A HAIL AT THE BARS

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.

“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.”

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.

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