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   Chapter 14 No.14

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 12185

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The next day was Sunday. The General and Hugh had but one day to stay. They were to leave at daybreak the following morning. They thoroughly enjoyed their holiday; at least the boys knew that Hugh did. They had never known him so affable with them. They did not see much of the General, after breakfast. He seemed to like to stay "stuck up in the house" all the time, talking to Cousin Belle; the boys thought this due to his lameness. Something had occurred, the boys didn't understand just what; but the General was on an entirely new footing with all of them, and their Cousin Belle was in some way concerned in the change. She did not any longer run from the General, and it seemed to them as though everyone acted as if he belonged to her. The boys did not altogether like the state of affairs. That afternoon, however, he and their Cousin Belle let the boys go out walking with them, and he was just as hearty as he could be; he made them tell him all about capturing the deserter, and about catching the hogs, and everything they did. They told him all about their "Robbers' Cave," down in the woods near where an old house had stood. It was between two ravines near a spring they had found. They had fixed up the "cave" with boards and old pieces of carpet "and everything," and they told him, as a secret, how to get to it through the pines without leaving a trail. He had to give the holy pledge of the "Brotherhood" before this could be divulged to him; but he took it with a solemnity which made the boys almost forgive the presence of their Cousin Belle. It was a little awkward at first that she was present; but as the "Constitution" provided only as to admitting men to the mystic knowledge, saying nothing about women, this difficulty was, on the General's suggestion, passed over, and the boys fully explained the location of the spot, and how to get there by turning off abruptly from the path through the big woods right at the pine thicket,-and all the rest of the way.

"'Tain't a 'sure-enough' cave," explained Willy; "but it's 'most as good as one. The old rock fire-place is just like a cave."

"The gullies are so deep you can't get there except that one way," declared Frank.

"Even the Yankees couldn't find you there," asserted Willy.

"I don't believe anybody could, after that; but I trust they will never have to try," laughed their Cousin Belle, with an anxious look in her bright eyes at the mere thought.

That night they were at supper, about eight o'clock, when something out-of-doors attracted the attention of the party around the table. It was a noise,-a something indefinable, but the talk and mirth stopped suddenly, and everybody listened.

There was a call, and the hurried steps of some one running, just outside the door, and Lucy Ann burst into the room, her face ashy pale.

"The yard's full o' mens-Yankees," she gasped, just as the General and Hugh rose from the table.

"How many are there?" asked both gentlemen.

"They's all 'roun' the house ev'y which a-way."

The General looked at his sweetheart. She came to his side with a cry.

"Go up stairs to the top of the house," called the boys' mother.

"We can hide you; come with us," said the boys.

"Go up the back way, Frank 'n' Willy, to you-all's den," whispered Lucy Ann.

"That's where we are going," said the boys as she went out.

"You all come on!" This to the General and Hugh.

"The rest of you take your seats," said the boys' mother.

All this had occupied only a few seconds. The soldiers followed the boys out by a side-door and dashed up the narrow stairs to the second-story just as a thundering knocking came at the front door. It was as dark as pitch, for candles were too scarce to burn more than one at a time.

"You run back," said Hugh to the boys, as they groped along. "There are too many of us. I know the way."

But it was too late; the noise down stairs told that the enemy was already in the house!

As the soldiers left the supper-room, the boys' mother had hastily removed two plates from the places and set two chairs back against the wall; she made the rest fill up the spaces, so that there was nothing to show that the two men had been there.

She had hardly taken her seat again, when the sound of heavy footsteps at the door announced the approach of the enemy. She herself rose and went to the door; but it was thrown open before she reached it and an officer in full Federal uniform strode in, followed by several men.

The commander was a tall young fellow, not older than the General. The lady started back somewhat startled, and there was a confused chorus of exclamations of alarm from the rest of those at the table. The officer, finding himself in the presence of ladies, removed his cap with a polite bow.

"I hope, madam, that you ladies will not be alarmed," he said. "You need be under no apprehension, I assure you." Even while speaking, his eye had taken a hasty survey of the room.

"We desire to see General Marshall, who is at present in this house and I am sorry to have to include your son in my requisition. We know that they are here, and if they are given us, I promise you that nothing shall be disturbed."

"You appear to be so well instructed that I can add little to your information," said the mistress of the house, haughtily. "I am glad to say, however, that I hardly think you will find them."

"Madam, I know they are here," said the young soldier positively, but with great politeness. "I have positive information to that effect. They arrived last evening and have not left since. Their horses are still in the stable. I am sorry to be forced to do violence to my feelings, but I must search the house. Come, men."

"I doubt not you have found their horses," began the lady, but she was interrupted by Lucy Ann, who entered at the moment with a plate of fresh corn-cakes, and caught the last part of the sentence.

"Come along, Mister," she said, "I'll show you myself," and she set down her plate, took the candle from the table, and walked to the door, followed

by the soldiers.

"Lucy Ann!" exclaimed her mistress; but she was too much amazed at the girl's conduct to say more.

"I know whar dey is!" Lucy Ann continued, taking no notice of her mistress. They heard her say, as she was shutting the door, "Y' all come with me; I 'feared they gone; ef they ain't, I know whar they is!"

"Open every room," said the officer.

"Oh, yes, sir; I gwine ketch 'em for you," she said, eagerly opening first one door, and then the other, "that is, ef they ain' gone. I mighty 'feared they gone. I seen 'em goin' out the back way about a little while befo' you all come,-but I thought they might 'a' come back. Mister, ken y' all teck me 'long with you when you go?" she asked the officer, in a low voice. "I want to be free."

"I don't know; we can some other time, if not now. We are going to set you all free."

"Oh, glory! Come 'long, Mister; let's ketch 'em. They ain't heah, but I know whar dey is."

The soldiers closely examined every place where it was possible a man could be concealed, until they had been over all the lower part of the house.

Lucy Ann stopped. "Dey's gone!" she said positively.

The officer motioned to her to go up stairs.

"Yes, sir, I wuz jes' goin' tell you we jes' well look up-stairs, too," she said, leading the way, talking all the time, and shading the flickering candle with her hand.

The little group, flat on the floor against the wall in their dark retreat, could now hear her voice distinctly. She was speaking in a confidential undertone, as if afraid of being overheard.

"I wonder I didn't have sense to get somebody to watch 'em when they went out," they heard her say.

"She's betrayed us!" whispered Hugh.

The General merely said, "Hush," and laid his hand firmly on the nearest boy to keep him still. Lucy Ann led the soldiers into the various chambers one after another. At last she opened the next room, and, through the wall, the men in hiding heard the soldiers go in and walk about.

They estimated that there were at least half-a-dozen.

"Isn't there a garret?" asked one of the searching party.

"Nor, sir, 'tain't no garret, jes' a loft; but they ain't up there," said Lucy Ann's voice.

"We'll look for ourselves." They came out of the room. "Show us the way."

"Look here, if you tell us a lie, we'll hang you!"

The voice of the officer was very stern.

"I ain' gwine tell you no lie, Mister. What you reckon I wan' tell you lie for? Dey ain' in the garret, I know,--Mister, please don't p'int dem things at me. I's 'feared o' dem things," said the girl in a slightly whimpering voice; "I gwine show you."

She came straight down the passage toward the recess where the fugitives were huddled, the men after her, their heavy steps echoing through the house. The boys were trembling violently. The light, as the searchers came nearer, fell on the wall, crept along it, until it lighted up the whole alcove, except where they lay. The boys held their breath. They could hear their hearts thumping.

Lucy Ann stepped into the recess with her candle, and looked straight at them.

"They ain't in here," she exclaimed, suddenly putting her hand up before the flame, as if to prevent it flaring, thus throwing the alcove once more into darkness. "The trap-door to the garret's 'roun' that a-way," she said to the soldiers, still keeping her position at the narrow entrance, as if to let them pass. When they had all passed, she followed them.

The boys began to wriggle with delight, but the General's strong hand kept them still.

Naturally, the search in the garret proved fruitless, and the hiding-party heard the squad swearing over their ill-luck as they came back; while Lucy Ann loudly lamented not having sent some one to follow the fugitives, and made a number of suggestions as to where they had gone, and the probability of catching them if the soldiers went at once in pursuit.

"Did you look in here?" asked a soldier, approaching the alcove.

"Yes, sir; they ain't in there." She snuffed the candle out suddenly with her fingers. "Oh, oh!-my light done gone out! Mind! Let me go in front and show you the way," she said; and, pressing before, she once more led them along the passage.

"Mind yo' steps; ken you see?" she asked.

They went down stairs, while Lucy Ann gave them minute directions as to how they might catch "Marse Hugh an' the Gen'l" at a certain place a half-mile from the house (an unoccupied quarter), which she carefully described.

A further investigation ensued downstairs, but in a little while the searchers went out of the house. Their tone had changed since their disappointment, and loud threats floated up the dark stairway to the prisoners still crouching in the little recess.

In a few minutes the boys' Cousin Belle came rushing up stairs.

"Now's your time! Come quick," she called; "they will be back directly. Isn't she an angel!" The whole party sprang to their feet, and ran down to the lower floor.

"Oh, we were so frightened!" "Don't let them see you." "Make haste," were the exclamations that greeted them as the two soldiers said their good-byes and prepared to leave the house.

"Go out by the side-door; that's your only chance. It's pitch-dark, and the bushes will hide you. But where are you going?"

"We are going to the boys' cave," said the General, buckling on his pistol; "I know the way, and we'll get away as soon as these fellows leave, if we cannot before."

"God bless you!" said the ladies, pushing them away in dread of the enemy's return.

"Come on, General," called Hugh in an undertone. The General was lagging behind a minute to say good-bye once more. He stooped suddenly and kissed the boys' Cousin Belle before them all.

"Good-bye. God bless you!" and he followed Hugh out of the window into the darkness. The girl burst into tears and ran up to her room.

A few seconds afterward the house was once more filled with the enemy, growling at their ill-luck in having so narrowly missed the prize.

"We'll catch 'em yet," said the leader.

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