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   Chapter 17 No.17

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 16299

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The story of Frank's adventure and courage was the talk of all the Oakland plantation. His mother and Cousin Belle both kissed him, and called him their little hero. Willy also received a full share of praise for his courage.

About noon there was great commotion among the troops. They were far more numerous than they had been in the morning, and instead of riding about the woods in small bodies, hunting for the concealed soldiers, they were collecting together and preparing to move.

It was learned that a considerable body of cavalry was passing down the road by Trinity Church, and that the depot had been burnt again the night before. Somehow, a rumor got about that the Confederates were following up the raiders.

In an hour most of the soldiers went away, but a number still stayed on. Their horses were picketed about the yard feeding; and they themselves lounged around, making themselves at home in the house, and pulling to pieces the things that were left. They were not, however, as wanton in their destruction as the first set, who had passed by the year before.

Among those who yet remained were the little corporal, and the big young soldier who had been so kind to Frank. They were in the rear-guard. At length the last man rode off.

The boys had gone in and out among them, without being molested. Now and then some rough fellow would swear at them, but for the most part their intercourse with the boys was friendly. When, therefore, they rode off, the boys were allowed by their mother to go and see the main body.

Peter and Cole were with them. They took the main road and followed along, picking up straps, and cartridges, and all those miscellaneous things dropped by a large body of troops as they pass along.

Cartridges were very valuable, as they furnished the only powder and shot the boys could get for hunting, and their supply was out. These were found in unusual numbers. The boys filled their pockets, and finally filled their sleeves, tying them tightly at the wrist with strings, so that the contents would not spill out. One of the boys found even an old pistol, which was considered a great treasure. He bore it proudly in his belt, and was envied by all the others.

It was quite late in the afternoon when they thought of turning toward home, their pockets and sleeves bagging down with the heavy musket-cartridges. They left the Federal rear-guard feeding their horses at a great white pile of corn which had been thrown out of the corn-house of a neighbor, and was scattered all over the ground.

They crossed a field, descended a hill, and took the main road at its foot, just as a body of cavalry came in sight. A small squad, riding some little distance in advance of the main body, had already passed by. These were Confederates. The first man they saw, at the head of the column by the colonel, was the General, and a little behind him was none other than Hugh on a gray roan; while not far down the column rode their friend Tim Mills, looking rusty and sleepy as usual.

"Goodness! Why, here are the General and Hugh! How in the world did you get away?" exclaimed the boys.

They learned that it was a column of cavalry following the line of the raid, and that the General and Hugh had met them and volunteered. The soldiers greeted the boys cordially.

"The Yankees are right up there," said the youngsters.

"Where? How many? What are they doing?" asked the General.

"A whole pack of 'em-right up there at the stables, and all about, feeding their horses and sitting all around, and ever so many more have gone along down the road."

"Fling the fence down there!" The boys pitched down the rails in two or three places. An order was passed back, and in an instant a stir of preparation was noticed all down the line of horsemen.

A courier galloped up the road to recall the advance-guard. The head of the column passed through the gap, and, without waiting for the others, dashed up the hill at a gallop-the General and the colonel a score of yards ahead of any of the others.

"Let's go and see the fight!" cried the boys; and the whole set started back up the hill as fast as their legs could carry them.

"S'pose they shoot! Won't they shoot us?" asked one of the negro boys, in some apprehension. This, though before unthought of, was a possibility, and for a moment brought them down to a slower pace.

"We can lie flat and peep over the top of the hill." This was Frank's happy thought, and the party started ahead again. "Let's go around that way." They made a little detour.

Just before they reached the crest they heard a shot, "bang!" immediately followed by another, "bang!" and in a second more a regular volley began, and was kept up.

They reached the crest of the hill in time to see the Confederates gallop up the slope toward the stables, firing their pistols at the blue-coats, who were forming in the edge of a little wood, over beyond a fence, from the other side of which the smoke of their carbines was rolling. They had evidently started on just as the boys left, and before the Confederates came in sight.

The boys saw their friends dash at this fence, and could distinguish the General and Hugh, who were still in the lead. Their horses took the fence, going over like birds, and others followed,-Tim Mills among them,-while yet more went through a gate a few yards to one side.

"Look at Hugh! Look at Hugh!"

"Look! That horse has fallen down!" cried one of the boys, as a horse went down just at the entrance of the wood, rolling over his rider.

"He's shot!" exclaimed Frank, for neither horse nor rider attempted to rise.

"See; they are running!"

The little squad of blue-coats were retiring into the woods, with the grays closely pressing them.

"Let's cut across and see 'em run 'em over the bridge."

"Come on!"

All the little group of spectators, white and black, started as hard as they could go for a path they knew, which led by a short cut through the little piece of woods. Beyond lay a field divided by a stream, a short distance on the other side of which was a large body of woods.

The popping was still going on furiously in the woods, and bullets were "zoo-ing" over the fields. But the boys could not see anything, and they did not think about the flying balls.

They were all excitement at the idea of "our men" whipping the enemy, and they ran with all their might to be in time to see them "chase 'em across the field."

The road on which the skirmish took place, and down which the Federal rear-guard had retreated, made a sharp curve beyond the woods, around the bend of a little stream crossed by a small bridge; and the boys, in taking the short cut, had placed the road between themselves and home; but they did not care about that, for their men were driving the others. They "just wanted to see it."

They reached the edge of the field in time to see that the Yankees were on the other side of the stream. They knew them to be where puffs of smoke came out of the opposite wood. And the Confederates had stopped beyond the bridge, and were halted, in some confusion, in the field.

The firing was very sharp, and bullets were singing in every direction. Then the Confederates got together, and went as hard as they could right at them up to the wood, all along the edge of which the smoke was pouring in continuous puffs and with a rattle of shots. They saw several horses fall as the Confederates galloped on, but the smoke hid most of it. Next they saw a long line of fire appear in the smoke on both sides of the road, where it entered the wood; then the Confederates stopped, and became all mixed up; a number of horses galloped away without their riders, another line of white and red flame came out of the woods, the Confederates began to come back, leaving many horses on the ground, and a body of cavalry in blue coats poured out of the wood in pursuit.

"Look! look! They are running-they are beating our men!" exclaimed the boys. "They have driven 'em back across the bridge!"

"How many of them there are!"

"What shall we do? Suppose they see

us!"

"Come on, Mah'srs Frank 'n' Willy, let's go home," said the colored boys. "They'll shoot us."

The fight was now in the woods which lay between the boys and their home. But just then the gray-coats got together, again turned at the edge of the wood, and dashed back on their pursuers, and-the smoke and bushes on the stream hid everything. In a second more both emerged on the other side of the smoke and went into the woods on the further edge of the field, all in confusion, and leaving on the ground more horses and men than before.

"What's them things 'zip-zippin' 'round my ears?" asked one of the negro boys.

"Bullets," said Frank, proud of his knowledge.

"Will they hurt me if they hit me?"

"LOOK! LOOK! THEY ARE RUNNING! THEY ARE BEATING OUR MEN!" EXCLAIMED THE BOYS.

"Of course they will. They'll kill you."

"I'm gwine home," said the boy, and off he started at a trot.

"Hold on!-We're goin', too; but let's go down this way; this is the best way."

They went along the edge of the field, toward the point in the road where the skirmish had been and where the Confederates had rallied. They stopped to listen to the popping in the woods on the other side, and were just saying how glad they were that "our men had whipped them," when a soldier came along.

"What in the name of goodness are you boys doing here?" he asked.

"We're just looking on an' lis'ning," answered the boys meekly.

"Well, you'd better be getting home as fast as you can. They are too strong for us, and they'll be driving us back directly, and some of you may get killed or run over."

This was dreadful! Such an idea had never occurred to the boys. A panic took possession of them.

"Come on! Let's go home!" This was the universal idea, and in a second the whole party were cutting straight for home, utterly stampeded.

They could readily have found shelter and security back over the hill, from the flying balls; but they preferred to get home, and they made straight for it. The popping of the guns, which still kept up in the woods across the little river, now meant to them that the victorious Yankees were driving back their friends. They believed that the bullets which now and then yet whistled over the woods with a long, singing "zoo-ee," were aimed at them. For their lives, then, they ran, expecting to be killed every minute.

The load of cartridges in their pockets, which they had carried for hours, weighed them down. As they ran they threw these out. Then followed those in their sleeves. Frank and the other boys easily got rid of theirs, but Willy had tied the strings around his wrists in such hard knots that he could not possibly untie them. He was falling behind.

Frank heard him call. Without slacking his speed he looked back over his shoulder. Willy's face was red, and his mouth was twitching. He was sobbing a little, and was tearing at the strings with his teeth as he ran. Then the strings came loose one after the other, the cartridges were shaken out over the ground, and Willy's face at once cleared up as he ran forward lightened of his load.

They had passed almost through the narrow skirt of woods where the first attack was made, when they heard some one not far from the side of the road call, "Water!"

The boys stopped. "What's that?" they asked each other in a startled undertone. A groan came from the same direction, and a voice said, "Oh, for some water!"

A short, whispered consultation was held.

"He's right up on that bank. There's a road up there."

Frank advanced a little; a man was lying somewhat propped up against a tree. His eyes were closed, and there was a ghastly wound in his head.

"Willy, it's a Yankee, and he's shot."

"Is he dead?" asked the others, in awed voices.

"No. Let's ask him if he's hurt much."

They all approached him. His eyes were shut and his face was ashy white.

"Willy, it's my Yankee!" exclaimed Frank.

The wounded man moved his hand at the sound of the voices.

"Water," he murmured. "Bring me water, for pity's sake!"

"I'll get you some,-don't you know me? Let me have your canteen," said Frank, stooping and taking hold of the canteen. It was held by its strap; but the boy whipped out a knife and cut it loose.

The man tried to speak; but the boys could not understand him.

"Where are you goin' get it, Frank?" asked the other boys.

"At the branch down there that runs into the creek."

"The Yankees'll shoot you down there," objected Peter and Willy.

"I ain' gwine that way," said Cole.

The soldier groaned.

"I'll go with you, Frank," said Willy, who could not stand the sight of the man's suffering.

"We'll be back directly."

The two boys darted off, the others following them at a little distance. They reached the open field. The shooting was still going on in the woods on the other side, but they no longer thought of it. They ran down the hill and dashed across the little flat to the branch at the nearest point, washed the blood from the canteen, and filled it with the cool water.

"I wish we had something to wash his face with," sighed Willy, "but I haven't got a handkerchief."

"Neither have I." Willy looked thoughtful. A second more and he had stripped off his light sailor's jacket and dipped it in the water. The next minute the two boys were running up the hill again.

When they reached the spot where the wounded man lay, he had slipped down and was flat on the ground. His feeble voice still called for water, but was much weaker than before. Frank stooped and held the canteen to the man's lips, and he drank. Then Willy and Frank, together, bathed his face with the still dripping cotton jacket. This revived him somewhat; but he did not recognize them and talked incoherently. They propped up his head.

"Frank, it's getting mighty late, and we've got to go home," said Willy.

The boys' voice or words reached the ears of the wounded man.

"Take me home," he murmured; "I want some water from the well by the dairy."

"Give him some more water."

Willy lifted the canteen. "Here it is."

The soldier swallowed with difficulty.

He could not raise his hand now. There was a pause. The boys stood around, looking down on him. "I've come back home," he said. His eyes were closed.

"He's dreaming," whispered Willy.

"Did you ever see anybody die?" asked Frank, in a low tone.

Willy's face paled.

"No, Frank; let's go home and tell somebody."

Frank stooped and touched the soldier's face. He was talking all the time now, though they could not understand everything he said. The boy's touch seemed to rouse him.

"It's bedtime," he said, presently. "Kneel down and say your prayers for Father."

"Willy, let's say our prayers for him," whispered Frank.

"I can say, 'Now I lay me.'" But before he could begin,

"'Now I lay me down to sleep,'" said the soldier tenderly. The boys followed him, thinking he had heard them. They did not know that he was saying-for one whom but that morning he had called "his curly-head at home"-the prayer that is common to Virginia and to Delaware, to North and to South, and which no wars can silence and no victories cause to be forgotten.

The soldier's voice now was growing almost inaudible. He spoke between long-drawn breaths.

"'If I should die before I wake.'"

"'If I should die before I wake,'" they repeated, and continued the prayer.

"'And this I ask for Jesus' sake,'" said the boys, ending. There was a long pause. Frank stroked the pale face softly with his hands.

"'And this I ask for Jesus' sake,'" whispered the lips. Then, very softly, "Kiss me good-night."

"Kiss him, Frank."

The boy stooped over and kissed the lips that had kissed him in the morning. Willy kissed him, also. The lips moved in a faint smile.

"God bless--"

The boys waited,-but that was all. The dusk settled down in the woods. The prayer was ended.

"He's dead," said Frank, in deep awe.

"Frank, aren't you mighty sorry?" asked Willy in a trembling voice. Then he suddenly broke out crying.

"I don't want him to die! I don't want him to die!"

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