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HOME > Classical Novels > The Tree of Appomattox or A Story of the Civil War's End > CHAPTER IV THE FIGHT AT THE CROSSWAYS
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 Colonel Hertford was near the head of the union column, while the three youths rode a little farther back with Colonel Winchester, the regiment of Colonel Bedford bringing up the rear. Just behind Dick was Sergeant Whitley, mounted upon a powerful bay horse. The sergeant had shown himself such a woodsman and scout, and he was so valuable in these capacities that Colonel Winchester had practically made him an aide, and always kept him near for orders.  
Dick noticed now that the sergeant leaned a little forward in his saddle and was using his eyes and ears with all the concentration of the great plainsman that he was. In that attitude he was a formidable figure, and, though he lacked the spy's subtlety and education, he seemed to have much in common with Shepard.
As for Dick himself his nerves had not been so much on edge since he went into his first battle, nor had his heart beat so hard, and he knew it was because Harry Kenton and those comrades of his would be at the convergence of the roads, and they would meet, not in the confused conflict of a great battle, when a face might appear and disappear the next second, but man to man with relatively small numbers. The moon was dimmed a little by fleecy clouds, but the silvery color, instead of vanishing was merely softened, and when Dick looked back at the union column it, like the troop of the South, had the quality of a ghostly train. But the clouds floated away and then the light gleamed on the barrels of the short carbines that the horsemen carried. From a point on the other side of the forest came the softened notes of a trumpet and the great pulse in Dick's throat leaped. Only a few minutes more and they would be at the meeting of the ways.
Colonel Hertford sent a half dozen mounted skirmishers into the road, but the column moved forward at its even pace, still silvered in the moonlight, but ready for battle, wounds and death. Sergeant Whitley whispered to Dick:
"Other men than our own are moving in the forest. I can hear the tread of horses' hoofs on the dry leaves and twigs at the far edge. Our scouts should meet them in a moment or two."
It came as the sergeant had predicted, and Dick saw a tiny flash of fire, not much larger than a pink dot in the woods, heard the sharp report of a rifle and then the crack of another rifle in reply. Silence followed for an instant, but it was evident that the hostile forces were in touch and then in another moment or two the horses of the scouts crashed in the brush, as they rode back to the main column. They had seen enough.
Colonel Hertford gave the order and the entire union force now advanced at a gallop. Through the woods, narrowing so rapidly, came the swift beat of hoofs on the other side, and it was apparent that coincidence would bring the two forces to the point of convergence at the same time. The moonlight seemed to Dick to grow so bright and intense that it had almost the quality of sunlight. Nature, in the absence of day, was making the field of battle as light as possible.
"What's the lay of the land at the point of meeting?" he whispered hurriedly to Shepard who had ridden up by his side.
"Almost level," came the quick response.
A few more rapid hoofbeats and the shrouding woods between disappeared. One column saw another column, both clad in the moonlight, in Dick's fancy, all in silver mail. The two forces wheeled and faced each other across the open space, their horses staring with red eyes, and the men looking intently at their opponents. Both were oppressed for an instant or two by a deep and singular silence.
Dick's eyes swept fearfully along the gray column of the South, and he saw the one whom he did not wish to see—at least not there—Harry Kenton himself, sitting on his bay horse with his friends around him. The two elderly men must be Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, and the three youths beside Harry were surely St. Clair, Langdon and Dalton.
As he looked, Colonel Leonidas Talbot raised his sword, and at the same time came the sharp command of Colonel Hertford. Rifles and carbines flashed from either side across the open space, and two streams of bullets crossed. In an instant the silver of the moonlight was hidden by clouds of smoke through which flashed the fire from hundreds of rifles and carbines. All around Dick's ears was the hissing sound of bullets, like the alarm from serpents.
The fire at close range was so deadly to both sides that holes were smashed in the mounted ranks. The shrill screams of wounded horses, far more terrible than the cries of wounded men, struck like knife points on the drums of Dick's ears. He saw Shepard's horse go down, killed instantly by a heavy bullet, but the spy himself leaped clear, and then Dick lost him in the smoke. A bullet grazed his own wrist and he glanced curiously at the thin trickle of blood that came from it. Yet, forgetting it the next instant, he waved his saber above his head, and began to shout to the men.
Rifles and pistols emptied, the Southern horsemen were preparing to charge. The lifting smoke disclosed a long line of tossing manes and flashing steel. At either end of the line a shrill trumpet was sounding the charge, and the Northern bugles were responding with the same command. The two forces were about to meet in that most terrible of all combats, a cavalry charge by either side, when enemies looked into the eyes of one another, and strong hands swung aloft the naked steel, glittering in the moonlight.
"Bend low in the saddle," exclaimed the sergeant, "and then you'll miss many a stroke!"
Dick obeyed promptly and their whole line swept forward over the grass to meet the men in gray who were coming so swiftly against them. He saw a thousand sabers uplifted, making a stream of light, and then the two forces crashed together. It seemed to him that it was the impact of one solid body upon another as solid, and then so much blood rushed to his head that he could not see clearly. He was conscious only of a mighty crash, of falling bodies, sweeping sabers, that terrible neigh again of wounded horses, of sun-tanned faces, and of fierce eyes staring into his own, and then, as the red mist thinned a little, he became conscious that someone just before him was slashing at him with a long, keen blade. He bent yet lower, and the sword passed over him, but as he rose a little he cut back. His edge touched only the air, but he uttered a gasp of horror as he saw Harry Kenton directly before him, and knew that they had been striking at each other. He saw, too, the appalled look in Harry's eyes, who at the same time had recognized his opponent, and then, in the turmoil of battle, other horsemen drove in between.
That shiver of horror swept over Dick once more, and then came relief. The charging horsemen had separated them in time, and he did not think it likely that the chances of battle would bring Harry and him face to face more than once. Then the red blur enclosed everything and he was warding off the saber strokes of another man. The air was yet filled with the noise of shouting men, and neighing horses, of heavy falls and the ring of steel on steel. Neither gave way and neither could advance. The three union colonels rode up and down their lines encouraging their men, and the valiant Talbot and St. Hilaire were never more valiant than on that night.
A combat with sabers cannot last long, and cavalry charges are soon finished. North and South had met in the center of the open space, and suddenly the two, because all their force was spent, fell back from that deadly line, which was marked by a long row of fallen horses and men. They reloaded their rifles and carbines and began to fire at one another, but it was at long range, and little damage was done. They fell back a bit farther, the firing stopped entirely, and they looked at one another.
It was perhaps the effect of the night, with its misty silver coloring, and perhaps their long experience of war, giving them an intuitive knowledge, that made these foes know nothing was to be gained by further combat. They were so well balanced in strength and courage that they might destroy one another, but no one could march away from the field victorious. Perhaps, too, it was a feeling that the God of Battles had already issued his decree in regard to this war, and that as many lives as possible should now be spared. But whatever it was, the finger fell away from the trigger, the saber was returned to the scabbard, and they sat on their horses, staring at one another.
Dick took his glasses from his shoulder and began to scan the hostile line. His heart leaped when he beheld Harry in the saddle, apparently unharmed, and near him three youths, one with a red bandage about his shoulder. Then he saw the two colonels, both erect men with long, gray hair, on their horses near the center of the line, and talking together. One gestured two or three times as he spoke, and he moved his arm rather stiffly.
The three union colonels were in a little group not far from Dick, and they also were talking with one another. Dick wondered what they would do, but he was saved from long wonderment by the call of a trumpet from the Southern force, and the appearance of a horseman not older than himself riding forward and bearing a white flag.
"They want a truce," said Colonel Hertford. "Go and meet them, Mason."
Dick, willing enough, turned his horse toward the young man who, heavily tanned, was handsome, well-built and dressed with scrupulous care in a fine gray uniform.
"My name is St. Clair," he said, "and I'm an officer on the staff of Colonel Leonidas Talbot, who commands the force behind me."
"I think we've met once before," said Dick. "My name is Mason, Richard Mason, and I am with Colonel Arthur Winchester, who commands one of the regiments that has just been fighting you."
"It's so! Upon my life it's so, and you're the same Dick Mason that's the cousin of our Harry Kenton, the fellow he's always talking about! He's on General Lee's staff, but he's been detached for temporary duty with us. He's over there all right. But I've come to tell you that Colonel Talbot, who commands us, offers a flag of truce to bury the dead. He sees that neither side can win, that to continue the battle would only involve us in mutual destruction. He wishes, too, that I convey to your commander his congratulations upon his great skill and courage. I may add, myself, Mr. Mason, that Colonel Talbot knows a brave man when he sees him."
"I've no doubt the offer will be accepted. Will you wait a moment?"
"Certainly," replied St. Clair, giving his most elegant salute with his small sword.
Dick went back to the union colonels, and they accepted at once. That long line of dead and wounded, and the mournful song of the wind through the trees, affected the colonels on both sides. More flags of truce were hoisted, and the officers in blue or gray rode forward to meet one another, and to talk together as men who bore no hate in their hearts for gallant enemies.
The troopers rapidly dug shallow graves with their bayonets in the soft soil, and the dead were laid away. The feeling of friendship and also of curiosity among these stern fighters grew. They were anxious to see and talk a little with men who had fought one another so hard more than three years. Nearly all of them had lost blood at one time or another, and the venom of hate had gone out with it.
Dick found Harry dismounted and standing with a group of officers, among whom were St. Clair and Langdon. The two cousins shook hands with the greatest warmth.
"Well, Dick," said Harry, "we didn't think to meet again in this way, did we?"
"No, but both of us at least have come out of it alive, and unwounded. I'm sorry to see that your friend there is hurt."
"It's nothing," said Langdon, whose left arm was in a hasty bandage. "A scratch only. I'll be able to use my arm as well as ever three days from now."
"Your force," said St. Clair, "was marching to reinforce General Sheridan in the Valley of Virginia. I'm not asking for information, which of course you wouldn't give. I'm merely stating the fact."
"And yours," said Dick, "was marching to reinforce General Early in the same valley. I, like you, am just making a statement."
"We've met, but you haven't been able to stop us."
"Nor have you been able to stop _us_."
"And so it's checkmate."
"Checkmate it is."
"Why don't you fellows give up and go home?" exclaimed Dick, moved by an irresistible impulse. "You know that your armies are wearing out, while ours are growing stronger!"
"We couldn't think of such a thing," replied St. Clair, in a tone of cool assurance. "My friend Langdon here, has taken an oath to sleep in the White House. We also intend to make a triumphal march through Philadelphia, and then down Broadway in New York. You would not have us break our oaths or change our purposes."
"It's true, Dick," said Harry, "we can't do either. We'd like to oblige you Yankees, but we must make those triumphal parades through Philadelphia and New York."
"I should have known that I couldn't reason with you Johnny Rebs," said Dick, smiling, "but I hope that none of you will get killed, and here and now I make you a promise."
"What is it, Dick?" asked Harry.
"When you suffer your final defeat, and all of you become my prisoners, I'll treat you well. I'll turn you loose in a Blue-grass pasture, and you can roam as you please within its limits."
"Thank you," said Happy Tom, "but I'm no Nebuchadnezzar. I can't live on grass. If I become a prisoner at any time I demand the very best of food, especially as you Yankees already have more than your share."
"There go the trumpets recalling us," said St. Clair. "The men have finished the gruesome task. I want you to know, Mr. Mason, that we bear you no animosity, and we're quite sure that you bear us none."
He extended his hand and Dick's met it in a warm grasp. Langdon also shook hands with him, and as his eyes twinkled he said:
"Don't fail to notice my haughty bearing when I march at the head of a triumphal troop down Broadway!"
"I promise," said Dick. Then he and Harry gave each other the final clasp. But with the pride of the young they strove not to show emotion.
"Take care of yourself, Dick, old man!" said Harry. "Don't get in the way of bullets and shell. Remember they're harder than you are."
"The same to you, Harry. It's not worth while to take any more risks than necessary."
Then, obeying the call of the trumpets, they mounted and rode to their own commands. There was something strange in this brief half hour of friendship, when they buried the dead together. Blue and gray formed again in long lines facing one another, but midway between was another long line of fresh earth, and it rose up suddenly, an impassable barrier to a charge by either force.
"We can't beat them and they can't beat us. That's been proved," said Colonel Hertford to Colonel Winchester and Colonel Bedford.
"So it has," said Colonel Winchester, "and I'd like to march from here. I don't care for any more fighting on this spot."
"Nor I. Hark, they've decided it for us!"
The Southern trumpet sounded another call, and the line of men in gray, turning away, began to march into the southwest. Colonel Hertford promptly gave an order, the union trumpet sounded also, and the men in blue, curving also, rode toward the northwest.
Dick and his comrades were silent a long time. Their feelings were perhaps the same. To youth a year is a long time, and two years are almost a life time. Three years and more of it had made war to them a normal state. They had not thought much before of an end to the great struggle between North and South, and of what was to come after. Now they realized that peace, not war, was normal, and that it must return.
The moonlight faded and then the stars were dimmed, as the darkness that precedes the dawn came. The silvery veil that had been thrown over them vanished and the column became a ghostly train riding in the dusk. But the road into which Shepard guided them led over a pleasant land of hills and clear streams. Although the scouts on their flanks kept vigilant watch, many of the men slept soundly in their saddles. Dick himself dozed awhile, and slept awhile, and, when he roused himself from his last nap, the dawn was breaking over the brown hills and the column was halting for food and a little rest.
It was August, the time of great heat in Virginia, but they were already building fires to cook the breakfast and make coffee, and most of the men had dismounted. Dick sprang down also and turned his horse loose to graze with the others. Then he joined Warner and Pennington and fell hungrily to work. When he thought of it afterward he could scarcely remember a time in the whole war when he was not hungry.
The sense of unreality disappeared with the brilliant dawn, though the night itself with the battle in the moonlight seemed to be almost a dream. Yet the combat had been fought, and he had met Harry Kenton and his friends. The empty saddles proved it.
"I see a great country opening out before us," said Warner. "I suppose it's this Valley of Virginia, of which we've all heard and seen so much, and in which once upon a time Stonewall Jackson thumped us so often."
"It's a branch of it," said Pennington, "but Stonewall Jackson is gone, God rest his soul—I say that from the heart, even if he was against us—and I've an idea that instead of getting thumped we're going to do the thumping. There's something about this man Sheridan that appeals to me. We've seen him in action with artillery, but now he's a cavalry commander. They say he rides fast and far and strikes hard. People are beginning to talk about Little Phil. Well, I approve of Little Phil."
"He'll be glad to hear of it," said Dick. "It will brace him up a lot."
"He may be lucky to get it," replied Pennington calmly. "There are many generals in this war, and two or three of them have been commander-in-chief, of whom I don't approve at all. I think you'll find, too, that history will have a habit of agreeing with me."
"But don't make predictions," said Dick. "There have been no genuine, dyed-in-the-wool prophets since those ancient Hebrews were gathered to their fathers, and that was a mighty long time ago."
"There you're wrong, Dick," said Warner, earnestly. "It's all a matter of mathematics, the scientific application of a romantic and imaginative science to facts. Get all your premises right, arrange them correctly, and the result follows as a matter of course."
The trumpet sounded boots and saddles, and cut him short. In a few more minutes they were all up and away, riding over the hills and across the dips toward the main sweep of the famous valley which played such a great part in the tactics and fighting of the Civil War. It had already been ravaged much by march and battle and siege, but its heavier fate was yet to come.
But Dick did not think much of what might happen as he rode with his comrades across the broken country and saw, rising before them, the dim blue line of the mountains that walled in the eastern side of the valley. The day was not so warm as usual, and among the higher hills a breeze was blowing, bringing currents of fresh, cool air that made the lungs expand and the pulses leap. The three youths felt almost as if they had been re-created, and Pennington became vocal.
"Woe is the day!" he said. "I lament what I have lost!"
"If what you have lost was worth keeping I lament with you," said Dick. "O, woe is the day!"
"O, woe is the day for me, too!" said Warner, "but why do we utter cries of woe, Frank?"
"Because of the narrow, little, muddy little, ugly little, mean little trench we've left behind us! O, woe is me that I've left such a trench, where one could sit in mud to the knees and touch the mud wall on either side of him, for this open, insecure world, where there is nothing but fresh air to breathe, nothing but water to drink, nothing but food to eat, and no world but blue skies, hills, valleys, forests, fields, rivers, creeks and brooks!"
"O, woe is me!" the three chanted together. "We sigh for our narrow trench, and its muddy bottom and muddy sides and foul air and lack of space, and for the shells bursting over our heads, and for the hostile riflemen ready to put a bullet through us at the first peep! Now, do we sigh for all those blessings we've left behind us?"
"Never a sigh!" said Dick.
"Not a tear from me," said Pennington.
"The top of the earth for me," said Warner.
Their high spirits spread to the whole column. So thoroughly inured were they to war that their losses of the night before were forgotten, and they lifted up their voices and sang. Youth and the open air would have their way and the three colonels did not object. They preferred men who sang to men who groaned.
"Do you know just where we're going, and where we expect to find this Little Phil of yours?" asked Warner.
"I've heard that we're to report to him at Halltown, a place south of the Potomac, and about four miles from Harper's Ferry," replied Dick.
"As that's a long distance, we'll have a long ride to reach it," said Warner, "and I'm glad of it. I'm enjoying this great trail, and I hope we won't meet again those fire-eating friends of yours, Dick, who gave us so much trouble last night."
"I hope so too," said Dick, "for their sake as well as ours. I don't like fighting with such close kin. They must be well along on the southwestern road now to join Early."
"There's no further danger of meeting them, at least before this campaign opens," said Warner. "Shepard has just come back from a long gallop and he reports that they are now at least twenty miles away, with the distance increasing all the time."
Dick felt great relief. He was softening wonderfully in these days, and while he had the most intense desire for the South to yield he had no wish for the South to suffer more. He felt that the republic had been saved and he was anxious for the war to be over soon. His heart swelled with pride at the way in which the union states had stood fast, how they had suffered cruel defeats, but had come again, and yet again, how mistakes and disaster had been overcome by courage and tenacity.
"A Confederate dollar for your thoughts," said Warner.
"You can have 'em without the dollar," replied Dick. "I was thinking about the end of the war and after. What are all the soldiers going to do then?"
"Go straight back to peace," replied Warner promptly. "I know my own ambition. I've told you already that I intend to be president of Harvard University, and, barring death, I'm bound to succeed. I give myself twenty-five years for the task. If I choose my object now and bend every energy toward it for twenty-five years I'm sure to obtain it. It's a mathematical certainty."
"I'm going to be a great ranchman in Western Nebraska with my father," said Pennington. "He's under fifty yet, and he's as strong as a horse. The buffalo in Western Nebraska must go and then Pennington and Son will have fifty thousand fine cattle in their place. And you, Dick, have you already chosen the throne on which you're going to sit?"
"Yes, I've been thinking about it for some time. I've made up my mind to be an editor. After the war I'm going to the largest city in our state, get a place on a newspaper there and strive to be its head. Then I'll try to cement the reunion of North and South. That will be my greatest topic. We soldiers won't hate one another when the war is over, and maybe the fact that I've fought through it will give weight to my words."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Warner. "When I'm president of Harvard I'll invite the great Kentucky editor, Richard Mason, to deliver the annual address to my young men. I like that idea of yours about making the union firmer than it was before the war. Since the Northern States and the Southern States must dwell together the more peace and brotherly love we have the better it will be for all of us."
"When you give me that invitation, George, you'd better ask my cousin, Harry Kenton, at the same time, because it's almost a certainty that he will then be governor of Kentucky. His great grandfather, the famous Henry Ware, was the greatest governor the state ever had, and, as I know that Harry intends to study law and enter politics, he's bound to follow in his footsteps."
"Of course I'll ask him," said Warner in all earnestness, "and he shall speak too. You can settle it between you who speaks first. It will be an exceedingly effective scene, the two cousins, the great editor who fought on the Northern side and the great governor who fought on the Southern side, speaking from the same stage to the picked youth of New England. Pennington, the representative of the boundless West, shall be there too, and if the owner of fifty thousand fine cattle roaming far and wide wants to make an address he shall do so."
"I don't think I'd care to speak, George," said Pennington. "I'm not cut out for oratory, but I certainly accept right now your invitation to come. I'll sit on the stage with Dick and the Johnny Reb, his cousin Harry, and I'll smile and smile and applaud and applaud, and after it's all over I'll choose a few of your picked youth of New England, take 'em out west with me, teach 'em how to rope cattle, how to trail stray steers and how to take care of themselves in a blizzard. Oh, I'll make men of 'em, I will! Now, what is that on the high hill to the south?"
The three put their glasses to their eyes and saw a man on horseback waving a flag. The head of the horse was turned toward some hill farther south, and the man was evidently making signals to another patrol there.
"A Johnny," said Pennington. "I suppose they're sending the word on toward Early that we're passing."
"From hill to hill," said Dick. "A message can be sent a long way in that manner."
"I don't think it will interfere with us," said Warner. "They're merely telling about us. They don't intend to attack us. They haven't the men to spare."
"No, they won't attack, they know I'm here," said Pennington.
The three colonels did not stop the column, but they watched the signals as they rode. Nobody was able to interpret them, not even Shepard, but they felt that they could ignore them. Colonel Hertford, nevertheless, sent off a strong scouting party in that direction, but as it approached the horseman on the hill rode over the other side and disappeared.
All that day they advanced through a lonely and hostile country. It was a region intensely Southern in its sympathies, and it seemed that everybody, including the women and children, had fled before them. Horses and cattle were gone also and its loneliness was accentuated by the fact that not so long before it had been a well-peopled land, where now the houses stood empty and silent. They saw no human beings, save other watchmen on the hills making signals, but they were far away and soon gone.
By noon both horses and men showed great fatigue. They had slept but little the night before, and, toughened as they were by war, they had reached the limit of endurance. So the trumpet sounded the halt in a meadow beside a fine stream, and all, save those who were to ride on the outskirts and watch for the enemy, dismounted gladly. A vast drinking followed. The water was clear, running over clean pebbles, and a thousand men knelt and drank again and again. Then the horses were allowed to drink their fill, which they did with mighty gurglings of satisfaction, and the men cooked their midday meal.
Meanwhile they talked of Sheridan. All expected battle and then battle again when they joined him, and they looked forward to a great campaign in the valley. That valley was not so far away. The blue walls of the mountains that hemmed its eastern edge were very near now. Dick looked at them through his glasses, not to find an enemy, but merely for the pleasure of bringing out the heavy forests on their slopes. It was true that the leaves were already touched by the summer's heat, but in the distance at least the mass looked green. He knew also that under the screen of the leaves the grass preserved its freshness and there were many little streams, foaming in white as they rushed down the steep slopes. It was a marvelously pleasing sight to him, and, as the wilderness thus called, he was once more deeply grateful that he had escaped from the muddy trench.
"We'll pass through a gap, sir, tomorrow morning," said Sergeant Whitley, "and go into the main valley."
"The gap would be the place for the Southern force to meet us."
But Sergeant Whitley shook his head.
"There are too many gaps and too few Southern troops," he said. "I think we'll find this one clear. Besides, Colonel Hertford is sure to send a scouting party ahead tonight. But if you don't mind taking a little advice from an old trooper, sir, I'd lie on the grass and sleep while we're here. An hour even will do a lot of good."
Dick followed his advice gladly and thanked him. He was always willing to receive instruction from Sergeant Whitley, who had proved himself his true friend and who in reality was able to teach men of much higher rank. He lay down upon the brown grass, and despite all the noise, despite all the excitement of past hours, fell fast asleep in a few minutes. He slept an hour, but it seemed to him that he had scarcely closed his eyes, when the trumpets were calling boots and saddles again. Yet he felt refreshed and stronger when he sprang up, and Sergeant Whitley's advice, as always, had proved good.
The column resumed its march before mid-afternoon, continuing its progress through a silent and empty country. The blue wall came closer and closer and Dick and his comrade saw the lighter line, looking in the distance like the slash of a sword, that marked the gap. Shepard, who rode a very swift and powerful horse, came back from another scouting trip and reported that there was no sign of the enemy, at least at the entrance to the gap.
Later in the afternoon, as they were passing through a forest several shots were fired at them from the covert. No damage was done beyond one man wounded slightly, and Dick, under orders, led a short pursuit. He was glad that they found no one, as prisoners would have been an incumbrance, and it was not the custom in the United States to shoot men not in uniform who were defending the soil on which they lived. He had no doubt that those who had fired the shots were farmers, but it had been easy for them to make good their escape in the thickets.
He thought he saw relief on Colonel Hertford's face also, when he reported that the riflemen had escaped, and, after spreading out skirmishers a little farther on either flank, the column, which had never broken its march, went on at increased pace. It was growing warm now, and the dust and heat of the long ride began to affect them. The blue line of the mountains, as they came close, turned to green and Dick, Warner and Pennington looked enviously at the deep shade.
"Not so bad," said Warner. "Makes me think a little of the Green Mountains of Vermont, though not as high and perhaps not as green."
"Of course," said Dick. "Nothing outside of Vermont is as good as anything inside of it."
"I'm glad you acknowledge it so readily, Dick. I have found some people who would not admit it at first, and I was compelled to talk and persuade them of the fact, a labor that ought to be unnecessary. The truth should always speak for itself. Vermont isn't the most fertile state in the union and it's not the largest, but it's the best producer of men, or I should say the producer of the best men."
"What will Massachusetts say to that? I've read Daniel Webster's speech in reply to Hayne."
"Oh, Massachusetts, of course, has more people, I'm merely speaking of the average."
"Nebraska hasn't been settled long," said Pennington, "but you just wait. When we get a population we'll make both Vermont and Massachusetts take a back seat."
"And that population, or at least the best part of it," rejoined the undaunted Warner, "will come from Vermont and Massachusetts and other New England states."
"Sunset and the gap together are close at hand," said Dick, "and however the mountains of Virginia may compare with those of Vermont, it's quite certain that the sun setting over the two states is the same."
"I concede that," said Warner; "but it looks more brilliant from the Vermont hills."
Nevertheless, the sun set in Virginia in a vast and intense glow of color, and as the twilight came they entered the gap.

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