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Read Si Klegg The Deacon’s Adventures At Chattanooga In Caring For The Boys Part 4

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“Better let me try my hand,” said the Deacon. “You’ve bin away from the farm for so long you’ve probably lost the knack. I’m a famous milker.”

“You’ll play fair?” said the milker doubtfully.

“Yes; just hold her till I go inside and git my bucket, and I’ll milk your cup clean full,” answered the Deacon, starting inside the corn-crib.

“Well, you’re a cool one,” gasped the milker, realizing the situation.

“But I’ll hold you to your bargain, and I’ll play fair with you.”

The Deacon came back with his bucket, and after filling the man’s cup as full as it would hold, handed it to him, and then began drawing the rest into his own bucket.

Careful milker that he was, he did not stop until he had stripped the last drop, and the cow, knowing at once that a master hand was at her udder, willingly yielded all her store.

“There,” said the Deacon, “if anybody gits any more out o’ her till evenin’ he’s welcome to it.”

Two or three other men had come up in the meanwhile with their cups, and they started, without so much as asking, to dip their cups in.

“Hold on!” commanded the first-comer sternly. “Stop that! This old man’s a friend o’ mine, and I won’t see him imposed on. Go somewhere else and git your milk.”

A wordy war ensued, but the first-comer was stalwart and determined. The row waked up Shorty, who appeared with an ax.

“All right,” said one of the men, looking at the ax; “keep your durned old milk, if you’re so stingy toward hungry soldiers. It’ll give you milk-sick, anyway. There’s lots o’ milk-sick ’round here. All the cows have it. That cow has it bad. I kin tell by her looks. We had lots o’

milk-sick in our neighborhood, and I got real well-acquainted with it. I kin tell a milk-sick cow as fur as I kin see her, and if that cow hasn’t it, no one ever had it.”

He made a furtive attempt to kick the bucket over, which was frustrated by the Deacon’s watchfulness.

“Better do something with that cow right off,” advised the first-comer, as he walked off. “You can’t keep her in camp all day. Somebody’ll git her away from you if they have to take her by main force.”

“Are you willin’ to risk the milk-sick?” asked the Deacon, handing Shorty a cupful of the milk, together with a piece of cornpone.

“Yum–yum, I should say so,” mumbled that longlegged gentleman. “I’ll make the milk sicker’in it kin me, you bet. Jest bring along all the milk-sick you’ve got on hand, and I’ll keep it from hurtin’ anybody else. That’s the kind of a philanthropist I am.”

“I see you’ve got a cow here,” said a large man wearing a dingy blue coat with a Captain’s faded shoulder-straps. “I’m a Commissary, and it’s my duty to take her.”

He walked over and in a businesslike way began unfastening the rope.

The Deacon shuddered, for he had too much respect for shoulder-straps to think of resisting. Shorty looked up from his breakfast, scanned the newcomer, and said:

“Look here. Bill Wiggins, you go back and take off that Captain’s coat as quick as you kin, or I’ll have you arrested for playin’ officer. None o’ you Maumee Muskrats kin play that little game on the 200th Injianny.

We know you too well. And let me advise you, Mr. Wiggins, the next time you go out masqueradin’ to make up clean through. That private’s cap and pantaloons burned around the back, and them Government cow-hides give you dead away, if your mug didn’t. If they wuz givin’ commissions away you wouldn’t be a brevet Corporal. Skip out, now, for here comes the Provost-Guard, and you’d better not let him catch you wearin’

an officer’s coat unless you want to put in some extra time on the breastworks.”

Mr. Wiggins made off at once, but he had scarcely gotten out of sight when a mounted officer, attracted by the strange sight of a cow in camp, rode up and inquired whence she came and to whom she belonged.

The Deacon was inside the crib taking care of Si, and the burden of the conversation fell upon Shorty.

“Me any my pardner sent out into the country and bought that cow,” he said, “with three $10 gold pieces we’ve bin savin’ up ever since we’ve bin in the service. We wouldn’t give ’em for anything else in the world.

But we wuz jest starved for a drink o’ fresh milk. Never felt so hungry for anything else in our lives. Felt that if we could jest git a fillin’

o’ fresh milk it’d make us well agin.”

“Paid $30 in gold for her,” said the officer, examining the cow critically. “Pretty high price for that kind of a cow.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” answered Shorty argumentatively, and scenting a possible purchaser. “Good fresh cows are mighty scarce anywhere at this time o’ year, and particularly in this region. Next Spring they’ll be much cheaper. But not this, one. That’s no ordinary cow. If you’ll look carefully at her you’ll see that she’s a thoroughbred. I’m a boss judge o’ stock myself, and I know. Look at her horns, her bag, and her lines. She’s full three-quarters Jersey.”

“What’s the other quarter,” asked the officer, much amused.

“Jest–jest–jest–cow,” answered Shorty, momentarily stumped for once in his volubility. And then he went on more garrulously than ever, to make amends. “She’s as gentle as a lamb, will live on two ears o’ corn and a kind word a day, and give two gallons o’ milk, nearly all cream. Me and my pardner wouldn’t take $10.0 in gold for that cow. We’re goin’ to send her up home as soon as the lines are open, to start our stock-farm with.”

“Where did you say you got her?” said the officer, getting off his horse and going up closer to examine the animal.

“O, we bought her from a man named Wilson over in the Sequatchie Valley.

You must’ve heard of him. We’ve knowed him a long time–before he moved down here from Injianny. Runs a fine stockfarm. Cried like a baby when he parted with his cow. Wouldn’t have done it, but he had to have the money to buy provisions for his family.”

“Let me see,” said the officer, looking at him. “Seems to me I ought to know you. Where do you belong?”

“Co. Q, 200th Injianny Volunteers.”

“I thought so. I do know you. You are Shorty. I don’t want to say anything against your honesty or your veracity, but if Gen, Rosecrans was to order me to get him the smartest forager and smoothest liar in the Army of the c.u.mberland, I think I should order you to report at Headquarters.”

“You do me proud,” said Shorty with a grin, but an inward feeling that trouble was impending.

“Now, tell me the truth. Where did you get that cow?”

“I have bin tellin’ you the truth,” protested Shorty with an injured air. “Why should I tell you a lie about a little thing like a cow?”

“You are not within a mile of the truth. I know it. Look here: I believe that is Gen. Rosecrans’s own cow. She’s gone, and I got an order to look around for her. I’ve never seen her, but from the description given me I believe that’s she. Who brought her here?”

[Ill.u.s.tration: PURTY GOOD MILKER, IS SHE? INQUIRED THE DEACON 51]

“Great Jehosephat, he’s after the Deacon,” thought Shorty with a shudder. “I mustn’t let him git him.” Then he spoke out boldly:

“I brung her here.”

“Shorty,” said the officer with a smile, “I admire your talents for prevarication more than I can express. As a good, off-hand, free-going, single-gaited liar you have few equals and no superiors. Your lies usually have so much probability in them that they seem better than the truth–for your purposes. But this has no probability whatever in it.

I doubt if you are able to walk to Headquarters. If you were well and strong, I should believe you quite capable not only of stealing the cow from Army Headquarters, but President Lincoln’s cow from his back-door of the White House. But you are good now because you haven’t strength enough to be up to any devilment. Now, tell me, who brought that cow here?”

“I brung her here myself, I tell you. I felt unusually peart last night.

Felt that I had to s.n.a.t.c.h something jest to keep my hand in, like.

Couldn’t find nothin’ else on four legs worth takin’, and couldn’t take nothin’ that couldn’t walk. So I took her. You kin send me to the guard-house if you want to. I expect I deserve it.”

And Shorty tried to look contrite and penitent.

“Yes; you’re in nice shape to send to the guardhouse. I’d sent you there quick enough if you were well, for telling me such a preposterous lie. You’ve usually paid more respect to my intelligence by telling me stories that I could believe if I wanted to, as I usually wanted do; but this is too much.”

As the conversation began the Deacon had pa.s.sed out with a bucket to go to the creek for water for the cow. He now came back, set the bucket down in front of the cow, and began, from force of long habit in caring for his stock, to pick off some burs, and otherwise groom her.

“Say, my friend,” said the officer, “who brought that cow in?”

Shorty had been frantically trying to catch the Deacon’s eye, and was making all manner of winks and warning gestures without avail, for the Deacon answered frankly:

———-

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