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On the Kentucky Border

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Text from Harper’s Weekly

February 1, 1862, pages 70 (1) – 71 (3)

I.

You’ve lived too long at the North, Maurice! You ought never to have left Old Kentucky!"

"Well, perhaps so. I might then have been a fellow of about six feet three (I should have grown at least five inches taller, of course), with my hair very badly in want of cutting, my teeth dyed of a good permanent yellow with tobacco, my pants thrust in my boot-tops, and my homespun suit rather out at elbows. I should be a crack shot at turkeys, deer, or ‘possum, and count it a disgrace not to bring down a squirrel as dead as a hammer with the wind of my bullet. I should loaf about all day talking horse, with a whip under my arm and a half dozen dogs at my heels, or fighting cocks at Jones’s tavern. At night I should chew myself sleepy by a wood fire, dream about euchre, and wake up crying out ‘I’ll go it alone!’ as you did only last evening.

The young man whose personal appearance and characteristics were thus described eyed his half-brother with an expression indicative of resentment at his raillery and incapacity to answer it in kind.

"You kin talk right peart, you kin, Maurice!" he said; "on’y I wouldn’t wake snakes, if I were you. It don’t take much to raise a fight out here, you know."

Maurice Byrne laughed. "I don’t want a fight with you, Dan," he said; "you’ll get enough of that, if you’re going to volunteer, which I should be sorry to see."

"Well I am, then, and Andy too; the game’s made up, and there’s no backing down about it!"

"Don’t take the boy, Dan, whatever you do yourself. His father would rather see him dead than fighting against the Union; besides, he’s too young."

"He kin knock the head off a turkey at a hundred yards, and I reckon that’s further than any of Linc’ln’s nigger-stealin’ abolishioners ‘ll like to come within sight of a Kentuck rifle!"

"Dan! Dan! Why will you talk such nonsense! The abolitionist, as you call them, haven’t set foot on our soil, though we, under the treacherous pretext of neutrality, are organizing a ‘State Guard’ which, as every body knows, is Secesh to the backbone. Don’t you see that invasion is threatened only from the other side?"

"The Tennessee men are our friends, and fightin’ for Southern rights. You can’t rub that out, no way you kin fix it! And me and Andy are bound to join them!"

"I’m sorry to hear it. What would you say to me if I were to join the Union men?"

"But you won’t?" And Dan Byrne looked equally surprised, puzzled, and indignant.

"I don’t know. If I acted on my convictions, I should. I was captain of a company in Illinois, and they’d be glad to get me back again, I’ve no doubt. Only I wouldn’t like to have to fight against Kentuckians any how."

"Or to leave Harry!" added his half-brother, knowingly. The name, we may remark, notwithstanding its masculinity, designated a girl of eighteen, cousin to the speakers; nor was it used as an abbreviation. It accordance with a practice not at all uncommon half a century ago, nor yet extinct among the rougher denizens of Kentucky and Tennessee, it had been bestowed in jocular defiance of the trammels of custom, as were not unfrequently those of women upon infants of the opposite sex.

Maurice took the remark in good part. "Well, yes," said he; "you don’t object to that, Dan, do you?"

"No! I wish you’d jes’ marry the gal, and settle down among us, as you might do for all I kin see to prevent it; for she’s as good a Union woman as any out of jail, let the next come from where she will."

"That’s so, Dan Byrne; and she’s not ashamed of it either!" And the person alluded to unexpectedly looked forth from the window on to the wooden piazza, the scene of the preceding dialogue. She was a brilliant brunette, with magnificent black hair and eyes, ripe scarlet lips, and a face whose bold, symmetrical beauty of feature and ruddy health seemed in part to justify her masculine appellation. Not too neatly dressed, with her fell of tangled curls put back behind her ears; her bare, brown, handsome arms crossed on the window-sill, and a half-resentful blush upon her cheeks at what she had overheard, she stood regarding the cousin who had spoken of her with friendly defiance.

He laughed, and affectionately tried to twitch her by the ear. "I’m right, Harry, ain’t I?" he said; "you’d stop me and Andy going if you could—wouldn’t you?"

"Father would, if he were her," she answered, emphatically.

"I have been trying to persuade Dan not to take him," put in Maurice, in whose cheek an answering flush of emotion had welcomed Harry’s appearance. "The lad is altogether too young for it. Think of uncle’s anger and distress if he comes to any mischief."

"He kin take care of himself; and if he cant’, I’ll take care of him," said the intended volunteer, doggedly; "and he will go!"

"Can’t you stop him? I have tried my best, and the boy really seems bent on it," appealed Maurice to Harry, who, twisting one of her long tangled curls very much as an impatient or meditative man might his mustache, looked from one to the other, in sympathy with Maurice and anger at Dan, blended with apprehension for her younger brother. "Both had better remain at home, I am sure; and I’d give every thing I have in the world to keep them there. At least let us save the boy, who will join this infernal rebellion—don’t scowl, Dan, for it is a rebellion, and nothing else, as sure as you live—without a thought of the consequences."

"That for consequences!" cried Dan Byrne, with an emphatic expectoration of tobacco-juice.

"You want Andy killed, then?" inquired Harry, with exasperated affection.

"I’d rather be killed myself, and you know it."

"I don’t! If you cared for him, as you say, you’d never tempt him away from us—for it’s all your doing! Father is against it, and Maurice is against if, and I am against it; yet, because he’s a boy, and knows no better, and has got his head full of nonsense about Southern rights, and Yankees, and invasion, and Heaven knows what—as all the boys around here have—you’ll take him with you!"

"Listen to me once more, Dan," interposed Maurice, checking a choleric reply on the part of his cousin; "you are going to take up arms against your country in entire misconception of the state of thing. If it comes to a fight here—which God forbid!—it won’t be with Yankees, but Kentuckians against Kentuckians. Our State has voted herself neutral, because there was then no alternative between that and secession. We had traitors for rulers, and loyal men could only temporize to gain time. But Kentucky is for the Union at heart; I’m sure of it. Wasn’t I up at Louisville only a week ago, and don’t I know what’s brewing there? Here, on the borders, secesh is rampant enough, but it don’t amount to any thing compared with the love for and loyalty to the Union which Harry Clay—God bless him!—taught us long ago. I wish we had all learned the lesson."

"I don’t believe it!" shouted Dan Byrne, enraged at the statement, and at what he considered merely as his lack of argumentative ability to confute it; "we b’long to the South, don’t we! And when she’s in for a fight—for her rights by___! For her rights!!—hain’t we to be count in? Or are we to stan’ roun’ shivering in our boots like a lot of corn-shucking souled Yankees? You are bound to get me mad, Maurice, so you are, though I cautioned you not to!"

"Ira furor brevis est!" quoted his cousin, who had "taught school" in Illinois among other miscellaneous employments, at which the irascible Dan sniffed and spat; "let there be peace between us; and if you are determined to go, don’t take Andy."

"You kin both talk with him if you like; I han’t persuaded him!" And the tall volunteer—he was a fine, though rough-looking fellow of three-and-twenty, Maurice’s junior by five years—took his rifle from its corner behind the door, whistled to his dogs, and departed, his homely-attired but manly figure soon disappearing among the luxuriant summer foliage of the wild Kentucky woodland which surrounded the house. Maurice watched it until he was out of sight, and then turned to Harry, who, quitting her post at the window, emerged on the piazza. Tall in stature, like her race, her proportions were yet so exquisitely symmetrical, even in their dress of blue homespun, that she could not appear otherwise than strikingly handsome, and might have sat for a model for Spenser’s Britomart of Tasso’s Clorinda. I have said that her arms were bare and brown: if her feet were also, their beauty and that of her ankles made their nudity a matter of congratulation to the masculine spectator. The only looker-on at present, however, had his eyes bent on her face, in which frank regard for him and concern for her brother were equally manifest.

"Harry, dear," Maurice said, taking her hand, "I can’t tell you how this persistence of Dan’s pains me; I don’t wonder at his opinions, recollecting what I was before I left home, only because I aspired to better the rough fortune into which our family has decayed, and to win her whom I loved almost as a boy—whom I find increased in beauty, yet possessing the same brave, earnest nature as ever. Loving her as I do, I would fain save her brother from this miserable rebellion if I can not rescue my own. Is there no way to effect it?"

"If father were at home he would soon stop Andy’s going. They both know that. I am afraid Dan will hurry him off before father’s return."

"And I too. But you know what took him away at such a time?"

"He didn’t tell me, though I have my suspicions. You know, Maurice, of course?"

"I do. He went to procure arms that we may be able to defend ourselves against traitors when the evil day comes. He is as loyal as he is brave, and swears that the dear old flag he fought under at New Orleans shall be hoisted over this house never to be hauled down by rebel hands while he lives to protect it. In that resolution I am with him heart and soul, failing to persuade him to remove to a place of safety. Only on his and your account do I linger here, otherwise I should be doing a man’s duty in defense of the Union now."

"Never let that prevent you. If I were a man I’d shoulder a musket beside you!"

II.

Three months have proved the correctness of Maurice Byrne’s judgment, and the Kentucky border, subjected to all the horrors and miseries of a devastating civil war by invasion from the South, seems again deserving of its ancient ominous title, "the dark and bloody ground." I resume my story toward the close of the latter part of September, when the wild woods of that wild part of the State are in all their autumnal glory, and when the hot noontide sun shines down in unclouded splendor on their leafy loveliness, lighting up the "fall fashions" of the hamadryads—their purples, reds, oranges, yellows, their necklaces of ruby sumach berries—like a veritable fairy orchard. A pity that men’s evil passions should be there to desecrate it!

There is no more wind than cloud stirring in the bright blue sky, otherwise the flag surmounting the time-stained homestead of old Jasper Byrne would not hang so straight and heavily as it does. Every day since the State election in August (when Kentucky, with its "State Guard" in full operation, its power in the hands of traitors, with rebellious Virginia, Tennessee, and the worst part of Missouri inclosing her borders, yet chose, deliberately and unconditionally, to adhere to and share the fate of the Union), every day, at sunrise, has the flag been hoisted by a hand that once pulled a deadly trigger on a certain memorable Eighth of January, to be lowered only at sunset. It is the only flag of its kind within a score of miles on the soil of Kentucky; there are bastard, hostile ones all around, yet up to the present time it has flouted and defied them.

To this house, then, at noontide, on an autumn day, comes riding through the woods, over the stony road, the gaunt, wasted, cadaverous figure of a young man on a sorry hack of a horse, which has evidently traveled far, fared miserably, and been used unscrupulously. But miserable as is the aspect of the animal, that of its rider far exceeds it in wretchedness. Clad in a tattered, semi-military costume, stained with mire and dust, with an empty coat-sleeve pinned to his breast, a blood-stained rag binding his brow, surmounted by a torn hat, haggard, hollow-eyed, emaciated, unshorn, unshaven, faint with wounds and exhausted with hunger and lack of sleep, so returned Dan Byrne to the family homestead.

Its appearance is unlike the careless, open-doored, open-windowed aspect familiar to him, and at once suggestive of the insecurity of the times and the resolution of its owner. Two or three trees in front have been cut down, probably as a precaution against their affording shelter to enemies; the door is shut, and the windows of the upper and lower stories are defended with strong planks, nailed perpendicularly, with interstices of the width of a rifle-barrel between them. Except a couple of dogs, sleeping under the sunny piazza, nothing living is visible. These, awakened by the arrival, come frisking about the horse’s heels barking a clamorous recognition.

The rider dismounts, hesitates, and adds his voice to the din. Not, however, until he has beaten repeatedly upon the door is any reply vouch-safed. Then a footstep approaches from within, and a stern voice questions him as to this name and purpose.

"It’s me, uncle! Your nephew, Dan Byrne."

A surprised ejaculation from a woman follows, and an indistinctly-heard colloquy. And again the stern voice addresses him, this time in deeper tones than before:

"Go your ways, young man! You were my nephew, and are a rebel! What have you done with my son?"

"Open, uncle, and I will tell you." And the applicant covered his face with his one hand, shuddered all over, and leaned against the door-post as if to preserve himself from fainting. The dogs, meanwhile, caper and whine around him, some of them scratching at the portal as though seconding the wretched young man’s request for admission.

Another whispered dialogue occurs—the woman’s voice being heard in supplication—a heavy wooden bar is removed, and the door opens. A tall, resolute-featured man of seventy-five, with iron-gray hair, appears on the threshold, and behind him the handsome, anxious countenance of Harry Byrne.

"Dan!" "Harry!" "Uncle, he’s wounded—dying!" With these and similar expressions of pity and sympathy the sufferer is borne into the house, and the old man, after a wary glance outside, sets the door open, permitting the sunlight to stream into the darkened passage between the two main rooms of the ground-floor. Here, on a rough settle, the returned rebel volunteer addresses his anxious listeners.

"Uncle," he says, "you kin take and shoot me just as soon as you’ve hear what I’ve got to tell. You’ll never see Andy again—he’s dead and buried!"

His cousin clasped her hands over her breast as if to check the violent pulsations of her heart, and then hiding her face, wept aloud with all her impulsive woman’s nature. Old Jasper Byrne grew deadly pale, turned aside, and, with his head against the wall, strove to hide his emotion. There was a miserable pause, broken only by the sobbing of Harry. At last her uncle spoke in a hoarse, constrained voice, curiously interrupted by a sort of tremulous quaver, inexpressibly painful to listen to:

"It’s better as it is," he said; ;"he was my only boy and I loved him, God knows! But he turned traitor and fout agin his country—and I named him arter Jackson, too! Ah! I’m glad the old woman never lived to see this day! Dan! Dan’l! the lad’s blood cries out aginst you!"

"God forgive me if I’ve done wrong! I lost this arm tryin’ to save him!"

"Tell us all about it. Harry, girl! Quit criyin’. ‘Tain’t of no use. ‘Twon’t bring back the dead or wipe out shame from the living, else you might cry on, for there’s a heavy score of it come on our family. Let us hear the whole story.

It may be condensed into a paragraph. Young Andrew Byrne had met his fate in one of the many bloody fratricidal skirmishes following the invasion of Kentucky from the South, being bayoneted in a night-surprise on the part of the loyalists. His cousin, wounded, mutilated, and a prisoner, had contrived to escape and to rejoin the Tennessee regiment which both cousins had belonged to. It was now defeated, dispersed, broken, retreating in scattering handfuls toward the border. Anticipating the arrival of one of these, Dan had hurried on to tell his doleful story, to warn his uncle of the coming danger, and to afford what protection might accrue from his presence.

"They’ll be h’yar before sun-down, I reckon," he concluded. "Uncle, if you don’t want to risk the house being burned over you head, you’d better haul that flag down, if but for an hour or two."

The old soldier folded his arms, knitted his brows, and smiled grimly. He was yet tremulous with suppressed grief at the tidings of his son’s death, but the prospect of immediate danger seemed to relieve him. "I’ll see them _____first!" said he, with energy sufficient to place his determination beyond the reach of entreaty or argument. "They’ve took my boy; they’ve got him killed in the wickedest cause that ever man shouldered a rifle for; now let ‘em come and receive a father’s thanks. I wish Maurice was here now."

"I hearn tell of his joinin’ the abolition—the Federalists," Dan remarked. "I’m glad we didn’t have to fight agin his regiment."

His uncle made no reply. He was pacing with long strides up and down the passage, nervously, expectantly. Presently he paused, and addressed Harry:

"Gal," he said, "tell Pete to hitch up the old mare and wagon, and do you clear out to Brodnax’s—I reckon you’ll be safe enough thar. And you may jist tell him—"

But Harry, in her turn, folded her arms with a look of resolution not inferior to that expressed in the countenance of her father.

"I’m going to stop with you," she said, briefly.

"You’re better away; it’s no woman’s work we’ve got on hand, and I can’t be scared with the thought of what these devils may do to you, supposin’ I aren’t able to beat ‘em off, as I intend tryin’! Likely they’ll burn the shanty down, as Dan says, and you’ve got too many fair years of life before you, gal, to die like that. Go away! Take my blessing and go away, where you’ll be out of danger!"

"I shall stop with you, father; I can load your rifle for you, if I can do nothing else. Don’t ask me to leave you now, for I won’t do it!"

He looked into her eyes, read there her determination and love stronger than death or the fear of it, bent over and kissed her, and abruptly turned away. "You’re true grit, gal!" he murmured. "Now then, let’s git ready to receive ’em."

 

III.

Sunset has come and gone, and darkness rests upon the wild Kentucky woods, shrouding their autumnal glories until the birth of a new day. It is a black, moonless night, threatening rain, and a strong wind has arisen, making melancholy music among the boughs and branches of the forest, driving its foliage fiercely in one direction, as if in emulation of the great wet-looking clouds which are moving rapidly and continuously athwart the face of the heavens. No sound but that of the wind and the occasional startled cry of an owl is audible, the more harmonious night-birds and forest creatures have sought covert in anticipation of the coming storm. And within the house of Jasper Byrne its inmates prepare to meet the scarcely less unreasonable and more harmful tempest of man’s passions.

The old soldier has sent away the two negroes forming part of his household, bidding them secure their safety by flight, and in consequence obtained an unexpected auxiliary in the neighbor to whose dwelling he had proposed sending his daughter. Alarmed at the report of the slaves, Dave Brodnax comes to remonstrate with his ancient comrade, hoping to dissuade him for his rash, perhaps suicidal intention, but failing utterly, resolves, with characteristic Kentucky daring and hardihood, to remain and share his fate. He brings confused rumors confirming Dan Byrne’s representations. A roving band of defeated Tennesseeans will, in all probability, pass by the homestead. There remains only the hope that their haste may prove greater than their inclination for mischief and desire for wreaking vengeance upon the isolated home of a known loyalist, or that Dan’s services, wounds, and mutilation may purchase his uncle’s safety, of which he himself is not too sanguine.

Slowly and heavily the night draws on, as, in an upper room, the four inmates of the house wait and listen. Mattresses are placed between the window, the fire-arms stand loaded and ready, and Harry, with a pale, resolute face, is temporarily relieving Dan in the task of casting bullets. The two old soldiers converse together earnestly. Dan, perturbed and expectant, walks to and fro, or seating himself, assumes a calmness which any transient sound discomposes.

"If it comes to the worst we kin clear out down the slope at the back of the house," says Brodnax; "for I reckon they won’t risk their necks in attacking us that side. Then there’s the cave not two rods off"—alluding to one of those natural excavations, popularly known in Western vernacular as "sink-holes," which undermine all this portion of Kentucky—"would hold a hundred of us easy."

"I’ve thought of that, " Byrne rejoins, "and there’s a ladder handy to its mouth. But, mind, I intend to fight this place just as long as I kin hold it."

"Sartain!" replied his comrade, who in ceasing to combat the other’s resolution seemed to have adopted his readiness, if not his eagerness, for the expected fight; "have you left the flag flying?"

"It’s thar still. I wish there was a moon that they could see it."

"Well, I don’t care so much about that; if they take if for the ‘Stars and Bars’ it’s no matter. You won’t open the ball unless they begin it, I reckon?"

"No!" answered Jasper Byrne, relapsing into silence, in which the party remained for perhaps ten minutes, listening to the stormy music of the wind in the forest.

"Come to the door; we shall have plenty of time to fix it and get back," suggests Brodnax. And the two men descend the stairs, unfasten the door, and look out from the shelter of the little piazza into the night and the wild landscape.

Another pause, and a long one. Then through the blustering and soughing of the wind, the dashing of the leaves, and now the patter of the angry rain, a sound, at first faint and distant, rising and falling, a dull, hollow murmur. Anon only the wind and rain. Then the murmur, increasing or lessening with the atmospheric tumult and the windings of the road. Presently an unmistakable sound, resolving itself into the scrambling, disorderly approach of a body of men.

"At last!" The two old soldiers draw back into the hose, and are about to close and barricade the door when Dan Byrne stands before them.

"Let me go out, uncle!" he says; "I shall be of more use there than within." His request is granted without a word, and in another minute he stands outside with the door bolted and barred behind him.

The tramp grows louder and louder, the murmur swells into voices; lights, torches, and musket-barrels flash through the wet foliage. In another minute the approaching body, imperfectly seen in the darkness, emerges from the black covert of the woods and comes toward the house. It may comprise between twenty and thirty men, some of them wounded, half of them weaponless. Ragged dirty, shoeless, savage, weary, and intoxicated, defeat is written in their demeanor and aspect.

Dan Byrne watches them narrowly. Espying his figure by the lights they carry, some of them set up a shout, half-inquiry, half-menace. He advances and confronts them, and is at once recognized by certain of the group.

"What now, boys?" he asks, as they crowd about him with inquiries as to how he came there.

"We’ve been whipped by the Lincolnites, ___ ‘em, and they’re after us!" is the cry, blended with demands for liquor and refreshment, which the more unruly spirits are about to enforce by a rush toward the house, when Dan raises his voice in vigorous remonstrance:

"Boys!" he cries, "you know me as your comrade, and that I lost this arm in fighting for Southern Rights, and that I wouldn’t have cared if it had ben my life. Now, I ask you in return jes’ to keep right straight on, without touchin’ this house. It belongs to my uncle, and he’s an old man, and I don’t want him troubled. His only son got killed on our side in the skrimmage up to Edmondson’s, and he wants to be let alone."

There was a confused clamor of voices, some in approval, some in dissent. Then a voice shouted, "We’ve hear of him! He’s a d__d Unionist and Yankee, and has got their ___ flag flying! Let’s have it down, boys!" A partial hurrah followed.

"I know you, Mat Green," said Dan Byrne, bitterly, in the direction of the last speaker; "the biggest coward in the regiment! Come here, and for all I’ve got but on arm I’ll whip you, and do it easy!"

Some of the Tennesseeans set up a laugh at this, and for a moment the young Kentuckian thought he had prevailed. Only for a moment: in another he found himself hustled to and for, half in drunken sport, half in earnest, and heard four or five of the party, who had ascended the piazza, beating on the door and clamoring for admission and speech with the inmates. Very soon, in reply, an upper window was raised behind the planking, and the strong stern voice of old Jasper Byrne demanded the cause of the tumult.

"Give us some whisky!" "Let us in!" "Haul down that ___ ___ flag!" said the Kentuckian; "not one of ye shall set foot over my threshold while I have power to prevent it, pack of rebels that ye are!"

"Beat down the door!" "Set fire to the house!" And the blows of musket-butts began to rain on the portal, mingled with execrations and bloody threats. Dan Byrne meanwhile strove furiously with those about him; but his struggles were useless, his voice unheard amidst the uproar.

"Hear me once more," his uncle shouted; and the tumult slackened, the besiegers probably anticipating some capitulation involving compliance with their demands. "You have murdered my boy, now clear out before I am tempted to revenge his death upon ye!"

Almost as he spoke a pistol-shot was fired at him, followed by the irregular explosion of half a dozen muskets in the same direction. The sharp crack of a rifle answered this—another—and two of the foremost of the cluster in front fell to the ground, mortally wounded.

Then up rose a wild shout of rage and desire for vengeance, scarcely uttered before two simultaneous and equally fatal discharges sent their leaden messengers of death through the heart or brain of others; and scatter as their comrades might, in temporary panic from that group which afforded so certain an aim to the practiced marksmen within, yet a fifth and a sixth victim was added to the list before they gained cover in which to gnash their teeth and concert measures of reprisal. Even there, wherever the gleam of a torch or lantern indicated their presence, so sure did a bullet follow the, not always unsuccessfully.

"We might drive ‘em off," said Dave Brodnax, grim with smoke and gunpowder, yet with the light of battle illuminating his rough features, "if it weren’t for the villains below; they’ll be up to mischief before long, I reckon. S’pose we go down and give ‘em a shot or two by way of a scare!"

Jasper Byrne assented. "They’re creeping round among the thickets, I know by their silence," said he, after a glance outward; "we shall have ‘em trying the door and windows directly. What’s that?" He paused abruptly in his speech and listened as to a distant sound.

"Only the rain," suggested Brodnax, whose sense of hearing was not so acute as that of his companions. The storm had increased and the rain now descended in torrents.

"I wish that was all," answered Byrne; "that’s on our side, but I reckon those who are coming won’t be so. Do you hear any thing, girl?"

"I hear a sound in the distance, but can not distinguish what it is," Harry replied. Steadfast and resolute as the two men, she had kept her word in loading their rifles for them throughout the attack, not even blenching when a chance bullet cut its way between the stout oak planks and through her black fell of hair—the only shot which had penetrated the apartment.

"It’s horses and men coming this way," pronounced her father; "we shall soon know what for. Harry, you’re dressed and ready, if we have to run for it? Now, Dave, down stairs with you, and let’s at ‘em agin!" And, bearing the arms and ammunition, the three noiselessly descended the staircase.

The sound of voices heard through the wind and rain on the other side of the door at once confirmed Jasper Byrne’s suspicions. The besiegers had reinforced the party sheltered by the piazza, and while some explored the sides and rear of the premises, in the hope of effecting an entrance, the majority were audibly engaged in tearing up the adjacent rails and planking and piling it against the door, evidently with the intention of setting it on fire, for without such appliances the dampened wood-work had refused to ignite.

Just as the inmates of the house stood listening to the devilish intentions avowed within a few feet of them, the accents changed into surprise and indignation, a sudden fall was heard, as of a man stricken to the ground, followed by the kicking asunder of the materials of the intended bonfire, and Dan Byrne’s voice, crying,

"You shall kill me first! Com on, all of you, cowards that you are, and see if I can’t use this bowie to some effect, maimed as I am! Come on, I say!"

A storm of invectives, of threats, and orders to stand aside answered the challenge. "Not while I live!" the young Kentuckian rejoined, in tones well-nigh as savage as those about him. His uncle looked anxiously, first into the face of his old comrade, then at his daughter.

"They’ll butcher the lad in five minutes, the blood-thirsty hounds! They will, I know, unless we help him. He brought it on us; but he knew no better, and he’s gwine to die for us. Dave! Dave! What shall I do? Think of Harry, if they prove too many for us!"

"Open the door, father!" the girl replied; "save Dan if you can! We’re in God’s hands, and in Him lies our safety!" And, intent on her cousin’s rescue, she rushed to the door and began undoing its fastenings.

Jasper Byrne laid his hand on her arm. "Leave it to us," said he. "Do you go up stairs. Wait and see what happens; and if the time comes, and there’s nothing left for it, mind my last word and fly—you know how."

Snatching up a gun, the girl obeyed him without a word. Then with bowie-knives between their teeth, and revolvers in hand, the two old soldiers unshot the fastenings of the door.

They were just in time. The Tennesseeans, infuriated by the opposition of their late comrade, had attacked and beaten him to his knee, in which position he still defended himself desperately, having already slain one and wounded two men. As the door opened—which it did so suddenly as to be entirely unanticipated by the besiegers—a cry was raised to brain him, to trample him to death. Quick as the utterance he was snatched from beneath the uplifted musket-butts and dragged into the house by the strong arms of his uncle, while Brodnax attempted, but in vain, to close and refasten the door. The lumber piled against it had fallen inward.

With yells of rage and exultation the Tennesseeans rushed forward to improve their fancied opportunity. They were met by so deadly and rapid a discharge of revolvers that seven of their number bit the dust, and the rest wavered and might have recoiled but for those in the rear pressing on them. So on they came tumultuously, thirsting for blood and howling like so many fiends. Then the portal and passage became the scene of a conflict I want words to do justice to.

Steadfastly, sternly, and desperately, fighting inch by inch, did the three Kentuckians—for Dan Byrne soon sprang to his feet and repaid his deliverance by as effectual use of sword and pistol as ever one-armed man achieved—contest the ground, rendered slippery with the blood of the fallen. The narrow passage was sulphurous with smoke, resonant with oath and death-shrieks, ghastly with human suffering. Inch by inch the brave defenders of hearth and home are borne backward, wounded but undaunted, to the foot of the staircase, from the upper portion of which has more than once come sudden destruction to the enemy in the shape of a musket-shot. The three are overmatched by numbers, and fight apparently with no hope but that of selling their lives as dearly as possible—

When a tumult arises without, the tramp of horses’ feet , cries of alarm, a volley of musket-shots, and, clear above the storm which has concealed the approach of the new-comers, a ringing cheer for the Union, blended with, "Down with the seceshers!" who find themselves suddenly attacked in the rear by the troop of loyal Kentuckians from which they had fled in defeat and disgrace only that morning.

* * * * * * *

It were needless to protract our story by the relation of the particulars of the conflict. It was short, sharp, and bloody, terminating in the capture of the majority of the rebels, the dispersion and flight of the remainder. When Captain Maurice Byrne returned from the pursuit, wiping his ensanguined sword upon his horse’s mane, it was to congratulate those whom his timely arrival had rescued from death, and to embrace her whom he loved dearer than life itself, and, in due time, to receive at once the reward of his love and loyalty.

 

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