A Rebellion in Dixieñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Yes, sir,” replied a voice from somewhere in the line.
“Your boy is in the service, too. You don’t suppose that he has deserted, do you?”
“Well, he went off into the woods, and I haven’t seen him since. You can go in and see for yourself, sir.”
“Seeing is believing. It will not take but a minute.”
The captain dismounted from his horse and pounded loudly upon the closed door, but met with no response. Then he pushed open the door and entered the house. By the flickering light that was thrown out by the fire that was blazing on the hearth the lieutenant found a candle, and when he had struck a light a scene of the greatest confusion was presented. The bureau drawers were all thrown every which way, and when they made their way to the sleeping-room, not a vestige of clothing was there on the bed.
“Gee-whizz!” shouted the captain. “Here’s where one of those fellows has been. Arrest that man out there – the one riding the clay-bank mule.”
The men outside began riding about the house, but no such man could be found. They saw the place where the solitary hound had been confined, but he was gone, and the man on the clay-bank mule had disappeared.
“Don’t you find him anywhere?” shouted the captain, coming out of the door in great excitement.
“No, sir. He has skipped,” exclaimed one of the men.
“He’s gone off this way,” shouted another. “I hear somebody going through the field.”
“Take after him, the last mother’s son of you!” commanded the captain. “And remember and don’t come back without him. I tell you I’ll get fits for this, going out on a scout and letting one of my men desert under my very eyes!”
In an instant the captain and all his men were in hot pursuit of the horseman whose hoof-beats could just be heard. The chase led through a wide cotton-field, with a high fence at the other end, but the horseman, whoever he was, had a long start and seemed determined to make the most of it. Toward the fence he held, the men scattering out so as to head him off when he got there, and finally the captain, who rode a splendid horse, got near enough to the object he was pursuing to see that it was a clay-bank mule.
“Halt!” he shouted. “We’ve got you, and you might as well give up. If you don’t we’ll leave you right here for the buzzards to eat. Halt, I say.”
Still there was no response, and the mule kept on as fast as ever. The captain began to get angry, and he drew his sabre, intending to cut the man down when he got within reach of him; but just then they came within reach of the fence, and the mule turned and ran alongside of it. That brought him within reach of the captain’s vision (it was so dark that they couldn’t see the man on the mule’s back), and the officer, after taking a look or two at the mule, drew up his horse.
“Gee-whiz!” he shouted, making use of his favorite expression; “we have been chasing that clay-bank mule, but where’s the man on her? The mule was going home but the man’s got off.
Catch him, men, and then we’ll go back and hunt for somebody else who is hidden somewhere in the bushes.”
The captain was mortified in the extreme, and no doubt he was a little suspicious. At any rate, he was certain that he heard one or two of his men giggling softly to themselves. The idea of halting a clay-bank mule and telling him that if he didn’t give some heed to it he would leave him there for the buzzards to eat was almost too much for them.
THE REBELS TAKE REVENGE
“Robert,” whispered a voice close to the crack where the chinking had fallen out, “is that you?”
“For goodness’ sake turn that revolver the other way, Leon!” exclaimed Dawson, so full of excitement that he could scarcely speak plainly. “It is my father, and if you kill him I am gone up. What is it, pap?”
“You got away, didn’t you?” continued the voice, and one would have thought there was a slight chuckle mingled with it, “and you have come here to take your mother over into Jones county.”
“You’re right, I have,” returned Dawson, gleefully, “and you are here to help us. I’ve got two Yanks here with me, and they are just as good as they make them.”
“I thought I heard you mention Leon’s name. Is it Leon Sprague?”
“Yes, sir,” returned the owner of that name. “I am here and ready to assist him in any way I can.”
“I am glad to see you here,” continued Mr. Dawson, “for I shall know that we are going to stand some show.”
“Now, father, what shall I do first?” asked Dawson, who was impatient to get to work.
“Hitch the first two mules you can get to that wagon, and by the time you have done that your mother will be ready for you. Leave one dog behind you, so that I can readily follow your trail.”
“Why, are you not going to stay, too?”
“No; I must go on with the squad, and run my risk of getting away afterward,” replied Mr. Dawson. “I will be missed if I don’t go with them, and I want you and your mother to get a good start. Be lively, and work as hard as you can, for I don’t know when we shall be back.”
“What shall I do after I get the mules hitched up?” asked Dawson. “Will it be safe for me to drive around in front of the house?”
“You can go where you please. There will be nobody to bother you. Keep up a good heart till I come.”
The man went off to get his saddle, which hung in a remote corner, and Dawson kept a close watch on him as long as he remained in the crib. Leon couldn’t help thinking how coolly father and son went about escaping from serving under the flag they didn’t like. If they made a success of it, well and good; if they failed, it was certain death to the one of them that happened to be caught. What would Leon’s own mother have said if she could have seen him at that moment? When Mr. Dawson got his saddle and turned to go out he waved his hand toward the crack as a farewell signal, and that brought the first long breath from the young fellow at Leon’s side. It was plain now that all the nonsense was gone out of him.
“There goes the best father that any fellow ever had,” said Dawson. “He is plucky, too, and when he next joins us he won’t come so still. He’ll have all that crowd after him. But now I must get to work,” he added, brightening up. “You fellows can help me by staying right here and watching these animals, so that they won’t arouse the whole neighborhood, while I get the team ready.”
“Why don’t you let one or the other of us go with you?” asked Leon.
“You’ll only be in the way; and, besides, I have got plenty of negroes out there to help.”
Dawson went away, and although the boys who were watching the animals caught sight of him once in a while through the cracks, it was fully half an hour before he came back. Then he had the team, which an old negro was driving, and the wagon was loaded so full that there did not seem to be room for so much as a skillet anywhere about it. Safely perched among the feather-beds was his mother, and she was having as much as she could do to keep the children quiet. On the end-board in front was Cuff, who was talking to his mules in a quiet sort of way, and it was astonishing how much speed he got out of them. Following along behind the wagon were ten or fifteen negroes, who wished her every success in her journey and promised to come to her on the following day. The dogs were there, too, all except the one that had been tied behind the house, and they seemed to think they were going off on a pleasure trip.
“Now, then,” said Dawson, taking his bridle from Leon’s hand and mounting his horse, “you darkies have followed us far enough. Go back now and go to bed, and remember and don’t come out of your house again to-night, no matter how much noise is made here. Leave that dog tied up. Father wants him to follow our trail by. Good-bye. Now, Cuff, whip up. We don’t want to stay around here any longer. Mother, take a good look at your home, for it is your last chance to see it.”
“No, Robert, I will see it in my dreams, anyway,” replied his mother, who was almost heart-broken at the idea of separating herself for so long a time from all her associations. “If your father only comes up with me I shall be satisfied.”
“What do you think of that, Leon?” asked Dawson, as the wagon passed on out of hearing. “These rebels want killing. Father brought my mother to that house when he first married her, and we have lived there ever since. I am going to shoot every rebel that comes in my way.”
Leon did not know what reply to make to this. It was probable that his own mother might be obliged to leave her home in the same way, and he didn’t know how he would feel if she were turned loose in the world. It was no wonder, he thought, that Union men should talk of killing every rebel that came within reach. He knew he would feel so, too.
“There is one thing about it,” said Dawson, with something that sounded like a sigh. “A woman has more pluck than a man to stand under such things. I never believed so until to-night.”
The road they intended to take had evidently been explained to Cuff before they started, for he took to the lane that led through the cotton-fields, and he kept his mules on a keen trot all the way. Dawson didn’t go so fast. He allowed the wagon to gradually get ahead of him, in order to cover their retreat, and of course the boys stayed behind with him. When they arrived at the cover of the woods Cuff turned into it, and in a few moments more was out of sight, while Dawson turned his horse into a fence-corner and dismounted.
“Now, we will wait here for father,” said he.
“Where’s your wagon?” asked Leon.
“They are going on ahead toward the bridge. Taken in connection with those pickets I saw there they will get across, too, because I believe they would turn out to help us. Now, if you see that squad coming back along the road, just hold your breath. Father is with that crowd.”
Leon had never known what excitement was before. He tried to take it coolly, as Dawson did, but did not succeed very well. He threw the bridle off his horse’s neck and placed it around his arm, leaned on the top rail of the fence and kept watch of the road, and all the while he kept thinking how he would have felt if his father had been with that squad of Confederates and watching for a chance to escape. Tom Howe took it philosophically, as Dawson did. He had a mother to worry over him, but all he cared for was the successful outcome of Dawson’s scheme. The baying of the lonely hound came faintly to their ears, but with the exception of that, silence reigned unbroken. They stood leaning on the fence, watching first the house and then allowing their eyes to roam as far down the road as they could reach, and finally Tom broke the stillness.
“I see some fellows away off in that direction,” said he, pointing with his finger to direct the attention of his comrades, “who are coming along this way. There’s a whole body of them, too.”
“The time is coming,” said Dawson, after he had taken a look at the advancing horsemen. “We’ll know in a minute what’s going to happen.”
After that all was still again. The three boys stood there in the fence-corner and watched the men when they rode into the yard, and in a few minutes the baying of the hound ceased. Judging from the distance they were from the scene, there was a fearful commotion in the house. Men were seen riding rapidly about, a faint voice like a command came to their ears, and the squad suddenly vanished from view.
“Father has the start of them at last,” exclaimed Dawson, so excited and nervous that he could not stand still.
“Why, how do you make that out?” asked Leon. “You must have an owl’s eyes, for I can’t see anything from here.”
“Neither can I; but he is doing just what I would have done if I had been in his place. You don’t hear the hound any longer, do you? Well, you just wait until father comes up and he will tell you that the men are chasing a riderless mule.”
Leon began to understand the matter now, and he was utterly amazed at the strategy the man had used. He had dismounted from his clay-bank, given him a tremendous dig from some weapon or other he had in his hand, knowing that the mule would go home before he would go anywhere else, unloosed the dog, which showed him the way down the lane, and he was now coming that way with the speed of the wind. His pursuers had gone on after the mule, and were leaving him behind every moment. All this Leon went over for the benefit of Tom Howe, and Dawson simply nodded his head and then walked out in the lane to find his father. Presently he saw the hound, which sprang upon him, delighted to see him, and a long way down the lane behind him came his father.
“That’s father’s lope and I know it,” said Dawson, addressing himself to his companions. “He’ll hold that for two hours in order to beat a deer on his runway. But I am going to show him that I am a good soldier. Who comes there?” he added, in a voice pitched just loud enough to reach the fugitive’s ears.
“It is I, Robert,” came the joyful response; and in a few seconds Mr. Dawson came up. “By George, I have had a good race for it!” he went on, pulling his hat from his head and using his crooked finger to remove the big drops of perspiration that clung there. “Now, let us see what those laddy-bucks are going to do with the house.”
“You’ll never see it again after to-night,” replied Dawson. “Father, this is Leon Sprague, who has stuck to me all along.”
“Leon, I am glad to meet you,” said Mr. Dawson, extending his hand. “If you wait here for a few minutes you’ll see what you are going to come to. The rebels are making up an organization already to go up to Jones county and clean them out.”
“And, father, here’s another Yank that we must not forget,” said Dawson, laying his hand upon Tom Howe’s shoulder. “He’s little, but he don’t say much. You heard about the boy that came so near losing his life during the last drive? Well, sir, he’s the man, and there is the one who saved him.”
“I’m no Yank,” returned Tom, indignantly. “I am Tom Howe, Southern born, the same as yourself; but I hate a rebel.”
“I am glad to know you, Tom, and sometime, when I get opportunity, I am going to shake hands with you. You see the reason we never knew you before is because you kept to the river during your drives, and never came back into the country at all,” said Mr. Dawson, turning to Leon. “Now, we will wait here a few minutes and see what those fellows are going to do with the house.”
They were not obliged to wait very long, for the squad soon returned, having captured the clay-bank mule, and two of them at once proceeded to ride out the lane in which the fugitives had gone. They came on until they got within fifty yards of the woods, and there they stopped.
“I declare they are coming on in pursuit of us,” whispered Leon, drawing one of his revolvers and resting it upon the top rail of the fence in readiness to shoot.
“That’s the captain and the lieutenant,” said Mr. Dawson. “They’re not coming any further. When they see that we have gone into the woods they will go back. There isn’t a man in that squad that dare trust himself within reach of these thickets.”
The old homestead doomed.
The boys stood there and watched the two men – Leon at the bridle of his horse to hold his head down, and Tom keeping a firm hold of his mule’s tail – and finally they saw one of them alight and strike a match. By the aid of the light which it threw out they examined the ground and easily saw the wagon-tracks, but they didn’t care to go any nearer the woods. They held a short consultation, after which they turned their horses and rode back to the house.
“I told you they wouldn’t come any further,” said Mr. Dawson. “If I was in command of that squad I would think twice before I would put my men in danger of certain death by bringing them in here.”
Mr. Dawson leaned upon the fence again and devoted himself to the house. He wanted to see what was going to happen to his property before he went away. He had not held this position for more than five minutes before his heart gave a violent throb, and then he became satisfied that the enemy was carrying out his plan of setting fire to the house. He saw a bright light on the inside, which grew brighter every moment, and finally the flames came out of the doors and windows. And not only the house, but the barns, the corn-crib and the negro cabins went up in smoke.
“Well, boys, I have seen enough,” said Mr. Dawson, turning away to follow up the wagons. “The rebels have one enemy now that they never had before. Which way did your mother go, Robert?”
“Yes, and they have got two now,” said Dawson, who was almost ready to cry when he saw the home of his boyhood going up in flames. “I’ll shoot every rebel that comes across my path.”
“What could you expect in war times?” said his father. “Of course, I looked for them to burn my house – indeed, I should do the same if I were on their side; but there’s one thing they can’t burn, and that is the ground. When these troubles are all over, if we live to see it, we have the plain land with which to start over again.”
“But what have they done with our black ones?”
“Oh, they have gone.”
“They are on the road towards Mobile before this time.”
“Well, I’ll bet you they don’t keep them there long,” said Dawson, angrily. “They will have to watch them all the time or they’ll get away. Mother went out this way, father.”
“You see, it wouldn’t do for them to leave the darkies with us,” said Mr. Dawson, pausing for a few moments to allow the boys time to mount their animals, “because we are traitors to the South. They calculate to whip us, and when the war is ended we’ll have to get out.”
“But they ain’t a-going to whip us,” said Dawson.
The fugitives followed along the road – it had been cut in better times, to enable the planter to haul out the logs – for a mile or more, and then they came up with the wagon, which had halted for them to come up. They had been within sight of the burning house all the while, and the mother, although she had all she could do to choke back her tears, was endeavoring to explain the matter to her children, who could not see into it at all. When young Robert appeared in sight, they forthwith assailed him with questions.
“Say, Bobo, what’s the matter?” said the elder.
“Oh, some men wanted to burn our house, and so we had to get out and let them do it,” returned Dawson.
“Go on, Cuff,” said Mr. Dawson; and all he did was to reach in and give his wife a cordial grasp of the hand. “Keep right in this road until you strike the main road, and then go for the bridge the best you know how.”
“But, Bobo, I don’t see what them folks should want to burn our house for,” said the boy. “We’ve always minded our own business – ”
“Wait till we get to where we are going and then I will tell you all about it,” said Dawson; and that settled the question of burning the house until the party reached Ellisville.
Following the directions of his master, the negro stuck to the woods-road, while Mr. Dawson and the boys stopped in a fence-corner to reconnoiter. The house was a mile away, but it threw out so much light that anything that happened around it could be plainly seen. They saw some of the men moving about, and when everything was well started they all mounted their horses and disappeared down the road in the direction of Mobile. But they had an old soldier to contend with in Mr. Dawson, who did not leave his hiding-place for an hour. He didn’t know but some of the men would come back, and so get between him and the bridge and cut him off, and that was the reason he waited there in the fence-corner. While he waited there he talked, but it was not about anything connected with his recent misfortune.
“Do you boys happen to know anything about Dan Newman?” said he.
“Yes, sir, we know him,” replied Leon, with a smile. “And we know Cale, too.”
“Well, what sort of fellows are they?”
“It’s my opinion that they are all rebels,” said Leon, with emphasis. “The amount of it was that the old man expected to get some kind of a position, and when he didn’t get it he turned against us.”
“That’s just what I supposed,” said Mr. Dawson. “Robert, I heard all about you before I ever saw you to-night.”
“Who told you?” asked his son, in surprise.
“Dan Newman told me; or, rather, he told it to the captain and I overheard it.”
“Was he out here?” asked Leon, and he was so surprised that he could scarcely believe he heard aright. “Was he out here among the rebels?”
“He was, and he was the one that kept the squad from running into the pickets stationed at the bridge.”
Mr. Dawson then went on to tell what he knew about Dan, and before he got fairly started he had two surprised and angry boys for listeners. When he told how “that rebel fellow” had ridden on before them in company with Leon and Tom, and that he could easily capture them if they would only wait until they came back, Leon took off his hat, scratched his head and declared:
“If that fellow is at home when we get there I am going to have him arrested. I don’t see why the fellow didn’t wait.”
“Well, I don’t think he paid much attention to what Dan had to say,” replied Mr. Dawson. “He preferred to go on and see how many men there were at the bridge, and when he came back he would look into all the houses and see if there had been any evidences of hasty departure. I guess he didn’t find any until he got to our house, and then he found all he wanted,” added Mr. Dawson, with a laugh.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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