Miss Van Tyne for a moment or two stood dazed and panting, then disengaged herself from the rather warm support of the devoted admirer whom she had tried to play against Ackland, and tried to walk, but after a few uncertain steps fell senseless on the sand, thus for the moment drawing to herself the attention of the increasing throng. Ackland, glad to escape notice, was staggering off to his bath-house when several ladies, more mindful of his part in the affair than the men had been, overtook him with a fire of questions and plaudits.
A slow, deep flush came into his face, and he hesitated in his answer. At last he said, "I fear I'm getting into a bad mood, and think I must do something decided. Well, for one thing, the continuance of this war weighs upon my spirit. Men are getting so scarce that I believe they will take me in some capacity. Now that mother is not here, I think I ought to go."
He caught her in such a strong, impetuous embrace that she gasped:
"I don't think you will appear involved in the affair at all. In the morning you give me a sack of grain for my horse and some provisions for myself, and then bid farewell to Mr. Brown in the most open and natural manner possible. You may not see me again. It is possible I may have to borrow a horse of you it my scheme to-night don't work. It will be returned or paid for very soon."
At this moment Mr. Rolliffe came in from the wood-lot, and he was dazed by the wonderful news also. In his eagerness to get even with Zeb, the cobbler enlarged and expatiated till he was hoarse. When he saw that the parents were almost as proud as the daughter over their prospective son-in-law, he relapsed into his old taciturnity, declaring he had talked enough for a month.
"Then you shall cook for the men till you're better. I won't keep so good a soldier, though, at such work any longer than I can help. Your good example and that of the gallant Watkins has brought out the whole squad. I think I'll put Jarvis in command, though; Zeke might be rash, and attempt the capture of Boston before morning;" and the facetious captain, who had once been a neighbor, concluded, "Jarvis, see that every man's piece is primed and ready for use. Be at my hut in fifteen minutes." Then he passed on to the other camp-fires.
She saw the different expression in his eyes. It was now homage, decided preference for one and not mere gallantry to two. Outwardly she was demurely oblivious and maintained simply her wonted friendliness. Marstern, however, was thawing in more senses than one, and he was possessed by a strong impulse to begin an open siege at once.
"These plain, simple, unadorned words," concluded the Senator, "need no comment. Their force and significance cannot be enhanced by anything I can say. I do not know that I could listen quietly to shrieking and exploding shells while I spoke words of courage and good cheer; but I do know that I wish to be among the foremost to honor your modest, unassuming townsman, who could do all this and more."
Lonely and uninhabited in its normal condition, this forbidding wilderness had become peopled with thousands of men. The Army of the Potomac was penetrating and seeking to pass through it. Vigilant General Lee had observed the movement, and with characteristic boldness and skill ordered his troops from their strong intrenchments on Mine Run toward the Union flank. On this memorable morning the van of his columns wakened from their brief repose but a short distance from the Federal bivouac. Both parties were unconscious of their nearness, for with the exception of a few clearings the dense growth restricted vision to a narrow range. The Union forces were directed in their movements by the compass, as if they were sailors on a fog-enshrouded sea; but they well knew that they were seeking their old antagonist, the Army of Northern Virginia, and that the stubborn tug-of-war might begin at any moment.