A Rebellion in Dixie
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“By George! That’s the best news I have heard since I have been a prisoner,” exclaimed Dawson. “You will see father here in less than a week, and you don’t want to let him get into any fight where the rebels are. He don’t take any prisoners.”
Leon next bent his steps toward the hotel to get his breakfast. In the living-room he met the landlord, who had three or four men around him, and was talking gleefully of the manner in which the wagon-train had been captured the day before.
“To think that our boys never fired a shot, and there were twenty-five of them rebels who were hired to defend it,” said he. “Now here’s Leon,” he added, taking the boy’s right hand in his own, throwing his left arm around his shoulder, and affectionately drawing him up to his side. “Who would think that this boy would watch over his father? He gets close up to his side, and if anyone pops him over he is going to see about it.”
“You will have to get away from this place, Mr. Faulkner,” said Leon. “Your house is right on the main road, and the first party of rebels who come in here will set fire to it.”
“I know all about that,” said Mr. Faulkner, with a laugh. “I expect everything I have got will go up in smoke. But you see they won’t burn anything but the house. Your father is going to lend me some of the wagons as soon as they are unloaded, and I am going to pile on everything I have got and take them all up to the swamp. I should like to see the rebels get them out of there.”
“So would I,” said Leon.
“I can’t give you as good a breakfast as I could once,” added Mr. Faulkner. “Bacon, eggs, corn-bread and coffee – I am almost out of coffee, now that I think of it. I shall be all out if you haven’t got some in those wagons you captured yesterday. Go on and get your breakfast, the whole of you. There’s many a better man than you and I dare be who is living on worse food, and he’s just as good a Union man as though he stood in our ranks.”
Leon went into the dining-room and found his father and Mr. Knight sitting there by themselves, and he concluded that it was a good time to talk to them about the rebels who were kept under guard.
“I have been thinking about them all the morning,” said Mr. Sprague, when Leon had explained things to him, “and I don’t see the need of keeping them under guard any longer; do you, Knight?”
“No, I don’t. I say let them out.”
“Well, I will go back with you and turn them loose,” said Mr. Sprague. “That will be the way we’ll work it. As fast as any rebels come in here and say they are on our side we’ll take their weapons and horses away from them, if they have any, and hold them until they prove that they are just as they should be.”
“Well, what do you say to my going down to Dawson’s house after his mother?” said Leon.
“What do you think about it, Knight?”
“Why I say let the boy go. He has proved long ago that he knows how to handle himself in a tight place; yesterday, for instance; and he will be just as safe as he would be here in camp.By the way, Leon, we have given your father a new title. He says the Secretary of War is too long for him, and so we have promoted him to Colonel. He likes that better. Maybe if you conduct yourself all right he will make you aid-de-camp.”
We are sorry to say that Mr. Knight did not pronounce this word correctly, and if there had been some boys like you, who are fresh from their books, they would have seen a good many other words whose spelling bothered him. But he knew one thing that had evidently slipped the President’s mind. If his father had been promoted to colonel, Leon thought that was being promoted backwards. But then this thing would not last more than a year or two, and it did not make much difference to him what people said about it. He got no money for the position he held, none of the officers got any, and he was willing to do what he could for the sake of the county.
“I don’t care if my father never promotes me to anything,” said Leon. “If he will let me stay close by him, so as to be on hand if anything happens to him, I shall be satisfied.”
The party having finished their breakfast arose from the table at the same time, and Mr. Sprague went out with Leon to call upon the rebels. On the way he talked more plainly to Leon than he had ever done before.
“I shan’t appoint you aid-de-camp,” said Mr. Sprague.
“I know why,” said Leon. “If you should do a thing like that, the fellows who are not as high in authority as you are would think that you were giving me a place to keep me out of danger. I don’t want anybody to think that of me.”
“Well, yes; that has something to do with it. But you would be in just as much danger there as you would anywhere else. I don’t want you hanging around me all the time. The men think you are doing it on purpose to shield me.”
“I confess that that is what I was thinking of.”
“Don’t do it any more. Of course I shall be in the thickest of the fight, if we have any, but I don’t want you to be there. That’s the reason I am giving my consent to allow you to go down after Dawson’s mother.”
“Do you say I may go?” exclaimed Leon, joyfully.
“Yes; but I want you first to let your mother know we are safe and what is the reason we don’t come home.”
“I’ll go and get Tom and Dawson to go with me. By the way, Tom has got his mule broken.”
“So that he won’t kick?” asked Mr. Sprague, in surprise.
“Yes, sir; and he broke him in less than half an hour.”
Leon then went on to tell how Tom had operated to break the mule, and when he described her kicking he made his father laugh heartily. By this time they had reached the lean to and found the two rebels enjoying their breakfast. They arose to their feet as Mr. Sprague approached, knowing that the Secretary of War had much authority over their prisoners, but he motioned them to keep their seats. Even the sentry got up, put down his plate – for the rebels had helped him most bountifully – and held his rifle in a way that was intended to present arms. But then the Secretary didn’t know whether the motion was properly executed or not. He touched his hat, however, and after bidding the rebels good-morning and lifting his hat once more out of respect to the woman who sat at the head of the table, he turned again to the sentry.
“I would like to see all the men who are on guard with you,” said he. “They are around here, I suppose?”
“Oh, yes, sir; they are around here,” said the sentry. Then lifting his voice he called out: “All you guards turn out. The Secretary of War wants you. Come a-lumbering!”
The men came in a hurry, three of them, some bareheaded, some swinging on their bullet-pouches as they hastened through the bushes, and all eager to see what the Secretary of War wanted. Like the good soldiers they were, they concluded that there was some business to engage in, and they were impatient to do it. But when they found out what he wanted they were just as pleased, all the same. Mr. Sprague told them in so many words that the rebels were all right, and from this time they were released from all sentry duty. The rebels were just as free in their camp as they were themselves.
“Colonel, I want to shake your hand for that,” said the owner of the lean-to, and as he spoke he got up from the table and came out. “Now I want all of you boys to understand one thing. You have done nothing but call me ‘Johnny’ ever since I have been in camp, and now I want you to stop it. My name is Roberts, and I am as good a Union man as the best of you. If you don’t believe it, wait until we get into a fight and I will show you.“
All this was said in a perfectly good-natured way, and the guards, on being sent back to their lean-tos, promised that they would address him as Roberts ever afterward. They had called him “Johnny” because they did not know any other name for him.
“Now, Dawson, I am going to start for home,” said Leon. “Come with me and I will get your horse and weapons for you.”
When Leon and Dawson turned away the former was surprised to see standing at his side another boy, Newman by name, who was enough like Carl Swayne to have been his brother, except in one particular. Newman did not proclaim himself so much in favor of the secessionists as Carl did, but in every other way, so far as meanness was concerned, they were a good team. Leon was not the only one about there who believed that Newman was a rebel at heart, and that if he had his way he would have arrested every Union man in the county. He noticed that Newman did not go with them when they assaulted the train – he had something else that demanded his immediate attention; but he noticed, too, that when the expedition came back Newman had as much to say as anybody. There was one thing about Newman that did not look exactly right to Leon. In the early part of the year, when there was a good deal of talk about the secession of Jones county, this Newman’s father had piled all his worldly goods into a one-horse wagon and started for Mobile; but in two months’ time he came back. There was more fighting going on there than there was in Jones county, he said, and as he was a man of peace and did not believe in contests of any kind, he thought he and his family had better come back and stay in their own house until the trouble was over. Mind you, that was the story he told; whether or not it was the truth remains to be seen.
“Well, Leon, we got ’em, didn’t we?” was the way in which Newman began the conversation.
“Got whom?” inquired Leon, and he was not very civil about it, either. He wished that Newman would keep to his own side of the walk and let him alone.
“Why, the rebels, of course,” said Newman. “You have got one them with you right now.”
“How many of them did you capture?” inquired Leon, poking his elbow into Dawson’s ribs when he saw that he was about to reply.
“I captured one, but I let him go. You know the President said we wasn’t going to take any prisoners.”
“Yes, I know. But what made you let him go?”
“Oh, he told me such a funny story about his wife being sick, and all that, that I couldn’t bear to keep him captive. So I just told him to clear out.”
“And you let him take his weapons with him?”
“Of course,” replied Newman; and then finding that Leon was getting onto rather dangerous ground he changed the subject, for he had come there to ask a favor. “Say, Leon, do you suppose that your father would give me one of them muels that we captured yesterday? I reckon I’ve got as much right to them as he has.”
“Well, I reckon you haven’t,” replied Leon, indignantly.
“Just because he’s a high officer, do you think he has more right to property that we capture than them that takes it?” asked Newman, getting mad in his turn. “He gave Tom Howe a muel, and Tom didn’t do any more than I did.”
“What’s the use of telling such an outrageous falsehood? You was not there. Did you see me?”
“Yes, I saw you.”
“What did I do? Did you see me when I ran from this man, and he followed after me, swinging his sword in his hand?”
“Eh? Oh, yes, I saw you,” said Newman, looking surprised. “He came pretty near catching you, too, and he would if that man hadn’t come up and poked a revolver in his face. Who was that, do you know?”
“Well, Newman, I don’t believe you can get a mule to ride during this war,” said Leon, once more turning his steps towards the hotel. “You see Tom wants to do something with this mule, and you don’t. You simply want him to ride around, and when the fight comes you will be miles away. That is, if you are on our side at all,” said Leon to himself. “I wouldn’t be afraid to bet that you will stay around here and lead the rebels to our place of concealment.”
Newman thrust his hands into his pockets, pushed his hat on the back of his head, and looked after Leon as he walked away with the rebel by his side.
“I’ll bet that boy lied to me when he spoke of that fellow being after him with a sword,” said he, “and that he ever run from him a step. I am no good for a spy. I haven’t got my wits about me. But his father will give me one of those mules or I’ll know the reason why. It is most time for the rebels to come up here, and when they do come, my fine lad, I’ll have that horse of yours.”
“Who is that fellow, anyway?” asked Dawson, after they had left Newman behind. “You don’t seem to like him very well.”
“Neither would you if you knew him as well as I do,” replied Leon. “Ever since I got into a scrape with those logs that fellow has been down on me, and said he didn’t see why I should come out all right when other men had lost their lives in attempting the same thing.”
“You don’t bear him any ill-will for that, I hope?” said Dawson. “He didn’t dare do it, although I don’t know what danger you got into.”
“I ran out on the logs and started a jam, and Tom Howe fell into the water and I saved him. But that isn’t what I have against him,” said Leon. “You see, Newman’s father has never said where he stood. When he came back to this county, and found that we were in earnest in threatening to secede, then he wanted an office, but the men were too sharp to give it to him.”
“Ah! that’s the trouble, is it? Let him go in and serve as a private. That’s what my father and I intend to do.”
“But he don’t want to serve as a private. He wants the position that father holds, so that he can boss around the men and have nothing else to do. Father would give it to him in a minute if he thought he was able to fill it, but you see he don’t. And mind you, I don’t say this out loud, but I believe it to be so, he says if he can’t be an officer he will betray us all.”
“Ho-ho!” said Dawson, while a gleam of intelligence shot across his face. “He is going to turn Benedict Arnold, is he? By gracious! You fellows have something to contend with, haven’t you? A spy! Well, let him come on and see how much he will make by it.”
“Now, don’t say that out loud,” said Leon earnestly, “for I don’t know that it is so. I only judge him by his actions. Now, here’s the place where your weapons were left. We’ll go up and see the President.”
“I don’t look fit to go into the President’s office,” said Dawson, looking down at his clothes. “I want to get home and see my wardrobe, so that I can get some clothes more befitting my station in life.”
“O come on,” said Leon, with a hearty laugh. “Ten to one you will find the President with a pair of jean breeches on, and a pair of cowhide boots. He is like all the rest of us, but then he will be glad to see you, for you were a rebel once.”
“There’s where you make a mistake,” said Dawson. “I never was a rebel, although I wear the clothes. Introduce me as a Union man forced into the rebel army.”
At this moment Leon opened the door that gave entrance into the office of the high dignitary of Jones county, where they found him leaning back in his chair and conversing with three or four men. He was just such a man as Leon said he was – to the manor born. He didn’t act as though he considered himself better than other men simply because he was President. Dawson took off his hat, while the other men did not remove theirs. He followed Leon to a corner in which several stand of fire-arms were stowed, and assisted him in picking out his own weapons. Leon gave him the sword and revolver, and motioned him to buckle them around him, while with the carbine in his hand he approached the President’s chair. When he got through talking with the men he looked up to see what Leon had to say.
“Mr. Knight, here’s a good man I have got for us,” said he. “His name is Dawson, and although he wears the rebel uniform, he is as much of a Union man as anyone here.”
“Howdy, Dawson,” said the President, nodding his head, “So you are coming over to side with us, are you?”
“Yes, sir,” said Dawson. “I was obliged to go into the rebel ranks to escape being hung.”
“He wants his horse and his weapons, too,” added Leon. “Father says he is all right.”
“Let him have them,” said the President.
Leon promptly handed over the carbine. “He wants to go home to-night to get his mother,” said he. “There are two of us, myself and Tom Howe, going with him.”
“I heard all about it from your father,” said Mr. Knight. “Now, be careful of yourself, Leon. If you should get captured it would drive the first colonel I have got crazy.”
The boy promised that he would look out for himself, and, with a salute from Dawson, they opened the door and went down the stairs. They saw that Mr. Sprague had already hitched the mules to the wagons and hauled them down in front of the hotel where they could be examined by all the principal men of the county. Before they had taken many steps they saw Newman walk up to the Secretary of War and accost him.