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HOME > Classical Novels > The Tree of Appomattox or A Story of the Civil War's End > CHAPTER XIII DICK'S GREAT EXPLOIT
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 It was a singular and weird sound, the blowing of the great cow's horn on the mountain, and then the distant reply from another horn as great. It was both significant and sinister, such an extraordinary note that, despite Dick's experience and courage, his hair lifted a little. He was compelled to look back at the camp and the coals of the fire yet glowing to reassure himself that everything was normal and real.  
"I wish there wasn't so much snow," said Shepard, "then the sergeant, Mr. Reed and myself could scout all over the country around here, mountains or no mountains."
They were joined at that moment by Reed, the long mountaineer, who had also been listening to the big horns.
"That means them gorillers, shore," he said. "We've got some p'ison people uv our own, an' when the gorillers come in here they j'ined 'em, and knowin' ev'ry inch uv the country, they kin guide the gorillers wharever they please."
"You agree then with Mr. Shepard that these signals are made by Slade and Skelly's men?" asked Dick.
"Shorely," replied the mountaineer, "an' I think they're up to some sort uv trick. It pesters me too, 'cause I can't guess it nohow. I done told the colonel that we'd better look out."
Colonel Winchester joined them as he was speaking, and listened to the double signal which was repeated later. But it did not come again, although they waited some time. Instead they heard, as they had heard all through the night, the occasional swish of the soft snow sliding down the slopes. But Dick saw that the colonel was uneasy, and that his apprehensions were shared both by Shepard and the mountaineer.
"Do you know how many men these brigands have?" Colonel Winchester asked of Reed.
"I reckon thar are five hundred uv them gorillers," replied the mountaineer. "Some uv our people spied on 'em in Burton's Cove an' counted 'bout that number."
Colonel Winchester glanced at his sleeping camp.
"I have three hundred," he said, "but they're the very flower of our youth. In the open they could take care of a thousand guerrillas and have something to spare. Still in here—"
He stopped short, but the shrewd mountaineer read his meaning.
"In the mountings it ain't sech plain sailin'," he said, "an' you've got to watch fur tricks. I reckon that when it comes to fightin' here, it's somethin' like the old Injun days."
"I can't see how they can get at us here," said Colonel Winchester, more to himself than to the others. "A dozen men could hold the exit by the creek, and fifty could hold the entrance."
Despite his words, his uneasiness continued and he sent for the sergeant, upon whose knowledge and instincts he relied greatly in such a situation. The sergeant, who had been watching at the other end of the valley, came quickly and, when the colonel looked at him with eyes of inquiry, he said promptly:
"Yes, sir; I think there's mischief a-foot. I can't rightly make out where it's going to be started, but I can hear it, smell it an' feel it. It's like waitin' in a dip on the prairies for a rush by the wild Sioux or Cheyenne horsemen. The signs seem to come through the air."
Dick's oppression increased. A mysterious danger was the worst of all, and his nerves were on edge. Think as he might, he could not conceive how or where the attack would be made. The only sound in the valley was the occasional stamp of the horses in the woods and behind the windrows. The soldiers themselves made no noise. The steps of the sentinels were softened in the snow, and the fires, having sunk to beds of coals, gave forth no crackling sounds.
He stared down the gap, and then up at the white world of walls circling them about. The sky seemed to have become a more dazzling blue than ever, and the great stars with the hosts of their smaller brethren around them gleamed and quivered. The stamp of a horse came again, and then a loud shrill neigh, a piercing sound and full of menace in the still night.
"What was that?" exclaimed the sergeant in alarm. "A horse does not neigh at such a time without good reason!"
And then the storm broke loose in the valley. There was a series of short, fierce shouts. Torches were suddenly waved in the air. Many horses neighed in the wildest terror and, all of them breaking through the forest and windrows, poured in a confused and frightened stream toward the entrance of the valley.
Then the experience of the sergeant in wild Indian warfare was worth more than gold and diamonds. He knew at once what was occurring and he shouted:
"It's a stampede! There have been traitors here, and they've driven the horses with fire!"
"And maybe some of them have managed to slip down the mountain side!" said Shepard.
It was well for them all that they were men of decision and supreme courage. The terrible tumult in the valley was increasing. The horses, a stampeded mass, were driving directly for the entrance. Only one thing could stop them and that the guards then did. They snatched many burning brands from the nearest fire and waved them furiously in the face of the frightened herd, which turned and ran back the other way, only to be confronted by other waving brands that filled them with terror. Then the horses, instinctively following some leader, turned again and ran back to their old places among the trees and behind the windrows, where they stood, quivering with terror.
A crackling of rifles had begun before the horses were driven back, and bullets pattered in the valley. Dark figures appeared crouched against the slopes, and jets of fire ran like a red ribbon upon the white of the snow.
"The gorillers!" cried Reed. "They've crep' over the ridges, spite uv all our watchin'."
Colonel Winchester did not lose his head for an instant, nor did any of his young soldiers, who had been trained to think as well as obey. Without waiting for orders they had already won an important victory by turning the horses back with fire, and the colonel, with the help of his officers, formed them rapidly to meet the attack. The house, the stable and the corn crib were filled with sharpshooters and others lay down among the trees or behind any shelter they could find. A number were detailed rapidly to tether the horses, and make them secure against a second fright. Warner was sent to the men guarding the entrance, Pennington to those at the exit, while Dick was kept with the colonel, who crouched, after his arrangements were made, in a little clump of trees near the center of the valley.
Colonel Winchester was willing enough to risk his life but knowing that it was of the highest importance now to preserve it he did not take any risks through false pride. Besides Dick he kept Reed, Shepard and the sergeant with him.
The ring of fire on the slopes had been increasing fast, and the assailants found much shelter there among the dwarf pines and cedars. Bullets were pattering all over the valley. Several of the Winchesters had been slain in the early firing, and they lay where they had fallen. Others were wounded, but they bound up their own hurts and used their rifles, whenever they could pick out a figure on the slopes.
"You spoke of traitors, Mr. Reed," said the colonel. "Did you know well all the men who came to help in the preparations for us?"
"All but two," replied the mountaineer. "One was named Leonard and the other Bosley. They come from the other side uv the mounting with some uv the boys an' we thought they wuz all right, but I reckon they must be the traitors, an' I reckon too they must hev helped some uv the gorillers into the camp. I ain't seed a sign uv either sence them hosses wuz headed back. I guess we wuz took in, an' I'm pow'ful sorry, colonel."
"You're not to blame, Mr. Reed. It's not always possible to guard against treachery, but since we've defeated their attempt to stampede our horses we'll defeat all other efforts of theirs."
"Colonel, would you mind lendin' me them glasses uv yourn fur a look? The night's so bright I guess I kin use 'em nigh ez well ez in the day."
"Certainly you can have them, Mr. Reed. Here they are."
The mountaineer took a long look through them, and when he handed them back he uttered a clucking sound, significant of satisfaction.
"I 'lowed it was him, when I saw him crawlin' behind that bush," he said, "an' now I know."
"Who is who?" said Dick.
"It's that feller Bosley what came with the rest uv the boys. I know that gray comfort what's tied 'roun' his neck, an' the 'coonskin cap what's on his head. He jest crawled behind that little twisted pine up thar, an' took a pot shot at some uv us down here."
"I wish I could reach him," said Shepard.
"Ef you could I wouldn't let you," said the mountaineer grimly.
"'Cause he's my meat. He come here with my people, an' played a trick on us, a trick that might hev wiped out all uv Colonel Winchester's men. No man kin do that with me an git away. He's piled up a pow'ful big score an' I'm goin' to settle it myself."
"See this rifle uv mine? I reckon it ain't got all the fancy tricks that some uv the new repeatin' breech-loadin' rifles hev. It's jest a cap an' ball rifle, but it's got a long, straight barrel an' a delicate trigger, an' it sends a bullet wherever you p'int it. It's killed squirrels, an' rabbits, an' wil' turkeys an' catamounts, an' b'ars, an' now I reckon it's goin' to hunt higher game."
The man was talking very quietly, but when Dick caught the light in his eye he knew that he meant every word. It was a cold, implacable look, and the face of the mountaineer was like that of an avenging fate.
"I loaded it with uncommon care," he continued, looking affectionately at his rifle, and then looking up again, "an' now that the colonel's glasses hev showed the way I kin see that feller peepin' from roun' his bush, tryin' to git another shot, mebbe at me an' mebbe at you. It's a long carry, but I'm shore to hit. I had a chance at him then, but I 'low to wait a little!"
"Why do you wait?" asked Dick curiously.
"I'm givin' him time to say his prayers."
"Why, he doesn't know that you're going to shoot at him, and he wouldn't pray, even if he did."
"Mebbe not, but I was raised right, an' I know my duty. I ain't goin' to send no man to kingdom without givin' him _time_ to pray. Ef he won't use it the blame is his'n, but that ain't no reason why I oughtn't to give him the _time_."
"How long?"
"Wa'al, I reckon 'bout three minutes is 'nough fur a right good prayer. Thar, he's shot ag'in, but I don't know whar his bullet went. He's usin' up his prayin' time fast."
Reed never altered his quiet, assured tone. He reminded Dick of Warner, talking about his algebra, and the lad was impressed so much by his manner that he believed he was going to do as he said. He began unconsciously to count the seconds.
"Time's up," said Reed at length, "an' that traitor is pokin' his head 'roun' fur another shot."
He raised suddenly his long-barreled rifle, took a quick aim, and pulled the trigger. A stream of fire poured from the muzzle, the figure of a man leaped from the bush and then rolled down the snowy slope.
"I give him plenty uv time," said Reed as he reloaded. "Now I reckon I'll look fur that other feller, Leonard. I'll know him when I see him, an' this old cap-an'-ball rifle uv mine knows too how to talk to traitors."
Dick left presently with a message to a captain who was in command of the force detached to hold the entrance to the valley. He ran part of the way in the shelter of the trees and crept the rest, reaching the captain in safety. Warner was there also, and the fire upon them from the slopes was hot.
"There has been no attempt to force the gate-way here," said Warner. "Since they failed with the horses they wouldn't dare try it. Besides, our sharpshooters are doing execution. Those in the upper story of the house have an especially good chance. Look at the black dots in the snow high up on the slopes. Those are dead guerrillas. There, two men fell! Perhaps if they had known the kind of regiment it was they were coming after they wouldn't have been in such a hurry to attack us."
He spoke with pride, but Dick felt some chagrin.
"That's true," he said, "though I don't like our regiment to be besieged here by a lot of guerrillas. It's an ignominy. It's not enough for us to hold our own against 'em, because they're the people we came to get, and we ought to get 'em."
"I dare say the colonel thinks as you do and he's already planning how to do it. This is a smart little battle, as it is. Those sharpshooters of ours in the houses are certainly making it............
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