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Civil War novel set in the western theater during the final days of the war. As the story opens, the protagonist, Drew Rennie, has been serving as a cavalry scout in Confederate general John Hunt Morgan's command for two years, having left home in 1862 after a final break with his harsh grandfather, who despised him since his birth because of his mother's runaway marriage to a Texan.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Ride with Morgan
Guns in the Night
On the Run——
The Eleventh Ohio Cavalry
A Mule for a River
Happy Birthday, Soldier!
One More River To Cross
"Dismount! Prepare To Fight Gunboats!"
The Road to Nashville
Hell in Tennessee
Missing in Action
Poor Rebel Soldier....
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
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 Minié 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.
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 notlose 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—"
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