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[510] and even at this favorable season of the year the hoof-marks of cavalry were plainly visible in the sun-baked mud over each side of the main track.

But this was not the only enemy to repose.

Rumors of highwaymen were rife, and only a night or two previous the stage had been intercepted, the driver intimidated, and the mails and passengers robbed. As we jolted along over clay cañons and through dense woodlands, we saw a modern Robin Hood in every passing shadow, and heard with fluttering heart a signal in the idle whistle of every laggard freedman.

About midnight the coach stopped at a wayside shanty for a change of horses and supper. Provided with a lunch I did not get out with the other passengers, but shared my frugal meal with the Baltimorean, a middle-aged gentleman of refinement and widely travelled. As we sat there discussing our chicken and sandwiches in the fitful glare of a lightwood fire blazing in front of the temporary hostelrie, a trio of rough-looking men, carrying guns, came out of the forest and approached us. Mr. F. glanced at them, and then put his hand behind him with a significant gesture. In another moment I heard the click of a revolver. The men came nearer, looked at us searchingly for several minutes, met my casual eye as I sat with a chicken-wing in one hand and a biscuit in the other, the personification of confiding assurance, Mr. F. being in the shadow, and then passed on to inspect the other passengers at supper. Finding these, doubtless, unworthy of their steel, or unsuggestive of concealed gold, the mysterious foot-pads vanished as they came, silently and stealthily. Perhaps they were merely harmless hunters, for in those days many lived almost solely on the results of the chase; but their proceedings were certainly suspicious, and Mr. F. maintained that their object was plunder.

Day-break found us entering Columbia. The approach was made from the north over bleak, bare sand-hills, and it was from the nearest of these that I first saw the ruined city spread out like a neglected kiln below. At the sight I burst into tears.

Down the long straight street we drove, through Cotton-town, southward towards the new capitol, its white walls gleaming ghastly in the chiar-oscuro of a summer's dawn. I recalled how I had last seen this avenue on Christmas eve of 1864, as one of a merry party we had dashed along to the Charlotte depot; bursts of music, gold and gray and scarlet uniforms brightening the motley crowd, laughter, light, and life everywhere, and now—darkness, silence, death!


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Cotton Town (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)

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December 24th, 1864 AD (1)
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