HOUNDS ON THE TRAIL

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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

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