RODNEY KEEPS HIS PROMISE.

When Ned Griffin brought his exciting narrative to a close Mrs. Gray
beckoned him to a seat at the table and gave him a cup of coffee, while
Rodney sent one of the girls to his room after a couple of overcoats,
and Rosebud to the stable to see the saddle put on his horse and
Dick’s. He was elated over the prospect of doing even a little to help
the Federal soldiers who had shown themselves so friendly to himself
and his chum, and determined that Tom Randolph should not go to a
Northern prison if he could prevent it. Tom was an old acquaintance and
a near neighbor, and that meant a good deal to Rodney Gray. Ned was a
little apprehensive that his employer might not be altogether pleased
with what he had done, but to his relief Mr. Gray did not have a word
of fault to find.

“Rodney seems to have made up his mind to help those Yankees through,”
said he, addressing himself to the overseer, “and I need not tell
you that I shall be glad to have you do anything you can to aid him
and them. As to Tom—it looks now as though he would have to stand
punishment for his foolishness.”

“And how about me?” said Rodney. “It looks as though I was planning
to get myself into trouble. If I help the Yankees, my Confederate
neighbors will be down on me; and if I help Tom, they’ll _all_ be down
on me—rebels and Union.”

“How are the neighbors going to find it out?” inquired Dick.

“Oh, Tom will tell them,” said Rodney carelessly.

“And are you going to help a man who will turn around and blab it on
purpose to bring you into trouble?” exclaimed Dick. “I should think his
gratitude——”

“Gratitude is the rarest sentiment in the world, my dear boy, as you
will learn long before your head is as white as mine. He’ll do me a
mean turn the first good chance he gets. That’s the kind of a chap he
is. Have you got your discharge in your pocket? All right. I don’t
know when you will see us again,” said Rodney, when the overcoats made
their appearance and the horses were brought to the door, “but when
we return we hope to have some better fitting clothes than these, and
a pass from the provost marshal. So, mother, if you have any currency
that you can spare I shall be glad to have some.”

These last words were whispered into the ear of his mother, who led him
to her room, where she kept a small store of specie for an emergency.
Where the rest was Rodney did not know or care to inquire. It was
enough for him that he could get a few pieces as often as he found it
necessary to ask for them.

“Now, do be careful,” pleaded his mother. “Suppose the hounds strike
your trail in spite of all you can do to prevent it, and the soldiers
with them find you and Dick in the company of the escaped prisoners!
Your discharges would not save you.”

“Don’t cross a bridge till you come to it, mother,” answered Rodney,
who had thought of all this while Ned Griffin was telling his story.
“We are not going into any danger. Good-by.”

In a few minutes the boys were riding post-haste toward Ned’s
plantation. They reined up to the house and turned their horses over
to a darkey as any casual visitors would have done, for Ned told them
that the rest of their journey must be made on foot and under cover of
bushes and fences.

“There’s no telling who may be on the watch,” said he, “or whether all
our blacks are as loyal as they pretend to be. And, boys, don’t say a
word in Tom’s hearing about showing the Yanks the way to the river.
He’ll take it for granted, of course, that somebody is going to do it,
but we’ll make it hard for him to prove it on any of us.”

Rodney did not waste many minutes in comparing notes with Mrs. Griffin
(he already knew everything she could have told him), but threw his
overcoat across his arm and motioned to Ned to go ahead with the
basketful of things that had been provided for the fugitives’ dinner.
It took them three-quarters of an hour to reach the edge of the woods,
so slow and cautious were they in their movements, and they found
two of the soldiers at the fence waiting for them. Rodney and Dick
recognized them on the instant, and shook hands with them through
the fence as cordially as though they had always been the warmest of
friends.

“Say,” whispered Rodney, as soon as the greeting was over. “Call up the
corporal and the other Yank. I have a few words to say to you that I
don’t want your prisoner to hear.”

“Are you afraid of him, too?” asked one of the soldiers. “Then I can’t
understand why you are so anxious to have him go free. We can’t leave
him in camp alone, for if we do he’ll run off.”

“He hasn’t the pluck to try it,” said Ned, passing his basket over
the fence. “But I’ll stay with him. You are not afraid to trust me, I
suppose, after allowing me to stand guard over him all night.”

But Ned hadn’t told of the astounding proposition Tom made while he was
standing guard over him. That was something he kept to himself until he
told his story in Mrs. Gray’s dining room. He climbed the fence and
disappeared in the woods, and presently the corporal and the “other
Yank” came up.

“If anyone had told me that I’d ever shake hands with a rebel in this
friendly way, I should have said he didn’t know what he was talking
about,” said the corporal. “Johnny, how are you by this time? You and
your chum must have got safe home or else you wouldn’t be here. You
know our story, of course, so there’s no need of telling it over again.”

“No need and no time,” replied Rodney, “for you ought to be jogging
along now. You’ve an open and dangerous country before you, and very
likely every man in it is on the lookout for you.”

“That’s about what Griffin said to us last night,” replied the
corporal. “We asked him to act as our guide, but he thinks you can be
of more use to us.”

“I don’t know about that; but I will do my best on one condition.”

Of course the soldiers knew what that condition was, but listened
patiently while Rodney went on to tell them that they never made a
greater mistake in their lives than they did when they put faith in Tom
Randolph’s story and rejected Ned Griffin’s. He urged them to release
Tom without any more nonsense, and hinted that the sooner they complied
with his request, the sooner he would be ready to start with them for
Baton Rouge. He also added:

“If you are bound to take Tom with you I can’t go, and you’ll have to
do the best you can for yourselves. He’d find means to let my rebel
neighbors hear of it, and then I’d have to go among the Yanks or back
to the army; for I couldn’t live here. What do you say?”

“What do you say, boys?” inquired the corporal, turning to his
companions. “He’s a Home Guard, and a mighty mean one, too, judging
by——”

“None of that, please,” Rodney interposed. “Having submitted the case,
you have no business to keep on arguing it. Yes or no, Yanks?”

“I wish we had knocked him on the head before we took him prisoner,”
said Ben, who could not forget his lost comrade.

“But you didn’t, and you can’t very well do it now,” replied Rodney.
“Are you going to let him go or not?”

Ben did not answer; but his three companions gave a favorable, though
very reluctant response to Rodney’s question, and the latter drew a
long breath of relief. Ben looked and acted ugly, and if he had been a
little better talker Tom Randolph’s chances for liberty and life would
have been slim indeed. As Dick Graham afterward explained it, Tom was
saved by Ben’s want of gab. Rodney’s next care was to urge upon the
soldiers the necessity of sending Tom about his business with the least
possible delay, and of being careful to drop no word in his hearing
that would give him a hint of their future movements. Tom would make
all sorts of promises, but they must not put the least faith in them,
for if he saw an opportunity to do it, he would put a squad on their
trail in less than an hour. This done, he and Dick climbed the fence
and followed the soldiers toward the camp. Ned Griffin had had time to
prepare Tom for Rodney’s coming, and the expression Rodney’s face wore
when he appeared in sight prepared him for the good news.

“You have prevailed upon them to release me and I know it,” he
exclaimed, seizing one of Rodney’s hands in both his own and shaking it
with all his might. “And I’ll never forget you for it; never in this
world. If you want anything, all you’ve got to do is to say the word,
and if I’ve got it you shall have it. And as for you soldiers—I’ll
cook up some sort of a story when I reach home that will stop all
pursuit till you have had time to reach the Union lines. I am very
grateful to you, and will prove it by pulling off my gray suit as soon
as I get home. If all Yanks are like you, I am not going to fight any
more during the war.”

Tom was sure he saw a faint prospect of escape before him, and his joy
was so great that it choked his utterance. He continued to rattle on in
this way, until the corporal interrupted him with:

“That’s all right, Johnny. So long as you keep the hounds off our
trail, it’s all the return we ask for setting you at liberty.”

“Then you are going to release me, aint you?” cried Tom.

“I don’t suppose such a thing was ever done before,” said the corporal
hesitatingly. “And I don’t know what the boys will say to me when they
hear of it; but I——”

“That don’t make any difference, Mr. Soldier. You just tell me to go
home, and I will keep the hounds off your trail.”

“Well—git!” said the corporal. “You will find your sword and revolver
back there in the grove where we hid them yesterday.”

Tom lost no time in grasping the corporal’s hand and shaking it with
all his strength—a proceeding to which the boy in blue submitted with
very bad grace. He felt more like giving his late captive a kick, and
so did his comrades; but they let him shake their hands instead—all
except Ben, who put his hands into his pockets and turned away when Tom
approached him. Captain Randolph would have persisted in his efforts to
take leave of him also, had he not been warned by a look from Rodney
that he had better stop his nonsense and get away while the Federals
were in the humor to let him go. Acting upon the hint, he turned away
from Ben and disappeared in the direction of the fence.

“If I am any prophet that surly Yank will see the time when he’ll wish
he had not turned his back on me in that style,” soliloquized Tom, when
he found himself safe in the lane. “I’ll square accounts with him and
with Rodney and Dick at the same time. And Ned Griffin, too. I might
have given those Yanks the slip last night, if he had been friendly
enough to fall asleep as I wanted him to do; but he wouldn’t, and now
he will see how I will pay him for it.”

Tom sped along the lane as if he had been furnished with wings, through
the negro quarter and up to the door of the plantation house, where
Ned’s mother was waiting for him. She had moved her low rocking chair
to that door, and had been waiting there ever since she saw Rodney Gray
and his two companions disappear in the woods at the end of the lane;
for she felt the keenest anxiety for Tom, and wondered what his mother
would do if Rodney failed in his efforts to have him released.

“O Tom, I am so glad to see you,” she exclaimed, as soon as the captain
of the Home Guards came within speaking distance.

“I am a free man once more, Mrs. Griffin,” replied Tom loftily, “and
it is a fortunate thing for some people whose names I could mention.
If I had been kept a prisoner, my Home Guards would have made sad work
in this settlement. I’ll thank you to lend me a horse. I want to reach
home as soon as I can, in order to relieve my mother’s anxiety.”

And this was all he had to say to the woman who had done more than
anybody else to keep him out of prison. By her kindness and generosity
she had won the gratitude of Tom’s captors and made it comparatively
easy for Rodney to effect his release; and although Tom did not know
this, he did know that Ned had done his best for him, and one would
think he might have had a civil word for Ned’s mother. Instead of that
he hinted darkly at some things he knew about “some people whose names
he could mention,” and Mrs. Griffin knew that that was the same thing
as a threat. She replied that she did not feel at liberty to lend Ned’s
saddle-horse without saying a word to him about it, but Tom could have
a mule if he wanted it; and with the words she went into the house,
leaving Captain Randolph to stand alone at the door until the mule was
brought up.

“This is another insult I shall have to remember against the Griffins,”
thought Tom, running his eye over the ill-conditioned animal that
was finally led to the door. “Now, how shall I manage to have those
escaped prisoners captured with the least possible delay? If they
could be taken now, Rodney and Dick and Ned would be taken with them;
but I don’t know whether I want that to happen or not. If it should
get noised abroad that they were captured with my help, or through
information furnished by me, I’d have everybody in the settlement down
on me; and goodness knows I’ve got enemies enough already.”

This was a matter requiring thought; and in order that he might have
plenty of leisure to devote to it, Captain Tom allowed his mule to
walk every step of the five miles that lay between the plantation and
Mooreville. He rode past Mr. Gray’s house without stopping, and in
due time drew rein in front of Kimberly’s store, to find the usual
number of lazy Home Guards loitering about there doing nothing. They
were surprised to see him, for the news of his sudden and mysterious
disappearance had been spread all through the settlement. His father,
who had spent half the night riding about in search of him, pretended
to believe that Tom had fallen in with the soldiers from Camp Pinckney
and joined them in pursuit of the escaped Yankees; but there wasn’t a
man in the country who didn’t laugh at the idea as soon as he heard of
it. More than that, there wasn’t a single member of the Home Guards
who had made an earnest effort to trace the fugitives. The most of
them paid no attention to Tom’s order to turn out, and those who did,
returned to their homes as soon as they learned that the Yankees were
armed.

“Why, cap’n, where in the wide world did you drop from?” exclaimed
Lieutenant Lambert, as Tom Randolph rolled off his mule in front of
the store. “Have you been after them Yanks? Your pap said you had.”

Tom walked into the recruiting office and met Captain Roach, who began
to tell him how his unexplained absence had frightened his mother; but
the commander of the Home Guards interrupted him without ceremony.

“Before I tell you anything about myself,” said he, turning to the
eager Home Guards who had followed him into the office, “I want to know
how many of you men would like to win fame, and perhaps promotion, by
capturing the four Yankees who are roaming about the country, shooting
our comrades down in cold blood.”

“I would, for one,” replied Lambert promptly.

“And me!” “And me!” “And here too!” chimed in the others; and they
threw so much earnestness into their words, and seemed so impatient to
learn how the feat could be accomplished, that a stranger would have
thought they really meant to do something.

“I am glad to see you so patriotic,” said Captain Tom. “And the way for
you to prove your words is to—you know where Ned Griffin lives now,
don’t you? Well, go down there at once, and you will find the men you
want at the foot of his lane.”

“How do you know that?” demanded Captain Roach.

“Because I left them there not more than—I mean when I escaped from
them last night,” answered Tom, who, now that the danger was past,
would not have sold his experience for any reasonable sum of money.
“You don’t believe it, do you? Well, it is a fact that I have been a
prisoner in the hands of those very men, and narrowly escaped being
shot.”

“But how did you get away from them?” continued the enrolling officer.

“I knocked one of them down with the butt of his own musket and took to
my heels; that’s the way I did it.”

This was going too far, and Captain Tom was quick to perceive it. Some
of his men exchanged sly winks with each other, and turned toward the
door as if they had heard quite enough of such stories as that, while
Captain Roach, who had put a little faith in Tom’s tale at first, sat
down in his chair and pulled some papers toward him.

“Continue to report regularly every day,” said he, addressing himself
to Lambert; “I have received no official notice that Camp Pinckney is
ready to take conscripts, but all the same I know it is ready, and an
order to send out a squad may come any hour.”

“That’s a polite way of calling me a liar,” said Tom to himself. “I
know where I can find those who will take some interest in what I have
to say; and if I don’t go there and drop a bomb into this camp that
will scatter it far and wide, I’m a Dutchman.”

He was too angry to say anything aloud. He looked hard at Captain Roach
for a moment, and then went out to the hitching rack where he had left
his mule, the Home Guards dividing right and left, and making no remark
as he passed through their ranks. He went home with all the speed he
could induce his long-eared beast to put forth, and the reception he
met when he got there almost made amends for the deliberate slight that
had been put upon him in the enrolling office; but the best part of the
story he intended to tell was knocked in the head by the first words
his mother said to him. He was going to describe a terrific battle he
had had with the escaped prisoners somewhere in the woods; but his
mother cried, as she ran down the steps and clasped him in her arms:

“O Tom! Where have you been? And how came your horse hitched out there
in the grove?”

Captain Randolph had forgotten all about his horse, and just then he
wished that one of the Yankees had put a bullet through the animal’s
head instead of tying him among the evergreens. Then he could have said
that he did not surrender without a fight, and the dead horse would
have proved it.

“Some of the neighbors heard him calling as they were riding along the
road, and went in and brought him home; but they saw no signs of you,”
continued Mrs. Randolph, looking hard at Tom as if to assure herself
that he was all there. “You don’t know how frightened we all were. The
first thing I thought of was those dreadful Yankees, and I was afraid
you might have fallen into their hands.”

“And that’s just what happened to me,” replied Tom. “I was a prisoner
in less than an hour after I left you yesterday; but I made something
of a fight before they took me. I think I know where my revolver is—I
threw it into the bushes rather than give it up to the enemy.”

“Oh, you reckless boy, how could you do it?” exclaimed his mother.
“Come right in and go to bed.”

“And when you see that revolver you will notice that there isn’t a
single cartridge left in it,” added Captain Tom, as he followed his
mother up the steps. “I threw away my sword, too, but think I can find
it again. I didn’t surrender, mind you. I was captured at the muzzle of
four loaded muskets.”

“You dear boy! And how did you get away from them?”

“I waited until they went to sleep last night. Of course they left one
of their number to guard me, but a Yankee is no match for a gentleman
when it comes to a fight. I just knocked him down and cleared out.”

“And wasn’t you hurt a bit? Didn’t they try to stop you?”

“Of course they tried to stop me, and the way the bullets flew was
a caution; but the night was dark, the bushes thick, and I escaped
without a scratch.”

This was only the introduction to the long story Tom had to tell, and
although there was scarcely a word of truth in it from beginning to
end, his doting mother believed it all. His father looked slightly
incredulous when Tom told how he had laid around in the woods for long
hours while the Yankees were searching high and low to find him, for
his boots and clothing did not bear out his thrilling narrative. They
were dusty, of course, but not at all torn and mussed, as they ought to
have been if the wearer had had such a time working his way out of the
woods. But Mr. Randolph was so overjoyed to see Tom back safe and sound
that he said nothing about it.

“Now, my son, you must quit the Home Guards at once and stay right here
on the plantation,” said Mrs. Randolph, when she had asked her hero all
the questions she could think of. “When you are a private citizen you
will not be called upon to assist in capturing desperadoes.”

“I’ve done the very best I could for the South ever since I joined my
fortunes with hers,” answered Captain Tom; “I have risked life and
liberty in her defence more than once, and am ready to do it again; but
I can’t fight the whole Yankee nation alone and unaided.”

“Certainly not,” assented his mother.

“I was the only one of the company who had the pluck to face those
desperate men in the woods,” continued Tom, “and was captured for my
pains. I ordered my men out to help me, but they never came. They left
me to meet the danger alone; and when I dropped into the enrolling
office on my way home, they were loafing as usual and bragging too. And
when I told them right where they would find those Yanks, and tried to
get them to go out and capture them, do you suppose they would go?
They just as good as told me that they did not believe me, and Roach
broke in on my story by giving orders directly to Lambert instead of
passing them to him through me. I have put up with that man just as
long as I am going to; and, father, if you will pay Larkin off and let
him go, I’ll be ready to take his place to-morrow morning. And now I’ll
write to the Governor the very first thing I do.”

This letter to the Governor, tendering his resignation as captain of
State troops, was the “bomb” with which Tom had threatened to “scatter
Captain Roach’s camp far and wide,” but when he sat down to write it,
the thought occurred to him that if he said too much the letter might
operate like a boomerang, and hurt him more than he hoped to hurt
Captain Roach. If he had written it as he had it framed in his mind,
it would have been a complete and scathing indictment of the enrolling
officer’s way of doing business; but the letter he showed his mother,
when she came to his room in response to his call, read something like
this:

I have the honor to tender herewith my resignation as captain of
the State militia which was granted me on the —th day of April
last, with authority to raise and command a company of mounted men
for home defence.

I have long been of opinion that partisan organizations are
not what we need in this hour of our country’s peril, and now
I am satisfied of it. Our best men long ago went to the front
voluntarily, leaving behind them a rabble who cannot possibly be
made into soldiers. The men under my command were selected with
the greatest care, but I am obliged to say that they are fit for
nothing but guard duty at Camp Pinckney. If they were ordered there
in a body, to take the place of better men who could be sent to
the front, it would be a relief to the community. For myself I
have other ideas, which I shall proceed to carry out as soon as I
receive notice that my resignation has been accepted.

“That is nothing but the truth,” said Mrs. Randolph, after she had read
the letter. “But, Tom, I am afraid it will get you into trouble.”

“I don’t see how,” was the reply. “You don’t suppose that the Governor
will bring it down here, show it to such fellows as Lambert and Moseley
and the rest, and ask them what they think of it; do you? He has other
fish to fry.”

“But suppose he should ask you what your other ideas are,” said his
mother.

“There’s no danger of that. If the Governor thinks that my chief reason
for resigning is because I want to go to the front, well and good. I am
not to blame for what he thinks. I have other ideas, and that’s a fact;
and one of them is to see the men who winked and nudged one another
to-day when I was trying to put a little courage into them, sent where
they will be held with their noses close to the grindstone. Now I’ll
ride down and mail this, and when the acceptance comes I’ll tell Roach
what I have done.”

“That reminds me that the mail carrier had a race with a squad of
Yankee cavalry yesterday,” said Mrs. Randolph.

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Tom. “Have they come as close as that to
Mooreville? They are bound to get here sooner or later, but I hope
they’ll stay away a week longer, for then I shall be a free man.”

And Captain Tom might have added that he would be glad to see the
Federals at the end of a week, provided he received a favorable answer
from the Governor in that time. When the Home Guards were ordered away
to do duty at Camp Pinckney he would consider his account with them
settled; and the other old scores—there were four of them now—could
be attended to at some future time.

When Captain Randolph was done with his leave-taking he hastened away
as if he feared that the escaped prisoners might change their minds and
call him back. He was out of sight in an instant, and when he was out
of hearing Rodney Gray said:

“Now we must _git_ ourselves. I don’t know what sort of a story Tom
will tell when he gets home, but it is safe to say that he will make
himself out a very brave fellow, and urge his men to take up our trail
at once.”

“You needn’t trouble yourself about the Home Guards,” said Ned.

“I don’t; but if those same Home Guards should chance to stumble
upon the soldiers from Camp Pinckney, we’d have something to trouble
ourselves about, wouldn’t we? So I say we had better move away from
here. Pick up that basket, somebody; and Ned, you take care of the
quilts, for we’ll not need them. We shall lie by during the daytime and
travel at night. You haven’t heard the last of this morning’s work,
Ned, and neither have I.”

“If that Home Guard gets you into trouble after what you have done for
him, find means to let the —th Michigan cavalry know it; and the first
time we scout through here we’ll pay our respects to him,” said Ben
hotly. “If it hadn’t been for Griffin’s mother, Captain Randolph would
have gone to a Northern stockade as sure as he is a living man.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” replied Ned. “Good-by, boys. So-long, Yanks.”

“May the best of good luck always attend you, Johnny,” said the
fugitives in concert.

This parting would have disgusted Captain Randolph if he had been there
to witness it, and might have led him to say: “This is another insult
that I’ve got to remember against the Griffin family,” for there was a
good deal of friendly feeling manifested on both sides. Surly Ben did
not turn his back this time, but held fast to Ned with one hand, while
he pointed to the shoes he wore, with the other, and said:

“If I get away I shall have you to thank for it. I couldn’t have walked
a mile with my feet on the ground as they were when you took pity on me
last night. If I can ever repay you I will.”

“You have repaid me a hundred times over by letting Rodney and Dick go
free when you captured them a few days ago. So-long, Yanks.”

“Fall in,” said Rodney. “Good-by, Ned. I wish you would make it your
business to tell mother that you saw us safely off.”

Ned began to roll up the quilts, the corporal shouldered the basket
containing the provisions, and Rodney led the way deeper into the
woods, the soldiers coming next in line and Dick Graham bringing up
the rear; and as he trudged along in silence he had much to say to
himself. Was this Rodney Gray, who was risking so much to guide these
ragged, foot-sore men to a place of safety, the same rabid Secessionist
who once wanted to ride rough-shod over everybody who stood up for
the Union; who had not scrupled to bring his own cousin into serious
difficulty on account of his loyalty to the Old Flag; who applauded so
lustily when the Mobile _Register_ said that Northern soldiers were
small-change knaves and vagrants who were fit for nothing but to be
whipped by niggers; and who declared he would not pull off his gray
suit until the South had gained her independence? We said that fifteen
months’ experience in the army of the Confederacy, which never kept
a single one of the promises it made to those who enlisted under its
banner, had opened Rodney Gray’s eyes; and although he still believed
in State Rights, he did not believe in fighting for a government that
had deliberately gone to work to make conscripts of its volunteers. Nor
did he longer believe that Northern men didn’t know how to fight. The
way they thrashed him and his comrades in Missouri proved that they did.

Dick Graham was like Marcy Gray, Rodney’s cousin. He loved the Union
and the flag that waved over it; but, unlike Marcy, he thought it
his duty to stand by his State. When Van Dorn was whipped at Pea
Ridge Dick Graham was willing to lay down his arms and give up the
useless struggle; but the government at Richmond wouldn’t let him. It
made conscripts of him and all the other State men who had enlisted
under Governor Jackson’s proclamation, and ordered them across the
Mississippi to join the Army of the Centre under Beauregard. Dick went
because he could not help himself, and did his duty faithfully while he
remained; but he had his discharge in his pocket now, and said there
would have to be a marked change in his feelings before he would swear
away his liberty again. There were many like him. He thought of all
the men in his company and regiment with whom he had been on terms of
intimacy, and could not name half a dozen who would have said a harsh
word to Rodney Gray if they had known what he was doing at that moment.
The most of them would have done the same thing and been glad of the
chance.

Although Rodney exercised little or no caution in threading his way
through the woods, he insisted that there should be no talking among
his followers. The slight rustling they made in the bushes might not
attract attention, because there were so many cattle and hogs running
at large in the timber; but the sound of a voice would betray them
to anyone who might happen to be within hearing. Their progress was
easy enough until they reached the place where the woods ended and the
broad, cultivated fields began, and then Rodney announced that it was
time for the fugitives to halt and get a little sleep if they could,
while he and Dick went on ahead to see how things looked.

“From here on there is little cover except such as we shall find in
blind ditches and behind bush-lined fences,” said he. “You boys take
a bite and a nap, and Dick and I will go to that plantation house you
see over there, and inquire about our friends from Camp Pinckney. I
am somewhat anxious to know where they are. Don’t be in any haste to
challenge or shoot when you hear us coming back.”

“I suppose you know the people who live in that house,” said Dick, as
he and Rodney started off, after taking leave of the Federals. “What
sort of a story are you going to tell them?”

“I am well acquainted with them,” answered Rodney, “but whether or not
their friendship for our family would lead them to do these Yanks a
good turn, I can’t say. I’ll not trust them too far till I find out.
We’ll tell them the truth so far as our war record is concerned, but
we’re hog and critter hunting when they ask us what brought us into the
woods. And of course we know all about the escaped prisoners.”

Rodney did not lead the way directly toward the house, but worked his
way along a fence until he reached a point from which the dwelling
could not be seen; and then he and Dick climbed over into the field and
struck out across it without making any further attempt at concealment.
It never occurred to them that possibly the little clump of trees that
hid the house might also hide something else from their view, but such
proved to be the case; for as Rodney walked around the corner of the
building with all the confidence of a welcome visitor, he was surprised
and frightened to find himself in the presence of the very men he came
to inquire about—the soldiers from Camp Pinckney, who were sitting or
lying at their ease under the shade of the trees, while the master of
the house and his family moved among them with steaming coffee-pots and
trays filled with something good to eat. Their hounds were lying close
by on the grass, their horses stood at the front fence with their heads
down as if asleep, and both looked as though they needed rest. The boys
made a mental note of these things and walked straight ahead as if they
belonged there, their approach being hailed with an exclamation of
delight from the owner of the plantation, who was the first to catch
sight of them.

“What do you mean, sir, by such conduct?” said Mr. Turnbull, passing his
well loaded tray to one of the soldiers and hastening to meet Rodney
with outstretched hand. “You’ve been at home five or six days, and this
is the first glimpse we have had of you. Come up and have a bite.”

Rodney thanked him and presented his friend Dick, who was welcomed in
the same breezy way. Then they shook hands with the other members of
the family, and were made acquainted with the lieutenant who commanded
the soldiers—the one whom Captain Randolph had met and talked with the
day before. There was also a neighbor present who had come over to hear
what the soldiers had to say about the escaped prisoners, and about Tom
Randolph, whose mysterious disappearance was the talk of the planters
for miles around. Rodney was not pleased to see Mr. Biglin, that was
the neighbor’s name, for he was a red-hot Secessionist, who denounced
Mr. Gray for his moderate views, and declared that every man who
retained a spark of love for the old Union ought to be shot on sight.

“Now I think we are all happy and comfortable,” said Mr. Turnbull, when
the boys had been provided with plates and something to put on them.
“And that’s better provender, I take it, than you got in the army; eh,
Rodney? How do you like army life anyway? And when are you going back?”

The lieutenant looked surprised, as Rodney and Dick knew he would,
and so they handed over their discharges to prove that they had seen
service, and had the right to be at home at that particular time.

“We’re not going to be in any hurry,” answered Rodney, who thought all
his neighbors ought to know how he felt on that point. “Since I came
home I have met many able-bodied civilians who were fierce for a fight
when this thing first broke out, and who haven’t yet put on a gray
jacket. When I see those men in the front rank I’ll go back, and not
before.”

Mr. Biglin winced and glanced uneasily at the soldiers, for these
remarks came pretty near applying to him, as Rodney meant they should.
Mr. Turnbull was exempt by reason of his age, and he wasn’t a very hot
Secessionist, either. His wife hastened to turn the conversation into
another channel by saying:

“O Rodney; did you hear anything of those escaped prisoners in your
neighborhood, and do you think they have killed or captured Tom
Randolph?”

“Small loss,” began Mr. Turnbull, and then he was checked by a look
from his wife. The latter knew that every word that he uttered against
Tom would get to Mr. Randolph’s ears by the shortest route, and she was
afraid of Home Guards.

“Randolph was down here last night looking for Tom,” continued Mr.
Turnbull, “but he told a story that was too funny for me to believe. He
said Tom had gone out with his Home Guards to search for the prisoners,
but I know better than that.”

“And Tom certainly did not go into the woods alone to hunt for them, so
what chance had the Yanks to kill or capture him?” added Rodney. “We
know that they were in our neighborhood yesterday, for some of these
soldiers told my mother so; but they never came near our house.”

“I noticed you did not come by the road,” observed the lieutenant.
“Have you been riding through the woods back of this plantation?”

“Dick and I have been walking through them, but not a horn nor a hoof
did we see,” answered Rodney. “You know, Mr. Turnbull, that my father
will have a big lot of bacon and beef to pay to the government for the
exemption of two overseers; and just now I don’t know where he is going
to get it.”

“Ned Griffin is one overseer,” said Mr. Turnbull. “Who’s the other?”

“I am. I never was a good fighter. I think I can do the Confederacy
just as much service by working on a farm and raising grub for the
soldiers, as I can by staying in the army. At any rate I am going to
try it until some of my neighbors leave off fighting with their mouths
and shoulder a musket.”

“That’s fair, I’m sure,” said the lieutenant; while the soldiers winked
and nodded at one another as if to say: “Our sentiments exactly.” Mr.
Biglin saw it and it nettled him, for he had done a great deal of
fighting with his mouth, but every dollar he gave to aid the cause of
the South was fairly squeezed out of him.

“And while you are working one of your father’s farms, I suppose you
will hold yourself in readiness to help any destitute Yankees who may
happen to come your way,” said Mr. Biglin.

If Rodney and Dick had been the inexperienced boys they were when they
first entered the army, these startling words would have knocked them
out of their chairs. If Mr. Biglin didn’t know what they had been
doing that morning, his language and actions seemed to indicate that
he suspected it. If that was the case, the information must have come
from Tom Randolph. He had had plenty of time to reach home and spread
the news far and wide. If Mr. Biglin had been content to stop right
there he might have left a bad impression upon the minds of some of his
auditors; but seeing that he had made Rodney and his friend uneasy, he
went on to say:

“I heard a fishy story about your being captured by Yankee soldiers who
were gentlemen enough to release you.”

“There’s nothing fishy about it,” replied Rodney, greatly relieved. “I
said that Dick and I were captured and set free again between here and
Camp Pinckney, and it is nothing but the truth. I said, further, that if
I ever saw those men in trouble I would try my best to help them out;
and I appeal to these soldiers here to say if they wouldn’t do the same.”

“I would, if I could do it without bringing myself to the notice of my
superiors,” said the lieutenant; while his men nodded at Rodney and one
another as they had done before.

“Well, I wouldn’t,” declared Mr. Biglin, in savage tones. “And more
than that, I would report every soldier or civilian whom I knew to be
guilty of such a thing.”

“I thank you for your words,” said Rodney to himself. “I know now that
you’ll not do to tie to, and shall be careful that none of my doings
get to your ears.”

Mrs. Turnbull saw that it was time for her to interfere again. Two of
her guests were becoming almost red in the face with anger, and her
woman’s wit or something else told her that the conversation was taking
a dangerous turn. She had wondered from the first what brought Rodney
Gray so far from home on foot, and now she believed that she knew all
about it. She moved her chair to the side of Rodney’s, and asked the
young soldier to tell her a story of army life; and as she did so, her
gaze wandered through the bushes and trees to the front fence, where
she saw one of Mr. Biglin’s negroes dodging about, and evidently trying
to catch the eye of his master without attracting the attention of
anyone else in the yard. The circumstance increased her suspicions, but
she said very calmly:

“Your boy Bill is out there in the road, Mr. Biglin, and I think he
wants to tell you something.”

“Then why don’t he come in?” replied the planter. “He has been down in
the woods trying to locate a small drove of my hogs, and perhaps he has
found them.”

“And perhaps he has found something else,” was what Rodney’s eyes and
Dick’s said when they looked at each other; and they could hardly
conceal their agitation when they observed that Mrs. Turnbull was
keeping her gaze fixed on their faces.

“You, Bill!” shouted the planter. “Come here.”

The negro came very reluctantly, and when he saw his master turn about
in his chair and look at him, he stopped and twisted his face into all
sorts of shapes and rolled up the whites of his eyes, trying by every
means in his power to make his master understand that he desired to say
a word to him in private.

“Well, why don’t you speak?” demanded Mr. Biglin. “Did you find
anything down there?”

“Sah? Oh, ye—yes, sah; I found sumfin,” replied the negro, in a tone
so significant that Mr. Biglin would have been dull indeed if he
had failed to understand him this time. With the remark that he had
better be getting along toward home he arose and followed the boy, who
promptly led the way toward the front gate.

“Peculiar man, that,” said the lieutenant, rising from his comfortable
couch on the grass and stretching his arms. “He didn’t even bid us
good-by. I reckon we’d best be getting along toward camp. Boots and
saddles!”

“Are you going to give up looking for those Yankees?” inquired Mr.
Turnbull, and from the bottom of his heart Rodney thanked him for
asking the question. He wanted to do it himself, but was afraid to
speak.

“I reckon I might as well,” answered the officer, as his men got upon
their feet, aroused the slumbering hounds by snapping their fingers
at them, and hastened to obey the command. “I did think of taking in
those woods on my way to Mooreville, but don’t suppose it would be of
any use. If the Yanks were there you two would have been likely to see
them, wouldn’t you?” he added, nodding at Rodney.

“I am quite sure we would,” was the reply; but after all he was not so
sure of it. The timber was thick; and, unless accompanied by dogs, a
whole regiment might have walked through it without seeing any signs of
a fugitive who took the least pains to conceal himself.

“That’s what I thought,” continued the lieutenant, “and as my men and
animals are somewhat worn with travel, I think I will give it up and go
home. I would have captured those men yesterday if the Mooreville Home
Guards had been worth their salt. I may have something to say to my
colonel about it.”

While the lieutenant talked he shook hands with the planter and the
two boys, lifted his cap to Mrs. Turnbull, and thanked her for the
excellent dinner she had given his hungry men, and walked toward the
place where he had hitched his horse, accompanied by their host. The
latter’s wife remained behind; and when she saw the officer swing
himself into his saddle she made some slight apology to Dick, and
motioned Rodney to follow her into the house.

“What’s down there in the woods behind our plantation?” were the first
words she said to him when they were alone.

“Why, Mrs. Turnbull,” began Rodney, “how should I know? I assure you I
am at a loss——”

“You know what I mean, Rodney Gray, and you can’t deceive me,”
interrupted the lady with so much earnestness that Rodney saw it was
useless to argue with her. “You never in your life before came to this
house on foot; you were frightened when you found the soldiers here;
you became angry the moment Mr. Biglin spoke of Yankees; you were
frightened again when the boy Bill intimated that he had a word to say
to his master in private; and all through—— Aha! You do know what I
mean, don’t you?”

“Mrs. Turnbull,” replied Rodney in a husky voice. “They are the men I
promised to help if I could. You’ll not betray them?”

“I ought to scold you for speaking such words to me, and some day I
will,” said the lady hastily. “But just now I want to warn you against
Mr. Biglin. I am sorry to say that he is not trustworthy.”

When she ceased speaking she stepped to the window and looked out. She
stood there a moment and beckoned Rodney to her side. The Confederate
soldiers had disappeared up the road in a cloud of dust, and Mr. Biglin
was just riding by the house. It was plain that he was in a hurry,
for he did not stop to pick up his hat, which flew off just as Rodney
caught sight of him, but dug his heels into his mule’s sides in the
effort to make him go faster.

“He’s trying to overtake the soldiers!” gasped Rodney.

“He certainly is,” replied Mrs. Turnbull calmly. “He will succeed, too,
and when he brings them back with the hounds——”

“The Yankees will burn him out before he is a week older,” said Rodney,
through his clenched teeth.

“They will do nothing of the sort unless you bear witness against him,
and I know you will not do that,” answered Mrs. Turnbull. “But waste no
time in words. You know what to do.”

“I will say something in your favor and Mr. Turnbull’s as soon as I can
gain the ear of the provost marshal,” said Rodney. “Good-by, and thank
you for the interest you take in my Yankee friends.”

Rodney made a sign to Dick as he sprang down the steps and ran around
the corner of the house, and told him his story as they sped across
the field side by side. There was one thing in their favor, he said.
Biglin’s mule was one of those critters that gallop up and down in one
place instead of going ahead, and if the Confederates were moving with
any speed at all, he might not be able to overtake them until they had
gone a mile or two toward Mooreville. But he would certainly come up
with them sooner or later and bring them back; and then——

“And then they’ll put the hounds on the Yanks’ trail _and ours_,”
exclaimed Dick, finishing his sentence for him. “Rodney, you have got
yourself into the worst kind of a scrape by helping those prisoners.”

“And how about yourself?”

“I’m going to skip out and go over the river, you know; but you’ve got
to stay here and face the music. The lieutenant may not be able to set
Tom Randolph’s cowardly Home Guards on to you—indeed, I don’t believe
he will try; but he’ll report the matter at Camp Pinckney, and that
will be bad for you.”

The boys ran across the field at the top of their speed, and scaled
the fence without hearing any sounds in the direction of the house to
indicate that Mr. Biglin had returned with the soldiers. Ten minutes
later they were challenged in a low, peremptory tone that Dick said
meant business.

“_Who_ comes there?” said the corporal’s voice. “Speak quick.”

“It’s all right, Yank. I don’t wonder you look anxious,” replied
Rodney, as he and Dick made their way through the bushes and found the
fugitives standing erect with their guns in their hands. “Come on, now.
There’s not a second to lose.”

“Do you know about that nigger?” inquired Ben. “Well, sir, he found us
all asleep and was onto us before we knew it. We could have captured
him easy enough; but we never looked for treachery among the darkeys,
and besides we didn’t know but you Johnnies had sent him down with a
message or something. But the minute we spoke and he ran, we knew there
was mischief afoot. Of course we were afraid to shoot him, and so he
got safely away. Did you see him? What did he say?”

“We didn’t hear what he said to his master,” began Dick. “But we——”

“You go to the rear and let me talk,” interrupted Rodney, who had
forgotten to tell his friend that Mr. Biglin’s name must not be
mentioned in the hearing of the escaped prisoners. They would remember
him, of course, and square accounts with him the first time their
regiment was ordered out on a scout. He managed to tell some sort
of a tale without speaking of Mr. Biglin, but it was not entirely
satisfactory to the corporal.

“You’re shielding somebody, Johnny; but if he is a friend of yours it’s
all right,” said the latter.

“What odds does it make to you so long as you get safe to the river?”
answered Rodney. “I am shielding somebody, and I do it because Mrs.
Turnbull expects me to. That’s the name of the woman who lives in that
house, and if it hadn’t been for her there’s no telling what would have
happened. Bear that name in mind—Turnbull; and when you are raiding
through here, don’t steal so much as a drink of milk from that family.”

The corporal and his men promised, and said the name over several times
to fix it in their memory.

“Our pursuers are all soldiers,” continued Rodney, “and under almost
any other circumstances I believe they would let us off easy; but the
way they’re fixed, they’ve got to do their duty or be reported. They
are bound to come back to the house and put out the hounds——”

“And they’ve done it,” said Dick Graham, coming to a sudden standstill
and turning one ear toward the house. “There! Do you hear it?”

All this while the fugitives had been making the best progress they
could through the woods, but now they stopped and listened intently.
Yes, they could hear it plainly enough; not a single bugle note like
that which had attracted Dick Graham’s attention, but a whole chorus of
eager yelps, proving that all the hounds had taken up the trail.

“This is going to be the tightest squeak we’ve had yet,” observed Ben.
“How many of them are there in the party?”

“About six hounds, I should say, and twice as many men,” replied
Rodney. “Enough altogether to make running easier than fighting. Dick,
take this bottle, and don’t use it until I say the word.”

“What’s in it?” inquired the corporal.

“Turpentine; and if the dogs get a good sniff of it, it will spoil
their scenting powers for quite a while. The trouble is it evaporates
quickly, and Dick mustn’t use it until the hounds are close to us.”

Dick fell back to the rear and Rodney set off on a keen run, directing
his course toward a little bayou which he knew he would find a mile or
so in advance. But fast as they went, the hounds came on at a swifter
pace, their sonorous yelps grew louder every minute, and presently the
encouraging shouts of the soldiers mingled with them.

“Oh, don’t I wish I had enlisted in the infantry,” puffed Ben, who
followed close at Rodney’s heels. “Such a tramp as we have had wouldn’t
be anything to a foot soldier, but it’s death on a cavalryman.”

“The hounds are now following Dick’s trail and mine across the field,”
said Rodney. “They’ll come on faster when they pick up yours, for they
will recognize it on the instant.”

And so it proved. The hounds gradually swept around from a point to the
rear and left of them to another that was directly behind; and then
their loud baying increased wonderfully in volume. They had at last
found the trail that had been lost to them for so many hours, and were
holding a jubilee over it. After that the horsemen were distanced, but
the active hounds came on with undiminished speed, and in less than a
quarter of an hour could be heard making their way through the bushes
close behind. The prisoners began to wonder if it wasn’t about time for
Dick Graham to use the contents of his bottle, when their guide parted
the thicket in front of him, and halted for an instant on the bank of
the bayou for which he had been heading.

“Put half of it right here and the rest on the opposite bank. Forward,
the rest of us,” said he; and with the words he dashed through the
narrow stream and into the bushes on the other side.

[Illustration: DICK BAFFLES THE BLOODHOUNDS.]

Dick Graham showed no little nerve in carrying out his instructions.
When his companions disappeared he pulled the bottle of turpentine from
his pocket, but knowing the volatile nature of the fluid he seemed to
be in no haste to use it, until the leading hound was so close upon
him that he could hear his labored breathing. Then he dug the heels
of his shoes into the soft earth and filled the depressions with
turpentine. Ten seconds later he stood on the other side of the bayou,
filling other footprints with what was left in the bottle; and just as
the foremost of his fourfooted pursuers appeared in sight, he flung
himself into the bushes. But he was not prepared for what followed. As
fast as the hounds arrived upon the bank they smelt at the turpentine
and backed away with a sneeze; and when they were all in plain view,
running about with their heads in the air or going through such
contortions as dogs will when they unexpectedly encounter something
disagreeable, a deafening roar rang through the woods, and every one of
the hounds dropped in his tracks dead or wounded. The Union soldiers
were not going to be tracked like beasts or criminals any longer.

This was the first and last adventure that befell Rodney Gray and his
party while they were on their way to Baton Rouge; the shooting of the
hounds “broke the backbone of the pursuit,” as Dick Graham expressed
it, although it did not put a stop to it altogether. The rebels raised
a chorus of angry yells when they reached the bank of the bayou and
discovered their fourfooted allies weltering in their blood, and fired
their guns at random into the woods in the direction the fugitives
had gone, but they made no energetic effort to continue the chase
after that. And this went far to confirm Rodney in his belief that the
lieutenant would not have put the hounds on the trail at all if it
hadn’t been for Mr. Biglin. By expressing this opinion aloud he could
have made Mr. Biglin a beggar before another week passed over his head.

Contrary to his original plan Rodney kept his party moving until late
that afternoon, when he halted the soldiers in the rear of another
plantation while he and Dick went to the house to get something to
eat, and make inquiries concerning their pursuers. This time they were
not gone more than half an hour, and when they returned they were
accompanied by the owner of the plantation, who cordially invited the
soldiers into the house.

“It’s all right, boys,” Rodney assured them. “Our friends from Camp
Pinckney haven’t been this far down the road; Mr. Banks is Union, and
a large squad of your cavalry has just gone back into the country, so
that they are between us and the rebels.”

“Why, Rodney,” said Mr. Banks, “you’re a rebel yourself.”

“I was, and I don’t know but I am yet; but I am not fighting any Yanks
just now,” was the smiling reply. “Come along, boys, and after we have
eaten everything Mr. Banks has to spare, we’ll take to the road and
follow it as though we had a right there. We’ve done hiding now.”

The corporal glanced at the military pass which Mr. Banks produced to
prove that he was “all right” with the Federal authorities in Baton
Rouge, and gladly accepted his invitation; and for fear that he might
forget it, he drew one of those useless paroles from his pocket and
wrote Mr. Banks’ name and Mr. Turnbull’s upon it.

“That’s as strong a promise of protection as a non-commissioned officer
can give,” said he. “It will hold good with my regiment, any way.”

The four prisoners splashed a good deal of water at the horse trough
before they would consent to enter the house and sit down to the table
like white folks, but when they got there they did ample justice to the
substantial food that was placed before them. The planter apologized
for the absence of salt on the table by saying that he hadn’t been able
to obtain a permit to bring it through the lines.

“Then smuggle it,” suggested the corporal. “Buy a barrel of flour and
chuck a bag of salt inside of it.”

“But don’t let your best friend see you do it,” chimed in Rodney.
“That’s the warning my father received. There are lots of traitors in
the city who try to curry favor with the Yanks by carrying tales about
their old neighbors. By the way, don’t you want me to get you a barrel
of flour?”

The expression of astonishment that came upon Mr. Banks’ face set the
table in a roar.

“You didn’t expect me to speak so freely in the presence of these
blue-coated boys, I suppose,” continued Rodney. “You needn’t be afraid,
for they are not on duty now. Besides, they are soldiers, and I’d
rather trust them than some civilians I know of.”

“How will you bring the flour out?” asked Mr. Banks.

“I’ll bring it out,” answered Rodney confidently. “In the first place
I’ll ask for a pass for inland travel and a permit to trade, and I am
bound to get both. I know where I can borrow a team in the city, and I
intend to bring it out loaded. I know that salt and all munitions of
war are contraband, and that there is an inspection of all persons and
property going in or out of the lines; but I—well, I shall be back
this way to-morrow or next day, and if you want a bag of salt for your
table you can have it.”

“Well, I snum!” said the planter admiringly. “Your war experience has
done a heap for you, Rodney.”

“He had the reputation of being the best forager in the regiment,” said
Dick. “I’ve known him to stick a pig and clean him and bring him into
camp under Daddy Price’s nose, when the orders were strict that such
things shouldn’t be done. If there was anything to eat in the country
our mess always lived well.”

Dinner over, Rodney led his party out of the house and into the woods
again; but it was done merely to mislead any talkative rebel or
treacherous darkey who might be on the watch. It wouldn’t do to let all
the neighbors know that Mr. Banks had sheltered some escaped prisoners
in his house during the night; but when darkness came they left the
woods and found in one of the negro cabins beds that had been placed
there on purpose for them, and on which they slept the sleep of the
weary. Daylight the next morning found them well on their way toward
the city, with a breakfast under their belts and a big lunch in their
pockets.

There was more travel on the road than Rodney expected to see, and the
number of teams that were constantly going and coming gave him some
idea of the amount of traffic carried on between the “invaders” and the
country people. When he and his companions were halted by the first
pickets a few miles outside the city, they told as much of their story
as they thought necessary, and demanded to be taken before Colonel
Baker, commanding the —th Michigan cavalry. In order to avoid delay
and the trouble of answering the thousand and one questions propounded
by the inexperienced non-commissioned officer who responded to the
picket’s call, the corporal, who did the talking, said that they were
all escaped prisoners; but when they reached the place where the —th
Michigan were encamped, and walked down the street toward the colonel’s
quarters, that story would no longer pass muster, for the corporal was
recognized by his comrades, who crowded about him from all sides. The
news of that fight near Camp Pinckney had been brought in by a farmer,
who affirmed that all the Yankees had been killed by the Home Guards
as fast as they surrendered, and as a consequence the Michigan boys
had given up all hope of seeing their friends again. Their commanding
officer greeted them in the same cordial way, laughed over the paroles
which the corporal gave him, took down the names of the Union people as
they were read off, looked at Rodney’s discharge and Dick’s, and told
the corporal to show them the way to the provost marshal’s office.

“But, colonel, these boys, who have stood by us as though they belonged
to us, want a pass and a permit to trade,” said the corporal. “And if
you will allow me to use your name, perhaps the provost will be more
willing to grant the favor.”

The permission was readily given, and the colonel’s name must have
had some weight with the marshal, for he did not detain Rodney and
Dick at his office on business for more than ten minutes; but he kept
them there talking in a friendly way for more than an hour. When he
handed them the papers they wanted he took pains to say that there
were some things that could not be taken through the lines under any
circumstances whatever, and then he asked where they intended to make
their headquarters when they were in the city, and whether or not they
had any cotton to sell. As Rodney did not know what his object might be
in asking this question, he answered it evasively.

“I wish I owned 1000 bales, and that it was in the Northern market at
this minute,” said he. “It is worth sixty cents a pound up there.”

“Because if you’ve got any you may as well understand that it won’t
do you much good,” said the marshal. “That is, unless you’re sharp.
The Richmond government is going to buy or steal all the cotton in the
Confederacy and make it the basis of a foreign loan.”

“And of course you Yanks are going to stop that sort of work by
destroying every bale you can find,” said Rodney. “I understand that,
but I don’t know what you mean by being sharp.”

“You don’t get the papers very often, do you?” said the captain. “Well,
take those when you go. They’re old, but perhaps their contents will
be news to you. You will find that they say something about a ‘partial
trade’ that is to be established between Northern men who are to have
permits to trade inside our lines, and _Union_ Southern people. Does
that hit you? Anything to cripple the rebs, you know. And you will see
something about the _Arkansas_ ram in there, too. It was a brave act,
if it was performed by the enemies of my country.”

“What about her? What did she do?” inquired Rodney, who had heard vague
reports that there was such a vessel as the _Arkansas_, and that great
things were expected of her by her Confederate builders.

“Why, you know that the navy has been keeping up a regular bombardment
of Vicksburg, don’t you? I tell you the pluck of the Johnnies up
there is something wonderful,” said the captain, and Rodney and Dick,
disgusted as they were with the policy of the Richmond government,
felt a thrill of pride as they listened to his words. “They think the
lower river was given up too easily and are going to make a fight for
their city; and when Farragut passed their batteries on the 28th of
June, and our shells were falling like hail in the streets, parties of
ladies were seen on the court house and in other conspicuous places,
waving handkerchiefs and little rebel flags to encourage their husbands
and brothers and sons, who were fighting the guns below them. Well,
when Farragut joined Davis above the city they sent an expedition up
the Yazoo to find this ram _Arkansas_ and destroy her; but before they
were fairly started they met the _Arkansas_ coming down.”

“And didn’t they capture her?” exclaimed Dick.

“No, I am sorry to say. She either disabled or dodged the three
gunboats composing the expedition, came out of the Yazoo with flying
colors, ran through both fleets, and took shelter under the guns of
Vicksburg. And she’s there now in spite of two desperate attempts that
were made to destroy her. Sorry, aint you?”

“I can’t honestly say that I am,” answered Rodney, who had already
made up his mind that the talkative provost marshal was willing to be
friendly to any Confederate who had laid down his arms. “A brave act
like that ought to be successful.”

“Then our attempts to destroy her ought to have been successful, for
they were equally brave,” retorted the captain. “She got pretty well
hammered while passing through the two fleets, and report says that as
soon as she is repaired she is coming down to take Baton Rouge from us.
But she is as far down as she will ever get. Farragut is here now with
his whole fleet.”

And this is a good place to say a word or two more about the situation
at Baton Rouge, so that some events which we have yet to record may
be made perfectly plain. On the 22d of the month (July) Flag-officer
Davis made another attempt to destroy the _Arkansas_, but it resulted
in failure. Two of his boats, the _Essex_ and _Queen of the West_,
were commanded to go down and sink her as she lay at her moorings
under cover of the Confederate batteries, but her picked crew fought as
bravely and skilfully now as they had done a week before. The _Essex_
ran aground and remained there for ten minutes under fire so hot that
it is a wonder she was not cut all to pieces; but she finally worked
off and ran down to join Farragut, while the _Queen of the West_
struggled back up the river to report the failure to Flag-officer
Davis. The situation at this time was discouraging to our side. The
gunboats were widely separated; the canal that was to make Vicksburg
an inland town proved a failure; General Williams removed to Baton
Rouge the small body of troops with which he had been co-operating with
the naval forces; Commodore Davis went back to the mouth of the Yazoo
and anchored there; and for full five months there was a lull in the
operations against Vicksburg. But exciting things continued to happen
in Rodney Gray’s part of the country.

“To tell you the truth, we of the Army of the Centre always found more
reliable information in your papers than we did in our own, and I
suppose that these you have kindly given me will tell us all about the
doings on the river,” said Rodney, continuing the conversation we have
broken off. “But I want to ask you one question before I go. My friend
Dick wants to go to Little Rock. How is he going to get there?”

“I give it up,” replied the captain.

“Do you think the commanding naval officer would permit him to cross
the river if he showed his discharge!”

“He might, and then he might not. I can’t say. Those navy men are
fine fellows, the finest I think I ever saw; but they’re so _very_
particular that if I wanted to go to Little Rock, and if it was right
that I should go, I wouldn’t consult—I believe I should—well, I’d
just go. That’s all.”

“Well, we will no longer trespass upon your time,” said Rodney, getting
upon his feet. “We are obliged to you for your kindness and courtesy,
and if you ever come out our way, drop in and see us.”

“I should be glad if I could accept half the invitations that have
been given me by people hereabout,” replied the captain. “But just now
I can’t. Any rebs out your way?”

“I don’t expect you to come without an escort. There are soldiers at
Camp Pinckney, and some of them have been seen in Mooreville.”

“Good-by, if you must go; and remember that there are a few things
which that permit does not authorize you to take through the lines.”

Rodney said he would not forget it, and then he and Dick saluted and
went into the outer room, which was filled with civilians and soldiers
awaiting an audience with the provost marshal. After looking in vain
for the corporal, they concluded that he had returned to camp, so they
took the nearest way to the home of Mr. Martin, the gentleman under
whose hospitable roof Rodney and his father were sojourning on the
night that Ned Griffin rode in from Mooreville with the information
that Drummond and Tom Randolph were laying plans to have Rodney
arrested when he reached St. Louis. Mr. Martin was glad to see them,
and made them feel at home at once. He laughed when they told him of
their interview with the provost marshal, and, when Rodney declared
that he’d like to see anybody treated with so much civility by an
officer holding that position in Bragg’s army, cautioned them to be
careful how they trespassed upon the captain’s good nature. The latter
was cordial and friendly with everyone who had business with him,
but he had a reputation as a fighter, had won all his promotions by
his bravery on the field of battle, and had no mercy on civilians or
soldiers who were caught disobeying his orders.

“But smuggling things out of the lines is like foraging in the army,”
said Mr. Martin in conclusion. “The sin lies in being detected.”

“That’s all I want to know,” said Rodney. “I’ve never been caught yet.
You can tell me where I can borrow or hire a team, I suppose?”

Yes, the host could do that, and he might also be able to make a few
suggestions that would be of use to them; but he didn’t see how Dick
would get over the river unless he acted upon the provost marshal’s
advice and “just went.”

“However,” he said, after a moment’s reflection, “I will introduce you
to our mail carrier, if he will let me.”

“Do we have a mail carried back and forth under the noses of these
gunboats?” exclaimed Dick.

“I don’t know how or where it goes, but we certainly have communication
with the opposite shore. The service was very irregular while General
Williams was at Vicksburg, but since he came back to Baton Rouge our
mail reaches us at shorter intervals; so I imagine it is carried across
at some point up the river and brought down through the country. I
don’t know, but I meet the mail carrier once in a while.”

“And can you make it convenient to say a word to him about Dick?”

“I can and will; but I must tell you now that there is one thing that
will operate against you. You told the provost marshal that you would
make your headquarters at my house as often as you came to town, and
he knows me to be a Southern sympathizer.”

“Whew!” whistled Rodney, while Dick looked frightened. “Mr. Martin, we
will never come near your house again.”

“Oh, yes, you will,” replied their host. “But you must be careful how
you act and who you talk to. The city is full of the meanest sort
of converted rebels, who are harder on us than the Yankees. If Mrs.
Martin goes out shopping or receives a guest oftener than once a week,
they run to the marshal with the news, and I have the satisfaction of
knowing that my premises are being watched for spies.”

“They are a contemptible lot,” declared Dick. “And if the provost
marshal was the gentleman we took him for, he would not pay the least
heed to their reports.”

“All’s fair in war,” said the host. “These converted rebels are working
for trade permits. There’s going to be a lot of money made in cotton
one of these days, and they want some of it. While in the city you may
listen all you please, but don’t make a confidant of anybody but me.
And don’t have too much to say to those four escaped prisoners. You may
run across them some time when they are on duty.”

Mr. Martin talked for half an hour in this strain, dropping hints here
and there which proved to be of great service to Rodney, and then he
conducted the boys to a clothing store and left them to make their
purchases, while he went out to look for a team. Before they went to
bed that night their business was all done, and all that remained for
them to do in the morning was to load the two-horse wagon their host
had provided for them and go home. Mr. Martin obtained from Rodney a
list of needed goods, principally groceries, which he purchased and
packed himself; and when the various boxes, barrels, and bags that
comprised his load were afterward unpacked at his father’s door, Rodney
found in them many little articles which he was sure he had not placed
on that list. They made an early start, and Rodney’s parting injunction
to Mr. Martin was to seek an interview with the mail carrier at the
earliest possible moment, for Dick was impatient to be on his way home.

“This is my first work as an overseer,” said Rodney, when the city was
left behind and the two scraggy mules that pulled the wagon had been
coaxed and thrashed into a snail’s trot, “and I think I have made a
very fair beginning, seeing that the business is new to me. My next
task will be to see you over the river.”

“I never knew you were an overseer,” said Dick.

“I’ve called myself one ever since I had that talk with my father on
the night we came home,” answered Rodney. “And just see what I shall
have to do when you are gone! I battled for fame and didn’t get it, and
now I am going to work for dollars and see if I will have any better
luck. Dick, I am just aching to make the acquaintance of one of those
traders—that is, a Yankee trader. Not one of those converted rebels
Mr. Martin told us of shall touch a bale of our cotton, if I have to
fight to keep him away from it; but if some good Yankee comes along and
offers sixty cents a pound for it, you just wait and see how hard I
will work to put it in his hands.”

It was plain that Rodney Gray belonged to the class who were denounced
by Pollard, the Southern historian, as “unpatriotic planters.” In
writing of this very matter Mr. Pollard said: “The country had taken
a solemn resolution to burn the cotton in advance of the enemy; but
the conflagration of this staple became a rare event; instead of being
committed to the flames it was spirited away to Yankee markets. The
planters of the extreme South, who prior to the war were loudest for
secession, were known to buy every article of their consumption from
the invading army. Nor were these operations always disguised. Some
commercial houses in the Confederacy counted their gains by millions of
dollars through the favor of the government in allowing them to export
cotton at pleasure.” But Rodney Gray was a private individual, and he
was well aware that if his father’s cotton brought the money it was
really worth, it would take some good scheming on his part.

About an hour after the boys left the city they came upon the first
picket post, which they found to be an unusually strong one, being
composed of one sergeant, two corporals, and eight or nine privates.
Rodney had just time to remark “We pass inspection here, probably,”
when one of the soldiers walked to the middle of the road, brought his
musket to “arms port” and commanded them to halt. An instant afterward
their wagon was surrounded by the rest of the pickets, who shook the
barrels back and forth, dug their fingers into the bags, and bumped the
boxes about in the most unceremonious style.

“Got a permit?” demanded the sergeant. “And a pass?” He did not ask who
the boys were or where they came from, and the sequel proved that he
knew without asking.

“These documents appear to be all right,” he continued, after he had
read the papers Rodney handed out. “Discharged rebels, eh? You don’t
seem to be such a desperate looking couple. What you got in your wagon?”

“Munitions of war,” replied Rodney. “There’s a six-pound field-piece
in one of those barrels.”

“That’s what I thought. Get out, both of you.”

Although the boys were surprised and startled by this unexpected
command they were prompt to obey it.

“Now let me see what you’ve got in your pockets,” said the sergeant.
“Every scrap, mind you.”

“You’re welcome to read all the letters and things of that sort you can
find about us,” answered Rodney. “We are not simple enough to lose our
permits and passes by carrying despatches the first thing.”

“They’re the laddie-bucks who helped the —th Michigan’s boys,”
observed a corporal.

“I know; but business is business,” said the sergeant. “And they’ve
been in Martin’s company ever since they came to town.”

“That’s all right. I don’t object to your doing your duty, for I’ve
been a soldier myself,” said Rodney. “But I do object to being taken
for a plumb dunce. You’ll find no writing about us except the papers
we showed you and our discharges.”

But the sergeant obeyed orders, like the good soldier he was, and it
was not until he had seen all their pockets turned inside out, and
had felt of the seams of their coats and trousers, that he concluded
they were all right and could pass on. He did not say a word about the
things they had in the wagon. He was after despatches and nothing else.

“Climb in and go ahead, Johnny,” said the sergeant, giving Rodney a
friendly slap to help him along. “And when you see that best girl of
yours, give her my regards and say that I am coming out to call on her
one of these days.”

“Well, be sure and come in a crowd. You’ll see fun if you don’t.”

“Any graybacks out your way?”

“Some; and the events of the last few hours will probably bring more.
So-long, boys, and look out for the rebs in Vicksburg. They are coming
down to clean you out.”

He was answered by shouts of laughter and derision from the Federals,
who advised him not to take a hand in the cleaning-out business, for he
would be whipped if he did. He drove on, glad to escape so easily, and
in due time turned up at Mr. Turnbull’s house, where he and Dick rested
the balance of the day and slept that night. When it was dark a barrel
of flour was taken from the wagon and carried into Mrs. Turnbull’s
dining room; and when some of the flour had been taken out four bags of
salt were brought to light. If those little bags had been filled with
money Mr. Turnbull and his wife could scarcely have expressed more joy.

“We’ve been seasoning our food with the floor of the smoke-house for
the last two months,” said the former, “and I tell you I am glad to see
some clean salt once more. You have made us your everlasting debtors.
How much did it cost you?”

“I didn’t get an itemized bill,” replied Rodney. “Take it to pay for
our grub and lodging.”

The next night saw them safe at home, and the night following found
them settled on Mr. Gray’s upper plantation, which was located a
mile or two up the river from the one on which Ned Griffin was living
as overseer. Rodney was elated over the result of his first visit to
the city, for the immediate wants of the family had been abundantly
supplied by that wagon-load of goods, and he and Dick could now wear
clothes that looked as though they fitted somewhere; but his father and
mother were not elated. They looked serious, and Rodney told Dick that
he made a mistake when he described how carefully the Federal soldiers
searched them for despatches.

“And it is a bad thing for you that they know we make our headquarters
at Mr. Martin’s,” he added. “They’ve got an eye on him; and what will
you bet that they don’t know he sees that mail carrier once in a while?”

“Then what’s the reason they don’t arrest him and the mail carrier
too?” said Dick.

“They’ll jump down on the pair of them when they are good and ready,
and think they can capture some important documents by doing it,”
answered Rodney. “You can’t cross at Baton Rouge. You’ll have to start
from some point up the river. But we’ll see the mail carrier if we can,
and hear what he has to say about it.”

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