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The Return of the O'Mahony written by Harold Frederic who was an American journalist and novelist. This book was published in 1892. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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The Return of the O'Mahony
Illustrator: Warren B. Davis
CHAPTER I.—THE FATHER OF COMPANY F.
CHAPTER II.—THE VIDETTE POST.
CHAPTER III.—LINSKY’S BRIEF MILITARY CAREER.
CHAPTER IV.—THE O’MAHONY ON ERIN’S SOIL.
CHAPTER V.—THE INSTALLATION OF JERRY.
CHAPTER VI.—THE HEREDITARY BARD.
CHAPTER VII.—THE O’MAHONY’S HOME-WELCOME.
CHAPTER VIII.—TWO MEN IN A BOAT.
CHAPTER IX.—THE VOICE OF THE HOSTAGE.
CHAPTER X.—HOW THE “HEN HAWK” WAS BROUGHT IN.
CHAPTER XI.—A FACE FROM OUT THE WINDING-SHEET.
CHAPTER XII.—A TALISMAN AND A TRAITOR
CHAPTER XIII.—THE RETREAT WITH THE PRISONERS
CHAPTER XIV.—THE REINTERMENT OF LINSKY.
CHAPTER XV.—“TAKE ME WITH YOU, O’MAHONY.”
CHAPTER XVI.—THE LADY OF MUIRISC.
CHAPTER XVII.—HOW THE OLD BOATMAN KEPT HIS VOW.
CHAPTER XVIII.—THE GREAT O’DALY USURPATION.
CHAPTER XIX.—A BARGAIN WITH THE BURIED MAN.
CHAPTER XX.—NEAR THE SUMMIT OF MT. GABRIEL.
CHAPTER XXI.—ON THE MOUNTAIN-TOP—AND AFTER.
CHAPTER XXII.—THE INTELLIGENT YOUNG MAN.
CHAPTER XXIII.—THE COUNCIL OF WAR.
CHAPTER XXIV.—THE VICTORY OF THE “CATHACH.”
CHAPTER XXV.—BERNARD’S GOOD CHEER.
CHAPTER XXVI.—THE RESIDENT MAGISTRATE
CHAPTER XXVII.—THE RETURN OF THE O’MAHONY.
CHAPTER XXVIII.—A MARINE MORNING CALL.
CHAPTER XXIX.—DIAMOND CUT PASTE.
CHAPTER XXX.—A FAREWELL FEAST.
ZEKE TISDALE was the father of Company F. Not that this title had ever been formally conferred upon him, or even recognized in terms, but everybody understood about it. Sometimes Company F was for whole days together exceedingly proud of the relation—but alas! More often it viewed its parent with impatient levity, not to say contempt. In either case, it seemed all the same to Zeke.
He was by no means the oldest man in the company, at least as appearances went. Some there were gathered about the camp-fire, this last night in March of ‘65, who looked almost old enough to be his father—gray, gaunt, stiff-jointed old fighters, whose hard service stretched back across four years of warfare to Lincoln’s first call for troops, and who laughed now grimly over the joke that they had come out to suppress the Rebellion within ninety days, and had the job still unfinished on their hands at the end of fourteen hundred.
But Zeke, though his mud-colored hair and beard bore scarcely a trace of gray, and neither his placid, unwrinkled face nor his lithe, elastic form suggested age, somehow produced an impression of seniority upon all his comrades, young and old alike. He had been in the company from the beginning, for one thing; but that was not all. It was certain that he had been out in Utah at the time of Albert Sidney Johnston’s expedition—perhaps had fought under him. It seemed pretty well established that before this Mormon episode he had been with Walker in Nicaragua. Over the mellowing canteen he had given stray hints of even other campaigns which his skill had illumined and his valor adorned. Nobody ever felt quite sure how much of this was true—for Zeke had a child’s disregard for any mere veracity which might mar the immediate effects of his narratives—but enough passed undoubted to make him the veteran of the company. And that was not all.
For cold-blooded intrepidity in battle, for calm, clear-headed rashness on the skirmish-line, Zeke had a fame extending beyond even his regiment and the division to which it belonged. Men in regiments from distant States, who met with no closer bond than that they all wore the badge of the same army corps, talked on occasion of the fellow in the —th New York, who had done this, that or the other dare-devil feat, and yet never got his shoulder-straps. It was when Company F men heard this talk that they were most proud of Zeke—proud sometimes even to the point of keeping silence about his failure to win promotion.
But among themselves there was no secret about this failure. Once the experiment had been made of lifting Zeke to the grade of corporal—and the less said about its outcome the better. Still, the truth may as well be told. Brave as any lion, or whatever beast should best typify absolute fearlessness in the teeth of deadly peril, Zeke in times of even temporary peace left a deal to be desired. His personal habits, or better, perhaps, the absence of them, made even the roughest of his fellows unwilling to be his tent-mate. As they saw him lounging about the idle camp, he was shiftless, insubordinate, taciturn and unsociable when sober, wearisomely garrulous when drunk—the last man out of four-score whom the company liked to think of as its father.
And Company F had had nothing to do, now, for a good while. Through the winter it had lain in its place on the great, steel-clad intrenched line which waited, jaws open, for the fall of Petersburg. The ready-made railroad from City Point was at its back, and food was plenty. But now, as spring came on—the wet, warm Virginian spring, with every meadow a swamp, every road a morass, every piece of bright-green woodland an impassable tangle—the strategy of the closing act in the dread drama sent Company F away to the South and West, into the desolate backwoods country where no roads existed, and no foraging, be it never so vigilant, promised food. The movement really reflected Grant’s fear lest, before the final blow was struck, Lee should retreat into the interior. But Company F did not know what it meant, and disliked it accordingly, and, by the end of the third day in its quarters, was both hungry and quarrelsome.
Evening fell upon a gloomy, rain-soaked day, which the men had miserably spent in efforts to avoid getting drenched to the skin, and in devices to preserve dry spots upon which to sleep at night. Permission to build a fire, which had been withheld ever since their arrival, had only come from division headquarters an hour ago; and as they warmed themselves now over the blaze, biting the savorless hard-tack, and sipping the greasy fluid of beans and chicory from their tin cups, they still looked sulkily upon the line of lights which began to dot the ridge on which they lay, and noted the fact that their division had grown into an army corps, almost as if it had been a grievance. Distant firing had been heard all day, but it seemed a part of their evil luck that it should be distant.
They stared, too, with a sullen indifference at the spectacle of a sergeant who entered their camp escorting a half-dozen recruits, and, with stiff salutation, turned them over to the captain at the door of his tent. The men of Company F might have studied these bounty-men, as they stood in file waiting for the company’s clerk to fill out his receipt, with more interest, had it been realized that they were probably the very last men to be enrolled by the Republic for the Civil War. But nobody knew that, and the arrival of recruits was an old story in the —th New York, which had been thrust into every available hellpit, it seemed to the men, since that first cruel corner at Bull Run. So they scowled at the newcomers in their fresh, clean uniforms, as these straggled doubtfully toward the fire, and gave them no welcome whatever.
Hours passed under the black sky, into which the hissing, spluttering fire of green wood was too despondent to hurl a single spark. The men stood or squatted about the smoke-ringed pile on rails and fence-boards which they had laid to save them from the soft mud—in silence broken only by fitful words. From time to time the monotonous call of the sentries out in the darkness came to them like the hooting of an owl. Sharp shadows on the canvas walls of the captain’s tent and the sound of voices from within told them that the officers were playing poker. Once or twice some moody suggestion of a “game” fell upon the smoky air outside, but died away unanswered. It was too wet and muddy and generally depressing. The low west wind which had risen since nightfall carried the threat of more rain.
“Grant ain’t no good, nor any other dry-land general, in this dripping old swamp of a country,” growled a grizzled corporal, whose mud-laden heels had slipped off his rail. “The man we want here is Noah. This is his job, and nobody else’s.”
“There’d be one comfort in that, anyway,” said another, well read in the Bible. “When the rain was all over, he set up drinks.”
“Don’t you make any mistake,” put in a third. “He shut himself up in his tent, and played his booze solitaire. He didn’t even ask in the officers of the ark and propose a game.”
“I—I’ve got a small flask with me,” one of the recruits diffidently began. “I was able to get it to-day at Dinwiddie Court House. Paid more for it I suppose, than—”
In the friendly excitement created by the recruit’s announcement, and his production of a flat, brown bottle, further explanation was lost. Nobody cared how much he had paid. Two dozen of his neighbors took a lively interest in what he had bought. The flask made its tour of only a segment of the circle, amid a chorus of admonitions to drink fair, and came back flatter than ever and wholly empty. But its ameliorating effect became visible at once. One of the recruits was emboldened to tell a story he had heard at City Point, and the veterans consented to laugh at it. Conversation sprang up as the fire began to crackle under a shift of wind, and the newcomers disclosed that they all had clean blankets, and that several had an excess of chewing tobacco. At this last, all reserve was cleared away. Veterans and recruits spat into the fire now from a common ground of liking, and there was even some rivalry to secure such thoughtful strangers as tent-mates.
Only one of the newcomers stood alone in the muddiest spot of the circle, before a part of the fire which would not burn. He seemed to have no share in the confidences of his fellow-recruits. None of their stories or reminiscences referred to him, and neither they nor any veteran had offered him a word during the evening.
He was obviously an Irishman, and it was equally apparent that he had just landed. There was an indefinable something in the way he stood, in his manner of looking at people, in the very awkwardness with which his ill-fitting uniform hung upon him, which spoke loudly of recent importation. This in itself would have gone some way toward prejudicing Company F against him, for Castle Garden recruits were rarely popular, even in the newest regiments. But there was a much stronger reason for the cold shoulder turned upon him.
This young man who stood alone in the mud—he could hardly have got half through the twenties—had a repellent, low-browed face, covered with freckles and an irregular stubble of reddish beard, and a furtive squint in his pale, greenish-blue eyes. The whites of these eyes showed bloodshot, even in the false light of the fire, and the swollen lines about them spoke plainly of a prolonged carouse. They were not Puritans, these men of Company F, but with one accord they left Andrew Linsky—the name the roster gave him—to himself.
Time came, after the change of guard, when those who were entitled to sleep must think of bed. The orderly-sergeant strolled up to the fire, and dropped a saturnine hint to the effect that it would be best to sleep with one eye open; signs pointed to a battle next day, and the long roll might come before morning broke. Their brigade was on the right of a line into which two corps had been dumped during the day, and apparently this portended the hottest kind of a fight; moreover, it was said Sheridan was on the other side of the ridge. Everybody knew what that meant.
“We ought to be used to hot corners by this time,” said the grizzled corporal, in comment, “but it’s the deuce to go into ’em on empty stomachs. We’ve been on half-rations two days.”
“There’ll be the more to go round among them that’s left,” said the sergeant, grimly, and turned on his heel.
The Irishman, pulling his feet with difficulty out of the ooze into which they had settled, suddenly left his place and walked over to the corporal, lifting his hand in a sidelong, clumsy salute.
“Wud ye moind tellin me, sur, where I’m to sleep?” he asked, saluting again.
The corporal looked at his questioner, spat meditatively into the embers, then looked again, and answered, briefly:
“On the ground.”
Linsky cast a glance of pained bewilderment, first down at the mud into which he was again sinking, then across the fire into the black, wind-swept night.
“God forgive me for a fool,” he groaned aloud, “to lave a counthry where even the pigs have straw to drame on.”
“Where did you expect to sleep—in a balloon?” asked the corporal, with curt sarcasm. Then the look of utter hopelessness on the other’s ugly face prompted him to add, in a softer tone; “You must hunt up a tent-mate for yourself—make friends with some fellow who’ll take you in.”
“Sorra a wan’ll be friends wid me,” said the despondent recruit. “I’m waitin’ yet, the furst dacent wurrud from anny of ’em.”
The corporal’s face showed that he did not specially blame them for their exclusiveness, but his words were kindly enough.
“Perhaps I can fix you out,” he said, and sent a comprehensive glance round the group which still huddled over the waning fire, on the other side.
“Hughie, here’s a countryman of yours,” he called out to a lean, tall, gray-bearded private who, seated on a rail, had taken off his wet boots and was scraping the mud from them with a bayonet; “can you take him in?”
“I have some one already,” the other growled, not even troubling to lift his eyes from his task.
It happened that this was a lie, and that the corporal knew it to be one. He hesitated for a moment, dallying with the impulse to speak sharply. Then, reflecting that Hugh O’Mahony was a quarrelsome and unsociable creature with whom a dispute was always a vexation to the spirit, he decided to say nothing.
How curiously inscrutable a thing is chance! Upon that one decision turned every human interest in this tale, and most of all, the destiny of the sulky man who sat scraping his boots. The Wheel of Fortune, in this little moment of silence, held him poised within the hair’s breadth of a discovery which would have altered his career in an amazing way, and changed the story of a dozen lives. But the corporal bit his lip and said nothing. O’Mahony bent doggedly over his work—and the wheel rolled on.
The corporal’s eye, roaming about the circle, fell upon the figure of a man who had just approached the fire and stood in the full glare of the red light, thrusting one foot close to the blaze, while he balanced himself on the other. His ragged hair and unkempt beard were of the color of the miry clay at his feet. His shoulders, rounded at best, were unnaturally drawn forward by the exertion of keeping his hands in his pockets, the while he maintained his balance. His face, of which snub nose and grey eyes alone were visible in the frame of straggling hair and under the shadow of the battered foragecap visor, wore a pleased, almost merry, look in the flickering, ruddy light. He was humming a droning sort of tune to himself as he watched the steam rise from the wet leather.
“Zeke’s happy to-night; that means fight tomorrow, sure as God made little fishes,” said the corporal to nobody in particular. Then he lifted his voice:
“Have you got a place in your diggin’s for a recruit, Zeke—say just for to-night?” he asked.
Zeke looked up, and sauntered forward to where they stood, hands still in pockets.
“Well—I don’t know,” he drawled. “Guess so—if he don’t snore too bad.”
He glanced Linsky over with indolent gravity. It was plain that he didn’t think much of him.
“Got a blanket?” he asked, abruptly.
“I have that,” the Irishman replied.
“Anything to drink?”
Linsky produced from his jacket pocket a flat, brown bottle, twin brother to that which had been passed about the camp-fire circle earlier in the evening, and held it up to the light.
“They called it whiskey,” he said, in apology; “an’ be the price I paid fur it, it moight a’ been doimonds dissolved in angel’s tears; but the furst sup I tuk of it, faith, I thought it ’ud tear th’ t’roat from me!”
Zeke had already linked Linsky’s arm within his own, and he reached forth now and took the bottle.
“It’s p’zen to a man that ain’t used to it,” he said, with a grave wink to the corporal. “Come along with me, Irish; mebbe if you watch me close you can pick up points about gittin’ the stuff down without injurin’ your throat.”
And, with another wink, Zeke led his new-found friend away from the fire, picking his steps through the soft mud, past dozens of little tents propped up with rails and boughs, walking unconsciously toward a strange, new, dazzling future.
Zeke’s tent—a low and lop-sided patchwork of old blankets, strips of wagon-covering and stray pieces of cast-off clothing—was pitched on the high ground nearest to the regimental sentry line. At its back one could discern, by the dim light of the camp-fires, the lowering shadows of a forest. To the west a broad open slope descended gradually, its perspective marked to the vision this night by red points of light, diminishing in size as they receded toward the opposite hill’s dead wall of blackness. Upon the crown of this wall, nearly two miles distant, Zeke’s sharp eyes now discovered still other lights which had not been visible before.
“Caught sight of any Rebs yet since you been here, Irish?” he asked, as the two stood halted before his tent.
“I saw some prisoners at what they call City Point, th’ day before yesterday—the most starved and miserable divils ever I laid eyes on. That’s what I thought thin, but I know betther now. Sure they were princes compared wid me this noight.”
“Well, it’s dollars to doughnuts them are their lights over yonder on the ridge,” said Zeke.
“You’ll see enough of ’em to-morrow to last a lifetime.”
Linksy looked with interest upon the row of dim sparks which now crowned the whole long crest. He had brought his blanket, knapsack and rifle from the stacks outside company headquarters, and stood holding them as he gazed.
“Faith,” he said at last, “if they’re no more desirous of seeing me than I am thim, there’s been a dale of throuble wasted in coming so far for both of us.”
Zeke, for answer, chuckled audibly, and the sound of this was succeeded by a low, soft gurgling noise, as he lifted the flask to his mouth and threw back his head. Then, after a satisfied “A-h!” he said:
“Well, we’d better be turning in now,” and kicked aside the door-flap of his tent.
“And is it here we’re to sleep?” asked Linsky, making out with difficulty the outlines of the little hut-like tent.
“I guess there won’t be much sleep about it, but this is our shebang. Wait a minute.” He disappeared momentarily within the tent, entering it on all-fours, and emerged with an armful of sticks and paper. “Now you can dump your things inside there. I’ll have a fire out here in the jerk of a lamb’s tail.”
The Irishman crawled in in turn, and presently, by the light of the blaze his companion had started outside, was able to spread out his blanket in some sort, and even to roll himself up in it, without tumbling the whole edifice down. There was a scant scattering of straw upon which to lie, but underneath this he could feel the chill of the damp earth. He managed to drag his knapsack under his head to serve as a pillow, and then, shivering, resigned himself to fate.
The fire at his feet burned so briskly that soon he began to be pleasantly conscious of its warmth stealing through the soles of his thick, wet soles.
“I’m thinkin’ I’ll take off me boots,” he called out. “Me feet are just perished wid the cold.”
“No. You couldn’t get ’em on again, p’r’aps, when we’re called, and I don’t want any such foolishness as that. When we get out, it’ll have to be at the drop of the hat—double quick. How many rounds of cartridges you got?”
“This bag of mine they gave me is that filled wid ’em the weight of it would tip an outside car.”
“Can you shoot?”
“I don’t know if I can. I haven’t tried that same yet.”
A long silence ensued, Zeke squatting on a cracker-box beside the fire, flask in hand, Linsky concentrating his attention upon the warmth at the soles of his feet, and drowsily mixing up the Galtee Mountains with the fire-crowned hills of a strange, new world, upon one of which he lay. Then all at once he was conscious that Zeke had crept into the tent, and was lying curled close beside him, and that the fire outside had sunk to a mass of sparkless embers. He half rose from his recumbent posture before these things displaced his dreams; then, as he sank back again, and closed his eyes to settle once more into sleep, Zeke spoke:
“Don’t do that again! You got to lie still here, or you’ll bust the hull combination. If you want to turn over, tell me, and we’ll flop together—otherwise you’ll have the thing down on our heads.” There came another pause, and Linsky almost believed himself to be asleep again. But Zeke was wakeful.
“Say, Irish,” he began, “that country of yourn must be a pretty tough place, if this kind of thing strikes you fellows as an improvement on it.”
“Sur,” said Linsky, with sleepy dignity, “ther’s no other counthry on earth fit to buckle Ireland’s shoe’s—no offence to you.”
“Yes, you always give us that; but if it’s so fine a place, why in ——— don’t you stay there? What do you all pile over here for?”
“I came to America on business,” replied Linsky, stiffly.
“Business of luggin’ bricks up a ladder!”
“Sur, I’m a solicitor’s clark.”
“How do you mean—‘Clark?’ Thought your name was Linsky?”
“It’s what you call ‘clurk’—a lawyer’s clurk—and I’ll be a lawyer mesilf, in toime.”
“That’s worse still. There’s seven hundred times as many lawyers here already as anybody wants.”
“I had no intintion of stoppin’. My business was to foind a certain man, the heir to a great estate in Ireland, and thin to returrun; but I didn’t foind my man—and—sure, it’s plain enough I didn’t returrun, ayether; and I’ll go to sleep now, I’m thinkin’.” Zeke paid no attention to the hint.
“Go on,” he said. “Why didn’t you go back, Irish?”
“It’s aisy enough,” Linsky replied, with a sigh. “Tin long weeks was I scurryin’ from wan ind of the land to the other, lukkin’ for this invisible divil of a Hugh O’Mahony”—Zeke stretched out his feet here with a sudden movement, unnoted by the other—“makin’ inquiries here, foindin’ traces there, gettin’ laughed at somewhere else, till me heart was broke entoirely. ‘He’s in the army,’ says they. ‘Whereabouts?’ says I. Here, there, everwhere they sint me on a fool’s errand. Plintv of places I came upon where he had been, but divil a wan where he was; and thin I gave it up and wint to New York to sail, and there I made some fri’nds, and wint out wid ’em and they spoke fair, and I drank wid ’em, and, faith, whin I woke I was a soldier, wid brass buttons on me and a gun; and that’s the truth of it—worse luck! And now I’ll sleep!”
“And this Hugh What-d’ye-call-him—the fellow you was huntin’ after—where did he live before the war?”
“’Twas up in New York State—a place they call Tecumsy—he’d been a shoemaker there for years. I have here among me papers all they know about him and his family there. It wan’t much, but it makes his identity plain, and that’s the great thing.”
“And what d’ye reckon has become of him?”
“If ye ask me in me capacity as solicitor’s clark, I’d say that, for purposes of law, he’d be aloive till midsummer day next, and thin doy be process of statutory neglict, and niver know it as long as he lives; but if you ask me proivate opinion, he’s as dead as a mackerel; and, if he isn’t, he will be in good toime, and divil a ha’porth of shoe-leather will I waste more on him. And now good-noight to ye, sur!”
Linsky fell to snoring before any reply came. Zeke had meant to tell him that they were to rise at three and set out upon a venturesome vidette-post expedition together. He wondered now what it was that had prompted him to select this raw and undrilled Irishman as his comrade in the enterprise which lay before him. Without finding an answer, his mind wandered drowsily to another question—Ought O’Mahony to be told of the search for him or not? That vindictive and sullen Hughie should be heir to anything seemed an injustice to all good fellows; but heir to what Linsky called a great estate!—that was ridiculous! What would an ignorant cobbler like him do with an estate?
Zeke was not quite clear in his mind as to what an “estate” was, but obviously it must be something much too good for O’Mahony. And why, sure enough! Only a fortnight before, while they were still at Fort Davis, this O’Mahony had refused to mend his boot for him, even though his frost-bitten toes had pushed their way to the daylight between the sole and upper. Zeke could feel the toes ache perceptibly as he thought on this affront. Sleepy as he was, it grew apparent to him that O’Mahony would probably never hear of that inheritance; and then he went off bodily into dream-land, and was the heir himself, and violently resisted O’Mahony’s attempts to dispossess him, and—and then it was three o’clock, and the sentry was rolling him to and fro on the ground with his foot to wake him.
“Sh-h! Keep as still as you can,” Zeke admonished the bewildered Linsky, when he, too, had been roused to consciousness. “We mustn’t stir up the camp.”
“Is it desertin’ ye are?” asked the Irishman, rubbing his eyes and sitting upright.
“Sh-h! You fool—no! Feel around for your gun and knapsack and cap, and bring ’em out,” whispered Zeke from the door of the tent.
Linsky obeyed mechanically, groping in the utter darkness for what seemed to him an age, and then crawling awkwardly forth. As he rose to his feet, he could hardly distinguish his companion standing beside him. Only faint, dusky pillars of smoke, reddish at the base, gray above, rising like slenderest palms to fade in the obscurity overhead, showed where the fires in camp had been. The clouded sky was black as ink.
“Fill your pockets with cartridges,” he heard Zeke whisper. “We’ll prob’ly have to scoot for our lives. We don’t want no extra load of knapsacks.”
It strained Linsky’s other perceptions even more than it did his sight to follow his comrade in the tramp which now began. He stumbled over roots and bushes, sank knee-deep in swampy holes, ran full tilt into trees and fences, until it seemed to him they must have traveled miles, and he could hardly drag one foot after the other. The first shadowy glimmer of dawn fell upon them after they had accomplished a short but difficult descent from the ridge and stood at its foot, on the edge of a tiny, alder-fringed brook. The Irishman sat down on a fallen log for a minute to rest; the while Zeke, as fresh and cool as the morning itself, glanced critically about him.
“Yes, here we are,” he said as last. “We can strike through here, get up the side hill, and sneak across by the hedge into the house afore it’s square daylight. Come on, and no noise now!”
Linsky took up his gun and followed once more in the other’s footsteps as well as might be. The growing light from the dull-gray east made it a simpler matter now to get along, but he still stumbled so often that Zeke cast warning looks backward upon him more than once. At last they reached the top of the low hill which had confronted them.
It was near enough to daylight for Linsky to see, at the distance of an eighth of a mile, a small, red farm-house, flanked by a larger barn. A tolerably straight line of thick hedge ran from close by where they stood, to within a stone’s throw of the house. All else was open pasture and meadow land.
“Now bend your back,” said Zeke. “We’ve got to crawl along up this side of the fence till we git opposite that house, and then, somehow or other, work across to it without bein’ seen.”
“Who is it that would see us?”
“Why, you blamed fool, them woods there”—pointing to a long strip of undergrowth woodland beyond the house—“are as thick with Johnnies as a dog is with fleas.”
“Thin that house is no place for any dacent man to be in,” said Linsky; but despite this conviction he crouched down close behind Zeke and followed him in the stealthy advance along the hedge. It was back-breaking work, but Linsky had stalked partridges behind the ditch-walls of his native land, and was able to keep up with his guide without losing breath.
“Faith, it’s loike walking down burrds,” he whispered ahead; “only that it’s two-legged partridges we’re after this toime.”
“How many legs have they got in Ireland?” Zeke muttered back over his shoulder.
“Arrah, it’s milking-stools I had in moind,” returned Linsky, readily, with a smile.
“Sh-h! Don’t talk. We’re close now.”
Sure enough, the low roof and the top of the big square chimney of stone built outside the red clapboard end of the farmhouse were visible near at hand, across the hedge. Zeke bade Linsky sit down, and opening the big blade of a huge jackknife, began to cut a hole through the thorns. Before this aperture had grown large enough to permit the passage of a man’s body, full daylight came. It was not a very brilliant affair, this full daylight, for the morning was overcast and gloomy, and the woods beyond the house, distant some two hundred yards, were half lost in mist. But there was light enough for Linsky, idly peering through the bushes, to discern a grey-coated sentry pacing slowly along the edge of the woodland. He nudged Zeke, and indicated the discovery by a gesture.
Zeke nodded, after barely lifting his eyes, and then pursued his whittling.
“I saw him when we first come,” he said, calmly.
“And is it through this hole we’re goin’ out to be kilt?”
“You ask too many questions, Irish,” responded Zeke. He had finished his work and put away the knife. He rolled over now to a half-recumbent posture, folded his hands under his head, and asked:
“How much bounty did you git?”
“Is it me? Faith, I was merely a disbursing agent in the thransaction. They gave me a roll of paper notes, they said, but divil a wan could I foind when I come to mesilf and found mesilf a soldier. It’s thim new fri’nds o’ moine that got the bounty.”
“So you didn’t enlist to git the money?”
“Sorra a word did I know about enlistin’, or bounty, or anything else, for four-and-twenty hours afther the mischief was done. Is it money that ’ud recompinse a man for sittin’ here in the mud, waitin’ to be blown to bits by a whole plantation full of soldiers, as I am here, God help me? Is it money you say? Faith, I’ve enough to take me back to Cork twice over. What more do I want? And I offered the half of it to the captain, or gineral, or whatever he was, to lave me go, when I found what I’d done; but he wouldn’t hearken to me.”
Zeke rolled over to take a glance through the hedge.
“Tell me some more about that fellow you were tryin’ to find,” he said, with his gaze fixed on the distant sentry. “What’ll happen now that you haven’t found him?”
“If he remains unknown until midsummer-day next, the estate goes to some distant cousins who live convanient to it.”
“And he can’t touch it after that, s’posin’ he should turn up?”
“The law of adverse possession is twinty years, and only five of ’em have passed. No; he’d have a claim these fifteen years yet. But rest aisy. He’ll never be heard of.”
“And you wrote and told ’em in Ireland that he couldn’t be found?”
“That I did—or—Wait now! What I wrote was that he was in the army, and I was afther searching for him there. Sure, whin I got to New York, what with the fri’nds and the drink and—and this foine soldiering of moine, I niver wrote at all. It’s God’s mercy I didn’t lose me papers on top of it all, or it would be if I was likely ever to git out of this aloive.”
Zeke lay silent and motionless for a time, watching the prospect through this hole in the hedge.
“Hungry, Irish?” he asked at last, with laconic abruptness.
“I’ve a twist on me like the County Kerry in a famine year.”
“Well, then, double yourself up and follow me when I give the word. I’ll bet there’s something to eat in that house. Give me your gun. We’ll put them through first. That’s it. Now, then, when that fellow’s on t’other side of the house. Now!”
With lizard-like swiftness, Zeke made his way through the aperture, and, bending almost double, darted across the wet sward toward the house.
Linsky followed him, doubting not that the adventure led to certain death, but hoping that there would be breakfast first.
Zeke, though gliding over the slippery ground with all the speed at his command, had kept a watch on the further corner of the house. He straightened himself now against the angle of the projecting, weather-beaten chimney, and drew a long breath.
“He didn’t see us,” he whispered reassuringly to Linsky, who had also drawn up as flatly as possible against the side of the house.
“Glory be to God!” the recruit ejaculated.
After a brief breathing spell, Zeke ventured out a few feet, and looked the house over. There was a single window on his side, opening upon the ground floor. Beckoning to Linsky to follow, lie stole over to the window, and standing his gun against the clapboards, cautiously tested the sash. It moved, and Zeke with infinite pains lifted it to the top, and stuck his knife in to hold it up. Then, with a bound, he raised himself on his arms, and crawled in over the sill.
It was at this moment, as Linsky for the first time stood alone, that a clamorous outburst of artillery-fire made the earth quiver under his feet. The crash of noises reverberated with so many echoes from hill to hill that he had no notion whence they had proceeded, or from what distance. The whole broad vailey before him, with its sodden meadows and wet, mist-wrapped forests showed no sign of life or motion. But from the crest of the ridge which they had quitted before daybreak there rose now, and whitened the gray of the overhanging clouds, a faint film of smoke—while suddenly the air above him was filled with a strange confusion of unfamiliar sounds, like nothing so much as the hoarse screams of a flock of giant wild-fowl; and then this affrighting babel ceased as swiftly as it had arisen, and he heard the thud and swish of splintered tree-tops and trunks falling in the woodland at the back of the house. The Irishman reasoned it out that they were firing from the hill he had left, over at the hill upon which he now stood, and was not comforted by the discovery.
While he stared at the ascending smoke and listened to the din of the cannonade, he felt himself sharply poked on the shoulder, and started nervously, turning swiftly, gun in hand. It was Zeke, who stood at the window, and had playfully attracted his attention with one of the long sides of bacon which the army knew as “sow-bellies.” He had secured two of these, which he now handed out to Linsky; then came a ham and a bag of meal; and lastly, a twelve-quart pan of sorghum molasses. When the Irishman had lifted down the last of these spoils, Zeke vaulted lightly out.
“Guess we’ll have a whack at the ham,” he said cheerfully. “It’s good raw.”
The two gnawed greedily at the smoked slices cut from the thick of the ham, as became men who had been on short rations. Zeke listened to the firing, and was visibly interested in noting all that was to be seen and guessed of its effects and purpose, meanwhile, but the ham was an effectual bar to conversation.
Suddenly the men paused, their mouths full, their senses alert. The sound of voices rose distinctly, and close by, from the other side of the house. Zeke took up his gun, cocked it, and crept noiselessly forward to the corner. After a moment’s attentive listening here, and one swift, cautious peep, he tiptoed back again.
“Take half the things,” he whispered, pointing to the provisions, “and we’ll get back again to the fence. There’s too many of ’em for us to try and hold the house. They’d burn us alive in there!”
The pan of sorghum fell to Linsky’s care, and Zeke, with both guns and all the rest in some mysterious manner bestowed about him, made his way, crouching and with long strides, toward the hedge. He got through the hole undiscovered, dragging his burden after him. Then he took the pan over the hedge, while Linsky should in turn crawl through. But the burlier Irishman caught in the thorns, slipped, and clutched Zeke’s arm, with the result that the whole contents of the pan were emptied upon Linsky’s head.
Then Zeke did an unwise thing. He cast a single glance at the spectacle his comrade presented—with the thick, dark molasses covering his cap like an oilskin, soaking into his hair, and streaming down his bewildered face in streaks like an Indian’s war-paint—and then burst forth in a resounding peal of laughter.
On the instant two men in gray, with battered slouch hats and guns, appeared at the corner of the house, looking eagerly up and down the hedge for some sign of a hostile presence. Zeke had dropped to his knees in time to prevent discovery. It seemed to be with a part of the same swift movement that he lifted his gun, sighted it as it ran through the thorns, and fired. While the smoke still curled among the branches and spiked twigs, he had snatched up Linsky’s gun and fire a second shot. The two men in gray lay sprawling and clutching at the wet grass, one on top of the other.
"QUICK, IRISH! WE MUST MAKE A BREAK."
“Quick, Irish! We must make a break!” Zeke hissed at Linsky. “Grab what you can and run!”
Linsky, his eyes and mouth full of molasses, and understanding nothing at all of what had happened, found himself a moment later careering blindly and in hot haste down the open slope, the ham and the bag of meal under one arm, his gun in the other hand. A dozen minie-bullets sang through the damp air about him as he tore along after Zeke, and he heard vague volleys of cheering arise from the meadow to his right; but neither stopped his course.
It was barely three minutes—though to Linsky, at least, it seemed an interminable while—before the two came to a halt by a clump of trees on the edge of the ravine. In the shelter of these broad hemlock trunks they stood still, panting for breath. Then Zeke looked at Linsky again, and roared with laughter till he choked and went into a fit of coughing.
The Irishman had thrown down his provisions and gun, and seated himself on the roots of his tree. He ruefully combed the sticky fluid from his hair and stubble beard with his fingers now, and strove to clean his face on his sleeve. Between the native temptation to join in the other’s merriment and the strain of the last few minutes’ deadly peril, he could only blink at Zeke, and gasp for breath.
“Tight squeak—eh, Irish?” said Zeke at last, between dying-away chuckles.
“And tell me, now,” Linsky began, still panting heavily, his besmeared face red with the heat of the chase, “fwat the divil were we doin’ up there, anny-way? No Linsky or Lynch—’tis the same name—was ever called coward yet—but goin’ out and defoyin’ whole armies single-handed is no fit worrk for solicitors’ clarks. Spacheless and sinseless though I was with the dhrink, sure, if they told me I was to putt down the Rebellion be meself, I’d a’ had the wit to decloine.”
“That was a vidette post we were on,” explained Zeke.
“There’s a shorter name for it—God save us both from goin’ there. But fwat was the intintion? ’Tis that that bothers me entoirely.”
“Look there!” was Zeke’s response. He waved his hand comprehensively over the field they had just quitted, and the Irishman rose to his feet and stepped aside from his tree to see.
The little red farm-house was half hidden in a vail of smoke. Dim shadows of men could be seen flitting about its sides, and from these shadows shot forth tongues of momentary flame. The upper end of the meadow was covered thick with smoke, and through this were visible dark masses of men and the same spark-like flashing of fiery streaks. Along the line of the hedge, closer to the house, still another wall of smoke arose, and Linsky could discern a fringe of blue-coated men lying flat under the cover of the thorn-bushes, whom he guessed to be sharp-shooters.
“That’s what we went up there for—to start that thing a-goin’,” said Zeke, not without pride. “See the guide—that little flag there by the bushes? That’s our regiment. They was comin’ up as we skedaddled out. Didn’t yeh hear ’em cheer? They was cheerin’ for us, Irish—that is, some for us and a good deal for the sow-bellies and ham.”
No answer came, and Zeke stood for a moment longer, taking in with his practiced gaze the details of the fight that was raging before him. Half-spent bullets were singing all about him, but he seemed to give them no more thought than in his old Adirondack home he had wasted on mosquitoes. The din and deafening rattle of this musketry war had kindled a sparkle in his gray eyes.
“There they go, Irish! Gad! We’ve got ’em on the run! We kin scoot across now and jine our men.”
Still no answer. Zeke turned, and, to his amazement, saw no Linsky at his side. Puzzled, he looked vaguely about among the trees for an instant. Then his wandering glance fell, and the gleam of battle died out of his eyes as he saw the Irishman lying prone at his very feet, his face flat in the wet moss and rotting leaves, an arm and leg bent under the prostrate body. So wrapt had Zeke’s senses been in the noisy struggle outside, he had not heard his comrade’s fall.
The veteran knelt, and gently turned Linsky over on his back. A wandering ball had struck him in the throat. The lips were already colorless, and from their corners a thin line of bright blood had oozed to mingle grotesquely with the molasses on the unshaven jaw. To Zeke’s skilled glance it was apparent that the man was mortally wounded—perhaps already dead, for no trace of pulse or heartbeat could be found. He softly closed the Irishman’s eyes, and put the sorghum-stained cap over his face.
Zeke rose and looked forth again upon the scene of battle. His regiment had crossed the fence and gained possession of the farm-house, from which they were firing into the woods beyond. Further to the left, through the mist of smoke which hung upon the meadow, he could see that large masses of troops in blue were being pushed forward. He thought he would go and join his company. He would tell the fellows how well Linsky had behaved. Perhaps, after the fight was all over, he would lick Hugh O’Mahony for having spoken so churlishly to him.
He turned at this and looked down again upon the insensible Linsky.
“Well, Irish, you had sand in your gizzard, anyway,” he said, aloud. “I’ll whale the head off ’m O’Mahony, jest on your account.”
Then, musing upon some new ideas which these words seem to have suggested, he knelt once more, and, unbuttoning Linsky’s jacket, felt through his pockets.
He drew forth a leather wallet and a long linen-lined envelope containing many papers. The wallet had in it a comfortable looking roll of green, backs, but Zeke’s attention was bestowed rather upon the papers.
“So these would give O’Mahony an estate, eh?” he pondered, half aloud, turning them over. “It ’ud be a tolerable good bet that he never lays eyes on ’em. We’ll fix that right now, for fear of accidents.”
He began to kick about in the leaves, as he rose a second time, thinking hard upon the problem of what to do with the papers. He had no matches. He might cut down a cartridge, and get a fire by percussion—but that would take time. So, for that matter, would digging a hole to bury the papers.
All at once his abstracted face lost its lines of labor, and brightened radiantly. He thrust wallet and envelope into his own pocket, and smilingly stepped forward once more to see what the field of battle was like. The farm-house had become the headquarters of a general and his staff, and the noise of fighting had passed away to the furthest confines of the woods.
“This darned old campaign won’t last up’ard of another week,” he said, in satisfied reverie. “I reckon I’ve done my share in it, and somethin’ to lap over on the next. Nobody ’ll be a cent the wuss off if I turn up missin’ now.”
Gathering up the provisions and his gun, Zeke turned abruptly, and made his way down the steep side-hill into the forest, each long stride bearing him further from Company F’s headquarters.
It became known among the passengers on the Moldavian, an hour or so before bedtime on Sunday evening, April 23, 1865, that the lights to be seen in the larboard distance were really on the Irish coast. The intelligence ran swiftly through all quarters of the vessel. Its truth could not be doubted; the man on the bridge said that it truly was Ireland; and if he had not said so, the ship’s barber had.
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