“Since about three o’clock in the morning.”
“And what time might it be now.”
“Well it might be ten o’clock in the morning or it might be noon, but it ain’t either.”
“Well, then, what time is it?”
“It’s about six o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Kenton, and I judge that you’ve slept nigh on to fifteen hours, which is mighty good for a man who was as tired as you was.”
“And what has the army been doing while I slept?”
“Oh, it’s been marchin’ an’ marchin’ an’ marchin’. Can’t you hear the wagons an’ the cannons clinkin’ an’ clankin’? An’ the hoofs of the horses beatin’ in the road? An the feet of forty or fifty thousand men comin’ down ker-plunk! ker-plunk! an’ all them thousands talkin’ off an’ on? Yes, we’re still marchin’, Mr. Kenton, but we’re retreatin’ with all our teeth showin’ an’ our claws out, sharpened specially. Most of the boys don’t care if Meade would attack us. They’d be glad of the chance to get even for Gettysburg.”
There was a beat of hoofs and St. Clair rode up by the side of the wagon.
“All right again, Harry?” he said cheerfully. “I’m mighty glad of it. Other messengers have got through from Sherburne, confirming what you said, but you were the first to arrive and the army already was on the march because of the news you brought. Dalton arrived about noon, dead beat. Happy is coming with a horse for you, and you can rejoin the staff now.”
“Before I leave I’ll have to thank Mr. Jones once more,” said Harry. “He runs the best passenger service that I know.”
“Welcome to it any time, either you or your friend,” said Jones, saluting with his whip.
Harry left the wagon at midnight and overtook the staff, an orderly providing him with a good horse. Dalton, who had also been sleeping in a wagon, came an hour or two later, and the two, as became modest young officers, rode in the rear of the group that surrounded General Lee.
Although the darkness had come fully, the Army of Northern Virginia had not yet stopped. The infantry flanked by cavalry, and, having no fear of the enemy, marched steadily on. Harry closely observed General Lee, and although he was well into his fifties he could discern no weakness, either physical or mental, in the man who had directed the fortunes of the South in the terrific and unsuccessful three days at Gettysburg and who had now led his army for nearly a week in a retreat, threatened, at any moment, with an attack by a veteran force superior in numbers. All the other generals looked worn and weary, but he alone sat erect, his hair and beard trimmed neatly, his grave eye showing no sign of apprehension.
He seemed once more to Harry—youth is a hero-worshiper—omniscient and omnipotent. The invasion of the North had failed, and there had been a terrible loss of good men, officers and soldiers, but, with Lee standing on the defensive at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia, in Virginia, the South would be invincible. He had always won there, and he always would win there.