“Jericho!” he cried, as the released prisoners, having held back warily until the color of the new-comers was known, ran forward. “The whole army is here. I feel as if I were in the Union lines.”
“Well, you ain’t, by a long shot,” Denby cried. “We’ve got a good hour’s march, and if you’re wise, Captain Sprague, you won’t waste time for any frills.”
“No time shall be wasted.—Jones, you and Dick take the rear. I, with Denby, will skirmish; and you, Corporal Kane, shall command the center. No firing, remember, unless superior force assails us.—Gabe, stick to the waterside as closely as you can, but make the shortest cut to the bridge.”
Gabe was the most delighted darkey in all Virginia for the next hour. He led them swiftly and surely, and why shouldn’t he? He had passed all his life in the vicinity, and with the first beams of the sun he pointed to a narrow wooden bridge.
“Dar’s whar de pickets fire across.”
As they passed the bridge a loud sound of rushing horses could be heard in the distance.
“Dick, you take two men and hurry down the road to assure our pickets that we are friends. We’ll take up the planks to give them time!” Jack shouted, and Dick, with two of the rescued prisoners, dashed away. Many hands and high hope made short work of the light timbers. As the pursuing cavalry turned the bend in the road, in sight of the bridge. Jack’s squad gave them a volley and then dashed into cover. The fire was returned. Dick, coming back at a run, with a dozen dismounted men, heard the bullets whistling over his head and saw Jack’s posse dispersing to the right and left in the bushes. All were forced into the woods, as the rebels commanded the highway.
“Where is Jack?” Dick asked, rushing among the men. No one had noticed him in the panic. He was not in the huddle that cowered in the reeds to escape the balls, still hurtling viciously over the open. With a cry of rage and despair, Dick flew into the road, and there, not a hundred yards from the bridge, he saw the well-known figure prone on the red earth motionless—dead? Heedless of the warning cries of the others, Dick tore madly to the body, and with a wild cry fell upon the lifeless figure, weltering in blood.
“THE ABSENT ARE ALWAYS IN THE WRONG.”
Under Vincent’s ardent escort Mrs. Sprague and Merry traveled from Richmond northward in something like haste and with as much comfort as was possible to the limited means of transportation at the command of the Confederate commissary. Even in those early days of the war, the railway system of the South was worn out and inadequate. Such a luxury as a parlor car was unknown. The trains were filled with military personages on their way to the field. Mrs. Sprague and Merry were the only women in the car in which they passed from Richmond to Fredericksburg.