"You will, eh?" sneered Shorty, covering him with a heavy Remington.
"How'd you like the looks o' that, old butternut? Your murderin' dirk aint deuce high. Move a step, and you'll know how it feels to have daylight through you."
The "Captain" smashed the window with a backward blow of his fist, thrust his head out and yelled the rallying-cry of the Knights:
The sound of rushing feet was heard, and a man armed with a shot-gun came into the plane of light from the open caboose door. Shorty was on the lookout for him, and as he appeared, shouted;
"Halt, there! Drop that gun. If you move I'll kill this whelp here and then you."
"Do as he says, Stallins," groaned the frightened "Captain." "He's got the drop on me. Drop your gun, but holler to the boys in the front car to come out."
To Shorty's amazement a score of men came rushing back from the car next ahead of the caboose. They had, by a preconcerted arrangement, been jumping on the train ever since it grew dark, and collected in that car.
Some of them had guns, but the most appeared unarmed.
"Well, I have stirred up a yaller-jacket's nest for sure," thought Shorty, rather tickled at the odds which were arrayed against him. "But I believe I kin handle 'em until either the train pulls out or the boys hear the ruction and come to my help."
Then he called out sternly as he raised the revolver in his left hand:
"I'll shoot the first man that attempts to come on this car, and I'll kill your Captain, that I've got covered, dead. You man with that shot-gun, p'int it straight up in the air or I'll drop you in your tracks. Now fire off both barrels."
It seemed to every man in the gang that Shorty's left-hand revolver was pointing straight at him. The man with the shot-gun was more than certain of this, and he at once complied with the order.
There was a whistle, followed by a rush of men from a line further out, and every man of those around Shorty was either knocked down or rudely punched with a musket-barrel in the hands of Lieut. Bigelow's squad.
"What in the world made you so long comin'?" asked Shorty, after all the prisoners had been secured. "Was you asleep?"
"No," answered the Lieutenant. "This is the place where we intended to get off. We were quietly getting out so as to attract no notice when you started your circus. I saw you were doing well, hiving those fellows together, so I let you go ahead, while I slipped the boys around to gather them all in. Pretty neat job for a starter, wasn't it?"
CHAPTER XIII. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
BREAKING UP A DEN OF COPPERHEADS.
"COME, hustle these prisoners back into the car in which we were,"
commanded the Lieutenant. "We'll leave it on the switch with a guard.
Lock it up carefully, and one man'll be enough to guard it until we get back. Make haste, for we've no time to lose. Shorty."
"Corpril Elliott," Shorty corrected him, mindful of the presence of Sergeant Bob Ramsey.
"Yes; excuse me. Corporal Elliott, while we are attending to the prisoners you go on ahead and reconnoiter. You need not stop unless you see fit until you are clear into the lodge. Give one low whistle if you want us to stop, two to come ahead and three to go back."
It was a moonless night, and the broom-like tops of the close-growing beeches made a dense darkness, into which Shorty plunged, but he could readily make out a well-beaten path, which he followed. Occasionally he could make out dark figures moving just ahead of him or crossing the path.
"Goin' to be a full attendance at the services this evenin'," he muttered to himself. "But the more the merrier. It'll insure a goodly number at the mourner's bench when we make the call for the unconverted."
Big and lumbering as Shorty sometimes seemed in his careless hours, no wildcat gliding through the brush was more noiseless-footed than he now.
He kept on the darker side of the path, but not a twig seemed to crack or a leaf rustle under his heavy brogans. Twice he heard lumbering steps in his rear, and he slipped behind the big trunk of a tree, and saw the men pass almost within arm's length, but without a suspicion of his presence.
"Well, for men workin' a dark-lantern job this is about the logiest crowd I ever struck," he said rather disgustedly. "An elephant'd have to step on 'em before they'd know he was around. They ain't hardly good fun."
Presently he heard some rustling over to his right and caught the low murmur of a voice. He cautiously made his way in that direction until he made an opening, with a number of men sitting on a log, while others were standing, leaning on their guns.
"Probably a caucus outside to set up the pins before goin' into the full meetin'," he said to himself. "As I always like to be with the winnin'
side, I guess I'll jest jine 'em."
He advanced boldly into the opening. At the sound of his approach the men looked up, and one of those leaning on his gun picked it up and came toward him.
"You are out late," he whispered, when within speaking distance.
"Yes," answered Shorty. "And I was out late last night."
"Did you see a star?"
"What star was it?"
"It was the Star of Bethlehem."
The first speaker had seemed to start at the sound of Shorty's voice, but he recovered himself, and saying, "You're right, my brother," put out his hand for the grip.
"'Taint right, neither," hissed Shorty. "Si Klegg, what are you doin'
"Shorty!" ejaculated Si, joyfully, but still in a whisper. "I thought I knowed your voice. Where in the world did you come from?"
"I'm here on business," answered Shorty. "I came up from Headquarters at Jeffersonville. What brung you here?"
"O," said Si, "we've bin hearin' about this Copperhead lodge for some time, and some of us boys who's home on furlough thought that we'd come down here with the Deputy Provo and bust it up. We've bin plannin' it a week or two. All these that you see, there are soldiers. I've 15, includin' myself."
The boys hastily conferred together as to the plan of operations, and one man was hurried back to inform Lieut. Bigelow of the presence of the other squad.
"You seem to know most about this affair. Shorty," said Si. "You take command and make arrangements."
"Not for a minute. Si," protested Shorty. "You rank me and you must command, and I want you to hold your own over Bob Ramsey, who will try to rank you. Bob's a good boy, but he's rather too much stuck on his stripes."
It was finally arranged that Si should move his squad out to near the edge of the path and wait for Lieut. Bigelow to come up, while Shorty should go forward and reconnoiter.
Shorty walked along the path toward the lodge. Suddenly the large figure of a man loomed up before him, standing motionless, on guard, in the road.
"You are out late, my friend," said he.
"Yes," answered Shorty.
"Did you see a star?"