Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
John Jordan, the Scout
By James Roberts Gilmore (18221903)
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1823. Died in Glen Falls, N. Y., 1903. The Atlantic Monthly. 1865.]
THE DISPATCH was written on tissue paper, rolled into the form of a bullet, coated with warm lead, and put into the hand of the Kentuckian. He was given a carbine, a brace of revolvers, and the fleetest horse in his regiment, and, when the moon was down, started on his perilous journey. He was to ride at night, and hide in the woods or in the houses of loyal men in the daytime.
It was pitch-dark when he set out; but he knew every inch of the way, having travelled it often, driving mules to market. He had gone twenty miles by early dawn, and the house of a friend was only a few miles beyond him. The man himself was away; but his wife was at home, and she would harbor him till nightfall. He pushed on, and tethered his horse in the timber; but it was broad day when he rapped at the door, and was admitted. The good woman gave him breakfast, and showed him to the guest-chamber, where, lying down in his boots, he was soon in a deep slumber.
The house was a log cabin in the midst of a few acres of deadeningground from which trees have been cleared by girdling. Dense woods were all about it; but the nearest forest was a quarter of a mile distant, and should the scout be tracked, it would be hard to get away over this open space, unless he had warning of the approach of his pursuers. The woman thought of this, and sent up the road, on a mule, her whole worldly possessions, an old negro, dark as the night, but faithful as the sun in the heavens. It was high noon when the mule came back, his heels striking fire, and his riders eyes flashing, as if ignited from the sparks the steel had emitted.
Yes, I yere em. Thars a sorry chance for my life aready. But, Rachel, Ive thet about me thets wuth moren my life,thet, may-be, ll save Kaintuck. If Im killed, wull ye tuck it ter Cunnel Cranor, at Paris?
The reader will bear in mind that this was in the beginning of the war, when swarms of spies infested every Union camp, and treason was only a gentlemanly pastime, not the serious business it has grown to be since traitors are no longer dangerous.
This sort of talk went on for half an hour; then there was a dead silence, and the woman went to the loft, whence she could see all that was passing outside. About a dozen of the horsemen were posted around the house; but the remainder, dismounted, had gone to the edge of the woods, and were felling a well-grown sapling, with the evident intention of using it as a battering-ram to break down the front door.
She had none, but she had a petticoat of flaming red and yellow. Handling it as if he knew how such articles can be made to spread, the scout softly unbarred the door, and, grasping the hand of the woman, said:
To the right of the house, midway between it and the woods, stood the barn. That way lay the route of the scout. If he could elude the two mounted men at the doorway, he might escape the other horsemen; for they would have to spring the barn-yard fences, and their horses might refuse the leap. But it was foot of man against leg of horse, and a right sorry chance.
Suddenly he opened the door, and dashed at the two horses with the petticoat. They reared, wheeled, and bounded away like lightning just let out of harness. In the time that it takes to tell it, the scout was over the first fence, and scaling the second; but a horse was making the leap with him. The scouts pistol went off, and the riders earthly journey was over. Auother followed, and his horse fell mortally wounded. The rest made the circuit of the barn-yard, and were rods behind when the scout reached the edge of the forest. Once among those thick laurels, nor horse nor rider can reach a man, if he lies low, and says his prayer in a whisper.
Brown was a loyal man, who was serving his country in the ranks of Marshall. Thereby hangs a tale, but this is not the time to tell it. Soon the men rode away, taking the poor womans only wagon as a hearse for their dead comrade.
Night came, and the owls-cried in the woods in a way they had not cried for a fortnight. Twhoot! twhoot! they went, as if they thought there was music in hooting. The woman listened, put on a dark mantle, and followed the sound of their voices. Entering the woods, she crept in among the bushes, and talked with the owls as if they had been human.