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   Chapter 6 No.6

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 6918

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


These hens were not the last things stolen from Oakland. Nearly all the men in the country had gone with the army. Indeed, with the exception of a few overseers who remained to work the farms, every man in the neighborhood, between the ages of seventeen and fifty, was in the army. The country was thus left almost wholly unprotected, and it would have been entirely so but for the "Home Guard," as it was called, which was a company composed of young boys and the few old men who remained at home, and who had volunteered for service as a local guard, or police body, for the neighborhood of their homes.

Occasionally, too, later on, a small detachment of men, under a leader known as a "conscript-officer," would come through the country hunting for any men who were subject to the conscript law but who had evaded it, and for deserters who had run away from the army and refused to return.

These two classes of troops, however, stood on a very different footing. The Home Guard was regarded with much respect, for it was composed of those whose extreme age or youth alone withheld them from active service; and every youngster in its ranks looked upon it as a training school, and was ready to die in defence of his home if need were, and, besides, expected to obtain permission to go into the army "next year."

The conscript-guard, on the other hand, were grown men, and were thought to be shirking the very dangers and hardships into which they were trying to force others.

A few miles from Oakland, on the side toward the mountain road and beyond the big woods, lay a district of virgin forest and old-field pines which, even before the war, had acquired a reputation of an unsavory nature, though its inhabitants were a harmless people. No highways ran through this region, and the only roads which entered it were mere wood-ways, filled with bushes and carpeted with pine-tags; and, being travelled only by the inhabitants, appeared to outsiders "to jes' peter out," as the phrase went. This territory was known by the unpromising name of Holetown.

Its denizens were a peculiar but kindly race known to the boys as "poor white folks," and called by the negroes, with great contempt, "po' white trash." Some of them owned small places in the pines; but the majority were simply tenants. They were an inoffensive people, and their worst vices were intemperance and evasion of the tax-laws.

They made their living-or rather, they existed-by fishing and hunting; and, to eke it out, attempted the cultivation of little patches of corn and tobacco near their cabins, or in the bottoms where small branches ran into the stream already mentioned.

In appearance they were usually so thin and sallow that one had to look at them twice to see them clearly. At best, they looked vague and illusive.

They were brave enough. At the outbreak of the war nearly all of the men in this community enlisted, thinking, as many others did, that war was more like play than work, and consisted more of resting than of laboring. Although most of them, when in battle, showed the greatest fearlessness, yet the duties of camp soon became irksome to them, and they grew sick of the restraint and drilling of camp-life; so some of them, when refused a furlough, took it, and came home. Others stayed at home after leave had ended, feeling secure in their stretches of pine and swamp, not only from the feeble efforts of the conscript-guard, but from any

parties who might be sent in search of them.

In this way it happened, as time went by, that Holetown became known to harbor a number of deserters.

According to the negroes, it was full of them; and many stories were told about glimpses of men dodging behind trees in the big woods, or rushing away through the underbrush like wild cattle. And, though the grown people doubted whether the negroes had not been startled by some of the hogs, which were quite wild, feeding in the woods, the boys were satisfied that the negroes really had seen deserters.

This became a certainty when there came report after report of these wood-skulkers, and when the conscript-guard, with the brightest of uniforms, rode by with as much show and noise as if on a fox-hunt. Then it became known that deserters were, indeed, infesting the piny district of Holetown, and in considerable numbers.

Some of them, it was said, were pursuing agriculture and all their ordinary vocations as openly as in time of peace, and more industriously. They had a regular code of signals, and nearly every person in the Holetown settlement was in league with them.

When the conscript-guard came along, there would be a rush of tow-headed children through the woods, or some of the women about the cabins would blow a horn lustily; after which not a man could be found in all the district. The horn told just how many men were in the guard, and which path they were following; every member of the troop being honored with a short, quick "toot."

"What are you blowing-that horn for?" sternly asked the guard one morning of an old woman,-old Mrs. Hall who stood out in front of her little house blowing like Boreas in the pictures.

"Jes' blowin' fur Millindy to come to dinner," she said, sullenly. "Can't y' all let a po' 'ooman call her gals to git some'n' to eat? You got all her boys in d'army, killin' 'em; whyn't yo' go and git kilt some yo'self, 'stidder ridin' 'bout heah tromplin' all over po' folk's chickens?"

When the troop returned in the evening, she was still blowing; "blowin' fur Millindy to come home," she said, with more sharpness than before. But there must have been many Millindys, for horns were sounding all through the settlement.

The deserters, at such times, were said to take to the swamps, and marvellous rumors were abroad of one or more caves, all fitted up, wherein they concealed themselves, like the robbers in the stories the boys were so fond of reading.

After a while thefts of pigs and sheep became so common that they were charged to the deserters.

Finally it grew to be such a pest that the ladies in the neighborhood asked the Home Guard to take action in the matter, and after some delay it became known that this valorous body was going to invade Holetown and capture the deserters or drive them away. Hugh was to accompany them, of course; and he looked very handsome, as well as very important, when he started out on horseback to join the troop. It was his first active service; and with his trousers in his boots and his pistol in his belt he looked as brave as Julius C?sar, and quite laughed at his mother's fears for him, as she kissed him good-bye and walked out with him to his horse, which Balla held at the gate.

The boys asked leave to go with him; but Hugh was so scornful over their request, and looked so soldierly as he galloped away with the other men that the boys felt as cheap as possible.

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