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Synopsis

October moonlight shone clearly on the solitary tree, draped with
gray moss, scarred by lightning and warped by wind, looking like a
venerable warrior, whose long campaign was nearly done; and
underneath was posted the guard of four. Behind them twinkled many
camp-fires on a distant plain, before them wound a road ploughed by
the passage of an army, strewn with the relics of a rout. On the
right, a sluggish river glided, like a serpent, stealthy, sinuous,
and dark, into a seemingly impervious jungle; on the left, a
Southern swamp filled the air with malarial damps, swarms of noisome
life, and discordant sounds that robbed the hour of its repose. The
men were friends as well as comrades, for though gathered from the
four quarters of the Union, and dissimilar in education, character,
and tastes, the same spirit animated all; the routine of camp life
threw them much together, and mutual esteem soon grew into a bond of
mutual good fellowship.

Thorn was a Massachusetts volunteer; a man who seemed too early old,
too early embittered by some cross, for though grim of countenance,
rough of speech, cold of manner, a keen observer would have soon
discovered traces of a deeper, warmer nature hidden, behind the
repellent front he turned upon the world. A true New Englander,
thoughtful, acute, reticent, and opinionated; yet earnest withal,
intensely patriotic, and often humorous, despite a touch of Puritan
austerity.

Phil, the "romantic chap," as he was called, looked his character to
the life. Slender, swarthy, melancholy eyed, and darkly bearded;
with feminine features, mellow voice and, alternately languid or
vivacious manners. A child of the South in nature as in aspect,
ardent, impressible, and proud; fitfully aspiring and despairing;
without the native energy which moulds character and ennobles life.
Months of discipline and devotion had done much for him, and some
deep experience was fast ripening the youth into a man.

Flint, the long-limbed lumberman, from the wilds of Maine, was a
conscript who, when government demanded his money or his life,
calculated the cost, and decided that the cash would be a dead loss
and the claim might be repeated, whereas the conscript would get
both pay and plunder out of government, while taking excellent care
that government got precious little out of him. A shrewd,
slow-spoken, self-reliant specimen, was Flint; yet something of the
fresh flavor of the backwoods lingered in him still, as if Nature
were loath to give him up, and left the mark of her motherly hand
upon him, as she leaves it in a dry, pale lichen, on the bosom of
the roughest stone.

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