He spoke with angry emphasis.
“But it isn’t,” said Harry.
“No, it isn’t. Doubtless General Lee will learn from scouts of his own of General Meade’s flanking movement, but we mustn’t take the chance. Moreover, we must tell him that this is the place for our army to cross. If the river runs down in two or three days we’ll have a ford here.”
“I’m ready to go at any moment,” said Harry. “Night helping me, I may be able to ride through the lines of our enemies out there.”
“No, Harry, you must not go that way. They’re so vigilant that you would not have any possible chance. Nor can you ride. You must leave your horse behind.”
“What way then must I go, sir?”
“By the river. We have gathered up a few small boats, used at the crossing here. You can row, can’t you?”
“Fairly well, sir.”
“’Twill do, because you’re not to stay in the boat long. I want you to drop down the stream until you’re well beyond the Federal lines. Then leave the boat and strike out across the country for General Lee. You know the way. You can buy or seize a horse, and you must not fail.”
“I will not fail,” said Harry confidently.
“You’ll succeed if anybody will, and now you must be off. Your pistols are loaded, Harry? You may have to use them.”
They did not delay a minute, going down the shelving shore to the Potomac, where a man held a small boat against the bank.
“Get in, Harry,” said Sherburne. “You’d better drop down three or four miles, at least. Good-by and good luck.”
He shook hands with his colonel and Dalton, took the oars and pulled far out into the stream.
A HERALD TO LEE
When he swept out upon the sullen bosom of the Potomac, Harry looked back only once. He saw two dim figures going up the bank, and, at its crest, a line of lights that showed the presence of the Southern force. There was no sound of firing, and he judged that the enemy had withdrawn to a distance of two or three miles.
The night had turned darker since the battle ceased, and not many stars were out. Clouds indicated that flurries of rain might come, but he did not view them now with apprehension. Darkness and rain would help a herald to Lee. The current was strong, and he did not have to pull hard, but, observing presently that the far shore was fringed with bushes, he sent the boat into their shadow.
He did not anticipate any danger from the southern shore, but the old inherited caution of the forest runners was strong within him. Under the hanging bushes he was well hidden, but, in some places, the flood in the river had turned the current back upon itself, and he was compelled to pull with vigor on the oars.
The clouds that had threatened did not develop much, and while the forests were dark, the surface of the river showed clearly in the faint moonlight. Any object upon it could be seen from either bank, and Harry was glad that he had sought the shelter of the overhanging bushes. He realized now that in this region, which was really the theater of war, many scouts and skirmishers must be about.