MoboReader> Literature > A Little Union Scout

   Chapter 14 No.14

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 11040

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

From the crest of the hill a vast panorama, bare but beautiful, stretched out before us. The hill was not a mountain-indeed, from the direction of our approach, it seemed to be rather an insignificant hill; but on the farther side the land fell away from it quite unexpectedly, so that what seemed to be a hill from one side developed the importance almost of a mountain on the other side. The road dropped into a valley that ran away from the hill and spread out for miles and miles until it faded against the horizon and was lost in the distance. The season was winter, and the view was a sombre one, but its extent gave it a distinction all its own. Far to the left a double worm-fence ran, and we knew that a road lay between, for along its lazy length a troop of cavalry trailed along.

I knew it instantly for the rear-guard of my command, and the sight of it thrilled me. I suppose something of a glow must have come into my face, for the little woman at my side stirred impatiently. "That is your command," she said, "and you are glad to see them." She was silent a moment, and then, as if she had suddenly lost all control of herself, cried out, "Oh, what shall I do now?"

"You knew what my duty was," I said, with a sustaining arm about her, "and you brought me here."

"But if I had it to do over again I couldn't-I couldn't!" she wailed.

"If you had it to do over again you shouldn't," I answered; and then I seized her and held her tight in my arms. Nor did I release her until Whistling Jim, coming up and realizing the situation, celebrated it by whistling a jig. "If you'll say the word," I declared, "I'll go with you."

"I can't! I can't!" she cried. "Do you say it, and I'll go with you."

But neither of us said it; something beyond ourselves held us back. I am not sure, after all, that it was a sense of duty; but, whatever it was, it was effectual.

"I am afraid something dreadful will happen to you," she declared. "I have dreamed and dreamed about it. You have made a coward of me. I'm not afraid for myself, but for you."

"One year after the war is over," I said, "I shall be at the old tavern in Murfreesborough. One year to a day. Will you meet me there?"

"I'll be there," she replied, "or send a messenger to tell you that I am dead."

And so we parted. I mounted my horse, and she turned her buggy around. I watched her until she passed out of sight, and I knew that one of her little hands must be cold, for she waved it constantly until a turn in the road hid her from view. On the road toward which she was going I could see a group of men and horses, and I knew that her brother awaited her. With a heavy heart, I turned my horse's head, and went galloping after my comrades, followed by Whistling Jim.

I had but one thought, and that was to report to General Forrest as promptly as possible and receive the reprimand that I knew I deserved. At that time it was the general opinion, even among those of his command who were not thrown into daily contact with him, that this truly great man was of a grim and saturnine disposition. But it was an opinion that did him great injustice. There were times when he fairly bubbled over with boyish humor, and though these moments were rare, he was unfailingly cordial to those that had met his expectations or who had his confidence. He could be grim enough when circumstances demanded a display of temper, but he had never made me the victim of his displeasure.

I looked forward with no little concern to our next meeting, for I felt that I merited a reprimand, and I knew how severe he could be on such occasions. He was far to the front, as I knew he would be. "Hello, Shannon!" he exclaimed, in response to my salute. His countenance was serious enough, but there was a humorous twinkle in his eye. "Did you fetch me the fellow I sent you for?"

Thereupon, I related my adventures as briefly as I could. He seemed to be amused at something or other-I have thought since that it must have been at my attitude of self-depreciation-and called two or three of his favorite officers so that they might enjoy it with him. He was highly tickled by the narrative of my experience with the little lady in the top-buggy, though, as a matter of course, I suppressed some of the details.

"Now, I want you all to look at this boy," he said to his officers when I had concluded. "He ain't anything but a boy, and yet he did what no other man in my command could have done. He captured Leroy, the fellow you have been reading about, and fetched him to me, and I've put him out of business. There's Goodrum, an old campaigner, a man who knows every man, woman, and child in this part of Tennessee. I put Goodrum on the same trail, and Goodrum's a prisoner. This boy was a prisoner, too, and yet he turns up all right and puts up a poor mouth about what he failed to do. If every man in my command would fail in the same way I'd have the finest body of troops in the army. And look at him blush. Why, if these other fellows were in your place"-indicating the officers-"they'd be strutting around here like peacocks."

"But, General," I protested, "what I did was through my blundering."

"Then I hope you'll go right ahead with your blunders; you couldn't please me better. I'm going to take you away from the Independents, and I'll put you where I can get my hands on you any hour of the night or day."

And as he said so it was-and so it remained until the close of the war. Especially was it so when Forrest was

ordered to cover Hood's retreat after the disastrous affair at Nashville. History has not made very much of this achievement, but I have always thought that it was the most remarkable episode of the war. Under the circumstances, no other leader could have accomplished it. No other man could have imposed his personality between the defeated Confederates and their victorious foe, bent on their total destruction. It was little short of wonderful.

I remember that I was shoeless, along with the greater part of my command, though the weather was bitter cold, and my feet were bleeding, and yet when I heard that trumpet voice, ordering us from the wagons to make one more stand, I never thought of my feet. Nor was there a shirker among the men-and all because the leader was Forrest. Nothing but death would have prevented us from responding to his summons. And we saved that defeated army from annihilation, holding the enemy at bay and driving him back, when, if he had known the true condition of affairs, he would have ridden over us roughshod. There were times when we were upon the point of giving way and fleeing before the numbers that were hurled against us. But always the imposing figure of Forrest appeared at the weak point, and then it would be the enemy would give way.

* * *

At this point, with only a few more words, my story would have been ended, but the young lady to whom it was first told would not permit it to end there. Her Boston education had not eliminated her curiosity. She sat looking at her mother with an indescribable expression on her face. I knew not whether she was on the point of laughing or crying, and I think that for a moment the mother was as doubtful as I. She did neither the one nor the other, but went to her mother's chair and kneeled on the floor beside her.

"Hasn't Dad left something out?"

"Why, I think not," replied the mother. "Indeed, I think he has told too much."

"Oh, no, not too much," replied the young woman. "I know he has left out something, and I think it is the most important part."

"What I have not told," I remarked, "has been strongly intimated. It is best to leave some things to the imagination."

"I think not," replied the young woman, with decision. "You haven't told anything about what happened after the war."

"That's true," commented the mother, with something like a blush; "but I think that is almost too personal."

"No, no," the girl insisted with a smile; "you know how the public take such things. If Dad writes his story and has it put in a book the readers will think it is pure fiction."

"But if it were fiction," said I, "it would be a bad thing for all of us."

Fiction or not, I was compelled to tell the story until there was no more story to tell.

In the middle of April, one year after the surrender, I made all my preparations to return to Murfreesborough, and it was no surprise to me that Harry Herndon was keen to go with me. His grandmother made no objection, especially when he explained that he desired to be my best man. His real reason for going, however, was a lively hope that Katherine Bledsoe would accompany Jane Ryder. And then there was Whistling Jim to be taken into account. He made known his intention of accompanying me whether or no. He was free, and he had money of his own, and there was no reason why he shouldn't visit Murfreesborough if he cared to. He settled the matter for himself, and, once on the way, I was very glad to have him along.

But for the subtle changes made by peace, the town was the same, and even the old tavern in the woods had survived all the contingencies of war and stood intact, but tenantless. I made haste to escape from the old house, and was sorry that I had ventured there before the appointed time. The sight of it gave me a feeling of depression, and I had a foretaste of the emptiness there would be in life should Jane Ryder fail to come.

The only consolation I had was in the hopefulness of Whistling Jim. "She'll be dar ez sho' ez de worl'," he said, and his earnestness was so vital that it was the means of lifting me across a very bad place in my experience; yet it did not cure me of the restlessness that had seized me. The night before the appointed day, I wandered far beyond the limit of the town, and presently, without knowing how I got there, I found myself near the house where Jack Bledsoe had lain when he was wounded. I went to the gate and would have gone in on the pretence of inquiring the way to the town; but a woman was standing there in the darkness.

I hesitated, but I should have known her among a thousand-I should have known her if the darkness had been Egyptian. I opened the gate and held her in my arms. Neither said a word, and the silence was unbroken until someone in the house came out upon the veranda and called:

"Jane! Jane! Are you out there? Where are you?" It was the voice of Katherine Bledsoe, and I was glad for Harry's sake.

* * *

"I don't think that is a very pretty way to end a story," said the mother of the college graduate, perceiving that I had nothing more to say. "You should by all means get your sweetheart out of your arms."

"Since that day," I replied, "she hasn't been out of them long at a time."

"But you will have to change that part of it when you write the story out."

"Oh, no!" cried the daughter.

I refilled my pipe and listened to their tender arguments until I was sleepy, and when I went to bed they were still arguing.


Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top