The Shades of the Wilderness eBook

Joseph Alexander Altsheler
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 332 pages of information about The Shades of the Wilderness.

As the young lieutenant rode away he saw General Lee walking back and forth before the low fire, his hands clasped behind him, and his eyes as serious as those of any human being could be.  Harry appreciated the immensity of his task, and in his heart was a sincere pity for the man who bore so great a burden.  He was familiar with the statement that to Lee had been offered the command of the Northern armies at the beginning of the war, but believing his first duty was to his State he had gone with Virginia when Virginia reluctantly went out of the Union.  Truly no one could regret the war more than he, and yet he had struck giant blows for its success.

A moment more and the tall figure standing beside the low fire was lost to sight.  Then Harry rode among the thickets in the rear of the Confederate line and it was a weird and ghastly ride.  Now and then his horse’s feet sank in mud, and the frogs still dared to croak around the pools, making on such a night the most ominous of all sounds.  It seemed a sort of funeral dirge for both North and South, a croak telling of the ruin and death that were to come on the morrow.

Damp boughs swept across his face, and the vapors, rising from the earth and mingled with the battle smoke, were still bitter to the tongue and poisonous to the breath.  Rotten logs crushed beneath his horse’s feet and Harry felt a shiver as if the hoofs had cut through a body of the dead.  Riflemen rose out of the thickets, but he always gave them the password, and rode on without stopping.

Then came a space where he met no human being, the gap between Hill and Longstreet, and now the Wilderness became incredibly lonely and dreary.  Harry felt that if ever a region was haunted by ghosts it was this.  The dead of last year’s battle might be lying everywhere, and as the breeze sprang up the melancholy thickets waved over them.

He was two-thirds of the way toward the point where he expected to find Longstreet when he heard the sough of a hoof in the mud behind him.

Harry listened and hearing the hoof again he was instantly on his guard.  He did not know it, but the character of the night and the wild aspect of the Wilderness were bringing out all the primeval and elemental qualities in his nature.  He was the great borderer, Henry Ware, in the Indian-haunted forest, feeling with a sixth sense, even a seventh sense, the presence of danger.

He was following a path, scarcely traceable, used by charcoal burners and wood-cutters, but when he heard the hoof a second time he turned aside into the deepest of the thickets and halted there.  The hoofbeat came a third time, a little nearer, and then no more.  Evidently the horseman behind him knew that he had turned aside, and was waiting and watching.  He was surely an enemy of great skill and boldness, and it was equally sure that he was Shepard.  Harry never felt a doubt that he was pursued by the formidable Union spy, and he felt too that he had never been in greater danger, as Shepard at such a moment would not spare his best friend.

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The Shades of the Wilderness from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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