“A suggestion, major,” spoke up another officer. “Sergeant McDonald reports that there is a chaise in the tavern barn, and—”
“Put horse to it, and have it out before you set fire to the buildings,” interrupted Hennion.
“What!” ejaculated Mr. Meredith. “Art thou a major, Phil?”
“Ay, squire. I’ve fought my way up two grades since last we met.”
There was a greater change in the officer than of rank, for his once long and ungainly frame had broadened and filled out into that of a well-formed, powerful man. His face, too, had lost its lankness, to its great improvement, for the features were strong, and, with the deep tan which the Southern campaigns had given it, had become, from being one of positive homeliness, one of decided distinction. But the most marked alteration was in his speech and bearing, for all trace of the awkward had disappeared from both; he spoke with facility and authority, and he sat his horse with soldierly erectness and ease.
The ladies were soon bestowed in the chaise, the bugle sounded, and the flying column resumed its movement. Little they saw of the commander all day, for he rode now with the foremost troop, and now with the rear one, keenly alert to all that was taking place, asking questions at each farmhouse as to roads, bridges, rivers, distances, the people, and everything which could be of value. Only when the heat of the day came, and they halted for a few hours’ rest at a plantation, did he come to them, and then only for a brief word as to their accommodation. He offered Mrs. Meredith and Janice the best the house afforded, but, with keen recollections of their own sufferings, they refused to dispossess the women occupants from their home, and would accept in food and lodgings only what they had to spare. Indeed, though as far as possible it had been kept from their sight, the march had brought a realising sense to them, almost for the first time, of the full horror of the war, and made them appreciate that their own experience, however bad they had deemed it, was but that of hundreds. The day had been one long scene of rapine and destruction. At each plantation they had seen all serviceable horses seized, and the rest of the stock, young or old, slaughtered, all provisions of use to the army made prize of, and the remainder, with the buildings that held it, put to the torch, and the young crops of wheat, corn, and tobacco, so far as time allowed, destroyed. Under cover of all this, too, there was looting by the dragoons, which the officers could not prevent, try their best.