THE CONSCRIPT’S FRIEND

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

“Now jest listen at you, Tom Randolph.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And food,” added Mrs. Randolph.

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

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

“I’ll bet he played a game on you,” said Captain Tom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As sure as I live I never gave him orders to search anybody’s
premises,” declared Tom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aint I got a right to look for we’pons?” demanded Lambert.

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

“Look-a-here, cap’n. I knowed that them two men had guns in hiding.”

“But you didn’t expect to find them in bureau drawers, did you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter, cap’n?” said he. “You what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are the others?” demanded Captain Tom.

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

“You distributed the spoils among you, it seems.”

“Yes, kinder; so’t the Yankees couldn’t easy find them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really I _don’t_ see how you can get out of it.”

“Don’t, hey? Well, I do. I aint Confedrit. I’m State Rights.”

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

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

“My friend, you don’t understand the situation at all——” began the
captain.

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

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

“Look here, by gum!” exclaimed the lieutenant.

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

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

“Ah! That does make a difference, perhaps.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Shucks!” exclaimed Lambert. “Why, man alive, they’ve got cannons on
’em.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s the idea!” said Tom again. “But how can the Home Guards help
you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, you can’t learn younger, can you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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