The Army Of The Callahan by John
The dreaded message had come. The lank messenger, who had brought it
from over Black Mountain, dropped into a chair by the stove and sank his
teeth into a great hunk of yellow cheese. "Flitter Bill" Richmond
waddled from behind his counter, and out on the little platform in front
of his cross-roads store. Out there was a group of earth-stained
countrymen, lounging against the rickety fence or swinging on it, their
heels clear of the ground, all whittling, chewing, and talking the
matter over. All looked up at Bill, and he looked down at them, running
his eye keenly from one to another until he came to one powerful young
fellow loosely bent over a wagon-tongue. Even on him, Bill's eyes stayed
but a moment, and then were lifted higher in anxious thought.
The message had come at last, and the man who brought it had heard it
fall from Black Tom's own lips. The "wild Jay-Hawkers of Kaintuck" were
coming over into Virginia to get Flitter Bill's store, for they were
mountain Unionists and Bill was a valley rebel and lawful prey. It was
past belief. So long had he prospered, and so well, that Bill had come
to feel that he sat safe in the hollow of God's hand. But he now must
have protection—and at once—from the hand of man.
Roaring Fork sang lustily through the rhododendrons. To the north yawned
"the Gap" through the Cumberland Mountains. "Callahan's Nose," a huge
gray rock, showed plain in the clear air, high above the young foliage,
and under it, and on up the rocky chasm, flashed Flitter Bill's keen
mind, reaching out for help.
Now, from Virginia to Alabama the Southern mountaineer was a Yankee,
because the national spirit of 1776, getting fresh impetus in 1812 and
new life from the Mexican War, had never died out in the hills. Most
likely it would never have died out, anyway; for, the world over, any
seed of character, individual or national, that is once dropped between
lofty summits brings forth its kind, with deathless tenacity, year after
year. Only, in the Kentucky mountains, there were more slaveholders than
elsewhere in the mountains in the South. These, naturally, fought for
their slaves, and the division thus made the war personal and terrible
between the slaveholders who dared to stay at home, and the Union,
"Home Guards" who organized to drive them away. In Bill's little
Virginia valley, of course, most of the sturdy farmers had shouldered
Confederate muskets and gone to the war. Those who had stayed at home
were, like Bill, Confederate in sympathy, but they lived in safety down
the valley, while Bill traded and fattened just opposite the Gap,
through which a wild road ran over into the wild Kentucky hills. Therein
Bill's danger lay; for, just at this time, the Harlan Home Guard under
Black Tom, having cleared those hills, were making ready, like the Pict
and Scot of olden days, to descend on the Virginia valley and smite the
lowland rebels at the mouth of the Gap. Of the "stay-at-homes," and the
deserters roundabout, there were many, very many, who would "stand in"
with any man who would keep their bellies full, but they were well-nigh
worthless even with a leader, and, without a leader, of no good at all.
Flitter Bill must find a leader for them, and anywhere than in his own
fat self, for a leader of men Bill was not born to be, nor could he see
a leader among the men before him. And so, standing there one early
morning in the spring of 1865, with uplifted gaze, it was no surprise to
him—the coincidence, indeed, became at once one of the articles of
perfect faith in his own star—that he should see afar off, a black
slouch hat and a jogging gray horse rise above a little knoll that was
in line with the mouth of the Gap. At once he crossed his hands over his
chubby stomach with a pious sigh, and at once a plan of action began to
whirl in his little round head. Before man and beast were in full view
the work was done, the hands were unclasped, and Flitter Bill, with a
chuckle, had slowly risen, and was waddling back to his desk in the
It was a pompous old buck who was bearing down on the old gray horse,
and under the slouch hat with its flapping brim—one Mayhall Wells, by
name. There were but few strands of gray in his thick blue-black hair,
though his years were rounding half a century, and he sat the old nag
with erect dignity and perfect ease. His bearded mouth showed vanity
immeasurable, and suggested a strength of will that his eyes—the real
seat of power—denied, for, while shrewd and keen, they were unsteady.
In reality, he was a great coward, though strong as an ox, and whipping
with ease every man who could force him into a fight. So that, in the
whole man, a sensitive observer would have felt a peculiar pathos, as
though nature had given him a desire to be, and no power to become, and
had then sent him on his zigzag way, never to dream wherein his trouble
All nodded and spoke except Hence Sturgill on the wagon-tongue, who
stopped whittling, and merely looked at the big man with narrowing eyes.
Tallow Dick, a yellow slave, appeared at the corner of the store, and
the old buck beckoned him to come and hitch his horse. Flitter Bill had
reappeared on the stoop with a piece of white paper in his hand. The
lank messenger sagged in the doorway behind him, ready to start for
"Mornin' Captain Wells," said Bill, with great respect. Every man
heard the title, stopped his tongue and his knife-blade, and raised his
eyes; a few smiled—Hence Sturgill grinned. Mayhall stared, and Bill's
left eye closed and opened with lightning quickness in a most portentous
wink. Mayhall straightened his shoulders—seeing the game, as did the
crowd at once: Flitter Bill was impressing that messenger in case he had
some dangerous card up his sleeve.
"Captain Wells," Bill repeated significantly, "I'm sorry to say yo'
new uniform has not arrived yet. I am expecting it to-morrow." Mayhall
toed the line with soldierly promptness.
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that, suh—sorry to hear it, suh," he said,
with slow, measured speech. "My men are comin' in fast, and you can
hardly realize er—er what it means to an old soldier er—er not to
have—er—" And Mayhall's answering wink was portentous.
"My friend here is from over in Kaintucky, and the Harlan Home Gyard
over there, he says, is a-making some threats."
"So I have heerd—so I have heerd." He turned to the messenger. "We
shall be ready fer 'em, suh, ready fer 'em with a thousand men—one
thousand men, suh, right hyeh in the Gap—right hyeh in the Gap. Let 'em
come on—let 'em come on!" Mayhall began to rub his hands together as
though the conflict were close at hand, and the mountaineer slapped one
thigh heartily. "Good for you! Give 'em hell!" He was about to slap
Mayhall on the shoulder and call him "pardner," when Flitter Bill
coughed, and Mayhall lifted his chin.
"Captain Wells?" said Bill.
"Captain Wells," repeated Mayhall with a stiff salutation, and the
messenger from over Black Mountain fell back with an apologetic laugh. A
few minutes later both Mayhall and Flitter Bill saw him shaking his
head, as he started homeward toward the Gap. Bill laughed silently, but
Mayhall had grown grave. The fun was over and he beckoned Bill inside
"Misto Richmond," he said, with hesitancy and an entire change of tone
and manner, "I am afeerd I ain't goin' to be able to pay you that little
amount I owe you, but if you can give me a little mo' time—"
"Captain Wells," interrupted Bill slowly, and again Mayhall stared hard
at him, "as betwixt friends, as have been pussonal friends fer nigh onto
twenty year, I hope you won't mention that little matter to me
ag'in—until I mentions it to you."
"But, Misto Richmond, Hence Sturgill out thar says as how he heerd you
say that if I didn't pay—"
"Captain Wells," interrupted Bill again and again Mayhall stared
hard—it was strange that Bill could have formed the habit of calling
him "Captain" in so short a time—"yestiddy is not to-day, is it? And
to-day is not to-morrow? I axe you—have I said one word about that
little matter to-day? Well, borrow not from yestiddy nor to-morrow, to
make trouble fer to-day. There is other things fer to-day, Captain
Mayhall turned here.
"Misto Richmond," he said, with great earnestness, "you may not know it,
but three times since thet long-legged jay-hawker's been gone you hev
plainly—and if my ears do not deceive me, an' they never hev—you have
plainly called me 'Captain Wells.' I knowed yo' little trick whilst he
was hyeh, fer I knowed whut the feller had come to tell ye; but since
he's been gone, three times, Misto Richmond—"
"Yes," drawled Bill, with an unction that was strangely sweet to
Mayhall's wondering ears, "an' I do it ag'in, Captain Wells."
"An' may I axe you," said Mayhall, ruffling a little, "may I axe
"Certainly," said Bill, and he handed over the paper that he held in his
Mayhall took the paper and looked it up and down helplessly—Flitter
Bill slyly watching him.
Mayhall handed it back. "If you please, Misto Richmond—I left my specs
at home." Without a smile, Bill began. It was an order from the
commandant at Cumberland Gap, sixty miles farther down Powell's Valley,
authorizing Mayhall Wells to form a company to guard the Gap and to
protect the property of Confederate citizens in the valley; and a
commission of captaincy in the said company for the said Mayhall Wells.
Mayhall's mouth widened to the full stretch of his lean jaws, and, when
Bill was through reading, he silently reached for the paper and looked
it up and down and over and over, muttering:
"Well—well—well!" And then he pointed silently to the name that was at
the bottom of the paper.
Bill spelled out the name:
"Jefferson Davis" and Mayhall's big fingers trembled as he pulled them
away, as though to avoid further desecration of that sacred name.
Then he rose, and a magical transformation began that can be likened—I
speak with reverence—to the turning of water into wine. Captain Mayhall
Wells raised his head, set his chin well in, and kept it there. He
straightened his shoulders, and kept them straight. He paced the floor
with a tread that was martial, and once he stopped before the door with
his right hand thrust under his breast-pocket, and with wrinkling brow
studied the hills. It was a new man—with the water in his blood changed
to wine—who turned suddenly on Flitter Bill Richmond:
"I can collect a vehy large force in a vehy few days." Flitter Bill knew
that—that he could get together every loafer between the county-seat of
Wise and the county-seat of Lee—but he only said encouragingly:
"An' we air to pertect the property—I am to pertect the property of
the Confederate citizens of the valley—that means you, Misto
Richmond, and this store."
Mayhall coughed slightly. "There is one thing in the way, I opine.
Whar—I axe you—air we to git somethin' to eat fer my command?" Bill
had anticipated this.
"I'll take keer o' that."
Captain Wells rubbed his hands.
"Of co'se, of co'se—you are a soldier and a patriot—you can afford to
feed 'em as a slight return fer the pertection I shall give you and
"Certainly," agreed Bill dryly, and with a prophetic stir of uneasiness.
"Vehy—vehy well. I shall begin now, Misto Richmond." And, to Flitter
Bill's wonder, the captain stalked out to the stoop, announced his
purpose with the voice of an auctioneer, and called for volunteers then
and there. There was dead silence for a moment. Then there was a smile
here, a chuckle there, an incredulous laugh, and Hence Sturgill, "bully
of the Pocket," rose from the wagon-tongue, closed his knife, came
slowly forward, and cackled his scorn straight up into the teeth of
Captain Mayhall Wells. The captain looked down and began to shed his
"I take it, Hence Sturgill, that you air laughin' at me?"
"I am a-laughin' at you, Mayhall Wells," he said, contemptuously, but
he was surprised at the look on the good-natured giant's face.
"Captain Mayhall Wells, ef you please."
"Plain ole Mayhall Wells," said Hence, and Captain Wells descended with
no little majesty and "biffed" him.
The delighted crowd rose to its feet and gathered around. Tallow Dick
came running from the barn. It was biff—biff, and biff again, but not
nip and tuck for long. Captain Mayhall closed in. Hence Sturgill struck
the earth like a Homeric pine, and the captain's mighty arm played above
him and fell, resounding. In three minutes Hence, to the amazement of
the crowd, roared:
But Mayhall breathed hard and said quietly:
Hence shouted, "Plain ole—" But the captain's huge fist was poised in
the air over his face.
"Captain Wells," he growled, and the captain rose and calmly put on his
coat, while the crowd looked respectful, and Hence Sturgill staggered to
one side, as though beaten in spirit, strength, and wits as well. The
captain beckoned Flitter Bill inside the store. His manner had a
distinct savor of patronage.
"Misto Richmond," he said, "I make you—I appoint you, by the authority
of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate States of Ameriky, as
commissary-gineral of the Army of the Callahan."
"As what?" Bill's eyes blinked at the astounding dignity of his
"Gineral Richmond, I shall not repeat them words." And he didn't, but
rose and made his way toward his old gray mare. Tallow Dick held his
"Dick," he said jocosely, "goin' to run away ag'in?" The negro almost
paled, and then, with a look at a blacksnake whip that hung on the barn
"No, suh—no, suh—'deed I ain't, suh—no mo'."
Mounted, the captain dropped a three-cent silver piece in the startled
negro's hand. Then he vouchsafed the wondering Flitter Bill and the
gaping crowd a military salute and started for the yawning mouth of the
Gap—riding with shoulders squared and chin well in—riding as should
ride the commander of the Army of the Callahan.
Flitter Bill dropped his blinking eyes to the paper in his hand that
bore the commission of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate States of
America to Mayhall Wells of Callahan, and went back into his store. He
looked at it a long time and then he laughed, but without much mirth.
Grass had little chance to grow for three weeks thereafter under the
cowhide boots of Captain Mayhall Wells. When the twentieth morning came
over the hills, the mist parted over the Stars and Bars floating from
the top of a tall poplar up through the Gap and flaunting brave defiance
to Black Tom, his Harlan Home Guard, and all other jay-hawking Unionists
of the Kentucky hills. It parted over the Army of the Callahan asleep on
its arms in the mouth of the chasm, over Flitter Bill sitting, sullen
and dejected, on the stoop of his store; and over Tallow Dick stealing
corn bread from the kitchen to make ready for flight that night through
the Gap, the mountains, and to the yellow river that was the Mecca of
the runaway slave.
At the mouth of the Gap a ragged private stood before a ragged tent,
raised a long dinner horn to his lips, and a mighty blast rang through
the hills, reveille! And out poured the Army of the Callahan from shack,
rock-cave, and coverts of sticks and leaves, with squirrel rifles,
Revolutionary muskets, shotguns, clasp-knives, and horse pistols for
the duties of the day under Lieutenant Skaggs, tactician, and Lieutenant
Boggs, quondam terror of Roaring Fork.
That blast rang down the valley into Flitter Bill's ears and startled
him into action. It brought Tallow Dick's head out of the barn door and
made him grin.
"Dick!" Flitter Bill's call was sharp and angry.
"Go tell ole Mayhall Wells that I ain't goin' to send him nary another
pound o' bacon an' nary another tin cup o' meal—no, by ----, I ain't."
Half an hour later the negro stood before the ragged tent of the
commander of the Army of the Callahan.
"Marse Bill say he ain't gwine to sen' you no mo' rations—no mo'."
Tallow Dick repeated his message and the captain scowled—mutiny!
"Fetch my hoss!" he thundered.
Very naturally and very swiftly had the trouble come, for straight after
the captain's fight with Hence Sturgill there had been a mighty rally to
the standard of Mayhall Wells. From Pigeon's Creek the loafers
came—from Roaring Fork, Cracker's Neck, from the Pocket down the
valley, and from Turkey Cove. Recruits came so fast, and to such
proportions grew the Army of the Callahan, that Flitter Bill shrewdly
suggested at once that Captain Wells divide it into three companies and
put one up Pigeon's Creek under Lieutenant Jim Skaggs and one on
Callahan under Lieutenant Tom Boggs, while the captain, with a third,
should guard the mouth of the Gap. Bill's idea was to share with those
districts the honor of his commissary-generalship; but Captain Wells
crushed the plan like a dried puffball.
"Yes," he said, with fine sarcasm. "What will them Kanetuckians do then?
Don't you know, Gineral Richmond? Why, I'll tell you what they'll do.
They'll jest swoop down on Lieutenant Boggs and gobble him up. Then
they'll swoop down on Lieutenant Skaggs on Pigeon and gobble him up.
Then they'll swoop down on me and gobble me up. No, they won't gobble
me up, but they'll come damn nigh it. An' what kind of a report will I
make to Jeff Davis, Gineral Richmond? Captured In detail, suh? No,
suh. I'll jest keep Lieutenant Boggs and Lieutenant Skaggs close by me,
and we'll pitch our camp right here in the Gap whar we can pertect the
property of Confederate citizens and be close to our base o' supplies,
suh. That's what I'll do!"
"Gineral Richmond" groaned, and when in the next breath the mighty
captain casually inquired if that uniform of his had come yet, Flitter
Bill's fat body nearly rolled off his chair.
"You will please have it here next Monday," said the captain, with great
firmness. "It is necessary to the proper discipline of my troops." And
it was there the following Monday—a regimental coat, gray jeans
trousers, and a forage cap that Bill purchased from a passing Morgan
raider. Daily orders would come from Captain Wells to General Flitter
Bill Richmond to send up more rations, and Bill groaned afresh when a
man from Callahan told how the captain's family was sprucing up on meal
and flour and bacon from the captain's camp. Humiliation followed. It
had never occurred to Captain Wells that being a captain made it
incongruous for him to have a "general" under him, until Lieutenant
Skaggs, who had picked up a manual of tactics somewhere, cautiously
communicated his discovery. Captain Wells saw the point at once. There
was but one thing to do—to reduce General Richmond to the ranks—and it
was done. Technically, thereafter, the general was purveyor for the Army
of the Callahan, but to the captain himself he was—gallingly to the
purveyor—simple Flitter Bill.
The strange thing was that, contrary to his usual shrewdness, it should
have taken Flitter Bill so long to see that the difference between
having his store robbed by the Kentucky jay-hawkers and looted by
Captain Wells was the difference between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee,
but, when he did see, he forged a plan of relief at once. When the
captain sent down Lieutenant Boggs for a supply of rations, Bill sent
the saltiest, rankest bacon he could find, with a message that he wanted
to see the great man. As before, when Captain Wells rode down to the
store, Bill handed out a piece of paper, and, as before, the captain had
left his "specs" at home. The paper was an order that, whereas the
distinguished services of Captain Wells to the Confederacy were
appreciated by Jefferson Davis, the said Captain Wells was, and is,
hereby empowered to duly, and in accordance with the tactics of war,
impress what live-stock he shall see fit and determine fit for the good
of his command. The news was joy to the Army of the Callahan. Before it
had gone the rounds of the camp Lieutenant Boggs had spied a fat heifer
browsing on the edge of the woods and ordered her surrounded and driven
down. Without another word, when she was close enough, he raised his
gun and would have shot her dead in her tracks had he not been arrested
by a yell of command and horror from his superior.
"Air you a-goin' to have me cashiered and shot, Lieutenant Boggs, fer
violatin' the ticktacks of war?" roared the captain, indignantly. "Don't
you know that I've got to impress that heifer accordin' to the rules
an' regulations? Git roun' that heifer." The men surrounded her. "Take
her by the horns. Now! In the name of Jefferson Davis and the
Confederate States of Ameriky, I hereby and hereon do duly impress this
heifer for the purposes and use of the Army of the Callahan, so help me
God! Shoot her down, Bill Boggs, shoot her down!"
Now, naturally, the soldiers preferred fresh meat, and they got
it—impressing cattle, sheep, and hogs, geese, chickens, and ducks,
vegetables—nothing escaped the capacious maw of the Army of the
Callahan. It was a beautiful idea, and the success of it pleased Flitter
Bill mightily, but the relief did not last long. An indignant murmur
rose up and down valley and creek bottom against the outrages, and one
angry old farmer took a pot-shot at Captain Wells with a squirrel rifle,
clipping the visor of his forage cap; and from that day the captain
began to call with immutable regularity again on Flitter Bill for bacon
and meal. That morning the last straw fell in a demand for a wagon-load
of rations to be delivered before noon, and, worn to the edge of his
patience, Bill had sent a reckless refusal. And now he was waiting on
the stoop of his store, looking at the mouth of the Gap and waiting for
it to give out into the valley Captain Wells and his old gray mare. And
at last, late in the afternoon, there was the captain coming—coming at
a swift gallop—and Bill steeled himself for the onslaught like a knight
in a joust against a charging antagonist. The captain saluted
stiffly—pulling up sharply and making no move to dismount.
"Purveyor," he said, "Black Tom has just sent word that he's a-comin'
over hyeh this week—have you heerd that, purveyor?" Bill was silent.
"Black Tom says you air responsible for the Army of the Callahan. Have
you heerd that, purveyor?" Still was there silence.
"He says he's a-goin' to hang me to that poplar whar floats them Stars
and Bars"—Captain Mayhall Wells chuckled—"an' he says he's a-goin' to
hang you thar fust, though; have you heerd that, purveyor?"
The captain dropped the titular address now, and threw one leg over the
pommel of his saddle.
"Flitter Bill Richmond," he said, with great nonchalance, "I axe you—do
you prefer that I should disband the Army of the Callahan, or do you
The captain was silent a full minute, and his face grew stern. "Flitter
Bill Richmond, I had no idee o' disbandin' the Army of the Callahan, but
do you know what I did aim to do?" Again Bill was silent.
"Well, suh, I'll tell you whut I aim to do. If you don't send them
rations I'll have you cashiered for mutiny, an' if Black Tom don't hang
you to that air poplar, I'll hang you thar myself, suh; yes, by ----! I
will. Dick!" he called sharply to the slave. "Hitch up that air wagon,
fill hit full o' bacon and meal, and drive it up thar to my tent. An' be
mighty damn quick about it, or I'll hang you, too."
The negro gave a swift glance to his master, and Flitter Bill feebly
"Purveyor, I wish you good-day."
Bill gazed after the great captain in dazed wonder (was this the man who
had come cringing to him only a few short weeks ago?) and groaned aloud.
But for lucky or unlucky coincidence, how could the prophet ever have
gained name and fame on earth?
Captain Wells rode back to camp chuckling—chuckling with satisfaction
and pride; but the chuckle passed when he caught sight of his tent. In
front of it were his lieutenants and some half a dozen privates, all
plainly in great agitation, and in the midst of them stood the lank
messenger who had brought the first message from Black Tom, delivering
another from the same source. Black Tom was coming, coming surer and
unless that flag, that "Rebel rag," were hauled down under twenty-four
hours, Black Tom would come over and pull it down, and to that same
poplar hang "Captain Mayhall an' his whole damn army." Black Tom might
do it anyhow—just for fun.
While the privates listened the captain strutted and swore; then he
rested his hand on his hip and smiled with silent sarcasm, and then
swore again—while the respectful lieutenants and the awed soldiery of
the Callahan looked on. Finally he spoke.
"Ah—when did Black Tom say that?" he inquired casually.
"Yestiddy mornin'. He said he was goin' to start over hyeh early this
mornin'." The captain whirled.
"What? Then why didn't you git over hyeh this mornin'?"
"Couldn't git across the river last night."
"Then he's a-comin' to-day?"
"I reckon Black Tom'll be hyeh in about two hours—mebbe he ain't fer
away now." The captain was startled.
"Lieutenant Skaggs," he called, sharply, "git yo' men out thar an' draw
'em up in two rows!"
The face of the student of military tactics looked horrified. The
captain in his excitement had relaxed into language that was distinctly
agricultural, and, catching the look on his subordinate's face, and at
the same time the reason for it, he roared, indignantly:
"Air you afeer'd, sir? Git yo' men out, I said, an' march 'em up thar in
front of the Gap. Lieutenant Boggs, take ten men and march at double
quick through the Gap, an' defend that poplar with yo' life's blood. If
you air overwhelmed by superior numbers, fall back, suh, step by step,
until you air re-enforced by Lieutenant Skaggs. If you two air not able
to hold the enemy in check, you may count on me an' the Army of the
Callahan to grind him—" (How the captain, now thoroughly aroused to
all the fine terms of war, did roll that technical "him" under his
tongue)—"to grind him to pieces ag'in them towerin' rocks, and plunge
him in the foilin' waters of Roarin' Fawk. Forward, suh—double quick."
Lieutenant Skaggs touched his cap. Lieutenant Boggs looked embarrassed
and strode nearer.
"Captain, whar am I goin' to git ten men to face them Kanetuckians?"
"Whar air they goin' to git a off'cer to lead 'em, you'd better say,"
said the captain, severely, fearing that some of the soldiers had heard
the question. "If you air afeer'd, suh"—and then he saw that no one had
heard, and he winked—winked with most unmilitary familiarity.
"Air you a good climber, Lieutenant Boggs?" Lieutenant Boggs looked
mystified, but he said he was.
"Lieutenant Boggs, I now give you the opportunity to show yo' profound
knowledge of the ticktacks of war. You may now be guilty of disobedience
of ordahs, and I will not have you court-martialled for the same. In
other words, if, after a survey of the situation, you think best—why,"
the captain's voice dropped to a hoarse whisper, "pull that flag down,
lieutenant Boggs, pull her down."
It was an hour by sun now. Lieutenant Boggs and his devoted band of ten
were making their way slowly and watchfully up the mighty chasm—the
lieutenant with his hand on his sword and his head bare, and bowed in
thought. The Kentuckians were on their way—at that moment they might be
riding full speed toward the mouth of Pigeon, where floated the flag.
They might gobble him and his command up when they emerged from the Gap.
Suppose they caught him up that tree. His command might escape, but he
would be up there, saving them the trouble of stringing him up. All they
would have to do would be to send up after him a man with a rope, and
let him drop. That was enough. Lieutenant Boggs called a halt and
explained the real purpose of the expedition.
"We will wait here till dark," he said, "so them Kanetuckians can't
ketch us, whilst we are climbing that tree."
And so they waited opposite Bee Rock, which was making ready to blossom
with purple rhododendrons. And the reserve back in the Gap, under
Lieutenant Skaggs, waited. Waited, too, the Army of the Callahan at the
mouth of the Gap, and waited restlessly Captain Wells at the door of his
tent, and Flitter Bill on the stoop of his store—waited everybody but
Tallow Dick, who, in the general confusion, was slipping through the
rhododendrons along the bank of Roaring Fork, until he could climb the
mountain-side and slip through the Gap high over the army's head.
What could have happened?
When dusk was falling, Captain Wells dispatched a messenger to
Lieutenant Skaggs and his reserve, and got an answer; Lieutenant Skaggs
feared that Boggs had been captured without the firing of a single
shot—but the flag was floating still. An hour later, Lieutenant Skaggs
sent another message—he could not see the flag. Captain Wells answered,
"Hold yo' own."
And so, as darkness fell, the Army of the Callahan waited in the strain
of mortal expectancy as one man; and Flitter Bill waited, with his horse
standing saddled in the barn, ready for swift flight. And, as darkness
fell, Tallow Dick was cautiously picking his way alongside the steep
wall of the Gap toward freedom, and picking it with stealthy caution,
foot by foot; for up there, to this day, big loose rocks mount halfway
to the jagged points of the black cliffs, and a careless step would have
detached one and sent an avalanche of rumbling stones down to betray
him. A single shot rang suddenly out far up through the Gap, and the
startled negro sprang forward, slipped, and, with a low, frightened
oath, lay still. Another shot followed, and another. Then a hoarse
murmur rose, loudened into thunder, and ended in a frightful—boom! One
yell rang from the army's throat:
"The Kentuckians! The Kentuckians! The wild, long-haired, terrible
Captain Wells sprang into the air.
"My God, they've got a cannon!"
Then there was a martial chorus—the crack of rifle, the hoarse cough of
horse-pistol, the roar of old muskets.
"Bing! Bang! Boom! Bing—bing! Bang—bang! Boom—boom!
Lieutenant Skaggs and his reserves heard the beat of running feet down
"They've gobbled Boggs," he said, and the reserve rushed after him as he
fled. The army heard the beat of their coming feet.
"They've gobbled Skaggs," the army said.
Then was there bedlam as the army fled—a crashing through bushes—a
splashing into the river, the rumble of mule wagons, yells of terror,
swift flying shapes through the pale moonlight. Flitter Bill heard the
din as he stood by his barn door.
"They've gobbled the army," said Flitter Bill, and he, too, fled like a
shadow down the valley.
Nature never explodes such wild and senseless energy as when she lets
loose a mob in a panic. With the army, it was each man for himself and
devil take the hindmost; and the flight of the army was like a flight
from the very devil himself. Lieutenant Boggs, whose feet were the
swiftest in the hills, outstripped his devoted band. Lieutenant Skaggs,
being fat and slow, fell far behind his reserve, and dropped exhausted
on a rock for a moment to get his breath. As he rose, panting, to resume
flight, a figure bounded out of the darkness behind him, and he gathered
it in silently and went with it to the ground, where both fought
silently in the dust until they rolled into the moonlight and each
looked the other in the face.
"That you, Jim Skaggs?"
"That you, Tom Boggs?"
Then the two lieutenants rose swiftly, but a third shape bounded into
the road—a gigantic figure—Black Tom! With a startled yell they
gathered him in—one by the waist, the other about the neck, and, for a
moment, the terrible Kentuckian—it could be none other—swung the two
clear of the ground, but the doughty lieutenants hung to him. Boggs
trying to get his knife and Skaggs his pistol, and all went down in a
"I surrender—I surrender!" It was the giant who spoke, and at the sound
of his voice both men ceased to struggle, and, strange to say, no one of
the three laughed.
"Lieutenant Boggs," said Captain Wells, thickly, "take yo' thumb out o'
my mouth. Lieutenant Skaggs, leggo my leg an' stop bitin' me."
"Sh—sh—sh—" said all three.
The faint swish of bushes as Lieutenant Boggs's ten men scuttled into
the brush behind them—the distant beat of the army's feet getting
fainter ahead of them, and then silence—dead, dead silence.
With the red streaks of dawn Captain Mayhall Wells was pacing up and
down in front of Flitter Bill's store, a gaping crowd about him, and the
shattered remnants of the army drawn up along Roaring Fork in the rear.
An hour later Flitter Bill rode calmly in.
"I stayed all night down the valley," said Flitter Bill. "Uncle Jim
Richmond was sick. I hear you had some trouble last night, Captain
Wells." The captain expanded his chest.
"Trouble!" he repeated, sarcastically. And then he told how a charging
horde of daredevils had driven him from camp with overwhelming numbers
and one piece of artillery; how he had rallied the army and fought them
back, foot by foot, and put them to fearful rout; how the army had
fallen back again just when the Kentuckians were running like sheep, and
how he himself had stayed in the rear with Lieutenant Boggs and
Lieutenant Skaggs, "to cover their retreat, suh," and how the purveyor,
if he would just go up through the Gap, would doubtless find the cannon
that the enemy had left behind in their flight. It was just while he was
thus telling the tale for the twentieth time that two figures appeared
over the brow of the hill and drew near—Hence Sturgill on horseback and
Tallow Dick on foot.
"I ketched this nigger in my corn-fiel' this mornin'," said Hence,
simply, and Flitter Bill glared, and without a word went for the
blacksnake ox-whip that hung by the barn door.
For the twenty-first time Captain Wells started his tale again, and with
every pause that he made for breath Hence cackled scorn.
"An', Hence Sturgill, ef you will jus' go up in the Gap you'll find a
cannon, captured, suh, by me an' the Army of the Callahan, an'—"
"Cannon!" Hence broke in. "Speak up, nigger!" And Tallow Dick spoke
"I done it!"
"What!" shouted Flitter Bill.
"I kicked a rock loose climbin' over Callahan's Nose."
Bill dropped his whip with a chuckle of pure ecstasy. Mayhall paled and
stared. The crowd roared, the Army of the Callahan grinned, and Hence
climbed back on his horse.
"Mayhall Wells," he said, "plain ole Mayhall Wells, I'll see you on
Couht Day. I ain't got time now."
And he rode away.
That day Captain Mayhall Wells and the Army of the Callahan were in
disrepute. Next day the awful news of Lee's surrender came. Captain
Wells refused to believe it, and still made heroic effort to keep his
shattered command together. Looking for recruits on Court Day, he was
twitted about the rout of the army by Hence Sturgill, whose long-coveted
chance to redeem himself had come. Again, as several times before, the
captain declined to fight—his health was essential to the general
well-being—but Hence laughed in his face, and the captain had to face
the music, though the heart of him was gone.
He fought well, for he was fighting for his all, and he knew it. He
could have whipped with ease, and he did whip, but the spirit of the
thoroughbred was not in Captain Mayhall Wells. He had Sturgill down, but
Hence sank his teeth into Mayhall's thigh while Mayhall's hands grasped
his opponent's throat. The captain had only to squeeze, as every
rough-and-tumble fighter knew, and endure his pain until Hence would
have to give in. But Mayhall was not built to endure. He roared like a
bull as soon as the teeth met in his flesh, his fingers relaxed, and to
the disgusted surprise of everybody he began to roar with great
distinctness and agony:
The end was come, and nobody knew it better than Mayhall Wells. He rode
home that night with hands folded on the pommel of his saddle and his
beard crushed by his chin against his breast. For the last time, next
morning he rode down to Flitter Bill's store. On the way he met Parson
Kilburn and for the last time Mayhall Wells straightened his shoulders
and for one moment more resumed his part: perhaps the parson had not
heard of his fall.
"Good-mornin', parsing," he said, pleasantly. "Ah—where have you been?"
The parson was returning from Cumberland Gap, whither he had gone to
take the oath of allegiance.
"By the way, I have something here for you which Flitter Bill asked me
to give you. He said it was from the commandant at Cumberland Gap."
"Fer me?" asked the captain—hope springing anew in his heart. The
parson handed him a letter. Mayhall looked at it upside down.
"If you please, parsing," he said, handing it back, "I hev left my
specs at home."
The parson read that, whereas Captain Wells had been guilty of grave
misdemeanors while in command of the Army of the Callahan, he should be
arrested and court-martialled for the same, or be given the privilege of
leaving the county in twenty-four hours. Mayhall's face paled a little
and he stroked his beard.
"Ah—does anybody but you know about this ordah, parsing?"
"Well, if you will do me the great favor, parsing, of not mentioning it
to nary a living soul—as fer me and my ole gray hoss and my household
furniture—we'll be in Kanetuck afore daybreak to-morrow mornin'!" And
But he rode on just then and presented himself for the last time at the
store of Flitter Bill. Bill was sitting on the stoop in his favorite
posture. And in a moment there stood before him plain Mayhall
Wells—holding out the order Bill had given the parson that day.
"Misto Richmond," he said, "I have come to tell you good-by."
Now just above the selfish layers of fat under Flitter Bill's chubby
hands was a very kind heart. When he saw Mayhall's old manner and heard
the old respectful way of address, and felt the dazed helplessness of
the big, beaten man, the heart thumped.
"I am sorry about that little amount I owe you; I think I'll be able
shortly—" But Bill cut him short. Mayhall Wells, beaten, disgraced,
driven from home on charge of petty crimes, of which he was undoubtedly
guilty, but for which Bill knew he himself was responsible—Mayhall on
his way into exile and still persuading himself and, at that moment,
almost persuading him that he meant to pay that little debt of long
ago—was too much for Flitter Bill, and he proceeded to lie—lying with
deliberation and pleasure.
"Captain Wells," he said—and the emphasis on the title was balm to
Mayhall's soul—"you have protected me in time of war, an' you air
welcome to yo' uniform an' you air welcome to that little debt. Yes," he
went on, reaching down into his pocket and pulling out a roll of bills,
"I tender you in payment for that same protection the regular pay of a
officer in the Confederate service"—and he handed out the army pay for
three months in Confederate greenbacks—"an' five dollars in money of
the United States, of which I an', doubtless, you, suh, air true and
loyal citizens. Captain Wells, I bid you good-by an' I wish ye well—I
wish ye well."
From the stoop of his store Bill watched the captain ride away,
drooping at the shoulders, and with his hands folded on the pommel of
his saddle—his dim blue eyes misty, the jaunty forage cap a mockery of
his iron-gray hair, and the flaps of his coat fanning either side like
And Flitter Bill muttered to himself:
"Atter he's gone long enough fer these things to blow over, I'm going to
bring him back and give him another chance—yes, damme if I don't git
And Bill dropped his remorseful eye to the order in his hand. Like the
handwriting of the order that lifted Mayhall like magic into power, the
handwriting of this order, that dropped him like a stone—was Flitter