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Title: Rodney, the Overseer
Author: Castlemon, Harry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: THE GUNBOAT'S REPLY TO THE HOME GUARDS.]



                       _CASTLEMON'S WAR SERIES._

                         RODNEY, THE OVERSEER

                                  BY
                           HARRY CASTLEMON,
         AUTHOR OF "GUNBOAT SERIES," "ROCKY MOUNTAIN SERIES,"
                "FOREST AND STREAM SERIES," ETC., ETC.

                _Four Illustrations by Geo. G. White._

                             PHILADELPHIA:
                           PORTER & COATES.



                           COPYRIGHT, 1892,
                                  BY
                           PORTER & COATES.



CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER                                           PAGE

     I. A DISGUSTED HOME GUARD,                        1

    II. CAPTAIN TOM SMELLS POWDER,                    28

   III. THE CONSCRIPT'S FRIEND,                       54

    IV. LIEUTENANT LAMBERT'S CAMPAIGN,                82

     V. HOW IT RESULTED,                             109

    VI. CAPTAIN ROACH LAYS DOWN THE LAW,             136

   VII. A PERPLEXING SITUATION,                      164

  VIII. HOUNDS ON THE TRAIL,                         189

    IX. UNCLE SAM'S LOST BOYS,                       216

     X. NED GRIFFIN BRINGS NEWS,                     242

    XI. THE ESCAPED PRISONERS' STORY,                270

   XII. A HAIL AT THE BARS,                          297

  XIII. CAPTAIN TOM SHOWS HIS GRATITUDE,             328

   XIV. RODNEY KEEPS HIS PROMISE,                    353

    XV. RODNEY PASSES INSPECTION,                    380

   XVI. CAPTAIN RANDOLPH RECEIVES ORDERS,            406

  XVII. CONCLUSION,                                  431



RODNEY, THE OVERSEER.



CHAPTER I.

A DISGUSTED HOME GUARD.


"I don't say that you fellows played the part of cowards by firing
into that unarmed boat, but you acted like born idiots, and it would
serve you just right if the citizens of Baton Rouge should come out
here in a body and lynch the last one of you. Why do you not wait for
orders from me instead of roaming about the country acting on your own
responsibility? I know what the Confederacy expects this company to do
and you don't."

"Now jest listen at you, Tom Randolph."

"Yes, listen when your commanding officer speaks, and remember that
there is a handle to my name and that I expect you to use it as often
as you address me."

"Well, _Cap'n_ Randolph, if that suits you any better; though it's
mighty little you ever done to deserve the title. When this company of
ourn was first got up didn't you say that we was going to make all the
Union men about here hunt their holes?"

"Yes, I did; and I would have done it in a soldier-like manner if you
had obeyed my orders, as you promised to do when you were sworn into
the service. But when you made up your minds that you knew more than
your captain and set out to have your own way, you got yourselves into
hot water directly, and I am very glad of it. If you have come to your
senses and will promise that from this time on you will obey my orders
to the letter, and quit going off on raids unless I send you, I will do
the best I can for you; but the minute you take the bits in your teeth,
as you have been doing for the last few months, that minute I will
throw you over and the conscript officer can take you and welcome. And
mark my words, this is the last warning I shall give you. The last one
of you ought to be court-martialled and shot."

It was a motley group of men and boys, perhaps a score of them in
all, who were gathered at the foot of the wide steps that led up to
the front door of Mr. Randolph's plantation house, and one could have
told at a glance that they were as excited and angry as was the young
officer in Confederate uniform on the gallery above, who shook his
fists at them over the railing, and addressed them in the imperious
language we have just recorded. The most of the group were dressed
like soldiers, and that was what they claimed to be; but whether they
belonged to the Union or Confederate army it would have been hard to
tell, for their clothing was an odd mixture of the uniforms of both.
It would have been quite as hard to tell whether they belonged to the
artillery, infantry, or cavalry, for the distinguishing colors of these
three branches of the service were about equally represented. These
men and boys called themselves Home Guards; and they were members of
the independent company that Tom Randolph and his father raised and
equipped after Tom failed to get himself elected second lieutenant of
Captain Hubbard's Rangers. You remember something about that, do you not?

When the war excitement was at its height in the spring of 1861,
and Rodney Gray, Marcy Gray's cousin, left the military academy at
Barrington because he could not study while others were going into
the Southern army and making ready to fight for the cause in which
they honestly believed, he was bound by a compact he had made with
some other red-hot rebels in his class to enlist within twenty-four
hours after he reached home provided he could get to a recruiting
office in that time. The uniform he wore at school was gray, and so
was the one adopted by those who were determined to break up the
government because they could no longer do as they pleased with it;
and impulsive Rodney Gray, carried away by the excitement of the hour,
declared that he would not wear any other color until the South had
gained her independence. He found it easy to keep the first part of
his promise, for it so happened that he came home in time to join an
independent company of cavalry that was being raised in his immediate
neighborhood, and which was intended to be so very select that no
applicant could get into the company if a single member of it objected
to him.

Among the prominent citizens of Mooreville who took a deep interest in
the organization (they all claimed Mooreville as their home, although
some of them lived from three to a dozen miles outside of it), and used
both money and influence to help it along, was Mr. Randolph, Tom's
father. If any young fellow who stood well in the community hesitated
to send in his name because he could not raise money enough to buy a
horse and fit himself out as well as the other Rangers were fitted out,
Mr. Randolph was prompt to come to his aid with the assurance that if
he would go ahead and enlist, money need not stand in his way, for
the horse, uniform, weapons, and all other necessary things would be
forthcoming. He scoured the country for miles around for recruits, and
did so much in other ways to aid the company that when the Rangers made
their first camp, and hoisted above it the flag under which they hoped
to ride to victory, they named it Camp Randolph.

This gentleman was so rabid a Secessionist that he was utterly
unreasonable. In fact, some of his warmest friends declared that he was
about half crazy. He had no clearer conception of the sufferings and
trials that he and those who believed as he did were bringing upon the
people of the South than the most ignorant negro on his plantations.
The men of the North belonged to an inferior race and did not know how
to fight. They were going to be whipped without any trouble at all, and
when the Southern troops had covered themselves with glory by taking
and holding Washington, while Jefferson Davis dictated terms of peace
to the Lincoln hirelings, he wanted all the Mooreville boys there to
witness the grand and imposing spectacle, and that was why he urged
them to enlist. That was about what Mr. Randolph said, and no doubt he
was honest with himself as well as with the recruits he brought into
Captain Hubbard's company; but events proved that he had another object
in view and one that he did not think it best to speak of.

Tom Randolph, who was twenty-four years of age, was as conceited an
ignoramus as there was in that part of Louisiana; but he had an idea
that he was very bright, and capable of filling any office he could
get. At first he declared his intention of going to the front as
captain of the Rangers. It would be no more than right that he should
have the highest place in return for what his father had done for the
company; but when Mr. Randolph told him that _that_ would be aiming
a little too high, that Bob Hubbard, who had really done more hard
work for the company than anybody else, would certainly be chosen
captain, and that it would look better and be better if Tom would
accept something a little lower down and work his way up, the young
man decided that he would be a candidate for the second lieutenant's
place. He was sure he would get it and so was his father; but he
didn't. Although the Rangers _did_ not know anything about soldiering,
they did know what sort of men they wanted for officers, and Tom
received but twelve votes out of sixty-five—his own and those of the
eleven recruits his father had brought into the company. Then there
was trouble in the camp, and if Tom and his father had possessed
the physical power they would have thrashed every Ranger in it. But
there was one thing about it: if they could not have a voice in the
management of the company they would not only cease to support it, but
would do their best to break it up; and Tom acted upon this rule or
ruin policy by withdrawing from the ranks almost as soon as the result
of the ballot was announced, his example being followed by the eleven
recruits who had voted for him.

"Now let's see how they will get on with their Partisan Rangers," Tom
said to his father that night. "There's almost too much social equality
in that company anyway to suit me. I have noticed it ever since I have
been in it. Who is their second lieutenant, the man they shoved into my
place? A common book-keeper who never in his life had the price of a
pickaninny in his pocket."

Tom hoped and believed that by withdrawing from the company he had
inflicted a blow upon it from which it would never recover; but to his
surprise and disgust the Rangers went ahead with their plans as if
nothing had happened. Rodney Gray, the only member of the organization
who knew anything about military matters, was made first duty sergeant
and drill-master; and under his skillful management the Rangers
changed so rapidly from awkward greenhorns to soldiers, and became so
proficient in the school of the company, that the deserters, with the
single exception of Tom Randolph himself, began to repent their hasty
action, and ask one another what they could do to induce the Rangers
to take them back again. They knew they could not look to Mr. Randolph
for an outfit, for he took Tom's defeat as a deliberate insult to
his family, and instead of promoting enlistments in the company was
doing all he could to stop them. The only one they could turn to for
help was Rodney Gray's father—a man who had said and done nothing of
consequence to show that he was in favor of partisan organizations,
and who was looked upon with suspicion by his neighbors because he put
no faith in the final success of the secession movement, and did not
hesitate to say that the South would be whipped as she deserved to be
for trying to break up the government. There were thousands of wealthy
and influential men in Louisiana who believed as he did; and yet they
did more to help the soldiers than the blatant rebels who were fierce
for a fight at the beginning, but went over to the Federals at the
first opportunity, and became "spies and informers for the sake of the
loaves and fishes that fell into their hands." The sequel proved that
the recruits went to the right man, for six of the eleven were fitted
out at Mr. Gray's expense. And he did not boast of it either, as Mr.
Randolph and Tom had done.

Captain Hubbard's Rangers, as the company was always called, got on
very well until they began looking around for someone to swear them
into the service and order them to the front, and then the trouble
began. They first applied to the commanding officer at New Orleans; but
he declined to have anything to do with them unless they would give
up their independent organization, and that was something the Rangers
were determined they would not do to please anybody. They formed their
company in the first place because they were led to believe that the
Richmond government was in full sympathy with such organizations, which
would be allowed full liberty of action when sworn into the service of
the State; but such would by no means be the case if they permitted
themselves to be sworn into the service of the Confederacy. As one of
the Rangers expressed it: "If they were going to give their liberty up
to a new government they might as well have stayed under the old."

Tom Randolph was delighted when he heard of this state of affairs, and
the Rangers themselves were much depressed; but Rodney Gray was sure he
saw a way out of the difficulty when he received a letter from his old
schoolmate and chum, Dick Graham, who lived in Missouri. In that letter
Dick said he belonged to an organization of partisans who were known
as State Guards. Their immediate commander was General Price, but they
were required to take oath to obey Governor Jackson and nobody else. In
plain English this meant that while the State Guards were willing to
look out for the secession movement in Missouri and keep all Yankee
invaders off her soil, they did not intend to go into any other State
unless they felt like it, or permit the Richmond authorities to control
their movements in any way. That was exactly the kind of partisans that
Captain Hubbard and his men wanted to be; and when Rodney Gray said
that if the Governor of their own State would not accept them as a
company, they had a perfect right to offer themselves to the Governor
of another, and that it might be a good plan to ask General Price if he
would take the Rangers just as they were, Captain Hubbard was glad to
act upon the suggestion. So, without delay, a telegram was sent to Dick
Graham's father in St. Louis, and in due time the answer came back:

    Price will accept. Company officers and independent organization to
    remain the same.

To quote from Rodney, this brought the matter squarely home to the
Rangers, who were compelled to decide upon some course of action
without loss of time. A business meeting of the company (and a stormy
one it turned out to be) was held that very day; and although Captain
Hubbard and Rodney carried their point, it was only by a small majority
of votes that the Rangers consented to leave their own State and go
into the service of another.

Believing it to be a good plan to strike while the iron was hot,
Captain Hubbard and one of his officers at once set out for New Orleans
to find a boat that would take the company to Little Rock; but in the
meantime the Governor of Louisiana got wind of the affair through spies
in the telegraph office in Mooreville, and tried to upset the designs
of the Rangers by having them sworn in by General Lacey, who was a
Confederate officer. He would have succeeded too had it not been for
quick-witted Rodney Gray, who cautioned his comrades not to answer to
their names when the roll was called. He did more. When his own name
was called he rode to the front and centre and surprised and angered
the general, a veteran of the Mexican War, who had never learned to
recognize any organizations outside of those mentioned in the Army
Regulations, by stating that the company was an independent one whose
members, while willing and eager to be sworn into the service of their
State, did not desire to enter the service of the Confederate States.
They enlisted as partisans, and partisans they wished to remain.
Upon hearing this the veteran was astounded. He declared, by the
shade of the great and good Washington, that he did not know what the
country was coming to, flung the roll-book on the ground at the feet
of Rodney's horse, and rode away in a huff; and that was the last of
Captain Hubbard's Rangers. They broke ranks then and there and never
held a company meeting afterward.

The next morning Rodney Gray, who was determined to be a partisan and
nothing else, started for Missouri with no companion but his horse,
and eventually succeeded in finding his friend Graham in spite of all
the efforts that were made, both by Union men and rebels, to stop him.
Of course Tom Randolph was happy over the way things had turned out,
and one would think he ought to have been satisfied; but he was not.
Every one of the Rangers who voted against him when he ran for second
lieutenant made an enemy of Tom, and he showed it as often as the
opportunity was presented. He felt particularly spiteful toward Rodney
Gray, whose services as drill-master had been publicly acknowledged by
the gift of an elegant sword from the company, and he began persecuting
him the moment he learned that Rodney had decided to leave the State
and go to Missouri. With the aid of a friend of his, Drummond by name,
who had charge of the telegraph office in Mooreville, he paved the
way for Rodney's arrest in St. Louis by sending a description of him
and his horse to Mr. Randolph's agent, a Yankee cotton factor, who
lived in that city; but this scheme, which might have brought Rodney's
soldiering to an end before it was fairly begun, was frustrated by a
"student" in Drummond's office whose name was Griffin, and who went
all the way to Baton Rouge by night to warn Rodney of the plots that
had been laid against him. Acting on his friendly hints Rodney did not
go to St. Louis as he had intended, but left the boat at Cedar Bluff
Landing in Missouri; and from there, after some exciting experiences
with a squad of emergency men who happened to come in with a prisoner
during the night, he set off across the country to find General Price
and Dick Graham.

He had undertaken something from which the boldest man might have
shrunk without any fear of being accused of timidity; but he came
through with flying colors as we have said, did a soldier's duty side
by side with his friend Dick for fifteen dreary months, was discharged
with him at Tupelo after the evacuation of Corinth, and brought Dick
home with him to his father's house at Mooreville, where they were both
resting at the time this story begins. Even after they were discharged,
and had begun telling each other that their troubles and trials as
soldiers were all over, they met with an adventure that under almost
any other circumstances might have proved a serious thing for them.
Shortly after they left Camp Pinckney on their way home, they ran into
a squad of Union troopers, who covered them with their carbines and
told them to come in out of the rain. They were prisoners for the
first time, but did not remain so any longer than it took their captors
to read their discharges. The boys' hearts overflowed with gratitude
when the good-natured corporal who commanded the squad jerked his thumb
over his shoulder and told them to "git," and Rodney hinted that the
time might come when they could repay his kindness. Strange as it may
appear the time did come, and perhaps we shall see if Rodney remembered
and kept his promise.

Rodney Gray was the only one of Captain Hubbard's Rangers who became
a partisan. The Governor's attempt to have them sworn into the
Confederate service against their will broke them up completely, and so
disgusted some of their number that they declared they never wanted to
see a man with a star on his collar again; but they could not remain
at home while all their friends were making haste to go to the front
for fear that the fun would all be over and the Yankees whipped before
they could get there, and in the end every one of them became what he
repeatedly declared he never would be—a Confederate soldier. Then
it was that Tom Randolph and his father began to bestir themselves.
There was a good deal of pressure brought to bear upon every young man
and boy in the South about that time, and those who would not put on
a gray jacket or do something else to show their zeal for the cause
were coldly treated and sometimes snubbed; but Tom Randolph escaped
all this, and even raised himself higher in the estimation of some of
the Mooreville people by procuring, through his father's influence, a
captain's commission in the State militia, with authority to recruit
a company of mounted men who were to act as Home Guards. Tom knew the
commission was coming and prepared for it by ordering a fine uniform
and horse equipments of the latest and most expensive pattern, not
forgetting an officer's sword which on its scabbard bore an inscription
to the effect that the weapon was presented by his affectionate
relatives, and on the blade the old Spanish legend:

      Draw me not without a cause,
      Nor sheath me with dishonor.

"That is a good motto, my son," said Mr. Randolph, when Tom drew the
weapon and proudly showed it as though his father had never seen it
before, "and I trust you will bear it constantly in mind."

"The cause of the South is a righteous cause, for it is the cause of
freedom the world over," shouted Captain Randolph, pounding the table
with his fist and ignoring the fact that his father held more than four
hundred men, women, and children in bondage at that moment. "To cease
fighting for that cause at the bidding of the tyrant Lincoln would be
dishonor; and the stain upon our record as a nation would be so deep
and black that it _never_ could be wiped out. When once I have drawn
this beautiful sword in defence of the _rights_ of my country, it shall
never be sheathed until every Yankee south of Mason and Dixon's line
has been driven back where he belongs."

The eloquent soldier pounded the table with his fist; everyone in the
room, negro servants and all, applauded; and one of the latter ventured
to say, in tones that of course were not intended to reach the officer's
ears: "Say, you niggahs! What'll you bet dem Yankees don't run fit to
kill derselves when dey see Mass' Tom comin'?" As to Tom, he smiled
complacently and said to himself: "That was a better speech than Rodney
Gray delivered when those Rangers gave him that frog-sticker of his."

Knowing Rodney Gray and Dick Graham as well as you ought to know them
by this time, what do you think they would have thought if they had
been in that room and listened to Tom's words? Before twenty minutes
had passed away he appeared upon the streets of Mooreville in the full
glory of his captain's suit and with his horse duly caparisoned; but
having no company to command he prudently left his sword at home.

It was Tom's wish and his father's to bring the strength of the company
up to a hundred men; but Tom found it harder work to raise a small
fraction of that number than it was to get his commission from the
Governor. Everyone who presented himself was accepted, and that too
without reference to his social standing or his ability to pass the
surgeon; and when all other expedients to promote enlistments had been
tried, Mr. Randolph came to the front, as he had done in the case of
the Rangers, with the offer to arm and equip all recruits who could not
furnish their own outfit. This helped matters along amazingly; and when
fifty men had been enrolled Captain Randolph ordered them to appear in
one of his father's fields on a certain afternoon, armed and equipped
as the law directed, for "company inspection." No one knew just what
the order meant, but the men were all in the field at the appointed
time; and when Tom came to look at them as they sat in their saddles
facing him, after making an awkward and ineffectual effort to fall
in line, he was disgusted with them and with himself too. Until that
moment he had no idea that he had been enrolling so unpromising a body
of men. _Men!_ They looked more like lazy vagabonds, as indeed the most
of them were. Rodney Gray himself could not have made soldiers of them.
The next half hour was an ordeal that Captain Tom never wanted to pass
through again; but we will let him describe it in his own way.

"They were the worst looking fellows I think I ever saw," Tom told his
father and mother when he reached home after the "inspection" was over.
"I brought them together because I wanted to see how they looked, and
how I would look riding at their head; and to tell the honest truth,
if a stranger had come into that field when they first tried to draw
themselves up in line I believe I should have put spurs to my horse and
galloped away rather than be seen in their company."

"Why, what was the matter with them?" inquired his mother, who took as
deep an interest in the organization as Tom himself, and was anxious
that it should win a name for him after the rebuff he had received
at the hands of Captain Hubbard's Rangers. "You knew they were not
gentlemen when you asked them to give in their names. There are few of
that sort left in the country, more's the pity."

"I know that; but I hoped they might have pride enough to make a
half-way respectable appearance at inspection," answered Captain Tom.
"In the first place, no two of them were mounted, armed, or dressed
alike. In the next, they came just as they had been at work in the
field in the forenoon, and I don't believe that half of them had taken
the trouble to wash their faces or comb their hair."

"They looked just as we see them on the streets every day, I suppose,"
said Mr. Randolph.

"Just the same, only worse," replied Tom, who was almost mad enough
to cry every time he thought of it. "Here was a man mounted on the
heaviest kind of a plough horse and carrying a long squirrel rifle
on his shoulder, and beside him was one on a little runt of a mule
and armed with a heavy double-barrel deer-killer. Not a few of them
had chicken or turkey feathers stuck in their slouch hats for plumes,
and some had pipes in their mouths; and when I said that no smoking
would be allowed in the ranks, they did not hesitate to tell me that
I need not think I could boss them around as Rodney Gray had bossed
the Rangers while he was acting as their drill-master, for that was
something they would not submit to."

"Why the—the impudence!" exclaimed Mrs. Randolph; while her husband
looked down at the floor and told himself that that was about what
might have been expected of such men as he and Tom had been able to
bring into the Home Guards.

"That's the kind of soldiers they are," continued Captain Tom. "They
know I haven't the power to enforce my commands, and so they intend to
do pretty near as they please. The only reason they joined was because
they wanted an excuse for keeping out of the army, and get the horses
and weapons that were promised them."

"And food," added Mrs. Randolph.

"Food!" exclaimed her husband. "I didn't promise them any food except
in case they were ordered to some other part of the State, and then I
said I would look out for the families of those who were too poor to
make provision for them."

"Well, a rough looking fellow who said he was a member of the company
came to the kitchen yesterday and asked for some bacon on the strength
of that promise, and I gave it to him," said Mrs. Randolph.

"I'll bet he played a game on you," said Captain Tom.

"That's a pretty state of affairs!" exclaimed the father, profoundly
astonished. "Don't give another mouthful to him or anybody else on the
strength of promises I made to that company. As long as they stay about
here they will earn their own food or go hungry."

"That's the kind of soldiers they are," repeated Tom. "They enlisted
because they are afraid to go into the army and too lazy to work, and
not because they care a picayune for the Confederacy. And after I had
brought them in line as well as I could, and told one man to take his
pants out of his boots and be sure that those boots were blacked the
next time he came out to inspection, and ordered another to put his hat
on straight and quit carrying his gun flat on his shoulder as he would
if he were hog hunting in the woods, they made up their minds that they
would elect officers. When I told them that I hadn't brought them
together for any such purpose, and that we would postpone the matter
until the company had been brought up to its full strength, they didn't
pay the least attention to me."

"It's a rabble—a mob and nothing else," cried Mrs. Randolph, who
looked as angry as her son felt. "It is the one wish of my heart to see
you take a proud position among the noble defenders of your country,
but you will never have anything more to do with those ruffians with my
consent. Whom did they choose for officers?"

Tom mentioned the names of two of the meanest men in the country for
miles around, and his angry mother continued:

"A common overseer and an acknowledged chicken and hog thief! My son,
you must not appear again in the company of those men."

"I don't intend to," replied Tom, jumping to his feet and striding up
and down the room. "Although I despise every man in Captain Hubbard's
company, and have ever since they defeated me for the second lieutenancy,
I must acknowledge that they were a fine looking body of men, and I
somehow got it into my head that my Home Guards would look and act just
like them; but they don't, and I am so disappointed that I don't see how
I can ever get over it. I'll hold fast to my commission and rank, but
I'll have nothing more to do with that company of Home Guards."

Slowly and sadly Captain Tom ascended to his room, where he took off
his fine uniform and arrayed himself in the citizen's suit he had
vowed never to put on again until he had helped the South gain her
independence. Then he put his handsome sword into its cloth case, stood
it up in the darkest corner of his closet, and closed the door. He felt
like a monarch who had lost his crown.



CHAPTER II.

CAPTAIN TOM SMELLS POWDER.


For a long time Captain Randolph remained firm in his resolution to
have nothing more to do with the Home Guards. Although he did not
formally throw up his command of the company he kept away from it
as much as he could, and never ordered it to appear for drills and
inspections; but by so doing he did not by any means escape being
taken to task for the lawless acts of which his men were guilty. The
company well deserved the name that Mrs. Randolph had applied to it,
and one could not reasonably expect that they would conduct themselves
as the high-toned Mooreville Rangers would have done under the same
circumstances. It had never occurred to them to inquire what their
duties would be when they were sworn into the service of the State, and
it is extremely doubtful if their captain could have enlightened them
on that point; but in their ignorance they took it for granted that
they had been given liberty to do as they pleased, and acting under the
leadership of their lieutenants, Lambert, the overseer, and Moseley,
the chicken and hog thief, they very soon made themselves known to and
feared and hated by the citizens for miles around. Tom heard of their
exploits now and then, and although he stamped his feet and shook
his clenched hands in the air, he did nothing to show his authority.
At last things came to such a pass that Captain Tom, to quote from
Rodney's friend Griffin, who was closely watching the movements of the
Home Guards, "had to fish or cut bait."

Bright and early one morning a couple of angry planters galloped
furiously into Mr. Randolph's front yard, threw themselves from their
horses, leaving the animals to tramp down the flower beds or stand
still as they pleased, entered the house without knocking, and made
their way through the hall into the dining room, where the family sat
at breakfast. Without giving anybody time to express surprise at their
abrupt entrance or to inquire into the nature of their business, they
stalked around the table to the chair in which Tom was sitting and
shook their fists in his face pretty close to his nose.

"Look-a-here, young feller," said the one whose rage would permit
him to speak first, "what do you mean by sending them vagabonds of
yourn, them Home Guards, into gentlemen's houses to turn things up
topsy-turvy?"

The men looked so dangerous that Captain Tom turned white with alarm,
but could not utter a word. He understood the charge and knew he was
innocent, but he could not say so.

"When that company of yourn was first got together you took pains to
spread it around that you were going to use them to clean out the Union
men," the planter almost shouted. "That was all right and I didn't have
a word to say against it, for I thought they oughter be driven out; but
why don't you confine yourselves to searching the houses of Union men,
and let good and loyal Confederates like me and my neighbor alone? We
are as strong for the South and as ready to fight for her as you are;
and I tell you once for all——"

By this time Tom's father and mother had recovered themselves in some
measure, but Tom himself was still so frightened that he could not
speak. The former arose and placed chairs for the visitors, and Mrs.
Randolph told the girl to lay plates for them, adding that if they
would sit down and tell their story while drinking a cup of coffee, she
was sure her son could clear himself of the serious accusations they
had brought against him. If their houses had been raided by the Home
Guards they might rest assured that a Randolph was in no way to blame
for it. This calmed the storm and made the visitors look as though they
felt a little ashamed of themselves; but they sat down and told their
story.

"It seems that that man Lambert, who always was too lazy and trifling
to earn an honest living, has give up his situation as overseer on Miss
Randall's place, and took to raiding through the country on his own
hook," said the planter who had thus far done all the talking. "We
have heard of him a time or two, but so long as he stole from Union men
and pestered them it was all right; but last night he jumped down on me
and Boswell, and that is a little more than we can stand."

"I don't see what made him do that," exclaimed Tom, who had by this
time found his tongue. "He knows you are good Confederates."

"Of course he knows it, and when we reminded him of it he didn't try
to deny it; but he allowed we had guns in the house, and that them
dangerous things couldn't be permitted to stay in the country except in
the hands of soldiers. So he came to our houses and searched them; and
as he had about a dozen men in his gang we couldn't help ourselves."

"As sure as I live I never gave him orders to search anybody's
premises," declared Tom.

"I don't reckon you ever gave him much orders of any sort," replied the
planter, with a look on his face which showed that he knew about how
much authority Tom had over the Home Guards.

"And bear this in mind," added his companion: "when we found that we
couldn't say or do anything to stop them, and that they were dead set
on having the guns, we offered to bring 'em out ruther than have them
dirty vagabonds rummaging over our things; but that didn't by no means
suit Lambert. Him and his men must go in themselves so as to be sure of
getting everything in the shape of weapons there was. And when they got
into my house where do you suppose was the first place they went to?"
added Boswell, with suppressed fury.

"I have not the slightest idea," replied Mrs. Randolph, when the man
stopped and looked around as if he expected an answer.

"To the bed," said Tom, who had heard that it was a good plan for
raiders to look between mattresses for things they wanted to find.

"No, they didn't. They went straight to my wife's bureau," said Boswell
fiercely. "That was a pretty place to look for guns, wasn't it, now?"

Tom was thunderstruck. He knew that the Home Guards had been denounced
as robbers because they had ransacked the dwellings and smoke-houses
of Union men, and had thought nothing of it, for Union men had no
rights, and were not in the least deserving of sympathy; but this was a
different matter altogether. It would never do to let such a story as
that get to the ears of the Governor.

"Perhaps they looked into the bureau for revolvers," he managed to say
at length.

"No, they didn't. They looked for rings and breastpins and bracelets
and the like; but they didn't find none, for my wife was sharp enough
to put the whole business into her pocket as soon as she see that they
were set on coming into the house. All the same, they got a rifle that
cost me $125 in gold in New Orleans in good times, and a shot gun that
is worth almost twice as much. And I'll tell you what's a fact, Tom
Randolph: I want them guns back. They're mine, and if I don't get 'em
I'll raise a fuss."

"And while you are getting them you might as well tell Lambert to hand
over the two guns he stole from me," said the other visitor, "and
that if he ever pokes his long nose inside my door again I'll send the
contents of one of 'em into it. I say nothing about the hams they took
from my smoke house, but they mustn't try to take any more. I reckon me
and Boswell were a little too fast in accusing you of sending Lambert
to search our houses, but you being the captain, you know, why—really
you had oughter make them fellers go a little slower. What do you think
of the situation anyhow, Mr. Randolph? And how long will it be before
we shall have Washington?"

Mr. Randolph and his wife were glad to have the conversation turned
into another channel, and so was Captain Tom, who did not want to hear
any more about Lieutenant Lambert and his exploits. He was ill at ease
as long as the visitors remained; but they went away as soon as they
had drunk their coffee, and seemed as glad to go as the Randolphs were
to have them.

Tom did not eat a hearty breakfast that morning, for the fear that
the Governor might get wind of Lambert's latest raid and revoke his
commission, added to the difficulties he saw in his way of complying
with the demands his late visitors had made upon him, took away his
appetite. He must restore those guns to their owners—there were no
two ways about that; but how should he go to work to get them? His
first thought was to present himself before Lambert in full uniform
and, by virtue of the authority conferred upon him by his captain's
commission, which stated in plain language that he was to be obeyed
by all persons under him, demand the return of the stolen property
forthwith. That was the way any other captain would have gone about it,
Tom thought; but he was afraid that bluster might not prove successful
in his case. He had reason to fear (and it was one of the heaviest
trials he was called upon to bear) that he did not stand as high in the
estimation of some of his men as he did in his mother's; that he had on
one or two occasions been compared to a wagon's fifth wheel in point
of usefulness, and it would be just like the insubordinate Lambert to
refuse point blank to obey his orders. That would be unfortunate, for
it would show to the world, and perhaps to the Governor, that Tom was
not the real captain of the Home Guards. After looking at the matter
from all sides he made up his mind that conciliation would be his best
policy, and when he rode away to seek an interview with his lieutenant
he wore citizen's clothes and left his sword behind. He found Lambert
at his quarters on the Randall plantation, where he continued to live,
although he had turned the work over to the field hands and seldom took
the trouble to see how it was going on, and he was just getting ready
to mount the horse that had been brought to his door.

"Hallo, lieutenant!" began Tom, with more familiarity and
good-fellowship than he had ever before exhibited in addressing the man.

"Morning, cap'n," replied the overseer, who might have responded to
the salutation in a very different way if Tom had not been respectful
enough to put a handle to his name. "Want to see me?"

"I came over on purpose to have a friendly talk with you," said Tom.
"Look here, old fellow; you will play smash if you don't stop raiding
the premises of such men as Boswell and Wallace. What induced you to do
it?"

"Aint I got a right to look for we'pons?" demanded Lambert.

"You have authority from me," answered Tom, with some emphasis on the
two last words, "to search the houses of Union men, but you have no
right to enter the dwellings of Confederates."

"Look-a-here, cap'n. I knowed that them two men had guns in hiding."

"But you didn't expect to find them in bureau drawers, did you?"

"Eh?" exclaimed the overseer. He looked somewhat abashed for a moment
and then continued: "When I search a house I search it. I look into
every hole and corner in it."

"That is perfectly right when you search houses belonging to the
enemies of your country; but it is all wrong when you enter the houses
of our friends. Such work will turn them against us—make enemies
of them. I saw Boswell and Wallace this morning and they are mad as
hornets. They want their guns back."

"Well, the next time you see 'em just ask if they'll have 'em now or
wait till they get 'em. I want them guns myself to keep the Yankees
from getting 'em."

"The Yankees!" said Tom contemptuously. "You don't think they will ever
get this far South, do you?"

"They mout. Didn't you say yourself that they was liable to come down
from Cairo or up from New Orleans, and that we'd oughter have a company
of Home Guards here to stop 'em?"

"I said there was a bare possibility that they might do so, and that
it would be the part of wisdom to prepare for an emergency," answered
Captain Tom, who well remembered that he had used stronger language
than that while urging Lambert to send in his name. "But I want those
guns and must have them at once. You haven't any commission from the
Governor yet, and I——"

When Tom said this he stopped abruptly and gave such a start that his
lieutenant looked up at him in surprise.

"What's the matter, cap'n?" said he. "You what?"

"You haven't received your commission from the Governor yet," repeated
Tom slowly and emphatically. "And when I——"

"Have I got to have a paper like yourn?" exclaimed Lambert, looking
astonished and interested. "That's news to me."

"Yes. And it can come to you only through my recommendation. I must
certify that you were legally elected to the office you hold, and
that was the reason I did not want you men to go through the farce
of holding an election on horseback on the day I ordered you out for
inspection," replied Tom; but the truth was he had never thought of it
until that moment. It was a bright idea that suddenly flitted through
his mind, and he wondered why it had been so long in coming to him.

"Well, by gum!" was all the disgusted Lambert could say in reply.

"Your papers, if you get them, will be something like mine, only
different, you know, for a captain outranks a lieutenant by a large
majority," continued Tom, improving to the utmost the advantage he had
so unexpectedly gained. "You have no authority to make out warrants,
but I have; and our non-coms., if we had any, would have to look to me
for them."

This was all Greek to the overseer, who had taken no pains to post
himself on military matters, but he did not ask Tom to explain, for he
was anxious to hear more about the commission he ought to have, but had
not yet received.

"Well, go on," said he impatiently. "And when you what?"

"And when I make my first report to the Governor or his
adjutant-general, and ask him about your commission and Moseley's, I
want to be able to say that you are in every way satisfactory to me
as well as to the people hereabouts, and that I am sure you will make
brave and obedient officers. But you can see for yourself that I can't
say that if you keep on bothering good and loyal Confederates like
Wallace and Boswell. I think you had better give me those guns."

"I aint got but one," replied Lambert, who seemed to have lost the
independent and swaggering air he had assumed at the beginning of the
interview, "and I'll go right in and bring it out."

"Where are the others?" demanded Captain Tom.

"Well, Moseley's got one, Smith's got another, and where t'other one
has went I disremember just at this minute."

"You distributed the spoils among you, it seems."

"Yes, kinder; so't the Yankees couldn't easy find them."

"Then you must ride around and gather them up; and as I have nothing
particular to do this morning I will go with you. I'd rather be a king
among hogs than a hog among kings any day," said Tom to himself, as
his lieutenant turned about and went into his house, "but I confess
I little thought I should get so low down as to command a lot of
brigands. That idea about the commissions makes me the biggest toad in
the puddle from this time on. I'll hold them up as prospective rewards
for good behavior and prompt obedience of orders; but Lambert and
Moseley shall never have commissions on my recommendation, I bet you."

The Home Guards had deliberately stolen these four valuable guns, and
Tom Randolph knew it as soon as he found how they had been scattered
about. The plea that if permitted to remain in possession of their
owners they might be captured by the Yankees, who would use them to
kill Confederates, was Lambert's excuse for one of the worst outrages
that had ever been perpetrated in that part of Louisiana; but it was
by no means the last. Three-fourths of all the Home Guards in the
South were like Captain Tom's men, and the worst that can be said of
them is that they acted as guards at Andersonville, Libby, Millen, and
Salisbury. It was not the Confederate soldiers who served at the front,
but the Home Guards, who starved the boys in blue to death in those
prison pens, and hunted them with bloodhounds when they escaped.

The upshot of the whole matter was that Tom got the guns, which in
due time were restored to their lawful owners, and plumed himself on
having firmly established his authority over his men. Well, they did
behave a little better during the daytime and in that settlement where
they were so well known, but they took to riding around of nights,
and making "visits of ceremony" to isolated farmhouses in which they
had reason to suppose that they would find something worth stealing.
But riding was anything but easy work, and the novelty of frightening
women and children and browbeating unarmed men wore off after a while;
and when they had secured bacon and meal enough to last them for a few
weeks, the Home Guards subsided and were seldom heard of again until
the news of the glorious victory at Bull Run raised the war spirit
of the Southern people to the old fever heat. Then they came to the
surface again, and persecuted Union people in and around Mooreville
so fiercely that some of them were compelled to flee for their lives,
Captain Randolph being in command this time. From his friend Drummond,
the telegraph operator, he secured a list of all suspected persons
in the neighborhood, and with this to aid him Tom succeeded in doing
effective work for the cause of Southern independence. But it was too
much like labor to be kept up for any length of time; there was not
very much glory in it anyway the better class of Secessionists in the
community became strongly opposed to it, and so the Home Guards dropped
out of sight once more, not to appear again until Farragut captured New
Orleans and sent some of his vessels up the river to effect a junction
with Flag-Officer Davis at Vicksburg. When the people of Mooreville
heard of it they were very indignant, and some of them declared that
they would never submit to have their country overrun in that way—they
would die first; and to show how very much in earnest they were they
stopped all work, shut up their houses, and ran about the streets in
the greatest excitement. When the ship of war _Iroquois_ came up with
Commander Palmer on board and demanded the surrender of Baton Rouge,
the mayor of that insignificant little town "indulged in the same
mock-heroic nonsense that the mayor and council of New Orleans had been
indulging in the week before." He declared that the city would not
be surrendered to any power on earth, and that if the Federals took
possession of it they would do it without the consent and against the
wishes of the peaceable inhabitants.

"It was all done for effect, and that man will be one of the last in
the Confederacy to shoulder a musket," said Rodney Gray when he heard
of it; but being a soldier he applauded the action of Captain Palmer,
who, without any fuss or parade, promptly took possession of the
barracks, arsenal, and other property of the United States. He hoisted
the flag of the Union over the arsenal too, and told the boastful mayor
in pretty plain language that he would let it stay there if he did not
want to get himself and his town into trouble.

"All honor to the brave citizens of New Orleans. They have shown me how
I ought to act in this emergency," said Captain Randolph on the morning
the startling news came that some of the victorious Union fleet had
steamed up the river. He posted for his room the moment he heard of
it, and when he came down he was dressed in his uniform and wore his
glittering sword by his side.

"Now take those things off and don't make a fool of yourself," said
Mr. Randolph, who had told his wife over and over again that from the
bottom of his heart he wished he had never had anything to do with the
Home Guards.

"Don't be rash, my dear," said his mother in tones more befitting the
occasion. "What are you going to do?"

"I shall assemble my company and place myself in a strong position
between here and Baton Rouge, and stand ready to resist the enemy's
advance upon Mooreville," replied Tom. "The Federal General Butler has
more than 100,000 men, and can easily spare some of them long enough to
make our capital a heap of ashes; but the Governor shall hear that I
harassed them while they were doing it, as our own Marion and his bold
men used to harass the Redcoats."

Those who were best acquainted with Tom Randolph knew that he would
not have gone one step toward Baton Rouge if he had not had the best
of reasons for believing that there were no troops at hand to take
possession of the city after the war ships had captured it; but
although Tom hinted as much to the members of his company whom he
tried to rally to the defence of their hearth-stones, he could not
induce more than a handful of them to turn out. It did not require
very much courage to rob Union men who had previously been deprived of
their weapons, but facing blue-jackets who were likely to have loaded
muskets in their hands was a more serious matter. The excuses the Home
Guards made for refusing to follow their captain were of the flimsiest
kind; but, all the same, they wouldn't go, and Tom finally rode away
with only a baker's dozen of men at his heels. They arrived within
sight of the spires of the city on the same day that Captain Palmer's
sailors hoisted the Union flag over the arsenal, and might perhaps have
witnessed the ceremony if they had gone a mile or two farther down the
road; but Captain Tom could not uncover Mooreville even for the sake of
saving the capital of his State. He did not even venture near enough
to the Mississippi to see the _Iroquois'_ topmasts; but he went closer
to the enemy than the cowards who remained at home, and that was
something to be proud of.

Captain Tom slept in a planter's house that night, while his men bunked
in the stables and corn cribs and under the trees in the yard, and the
next morning made a wide detour to the river above the city with no
other object in view than to be able to say, when he went home, that he
had been there. If he had known what he was going to see and experience
when he reached the river it isn't likely that he would have gone in
that direction at all; for he halted his men behind the levee just in
time to see a monster war vessel steaming leisurely up the swift, muddy
current of the Mississippi. She was the blackest, ugliest looking thing
that Tom's eyes had ever rested on, and the queerest sensations came
over him as he gazed at her. It was not a cold day, but Tom shivered
violently, and tasted something in his mouth that reminded him of salt.

"By gum! There's one of them things now. Let's try a whack at her. What
do you say, boys?"

Tom had been on the point of giving the signal for retreat, or trying
to give it, but this astounding and reckless proposition staggered him
so that he could not open his mouth. The man who made it showed that
he was in earnest by swinging himself from his horse and advancing on
all fours toward the levee, dragging his rifle along the ground at his
side. In less time than it takes to tell it he and all his companions
were lying prone behind the levee, using it as a breastwork, and
Captain Tom sat in his saddle looking on like one in a dream. When
they were all in position one of the Home Guards set up a warwhoop, a
straggling fire ran along the top of the levee and bullets and buckshot
went whistling toward the vessel. There were several men on her deck
and around the wheel-house, and although Tom did not see any of them
fall he did see that they were badly frightened, for they ran in all
directions, and an instant later there was not one of them to be seen.
The Home Guards yelled triumphantly and turned on their backs behind
their breastwork to reload their guns. Then Tom managed to find his
voice; but it sounded so strangely that he hardly knew whether it
belonged to him or not.

"That's the way to make the Yankees hunt their holes," he said, in
trembling tones. "Give it to them again! Cut their old tub to pieces,
my brave——"

Just then a wide, dark opening appeared in the side of the vessel
nearest them, a black object came slowly out, a thundering concussion
rent the air, and a thirty-two pound shell came at them. It shrieked
fearfully as it flew over the levee above their heads, and made such a
horrid din when it exploded in the thick woods behind them, scattering
iron and branches about and cutting down twigs and leaves in a perfect
shower, that for a single instant the Home Guards were motionless with
astonishment and terror. They had not hurt the gunboat at all, but
they had made her captain angry, and the fear that he might resent the
insult to his flag by firing more shells at them sent the Home Guards
to their saddles in hot haste; and with Captain Tom, who rode the
swiftest horse, far in the lead, they struck out for home at a better
pace than they had ever travelled before. And they never drew rein
until they had left the dangerous neighborhood miles behind.

"It was the narrowest escape from an ambuscade I ever had in my life,"
said Captain Tom to the first man he met when he rode into Mooreville
that night, "and if it hadn't been for my promptness in getting out of
there I shouldn't have had a man left. We'd have been cut to pieces or
captured, the last one of us. We didn't see any enemy except the ship
we fired at, but a minute or so after she opened on us a battery of
flying artillery, that had all the while been concealed in the timber
in our rear, cut loose on us with all its guns, and it's a miracle that
one of us escaped to tell the story of the battle."

"But my partner came from Baton Rouge to-day," said the man doubtfully,
"and he declares that there are no Yankee troops in the country this
side of New Orleans. So where did that battery come from?"

"Don't you believe any such stuff," replied Tom indignantly. "I tell
you the woods are full of them, and they are liable to come to
Mooreville between now and sunrise."

If no one else believed his story Tom believed it himself, and the
consequence was he slept in his chair that night. But for some reason
the Yankees did not appear as he had predicted, and they might have
postponed their coming indefinitely had it not been for the lawless
acts of Captain Tom's own men.



CHAPTER III.

THE CONSCRIPT'S FRIEND.


Tom Randolph would have been very angry indeed if anyone had told
him that the noise that thirty-two pound shell made when it exploded
in the woods, and led him and his men to believe that there was a
Union battery concealed there, had frightened all the war spirit out
of him, but it is a fact that after his experience with the gunboat
he did not show the least desire to take the field again at the head
of his company. Everybody knew that there were no Federal troops in
Baton Rouge, but there were war vessels in the Mississippi holding
the city under their guns, and their presence had a depressing effect
upon a good many red-hot rebels besides Tom Randolph. More than that,
General Butler had assumed command at New Orleans; and the energetic
and effective way in which he dealt with treason there opened the
eyes of the Mooreville people to the fact that there might be a day
of settlement coming for them also, and that it would be well if they
could have a tolerably clean record to show when the invading army
moved up to take possession of Baton Rouge.

This was the way Mr. Randolph and some of his neighbors looked at the
situation; and acting upon the hints they dropped in his presence, Tom
concealed his uniform and sword in the garret, where he thought no one
would be likely to look for them. He was getting tired of war anyway,
he said, and wished the past could be blotted out and things be as they
were before South Carolina, by her senseless act of secession, brought
so much trouble upon him and his friends. He was not as disgusted and
angry as a good Confederate ought to have been when he heard a man from
Baton Rouge affirm that after all the Yankees were not such a bad sort
when one became acquainted with them, and that some of the towns-people
were not ashamed to confess to a friendly feeling for the crews of the
gunboats that were anchored in front of the city. The blue-jackets
always acted like gentlemen when they came ashore, and, true to their
instincts of traffic, had established a lively little trade with the
citizens. They purchased everything the latter had to sell in the way
of garden-truck, milk, butter, and eggs, and paid for all they got in
good money; or, what was better, in coffee, tea (store tea too, and not
sassafras), wheat flour, and salt. It is true that the salt was not as
fine nor as clean as some they had seen, for it had been taken from the
brine of the beef and pork barrels with which the store-rooms of the
gunboats were abundantly supplied; but it was acceptable to people who
had boiled down the dirt floors of their smoke-houses in order to get
the salt that had trickled off the hams and sides of bacon which had
been cured there in better times. The gunboat officers also sent their
soiled linen ashore to be washed, so that not a day passed during which
there was not more or less communication with the fleet.

This was a pleasant state of affairs all around, especially to the
victorious blue-jackets, who had grown tired of fighting and wanted all
the shore liberty they could get, and it might have continued until
the Confederate General Breckenridge made his unsuccessful attempt to
regain control of the Mississippi above New Orleans had it not been for
two things: the Confederate Conscription Act, and the determination on
the part of the Home Guards to evade it. The passage of that act was
like a destructive thunder-bolt from a clear sky, and there were those
in Mooreville who refused to believe that their chosen rulers would be
guilty of such perfidy; but the news had hardly been received before
the enrolling officer put in his appearance, thus proving the truth of
what we have already said—that the Richmond Government developed into
a despotism so suddenly that it was plain the machinery for it had been
prepared long before.

The enrolling officer, Captain Roach, was a dapper little fellow who
did not look as though he had seen much service, and, indeed, he hadn't
seen a day of it; for when he received his commission and orders from
the Governor he was a practising lawyer in a small inland town. Beyond
the very slight knowledge which he had been able to gain from his
printed instructions, he knew nothing of his duties or of soldiering;
but his common-sense taught him that as Tom Randolph's commission was
older than his own, military etiquette required that he should call
upon Tom without any unnecessary delay—not to report to him, for
Tom was not in the Confederate service or in any way connected with
the conscription business, but merely to show him proper respect. He
reached Mooreville in the morning, spent the rest of the day in opening
an office and spreading abroad the news of his arrival, so that those
whose duty it was to be conscripted would have no trouble in finding
him, and the next morning mounted his horse and set out to find Captain
Randolph. The first man he met on the road was Tom's first lieutenant.
Captain Roach did not know him, but he saw that Lambert was anxious to
ride on without speaking, and perhaps that was the reason he drew rein
and accosted him.

"Good-morning," said the captain pleasantly. "You know I have opened an
office in Kimberly's store, I suppose?"

"Say! What made you ask me that question for?" demanded Lambert, who
was instantly on his guard.

"Because I take you to be over eighteen and under thirty-five, and
would like to have you drop around and see me," was the reply.

"Well, I aint a-going to do it; and that settles it. See?"

"Really I _don't_ see how you can get out of it."

"Don't, hey? Well, I do. I aint Confedrit. I'm State Rights."

"Are you not aware that there are no State Rights people any more?"
asked the captain. "The conscription act that has just been passed
withdraws all non-exempt citizens between the ages of eighteen and
thirty-five from State control, and places them absolutely at the
disposal of the President during the war."

"But I aint agreeing to no such 'rangement, don't you know?" exclaimed
Lambert, who did not like to see the enrolling officer so quiet and
confident, for it looked as though he knew what he was talking about.
"That was just what Lincoln wanted to do when he called on our Gov'nor
for soldiers to whop South Car'liny; but our Gov'nor he said he wasn't
that kind of a feller, and his men shouldn't go out of the State. Why
don't he stick to his word and say the same to Jeff Davis?"

"My friend, you don't understand the situation at all——" began the
captain.

"Better'n you do, by a long sight," interrupted Lambert. "I aint
agreeing to no such bargain, I tell you. Them as wants to go to Virginy
to light for the 'Federacy can go for all me; but I don't want to go,
and, by gum! I won't. And furder, I'm a Home Guard."

"In your case that doesn't matter. The government would be quite
willing to stretch a point in favor of home organizations that have
proved themselves to be worth something, but you Mooreville fellows
haven't done the first thing for the cause. You have turned some of our
friends against us, but where are the Yankees you have shot, and how
many prisoners have you taken?"

"Look here, by gum!" exclaimed the lieutenant.

"I have heard all about you, and the Governor says in the letter he
sent with my commission that the best thing I can do is to send you to
a camp of instruction," continued the captain. "You are no good here,
for you don't do anything."

"Dog-gone my pictur'! What's the reason we aint been doing something
for the cause right along?" shouted Lambert, his red face showing that
he was getting angry. "We've been the means of keeping the Union men
in these parts from rising up and taking the country for the Yankees,
and more'n that—we licked a gunboat in the river. Who told you we aint
done nothing? It must be some enemy of ourn who aint got the spirit to
jine in with us, and if I can find out who he is I'll make him sorry
for it, I bet you. But you can't conscript me, I tell you. I'm an
officer appointed by the Gov'nor."

"Ah! That does make a difference, perhaps."

"Well, I reckon it does," said Lambert, with a satisfied smile.

"Do you happen to have your commission with you? Or will you tell me
when I can see it?"

This was what Lambert himself would have called a "side-winder," and
his first thought was to hunt up Tom Randolph, and stand over him with
his riding-whip until he had seen him write to the Governor asking for
that long delayed commission. Tom had often promised to do it, but he
never had, and now Lambert was likely to see trouble on account of his
negligence.

"I am first leftenant of our company; my commission is all right, and
that settles that point," said he at length. "If the Yankee General
Butler brings his army from New Orleans to capture Mooreville he will
run against a snag, for he will find me and my men here to stop him. We
jined to guard our homes. That's why they call us Home Guards, and that
settles the other point you was speaking of. We aint got no pris'ners
to show, kase there aint no Yankees come nigh us; but we are just as
much use here as we would be up there in Virginy."

"We need every man we can get," replied Captain Roach. "Those who do
not come of their own free will must expect to be taken by force,
unless they can show that they are of use at home. You Mooreville Home
Guards have had the finest chance in the world to make a name for
yourselves. Why didn't you drive those gunboats away from Baton Rouge
long ago?"

"Shucks!" exclaimed Lambert. "Why, man alive, they've got cannons on
'em."

"What of it? Couldn't you hide behind the levee, where you would be
safe, and pick off every sailor who showed his head above decks?
Couldn't you keep those small boats from coming ashore and going back
loaded down with provisions? You have been giving aid and comfort to
the enemy by permitting such things, and that's contrary to law. But I
must ride along, for I am on my way to visit Captain Randolph. I am not
sure that you are exempt simply because you are an officer in the State
militia, but will tell you the next time we meet."

"You needn't mind looking it up, for I aint going, I tell you. But I'll
tell you one thing, and that aint two: if you take me you will have to
take Tom Randolph likewise. I'll raise a fuss if you don't."

The two separated, and the enrolling officer kept on his way to the
home of Captain Randolph, who had somehow heard that he might look for
a distinguished visitor on this particular morning, and was thrown into
a state of great excitement by the unwelcome news. The presence of the
enrolling officer in town was all the evidence Tom needed to prove
that there was no immediate danger of an invasion by the Federals, so
he brought his uniform from its hiding place in the garret; and when
he had arrayed himself in it, and leaned his sword in one corner of
the gallery to show that he was prepared to answer when duty called,
he was ready for the visit—that is, as ready as he ever would be, for
he would not have seen Captain Roach at all if he could have thought
of any way to avoid it. Rumor said that the captain looked as though
he might have come out of some lady's bandbox, but all the same Tom
supposed him to be a Confederate veteran who had seen service on many
a hardly contested field, and who would overawe him with his profound
knowledge of military matters. Tom wished now that he had made a little
better fight with that gunboat, or that he had slipped into Baton Rouge
some dark night with a few picked men and pulled down the flag that the
Yankee sailors had hoisted over the arsenal.

"Oh, what honors I might have gained for myself if I had only thought
of these things before," he said to his mother. He always went to her
with his troubles now, or when he stood in need of encouragement and
advice, his father having told him somewhat sharply that he had washed
his hands of the Home Guards and never wanted to hear of them again as
long as he lived. "But that is the way it is with me. My wit comes too
slow to be of any use."

"I am very glad that you did not think of them before, you reckless
boy," replied Mrs. Randolph. "Your record is better than I wish it was,
for I am afraid it will take you into the army. What would you do if
this enrolling officer should decide to take the company just as it
stands, and swear you into the Confederate service?"

"Cæsar's ghost!" cried Captain Tom, in great alarm. "If my record as a
loyal soldier leads him to do that, I shall be sorry I ever put on this
uniform. What could I do?"

"Could you not follow the same course that Rodney Gray pursued, when
General Lacey came up from New Orleans to swear the Mooreville Rangers
into the Confederate Army?" inquired Mrs. Randolph.

"Mother, if you were a man you would be a general yourself," exclaimed
Tom, his fears vanishing on the instant. "If a first duty sergeant can
back down a major-general, I reckon a captain in the State militia can
do the same for a Confederate captain."

He spoke boldly enough, but when one of the house servants came in to
tell him that there was a strange soldier riding into the yard he felt
his courage oozing out at the ends of his fingers, and he would hardly
have dared to go to the door to meet his visitor if his mother had not
assured him that she would go also, and that she would remain close at
his side to support him during the dreaded interview.

The enrolling officer did not look like a very stern soldier, she
told herself, when she saw him get off his horse and shake hands with
Tom, who had hastened down the steps to meet him; but then he was
backed up by the whole tremendous power of the Confederate Government,
and it was to her interest and Tom's to make a friend of him if she
could. Captain Roach was equally anxious to secure Tom's assistance
in the disagreeable and perhaps dangerous work he had to do, and the
consequence was it was no trouble at all for them to get acquainted,
or to come to an understanding with one another. After they had spent
a few minutes in talking over the situation, and the enrolling officer
had shown his written instructions, as well as a copy of the law by
which he was supposed to be governed, the latter said:

"What surprises me very much is that there is not the first word said
about exemptions. Whether it was an oversight or not the fact remains
that, according to this law, every man between the specified ages must
be conscripted."

"And that is perfectly right," said Captain Tom, making a hurried
mental list of certain persons in the neighborhood whom he would be
glad to see go first of all. "Everybody except our Home Guards."

"No, sir," said Captain Roach in tones so decided that Tom's under jaw
began to drop down. "The law excepts nobody; but wait a minute. After
the regiments and companies that have gone to the front from this State
are filled up, the rest of the conscripts will remain at home as a
reserve to be drawn upon at intervals of not less than three months, so
that our organizations in the field can be kept always full. Now, why
can't you help me so as to keep your company of Home Guards together as
long as possible? If we work it right perhaps you will not be called
upon at all."

"That's the idea!" exclaimed Tom, greatly relieved, while his mother
smiled her approval of the suggestion, and told Captain Roach on the
spot that she expected him to stay to dinner, and as long as he
remained in that part of the country to make himself as free in her
house as he would in his own. When she ceased speaking Tom continued:
"I am like Nathan Hale, who, when the British were about to hang him as
a spy, said he was sorry he had but one life to give to his country;
but for all that I should like to stay here until I have seen some of
our neighbors who have had so much to say against the South sent to the
front. But how shall I work it to keep my company together?"

"By doing as you have suggested," replied the captain. "By first
sending away those who ought to be made to fight for the South, since
they have had so much to say against her and her cause. Perhaps by the
time they have been killed off our independence will be acknowledged;
and then we shall not need any more soldiers."

"That's the idea!" said Tom again. "But how can the Home Guards help
you?"

"By serving in place of the troops that I am authorized to call on
for assistance," answered Captain Roach. "There will be a camp of
instruction established somewhere in the vicinity very shortly, and it
will be my duty to forward my conscripts to that camp as fast as I can
get them together. Of course they will not go willingly——"

"I understand," interrupted Captain Tom. "You want me to send some of
my men with them as guards."

"Exactly. It will be a feather in your cap as well as in mine if we can
attend to the business without calling upon the government for aid. I
don't want to do that if I can avoid it, for every man we can raise is
needed at the front to resist McClellan's advance upon Richmond. We
must be alive, for there's going to be hot work up there."

"I am with you; and I don't know of anything that would suit the Home
Guards better," replied Tom, glad of the opportunity to gain a little
cheap notoriety without putting himself in danger; and when Captain
Roach rode away from the house after dinner Tom accompanied him to his
office in Kimberly's store, and assisted in obtaining some poll-books
from which he could make out a list of the unhappy men who were
subject to military duty under the terms of the Conscription Act.

Of course there were a goodly number of young fellows in the settlement
between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one whose names did not appear
on the poll-books, for they were not voters; but Tom had them in his
mind, and with his mother's aid and Lambert's he succeeded during the
following week in making out a complete list of them. At the head
of the list stood the name of Edward Griffin, Drummond's assistant
operator, who had warned Rodney Gray that he was to be arrested the
moment he left the boat at St. Louis; but Drummond's name did not
appear at all.

"Griffin is a particular friend of one of my worst enemies," explained
Tom. "Not only is he strong for the Union, but he has had a good deal
to say about me and my company behind our backs, and I want you to
serve a notice on him the first thing you do. I wish they would make
haste and establish that camp of instruction, and when Griffin is sent
there I want to command the squad that goes with him. I wish, too, that
Rodney Gray was here to go with him."

In the meantime events proved that the people of the South were not
as willing to submit to the despotic acts of their government as
they ought to have been, especially in Georgia and Arkansas, "where
it seemed that a conflict might arise between State and Confederate
authorities." Officers of the militia in the former State were arrested
by the enrolling officers, but the Governor demanded their release and
threatened to arrest the Confederates if they did not let his State
officers alone. The Richmond Government yielded the point, but said
to the Governor of Georgia, through the Secretary of War: "If you
arrest any of our enrolling officers in their attempts to get men to
fill up the Georgia regiments now in the face of the enemy, you will
cause great mischief. I think we may as well drive out our common
enemy before we make war upon each other." In Arkansas Governor Rector
threatened to secede from the Confederacy, and called for 4500 men
to defend the State, adding that "the troops raised under this call
are intended exclusively for home protection, and will not, under any
circumstances, be transferred to the Confederate service without their
consent." In short, the Confederacy was in a very bad way, and their
authorities knew it; for on the 21st of April the congress "adjourned
in such haste as to show that the members were anxious to provide for
their own personal safety." That was the time when a rebel newspaper
invented the word "skedaddle," and that was the time too when McClellan
could have taken Richmond; but he "wasted three full months, every day
of which was of vital moment to the Confederacy, in doing nothing," and
when at last he was ready to advance, he found himself confronted by an
army that was larger than his own.

The murmurs of dissatisfaction that arose all over the South when that
sweeping Conscription Act was passed were not entirely lost upon the
Richmond government, and the next news that came to Mooreville was that
another act had been passed providing for exemptions. Rodney Gray's
father was one of the first to hear of it, and the next time he went to
Mooreville he stopped at the telegraph office and called Ned Griffin
to the door. The young fellow had been very much distressed ever since
he received notice from Captain Roach to hold himself in readiness to
march to the camp of instruction with the first squad of conscripts
that left town, and Tom Randolph had been mean enough to let him know
how his name happened to be first on the list. Griffin was the only
support of a widowed mother, and he knew that things would go hard
with her when the small sum he received for his work in the telegraph
office ceased to come into her hands every month. More than that, he
believed in the Union and the flag that waved over it, and did not want
to fight against his principles. When he came to the door in answer to
Mr. Gray's hail he looked as though he had lost the last friend he had
in the world.

"I came here to cheer you up a bit by telling you that you need not
go into the army if you don't want to," was the way in which Rodney's
father announced the object of his visit. "The new law provides
for the exemption of one agriculturist on each farm, where there is
no white male adult not liable to military duty, employing fifteen
able-bodied negroes, on condition that the party exempted shall give
bond to deliver to the government, in the next twelve months, 100
pounds of bacon or its equivalent in salt pork, and 100 pounds of beef
for each able-bodied slave employed on said farm."

Young Griffin gasped for breath, but did not say a word in reply. He
did not smile either, as Mr. Gray did, for he failed to see how that
new law could affect him.

"Now, I happen to have such a farm up the river road," continued the
planter. "There's no one on it but a driver to look out for things, and
if you have a mind to go up and take charge of it I shall be glad to
have you. And I think I can put you in the way of earning more money
than you do now."

"But, Mr. Gray, I am not an overseer," stammered Griffin, who wished
from the bottom of his heart that he had chosen that humble but useful
vocation instead of telegraphy. "I don't know the first thing about
farming."

"Well, you can't learn younger, can you?"

"No, sir. But I—you see—the fact of the matter is, where are the
bacon and beef to come from? If they were selling at a dollar a ton I
couldn't buy a hundred pounds."

"You have a whole year in which to pay it," replied Mr. Gray. "But I
don't believe in going in debt, and perhaps we can scare up cattle and
hogs enough on the farm to fill the bill; and I shall depend on you to
raise others to replace them. I think you had better go. You can take
your mother along to keep house for you, and I don't see why you can't
live as well there on the farm as you do here in town. Tell Drummond to
come out here a moment."

"Mr. Gray," said Griffin, with tears of gratitude in his eyes, "I wish
you would ride around to our house and let mother thank you for your
kindness. I don't know how."

"I will save her and you the trouble," said the planter, bending
down from his saddle and speaking in tones so low that none of the
passers-by could hear his words. "Who was it that kept Rodney from
falling into the clutches of that Yankee cotton factor in St. Louis?
Tell Drummond to come here."

Drummond came, and Griffin afterward said that he never saw so mad a
man as his chief was when the planter explained matters to him in a
few brief but emphatic words. The operator had nothing against Griffin
personally, but Tom Randolph had, and as Tom had been friendly enough
to keep his name off the enrolling list, Drummond felt in duty bound to
make common cause with him.

"Mr. Gray, I am afraid it won't work," said he. "Griffin was
conscripted before that exemption law was passed."

"I am prepared to take the risk," was the quiet rejoinder. "In case
objections are made we shall insist on having the first conscripts
selected from the poll-books instead of from a private list; and if any
objections are made to that we will report the matter at headquarters.
Your name comes pretty close to the top of the list, Mr. Drummond."

The operator was frightened and saw plainly that it would not be a
safe piece of business to make an enemy of Mr. Gray; he knew too much.
Besides, he was one of the richest planters in the State, and such men
always exerted a good deal of influence when they set about it.

"Of course, sir, I hope it will work," Drummond hastened to say, "for
I don't want to see anybody forced into the army. I only said I was
afraid it wouldn't."

"I understand. Ned, you might as well start now as any time. Go and say
good-by to your mother, and hurry up to my house. I will be there in
a couple of hours, and after we have had a snack we'll ride up to the
farm."

From the telegraph office Mr. Gray went to Kimberly's store, where he
created another commotion. Tom Randolph was there, and so were some of
the Home Guards, who had of late taken to spending all their waking
hours at the enrolling office. Captain Tom would have protested loudly
if his amazement and chagrin had permitted him to speak at all, but
Captain Roach had no objections to offer when Mr. Gray told him that he
would have to find someone to take Griffin's place in the first squad
of conscripts that was sent to the camp of instruction, for Griffin
himself was exempt under the law, or would be as soon as he had taken
his new position.

"I am surprised at you," exclaimed Tom when Mr. Gray had mounted his
horse and galloped away. "You mustn't let that man Griffin off; you
can't. Haven't I told you that he is Union?"

"I have my own interests to look out for," replied Captain Roach rather
sharply, "and consequently I cannot afford to get into trouble with
such a man as Mr. Gray. He didn't say much, nor did he bluster at all;
but I knew by the glint in his eye that there was a whole battery of
big guns behind the little he did say, and that he was ready to turn
them loose on me if I said an ugly word to him. We haven't been playing
square since this thing began, and he knows it; and if he should
insist on having a new deal from the poll-books, with your list of
names thrown out, where would your friend Drummond be? Where would you
be, seeing that even Home Guards are not exempt?"

"I just don't care; and that's all there is about it," whined Tom, who
was mad enough to cry if he had been alone. "They ought to be exempt,
and I don't see why those Richmond fellows left them out."

"That's neither here nor there. They left them out; but in working to
keep you with me I have practically exempted you, and that is something
I had no business to do. I can't imagine where Mr. Gray got his
information, but he understands all this, and if he should report me to
the Governor I'd have to join some regiment in the field; and that's a
place I want to keep away from as bad as you do."

"Well, I must say that things have come to a pretty pass when a man
can say who shall go into the army and who shall not, just because he
happens to have a little money," declared Tom spitefully.

"That's the way the thing stands, and if you want to stay at home you
and your men had better be doing something."

These chance words, which really did not mean anything, set some of the
Home Guards to thinking.



CHAPTER IV.

LIEUTENANT LAMBERT'S CAMPAIGN.


Of course the principal topic of conversation at the enrolling office
during the rest of the day was Mr. Gray's unexpected interference in
behalf of Ned Griffin, the conscript. It frightened Captain Roach,
enraged and disgusted Tom Randolph, and put Lieutenant Lambert into a
very anxious frame of mind. The latter was obliged to confess that his
chances for keeping out of the army were very slim indeed.

"That's the way the thing stands, and if you want to stay at home you
and your men had better be doing something," he kept saying to himself
as he galloped along the dusty road on his way home. It was easy enough
for Captain Roach to talk, but what was there that the Home Guards
could do to distinguish themselves, seeing that the Federal troops were
so secure in their position at New Orleans that the whole Confederate
Army could not drive them out, and that the gunboats in the river in
front of Baton Rouge could not be whipped by men who were armed only
with squirrel rifles and shot guns? Lambert had been turning the matter
over in his mind ever since Mr. Gray left the enrolling office in the
morning, and now he did something which he had declared he never would
do as long as he lived. He went out of his way to ask the advice of a
Confederate veteran who had just returned from the Army of the Centre
disabled by wounds received in battle.

There were several of these crippled veterans in the neighborhood,
and they had been so many thorns in Tom Randolph's side ever since
they first began straggling home from the front. To begin with, they
turned up their noses at the Home Guards, and made all manner of sport
of their finely uniformed captain when they saw him riding along the
road slyly pricking his horse with his spurs to make the animal prance
and go sideways, as an officer's horse ought to do. They laughed, too,
when they heard the Home Guards tell of their fight with that gunboat,
and some of them went so far as to declare that, disabled as they
were and half dead with camp fever besides, they could arm themselves
with corn-stalks and drive Tom Randolph and his warriors into the
Mississippi River.

In the next place, almost all these veterans had brought home with
them a goodly supply of Yankee relics and trophies in the shape of
uniform coats, pants, caps, and overcoats that had been picked up on
the field, and which, for some reason or other, they seemed anxious
to get off their hands. So they offered them to the Home Guards in
exchange for citizens' clothing of equal or less value, and the latter
were always found willing to trade. Captain Tom was disgusted and angry
when first one man and then another appeared at the enrolling office
clad in some portion of a shabby uniform that had once belonged to a
Federal trooper or infantry-man, and ordered the wearers to clear out
and never come there again unless they could come properly dressed; but
the Home Guards paid no sort of attention to him. They were soldiers,
they said, and since their own government did not think enough of
them to provide them with uniforms they felt at liberty to obtain them
where they could. Besides, their new clothes, even though they were
well worn and had once belonged to Lincoln's hirelings, were warm and
comfortable, and the blue overcoats would keep out next winter's cold
as effectually as gray ones. Much against his will Tom finally appealed
to the enrolling officer; but the latter could not help him, for he had
no authority over the Home Guards.

"But you might threaten to conscript them if they don't obey my
orders," suggested Tom.

"I shouldn't like to do it for a little thing like that," replied
Captain Roach. "They've got the uniforms, and I don't see how you are
going to keep them from wearing them. What difference does it make,
anyway? You don't have to go on dress parade."

"No matter for that," replied Tom. "I didn't enter the service to
command a lot of Yankees, and I won't do it. Suppose a general officer
should happen along and order them out for drill and inspection! I'd
feel so ashamed of myself that I know I should take to my heels."

"Make your mind easy on that score," was the captain's answer. "If you
don't take to your heels until that happens you will never run. Judging
from what I have learned since I have been here, the government cares
no more for companies of this kind than it does for so many wild hogs
in the woods. If it were not for you and your mother I would conscript
the last one of them."

"But what do you suppose makes the returned veterans so anxious to get
rid of these Yankee uniforms and things?" continued Tom. "It looks to
me as though there might be something back of it."

"That's the way it looks to me, too," replied Captain Roach. "They
don't want to have a Yankee scouting party ride up on them suddenly and
say: 'Look here, Johnny; have you been robbing some wounded or captive
Yank? If not, where did you get those blue clothes?'"

"But the Yankees are not here," cried Tom.

"I know they are not here now, but they're coming; and if they keep
on besting us at every point, as they are doing at this minute, they
will be here before long, too. You needn't think that Farragut is going
to remain idle down the river, or that Flag-Officer Davis is going to
keep on doing nothing up the river while we are fortifying Vicksburg.
There's going to be fun here one of these days."

And sure enough there was. It came much sooner than Captain Roach
had any reason to think it would, and Lieutenant Lambert of the Home
Guards, whom we saw on his way to ask advice of a Confederate veteran,
was the man who did the most to help it along. He found the soldier
of whom he was in search at his home. He was sitting on the gallery
enjoying his after supper smoke; but when he saw the Home Guard alight
at his gate he staggered to his feet, laid hold of the crutch that
leaned against the house behind his chair, and said, in mock alarm:

"The man you want to see don't live here no more. He done moved outen
the country two year ago come next July. Clear yourself. I'm that
skeared of gray-back soldiers that I can't sleep none fur a week after
seein' one of 'em."

"Aw! Quit your nonsense," growled Lambert, "or, by gum! I'll come there
and lick ye even if you aint got but one leg to defend yourself with."
He hitched his horse at the fence, shook hands with the veteran, then
seated himself on the porch close by his chair and continued: "Me and
you have always been the best kind of friends, Abner, and I don't want
you to sniff at me just kase you've been shot by the Yankees and I
aint."

"I won't, Sile; I won't never do the like no more. But a Home Guard!
And lickin' a gunboat that's got 'leven inches of iron on her sides and
four foot of solid oak back of that, with nothing in the wide world
but popguns!" said the veteran, taking his pipe from his mouth to
indulge in a hearty peal of laughter. "_And_ Tom Randolph fur a cap'n.
That there is a leetle the worst I ever heard of. Hey-youp! Steady on
the left centre!" he yelled, dropping his crutch upon the gallery and
grasping with both hands the stump of his leg, which he had wrenched
a little too severely during his paroxysms of merriment. "I almost
disremembered that I aint got only part of a leg on this side. I left
the rest up to Shiloh. I'm glad to see you again, Sile; I am so. But I
would be a heap gladder if me and you had chawed hard-tack and fit the
Yanks together. Then you wouldn't be no such triflin' thing as a Home
Guard."

"But I don't want to fight no Yanks," said Lambert truthfully.

"Don't you want to fight no Yanks? Well, I don't know's I'm blamin' you
fur that. They aint by no means the easy fellers to lick that we uns
thought they was goin' to be, and when they set up that yell of theirn
to let we uns know they was comin' fur us—I tell you, Sile, my hair
always riz when I heard that yell, and I wisht I was to home grabblin'
fur taters."

"Then what makes you poke fun at me fur?" demanded Lambert. "I am to
home now and I want to stay; but Cap'n Roach he allows that if we uns
don't do something pretty sudden we're liable to be conscripted."

"Like enough. Then why don't you uns do something?"

"That's what I come here to see you about. What is they, I'd like to
know, that we can do? If the Yanks would only come where we be [you
will notice that Lambert did not say "Yankees" any more. He copied the
veteran and used the shorter word], we uns could show the folks about
here that we Home Guards aint by no means the useless truck they take
us to be; but we can't go all the way to New Orleans fur the sake of
fightin' 'em."

"You uns will see Yanks enough if you stay right where you be," said
the veteran, with another laugh. "I aint spilin' fur a sight at any
more of 'em, but all the same I look to see them ridin' right along
this road while I am settin' on my gallery watchin' of 'em. They aint
come this clost to Mooreville to go away without seein' it. They're
hoppin' us right along, and we had oughter be whopped."

"Now, just listen at you!" said Lambert reproachfully.

"I'm only tellin' you what I know," said the veteran in earnest
tones. "Look at the way they're doin'! When the law was passed that
everybody must be conscripted, why didn't they go to work and conscript
everybody? Why didn't they put the old soldiers ahead and shove the
Johnny Raws into the ranks? Steader that they let the old soldiers
stay in the ranks, and put over them fur officers a lot of new chaps
who couldn't a'told a Yank from a ground-hog if they had seed the two
standin' in one place. We uns aint a goin' to whop nobody with a lot of
greenhorns to command us, and although I aint by no means glad to go
hobblin' through the world on one leg, I am mighty glad of an excuse to
get outen the army. Now, there's that there Rodney Gray."

"By gum! I wish he was here to be conscripted," exclaimed Lambert.

The veteran took his pipe from his mouth, blew a cloud of smoke into
the air, and looked at his companion with an expression on his face
which seemed to say that he did not know whether to laugh or get angry.
But finally he concluded to laugh, and he did so most uproariously,
rolling about on his chair as if he were in danger of falling out of
it, but all the while taking good care not to give his wounded leg
another wrench.

"Why, man, he's a soldier, Rodney is," he said as soon as he could
speak, "and a mighty good one, too. He's been in more battles than me,
and that's useless. He fit all through Missoury with Daddy Price, and
then they brung him over to the Army of the Centre, and that's where
I seen him. They wanted to make a big officer of him, but Rodney he
wouldn't have it so, kase he's plum sick of the war, same as I be, and
allows to come home soon's his extry three months is out. You can't
tech Rodney Gray."

"I know that well enough, but I wish we could. You see, Tom
Randolph——"

"You needn't say no more," laughed the veteran. "Rodney got an office
in Cap'n Hubbard's Rangers and Tom didn't, and Tom is mad about it and
wants to spite Rodney in some way. But he can't do it, and if he tries
it ole man Gray will make him wish he hadn't."

"And ole man Gray is another chap I'd like mighty well to see sent to
the front," exclaimed Lambert angrily; "but we can't touch him neither.
He showed his hand when he come into the office this morning and told
Roach that he'd have to let that Griffin boy go free, kase he allowed
to buy him off with bacon and beef; and Roach was that skeared that he
dassent open his mouth."

"What was he skeared of?"

"That ole man Gray would report him fur leavin' the names of Tom
Randolph's friends off'n the conscript list, when he had oughter put
them on like he found them in the poll-books."

"Like enough," replied Abner. "And then you and Tom Randolph and all
the rest of the Home Guards would have stood as fine a chance of goin'
to the front as Ned Griffin. It would serve you just right fur trainin'
under such a no account cap'n as you have got. Why don't you cut loose
from him and do something on your own hook? That would be me if I was
you."

"'Taint safe," replied Lambert, who had not yet forgotten that he
brought himself into trouble the last time he tried to do something on
his own hook. "Somehow our folks have got to be mighty tender of the
Union men about here and don't like to have them pestered."

"You let your Union neighbors alone and pester them that's got we'pons
into their hands," said the veteran indignantly. "You uns aint got no
call to fight them that can't fight back; but there's them gunboats
down to the river."

"Well, what of 'em?" demanded Lambert, trembling at the bare thought of
again venturing within gunshot of one of those black monsters. "They've
got cannons on 'em, and they shoot balls bigger'n your head. Don't I
know? Aint I been in a fight with one of 'em?"

"Shucks!" sneered Abner. "You stand about as much chance of bein' hit
by one of them big balls as you do of bein' struck by lightnin'. I have
seed me on the skirmish line lyin' fur hours behind a stump that wasn't
no bigger'n a plug hat, while shell and solid shot was tearin' up the
ground all around me. They don't do damage once a week less'n they're
drapped into a line of battle or into a fort that is packed full of men."

"But how can we lick 'leven inches of iron and four foot of solid oak?"
protested Lambert.

"Shucks!" exclaimed the veteran. "I aint talkin' about lickin' on 'em.
I'm talkin' about pesterin' of 'em—drivin' their row-boats back when
they start to come to the shore, and pickin' off the officers as fast
as they come outen their holes in the cabin. You uns could lay behind
the levee and do that, and be as safe as you be to home; kase the
shells they would send at you would all fly over your heads, and when
they bu'st they would be a mile to your rear."

The lieutenant of the Home Guards was overjoyed to hear these
encouraging words fall from the lips of a man who had faced the Yankees
in battle and knew what he was talking about. He had given his friend
Abner to understand that he was one of the few who followed Captain
Tom when the latter rode out with a handful of brave men to see if
the Union Army was advancing upon Mooreville from Baton Rouge, but
there was not a word of truth in his story. He was one of the majority
who excused themselves and stayed behind, and all he knew about that
desperate fight with the gunboat and the concealed battery that opened
on the rear of the Home Guards was what his comrades told him. The
veteran did not seem to think that the big guns on the war vessels were
so very dangerous, and Lambert began to pluck up courage.

"'Pears to me that Cap'n Roach said something like that the first time
I talked with him," said the latter.

"Like enough; and if he did you can bet that that is what he would do
if he had as many Home Guards under his command as you have got. I
can't fur the life of me see what makes them Baton Rouge folks so very
friendly with the Yanks, anyhow. They take 'em into their houses and
visit with 'em, and feed 'em, dog-gone it all, and I say such doings
aint right. If ole Daddy Bragg was here fur about five minutes he'd put
a stop to all that friendship business, I bet you, and like as not
he'd have some of you Home Guards shot fur lettin' it go on as long as
it has. Anyway, he'd kick Tom Randolph into the ranks and put a soldier
in his place. That's the way they do things up in the Army of the
Centre."

The result of this interview was that when Lieutenant Lambert took
leave of the veteran and rode home to a late supper he was fully
satisfied in his own mind that Tom Randolph was totally unfit for the
responsible position he held, that the Home Guards, who under proper
leadership might have made themselves known throughout the length and
breadth of the Confederacy, had been kept in check too long already,
and that he (Lambert), being second in command of the company, had
a perfect right to take matters into his own hands without saying a
word to anybody about it. But it was a somewhat delicate task, he told
himself. Although Lambert looked upon the friendly relations existing
between the crews of the Union war vessels and the Baton Rouge people
as a burning disgrace, he did not relish the idea of trying to bring
them to an end, for the citizens might not like it, and, worse than
that, they might make him trouble on account of it; but something must
be done or he would be compelled to go into the army, seeing that
he had no rich and influential friend like Mr. Gray to purchase his
release with bacon and beef. So Lambert's mind was made up, and before
he reached home his campaign was fully planned.

"I'll raise a big squad and start for the city to-morrow night," he
soliloquized, flourishing his riding-switch in the air to give emphasis
to his thoughts. "And if I once gain a footing behind the levee I'll
put a stop to that friendship business, I bet you. I'll give the
folks to understand that we uns don't like the way they're giving aid
and comfort to the enemies of their country, and make them Yankee
gun-boatmen stay on board their ships where they belong. I'll take
pains, too, to see that the Gov'nor hears of it, and perhaps he'll
say that I had ought to be cap'n of the Home Guards in place of Tom
Randolph."

That was an encouraging thought, and the longer Lambert dwelt upon
it the more excited he became. He did not sleep much that night,
and after an early breakfast mounted his horse and rode through the
country to muster his men; but as fast as he found them and unfolded
to them the details of his campaign he was met by the same excuses and
refusals that Tom Randolph had vainly tried to combat. The fighting
member of the company, the one who was always eager to shoot or hang
the defenceless Union men he assisted in robbing, was feeling so very
poorly on this particular morning that he was thinking strongly of
riding over to a neighbor's to see if he could not borrow a dose or
two of quinine; the second had promised to go to a log rolling; the
third had a lame horse and didn't rightly know where he could go to
get another; and not more than three or four out of the fifty men whom
Lambert summoned to follow him to Baton Rouge had the courage and
honesty to tell him that they did not like to do it.

"I wouldn't mind hiding behind the levee and shooting a few Yankees,"
said Lieutenant Moseley, "but they'll shoot back, and like as not
that'll make the Baton Rouge folks mad at us. Ask somebody else. You
can get all the men you want and I don't reckon I'll go."

Whenever a Home Guard talked to him in this way Lambert always said in
reply:

"Well, then, if you don't want to go and win a name fur yourself you
can stay to home till Roach gets ready to conscript you. If you were in
Kimberly's store yesterday you must have seen fur a fact that we uns
aint safe from going into the army just kase we happen to belong to the
Home Guards. Cap'n Roach he has said time and again that we was liable
to go if we didn't wake up and do something, and that if he had been
our commander he wouldn't have let them city people get on such amazing
good terms with the Yanks. Le's go down there and make 'em quit it
right now, and say nothing to nobody till the thing is done. Remember,
I don't ask every man, but only just them that we want to have stay in
the company. When we get back I'll give Cap'n Roach a list of them that
went with me, and if he wants to conscript the others—them that was
afraid to face the enemies of their country—and send them to the camp
of instruction, he can do it and welcome. Now, what do you say?"

It was by the use of such arguments as these that Lieutenant Lambert
succeeded in inducing some of his particular friends to believe that it
might be policy for them to join his expedition, and that night they
secretly gathered at a designated place outside the town and started
for Baton Rouge. When they arrived within sight of the church spires
at daylight they did not attract attention to themselves by entering
the city in a body, for Lambert was afraid that some Union man or
converted rebel might suspect the object of their visit and interfere
with their designs by signalling to the fleet. They separated and went
in by different roads and in small parties, and came together again
in the neighborhood of the landing at which the boats from the fleet
always touched the shore, taking care to leave their horses behind some
warehouses out of sight.

"Now be careful, everybody," commanded Lambert, placing a fresh cap on
his rifle and waving his hand toward the levee as a signal to his men
to advance and conceal themselves behind it. "We can't do 'em no damage
from here—it's too fur; so we must wait till some of their row-boats
come off."

The Home Guards bent themselves almost double and stole across the
clear space that intervened between the warehouses and the levee;
and so cautious were they in their movements that the quartermasters
on watch on the decks of the different gunboats, who were constantly
sweeping the banks on both sides of the river with their long-distance
spyglasses, saw no signs of them, and so silent that when they crept
to the top of the levee on their hands and knees and looked over it,
the negroes gathered at the landing below did not know that there was
anyone near them. There were probably a dozen men, women, and children
in the group, and they were lying at their ease on the ground or
walking slowly back and forth; but all of them turned their gaze toward
the gunboats now and then, as if they were waiting for somebody to come
ashore. There were several covered baskets and pails near by, and the
sight of them was enough to enrage Lieutenant Lambert, who whispered to
the man who lay next him behind the levee:

"Pass the word along the line fur everybody to keep under kiver. We've
ketched them niggers red-handed in the very act, fur there's grub in
them buckets and things; now you just watch and see if there aint."
Then he raised his voice a little and said to the nearest darkey: "What
you folks doing there? Who you looking fur?"

"Waiting for Mr. Wilcox, sah," was the negro's prompt answer. He looked
up and saw two or three heads above the top of the levee, but thought
nothing of it. There were a good many whites in Baton Rouge who did not
dare show themselves as freely to the Yankee sailors as the people of
his own color did.

"Who's Mr. Wilcox?" demanded Lambert.

"He's de cater ob de steerage mess, sah; de man what buys de breakfus'
fur some of de officers on dat fust boat," was the reply; and although
Lambert did not understand the words any better than the negro did
himself, he gathered from them the idea that somebody on the gunboat
would come ashore for his breakfast very shortly, and that he and his
warriors had reached the levee just in the nick of time.

This cheering intelligence was passed along the line in a whisper, and
the Home Guards pulled off their hats and were settling themselves
into comfortable positions behind the levee to await the coming of the
caterer's boat, when they were startled by hearing someone close beside
them say, in frightened and protesting tones:

"Gentlemen, _gentlemen_, what are you going to do?"

Lambert faced quickly around and saw a couple of citizens standing
at the base of the levee where they could observe all that was being
done by the Home Guards; but whether they had come upon his ambush by
accident or design the lieutenant did not know or care to ask. He saw
the necessity for prompt action.

"Scrooch down right where you stand, so that the Yanks can't see you,"
he commanded.

"But what are you gentlemen going to do?" inquired one of the
citizens, both of whom obeyed Lambert's order and sank upon their
heels with alacrity when they saw the black muzzles of three or four
double-barrels swinging in their direction.

"Well, if you can't see fur yourselves what we uns are going to do
I reckon I'll have to tell you," replied the lieutenant of the Home
Guards, turning part way around so that he could watch both negroes and
citizens at the same time, and see that no signals passed from them to
the fleet. "We're goin' to break up the visitin' and tradin' that's
been going on between this town and the Yanks till we are teetotally
sick and tired of it. The folks back in the country, who are all good
Confederits, don't like it; and me and my men have come in here to say
so in a way that both you and the Yanks will understand."

"Merciful Heaven!" exclaimed the man, who seemed to be almost overcome
with astonishment and alarm. "You are not going to fire into those war
vessels?"

"What's the reason I aint?" said Lambert coolly. "You just wait till
one of their row-boats starts to come ashore and I'll show you."

"But consider for a moment——" began the citizen, his excitement
bringing him to his feet.

"Down you go again," interrupted Lambert, drawing his cocked rifle
to his shoulder. "We uns have considered the whole business. We know
that we can't hurt 'leven inches of iron and four foot of solid oak
back of that with we'pons like these we've got, but we can make them
blue-jackets mighty jubersome about comin' ashore and being so very
friendly with you Baton Rouge folks; and that's what we allow to do."

"In the name of God and humanity I protest against such an outrage!"
said one of the men, whose pale face and firmly set lips showed that
he would not have stopped with a mere protest if he had possessed the
power to do anything else.

"You must not think of it, you madman!" cried the other. "Don't you
know that the boats will return your fire, and that they can knock our
town to pieces with a single broadside? There is no telling how many
innocent women and children will be killed or maimed through your act
of folly."

"Well, then, why didn't you think of all them things before you made
friends with the enemies of your country?" answered Lambert. "But the
gunboats won't fire on women and children. Leastways they didn't in New
Orleans, and the folks in that burg were about as sassy as they could
well be."

"If you are determined to carry your crazy scheme into execution, I beg
that you will give us a little time to remove our families to a place
of safety before you begin," said one of the citizens as he and his
companion arose to their feet and turned to go away.

"Not much as anybody knows of, I won't," replied Lambert in savage
tones.

"Just five minutes," pleaded the citizen. "Perhaps we can take our
wives and little ones into the cellar before you will find it necessary
to open fire."

"Not one minute—not one second nor a half of one," snarled the
lieutenant, once more raising his weapon to his shoulder. "I aint
a-goin' to have you shakin' a handkercher at them boats to warn the
Yanks that there's something wrong here behind the levee. You just
squat down where you are till this thing is over, and then you can go
any place you please."

"Watch out, Sile," said one of the Home Guards suddenly. "There comes
that feller after his grub."

Lieutenant Lambert flopped over on his face as if he had been shot, and
saw a small boat, with four men at the oars and two officers sitting in
the stern-sheets, come into view from behind one of the war vessels and
turn toward the landing.

The time for him to win a name for himself had arrived.



CHAPTER V.

HOW IT RESULTED.


"I wouldn't take ten gold dollars fur my chance of being made cap'n
of this company of Home Guards, who would have been conscripted to
the last man if it hadn't been fur me," thought Lieutenant Lambert
as he rolled over on his face and watched the cutter rounding the
stern of the nearest war vessel. "Look wild, there!" he whispered
almost fiercely to his men. "Be sure and hold your fire till they
come clost in to the shore so that every shot will tell. I don't want
to hear another word outen you two," he went on, addressing himself
to the citizens, who implored him to stop where he was and not bring
destruction upon their town and death to innocent people in it, as
he surely would do if he commanded his Home Guards to fire upon that
unarmed boat. "You're too big cowards to fight the enemy yourselves,
and so we uns had to come in here and do it fur you. Hold steady,
everybody!"

Although Lambert's men were all hunters and good shots, they were not
disciplined soldiers, and that was all that saved the cutter's crew
from annihilation. They would have been steady enough if they had been
in the woods watching a runway for deer, but watching for Yankees was
a different matter altogether; and just as the Home Guards had pushed
their guns over the top of the levee, making use of every clod and
piece of driftwood and inequality of the ground that came handy for
a screen, and Lieutenant Lambert was cautiously lifting his head to
observe the progress the small boat was making toward the landing, a
deafening roar rang in his ear, and the man at his side sprang to his
feet, stood bewildered for a moment, and then dropped back to his place
again. In pushing his double-barrel over the levee with nervous hands
the valorous Home Guard had accidentally discharged the piece, and
the unexpected report frightened him and threw his comrades into some
confusion. For an instant or two a few of them looked and acted as
though they wanted to take to their heels; but the voice of Lieutenant
Lambert, who was the first to recover himself, checked them.

"Shoot! Fire!" he yelled. "Massy knows 'twon't do no good, and that is
something we can thank you fur, Ike Spencer. A man that'll lay flat on
the ground and let his gun shoot itself off without orders can't be
conscripted any too quick to suit me, and I'll introjuce you to Cap'n
Roach soon's I get home. Fire, I tell you!"

And the Home Guards fired—not all together like trained soldiers, but
one after another, just as it happened; but the distance was so great
and their aim so bad that not a man in the boat was injured. It stopped
instantly, however, and came no nearer the landing; and on being hailed
by the officer of the deck, it turned about and went back to the vessel
to which it belonged. Then came the very thing which the frightened
citizens had predicted and Lieutenant Lambert had scouted.

No sooner had the small boat disappeared around the stern of the war
ship than a heavy cloud of smoke rolled over the dark, muddy surface of
the river, a cannon roared, and the embankment behind which Lieutenant
Lambert and his men were lying was jarred perceptibly, as if some heavy
body had been dashed with violent force against it. The instant's
profound silence that followed was broken, first by shouts and cries of
terror from the negroes on the bank, who scattered in all directions,
then by a muffled sound something like the puff of a tired locomotive
on an up grade, and Lambert's view of the river was shut off by a cloud
of dirt and smoke that was thrown high into the air by the explosion
of the shell that had buried itself in the ground at the base of the
levee. That was enough for the Home Guards, who could not stand so much
noise at such close quarters. They jumped to their feet, and fairly
tumbled over one another as they fled for safety behind the warehouses
where they had left their horses; but even here vengeance pursued
them, for the next shell that came from the war vessel crashed through
the walls of the nearest house, scattering bricks and mortar about
their ears, creating a panic among their untrained steeds, and finally
exploding in the edge of the woods half a mile away.

"By gum, boys! Jump on and get outen here!" shouted Lambert, who wished
from the bottom of his heart that he could be the first to obey his own
order. "Beats the world how straight they can shoot with them big guns
of theirn. They'd win more turkeys at a shooting match than the best
man among us."

For a few brief, perilous moments the terrified horses refused to
stand still long enough for their equally terrified owners to mount;
but when, after many fruitless efforts, the Home Guards succeeded in
placing themselves in their saddles, the stampede that followed was
something we cannot describe. They galloped frantically along the road
that ran behind the levee, through the streets of the town, which
were by this time filled with pale and excited citizens, who could
not imagine what the trouble was about, and did not know which way
to run for safety, and so out into the country, where the avenging
shells could not reach them. A Confederate veteran who was present
and witnessed the bombardment told the writer that the Home Guards
"deliberately rode into the midst of the fleeing inhabitants, selecting
groups of terrified women and children, into whom they galloped,
trampling many of them under the feet of their horses, trusting that
the humane and chivalrous blue-jackets, who had been so lenient with
the insulting rabble at New Orleans, would not follow them with their
fire." We believe this to be nothing but the truth; but whether it is
or not the fact remains that Lambert and his men kept to the crowded
streets as long as they could, and the bursting shells followed them
through every turn they made, but unfortunately without doing them the
least damage. Those who ought to have been severely punished got off
scot free, while the innocent inhabitants suffered in wounds and loss
of property, for their town was set on fire in half a dozen different
places.

The Home Guards spread the utmost consternation among the farmers who
lived along the line of their hurried flight, and who ran out to
the road and vainly implored the frantic horsemen to draw rein long
enough to tell them what the firing was about, and if the Yankees were
coming at last to burn them out of house and home. But it was not until
the roar of the big guns ceased entirely, and the Home Guards were
satisfied that they had ridden beyond the reach of any stray shell
which might be sent after them, that those who were leading in the
retreat recovered their courage sufficiently to slacken their speed so
that their comrades in the rear could come up. Then they were willing
to talk to the planters along the road, but it is doubtful if they gave
them much reliable information. In response to one frightened citizen's
hurried inquiries, Lieutenant Lambert said:

"We uns have been in just the worst fight we ever was in before in all
our born days, and if anybody but me had been in command the most of us
would have left our bones there behind the levee. It was awful to see
the way them Yanks fired into them women and children."

"But what started the rucus in the first place?" asked the planter,
who, rebel that he was, could not believe that the blue-jackets had
turned demons all on a sudden. "What have you Mooreville ruffians, who
haven't any business in this part of the country anyway, been doing in
the city?"

"You better ask what them Baton Rouge Yankees been doing?" retorted
Lambert hotly. "We're State troops, and we've got business in every
part of the country that we please to go; and when it pleases the Baton
Rouge people to start a nest of Yankee sympathizers in there, it's
our bounden duty to go in and break it up. And that's just what we
have done. We've drove the enemy away, and the Mississippi between New
Orleans and Memphis belongs to we uns once more. We'd a' whopped 'em
worse'n we did if it hadn't been for Ike Spencer, who let his gun shoot
itself off before the rest of us were ready. I reckon he feels kinder
sneakin' over it, fur I aint seen him since."

"I should think you would all feel sneaking," answered the planter, as
he turned on his heel and moved away. "If you have kicked up a row on
the river I hope you will suffer for it. We've had peace and quiet in
this part of the country for a few weeks back, and now you have gone
and brought war and all its miseries on us again. The last one of you
ought to be hanged."

Lieutenant Lambert and his Home Guards were amazed to find that this
angry citizen voiced the sentiments of all the people who lived on
the Mooreville road; and after a few more planters had talked to them
in this plain fashion their eyes were opened to the disagreeable fact
that they had damaged their own cause a great deal more than they had
hurt the enemy; and that if their friends and neighbors felt the same
way toward them the fire that had been poured into their ranks by the
gunboats was nothing to what they would have to stand when they reached
home. When they came to think it all over they were the maddest lot of
men that had ever been seen in that part of the country. They blamed
their lieutenant for being the cause of it, and swore at him so lustily
that he fell behind and rode alone, putting in his time by wishing
a good many heavy penalties to the address of his one-legged friend
Abner, who, after the experience he had had with Yankees, ought to have
known better than to advise him to "pester" the gunboats. All the Home
Guards rode slowly, so as to reach the outskirts of Mooreville a little
after nightfall, and then they separated and slunk away toward their
respective homes like school-boys who had been playing truant. But the
news had got ahead of them, and an indignation meeting was being held
in the dining room of the hotel. Some of the Mooreville people, Captain
Randolph among the number, had seen and talked with men who lived down
the river road and had heard the roar of the big guns, and mounted
messengers had been sent to the city to learn what the firing was
about. These men, who had fast horses and went across lots, rode all
the way at top speed, and to such good purpose that they returned to
Mooreville about two hours before the Home Guards came straggling in;
and the story they told to the crowd at the hotel raised such a storm
of indignation that for a while things looked serious.

In the meantime, and to make matters worse, the news spread through
the country round about and armed planters came flocking in to lend
assistance in driving back the force that was supposed to be advancing
upon Mooreville; and the climax was reached when wagons began arriving
from the direction of the river, drawn by panting mules that had been
driven until they were almost exhausted, and loaded with the families
and household effects of the frightened owners who were fleeing before
the invading Federals. Of course the very meagre information these
people brought added to the excitement and alarm, for there were not
two among them who told the same story. They expected to find the town
deserted by its inhabitants, and were much surprised to discover that
it was not.

"It's no use for you fellows to think of standing against them,"
exclaimed one trembling driver, who carried in his hand a frayed ox-gad
which he had worn out over his mules' backs. "Butler is coming with
his whole army."

"Did you see them?" inquired Mr. Gray, who had ridden in with Ned
Griffin for a companion. They were both armed, and although they did
not believe in shooting at those who carried the Old Flag, they were
ready to do what they could to protect their homes.

"Yes, sir; I saw them," replied the man earnestly. "I hadn't left my
house a quarter of a mile behind before I discovered some of their
cavalry riding along one of my lanes. I suppose my house is in ashes by
this time."

"Were they burning things as they came?" asked one of Mr. Gray's
neighbors.

"There was the blackest smoke over toward the river that I ever saw
in my life," was the answer. "Baton Rouge is gone up. You'd better
leave while you can. You may save your lives, but you can't save your
property. Get along there, mule! Me and mine will take to the brush."

Every story to which Mr. Gray and Ned Griffin listened was more
thrilling than the one that came before it. Among others they found a
man who lived in the outskirts of the city, and who, standing in his
back door, had seen a bench which supported twenty-five stands of bees
demolished by a shell from the gunboats. Still another had fled from
his house just in time to escape capture by Butler's advance infantry,
which was moving up the road in platoon front; and more than that, the
highway was blue with Federals as far as his eye could reach. Of course
such tales as these frightened some of the Mooreville people, but Mr.
Gray assured his young companion that he put very little reliance upon
them.

"These folks are not responsible for what they tell us, because they
are scared out of their wits," was what he said to Ned Griffin more
than once. "What would the Federals gain by capturing or destroying two
little towns like Baton Rouge and Mooreville? If there was a fort or a
body of Confederate troops here I might put some faith in these rumors;
but now I don't. When our couriers return we shall have the straight of
the story, and not before. Have you seen anything of our Home Guards,
who ought to be mustering for our defence?"

No, Ned hadn't seen them; and when he came to ride about the town and
make inquiries he could not find anybody else who had seen them. The
truth was they were too badly frightened to show themselves, for they
were afraid that they might be called upon to do something. Captain
Tom's uniform was in its old hiding place in the garret, and Tom
himself was stretched out on the lounge in his mother's room, eager for
news and dreading to hear it, but too ill to mount his horse and muster
his men for the defence of the town.

At length two of the Mooreville messengers returned, and then the
citizens got "the straight of the story." When they learned that
General Butler's army had not moved out of New Orleans at all, that
not a Federal soldier had stepped upon the sacred soil of Louisiana
in the neighborhood of Baton Rouge during the whole of that day, and
that the city had been shelled and partially burned because Lieutenant
Lambert of Tom Randolph's Home Guards had tried to gain a little
cheap notoriety for himself by firing upon an unarmed boat—when the
citizens heard this their fear give way to the wildest rage; and if
they could have got their hands upon Lambert at that moment it is more
than probable that they would have handled him roughly. With one accord
the crowd surged up the steps that led to the hotel porch and through
the wide hall into the dining room, which was quickly filled with men
who had about made up their minds that the Home Guards had made them
trouble enough, and that it would be a good plan to get rid of them
without loss of time.

"Of all the senseless acts I ever heard of this last one of Lambert's
is the beat," shouted an excited individual who had perched himself
upon one of the tables. "Those Baton Rouge people knew what they
wanted, and if it suited them to make friends with the Yankees and
trade with them we planters have no business to find any fault with
them for it. I would have done the same thing myself."

"Oh, you traitor!" shouted a voice from the farther end of the dining
room. "Would you hold communication with the enemies of your flag?"

"Yon shut up, Bill Cummings," retorted the speaker. "If I am a traitor
you're another. You've got a sack of Federal salt and some Federal tea
and coffee hidden in one of your corn cribs at this moment, and I can
prove it. You got them by trading a beef to one of the gunboats down
there at Baton Rouge, and you brought them home in your wagon at dead
of night, when you thought all your neighbors were fast asleep."

This raised a shout of laughter at the expense of Bill Cummings, but
no one said a harsh word to him, for probably there were not a dozen
men in the room who would not have been glad to get some of that salt
and tea and coffee. Mr. Gray himself was standing in a pair of Federal
brogans, and the man next him wore a straw hat that looked exactly like
those that Uncle Sam issued to his sailors every month.

"Now, then," continued the man who had taken possession of the table,
"I am in favor of taking that ruffian Lambert out of his bed, if he
has had time to get there, and giving him such a whipping that he won't
get over it as long as the war lasts."

"Let's hang him and be done with him," cried another.

"And while we are dealing with Lambert, don't let's forget Tom
Randolph," shouted a third.

"Tom Randolph is in no way to blame for what happened at Baton Rouge,"
said Mr. Gray, who was one of the few cool and reasonable men there
were in the crowd. "He has no more authority over the Home Guards than
I have."

"Then I say let's lick him because he hasn't some authority over them
so that he can make them behave themselves. What did he organize the
company for, anyhow?"

"That is what I should like to know. Now mark my words: there will be
a Yankee garrison in Baton Rouge in less than a week, and then our
trading will be up stump, for we can't go there any more."

"That's so. What excuse has that man Lambert for living, I'd like to
know? Let's bu'st him and the Home Guards up right here and now."

Uttering wild yells of approval, with which were mingled loud calls for
ropes and dire threats against the peace of mind and bodily comfort of
Captain Tom Randolph, the crowd made a rush for the door, and it was
several minutes before Mr. Gray and the cool-headed men who sided with
him could make themselves heard above the tumult.

"Be reasonable, gentlemen," urged the former. "Don't let your
excitement lead you to do something you will be heartily ashamed of and
sorry for to-morrow. You cannot touch those men in the way you suggest,
especially Tom Randolph, who is a State officer. Whoop and yell about
it all you please," he continued, after the angry shouts of dissent
which these words called forth had subsided, "but it is a fact that
Tom holds a commission from the Governor, and if you put your hands on
him you will go to jail to pay for it. Confederate officers might deal
with him, though on that point I am not sure; but private citizens
certainly cannot."

These warning words caused a dissension in the ranks of the would-be
lynchers at once, and the hubbub that arose all over the room, as well
as from the outside, where there was a respectable gathering that
had not been able to gain admittance to the dining hall, was almost
deafening. Mr. Gray looked troubled as he saw his angry neighbors
swaying back and forth and shaking their clenched hands in one
another's faces, and presently he stooped and whispered a few hasty
words to Ned Griffin, who, after a terrific struggle, managed to work
his way through the crowd to the nearest window, by which he made his
exit from the building. He was charged with an important duty, and he
was anxious to discharge it without loss of time; but the men on the
outside insisted on detaining him until he told what was going on in
the dining room.

"Honor bright, there isn't anything going on in there that would
interest you or anybody else," declared Ned, who knew full well that it
would never do to say that there was some talk of lynching Lieutenant
Lambert and "bu'sting up" Tom Randolph. "Mr. Gray has been quoting some
law, that's all. Let me go, please. I want to tell Mrs. Gray that the
excitement is all over."

The men released him and Ned made his way to the hitching rack where
he had left his horse, mounted, and galloped off. He made a great show
of riding down the road toward Mr. Gray's house, but as soon as he
thought he could do so without attracting attention he turned back, and
went at top speed toward the plantation on which Lieutenant Lambert
found employment as overseer. Paying no heed to the small army of dogs
that came out to dispute his advance he rode close to the door of the
overseer's house, there being no porch to bar his way, and tapped
lightly upon it with the handle of his riding-whip. If he had made a
good deal of noise it is probable that he would not have received any
response from the solitary occupant of the building, who was thoroughly
frightened at what he had done, but totally ignorant of the fact that
his life would be in danger if Mr. Gray and his friends failed in
their efforts to control the mob at the hotel. The cautious way in
which his visitor strove to attract his attention told him that there
was something afoot, and he thought it best to answer.

"Who's there?" he demanded, his voice sounding as if it came from under
the bedclothes.

"It's I—Ned Griffin," was the reply. "Come to the door so that I can
say a word to you without fear of being overheard, and be quick about
it. There's not an instant to lose."

This startling announcement brought Lambert out of bed and to the door,
which he opened just wide enough to make sure that his visitor was Ned
Griffin, and nobody else; and then he opened it so that he could put
his head out and look up and down the lane that ran by the house to the
negro quarter.

"I am alone," Ned assured him without waiting to be questioned, "and
I am here because Mr. Gray sent me. Do you know what you have done by
this day's work? You have destroyed a good portion of Baton Rouge and
got every white man in the settlement down on you."

"I never——" began Lambert, who was profoundly astonished.

"I am not here to argue the matter," interrupted Ned, "but to tell you
that there is a mob in the hotel who are talking strongly of laying
violent hands on you. They would have been here before this time if it
hadn't been for Mr. Gray and a few others who don't believe in such
things; but the gang was about equally divided when Mr. Gray sent me to
warn you, and you had better dig out. They are as likely to decide on
one thing as another, and you are not safe in this house."

"Great smoke!" gasped Lambert when he began to comprehend the
situation. "Where shall I go?"

"Get into your duds and draw a bee-line for the nearest patch of
timber. Mr. Gray may be able to hold the mob and he may not; so I say
again that you had better dig out."

[Illustration: NED GRIFFIN WARNING LAMBERT.]

"I never looked for you to be so good to me, Ned," faltered Lambert,
who seemed to be so dazed that he did not realize the necessity of
acting quickly.

"Don't thank me; thank Mr. Gray," said Ned hastily. "If it had not been
for him I am afraid I should have left you to look out for yourself;
for I know how you and Tom Randolph have been working against me. But
you can't injure me now, and so I can afford to be magnanimous. Are you
going to clear out or not?"

Yes, Lambert thought he had better take a friend's advice and seek
safety in flight while the way was open to him; and when Ned heard him
say that he wheeled his horse and set off post-haste to carry the same
warning and advice to another party whose name had that night been
rather unpleasantly mentioned in connection with a sound thrashing.
This one was Tom Randolph, who heard his ring at the door but lacked
the courage to answer it, for something told him that he would hear
disagreeable news if he did. Mr. Randolph answered the bell himself,
and the words he listened to almost drove him frantic. Ned did not tell
him that the mob had threatened to whip Tom, for, as he afterward
said, he couldn't get his consent to go as far as that; but he said
enough to put Mr. Randolph into a terrible state of mind. He stamped
his feet on the gallery, shook his fists over his head, and wished
from the bottom of his heart that every member of the Home Guards had
been sent to the front and killed off long ago, and then he went in to
tell his wife about it, and leave her to break the news to Tom in any
way she thought best. To say that the young man was utterly confounded
would be putting it very mildly. He was terribly frightened, of course,
and angry as well; but for some reason or other he did not seem to
stand so much in fear of personal violence as he did of losing his
commission. When his mother had repeated word for word the conversation
that took place between Ned Griffin and Mr. Randolph, and Tom had asked
a question or two, he jumped to his feet and charged about the room
like a caged wild animal.

"There isn't a man in the world who has half the trouble I do," he
said, almost tearfully. "That idiot Lambert has broken up the company
as completely as though the Yankees had come in and captured every
member of it."

"And think of the misery he has brought upon the Baton Rouge people,"
suggested his mother.

"I don't care a picayune for the Baton Rouge people," said Tom
in savage tones. "They ought to have known that they would bring
themselves into trouble by being so friendly with the Yankees; but
all the same Lambert showed himself a born fool when he fired on that
gunboat. I should be glad to see him and every man who went with him
conscripted and put where they would have to behave themselves, if I
could only get others to fill their places; but that is something I
can't do. And if I lose my men I shall have to throw up my commission
or go into the army. When I meet them at the enrolling office in the
morning I will talk to them in a way they will remember."

But when morning dawned upon his sight after a restless and sleepless
night, the captain of the Home Guards had several other things
to occupy his mind. First came a committee of twelve stalwart men
appointed by the indignant citizens of Baton Rouge, who called at
Mr. Randolph's house to inquire what Tom meant by sending a gang of
ruffians to their peaceful city to bring destruction upon it, and death
and wounds to its quiet inhabitants, in that wanton, useless, and
outrageous manner. The scathing denunciation and threats that Captain
Tom was obliged to listen to before he and his mother could convince
the visitors that he was in no way to blame for it, that he did not
know the first thing about it until it was all over, and that the Home
Guards had acted on their own responsibility and without orders from
him, were things he never forgot; and the only way he could pacify
the committee, who seemed determined to have revenge upon somebody
before they left town, was by promising to turn his company over to the
conscripting officer as soon as he could get to his office. Tom knew
when he said it that his Home Guards would refuse to be disposed of
in that way, but he was so much afraid of the Baton Rouge men and so
anxious to see the last of them, that he would have promised more than
that for the sake of inducing them to leave the house.

Although Tom did not know it until afterward, the committee took a
little responsibility from his shoulders by calling at Kimberly's store
before they went home and telling Captain Roach, in the hearing of some
of the Home Guards, that if he did not at once conscript every man
who was in any way concerned in Lambert's mad act they would petition
the Governor to remove him and put in his place an officer who would
attend to his business. And this threat of theirs was what brought some
of the Home Guards to Captain Tom's house, where we found them at the
beginning of the first chapter.



CHAPTER VI.

CAPTAIN ROACH LAYS DOWN THE LAW.


As soon as the Baton Rouge men with their lowering looks and big
revolvers were fairly out of sight of the house Captain Tom, feeling
much the worse for the exciting ordeal through which he had just
passed, went into his mother's room and flung himself down on the
lounge with the air of a man who had nothing in the world to live for.
There wasn't another captain in the Confederacy, he told himself, whose
ambition to do something great for his country had been balked and
defeated at every turn as his had been ever since he took command of
the Home Guards. In no single instance that he could think of had his
men conducted themselves as he thought they ought, or as he was sure
Captain Hubbard's Rangers would have conducted themselves if they had
been situated as the Home Guards were, and it was a sad disappointment
and trial to him. Already he repented of his rash promise to turn his
company over to the enrolling officer, for by such a proceeding he
would place himself right where he was before the Governor honored him
with his commission—that is to say, without any standing at all in the
community. Now he had influence and he was not ignorant of the fact. It
was very gratifying to his vanity to have men who were his superiors
in every point of view, who had seldom invited him to their houses or
treated him with anything more than ordinary civility—it was very
gratifying to have such men go out of their way to speak to him, and to
see them listen attentively while he discussed the issues of the hour,
and told how the war ought to be conducted on the Confederate side. The
most of these men in their hearts despised him, and Captain Tom knew
it; but they were aware that through his intimacy with Captain Roach he
was able to hasten or postpone their conscription, just as the humor
seized him, and for this reason thought it prudent to treat him with
some show of respect. But if he gave his company over to the enrolling
officer, or if Captain Roach were relieved and a new and stricter man
put in his place——

"Ow! _Ow!_" yelled the persecuted and furious captain of the Home
Guards when these dispiriting reflections passed through his mind;
and with the words he sprang from the lounge to the middle of the
room, where he swung his arms and danced about like one demented. "No
matter what I decide to do I am in a fix. But I'll never give up my
company—never in this world. I am the biggest toad in the puddle now
and I am going to stay that way, or else I'll go to Baton Rouge and
curry favor with the Yankees, as other good Confederates have done to
keep out of trouble. Jeff Davis can't reach inside their lines and
take me by the collar and drag me into his army. And as for Roach, if
he gets up on his dignity and says ugly things to me on account of
Lambert's foolishness, I'll let him know who he is talking to. I'll
report him myself for—for incompetency and general worthlessness. He's
about as fit to be an enrolling officer as Adam's off ox. At any rate
he shall never sit at my mother's table again, and he can bet on that."

At this moment Mrs. Randolph, who had done so much to help Captain Tom
through his trying interview with the Baton Rouge committee, hastened
into the room looking very much excited and distressed.

"My dear," said she nervously, "I am afraid we are going to have more
trouble. There is a score or more of Home Guards in the road coming
toward the house, and they are talking loudly and shaking their fists
at one another as if they are very angry."

"I don't care if they are," shouted Captain Tom. "I am mad too, as I
have good reason to be. Stand by me and see how I will talk to them."

Money would not have induced Captain Randolph to go out on the gallery
alone to meet his mutinous soldiers, and even with his fearless mother
at his side to support and encourage him he felt like running back into
the house when he saw them coming through the gate and heard their
loud, angry voices. Whether they intended to do him personal injury
Tom never knew for certain, though he afterward heard it hinted that
they did; but he was much gratified and relieved to observe that they
ceased all hostile demonstrations when they saw his mother standing
by his side on the gallery; and that emboldened him to go on with the
programme he had laid out for himself.

"You are a pretty lot of soldiers—a very pretty lot indeed," was
the way in which he went at them. "I am heartily ashamed of you
and disgusted with myself to think I ever consented to act as your
commanding officer. Do you know that you have done us and our glorious
cause more injury than Farragut ever did? Men have been shot to death
in the Army of the Centre for doing less than you have done, and now
I am going to put you where you will be served in the same way the
first time you misbehave yourselves. I shall stand your foolishness no
longer. The field is the place for you, and there's where you are going
as soon as Captain Roach can send you."

"Cap'n Roach can't send us there, nor you neither," shouted Lambert,
who of course was expected to act as spokesman for the Home Guards.
"We are swore into the service of the State, we are, and Confedrit
officers can't touch us. Didn't Bob Hubbard's Rangers——"

"I can send you to the front to pay you for what you did yesterday, and
I will," interrupted Captain Tom. "There are no such useless things as
States troops any longer, and I am glad of it. Ask Captain Roach and
he will tell you that you are here only because I asked him to let you
stay, and that if the camp of instruction we are waiting for had been
established I could have sent you there any day I pleased. I have been
standing between you and him all along, and this is the way you repay
me, you ungrateful blackguards! I'll teach you to play the part of
fools without my orders."

Lieutenant Lambert rubbed his hands nervously together, shaking his
head and swearing softly to himself the while, and fairly ached to make
a suitable rejoinder; but the presence of Tom's mother, of whom he had
always stood somewhat in awe, restrained him.

"We uns thought you was dead set agin the Yankees, and that you would
be sorter glad to see them sailors made to stay on their boats," one of
the Home Guards ventured to say at length.

"What business had you to think anything of the kind?" demanded Captain
Tom. "A soldier's whole duty is to obey. He is nothing but a machine
and his captain does his thinking for him. If I had wanted you to go to
the city and fire on those gunboats I should have led you there myself.
Lambert, you alone are to blame for this miserable state of affairs,
and I will tell you for your satisfaction that you have killed your
chances for a lieutenant's commission deader than a smelt. I'll never
recommend you to the Governor."

"By gum! I won't stand no such talk as that!" yelled Lambert.

He sprang into the air and knocked his heels together, dashed his hat
upon the ground and placed his foot upon the lower step, as if he were
about to rush up to the gallery where Tom was standing. The latter's
face grew as white as a sheet, but he could not think of yielding
ground to a mutinous subordinate while his mother was looking on. In an
instant the sword that hung at his side flashed from its scabbard.

"I haven't drawn it without a cause," said he, shaking the weapon over
the railing almost in Lambert's face, "and I warn you that I shall not
sheathe it with dishonor. That is my motto, and I shall live up to it,
no matter what happens to me. Any more such actions on your part will
shut you up in the guard-house on a bread and water diet."

It is not likely that the sight of Tom's sword or the threat which he
could not have carried out had any effect upon Lieutenant Lambert,
who was a noted rough and tumble fighter, but a glance at the face of
the resolute woman who stood quietly on the porch above cowed him at
once. Mrs. Randolph did not say a word, nor did she move an inch when
Lambert acted as though he was about to charge up the steps, but there
was something in her eye that brought the angry man to his senses. He
backed away from the steps, picked up his hat, and remarked that he
had always supposed a first lieutenant had a right to harass the enemy
in any way he could; but he was rebuked and silenced before he had
uttered half a dozen words because he forgot his manners and addressed
his commanding officer by his Christian name.

Captain Tom was not slow to improve the advantage he had gained, and
the way he scolded, threatened, and even insulted the Home Guards would
have made a regular soldier open his eyes. He showed them that they
did wrong when they followed Lambert to Baton Rouge without orders
from their captain, and drew so harrowing a picture of the dangers and
privations of the army life to which they had doomed themselves by
their acts of disobedience and folly that he frightened the bravest of
them; and when he thought he had impressed them sufficiently he wound
up by declaring that nothing short of a solemn promise on their part
to do better in future would induce him to break the agreement he had
made with the Baton Rouge men. If they would take orders from him and
nobody else he would stand between them and all harm.

"And mark my words, this is the very last warning I shall give you,"
said Captain Tom in conclusion. "The last one of you ought to be
court-martialled and shot."

To his great surprise and his mother's, Lieutenant Lambert stepped
forward, assumed the position of a soldier as near as he could get it,
touched his battered hat respectfully, and said:

"We'll do it, cap'n, and there's my hand on to it, if Miss Randolph
will take it. From this time on you're boss and don't nary one of you
forget it."

Lambert's object was to restore himself to the favor of Tom's mother;
and so he went on to declare, with some emphatic language to make it
more binding, that he spoke for the company and would take it upon
himself to see that the promise was kept. He was sure he had succeeded
in his object when Mrs. Randolph smiled and shook hands with him over
the railing, but all the same Lambert meant something very different
from what he said. Captain Tom made a life-long enemy when he drew
his sword on his second officer, and all the latter wanted was an
opportunity to show it. Tom then dismissed his men with the assurance
that he would do the best he could for them, and went into the house
congratulating himself on having won a complete victory.

"I have had the narrowest escape of my life this morning," were the
first words he said to his mother. "The next time I come so near to
going into the army I shall go; and that will be the last you will
ever see of Tom Randolph. Didn't I bring Lambert to time when I drew
my sword on him? He's had an idea that he could run things to suit
himself, but I think I showed him his mistake. Of course it will not be
safe for me to go near Baton Rouge, for I believe the citizens would
mob me; but I can't be sent to a conscript camp so long as I have men
to command, and that is what I am figuring on now."

Half an hour later, and before Captain Tom had finished telling his
mother and himself that he was well out of the scrape into which his
officious lieutenant had brought him, one of the Home Guards rode into
the yard with a note from Captain Roach, in which the latter requested
Tom to come to his office at once on business of the last importance.
The young man was frightened again; but the idea of talking over
matters with Captain Roach while his mother was not by to support him
was not to be entertained for a moment. He passed the note over to her
after he had read it, and said almost fiercely to the bearer:

"Tell Captain Roach that he has forgotten himself—that I am his
senior; and if he is so anxious to see me he must come where I am. At
the present time I am not dancing attendance upon him or anybody else."

"One moment, my dear," Mrs. Randolph interposed. "A written invitation
demands the courtesy of a written reply. Permit me to answer the
captain. I will show you the note before sending it away."

His mother went into the house and Captain Tom said to the Home Guard,
who sat on his horse at the foot of the steps:

"Have you any idea what Roach wants of me?"

"I reckon it's something or 'nother about them men from Baton Rouge,
who acted like they wanted to bu'st things," replied the messenger.
"Looks to me like the cap'n feels sorter shook up over what they said
to him, and that he's got himself into some kind of a muss that nobody
but you can help him out of. He talks like he's going to send we uns to
camp. Can you shet him off on that, do you reckon?"

"It depends entirely upon the way you Home Guards conduct yourselves
from this time on," answered Captain Tom impressively. "Roach would
have conscripted you long ago if I hadn't stood your friend, and he may
do it yet if you follow Lambert on any more of his crazy expeditions."

"I didn't foller," said the man hastily, "and I don't want you to think
I did. I was to home all the blessed time. I aint caring to bother the
Yankees so long as they let me be. And Lambert, he won't go off that
away agin. He was purty bad skeared last night."

"What at?" inquired Tom.

"Why, don't you know? Some of our folks went down to the river
yesterday to see what all that shooting was about, and when they come
back and told what Lambert had been a-doing, ole man Gray and the rest
of 'em was that mad that they talked of hanging Lambert up to a tree
and licking you like you was a nigger."

Captain Tom reeled as if the man had struck him with the handle of the
heavy riding whip he carried in his hand, and grasped at the veranda
railing for support.

"I am telling you nothing but the gospel truth," continued the
messenger, not a little surprised at the effect his words had produced
upon his commanding officer, "and I thought you had had time to hear
all about it. They was a tol'able mad lot of men down to the hotel last
night, and when I seen 'em going on I was mighty glad I hadn't went
with Lambert and the rest."

"Do you mean to say that old man Gray dared to talk of whipping _me_?"
exclaimed Tom, who could hardly believe his ears. "Wasn't it Lambert he
spoke of?"

"No, it was you; and he wasn't the only one who spoke of it, nuther,"
replied the Home Guard. "They was all mad, I tell you, and some of them
was for hanging Lambert."

"I wish to goodness they had," said Captain Tom, speaking before he
thought. "That is to say, I wish they had done something to him before
he brought me into all this trouble. Was that what frightened him?"

"You're mighty right, and he took to the bresh as soon as he got wind
of it. But he come out this morning and we all have promised to stand
by him. If they put a ugly hand on one of the company we uns allow to
burn them out."

"That's the idea!" cried Tom, who never would have thought of such a
thing himself. "I see very plainly that we've got to do something to
protect ourselves. We are State troops, and if these cowardly citizens
drive us to it we will treat them as we would the armed enemies of our
country if we could only get at them. We'll begin on old man Gray and
never let up until we've destroyed everything he's got. No man who
dares to threaten me and those who serve under me shall hold up his
head as high—— Sh! Here comes my mother. Don't say a word in her
hearing, but tell Lambert I'll see him after a while and arrange a plan
of operations with him."

Just then Mrs. Randolph came out on the porch with the note she had
written, and which she presented for Tom's approval. It was not written
in his name, but in her own. She said she regretted that her son did
not feel able to accept the captain's kind invitation, owing to the
excitement and distress of mind into which he had been thrown by the
unfortunate occurrences of the last few hours, but if Captain Roach
would honor her by coming up to dinner at the usual hour she hoped he
would find Captain Randolph so far recovered that he would be able to
talk over with him the very important business to which Captain Roach
had referred in his note.

The result of this piece of strategy was that an open rupture between
Captain Tom and the conscript officer was avoided; and when the
latter, who had been so frightened and angered by the threats of the
Baton Rouge committee that he was several times on the point of doing
something desperate, came up to dinner "at the usual hour," he was
the same pleasant and agreeable fellow he had always been. But he
found Captain Tom lying on the sofa in dressing-gown and slippers, and
looking the picture of misery. Before he advanced to take the limp palm
that Tom languidly extended he stopped in the middle of the room and
asked if someone had been laying violent hands upon him. To be candid
he thought it would be a good thing for Tom if the citizens would shake
him up a little.

"No, sir," was the very dignified reply. "Physical pain would not do a
Randolph up in this way. It is purely mental anguish; and my honor has
been touched. I little thought that I should ever permit living men to
talk as those Baton Rouge ruffians talked to me this morning without
promptly calling them to account for it. But my Home Guards were
clearly in the wrong when they fired upon that boat without my orders,
so what could I say or do?"

Captain Roach, who had had plenty of time to cool off and recover his
courage since he wrote that note, smiled pleasantly, gave Tom's hand a
cordial shake, pulled up a chair, and said that the committee had been
quite as savage with himself as they had been with his friend Tom, and
that he had thought it the part of wisdom to comply with their demands
when he saw that they carried revolvers in their coat-pockets, and were
in just the right mood to use them. He said that he had conscripted all
the Home Guards except Tom, as he had agreed to do, because he did not
see how he could help himself. It would be very little trouble for the
Baton Rouge people, with the aid of Rodney Gray's father and a score of
others whose names the captain could mention, to keep watch of the way
things were done at the enrolling office, and if he failed to keep his
promise they would be sure to find it out; but he had conscripted the
Home Guards conditionally. If they would behave themselves in future
and take orders from their captain instead of their first lieutenant
he would not send them to camp until the last minute, and not at all if
he could help it; but the first man who kicked out of the traces would
be the first to be sent to the front. Lambert and the rest understood
this perfectly, and had agreed to be bound by his decision.

"That's the idea!" cried Captain Tom, delighted to learn that at last
he had his refractory men right where he wanted them. "That's the way
to bring mutineers to time. There will be no more trouble of this kind,
I assure you, for I talked to some of my troops very plainly this
morning, and made Lambert knuckle in a way that would have surprised
you if you could have seen it. Of course I shall have to steer clear
of Baton Rouge, but I don't care much for that; although I confess it
nettles me to feel that I cannot go and come when I please, as I have
always been in the habit of doing."

Mrs. Randolph remained in the room long enough to assure herself that
the relations existing between Captain Roach and her son had not been
strained by the events of the morning, and then, bestowing an approving
smile upon each, she arose and went out; whereupon Captain Tom got upon
his feet and carefully closed the door behind her.

"Say!" he whispered when he came back and resumed his position on the
sofa, "did you know that the town was in possession of a mob last
night, and that some Yankee sympathizers among them had the impudence
to threaten me and my man Lambert?"

"I know all about it," replied Captain Roach, an expression of anxiety
settling on his face. "But they were not Yankee sympathizers, for men
of that stamp would not dare open their heads in this community. They
were as good Confederates as you or I."

"Don't you believe any such stuff," exclaimed Tom. "There isn't a word
of truth in it. I know that Rodney Gray is a lowdown private in our
army (he isn't considered worthy of a commission), but his father's
loyalty has always been suspected, and last night he proposed that his
gang of blackguards should whip me and hang Lambert. Now I tell you
that a man who talks that way about me——"

"Somebody has told you what isn't so," interrupted Captain Roach. "Such
a proposition was made last night, but Mr. Gray would not hear to it.
He and a few others talked it down on the spot."

"Well, it's a good thing for old Gray that he did, and if he knows when
he is watching his own interests he will take pains to keep it talked
down," said Captain Tom fiercely. "I was ready for him, and if you
hadn't told me what you have he would have lost some of his buildings
this very night."

The enrolling officer had seldom been so surprised and startled. He
looked fixedly at Tom to see if he was in earnest, and then cried out
in alarm:

"Do you know what you are saying? Are you crazy?"

"I know what I am saying and I am not crazy," was Tom's answer. "I have
been threatened with a nigger's punishment, and I never will rest easy
until the man who proposed the thing suffers for it."

"But you don't know who proposed it and neither do I."

"No matter. I'll make it my business to find out."

"And if you succeed are you going to burn some buildings?"

"I am, most decidedly."

"You have fully made up your mind to that, have you?"

"I have."

"Please present my compliments to your mother when she returns, and
say to her that I could not stop to dinner," exclaimed Captain Roach,
rising to his feet and reaching for his cap.

"What is the matter with you? Where are you going in such a hurry?" Tom
almost gasped.

"I am going to my office, and the first hard work I shall do after I
get there will be to put it out of your power to ruin yourself and your
father and mother, as you seem bent on doing," answered the captain;
and there was a look of quiet determination on his face that Tom had
never seen there before. "Of course you do not intend to do this
incendiary work alone (you haven't got pluck enough for that," the
captain added to himself), "so I shall make all haste to send your men
into the army where they can't help you. They will be the death of you
if I don't."

"And must I let a man talk about whipping me as if I were a nigger and
never do or say the first thing about it?" cried Tom, throwing himself
back upon the pillow and covering his face with his hands. "I am not
made of that sort of stuff, and I did not think a Confederate officer
would advise me to such a cowardly course."

"What would you call a thing in the shape of a man who would sneak up
on another's property, in the dead of night when there was no one to
oppose him, and touch a match to it?" exclaimed Captain Roach hotly.
"Would you call him a coward or not?"

"I don't care," whined Tom. "I am bound to have revenge on the man who
dared to say that I ought to be whipped, and I won't give up my plan."

"You'll have to take the consequences; and if you don't promise right
here and now that you will be governed by me in future, I will go out
of this house and never enter it again; and you know well enough what
that means. I am not going to let you send me to the army in disgrace
if I can help it."

"Sit down a minute," said Tom, seeing that the captain stood ready to
carry out his threat to leave the house. "I don't see how the burning
of a cotton-gin or two will disgrace you or anybody else."

"Yes, you do; for I have explained it to you more than a hundred
times. Mr. Gray and some others are almost ready to report me now for
my failure to make you and your worthless men take your chances with
the other conscripts, and the minute somebody begins to lose property
that minute I shall be ordered away from here and into the army; and
wouldn't that put me in disgrace, I'd like to know?"

"What's the use of my being captain of the Home Guards if I can't call
upon my men to protect me?" cried Tom, who would have given something
to be alone for about five minutes so that he might have found relief
in a flood of tears.

"There isn't a bit of use in it," replied the enrolling officer
bluntly, "except that it keeps you out of the army with my help. Your
commission gives you no authority to call upon the members of a State
organization to avenge your supposed private wrongs."

"Well—why don't you sit down?" repeated Tom.

"I will when I have your promise, and not before. If you have laid your
plans to get me into a muss with the Governor, I must head you off if I
can."

"Then I will make no effort to wipe out the disgrace that has been put
upon me as long as you remain in town," said Tom very reluctantly. "But
after you leave I'll make some people I know of wish they had spoken of
Captain Randolph with more respect. Now sit down and act like yourself."

"You ought to go straight to Mr. Gray and thank him; for if he and
his friends had not stood by you last night you might have been badly
treated," answered Captain Roach, placing his cap on the table again
and resuming his seat by Tom's side. "You and I do not want to go into
the army, and you must see that, in order to keep out of it, it will be
necessary for you to follow a different course from the one you have
marked out for yourself. If I am reported for neglect of duty the jig
will be up with you."

"Then I must lie around and do nothing, must I?"

"Is there anything else you can do with safety? You can ride about the
country at the head of your Home Guards occasionally, just to let the
Union men see that you are keeping up your organization, and after I
receive word that the camp of instruction has been established, you
can take the conscripts there as fast as I can get them together; and
that's about all you can do."

"It's a dog's life compared with what I thought a partisan's life would
be," growled Tom, "and perhaps it isn't safe for me to ride about the
country. The threats that were made against me last night——"

"Will amount to nothing, I assure you," interrupted Captain Roach.
"The hot-heads who made them and who seemed to be so fierce for a fuss
are few in number, and have had time to recover their senses since
then. You can't find a man in town who will say that he was willing to
go with the rabble last night; and more than that, the order-loving
people in the community would not stand by and see a mob run things to
suit themselves. You saw Lambert this morning, didn't you? Well, he
goes around as freely as he ever did, and no one says a word to him."

Captain Tom thought of the compact that Lambert and the rest of the
Home Guards had made to stand by one another in case of trouble with
the citizens, but thought it best to say nothing about it to his friend
Roach. Of course he had to give the required promise over and over
again before the conscript officer became satisfied of his sincerity,
and he did it with apparent willingness; but all the while he was
telling himself that the men who had threatened to whip him as if he
were a nigger, no matter who they were, would hear from him some day,
and in a way they would not like. It took a great load off his mind
to know that he would not be mobbed as soon as he showed himself in
Mooreville. In fact it cured his "excitement and distress of mind" in
a very few minutes; and when his mother returned at the end of half an
hour he had discarded his gown and slippers, and was sitting up dressed
in his full uniform.



CHAPTER VII.

A PERPLEXING SITUATION.


When Captain Roach went to his office that evening, after the best
dinner he had ever eaten in that house, Tom Randolph rode down with
him; and before he had gone half a mile was able to tell himself that
he had been borrowing trouble and without reason. He saw no coldness
whatever in the greetings of those he met along the road, and the few
who stopped to speak with him about the occurrences of the previous day
declared with one accord that they did not lay any blame at his door;
but the way they denounced and threatened Lieutenant Lambert was a
pleasant thing for Tom to hear.

"That man's election wasn't legal any way," was what Tom always said in
reply. "But because I have permitted him to act as my second in command
he has somehow got it into his head that he is a bigger man than I am,
and has a right to do as he pleases. If he has at last found out that
I know a trifle more than he does, and that it is a soldier's place to
wait for orders from his superior, it will be a good thing for Lambert.
If the Baton Rouge people want those gunboats driven away from their
town and will send me word, I will go down and do the work for them as
it ought to be done."

Tom knew that he was quite safe in talking in this lofty way, for he
had learned during his interview with the committee that the people
of Baton Rouge would not look kindly upon or support any effort that
was made to drive the boats away. As long as they were let alone the
Yankees were not unpleasant fellows to have around. They put good
food into the mouths of some of the city people, good hats and shoes
on their heads and feet, and good money in their pockets, and were on
the whole more desirable neighbors than their own enlisted men would
have been, for the latter had nothing to give in exchange for garden
produce and milk and butter and eggs. But the energetic manner in which
they went to work to scatter Lambert's Home Guards proved that these
peaceable gunboat men were ready to fight at a moment's notice.

Captain Tom's courage and importance came back to him rapidly when he
found that the situation was by no means as serious as he had supposed
it to be; and when he saw that even Lambert was willing to acknowledge
his authority, he came to the conclusion that that indignation meeting
at the hotel, and the visit of the Baton Rouge committee, were the best
things that could have happened to him and the Home Guards. He found
Lambert in his usual loafing place in Kimberly's store. Indeed the man
was afraid to go very far away from there, for there was no telling
what might be said and done against him if he should absent himself. He
saluted Captain Tom respectfully, and followed him out of the back door
in obedience to a motion of his finger.

"Look here, lieutenant," said Tom, when they were alone together, "I do
not in the least blame you for saying that you would like to see Rodney
Gray's father burned out to pay him for what he said against you last
night, but——"

"Somebody's been a-lying on me," exclaimed Lambert, looking alarmed. "I
never said no such stuff."

"Oh, what is the use of denying it to a friend?" said Tom, with most
unbecoming familiarity. "But I don't ask whether you intend to burn him
out or not. What I want to say is, that you must on no account think of
it so long as Captain Roach stays here. If you do you will get him into
trouble with the Governor, and he will pay you for it by sending you
and all the men to the front."

"And you too?" asked Lambert.

"He can't conscript a commissioned officer, can he?" said Tom, in
reply. "No, he can't do that; and if you will promise that you will
never do another thing without my express orders, I will see that he
doesn't conscript you, either."

"All right, cap'n. I knuckle to you. That's what I said this morning,
and I meant it. I'll move when you say the word and not before."

"If you had made that sensible resolution long ago you would have saved
yourself and me from insult," said Tom, looking at his lieutenant as
if he would like to give him another piece of his mind. "If you have
learned that I am the head of the company I am glad of it; but if you
want to do anything to old man Gray on your own hook—on your own hook,
I said—why, that is a matter with which I have nothing to do. However,
you must wait until Roach leaves Mooreville."

So saying, Captain Tom saluted and went into the office. When the door
closed behind him Lambert shook both his clenched hands at it, and said
through his tightly shut teeth:

"That's a matter you have nothing to do with, is it? Well, I reckon it
is; and you don't get Sile Lambert into a furse with no such oily words
as them. I know what you want mighty well, but I just aint a-going to
do it. You can pester ole man Gray yourself if you feel like it, and
when the job is done I'll tell him where to find the chap who done it.
I'll learn you to keep my commission from me and pull a sword on me
besides, the way you done this morning. By gum! If I wasn't afeared I'd
go and make friends with the Yankees the way the Baton Rouge folks do.
I'll risk it any way before I will let myself be conscripted."

Having weathered this storm without suffering very much damage except
so far as his feelings were concerned, and quiet having been restored
in the community, Captain Tom settled back into his old lazy way of
passing the time, and waited for something exciting to happen. The
first news out of the ordinary that came to his ears was that Baton
Rouge had been occupied by Federal troops, much to the gratification of
the citizens, both Union and Confederate, who experienced so delightful
a sense of security when they saw the blue-coats on their streets
that they forgot all about the Mooreville Home Guards, and never took
the trouble to inquire whether they had been conscripted or not. But
Captain Roach looked grave, and well he might. He had issued an order
to the effect that those he had conscripted must report at his office
at least once in every twenty-four hours to show that they were still
on hand and ready to receive marching orders; but on the day the news
came that the Yankees had garrisoned the city, only fifteen out of
forty-five presented themselves. Two-thirds of their number had left
home and friends behind and sought refuge in the city.

"This is a pretty state of affairs," exclaimed Tom, when Captain Roach
told him of it. "Those men are not worthy to be called Southerners.
Before I would show myself so cowardly I would go somewhere and hang
myself. What will you do with them when they come back?"

"They'll not come back," replied the enrolling officer. "They will
stay where they are safe, and no doubt desertions will be of daily
occurrence as long as the Yankees remain in the city."

"Wouldn't it be a good plan for me to go down there and harass them
by driving in their pickets now and then?" inquired Tom. He did not
know exactly what was meant by driving in an enemy's pickets, but he
had read in the papers that it was often done by the soldiers in both
armies.

"What good would it do?" asked Captain Roach.

"Why, the enemy wouldn't stay where they were bushwhacked every time
they showed themselves, would they? A few determined men could torment
them as the buffalo gnats torment our stock."

"You must be a lunatic or take me for one," was what Captain Roach said
in reply. "Why can't you be content to let the Yankees alone so long as
they are willing to let us alone? If you should fire on their pickets
they would send their cavalry all through the country about here, and
there's no telling how much damage they would do."

"Do you think they have brought cavalry with them?" cried Tom, a most
alarming thought suggesting itself to him at the moment.

"Why, of course. They want to know what is going on outside the city,
don't they? And how are they to find out except through their cavalry?
You may see blue-coats in Mooreville before sundown. You stay at home
and mind your business, for I hope to have use for you presently."

"Do you mean that you hope to send me off with some conscripts?"

"That is what I mean. I shall have to report these desertions, and
perhaps it will open the eyes of the State enrolling officer to the
fact that he ought to have had that camp of instruction in full blast
long ago."

"But suppose a squad of Yankee cavalry should intercept me on the
road?" said Tom in a trembling voice.

"Then you would have to fight, that's all. If you whipped them it would
be a fine thing for you and might lead to promotion. If they whipped
you they would release your prisoners and take you and your men away
with them."

"And then they would send me up North, and I might not see home again
for long years," faltered Tom; and everyone in the office saw that he
was badly frightened at the prospect.

"Exactly. You took your chances on that when you accepted your
commission, you know. Now, I wish you to go to work on your men and see
that they are in some sort of shape when marching orders come. There
will be guards at the camp, and I hope your company will not suffer in
comparison with them."

Captain Tom saw very clearly that his connection with the Home Guards
was not likely to keep him entirely out of reach of the dreaded
Yankees; and when he looked through the open door and his gaze rested
upon an acquaintance of his who happened to be passing at that moment,
another alarming thought forced itself upon him. It was Ned Griffin,
and he was mounted on one of Mr. Gray's blooded horses. He smiled
pleasantly at Tom, nodded to the Home Guards clustered about the
door, and looked on the whole as though he felt well satisfied with
himself and with his lot in life. Not only was he comfortably settled
as overseer on one of Mr. Gray's fine plantations, but there was no
possible chance that he would ever be forced into the army against his
will; and that was more than Captain Randolph could say for himself.

"How I should enjoy knocking that beggar out of his saddle," said the
latter under his breath. Then he bent over and whispered some earnest
words into the ear of the enrolling officer. "Look here, Roach," said
he, "will you do me the favor to keep the date of marching a secret
from everybody except myself."

"I'd be glad to if you wish it, but I don't see how I can," said the
captain in surprise. "I shall have to notify the conscripts themselves,
won't I? And if they choose to publish it, as undoubtedly they will in
order to give their friends opportunity to come to the office and bid
them good-by, how am I going to hinder it? What difference does it make
to you, anyway?"

"It may make all the difference in the world," whispered Tom. "That
fellow who just rode by would ask nothing better than to send or
take word to the Yankees where they could capture me and a squad of
conscripts on a certain day."

"Whew!" whistled the captain. "If he does that I'll arrest him and ship
him off to Richmond."

"But would that make a free man of me?" demanded Tom impatiently. "And
how are you going to prove it on him?"

"That's so; and when it comes to that I don't suppose Griffin is the
only one about here who would be glad to see you and all the Home
Guards packed off to a Northern prison. The only thing you can do is to
look out for yourself. Take as big a squad with you as you can muster,
and stand ready to fight your way."

Captain Tom was almost disheartened, but made one more effort to shirk
the duty to which, until this particular morning, he had looked forward
with the liveliest anticipations of pleasure.

"Can't you ask the Confederate authorities to send regular troops here
to act as guards, and leave me at home to protect the town?" said he
desperately. He knew it was a confession of cowardice on his part, but
he did not care a snap for that.

"Protect the town!" said Captain Roach in great disgust. "No, I can't.
Yes, on second thought, I can; but it will end in you and the Home
Guards being sent to the front."

The captain spoke impatiently and jerked a sheet of paper toward him
on the desk, intimating by the action that he could not waste any more
time with his friend Tom just then, and the latter walked out of the
office, mounted his horse, and rode slowly homeward. Something was
forever happening to upset his plans, and this last trouble was all
the fault of that man Lambert. If he had not fired upon that unarmed
boat the Federals would never have thought it necessary to send a force
to Baton Rouge, and Captain Tom could have escorted his conscripted
neighbors to the camp of instruction without fear of coming in contact
with the blue-coated cavalry. He would have had many opportunities
to show his fine sword and uniform to soldiers from other parts of
the State, and could have talked as big as he pleased about whipping
iron-clad gunboats in a fair fight. He had hoped to gain admirers among
the officers stationed at the camp, and perhaps he could have himself
recommended to fill the commanding officer's place when the latter was
ordered to take the field.

"But that's all past and gone now," said Tom as he saw these bright
hopes disappearing like the river mists before the rising sun. "If the
Yankee cavalry blocks my way, as it surely will if Ned Griffin gets a
chance to send them word, I just know I shall be captured, for I can't
expect raw troops like my Home Guards to stand against veterans. I wish
Lambert had been hanged before he fired on that boat. Who are these, I
wonder? Strangers; and spies, I'll bet."

This was another thought that troubled him, and if there had been a
branch road that Tom could have turned into he would have taken it
rather than meet the two civilians he saw riding toward him. But there
was no escape and so he kept on his way; and as he drew nearer to
them his eyes began to open wider and an expression of amazement came
to his face. He recognized the horses they rode and the clothes they
wore, and finally it dawned upon him that the tanned and weather-beaten
countenance of one was familiar, though the boy to whom it belonged
had grown wonderfully tall and broad-shouldered since he last saw
him—so much so, in fact, that his clothes were too small for him.
If there was any doubt in Captain Randolph's mind it vanished when a
cheery voice called out:

"Hallo, Tom—ee!"

Tom knew the voice and the odious name by which he had been addressed.
It was the one with which his mother used to summon him into the house
in the days gone by—with a shrill rising inflection on the last
syllable. His first thought was to take no notice of the greeting or to
make an angry rejoinder; but he remembered in time that he had stood in
fear of this same boy when he was several pounds lighter than he was
now. He looked quite formidable as he sat on his horse, and no doubt
during his fifteen months in the army had come in contact with some
rough characters, and gained experience and skill in no end of rough
and tumble fights; so Tom thought it wise to be civil.

"Rodney," he exclaimed, extending his hand with a great show of
cordiality. "You don't know how glad I am to see you back safe and
sound. How long have you been at home?"

"Just three days," answered Rodney Gray, for it was he. "And this is
my old schoolmate, Dick Graham, who lives in Missouri when he lives
anywhere. But at present he is just staying wherever night overtakes
him."

Dick and Tom shook hands, and the latter continued:

"How do you like soldiering? I suppose you have seen some pretty rough
times in the army."

"Oh, yes; but nothing compared with what some have seen. Dick and I
have brought our usual number of legs and arms back with us, but many
of our comrades were not so lucky. Doing anything for your country
these days?"

Tom's common-sense, if he had any, ought to have told him that it would
not do for him to exaggerate his achievements in the presence of Rodney
Gray, who knew him of old, and had seen so much more service than he
had, but he counted a good deal on Rodney's ignorance and Dick's. They
had done all their campaigning in the interior, had never seen the
Mississippi River during their term of service except when they crossed
from Arkansas to Tennessee to join the Army of the Centre, and perhaps
had not had a chance to read a newspaper for six months, and so he
thought he could say what he pleased and they would believe it; but he
reckoned without his host.

"I have been very busy since I took command of the Home Guards," he
said, in answer to Rodney's question. "I don't suppose I have smelled
quite as much powder as you have, but I have been in some pretty hard
battles all the same."

"Why, I hadn't heard of it," said Rodney, looking surprised.

"No, I don't imagine you had opportunity to read the papers very often,
but I thought perhaps your father had said something about it in his
letters. I have whipped two heavy iron-clad men-of-war——"

"Two which?" exclaimed Dick, while Rodney opened his eyes and looked
still more surprised.

Captain Tom repeated the words and was going on to tell about the
fights with the gunboats when Rodney interrupted him with:

"Did those vessels belong to the upper or lower fleet?"

"I don't know," replied Tom. "But they came up from New Orleans."

"Then they were not iron-clads; you may rest assured of that."

"Don't I know an iron-clad when I see it?" cried Tom angrily. "I have
it from good authority that the armor on their sides was eleven inches
thick, and that there were four feet of solid oak back of that."

"Great Moses!" ejaculated Dick. "There isn't a vessel in the Yankee
navy that could carry such a load as that. Farragut has done all his
brilliant fighting with old wooden ships, and there are no iron-clads
in his fleet unless they have come to him since he ran past Forts
Jackson and St. Philip."

"That's so," assented Rodney. "There isn't an iron-clad on the river
except those with which the Yankees demolished our fleet in front of
Memphis."

"How does it come that you land soldiers know so much about what is
going on here on the river?" demanded Captain Tom, who was very much
astonished at the extent of Rodney's information and Dick's.

"Oh, we've had chances to read the papers now and then," replied the
latter.

"And while we were about it we read both sides," chimed in Rodney. "Our
officers didn't like to have us do it, because the Yankee papers tell
the truth, while our own do not scruple to lie outrageously when things
go against us."

Captain Tom did not know what answer to make, for he had never expected
to hear Confederate veterans talk like that. He began to have a
suspicion that they were traitors at heart, but he prudently kept his
thoughts to himself.

"How long do you remain at home?" he asked at length.

"Just as long as I have a home to shelter me," answered Rodney. "And
when the Yanks come in here and burn it down, as they probably will
sooner or later, I shall take to the woods. I am sick and tired of the
service and I don't care who knows it. I tell you, I felt sorry for the
poor fellows I saw in Camp Pinckney, for I know what is before them and
they don't."

"Were they prisoners?" inquired Tom.

"Well, yes; but they didn't go by that name. They were called
conscripts."

"Why, how far is that camp from here?" said Tom, wondering if it was
the place to which Captain Roach would forward his conscripts when the
orders came.

"About 7000 miles," replied Dick. "At least I thought it was that far
before we covered the distance that lies between its stockade and
Rodney's home."

"It's about sixty miles, as near as I can judge," said the latter.
"Haven't you and what's his name—Roach?—raised men enough to fill up
a squad yet? Father says you have been working at it for a good while."

"Captain Roach has mustered some men, but has had no orders to forward
them. In fact I don't think he knows that the camp of instruction has
been established."

"Who's going to take them there when they are ready to go?"

"I am," said Tom proudly; and an instant afterward he felt as though
he had signed his own death warrant. There was no chance for him to
back out now. He couldn't be taken suddenly ill or send Lambert in his
place—he would have to go with the conscripts himself; for that was
what he in his haste said he intended to do, and if he did not keep his
promise this old enemy and rival of his would publicly brand him as a
coward.

"You are? You are going to take the conscripts to the camp of
instruction with your Home Guards?" cried Rodney, his face becoming
radiant when he thought of the obstacles in the shape of blue-coated
soldiers that Captain Tom might possibly find in his way. "Hey-youp!
That will be nuts for the Yanks, won't it, Dick?"

"You bet. There's tolerable many Yanks scattered around through the
woods, and like as not your friend will have the pleasure of meeting
some of them."

"Do you mean to say that they are scouting between here and the camp?"
exclaimed Tom, who was almost ready to drop when he heard his worst
fears confirmed in this positive way.

"We don't mean anything else," answered Rodney. "We ought to know, for
we ran into a squad of them on the way home."

"What did they do to you?" inquired Tom, who did not know whether to
believe it or not.

"Nothing. They just covered us with their carbines and told us to come
in out of the rain, and we came."

"Humph! Why didn't you fight or run?"

"Well, seeing that we had no weapons we couldn't fight; and we know by
experience that when a Yank points a gun at you and tells you to move
over on his side the line, you had better move."

"But how did you escape?"

"We didn't escape. We showed them our discharges, and when they told us
to git, we got. Oh, they were gentleman, high up."

"Top-notch," assented Dick.

"I never yet saw a Yankee who was a gentleman," sneered Tom.

"Look here," exclaimed Dick, who had heard a good deal about Tom
Randolph and learned to dislike him before he ever met him; "have you
much of an acquaintance with live Yanks—I mean with those who wear
uniforms?"

Tom was obliged to confess that he had not.

"Well, we've seen and talked with a few and may be supposed to know
something about them; and when we say that the squad who captured us,
and might have made us trouble but didn't, were gentlemen, we mean it.
If we ever find one of them in a box and see a chance to help him out,
we intend to improve it."

"But as you have no discharge to show, you had better not permit
yourself to fall into their hands while you have that uniform on," said
Rodney. "By gracious! It makes my old hat rise to think how I should
feel if I knew I was going to be ordered off to that camp with a lot
of conscripts. You will lose your prisoners sure, and your Home Guards
will be brushed aside like so many cobwebs. If you get through with a
whole skin we shall call you a good one. We'd better be riding along,
Dick."

"Now you've done it," said the latter, as he and Rodney moved on and
left Tom out of hearing. "You have frightened him out of his wits."

"With your help I think I have given him a good scare," was Rodney's
answer. "I'll bet you a month's wages in good and lawful money of the
Confederacy that Tom Randolph never takes a squad of conscripts to Camp
Pinckney. I know I shouldn't hanker after the job if I were in his
place."

As to Tom himself, he was about as badly frightened as he could be
without becoming frantic, and much against his will he was obliged to
tell himself that there was but one course of action open to him. If it
was true that Federal scouting parties had thrown themselves between
Mooreville and Camp Pinckney, he must run the fearful risk of being
killed or captured by them, or else he must resign his commission,
exchange his fine uniform for a citizen's suit and take the position
of overseer on his father's plantation. Tom wanted to yell when this
alternative presented itself to him. An overseer was on a par with a
blacksmith or a carpenter or a clerk in a store. He had to work for his
living and was in consequence a nobody. And Tom remembered how he had
railed at Ned Griffin when he accepted Mr. Gray's offer, declaring,
in the hearing of everyone who would listen to him, that nobody but a
poltroon would take that way of keeping out of the service.

"And now I've got to come to it myself or get shot," whined Tom. "It
will be an awful come down for a man who has held a commission in the
service of the State, but unless mother can see some other way out I
shall have to do it."

Captain Tom wound up by wishing that every man who was in any way
responsible for the war might always feel as miserable as he felt at
that moment.



CHAPTER VIII.

HOUNDS ON THE TRAIL.


"Why, Tom, what has happened to make you look so pale and haggard?"
anxiously inquired Mrs. Randolph, as the perplexed and discouraged
captain of the Home Guards drew rein before the door and rolled out of
his saddle instead of dismounting in his usual soldier-like fashion.
"Are you ill, or have you heard some terrible news?"

"Both," replied Tom, giving his horse a slap to start him toward the
stable, and afterward throwing himself down upon one of the steps that
led up to the porch. "Who do you suppose has come back to town to worry
and torment me?"

"I hope it isn't Rodney Gray," said his mother, who had not forgotten
that the Barrington boy had been elected to office and presented with a
sword by Bob Hubbard's Rangers, while her son was left in the ranks.
Although she never said so out loud, she had indulged in the hope that
something might happen to keep Rodney away from Mooreville as long as
the war lasted. She knew that he had faced the Yankees in a good many
hard battles, and, being a veteran, of course he would crow over Tom,
who was nothing but a Home Guard.

"Well, it is Rodney Gray, and nobody else," said Captain Randolph, in a
tone of intense disgust. "He looks as though he had been living on the
fat of the land, for the citizen's clothes he discarded when he went
into the army are much too small for him. He has brought with him a
comrade who lives in Missouri and who, I judge, is waiting for a chance
to get over the river; and he's about the most impudent chap I ever
talked to. He knows more about gunboats than I who have been in battle
with them."

"Have you not learned that those who are the most conceited generally
know the least? But you are not obliged to associate with them, and
besides you can't; for you are an officer and they were nothing but
privates."

"I know that, and I did not at all like the familiar way in which they
talked to me. They gave me bad news. They were captured by Federal
cavalry while they were coming home."

"Tom!" exclaimed Mrs. Randolph, who was much surprised and alarmed to
hear it, "do you mean to say that our enemies are scouting through the
country?"

"That's what I mean; and if you have any valuables you don't want to
lose, you had better be taking care of them."

"That is what I think. How did Rodney manage to escape?"

"He didn't escape. The Yankees read his discharge and let him go free.
And that chum of his, Dick Graham, says they were gentlemen, and if he
ever sees one of them in a scrape he will help him out if he can. And
they are both tired of the war and don't mean to go back to the army.
The way they talked was shameful, and I will speak to Roach about it
the very next time I go to the office."

Tom then went on to repeat the conversation that had taken place
between himself and the returned veterans, and by the time he got
through his mother was as deeply perplexed and as badly frightened as
he was. Two things were plain to her: Rodney and Dick were traitors at
heart, and ought to be arrested and imprisoned before they had time
to talk to any of the conscripts as they had talked to Tom, and the
other was that her son could not take a squad of men to the camp of
instruction and run the risk of being captured by the Federal troopers.

"Now that I have had time to think of it, I don't care whether they are
shut up or not," answered Captain Tom. "If they are permitted to run
loose in the settlement and to talk to the conscripts as they did to
me, they may frighten them into deserting to Baton Rouge; and in that
case, don't you see, there wouldn't be any men for anybody to guard to
the camp of instruction. But if a squad is sent there I am bound to go
in command of the escort; I don't see how I can get out of it, for I
told Rodney that I was going."

"What of that? Why can't you send Lambert, or let Captain Roach go in
your place?"

"If you can think of any excuse I can offer for not going I shall be
delighted to hear it," replied Tom. "But if I back out after what I
have said about Ned Griffin's cowardice and all that, Rodney Gray will
never let me hear the last of it. I haven't said much to you about it,
but all the returned soldiers laugh every time my name is mentioned
in their hearing, and make sport of the Home Guards because they are
willing to acknowledge me as their commander; and I believe that is one
thing that makes them so ready to rebel whenever I issue an order they
don't like. Of course Rodney will be the worst of all, for he never
liked me."

"Why, my dear boy, you are in a predicament, that's a fact," exclaimed
Mrs. Randolph, who had never dreamed that the situation was as bad
as this. She knew that Tom would not see a minute's peace if he gave
the common people of Mooreville, especially such low fellows as the
returned veterans and those who composed the rank and file of the Home
Guards, any reason for believing that he was lacking in courage. "What
can you do? Have you decided upon anything?"

"I have not. That is something you will have to do for me. As far
as I can see there are but two courses of action open to me: I must
either take the conscripts to camp and take my chances on being shot or
captured——"

"O Tom, I'll never consent to that," exclaimed his mother, almost
tearfully. "You had much better follow young Griffin's example. Your
father and I can arrange all that by sending Larkin into the army and
putting you in his place."

Larkin was Mr. Randolph's overseer; and he had not been conscripted by
Captain Roach because his employer had claimed exemption for him. Mr.
Randolph supposed, and so did his wife, that Tom was provided for as
long as the war continued; and as it was necessary that they should
have an overseer they decided that Larkin would do as well as anybody
else, and Tom's father had entered into a verbal contract to purchase
his freedom by providing the hundred pounds of bacon and beef demanded
by the Confederate Government. They would not have done such a thing if
they had had the least suspicion that Tom's position as captain of the
Home Guards was likely to bring him into contact with the Yankees.

"That is the only alternative," said Tom. "I must face death or
confinement in a Northern dungeon, or I must send my resignation to
the Governor at the new capital. But I am afraid Larkin will demand a
larger bounty than father will be willing to pay."

"Your father will not give him a penny with my consent," said Mrs.
Randolph very decidedly. "He is a hireling, and his wishes will not be
consulted. He will simply be discharged; that is all there is of it."

"But he is obstinate and hard to deal with, and perhaps he will refuse
to go before his year is out," suggested Captain Tom.

"In times like these civil contracts are not worth the paper they are
written on," said his mother, in a tone which seemed to imply that she
had already determined upon some course of action. "There are some
hundred hands on this plantation, and if your father should find it
impossible or inconvenient to pay, within twelve months, the eighty
thousand pounds of meat which the Confederate Government will demand as
the price of Larkin's exemption, then what? I think myself that Larkin
will take to the woods before he will go into the army."

"I don't care where he goes so long as he gets out of my way," declared
Captain Tom. "I don't know what our neighbors will think of me when
they see me in the field with a gang of niggers, but I can't discover
any other way out of the difficulty; can you?"

"At present I cannot; but I would much rather know that you were safe
in the field and within sound of the dinner-horn, than to fear that
you were in danger of being shot or captured. Perhaps we had best let
the subject rest where it is until I have had time to ask your father
what he thinks about it. I will tell you our decision to-morrow; and
meanwhile don't commit yourself. There goes the bell."

It was the call to dinner and Captain Tom answered it, although he
did not have much appetite for the things he found on the table. His
father had of late got out of the way of asking his son if he had heard
any news in town, but when the latter remarked that he had met and
talked with Rodney Gray that morning, and that Rodney and his companion
had been captured by the enemy while on the way home, Mr. Randolph took
interest enough in the matter to inquire into the particulars, and to
ask Tom if he didn't think he would run some risk in taking conscripts
to camp.

"Risk!" repeated Captain Tom. "You may well say that. Roach thinks I
will have to fight my way, and so does Rodney. He said in so many words
that I would be sure to lose my prisoners, that the Home Guards would
be brushed out of the way like cobwebs, and if I got through with a
whole skin he would call me a good one. Risk! I should think so. It's
positively dangerous!"

"Well, if you don't want to go, there is one way you can get out of
it," replied Mr. Randolph, as he folded his napkin and pushed his
chair back from the table. "You can throw up your commission."

"I have thought of resigning," said Tom; and he had half a mind to
broach the subject of Larkin's discharge then and there, but finally
concluded that he would leave it to his mother.

"As far as I am concerned, I shall be glad to see you a civilian once
more, and to know that I shall never put eyes on that sword and uniform
again," continued Mr. Randolph. "The Southern people are all fools, and
a year ago I was one of the most senseless of them."

"Does that mean that you have given up the hope of Southern
independence?" inquired Tom, who was not greatly surprised, although he
had never heard his father talk in this way before.

"It means that we have made beggars of ourselves by trying to break
up the government when we had no earthly excuse for it. We were never
short of anything before, and now I am put to my stumps to find paper
to write on and salt for my table. There will be no bacon and hams for
us next winter unless I can induce some of my friends to do a little
trading in Baton Rouge for me. I dare not go into the city to do it for
myself, for you are captain of the Home Guards. I wish in my soul that
I had had a guardian appointed over me about the time I was making such
an idiot of myself on account of that company."

Mr. Randolph rubbed some "nigger twist" between his palms, jammed it
rather spitefully into an earthen pipe with a cane stem, and went out
on the gallery to enjoy his after-dinner smoke. He was a rich planter,
and it was not so very long ago that his crop of cotton was worth a
fortune to him every year; but he could not smoke cigars now unless
they were given to him. Some of his neighbors who had not taken so
deep an interest in the Home Guards, Rodney Gray's father for one,
had passes that took them in and out of Baton Rouge as often as they
chose to make use of them; and these men had salt and tea and coffee,
stockings and shoes and cigars in abundance, and "plenty of greenback
money, too," as one darkey affirmed, who chanced to catch a momentary
glimpse of the inside of Mr. Gray's pocket-book.

Mr. Randolph made his exit from the room through one of the low windows
that opened upon the veranda, sat down long enough to take a dozen or
more pulls at his pipe, and then came back to say:

"Tom, you want to be kinder careful what you tell about Rodney Gray and
his folks, for, if we work matters right, I am sure Gray will lend me a
helping hand now and then; and goodness knows I need it bad enough. I
suspicion that in some way or other he has got on the blind side of the
Yankees in Baton Rouge."

"Then he ought to be reported to our authorities," said Mrs. Randolph
spitefully.

"That's what I say!" exclaimed Captain Tom. "If he is giving aid and
comfort to the enemy he is breaking our laws; and I say——"

"Hold your horses," interrupted his father. "What is the use of cutting
off your nose to spite your face? Instead of giving aid and comfort to
the Federals, he is working them so that they are giving much aid and
comfort to him and a few others who are in the ring with him."

"And is it your desire to become one of that 'ring,' as you call
it?" demanded his wife, pitching her voice in a little higher key
than usual. "Would you collogue with the enemies of your country for
the sake of making something out of them? Mr. Randolph—George—I am
surprised to hear you hint at such baseness; and in the presence of a
prominent State officer, too."

"Hold your horses," said Mr. Randolph again. "If I can make something
to eat and wear by trading with the Yankees, who seem to have enough
and to spare, it is to my interest and yours to do it, is it not? And
through it all I can still be a good Confederate, can't I? Look here,"
he continued, walking up to the table and sinking his voice almost to a
whisper. "I have 200 bales of cotton concealed in the swamp, and Gray
has more than twice as much. And every bale of that cotton is worth
sixty cents a pound in New York."

Mr. Randolph straightened up and looked at his wife and son as much as
to say, "What do you think of that?" He expected them to be surprised,
and certainly he was not disappointed. For a minute or two they were so
amazed that they could not speak.

"Six—did I understand you to say _sixty_ cents a pound?" Captain Tom
managed to ask at last.

"Where did you hear that ridiculous story?" chimed in Mrs. Randolph. "I
have read the papers very closely, and I didn't see anything of it."

"Do you for a moment imagine that our lying papers——"

"Mr. Randolph—George!"

"Hold your horses. I know what I am talking about. It is a fact that
our papers conceal everything that goes against us, or make light of
it, and of course they wouldn't say that cotton is bringing sixty cents
in the North while in the Confederacy it is worth only seven. If our
papers should publish such reports as that, don't you see that the
Confederacy wouldn't get any more cotton? Every planter who owns a
bale would make haste to run it into the swamp."

"If I had any cotton I would rather give it to our government for three
cents than to our enemies for twenty times as much," declared Captain
Tom, who, seeing that he did not possess a pound of the commodity in
question, could afford to be very patriotic. He looked at his mother,
expecting to hear her say that she would do the same; but she gazed
down at her plate and said nothing. Sixty cents a pound! Reckoning each
bale at 450 pounds that would make her husband's concealed cotton worth
about $54,000, _if_ it could only be placed in the hands of the Yankees
without being confiscated. But there was the rub.

"Tom, you always were about half-witted," exclaimed his father, who was
so angry that he spoke without thinking. "I would rather have sixty
cents in greenback money than four dollars in Confederate scrip any
day; and I don't see the use of your talking in that senseless way."

"But your cotton is in the swamp, and how are you going to get it to
New York?" asked Mrs. Randolph.

"And how do you know that you and the darkeys who helped you put it
there are the only ones who know where it is?" chimed in Tom. "The
Lincoln hirelings have been stealing cotton all the way from Cairo to
Vicksburg, and what assurance have you that some enemy of ours will not
guide a gang of blue-coats from Baton Rouge to the place where it is
hidden?"

"I have no assurance whatever, and that is one thing that robs me of
sleep at night," replied Mr. Randolph; and the nervous way in which he
puffed at his pipe and strode about the room showed that the thought
made him uneasy every time it came into his mind. "Of course I stand a
chance of losing it; but if I can keep it a few months longer I know it
will be worth a big sum of money to us—and good money, too. One of our
neighbors, who shall be nameless, showed me a couple of Northern papers
he brought from Baton Rouge last night, and both of them contained a
notice of that sale of cotton in New York. There were seventy bales
of it, and it was confiscated at Port Royal. Some of the ranking
officers in the city also told him that there was some talk of opening
a trade in cotton at all points occupied by Federal troops, and that
influential parties were applying by the hundred for permits. He could
have told me more if he had felt like it, but Tom, your miserable Home
Guards, whom I wish I had never heard of, made him shut his mouth. I am
afraid I ruined myself utterly by helping you organize that company."

Too nervous and excited to say more, Mr. Randolph stepped through the
window to the porch, and Tom left the table and went slowly upstairs.
He could not have told what prompted him to do it, but when he reached
his room he took off his fine uniform and arrayed himself in a suit
of citizen's clothes. He stood his elegant sword up in the corner
of his closet, and when it slipped down so that he could not close
the door, he kicked it out of the way as he would have done with any
other worthless piece of furniture. For some reason he seemed to have
conceived a sudden and violent dislike to everything that reminded
him of the service in which, one short year ago, his whole soul been
wrapped up; and when he mounted his horse, which a darkey had brought
to the door, and the animal began to prance and go sideways, as he
had been taught to do, Captain Tom was so angry that he lashed him
unmercifully with his whip, and would have kept him in a dead run all
the way to the enrolling office, had it not been for an unexpected and
somewhat startling interruption.

Although there were many extensive and well-cultivated plantations
around Mooreville, there were some unbroken patches of timber which
stretched away into the Pearl River country and beyond. This timberland
was mostly low and intersected by innumerable little streams, which,
when the Pearl was "booming" at certain seasons of the year, overflowed
their banks and turned all the productive bottom into an immense swamp.
It was here that Tom Randolph's hog-stealing lieutenant plied his
vocation, though he might have had venison instead of pork, if he had
not been too lazy to hunt for it; for the bottom was a famous place for
game of all kinds. There were runaway negroes there too, by the score,
and their numbers had increased wonderfully since the war broke out.

It was while Tom was galloping furiously past one of these patches
of timber, which was separated from the road by a narrow field of
corn, that his attention was attracted by the loud baying of a pack
of hounds; but his mind was so fully occupied with the punishment he
was inflicting upon his unoffending horse that he did not give much
heed to it, until he caught sight of a couple of men riding swiftly
through the corn a little in advance of him. When they reached the
fence that ran between the field and the road one of them threw off
the top rails so that they could jump their horses over it, while the
other raised his hand as a signal for Tom to stop. Then he saw that the
men were strangers to him, that they wore gray uniforms, were armed
with carbines and sabres instead of squirrel rifles and shot guns, and
wore plumes in their slouch hats instead of rooster feathers. They
were veterans beyond a doubt; but where did they come from, and what
were they doing in that country, which was supposed to be guarded by
an efficient company of Home Guards? Their presence angered Captain
Tom, and he wished he had the authority to order them back where they
belonged without asking any questions; but they greeted him very
civilly.

"Good-afternoon," said the foremost, as he leaped his horse over the
ditch and came into the road where Tom was waiting for him; then he
made a military salute which was promptly and gracefully returned. "Ah!
I thought you were one of us from the start," continued the veteran.
"What regiment?"

"I do not belong to any regiment," admitted Tom. "I am commander of a
partisan company and hold a commission from the Governor."

"Seen any service?" was the soldier's next question.

"More than I want to see again," replied Tom, who had not yet been
cured of his propensity to boast as often as the chance was presented.
"The enemy's gunboats have kept me pretty busy since they came up from
New Orleans."

"Well, if you've got courage enough to fight gunboats, you've got more
than I have," said the veteran honestly. "How high up are you?"

"I am a captain."

"I beg your pardon, sah, I have been a little too fast. I am only
a second lieutenant, and my comrade is a first duty sergeant," and
then the lieutenant and his sergeant both raised their caps. They had
evidently served under some officer who exacted all the honors due him.

Of course they took the right course to gain Tom's good will and bring
them an invitation to supper, but they did not do it intentionally.
Having served at the front ever since they enlisted, and until they
were transferred to the invalid corps on account of wounds received
in battle they had never seen any Home Guards, and did not know the
estimation in which that useless organization was held by the people
who knew the most about them. They had heard of the exploits of John
S. Mosby, who commanded a body of men that were farmers during the
daytime and robbers and cut-throats at night, and who had kept certain
portions of Virginia in a turmoil even before he was thought to be
worthy of a commission in the Confederate army, and they supposed that
every company of partisans was just like his. Consequently they were
ready to treat Tom Randolph with the greatest respect.

The latter drew himself up very stiffly, assumed a soldier's position
in the saddle, copying Rodney Gray as nearly as he could, and said with
the dignity befitting his rank:

"I assure you that no apologies are necessary. I am always glad to
shake a loyal Confederate by the hand." And he proved it by extending
to each of the veterans a palm that was as limp as a piece of wet rope.
"Now, may I ask where you belong, and what business brought you to this
part of the country?"

"Certainly, sah. We used to belong to Jackson's brigade and division,
but were invalided on account of injuries received in action, and are
now serving as guards at a conscript camp, dog-gone the luck. We are
on the trail of four escaped Yankees who are making tracks for Baton
Rouge. Didn't you hear our dogs giving tongue just now?"

"I noticed it, but supposed the hounds were running something on their
own hook. I noticed, too, that they yelped as though they were baffled."

"And so they are. We have followed the trail for forty miles through
swamp and briers and cane, and now we have lost it completely. We ought
to have captured and hung the villains long ago, but everywhere along
their line of flight they have been assisted by the negroes. We found
abundant proof of it."

"Well, that bangs me!" exclaimed Tom, who, like many others of his
class, labored under the delusion that the slaves did not know who
their friends were. "Why did you not shoot the negroes?"

"For the very good reason, sah, that we could not place the blame upon
any particular ones. We found where the Yanks had been fed, and once
came so close upon them that we captured some quilts which the darkeys
had loaned them for beds; but among the hundred and fifty negroes on
that plantation we could not find the one who owned the quilts. Do you
know of any Union men or blacks around here who would be likely to give
them food and shelter, or aid them in reaching Baton Rouge?"

If that question had been asked him the day before Captain Randolph
could have mentioned the names of a dozen white men who were mean and
disloyal enough to give food and shelter to anybody who wore a blue
uniform, but now he could not think of a single one. Among others he
would have given the names of some returned soldiers who had spread
dissatisfaction in the ranks of his company by deriding Tom's ability
as a commander and laughing at the story of his battles with the
iron-clads, and he would have asked the lieutenant what he thought
of fellows like Rodney Gray and Dick Graham who did not hesitate to
declare that they were sick of the army, and did not intend to go back
if they could help it. He would have told, too, of the trading that
was continually going on between the Yankee invaders and so-called
Confederates who lived in Baton Rouge and Mooreville; but somehow he
did not speak of any of these things. The knowledge that Mooreville
might at any moment be occupied by Federal cavalry frightened him; and
the plain words his father spoke at the dinner table opened his eyes to
the fact that silence was sometimes good policy. So he made answer:

"There are several people about here who are suspected of being Union,
but I can't say whether they are or not. I drove some out of the
settlement months ago, and they have never returned."

"That was perfectly right, sah," said the lieutenant, "but I should
think you would be afraid to stay here. What will you do when the Yanks
come swarming into town, and some mean sneak tells them that you have
been persecuting Union men? You will have to take to the brush."

"But do you think the enemy is in sufficient force to ride over us like
that?" inquired Tom anxiously. He had often asked himself this very
question, and tried to find comfort in the hope that the Yankees would
never find their way to Mooreville.

"Oh, it doesn't require much force to take full possession of a little
town like this," replied the veteran. "I could do it with a dozen men.
We have seen 200 of their cavalry since we have been on this hunt."

"You have seen them!" ejaculated Tom.

"Yes. We ran into some of them and had to skirmish our way out. We have
seen a squad on every road except this, and how those four escaped
prisoners we are after missed seeing them beats me."

"Do you mean to tell me that there are 200 Yankees between here and
Camp Pinckney?" exclaimed Tom, who did not like to hear Rodney's story
and Dick's confirmed in this positive way. "I should think you would
have turned back when you found your way blocked."

"Since you are an old soldier, sah, and have snuffed Yankee powder, I
know that you are joking. Our way wasn't blocked, and we had no orders
to turn back. We were commanded to capture those four men and bring
them to Camp Pinckney without the loss of an hour; and so we kept right
on as though there hadn't been a Yank within 1000 miles of us."

Captain Randolph gazed admiringly at the veteran, who did not talk or
act as though he had done more than any other soldier would have done
under the circumstances.



CHAPTER IX.

UNCLE SAM'S LOST BOYS.


"I wish I had some of your courage," said Tom at length. "I may need
it, for I am liable any day to be ordered to Camp Pinckney with a squad
of conscripts."

"W-h-e-w!" whistled the lieutenant. He looked at the sergeant, the
sergeant looked at him, and then they both looked at Captain Tom with
an expression on their faces that the latter could not understand.
"Well, if this is the sort of work you partisans have to do, I am glad
I am not a partisan," continued the lieutenant. "I'd rather go through
Bull Run and take my chances, than attempt to travel the sixty miles
between here and camp with a squad of conscripts. You will have to take
to the woods, of course, and that will be the time your conscripts will
give you the slip. If you start with a hundred and get through with ten
you will be doing well."

"There are people here who think I'll not get through at all," said
Tom. "They say that I and my men will be captured or killed."

"_Of_ course," answered the lieutenant, who had never once thought of
that contingency. "It's to be expected that you will take your chances
on that. It is what we all have to do when we meet the enemy."

"Have you found them a tolerably brave lot?" inquired Captain Tom, who
wanted much to meet some veteran who would assure him that the Yankees
were all cowards and did not know how to fight.

"As brave as they make 'em," said the lieutenant earnestly, "and dead
shots into the bargain. We have bitten off a good deal more than we
can chew in ten years; now you remember what I tell you. Of course,
captain, I wouldn't say that in the presence of a civilian; but one old
soldier knows how to take another. Now, don't you think, sah, that you
partisans could lend us a hand in capturing these Yankees."

"Why, certainly; and I will warn my company out at once," replied Tom
readily. "Where will I find you at the end of a couple of hours? I want
you and the sergeant to take supper and lodgings at my mother's house
to-night."

"Much obliged to you, sah, but we couldn't think of it," said the
lieutenant. "Colonel Parker—he's the regular who commands the
camp—would take us to task for wasting time if he should hear of it,
and besides, we don't want to run the risk of being gobbled."

"Gobbled?" repeated Captain Tom; for that was a word that had not yet
reached his part of the Confederacy.

"Captured, you know."

"Who's going to capture you at our house?" exclaimed Tom, who could
feel himself turning white.

"The Yankee scouts might, if they should happen to ride into town and
any enemy of yours could tell them where to find us; and these escaped
prisoners might do it."

Captain Randolph was utterly confounded. His idea of an escaped
prisoner was a man running frantically for his life and too badly
frightened to look behind him; but the lieutenant's words made it plain
to him that the four who were foot-loose somewhere in the vicinity
of Mooreville were not that sort. He became really alarmed when the
soldier went on to explain the situation.

"You see they were run down and gobbled up three days ago by a large
squad of our cavalry, who started them for camp under guard of four
good men, one for each prisoner," said he. "But before they had been
away from us half an hour, what do those Yankees do but rise up and
kill their guards, take their weapons and ammunition, hitch their
horses in the woods so that they could not go on and alarm the camp,
and dig out through the swamp for the Mississippi River."

"And those armed and desperate prisoners are supposed to be somewhere
in the settlement at this moment?" said Tom with a shudder.

"That is what we think, for the dogs tracked them within a mile of this
cornfield."

"I hope you will hang them the minute you get your hands on them,"
said Tom, in a trembling voice.

"There are fourteen men in my squad and that is what they allow to do,"
replied the lieutenant; "but then they won't, for that would bring them
into trouble with Colonel Parker. If a captured man sees a chance to
escape he is at liberty to improve it, and to hurt anything or anybody
that gets in his way; and in doing it he runs the risk of getting hurt
himself."

"The first we heard of it," said the sergeant, speaking for the first
time, "was when six of our men came into camp on foot, and reported
that they had been disarmed and dismounted by four Yankees who had
paroled and turned them loose."

"That was about as impudent a thing as I ever heard of, and it shows
what a daring lot those escaped Yanks are," said the lieutenant; and
instead of getting angry when he thought of it, he surprised Tom by
laughing heartily, as though he looked upon it as the best kind of a
joke. "A private has no right to parole anybody, but all the same those
Yanks wrote out the papers in due form, and told our boys that they
could either sign them or stay there in the swamp till a party came out
from camp to bury them. And our boys thought they had better sign."

"I didn't suppose that escaped prisoners ever acted that way," said
Captain Tom, after a few minutes of surprised silence.

"Won't they have something to talk about when they get among their
friends?" said the lieutenant, with another laugh. "They are brave
soldiers, and I'll bet you they are good fellows; and when the war is
over, I don't care which side whips, I would like to meet them and talk
over the events of the last few days. We'd have a good laugh over them."

"I don't think it is any laughing matter to kill four men as those
Yanks killed their guards," replied Tom, who could not understand how
men fighting under opposing flags could have the least particle of
respect or kindly feeling for one another.

"Oh, that's war, you know," said the lieutenant lightly. "But you will
see now why the sergeant and I must decline your kind invitation to
take supper and sleep at your house. We don't want to put ourselves in
a position to be surrounded and captured, for we are pretty close to
Baton Rouge, and those Yanks might decide to take us along instead of
parolling us. If we camp in the woods with our dogs around us we'll
know that we are safe. Now, we shall have to bid you good-by, captain.
You will get your company together and do what you can to help us?"

"Look out that they don't get the first shot at you, sah," suggested
the sergeant.

"And if you are lucky enough to catch them may I depend on you to send
them to camp under guard?" added the lieutenant. "It might be to your
interest to make the acquaintance of our colonel."

Captain Randolph shook hands with the two veterans and promised to do
all a loyal soldier could do to head the fugitives off from Baton Rouge
and send them back to Camp Pinckney; but there was not so much heart
in his promise as there was in the one he made before he learned that
the Yankees were armed and daring. In order to keep up appearances,
however, he put his horse into a lope as soon as the hand-shaking was
over, and made the best of his way to the enrolling office. He found a
few Home Guards loafing there, but not half as many as he would have
found two days before. These valiant men had heard that they might be
ordered off with a squad of conscripts any time, and they did not care
to go while the Union cavalry were riding about through the country.
So the most of them stayed at home, holding themselves in readiness to
take to their heels if they saw a horseman approaching, and had any
reason to believe that he had been sent by Captain Roach to warn them
to report for duty. The captain was at his desk, and for some reason or
other seemed to be in the best of spirits.

"You ought to have dropped in about half an hour ago," said he, as Tom
walked into the office after hitching his horse at the rack in front
of the door. "I have had a very pleasant visit from one of your old
friends, who has just returned from Bragg's army."

Captain Randolph was so surprised that he forgot all about the
daring Yankees who were running wild in the woods in close proximity
to Mooreville. He left home for the express purpose of warning the
enrolling officer against Rodney Gray and his chum Dick Graham,
but something in the captain's manner told him that his efforts in
that direction would not meet with much success; for the returned
soldiers had had the first chance at the captain, and they were both
smooth-tongued, winning fellows.

"If you are speaking of Rodney Gray——" began Tom, in angry tones.

"So you have seen him, have you!" exclaimed the enrolling officer,
leaning back in his chair and breaking out into a peal of laughter.
"Well, he's a good one, isn't he?"

"If you are speaking of him," sputtered Tom, "you know as well as I do
that he is no friend of mine. I have told you so more times than I can
remember."

"I know you have, and I confess that I treated him and his chum
rather coldly when they came into the office and said they wanted to
set themselves square with me by showing that they were honorably
discharged Confederate soldiers," answered the captain. "But they did
not seem to care a snap for me or for my opinion of them."

"That's just like Rodney's impudence," exclaimed Tom.

"Well, you see he has a sort of good-natured contempt for me because I
am not a veteran. He knows more in five minutes than I do in a month,
and he is not ignorant of the fact. He and his chum sat down without
waiting to be asked, talked as though they had known me always, and I
laughed till I cried over the stories they told of army life. I hope
to hear more of those stories when I go up to Gray's to dinner on
Thursday."

If the enrolling officer had aimed a blow at him with the ebony ruler
that lay on his desk Tom Randolph would not have been more dumfounded.
He leaned heavily upon the back of a chair for a moment or two, and
then dropped almost helplessly into it.

"To Gray's—to dinner on Thursday!" he repeated faintly. "You
can't—you mustn't go there."

"What's the reason I mustn't?" demanded Captain Roach, surprised in his
turn. "Good dinners are not so plenty these times that I can afford to
throw them over my shoulder."

"It isn't that," replied Tom. "It's the sentiments of the people who
invited you that I object to. When you go into old man Gray's house you
will go plump into a nest of traitors."

"No, I reckon not. A man who volunteers and does a soldier's duty for
fifteen long months, and who shows me an honorable discharge, can't
well be called a traitor."

"He stayed in the army after he got there because he had to, and did a
soldier's duty for the very good reason that he couldn't help himself,"
said Captain Tom spitefully. "But see how he talks since he came back!
He says he will not go into the army again, and declares that the Yanks
who captured him while he was on the way home were gentlemen."

"Well, what would you think if you had been in his place? What was
there to hinder those Yanks from taking him and Graham to Baton Rouge
and turning them over to the provost marshal? They were in uniform when
they were captured."

"I see you are on the side of those traitors," said Tom, rising to his
feet and pounding lightly upon the captain's desk with his clenched
hand, "and I have this much to say to you: If you go to Gray's you will
no longer be welcome at our house."

"I shall be sorry for that, of course, but I don't suppose I can help
it. Gray and his chum know all about soldiering, and as I may have to
go into the army myself some day, I want to learn all I can from them.
I think you would be wise to do the same."

"And while you have been having a good time with my enemies, I have
been working for the cause which you made oath to support but seem
to have deserted," continued Tom impressively. "I have been making
arrangements to capture some of the very men whom Rodney Gray and Dick
Graham promised to assist if they found them in trouble. I want all
you fellows," here he turned about and addressed himself to the Home
Guards who had come into the office to hear what passed between their
captain and the enrolling officer, "to mount your horses at once and
go in pursuit of four escaped prisoners who are hiding in the woods
somewhere on the outskirts of the town. As you go, warn every other
member of the company you see to turn out and join in the chase."

"Why, captain, what do you mean?" cried the enrolling officer, becoming
excited at once.

Without paying the least attention to him or his question, Captain
Tom proceeded to give his men a short and very incomplete account of
the interview he had held with the two veterans while he was on his
way to town. We say the account was incomplete because Tom did not
tell his men that the fugitives had armed themselves when they escaped
from their guards, and had been carrying things with a high hand ever
since. He was afraid he could not raise much of a squad to aid in the
pursuit if he told that; so all he said was that the four Yankees were
striking for Baton Rouge, that fourteen Confederate veterans had been
following them with hounds for three days past, and that if they (the
Home Guards) would turn out in a body and capture the prisoners from
under the noses of the Confederates, it might be a feather in their
hats. The Home Guards thought so too; and hardly waiting for Tom to get
through with what he had to tell them, they made a rush through the
door toward the rack at which their horses were hitched.

"I am glad to see you so prompt to obey orders," shouted Captain Tom,
following them to the sidewalk and waving his hand to them as they rode
off one after the other. "We'll show the authorities that there are
some loyal people around here yet. I'll be with you as soon as I can
ride home and get my uniform and weapons, but you needn't wait. Divide
yourselves into squads of six or eight, and search every nook and
corner of the woods you can get into between this time and dark. And
don't forget corn-cribs and nigger cabins, nor the cellars and lofts of
Union men."

"I think it strange that you did not bring those Confederate officers
straight to my office," said the conscript captain, when the last Home
Guard had ridden away out of sight.

"Since you have deserted loyal people for the society of those who
say that they will not do anything more for the cause they pretend to
believe in, I am sorry myself that I did not bring them here," answered
Tom. "But I did not once think of it. I am glad they did not accept my
invitation to supper, for I should have felt obliged to ask you to join
them. Where are you going?" he added, when Captain Roach began bundling
his papers into his desk and locking the drawers.

"I am going to help capture those four Yankees," said he. "They are
Confederate prisoners, and I am a Confederate officer."

Tom did not wait to see him off, but mounted his horse and set out for
home at top speed, as if he were impatient to arm himself and join his
men in the pursuit; but he went long distances out of his way to summon
members of his company whom he knew he would not find at home, so that
it was after three o'clock when he galloped through his father's gate
and drew rein at the foot of the steps. He had had ample time to think
over the situation and make up his mind what he would do.

"My dear boy," exclaimed Mrs. Randolph, when Tom had hurriedly
explained matters to her, "you must not risk your life and liberty by
going in pursuit of those escaped prisoners. I'll never consent to it;
never in this world."

"Then show me, please, how I can get out of it," answered Captain
Tom, gently disengaging himself from his mother's clinging hands and
starting up the stairs toward his room. "Some of my men are in the
woods by this time, and if that lieutenant should happen to run against
them, his first question would be: 'Where's your captain? He ought to
be here, conducting the pursuit in person.' Really I must show up,
mother, for I want those veterans to tell Colonel Parker, when they
go back to camp, that I did all I could to aid them in capturing the
Yanks."

"Then you are sure they will be captured—that they will not be
permitted to roam at liberty during the night?" said Mrs. Randolph, who
had never before exhibited so much nervousness and anxiety as she did
at that moment. "I couldn't sleep if I knew they were at large."

"No, I am not sure of it, for they have proved themselves to be both
daring and cunning. Just think what they have done! They have killed
their guards, captured and paroled half a dozen soldiers, and kept out
of reach of the hounds for three days; and such men are not going to be
taken easily, I bet you," replied Tom from the head of the stairs; and
then he went into his room to don his uniform and buckle on his sword
and revolver. A few minutes later he came out to ask his mother what
she thought of Captain Roach's way of doing business.

"I wonder if he couldn't be reported and hauled over the coals for
associating with those Grays?" said Tom.

"If the captain is disloyal—and we have no way of judging of his
feelings except by his actions—I certainly think his superior
officers ought to know it," said Mrs. Randolph. "But, my dear——"

"I know what you want to say," interrupted Captain Tom. "You mean that
if I report him for any of his shortcomings, he will conscript me. Then
he had better do it at once, for if he waits a week it will be too
late."

"Tom, are you going to resign your commission?"

"I am going to take Larkin's place as overseer of this plantation,"
replied Tom, very decidedly. "I thought it would be a big come-down
at first, but since I have thought the matter over, I have made up my
mind that it will be a change for the better. I can't be forced into
the army; being a civilian I may be able to obtain some salt, coffee,
and things from the Yanks; and if father ever has a chance to sell that
cotton, I shall be at hand to help him run it up out of the swamp."

Captain Tom fully expected that his mother would strongly object to
these plans, and he even thought she might denounce him as a traitor to
the South and its flag; but somewhat to his surprise she did nothing
of the kind. She, too, had had leisure to think the matter over, and
much against her will had been obliged to confess to herself that it
didn't pay to be too good a rebel while the Federals held undisputed
possession of Baton Rouge, and blue-coated cavalry were scouting about
through the country. She even wished that Tom would hide his uniform,
his military saddle and bridle, and his sword where nobody would ever
see them again.

"That is what I have decided to do," continued Captain Tom, as he
slipped his six-shooter into its holster and came down the stairs, "and
I mean to attend to it as soon as I see those four Yanks captured."

"Perhaps it would be as well," answered his mother. "Delays are
sometimes dangerous. But I don't see how I can give my consent to let
you go on this expedition."

"Don't worry about me. I am bound to come back all right, and I'll
never have to go on another. And when that traitor Roach gets ready to
send off his conscripts, he can tell somebody besides me to take them."

"Will you recommend anyone to the Governor to take your place?"

"Not much. I don't care whether or not anybody gets it, so long as
Lambert is left out in the cold with a fair chance of being sent to
Camp Pinckney. Good-by, mother. I must be off, or some evil-minded
person in the settlement will accuse me of shirking my duty."

The leave-taking was a tearful one on Mrs. Randolph's part, but Captain
Tom could not have been more unconcerned if he had been going to
Mooreville to buy groceries. He thought he knew a way to keep up his
reputation as a loyal Southerner and steer clear of the dreaded Yankees
at the same time.

"There's one thing about it," soliloquized Tom, as he galloped out of
the gate, waving a last farewell to his mother as he went, "our folks
are not as fierce for secession as they used to be, and I am mighty
glad to know it. We're getting so we live awful hard. Our table is a
sight to behold, with nothing on it but corn pone, bacon, sweet potato
coffee, and buttermilk from one week's end to another's, and I am
getting tired of such grub. And where am I going to raise forty-five
dollars in Confederate money to pay for a pair of boots when these wear
out? There's plenty of gold in the house, and I could use it to good
advantage if I could only get into Baton Rouge and obtain a permit from
the provost marshal to trade there. I'll bet you that Rodney Gray and
that chum of his will be rigged out spick-and-span from head to foot
the next time I see them, and they will buy their things inside the
Yankee lines, too. Now, I'll tell you what's a fact; I've just as much
right to use the Yankees as they have."

When Captain Tom reached this point in his meditations he drew rein in
front of a pair of bars giving entrance into a lane that ran through
his father's plantation in the direction of the river. The house was
concealed from his view by an abrupt bend in the road, and a hasty
glance on each side showed him that there was no one in sight; so he
bent down from his saddle, opened the bars, and rode into the lane. It
is true that the escaped prisoners and the soldiers and hounds that
were pursuing them were not on that side of the road, but two miles
away in the opposite direction, but Captain Tom did not stop to think
of that. He knew where he was going, and made all haste to get there as
soon as he had put up the bars.

"There are not half a dozen citizens in the neighborhood who will lend
a hand in catching those prisoners, and the last one of the Home Guards
will fall out and strike for a place of safety the minute they find out
that the Yanks are armed," thought Tom, as he rode swiftly along the
lane, turning about in his saddle now and then to make sure that no one
was observing his movements. "And that being the case, why should I
risk my life in trying to capture them? Say! By gracious!"

As this exclamation fell from Captain Tom's lips he pulled up his horse
with a jerk, and looked first at the road and then at the cluster of
trees that shut the house off from his sight. He spent a minute or two
in this way and then rode on again.

"That's a splendid idea, but my wit always comes too late to be of any
use to me," said he angrily; and he avenged himself on his slow wit
by hitting his spirited horse such a stinging cut with his whip that
the animal came very near "flying" the road and going off into the
ditch. "Instead of this gray uniform, which will send me to a Northern
prison if the Yankees ever catch me with it on, why didn't I keep on my
citizen's clothes? Then I needn't have had the least fear of meeting
the prisoners. I could have fed and sheltered them to-night and guided
them to the city in the morning; and in return for my services I could
have asked the provost marshal to give me a permit to buy some things
in the stores. Dog-gone the luck!"

Captain Randolph hit his horse another merciless blow with the whip,
and this time the animal's sudden spring had a most astounding result.
He jumped sideways clear over the ditch that ran by the side of the
road, and when he landed on the opposite bank he stopped so quickly
that his rider was thrown headlong from his saddle, bringing up among
the cotton stalks ten feet farther on. He was not in the least injured
or even jarred by his fall, but he was tolerably angry to find himself
so easily unhorsed. He raised himself on his elbow, but before he could
make another move, or give utterance to his pent-up feelings, a voice
near at hand said pleasantly:

"Glad to see you, John, but didn't expect to be introduced in such a
promiscuous manner, you know. Don't stand on ceremony, but come right
in. The latch-string is always out."

This incident happened almost in the edge of the little grove of
evergreens toward which Captain Tom had been directing his course ever
since he passed through the bars. It was his intention to conceal
himself and his horse among the evergreens and remain there in safety
until dark, while the rest of the Home Guards and the citizens, if
any there were who had a fancy to join Captain Roach in such perilous
business, searched the woods for the escaped prisoners.

Tom Randolph's first feeling was one of the most intense surprise,
without a particle of fear or anxiety in it; but when he rolled
over on his side to bring his face toward the grove, he was almost
paralyzed with terror to see three ragged fellows in nondescript
uniforms advancing swiftly upon him, while a fourth covered his head
with a cocked carbine from the edge of the evergreens. One of the three
secured his horse, which had not moved an inch since he rid himself
of his inhuman rider, a second swung the black muzzle of a musket in
unpleasant proximity to his face, and the third knelt by his side and
took possession of his sword and revolver.

"Was yer looking fur we uns, Johnny boy?" chuckled the one who held the
musket. "If yer was, hyar we is. Mighty glad to see yer, and dat's a
fac'. Come along now, and we uns will cut a watermillyun."

"Who—who are you?" gasped Tom, whose terror was greatly increased by
the soldier's grim humor.

[Illustration: TOM RANDOLPH CAPTURED BY THE ESCAPED PRISONERS.]

"Well, Johnny, we're so ragged and dirty just now that we don't rightly
know who we are, except that we are some of Uncle Sam's lost boys,"
replied the one who had captured the sword and revolver. "I expect he's
down to Baton Rouge now waiting for us, and so we'd best be toddling
along. Take that horse into the grove out of sight, Ben. Come on,
Johnny."

"Have you heard hounds giving tongue in the woods anywhere about here?"
inquired the one who had first spoken.

Tom was so nearly overcome with fear that he could not answer. He
hardly knew when two of Uncle Sam's lost boys took him by the arms and
raised him to his feet. All he realized was that he had run squarely
into the hands of those he had tried so hard to avoid.



CHAPTER X.

NED GRIFFIN BRINGS NEWS.


After accompanying our Confederate hero, Rodney Gray, through fifteen
months of army life, during which he saw more adventures, endured more
hardships and learned more wisdom than he had ever dreamed of, we left
him, at the close of the second volume of this series, safe in the home
of his boyhood, which he had left for the avowed purpose of "driving
the Yankees out of Missouri." He confidently assured his mother and
the servants who assembled to see him off that it would not take more
than three or four months to do that, and then he would return, like
Lentulus of old, "with victorious eagles." Instead of that, he came
back as ragged and disgusted a specimen of a Confederate volunteer as
could be found anywhere in the South at the time of which we write,
and that is saying a good deal. The summer clothing given him and
his comrades at Tupelo after the retreat from Corinth, and which had
been furnished by one of the numerous "ladies' associations" of the
South, was not calculated to stand soldier treatment. The trousers
Rodney wore were made of a rich shawl, and his blouse had once been
part of a costly silk dress. His nights at the camp-fire, and the days
he had passed trudging along dusty roads, had played sad havoc with
his "pictured uniform." That was what Dick Graham called it, and his
regiment, which had been pretty well supplied with clothing of the same
description, presented a very fantastic appearance the first time they
went on dress parade.

You will remember that Rodney brought Dick home with him. Dick wanted to
get into Missouri where his parents were, and in order to do that it was
necessary that he should find some point on the Mississippi that was not
guarded by Federal gunboats. They came from Camp Pinckney on foot, and
had been doing duty as infantrymen for months, although their regiment
was always spoken of as the —th Missouri cavalry. Their horses had been
"confiscated" by the commissary department during that dreary "mud
march" from the disastrous battlefield of Pea Ridge to Van Buren and
Pocahontas. The commanding general, Van Dorn, did not need cavalry
during that march, but it was necessary that his wagon train should go
through; so as fast as his jaded teams gave out and dropped in the road,
he took cavalry horses to replace them, and in process of time the two
Barrington boys found themselves on foot like hundreds of others.

You will remember, too, that when Rodney reached home he led his friend
into the parlor and pushed him into an easy-chair with the words: "Stay
here till I find somebody," and that his mother came in a moment later.
The way in which the two greeted each other after their long separation
was something of which Dick Graham could not remain an unmoved
spectator, for it made him think of his own mother away off across the
river, whom he might never see again. He staggered rather than walked
to the window, and looked out at the oleanders in the yard.

"O Rodney, is it possible that you have come back to me at last!"
exclaimed Mrs. Gray tearfully; and Dick knew, without turning his head,
that she was holding her stalwart son off at arms' length and giving
him a good looking over.

"Yes, sir," replied the returned soldier, placing his arm about his
mother's waist and leading her toward a sofa, "I have come back, and I
have come to stay. The last words you said to me right out there on the
gallery were that you never wanted to hear that I had failed to do my
duty. You haven't heard any such report as that, have you? I have done
the best I could, but I have come back whipped; and I wish every other
man who wears a gray jacket were honest enough to say the same thing."

The listening Dick expected to hear his chum soundly rebuked for giving
utterance to such sentiments, because he knew that the women were much
more zealous for the cause of Southern independence than their male
relatives, that they were exerting themselves to the utmost to keep the
war spirit at fever heat, and that, if it hadn't been for them, the
army from which he had just been discharged would have dwindled to a
corporal's guard long ago. By an accidental glance into a mirror that
hung on a side wall Dick saw that Mrs. Gray was holding her soldier boy
tightly clasped in her arms; but he did not hear her utter one word of
reproach. Like many another mother's, her patriotism had been sorely
tried, and now that Rodney had returned safe and sound she considered
that she had done all for the cause that could be expected of her, and
hoped that he would never leave her side again. Let some other mother's
son—Mrs. Randolph's, for instance—take Rodney's place at the front.

"Say!" exclaimed Rodney, starting up all of a sudden. "What's the
matter here? This room doesn't look just as it did the last time I saw
it. Where's the carpet?"

"It was cut into blankets and sent to Corinth, along with a lot of
other things that I thought might be of use to you ragged, shivering
soldiers," replied his mother.

"I hoped you would never be called upon to make the smallest
sacrifice," said Rodney in a tone of disgust.

"Do you think I made no sacrifice when I sent you to the field?" said
Mrs. Gray reproachfully. "O Rodney."

"I didn't mean that," said the boy quickly. "But you don't want to rob
yourself for the sake of those fellows up there," bobbing his head in
the direction in which he supposed Bragg's army to be. "Like as not
the poor, foolish woman who cut her shawl up to make these trousers
of mine will suffer with cold for the want of it. But I am forgetting
something. Come here, old fellow. Mother, you have often heard me speak
of Dick Graham, the only brother I've got. Well, here he is. Rags and
dust and all, that's Dick. Kiss him for his mother, and tell me where I
will find father."

The lonely, homesick young Missourian was almost overwhelmed by the
kindly greeting that Rodney's mother gave him, but his friend was quick
to notice it and came to his relief. When his mother said that Mr. Gray
had gone to Mooreville on business and might not be back for an hour
or two, he seized Dick by the arm and hurried him up to his room.

"I have known you a good while, but I never saw you look so glum
before," said he, as he closed the door and forced Dick into a seat.

"You may well say that," replied the latter. "I bore up pretty well
until I saw you and your mother together, and that knocked me. It's a
fur ways to Little Rock, and there are a good many Yanks on the road."

"I'll trust you and your discharge to get along with the Yankee cavalry
if I can only see you safe over the river," said Rodney. "There is
where the fun is going to come in."

"Don't you think that the commanding naval officer, or the provost
marshal at Baton Rouge, might be prevailed upon to give me permission
to go over openly and above-board?" inquired Dick.

"Not much. You wouldn't do it yourself if you were in their places.
How would they know but that you were a spy or a bearer of secret
despatches, and that your discharge was a humbug? I tell you, Dick,
since I have had time to think of the way those Yankee scouts treated
us when they told us to come in out of the wet, I confess to a very
friendly feeling for the Yankees. How many are there who would have
run us in, just to be able to say that they had captured a couple of
graybacks?"

"That's so," assented Dick.

"Now the best thing you can do is to stay with me long enough to rest
your hands and face, say a week or such a matter, and then we'll go up
to Vicksburg——"

"Suffering Moses!" exclaimed Dick. "There is a portion of two Yankee
fleets up there, according to the last report I read, and they are
fighting our fellows all the time."

"Well, say Port Hudson then. There hasn't been much of any fighting
there. We'll buy a light, tight boat and provision it——"

Here Dick straightened up, and turned his pockets inside out one after
the other to show that they were empty.

"I know what you mean by that," exclaimed Rodney, "but I'll see that
you have all the money you want—money, I said, and not such stuff as
that," he added, thrusting his hand into his pocket and pulling out
the roll of Confederate scrip that the paymaster had given him with his
discharge. "Mother was wild for Southern independence when this thing
was first started, but thought it wise to prepare for a rainy day; so
she and father and I put away a little gold."

"If it wasn't for the fact that my father and mother did the same
thing, I'd call you a traitor," said Dick.

"Oh, I know we are in good company," answered Rodney with a laugh. "And
we don't think any the less of ourselves for putting away that gold,
either. Think what a fix Washington's army was in when it was mustered
out at Newburgh. Those men were victorious, but even victors must eat
and have something to wear, and what did they have to live on? Do you
suppose they would have thought seriously of mutiny if they had had a
little store of hard stuff to fall back on? That's why we hid the gold;
and it doesn't make any difference what sort of laws the government at
Richmond passes, we are going to keep what we have. Now, let me show
you how much my old company thought of me."

Although Rodney's room had been regularly cared for during the long
months it had been without an occupant, he noticed, the moment he went
into it, that nothing had been disturbed. A newspaper, which he had
tossed upon the floor the morning he left, was lying in nearly the same
spot yet; and his light fowling-piece was standing in the corner where
he had placed it after shooting a hawk that was bothering Aunt Martha's
chickens. He opened the door of his closet as he spoke, and almost
without looking put his hand upon the elegant cavalry sabre that Bob
Hubbard's Rangers had given him. The uniform he had worn while acting
as drill-master, and his military saddle and bridle were there, too.

"I left them at home because I knew they would get me captured if
I tried to take them into Missouri," said he. "Now, pull off that
picture-book," he added, nodding toward Dick's silk blouse, "and after
you have removed a little of the Louisiana soil from your features, put
on this citizen's suit. I am not sure it will fit you, but it is the
best I can do until I see how trade is."

"I suppose gold is as potent in Baton Rouge as it was in Little Rock,"
said Dick. "But do you think our discharges will take us inside the
Yankee lines?"

"We'll make them," replied Rodney. "We'll say that we want to report
ourselves to the provost marshal and get a paper of some kind from him
that will keep the Federal scouts from bothering us; and when we see
him we'll bounce him for permission to trade."

The boys went to work to make such improvements in their personal
appearance as they could with plenty of soap and water and Rodney's
abundant wardrobe, and when a bell rang in a lower hall half an hour
later, they answered it looking quite unlike the dusty ragamuffins who
had walked unbidden into Mrs. Gray's front parlor. It is true that
their coats were a little short in the sleeves and tight across the
shoulders, but there were no holes in them or in the light shoes they
wore on their feet.

"That's all O. K., mother," said Rodney, catching a momentary glimpse
of a well-filled table through the open door. "When you can't think
of any other way to put in the time, just ask us if we want something
to eat. Now come and sit down with us, and tell us everything that's
happened since I have been in the army."

Rodney's entrance into the dining room seemed to be the signal that
the house servants had been waiting for. The moment he stepped over
the threshold they rushed in through every door, some smiling, some
laughing outright, and all pushing and crowding one another in the
effort to be the first to shake "young moster" by the hand. Foremost
in the struggle was Rosebud, the darkey who had been Rodney's playmate
in the days of his babyhood, and who yelled so dolefully when he went
away. Although they all inquired particularly after his health, there
was not one among them who asked what he thought of the Yankees as
fighters now that he had had some experience with them. They knew as
well as he did that he and his comrades had failed utterly in their
efforts to take Missouri out of the Union.

Mrs. Gray could not describe in one dinner hour everything that had
happened in and around Mooreville during the last fifteen months, nor
could she do it in a dozen hours; and even at the end of a week she
and her husband had many questions to answer as well as many to ask.
But before he went to bed that night Rodney knew pretty nearly what
Tom Randolph and his Home Guards had been doing, and how he and the
enrolling officer stood in the community, and had been made to see at
least one thing very clearly: the surest way for him to keep out of
the army was to follow Ned Griffin's example and take a position as
overseer on one of his father's plantations.

"I am overjoyed to know that you have decided to remain at home with
us," said his father, "but, to be honest, I did not look for it, so I
gave Griffin the best opening I had. Our upper plantation, as you are
aware, is right in the middle of the woods; but I think Ned will be
willing to make the change if I ask him."

"Not for the world," said Rodney quickly.

"I am used to living in the woods, so I will take the little farm and
let Ned and his mother stay near civilization, where they can see white
folks once in a while. Besides, I'd rather like to be within reach
of the cotton you've got up there. A Northern paper that came into
our hands just before we left Tupelo contained the information that
there's going to be trading allowed along the river, and what the Yanks
especially want is cotton."

"I don't blame them," said Mr. Gray, with a smile. "It is worth sixty
cents a pound in New York."

This piece of news almost took Rodney's breath away.

"Four hundred and fifty bales at—let me see; $270 a—— Great Scott,
father! That doesn't look as though you are going to be reduced to
beggary."

"But you must bear in mind that our cotton is not in New York, but
concealed in the depths of a swamp," said his mother; and Rodney
afterward had occasion to recall the words when he was working night
and day, with Sailor Jack's assistance and Marcy's to keep this cotton
out of the hands of rascals, both Union and Confederate, who were
trying their best to take it from him by force or to cheat him out of
it. This news was so very important that it could be talked of only in
whispers; and after the difficulties that lay in the way of getting the
cotton into the hands of the traders had been discussed in tones so low
that no eavesdropper at the door could have heard a word of it, Mrs.
Gray said in her ordinary voice:

"You boys have often spoken of having Northern papers in your
possession. Did your officers permit that?"

"Well, no," said Rodney, with a laugh. "It was against orders to
look at one of them, and I have seen men triced up by the thumbs for
disregarding that order."

"Then how did they get inside our lines?"

"They were taken from dead Yanks, or out of the pockets of prisoners,"
replied Rodney. "Sometimes they were handed over to an officer, or
thrown aside to be picked up by other men who didn't care so much
for orders; and those who got them were mighty careful to know who
was around when they took them out to read them. Why, mother, I am
telling you the gospel truth when I say that all the reliable news we
army fellows got was what came to us through the columns of Northern
papers, or from the mouths of Northern prisoners. But, as I was
saying—$120,000 and over. That's what your cotton is worth, father,
and I will take the little farm so as to be where I can see it once in
a while."

There were so many questions to be asked and answered that Rodney and
Dick scarcely stirred out of the house during the whole of the next
day. On the second day they rode out to call upon Ned Griffin and his
mother, both of whom shed tears of joy and gratitude when they took
Rodney by the hand.

"Yes; thanks to your father's kindness, I am here yet," said Ned,
wiping his eyes, which grew misty every time he spoke of his
benefactor, "though mercy knows how I am going to pay the debt I shall
owe him when the terms of the conscription law are complied with. A
hundred pounds of beef and bacon for every darkey on this place, big
and little, and beef and bacon worth—worth way up yonder," said Ned,
pointing to the ceiling. "It will take me a lifetime to pay it."

"Oh, no, it won't," said Rodney encouragingly, "for if goods are high,
your services will command wages in proportion; don't you see?"

"Do you imagine that I will ever charge your father a cent after what
he has done for me?" cried Ned indignantly. "I am not that kind of a
fellow, and you ought to know it."

"Well, I suppose that is sentiment, but it isn't business," said the
practical Rodney. "Now, then, what do you know? Have you the straight
of the fights the Home Guards had with those gunboats?"

Ned laughed until he was red in the face, and then went on to give the
"straight" of one "fight" as he had heard it from indignant citizens of
Baton Rouge, who had petitioned General Williams, the Union commander,
to send a company of cavalry to Mooreville with orders to exterminate
the Home Guards or drive them from the country. The boys heard much
the same story from several disabled veterans of Bragg's army, upon
whom they called on their way home, and that was the way Rodney came
to know so much about what had been transpiring along the river during
his absence. He and Dick also learned from various sources that the
enrolling officer would prove to be a jolly and entertaining companion
when once they became acquainted with him, but as he was Tom Randolph's
friend, they had better not trust him too far at first.

"Perhaps we'll not trust him at all," said Rodney. "We can tell better
after we have had a look at him. As we are not in the Confederate
service we are under no obligations to go near him; still he might look
upon it as a courteous and friendly act if we were to drop into his
office to-morrow and tell him 'hallo!'"

With this object in view they rode to Mooreville on the afternoon
of the next day, and that was the time they saw Tom Randolph and
frightened him nearly out of his wits, as we have recorded, by assuring
him that he need not expect to take a squad of conscripts to Camp
Pinckney without having a brush with the Union cavalry. It was after
they left him that they heard the hounds giving tongue in the woods;
but such sounds were common enough in that country, and so they paid no
attention to it, although they might have done so had they been able
to look far enough into the future to see what was going to happen
afterward.

When they reached the enrolling office Rodney found that he knew
everyone there except the officer in charge; and as he shook hands with
some and barely nodded to others, he told himself that they were just
the sort of men he expected to find in Tom Randolph's company of Home
Guards. There were a few industrious, hard-working ones among them, but
the majority were long-haired, lazy vagabonds, who had never been known
to earn an honest living.

"They're a pretty set to fight a gunboat," he whispered to Dick while
the two were hitching their horses at the rack. "And I'll bet my roll
of Confederate scrip against yours that they never take any conscripts
to the camp of instruction. I'll go farther, and say that they will
never start with any, for when they are wanted they'll not be found.
Now let's go in and see what sort of a chap we have to deal with."

Dick Graham put him down at once as a conceited prig, who did not
know a thing outside of office routine, and was so disgusted with
the airs he tried to throw on that he did not salute when he handed
out his discharge; but Rodney, who did not care any more for the
enrolling officer than he did for a crooked stick in the road, pursued
a different course, and very soon succeeded in making Captain Roach
ashamed of himself. He made him see that there was a big difference
between a veteran soldier and a Home Guard, and ended by asking him to
dinner.

"Now you've done it," said Dick, as the two mounted their horses and
rode homeward. "If your mother had wanted that officer at her table,
don't you think she would have asked him long ago?"

"Oh, that's all right," said Rodney. "We're privileged characters, and
my folks will back up anything we do or say. Besides, during the last
three days I've got to be a policy man."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Just this: so long as Captain Roach collogues with Tom Randolph and
his mother—she's the one I am afraid of, for she is a schemer from
the word go, I tell you—so long will he be more or less under their
influence; and I am well enough acquainted with them to know that they
would not hesitate to say or do anything that came into their heads
if they thought they could set him against me. So I wanted the first
chance at the captain. There's no telling at what moment he may be able
to do us a good turn."

When the boys reached home they were surprised to find that there was
a good deal of suppressed excitement among the servants, which showed
itself now and then in spite of all their efforts to keep it concealed.
Rodney's black playmate, who came to the steps to take charge of their
horses, was full of news, but his master could not get anything out
of him, although he threatened, if he did not speak, to take him on
board the gunboats and sell him to the Yankees the first thing in the
morning. When they went into the house they met Mrs. Gray, whose face
showed that she was not altogether at her ease.

"What's up?" demanded Rodney.

"Nothing more than we can expect in times like these, I suppose," she
replied, with a smile. "But the blacks are frightened, and of course
that has an effect on me. There are four escaped Union prisoners in
the vicinity, and some Confederate soldiers are pursuing them with
bloodhounds."

Dick Graham took note of the fact that she did not say "some of _our_
soldiers," as almost every other Southern woman would have done. He
thought of the Federal scouts who had captured and released himself and
Rodney a few days before, and said mentally:

"I hope they'll not catch them. I wish we could find them long enough
to hand them a bottle of turpentine. That would throw the dogs off
their trail in short order."

"Well, what are the blacks frightened at?" continued Rodney. "The Yanks
don't make war on people of their color."

"But they know that there are two ex-Confederate soldiers in this
house——" began Mrs. Gray.

"Now I understand it!" exclaimed Rodney. "And that was the reason
Rosebud wouldn't tell me what he had on his mind, though I promised to
sell him if he didn't. He was afraid that Dick and I would saddle up
and go after those prisoners. Well, we're not making war on Yanks so
much as we were, so you can rest easy, mother. But how did you find it
out? We didn't hear a word of it in town or along the road."

"Three of the pursuing party rode into the yard not half an hour
ago to tell me of it, and to ask if I thought any of our blacks
would be likely to feed and shelter the Federals if they came on the
plantation," answered Mrs. Gray. "And I could only say truthfully
that I was sure they would. The soldiers do not mean to give the poor
fellows any rest, or the least chance to escape to the river."

"Hal-lo!" ejaculated Rodney. "Is a Yank a poor fellow in your
estimation?"

"A weary and hungry man is always an object of pity," replied his
mother, "and such have never been turned from this plantation without
having their wants relieved. And now the soldiers have gone and put
those dreadful Home Guards after them."

"Haw, haw!" laughed Rodney. "Tom Randolph's Home Guards may be dreadful
to unarmed Union men who have never snuffed powder, but veterans, such
as I take these escaped prisoners to be, won't stand in fear of them.
Why, mother, if these four men were armed they would whip Tom's whole
company."

"They are thoroughly armed," said Mrs. Gray. "And when they are in need
of food they walk right into a plantation house and demand it."

"That's all right too. You don't expect men to go hungry when there's
grub in sight, just because they have the misfortune to be Yanks, do
you? Where did they get their weapons?"

Mrs. Gray shuddered as she told the story as we have already heard
it; and when she described how the fugitives had surprised, captured,
and paroled a squad of six men who had been sent in pursuit of them,
Rodney's face and Dick's beamed with admiration.

"I'll bet they are bricks," said the former.

"Top-notch," chimed in Dick.

"And do the Home Guards know that the Yanks are armed?" continued
Rodney. "If they do, there isn't a man in the company who will join in
the pursuit. They'll make a big show of going if Tom orders them out,
but the first good chance they get they'll hide in the woods."

"And I don't know that I blame them," observed Dick.

"Nor me. There's no fun in walking up on an armed and desperate man
when he is concealed and can see every move you make, while you cannot
see hide nor hair of him. Mother," here he sunk his voice to a whisper,
"I hope they won't catch those fellows; and if they come around this
house I'll help them if I can."

"Here too," whispered Dick; and Mrs. Gray never uttered a word of
rebuke. The boys believed that she would help them herself.

When Mr. Gray came in the matter was talked over again, and he did not
appear to be very anxious that the fugitives should be captured. On the
contrary he discussed their chances of escape with great composure,
and said he thought their prospects would be brighter than they were
if they only had somebody with them who could show them how to throw
off the dogs. These dogs were not intended to seize the fugitives, you
will understand, but merely to overtake and hold them at bay until the
soldiers could come up. Large packs of trained "nigger" dogs would
sometimes pull down a single man when they found him in the woods, and
it is a matter of history that some of our poor fellows who escaped
from Andersonville were sadly torn by them.

But the four escaped prisoners in question did not come near Mr. Gray's
house that night; or if they did, Rodney and Dick never knew it. It was
on the morning of the next day, just as breakfast was nearly over,
that the first exciting thing happened. Ned Griffin rode into the yard,
and on his way to the back porch he passed along the carriage-way in
front of one of the dining-room windows. Rodney had a fair view of his
face as he rode by, and Ned looked through the open window and saw
Rodney; and in an instant a signal passed from one to the other—a
signal so very slight that no one but a schoolboy would have noticed
it, but it told Rodney as plainly as words that Ned had news for him
that he did not want to divulge in the presence of any third party. So
Rodney hastily excused himself and went out on the porch.

"You look just as Rosebud did when I came home last evening," said he,
when he saw Ned standing at the foot of the steps holding his horse by
the bridle. "But I hope you will be more accommodating than he was, for
he would not tell what he had on his mind."

"Say," replied Ned. He looked all around to make sure that there was no
else within hearing and then went on. "You heard about those escaped
Yankees, didn't you?"

"I heard all about them. What of it?"

"They came to our house last night."

"That's all right. You treated them white, didn't you?"

"I treated them the best I knew how. I thought you and your father
wouldn't care."

"Of course not. But we would care if you had treated them any other
way. What of it?"

"They want me to guide them to Baton Rouge," continued Ned; and then
Rodney noticed that the hand with which he held his bridle trembled
like a leaf.

"That's all right too, and I don't see anything alarming in it. Why
don't you do it?"

"I am perfectly willing to do it, but you see they have got Tom
Randolph with them and won't give him up. They are bound to take him
into the city as a prisoner, for they captured him in uniform."

This astounding information almost knocked Rodney over. He sat down on
the topmost step, rested his elbows on his knees and his chin on his
hands, and looked at Ned without speaking.



CHAPTER XI.

THE ESCAPED PRISONERS' STORY.


"I tried my level best to induce the Yanks to let Tom Randolph go free,
and so did mother," continued Ned, slipping the bridle over his horse's
head and seating himself on the steps at Rodney's feet, "but they
wouldn't hear to it. The worst of it is, they scared the life out of
Tom and made him confess everything."

"I am sorry to hear that," replied Rodney, who had leisure, while Ned
was speaking, to gather a few of his wits about him. "If Tom told how
he persecuted unarmed Union men in this settlement he's a goner sure
enough, for there isn't a soldier in the world who will stand such work
as that."

"I don't believe he said a word about it," exclaimed Ned.

"Then what in the name of sense did he have to confess?"

"About fighting those gunboats, you know."

"He never fought any gunboats," declared Rodney impatiently. "What do
you suppose possesses him to stick to that lie every chance he gets?
One would think he'd get tired of it after a while."

"I asked him that very question when the Yanks permitted me to have a
little private talk with him," said Ned, "and the reason he gave was
this: he had heard that brave men respected brave men, and he hoped his
captors would treat him with a little more courtesy if they knew that
he was a valiant soldier."

Rodney Gray was utterly confounded.

"Valiant sol—— Great Scott! There isn't a bigger coward in the
Confederacy than Tom Randolph!" he exclaimed.

"But you see the Yankees don't know that, and Tom has stuffed them so
full of his ridiculous stories that they imagine they have got hold of
a second Mosby or Morgan, and that he is worth keeping."

"Did you tell them all this?" inquired Rodney.

"Of course I did; but, although they know that I am a Union man and
down on everything that looks like secession or rebellion, they would
not believe me, and you will have to go up and try what you can do;
that is, if you feel like helping one who has always done his best to
injure you."

"I'd like to take Tom Randolph right out there in the carriage road
and punch his head for him this minute," replied Rodney, "but I am not
coward enough to take vengeance on him in any other way. I'll go, of
course, but I don't imagine they will pay any more attention to me than
they did to you."

"Yes, they will; for they know you."

"Know me?" cried Rodney, opening his eyes wide with amazement. "I
reckon not. I don't know a living Yank."

"Well, they know you, and Dick Graham as well," insisted Ned. "They
remember perfectly of reading your names on the discharges you showed
when they captured you between here and Camp Pinckney."

Rodney Gray had got upon his feet, but when he heard these words he sat
down again. He stared hard at Ned as if he were trying to understand
something that was too hard for him, and shouted:

"Rosebud!"

"What are you going to do?" asked Ned, when in response to the summons
the darkey came tumbling out of the kitchen with a slice of bacon in
one hand and a chunk of corn pone in the other.

"I am going to ask you to come into the house and tell your story to
Dick and the folks from beginning to end," answered Rodney. "Give your
horse to Rosebud and come on."

Ned Griffin followed his conductor with some reluctance, for he did not
know what a man who had fitted out half a dozen partisan rangers, and
who was a large slaveholder besides, might think of an overseer who
gave aid and comfort to Union soldiers and abolitionists without saying
a word to him about it. The quick-witted Rodney must have known what
he was thinking about, for after placing Ned in a chair and carefully
closing all the doors that gave entrance into the dining room, he
walked up to his father and whispered:

"Those escaped prisoners were up to Ned's last night, and he is afraid
you will think hard of him for giving them a bite to eat."

"And loaning them blankets too, Mr. Gray," chimed in honest Ned, who
meant that his employer should know the full extent of his offending.
"They had blankets enough first and last, but were so hard pressed by
the dogs that they had to throw away everything except their guns."

"Well, I assure you that I don't think hard of you for giving hungry
men something to eat and a bed to sleep on," said Mr. Gray. "I should
have done the same thing myself if they had applied to me; but I trust
you exercised due care while you were doing it."

"I know what you mean, sir," answered Ned, "and there isn't a white
person living who knows what happened on that plantation last night
except my mother and Tom Randolph."

A shell from one of the gunboats in front of Baton Rouge could scarcely
have created greater consternation in that room than Ned Griffin's
last words. Mr. Gray thought that Ned's doings might as well be
published in Richmond at once, and was about to say as much, when
Rodney took a great load from his mind, and astonished him almost
beyond measure at the same time, by quietly remarking that Tom was a
prisoner in the hands of the Yankees, who were bent on taking him to
Baton Rouge. Then he requested Ned to tell them just what had happened
on his plantation the night before, and the latter gave the particulars
substantially as follows:

The first Ned and his mother heard of the escaped prisoners was
through one of the house servants, who declared with much earnestness
that she could not remember just who told her the news, but it was in
everybody's mouth, and some of the field hands, she didn't know who,
had seen and talked with white men who had seen and talked with the
Confederate soldiers who were following the trail of the fugitives.
She did not try to conceal her joy when she informed Mrs. Griffin that
"dem Yanks was boun' to get safe to de ribber, kase dey had done pass
Mooreville de night befo', and de houn' dogs had done been heared
givin' tongue in de woods ten miles from Baton Rouge." Being intensely
loyal to the Old Flag and friendly to those who wore the blue, Ned
hoped from the bottom of his heart that this report was true; but
understanding the negro nature as well as he did, he could not believe
more than half of it. He told his mother that there was a conspiracy
among the slaves to shield those four men, and that they might be
concealed on the plantation for a month, and no white person would know
a thing about it. Consequently he was not prepared for what took place
about an hour after dark.

He was in the act of blowing out his lantern after seeing that
everything was snug for the night. He had been the rounds of the
quarter to make sure that the darkeys were all in their cabins where
they belonged, had shaken the padlocks on the corn-cribs and smoke
house, assured himself that his yellow-legged chickens were all
roosting high, and, being entirely satisfied with his day's work, was
preparing for a quiet evening with his mother, when there came a knock
at the back door. Ned opened it, and saw his negro foreman standing
there.

"Cæsar," he exclaimed, "didn't I leave you at your cabin not more than
ten minutes ago? You ought to be in bed by this time."

"Oh, yes, sah; I was dah," replied Cæsar with a chuckle, "kase I knowed
mighty well dat you'd be around to see if I was dah. But I—— Step out
hyar a minute, please, sah."

Ned went out, closing the door behind him, and was surprised as well
as startled to find himself confronted by two men who carried guns in
their hands. The night was so dark that he could not see their faces
or clothing, and his first thought was that some of the Home Guards
had come to pay him what their commander humorously called a "visit
of ceremony." If that was the case Ned knew that the house in which
he lived would be ransacked and robbed, and he himself given notice
to quit the country at once, or take such a whipping as the old time
overseers used to give their negroes. But Cæsar's next words reassured
him, although they did not lessen his astonishment.

"You know dem Yankees what's runnin' loose in de woods?" he said in a
low tone. "Wal, sah, Moster Ned, dem's um."

"We hear that you are Union, and so we have made bold to come here and
ask if you can give us a little help," said one of the men; and Ned
noticed that he did not speak like one who begged a favor. There was
a ring of defiance in his tones, which under the circumstances was
perfectly surprising.

"Who told you that I am Union?" said Ned at length.

"The darkeys. We know the name and politics of every man between here
and the place where we were captured. Just now we are looking for
supper and lodging."

"But I care more for a pair of shoes than I do for eating and sleeping,
although I am so tired that I could drop down where I stand and sleep
for a week," said the second man. "The hounds have driven us hard
since we got away, and I have worn out all the footgear I could get or
steal."

"We had some blankets and quilts yesterday," added his companion, "but
we had to throw them away this morning in order to make light weight
through the thick woods. We would have been in rags if it had not been
for our good friends, the darkeys."

"I can supply your wants, and shall be glad to do so," said Ned
promptly. "But you must never mention my name where any of my neighbors
can hear it. Come into the house, and Cæsar will stand outside to see
that no one slips up on you. There ought to be four of you. Where are
the other two?"

"We left them in the woods at the end of the lane, keeping guard over
a prize we gobbled this afternoon," replied one of the blue-coats;
and when they were conducted into the room in which Mrs. Griffin was
sitting they removed their remnants of hats respectfully, and dropped
with something like a sigh of satisfaction into the chairs that Ned
pulled up for them; but they held fast to their guns.

It took but a minute's time for Ned to explain the situation to his
mother, and scarcely longer to provide for the immediate wants of the
two fugitives; for when Mrs. Griffin said that they were welcome to
everything there was in the house, the half a dozen black heads that
filled one of the doors were quickly withdrawn, and in less time than
it takes to tell it a plate filled with cold bread and meat was handed
to each of the hungry blue-coats.

"I'se mighty sorry I aint got some store coffee for you, honey," said
one of the women, who by virtue of her age and position took it upon
herself to act as mistress of ceremonies. "But I isn't got none."

"We're sorry for that, aunty; not on our account, but on yours," said
one of the soldiers; "but it seems to me that you white folks ought
to be able to get such things as coffee out here. There was lots of
trading going on with country people when we left Baton Rouge."

"We've had a few things through the kindness of my employer," replied
Ned, "and we hope to have more when I get a permit to trade myself. Mr.
Gray thought it wasn't best to trouble the provost marshal for too
many permits, for fear that he would shut down on all of them."

"Well, the marshal will not shut down on you, nor on any other Union
man whose name we have on our list," said the soldier confidently. "We
are not going to forget our friends, I assure you." And then he almost
made Ned jump out of his chair by adding: "You spoke Mr. Gray's name
just now; I suppose he is Rodney's father, isn't he?"

"Yes, he is," cried Ned. "But what do you know about him?"

"Not much, that's a fact; but we met Rodney once when he wasn't at all
glad to see us. If we had been a different lot we might have put him and
his comrade to some trouble, just to show what vigilant scouts we were."

"Do you mean to tell me that you belonged to the squad that captured
Rodney and Dick Graham a few days ago?"

"We're two of them, and the others are in the woods, if our pursuers
haven't found and gobbled them up. But I don't think they have, or
we'd have heard the sounds of the fight."

"Well, you'll not go away without seeing Rodney and Dick, will you?"

"That depends," answered the soldier, with a smile. "We are not on a
pleasure trip and can't say beforehand just what we will do. The first
thing for us to find out in the morning is whether or not our pursuers
have placed themselves between us and the river. If they have, it might
be well for us to remain in hiding a few hours, and give them time to
get out of our road. But if they are still behind us, we ought to push
on without loss of time. I don't suppose those two rebs would go back
on us if they knew where we were. They said they wouldn't."

"Rodney and Dick!" exclaimed Ned indignantly. "While they were in the
army they fought you Yanks the best they knew how; but I know what I
am talking about when I say that you haven't better friends in your
regiment or company than Rodney Gray and Dick Graham."

"I believe it," said the soldier earnestly. "We are not afraid to
trust any man who met us in open battle; but the Home Guards we _are_
afraid of."

"You'd better be," exclaimed Ned. "The most of them are sneaks and
cowards, and disgrace the uniform they wear."

"I believe that, too; and now let me tell you why we are afraid of
them. When we met your two friends Gray and Graham, we belonged to a
squad of twenty men who were under orders to scour the country between
the river and Camp Pinckney, so that we could give timely notice to
General Williams if we discovered any considerable body of Confederates
in that direction. The general has information that the enemy is going
to try to open the river again, and, of course, he means to be ready
for any rebs who come this way. After we told Rodney and his chum to
go home and see their mammies, we rejoined our command, which we found
about three miles down the road, and reported that we hadn't seen any
graybacks and no signs of any; and the very next day we were surprised
and routed by a mixed body of veterans and Home Guards which some good
rebel had put on our track. We gave them a lively fight, but they were
too many for us, and those of us who were not killed or captured were
scattered far and wide.

"I hadn't much of an idea of being taken prisoner, I tell you, and I
have still less now. I'd rather be shot and have done with it. I had
talked with some of our boys who had had experience as captives, and
the stories they told were enough to make one's hair rise on end. They
did not have a word of fault to find with the rebel soldiers, who,
so they said, always treated them well, but they gave it to the Home
Guards good and strong, and declared that in future they would shoot
every one that crossed their path. I could easily tell the Home Guards
from the soldiers in that fight, both by their dress and the way they
behaved under fire; and when I saw one of our boys killed after he had
given up his gun, and saw that there was no possible chance for me to
get away, I just avenged the death of my comrade by tumbling that Home
Guard out of his saddle with the last cartridge I had, and hunted up
an old soldier and surrendered to him. My three comrades did the same,
and that's the way we happen to be alive to-day.

"We were kept with the main body about two hours, and during that time
were used like white men. The veterans divided their grub with us,
patted us on the back, and said we were good fellows for driving them
out of Corinth and licking them on the river as we had been doing, and
we had nothing in the world to complain of; but I tell you we shook in
our shoes when we learned that nine of us prisoners were to be sent to
Camp Pinckney under a strong escort of Home Guards, while the soldiers
kept to the road to hunt for more Yankees. And right there is where I
blame the officer in command of the Confederate detachment," said the
blue-coat, now beginning to show such signs of anger and excitement
that Ned Griffin would have been alarmed if he hadn't known that his
loyalty to the flag was beyond suspicion, "and if he ever falls into
the hands of my regiment he will have cause to regret that act of his.
He knew what manner of men his Home Guards were—that they were, as
you say, sneaks and cowards, that they dared not go to the front, and
that their highest ambition was to shoot a Yankee without running the
risk of being shot themselves. But he told us to go, and when the order
was given for us to fall in, we had to obey it. Well, sir, you may
believe it or not, but I can prove it, we hadn't much more than got out
of sight of the soldiers before those Home Guards began laughing and
joking about losing us on their way to camp."

"Did they think you were going to try to escape?" asked Ned.

"They meant that they were going to shoot us," said the man fiercely.

Ned and his mother could hardly believe that their ears were not
deceiving them.

"Thank goodness, our Home Guards are not as bad as that," said the
former.

"Have they ever been put to the test?" demanded the fugitive. "I know
that they have fought gunboats and defeated some detachments of our
cavalry, but did they ever have a Yankee prisoner in their hands?"

Ned was greatly astonished to hear that the Mooreville Home Guards had
been in action with the Federal cavalry, but he managed to say that he
didn't think they had ever taken a prisoner. Before he could say more
the blue-coat continued:

"I shouldn't like to fall into their power, for I believe they would
make short work of me. The men who had been detailed to take us nine
prisoners to camp came from the Pearl River bottoms, and looked, acted,
and talked more like heathen than any men I ever saw before. Believing
that we did not understand their jokes about losing us in the woods,
they talked freely among themselves until we came to a place where the
road forked; and there they separated into two parties, four of their
number taking my three comrades and myself down one road, while the rest
of the escort went with the other five prisoners down the other road.

"Before this happened I had made up my mind that I wasn't going to be
killed by those long-haired Yahoos if I could help it, and that act
of separation was two points in favor of the plans I had formed in
my mind. It gave me as companions three men who enlisted at the same
time I did, who had served in my company and regiment all through the
war, and who I knew could be depended on to back me up in anything
I undertook, and it gave us four the smallest escort, the main body
having gone down the other road with the rest of the prisoners. And I
hope and believe that those five fellows got safely into camp, for the
men who went with them were not half as villainous or blood-thirsty as
those who guarded us. To show you what sort of men we had to deal with,
one of them remarked, as he drew a big knife from his boot to cut off a
chew of tobacco, that he wouldn't think any more of sticking that knife
into a Yank than he would of putting it into a pig.

"I have been in some tight places since I joined the service, but I
don't think I ever suffered as I did during the next fifteen minutes.
It makes me sweat now to think of it," continued the veteran; and as
he spoke he drew his crooked finger across his forehead and threw off
the perspiration which Ned saw had gathered there like big drops of
rain. "Being the only officer there was in our party—I was corporal,
you know—my fellows naturally looked to me to do something, and I was
fully aware of it; for I knew then as well as I do now that they had
one and all determined to escape from those Home Guards or die in the
attempt. I communicated with each of them by making the best use of my
eyes I knew how, and could have yelled with delight when I saw that I
made them understand me. Each of us selected a rebel and kept as close
to him as he could without exciting suspicion. I was impatient to get
to work, for I didn't know how soon they would begin work on us, but I
was afraid to do anything until I thought we were well out of hearing
of the party that had taken the other road. I was certain that there
would be some shooting done during the fight, and did not want to draw
their attention; but when I could stand it no longer I gave a yell, and
floored my man as easily as you would pitch a bundle of oats on to a
wagon. I had him out of his saddle before he could wink, and grabbed
his carbine just in time to help Ben here, who wasn't having as good
luck as I."

"Did you kill both of them?" inquired Ned, who was so deeply interested
in the narrative that he did not know whether he breathed or not.

"We laid them out," replied the veteran, "and as we were in something
of a hurry, we didn't wait to see how long it took them to come to.
It was all over in less than I have taken time to tell it, and there
wasn't a shot fired or another yell raised. The fight was carried on so
quietly that a person standing fifty feet away would not have heard it.
We did not waste any precious moments in congratulating one another on
our good fortune, but carried the bodies of our guards into the woods
out of sight, dragged some brush over one or two little pools of blood
there were in the road and over our footprints, thus concealing all
traces of the struggle as best we could, and hitched the four horses
among the trees where they would have plenty of leaves and twigs to
browse on until they were released; and then we struck out for the
bottom the best we knew how."

"Whew! you have had a time of it," said Ned, as the corporal settled
back in his chair, clasped his hands over his knee, and looked at his
empty plate. "Lucindy, bring some more grub, and pile on all the plates
will hold. When did you first become aware that the dogs were on your
trail?"

"We found it out the first thing in the morning," was the reply. "Or
rather, that was the time we learned that the rebs were going to use
hounds to follow us up. We slept in the woods that night without a
fire or a bite to eat, and at daylight set out to find a negro cabin;
for we knew that the darkeys would befriend us if they could do so
without bringing themselves into trouble. We came to a plantation after
a while, and crept close enough to the quarter to discover a negro
working about one of the corn-cribs. We attracted his attention without
much trouble, but as soon as he made out who we were, he disappeared so
suddenly that we were sorry we did not shoot him on sight, for we were
certain that he meant to betray us. So we made a little detour and took
up another position in the field, from which we could watch the doors
of the great house; for there was where we knew danger would come from,
if it came at all. By that move we came near losing a breakfast and
missing some information that was of use to us, for that darkey had no
intention of going back on us. He slipped around to his cabin, gathered
up everything he had in the way of grub, and spent many valuable
minutes in hunting us up. He had a story to tell us, but was so badly
frightened that it was a long time before he could make us understand
that the news of our escape had reached Camp Pinckney, that all the
soldiers and Home Guards that could be spared from duty there had been
sent in pursuit of us, and that a big squad of men had passed the house
before daylight that morning vowing that they would never take us
prisoners if they found us. They would shoot us in our tracks to pay us
for what we had done to their comrades back there in the road."

"Then they were Home Guards," Ned interposed.

"Certainly; and that threat proved it. But that was not by any means
the worst news the darkey had to tell us," continued the corporal,
placing his gun on the floor by his side, and nodding to Lucindy as
she handed him a second plateful of bread and meat. "And the part he
hadn't yet told was what frightened him. After much questioning he made
us understand that there were six soldiers in the great house waiting
for the breakfast that the missus had promised them; and when they had
eaten it, they were going down the road about half a mile after a pack
of nigger dogs that were to be put on our trail. And then he assured us
that if those dogs ever got after us we would be gone up sure; for they
were smart at following a trail, having had lots of practice in running
down the unhappy conscripts who escaped from Camp Pinckney. That was
bad news for us, as I said, and the question at once arose, Should we
take to our heels and trust to luck, or would it be a better plan to
rush into the house and put it out of the power of the rebels to go
after those dogs?"

"But were you not afraid to attack them in the house?" exclaimed Ned.
"There were six of them and only four of you."

"A small difference in numbers to men who are working for life and
liberty," answered the corporal. "We talked the matter over very
quickly and decided, without a dissenting voice, that we would put a
stop to that hound business before it had gone any further. We would
take our chances on surprising the rebels while they were at breakfast,
and be governed by circumstances when we found who and what they were.
If they were regular soldiers we would simply parole them and let them
go; but if they turned out to be Home Guards——"

The fugitive did not finish the sentence, but shrugged his shoulders
and looked at Ned and his mother in a way that had a volume of meaning
in it.

"It did not take us many seconds to determine upon a plan of
operations," he continued, "and then we crept toward the house under
cover of the bushes and out buildings, telling our friendly darkey to
stay where he was till the trouble was over, and no one should ever
hear from us that we had exchanged a word with him. Everything was in
our favor. There wasn't a servant outside the house to run in and warn
the inmates that we were coming, and before those six Johnnies knew
that there was a Yank within 100 miles, we were in the breakfast room
where they sat at the table, and had them covered."

"And what did they turn out to be?" Ned almost gasped.

"Regular soldiers, I am glad to say, and we were saved a most
disagreeable piece of business. We told them they were in a trap, and
could take their choice between going to the bone-yard and signing a
parole not to take up arms against the government again until they were
regularly exchanged, and they thought they had better sign; and it
didn't take them a great while to say so, either."

"Had you any right to do that?" inquired Mrs. Griffin.

"Not the least in the world, madam," replied the corporal, with a
smile. "But as long as the rebels didn't know it, what was the odds? We
couldn't take them with us, we couldn't shoot them, seeing that they
were not Home Guards, and yet we had to do something. All we really
hoped to accomplish was to frighten them off our trail long enough to
give us a good start toward the swamp. We knew their officers would
tell them that their parole didn't amount to a row of pins, but by the
time they found their officers we might be miles away. There was one
thing we were sorry for, and that was that they did not have their dogs
in the house with them. They wouldn't have followed any more escaped
prisoners when we got through with them, I assure you."



CHAPTER XII.

A HAIL AT THE BARS.


Although the corporal talked rapidly, he did not neglect his supper,
and by the time he reached this point in his story his second supply of
bread and meat was all gone. He handed back the empty plate, rested his
gun across his knees where it would be handy in case of emergency, and
drew from one of the pockets of his ragged blouse something that looked
like a small bundle of brown wrapping paper.

"Yes, they concluded they'd better sign," said he, with a laugh,
"and here are their paroles. At first the lady of the house, who was
disposed to be impudent and sassy until one of the rebs cautioned her
that it might be worse for them if she didn't keep still, declared that
she had nothing at all in the way of writing materials; but when one
of the Johnnies told her, with some impatience, that if she didn't
hand them out we'd be likely to go through her shanty, she produced the
stump of a pencil and some paper that was so rough I could scarcely
write on it; but I made it do, and, would you believe it, one of my
boys had to witness their signatures, for there wasn't one of the six
rebels who could write his name. Of course we disarmed and dismounted
them, and stood among the bushes in the front yard and saw them make
tracks in the direction of Camp Pinckney; but the hounds were put on
our trail, all the same, and the next day they pressed us so close that
we had to shoot some of the leading ones. And what surprised us was
that those dogs would not attempt to follow our trail across a piece of
wet ground. They would take a circle around it and pick up our trail
again on the other side where the ground was dry."

"They'll do it every time," said Ned. "And it isn't a part of their
training, either. That's the way they hunt deer and foxes, and it is
something they pick up themselves without any teaching."

"Well, it's pretty bright in the dogs, I must say, and we were sorry
to shoot them, but there was no help for it. First and last we must
have killed half or two-thirds of the pack, but they have been strongly
reinforced; for, judging by the yelping we heard to-day, there are more
hounds on our trail now than there were at the start."

"You were very fortunate in being able to keep out of their way," said
Mrs. Griffin, "and I don't see how you managed it."

"I don't either, madam; but somehow we did it. We can't keep it up
much longer, however, for we are nearly exhausted, and I wish from the
bottom of my heart that we were in sight of those gunboats at this
minute. But we'll get there in due time, and we'll not go empty-handed.
We made an important capture this afternoon, and perhaps have saved our
scouts and gunboats, as well as the Union people in the settlement,
some trouble. It's a fortunate thing for him that we didn't know what
he was when we first caught sight of him; but as he was in full uniform
we supposed he was a soldier and treated him accordingly."

"And—and what was he?" faltered Ned, while his mother looked anxious
and bent forward in her chair to catch the corporal's answer. Something
told them that they were about to hear bad news.

"A miserable Home Guard and a captain besides," replied the soldier.
"Of course after he surrendered we couldn't shoot him down in cold
blood, as his kind would have served us if we had chanced to fall into
their power, but we'll put him where he'll not fight any more gunboats
for one while, I bet you."

"How and where did you capture him?" was Ned's next question. It wasn't
the one that trembled on his tongue, but it was as near as he could get
to it.

"Why, we had been wading for two miles in a little bayou that brought
us through a cornfield to the river side of the road, and at last we
hid in a grove of evergreens from which we could command a view in all
directions. We stayed there for an hour, listening to the faint baying
of the hounds in the timber on the other side of the road, and never
once dreaming that anybody would come near us, when to our surprise
we saw a gate open, and a single horseman ride down the lane that led
straight to our place of concealment. I tell you we were scared, for
we expected to see the dogs and all our pursuers come through the gate
after him, but he stopped to put up the bars and then came on alone;
and when he approached nearer we saw that he could not be one of the
men we were looking for, because his horse was fresh and clean, and
didn't have the splashed legs and body he would if he had been chasing
us through the swamp for three days and more. We saw, too, that he and
his horse were at outs about something, for every once in a while he
would pound the animal with his whip as if he were very mad at him; and
the last time he tried it, which he did when he was within less than
a hundred feet of our hiding-place, the horse jumped and threw him as
slick as you please, and I was glad of it. That was the time we rushed
out and took him in."

"Did he tell you his name?" inquired Ned, and the words seemed to force
themselves out against his will.

"Yes, he did; and we think it strange that General Williams hasn't
abolished him and put a stop to his doings long ago. But none of
us ever heard the name of Captain Randolph before. You know him, I
suppose?"

"Certainly, I do; and I know that, so far as fighting is concerned,
he is the most harmless man in the country. Did he tell you that his
company had defeated some of your cavalry and been in action with the
gunboats?"

"He certainly did tell us just that," replied the corporal; and Ned and
his mother thought he looked at them rather sharply.

"Well, there wasn't a word of truth in it," said the young overseer
stoutly. He began to have a vague idea that he was injuring himself in
the estimation of these two Federals by standing up for Tom Randolph,
but he had gone too far to back out. He knew that Tom would not have
uttered a word in his defence if their situations had been reversed,
but that made no difference to Ned Griffin, who in few words gave the
corporal a full history of Tom's military exploits. The occasional
raids through the settlement that Captain Randolph had made at the
head of his company Ned did not regard as military business, for their
sole purpose was to intimidate Union men and increase Tom's importance;
so he said nothing about them.

"If you are as strongly in favor of the Old Flag as I have been led to
believe, I don't see what your object is in saying a good word for this
Home Guard," said the corporal when Ned ceased speaking.

"Wouldn't you say a word for an old acquaintance of yours if you saw
him in trouble, no matter whether he was your friend or not?" asked Ned
in reply. "If you will give me time I can prove that I have told you
nothing but the truth, and that Tom has deceived you from beginning to
end."

"What do you suppose his object was in doing it?"

"He always does it every chance he gets. He knows he will never win a
reputation by deeds of arms, and so he tries to win it with his mouth.
He never did you Yankees the least harm, and he never will."

"Don't you think we have been here long enough, Charley?" Ben asked
of his non-commissioned officer; and he answered the question himself
by getting upon his feet as if he were making ready to leave. He was
plainly the more suspicious of the two, and showed in various ways that
he didn't have much of an opinion of one who had so friendly a feeling
for a Home Guard.

"We've been here too long," replied the corporal. "Our friends down
there in the woods will think we are lost or have been gobbled up. May
we trespass still further on your good-nature by asking for a bite for
our absent comrades?"

"Lucindy, fill up the biggest basket you can find in the house," said
Ned. "And Ben, if you will sit down a minute I will get shoes and
stockings for you."

"And have you anything in the way of bedding?" inquired Mrs. Griffin.
"The nights are cool, if the days are sultry."

No, they didn't have a thing except their guns and the dilapidated
garments they stood in; and a blanket or two, if Mrs. Griffin could
spare them, would protect them from the mosquitos if nothing more;
for of course it would be dangerous for them to build a smudge until
they knew positively that their pursuers had been left behind. Ben was
profuse in his thanks, and suggested that No. 9's would be about the
right size for him; and Ned went among the darkeys to find them, for
he wore nothing larger than 6's, and couldn't boast of an extra pair
of them. While he was gone his mother saw the basket filled and the
blankets made into a bundle, and also found opportunity to say a word
for Tom Randolph.

"What do you intend to do with him?" she asked.

"Turn him over to the provost marshal and have him sent North," was the
answer.

"If you do that you will kill his mother, and punish a man who is as
innocent of any military achievements as I am," said Mrs. Griffin. "You
must not think that I am a friend of his—how can I be when he tried
his best to have my son conscripted? Why can you not parole him and let
him go?"

"We didn't parole those six rebels for fun, or because we thought the
parole was binding," said the corporal with a smile, "but simply to
delay them until we could get a start. If we turn Randolph loose, it
will be out of gratitude to you and your son."

"Better knock him in the head," growled Ben.

"Don't mind him," said the corporal, seeing that Mrs. Griffin was
shocked by the words. "Ben is down on all Home Guards because he saw
one of them shoot his chum."

"But Tom Randolph was in no way to blame for that," answered the lady.
"And I know that Rodney Gray would insist upon his release if he were
here. Promise me that you will let him go; and when you are ready to
start for the river, Ned shall take you there by the shortest and
easiest course."

The corporal opened his lips to reply that he did not think it best
to make any promises until he could consult the rest of his party,
but before he could utter a word an incident happened that brought
him and Ben to their feet in a twinkling, and drove all the color
from Mrs. Griffin's face, leaving it as white as a sheet. First there
was a terrific and sudden outburst of yelps and growls from the
small army of coon dogs that found a home on the plantation, and then
answering yelps and deep-toned bays came from the direction of the
front bars, mingled with the shouts of command and the sharp cracking
of riding-whips. There was a second's oppressive silence, and a strange
voice called out:

"Hal-lo, the house!"

"Coming, sir! Get out, you whelps!" shouted Ned Griffin's voice in
reply; and presently the frightened inmates of the house heard him
running around the corner toward the bars. The corporal and his
comrade, who stood with their guns in readiness, seemingly as much
at their ease as they had been while sitting quietly in their chairs
eating the bread and meat that had been provided for them, looked
inquiringly at Mrs. Griffin.

"They are strangers and have hounds with them," said the latter, in a
terrified whisper. "I fear the worst, but Ned will do what he can."

"I certainly hope he will keep them out of the house," answered the
corporal calmly, "for if he don't, some of them will never see the sun
rise again."

Ned Griffin, who had had no trouble at all in inducing one of the field
hands to hand over a pair of stockings and his best shoes for the
benefit of the bare-footed soldier in the house, was almost ready to
drop when he heard that racket at the front bars, but he answered the
hail without an instant's hesitation, tossing the stockings and shoes
into the nearest bush, and ran to the road, knowing that he would meet
a party of Confederate soldiers and a pack of "nigger" dogs when he got
there; but did the soldiers know or suspect that the men of whom they
were in pursuit had sought aid and comfort in that house?

"They can't know it or suspect it, unless somebody has betrayed us; and
if that has happened it is all up with Ned Griffin," thought the young
overseer; and when he reached the bars and caught sight of the party
on the other side, he did not feign surprise, but said, as any other
honest, hospitable boy would have done: "Alight and hitch. I knew it was
you the minute I heard the music of your hounds. Did you catch them?"

"No," replied one of the men, who wore some sort of insignia on his
collar to show that he was an officer. "They gave us the slip about
eleven o'clock this morning, and we haven't been able to find their
tracks since. But we——"

"Say!" interrupted Ned suddenly. "Please don't let your big hounds come
over the fence and eat up my pups. I need them to catch wild hogs with
next winter."

That was very true, but it was not the reason Ned did not want the
hounds to come inside the yard. He was afraid that some of them might
go foraging on their own hook; and if they wandered around to the back
door in search of something to eat, they could not help striking the
trail the two escaped prisoners made when they entered the house. They
would be sure to recognize it on the instant and give tongue, and then
there would be trouble indeed; for Ben and the corporal would fight
till they dropped before they would be recaptured. And then what would
be done to him and his mother for feeding and trying to conceal them?
But the hounds were thrashed and scolded back into the road and the
officer continued:

"We will get the start of them to-morrow. If they are in this
neighborhood they will stay here, for we are going to place ourselves
between them and the river. But we were well fed and rested at a house
three miles back, so we'll not alight, thank you. Are we on the road to
Mooreville? That's what I called you out for."

"Keep straight ahead, and you can't miss it," said Ned. "And if you
want to go toward the Mississippi, take the first right-hand road. But
look out for the Yanks. I haven't seen any of their critter fellers,
but there may be some between here and Baton Rouge."

"If we run on to them before we know it, it will be our fault, won't
it? Good-night. Forward, trot, gallop!"

The young overseer, feeling as if a mountain had been removed from his
shoulders, stood leaning on the bars until the sound of the horses'
feet had died away in the distance, and then he settled himself into a
comfortable position, drew a long breath, and waited fifteen minutes
longer in order to make sure that the rebels had really gone on toward
Mooreville. While he was waiting Cæsar came up, expecting to receive a
good scolding, and perhaps something worse, for neglect of duty.

"Sho's you live, Marse Ned, I watch and wait wid all my eyes and ears,
and dey slip along de road and up to de bars 'fore I knowed it," he
said earnestly. "You know ole Cæsar aint going to sleep wid two Yankees
in de house and rebels all around."

"That's all right. I was out of doors, and didn't know they were at the
bars until they hailed. Now, stay right here and see that they don't
steal a march on us. If you hear the slightest sound down the road
Mooreville way, slip into the house and let me know it."

Ned went back to the bushes where he left the stockings and shoes, and
when he carried them into the house he found no one there except his
mother, who was plying her needle as if nothing had happened. The two
fugitives had disappeared, and there was not a darkey to be seen.

"Open that door and you will find them," said Mrs. Griffin, when Ned
stopped and looked all around. "They thought they would rather fight it
out downstairs than in the garret, for they would have a better chance
to run."

"They can't go any farther to-night, for their pursuers are riding hard
to get between them and the river, and may send the hounds into the
woods at any time. And I am glad of it," whispered Ned. "I'd like to
keep them until I can go for Rodney. Perhaps he can do something for
Tom Randolph. Why, mother, did you ever hear of such a lunatic? If he
gets out of this scrape I don't think he'll ever let his tongue bring
him into another."

Ned pushed open the door, and the two escaped prisoners came out. In
few words they were made acquainted with the result of the interview
that had taken place at the bars, and Ned and his mother did not wonder
that it had a depressing effect upon them. After racing through the
almost impassable woods and swamps until they were ready to drop with
fatigue, it certainly _was_ disheartening to know that the enemy had
come so close to them when they imagined themselves safe for the night.
They decided that they had better return to their companions at once
and talk the situation over with them.

"All right," said Ned. "I will go with you, for I want to see what Tom
Randolph has to say for himself. If you will take my advice, you will
stay pretty close about this plantation until you have seen Rodney
Gray. He can do more for you than almost anybody else in these parts,
and if you get into trouble you'll find it so."

The blankets and the basket of provisions were brought from the room
in which they had been hastily concealed, and the fugitives lingered a
moment to shake hands with Mrs. Griffin and tell her how grateful they
were for the generous treatment they had received at her hands and her
son's.

"There is one way in which you can show it," replied Ned's mother, "and
that is by releasing your prisoner."

"But, madam, we have no right to do it," said Ben, who was inclined to
put more faith in Tom's story of his exploits than he did in Ned's. It
was natural, under the circumstances, for him to believe that Ned's
regard for the truth was not so strong as his desire to shield an old
acquaintance. "We are bound to take him before our colonel and state
the case to him; and if _he_ has a mind to let him go—why, all right."

"Haven't you the same right to release Tom Randolph that you had to
release Rodney Gray and his friend?" inquired Mrs. Griffin. "You did
not think it necessary to take them before an officer?"

"Perhaps I did stretch my authority just a little," said the corporal,
coming to Ben's assistance. "But almost any non-com., who wanted to
be half white, would have done the same thing. Rodney and Graham had
discharges in their pockets, while this man Randolph holds a commission
as captain of Home Guards at this minute. But we'll tell the boys what
you have done for us, Mrs. Griffin, and let them decide the matter.
I hope it may be our good fortune to meet again under pleasanter
circumstances. Good-night."

Ned led the way from the house and along the lane that ran through
the negro quarter to the woods, in which the corporal's two comrades
and their prisoner were impatiently awaiting their return. They moved
silently and without exchanging a word above a whisper, but the
dark-skinned inmates of the cabins seemed to be on the watch. One door
after another was softly opened, and suppressed voices, that were
rendered husky by emotion, cheered them with such expressions as:

"Lawd bress Marse Linkum's sojer boys! Youse boun' to whop de rebels,
honey; I know you is, kase Ise praying for you free times a day, like
Dan'l in de lion's den."

"I certainly hope you'll not get into any trouble through what you have
done for us to-night," said hard-hearted Ben, who was moved in spite of
himself by these expressions of sympathy.

"So far as I know, our blacks are all loyal," answered Ned, "but it
won't do to trust some negroes too far, any more than it will do
to trust some white people; and when we are in the presence of Tom
Randolph I wish you would be careful not to——"

He stopped suddenly, but it was too late. He had committed himself. As
he afterward told his friend Rodney, he came near ruining everything
before he thought what he was doing.

"There you have it!" exclaimed Ben angrily. "Why do you try to befriend
that man Randolph, when you dare not trust him for fear that he will
set your rebel neighbors against you? He shall never go free with my
consent, and that is a word with a bark on it."

"Or are you afraid that he will get his Home Guards together and burn
you out, to pay you for what you have done for us Yankees?" said the
corporal. "I don't believe there's a Home Guard in the world that will
do to tie to, and I think the best thing we can do is to hold fast to
that fellow. If he's done us half the damage he says he has, he is a
prize."

Ned's common sense told him that words would not rectify the big
mistake he had made, so he dropped Tom Randolph, entirely, and talked
of the hounds and the risk his Yankee friends would incur if they tried
to make their way to the Mississippi through the comparatively open
country that lay before them. There were not woods enough to conceal
their movements; the people along the route were mostly rebels, and
they could hardly help meeting someone who would put their pursuers
on their track if he saw half a chance. What they needed more than
anything else during the rest of their journey was a guide known to be
a good Confederate, but friendly enough to Yanks to help them out of
trouble if they got into it. The two fugitives did not think they were
likely to fall into such trouble as Ned hinted at, but the next day
they were obliged to confess that he knew what he was talking about.

By this time they had reached the fence that ran across the end of the
lane and shut it off from the woods, and there Ben and the corporal
stopped as if expecting something. It came presently in the shape of
the challenge given in low tones:

"_Who_ comes there?"

"Friends with the countersign," replied the corporal.

"Halt, friends. Advance one with the countersign, and have your head
blown off if you don't give it right," continued the voice; and
although the words seemed to be spoken in a jest, Ben and Ned remained
by the fence while the corporal climbed over it and disappeared in
the bushes. A moment afterward he called to them to come on, and when
Ned joined him he knew that he was in the presence of the other two
fugitives and Tom Randolph. It was made plain to him at once that Tom
had sent the corporal and his comrade to the house with the assurance
that they would find Union people there and plenty to eat, for Tom said:

"Did you find Griffin?"

"They not only found me, but brought me here to see you," said Ned,
answering for himself, and working his way slowly through the dark in
the direction from which Tom's voice came. "And I am sorry to find you
in this fix."

Captain Randolph may have borne up bravely enough while he was alone
with his captors, but the sound of a familiar voice and the warm grasp
of Ned's hand unnerved him completely. He drew the young overseer to
a seat on a log beside him, rested his head against his shoulder, and
shook as if he had the ague; but whether it was with fear, or with the
violence of the struggle he was making to keep up the character he
had so foolishly assumed, Ned could not tell. There had been a time
when Tom Randolph would have been ashamed to rest his head against an
overseer's shoulder; but he was pretty well humbled now. It was at
this juncture that Ned was allowed a few minutes' talk with Tom, the
soldiers being busy with their own affairs—two of them in describing
what had happened at the house, and the others in disposing of the
contents of the provision basket.

"Tom," said Ned, "you never told these Yankees that you had whipped
their cavalry and fought the gunboats."

"Yes, I did," answered the captive; and the overseer was not much
surprised to notice that his voice was choked with sobs. "I took them
for brave men, and thought they would extend a brave man's treatment to
me if they knew me to be a loyal soldier of the Confederacy."

"Well, do you know that you have got yourself in a scrape that may end
in your being sent to a Northern prison?"

"Oh, don't tell me that," gasped Tom. "That's what they have been
threatening me with, and you must make them let me go. You can do it,
for you are known to be Union, and my father will reward you beyond——"

"And you are not a loyal soldier of the Confederacy," continued Ned,
who wasn't befriending Tom in the hope of making anything out of it.
"You are nothing but a Home Guard; and these men have reason to hate
Home Guards."

"I know it," groaned Tom. "But am I to blame for anything those Pearl
River heathen did to them? You are my only hope, Ned, and you'll have
to get me out of this. You must."

"There's no must about it. I have said everything I could, and so has
mother. Your only hope is Rodney Gray."

"Then send for him," said Tom nervously. "Send for him at once, and say
that if he will stand by me now, he can command me and my father ever
afterward. I wish the men who are responsible for this war were here
in my place and sentenced to be shot at sunrise. I have been deceived
and badgered ever since I sided with the Confederacy; I've stuck by
her through thick and thin, while those who deserted her at the first
sign of disaster are hail-fellows well met with the Yanks in Baton
Rouge, and live on the best the land affords. They have salt and tea
and coffee in their houses, and white flour; and we have none. You must
help me out, Ned."

Tom Randolph continued to talk in this rambling way until the corporal
interrupted him with:

"Well, boys, we have decided to stay here to-night."

"And will you let Griffin go for Rodney Gray the first thing in the
morning?" exclaimed Tom.

"Griffin isn't a prisoner, and can go and come as he likes," replied
the non-commissioned officer indifferently. "It's a matter that
concerns you more than it does us. If Griffin has a mind to go or send
for Rodney Gray, we shall be glad to see him."

"These are the Yanks who captured Rodney and Graham while they were on
their way home," whispered Ned. "That's why I say that Rodney can help
you if anybody can." Then, without giving Tom a chance to express his
surprise, he said aloud: "What's the use, Yanks, of staying here all
night in the dark and cold? If you will come to the quarter, I will
give you a tight cabin and a bright fire to cheer you up."

The offer was a tempting one to men situated as they were, but after
a short consultation with his comrades the corporal thought they had
better not accept it; they would feel safer and sleep more soundly
right there in the woods. Then Ned suggested that they should wrap
themselves in the blankets and get what rest they could while he stood
guard, and to his surprise and Tom Randolph's unbouded delight, the
proposition was accepted without an instant's hesitation. To keep up
appearances Tom took the blanket that was passed to him and rolled
himself up in it; but he had no intention of going to sleep. He had
another idea in his head, and it was just about as foolish as his
notion of trying to pass himself off for a soldier when he was nothing
but a Home Guard.

"Good-night, Johnny; and many thanks for that grub and this warm
blanket," said one of the escaped prisoners who had not spoken before.

"Good-night, Yank, and welcome," replied Ned. "But I am not a Johnny."

"And neither am I a Yank," said the soldier. "I came from Michigan. But
good-night."

After that silence reigned in that dark, lonesome camp for the space
of half an hour. The soldiers were weary and sank into a deep slumber
almost as soon as they had adjusted their blankets to suit them;
but Tom Randolph was wide awake. He curbed his impatience until the
heavy breathing of his captors told him that they were in a state of
unconsciousness, and then said cautiously:

"Ned, Ned! Have you got a gun?"

"No. What do I want of a gun?" was the answer.

"Where are they?"

"Wrapped up in the blankets with the soldiers, most likely."

"Well, say, Ned; look here," whispered Tom coaxingly.

"It's no use, for I can't do it," replied Ned, who knew what the
captive was about to say. "You don't show your usual good sense in
asking it of me, either."

"But you could drop asleep, couldn't you, and let me crawl away?"

"I could, but I won't. I'm not going to get myself into a scrape by
going back on these Yanks. They'd shoot me."

"But you might go with me," suggested Tom, who was almost ready to shed
tears again.

"And leave Mr. Gray's property to be destroyed?" demanded Ned. "I said
I'd keep guard, and I've got to do it."

"Well, you have been weighed and found wanting," said Tom desperately.
"I know just what you are now, but I was foolish enough to think you
were a friend of mine."

"You didn't think anything of the sort. You knew better," said Ned;
and after that he relapsed into silence. He had proved that he was
ready to assist Tom in any way he could, but he wasn't going to arouse
Ben's rage and the corporal's by permitting him to steal away in the
darkness. It was the most senseless proposition he had ever heard of,
and he was glad that Tom did not trouble him with it again. The latter
lay so quiet that his guard thought he was asleep, but he wasn't. He
was trying to think up some way to get even with Ned.

Although the overseer was not at all drowsy, the exciting events of the
last few hours having banished slumber, he passed a dreary night on his
log, leaning against a tree, and listening for the first far-off baying
of the hounds, which would announce that the pursuit had been renewed.
But the hours dragged themselves away without disturbance of any kind,
and at daylight the corporal threw off his blanket and sat up. He felt
like a new man after his refreshing sleep, and that was what all his
comrades said when they were aroused. Then a short consultation was
held, and Ned posted off to the house with the empty basket. It was
full of eatables when he returned an hour later, to learn that during
his absence the fugitives had decided that Tom Randolph's story was
more worthy of belief than his own.

"It doesn't stand to reason that a man would tell such damaging things
about himself just for fun," said the corporal, who spoke for all his
companions. "He was as defiant as you please when we captured him, and
I believe——"

"But I told you a pack of lies; I did indeed," cried Tom, hiding his
face in his hands.

"We don't believe it," answered the soldier. "Your weakening is all put
on, because you have learned that it isn't such a funny thing to be a
prisoner as you thought it was. And even if you did lie to us, you are
a Home Guard, and that is against you. If you haven't done any mean
things it's because you haven't had the chance."

To Tom Randolph's rage and disgust Ned did not try to combat this
decision. He simply said:

"All right; just as you say. Keep a stiff upper lip, Tom, and I will go
and get Rodney."

This was the substance of the story that Ned Griffin told while he was
sitting in Mrs. Gray's dining room on the morning of which we have
spoken. Of course he did not tell it exactly as we have tried to, but
he told enough to give his auditors a clear idea of what had happened
on his plantation the night before. They heard him through without
interruption, and when his narrative was ended they settled back in
their chairs and looked at one another. There was one thought uppermost
in their minds: those escaped prisoners deserved their freedom after
working so hard for it, even if they were Lincoln hirelings; and Rodney
must see them safe to the river. As to Tom Randolph—they did not waste
much sympathy on him, but they were sorry for his mother. Tom took just
such chances as these when he put on his gray uniform.



CHAPTER XIII.

CAPTAIN TOM SHOWS HIS GRATITUDE.


When Ned Griffin brought his exciting narrative to a close Mrs. Gray
beckoned him to a seat at the table and gave him a cup of coffee, while
Rodney sent one of the girls to his room after a couple of overcoats,
and Rosebud to the stable to see the saddle put on his horse and
Dick's. He was elated over the prospect of doing even a little to help
the Federal soldiers who had shown themselves so friendly to himself
and his chum, and determined that Tom Randolph should not go to a
Northern prison if he could prevent it. Tom was an old acquaintance and
a near neighbor, and that meant a good deal to Rodney Gray. Ned was a
little apprehensive that his employer might not be altogether pleased
with what he had done, but to his relief Mr. Gray did not have a word
of fault to find.

"Rodney seems to have made up his mind to help those Yankees through,"
said he, addressing himself to the overseer, "and I need not tell
you that I shall be glad to have you do anything you can to aid him
and them. As to Tom—it looks now as though he would have to stand
punishment for his foolishness."

"And how about me?" said Rodney. "It looks as though I was planning
to get myself into trouble. If I help the Yankees, my Confederate
neighbors will be down on me; and if I help Tom, they'll _all_ be down
on me—rebels and Union."

"How are the neighbors going to find it out?" inquired Dick.

"Oh, Tom will tell them," said Rodney carelessly.

"And are you going to help a man who will turn around and blab it on
purpose to bring you into trouble?" exclaimed Dick. "I should think his
gratitude——"

"Gratitude is the rarest sentiment in the world, my dear boy, as you
will learn long before your head is as white as mine. He'll do me a
mean turn the first good chance he gets. That's the kind of a chap he
is. Have you got your discharge in your pocket? All right. I don't
know when you will see us again," said Rodney, when the overcoats made
their appearance and the horses were brought to the door, "but when
we return we hope to have some better fitting clothes than these, and
a pass from the provost marshal. So, mother, if you have any currency
that you can spare I shall be glad to have some."

These last words were whispered into the ear of his mother, who led him
to her room, where she kept a small store of specie for an emergency.
Where the rest was Rodney did not know or care to inquire. It was
enough for him that he could get a few pieces as often as he found it
necessary to ask for them.

"Now, do be careful," pleaded his mother. "Suppose the hounds strike
your trail in spite of all you can do to prevent it, and the soldiers
with them find you and Dick in the company of the escaped prisoners!
Your discharges would not save you."

"Don't cross a bridge till you come to it, mother," answered Rodney,
who had thought of all this while Ned Griffin was telling his story.
"We are not going into any danger. Good-by."

In a few minutes the boys were riding post-haste toward Ned's
plantation. They reined up to the house and turned their horses over
to a darkey as any casual visitors would have done, for Ned told them
that the rest of their journey must be made on foot and under cover of
bushes and fences.

"There's no telling who may be on the watch," said he, "or whether all
our blacks are as loyal as they pretend to be. And, boys, don't say a
word in Tom's hearing about showing the Yanks the way to the river.
He'll take it for granted, of course, that somebody is going to do it,
but we'll make it hard for him to prove it on any of us."

Rodney did not waste many minutes in comparing notes with Mrs. Griffin
(he already knew everything she could have told him), but threw his
overcoat across his arm and motioned to Ned to go ahead with the
basketful of things that had been provided for the fugitives' dinner.
It took them three-quarters of an hour to reach the edge of the woods,
so slow and cautious were they in their movements, and they found
two of the soldiers at the fence waiting for them. Rodney and Dick
recognized them on the instant, and shook hands with them through
the fence as cordially as though they had always been the warmest of
friends.

"Say," whispered Rodney, as soon as the greeting was over. "Call up the
corporal and the other Yank. I have a few words to say to you that I
don't want your prisoner to hear."

"Are you afraid of him, too?" asked one of the soldiers. "Then I can't
understand why you are so anxious to have him go free. We can't leave
him in camp alone, for if we do he'll run off."

"He hasn't the pluck to try it," said Ned, passing his basket over
the fence. "But I'll stay with him. You are not afraid to trust me, I
suppose, after allowing me to stand guard over him all night."

But Ned hadn't told of the astounding proposition Tom made while he was
standing guard over him. That was something he kept to himself until he
told his story in Mrs. Gray's dining room. He climbed the fence and
disappeared in the woods, and presently the corporal and the "other
Yank" came up.

"If anyone had told me that I'd ever shake hands with a rebel in this
friendly way, I should have said he didn't know what he was talking
about," said the corporal. "Johnny, how are you by this time? You and
your chum must have got safe home or else you wouldn't be here. You
know our story, of course, so there's no need of telling it over again."

"No need and no time," replied Rodney, "for you ought to be jogging
along now. You've an open and dangerous country before you, and very
likely every man in it is on the lookout for you."

"That's about what Griffin said to us last night," replied the
corporal. "We asked him to act as our guide, but he thinks you can be
of more use to us."

"I don't know about that; but I will do my best on one condition."

Of course the soldiers knew what that condition was, but listened
patiently while Rodney went on to tell them that they never made a
greater mistake in their lives than they did when they put faith in Tom
Randolph's story and rejected Ned Griffin's. He urged them to release
Tom without any more nonsense, and hinted that the sooner they complied
with his request, the sooner he would be ready to start with them for
Baton Rouge. He also added:

"If you are bound to take Tom with you I can't go, and you'll have to
do the best you can for yourselves. He'd find means to let my rebel
neighbors hear of it, and then I'd have to go among the Yanks or back
to the army; for I couldn't live here. What do you say?"

"What do you say, boys?" inquired the corporal, turning to his
companions. "He's a Home Guard, and a mighty mean one, too, judging
by——"

"None of that, please," Rodney interposed. "Having submitted the case,
you have no business to keep on arguing it. Yes or no, Yanks?"

"I wish we had knocked him on the head before we took him prisoner,"
said Ben, who could not forget his lost comrade.

"But you didn't, and you can't very well do it now," replied Rodney.
"Are you going to let him go or not?"

Ben did not answer; but his three companions gave a favorable, though
very reluctant response to Rodney's question, and the latter drew a
long breath of relief. Ben looked and acted ugly, and if he had been a
little better talker Tom Randolph's chances for liberty and life would
have been slim indeed. As Dick Graham afterward explained it, Tom was
saved by Ben's want of gab. Rodney's next care was to urge upon the
soldiers the necessity of sending Tom about his business with the least
possible delay, and of being careful to drop no word in his hearing
that would give him a hint of their future movements. Tom would make
all sorts of promises, but they must not put the least faith in them,
for if he saw an opportunity to do it, he would put a squad on their
trail in less than an hour. This done, he and Dick climbed the fence
and followed the soldiers toward the camp. Ned Griffin had had time to
prepare Tom for Rodney's coming, and the expression Rodney's face wore
when he appeared in sight prepared him for the good news.

"You have prevailed upon them to release me and I know it," he
exclaimed, seizing one of Rodney's hands in both his own and shaking it
with all his might. "And I'll never forget you for it; never in this
world. If you want anything, all you've got to do is to say the word,
and if I've got it you shall have it. And as for you soldiers—I'll
cook up some sort of a story when I reach home that will stop all
pursuit till you have had time to reach the Union lines. I am very
grateful to you, and will prove it by pulling off my gray suit as soon
as I get home. If all Yanks are like you, I am not going to fight any
more during the war."

Tom was sure he saw a faint prospect of escape before him, and his joy
was so great that it choked his utterance. He continued to rattle on in
this way, until the corporal interrupted him with:

"That's all right, Johnny. So long as you keep the hounds off our
trail, it's all the return we ask for setting you at liberty."

"Then you are going to release me, aint you?" cried Tom.

"I don't suppose such a thing was ever done before," said the corporal
hesitatingly. "And I don't know what the boys will say to me when they
hear of it; but I——"

"That don't make any difference, Mr. Soldier. You just tell me to go
home, and I will keep the hounds off your trail."

"Well—git!" said the corporal. "You will find your sword and revolver
back there in the grove where we hid them yesterday."

Tom lost no time in grasping the corporal's hand and shaking it with
all his strength—a proceeding to which the boy in blue submitted with
very bad grace. He felt more like giving his late captive a kick, and
so did his comrades; but they let him shake their hands instead—all
except Ben, who put his hands into his pockets and turned away when Tom
approached him. Captain Randolph would have persisted in his efforts to
take leave of him also, had he not been warned by a look from Rodney
that he had better stop his nonsense and get away while the Federals
were in the humor to let him go. Acting upon the hint, he turned away
from Ben and disappeared in the direction of the fence.

"If I am any prophet that surly Yank will see the time when he'll wish
he had not turned his back on me in that style," soliloquized Tom, when
he found himself safe in the lane. "I'll square accounts with him and
with Rodney and Dick at the same time. And Ned Griffin, too. I might
have given those Yanks the slip last night, if he had been friendly
enough to fall asleep as I wanted him to do; but he wouldn't, and now
he will see how I will pay him for it."

Tom sped along the lane as if he had been furnished with wings, through
the negro quarter and up to the door of the plantation house, where
Ned's mother was waiting for him. She had moved her low rocking chair
to that door, and had been waiting there ever since she saw Rodney Gray
and his two companions disappear in the woods at the end of the lane;
for she felt the keenest anxiety for Tom, and wondered what his mother
would do if Rodney failed in his efforts to have him released.

"O Tom, I am so glad to see you," she exclaimed, as soon as the captain
of the Home Guards came within speaking distance.

"I am a free man once more, Mrs. Griffin," replied Tom loftily, "and
it is a fortunate thing for some people whose names I could mention.
If I had been kept a prisoner, my Home Guards would have made sad work
in this settlement. I'll thank you to lend me a horse. I want to reach
home as soon as I can, in order to relieve my mother's anxiety."

And this was all he had to say to the woman who had done more than
anybody else to keep him out of prison. By her kindness and generosity
she had won the gratitude of Tom's captors and made it comparatively
easy for Rodney to effect his release; and although Tom did not know
this, he did know that Ned had done his best for him, and one would
think he might have had a civil word for Ned's mother. Instead of that
he hinted darkly at some things he knew about "some people whose names
he could mention," and Mrs. Griffin knew that that was the same thing
as a threat. She replied that she did not feel at liberty to lend Ned's
saddle-horse without saying a word to him about it, but Tom could have
a mule if he wanted it; and with the words she went into the house,
leaving Captain Randolph to stand alone at the door until the mule was
brought up.

"This is another insult I shall have to remember against the Griffins,"
thought Tom, running his eye over the ill-conditioned animal that
was finally led to the door. "Now, how shall I manage to have those
escaped prisoners captured with the least possible delay? If they
could be taken now, Rodney and Dick and Ned would be taken with them;
but I don't know whether I want that to happen or not. If it should
get noised abroad that they were captured with my help, or through
information furnished by me, I'd have everybody in the settlement down
on me; and goodness knows I've got enemies enough already."

This was a matter requiring thought; and in order that he might have
plenty of leisure to devote to it, Captain Tom allowed his mule to
walk every step of the five miles that lay between the plantation and
Mooreville. He rode past Mr. Gray's house without stopping, and in
due time drew rein in front of Kimberly's store, to find the usual
number of lazy Home Guards loitering about there doing nothing. They
were surprised to see him, for the news of his sudden and mysterious
disappearance had been spread all through the settlement. His father,
who had spent half the night riding about in search of him, pretended
to believe that Tom had fallen in with the soldiers from Camp Pinckney
and joined them in pursuit of the escaped Yankees; but there wasn't a
man in the country who didn't laugh at the idea as soon as he heard of
it. More than that, there wasn't a single member of the Home Guards
who had made an earnest effort to trace the fugitives. The most of
them paid no attention to Tom's order to turn out, and those who did,
returned to their homes as soon as they learned that the Yankees were
armed.

"Why, cap'n, where in the wide world did you drop from?" exclaimed
Lieutenant Lambert, as Tom Randolph rolled off his mule in front of
the store. "Have you been after them Yanks? Your pap said you had."

Tom walked into the recruiting office and met Captain Roach, who began
to tell him how his unexplained absence had frightened his mother; but
the commander of the Home Guards interrupted him without ceremony.

"Before I tell you anything about myself," said he, turning to the
eager Home Guards who had followed him into the office, "I want to know
how many of you men would like to win fame, and perhaps promotion, by
capturing the four Yankees who are roaming about the country, shooting
our comrades down in cold blood."

"I would, for one," replied Lambert promptly.

"And me!" "And me!" "And here too!" chimed in the others; and they
threw so much earnestness into their words, and seemed so impatient to
learn how the feat could be accomplished, that a stranger would have
thought they really meant to do something.

"I am glad to see you so patriotic," said Captain Tom. "And the way for
you to prove your words is to—you know where Ned Griffin lives now,
don't you? Well, go down there at once, and you will find the men you
want at the foot of his lane."

"How do you know that?" demanded Captain Roach.

"Because I left them there not more than—I mean when I escaped from
them last night," answered Tom, who, now that the danger was past,
would not have sold his experience for any reasonable sum of money.
"You don't believe it, do you? Well, it is a fact that I have been a
prisoner in the hands of those very men, and narrowly escaped being
shot."

"But how did you get away from them?" continued the enrolling officer.

"I knocked one of them down with the butt of his own musket and took to
my heels; that's the way I did it."

This was going too far, and Captain Tom was quick to perceive it. Some
of his men exchanged sly winks with each other, and turned toward the
door as if they had heard quite enough of such stories as that, while
Captain Roach, who had put a little faith in Tom's tale at first, sat
down in his chair and pulled some papers toward him.

"Continue to report regularly every day," said he, addressing himself
to Lambert; "I have received no official notice that Camp Pinckney is
ready to take conscripts, but all the same I know it is ready, and an
order to send out a squad may come any hour."

"That's a polite way of calling me a liar," said Tom to himself. "I
know where I can find those who will take some interest in what I have
to say; and if I don't go there and drop a bomb into this camp that
will scatter it far and wide, I'm a Dutchman."

He was too angry to say anything aloud. He looked hard at Captain Roach
for a moment, and then went out to the hitching rack where he had left
his mule, the Home Guards dividing right and left, and making no remark
as he passed through their ranks. He went home with all the speed he
could induce his long-eared beast to put forth, and the reception he
met when he got there almost made amends for the deliberate slight that
had been put upon him in the enrolling office; but the best part of the
story he intended to tell was knocked in the head by the first words
his mother said to him. He was going to describe a terrific battle he
had had with the escaped prisoners somewhere in the woods; but his
mother cried, as she ran down the steps and clasped him in her arms:

"O Tom! Where have you been? And how came your horse hitched out there
in the grove?"

Captain Randolph had forgotten all about his horse, and just then he
wished that one of the Yankees had put a bullet through the animal's
head instead of tying him among the evergreens. Then he could have said
that he did not surrender without a fight, and the dead horse would
have proved it.

"Some of the neighbors heard him calling as they were riding along the
road, and went in and brought him home; but they saw no signs of you,"
continued Mrs. Randolph, looking hard at Tom as if to assure herself
that he was all there. "You don't know how frightened we all were. The
first thing I thought of was those dreadful Yankees, and I was afraid
you might have fallen into their hands."

"And that's just what happened to me," replied Tom. "I was a prisoner
in less than an hour after I left you yesterday; but I made something
of a fight before they took me. I think I know where my revolver is—I
threw it into the bushes rather than give it up to the enemy."

"Oh, you reckless boy, how could you do it?" exclaimed his mother.
"Come right in and go to bed."

"And when you see that revolver you will notice that there isn't a
single cartridge left in it," added Captain Tom, as he followed his
mother up the steps. "I threw away my sword, too, but think I can find
it again. I didn't surrender, mind you. I was captured at the muzzle of
four loaded muskets."

"You dear boy! And how did you get away from them?"

"I waited until they went to sleep last night. Of course they left one
of their number to guard me, but a Yankee is no match for a gentleman
when it comes to a fight. I just knocked him down and cleared out."

"And wasn't you hurt a bit? Didn't they try to stop you?"

"Of course they tried to stop me, and the way the bullets flew was
a caution; but the night was dark, the bushes thick, and I escaped
without a scratch."

This was only the introduction to the long story Tom had to tell, and
although there was scarcely a word of truth in it from beginning to
end, his doting mother believed it all. His father looked slightly
incredulous when Tom told how he had laid around in the woods for long
hours while the Yankees were searching high and low to find him, for
his boots and clothing did not bear out his thrilling narrative. They
were dusty, of course, but not at all torn and mussed, as they ought to
have been if the wearer had had such a time working his way out of the
woods. But Mr. Randolph was so overjoyed to see Tom back safe and sound
that he said nothing about it.

"Now, my son, you must quit the Home Guards at once and stay right here
on the plantation," said Mrs. Randolph, when she had asked her hero all
the questions she could think of. "When you are a private citizen you
will not be called upon to assist in capturing desperadoes."

"I've done the very best I could for the South ever since I joined my
fortunes with hers," answered Captain Tom; "I have risked life and
liberty in her defence more than once, and am ready to do it again; but
I can't fight the whole Yankee nation alone and unaided."

"Certainly not," assented his mother.

"I was the only one of the company who had the pluck to face those
desperate men in the woods," continued Tom, "and was captured for my
pains. I ordered my men out to help me, but they never came. They left
me to meet the danger alone; and when I dropped into the enrolling
office on my way home, they were loafing as usual and bragging too. And
when I told them right where they would find those Yanks, and tried to
get them to go out and capture them, do you suppose they would go?
They just as good as told me that they did not believe me, and Roach
broke in on my story by giving orders directly to Lambert instead of
passing them to him through me. I have put up with that man just as
long as I am going to; and, father, if you will pay Larkin off and let
him go, I'll be ready to take his place to-morrow morning. And now I'll
write to the Governor the very first thing I do."

This letter to the Governor, tendering his resignation as captain of
State troops, was the "bomb" with which Tom had threatened to "scatter
Captain Roach's camp far and wide," but when he sat down to write it,
the thought occurred to him that if he said too much the letter might
operate like a boomerang, and hurt him more than he hoped to hurt
Captain Roach. If he had written it as he had it framed in his mind,
it would have been a complete and scathing indictment of the enrolling
officer's way of doing business; but the letter he showed his mother,
when she came to his room in response to his call, read something like
this:

    I have the honor to tender herewith my resignation as captain of
    the State militia which was granted me on the —th day of April
    last, with authority to raise and command a company of mounted men
    for home defence.

    I have long been of opinion that partisan organizations are
    not what we need in this hour of our country's peril, and now
    I am satisfied of it. Our best men long ago went to the front
    voluntarily, leaving behind them a rabble who cannot possibly be
    made into soldiers. The men under my command were selected with
    the greatest care, but I am obliged to say that they are fit for
    nothing but guard duty at Camp Pinckney. If they were ordered there
    in a body, to take the place of better men who could be sent to
    the front, it would be a relief to the community. For myself I
    have other ideas, which I shall proceed to carry out as soon as I
    receive notice that my resignation has been accepted.

"That is nothing but the truth," said Mrs. Randolph, after she had read
the letter. "But, Tom, I am afraid it will get you into trouble."

"I don't see how," was the reply. "You don't suppose that the Governor
will bring it down here, show it to such fellows as Lambert and Moseley
and the rest, and ask them what they think of it; do you? He has other
fish to fry."

"But suppose he should ask you what your other ideas are," said his
mother.

"There's no danger of that. If the Governor thinks that my chief reason
for resigning is because I want to go to the front, well and good. I am
not to blame for what he thinks. I have other ideas, and that's a fact;
and one of them is to see the men who winked and nudged one another
to-day when I was trying to put a little courage into them, sent where
they will be held with their noses close to the grindstone. Now I'll
ride down and mail this, and when the acceptance comes I'll tell Roach
what I have done."

"That reminds me that the mail carrier had a race with a squad of
Yankee cavalry yesterday," said Mrs. Randolph.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Tom. "Have they come as close as that to
Mooreville? They are bound to get here sooner or later, but I hope
they'll stay away a week longer, for then I shall be a free man."

And Captain Tom might have added that he would be glad to see the
Federals at the end of a week, provided he received a favorable answer
from the Governor in that time. When the Home Guards were ordered away
to do duty at Camp Pinckney he would consider his account with them
settled; and the other old scores—there were four of them now—could
be attended to at some future time.



CHAPTER XIV.

RODNEY KEEPS HIS PROMISE.


When Captain Randolph was done with his leave-taking he hastened away
as if he feared that the escaped prisoners might change their minds and
call him back. He was out of sight in an instant, and when he was out
of hearing Rodney Gray said:

"Now we must _git_ ourselves. I don't know what sort of a story Tom
will tell when he gets home, but it is safe to say that he will make
himself out a very brave fellow, and urge his men to take up our trail
at once."

"You needn't trouble yourself about the Home Guards," said Ned.

"I don't; but if those same Home Guards should chance to stumble
upon the soldiers from Camp Pinckney, we'd have something to trouble
ourselves about, wouldn't we? So I say we had better move away from
here. Pick up that basket, somebody; and Ned, you take care of the
quilts, for we'll not need them. We shall lie by during the daytime and
travel at night. You haven't heard the last of this morning's work,
Ned, and neither have I."

"If that Home Guard gets you into trouble after what you have done for
him, find means to let the —th Michigan cavalry know it; and the first
time we scout through here we'll pay our respects to him," said Ben
hotly. "If it hadn't been for Griffin's mother, Captain Randolph would
have gone to a Northern stockade as sure as he is a living man."

"I'll bear that in mind," replied Ned. "Good-by, boys. So-long, Yanks."

"May the best of good luck always attend you, Johnny," said the
fugitives in concert.

This parting would have disgusted Captain Randolph if he had been there
to witness it, and might have led him to say: "This is another insult
that I've got to remember against the Griffin family," for there was a
good deal of friendly feeling manifested on both sides. Surly Ben did
not turn his back this time, but held fast to Ned with one hand, while
he pointed to the shoes he wore, with the other, and said:

"If I get away I shall have you to thank for it. I couldn't have walked
a mile with my feet on the ground as they were when you took pity on me
last night. If I can ever repay you I will."

"You have repaid me a hundred times over by letting Rodney and Dick go
free when you captured them a few days ago. So-long, Yanks."

"Fall in," said Rodney. "Good-by, Ned. I wish you would make it your
business to tell mother that you saw us safely off."

Ned began to roll up the quilts, the corporal shouldered the basket
containing the provisions, and Rodney led the way deeper into the
woods, the soldiers coming next in line and Dick Graham bringing up
the rear; and as he trudged along in silence he had much to say to
himself. Was this Rodney Gray, who was risking so much to guide these
ragged, foot-sore men to a place of safety, the same rabid Secessionist
who once wanted to ride rough-shod over everybody who stood up for
the Union; who had not scrupled to bring his own cousin into serious
difficulty on account of his loyalty to the Old Flag; who applauded so
lustily when the Mobile _Register_ said that Northern soldiers were
small-change knaves and vagrants who were fit for nothing but to be
whipped by niggers; and who declared he would not pull off his gray
suit until the South had gained her independence? We said that fifteen
months' experience in the army of the Confederacy, which never kept
a single one of the promises it made to those who enlisted under its
banner, had opened Rodney Gray's eyes; and although he still believed
in State Rights, he did not believe in fighting for a government that
had deliberately gone to work to make conscripts of its volunteers. Nor
did he longer believe that Northern men didn't know how to fight. The
way they thrashed him and his comrades in Missouri proved that they did.

Dick Graham was like Marcy Gray, Rodney's cousin. He loved the Union
and the flag that waved over it; but, unlike Marcy, he thought it
his duty to stand by his State. When Van Dorn was whipped at Pea
Ridge Dick Graham was willing to lay down his arms and give up the
useless struggle; but the government at Richmond wouldn't let him. It
made conscripts of him and all the other State men who had enlisted
under Governor Jackson's proclamation, and ordered them across the
Mississippi to join the Army of the Centre under Beauregard. Dick went
because he could not help himself, and did his duty faithfully while he
remained; but he had his discharge in his pocket now, and said there
would have to be a marked change in his feelings before he would swear
away his liberty again. There were many like him. He thought of all
the men in his company and regiment with whom he had been on terms of
intimacy, and could not name half a dozen who would have said a harsh
word to Rodney Gray if they had known what he was doing at that moment.
The most of them would have done the same thing and been glad of the
chance.

Although Rodney exercised little or no caution in threading his way
through the woods, he insisted that there should be no talking among
his followers. The slight rustling they made in the bushes might not
attract attention, because there were so many cattle and hogs running
at large in the timber; but the sound of a voice would betray them
to anyone who might happen to be within hearing. Their progress was
easy enough until they reached the place where the woods ended and the
broad, cultivated fields began, and then Rodney announced that it was
time for the fugitives to halt and get a little sleep if they could,
while he and Dick went on ahead to see how things looked.

"From here on there is little cover except such as we shall find in
blind ditches and behind bush-lined fences," said he. "You boys take
a bite and a nap, and Dick and I will go to that plantation house you
see over there, and inquire about our friends from Camp Pinckney. I
am somewhat anxious to know where they are. Don't be in any haste to
challenge or shoot when you hear us coming back."

"I suppose you know the people who live in that house," said Dick, as
he and Rodney started off, after taking leave of the Federals. "What
sort of a story are you going to tell them?"

"I am well acquainted with them," answered Rodney, "but whether or not
their friendship for our family would lead them to do these Yanks a
good turn, I can't say. I'll not trust them too far till I find out.
We'll tell them the truth so far as our war record is concerned, but
we're hog and critter hunting when they ask us what brought us into the
woods. And of course we know all about the escaped prisoners."

Rodney did not lead the way directly toward the house, but worked his
way along a fence until he reached a point from which the dwelling
could not be seen; and then he and Dick climbed over into the field and
struck out across it without making any further attempt at concealment.
It never occurred to them that possibly the little clump of trees that
hid the house might also hide something else from their view, but such
proved to be the case; for as Rodney walked around the corner of the
building with all the confidence of a welcome visitor, he was surprised
and frightened to find himself in the presence of the very men he came
to inquire about—the soldiers from Camp Pinckney, who were sitting or
lying at their ease under the shade of the trees, while the master of
the house and his family moved among them with steaming coffee-pots and
trays filled with something good to eat. Their hounds were lying close
by on the grass, their horses stood at the front fence with their heads
down as if asleep, and both looked as though they needed rest. The boys
made a mental note of these things and walked straight ahead as if they
belonged there, their approach being hailed with an exclamation of
delight from the owner of the plantation, who was the first to catch
sight of them.

"What do you mean, sir, by such conduct?" said Mr. Turnbull, passing his
well loaded tray to one of the soldiers and hastening to meet Rodney
with outstretched hand. "You've been at home five or six days, and this
is the first glimpse we have had of you. Come up and have a bite."

Rodney thanked him and presented his friend Dick, who was welcomed in
the same breezy way. Then they shook hands with the other members of
the family, and were made acquainted with the lieutenant who commanded
the soldiers—the one whom Captain Randolph had met and talked with the
day before. There was also a neighbor present who had come over to hear
what the soldiers had to say about the escaped prisoners, and about Tom
Randolph, whose mysterious disappearance was the talk of the planters
for miles around. Rodney was not pleased to see Mr. Biglin, that was
the neighbor's name, for he was a red-hot Secessionist, who denounced
Mr. Gray for his moderate views, and declared that every man who
retained a spark of love for the old Union ought to be shot on sight.

"Now I think we are all happy and comfortable," said Mr. Turnbull, when
the boys had been provided with plates and something to put on them.
"And that's better provender, I take it, than you got in the army; eh,
Rodney? How do you like army life anyway? And when are you going back?"

The lieutenant looked surprised, as Rodney and Dick knew he would,
and so they handed over their discharges to prove that they had seen
service, and had the right to be at home at that particular time.

"We're not going to be in any hurry," answered Rodney, who thought all
his neighbors ought to know how he felt on that point. "Since I came
home I have met many able-bodied civilians who were fierce for a fight
when this thing first broke out, and who haven't yet put on a gray
jacket. When I see those men in the front rank I'll go back, and not
before."

Mr. Biglin winced and glanced uneasily at the soldiers, for these
remarks came pretty near applying to him, as Rodney meant they should.
Mr. Turnbull was exempt by reason of his age, and he wasn't a very hot
Secessionist, either. His wife hastened to turn the conversation into
another channel by saying:

"O Rodney; did you hear anything of those escaped prisoners in your
neighborhood, and do you think they have killed or captured Tom
Randolph?"

"Small loss," began Mr. Turnbull, and then he was checked by a look
from his wife. The latter knew that every word that he uttered against
Tom would get to Mr. Randolph's ears by the shortest route, and she was
afraid of Home Guards.

"Randolph was down here last night looking for Tom," continued Mr.
Turnbull, "but he told a story that was too funny for me to believe. He
said Tom had gone out with his Home Guards to search for the prisoners,
but I know better than that."

"And Tom certainly did not go into the woods alone to hunt for them, so
what chance had the Yanks to kill or capture him?" added Rodney. "We
know that they were in our neighborhood yesterday, for some of these
soldiers told my mother so; but they never came near our house."

"I noticed you did not come by the road," observed the lieutenant.
"Have you been riding through the woods back of this plantation?"

"Dick and I have been walking through them, but not a horn nor a hoof
did we see," answered Rodney. "You know, Mr. Turnbull, that my father
will have a big lot of bacon and beef to pay to the government for the
exemption of two overseers; and just now I don't know where he is going
to get it."

"Ned Griffin is one overseer," said Mr. Turnbull. "Who's the other?"

"I am. I never was a good fighter. I think I can do the Confederacy
just as much service by working on a farm and raising grub for the
soldiers, as I can by staying in the army. At any rate I am going to
try it until some of my neighbors leave off fighting with their mouths
and shoulder a musket."

"That's fair, I'm sure," said the lieutenant; while the soldiers winked
and nodded at one another as if to say: "Our sentiments exactly." Mr.
Biglin saw it and it nettled him, for he had done a great deal of
fighting with his mouth, but every dollar he gave to aid the cause of
the South was fairly squeezed out of him.

"And while you are working one of your father's farms, I suppose you
will hold yourself in readiness to help any destitute Yankees who may
happen to come your way," said Mr. Biglin.

If Rodney and Dick had been the inexperienced boys they were when they
first entered the army, these startling words would have knocked them
out of their chairs. If Mr. Biglin didn't know what they had been
doing that morning, his language and actions seemed to indicate that
he suspected it. If that was the case, the information must have come
from Tom Randolph. He had had plenty of time to reach home and spread
the news far and wide. If Mr. Biglin had been content to stop right
there he might have left a bad impression upon the minds of some of his
auditors; but seeing that he had made Rodney and his friend uneasy, he
went on to say:

"I heard a fishy story about your being captured by Yankee soldiers who
were gentlemen enough to release you."

"There's nothing fishy about it," replied Rodney, greatly relieved. "I
said that Dick and I were captured and set free again between here and
Camp Pinckney, and it is nothing but the truth. I said, further, that if
I ever saw those men in trouble I would try my best to help them out;
and I appeal to these soldiers here to say if they wouldn't do the same."

"I would, if I could do it without bringing myself to the notice of my
superiors," said the lieutenant; while his men nodded at Rodney and one
another as they had done before.

"Well, I wouldn't," declared Mr. Biglin, in savage tones. "And more
than that, I would report every soldier or civilian whom I knew to be
guilty of such a thing."

"I thank you for your words," said Rodney to himself. "I know now that
you'll not do to tie to, and shall be careful that none of my doings
get to your ears."

Mrs. Turnbull saw that it was time for her to interfere again. Two of
her guests were becoming almost red in the face with anger, and her
woman's wit or something else told her that the conversation was taking
a dangerous turn. She had wondered from the first what brought Rodney
Gray so far from home on foot, and now she believed that she knew all
about it. She moved her chair to the side of Rodney's, and asked the
young soldier to tell her a story of army life; and as she did so, her
gaze wandered through the bushes and trees to the front fence, where
she saw one of Mr. Biglin's negroes dodging about, and evidently trying
to catch the eye of his master without attracting the attention of
anyone else in the yard. The circumstance increased her suspicions, but
she said very calmly:

"Your boy Bill is out there in the road, Mr. Biglin, and I think he
wants to tell you something."

"Then why don't he come in?" replied the planter. "He has been down in
the woods trying to locate a small drove of my hogs, and perhaps he has
found them."

"And perhaps he has found something else," was what Rodney's eyes and
Dick's said when they looked at each other; and they could hardly
conceal their agitation when they observed that Mrs. Turnbull was
keeping her gaze fixed on their faces.

"You, Bill!" shouted the planter. "Come here."

The negro came very reluctantly, and when he saw his master turn about
in his chair and look at him, he stopped and twisted his face into all
sorts of shapes and rolled up the whites of his eyes, trying by every
means in his power to make his master understand that he desired to say
a word to him in private.

"Well, why don't you speak?" demanded Mr. Biglin. "Did you find
anything down there?"

"Sah? Oh, ye—yes, sah; I found sumfin," replied the negro, in a tone
so significant that Mr. Biglin would have been dull indeed if he
had failed to understand him this time. With the remark that he had
better be getting along toward home he arose and followed the boy, who
promptly led the way toward the front gate.

"Peculiar man, that," said the lieutenant, rising from his comfortable
couch on the grass and stretching his arms. "He didn't even bid us
good-by. I reckon we'd best be getting along toward camp. Boots and
saddles!"

"Are you going to give up looking for those Yankees?" inquired Mr.
Turnbull, and from the bottom of his heart Rodney thanked him for
asking the question. He wanted to do it himself, but was afraid to
speak.

"I reckon I might as well," answered the officer, as his men got upon
their feet, aroused the slumbering hounds by snapping their fingers
at them, and hastened to obey the command. "I did think of taking in
those woods on my way to Mooreville, but don't suppose it would be of
any use. If the Yanks were there you two would have been likely to see
them, wouldn't you?" he added, nodding at Rodney.

"I am quite sure we would," was the reply; but after all he was not so
sure of it. The timber was thick; and, unless accompanied by dogs, a
whole regiment might have walked through it without seeing any signs of
a fugitive who took the least pains to conceal himself.

"That's what I thought," continued the lieutenant, "and as my men and
animals are somewhat worn with travel, I think I will give it up and go
home. I would have captured those men yesterday if the Mooreville Home
Guards had been worth their salt. I may have something to say to my
colonel about it."

While the lieutenant talked he shook hands with the planter and the
two boys, lifted his cap to Mrs. Turnbull, and thanked her for the
excellent dinner she had given his hungry men, and walked toward the
place where he had hitched his horse, accompanied by their host. The
latter's wife remained behind; and when she saw the officer swing
himself into his saddle she made some slight apology to Dick, and
motioned Rodney to follow her into the house.

"What's down there in the woods behind our plantation?" were the first
words she said to him when they were alone.

"Why, Mrs. Turnbull," began Rodney, "how should I know? I assure you I
am at a loss——"

"You know what I mean, Rodney Gray, and you can't deceive me,"
interrupted the lady with so much earnestness that Rodney saw it was
useless to argue with her. "You never in your life before came to this
house on foot; you were frightened when you found the soldiers here;
you became angry the moment Mr. Biglin spoke of Yankees; you were
frightened again when the boy Bill intimated that he had a word to say
to his master in private; and all through—— Aha! You do know what I
mean, don't you?"

"Mrs. Turnbull," replied Rodney in a husky voice. "They are the men I
promised to help if I could. You'll not betray them?"

"I ought to scold you for speaking such words to me, and some day I
will," said the lady hastily. "But just now I want to warn you against
Mr. Biglin. I am sorry to say that he is not trustworthy."

When she ceased speaking she stepped to the window and looked out. She
stood there a moment and beckoned Rodney to her side. The Confederate
soldiers had disappeared up the road in a cloud of dust, and Mr. Biglin
was just riding by the house. It was plain that he was in a hurry,
for he did not stop to pick up his hat, which flew off just as Rodney
caught sight of him, but dug his heels into his mule's sides in the
effort to make him go faster.

"He's trying to overtake the soldiers!" gasped Rodney.

"He certainly is," replied Mrs. Turnbull calmly. "He will succeed, too,
and when he brings them back with the hounds——"

"The Yankees will burn him out before he is a week older," said Rodney,
through his clenched teeth.

"They will do nothing of the sort unless you bear witness against him,
and I know you will not do that," answered Mrs. Turnbull. "But waste no
time in words. You know what to do."

"I will say something in your favor and Mr. Turnbull's as soon as I can
gain the ear of the provost marshal," said Rodney. "Good-by, and thank
you for the interest you take in my Yankee friends."

Rodney made a sign to Dick as he sprang down the steps and ran around
the corner of the house, and told him his story as they sped across
the field side by side. There was one thing in their favor, he said.
Biglin's mule was one of those critters that gallop up and down in one
place instead of going ahead, and if the Confederates were moving with
any speed at all, he might not be able to overtake them until they had
gone a mile or two toward Mooreville. But he would certainly come up
with them sooner or later and bring them back; and then——

"And then they'll put the hounds on the Yanks' trail _and ours_,"
exclaimed Dick, finishing his sentence for him. "Rodney, you have got
yourself into the worst kind of a scrape by helping those prisoners."

"And how about yourself?"

"I'm going to skip out and go over the river, you know; but you've got
to stay here and face the music. The lieutenant may not be able to set
Tom Randolph's cowardly Home Guards on to you—indeed, I don't believe
he will try; but he'll report the matter at Camp Pinckney, and that
will be bad for you."

The boys ran across the field at the top of their speed, and scaled
the fence without hearing any sounds in the direction of the house to
indicate that Mr. Biglin had returned with the soldiers. Ten minutes
later they were challenged in a low, peremptory tone that Dick said
meant business.

"_Who_ comes there?" said the corporal's voice. "Speak quick."

"It's all right, Yank. I don't wonder you look anxious," replied
Rodney, as he and Dick made their way through the bushes and found the
fugitives standing erect with their guns in their hands. "Come on, now.
There's not a second to lose."

"Do you know about that nigger?" inquired Ben. "Well, sir, he found us
all asleep and was onto us before we knew it. We could have captured
him easy enough; but we never looked for treachery among the darkeys,
and besides we didn't know but you Johnnies had sent him down with a
message or something. But the minute we spoke and he ran, we knew there
was mischief afoot. Of course we were afraid to shoot him, and so he
got safely away. Did you see him? What did he say?"

"We didn't hear what he said to his master," began Dick. "But we——"

"You go to the rear and let me talk," interrupted Rodney, who had
forgotten to tell his friend that Mr. Biglin's name must not be
mentioned in the hearing of the escaped prisoners. They would remember
him, of course, and square accounts with him the first time their
regiment was ordered out on a scout. He managed to tell some sort
of a tale without speaking of Mr. Biglin, but it was not entirely
satisfactory to the corporal.

"You're shielding somebody, Johnny; but if he is a friend of yours it's
all right," said the latter.

"What odds does it make to you so long as you get safe to the river?"
answered Rodney. "I am shielding somebody, and I do it because Mrs.
Turnbull expects me to. That's the name of the woman who lives in that
house, and if it hadn't been for her there's no telling what would have
happened. Bear that name in mind—Turnbull; and when you are raiding
through here, don't steal so much as a drink of milk from that family."

The corporal and his men promised, and said the name over several times
to fix it in their memory.

"Our pursuers are all soldiers," continued Rodney, "and under almost
any other circumstances I believe they would let us off easy; but the
way they're fixed, they've got to do their duty or be reported. They
are bound to come back to the house and put out the hounds——"

"And they've done it," said Dick Graham, coming to a sudden standstill
and turning one ear toward the house. "There! Do you hear it?"

All this while the fugitives had been making the best progress they
could through the woods, but now they stopped and listened intently.
Yes, they could hear it plainly enough; not a single bugle note like
that which had attracted Dick Graham's attention, but a whole chorus of
eager yelps, proving that all the hounds had taken up the trail.

"This is going to be the tightest squeak we've had yet," observed Ben.
"How many of them are there in the party?"

"About six hounds, I should say, and twice as many men," replied
Rodney. "Enough altogether to make running easier than fighting. Dick,
take this bottle, and don't use it until I say the word."

"What's in it?" inquired the corporal.

"Turpentine; and if the dogs get a good sniff of it, it will spoil
their scenting powers for quite a while. The trouble is it evaporates
quickly, and Dick mustn't use it until the hounds are close to us."

Dick fell back to the rear and Rodney set off on a keen run, directing
his course toward a little bayou which he knew he would find a mile or
so in advance. But fast as they went, the hounds came on at a swifter
pace, their sonorous yelps grew louder every minute, and presently the
encouraging shouts of the soldiers mingled with them.

"Oh, don't I wish I had enlisted in the infantry," puffed Ben, who
followed close at Rodney's heels. "Such a tramp as we have had wouldn't
be anything to a foot soldier, but it's death on a cavalryman."

"The hounds are now following Dick's trail and mine across the field,"
said Rodney. "They'll come on faster when they pick up yours, for they
will recognize it on the instant."

And so it proved. The hounds gradually swept around from a point to the
rear and left of them to another that was directly behind; and then
their loud baying increased wonderfully in volume. They had at last
found the trail that had been lost to them for so many hours, and were
holding a jubilee over it. After that the horsemen were distanced, but
the active hounds came on with undiminished speed, and in less than a
quarter of an hour could be heard making their way through the bushes
close behind. The prisoners began to wonder if it wasn't about time for
Dick Graham to use the contents of his bottle, when their guide parted
the thicket in front of him, and halted for an instant on the bank of
the bayou for which he had been heading.

"Put half of it right here and the rest on the opposite bank. Forward,
the rest of us," said he; and with the words he dashed through the
narrow stream and into the bushes on the other side.

[Illustration: DICK BAFFLES THE BLOODHOUNDS.]

Dick Graham showed no little nerve in carrying out his instructions.
When his companions disappeared he pulled the bottle of turpentine from
his pocket, but knowing the volatile nature of the fluid he seemed to
be in no haste to use it, until the leading hound was so close upon
him that he could hear his labored breathing. Then he dug the heels
of his shoes into the soft earth and filled the depressions with
turpentine. Ten seconds later he stood on the other side of the bayou,
filling other footprints with what was left in the bottle; and just as
the foremost of his fourfooted pursuers appeared in sight, he flung
himself into the bushes. But he was not prepared for what followed. As
fast as the hounds arrived upon the bank they smelt at the turpentine
and backed away with a sneeze; and when they were all in plain view,
running about with their heads in the air or going through such
contortions as dogs will when they unexpectedly encounter something
disagreeable, a deafening roar rang through the woods, and every one of
the hounds dropped in his tracks dead or wounded. The Union soldiers
were not going to be tracked like beasts or criminals any longer.



CHAPTER XV.

RODNEY PASSES INSPECTION.


This was the first and last adventure that befell Rodney Gray and his
party while they were on their way to Baton Rouge; the shooting of the
hounds "broke the backbone of the pursuit," as Dick Graham expressed
it, although it did not put a stop to it altogether. The rebels raised
a chorus of angry yells when they reached the bank of the bayou and
discovered their fourfooted allies weltering in their blood, and fired
their guns at random into the woods in the direction the fugitives
had gone, but they made no energetic effort to continue the chase
after that. And this went far to confirm Rodney in his belief that the
lieutenant would not have put the hounds on the trail at all if it
hadn't been for Mr. Biglin. By expressing this opinion aloud he could
have made Mr. Biglin a beggar before another week passed over his head.

Contrary to his original plan Rodney kept his party moving until late
that afternoon, when he halted the soldiers in the rear of another
plantation while he and Dick went to the house to get something to
eat, and make inquiries concerning their pursuers. This time they were
not gone more than half an hour, and when they returned they were
accompanied by the owner of the plantation, who cordially invited the
soldiers into the house.

"It's all right, boys," Rodney assured them. "Our friends from Camp
Pinckney haven't been this far down the road; Mr. Banks is Union, and
a large squad of your cavalry has just gone back into the country, so
that they are between us and the rebels."

"Why, Rodney," said Mr. Banks, "you're a rebel yourself."

"I was, and I don't know but I am yet; but I am not fighting any Yanks
just now," was the smiling reply. "Come along, boys, and after we have
eaten everything Mr. Banks has to spare, we'll take to the road and
follow it as though we had a right there. We've done hiding now."

The corporal glanced at the military pass which Mr. Banks produced to
prove that he was "all right" with the Federal authorities in Baton
Rouge, and gladly accepted his invitation; and for fear that he might
forget it, he drew one of those useless paroles from his pocket and
wrote Mr. Banks' name and Mr. Turnbull's upon it.

"That's as strong a promise of protection as a non-commissioned officer
can give," said he. "It will hold good with my regiment, any way."

The four prisoners splashed a good deal of water at the horse trough
before they would consent to enter the house and sit down to the table
like white folks, but when they got there they did ample justice to the
substantial food that was placed before them. The planter apologized
for the absence of salt on the table by saying that he hadn't been able
to obtain a permit to bring it through the lines.

"Then smuggle it," suggested the corporal. "Buy a barrel of flour and
chuck a bag of salt inside of it."

"But don't let your best friend see you do it," chimed in Rodney.
"That's the warning my father received. There are lots of traitors in
the city who try to curry favor with the Yanks by carrying tales about
their old neighbors. By the way, don't you want me to get you a barrel
of flour?"

The expression of astonishment that came upon Mr. Banks' face set the
table in a roar.

"You didn't expect me to speak so freely in the presence of these
blue-coated boys, I suppose," continued Rodney. "You needn't be afraid,
for they are not on duty now. Besides, they are soldiers, and I'd
rather trust them than some civilians I know of."

"How will you bring the flour out?" asked Mr. Banks.

"I'll bring it out," answered Rodney confidently. "In the first place
I'll ask for a pass for inland travel and a permit to trade, and I am
bound to get both. I know where I can borrow a team in the city, and I
intend to bring it out loaded. I know that salt and all munitions of
war are contraband, and that there is an inspection of all persons and
property going in or out of the lines; but I—well, I shall be back
this way to-morrow or next day, and if you want a bag of salt for your
table you can have it."

"Well, I snum!" said the planter admiringly. "Your war experience has
done a heap for you, Rodney."

"He had the reputation of being the best forager in the regiment," said
Dick. "I've known him to stick a pig and clean him and bring him into
camp under Daddy Price's nose, when the orders were strict that such
things shouldn't be done. If there was anything to eat in the country
our mess always lived well."

Dinner over, Rodney led his party out of the house and into the woods
again; but it was done merely to mislead any talkative rebel or
treacherous darkey who might be on the watch. It wouldn't do to let all
the neighbors know that Mr. Banks had sheltered some escaped prisoners
in his house during the night; but when darkness came they left the
woods and found in one of the negro cabins beds that had been placed
there on purpose for them, and on which they slept the sleep of the
weary. Daylight the next morning found them well on their way toward
the city, with a breakfast under their belts and a big lunch in their
pockets.

There was more travel on the road than Rodney expected to see, and the
number of teams that were constantly going and coming gave him some
idea of the amount of traffic carried on between the "invaders" and the
country people. When he and his companions were halted by the first
pickets a few miles outside the city, they told as much of their story
as they thought necessary, and demanded to be taken before Colonel
Baker, commanding the —th Michigan cavalry. In order to avoid delay
and the trouble of answering the thousand and one questions propounded
by the inexperienced non-commissioned officer who responded to the
picket's call, the corporal, who did the talking, said that they were
all escaped prisoners; but when they reached the place where the —th
Michigan were encamped, and walked down the street toward the colonel's
quarters, that story would no longer pass muster, for the corporal was
recognized by his comrades, who crowded about him from all sides. The
news of that fight near Camp Pinckney had been brought in by a farmer,
who affirmed that all the Yankees had been killed by the Home Guards
as fast as they surrendered, and as a consequence the Michigan boys
had given up all hope of seeing their friends again. Their commanding
officer greeted them in the same cordial way, laughed over the paroles
which the corporal gave him, took down the names of the Union people as
they were read off, looked at Rodney's discharge and Dick's, and told
the corporal to show them the way to the provost marshal's office.

"But, colonel, these boys, who have stood by us as though they belonged
to us, want a pass and a permit to trade," said the corporal. "And if
you will allow me to use your name, perhaps the provost will be more
willing to grant the favor."

The permission was readily given, and the colonel's name must have
had some weight with the marshal, for he did not detain Rodney and
Dick at his office on business for more than ten minutes; but he kept
them there talking in a friendly way for more than an hour. When he
handed them the papers they wanted he took pains to say that there
were some things that could not be taken through the lines under any
circumstances whatever, and then he asked where they intended to make
their headquarters when they were in the city, and whether or not they
had any cotton to sell. As Rodney did not know what his object might be
in asking this question, he answered it evasively.

"I wish I owned 1000 bales, and that it was in the Northern market at
this minute," said he. "It is worth sixty cents a pound up there."

"Because if you've got any you may as well understand that it won't
do you much good," said the marshal. "That is, unless you're sharp.
The Richmond government is going to buy or steal all the cotton in the
Confederacy and make it the basis of a foreign loan."

"And of course you Yanks are going to stop that sort of work by
destroying every bale you can find," said Rodney. "I understand that,
but I don't know what you mean by being sharp."

"You don't get the papers very often, do you?" said the captain. "Well,
take those when you go. They're old, but perhaps their contents will
be news to you. You will find that they say something about a 'partial
trade' that is to be established between Northern men who are to have
permits to trade inside our lines, and _Union_ Southern people. Does
that hit you? Anything to cripple the rebs, you know. And you will see
something about the _Arkansas_ ram in there, too. It was a brave act,
if it was performed by the enemies of my country."

"What about her? What did she do?" inquired Rodney, who had heard vague
reports that there was such a vessel as the _Arkansas_, and that great
things were expected of her by her Confederate builders.

"Why, you know that the navy has been keeping up a regular bombardment
of Vicksburg, don't you? I tell you the pluck of the Johnnies up
there is something wonderful," said the captain, and Rodney and Dick,
disgusted as they were with the policy of the Richmond government,
felt a thrill of pride as they listened to his words. "They think the
lower river was given up too easily and are going to make a fight for
their city; and when Farragut passed their batteries on the 28th of
June, and our shells were falling like hail in the streets, parties of
ladies were seen on the court house and in other conspicuous places,
waving handkerchiefs and little rebel flags to encourage their husbands
and brothers and sons, who were fighting the guns below them. Well,
when Farragut joined Davis above the city they sent an expedition up
the Yazoo to find this ram _Arkansas_ and destroy her; but before they
were fairly started they met the _Arkansas_ coming down."

"And didn't they capture her?" exclaimed Dick.

"No, I am sorry to say. She either disabled or dodged the three
gunboats composing the expedition, came out of the Yazoo with flying
colors, ran through both fleets, and took shelter under the guns of
Vicksburg. And she's there now in spite of two desperate attempts that
were made to destroy her. Sorry, aint you?"

"I can't honestly say that I am," answered Rodney, who had already
made up his mind that the talkative provost marshal was willing to be
friendly to any Confederate who had laid down his arms. "A brave act
like that ought to be successful."

"Then our attempts to destroy her ought to have been successful, for
they were equally brave," retorted the captain. "She got pretty well
hammered while passing through the two fleets, and report says that as
soon as she is repaired she is coming down to take Baton Rouge from us.
But she is as far down as she will ever get. Farragut is here now with
his whole fleet."

And this is a good place to say a word or two more about the situation
at Baton Rouge, so that some events which we have yet to record may
be made perfectly plain. On the 22d of the month (July) Flag-officer
Davis made another attempt to destroy the _Arkansas_, but it resulted
in failure. Two of his boats, the _Essex_ and _Queen of the West_,
were commanded to go down and sink her as she lay at her moorings
under cover of the Confederate batteries, but her picked crew fought as
bravely and skilfully now as they had done a week before. The _Essex_
ran aground and remained there for ten minutes under fire so hot that
it is a wonder she was not cut all to pieces; but she finally worked
off and ran down to join Farragut, while the _Queen of the West_
struggled back up the river to report the failure to Flag-officer
Davis. The situation at this time was discouraging to our side. The
gunboats were widely separated; the canal that was to make Vicksburg
an inland town proved a failure; General Williams removed to Baton
Rouge the small body of troops with which he had been co-operating with
the naval forces; Commodore Davis went back to the mouth of the Yazoo
and anchored there; and for full five months there was a lull in the
operations against Vicksburg. But exciting things continued to happen
in Rodney Gray's part of the country.

"To tell you the truth, we of the Army of the Centre always found more
reliable information in your papers than we did in our own, and I
suppose that these you have kindly given me will tell us all about the
doings on the river," said Rodney, continuing the conversation we have
broken off. "But I want to ask you one question before I go. My friend
Dick wants to go to Little Rock. How is he going to get there?"

"I give it up," replied the captain.

"Do you think the commanding naval officer would permit him to cross
the river if he showed his discharge!"

"He might, and then he might not. I can't say. Those navy men are
fine fellows, the finest I think I ever saw; but they're so _very_
particular that if I wanted to go to Little Rock, and if it was right
that I should go, I wouldn't consult—I believe I should—well, I'd
just go. That's all."

"Well, we will no longer trespass upon your time," said Rodney, getting
upon his feet. "We are obliged to you for your kindness and courtesy,
and if you ever come out our way, drop in and see us."

"I should be glad if I could accept half the invitations that have
been given me by people hereabout," replied the captain. "But just now
I can't. Any rebs out your way?"

"I don't expect you to come without an escort. There are soldiers at
Camp Pinckney, and some of them have been seen in Mooreville."

"Good-by, if you must go; and remember that there are a few things
which that permit does not authorize you to take through the lines."

Rodney said he would not forget it, and then he and Dick saluted and
went into the outer room, which was filled with civilians and soldiers
awaiting an audience with the provost marshal. After looking in vain
for the corporal, they concluded that he had returned to camp, so they
took the nearest way to the home of Mr. Martin, the gentleman under
whose hospitable roof Rodney and his father were sojourning on the
night that Ned Griffin rode in from Mooreville with the information
that Drummond and Tom Randolph were laying plans to have Rodney
arrested when he reached St. Louis. Mr. Martin was glad to see them,
and made them feel at home at once. He laughed when they told him of
their interview with the provost marshal, and, when Rodney declared
that he'd like to see anybody treated with so much civility by an
officer holding that position in Bragg's army, cautioned them to be
careful how they trespassed upon the captain's good nature. The latter
was cordial and friendly with everyone who had business with him,
but he had a reputation as a fighter, had won all his promotions by
his bravery on the field of battle, and had no mercy on civilians or
soldiers who were caught disobeying his orders.

"But smuggling things out of the lines is like foraging in the army,"
said Mr. Martin in conclusion. "The sin lies in being detected."

"That's all I want to know," said Rodney. "I've never been caught yet.
You can tell me where I can borrow or hire a team, I suppose?"

Yes, the host could do that, and he might also be able to make a few
suggestions that would be of use to them; but he didn't see how Dick
would get over the river unless he acted upon the provost marshal's
advice and "just went."

"However," he said, after a moment's reflection, "I will introduce you
to our mail carrier, if he will let me."

"Do we have a mail carried back and forth under the noses of these
gunboats?" exclaimed Dick.

"I don't know how or where it goes, but we certainly have communication
with the opposite shore. The service was very irregular while General
Williams was at Vicksburg, but since he came back to Baton Rouge our
mail reaches us at shorter intervals; so I imagine it is carried across
at some point up the river and brought down through the country. I
don't know, but I meet the mail carrier once in a while."

"And can you make it convenient to say a word to him about Dick?"

"I can and will; but I must tell you now that there is one thing that
will operate against you. You told the provost marshal that you would
make your headquarters at my house as often as you came to town, and
he knows me to be a Southern sympathizer."

"Whew!" whistled Rodney, while Dick looked frightened. "Mr. Martin, we
will never come near your house again."

"Oh, yes, you will," replied their host. "But you must be careful how
you act and who you talk to. The city is full of the meanest sort
of converted rebels, who are harder on us than the Yankees. If Mrs.
Martin goes out shopping or receives a guest oftener than once a week,
they run to the marshal with the news, and I have the satisfaction of
knowing that my premises are being watched for spies."

"They are a contemptible lot," declared Dick. "And if the provost
marshal was the gentleman we took him for, he would not pay the least
heed to their reports."

"All's fair in war," said the host. "These converted rebels are working
for trade permits. There's going to be a lot of money made in cotton
one of these days, and they want some of it. While in the city you may
listen all you please, but don't make a confidant of anybody but me.
And don't have too much to say to those four escaped prisoners. You may
run across them some time when they are on duty."

Mr. Martin talked for half an hour in this strain, dropping hints here
and there which proved to be of great service to Rodney, and then he
conducted the boys to a clothing store and left them to make their
purchases, while he went out to look for a team. Before they went to
bed that night their business was all done, and all that remained for
them to do in the morning was to load the two-horse wagon their host
had provided for them and go home. Mr. Martin obtained from Rodney a
list of needed goods, principally groceries, which he purchased and
packed himself; and when the various boxes, barrels, and bags that
comprised his load were afterward unpacked at his father's door, Rodney
found in them many little articles which he was sure he had not placed
on that list. They made an early start, and Rodney's parting injunction
to Mr. Martin was to seek an interview with the mail carrier at the
earliest possible moment, for Dick was impatient to be on his way home.

"This is my first work as an overseer," said Rodney, when the city was
left behind and the two scraggy mules that pulled the wagon had been
coaxed and thrashed into a snail's trot, "and I think I have made a
very fair beginning, seeing that the business is new to me. My next
task will be to see you over the river."

"I never knew you were an overseer," said Dick.

"I've called myself one ever since I had that talk with my father on
the night we came home," answered Rodney. "And just see what I shall
have to do when you are gone! I battled for fame and didn't get it, and
now I am going to work for dollars and see if I will have any better
luck. Dick, I am just aching to make the acquaintance of one of those
traders—that is, a Yankee trader. Not one of those converted rebels
Mr. Martin told us of shall touch a bale of our cotton, if I have to
fight to keep him away from it; but if some good Yankee comes along and
offers sixty cents a pound for it, you just wait and see how hard I
will work to put it in his hands."

It was plain that Rodney Gray belonged to the class who were denounced
by Pollard, the Southern historian, as "unpatriotic planters." In
writing of this very matter Mr. Pollard said: "The country had taken
a solemn resolution to burn the cotton in advance of the enemy; but
the conflagration of this staple became a rare event; instead of being
committed to the flames it was spirited away to Yankee markets. The
planters of the extreme South, who prior to the war were loudest for
secession, were known to buy every article of their consumption from
the invading army. Nor were these operations always disguised. Some
commercial houses in the Confederacy counted their gains by millions of
dollars through the favor of the government in allowing them to export
cotton at pleasure." But Rodney Gray was a private individual, and he
was well aware that if his father's cotton brought the money it was
really worth, it would take some good scheming on his part.

About an hour after the boys left the city they came upon the first
picket post, which they found to be an unusually strong one, being
composed of one sergeant, two corporals, and eight or nine privates.
Rodney had just time to remark "We pass inspection here, probably,"
when one of the soldiers walked to the middle of the road, brought his
musket to "arms port" and commanded them to halt. An instant afterward
their wagon was surrounded by the rest of the pickets, who shook the
barrels back and forth, dug their fingers into the bags, and bumped the
boxes about in the most unceremonious style.

"Got a permit?" demanded the sergeant. "And a pass?" He did not ask who
the boys were or where they came from, and the sequel proved that he
knew without asking.

"These documents appear to be all right," he continued, after he had
read the papers Rodney handed out. "Discharged rebels, eh? You don't
seem to be such a desperate looking couple. What you got in your wagon?"

"Munitions of war," replied Rodney. "There's a six-pound field-piece
in one of those barrels."

"That's what I thought. Get out, both of you."

Although the boys were surprised and startled by this unexpected
command they were prompt to obey it.

"Now let me see what you've got in your pockets," said the sergeant.
"Every scrap, mind you."

"You're welcome to read all the letters and things of that sort you can
find about us," answered Rodney. "We are not simple enough to lose our
permits and passes by carrying despatches the first thing."

"They're the laddie-bucks who helped the —th Michigan's boys,"
observed a corporal.

"I know; but business is business," said the sergeant. "And they've
been in Martin's company ever since they came to town."

"That's all right. I don't object to your doing your duty, for I've
been a soldier myself," said Rodney. "But I do object to being taken
for a plumb dunce. You'll find no writing about us except the papers
we showed you and our discharges."

But the sergeant obeyed orders, like the good soldier he was, and it
was not until he had seen all their pockets turned inside out, and
had felt of the seams of their coats and trousers, that he concluded
they were all right and could pass on. He did not say a word about the
things they had in the wagon. He was after despatches and nothing else.

"Climb in and go ahead, Johnny," said the sergeant, giving Rodney a
friendly slap to help him along. "And when you see that best girl of
yours, give her my regards and say that I am coming out to call on her
one of these days."

"Well, be sure and come in a crowd. You'll see fun if you don't."

"Any graybacks out your way?"

"Some; and the events of the last few hours will probably bring more.
So-long, boys, and look out for the rebs in Vicksburg. They are coming
down to clean you out."

He was answered by shouts of laughter and derision from the Federals,
who advised him not to take a hand in the cleaning-out business, for he
would be whipped if he did. He drove on, glad to escape so easily, and
in due time turned up at Mr. Turnbull's house, where he and Dick rested
the balance of the day and slept that night. When it was dark a barrel
of flour was taken from the wagon and carried into Mrs. Turnbull's
dining room; and when some of the flour had been taken out four bags of
salt were brought to light. If those little bags had been filled with
money Mr. Turnbull and his wife could scarcely have expressed more joy.

"We've been seasoning our food with the floor of the smoke-house for
the last two months," said the former, "and I tell you I am glad to see
some clean salt once more. You have made us your everlasting debtors.
How much did it cost you?"

"I didn't get an itemized bill," replied Rodney. "Take it to pay for
our grub and lodging."

The next night saw them safe at home, and the night following found
them settled on Mr. Gray's upper plantation, which was located a
mile or two up the river from the one on which Ned Griffin was living
as overseer. Rodney was elated over the result of his first visit to
the city, for the immediate wants of the family had been abundantly
supplied by that wagon-load of goods, and he and Dick could now wear
clothes that looked as though they fitted somewhere; but his father and
mother were not elated. They looked serious, and Rodney told Dick that
he made a mistake when he described how carefully the Federal soldiers
searched them for despatches.

"And it is a bad thing for you that they know we make our headquarters
at Mr. Martin's," he added. "They've got an eye on him; and what will
you bet that they don't know he sees that mail carrier once in a while?"

"Then what's the reason they don't arrest him and the mail carrier
too?" said Dick.

"They'll jump down on the pair of them when they are good and ready,
and think they can capture some important documents by doing it,"
answered Rodney. "You can't cross at Baton Rouge. You'll have to start
from some point up the river. But we'll see the mail carrier if we can,
and hear what he has to say about it."



CHAPTER XVI.

CAPTAIN RANDOLPH RECEIVES ORDERS.


Rodney Gray was an overseer now at all events, and being one of those
uneasy fellows who must have something to occupy their minds at all
times, and fond of hunting, he would have been as happy and contented
as he wanted to be, if there had been no such things as Home Guards
in the world. The Yankees at Baton Rouge he did not bother his head
about. He had charge of 400 acres of land, 100 of which were under
cultivation, and fifteen work hands—just enough to bring him under the
exemption clause of the Conscription Act. For the privilege of staying
at home and overseeing these hands the Confederate Government demanded
of him 3000 pounds of salt pork and beef, or their equivalent in bacon,
and Rodney expected to furnish the meat himself. There were many hogs
running loose in the woods, and as the negro driver who had charge of
the plantation previous to Rodney's coming had taken no pains to "tame"
them by feeding them regularly, they were as wild as deer, and Rodney
intended to hunt them as he would have hunted deer—"with rifle and
with hounds."

The "great house" in which Rodney lived was very unlike the same
dwelling on the home plantation. It was built of unhewn logs and
contained two rooms, the wide hall between them being used as the
dining room, both summer and winter. The kitchen, which stood a little
distance away, was built of logs, and so were the negro cabins,
corn-cribs, smoke houses, and the little stable in which his riding
horse would find shelter in stormy weather; but taken as it stood the
plantation was a valuable one, for, concealed somewhere in the dark
recesses of the woods, that hemmed the cultivated fields in on all
sides, were several hundred bales of cotton that was worth sixty cents
a pound in Northern markets.

The driver had been so careless with his work and so lax with the
hands that Rodney found plenty of things demanding his attention,
but he could not think of settling down to business so long as Dick
remained with him. When they parted it might be forever, and Rodney
was reluctant to let him go. Mr. Martin told them that they need not
come to the city under a week expecting to hear any news from the mail
carrier, but they did not wait as long as that without hearing news
from another source, and of the most exciting character too. On the
morning of the third day after their arrival at the plantation, Dick
looked over Rodney's shoulder as they sat at the breakfast table in the
wide hall, and saw half a dozen armed men ride up to the bars. They
stood there a minute or two looking up and down the road, and then
three of them dismounted and came into the yard. At the same instant
another similar squad came in sight and also rode up and stopped at the
bars.

"Rebs for a dollar," whispered Dick.

"And not Home Guards, either," replied Rodney, as the two arose from
the table and walked out to meet the visitors. "They are strangers."

"Well," said the foremost, who might have been an officer, though
there was nothing on his coat to show it, "how does it come that a
couple of likely lads like yourselves are here in citizen's clothes
while everybody else is in the army?"

"Been there and came home to take a little rest," answered Rodney,
feeling in his pocket for his discharge. "But everybody else isn't in
the army by a long shot, as you would know if you belonged in this
country. Read that, and tell me if you are out conscripting."

"We're out for more serious business than that," replied the soldier,
reading the discharges one after the other, and handing them back to
their owners. "Any Yanks about here?"

"None nearer than Baton Rouge that we know of."

"How large an army have they got there?"

The boys were obliged to say they couldn't tell; but they knew that
General Williams had come down from Vicksburg with his whole force.

"We know that, too, and are following him up to lick him."

We don't know how to give an idea, in words, of the exclamation that
broke from Dick Graham's lips when he heard this. It was the famous
"rebel yell," long, loud, and piercing; and when the soldiers at the
bars heard it they turned in their saddles and lifted their hats, and
needed no other evidence to prove that Dick was or had been one of
themselves. Then Dick demanded if there was going to be a fight right
there in his friend's door-yard.

"It'll happen somewhere about here," replied the soldier. "Better find
guns, you two, and join in. It's bound to be a victory for our side and
you want to share in the honor. We're going to have the _Arkansas_ to
help us, and she is a match for all the vessels the Yanks have in the
river. She proved it by what she did up at Yazoo."

After a little more conversation the boys learned that their visitor
belonged to Breckenridge's division, which had been detached from the
force at Vicksburg as soon as General Williams withdrew and Farragut
started down the river, and they were simply scouting in advance of
the main body, which was to be reinforced by all the conscripts and
regular troops at Camp Pinckney.

"If you want help, why don't you bring into your ranks all the Home
Guards around here?" said Rodney.

"Are there Home Guards about here? I am glad to know it, for we need
all the help we can raise. Who's their captain and where are his
headquarters?"

Rodney gave the desired information, adding that if his visitor did not
think it safe to venture as far as Mooreville with the small force at
his command, he and Dick would volunteer to take a message to Captain
Randolph. "But you will have to put it in writing," said he, "for Tom
will not believe us. And you must caution him against letting his men
know that there is going to be a fight; for if they find that out
they'll scatter like rats in a pantry."

"Like Home Guards everywhere," replied the soldier in disgust. "I'll
tell you what I'll do," said he, after thinking a moment. "I'll get a
line from the colonel commanding our advance ordering Captain Randolph
to hold his company in readiness to march at a moment's notice, and
I'll either bring or send it here to-night if you will deliver it. Of
course you'll not say anything to him or anybody else that will get to
the enemy's ears."

"Oh, you needn't think to surprise the Yanks," exclaimed Dick. "They
have had notice already that you are coming. But we'll get Tom out if
we can."

The soldier asked a few more questions that the boys could not answer
satisfactorily touching the length, shape, and strength of the Federal
lines at Baton Rouge, and then joined his men, who moved down the road
toward Mooreville.

"Did you forget Captain Roach and his conscripts?" asked Dick, when
they were out of sight.

"I left them out on purpose," said Rodney. "But of course I shall
speak to Roach about it when we take that note to Tom Randolph. His
conscripts are all my near neighbors, and mostly Union men, who
wouldn't be of the least use in a fight; and, Dick," here Rodney sunk
his voice to a whisper, "if I can do it without risk to myself, I shall
go out of my way to warn them of what's coming."

"Oh, you traitor!" cried Dick.

"You would do the same if you were in my fix. Of course there are some
I would not dare speak to, for they would tell where they got the
information; but those I can trust to keep a still tongue in their
heads will be warned, if I can find them."

The boys went back to their unfinished breakfast and ate heartily,
as they had often done while men all around them were forming in
line of battle and shells were bursting over their heads. But still
Rodney was anxious, for the coming contest might bring great loss
to his father. There were many bales of cotton concealed within a
circle of a few miles of the place where he was sitting; both sides
had proclaimed it contraband of war, and it seemed impossible that a
line of battle could go far in any direction without discovering some
of it; and the destruction of part would lead to the destruction of
the whole, for some of those who lost, Mr. Randolph for instance,
would be mean enough to point out the hiding-place of the rest. This
reflection troubled Rodney, but before he sat down to another meal he
had something besides cotton to think about. The scouts of the opposing
armies came together down the road, out of sight, but within plain
hearing of the two boys, who ran to the bars and listened to the sounds
of the conflict. They heard the sharp, quick reports of the carbines,
and the cheers and yells of the combatants; and when the yells became
fainter and at last died away altogether, and the cheers grew in volume
until they became one continuous cheer, they looked at each other with
the same startling question in their eyes.

"That's the first encounter, and we're whipped," said Dick. "Now if the
victorious Yanks come back this way—then what?"

"Our discharges and passes and permits will be of no more use than so
much blank paper," answered Rodney. "They'll say that if we haven't
given information of some sort to the enemy already, we will do it the
first chance we get, and so we'd better trot right along with them to
Baton Rouge."

"That's what I am afraid of. I don't want to go to Baton Rouge."

"Neither do I; and so I am going to do as other and better men have
done under similar circumstances."

"Afoot or on horseback?" inquired Dick, who knew that his friend had
resolved to take to the woods.

"On horseback, to save our animals from being stolen, and to give color
to the story that we have gone to town," replied Rodney. "Come on,
for there's no telling how soon the Yanks may come down the road at a
gallop."

While one started for the stable yard, the other ran in to tell his
black housekeeper that he was going to ride toward Mooreville, where he
would remain until the Federals had left the country. Yes, there had
been a sharp skirmish down there in the woods, he said in reply to the
woman's anxious inquiries, the Confederates had been driven from the
field, and he and Dick thought it best to get out of sight for awhile.

"The Federals may not come back this way," added Rodney, "but if they
do, tell the truth and don't try to pass me off for a Union man. They
know as well as you do that I have served my time in the Confederate
army, and there's nothing to gain by telling a different story. If
anyone asks for me, you can say that I have ridden toward Mooreville."

Well, he and Dick did ride toward Mooreville, but they did not go
there. Not knowing how far the darkeys could be trusted, they went down
the road half a mile or so, and turning into the woods hitched their
horses close together so that they would not call to each other, and
finally took up a position from which they could see the house and
anybody who approached it. These precautions were not taken any too
soon, for the Federals did scout back that way, and when they came in
sight they were riding at top speed. They knew that a large party of
horsemen had passed along the road before them, for they saw the prints
of many hoofs in the dust. Some of them kept on without drawing rein,
while others went into the house and all over it; but as no contraband
goods rewarded their search they left it standing when they went away.
And although the hands all left their work in the field and ran to the
dwelling when they saw the blue-coats surrounding it, they did not
improve the opportunity to secure their freedom, as the boys thought
they would. They returned to their work when the soldiers departed, and
Rodney and Dick thought it safe to go back to the house.

Their next visitor was a single Confederate soldier, who arrived just
at dusk with a note addressed to "Captain Thomas Randolph, C. S. A.,
Commdg. Mooreville Troops." This man Rodney took into the house and
fed as if he had been a long-lost brother, for he was anxious to learn
something about the battle that was soon to take place; but, although
the messenger said he was orderly at headquarters, he could or would
give very little information. Breckenridge was rapidly feeling his way
toward the city, he said; he would soon be reinforced by the command
of General Ruggles, which would be picked up at Camp Pinckney, and
with the _Arkansas_ to help and clean the Yankee gunboats out of the
river, there was no doubt but that a decisive victory awaited him; and
having finished his supper, and said all he had to say, the messenger
mounted his horse and rode off. Five minutes later Rodney and Dick
had mounted theirs and were riding hard to carry that note to Captain
Randolph. They stopped at Rodney's home just long enough to put the
folks on nettles with the very meager information they had to give, and
a quarter of an hour afterward were sitting in Mrs. Randolph's parlor,
waiting for Tom to show himself. When he came he was accompanied by his
mother.

"Hallo, boys!" exclaimed Tom, with great apparent cordiality, while
Mrs. Randolph shook hands with them one after the other. "You don't
know how I have longed to see you both in order to——"

"That's all right," interposed Rodney, who knew there wasn't a word of
truth in what Tom had set out to say. "But if you will excuse me—here
is an order that I was requested to place in your hands."

"Who's got any right to order me around?" exclaimed Tom, taking the
note and fixing his gaze upon the writing on the outside. "'Captain
Thomas Randolph, C. S. A.,'" he read aloud. "Somebody has made a big
mistake, for I don't belong to the army of the Confederate States, and
never did. What's in it?"

"I don't know," answered Rodney; while Mrs. Randolph suggested that it
might be a good plan for him to open it and find out. Tom did so with
evident reluctance, and before he had fairly had time to make himself
master of its contents, he turned as white as a sheet and fell heavily
into the nearest chair.

"Oh, my dear boy! What is the matter? What could have disturbed you
so?" cried his mother, who was really alarmed.

"I'll not obey it!" shouted Captain Tom, as soon as he could speak.
"Who is this Colonel Clark, who takes it upon himself to command me to
hold my company ready to move at a moment's notice, and what does he
want of the company anyhow?"

"No doubt he wants you to help——" began Rodney.

"But how does he know that there is such a fellow as I am in the world,
and that I command a company of State troops?" continued Tom, who was
almost beside himself with terror. Acting on his own responsibility
and serving under the eye of a Confederate officer were two widely
different things. His mother took the note from his hand and read it,
and she, too, became visibly affected.

"What can be the meaning of it?" she asked of Rodney.

"It means that there is going to be a battle somewhere in this
vicinity, and that Tom must bring his men out to help," was the reply.
Rodney had predicted just such a scene as this and was prepared to
enjoy it.

"A battle?" gasped Mrs. Randolph.

"Somewhere in this vicinity!" echoed Tom.

"That's what they tell me, and indeed there has been a skirmish
already. Breckenridge is coming here to drive the Yankees out of Baton
Rouge, and the _Arkansas_ is coming to assist him."

Tom and his mother were too amazed to speak. They stared stupidly at
the bearer of these evil tidings, and listened in a dazed sort of way
while he told what he had heard and seen since morning. There was one
thing Tom and his mother could not understand, and that was how Colonel
Clark, whoever he might be, knew there was a company of Home Guards at
Mooreville and that Tom was commander of them. But of course Rodney did
not enlighten them on that point.

"You enlisted for just such work as this," said he.

"No, I didn't!" shouted Tom. "And what's more, I won't go. I'm as close
to the Yankees as I want to be, and besides I don't belong to the
service any longer. I've resigned."

This was news to the boys, who could scarcely refrain from showing how
surprised they were to hear it. They were disappointed as well, for if
Tom told the truth they would lose the fun of hearing how he took to
the bushes to escape duty.

"Of course if your resignation has been accepted by the Governor," said
Rodney, "why, then——"

"It hasn't been accepted yet," replied Tom, speaking before he thought.
"I only sent it to-day."

"Then you are still in the service and can be held to duty," said Dick;
and Captain Tom and his mother both heard the sigh of satisfaction
that escaped him as he uttered the words. "I have known men to go into
action and be killed after their term of service expired."

"But I won't do it, I bet you," whined Tom, with tears in his eyes. "Do
you think it will be a very hard fight?"

"It can't help it; it's bound to be, and you'll see more dead and
wounded men lying around than you—— Gracious! I'm glad they can't
call on you and me, Dick."

"Why, won't you have to go?" faltered Mrs. Randolph.

"No, ma'am. We showed our discharges to-day, and they never said a word
about ordering us out. They can't, for we have served our time."

This was the heaviest blow yet, and Captain Tom came so near wilting
under it that Rodney's heart smote him and he determined to take his
leave. So he got upon his feet, and Dick followed his example.

"What will they do to Tom if he fails to obey this order?" asked
Mrs. Randolph, who, in all the trying ordeals through which she had
passed on her cowardly son's account, had never before been so badly
frightened.

"I couldn't obey it if I wanted to," cried Tom. "My men are scattered
for miles through the country, and I couldn't spend the night in
hunting them up."

"They may call it disobedience of orders if you don't do it," replied
Rodney, who wanted to laugh. "If I were in your place I would make the
effort."

"And run the risk of being shot? But suppose my men refuse to turn
out?" said Tom, a bright idea coming into his mind.

"Then you will be blameless, and all you have to do will be to report
to the colonel and tell him that you are ready for any duty he may
assign you."

"And can't I stay at home any way I can fix it?" inquired Tom, who made
no effort to conceal his terror.

"I wouldn't. What if some of the colonel's troopers should find you
skulking here when you ought to be in the front rank? Or suppose the
battle should be fought on your plantation. Wouldn't you——"

"Baton Rouge is not on our plantation."

"I know, but a battle sometimes ends a good many miles from where it
begins, and the one that's coming is as likely to be fought here as
anywhere else. And if that should happen, wouldn't you rather have a
musket in your hands than go skulking through the bushes trying to keep
out of danger? I would a hundred times over. But really we must be
going. Good-night."

Rodney and his companion bowed themselves to the door and went out, and
Captain Tom and his mother sat in their chairs looking at each other
and listening to the clatter of the receding hoofs. When it died away
altogether Tom jumped to his feet in great excitement.

"We never once thought to ask them where they got that order, or why
it was sent by their hands instead of by the hands of one of that
colonel's own men," he fairly sputtered. "Mother, it's an infamous
trick, and there isn't going to be any fight. I'll remember Rodney Gray
for this and other things he has done to me—you see if I don't!"

"I hope you are duly ashamed of yourself for frightening that poor
woman so terribly," said Dick, as he and Rodney galloped out of the
yard and turned their horses toward the village.

"Why didn't she stay out of the room?" retorted Rodney. "We sent in
word that we desired to see Captain Tom privately, but she didn't take
the hint. So Tom thought he couldn't spend the night in riding about
the country. Well, we've got to, if we do the work we set out to do."

The first part of that work was to call upon Captain Roach, who had
excited Tom Randolph's ire by accepting Rodney's invitation to dinner,
and the next to warn some of the Union men whom he had conscripted.
The former was overwhelmed with surprise and didn't know what to do,
not being a veteran; but he wasn't a coward, if he did turn white. He
talked the matter over very calmly with his visitors, and following
their advice said he would drop the conscript business until the battle
had been decided one way or the other. And then he looked helplessly at
Rodney as if to ask what he should do next.

"You ought to do duty or shed that uniform," said the boy bluntly.
"You can't assemble your conscripts now, and if you could, where would
you find men to guard them to Camp Pinckney? You can only show your
good-will by reporting at the camp; and if I were in your place, I
think I should start the first thing in the morning. If you delay, you
will be liable to be cut off by Federal scouting parties. Have you seen
any Yanks about here to-day?"

Captain Roach replied that he hadn't seen or heard of any, and Rodney
went on to tell about the skirmish that had taken place near his
plantation, and how he and Dick had taken to the woods and escaped
being caught in the house. The Federals couldn't prove anything
against them, he said, but they could shut them up in Baton Rouge until
Breckenridge captured it or was driven back where he came from, and
that was something he didn't want them to do. Then he and Dick shook
hands with the enrolling officer, wished him good luck, and went out
into the night to finish their work. It kept them busy until daylight,
and then they went to Mr. Gray's to breakfast, happy in the knowledge
that they had done as they would be done by, and not one who wished
them harm was the wiser for it.

Tom Randolph was hardly out of bed the next morning before he was
made aware that there was some truth in Rodney Gray's story. A squad
of Federal cavalry went by the house on a keen jump, and about an
hour behind them a larger squad of Confederates went past at the same
rapid gait. Tom wasn't soldier enough to know that these were nothing
but scouts, and in his ignorance supposed that the battle had been
fought while he was asleep, and that the Confederates had driven
their antagonists; but it was not long before he discovered that the
worst was yet to come. All that day soldiers in gray uniforms were
in sight somewhere. They streamed by the house or came into the yard
and gathered about the well, and an officer with high top-boots and a
fierce mustache stood on the front gallery and issued orders in a voice
that sounded as loud as a fog-horn. They trampled down the flower beds,
cleared the cellar of everything eatable, and helped themselves to what
there was in the kitchen, and through it all, the captain of the Home
Guards never showed himself. Some of the time he was in the garret,
oftener he was under the bed in his mother's room, and then again his
frightened eyes were peeping through the carefully closed blinds. He
had never dreamed that there were so many men in an army, and yet he
saw but one column of a very small army, for Breckenridge made his
assault with less than 4000 men. To his immense relief no one asked for
him, and perhaps the reason was because Colonel Clark, who wrote that
order, was with the other column, five or six miles away.

The attack on Baton Rouge was made the next morning at daylight, and
although Rodney and Dick heard little of it and saw less, they had some
hospital work on their hands. The heat was intense, and everywhere
along the line of march men fell exhausted out of the ranks, and were
taken in and cared for by the planters. Rodney's house and door-yard
were filled with soldiers who could not go any farther toward the
enemy, although they recovered their strength and power of action very
suddenly when it became known that there was a possibility of the
enemy's cavalry coming toward them. The attack, which was so successful
at first that the Federal camps were captured or burned, failed utterly
in the end, and at noon the fight was over and the Confederates were
in full retreat. The _Arkansas_ did not come down to help with her big
guns, and if she had she might have met a warmer reception than she
bargained for, for there were five gunboats in the river, including
the iron-clad _Essex_. These took an earnest part in the fight while
waiting for the _Arkansas_, their fire being directed by an army
signal officer who stood on the roof of the capitol building. The
Confederates were so badly whipped that they left seventy men on the
field for the Union forces to bury.

The closing scene of the fight was enacted the next morning. The
_Essex_ went up the river six miles, found the terrible _Arkansas_,
with her ten heavy guns and 180 picked men, hard and fast aground, and
pounded her so severely that in fifteen minutes she was set on fire and
abandoned. She blew up when the fire reached her magazine, but she left
others behind which made themselves known and feared before the war was
over.



CHAPTER XVII.

CONCLUSION.


This short visit of the Confederate army was like a plague of locusts;
everything in the shape of eatables in and around Mooreville that
they could place their hands on disappeared and was never heard of
afterward. Some articles of value disappeared likewise, as was to have
been expected; but not very many, for the settlers had learned that it
was best to be careful of such things during war times. No one had seen
a Home Guard during those two troublous days, nobody could tell where
Captain Randolph had kept himself or how he had behaved, and neither
was there any news to be had of Captain Roach.

Our two friends drew a long breath of relief when "the fuss" was over,
congratulated themselves on having escaped both duty and suspicion,
and waited with what patience they could for the excitement to pass
away so that it would be safe for them to go into the city. But that
time seemed long in coming. Inquisitive Federal scouts, who asked
troublesome questions and insisted on knowing all about everything,
came to the house every day, and on three occasions wounded Confederate
stragglers appealed to their pity and begged assistance. Nor were these
appeals made in vain, though the boys took great risks in concealing
their Confederate friends during the day and helping them on their road
at night. They deceived their neighbors, hoodwinked the darkeys they
were afraid to trust, and told gauzy stories to Federal scouts until
Dick affirmed that deceiving and lying would become a confirmed habit
with them. But fortunately the necessity for these things passed away
before that happened. The country was cleared of stragglers after a
while, the settlement quieted down, and Rodney and Dick were ready for
the next thing on the programme.

"I don't know when I have had so hard a task set before me," said
Rodney, "and I would be glad to put it off forever if I could. But
since the parting must come, it might as well be one time as another.
Shall we start for the city to-morrow morning?"

Dick answered with a decided affirmative, and the start was made.
Believing that he ought to be ready to act as soon as the opportunity
was presented, he took leave of Rodney's father and mother as though he
never expected to see them again, and Rodney drew on the family purse
for a good many gold pieces. If Dick succeeded in getting across the
river he would still have a long journey before him—longer than the
one Rodney made from Cedar Bluff landing to Price's army—and he would
need a horse to ride, a coat and blanket to cover him when he camped at
night, and money to purchase his supplies; and his friend's forethought
provided for all these necessary things.

On their way to Baton Rouge they passed over the ground on which the
right wing of the Confederate force formed in line of battle previous
to the assault. It was just beyond Mr. Turnbull's house; and that
gentleman's wife, after giving a glowing description of the gallant
way in which the Confederates advanced to the attack, told the boys in
a confidential whisper that she had aided two Yankees who were captured
and managed to escape during the fight; that there was a wounded rebel
in one of the upper rooms of her house at that moment; that he was
going to remain there until he was able to travel; and that one of the
escaped prisoners whom Rodney befriended had smuggled medicine through
the lines for him at her request, thus proving that there was such a
thing as gratitude in the world. Before the boys left the house, they
visited the wounded rebel in his room, and he told them that the fight
was the most savagely contested of any he had ever been in, and, for
the number of men engaged, the bloodiest. Some of the Indiana and
Michigan boys fought with rails which they snatched from the fences,
and the Yank who smuggled the medicine out for him said he had counted
thirteen dead rebs in one heap.

"It was bad for our side," moaned the wounded soldier, "and even if the
_Arkansas_ had been there to help us I don't suppose we would have
made any better showing. The Yanks had things fixed for us, and now
I've got to hobble through the world on one leg."

Although some stray missiles from the Confederate side found their way
into the streets of the city, the boys did not find there as many signs
of the conflict as they expected to see. Mr. Martin's buildings escaped
unscathed, but Mr. Martin himself had been placed in arrest to prevent
him from holding any communication with the enemy.

"As if I ever dreamed of doing such a foolish thing!" said he
contemptuously. "Why, I want to live here; and consequently I do
nothing that I consider to be risky. But I have seen the mail carrier,
and he is going to pick up some bags this very night."

"Pick them up!" repeated Rodney. "Where are they?"

"Out in the country somewhere, and he is out there too, or will be at
eight o'clock; and if your friend wants to go, now's his chance."

"Mr. Martin, I hope your kind efforts in my behalf will not bring you
into trouble with the Yanks," said Dick. "I feel very grateful to you."

But he didn't look so, and neither did Rodney. The time when they must
part was close at hand.

"I don't want to hurry you away," continued Mr. Martin, "but as it will
take some little time to ride to the place to which I shall direct you,
you had better have your horses out of the stable at five o'clock, so
as to pass the pickets before dark. I will give you a letter that will
make you all right with Henderson."

The rest of the day, to quote from Dick Graham, flew away as if the
hours had been greased. Half-past four came before they knew it, and
with it the letter their host had promised them, accompanied by some
instructions which they must closely follow in order to find and obtain
an interview with Henderson. He was a cross, crabbed old fellow, Mr.
Martin said, but the boys mustn't mind that. They would be cross and
suspicious too, if they had been bothered and balked in their business
as Henderson had been followed and harassed in his. They must try and
get on the right side of him, for he could take Dick to the other side
if anybody could. Mr. Martin excused himself for not accompanying them
to the stable where they left their horses by saying that to be seen
walking the streets with a suspected man would bring suspicion upon
them, and that was one thing they wanted to avoid.

The boys left the city and the pickets behind in good season, and took
pains to make some noise as they galloped past the houses of three
"converted rebels" who, so Mr. Martin said, were always watching and
scheming for a chance to report somebody. They rode as if they were
going home; but when darkness came they doubled upon their trail,
passed these same houses again in silence, and turned into a lane that
took them miles up the river to the hiding-place of Henderson, the mail
carrier. They found it to be a pretentious plantation house situated
in plain view of the river, and not at all such a spot as they would
have chosen had they been engaged in Henderson's business. It would
have been impossible to surprise the mail carrier in his hiding-place,
however, as they found when they approached nearer to it, for they
had barely time to shout out the customary "Hallo, the house! Don't
let your dogs bite!" before their horses were surrounded by a pack of
belligerent canines, whose angry yelping completely drowned the voice
of the master of the house.

"Get out!" he shouted, as soon as he could make himself heard above the
tumult. "Who is it, and what's wanted?"

"Friends from the city," replied Rodney, who had been told just what to
say. "I have a communication for Mr. Henderson from our mutual friend
Mr. Martin. Will you look at it?"

The planter came down to the gate, took the letter from Rodney's hand,
looking sharply at him and Dick as he did so, and carried it into
the house with him. He did not ask them to "alight and hitch," and
that proved that there was something or somebody in the house he did
not want the boys to see. It was all of ten minutes before he came
out again, and he brought with him a companion who straightway made
himself known by saying, in a complaining voice:

"I told Martin I couldn't do the like, and here he's gone and sent you,
just as if I had agreed to do it. Which one of you is the fool?"

"I am the one who wants to go over the river, if you will be kind
enough to let me have a seat in your boat," replied Dick.

"Who said anything about a boat?" demanded Mr. Henderson, for the boys
were sure it was he. "Do you want to be captured by the gunboats, and
sent up for a spy or something? I don't expect to get back alive, or
get across, either. But then! Martin's a friend of mine and keeps me
posted in some things I—— Get off, both of you. Hitch your horses
somewhere and wait till I come."

"Dick, you're as good as off at last," whispered Rodney, as the two men
turned about and went back to the house. "Think of me riding all the
way to Mr. Turnbull's alone in the dark while you are running the risk
of being overhauled by the naval picket boats. Have you got your money
and discharge all right? Write to me if you see the ghost of a chance
for a letter to get through, for I shall be anxious to hear from my old
Barrington chum."

The boys had plenty to say to each other and an abundance of time to say
it in, for a whole hour passed before the mail carrier again came out.
This time he had two men with him—the planter and another passenger,
the latter being muffled up to the eyes so that no one could have seen
his face if it had been broad daylight. He said not a word, but the mail
carrier did, and Rodney was gratified to notice that he was as careful
to conceal Dick's identity as he was that of his other passenger.

"Come on, you Moses," said he, "and remember that you are deaf, dumb,
and blind. You, Jonas, get on your horse and clear yourself."

It would have done no good to prolong the leave-taking, and Rodney was
glad to have it broken off so abruptly. He gave his friend's hand a
final squeeze and shake, and when he came into the road again a moment
later, riding one horse and leading the other, there was no one in
sight.

The way home was a long and lonely one to Rodney Gray, who felt as
if the last tie that bound him to his school days had been sundered
forever. He got through without any trouble, although he met some
inquisitive people who wanted to know how he happened to have a
riderless horse with him, passed one night at his father's house, and
in due time was back in his old quarters on the upper plantation, where
he had spent so many pleasant hours with the absent Dick. But before
he had leisure to look about and tell himself how very lonesome he
was, he had visitors, one of whom threw him into a terrible state of
mind before he left. They were a squad of the —th Michigan boys, and
commanded by the corporal who had once taken him prisoner, and whose
name he had never heard. They good-naturedly demanded all the weapons
he had, and threatened to go through his house if he didn't trot them
right out; but when they went to the well for water the corporal drew
off on one side, intimating by a look that he had something to say to
Rodney in private.

"Where's your partner?" were the first words he said when they were
alone.

"Gone over the river," answered Rodney.

"How long since?"

"He went night before last."

"Well, I'll bet you a hard-tack he didn't make it. Some of your good
friends were the means of stopping him. You see," he went on, without
giving the astonished Rodney time to speak, "Ben and another boy, who
were in my party when you and Griffin did so much for us, scouted down
Randolph's way a few days after the fight, and that Home Guard—— You
made a big blunder when you stuck to us till we let him go. Now he's
gone back on you."

"What has he done?" inquired Rodney, who told himself that that was
just what he expected from Tom Randolph.

"Why, Ben distinctly heard him tell one of our officers that a bearer
of despatches would go from Mooreville in a few days, intending to
cross the river at Baton Rouge, where he had friends to help him,"
said the corporal. "Of course the matter was reported at headquarters,
and the houses of all the Secession sympathizers in the city were
watched closer than ever."

"Was Mr. Martin's house watched, do you know?"

"Why, certainly. He is always watched, and we had him under arrest
during the fight."

"And I was simple enough to tell the provost marshal that that house
would be my stopping-place as often as I came to the city," groaned
Rodney.

"You needn't blame yourself for that, for I don't suppose it made a
particle of difference," said the corporal soothingly. "The provost
marshal would have found it out sooner or later, because it is a part
of his business to find out where every stranger lives, and what
he does while inside the lines. If you went there with your friend
Graham——"

"I did," whispered Rodney. "And we went from there up to—up to——"

"Henderson's? Well, he's watched, too; and if one is caught the other
will be."

"If Tom Randolph has got Dick Graham into trouble I will see that he is
well punished for it," said Rodney angrily.

"If he hasn't, it isn't because he didn't try. If you say the word, I
will go straight to his house and arrest him for a Home Guard."

"No, no; don't do that. I am not coward enough to take revenge on him
in that way. But since he has made his boast that he is willing to die
for the South, I will see that he has all the chance he wants."

"Well, my boys seem to have had their fill of water, so we'll jog
along," said the corporal. "If the Home Guards bother you let us know,
and we'll clean them out to the last man. Good-by."

Astonished at the extent of the corporal's information, and wondering
how it was possible for any Southern sympathizer to live in Baton Rouge
when he knew that he was so closely watched, Rodney went into the house
as soon as the soldiers rode away, and sat down to write a letter. As
a general thing his thoughts came rapidly and it was no trouble for
him to put them on paper; but this particular letter seemed to bother
him, for he made three copies of it before he got it to suit him. Then
he ordered his horse brought to the door, changed his working clothes
for a business suit, and galloped off in the direction of Mooreville.
He stopped at his home "just long enough to let his mother see that he
was all right" and then rode on again, but not toward Mooreville or the
river. There was no one at either place whom he wanted to see that day,
but he did want to have a few earnest words with General Ruggles, if he
could find him. During the fight the general commanded the Confederate
column that came from Camp Pinckney, and there was where Rodney hoped
to find him now. Before he had ridden a dozen miles into the country
he ran into a small party of rebels, who looked at his discharge, and
encouraged him by saying that the officer he desired to see commanded
the camp, and was recruiting men as rapidly as he could for some
special service that was to be performed up about Holly Springs.

"I know by experience that special service usually means dangerous
service," thought Rodney, as he rode on his way. "If Tom Randolph
really wants to do something for the South, he will jump at the chance
of going to Holly Springs."

Camp Pinckney looked just as it did when he and Dick Graham ran the
guard there on their way home, only there were more men who were being
made into soldiers, and the number was being increased every day by the
disconsolate and homesick conscripts who were sent there from all the
districts in that part of the State. Rodney was shown at once into the
presence of the commander, and knew, before he had exchanged a dozen
words with him, that he would have no use for the letter he had taken
so much pains to write.

"I can attend to the business myself without any aid from the
Governor," said General Ruggles, who looked more like a hard-working
farmer than he did like a brave and skilful soldier. "The slip-shod
manner in which recruiting has been done in this district is enough to
make one forget the third commandment. There hasn't been a single man
sent to this camp from your neighborhood."

"I am aware of it, sir. But as these men belong to the State and not to
the Confederacy, I thought perhaps——"

"There's no need of it, sir," interrupted the general. "I have all the
authority I want, and can do the business without saying a word to the
Governor. Sent in his resignation, has he? Captain—Thomas—Randolph,"
he continued, writing the name on a slip of paper. "And it has not yet
been accepted? And how many men do you think he has in his company? All
right. You go home and say nothing to anybody, and I will put him where
he will meet something besides unarmed men and women and children."

His business having been transacted to his entire satisfaction, Rodney
was in no particular haste to go home. He made friends with one of the
veterans who composed the camp guard, ate supper with him, and slept
under half his blanket that night; but the morning's sun saw him well
on his return journey. He made a wide circuit to avoid passing through
Mooreville, and did not go near his father's house for fear it might be
remembered against him at some future time. He went home as rapidly as
he could go, unsaddled his horse and turned him into the stable-yard,
and went into the house; and there, seated in Rodney's favorite rocking
chair, with his feet upon the back of another and a book in his hand,
was—Dick Graham.

"You've got cheek! Why didn't you come out when you heard me at the
bars?" exclaimed Rodney, as soon as he found his tongue.

"Because I thought you would prefer to come in and find me," replied
Dick; and then he dropped his book and jumped to his feet, and the two
embraced each other schoolboy fashion.

"O Dick, you don't know how I have worried about you," said Rodney. "And
Tom Randolph was at the bottom of it all. You would have been watched if
he hadn't said a word; but what I mean is that he made matters worse. I
have paid him for it, however. Now tell me all about it."

"We didn't succeed, and that's all there is to tell," answered Dick. "We
made six attempts on two different nights, and once got so near to the
other shore that I was sure we would make it; but the picket boats from
the fleet showed up, and we had to dig out. They were on hand every
time, and you ought to have heard Henderson cuss. He declared that one
or the other of his passengers was a Jonah, and he had a notion to chuck
us both overboard so as to be sure he got the right one."

"It was you, Dick. Who was the other passenger?"

"I don't know any more about him now than I did when I first saw him.
When we gave up trying on the first night and went back to the house,
he shut himself in his room, and I never saw him till we went out
on the second night to try it over again. No doubt he was a high-up
officer with important papers in his pockets."

"Of course the picket boats opened fire on you."

"Of course they didn't, for we saw or heard them in time to dodge out
of their way. One of them passed so close to us that we could see, dark
as it was, that she pulled six oars on a side. If she'd seen us or
heard us breathe, she would have had us sure."

"Go on. What did you do on the night I left you?"

"Nothing. We walked about a mile to where a little bay made into the
bank from the river, and there we found a skiff with piles of something
in the bow and stern that I took to be the precious mail-bags which Mr.
Martin said Henderson was going to pick up. When we got in there was
barely room for Henderson to work the oars, and I didn't wonder that he
growled so about taking me over."

"How did you come home?"

"Well, when we came back after making the sixth attempt, and Henderson
got mad and told me to clear out and never let him put eyes on me again
(I noticed that he didn't say a word to the other fellow, and that's
what makes me think that he was an officer whom Henderson had to take
whether he wanted to or not), I took him at his word and put for Mr.
Turnbull's. That gentleman was kind enough to hitch up a team and take
me to your father's, and your father brought me here, to find you
gone. You've been gone three nights, and I want to know what you mean
by such work."

"I've been to Camp Pinckney to make arrangements for Tom Randolph and
his Home Guards to go into the army," replied Rodney, adding that he
had written to the Governor, laying the blame for the bombardment of
Baton Rouge upon the shoulders of the Home Guards, and giving such
other incidents in their history as he thought would attract the
attention of the authorities and induce them to do something; but
General Ruggles had promised to attend to the matter himself.

"Of course Captain Randolph will be very much obliged to you when he
hears of it," observed Dick.

"He has nobody to thank but himself, and since I have heard what those
escaped prisoners had to say about Home Guards, I wish every one of
them could be forced into the army. Now you've got to stay with me
until the war is ended one way or the other, haven't you?"

"Not much. I'm going up to Port Hudson to try it again, if you will
show me the way; and you ought to have heard Henderson rip and snort
because I didn't go there in the first place without troubling him. But
you see I didn't know that I could, and you didn't either. If I can
take a boat from Port Hudson up Red River to Alexandria, or better yet,
up Black River to Monroe, I shall save miles of horseback travel."

"And run the risk of being captured by gunboats every step of the way,"
added Rodney. "But I suppose I'll have to go."

And he did the very next morning. This time there was no trouble about
it, for when the steamer _New Era_, which was regularly employed in
bringing army supplies from the Red River country, moved out from
her landing at Port Hudson bound for Monroe, she carried Dick Graham
with her. The night was as dark as a pocket, but the lonely Rodney
kept watch on the bank as long as a single spark could be seen coming
out of her smokestacks, and even lingered about the place for two or
three days, almost hoping that some Union gunboat would send a shot
across her bows and drive her back; but when the soldiers assured him
that she must have gone through safely or else she would have returned
within a few hours of her departure, he realized that the long delayed
separation had come at last, and turned his face sorrowfully homeward.

He went directly to his father's house to report the success of his
undertaking, and learned that Mooreville had been thrown into a state
of great excitement during his absence. No one had seen or heard of
Captain Roach since Breckenridge made his fruitless attempt to take the
city, but his office was occupied by a grizzly veteran, who hardly gave
himself time to sit down in Captain Roach's chair before declaring that
he hadn't come there to stand nonsense from anybody, and that everyone
liable to military duty, Home Guards and all, must make tracks for Camp
Pinckney or be dragged there by the neck. It didn't make the least
difference to him how they went, but they must go; they might be sure
of that. He brought fifty veterans with him to back him up, and in
less than twenty-four hours after taking possession of the office, sent
off forty-five conscripts, two-thirds of whom were Home Guards.

"Mrs. Randolph tried the same game with Major Morgan, that's the new
man's name, that she tried with so much success with Captain Roach,"
said Mr. Gray with a laugh. "But it didn't work. The major sent back
word that he had no time to go about visiting and eating dinners, and
Tom was given his choice between reporting at the camp voluntarily or
being sent there under guard. It's the best thing that was ever done
for this community."

Rodney wanted to shout, but instead of doing that he got on his horse
and rode down to call on Major Morgan. He didn't find the office filled
with loafers, as it had been in Captain Roach's time, but there were a
few bronzed fellows standing about who remembered seeing Rodney at the
camp, and bowed to him as he came in. The major remembered him too,
and said, as he gave the boy's hand one short, quick jerk, that was
doubtless intended for a shake:

"There's material enough here to form the finest kind of a battalion.
Why don't you apply for a commission and go out with it? You've had
rest enough by this time."

"Because I don't wish to command conscripts," replied Rodney, ignoring
the fact that half the soldiers in the Confederate armies were
conscripts and nothing else, being held to service against their will.
"Besides, I am an overseer now, and I like it better than fighting."

But Rodney could not keep out of trouble as easily as he kept out of
the army, nor did Major Morgan succeed in sending all Tom Randolph's
Home Guards to Camp Pinckney. Some of them, Lieutenants Lambert and
Moseley among the rest, took to the woods, and became freebooters to
all intents and purposes. Whether these worthies knew or suspected
that he had a hand in the breaking up of their organization Rodney
never learned; but he was quickly made aware that they did not intend
he should see a moment's peace if they could help it. They either
found the cotton of which we have spoken, or else somebody put them on
the track of it; and the efforts they made to destroy it, as well as
the counter efforts made by Rodney Gray and his two Union cousins to
protect it, shall be described in the concluding volume of this series,
which will be entitled "SAILOR JACK, THE TRADER."


  THE END.



THE

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CASTLEMON

BOOKS.

BY

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CASTLEMON.

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    ∵ Any volume sold separately.

  =GUNBOAT SERIES.= By Harry Castlemon. 6 vols., 12mo. Fully
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Transcriber's Note


  Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations
  in hyphenation have been standardized but all other spelling and
  punctuation remains unchanged.





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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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