“To the Port of Missing Men! It was made for the business,” said Claiborne.
“Oscar, patrol the road here, and keep an eye on the bungalow, and if you hear us forcing them down, charge from this side. I’ll fire twice when I get near the Port to warn you; and if you strike them first, give the same signal. Do be careful, Sergeant, how you shoot. We want prisoners, you understand, not corpses.”
Armitage found a faint trail, and with Claiborne struck off into the forest near the main gate of his own grounds. In less than an hour they rode out upon a low-wooded ridge and drew up their panting, sweating horses—two shadowy videttes against the lustral dome of stars. A keen wind whistled across the ridge and the horses pawed the unstable ground restlessly. The men jumped down to tighten their saddle-girths, and they turned up their coat collars before mounting again.
“Come! We’re on the verge of morning,” said Armitage, “and there’s no time to lose.”
THE ATTACK IN THE ROAD
Cowards and laggards fall back; but alert to the saddle, Straight, grim and abreast, vault our weather-worn galloping legion, With a stirrup-cup each to the one gracious woman that loves him.
—Louise Imogen Guiney.
“There’s an abandoned lumber camp down here, if I’m not mistaken, and if we’ve made the right turns we ought to be south of Lamar and near the railroad.”
Armitage passed his rein to Claiborne and plunged down the steep road to reconnoiter.
“It’s a strange business,” Claiborne muttered half-aloud.
The cool air of the ridge sobered him, but he reviewed the events of the night without regret. Every young officer in the service would envy him this adventure. At military posts scattered across the continent men whom he knew well were either abroad on duty, or slept the sleep of peace. He lifted his eyes to the paling stars. Before long bugle and morning gun would announce the new day at points all along the seaboard. His West Point comrades were scattered far, and the fancy seized him that the bugle brought them together every day of their lives as it sounded the morning calls that would soon begin echoing down the coast from Kennebec Arsenal and Fort Preble in Maine, through Myer and Monroe, to McPherson, in Georgia, and back through Niagara and Wayne to Sheridan, and on to Ringgold and Robinson and Crook, zigzagging back and forth over mountain and plain to the Pacific, and thence ringing on to Alaska, and echoing again from Hawaii to lonely outposts in Asian seas.
He was so intent with the thought that he hummed reveille, and was about to rebuke himself for unsoldierly behavior on duty when Armitage whistled for him to advance.
“It’s all right; they haven’t passed yet. I met a railroad track-walker down there and he said he had seen no one between here and Lamar. Now they’re handicapped by the big country horse they had to take for that Servian devil, and we can push them as hard as we like. We must get them beyond Lamar before we crowd them; and don’t forget that we want to drive them into my land for the round-up. I’m afraid we’re going to have a wet morning.”