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作者:未知      更新:2018-03-11 22:32      字数:4287
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    After the straightforward story of Tom Zachary, which explained the cunning method by which Lieutenant Coleman and his comrades had been deceived by the flag-messages, the soldiers could feel no resentment toward Tom. They were so happy in the possession of all the good news they had heard that they would have shaken hands with Bud Bryson himself, if he had been one of their rescuers.

    "Now I reckon," said the rosy-faced man, as he got on his feet to go down the mountain, "considerin' the way things has turned out, you-all won't keer about investin' in property in this upper kentry, and I'll give ye back your money," he continued, looking fondly at the two yellow coins.

    Coleman and Bromley, however, insisted that a bargain was a bargain, and that they wanted the land more than ever. They should go away, they said, the next day if Philip was able to make the journey; and Lieutenant Coleman pressed another coin upon Hooper, for which he was to bring them a supply of clothing which they could wear as far as Asheville.

    It all seemed like a dream to the three belated soldiers when their visitors had gone; but Bromley, who was the more practical, reminded his comrades that the antislavery societies must have been long since disbanded, and that the gold was theirs by the right of discovery. So, after making a supper of the corn-bread from the haversack, Coleman and Bromley fell to work with a will, stripping the mill of its golden bands and hinges and hasps; and late into the night the windows of the forge glowed and beamed, and the ruddy firelight streamed out through the cracks in the logs, where Bromley, the goldsmith, was smelting and hammering the precious metal into bars, and beating into each, while it was soft, the impress of a double-eagle, reversed.

    When all the gold was packed in the very cask in which they had found it, and so wedged and padded with leaves of the temperance books that it no longer chinked when it was moved, a book-cover was nailed on the head, and the package was addressed to "LIEUTENANT FREDERICK HENRY COLEMAN, U.S.A., WASHINGTON, D.C."

    The tin box containing the diary, and the flags and swords and such books as they wished to keep, were gathered together and packed for transportation.

    By noon of the following day the two mountaineers appeared again, looking like old-clothes men as they came over the hill.

    When the three soldiers got out of their tattered clothing, and into the butternut-and-gray suits which had been borrowed for them from the neighbor folk in the settlement, the misfits were such that they looked hardly less comical than before. Philip was the first to appear from the house ready for the descent. His hat was a bell-crowned beaver, his trousers were turned up half-way to his knees, and he carried in his hand the alligator-skin bag which had belonged to the beautiful lady of the balloon.



    After they got down the ladders, Coleman carried the cask as far as the gorge, resting at intervals, but never permitting the two mountaineers to test its weight or even suspect its contents. Philip and Bromley divided between them the flags and sabers, the remaining carbine, the map, and the tin box containing the diary. Hooper and Zachary were occupied with the six sad roosters, and Tumbler, the bear, ambled along behind the men as they picked their way down the mountain. It was really a perilous journey along the rough trunk of the great pine which lay across the dark chasm, but Bromley shouldered the cask, and walked over as steadily as old Tumbler himself, and, arrived on the opposite side, he set it on end in the tail of the steer-cart, which was hitched to a sapling alongside the very rock on which Andy, the guide, had been seated when he told the story of the old man of the mountain.

    The tall pines were whispering together in the soft wind as unconcernedly as if it had been seven days instead of seven years since the soldiers had stood on that spot before, and the tinkling stream below was still chinking on its way like silver coins in a vault.

    At first Philip mounted the seat beside Tom Zachary, and took charge of the fowls jolting in a yellow, croaking mass between his feet, except the old paralyzed rooster, which he earned tenderly in his lap. He was too excited to ride, however, and presently he got down and walked with the others. At every stage of the descent the soldiers were learning new facts about the war, which made their return to the United States a triumphal and delirious progress. By the time they reached the hill-pastures where they were greeted by some of the very same copper bells that had startled the cavalcade going up, they began to be joined by the people who had heard of their discovery. They came in twos, and threes, and whole families, to swell their train, so that when they turned into the sandy road through the valley they were attended by a joyous procession of curious followers, which steadily increased until the cart, with the bear shambling alongside, came to a stand by the woodpile of Elder Long, misnamed Shifless. Philip took off his bell-crowned hat right and left to the women; and Lieutenant Coleman greeted Aunt Lucy, who leaned on her crutches at the gate among the purple cabbage-heads, with the stately courtesy he had learned at West Point.

    Riley Hooper mounted the woodpile, and announced, with a merry twinkle in his eye, that he and Tom had captured the "harnts" that had been "doin'" the ghost business so long on old Whiteside; at which Aunt Lucy glared through her spectacles as if the remark were a personal affront to her, and the elder exclaimed fervently, "May the Lord's will be done!"

    When presently the mail-carrier came along in his one-horse gig, Lieutenant Coleman wrote a hurried despatch to the adjutant-general of the army, announcing the relief of his station, and the cask containing the treasure was committed to the carrier's charge, to be sent on by express, as if it were only the commonest piece of luggage.

    When the sun disappeared behind the mountain, ushering in the long twilight in the valley, the crowd was still increasing, and one of the last to arrive was the old postmaster from the Cove. When he came the soldiers and their deliverers were seated with the elder's family about the supper-table in the kitchen, where the neighbors lined the walls and filled the doors and windows, eager to hear more of the life on the mountain.

    The great round table itself excited the soldiers', surprise; for, besides being covered with a gaudy patchwork of oilcloth, it was encircled at a lower level with a narrow ledge which held the plates and cups and knives and forks, while the great center was loaded with smoking loaves of corn-bread, platters of fried chicken, bowls of potatoes, jugs of milk, and pots of fragrant tea.

    Room was made for the postmaster at the hospitable board, and after the elder had said grace standing, he invited everybody to help himself, at the same time giving the table a twirl which sent the smoking dishes and the flaring tallow dips circling around on an inner clockwork of creaking wooden wheels. It was altogether such a bewildering and unexpected movement that Philip nearly fell out of his chair, and even Bromley, who had just laid a piece of corn-bread on the edge of the oilcloth, dropped his knife as he saw the bread sail around until it rested in front of the postmaster, very much as the blanket had fluttered down from the balloon.

    After the supper was over, and all the neighbor folks had been satisfied, eating and drinking where they stood, Lieutenant Coleman, speaking for his companions, related such incidents in connection with their life on the mountain as he chose to disclose. He ended his long story by presenting the bear to Riley Hooper, and the six sad roosters to Tom Zachary, with a sum of money to pay for their keeping. The library of abolition books he presented to Elder Long, telling him where he would find it in the long cavern.

    "Hit's plumb quare," said the postmaster, after Lieutenant Coleman sat down. "Did you 'ns ever drop sech a thing as a spy-glass?"

    "We did indeed," said all three of the soldiers together.

    "An' mighty well battered an' twisted hit was," said the postmaster. "I found hit 'mongst the rocks a spell after the blanket landed front o' my door, an' I always 'lowed hit fell out o' the balloon."

    The soldiers laughed.

    "I come drefful nigh comin' up thar in '69," said the postmaster. "Say, strangers," he continued, dropping his voice, "tell me true; did you 'ns ever view the harnt up yonder?"

    "We never had the pleasure," said Lieutenant Coleman.

    "That's quare, too," said the postmaster, "an' you livin' thar seven year; fur I viewed hit, an' no mistake, that winter afore I 'lowed to come up, a-gyratin' an' cavortin' on the avalanche in the moonlight, the same bein' the night afore hit fell."

    Bromley sat back in his chair, and laughed aloud. "Here's the 'harnt' you saw," he exclaimed, slapping Philip on the shoulders.

    "No, no!" cried the postmaster, getting onto his feet with a scared look in his face. "Yer funnin' with me, stranger, fur no human could 'a' got thar whar I viewed the harnt."

    "But he did," said Bromley; and then he described how Philip fell, and how he got up again. "By the way," continued Bromley, looking around, "is the young woman present who used to live alone in the house under Sheep Cliff?"

    At this question some of the neighbor women pushed forward a tall, stoop-shouldered girl with a sallow face, who struggled to avoid the gaze of the soldiers.

    "What fur ye want 'o know?" she said in a sullen voice, still pushing to get back to her place against the wall.

    "Oh, nothing," said Philip; "only we used to see you through the telescope."

    The soldiers and the family sat for a time in silence after the most of the neighbors had gone.

    "Well, I declare," said the postmaster, giving a twirl to the creaking table which caused the last guttering candle to approach him in a smoky circle, "how things do come round!"

    The light reddened the postmaster's face for an instant, and gleamed on his glasses, as he blew out the candle and pinched the wick.

    And so ends the history of the three soldiers who remained in voluntary exile for seven years, and were happily rescued at last.

    The End
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