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   Chapter 8 No.8

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 14859

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


As time went by the condition of things at Oakland changed-as it did everywhere else. The boys' mother, like all the other ladies of the country, was so devoted to the cause that she gave to the soldiers until there was nothing left. After that there was a failure of the crops, and the immediate necessities of the family and the hands on the place were great.

There was no sugar nor coffee nor tea. These luxuries had been given up long before. An attempt was made to manufacture sugar out of the sorghum, or sugar-cane, which was now being cultivated as an experiment; but it proved unsuccessful, and molasses made from the cane was the only sweetening. The boys, however, never liked anything sweetened with molasses, so they gave up everything that had molasses in it. Sassafras tea was tried as a substitute for tea, and a drink made out of parched corn and wheat, of burnt sweet potato and other things, in the place of coffee; but none of them were fit to drink-at least so the boys thought. The wheat crop proved a failure; but the corn turned out very fine, and the boys learned to live on corn bread, as there was no wheat bread.

The soldiers still came by, and the house was often full of young officers who came to see the boys' cousins. The boys used to ride the horses to and from the stables, and, being perfectly fearless, became very fine riders.

Several times, among the visitors, came the young colonel who had commanded the regiment that had camped at the bridge the first year of the war. It did not seem to the boys that Cousin Belle liked him, for she took much longer to dress when he came; and if there were other officers present she would take very little notice of the colonel.

Both boys were in love with her, and after considerable hesitation had written her a joint letter to tell her so, at which she laughed heartily and kissed them both and called them her sweethearts. But, though they were jealous of several young officers who came from time to time, they felt sorry for the colonel,-their cousin was so mean to him. They were on the best terms with him, and had announced their intention of going into his regiment if only the war should last long enough. When he came there was always a scramble to get his horse; though of all who came to Oakland he rode the wildest horses, as both boys knew by practical experience.

At length the soldiers moved off too far to permit them to come on visits, and things were very dull. So it was for a long while.

But one evening in May, about sunset, as the boys were playing in the yard, a man came riding through the place on the way to Richmond. His horse showed that he had been riding hard. He asked the nearest way to "Ground-Squirrel Bridge." The Yankees, he said, were coming. It was a raid. He had ridden ahead of them, and had left them about Greenbay depot, which they had set on fire. He was in too great a hurry to stop and get something to eat, and he rode off, leaving much excitement behind him; for Greenbay was only eight miles away, and Oakland lay right between two roads to Richmond, down one or the other of which the party of raiders must certainly pass.

It was the first time the boys ever saw their mother exhibit so much emotion as she then did. She came to the door and called:

"Balla, come here." Her voice sounded to the boys a little strained and troubled, and they ran up the steps and stood by her. Balla came to the portico, and looked up with an air of inquiry. He, too, showed excitement.

"Balla, I want you to know that if you wish to go, you can do so."

"Hi, Mistis--" began Balla, with an air of reproach; but she cut him short and kept on.

"I want you all to know it." She was speaking now so as to be heard by the cook and the maids who were standing about the yard listening to her. "I want you all to know it-every one on the place! You can go if you wish; but, if you go, you can never come back!"

"Hi, Mistis," broke in Uncle Balla, "whar is I got to go? I wuz born on dis place an' I 'spec' to die here, an' be buried right yonder;" and he turned and pointed up to the dark clumps of trees that marked the graveyard on the hill, a half mile away, where the colored people were buried. "Dat I does," he affirmed positively. "Y' all sticks by us, and we'll stick by you."

"I know I ain't gwine nowhar wid no Yankees or nothin'," said Lucy Ann, in an undertone.

"Dee tell me dee got hoofs and horns," laughed one of the women in the yard.

The boys' mother started to say something further to Balla, but though she opened her lips, she did not speak; she turned suddenly and walked into the house and into her chamber, where she shut the door behind her. The boys thought she was angry, but when they softly followed her a few minutes afterward, she got up hastily from where she had been kneeling beside the bed, and they saw that she had been crying. A murmur under the window called them back to the portico. It had begun to grow dark; but a bright spot was glowing on the horizon, and on this every one's gaze was fixed.

"Where is it, Balla? What is it?" asked the boys' mother, her voice no longer strained and harsh, but even softer than usual.

"It's the depot, madam. They's burnin' it. That man told me they was burnin' ev'ywhar they went."

"Will they be here to-night?" asked his mistress.

"No, marm; I don' hardly think they will. That man said they couldn't travel more than thirty miles a day; but they'll be plenty of 'em here to-morrow-to breakfast." He gave a nervous sort of laugh.

"Here,-you all come here," said their mistress to the servants. She went to the smoke-house and unlocked it. "Go in there and get down the bacon-take a piece, each of you." A great deal was still left. "Balla, step here." She called him aside and spoke earnestly in an undertone.

"Yes'm, that's so; that's jes' what I wuz gwine do," the boys heard him say.

Their mother sent the boys out. She went and locked herself in her room, but they heard her footsteps as she turned about within, and now and then they heard her opening and shutting drawers and moving chairs.

In a little while she came out.

"Frank, you and Willy go and tell Balla to come to the chamber door. He may be out in the stable."

They dashed out, proud to bear so important a message. They could not find him, but an hour later they heard him, coming from the stable. He at once went into the house. They rushed into the chamber, where they found the door of the closet open.

"Balla, come in here," called their mother from within. "Have you got them safe?" she asked.

"Yes'm; jes' as safe as they kin be. I want to be 'bout here when they come, or I'd go down an' stay whar they is."

"What is it?" asked the boys.

"Where is the best place to put that?" she said, pointing to a large, strong box in which, they knew, the finest silver was kept; indeed, all excepting what was used every day on the table.

"Well, I declar', Mistis, that's hard to tell," said the old driver, "without it's in the stable."

"They may burn that down."

"That's so; you might bury it under the floor of the smoke-house?"

"I have heard that they always look for silver there," said the boys' mother. "How would it do to bury it in the garden?"

"That's the very place I was gwine name," said Balla, with flattering approval. "They can't burn that down, and if they gwine

dig for it then they'll have to dig a long time before they git over that big garden." He stooped and lifted up one end of the box to test its weight.

"I thought of the other end of the flower-bed, between the big rose-bush and the lilac."

"That's the very place I had in my mind," declared the old man. "They won' never fine it dyah!"

"We know a good place," said the boys both together; "it's a heap better than that. It's where we bury our treasures when we play 'Black-beard the Pirate.'"

"Very well," said their mother; "I don't care to know where it is until after to-morrow, anyhow. I know I can trust you," she added, addressing Balla.

"Yes'm, you know dat," said he, simply. "I'll jes' go an' git my hoe."

"The garden hasn't got a roof to it, has it, Unc' Balla?" asked Willy, quietly.

"Go 'way from here, boy," said the old man, making a sweep at him with his hand. "That boy ain' never done talkin' 'bout that thing yit," he added, with a pleased laugh, to his mistress.

"And you ain't ever given me all those chickens either," responded Willy, forgetting his grammar.

"Oh, well, I'm gwi' do it; ain't you hear me say I'm gwine do it?" he laughed as he went out.

The boys were too excited to get sleepy before the silver was hidden. Their mother told them they might go down into the garden and help Balla, on condition that they would not talk.

"That's the way we always do when we bury the treasure. Ain't it, Willy?" asked Frank.

"If a man speaks, it's death!" declared Willy, slapping his hand on his side as if to draw a sword, striking a theatrical attitude and speaking in a deep voice.

"Give the 'galleon' to us," said Frank.

"No; be off with you," said their mother.

"That ain't the way," said Frank. "A pirate never digs the hole until he has his treasure at hand. To do so would prove him but a novice; wouldn't it, Willy?"

"Well, I leave it all to you, my little Buccaneers," said their mother, laughing. "I'll take care of the spoons and forks we use every day. I'll just hide them away in a hole somewhere."

The boys started off after Balla with a shout, but remembered their errand and suddenly hushed down to a little squeal of delight at being actually engaged in burying treasure-real silver. It seemed too good to be true, and withal there was a real excitement about it, for how could they know but that some one might watch them from some hiding-place, or might even fire into them as they worked?

They met the old fellow as he was coming from the carriage-house with a hoe and a spade in his hands. He was on his way to the garden in a very straightforward manner, but the boys made him understand that to bury treasure it was necessary to be particularly secret, and after some little grumbling, Balla humored them.

The difficulty of getting the box of silver out of the house secretly, whilst all the family were up, and the servants were moving about, was so great that this part of the affair had to be carried on in a manner different from the usual programme of pirates of the first water. Even the boys had to admit this; and they yielded to old Balla's advice on this point, but made up for it by additional formality, ceremony, and secrecy in pointing out the spot where the box was to be hid.

Old Balla was quite accustomed to their games and fun-their "pranks," as he called them. He accordingly yielded willingly when they marched him to a point at the lower end of the yard, on the opposite side from the garden, and left him. But he was inclined to give trouble when they both reappeared with a gun, and in a whisper announced that they must march first up the ditch which ran by the spring around the foot of the garden.

"Look here, boys; I ain' got time to fool with you chillern," said the old man. "Ain't you hear your ma tell me she 'pend on me to bury that silver what yo' gran'ma and gran'pa used to eat off o'-an' don' wan' nobody to know nothin' 'bout it? An' y' all comin' here with guns, like you huntin' squ'rr'ls, an' now talkin' 'bout wadin' in the ditch!"

"But, Unc' Balla, that's the way all buccaneers do," protested Frank.

"Yes, buccaneers always go by water," said Willy.

"And we can stoop in the ditch and come in at the far end of the garden, so nobody can see us," added Frank.

"Bookanear or bookafar,-I's gwine in dat garden and dig a hole wid my hoe, an' I is too ole to be wadin' in a ditch like chillern. I got the misery in my knee now, so bad I'se sca'cely able to stand. I don't know huccome y' all ain't satisfied with the place you' ma an' I done pick, anyways."

This was too serious a mutiny for the boys. So it was finally greed that one gun should be returned to the office, and that they should enter by the gate, after which Balla was to go with the boys by the way they should show him, and see the spot they thought of.

They took him down through the weeds around the garden, crouching under the rose-bushes, and at last stopped at a spot under the slope, completely surrounded by shrubbery.

"Here is the spot," said Frank in a whisper, pointing under one of the bushes.

"It's in a line with the longest limb of the big oak-tree by the gate," added Willy, "and when this locust bush and that cedar grow to be big trees, it will be just half-way between them."

As this seemed to Balla a very good place, he set to work at once to dig, the two boys helping him as well as they could. It took a great deal longer to dig the hole in the dark than they had expected, and when they got back to the house everything was quiet.

The boys had their hats pulled over their eyes, and had turned their jackets inside out to disguise themselves.

"It's a first-rate place! Ain't it, Unc' Balla?" they said, as they entered the chamber where their mother and aunt were waiting for them.

"Do you think it will do, Balla?" their mother asked.

"Oh, yes, madam; it's far enough, an' they got mighty comical ways to get dyah, wadin' in ditch an' things-it will do. I ain' sho' I kin fin' it ag'in myself." He was not particularly enthusiastic. Now, however, he shouldered the box, with a grunt at its weight, and the party went slowly out through the back door into the dark. The glow of the burning depot was still visible in the west.

Then it was decided that Willy should go before-he said to "reconnoitre," Balla said "to open the gate and lead the way,"-and that Frank should bring up the rear.

They trudged slowly on through the darkness, Frank and Willy watching on every side, old Balla stooping under the weight of the big box.

After they were some distance in the garden they heard, or thought they heard, a sound back at the gate, but decided that it was nothing but the latch clicking; and they went on down to their hiding place.

In a little while the black box was well settled in the hole, and the dirt was thrown upon it. The replaced earth made something of a mound, which was unfortunate. They had not thought of this; but they covered it with leaves, and agreed that it was so well hidden, the Yankees would never dream of looking there.

"Unc' Balla, where are your horses?" asked one of the boys.

"That's for me to know, an' them to find out what kin," replied the old fellow with a chuckle of satisfaction.

The whole party crept back out of the garden, and the boys were soon dreaming of buccaneers and pirates.

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