Read CHAPTER X of The Littlest Rebel, free online book, by Edward Peple, on

In the shade of a fringe of trees that edged the river bank a troop of cavalry was drawn up in one long, thin line. Knee to knee, the silent, blue-coated riders sat, waiting, waiting not for a charge upon the enemy, or orders for a foray through an already harried land. They waited for a leader a man who had led them through the heat and cold, through peaceful valleys and the bloody ruck of battle; a man whom they loved and trusted, fearing him only when they shirked a duty or disobeyed the iron laws of war.

This man had been taken from them, himself a servant who had disobeyed these laws, his sword dishonored, his shoulder straps ripped off before their eyes. And now the troopers waited and for what? An order had come which put them on review, a long thin line of horsemen waiting on the river bank, while the sun beat down on the parched red fields, and the waters of the muddy James lazed by as they murmured their sad, low song.

The troopers were silent waiting. A horse stamped idly in the dust, and a saber rattled against a booted leg. A whisper ran down the line. The eyes of the men turned slowly at the sight of a single rider who advanced from the distant Union camp. He did not take the dusty road which swept in a wide, half-circle to where the waiting troopers sat in line, but jumped a low worm-fence and came straight across the fields.

An officer he was, erect in his saddle, chin up and shoulders squared. On his shoulders his straps had been replaced, and his saber rattled against his thigh to the rise and fall of his horse’s stride.

Straight on he came till he checked his mount before the center of the waiting line, and the troopers knew that Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison had once more come into his own.

Their sabers rasped from out the scabbards and rose in a joyous, swift salute, while Morrison’s once dishonored sword acknowledged it.

’Tention ..._company!_”

The long line stiffened and waited for their officer to speak; yet the voice was not the voice of an officer in command, but that of a comrade and a friend.

“Thank you, boys! It’s good to be back again.” He swallowed something in his throat and struggled manfully to speak in even tones. “I must ask you to be quiet and not to

He stopped. Again his troop had disobeyed him disobeyed him to a man. A shout went up, deep, joyous and uncontrolled, its echoes pulsing out across the hot, red fields till it reached the distant camp; and Grant looked up from a war map’s crisscross lines, grunted, and lit a fresh cigar.

And Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison sat his horse before his cheering line of men, silent, happy, while two tears rolled, unheeded, down his cheek a soldier and a man!

His tenderness to a little child had torn him from his saddle and doomed him to disgrace and death; and then, one line from her baby lips had mounted him again and set him before his troopers on parade.

It was when ... Daddy came through the woods ... and put my mamma ... in the ground.”

Two lives she had held in her little hands and had saved them both with a dozen words of simple, unfaltering truth.

On the dusty pike which led to Virginia’s capital another rider plodded through the heat and haze. His coat, once gray, now hung in mud-stained tatters about his form, but beneath his battered campaign hat his thin, pale features were smoothed by a smile of happiness.

Behind his saddle, one hand gripped tightly in a rent in the soiled gray coat, sat still another Rebel the smallest of them all her tiny legs stretched out almost straight on the horse’s wide, fat back.

“Daddy how far is it to Richmon’ now?”

The rider turned his head and pointed north.

“It’s close now, honey. See that line of hills? That’s Richmond. A mile or two and we’ll be at home.”

Again they plodded on, past fields of shriveled corn whose stalks stood silently in parched and wilted lines lines that were like the ranks of the doomed Confederacy its stalks erect, yet sapped of the juice of life. Where orchards once had flourished their rotted branches now hid mouths of rifle pits, and low, red clay entrenchments stretched across the fields.

“Daddy,” broke out a piping voice, “don’t you think we’d better make this Yankee horse get up a little? ‘Cause ’cause somethin’ else might happen before we get there.”

“It’s all right, Virgie,” her father answered, with a pat on her small, brown knee. “These lines are ours, and I reckon we are safe at last.”

They were. Two Rebels on a Yankee horse soon made their triumphant entry into Richmond. They passed through Rockets, by the half-deserted wharves on the river bank where a crippled gunboat lay, then clattered over the cobble stones up Main Street till they reached the Square. On the State House the Stars and Bars still floated; but the travelers did not pause. Northward they turned, then westward again, till they stopped at last before a silent, stately mansion, the headquarters of their General General Lee.

Before the open door two sentries stood, but as Cary and his charge dismounted an orderly came down the steps and out of the iron gate. A word or two from Cary and the orderly disappeared into the house, returning soon with word that the visitors would be received at once.

Up the stone steps went Virgie, holding tightly to her father’s hand, for now, as she neared her General, her little heart was pounding, and her breath came eagerly and fast.

On the threshold of a dim and shaded room they paused and looked. He sat there, at a table strewn with war maps and reports a tall gray man in a coat of gray the soldier and the gentleman.

As father and child came in he rose to meet them, looking at the two with eyes that seemed to hold the sadness and the tenderness of all the world.

He knew their story; in fact, he had bent his every effort to the saving of Cary’s life. He had sent a courier to the camp of General Grant below the city, asking a stay of sentence till the facts in the case were cleared; and only a half hour before his courier had returned with news of the prisoner’s release.

And now, as he advanced and gave a courtly welcome to his trusted scout, the hand of the Littlest Rebel once more went up in salute to a superior officer.

“Gen’ral,” she said, as she stole a glance at her father’s smiling face, “I’ve brought him back with with the pass you gave me, sir.”

And the General stooped six feet of him till his lips were on a level with Virgie’s lips; then folded her closely into his great gray arms.