"Mustn't we eat none o' their pies?" asked the boys, with longing remembrance of the fragrant products of their mothers' ovens.
"Nary a pie. If I ketch a boy eatin' a pie after we cross the river I'll buck-and-gag him. Stick to plain hardtack and pork. You'll git to like it better'n cake by and by. I eat it right along in preference to the finest cake ever baked."
Shorty did not think it necessary to mention that this preference was somewhat compulsory.
"Why don't you hunt down the guerrillas and kill 'em off and be done with 'em?"
"You can't, very well. You see, guerrilain' is peculiar. There's somethin' in the air and water down in Kentucky and Tennessee that brings it on a man. You'll see a plain farmer man, jest like them around your home, and he'll be all right, goin' about his place plowin' and grubbin' sprouts and tendin' to his stock, and tellin' you all the time how much he loves the Union and how he and his folks always bin for the Union. Next thing you know he'll be out behind a cedar bush with a shotgun loaded with slugs, waitin' to make a lead mine o' some feller wearin' blue clothes. You see him before he does you, and he'll swear that he was out after the crows that's bin pullin' up his corn. He'll take' the oath of allegiance like it was a dram of old apple-jack, and tears'll come into his eyes at the sight o' the Old Flag, which he and his'n has always loved. He'll go ahead plowin' and grubbin' sprouts and tendin' his cattle till the fit comes on him agin to go gunnin' for bluecoats, and off he is, to go through the whole performance agin.
You kin never tell how long his loosid interval will last, nor when the fit's comin' on him. Mebbe the changes o' the moon's somethin' to do with it. Mebbe it's somethin' that they eat, like what the cattle eat out West that makes 'em go crazy."
"Will the guerrillas begin shootin' at us as soon's we cross the river?"
"Can't tell. Guerrillas's like the nose-bleed--likely to come on you at any time. They're jest where you find 'em--that's when they're jumpin'
you.. When they aint jumpin' you, they're lawabiding Union citizens, entitled to the protection o' the laws and to draw rations from the Commissary. To make no mistake, you want to play every man in citizen's clothes south of the Ohio River for a rebel. And when you don't see him, you want to be surer than ever, for then he's layin' for you."
Si came up at this moment with orders for them to pick up and go down to the ferry, and the lively hustle shut off Shorty's stream of information for the time being. The boys swarmed on to the bow of the ferry-boat, where they could scrutinize and devour with eager eyes the fateful shore of Kentucky.
"Don't look so very different from the Indiana side," said Harry Joslyn, as they neared the wharf. "Same kind o' wharf-boats and same kind o' men on 'em."
"That's because we've taken 'em and have our own men there," replied Gid Mackall. "It'll all be different when we git ashore and further into the State."
"Wasn't expecting nothing else," said Albert Grimes. "I've been watchin'
the Sargint and Corpril, and they're acting just as if it was every day bizniss. I'm not going to expect anything till I see them lookin'
They landed and walked to the depot through the streets of Louisville, which were also disappointingly like those they had seen elsewhere, with the stores open and people going about their business, as if no shadow of war brooded over the land. There were some more soldiers on the streets, and a considerable portion of the vehicles were army wagons, but this was all.
"When'll we see some rebels?" the boys asked.
"Don't be impatient," said a soldier on the sidewalk; "you'll see 'em soon enough, and more'n you want to. You'll have to go a little further, but you'll find the woods full of 'em. You'll be wishin' you was back home in your little trundle-beds, where they ought've kept you."
"Shut up, you coffee-boiler," shouted Shorty, striding toward him.
"These boys 's goin' to the front, where you ought to be, and I won't have you sayin' a word to discourage 'em."
"Too bad about discouraging 'em," laughed another, who had a juster appreciation of the situation. "You couldn't discourage that drove of kids with a hickory club."
After the train left Louisville it passed between two strong forts bristling with heavy guns. Here was a reality of war, and the boys' tide of questions became a torrent that for once overslaughed Shorty's fine talent for fiction and misinformation.
"How many battles had been fought there?"
"How many Union soldiers had been killed?"
"How many rebels?"
"Where were they buried?"
"How big a ball did the guns shoot?"
"How far would it carry?"
"How many men would it kill if they were put one behind another?"
"How near would the guns come to hitting a man a mile off?"
"Could the gunner knock a man's head off, or one of his legs, just as he pleased?"
"Were the guns rifled or smooth-bore?"
"How much powder did it take to load them?"
"How hard did they kick when they were fired?"
"Did they have flint-locks or caps?"
"Did they ever fire chain-shot, which would cut down trees and sweep away companies of men?"
"If all the rest of the men were killed wouldn't the powder-monkey get a chance to fire the gun?"
"Look here, boys," gasped Shorty, when he got a chance to answer, "I'd like to answer your questions and fill you so plumb full o' information that your hides'd crack to hold it. But I aint no complete history o'
the war with heavy artillery tactics bound up in one volume. All I know is that the worst dose them forts ever give was to the fellers that had to build 'em. After you've dug and shoveled and wheeled on one of 'em for about a month you'll hate the very sight of 'em and never ask no questions about 'em. All you'll want'll be to find and kill the feller that invented them brick-red eruptions on the face o' the earth."
This was a prosaic side of the war that had not occurred to the boys.
[Illustration: 'HERE, YOU YOUNG BRATS, WHAT ARE YOU UP TO 225]
As the train ran out into the country there were plentiful signs of war to rivet the attention of the youngsters--hospitals, with the emaciated patients strolling feebly about; corrals of mules and horses, the waste and wreckage where camps had been, and bridges which had been burned and rebuilt.
"But we haint seen no guerrillas yit," said Harry Joslyn and Gid Mackall, whose minds seemed more fascinated with that species of an enemy than any other, and they apparently voiced the minds of the rest.
"When're we likely to see some guerrillas?"
"O, the guerrillas are layin' purty low now, betwixt here and Nashville," Si carelessly explained. "After we pass Nashville you kin begin to look out for 'em."
"Why," Gid Mackall complained to the rest of them, "Corpril Elliott said that we could begin to look out for guerrillas jest as soon's we crossed the Ohio--that the whole o' Kentucky was full of 'em. I believe Corpril Elliott knows more about his business than Sargint Klegg. Sargint Klegg seems careless like. I see lots o' fellers along the road in butternut clothes that seemed savage and sneaky like. They looked at us in a way that made me certain they wuz spying us, and had their guns hid away somewhere, ready to jump us whenever there wuz a good chanst."
"So did I," chorused the others.
The train made a long stop on a switch and manuvered around a while, taking on some cars found there, and Si and Shorty seeing nothing to do went forward to another car, where they found some returning veterans, and were soon absorbed in a game of seven-up. Shorty had just successfully turned a jack from the bottom, and was snickering to himself that his fingers had not lost their cunning by long idleness, when the game was interrupted by a train-hand rushing up with the information:
"Here, you fellers, you want to git out there and 'tend to them kids o'
your'n. They've got a couple o' citizens down there in the brush and I believe are goin' to hang 'em."
Si and Shorty ran down in the direction indicated. They found the boys, stern-eyed and resolute, surrounding two weak-eyed, trembling "crackers," who had apparently come to the train with baskets of leathery-crusted dried-apple pies for sale. The men were specimens of the weak-minded, weak-bodied, lank-haired "po' white trash," but the boys had sized them up on sight as dangerous spies and guerrillas, had laid hands on them and dragged them down into the brush, where Gid Mackall and Harry Joslyn were doing a fair reproduction of Williams, Paulding and Van Wert searching Maj. Andre's clothes for incriminating documents. They had the prisoners' hands tied behind them and their ankles bound. So far they had discovered a clumsy brass-barreled pistol and an ugly-looking spring dirk, which were sufficient to confirm the dangerous character of the men. Two of the boys had secured ropes from the train, which they were trying to fashion into hangman's nooses. Gid and Harry finished a painstaking examination of the men's ragged jeans vests, with a look of disappointment at finding nothing more inculpating that some fishhooks, chunks of twist tobacco and cob-pipes.
"They must have 'em in their boots, boys. Pull 'em off," said Harry.
"There's where spies usually carry their most important papers."
"Here, you young brats, what are you up to?" demanded Si, striding in among them.
"Why, Sargint," said Harry Joslyn, speaking as if confident of being engaged in a praisworthy work, which should receive the commendation of his superiors, "these're two spies and guerrillas that we ketched right in the act, and we're searchin' 'em for evidence to hang 'em."