sight of the crater from my mind," said Warner. "That's one reason why I want to go."
Dick, searching his own mind, concluded it was the chief reason with him, although he, too, was eager enough for a more spacious life than that of the trench.
"I'm going to wish so hard for it," said Pennington, "that it'll come true."
Whether Pennington's wish had any effect or not, they departed two days later, three mounted regiments under the general command of Hertford, his right as a veteran cavalry leader. All regiments, despite new men, had been reduced greatly by the years of fighting, and the three combined did not number more than fifteen hundred horse. But there was not one among them from the oldest to the youngest who did not feel elation as they rode away on the great curve that would take them into the Valley of Virginia.
"It's glorious to be on a horse again, with the world before you," said Pennington. "I was born horseback, so to speak, and I never had to do any walking until I came to this war. The great plains and the free winds that blow all around the earth for me."
"But you don't have rivers and hills and forests like ours," said Dick.
"I know it, but I don't miss them. I suppose it's what you're used to that you like. I like a horizon that doesn't touch the ground anywhere within fifteen or eighteen miles of me. And think of seeing a buffalo herd, as I have, that's all day passing you, a million of 'em, maybe!"
"And think of being scalped by the Sioux or Cheyennes, as your people out there often are," said Warner.
Pennington took off his cap and disclosed an uncommonly thick head of hair.
"You see that I haven't lost mine yet," he said. "If a fellow can live through big battles as I've lived through 'em he can escape Sioux and Cheyennes."
"So you should. Look back now, and you can see the armies face to face."
They were on the highest hill, and all the cavalry had turned for a last glance. Dick saw again the flashes from occasional rifle fire, and a dark column of smoke still rising from a spot which he knew to be the crater. He shuddered, and was glad when the force, riding on again, passed over the hill. Before them now stretched a desolated country, trodden under foot by the armies, and his heart bled again for Virginia, the most reluctant of all the states to secede, and the greatest of them all to suffer.
Colonel Hertford, Colonel Winchester, and the colonel of the third regiment, a Pennsylvanian named Bedford, rode together and their young officers were just behind. All examined the country continually through glasses to guard against ambush. Stuart was gone and Forrest was far away, but they knew that danger from the fierce riders of the South was always present. Just when the capital seemed safest Early's men had appeared in its very suburbs, and here in Virginia, where the hand of every man and of every woman and child also was against them, it was wise to watch well.
As they rode on the country was still marked by desolation. The fields were swept bare or trampled down. Many of the houses and barns and all the fences had been burned. The roads had been torn up by the passage of artillery and countless wagons. All the people seemed to have gone away.
But when they came into rougher and more wooded regions they were shot at often by concealed marksmen. A half-dozen troopers were killed and more wounded, and, when the cavalrymen forced a path through the brush in pursuit of the hidden sharpshooters, they found nothing. The enemy fairly melted away. It was easy enough for a rifleman, knowing every gully and thicket, to send in his deadly bullet and then escape.
"Although it's merely the buzzing and stinging of wasps," said Warner, "I don't like it. They can't stop our advance, but I hate to see any good fellow of ours tumbled from his horse."
"Makes one think of that other ride we took in Mississippi," said Dick.
"In one way, yes, but in others, no. This is hard, firm ground, and we're not persecuted by mosquitoes. Nor is the country suitable for an ambush by a great force. Ouch, that burnt!"
A bullet fired from a thicket had grazed Warner's bridle hand. Dick was compelled to laugh.
"You're free from mosquitoes, George," he said, "but there are still little bullets flying about, as you see."
A dozen cavalrymen were sent into the thicket, but the sharpshooter was already far away. Colonel Hertford frowned and said:
"Well, I suppose it's the price we have to pay, but I'd like to see the people to whom we have to pay it."
"Not much chance of that," said Colonel Winchester. "The Virginians know their own ground and the lurking sharpshooters won't fire until they're sure of a safe retreat."
But as they advanced the stinging fire became worse. There was no Southern force in this part of the country strong enough to meet them in open combat, but there was forest and thicket sufficient to shelter many men who were not only willing to shoot, but who knew how to shoot well. Yet they never caught anybody nor even saw anybody. A stray glimpse or two of a puff of smoke was the nearest they ever came to beholding an enemy.
It became galling, intolerable. Three more men were killed and the number of wounded was doubled. The three colonels held a consultation, and decided to extend groups of skirmishers far out on either flank. Dick was chosen to lead a band of thirty picked men who rode about a mile on the right, and he had with him as his second, and, in reality, as his guide and mentor in many ways, the trusty Sergeant Whitley. It was altogether likely that Colonel Winchester would not have sent Dick unless he had been able to send the wise sergeant with him.
"While you are guarding us from ambush," he said to Dick, "be sure you don't fall into an ambush yourself."
"Not while Whitley, here, is with us," replied Dick. "He learned while out on the plains, not only to have eyes in the back of his head, but to have 'em in the sides of it as well. In addition he can hear the fall of a leaf a mile away."
The sergeant shook his head and uttered an emphatic no in protest, but in his heart he was pleased. He was a sergeant who liked being a sergeant, and he was proud of all his wilderness and prairie lore.
Dick gave the word and the little troop galloped away to the right, zealous in its task and beating up every wood and thicket for the hidden riflemen who were so dangerous. At intervals they saw the cavalry force riding steadily on, and again they were hidden from it by forest or bush. More than an hour passed and they saw no foe. Dick concluded that the sharpshooters had been scared off by the flanking force, and that they would have no further trouble with them. His spirits rose accordingly and there was much otherwise to make them rise.
It was like Heaven to be on horseback in the pleasant country after being cramped up so much in narrow trenches, and there was the thrill of coming action. They were going to join Sheridan and where he rode idle moments would be few.
"Ping!" a bullet whistled alarmingly near his head and then cut leaves from a sapling beyond him. The young lieutenant halted the troop instantly, and Sergeant Whitley pointed to a house just visible among some trees.
"That's where it came from, and, since it hasn't been followed by a second, it's likely that only one man is there, and he is lying low, waiting a chance for another bullet," he said.
"Then we'll rout him out," said Dick.
He divided his little troop, in order that it could approach the house from all sides, and then he and the sergeant and six others advanced directly in front. He knew that if the marksman were still hidden inside he would not fire now, but would seek rather to hide, since he could easily observe from a window that the building was surrounded.
It was a small house, but it was well built and evidently had been occupied by people of substance. It was painted white, except the shutters which were green, and a brick walk led to a portico, with fine and lofty columns. There was nobody outside, but as the shutters were open it was probable that someone was inside.
Dick disliked to force an entrance at such a place, but he had been sent out to protect the flank and he could not let a rifleman lie hidden there, merely to resume his deadly business as soon as they passed on. They pushed the gate open and rode upon the lawn, an act of vandalism that he regretted, but could not help. They reached the door without any apparent notice being taken of them, and as the detachments were approaching from the other sides, Dick dismounted and knocked loudly. Receiving no answer, he bade all the others dismount.
"Curley, you hold the horses," he said, "and Dixon, you tell the men in the other detachments to seize anybody trying to escape. Sergeant, you and I and the others will enter the house. Break in the lock with the butt of your rifle, sergeant! No, I see it's not locked!"
He turned the bolt, and, the door swinging in, they passed into an empty hall. Here they paused and listened, which was a wise thing for a man to do when he entered the house of an enemy. Dick's sense of hearing was not much inferior to that of the sergeant, and while at first they heard nothing, they detected presently a faint click, click. He could not imagine what made the odd sound, and, listening as hard as he could, he could detect no other with it.
He pushed open a door that led into the hall and he and his men entered a large room with windows on the side, opening upon a rose garden. It was a pleasant room with a high ceiling, and old-fashioned, dignified furniture. A blaze of sunlight poured in from the windows, and, where a sash was raised, came the faint, thrilling perfume of roses, a perfume to which Dick was peculiarly susceptible. Yet, for years afterward, the odor of roses brought back to him that house and that room.
He thought at first that the room, although the faint clicking noise continued, contained no human being. But presently he saw sitting at a table by the open window a woman whose gray dress and gray hair blended so nearly with the gray colors of the chamber that even a soldier could have been excused for not seeing her at once. Her head and body were perfectly still, but her hands were moving rapidly. She was knitting, and it was the click of her needles that they had heard.
She did not look up as Dick entered, and, taking off his cap, he stood, somewhat abashed. He knew at once by her dress and face, and the dignity, disclosed even by the manner in which she sat, that she was a great lady, one of those great ladies of old Virginia who were great ladies in fact. She was rather small, Martha Washington might have looked much like her, and she knitted steadily on, without showing by the least sign that she was aware of the presence of union soldiers.
A long and embarrassed silence followed. Dick judged that she was about sixty-five years of age, though she seemed strong and he felt that she was watching them alertly from covert eyes. There was no indication that anyone else was in the building, but it did not seem likely that a great lady of Virginia would be left alone in her house, with a union force marching by.
He approached, bowed and said:
She raised her head and looked at him slowly from head to foot, and then back again. They were fierce old eyes, and Dick felt as if they burned him, but he held his ground knowing that he must. Then she turned back to her knitting, and the needles clicked steadily as before.
"Madame!" repeated Dick, still embarrassed.
She lifted the fierce old eyes.
"I should think," she said, "that the business of General Grant's soldiers was to fight those of General Lee rather than to annoy lone women."
Dick flushed, but angry blood leaped in his veins.
"Pardon me, madame," he said, "but we have not come here to annoy a woman. We were fired upon from this house. The man who did it has had no opportunity to escape, and I'm sure that he's still concealed within these walls."
"Seek and ye shall—not find," she half quoted.
"I must search the house."
"First question her," the sergeant whispered in the young lieutenant's ear.
Dick nodded.
"Pardon me, madame," he said, "but I must obtain information from you. This is war, you know."
"I have had many rude reminders that it is so."
"Where is your husband?"
She pointed upward.
"Forgive me," said Dick impulsively. "I did not intend to recall a grief."
"Don't worry. You and your comrades will never intrude upon him there."
"Perhaps you have sons here in this house?"
"I have three, but they are not here."
"Where are they?"
"One fell with Jackson at Chancellorsville. It was a glorious death, but he is not dead to me. I shall always see him, as he was when he went away, a tall, strong man with brown hair and blue eyes. Another fell in Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. They told me that his body lay across one of the union guns on Cemetery Hill. That, too, was a glorious death, and like his brother he shall live for me as long as I live. The third is alive and with Lee."
She had stopped knitting, but now she resumed it, and, during another embarrassed pause, the click, click of the needles was the only sound heard in the room.
"I regret it, madame," resumed Dick, "but we must search the house thoroughly."
"Proceed," she said again in that tone of finality.
"Take the men and look carefully through every room," said Dick to the sergeant. "I will remain here."
Whitley and the troopers withdrew quietly. When the last of them had disappeared he walked to one of the windows and looked out. He saw his mounted men beyond the rose garden on guard, and he knew that they were as vigilant on the other sides of the house. The sharpshooter could not escape, and he was firmly resolved not to go without him. Yet his conscience hurt him. It was hard, too, to wait there, while the woman said not a word, but knitted on as placidly as if he did not exist.
"Madame," he said at last, "I pray that you do not regard this as an intrusion. The uses of war are hard. We must search. No one can regret it more than I do, in particular since I am really a Southerner myself, a Kentuckian."
"A traitor then as well as an enemy."
Dick flushed deeply, and again there was angry blood in his veins, but he restrained his temper.
"You must at least allow to a man the liberty of choice," he said.
"Provided he has the intelligence and honesty to choose right."
Dick flushed again and bit his lip. And yet he felt that a woman who had lost two sons before Northern bullets might well be unforgiving. There was nothing more for him to say, and while he turned back to the window the knitting needles resumed their click, click.
He waited a full ten minutes and he knew that the sergeant and his men were searching the house thoroughly. Nothing could escape the notice of Whitley, and he would surely find the sharpshooter. Then he heard their footsteps on a stairway and in another minute they entered the great room. The face of the sergeant clearly showed disappointment.
"There's nobody in the house," he said, "or, if he is he's so cleverly hidden, that we haven't been able to find him—that is so far. Perhaps Madame here can tell us something."
"I know nothing," she said, "but if I knew anything I would not tell it to you."
The sergeant smiled sourly, but Dick said:
"We must look again. The man could not have escaped with the guard that we've set around the house."
The sergeant and his men made another search. They penetrated every place in which a human being could possibly hide. They thrust their rifle barrels up the chimneys, and they turned down the bed covers, but again they found nothing. Dick meanwhile remained as before in the large room, covertly watching the woman, lest she give a signal to the rifleman who must be somewhere.
All the while the perfume of the roses was growing stronger and more penetrating, a light wind that had sprung up bringing it through the open window. It thrilled Dick in some singular manner, and the strangeness of the scene heightened its effect. It was like standing in a room in a dim old castle to which he had been brought as a prisoner, while the terrible old woman was his jailer. Then the click of the knitting needles brought him back to the present and reality, but reality itself, despite the sunshine and the perfume of the roses, was heavy and oppressive.
Dick apparently was looking from the window at the garden, brilliant with flowers, but in fact he was closely watching the woman out of the corner of his eye. He had learned to read people by their own eyes, and he had seen how hers burned when she looked at them. Strength of will and intent lie in the human eye. Unless it is purposely veiled it tells the mind and power that are in the brain back of it.
A fear of her crept slowly over him. Perhaps the fear came because, obviously, she had no fear at all of him, or of Whitley or of the soldiers. After their short dialogue she had returned to her old immobility. Neither her body nor her head moved, only her hands, and the motion was wholly from the wrists. She was one of the three Fates, knitting steadily and knitting up the destiny of men.
He shook himself. His was a sound and healthy mind, and he would allow no taint of morbidness to enter it. He knew that there was nothing supernatural in the world, but he did believe that this woman with the gray hair, the burning eyes and the sharp chin, looking as if it had been cut from a piece of steel, was the possessor of uncanny wisdom. Beyond a doubt she knew where the marksman was hidden, and, unless he watched her ceaselessly, she would give him a signal of some kind.
Perhaps he was hidden in the garden among the rose bushes, and he would see her hand, if it was raised ever so slightly. Maybe that was why the window was open, because the clearest glass even could obscure a signal meant to be faint, unnoticed by all except the one for whom it was intended. He would have that garden searched thoroughly when the sergeant returned, and his heart beat with a throb of relief when he heard the stalwart Whitley's footstep once more at the door.
"We have found nothing, sir," said the sergeant. "We've explored every place big enough to hide a cat."
"Search the garden out there," said Dick. "Look behind every vine and bush."
"You will at least spare my roses," said the woman.
"They shall not be harmed," replied the lieutenant, "but my men must see what, if anything, is in the garden."
She said no more. She had not even raised her head when she spoke, and the sergeant and his men went into the garden. They looked everywhere but they damaged nothing. They did not even break off a single flower for themselves. Dick had felt confident that after the failure to find the sharpshooter in the house he would be discovered there, but his net brought in no fish.
He glanced at the sergeant, who happened to glance at him at the same time. Each read the look in the eyes of the other. Each said that they had failed, that they were wasting time, that there was nothing to be gained by hunting longer for a single enemy, that it was time to ride on, as flankers on the right of the main column.
"Madame," said Dick politely, "we leave you now. I repeat my regret at being compelled to search your house in this manner. My duty required it, although we have found nobody."
"You found nobody because nobody is here."
"Evidently it is so. Good-by. We wish you well."
"Good-by. I hope that all of you will be shot by our brave troops before night!"
The wish was uttered with the most extraordinary energy and fierceness. For the first time she had raised her level tone, and the lifted eyes that looked into Dick's were blazing with hate. He uttered an exclamation and stepped back. Then he recovered himself and said politely:
"Madame, I do not wish any such ill to you or yours."
But she had resumed her knitting, and Dick, without another word, walked out of the house, followed by the sergeant and his men.
"I did not know a woman could be so vindictive," he said.
"Our army has killed two of her sons," said the sergeant. "To her we, like all the rest of our troops, are the men who killed them."
"Perhaps that is so," said Dick thoughtfully, as he remounted.
They rode beside the walk and out at the open gate. Dick carried a silver whistle, upon which he blew a signal for the rest of his men to join them, and then he and the sergeant went slowly up the road. He was deeply chagrined at the escape of the rifleman, and the curse of the woman lay heavily upon him.
"I don't see how it was done," he said.
"Nor I," said the sergeant, shaking his head.
There was a sharp report, the undoubted whip-like crack of a rifle, and a man just behind, uttering a cry, held up a bleeding arm. Dick had a lightning conviction that the bullet was intended for himself. It was certain also that the shot had come from the house.
"Back with me, sergeant!" he exclaimed. "We'll get that fellow yet!"
They galloped back, sprang from their horses, and rushed in, followed by the original little troop that had entered, Dick shouting a direction to the others to remain outside. The fierce little old woman was sitting as before by the table, knitting, and she had never appeared more the great lady.
"Once was enough," she said, shooting him a glance of bitter contempt.
"But twice may succeed," Dick said. "Sergeant, take the men and go through all the house again. Our friend with the rifle may not have had time to get back into his hidden lair. I will remain here."
The sergeant and his men went out and he heard their boots on the stairway and in the other rooms. The window near him was still open and the perfume of the roses came in again, strangely thrilling, overpowering. But something had awakened in Dick. The sixth, and even the germ of a seventh sense, which may have been instinct, were up and alive. He did not look again at the rose garden, nor did he listen any longer to the footsteps of his men.
He had concentrated all his faculties, the known, and the unknown, which may have been lying dormant in him, upon a single object. He heard only the click of the knitting needles, and he saw only the small, strong hands moving swiftly back and forth. They were very white, and they were firm like those of a young woman. There were none of the heavy blue veins across the back that betoken age.
The hands fascinated him. He stared at them, fairly pouring his gaze upon them. They were beautiful, as the hands of a great lady should be kept, and it was all the more wonderful then that the right should have across the back of it a faint gray smudge, so tiny that only an eye like his, and a concentrated gaze like his, could have seen it.
He took four swift steps forward, seized the white hand in his and held it up.
"Madame," he said, and now his tone was as fierce as hers had ever been, "where is the rifle?"
She made no attempt to release her hand, nor did she move at all, save to lift her head. Then her eyes, hard, defiant and ruthless, looked into his. But his look did not flinch from hers. He knew, and, knowing, he meant to act.
"Madame," he repeated, "where is the rifle? It is useless for you to deny."
"Have I denied?"
"No, but where is the rifle?"
He was wholly unconscious of it, but his surprise and excitement were so great that his hand closed upon hers in a strong muscular contraction. Thrills of pain shot through her body, but she did not move.
"The rifle! The rifle!" repeated Dick.
"Loose my hand, and I will give it to you."
His hand fell away and she walked to the end of the room where a rug, too long, lay in a fold against the wall. She turned back the fold and took from its hiding place a slender-barreled cap-and-ball rifle. Without a word she handed it to Dick and he passed his hand over the muzzle, which was still warm.
He looked at her, but she gave back his gaze unflinching.
"I could not believe it, were it not so," he said.
"But it is so. The bullets were not aimed well enough." Dick felt an emotion that he did not wholly understand.
"Madame," he said, "I shall take the rifle, and again say good-by. As before, I wish you well."
She resumed her seat in the chair and took up the knitting. But she did not repeat her wish that Dick and all his men be shot before night. He went out in silence, and gently closed the door behind him. In the hall he met Sergeant Whitley and said:
"We needn't look any farther. I know now that the man has gone and we shall not be fired upon again from this house."
The sergeant glanced at the rifle Dick carried and made no comment. But when they were riding away, he said:
"And so that was it?"
"Yes, that was it."

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