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   Chapter 12 No.12

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 12131

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The gibes of Lucy Ann, and the occasional little thrusts of Hugh about the "deserter business," continued and kept the boys stirred up. At length they could stand it no longer. It was decided between them that they must retrieve their reputations by capturing a real deserter and turning him over to the conscript-officer whose office was at the depot.

Accordingly, one Saturday they started out on an expedition, the object of which was to capture a deserter though they should die in the attempt.

The conscript-guard had been unusually active lately, and it was said that several deserters had been caught.

The boys turned in at their old road, and made their way into Holetown. Their guns were loaded with large slugs, and they felt the ardor of battle thrill them as they marched along down the narrow roadway. They were trudging on when they were hailed by name from behind. Turning, they saw their friend Tim Mills, coming along at the same slouching gait in which he always walked. His old single-barrel gun was thrown across his arm, and he looked a little rustier than on the day he had shared their lunch. The boys held a little whispered conversation, and decided on a treaty of friendship.

"Good-mornin'," he said, on coming up to them. "How's your ma?"

"Good-morning. She's right well."

"What y' all doin'? Huntin' d'serters agin?" he asked.

"Yes. Come on and help us catch them."

"No; I can't do that-exactly;-but I tell you what I can do. I can tell you whar one is!"

The boys' faces glowed. "All right!"

"Let me see," he began, reflectively, chewing a stick. "Does y' all know Billy Johnson?"

The boys did not know him.

"You sure you don't know him? He's a tall, long fellow, 'bout forty years old, and breshes his hair mighty slick; got a big nose, and a gap-tooth, and a mustache. He lives down in the lower neighborhood."

Even after this description the boys failed to recognize him.

"Well, he's the feller. I can tell you right whar he is, this minute. He did me a mean trick, an' I'm gwine to give him up. Come along."

"What did he do to you?" inquired the boys, as they followed him down the road.

"Why-he-; but 't's no use to be rakin' it up agin. You know he always passes hisself off as one o' the conscrip'-guards,-that's his dodge. Like as not, that's what he's gwine try and put off on y' all now; but don't you let him fool you."

"We're not going to," said the boys.

"He rigs hisself up in a uniform-jes' like as not he stole it, too,-an' goes roun' foolin' people, meckin' out he's such a soldier. If he fools with me, I'm gwine to finish him!" Here Tim gripped his gun fiercely.

The boys promised not to be fooled by the wily Johnson. All they asked was to have him pointed out to them.

"Don't you let him put up any game on you 'bout bein' a conscrip'-guard hisself," continued their friend.

"No, indeed we won't. We are obliged to you for telling us."

"He ain't so very fur from here. He's mighty tecken up with John Hall's gal, and is tryin' to meck out like he's Gen'l Lee hisself, an' she ain't got no mo' sense than to b'lieve him."

"Why, we heard, Mr. Mills, she was going to marry you."

"Oh, no, I ain't a good enough soldier for her; she wants to marry Gen'l Lee."

The boys laughed at his dry tone.

As they walked along they consulted how the capture should be made.

"I tell you how to take him," said their companion. "He is a monstrous coward, and all you got to do is jest to bring your guns down on him. I wouldn't shoot him-'nless he tried to run; but if he did that, when he got a little distance I'd pepper him about his legs. Make him give up his sword and pistol and don't let him ride; 'cause if you do, he'll git away. Make him walk-the rascal!"

The boys promised to carry out these kindly suggestions.

They soon came in sight of the little house where Mills said the deserter was. A soldier's horse was standing tied at the gate, with a sword hung from the saddle. The owner, in full uniform, was sitting on the porch.

"I can't go any furder," whispered their friend; "but that's him-that's 'Gen'l Lee'-the triflin' scoundrel!-loafin' 'roun' here 'sted o' goin' in the army! I b'lieve y' all is 'fraid to take him," eyeing the boys suspiciously.

"No, we ain't; you'll see," said both boys, fired at the doubt.

"All right; I'm goin' to wait right here and watch you. Go ahead."

The boys looked at the guns to see if they were all right, and marched up the road keeping their eyes on the enemy. It was agreed that Frank was to do the talking and give the orders.

They said not a word until they reached the gate. They could see a young woman moving about in the house, setting a table. At the gate they stopped, so as to prevent the man from getting to his horse.

The soldier eyed them curiously. "I wonder whose boys they is?" he said to himself. "They's certainly actin' comical! Playin' soldiers, I reckon."

"Cock your gun-easy," said Frank, in a low tone, suiting his own action to the word.

Willy obeyed.

"Come out here, if you please," Frank called to the man. He could not keep his voice from shaking a little, but the man rose and lounged out toward them. His prompt compliance reassured them.

They stood, gripping their guns and watching him as he advanced.

"Come outside the gate!" He did as Frank said.

"What do you want?" he asked impatiently.

"You are our prisoner," said Frank, sternly, dropping down his gun with the muzzle toward the captive, and giving a glance at Willy to see that he was supported.

"Your what? What do you mean?"

"We arrest you as a deserter."

How proud Willy was of Frank!

"Go 'way from here; I ain't no deserter. I'm a-huntin' for deserters, myself," the man replied, laughing.

Frank smiled at Willy with a nod, as much as to say, "You see,-just what Tim told us!"

"Ain't your name Mr. Billy Johnson?"

"Yes; that's my name."

"You are the man we're looking for. March down that road. But don't run,-if you do, we'll shoot you!"

As the boys seemed perfectly serious and the muzzles of both guns were pointing directly at him, the man began to think that they were in earnest. But he could hardly credit his senses. A suspicion flashed into his mind.

"Look here, boys," he said, rather angrily, "I don't want any of your foolin' with me. I'm too old to play with children. If you all don't go 'long home and stop giving me impudence, I'll slap you over!" He started angrily toward Frank. As he did so, Frank brought the gun to his shoulder.

"Stand back!" he said, looking along the barrel, right into the man's eyes. "If you move a step, I'll blow your head off!"

The soldier's jaw fell. He stopped and threw up his arm before his eyes.

"Hold on!" he called, "don't shoot! Boys, ain't you got better sense 'n that?"

"March on down that road. Willy, you get the horse," said Frank, decidedly.

The soldier glanced over toward the house. The voice of the young woman was heard singing a war song in a high key.

"Ef Millindy sees me, I'm a goner," he reflected. "Jes' come down the road a little piece, will you?" he asked, persuasively.

"No talking,-march!" ordered Frank.

He looked at each of the boys; the guns still kept their perilous direction. The boys' eyes looked fiery to his surprised senses.

"Who is y' all?" he asked.

"We are two little Confederates! That's who we are," said Willy.

"Is any of your parents ever-ever been in a asylum?" he asked, as calmly as he could.

"That's none of your business," said Captain Frank. "March on!"

The man cast a despairing glance toward the house, where "The years" were "creeping slowly by, Lorena," in a very high pitch,-and then moved on.

"I hope she ain't seen nothin'," he thought. "If I jest can git them guns away from 'em--"

Frank followed close behind him with his old gun held ready for need, and Willy untied the horse and led it. The bushes concealed them from the dwelling.

As soon as they were well out of sight of the house, Frank gave the order:

"Halt!" They all halted.

"Willy, tie the horse." It was done.

"I wonder if those boys is thinkin' 'bout shootin' me?" thought the soldier, turning and putting his hand on his pistol.

As he did so, Frank's gun came to his shoulder.

"Throw up your hands or you are a dead man." The hands went up.

"Willy, keep your gun on him, while I search him for any weapons." Willy cocked the old musket and brought it to bear on the prisoner.

"Little boy, don't handle that thing so reckless," the man expostulated. "Ef that musket was to go off, it might kill me!"

"No talking," demanded Frank, going up to him. "Hold up your hands. Willy, shoot him if he moves."

Frank drew a long pistol from its holster with an air of business. He searched carefully, but there was no more.

The fellow gritted his teeth. "If she ever hears of this, Tim's got her certain," he groaned; "but she won't never hear."

At a turn in the road his heart sank within him; for just around the curve they came upon Tim Mills sitting quietly on a stump. He looked at them with a quizzical eye, but said not a word.

The prisoner's face was a study when he recognized his rival and enemy. As Mills did not move, his courage returned.

"Good mornin', Tim," he said, with great politeness.

The man on the stump said nothing; he only looked on with complacent enjoyment.

"Tim, is these two boys crazy?" he asked slowly.

"They're crazy 'bout shootin' deserters," replied Tim.

"Tim, tell 'em I ain't no deserter." His voice was full of entreaty.

"Well, if you ain't a d'serter, what you doin' outn the army?"

"You know--" began the fellow fiercely; but Tim shifted his long single-barrel lazily into his hand and looked the man straight in the eyes, and the prisoner stopped.

"Yes, I know," said Tim with a sudden spark in his eyes. "An' you know," he added after a pause, during which his face resumed its usual listless look. "An' my edvice to you is to go 'long with them boys, if you don't want to git three loads of slugs in you. They may put 'em in you anyway. They's sort of 'stracted 'bout d'serters, and I can swear to it." He touched his forehead expressively.

"March on!" said Frank.

FRANK AND WILLY CAPTURE A MEMBER OF THE CONSCRIPT-GUARD.

The prisoner, grinding his teeth, moved forward, followed by his guards.

As the enemies parted each man sent the same ugly look after the other.

"It's all over! He's got her," groaned Johnson. As they passed out of sight, Mills rose and sauntered somewhat briskly (for him) in the direction of John Hall's.

They soon reached a little stream, not far from the depot where the provost-guard was stationed. On its banks the man made his last stand; but his obstinacy brought a black muzzle close to his head with a stern little face behind it, and he was fain to march straight through the water, as he was ordered.

Just as he was emerging on the other bank, with his boots full of water and his trousers dripping, closely followed by Frank brandishing a pistol, a small body of soldiers rode up. They were the conscript-guard. Johnson's look was despairing.

"Why, Billy, what in thunder--? Thought you were sick in bed!"

Another minute and the soldiers took in the situation by instinct-and Johnson's rage was drowned in the universal explosion of laughter.

The boys had captured a member of the conscript-guard.

In the midst of all, Frank and Willy, overwhelmed by their ridiculous error, took to their heels as hard as they could, and the last sounds that reached them were the roars of the soldiers as the scampering boys disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Johnson went back, in a few days, to see John Hall's daughter; but the young lady declared she wouldn't marry any man who let two boys make him wade through a creek; and a month or two later she married Tim Mills.

To all the gibes he heard on the subject of his capture, and they were many, Johnson made but one reply:

"Them boys's had parents in a a-sylum, sure!"

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