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Rodney, the Overseer
CHAPTER I. A DISGUSTED HOME GUARD.
CHAPTER II. CAPTAIN TOM SMELLS POWDER.
CHAPTER III. THE CONSCRIPT'S FRIEND.
CHAPTER IV. LIEUTENANT LAMBERT'S CAMPAIGN.
CHAPTER V. HOW IT RESULTED.
CHAPTER VI. CAPTAIN ROACH LAYS DOWN THE LAW.
CHAPTER VII. A PERPLEXING SITUATION.
CHAPTER VIII. HOUNDS ON THE TRAIL.
CHAPTER IX. UNCLE SAM'S LOST BOYS.
CHAPTER X. NED GRIFFIN BRINGS NEWS.
CHAPTER XI. THE ESCAPED PRISONERS' STORY.
CHAPTER XII. A HAIL AT THE BARS.
CHAPTER XIII. CAPTAIN TOM SHOWS HIS GRATITUDE.
CHAPTER XIV. RODNEY KEEPS HIS PROMISE.
CHAPTER XV. RODNEY PASSES INSPECTION.
CHAPTER XVI. CAPTAIN RANDOLPH RECEIVES ORDERS.
CHAPTER XVII. CONCLUSION.
The Gunboat's reply to the Home Guards.
"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