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   Chapter 3 No.3

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 9502

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


A fine mist was falling, and the night was so dark that we would never have found our way but for a small dog whose inhospitable bark directed us to the cabin. The dog was so disturbed by our approach that a woman opened the door to see what the trouble could be. We found Jack Bledsoe on a pallet, and saw at a glance that the woman had administered such remedies as common-sense and experience had taught her would allay the fever of a wound. He recognized us at once, and Harry could hardly keep back his tears when he saw his college chum lying helpless on the floor. He supported Jack's head while the surgeon was examining the wound.

"You are here sooner than I thought," said Jack, gripping Harry's hand hard, "but I knew you would-I knew it. And there is Carroll Shannon," he went on, holding out a hand to me. "You never were very fond of me, Carroll, but I always liked you."

I hardly knew what to say, and therefore I said nothing. I could only take his hand in mine and give him a grip that would tell him more than words could tell. "Don't worry, old fellow," Jack continued, observing the expression of grief and anxiety in Harry Herndon's countenance. "It's all owing to the way the cards fall. Some day your turn may come, and then I hope I'll be able to go to you." His eyes were unnaturally bright, and his lips trembled with suppressed emotion.

The tension was relieved by the woman, who looked at both the young fellows, and then turned to the surgeon and asked almost unconcernedly, "Ain't war a hell of a thing?"

It was the surgeon who responded. "It would be hard to find a better definition, ma'am."

"I've saw lots wuss'n this," she remarked, as if she would thus find excuse for her sudden use of an expression that is rarely heard on the lips of a woman.

"Why, yes, ma'am-a great deal worse. This is not a bad case at all. No great damage has been done. He will be lame for some weeks-perhaps for a longer time. The ball struck the bone, glanced, and is now close to the surface."

In a few moments he had deftly extracted it, and the wounded man seemed to be greatly relieved. Medicine, strange to say, had been declared a contraband of war by the Federals, and the surgeon could spare but a driblet of quinine from his small supply; but he left some, and gave various directions with respect to the possible symptoms that might arise.

Just then the woman's husband entered the door. He was an emaciated, unkempt man, whose movements were in strange contrast with his appearance. He was one of the most trustworthy of General Forrest's scouts, but neither betrayed the fact that he knew the other. On the contrary, the man was both angry and rude. "What'd I tell you, Rhody?" he exclaimed, turning to his wife. "I know'd they'd crowd us out'n house an' home ef they got a chance; I could 'a' took oath to it! Cuss 'em, an' contrive 'em, both sides on 'em, all an' similar! They'd as lief make a hoss-stable out'n the house as not, an' I built it wi' my two han's."

"An' what ef you did?" inquired the woman with some show of spirit. "Hit ain't sech a beauty that you kin brag on it. An' who made your two han's? You made 'em, I reckon, an' nobody else could 'a' done it."

The man made a gesture as though he could in that way weaken the force of the woman's words, and he evidently knew when to speak, for he said no more. On the contrary, sympathy shone in his eyes when he looked at the wounded man. "Don't you worry, Bill; ef ther's any worryin' to be done, leave it to me. It takes a 'oman to know how to worry right; an' ever'thing oughter be done right."

"Can you get a boat across the river?" inquired General Forrest, turning to the man. He was somewhat doubtful until he caught the General's eye, and then he thought that nothing would be easier. "Well," said the General, "go across and tell the Yankees that there's a wounded officer at your house and that he needs attention. Tell 'em that General Forrest says they can get him whenever they send after him."

"Is this General Forrest?" inquired Jack Bledsoe. "General, I hardly know how to thank you. I had just been dreaming of prison."

The General made a deprecatory gesture, and was on the point of saying something, when the man of the house spoke up. "Ef you're Gener'l Forrest," he said, "you'll be more than pleased to know that the Yankees ain't never took time for to cook supper. After they hit the furder bank they jest kep' on a-humpin', an' I don't blame 'em myself, bekaze 'twuz the only way wet men could keep warm."

"It's up to you, Herndon; he's your prisoner. He ought to be in a hospital where he could be looked after, but I reckon he'll have to stay where he is for a while."

"He won't put me out

a mite ef he stays," said the woman. "He'll be company fer me when Bill is pirootin' 'roun'."

General Forrest gave us permission to remain where we were for the night. "We move at five," said he. "Bill here will put you across and show you which way to go when he has found your horses for you." Just how Bill would do that was a mystery, but we asked no questions.

We called for Whistling Jim when General Forrest had gone, but he was nowhere to be found. He had shown us the way to the cabin and then disappeared. I judged that he was afraid Jack Bledsoe would upbraid him or that Harry would give him a scolding; but, whatever his reasons, he disappeared when we went in the cabin, and we saw him no more till the next morning.

Harry and Jack talked of old times until the woman was compelled to warn the wounded man that it would be worse for him if he excited himself. But he talked away in spite of the warning. He talked of his sister Katherine, much to Harry's delight, and told of his own sweetheart in Missouri. His colonel, he said, was very fond of Katherine, but he declared that Kate still thought of Harry, whereupon the young fellow blushed and looked as silly as a school-girl.

Tom Ryder was the Colonel's name, and he had a sister Lucy. Miss Lucy was Jack's choice out of a thousand, he said. The main trouble with Jack was that his sweetheart's sister, Jane Ryder, didn't like him-and so forth and so on, till I nodded where I sat, and dreamed of Katherine and Jane and Lucy Ryder, until someone took me by the arm and told me that it was time to be up and going.

We delayed our departure on one excuse and another, until finally Bill, who was to be our guide, grew irritable; and even then we made a further delay while Jack pencilled a note to his colonel, which Harry was to take charge of as long as there was danger of his capture by roving bands of Federals, and then it was to be given to the guide, who thought he could insure its delivery.

When we were ready, and could invent no further excuse, Harry turned to Jack. "The war doesn't touch us, dear boy. Good-by, and don't fail to put in a good word for me when you go home."

Jack Bledsoe's face brightened up. "That's so!" he exclaimed; "I can go home now. Well, you may depend on me, Harry; but the two Miss Ryders are all the other way, and I'll be between two fires. Tell Whistling Jim I have no hard feelings. He has really done me a favor, if things turn out no worse than they are."

We bade our friend good-by again and went out into the damp morning air, each with his various thoughts. I congratulated myself that mine had little to do with the troublesome sex. The fog, hanging heavily over the river, shut out the sunlight. We had to take the guide's word for that, for we could see no sign of the sun. Indeed, it was so dark that we had considerable difficulty in making our way. But when we were on the other side, and had mounted the somewhat steep bank, the fog disappeared and the sun shone out; and not far away we saw Whistling Jim and the horses.

He hailed our coming with delight, for he had been waiting some time, and he was both cold and frightened. He took off his hat, as he said, to old King Sun, and he seemed to feel all the better for it; and we all felt better when our horses were between our knees. Even the horses felt better, for they whinnied as we mounted, and were for going at a more rapid gait than was necessary.

We entered the scrub timber and went through it for half a mile or more, and then suddenly came out on the public highway. The guide suggested that we smarten up our gait, and we put the horses to a canter. I thought surely that the man would give out, but he merely caught hold of my stirrup to help him along, and when we came to a cross-road, and halted at his suggestion, he showed as little fatigue as the horses-this man who seemed too frail to walk a mile.

Here he gave us such instructions as seemed necessary, and was just about to so-long us, as he said, when he paused with his hand to his ear. "I'll be whopped," he exclaimed, "ef I don't hear buggy-wheels, an' they're comin' right this way." With that he slipped into the bushes, and, though I knew where he was concealed, it was impossible to catch a glimpse of him.

There was a bend in the road about a quarter of a mile ahead of us, and we waited expectantly, while Whistling Jim, with a cunning for which I did not give him credit, pretended to be fixing his saddle-girth. As we waited a top-buggy rounded the bend in the road and came bowling toward us. It was surprising to see a buggy, but I was more surprised when its occupant turned out to be a woman-a woman in a top-buggy, riding between two hostile armies!

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