Chasing an Iron Horse - LightNovelsOnl.com
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When George recovered his senses he was lying on the deck of one of the war-vessels, and Waggie was barking in an effort to awaken him. Near him sat Watson, with a happy smile on his wan face. Around him was a group of officers.
"By Jove," one of the latter was saying. "Those poor fellows had a narrow escape. It was well we saw their plight and sent a boat after them. It got there just in time."
"Well, my boys," asked an older officer (who was evidently the captain of the vessel), in a gruff but not unkindly tone, "what on earth _are_ you, and where did you come from? You don't appear to have been gorging yourselves lately."
When George and Watson were a little stronger they told the story of their adventures, in brief but graphic terms, to the interested group of officers. When they had finished the Captain came up to them, and put a hand upon the shoulder of each.
"You fellows want a good round meal!" he said emphatically. "And after that some clothes will not come amiss, I guess."
To this they readily a.s.sented. How delicious the food tasted when it was served to them at the officers' mess; and how comfortable but strange they felt when, an hour later, they were arrayed in all the glory of clean underclothes, shoes, nice suits and naval caps. When they came on deck again, how the sailors did cheer. And Waggie! How fine and cheerful he looked, to be sure, all decked out in ribbons provided by the tars; and how pleased he felt with the whole world since he had eaten--but it would take too long to detail the _menu_ with which the dog had been regaled.
The wonder was that he survived the spoiling that he received during the next four days.
At the end of that time he accompanied his master and Watson, who were sent on a government vessel to New York. From New York they traveled by rail to Was.h.i.+ngton, where they were to relate their experiences, and the result of the railroad chase, to President Lincoln.
First they saw Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War, who made them dine and spend the night as his guests, and who the next morning took them to the White House. George trembled when he was ushered into the private office of Mr. Lincoln. He felt nervous at the thought of encountering the man who, more than any one else, held in his hand the destiny of the nation.
But, when a tall, gaunt person, with wonderful, thoughtful eyes and a homely face, illumined by a melancholy but attractive smile, walked up to him and asked: "Is this George Knight?" all the boy's timidity vanished.
As he answered, "Yes, I am George Knight," he felt as if he had known the President for years.
Mr. Lincoln listened to the narrative of the two fugitives--now fugitives no longer--and put to them many questions. When the recital was over the President asked: "Do you know that poor General Mitch.e.l.l has died from yellow fever?"
They answered in the affirmative, for Mr. Stanton had given them this unwelcome information upon their arrival in Was.h.i.+ngton.
Mr. Lincoln pulled a paper from one of the pockets of his ill-fitting black coat and handed it to Watson.
"Here is a commission for you as a Captain in the regular army," he explained. "I know of no one who could deserve it more than Captain Watson."
"How can I ever thank you, Mr. President?" cried Watson.
"The thanks are all on my side," answered the President, smiling. "That reminds me of a little story. When----"
Mr. Stanton, who was standing immediately behind his chief, began to cough in a curious, unnatural way.
A gleam of humor came into the unfathomable eyes of the President.
"Mr. Stanton never appreciates my stories," he said, quizzically, "and when he coughs that way I know what he means." Then, turning to George, he continued: "My lad, you are one of the heroes of the war! I had intended giving you, too, a commission, but I find you are too young. But I suppose you want to see more of the war?"
"Indeed I do, Mr. Lincoln!" cried George.
"Well, since poor Mitch.e.l.l is dead, how would you like to go as a volunteer aid on the staff of one of our generals?"
"The very thing!" said the boy, with ardor.
Mr. Lincoln faced his Secretary of War.
"You don't always let me have my own way, Mr. Secretary," he observed, dryly, "but I think you must oblige me in this."
"The boy's pretty young," answered the Secretary, "but I fancy it can be arranged."
"Very good," said the President. "And now, George, if you behave with half the pluck in the future that you have shown in the past, I'll have no fear for you. Do your duty, and some day you may live to see--as I may not live to see--a perfect reunion between North and South; for G.o.d surely does not intend that one great people shall divide into two separate nations."
George left the White House in a perfect glow of enthusiasm. The very next day he was ordered to join the staff of General George H. Thomas, and he joyfully obeyed the summons to leave Was.h.i.+ngton. His only regret was in parting from Waggie, whom he was obliged to entrust to the care of a friend of Secretary Stanton's. The boy saw plenty of army life throughout the rest of the war. When the conflict was over he hurried back to Was.h.i.+ngton, found Waggie alive and well, and then went home with him to Cincinnati. Here he had a startling but delightful reunion with his father, whose mysterious disappearance had been due to his capture by the Confederates, and an incarceration for many months in an out-of-the-way Southern prison.
There were many things of interest which George did not learn until after the last gun of the war had been fired. One was that Watson had made a brilliant record for himself as a regular army officer, and had come out of the war with a sound skin and the rank of Colonel. Another piece of news concerned the fortunes of the soldiers who escaped from the Atlanta jail. Eight of the engine party and the East Tennessee Captain (this number including Watson and George), managed to escape, and finally reached the Northern lines in safety. The six prisoners who were recaptured, among them Macgreggor and Jenks, escaped hanging, and were exchanged for the same number of Southern prisoners. Jenks was killed at the battle of Gettysburg; Macgreggor served through the war, was honorably discharged as a Major of Volunteers, and finally developed into a successful physician in the growing city of Chicago.
Waggie has been gathered to his canine forefathers these many years. But it is comforting to reflect that he lived to a fine old age, and died full of honors. He was known far and wide as the "Civil War Dog"--a t.i.tle which caused him to receive much attention, and a good many dainty bits of food in addition to his regular meals. Let it be added, however, that his digestion and his bright disposition remained unimpaired until the end.
George Knight is now a prosperous merchant, happily married, and living in St. Louis. He is proud in the possession of a son who saw active service in the Spanish-American War as an officer in the navy. Before we say good-bye to our hero let us record that he never forgot the kindness of the Rev. Mr. Buckley, who had saved his life as a boy. Many a Christmas-time gift testified to the grat.i.tude of the Northerner.
In the desk in George Knight's office is a bundle of letters from the old clergyman. The last of these to be received reads as follows:
"Dear Friend George:
"This is Christmas Day--the last, I am sure, that I will ever see. I am too feeble to write you more than my best wishes for the holiday season, and to say--Thank G.o.d, the war has been over these twenty years and we are once more a united nation. No North, no South, no East, no West--but simply America. I have been spared to see this--and I am grateful.
"Cordially yours, "Amos Buckley."