A Rebellion in Dixie
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“You gave Tom Howe one and said nothing about it,” said Newman, growing angry again.
“I did?” said the quartermaster.
“Old Sprague done it, and it amounts to the same thing.”
“Look here, Newman, you want to be careful how you talk about that man. He ain’t a common civilian any more.”
“What is he, then, I would like to know?”
“He’s got power enough to put you where people won’t hear you say that,” said the officer, fastening his eyes sternly on Newman’s face. “He will put you in jail.”
“Well, I’ll bet he won’t put me in jail, neither. My father has got friends enough to tear it up.”
“Well, Cale, if you are going to hold to such doctrines as that you might as well go among the Confederates, where you belong. You don’t belong here, that is certain.”
“If you will give me a muel I won’t hold no such docterings,” said Newman. “I’ll be the loyalest fellow you ever see.”
The quartermaster looked at Newman in amazement.
“What kind of a fellow are you, any way?” he asked. “You are going to be loyal or not, just as you get paid for it.”
“That’s the way my father looks at it. You didn’t give him an office, and now he’s going to let you hoe your own row. Now, if I could have a muel to ride around – ”
“Well, you’ll not get any, I can tell you that. And, furthermore, if I hear any more such talk from you I’ll have you arrested.”
“My father says – ”
“I’ve heard enough. Don’t speak to me again. A man who will depend upon a mule for his loyalty don’t amount to much. Now go away, and don’t let me see you again.”
The quartermaster was very angry as he turned away, and Newman stood and watched him while he went on inspecting the wagons. Then he took a chew of “nigger-twist,” shook his head threateningly, and turned his steps toward home.
“You have heard enough, have you?” he muttered, as he followed the blind path that led through the woods toward the little shanty under which his family found shelter. “Well, I’ll bet you will hear more of it before to-morrow night. If father don’t give you into the hands of the rebels I will.”
When Newman arrived within sight of his home he found his father sitting on the door-step smoking his pipe, while his brother Dan was stretched in a sunny spot where he could enjoy the full benefit of the warmth without going near the fire. His mother was engaged in a lazy sort of way over a blaze which had been started in the fireplace; that is to say, she was sitting down and watching a pot that had been set over the coals, while a dingy cob pipe, like her husband’s, was tightly clasped between her teeth. The house was a tumble-down affair, and looked as though it was about to come to pieces, with a dirt floor, and the door beside which Mr. Newman was sitting was minus a hinge near the top. The family were all of them what might have been expected by this description of their place of abode. And the work, which might have been accomplished by one man in three or four days to make his house worth living in, was not above Mr.Newman’s ability, for he showed on his face that he had seen better times. He had been wealthy once, but now he had lost it, and was much too lazy to go to work and earn more. That accounted for Cale’s way of talking. He didn’t say “pap” and “mam” unless he spoke before he thought, for he considered himself better than those with whom he associated. The raftsmen used to say that if Mr. Newman’s work was equal to his talk he would have a much better house to live in.
“Well, Cale, what’s the matter with you?” inquired his father, as the new-comer approached the place where they were sitting. “You act as though you had lost your last friend.”
“I want to tell you what has happened down there in town, and see if you wouldn’t look so, too,” said Cale, seating himself on the ground. “I asked old Sprague and the quartermaster – ”
“Quartermaster nothing,” exclaimed Mr. Newman. “Who gave him such an office as that? He had the handling of the mules and horses and would not give you one.”
“That’s just the way of it,” said Cale. “Now, I want to know if such a thing is right? He gave Tom Howe one and never said nothing about it; but he wouldn’t give me one for fear that I wouldn’t be on hand when he was going out to capture the next wagon-train.”
“No more would you,” said his mother, at that moment appearing at the door to hear what Cale had to say. “You ain’t on that side. The South is going to whip, and you don’t want to be beholden to those fellows for anything.”
“I told ’em if they would give me a muel I would be just the loyalest fellow he ever saw,” said Cale.
“The more shame to you,” said his mother, angrily.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” chimed in Mr. Newman. “If he could get a mule or one of the horses he could fly around easy, carrying dispatches and the like. He could be here to-day and see what was going on, and to-night he could get on his mule and take the news down to the Confederates. Wouldn’t he give you a mule?”
“No, he wouldn’t, I tried Sprague and the quartermaster, too, and they both threatened to arrest me if I talked so any more.”
“Well, I do think in my soul that they are getting on a high horse,” said Mr. Newman, taking the pipe from his mouth. “I’d like to see them arrest you or anybody connected with this family. Their old jail would stay up about as long as I could get to it with an axe.”
“That’s what I told ’em; and he said that I mustn’t talk that way any more.”
“Say,” said Dan, who had mustered up energy enough to straighten up during this talk and was now engaged in filling a cob pipe with some nigger-twist, “you don’t suppose that the men who were captured with that wagon-train have gone on to Mobile, do you? It seems to me that they ought to be back here to-night or to-morrow. Them fellows ain’t a-going to stand still and let themselves be robbed of half a million dollars’ worth.”
“Don’t I wish I had the stuff that’s in one of them wagons!” exclaimed Cale. “There’s grub enough to keep our jaws wagging for one good solid year; and clothes! You just ought to see the uniforms there is in there.”
“I came away before they got to inspecting the wagons,” said Mr. Newman. “Somehow I couldn’t manage to stay around and see the clothes and things our fellows were going to wear go to those lazy vagabonds.”
That was one reason why Mr. Newman came away before the wagons were overhauled, but the principal motive that governed him was because he did not want to see others saluted. His attention was first called to it by the actions of Bud McCoy. Bud didn’t care for anything, but he seemed to be carried away by his Union sentiment, and once, when he spoke to Mr. Sprague, he did it without saluting; but he thought of it at once, and came back and touched his hat to him.
“I declare, Mr. Secretary of War, I almost forgot my manners to you. I forgot that you ain’t a plain raftsman any more.”
Mr. Newman would have given a good deal if he could have been saluted that way, and because he was not, he didn’t care to stay around where the crowd was.
“Mr. Sprague let on that he didn’t want to be saluted every time a man spoke to him, but I know a story worth two of that,” said Mr. Newman, getting upon his feet and pacing up and down in front of his house. “I am better able to hold that position than anybody else, because I have seen more military than they have. But no, they had to go and give it to a man who don’t know a thing about it.”
“That’s just what I told them,” said Cale.
“And what did they say?”
“They said I couldn’t have the muel.”
“Well, now, if those fellows come back here,” said Dan, “what’s the reason we can’t help them get all the chief men of the county? I am in it, for one.”
“Here, too,” said Cale.
“You must be careful what you do,” said Mr. Newman. “They have got sentries posted down there, and you can’t get by them without the countersign.”
“Then we’ll go below the bridge and swim the creek,” said Dan. “If I go into this business I shall go in all over.”
“If you will do that you may be able to get me the commission of Colonel of the Confederate army,” said Mr. Newman. “I never told you this before, but I shall ask that or nothing.”
“A colonel!” ejaculated Cale, with intense enthusiasm. “Then you will have command. He rides a horse, doesn’t he?”
“He certainly does, and he’s got a commission backed by a government. He’s higher than the President of the Jones-County Confederacy. That’s the commission I am working for.”
One would not have thought that Mr. Newman was working very hard for that commission to have seen him at that moment. In fact he did not seem to be working for anything. He was sitting there perfectly quiet and waiting for the commission to come to him.
“I tell you, boys, you must work hard for that colonel’s shoulder-straps,” said Mrs. Newman, taking her stand in the door with her arms placed on her hips. “You won’t be wearing no ragged clothes like you be now, and I’ll have a silk dress to wear at all seasons. You won’t catch me around cooking as I am now. I’ll be a lady, and have a better pipe than this to smoke.”
“And who knows but that father might get us something?” said Dan. “I’ll bet if you held old Sprague’s position you would give me something besides a private in your ranks.”
“That’s just what I am thinking of,” returned Mrs. Newman. “Your father was telling me about it last night. Of course he would have a staff, and you two would come in for two of the offices mighty handy. I tell you you want to work hard. Your father doesn’t seem to be able to do anything.”
“And what is the reason?” exclaimed Mr. Newman, taking his pipe from his mouth with one hand and extending the other toward his wife. “Do you suppose I am going to run down there among all that crowd and stand all the risk of getting my neck stretched for treachery? The boys can do what they please and nobody will say a word to them; but let me go down there and carry news of what has been going on and you will see how long you have got a husband to take care of you. It ain’t safe for me to go there.”
“I didn’t think about your being hung,” said Mrs. Newman, indifferently.
“Of course that is what they are up to, and they are thinking now how it could be done.”
“Yes,” exclaimed Cale, “they told me that I had best go among the rebels, where I belonged.”
“Don’t that prove what I said? I ain’t going down there any more. But I want to see them lock you up, if they dare do it. That’s what I am aching for.”
But Cale didn’t agree with his father’s opinions in regard to locking him up, and he secretly resolved that he wouldn’t say anything more in the presence of the quartermaster that would lead him to carry that resolution into effect. His father filled his pipe and sat down in his usual place in the doorway, and Cale, following the motion of Dan’s head, accompanied him around behind the house. Mr. Newman didn’t care where they went or what they did while they were gone. All he thought of was the carrying out of Dan’s proposition to surrender the head men of the Jones-County Confederacy into the hands of the enemy. It looked like a very small piece of business for a father to put this into his sons’ hands, but Mr. Newman thought he was acting just right. The boys were gone half an hour or more, and came back in time to get something to eat. They sat down to their supper in silence, and when they had got through they put on their hats and left the house. They didn’t take their dogs with them, and that proved that they were not going after wild hogs.
“You just let those boys alone,” said Mr. Newman, looking down the path along which they had gone with some satisfaction. “They are going to get whatever they go for.”
“I think it would have been some honor to you if you had gone in their place,” said his wife. “Somehow it don’t seem right to leave the capturing of so many men to boys.”
“Yes, and run the risk of stretching hemp,” replied Mr. Newman, indignantly. “Those boys can be away from home as much as they are a-mind to and nobody will say a word; but if I go down to where the men are and find out something about them they would know in a minute if I wasn’t at home, like I had oughter be. And I don’t want them to ask that question. Let the boys go on. We’ll have some of them men arrested the first thing you know.”
“But how are they going to arrest them? Are they going to come here and take them?”
“No; it will be in a fight, likely.”
“And where will you be when the fight comes off?”
“Oh, I’ll be around somewhere. You look out for yourself and let your husband look out for himself. That’s the way to do it.”
“I wish we had a muel to ride,” said Dan, as they trudged through the woods toward the creek. “Somehow it puts me on nettles to walk. Now that Tom Howe has got a muel I don’t see why we can’t have one. We ought to have gone with them men that captured that train.”
“But we had no guns,” said Cale.
“No, but we would soon have had them. There’s lots of guns in the President’s headquarters that haven’t got any owners. Tom didn’t have a muel, and now he’s got one.”
“And that’s what comes of touching his hat to those civilians,” said Cale, in disgust. “I bet you I wouldn’t do it. Why didn’t they give father a position like he ought to have had? We would have had muels by this time.”
“It’s my opinion that father has got his foot in it,” said Dan, with a knowing shake of his head. “He has said all along that the South was going to whip, and old Sprague and the other men don’t like it. I’ll bet you that if the truth was known half of them are on our side.”
This was the substance of the conversation that passed between Dan and Cale on their way to the creek. Boys as they were, they had every reason to believe that one county could not stand against the whole Southern Confederacy, that the Union men in the county were going to be easily whipped out, and they wanted to be on the winning side. Perhaps there was a little hope of plunder mixed in with it, as Cale finally said:
“I’ll tell you what, Dan: I don’t like the way that young Sprague had of throwing on style to-day. He rode up on that colt of his and saluted the old man as if he were the owner of the State. I’d like to have him go afoot for awhile and let me ride on that horse.”
“Well, he’ll have to do it,” returned Dan. “But he’s got some other things that I’d like to have – his revolver, for instance.”
Before long it began to grow dark, but the gloom that settled over the woods did not interfere with the movements of these backwoodsmen. They kept straight ahead as though it had been broad daylight, and finally arrived on the banks of the creek. Without saying a word they threw off their clothes and prepared to plunge into the stream. If they had known as much as Leon did they would have looked for that ford which was but a short distance from the place where they swam the creek. The water was somewhat cold, but they took it bravely, and in a few minutes more stood on the opposite side.
“That Leon is going to have a colder place than this,” said Dan, as he shiveringly put on his clothes. “I do wish they would turn him and Tom over to us.”
“What would you do with him?”
“I’d make him swim this creek.”
“Perhaps he wouldn’t do it.”
“He wouldn’t, eh? Wait until he sees his revolver looking him squarely in the face. I bet you he would go. Now, we want to be still, for we don’t know how close those sentries are to us. We must keep mum and make as little noise as possible in going through the woods until we find out where they are.”
Cale was now perfectly willing that Dan should take the lead, for as they were getting pretty close to armed men he did not want to be the first to draw their fire; so he gradually fell behind, while Dan made his way through the bushes with an ease and celerity that was astonishing. He scarcely caused a twig to rustle. The experience which the boys had in hunting wild hogs stood them well in stead. Finally Dan pushed aside the bushes and saw the road fairly before him. There was nothing on it as far as he could see, and the bridge seemed to be empty.
“Somebody has been fooled in regard to those sentinels,” said Dan.
“Go out in the road,” said Cale. “You can’t see anything from here.”
Dan went, but had scarcely got clear of the bushes when a voice called out, in a surprised tone:
“By gum, I guess you found something,” whispered Cale. “You had better be getting out of there.”
Dan waited to hear no more. He drew a bee-line for the bushes, and in a moment more was threading his way noisely through them. When he had gone a little ways he stopped and said to his brother:
“I didn’t see anybody there.”
“No, but they are there, and they saw you,” said Cale, who was greatly excited. “Now, what’s to be done? I wish that cavalry would come along now, and we would have those sentinels took in out of the wet. I hope they did not see you.”
“Nor me. I wouldn’t dare go back home again. Let’s sit down here a spell.”
“I – I believe I would rather go a little further away,” said Cale. “Suppose some officer should come along the road?”
Dan answered this question by seating himself on the nearest log and resting his chin on his hands. He wasn’t going any further, and Cale, rather than be left alone in the woods, took a place by his side. They stayed there for a quarter of an hour without saying a word, except Cale, who wished they had a gun, so that they could tumble the officer over when he came along to see where they went, and then they heard another challenge to halt from the sentinel on the bridge.
“There, now, I’ll bet there is somebody else coming,” said Cale, his excitement and fear increasing tenfold.
“Well, he didn’t come by here,” said Dan, who sat where he could see everybody who passed along the road.
“No, but he came from Ellisville. Who knows but there was someone there watching our house, and who saw us when we came away?”
“That’s so,” said Dan, but he didn’t seem to be much worried by it.
“Well, now, I say let’s go a little further back.”
But Dan kept his seat with his eyes fixed upon the road, and while his brother was trying to make up his mind whether or not he ought to leave him they heard the clatter of horses’ hoofs on the bridge, and even Dan began to prick his ears. It was a small party of horsemen who were coming directly along the road of which he kept watch. They were walking their horses, and that made the spies eager to escape observation. Dan stretched himself out at full length in the bushes, his example being promptly followed by Cale, and in a few minutes the horsemen rode by; but they saw nothing to excite their suspicions, and in a few seconds more they passed out of hearing.
“Don’t I wish I had a gun!” exclaimed Dan, raising himself on his knees and going through all the motions he would make in covering the horsemen.
“Who was it?” asked Cale.
“It was Leon, that worthless Tom Howe, and that rebel fellow that they have been running with since yesterday,” said Dan. “Now I wish your squad of cavalry would come along. But you see we hain’t got no guns, and each one of them has got a six-shooter.”
Cale had never been more astonished in his life.