"Well, I'll take two o' the boys and go back. You stay here with the rest, and hold the mill. I'll git back as soon's I kin, and then you kin take a couple o' the boys and go out foragin'."
Calling Alf Russell and Monty Scruggs to follow him, Si started back to the scene of the skirmish of the night before. The woods looked totally different, under the bright Spring sunshine, from what they had seemed in the chill, wet blackness of the previous night. Buds were bursting and birds singing, and all nature seemed very blithe and inspiring.
"Gracious, what a difference daylight makes in the woods," murmured Monty Scruggs. "Tain't a bit like Hohenlinden.
"'Tis morn, but scarce yon lurid sun Can pierce the war-clouds rolling dun, Where furious Frank and fiery Hun Shout 'mid their sulphurous canopy."
"You'd think, from the way the bird 's singing, and the flowers blooming, that there'd never been a gun fired within a hundred miles o'
"Seems like we only dreamed all that happened last night," accorded Alf Russell. "There's nothing in the woods or the ground that looks as it did then, and I can't hardly make myself believe that this is the way we come."
"Well, here's something that'll convince you it wasn't a dream," said Si, as they made their way through the broken and trampled brush, and came to a little knoll, on which the final fight had been made, and where were gathered the wounded rebels. There were three of these; the man whom Shorty had shot in the shoulder, the one whom Si knocked down by a stunning blow on the head, and the one who had been hit in the thigh by a shot from the boys, and who was the "pardner" of the recalcitrant man of the previous evening. He was still there, caring for his comrades. The men who had been shot were so faint from loss of blood that they could scarcely move, and the man whom Si had struck was only slowly recovering consciousness.
The unhurt rebel was standing there with his gun in hand, and had apparently been watching their approach for some time.
"My parole was out at daylight," he said, as they came up. "The sun's now nearly an hour high. I ain't obleeged to be good no more, and I could' 've drapped one o' yo'uns when y' fust turned offen the road, and got away. I s'pose I'd orter've done hit, and I'd a great mind ter, but suthin' sorter held me back. Onderstand that?"
"You'd a' bin a nice man to've shot at us when we wuz comin' to help your comrades," said Si, walking up coolly toward him, and getting near enough to prevent his leveling his gun, while he held his own ready for a quick blow with the barrel. "We needn't've come back here at all, except that we felt it right to take care o' the men that got hurt."
"Come back to take keer o' the men that yo'uns swatted last night?" said the rebel incredulously. "That haint natural. 'Taint Yankee-like. What'd yo'uns keer for 'em, 'cept to see if they'uns's dead yit, and mebbe gin 'em a prod with the bayonit to help 'em along? But they'uns's mouty nigh dead, now. They'uns can't last much longer. But I'll kill the fust one o' yo'uns that tries to prod one o' they'uns with a bayonit. Let they'uns alone. They'll soon be gone."
"What're you talkin' about, you dumbed fool?" said Si, irritably. "We haint no Injuns nor heathens, to kill wounded men. We're Injiannians and Christians, what read the Bible, and foller what it says about lovin'
your enemies, and carin' for them what despitefully use you--that is, after you've downed 'em good and hard."
"Does your Bible say that ere?" asked the rebel.
"Well, hit must be a new-fangled kind of a Yankee Bible. The only Bible I ever seed was a piece o' one that used t' be in dad's house, and I've done heared strangers read hit aloud hundreds o' times, and hit said nothin' like that. Hit had lots in it 'bout killin' every man and man-child, and hewin' 'em to pieces afore the Lord, but nothin' 'bout lovin' and takin' keer o' them that wuz fernest ye."
"Well, it's in there, all the same," said Si impatiently, "and you must mind it, same's we do. Come, drop that gun, and help us take care o'
these men. They ain't goin' to die. We won't let 'em. They're all right.
Just faint from loss o' blood. We kin fix 'em up. Set your gun agin'
that beech there, and go to the branch and git some water to wash their wounds, and we'll bring 'em around all right."
There was something so masterful in Si's way, that the rebel obeyed. Si set his own gun down against a hickory, in easy reach, and had the boys do the same. He had naturally gained a good deal of knowledge of rough surgery in the army, and he proceeded to put it to use. He washed the wounds, stayed the flow of blood, and to take the rising fever out of the hurts, he bound on them fresh, green dockleaves, wet with water.
After the man he had struck had had his face washed, and his head thoroughly doused with cold water, he recovered rapidly and was soon able to sit up, and then rise weakly to his feet.
The rebel looked on wonderingly.
"Well, yo'uns is as good doctrin' hurts as ole Sary Whittleton, and she's a natural bone-setter," he said.
"Well, don't stand around and gawk,", said Si snappishly. "Help. What's your name?"
"Well, Gabe, go down to the branch and git some more water, quick as you kin move them stumps o' your'n. Give the men all they want to drink, and then pour some on their wounds. Then go there and cut some o' them pawpaws, and peel their bark, to make a litter to carry your pardner back to the mill. Boys, look around for guns. Smash all you kin find on that rock there, so they won't be of no more use. Bust the locks good, and bend the barrels. Save two to make the handles of the litter."
Si proceeded to deftly construct a litter out of the two guns, with some sticks that he cut with a knife, and bound with pawpaw strips.
A few days before, Si, while passing near the hospital, saw a weak convalescent faint and fall. He rushed to the Surgeon's tent, and that officer being busy, handed him a small bottle with a metal top, and filled with strong ammonia, telling him to unscrew the top and hold the bottle under the man's nose. He did so, with the effect of reviving him. Si thrust the bottle into his pocket, to help the man back to the hospital, and forgot all about it, until one after another of his present patients overdid himself, had a relapse, and fainted away. Si happened to feel his bottle, drew it out, unscrewed the top, thrust it under their noses, and revived them.
Gabs's eyes opened wider at each performance. He had never seen a bottle with a metal top, or one that unscrewed, or anything that seemed to effect such wonderful changes by merely pointing it at a man. His mountaineer intellect, prone to "spells" and "charms," saw in it at once an instrument of morta: witchcraft. With a paling face, he began edging toward his gun. Busy as Si had been, he had kept constantly in mind the possibility of Gabe's attempting some mischief, and did not let himself lose sight of the rebel's gun. He quickly rose, and with a few strides, placed himself between Gabe and his gun.
[Illustration: MR. YANK, DON'T CONJURE ME. 135]
"Where are you goin'?" he said sternly.
"I'm a-gwine away," replied the man, in terror-stricken accents. "I'm a-gwine away mouty quick. I don't want to stay here no longer."
"Indeed you're not goin' away. You'll stay right with us, and help us take care o' your comrades."
"I'm a-gwine away, I tell y'," shrieked Gabe. "I'm gwine right away.
I'm skeered o' yo'uns. Yo'uns is no doctor, nor no sojer. Yo'uns is a conjure-man, and a Yankee conjure-man, too--wust kind. Yo'uns 've bin puttin' spells on them men, and yo'uns'll put a spell on me. I've felt hit from the fust. I'm a-gwine away. Le'me go, quick."
Si caught the man roughly by the shoulder with his left hand, and raised his right threateningly. It still had the bottle in it. "You're not goin' a step, except with us," he said. "Go back there, and 'tend to your business as I told you, or I'll break you in two."
The sight of the dreadful bottle pointed at him completely unnerved the rebel. He fell on his knees.
"O, Mister Yank--Mister Conjure-man! don't put no spell on me. Pray to God, don't! I had one on me wunst, when I was little, and liked to've died from hit. I haint no real rebel. I wuz conscripted into the army, or I wouldn't be foutin' yo'uns. I won't fout no more, if yo'uns'll not put a spell on me. 'Deed I won't! I swar to God I wont!"
And he raised his right hand in testimony.
"Put a spell on you? Conjure you? What dumbed nonsense!" ejaculated Si, and then his eyes caught the rebel's fastened on the bottle in his hand, and a gleam of the meaning entered his mind. He had no conception of the dread the mountaineers have of being "conjured," but he saw that something about the bottle was operating terrifically on the rebel's mind and took advantage of it. He was in too much of a hurry to inquire critically what it was, but said: "Well, I won't do nothin' to you, so long's you're good, but mind that you're mighty good, and do just as I say, or I'll fix you. Git up, now, and take hold o' your pardner's feet, and help me lift him on the litter. Then you take hold o' the front handles. Monty, throw your gun-sling over your shoulder, and take hold o' the rear handles. The two o' you carry this man back. Alf, throw your gun-sling over your shoulder, put your arm under this man's, and help him along. I'll help this man."
They slowly made their way back toward the mill. As they came on the crest of the last rise, they saw Shorty and the rest eagerly watching for them. Shorty and the others ran forward and helped them bring the men in. Shorty was particularly helpful to the man he had shot. He almost carried him in to the mill, handling him as tenderly as if a child, fixed a comfortable place for him on the floor with his own blankets, and took the last grains of his coffee to make him a cup. This done, he said:
"I'm goin' out into the country to try and find some chickens to make some broth for you men. Come along, Harry Joslyn, Gid Mackall and little Pete."
The country roundabout was discouragingly poor, and had been thoroughly foraged over. But Shorty had a scent for cabins that were hidden away from the common roads, and so escaped the visitations of ordinary foragers. These were always miserably poor, but generally had a half-dozen chickens running about, and a small store of cornmeal and sidemeat. Ordinarily he would have passed one of these in scorn, because to take any of their little store would starve the brood of unkempt children that always abounded. But now, they were his hope. He had been playing poker recently with his usual success, and as the bets were in Confederate money, he had accumulated quite a wad of promises to "Pay in gold, six months after the ratification of a Treaty of Peace between the Confederate States and the United States." He would make some mountaineer family supremely happy by giving them more money than they had ever seen in their lives, in exchange for their stock of meal, chickens and sidemeat. They would know where to get more, and so the transaction would be a pleasant one all around.
In the meanwhile, little Pete had visions of killing big game in the mountain woods. The interminable forest suggested to him dreams of bear, deer, buffalo, elk, and all the animals he had read about. It would be a great thing to bring down an elk or a deer with his Springfield rifle, and then be escorted back' to camp in triumph, with the other boys carrying his game. He kept circling through the woods, in sight or hearing of the others, expecting every minute to come upon some animal that would fill his youthful sanguine hopes.
Shorty at last found a poor little cabin such as he had been looking for. It was hidden away in a little cove, and had never been visited by the men of either army. It had the usual occupants--a weak-eyed, ague-smitten man, who was so physically worthless that even the rebel conscripters rejected him; a tall, gaunt woman, with a vicious shrillness in her voice and a pipe in her mouth; a half score of mangy yellow dogs, and an equal number of wild, long-haired, staring children.
They had a little "jag" of meal in a bag, a piece of sidemeat, and a half-dozen chickens. The man had that morning shot an opossum, lean from its Winter fasting. Shorty rejected this contemptuously.
"I've bin mighty hungry in my time," said he, "but I never got quite so low down as to eat anything with a tail like a rat. That'd turn my stummick if I was famishin'."
The man looked on Shorty's display of wealth with lack-luster eyes, but his wife was fascinated, and quickly closed up a deal which conveyed to Shorty all the food that they had. Just as Shorty had completed payment, there came a shot from little Pete's rifle, and the next instant that youth appeared at the edge of the cornpatch extending up hill from the cabin, hatless, and yelling at the top of his voice. Shorty and the others picked up their guns and took position behind the trees.
"What's the matter, Pete?" asked Shorty, as the boy came up, breathless from his long run. "Rebels out there?"
"No," gasped Pete. "I was hunting out there for a deer, or a elk, or a bear, when suddenly I come acrost the queerest kind of an animal. It looked more like a hog than anything else, yet it wasn't a hog, for it was thinner'n a cat. It had long white tusks, longer'n your hand, that curled up from its mouth, little eyes that flashed fire, and great long bristles on his back, that stood straight up. I shot at it and missed it, and then it run straight at me. I made for the fence as hard as I could, but it outrun me and was gaining on me every jump. Just as I clim the fence it a-most ketched me, and made a nip not six inches from my leg. I could hear him gnash them awful tusks o' his'n."
"Humph," said the woman. "He's run acrost Stevenson's old boar, that runs in them woods up thar, and is mouty savage this time o' year. He'd take a laig offen a youngster quicker'n scat, if he ketched him. He done well to run."
Shorty and the others walked up to the fence and looked over. There was the old razor-back King of the woods still raging around sniffing the air of combat.