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   Chapter 11 No.11

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 10362

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The men came in treading on one another's heels. The leader was a thick-set, heavily built fellow, and he had an evil-looking eye. He was evidently a soldier, or had been one, for he had the air and bearing that is unmistakable in a man who has seen service. He had a heavy jaw, and I noticed that his hair was cropped close to his head. The others appeared to be civilians, plain honest men, but ready, as were many men in Tennessee in those days, to help the Union cause in a quiet way.

The leader ... had an evil-looking eye.

"You said thar was only one," remarked one of them to the short-haired man.

"I only told you what Captain Leroy said," replied the leader.

"Well, you better had 'a' fetched Leroy along," commented the man, and I judged that he had small stomach for the work before him.

I realized that the time had come for me to speak up. "State your business," said I. "What do you want with me?"

"We want you to go with us," replied the short-haired man; "and we'll get our wants, too."

"Where am I to go?"

"You'll know when you get there," was the answer.

"By which road?" I asked. "I am very careful about the roads I travel."

"We'll look after the roads all right," he replied. "Will you go peaceable or not?"

"Just for the looks of the thing," I replied, "I'd rather have it said that I surrendered only after a struggle." Glancing at the three men the ruffian had brought with him, I was confirmed in my impression that the affair was by no means to their taste. If they had made a rush all together it would have been the easiest matter in the world to overpower me, but somehow they hung back.

"Come on," the man cried to his companions, making as if he would lead them. They hesitated, and it was then that I gave them my views of the situation.

"Gentlemen," I said, "I take you for honest, fair-minded men, and I would advise you to have no hand in this business. This man's orders are from no competent authority, and I give you fair warning that you will bitterly regret your part in this night's work if you live through it."

I could see anxiety, not fear, creep into their faces, and a wholesome doubt of their leader's good faith. I was satisfied that my words had taken the edge off their eagerness, and this was all I hoped to do. I think the ruffian must have felt that his companions were weakening, for he paused and turned toward them, with his hand under his coat, as if in the act of drawing a weapon. What he intended to say I never knew, for, as he turned toward them, still watching me out of the corner of his evil eye, Whistling Jim was upon him.

Seizing the man in his arms, he whirled him around until he could get sufficient impetus, and then threw him against the wall as if he had been fired from a catapult. If you have never witnessed the fury of genuine fright it is to be hoped you never will, for there is something hideous about it. The ruffian had hardly hit the wall before the negro was upon him again, making a noise in his throat like some wild animal, his face distorted and the muscles of his arms and body standing out as prominently as if he were covered with huge wens or tumors.

The man had not been so badly stunned by his collision with the wall but that he could turn over, and by the time the negro reached him he had drawn his pistol half-way from his pocket; but that was all. Whistling Jim seized the hand and held it, and, using his head as a battering-ram, jammed it into the man's stomach and into his face. Then he dragged the limp body toward the fireplace, crying, "Git out de way, Marse Cally. I'm gwine ter put 'im whar he can't pester nobody else. Ef I don't he sho will shoot me, kaze I done seed his pistol."

While the negro was thus engaged with the most dangerous of the men, it is not to be supposed that I was idle. The three companions of the ruffian started to his aid when Whistling Jim began operations-their hesitation suddenly turning into indignation when they beheld the spectacle of a negro assaulting a white man. The foremost went down under the chair with which I struck him, the second one tripped over the fallen body and also went down with my assistance. The third man suddenly found the frame of the well-made chair fitting around his neck like the yoke of an ox. I did my best to pull his head off in order to recover my weapon, but his neck was tougher than the joints of white oak, and the two long legs that went to make up the back of the chair came off in my hand, thus giving me a bludgeon very much to my taste.

It was at this juncture that the negro came dragging the body of the ruffian and declaring his intention of giving him a foretaste of torment. My anger was of such a blind and unreasoning sort that I had no objections to the horrible proceeding, and if there had been no sudden diversion I should, in all probability, have aided him in carrying out his purpose. But there came a tremendous knocking at the door, and I could hear someone rapping and kicking at the panels trying to force an entrance. So I laid a restraining hand on the negro and bade him drop the almost lifeless body.

Giving him one

of the chair-legs, and bidding him keep an eye on the three men, who evidently had had enough of the rough things of life, I went to the door. The key was in a position to reflect the light, and I had the door open in a moment; but whoever had rapped to get in seemed to have changed his mind. No one came in and no one made an effort to enter, but in another moment I heard the voice of Jane Ryder. "Run! run!" she cried. "Run, if you want to escape! The back yard is full of Union soldiers!"

But I thought that this was only a ruse on the part of the little lady to get rid of me, and, instead of getting away, as I should have done, I stepped out into the hallway. The sight that I saw filled me with indignation, for there stood Jane Ryder, leaning against her mother, and rigged out in the toggery of a man.

I took her by the arm, and I must have gripped it roughly, for she winced. "If you know what is good for you," I said, very sternly, "you will get yourself out of this wretched garb and throw it in the fire. Will you go?"

"How can I go when you are holding me?" she asked piteously. I released her and she went up the stairway sobbing.

Half-way up the stairs, she turned to me. "You will be sorry you didn't go when I told you. You couldn't go now if you wanted to," and with that she disappeared.

I could have cracked my silly pate at the sight of her weeping. I felt a hand on my arm, and found her mother standing at my side, laughing softly. Seeing that I regarded her with unfeigned astonishment, she laughed the louder. "You are the first that has ever mastered her. She is beyond me. When I married my second husband she declared that I had sold my interest in her for a pair of side-whiskers."

The mother said this so pathetically that I could but laugh, seeing that there was so much incongruity between the remark and the situation all about us. My laughter must have jarred her, for she said with some asperity, "You are laughing now, but in a minute you will be laughing on the other side of your mouth!"

And it was even as she said. A file of soldiers entered from the rear, and before I had time to move or raise a hand they had me surrounded. Their leader was a man full of laughter and good-humor. "Consider yourself a prisoner," he said to me. "How are you, mother? You are looking well. Where is sister? Upstairs? Well, get her down, for we must be moving away from here. What is all this?" He looked into the room out of which I had come, and saw there the evidences of a struggle, as well as the victims thereof.

He bustled about with an alertness that seemed to be prepared for anything that might happen. I saw at once that he was a West Pointer. I had seen not more than a dozen graduates of the great military academy, but enough to recognize the characteristics that marked them all. These characteristics are wellnigh indescribable, but they are all included in the terms "soldier and gentleman."

"The bruiser has been bruised," he laughed. "You are looking well, mother; keep it up for the sake of the children. Tell sister to hurry up; we are in a tight place here."

As he spoke, there was the noise of another scuffle in the room. I turned just in time to see Whistling Jim fling himself upon the man, who had risen to a sitting position and was making an effort to draw his pistol. The negro wrenched the weapon from him, threw it out of reach, seized the hand that had held it and crunched it between his teeth with such savage ferocity that the ruffian howled with pain.

"Oh, come!" cried the officer. "This won't do, you know; this won't do at all. I won't put up with it."

"Ef I hadn't er ketched him when I did he'd er shot me daid," Whistling Jim explained; "me er Marse Cally one. You don't know dat man, suh. He been follerin' atter we-all fer de longest."

"I know him well enough," remarked the officer. "Still--" He paused as if listening. The noise he heard was Jane Ryder coming from above. He met her half-way up the stairs. "My dear old sis!" he exclaimed as he clasped her in his arms. She said nothing, but sobbed on his shoulder in a hysterical way that was a surprise to me. "Brace up, dear girl," he said, trying to soothe her.

"They were always like that," said the mother in her placid way. "I think it is so nice for brother and sister to be fond of each other. Don't forget that she gave you fair warning." Her attitude and the tone of her voice were so out of tune with all my thoughts and surroundings that I regarded her with amazement. She paid no attention to the look, however, but folded her hands across her ample bosom and smiled at her children in a motherly way.

These children, I knew, were speaking of me, though I could not hear all they said, for the officer-he was Colonel Ryder-laughed and said, "Oh, he'll be in good company. I picked up another fellow in the woods. He says his name is Jasper Goodrum." Then she said something in a low tone, something that caused her brother to regard me with considerable interest.

"Is that so?" he exclaimed. "You must tell me the particulars later; I have no time to hear them now. We must get away from here."

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