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HOME > Classical Novels > The Blue Balloon > CHAPTER VIII.A PAIR OF RELUCTANT RECRUITS.
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CHAPTER VIII.A PAIR OF RELUCTANT RECRUITS.
 Ephraim followed the officers to the door of the hut and looked out. For five minutes he maintained this position without moving or speaking; then he turned inwards again, and with his usual quiet grin on his face, hailed: ‘Ye kin1 git down now, Luce. I reckon the coast is cl’ar.’  
Lucius swung down to the floor and burst out laughing. ‘How well you managed that, Grizzly2!’ he said. ‘Do you know, at one time I thought that you were going to make a clean breast of it, and tell the general that we had been in the balloon.’
 
‘I ’low I had some thorts er it,’ answered Ephraim; ’fer he seemed dead sot agin the cunnel himself; but ye never know what’ll happen. After all, they war all Yanks in hyar, and though the ginrul seemed inclined ter be perfeckly fair and squar ’bout them two escaped balloonists, ye carn’t tell how his complexshun might hev changed ef wanst he knew he’d got his claws onter ’em.’
 
‘That’s so,’ agreed Lucius. ‘It was best to be on the safe side. And you told him the simple truth.’
 
‘’Ceptin’ ’bout the “Trailin’ Terrors,”’ chuckled4 Ephraim. ‘Ye see thet came inter5 my hed and sorter slipped out before I could stop it. I ’low I war rather sot back when he purposed ter put me up agin the cunnel; and ef it hed come ter thet, I’d hev owned up at once. But it’s jest ez well,’ he went on, ’fer ef the ginrul hed known who we war, he’d hev been bound ter rope us in fer a while, till he’d got the rights er the story, and thar’s no tellin’ when we’d hev got home.’
 
‘We’re not there yet,’ said Lucius dubiously6.
 
‘I know thet, sonny; but we’re on the way; fer now we know whar we air, and we won’t be long in gettin’ out er this, I tell ye.’
 
‘Where are we?’ asked Lucius. ‘Somewhere about Port Republic, I gathered from what was said.’
 
‘Right, bub. We’re on’y ’bout three miles from thar, and that’s whar old Stonewall is, holdin’ the bridge. But the road and the woods between this and thar is choke-full er Yanks; so, ez ye rightly remark, we ain’t thar yit. On our right is the Shenandoah, ez full er water ez an egg is er meat, and on our left is the Blue Ridge7, so we carn’t do nuthin’ but go straight on.’
 
‘We can’t go by the turnpike either,’ said Lucius, ‘for I fancy there would be a pretty to do if two Federal soldiers were caught walking in the direction of the enemy.’
 
‘Thet’s so,’ returned Ephraim. ‘We must keep ter the woods and make the best of it. It won’t do ter git lost in ’em agen, though, and come wanderin’ back upon Lewiston. We must hold close by this edge.’
 
‘Where is Lewiston?’ inquired Lucius. ‘It’s a name I don’t know.’
 
‘I reckon it’s thet fine big house way back thar, what we saw when we fust came out er the woods, or nearly—whar the Yankee cannon8 wuz planted. And I tell ye what it is. Ef old Stonewall whips Frémont to-day—and I reckon he will—thar’s goin’ ter be the biggest kick-up thar ter-morrer you ever heard on. Shields expects it, that’s cl’ar; fer didn’t ye hear him say he’d wait the attack thar?’
 
‘I did,’ answered Lucius; ‘but if the bridge is carried, it may make a difference.’
 
‘Shucks!’ exclaimed Ephraim with contempt. ‘I reckon ef the Yanks hes actually got across, they’ll be glad enough to git back agin. Why, old Stonewall, he’s thar himself.’
 
Such was the confidence that this general inspired that it never occurred to Ephraim or to any one else in the valley to doubt that where Jackson was, there also would the victory be.
 
‘Well, then, what do you propose to do?’ asked Lucius.
 
‘Waal,’ replied Ephraim, ‘ez they war so onmannerly ez to plump in upon us before we could git well started with our breakfast, and ez we hev the whole day ter git thar, I p’intedly advise thet we fortify9 our stummicks fust thing we do.’
 
‘Right!’ cried Lucius. ‘I’m with you there.’ And with much laughter the two boys fell to work upon the provisions, and made a hearty10 meal.
 
‘I feel better now,’ said the Grizzly, wiping his mouth a few minutes later. ‘Come along and let us take a squint11 at what’s goin’ on outside.’
 
They peeped, the one through the window, and the other through the door, and no one being in sight, issued from the latter into the open.
 
‘This hyar is mighty12 pleasant,’ remarked Ephraim, like the epicure13, serenely14 full, and enjoying the warm June sunshine; ‘but I s’pose we’d better make fer the woods in case any wan3 comes along.’
 
‘I think so,’ agreed Lucius. ‘There’s no use running unnecessary risks.—Quick, Grizzly, quick! Here come some soldiers.’
 
‘Run, Luce, fer all ye’re wuth!’ cried Ephraim, setting the example. ‘Maybe we’ve not been seen.’
 
It was a foolish proceeding16, for they had been seen before they took flight, and had they remained perfectly17 still, they would have had a better chance of escaping unfavourable observation. As it was, their hasty action condemned18 them. Around the short arm of the wood, described above, swept a column of infantry19, and as soon as the officer in command saw, as he supposed, two Federal soldiers in full flight, he very naturally roared out ‘Halt!’ at the top of his voice. Ephraim and Lucius, however, paid no attention to this courteous20 invitation, but continued their race towards the friendly shelter at top speed.
 
But they were soon brought up standing21. ‘If you don’t stop,’ shouted the officer, ‘I’ll fire on you. Halt!’ And thus adjured22, the fugitives23 unwillingly24 checked their flight and stood still.
 
‘Never mind, Luce,’ muttered Ephraim; ‘we kin bluff25 ’em, I reckon.’
 
‘Why didn’t you stop when I ordered you?’ demanded the officer roughly as he came up.
 
The boys were silent. To give the true reason 122was not at all to their taste, and no other seemed just then to fit the circumstances. However, the officer went on without waiting for a reply to his first question:
 
‘Where were you running to?’
 
‘Makin’ fer our lines, major,’ replied Ephraim, recognising the officer’s rank.
 
‘So. What is your regiment26?’
 
‘The “Trailing Terrors.”’
 
The major laughed. ‘As usual,’ he said, ‘with their backs the wrong way. Fall in here, both of you.’
 
‘Oh, I say, major,’ whined27 Ephraim, ‘our regiment’s three miles back of Lewiston.’
 
‘Is it?’ answered the major. ‘I know. Well, I’ll start you three miles in front of Lewiston, and show you a little fighting for a change.’
 
‘General Shields told us the “Terrors” warn’t ter be in action ter-day,’ protested Ephraim, still hanging back.
 
‘Rubbish! None of your cock-and-bull stories for me. Fall in!’
 
‘But my comrade’s wounded,’ declared Ephraim desperately28. ‘How kin he fight?’
 
The major was a good-humoured man, but he began to lose patience. ‘What do you mean, sir, by arguing with me?’ he cried, striking Ephraim with the flat of his sword. ‘Do you suppose I don’t know a couple of confounded skulkers when I see them? There’s nothing wrong with your comrade’s legs, I should say. I’m not going to stand here all day. Fall in!’
 
‘But we han’t got no guns,’ whimpered Ephraim as a last resource.
 
‘Fall in!’ roared the major.—‘Sergeant29 Pierce, draft these two cowardly skulkers into the middle of the column, so that they can’t run away; and keep your eye on them during the action. If they try to bolt, cut them down.—Column, forward!’
 
The sergeant thrust Ephraim and Lucius into the ranks, and the column moved forward at the double to atone30 for the short delay.
 
To exchange ideas on this unpleasant development was impossible; but Ephraim glanced at Lucius as they trotted31 along, as much as to say: ‘We are in for it this time, and, for the life of me, I don’t see how we are going to get out of it.’ The column was marching two deep, and the sergeant kept abreast32 the file formed by the two boys. Presently, as the men fell by order into the quick step once more, Ephraim addressed the grizzled warrior33 in plaintive34 accents.
 
‘See hyar, sergeant,’ he said; ‘it ain’t thet we don’t want ter fight. We feel powerful like fightin’ ef we git the chance; but how air we goin’ ter do it ’thout nary a gun or a ba’net?’
 
‘You’ll git ’em before long,’ answered the sergeant. ‘You bet.’
 
‘Whar air we gwine ter?’ next inquired Ephraim.
 
‘Oh, shet yer head,’ retorted the sergeant. ‘You’ll know when ye git thar. Yew35 two “Trailing Terrors” is going ter hev one day’s gunning this time, I tell yew.’
 
Ephraim glanced again at Lucius. The boy’s head was erect36, and his face was flushed; but though his eyes glittered with excitement, he met his comrade’s look boldly and confidently as he marched along 124with easy swinging step. He certainly had not the appearance of one who was afraid.
 
Grizzly heaved a breath of relief. Despite his loyalty37, his thoughts would recur38 to that scene in the balloon; but now, though full of fears for his friend’s safety, the old pride in him revived in full force, and he knew that, whatever desperate move their dangerous position might necessitate39, he would be able to count upon Luce’s cool and hearty co-operation. His feelings insisted upon expression, and slily grasping Luce’s arm, he gave it a fervent40 squeeze. In return, the boy smiled up at him.
 
‘I dunno what’s goin’ ter happen,’ thought Grizzly; ‘but I ’low it’ll be funny ef they kin persuade Luce and me ter shoot our own friends. By time! Luce war sot on seein’ a battle, and I reckon he’s goin’ ter hev his way this time, same ez always. On’y, things hes got twisted upside down most outrageous42. And it’s all along er me, too.’ A sharp pang43 of generous self-reproach shot through him; but the current of his reflections was rudely turned aside by the loud,
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