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   Chapter 4 No.4

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 7361

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


After this it became a common thing for passing regiments to camp near Oakland, and the fire blazed many a night, cooking for the soldiers, till the chickens were crowing in the morning. The negroes all had hen-houses and raised their own chickens, and when a camp was near them they used to drive a thriving trade on their own account, selling eggs and chickens to the privates while the officers were entertained in the "gret house."

It was thought an honor to furnish food to the soldiers. Every soldier was to the boys a hero, and each young officer might rival Ivanhoe or C?ur de Lion.

It was not a great while, however, before they learned that all soldiers were not like their favorite knights. At any rate, thefts were frequent. The absence of men from the plantations, and the constant passing of strangers made stealing easy; hen-roosts were robbed time after time, and even pigs and sheep were taken without any trace of the thieves. The boys' hen-house, however, which was in the yard, had never been troubled. It was about their only possession, and they took great pride in it.

One night the boys were fast asleep in their room in the office, with old Bruno and Nick curled up on their sheep-skins on the floor. Hugh was away, so the boys were the only "men" on the place, and felt that they were the protectors of the plantation. The frequent thefts had made every one very suspicious, and the boys had made up their minds to be on the watch, and, if possible, to catch the thief.

The negroes said that the deserters did the stealing.

On the night in question, the boys were sound asleep when old Bruno gave a low growl, and then began walking and sniffing up and down the room. Soon Nick gave a sharp, quick bark.

Frank waked first. He was not startled, for the dogs were in the habit of barking whenever they wished to go out-of-doors. Now, however, they kept it up, and it was in a strain somewhat different from their usual signal.

"What's the matter with you? Go and lie down, Bruno," called Frank. "Hush up, Nick!" But Bruno would not lie down, and Nick would not keep quiet, though at the sound of Frank's voice they felt less responsibility, and contented themselves with a low growling.

After a little while Frank was on the point of dropping off to sleep again, when he heard a sound out in the yard, which at once thoroughly awakened him. He nudged Willy in the side.

"Willy-Willy, wake up; there's some one moving around outdoors."

"Umm-mm," groaned Willy, turning over and settling himself for another nap.

The sound of a chicken chirping out in fright reached Frank's ear.

"Wake up, Willy!" he called, pinching him hard. "There's some one at the hen-house."

Willy was awake in a second. The boys consulted as to what should be done. Willy was sceptical. He thought Frank had been dreaming, or that it was only Uncle Balla, or "some one" moving about the yard. But a second cackle of warning reached them, and in a minute both boys were out of bed pulling on their clothes with trembling impatience.

"Let's go and wake Uncle Balla," proposed Willy, getting himself all tangled in the legs of his trousers.

"No; I'll tell you what, let's catch him ourselves," suggested Frank.

"All right," assented Willy. "We'll catch him and lock him up; suppose he's got a pistol? your gun maybe won't go off; it doesn't always burst the cap."

"Well, your old musket is loaded, and you can hold him, while I snap the cap at him, and get it ready."

"All right-I can't find my jacket-I'll hold him."

"Where in the world is my hat?" whispered Frank. "Never mind, it must be in the house. Let's go out the back way

. We can get out without his hearing us."

"What shall we do with the dogs? Let's shut them up."

"No, let's take 'em with us. We can keep them quiet and hold 'em in, and they can track him if he gets away."

"All right;" and the boys slowly opened the door, and crept stealthily out, Frank clutching his double-barrelled gun, and Willy hugging a heavy musket which he had found and claimed as one of the prizes of war. It was almost pitch-dark.

They decided that one should take one side of the hen-house, and one the other side (in such a way that if they had to shoot, they would almost certainly shoot one another!) but before they had separated both dogs jerked loose from their hands and dashed away in the darkness, barking furiously.

"There he goes round the garden," shouted Willy, as the sound of footsteps like those of a man running with all his might came from the direction which the dogs had taken.

"Come on," and both started; but, after taking a few steps, they stopped to listen so that they might trace the fugitive.

A faint noise behind them arrested their attention, and Frank tiptoed back toward the hen-house. It was too dark to see much, but he heard the hen-house door creak, and was conscious even in the darkness that it was being pushed slowly open.

"Here's one, Willy," he shouted, at the same time putting his gun to his shoulder and pulling the trigger. The hammer fell with a sharp "click" just as the door was snatched to with a bang. The cap had failed to explode, or the chicken-eating days of the individual in the hen-house would have ended then and there.

The boys stood for some moments with their guns pointed at the door of the hen-house expecting the person within to attempt to burst out; but the click of the hammer and their hurried conference without, in which it was promptly agreed to let him have both barrels if he appeared, reconciled him to remaining within.

After some time it was decided to go and wake Uncle Balla, and confer with him as to the proper disposition of their captive. Accordingly, Frank went off to obtain help, while Willy remained to watch the hen-house. As Frank left he called back:

"Willy, you take good aim at him, and if he pokes his head out-let him have it!"

This Willy solemnly promised to do.

Frank was hardly out of hearing before Willy was surprised to hear the prisoner call him by name in the most friendly and familiar manner, although the voice was a strange one.

"Willy, is that you?" called the person inside.

"Yes."

"Where's Frank?"

"Gone to get Uncle Balla."

"Did you see that other fellow?"

"Yes."

"I wish you'd shot him. He brought me here and played a joke on me. He told me this was a house I could sleep in, and shut me up in here,-and blest if I don't b'lieve it's nothin' but a hen-house. Let me out here a minute," he continued, after a pause, cajolingly.

"No, I won't," said Willy firmly, getting his gun ready.

There was a pause, and then from the depths of the hen-house issued the most awful groan:

"Umm! Ummm!! Ummmm!!!"

Willy was frightened.

"Umm! Umm!" was repeated.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Willy, feeling sorry in spite of himself.

"Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm so sick," groaned the man in the hen-house.

"How? What's the matter?"

"That man that fooled me in here gave me something to drink, and it's pizened me; oh! oh! oh! I'm dying."

It was a horrible groan.

Willy's heart relented. He moved to the door and was just about to open it to look in when a light flashed across the yard from Uncle Balla's house, and he saw him coming with a flaming light-wood knot in his hand.

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