The closing scene

Rodney Gray was an overseer now at all events, and being one of those
uneasy fellows who must have something to occupy their minds at all
times, and fond of hunting, he would have been as happy and contented
as he wanted to be, if there had been no such things as Home Guards
in the world. The Yankees at Baton Rouge he did not bother his head
about. He had charge of 400 acres of land, 100 of which were under
cultivation, and fifteen work hands—just enough to bring him under the
exemption clause of the Conscription Act. For the privilege of staying
at home and overseeing these hands the Confederate Government demanded
of him 3000 pounds of salt pork and beef, or their equivalent in bacon,
and Rodney expected to furnish the meat himself. There were many hogs
running loose in the woods, and as the negro driver who had charge of
the plantation previous to Rodney’s coming had taken no pains to “tame”
them by feeding them regularly, they were as wild as deer, and Rodney
intended to hunt them as he would have hunted deer—”with rifle and
with hounds.”

The “great house” in which Rodney lived was very unlike the same
dwelling on the home plantation. It was built of unhewn logs and
contained two rooms, the wide hall between them being used as the
dining room, both summer and winter. The kitchen, which stood a little
distance away, was built of logs, and so were the negro cabins,
corn-cribs, smoke houses, and the little stable in which his riding
horse would find shelter in stormy weather; but taken as it stood the
plantation was a valuable one, for, concealed somewhere in the dark
recesses of the woods, that hemmed the cultivated fields in on all
sides, were several hundred bales of cotton that was worth sixty cents
a pound in Northern markets.

The driver had been so careless with his work and so lax with the
hands that Rodney found plenty of things demanding his attention,
but he could not think of settling down to business so long as Dick
remained with him. When they parted it might be forever, and Rodney
was reluctant to let him go. Mr. Martin told them that they need not
come to the city under a week expecting to hear any news from the mail
carrier, but they did not wait as long as that without hearing news
from another source, and of the most exciting character too. On the
morning of the third day after their arrival at the plantation, Dick
looked over Rodney’s shoulder as they sat at the breakfast table in the
wide hall, and saw half a dozen armed men ride up to the bars. They
stood there a minute or two looking up and down the road, and then
three of them dismounted and came into the yard. At the same instant
another similar squad came in sight and also rode up and stopped at the
bars.

“Rebs for a dollar,” whispered Dick.

“And not Home Guards, either,” replied Rodney, as the two arose from
the table and walked out to meet the visitors. “They are strangers.”

“Well,” said the foremost, who might have been an officer, though
there was nothing on his coat to show it, “how does it come that a
couple of likely lads like yourselves are here in citizen’s clothes
while everybody else is in the army?”

“Been there and came home to take a little rest,” answered Rodney,
feeling in his pocket for his discharge. “But everybody else isn’t in
the army by a long shot, as you would know if you belonged in this
country. Read that, and tell me if you are out conscripting.”

“We’re out for more serious business than that,” replied the soldier,
reading the discharges one after the other, and handing them back to
their owners. “Any Yanks about here?”

“None nearer than Baton Rouge that we know of.”

“How large an army have they got there?”

The boys were obliged to say they couldn’t tell; but they knew that
General Williams had come down from Vicksburg with his whole force.

“We know that, too, and are following him up to lick him.”

We don’t know how to give an idea, in words, of the exclamation that
broke from Dick Graham’s lips when he heard this. It was the famous
“rebel yell,” long, loud, and piercing; and when the soldiers at the
bars heard it they turned in their saddles and lifted their hats, and
needed no other evidence to prove that Dick was or had been one of
themselves. Then Dick demanded if there was going to be a fight right
there in his friend’s door-yard.

“It’ll happen somewhere about here,” replied the soldier. “Better find
guns, you two, and join in. It’s bound to be a victory for our side and
you want to share in the honor. We’re going to have the _Arkansas_ to
help us, and she is a match for all the vessels the Yanks have in the
river. She proved it by what she did up at Yazoo.”

After a little more conversation the boys learned that their visitor
belonged to Breckenridge’s division, which had been detached from the
force at Vicksburg as soon as General Williams withdrew and Farragut
started down the river, and they were simply scouting in advance of
the main body, which was to be reinforced by all the conscripts and
regular troops at Camp Pinckney.

“If you want help, why don’t you bring into your ranks all the Home
Guards around here?” said Rodney.

“Are there Home Guards about here? I am glad to know it, for we need
all the help we can raise. Who’s their captain and where are his
headquarters?”

Rodney gave the desired information, adding that if his visitor did not
think it safe to venture as far as Mooreville with the small force at
his command, he and Dick would volunteer to take a message to Captain
Randolph. “But you will have to put it in writing,” said he, “for Tom
will not believe us. And you must caution him against letting his men
know that there is going to be a fight; for if they find that out
they’ll scatter like rats in a pantry.”

“Like Home Guards everywhere,” replied the soldier in disgust. “I’ll
tell you what I’ll do,” said he, after thinking a moment. “I’ll get a
line from the colonel commanding our advance ordering Captain Randolph
to hold his company in readiness to march at a moment’s notice, and
I’ll either bring or send it here to-night if you will deliver it. Of
course you’ll not say anything to him or anybody else that will get to
the enemy’s ears.”

“Oh, you needn’t think to surprise the Yanks,” exclaimed Dick. “They
have had notice already that you are coming. But we’ll get Tom out if
we can.”

The soldier asked a few more questions that the boys could not answer
satisfactorily touching the length, shape, and strength of the Federal
lines at Baton Rouge, and then joined his men, who moved down the road
toward Mooreville.

“Did you forget Captain Roach and his conscripts?” asked Dick, when
they were out of sight.

“I left them out on purpose,” said Rodney. “But of course I shall
speak to Roach about it when we take that note to Tom Randolph. His
conscripts are all my near neighbors, and mostly Union men, who
wouldn’t be of the least use in a fight; and, Dick,” here Rodney sunk
his voice to a whisper, “if I can do it without risk to myself, I shall
go out of my way to warn them of what’s coming.”

“Oh, you traitor!” cried Dick.

“You would do the same if you were in my fix. Of course there are some
I would not dare speak to, for they would tell where they got the
information; but those I can trust to keep a still tongue in their
heads will be warned, if I can find them.”

The boys went back to their unfinished breakfast and ate heartily,
as they had often done while men all around them were forming in
line of battle and shells were bursting over their heads. But still
Rodney was anxious, for the coming contest might bring great loss
to his father. There were many bales of cotton concealed within a
circle of a few miles of the place where he was sitting; both sides
had proclaimed it contraband of war, and it seemed impossible that a
line of battle could go far in any direction without discovering some
of it; and the destruction of part would lead to the destruction of
the whole, for some of those who lost, Mr. Randolph for instance,
would be mean enough to point out the hiding-place of the rest. This
reflection troubled Rodney, but before he sat down to another meal he
had something besides cotton to think about. The scouts of the opposing
armies came together down the road, out of sight, but within plain
hearing of the two boys, who ran to the bars and listened to the sounds
of the conflict. They heard the sharp, quick reports of the carbines,
and the cheers and yells of the combatants; and when the yells became
fainter and at last died away altogether, and the cheers grew in volume
until they became one continuous cheer, they looked at each other with
the same startling question in their eyes.

“That’s the first encounter, and we’re whipped,” said Dick. “Now if the
victorious Yanks come back this way—then what?”

“Our discharges and passes and permits will be of no more use than so
much blank paper,” answered Rodney. “They’ll say that if we haven’t
given information of some sort to the enemy already, we will do it the
first chance we get, and so we’d better trot right along with them to
Baton Rouge.”

“That’s what I am afraid of. I don’t want to go to Baton Rouge.”

“Neither do I; and so I am going to do as other and better men have
done under similar circumstances.”

“Afoot or on horseback?” inquired Dick, who knew that his friend had
resolved to take to the woods.

“On horseback, to save our animals from being stolen, and to give color
to the story that we have gone to town,” replied Rodney. “Come on,
for there’s no telling how soon the Yanks may come down the road at a
gallop.”

While one started for the stable yard, the other ran in to tell his
black housekeeper that he was going to ride toward Mooreville, where he
would remain until the Federals had left the country. Yes, there had
been a sharp skirmish down there in the woods, he said in reply to the
woman’s anxious inquiries, the Confederates had been driven from the
field, and he and Dick thought it best to get out of sight for awhile.

“The Federals may not come back this way,” added Rodney, “but if they
do, tell the truth and don’t try to pass me off for a Union man. They
know as well as you do that I have served my time in the Confederate
army, and there’s nothing to gain by telling a different story. If
anyone asks for me, you can say that I have ridden toward Mooreville.”

Well, he and Dick did ride toward Mooreville, but they did not go
there. Not knowing how far the darkeys could be trusted, they went down
the road half a mile or so, and turning into the woods hitched their
horses close together so that they would not call to each other, and
finally took up a position from which they could see the house and
anybody who approached it. These precautions were not taken any too
soon, for the Federals did scout back that way, and when they came in
sight they were riding at top speed. They knew that a large party of
horsemen had passed along the road before them, for they saw the prints
of many hoofs in the dust. Some of them kept on without drawing rein,
while others went into the house and all over it; but as no contraband
goods rewarded their search they left it standing when they went away.
And although the hands all left their work in the field and ran to the
dwelling when they saw the blue-coats surrounding it, they did not
improve the opportunity to secure their freedom, as the boys thought
they would. They returned to their work when the soldiers departed, and
Rodney and Dick thought it safe to go back to the house.

Their next visitor was a single Confederate soldier, who arrived just
at dusk with a note addressed to “Captain Thomas Randolph, C. S. A.,
Commdg. Mooreville Troops.” This man Rodney took into the house and
fed as if he had been a long-lost brother, for he was anxious to learn
something about the battle that was soon to take place; but, although
the messenger said he was orderly at headquarters, he could or would
give very little information. Breckenridge was rapidly feeling his way
toward the city, he said; he would soon be reinforced by the command
of General Ruggles, which would be picked up at Camp Pinckney, and
with the _Arkansas_ to help and clean the Yankee gunboats out of the
river, there was no doubt but that a decisive victory awaited him; and
having finished his supper, and said all he had to say, the messenger
mounted his horse and rode off. Five minutes later Rodney and Dick
had mounted theirs and were riding hard to carry that note to Captain
Randolph. They stopped at Rodney’s home just long enough to put the
folks on nettles with the very meager information they had to give, and
a quarter of an hour afterward were sitting in Mrs. Randolph’s parlor,
waiting for Tom to show himself. When he came he was accompanied by his
mother.

“Hallo, boys!” exclaimed Tom, with great apparent cordiality, while
Mrs. Randolph shook hands with them one after the other. “You don’t
know how I have longed to see you both in order to——”

“That’s all right,” interposed Rodney, who knew there wasn’t a word of
truth in what Tom had set out to say. “But if you will excuse me—here
is an order that I was requested to place in your hands.”

“Who’s got any right to order me around?” exclaimed Tom, taking the
note and fixing his gaze upon the writing on the outside. “‘Captain
Thomas Randolph, C. S. A.,'” he read aloud. “Somebody has made a big
mistake, for I don’t belong to the army of the Confederate States, and
never did. What’s in it?”

“I don’t know,” answered Rodney; while Mrs. Randolph suggested that it
might be a good plan for him to open it and find out. Tom did so with
evident reluctance, and before he had fairly had time to make himself
master of its contents, he turned as white as a sheet and fell heavily
into the nearest chair.

“Oh, my dear boy! What is the matter? What could have disturbed you
so?” cried his mother, who was really alarmed.

“I’ll not obey it!” shouted Captain Tom, as soon as he could speak.
“Who is this Colonel Clark, who takes it upon himself to command me to
hold my company ready to move at a moment’s notice, and what does he
want of the company anyhow?”

“No doubt he wants you to help——” began Rodney.

“But how does he know that there is such a fellow as I am in the world,
and that I command a company of State troops?” continued Tom, who was
almost beside himself with terror. Acting on his own responsibility
and serving under the eye of a Confederate officer were two widely
different things. His mother took the note from his hand and read it,
and she, too, became visibly affected.

“What can be the meaning of it?” she asked of Rodney.

“It means that there is going to be a battle somewhere in this
vicinity, and that Tom must bring his men out to help,” was the reply.
Rodney had predicted just such a scene as this and was prepared to
enjoy it.

“A battle?” gasped Mrs. Randolph.

“Somewhere in this vicinity!” echoed Tom.

“That’s what they tell me, and indeed there has been a skirmish
already. Breckenridge is coming here to drive the Yankees out of Baton
Rouge, and the _Arkansas_ is coming to assist him.”

Tom and his mother were too amazed to speak. They stared stupidly at
the bearer of these evil tidings, and listened in a dazed sort of way
while he told what he had heard and seen since morning. There was one
thing Tom and his mother could not understand, and that was how Colonel
Clark, whoever he might be, knew there was a company of Home Guards at
Mooreville and that Tom was commander of them. But of course Rodney did
not enlighten them on that point.

“You enlisted for just such work as this,” said he.

“No, I didn’t!” shouted Tom. “And what’s more, I won’t go. I’m as close
to the Yankees as I want to be, and besides I don’t belong to the
service any longer. I’ve resigned.”

This was news to the boys, who could scarcely refrain from showing how
surprised they were to hear it. They were disappointed as well, for if
Tom told the truth they would lose the fun of hearing how he took to
the bushes to escape duty.

“Of course if your resignation has been accepted by the Governor,” said
Rodney, “why, then——”

“It hasn’t been accepted yet,” replied Tom, speaking before he thought.
“I only sent it to-day.”

“Then you are still in the service and can be held to duty,” said Dick;
and Captain Tom and his mother both heard the sigh of satisfaction
that escaped him as he uttered the words. “I have known men to go into
action and be killed after their term of service expired.”

“But I won’t do it, I bet you,” whined Tom, with tears in his eyes. “Do
you think it will be a very hard fight?”

“It can’t help it; it’s bound to be, and you’ll see more dead and
wounded men lying around than you—— Gracious! I’m glad they can’t
call on you and me, Dick.”

“Why, won’t you have to go?” faltered Mrs. Randolph.

“No, ma’am. We showed our discharges to-day, and they never said a word
about ordering us out. They can’t, for we have served our time.”

This was the heaviest blow yet, and Captain Tom came so near wilting
under it that Rodney’s heart smote him and he determined to take his
leave. So he got upon his feet, and Dick followed his example.

“What will they do to Tom if he fails to obey this order?” asked
Mrs. Randolph, who, in all the trying ordeals through which she had
passed on her cowardly son’s account, had never before been so badly
frightened.

“I couldn’t obey it if I wanted to,” cried Tom. “My men are scattered
for miles through the country, and I couldn’t spend the night in
hunting them up.”

“They may call it disobedience of orders if you don’t do it,” replied
Rodney, who wanted to laugh. “If I were in your place I would make the
effort.”

“And run the risk of being shot? But suppose my men refuse to turn
out?” said Tom, a bright idea coming into his mind.

“Then you will be blameless, and all you have to do will be to report
to the colonel and tell him that you are ready for any duty he may
assign you.”

“And can’t I stay at home any way I can fix it?” inquired Tom, who made
no effort to conceal his terror.

“I wouldn’t. What if some of the colonel’s troopers should find you
skulking here when you ought to be in the front rank? Or suppose the
battle should be fought on your plantation. Wouldn’t you——”

“Baton Rouge is not on our plantation.”

“I know, but a battle sometimes ends a good many miles from where it
begins, and the one that’s coming is as likely to be fought here as
anywhere else. And if that should happen, wouldn’t you rather have a
musket in your hands than go skulking through the bushes trying to keep
out of danger? I would a hundred times over. But really we must be
going. Good-night.”

Rodney and his companion bowed themselves to the door and went out, and
Captain Tom and his mother sat in their chairs looking at each other
and listening to the clatter of the receding hoofs. When it died away
altogether Tom jumped to his feet in great excitement.

“We never once thought to ask them where they got that order, or why
it was sent by their hands instead of by the hands of one of that
colonel’s own men,” he fairly sputtered. “Mother, it’s an infamous
trick, and there isn’t going to be any fight. I’ll remember Rodney Gray
for this and other things he has done to me—you see if I don’t!”

“I hope you are duly ashamed of yourself for frightening that poor
woman so terribly,” said Dick, as he and Rodney galloped out of the
yard and turned their horses toward the village.

“Why didn’t she stay out of the room?” retorted Rodney. “We sent in
word that we desired to see Captain Tom privately, but she didn’t take
the hint. So Tom thought he couldn’t spend the night in riding about
the country. Well, we’ve got to, if we do the work we set out to do.”

The first part of that work was to call upon Captain Roach, who had
excited Tom Randolph’s ire by accepting Rodney’s invitation to dinner,
and the next to warn some of the Union men whom he had conscripted.
The former was overwhelmed with surprise and didn’t know what to do,
not being a veteran; but he wasn’t a coward, if he did turn white. He
talked the matter over very calmly with his visitors, and following
their advice said he would drop the conscript business until the battle
had been decided one way or the other. And then he looked helplessly at
Rodney as if to ask what he should do next.

“You ought to do duty or shed that uniform,” said the boy bluntly.
“You can’t assemble your conscripts now, and if you could, where would
you find men to guard them to Camp Pinckney? You can only show your
good-will by reporting at the camp; and if I were in your place, I
think I should start the first thing in the morning. If you delay, you
will be liable to be cut off by Federal scouting parties. Have you seen
any Yanks about here to-day?”

Captain Roach replied that he hadn’t seen or heard of any, and Rodney
went on to tell about the skirmish that had taken place near his
plantation, and how he and Dick had taken to the woods and escaped
being caught in the house. The Federals couldn’t prove anything
against them, he said, but they could shut them up in Baton Rouge until
Breckenridge captured it or was driven back where he came from, and
that was something he didn’t want them to do. Then he and Dick shook
hands with the enrolling officer, wished him good luck, and went out
into the night to finish their work. It kept them busy until daylight,
and then they went to Mr. Gray’s to breakfast, happy in the knowledge
that they had done as they would be done by, and not one who wished
them harm was the wiser for it.

Tom Randolph was hardly out of bed the next morning before he was
made aware that there was some truth in Rodney Gray’s story. A squad
of Federal cavalry went by the house on a keen jump, and about an
hour behind them a larger squad of Confederates went past at the same
rapid gait. Tom wasn’t soldier enough to know that these were nothing
but scouts, and in his ignorance supposed that the battle had been
fought while he was asleep, and that the Confederates had driven
their antagonists; but it was not long before he discovered that the
worst was yet to come. All that day soldiers in gray uniforms were
in sight somewhere. They streamed by the house or came into the yard
and gathered about the well, and an officer with high top-boots and a
fierce mustache stood on the front gallery and issued orders in a voice
that sounded as loud as a fog-horn. They trampled down the flower beds,
cleared the cellar of everything eatable, and helped themselves to what
there was in the kitchen, and through it all, the captain of the Home
Guards never showed himself. Some of the time he was in the garret,
oftener he was under the bed in his mother’s room, and then again his
frightened eyes were peeping through the carefully closed blinds. He
had never dreamed that there were so many men in an army, and yet he
saw but one column of a very small army, for Breckenridge made his
assault with less than 4000 men. To his immense relief no one asked for
him, and perhaps the reason was because Colonel Clark, who wrote that
order, was with the other column, five or six miles away.

The attack on Baton Rouge was made the next morning at daylight, and
although Rodney and Dick heard little of it and saw less, they had some
hospital work on their hands. The heat was intense, and everywhere
along the line of march men fell exhausted out of the ranks, and were
taken in and cared for by the planters. Rodney’s house and door-yard
were filled with soldiers who could not go any farther toward the
enemy, although they recovered their strength and power of action very
suddenly when it became known that there was a possibility of the
enemy’s cavalry coming toward them. The attack, which was so successful
at first that the Federal camps were captured or burned, failed utterly
in the end, and at noon the fight was over and the Confederates were
in full retreat. The _Arkansas_ did not come down to help with her big
guns, and if she had she might have met a warmer reception than she
bargained for, for there were five gunboats in the river, including
the iron-clad _Essex_. These took an earnest part in the fight while
waiting for the _Arkansas_, their fire being directed by an army
signal officer who stood on the roof of the capitol building. The
Confederates were so badly whipped that they left seventy men on the
field for the Union forces to bury.

The closing scene of the fight was enacted the next morning. The
_Essex_ went up the river six miles, found the terrible _Arkansas_,
with her ten heavy guns and 180 picked men, hard and fast aground, and
pounded her so severely that in fifteen minutes she was set on fire and
abandoned. She blew up when the fire reached her magazine, but she left
others behind which made themselves known and feared before the war was
over.

This short visit of the Confederate army was like a plague of locusts;
everything in the shape of eatables in and around Mooreville that
they could place their hands on disappeared and was never heard of
afterward. Some articles of value disappeared likewise, as was to have
been expected; but not very many, for the settlers had learned that it
was best to be careful of such things during war times. No one had seen
a Home Guard during those two troublous days, nobody could tell where
Captain Randolph had kept himself or how he had behaved, and neither
was there any news to be had of Captain Roach.

Our two friends drew a long breath of relief when “the fuss” was over,
congratulated themselves on having escaped both duty and suspicion,
and waited with what patience they could for the excitement to pass
away so that it would be safe for them to go into the city. But that
time seemed long in coming. Inquisitive Federal scouts, who asked
troublesome questions and insisted on knowing all about everything,
came to the house every day, and on three occasions wounded Confederate
stragglers appealed to their pity and begged assistance. Nor were these
appeals made in vain, though the boys took great risks in concealing
their Confederate friends during the day and helping them on their road
at night. They deceived their neighbors, hoodwinked the darkeys they
were afraid to trust, and told gauzy stories to Federal scouts until
Dick affirmed that deceiving and lying would become a confirmed habit
with them. But fortunately the necessity for these things passed away
before that happened. The country was cleared of stragglers after a
while, the settlement quieted down, and Rodney and Dick were ready for
the next thing on the programme.

“I don’t know when I have had so hard a task set before me,” said
Rodney, “and I would be glad to put it off forever if I could. But
since the parting must come, it might as well be one time as another.
Shall we start for the city to-morrow morning?”

Dick answered with a decided affirmative, and the start was made.
Believing that he ought to be ready to act as soon as the opportunity
was presented, he took leave of Rodney’s father and mother as though he
never expected to see them again, and Rodney drew on the family purse
for a good many gold pieces. If Dick succeeded in getting across the
river he would still have a long journey before him—longer than the
one Rodney made from Cedar Bluff landing to Price’s army—and he would
need a horse to ride, a coat and blanket to cover him when he camped at
night, and money to purchase his supplies; and his friend’s forethought
provided for all these necessary things.

On their way to Baton Rouge they passed over the ground on which the
right wing of the Confederate force formed in line of battle previous
to the assault. It was just beyond Mr. Turnbull’s house; and that
gentleman’s wife, after giving a glowing description of the gallant
way in which the Confederates advanced to the attack, told the boys in
a confidential whisper that she had aided two Yankees who were captured
and managed to escape during the fight; that there was a wounded rebel
in one of the upper rooms of her house at that moment; that he was
going to remain there until he was able to travel; and that one of the
escaped prisoners whom Rodney befriended had smuggled medicine through
the lines for him at her request, thus proving that there was such a
thing as gratitude in the world. Before the boys left the house, they
visited the wounded rebel in his room, and he told them that the fight
was the most savagely contested of any he had ever been in, and, for
the number of men engaged, the bloodiest. Some of the Indiana and
Michigan boys fought with rails which they snatched from the fences,
and the Yank who smuggled the medicine out for him said he had counted
thirteen dead rebs in one heap.

“It was bad for our side,” moaned the wounded soldier, “and even if the
_Arkansas_ had been there to help us I don’t suppose we would have
made any better showing. The Yanks had things fixed for us, and now
I’ve got to hobble through the world on one leg.”

Although some stray missiles from the Confederate side found their way
into the streets of the city, the boys did not find there as many signs
of the conflict as they expected to see. Mr. Martin’s buildings escaped
unscathed, but Mr. Martin himself had been placed in arrest to prevent
him from holding any communication with the enemy.

“As if I ever dreamed of doing such a foolish thing!” said he
contemptuously. “Why, I want to live here; and consequently I do
nothing that I consider to be risky. But I have seen the mail carrier,
and he is going to pick up some bags this very night.”

“Pick them up!” repeated Rodney. “Where are they?”

“Out in the country somewhere, and he is out there too, or will be at
eight o’clock; and if your friend wants to go, now’s his chance.”

“Mr. Martin, I hope your kind efforts in my behalf will not bring you
into trouble with the Yanks,” said Dick. “I feel very grateful to you.”

But he didn’t look so, and neither did Rodney. The time when they must
part was close at hand.

“I don’t want to hurry you away,” continued Mr. Martin, “but as it will
take some little time to ride to the place to which I shall direct you,
you had better have your horses out of the stable at five o’clock, so
as to pass the pickets before dark. I will give you a letter that will
make you all right with Henderson.”

The rest of the day, to quote from Dick Graham, flew away as if the
hours had been greased. Half-past four came before they knew it, and
with it the letter their host had promised them, accompanied by some
instructions which they must closely follow in order to find and obtain
an interview with Henderson. He was a cross, crabbed old fellow, Mr.
Martin said, but the boys mustn’t mind that. They would be cross and
suspicious too, if they had been bothered and balked in their business
as Henderson had been followed and harassed in his. They must try and
get on the right side of him, for he could take Dick to the other side
if anybody could. Mr. Martin excused himself for not accompanying them
to the stable where they left their horses by saying that to be seen
walking the streets with a suspected man would bring suspicion upon
them, and that was one thing they wanted to avoid.

The boys left the city and the pickets behind in good season, and took
pains to make some noise as they galloped past the houses of three
“converted rebels” who, so Mr. Martin said, were always watching and
scheming for a chance to report somebody. They rode as if they were
going home; but when darkness came they doubled upon their trail,
passed these same houses again in silence, and turned into a lane that
took them miles up the river to the hiding-place of Henderson, the mail
carrier. They found it to be a pretentious plantation house situated
in plain view of the river, and not at all such a spot as they would
have chosen had they been engaged in Henderson’s business. It would
have been impossible to surprise the mail carrier in his hiding-place,
however, as they found when they approached nearer to it, for they
had barely time to shout out the customary “Hallo, the house! Don’t
let your dogs bite!” before their horses were surrounded by a pack of
belligerent canines, whose angry yelping completely drowned the voice
of the master of the house.

“Get out!” he shouted, as soon as he could make himself heard above the
tumult. “Who is it, and what’s wanted?”

“Friends from the city,” replied Rodney, who had been told just what to
say. “I have a communication for Mr. Henderson from our mutual friend
Mr. Martin. Will you look at it?”

The planter came down to the gate, took the letter from Rodney’s hand,
looking sharply at him and Dick as he did so, and carried it into
the house with him. He did not ask them to “alight and hitch,” and
that proved that there was something or somebody in the house he did
not want the boys to see. It was all of ten minutes before he came
out again, and he brought with him a companion who straightway made
himself known by saying, in a complaining voice:

“I told Martin I couldn’t do the like, and here he’s gone and sent you,
just as if I had agreed to do it. Which one of you is the fool?”

“I am the one who wants to go over the river, if you will be kind
enough to let me have a seat in your boat,” replied Dick.

“Who said anything about a boat?” demanded Mr. Henderson, for the boys
were sure it was he. “Do you want to be captured by the gunboats, and
sent up for a spy or something? I don’t expect to get back alive, or
get across, either. But then! Martin’s a friend of mine and keeps me
posted in some things I—— Get off, both of you. Hitch your horses
somewhere and wait till I come.”

“Dick, you’re as good as off at last,” whispered Rodney, as the two men
turned about and went back to the house. “Think of me riding all the
way to Mr. Turnbull’s alone in the dark while you are running the risk
of being overhauled by the naval picket boats. Have you got your money
and discharge all right? Write to me if you see the ghost of a chance
for a letter to get through, for I shall be anxious to hear from my old
Barrington chum.”

The boys had plenty to say to each other and an abundance of time to say
it in, for a whole hour passed before the mail carrier again came out.
This time he had two men with him—the planter and another passenger,
the latter being muffled up to the eyes so that no one could have seen
his face if it had been broad daylight. He said not a word, but the mail
carrier did, and Rodney was gratified to notice that he was as careful
to conceal Dick’s identity as he was that of his other passenger.

“Come on, you Moses,” said he, “and remember that you are deaf, dumb,
and blind. You, Jonas, get on your horse and clear yourself.”

It would have done no good to prolong the leave-taking, and Rodney was
glad to have it broken off so abruptly. He gave his friend’s hand a
final squeeze and shake, and when he came into the road again a moment
later, riding one horse and leading the other, there was no one in
sight.

The way home was a long and lonely one to Rodney Gray, who felt as
if the last tie that bound him to his school days had been sundered
forever. He got through without any trouble, although he met some
inquisitive people who wanted to know how he happened to have a
riderless horse with him, passed one night at his father’s house, and
in due time was back in his old quarters on the upper plantation, where
he had spent so many pleasant hours with the absent Dick. But before
he had leisure to look about and tell himself how very lonesome he
was, he had visitors, one of whom threw him into a terrible state of
mind before he left. They were a squad of the —th Michigan boys, and
commanded by the corporal who had once taken him prisoner, and whose
name he had never heard. They good-naturedly demanded all the weapons
he had, and threatened to go through his house if he didn’t trot them
right out; but when they went to the well for water the corporal drew
off on one side, intimating by a look that he had something to say to
Rodney in private.

“Where’s your partner?” were the first words he said when they were
alone.

“Gone over the river,” answered Rodney.

“How long since?”

“He went night before last.”

“Well, I’ll bet you a hard-tack he didn’t make it. Some of your good
friends were the means of stopping him. You see,” he went on, without
giving the astonished Rodney time to speak, “Ben and another boy, who
were in my party when you and Griffin did so much for us, scouted down
Randolph’s way a few days after the fight, and that Home Guard—— You
made a big blunder when you stuck to us till we let him go. Now he’s
gone back on you.”

“What has he done?” inquired Rodney, who told himself that that was
just what he expected from Tom Randolph.

“Why, Ben distinctly heard him tell one of our officers that a bearer
of despatches would go from Mooreville in a few days, intending to
cross the river at Baton Rouge, where he had friends to help him,”
said the corporal. “Of course the matter was reported at headquarters,
and the houses of all the Secession sympathizers in the city were
watched closer than ever.”

“Was Mr. Martin’s house watched, do you know?”

“Why, certainly. He is always watched, and we had him under arrest
during the fight.”

“And I was simple enough to tell the provost marshal that that house
would be my stopping-place as often as I came to the city,” groaned
Rodney.

“You needn’t blame yourself for that, for I don’t suppose it made a
particle of difference,” said the corporal soothingly. “The provost
marshal would have found it out sooner or later, because it is a part
of his business to find out where every stranger lives, and what
he does while inside the lines. If you went there with your friend
Graham——”

“I did,” whispered Rodney. “And we went from there up to—up to——”

“Henderson’s? Well, he’s watched, too; and if one is caught the other
will be.”

“If Tom Randolph has got Dick Graham into trouble I will see that he is
well punished for it,” said Rodney angrily.

“If he hasn’t, it isn’t because he didn’t try. If you say the word, I
will go straight to his house and arrest him for a Home Guard.”

“No, no; don’t do that. I am not coward enough to take revenge on him
in that way. But since he has made his boast that he is willing to die
for the South, I will see that he has all the chance he wants.”

“Well, my boys seem to have had their fill of water, so we’ll jog
along,” said the corporal. “If the Home Guards bother you let us know,
and we’ll clean them out to the last man. Good-by.”

Astonished at the extent of the corporal’s information, and wondering
how it was possible for any Southern sympathizer to live in Baton Rouge
when he knew that he was so closely watched, Rodney went into the house
as soon as the soldiers rode away, and sat down to write a letter. As
a general thing his thoughts came rapidly and it was no trouble for
him to put them on paper; but this particular letter seemed to bother
him, for he made three copies of it before he got it to suit him. Then
he ordered his horse brought to the door, changed his working clothes
for a business suit, and galloped off in the direction of Mooreville.
He stopped at his home “just long enough to let his mother see that he
was all right” and then rode on again, but not toward Mooreville or the
river. There was no one at either place whom he wanted to see that day,
but he did want to have a few earnest words with General Ruggles, if he
could find him. During the fight the general commanded the Confederate
column that came from Camp Pinckney, and there was where Rodney hoped
to find him now. Before he had ridden a dozen miles into the country
he ran into a small party of rebels, who looked at his discharge, and
encouraged him by saying that the officer he desired to see commanded
the camp, and was recruiting men as rapidly as he could for some
special service that was to be performed up about Holly Springs.

“I know by experience that special service usually means dangerous
service,” thought Rodney, as he rode on his way. “If Tom Randolph
really wants to do something for the South, he will jump at the chance
of going to Holly Springs.”

Camp Pinckney looked just as it did when he and Dick Graham ran the
guard there on their way home, only there were more men who were being
made into soldiers, and the number was being increased every day by the
disconsolate and homesick conscripts who were sent there from all the
districts in that part of the State. Rodney was shown at once into the
presence of the commander, and knew, before he had exchanged a dozen
words with him, that he would have no use for the letter he had taken
so much pains to write.

“I can attend to the business myself without any aid from the
Governor,” said General Ruggles, who looked more like a hard-working
farmer than he did like a brave and skilful soldier. “The slip-shod
manner in which recruiting has been done in this district is enough to
make one forget the third commandment. There hasn’t been a single man
sent to this camp from your neighborhood.”

“I am aware of it, sir. But as these men belong to the State and not to
the Confederacy, I thought perhaps——”

“There’s no need of it, sir,” interrupted the general. “I have all the
authority I want, and can do the business without saying a word to the
Governor. Sent in his resignation, has he? Captain—Thomas—Randolph,”
he continued, writing the name on a slip of paper. “And it has not yet
been accepted? And how many men do you think he has in his company? All
right. You go home and say nothing to anybody, and I will put him where
he will meet something besides unarmed men and women and children.”

His business having been transacted to his entire satisfaction, Rodney
was in no particular haste to go home. He made friends with one of the
veterans who composed the camp guard, ate supper with him, and slept
under half his blanket that night; but the morning’s sun saw him well
on his return journey. He made a wide circuit to avoid passing through
Mooreville, and did not go near his father’s house for fear it might be
remembered against him at some future time. He went home as rapidly as
he could go, unsaddled his horse and turned him into the stable-yard,
and went into the house; and there, seated in Rodney’s favorite rocking
chair, with his feet upon the back of another and a book in his hand,
was—Dick Graham.

“You’ve got cheek! Why didn’t you come out when you heard me at the
bars?” exclaimed Rodney, as soon as he found his tongue.

“Because I thought you would prefer to come in and find me,” replied
Dick; and then he dropped his book and jumped to his feet, and the two
embraced each other schoolboy fashion.

“O Dick, you don’t know how I have worried about you,” said Rodney. “And
Tom Randolph was at the bottom of it all. You would have been watched if
he hadn’t said a word; but what I mean is that he made matters worse. I
have paid him for it, however. Now tell me all about it.”

“We didn’t succeed, and that’s all there is to tell,” answered Dick. “We
made six attempts on two different nights, and once got so near to the
other shore that I was sure we would make it; but the picket boats from
the fleet showed up, and we had to dig out. They were on hand every
time, and you ought to have heard Henderson cuss. He declared that one
or the other of his passengers was a Jonah, and he had a notion to chuck
us both overboard so as to be sure he got the right one.”

“It was you, Dick. Who was the other passenger?”

“I don’t know any more about him now than I did when I first saw him.
When we gave up trying on the first night and went back to the house,
he shut himself in his room, and I never saw him till we went out
on the second night to try it over again. No doubt he was a high-up
officer with important papers in his pockets.”

“Of course the picket boats opened fire on you.”

“Of course they didn’t, for we saw or heard them in time to dodge out
of their way. One of them passed so close to us that we could see, dark
as it was, that she pulled six oars on a side. If she’d seen us or
heard us breathe, she would have had us sure.”

“Go on. What did you do on the night I left you?”

“Nothing. We walked about a mile to where a little bay made into the
bank from the river, and there we found a skiff with piles of something
in the bow and stern that I took to be the precious mail-bags which Mr.
Martin said Henderson was going to pick up. When we got in there was
barely room for Henderson to work the oars, and I didn’t wonder that he
growled so about taking me over.”

“How did you come home?”

“Well, when we came back after making the sixth attempt, and Henderson
got mad and told me to clear out and never let him put eyes on me again
(I noticed that he didn’t say a word to the other fellow, and that’s
what makes me think that he was an officer whom Henderson had to take
whether he wanted to or not), I took him at his word and put for Mr.
Turnbull’s. That gentleman was kind enough to hitch up a team and take
me to your father’s, and your father brought me here, to find you
gone. You’ve been gone three nights, and I want to know what you mean
by such work.”

“I’ve been to Camp Pinckney to make arrangements for Tom Randolph and
his Home Guards to go into the army,” replied Rodney, adding that he
had written to the Governor, laying the blame for the bombardment of
Baton Rouge upon the shoulders of the Home Guards, and giving such
other incidents in their history as he thought would attract the
attention of the authorities and induce them to do something; but
General Ruggles had promised to attend to the matter himself.

“Of course Captain Randolph will be very much obliged to you when he
hears of it,” observed Dick.

“He has nobody to thank but himself, and since I have heard what those
escaped prisoners had to say about Home Guards, I wish every one of
them could be forced into the army. Now you’ve got to stay with me
until the war is ended one way or the other, haven’t you?”

“Not much. I’m going up to Port Hudson to try it again, if you will
show me the way; and you ought to have heard Henderson rip and snort
because I didn’t go there in the first place without troubling him. But
you see I didn’t know that I could, and you didn’t either. If I can
take a boat from Port Hudson up Red River to Alexandria, or better yet,
up Black River to Monroe, I shall save miles of horseback travel.”

“And run the risk of being captured by gunboats every step of the way,”
added Rodney. “But I suppose I’ll have to go.”

And he did the very next morning. This time there was no trouble about
it, for when the steamer _New Era_, which was regularly employed in
bringing army supplies from the Red River country, moved out from
her landing at Port Hudson bound for Monroe, she carried Dick Graham
with her. The night was as dark as a pocket, but the lonely Rodney
kept watch on the bank as long as a single spark could be seen coming
out of her smokestacks, and even lingered about the place for two or
three days, almost hoping that some Union gunboat would send a shot
across her bows and drive her back; but when the soldiers assured him
that she must have gone through safely or else she would have returned
within a few hours of her departure, he realized that the long delayed
separation had come at last, and turned his face sorrowfully homeward.

He went directly to his father’s house to report the success of his
undertaking, and learned that Mooreville had been thrown into a state
of great excitement during his absence. No one had seen or heard of
Captain Roach since Breckenridge made his fruitless attempt to take the
city, but his office was occupied by a grizzly veteran, who hardly gave
himself time to sit down in Captain Roach’s chair before declaring that
he hadn’t come there to stand nonsense from anybody, and that everyone
liable to military duty, Home Guards and all, must make tracks for Camp
Pinckney or be dragged there by the neck. It didn’t make the least
difference to him how they went, but they must go; they might be sure
of that. He brought fifty veterans with him to back him up, and in
less than twenty-four hours after taking possession of the office, sent
off forty-five conscripts, two-thirds of whom were Home Guards.

“Mrs. Randolph tried the same game with Major Morgan, that’s the new
man’s name, that she tried with so much success with Captain Roach,”
said Mr. Gray with a laugh. “But it didn’t work. The major sent back
word that he had no time to go about visiting and eating dinners, and
Tom was given his choice between reporting at the camp voluntarily or
being sent there under guard. It’s the best thing that was ever done
for this community.”

Rodney wanted to shout, but instead of doing that he got on his horse
and rode down to call on Major Morgan. He didn’t find the office filled
with loafers, as it had been in Captain Roach’s time, but there were a
few bronzed fellows standing about who remembered seeing Rodney at the
camp, and bowed to him as he came in. The major remembered him too,
and said, as he gave the boy’s hand one short, quick jerk, that was
doubtless intended for a shake:

“There’s material enough here to form the finest kind of a battalion.
Why don’t you apply for a commission and go out with it? You’ve had
rest enough by this time.”

“Because I don’t wish to command conscripts,” replied Rodney, ignoring
the fact that half the soldiers in the Confederate armies were
conscripts and nothing else, being held to service against their will.
“Besides, I am an overseer now, and I like it better than fighting.”

But Rodney could not keep out of trouble as easily as he kept out of
the army, nor did Major Morgan succeed in sending all Tom Randolph’s
Home Guards to Camp Pinckney. Some of them, Lieutenants Lambert and
Moseley among the rest, took to the woods, and became freebooters to
all intents and purposes. Whether these worthies knew or suspected
that he had a hand in the breaking up of their organization Rodney
never learned; but he was quickly made aware that they did not intend
he should see a moment’s peace if they could help it. They either
found the cotton of which we have spoken, or else somebody put them on
the track of it; and the efforts they made to destroy it, as well as
the counter efforts made by Rodney Gray and his two Union cousins to
protect it, shall be described in the concluding volume of this series,
which will be entitled “SAILOR JACK, THE TRADER.”

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