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The Bushwhacker’s Gratitude
by [?]

As we sat over our after-dinner coffee and cigars in the major’s cosy library, one evening last winter, I discovered my host to be in a reminiscent mood, and ventured to ask him a question that I had frequently meditated. He smiled and was silent for a moment before answering.

“Yes, I have, as you suggest, experienced a number of what may be termed adventures since entering Uncle Sam’s service. Of them all, however, I have no difficulty in recalling one that stands out pre-eminently as the most thrilling experience of my life;” and then he gave this narrative:

“Shortly after the close of the war, I was ordered to a remote section of the South, not far from the Gulf coast, to investigate certain claims against the Government that involved what, for that part of the country, was a large sum of money. As, for several reasons, it was deemed advisable that my real business there should be kept secret, I assumed the role of a settler, took possession of a vacant tract of land, built a two-pen log cabin, engaged a negro servant, and proceeded to explore the country with a view to making the acquaintance of my neighbors.

“The place in which I was located was remote from railroads or regular routes of travel, and was about as wild and lawless a district as could well be found east of the Mississippi. It was a limestone country, abounding in sink-holes, caverns, and underground rivers, and thickly covered with a primeval growth of timber. A few clearings at long intervals marked the fields and garden patches of its widely scattered inhabitants, who were as primitive a set of people as I had ever encountered. During the war it had been a very hot-bed of bushwhacking, and its men had plundered and killed on both sides, with a slight predilection in favor of Southerners and a bitter hatred of Yankees. Although I carefully concealed my connection with the army, and was most guarded in my remarks whenever forced to allude to the war, I could not hide the fact that I was a Northern man. On that account alone I was from the first an object of suspicion and close scrutiny to my neighbors, by most of whom my friendly overtures were received with a sullen unresponsiveness that was, to say the least, discouraging.

“My nearest neighbor was a giant of a man named Case Haffner, who, as I learned before leaving Washington, was the acknowledged leader of the district and foremost in all its deeds of deviltry. He, better than any other, could furnish me with the information I wished to acquire. For this reason I had taken up my abode as near to him as the unwritten law of the country, which forbade neighbors to live within less than a mile of each other, allowed. In vain did I strive to cultivate his acquaintance. He would have nothing to do with me. Only by stratagem did I succeed in meeting him, when he simply ignored my presence and walked away without a word. He lived alone with his son Abner, a bright, keen-witted lad of about fifteen, the pride of his father’s life and the sole object of his ambitions. With this boy I also tried to scrape an acquaintance, hoping to win the father’s confidence through him, but to no purpose. He either eluded me or fled like a startled deer if by chance we met. While others of the neighborhood sought my house with a view to satisfy their curiosity, with Case Haffner and his son ‘Ab,’ I could hold no intercourse.

“So matters stood at the end of a month, when, late one evening, on returning from an all day’s ride to a remote corner of the settlement I was overtaken by a terrific thunder storm while still some distance from home. I was accompanied by Caesar, my negro servant, and we were on horseback. Bewildered by the storm we lost our way, and after a half hour of hopeless wandering, floundering and general discomfort I was more than thankful to discover a feeble light twinkling in the window of a log cabin.