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   Chapter 7 No.7

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 15724

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When the boys went into the house they found that their Aunt Mary had a headache that morning, and, even with the best intentions of doing her duty in teaching them, had been forced to go to bed. Their mother was too much occupied with her charge of providing for a family of over a dozen white persons, and five times as many colored dependents, to give any time to acting as substitute in the school-room, so the boys found themselves with a holiday before them. It seemed vain to try to shoot duck on the creek, and the perch were averse to biting. The boys accordingly determined to take both guns and to set out for a real hunt in the big woods.

They received their mother's permission, and after a lunch was prepared they started in high glee, talking about the squirrels and birds they expected to kill.

Frank had his gun, and Willy had the musket; and both carried a plentiful supply of powder and some tolerably round slugs made from cartridges.

They usually hunted in the part of the woods nearest the house, and they knew that game was not very abundant there; so, as a good long day was before them, they determined to go over to the other side of the woods.

They accordingly pushed on, taking a path which led through the forest. They went entirely through the big woods without seeing anything but one squirrel, and presently found themselves at the extreme edge of Holetown. They were just grumbling at the lack of game when they heard a distant horn. The sound came from perhaps a mile or more away, but was quite distinct.

"What's that? Somebody fox-hunting?-or is it a dinner-horn?" asked Willy, listening intently.

"It's a horn to warn deserters, that's what 'tis," said Frank, pleased to show his superior knowledge.

"I tell you what to do:-let's go and hunt deserters," said Willy, eagerly.

"All right. Won't that be fun!" and both boys set out down the road toward a point where they knew one of the paths ran into the pine-district, talking of the numbers of prisoners they expected to take.

In an instant they were as alert and eager as young hounds on a trail. They had mapped out a plan before, and they knew exactly what they had to do. Frank was the captain, by right of his being older; and Willy was lieutenant, and was to obey orders. The chief thing that troubled them was that they did not wish to be seen by any of the women or children about the cabins, for they all knew the boys, because they were accustomed to come to Oakland for supplies; then, too, the boys wished to remain on friendly terms with their neighbors. Another thing worried them. They did not know what to do with their prisoners after they should have captured them. However, they pushed on and soon came to a dim cart-way, which ran at right-angles to the main road and which went into the very heart of Holetown. Here they halted to reconnoitre and to inspect their weapons.

Even from the main road, the track, as it led off through the overhanging woods with thick underbrush of chinquapin bushes, appeared to the boys to have something strange about it, though they had at other times walked it from end to end. Still, they entered boldly, clutching their guns. Willy suggested that they should go in Indian file and that the rear one should step in the other's footprints as the Indians do; but Frank thought it was best to walk abreast, as the Indians walked in their peculiar way only to prevent an enemy who crossed their trail from knowing how many they were; and, so far from it being any disadvantage for the deserters to know their number, it was even better that they should know there were two, so that they would not attack from the rear. Accordingly, keeping abreast, they struck in; each taking the woods on one side of the road, which he was to watch and for which he was to be responsible.

The farther they went the more indistinct the track became, and the wilder became the surrounding woods. They proceeded with great caution, examining every particularly thick clump of bushes; peeping behind each very large tree; and occasionally even taking a glance up among its boughs; for they had themselves so often planned how, if pursued, they would climb trees and conceal themselves, that they would not have been at all surprised to find a fierce deserter, armed to the teeth, crouching among the branches.

Though they searched carefully every spot where a deserter could possibly lurk, they passed through the oak woods and were deep in the pines without having seen any foe or heard a noise which could possibly proceed from one. A squirrel had daringly leaped from the trunk of a hickory-tree and run into the woods, right before them, stopping impudently to take a good look at them; but they were hunting larger game than squirrels, and they resisted the temptation to take a shot at him,-an exercise of virtue which brought them a distinct feeling of pleasure. They were, however, beginning to be embarrassed as to their next course. They could hear the dogs barking farther on in the pines, and knew they were approaching the vicinity of the settlement; for they had crossed the little creek which ran through a thicket of elder bushes and "gums," and which marked the boundary of Holetown. Little paths, too, every now and then turned off from the main track and went into the pines, each leading to a cabin or bit of creek-bottom deeper in. They therefore were in a real dilemma concerning what to do; and Willy's suggestion, to eat lunch, was a welcome one. They determined to go a little way into the woods, where they could not be seen, and had just taken the lunch out of the game-bag and were turning into a by-path, when they met a man who was coming along at a slow, lounging walk, and carrying a long single-barrelled shot-gun across his arm.

When first they heard him, they thought he might be a deserter; but when he came nearer they saw that he was simply a countryman out hunting; for his old game-bag (from which peeped a squirrel's tail) was over his shoulder, and he had no weapon at all, excepting that old squirrel-gun.

"Good morning, sir," said both boys, politely.

"Mornin'! What luck y' all had?" he asked good-naturedly, stopping and putting the butt of his gun on the ground, and resting lazily on it, preparatory to a chat.

"We're not hunting; we're hunting deserters."

"Huntin' deserters!" echoed the man with a smile which broke into a chuckle of amusement as the thought worked its way into his brain. "Ain't you see' none?"

"No," said both boys in a breath, greatly pleased at his friendliness. "Do you know where any are?"

The man scratched his head, seeming to reflect.

"Well, 'pears to me I hearn tell o' some, 'roun' to'des that-a-ways," making a comprehensive sweep of his arm in the direction just opposite to that which the boys were taking. "I seen the conscrip'-guard a little while ago pokin' 'roun' this-a-way; but Lor', that ain' the way to ketch deserters. I knows every foot o' groun' this-a-way, an' ef they was any deserters roun' here I'd be mighty apt to know it."

This announcement was an extinguisher to the boys' hopes. Clearly, they were going in the wrong direction.

"We are just going to eat our lunch," said Frank; "won't you join us?"

Willy added his invitation to his brother's, and their friend politely accepted, suggesting that they should walk back a little way and find a log. This all three did; and in a few minutes they were enjoying the lunch which the boys' mother had provided, while the stranger was telling the boys his views about deserters, which, to say the least, were very original.

"I seen the conscrip'-guard jes' this mornin', ridin' 'round whar they knowd they warn' no deserters, but ole womens and children," he said with his mouth full. "Whyn't they go whar they knows deserters

is?" he asked.

"Where are they? We heard they had a cave down on the river, and we were going there," declared the boys.

"Down on the river?-a cave? Ain' no cave down thar, without it's below Rockett's mill; fur I've hunted and fished ev'y foot o' that river up an' down both sides, an' 'tain' a hole thar, big enough to hide a' ole hyah, I ain' know."

This proof was too conclusive to admit of further argument.

"Why don't you go in the army?" asked Willy, after a brief reflection.

"What? Why don't I go in the army?" repeated the hunter. "Why, I's in the army! You didn' think I warn't in the army, did you?"

The hunter's tone and the expression of his face were so full of surprise that Willy felt deeply mortified at his rudeness, and began at once to stammer something to explain himself.

"I b'longs to Colonel Marshall's regiment," continued the man, "an' I's been home sick on leave o' absence. Got wounded in the leg, an' I's jes' gettin' well. I ain' rightly well enough to go back now, but I's anxious to git back; I'm gwine to-morrow mornin' ef I don' go this evenin'. You see I kin hardly walk now!" and to demonstrate his lameness, he got up and limped a few yards. "I ain' well yit," he pursued, returning and dropping into his seat on the log, with his face drawn up by the pain the exertion had brought on.

"Let me see your wound. Is it sore now?" asked Willy, moving nearer to the man with a look expressive of mingled curiosity and sympathy.

"You can't see it; it's up heah," said the soldier, touching the upper part of his hip; "an' I got another one heah," he added, placing his hand very gently to his side. "This one's whar a Yankee run me through with his sword. Now, that one was where a piece of shell hit me,-I don't keer nothin' 'bout that," and he opened his shirt and showed a triangular, purple scar on his shoulder.

"You certainly must be a brave soldier," exclaimed both boys, impressed at sight of the scar, their voices softened by fervent admiration.

"Yes, I kep' up with the bes' of 'em," he said, with a pleased smile.

Suddenly a horn began to blow, "toot-toot-toot," as if all the "Millindys" in the world were being summoned. It was so near the boys that it quite startled them.

"That's for the deserters, now," they both exclaimed.

Their friend looked calmly up and down the road, both ways.

"Them rascally conscrip'-guard been tellin' you all that, to gi' 'em some excuse for keepin' out o' th' army theyselves-that's all. Th' ain' gwine ketch no deserters any whar in all these parts, an' you kin tell 'em so. I'm gwine down thar an' see what that horn's a-blowin' fur; hit's somebody's dinner horn, or somp'n'," he added, rising and taking up his game-bag.

"Can't we go with you?" asked the boys.

"Well, nor, I reckon you better not," he drawled; "thar's some right bad dogs down thar in the pines,-mons'us bad; an' I's gwine cut through the woods an' see ef I can't pick up a squ'rr'l, gwine 'long, for the ole 'ooman's supper, as I got to go 'way to-night or to-morrow; she's mighty poorly."

"Is she poorly much?" asked Willy, greatly concerned. "We'll get mamma to come and see her to-morrow, and bring her some bread."

"Nor, she ain' so sick; that is to say, she jis' poorly and 'sturbed in her mind. She gittin' sort o' old. Here, y' all take these squ'rr'ls," he said, taking the squirrels from his old game-bag and tossing them at Willy's feet. Both boys protested, but he insisted. "Oh, yes; I kin get some mo' fur her.

"Y' all better go home. Well, good-bye, much obliged to you," and he strolled off with his gun in the bend of his arm, leaving the boys to admire and talk over his courage.

They turned back, and had gone about a quarter of a mile, when they heard a great trampling of horses behind them. They stopped to listen, and in a little while a squadron of cavalry came in sight. The boys stepped to one side of the road to wait for them, eager to tell the important information they had received from their friend, that there were no deserters in that section. In a hurried consultation they agreed not to tell that they had been hunting deserters themselves, as they knew the soldiers would only have a laugh at their expense.

"Hello, boys, what luck?" called the officer in the lead, in a friendly manner.

They told him they had not shot anything; that the squirrels had been given to them; and then both boys inquired:

"You all hunting for deserters?"

"You seen any?" asked the leader, carelessly, while one or two men pressed their horses forward eagerly.

"No, th' ain't any deserters in this direction at all," said the boys, with conviction in their manner.

"How do you know?" asked the officer.

"'Cause a gentleman told us so."

"Who? When? What gentleman?"

"A gentleman who met us a little while ago."

"How long ago? Who was he?"

"Don't know who he was," said Frank.

"When we were eating our snack," put in Willy, not to be left out.

"How was he dressed? Where was it? What sort of man was he?" eagerly inquired the leading trooper.

The boys proceeded to describe their friend, impressed by the intense interest accorded them by the listeners.

"He was a sort of man with red hair, and wore a pair of gray breeches and an old pair of shoes, and was in his shirt-sleeves." Frank was the spokesman.

"And he had a gun-a long squirrel-gun," added Willy, "and he said he belonged to Colonel Marshall's regiment."

"Why, that's Tim Mills. He's a deserter himself," exclaimed the captain.

"No, he ain't-he ain't any deserter," protested both at once. "He is a mighty brave soldier, and he's been home on a furlough to get well of a wound on his leg where he was shot."

"Yes, and it ain't well yet, but he's going back to his command to-night or to-morrow morning; and he's got another wound in his side where a Yankee ran him through with his sword. We know he ain't any deserter."

"How do you know all this?" asked the officer.

"He told us so himself, just now-a little while ago, that is," said the boys.

The man laughed.

"Why, he's fooled you to death. That's Tim himself, that's been doing all the devilment about here. He is the worst deserter in the whole gang."

"We saw the wound on his shoulder," declared the boys, still doubting.

"I know it; he's got one there,-that's what I know him by. Which way did he go,-and how long has it been?"

"He went that way, down in the woods; and it's been some time. He's got away now."

The lads by this time were almost convinced of their mistake; but they could not prevent their sympathy from being on the side of their late agreeable companion.

"We'll catch the rascal," declared the leader, very fiercely. "Come on, men,-he can't have gone far;" and he wheeled his horse about and dashed back up the road at a great pace, followed by his men. The boys were half inclined to follow and aid in the capture; but Frank, after a moment's thought, said solemnly:

"No, Willy; an Arab never betrays a man who has eaten his salt. This man has broken bread with us; we cannot give him up. I don't think we ought to have told about him as much as we did."

This was an argument not to be despised.

A little later, as the boys trudged home, they heard the horns blowing again a regular "toot-toot" for "Millindy." It struck them that supper followed dinner very quickly in Holetown.

When the troop passed by in the evening the men were in very bad humor. They had had a fruitless addition to their ride, and some of them were inclined to say that the boys had never seen any man at all, which the boys thought was pretty silly, as the man had eaten at least two-thirds of their lunch.

Somehow the story got out, and Hugh was very scornful because the boys had given their lunch to a deserter.

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