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Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 10629

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The raiders were up early next morning scouring the woods and country around. They knew that the fugitive soldiers could not have gone far, for the Federals had every road picketed, and their main body was not far away. As the morning wore on, it became a grave question at Oakland how the two soldiers were to subsist. They had no provisions with them, and the roads were so closely watched that there was no chance of their obtaining any. The matter was talked over, and the boys' mother and Cousin Belle were in despair.

"They can eat their shoes," said Willy, reflectively.

The ladies exclaimed in horror.

"That's what men always do when they get lost in a wilderness where there is no game."

This piece of information from Willy did not impress his hearers as much as he supposed it would.

"I'll tell you! Let me and Frank go and carry 'em something to eat!"

"How do you know where they are?"

"They are at our Robber's Cave, aren't they, Cousin Belle? We told the General yesterday how to get there, didn't we?"

"Yes, and he said last night that he would go there."

Willy's idea seemed a good one, and the offer was accepted. The boys were to go out as if to see the troops, and were to take as much food as they thought could pass for their luncheon. Their mother cooked and put up a luncheon large enough to have satisfied the appetites of two young Brobdingnagians, and they set out on their relief expedition.

The two sturdy little figures looked full of importance as they strode off up the road. They carried many loving messages. Their Cousin Belle gave to each separately a long whispered message which each by himself was to deliver to the General. It was thought best not to hazard a note.

They were watched by the ladies from the portico until they disappeared over the hill. They took a path which led into the woods, and walked cautiously for fear some of the raiders might be lurking about. However, the boys saw none of the enemy, and in a little while they came to a point where the pines began. Then they turned into the woods, for the pines were so thick the boys could not be seen, and the pine tags made it so soft under foot that they could walk without making any noise.

They were pushing their way through the bushes, when Frank suddenly stopped.

"Hush!" he said.

Willy halted and listened.

"There they are."

From a little distance to one side, in the direction of the path they had just left, they heard the trampling of a number of horses' feet.

"That's not our men," said Willy. "Hugh and the General haven't any horses."

"No; that's the Yankees," said Frank. "Let's lie down. They may hear us."

The boys flung themselves upon the ground and almost held their breath until the horses had passed out of hearing.

"Do you reckon they are hunting for us?" asked Willy in an awed whisper.

"No, for Hugh and the General. Come on."

They rose, went tipping a little deeper into the pines, and again made their way toward the cave.

"Maybe they've caught 'em," suggested Willy.

"They can't catch 'em in these pines," replied Frank. "You can't see any distance at all. A horse can't get through, and the General and Hugh could shoot 'em, and then get away before they could catch 'em."

They hurried on.

"Frank, suppose they take us for Yankees?"

Evidently Willy's mind had been busy since Frank's last speech.

"They aren't going to shoot us," said Frank; but it was an unpleasant suggestion, for they were not very far from the dense clump of pines between two gullies, which the boys called their cave.

"We can whistle," he said, presently.

"Won't Hugh and the General think we are enemies trying to surround them?" Willy objected. The dilemma was a serious one. "We'll have to crawl up," said Frank, after a pause.

And this was agreed upon. They were soon on the edge of the deep gully which, on one side, protected the spot from all approach. They scrambled down its steep side and began to creep along, peeping over its other edge from time to time, to see if they could discover the clearing which marked the little green spot on top of the hill, where once had stood an old cabin. The base of the ruined chimney, with its immense fire-place, constituted the boys' "cave." They were close to it, now, and felt themselves to be in imminent danger of a sweeping fusillade. They had just crept up to the top of the ravine and were consulting, when some one immediately behind them, not twenty feet away, called out:

"Hello! What are you boys doing here? Are you trying to capture us?"

They jumped at the unexpected voice. The General broke into a laugh. He had been sitting on the ground on the other side of the declivity, and had been watching their man?uvres for some time.

He brought them to the house-spot where Hugh was asleep on the ground; he had been on watch all the morning, and, during the General's turn, was making up for his lost sleep. He was soon wide awake enough, and he and the General, with appetites bearing witness to their long fast, were without delay engaged in disposing of the provisions which the boys had brought.

The boys were delighted with the mystery of their surroundings. Each in turn took the General aside and held a long interview with him, and gav

e him all their Cousin Belle's messages. No one had ever treated them with such consideration as the General showed them. The two men asked the boys all about the dispositions of the enemy, but the boys had little to tell.

"They are after us pretty hotly," said the General. "I think they are going away shortly. It's nothing but a raid, and they are moving on. We must get back to camp to-night."

"How are you going?" asked the boys. "You haven't any horses."

"We are going to get some of their horses," said the officer. "They have taken ours-now they must furnish us with others."

It was about time for the boys to start for home. The General took each of them aside, and talked for a long time. He was speaking to Willy, on the edge of the clearing, when there was a crack of a twig in the pines. In a second he had laid the boy on his back in the soft grass and whipped out a pistol. Then, with a low, quick call to Hugh, he sprang swiftly into the pines toward the sound.

"Crawl down into the ravine, boys," called Hugh, following his companion. The boys rolled down over the bank like little ground-hogs; but in a second they heard a familiar drawling voice call out in a subdued tone:

"Hold on, Cunnel! it's nobody but me; don't you know me?" And, in a moment, they heard the General's astonished and somewhat stern reply:

"Mills, what are you doing here? Who's with you? What do you want?"

"Well," said the new-comer, slowly, "I 'lowed I'd come to see if I could be o' any use to you. I heard the Yankees had run you 'way from Oakland last night, and was sort o' huntin' for you. Fact is, they's been up my way, and I sort o' 'lowed I'd come an' see ef I could help you git back to camp."

"Where have you been all this time? I wonder you are not ashamed to look me in the face!"

The General's voice was still stern. He had turned around and walked back to the cleared space.

The deserter scratched his head in perplexity.

"I needn' 'a' come," he said, doggedly. "Where's them boys? I don' want the boys hurted. I seen 'em comin' here, an' I jes' followed 'em to see they didn't get in no trouble. But--"

This speech about the boys effected what the offer of personal service to the General himself had failed to bring about.

"Sit down and let me talk to you," said the General, throwing himself on the grass.

Mills seated himself cross-legged near the officer, with his gun across his knees, and began to bite a straw which he pulled from a tuft by his side.

The boys had come up out of their retreat, and taken places on each side of the General.

"You all take to grass like young partridges," said the hunter. The boys were flattered, for they considered any notice from him a compliment.

"What made you fool us, and send us to catch that conscript-guard?" Frank asked.

"Well, you ketched him, didn't you? You're the only ones ever been able to ketch him," he said, with a low chuckle.

"Now, Mills, you know how things stand," said the General. "It's a shame for you to have been acting this way. You know what people say about you. But if you come back to camp and do your duty, I'll have it all straightened out. If you don't, I'll have you shot."

His voice was as calm and his manner as composed as if he were promising the man opposite him a reward for good conduct. He looked Mills steadily in the eyes all the time. The boys felt as if their friend were about to be executed. The General seemed an immeasurable distance above them.

The deserter blinked twice or thrice, slowly bit his shred of straw, looked casually first toward one boy and then toward the other, but without the slightest change of expression in his face.

"Cun'l," he said, at length, "I ain't no deserter. I ain't feared of bein' shot. Ef I was, I wouldn' 'a' come here now. I'm gwine wid you, an' I'm gwine back to my company; an' I'm gwine fight, ef Yankees gits in my way; but ef I gits tired, I's comin' home; an' 'tain't no use to tell you I ain't, 'cause I is,-an' ef anybody flings up to me that I's a-runnin' away, I'm gwine to kill 'em!"

He rose to his feet in the intensity of his feeling, and his eyes, usually so dull, were like live coals.

The General looked at him quietly a few seconds, then himself arose and laid his hand on Tim Mills' shoulder.

"All right," he said.

"I got a little snack M'lindy put up," said Mills, pulling a substantial bundle out of his game-bag. "I 'lowed maybe you might be sort o' hongry. Jes' two or three squirrels I shot," he said, apologetically.

"You boys better git 'long home, I reckon," said Mills to Willy. "You ain' 'fraid, is you? 'Cause if you is, I'll go with you."

His voice had resumed its customary drawl.

"Oh, no," said both boys, eagerly. "We aren't afraid."

"An' tell your ma I ain' let nobody tetch nothin' on the Oakland plantation; not sence that day you all went huntin' deserters; not if I knowed 'bout it."

"Yes, sir."

"An' tell her I'm gwine take good keer o' Hugh an' the Cunnel. Good-bye!-now run along!"

"All right, sir,-good-bye."

"An' ef you hear anybody say Tim Mills is a d'serter, tell 'em it's a lie, an' you know it. Good-bye." He turned away as if relieved.

The boys said good-bye to all three, and started in the direction of home.

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