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   Chapter 4 No.4

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 13257

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The lady made no pause whatever, and apparently was not at all surprised to find soldiers in the road ahead of her. She was not large, and yet she had a certain dignity of deportment. She was not youthful, neither was she old, but she was very grave-looking, as if she had seen trouble or was expecting to see it. Under any other circumstances I should have paid small attention to her, but the situation was such that I was compelled to regard her with both interest and curiosity. Almost in a moment my curiosity took the shape of sympathy, for there was something in the pale face that commanded it.

She was accompanied by a very clean-looking officer on horseback, and he, in turn, was followed by a small escort of cavalry-I did not take the trouble to count them, for my eyes were all for the lady; and it was left to Harry Herndon to realize the fact that we were in something of a pickle should the officer take advantage of the position in which he found us. He saw at once that our capture was a certainty unless we took prompt measures to provide against it, and he was quick to suggest that we adopt the tactics of Forrest and ride at them if they made a display of hostilities. I had just time to shift my carbine to the front under my overcoat and loosen the flap of my holsters when the lady drove up. We raised our hats as she came up, and made way for her to pass.

But she did nothing of the sort. She brought her horse to a halt. "Good-morning," she said, as cool as a cucumber. "You can't deceive us with your blue overcoats; you are both rebels. Oh, I have heard more of you Southerners than can be found in the newspapers."

"I'm sure we had no thought of deceiving you," responded Harry with one of his engaging smiles. "We are from the South, and you are from the North, of course. It may be that we are well met."

"Oh, no! not this time. I have seen prisoners taken before," remarked the lady with a little smile.

"Then you'll not flinch to see them taken again," said Harry very boldly. "But I shall regret to put you to any inconvenience."

I think the confident air of Harry saved us considerable trouble at the moment; but while he was putting on a bold front and trembling in his shoes-as he told me afterward-I had my eyes on the lady. She looked at me once, and turned her face away; twice, and frowned; thrice, and blushed. "I was afraid at first that you were a prisoner," I remarked in a tone that was intended to be apologetic, but the lady calmly turned her head away and ignored me.

"To what command are you attached?" inquired the Federal officer, very brusquely.

"We are serving under General Forrest," replied Harry.

"Why are you so far away from your command?" the officer inquired with real curiosity. His tone was so puzzling that Harry hesitated an instant-but in that instant a detachment of Forrest's troopers came around the bend in the road.

"Are we indeed so very far from our command?" I inquired.

The troopers came rattling up, and the officer turned to the lady, somewhat ungraciously, I thought, with the remark that they had been led into an ambuscade.

This was so ridiculous that I laughed aloud, though I felt little like laughing. "What amuses you?" the lady asked in some surprise. "I am sure I can see nothing humorous in our situation."

"Perhaps you have heard ladies placed under such accusations before?" I suggested.

"Miss Ryder knows I meant no such thing," said the officer with some heat.

"Is this Miss Lucy Ryder?" I inquired.

"What do you know of Lucy Ryder?" the lady asked.

"I know she has a sister Jane," I answered, whereupon the lady blushed again. "And I have heard that Miss Jane doesn't like a friend of ours-a young fellow named Jack Bledsoe, who is greatly in need of sympathy at this time."

"I like him well enough to go on a wild-goose chase in search of him," the lady replied. "We had an idea that he had been left on the battle-field."

Harry, who had been consulting with our comrades who had just arrived, returned in time to overhear a part of this conversation. He fumbled in his pocket and finally produced Jack Bledsoe's note. He lifted his hat as he handed it to the lady. She read it very calmly, and then passed it to the Federal officer who had escorted her: "You see, I am justified in coming."

"We sat up with Jack last night, my friend and I," Harry remarked.

"Well, you know the Bible tells us to love our enemies," remarked the lady, dryly.

"It was an easy matter to carry out the commandment in this particular instance, for, with the exception of this gentleman here"-indicating me-"Jack Bledsoe is the dearest friend I ever had."

"I know you well enough," the lady remarked with a smile. "You are Harry Herndon, and your friend there is Carroll Shannon, and the negro is Whistling Jim. Why, I know your grandmother, although I have never seen her."

"That doesn't help us now. How are we to find Captain Bledsoe?" asked the officer. I could have slapped him for the tone he employed.

"It is all provided for," replied Harry Herndon, curtly. "All you have to do is to hold on to the pommel of your saddle. There is a non-combatant here who will guide you. Bill!"

"I'm a-lis'nin' at ye," responded the guide from the bushes.

"This is one of the natives," Harry explained. "His wife is taking care of Jack Bledsoe and he will have no difficulty whatever in showing you the way."

The officer thanked us ungraciously, though why he took that attitude I was unable to discover, and we were on the point of joining our comrades when the lady remarked: "You'll probably know me again when you see me, Mr. Carroll Shannon!" This was a rebuke, I knew, and it upset me not a little, but there was something in the tone of her voice that sounded like a challenge, and I remarked that I should be sure to know her. "Then call my attention to the fact when you next see me," she cried as she touched up her horse.

"With great pleasure," I answered, raising my hat, and with that we were off to join our waiting comrades. It seemed that General Forrest was somewhat concerned for our safety, knowing that the country was strange to us, and he had sent William Forrest's company of Independents to watch the road for us so that we might come to no harm. While engaged in carrying out this order they saw the lady and her escort far ahead of them, and a detachment was sent to investigate, the rest of the company remaining to see whether other Federals would follow. Thus they came upon us in the very nick of time, for I judge that the Federal officer would h

ave held us prisoners, in spite of the information we had for him, for he was very gruff and surly.

We reached the recruiting camp at Murfreesborough without further incident, and Harry and I soon settled down to the routine of duties that fell to our share. Harry served General Forrest temporarily as a courier, while I was billeted with Captain Bill Forrest's company of Independents, sometimes known as the Forty Thieves, owing to their ability as foragers.

I had time to ramble about in the woods, and I took advantage of it to explore the whole countryside in the neighborhood of the camp. Returning one day from a ride that was partly on business and partly for pleasure, I was informed that General Forrest had sent for me. When I responded to his summons he was reading a late copy of the Chattanooga Rebel, and was evidently much interested in what he read. He handed the paper to me when he had finished, and pointed out an article that was printed under a great display of black type.

A Federal scout, Leroy by name, and well known in both armies (so the newspaper said), had entered General Bragg's lines under very peculiar circumstances and had then managed to escape. Two pickets had been found bound and gagged. The whole story appeared to be absurd.

It was stated, among other things, that the scout intended to turn his attention to General Forrest. He directed my eye to this, and said he wanted me to take the matter in hand. I inquired how the correspondent knew the intentions of the scout.

"Why, he guessed 'em," replied General Forrest, "and he guessed right, too. I've got information from one of my men who is thick with the Yankees that this chap will soon be nosing around here, and I want to give him the worth of his money. I don't want the other side to know how many men I've got, and I don't want 'em to know that my superior officer has refused to honor my requisition for arms and horses. I'd cut a purty figure with the Yankees if they know'd that some of my men had muskets that were used in the Revolutionary War. If they found this out I'd never whip another fight. And there's another thing: I don't want to have it said that any Yankee scout can stick his nose in my camp and not git it pulled. That's why I sent for you; I want you to catch this fellow and fetch him to me."

"I want you to catch this fellow and fetch him to me."

I tried hard to get out of the difficulty. I protested that I didn't know the scout from a side of sole leather. But the General said that this was one of his reasons for detailing me to perform this duty. He said he would have given it to Jasper Goodrum, of the Independents, but everybody in Tennessee knew Goodrum.

"He was born and raised around here," the General said, "and he's got a tongue like a bell-clapper. Now, you're not much of a talker, and your face gives you the look of a big baby that has got out of its mammy's yard and don't know how to git back." I suppose I must have turned red under this back-handed compliment, for he went on, "I wish I had a thousand like you. I watched you that day on the hill and at the river, and you may put it down that I'll trust you anywhere."

I tried to thank the General for his confidence, but he stayed me by a gesture. He settled all the details that could be thought of beforehand, and, as I turned to go, he rose from his chair and followed me to the door. "If you have to shoot that fellow," he said, "do it and don't wait too long before you do it; and if you have to shoot two or three men, don't let that stand in your way-charge 'em up to me. But you must catch that fellow; I want to string him up just to show the balance of 'em that they can't fool with me."

As everything had been arranged to my hand I was soon going about the camp and the town arrayed in jeans clothes and looking like anything but a soldier. I had thought to surprise Whistling Jim, the negro, with my garb, but, as it turned out, the surprise was mine, for that night, when I went to see whether the horses had been properly groomed and fed, I found the door of the stable unlocked. I was not only surprised but irritated. Both Harry Herndon and myself had tried hard to impress the negro with the necessity of taking unusual precautions to secure the safety of the horses, for they had attracted the attention of the whole camp, which was full of questionable characters, some of whom would have answered to their names if Falstaff had appeared to call the roll of his ragamuffins.

The key had been turned in the lock, but the bolt of the lock had failed to catch in the socket. It was plain that the negro thought he had locked the door, but it was quite as plain that he had been careless, and I made a resolution then and there to look after the safety of the horses myself. I swallowed more than half of my irritation when I found that the horses were in their stalls, warmly blanketed, and an abundance of food before them. I was on the point of locking the door with my own key, when I heard the sound of approaching footsteps. There were two men, civilians, as I judged, and one of them stuttered. Their conversation was of a nature to interest me.

They paused near the door of the stable. "This is the place where they keep them," remarked one of the men. "They are the finest horses in the rebel army, and it would be a good job to run them into the Union lines some fine night. I know a man that would pay a cracking good price for them."

"But the nigger sleeps in there with 'em," said the other man, "and what are you going to do about him?"

"That's as easy as picking up rocks in the road. A nigger will sell his immortal soul for ten dollars, and I'll git him to leave the door open some night when he's got a job of jiggering on the peanner and whistling with his mouth at the tavern in the woods."

"But that's horse-stealing."

"No, it ain't; it's turn and turn about. How many horses has old Forrest took from the loyal citizens of Tennessee? You couldn't count 'em if you was to try. I'll give you three hundred dollars for them three horses delivered at my brother's house-three hundred dollars in gold-and you'll have two men to help you. Don't you call that picking up money?"

"An' whilst I'm a-gittin' the horses, what'll you be doing?"

"Ain't I told you?" answered the man with some display of irritation. "I'll be putting up the money, the cold cash. What more do you want? I've always heard that good money is good enough for anybody."

They passed on, and I slipped from the stable, taking care to lock it behind me, and followed them.

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