Read Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1954 Online

Authors: Rebel Mail Runner (v1.1)

Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1954

BOOK: Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1954
4.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

         

Rebel Mail
Runner

 

Manly Wade
Wellman

  
 
          
 

 

 
          
BY
THE SAME AUTHOR

 

The Last Mammoth

Wild Dogs of Drowning Creek

The Haunts of Drowning Creek

The Raiders of
Beaver
Lake

The Mystery of Lost Valley

The Sleuth Patrol

 

 
 
  
       
 

 

   
 
          
 
 

 
          
 

 

 
          
HOLIDAY
HOUSE,
NEW YORK
 

 

 
          
Text, copyright 1954 by Manly Wade Wellman
Illustrations, copyright 1954 by Stuyvesant Van Veen

 

 
          
PRINTED IN
U.S.A.

 

 

 
 
         
To
PAUL

 
          
“The
gods granted me a brother whose example stimulated me to make the most of my
powers, while his respect and affection gave me new heart
. .

 
          
—Marcus
Aurelius Antoninus

 

 

 
 
          
This is an imaginary story, about an
imaginary boy; but the Confederate Underground Mail Service, from Missouri to
the Deep South, was a thrilling fact of the Civil War, and its daring and
resourceful chief, Absalom Grimes, was as real as any American in history. His
memoirs exist today, and the adventures of himself and his lieutenants, some of
them retold here, are still remembered up and down the
Mississippi
River
.

 

 
          
Manly Wade Wellman Chapel Hill,
North
Carolina
October 15
,1953

 

 
 
  
       
  
         
 

 
 
         
 
 

 

 
 
          
 

I.
To Save AB GRIMES

 

 
          
THEMISSOURI
sun was warm that April afternoon, and
Bowling Green
looked and sounded peaceful, for all the
war had been going on for two years. Barry Mills could see nothing more warlike
than the Union flag in the courthouse square, blue-coated soldiers
strolling
the plank-covered paths. Barry clucked to the
horses and turned them from
Main Street
into Court, on his way to August Batz’s
wood yard. He hunched square young shoulders under his jeans jacket, and turned
his dark head, under the shabby wool hat, to look resentfully at the load of
wood riding behind him in the wagon.

 
          
He’d
sawed and stacked and seasoned that wood out on his father’s farm. And he’d
greased the wheels and harnessed the team and loaded the wood, and when he got
to the wood yard he’d unload it again. But the pay for the wood wouldn’t go to
him—nor
to his father, either. It would go to fat,
wax-moustached Cousin Buckalew Mills, who had ridden into town ahead of Barry,
on the sturdy claybank mare that belonged to Barry’s father, too. If he was
only riding that mare himself, thought Barry, he’d just ride and ride, south
and west, till he could join his father in the Confederate Army. He was
seventeen, old enough for soldiering, and sick to death of Cousin Buck.

 
          
Barry
glowered sidelong at the row of stores on Court Street, with their wooden
porches. Might Buckalew be in one of those, hurrahing for the Yankees as he’d
hurrahed for the rebels two years ago in ’61? Buckalew was what folks called a
turncoat, first for one side, now the other. And he was a mean man to work for
on top of that; Barry could swear to the fact.

 
          
Barry
turned the team in at a gateway through a high fence of rough boards, pulled
up, and got down over the wheel in August Batz’s wood yard. The wood-dealer
lifted a broad hand in greeting. August was thick-built, but not pudgy like
Cousin Buckalew, and his big yellow-gray beard was always crinkling in a smile.

 
          
“Unload
ofer by der big pile at der side,” he directed, pointing. “Karl, you go mit,
help him take der wood from der vagon out.”

 
          
“Sure, Papa.”
Big Corporal Karl Batz of the Union infantry,
home on leave, shoved back his jaunty peaked cap and tucked up his blue sleeves
as he walked toward the wagon. “Tool ’em over here, Barry, and we’ll stack.”

 
          
“High
time you got here, boy.” That was Buckalew Mills, coming out of Mr. Batz’s
shantylike office. He wore a frock coat and a broad hat, and under his
moustache jutted a lean cheroot. “You were late, or near to it. Tardiness isn’t
a savory habit, Barry.”

 
          

Ach
, don’t scold der boy,” urged August
Batz good-humoredly. “He’s here, der vood’s here.
Now, vot
news gifs it in der town?”

 
          
“News?”
echoed Buckalew, and tapped ashes from his cheroot with an important air. “You
may well ask, August. The news concerns Captain Ab Grimes.” Barry, loosening
the tail gate of the wagon, started violently, but nobody noticed. Both Karl
and August turned to stare at Buckalew Mills.

 
          
“Ab
Grimes, Absalom Grimes,” repeated old August. “Der rebel mail runner, ha?”

 
          
“Absalom
Grimes, the rebel spy and traitor,” snapped Buckalew, again biting on the
cheroot.

 
          

Ach
,
so”
grunted August. “
So
bad as dot you call him? I hear he
brings only der letters from der secesh soldiers and from also der famblies he
takes der letters back—”

 
          
“By
the rules of warfare, he’s a spy,” interrupted Buckalew. “Anyway, they’re
offering two thousand dollars reward for him in
Saint Louis
.”

 
          
Hoisting
a log, Barry listened. Buckalew, once a clamorous secessionist, now called
Absalom Grimes a rebel spy. Buckalew had turned around so fast that the heels
of his boots were in front, you might say. Yet August Batz thought of Grimes as
only a mail carrier, though both August and his son Karl had been strong Union
men for years.

 
          
“I’ve
reckoned it plain as print,” plunged on Buckalew. “I know Ab Grimes personally,
I know his friends. You recollect Jim Glascock, who farms on the edge of
Hannibal
? Well, his daughter Lucy’s engaged to Ab
Grimes, and it so happens that Lucy Glascock’s visiting here in
Bowling Green
today.”

 
          
“Veil,”
prompted August placidly, “vot about it?” “She’s at Judge Westfall’s house,
yonder on
Church Street
, and you know the judge is a quiet hoper for the rebs to win. Well,”
and Buckalew grinned around his cheroot, “what’ll you bet that Ab Grimes isn’t
here in
Bowling
Green
,
too, visiting his sweetheart?” Stacking wood, Barry listened eagerly and
thought quickly. He, too, knew the name of Captain Absalom Grimes, the
daredevil ex-steamboater whose work and pleasure it was to slip through the
Federal lines with mail for
Missouri
’s Confederates and their families. He was
the only means of communication between anxious wives and mothers and their men
in gray, just now banished by war to
Mississippi
and
Arkansas
.

 
          
Barry
himself had received a letter last July from his soldier father, handed him by
a furtive neighbor. It had said that Jefferson Mills had survived several
fierce battles and was now a sergeant with the First Missouri Cavalry in
Shelby
’s Brigade. That letter,

 
          
Barry
knew
,
had come through Absalom Grimes, whom Buckalew
was now trying to trap for the reward.

 
          
Grimes
carried letters for Southern soldiers, he kept thinking. His father, Jeff
Mills, was a Southern soldier, and Barry would be one if he could. He had to
help Grimes. No two ways about it.

 
          
“Not
two blocks away,” Buckalew was arguing. “We can yank him right out of the
judge’s parlor.” Barry made up his mind suddenly, without quite knowing how he
would manage what he hoped to do. “Karl,” he said, “isn’t there some drinking
water around here?”

 
          
“Yonder
in the office,” Corporal Karl told him, humping his thick shoulder under a
chunk of wood. “Bring me out a dipperful, too.”

 
          
Barry
slipped around the wagon, into the little office, and slid a dipper into the
water bucket. Through the half-open door he could still hear Buckalew.

 
          
“August,
you know some folks don’t think I’m a good Union man. I’ve kind of got to prove
myself to them, capture this rebel spy—”

 
          

Ja
, /a,” August
agreed. “It’s duty, like vot you say. Mine boy Karl, maybe also he could find
some soldiers to help—”

 
          
“But let’s decide something right now,” interrupted Buckalew.
“I had the idea, ain’t that so? I thought of catching Grimes.
So I ought to get half the reward money, and the rest of the party
can split the other half; ain’t that fair?”

 
          
Barry
waited to.hear no more. He dropped the dipper in the bucket and wriggled out
through the rear window, open to the warm spring air. Swift and silent as a
raiding mink, Barry slid behind great stacks of wood.

 
          
“Karl,”
he heard old August calling. “Listen goot to vot Mr. Buckalew iss telling me.”

 
          
At
the corner of the yard, Barry knelt and prodded at the fence. A board was
loose, and gingerly he shoved it outward, then squeezed through the opening and
ran along the alley beyond. A springing rush brought him out on
Church Street
. Past two small stores he moved at a
headlong gallop, almost overturning a drowsy old man whose chair leaned back
against a door-jamb. He crossed another street beyond, vaulted a picket fence,
and sprang upon the wide pillared porch of Judge Westfall’s home.

           
He knocked loudly, and waited
impatiently until the door swung open. Barry looked up into a dignified dark
face above a spotless shirt front. It was the Judge’s grave Negro butler.

 
          
“I
want to talk to Miss Lucy Glascock,” said Barry breathlessly.

 
          
“Miss
Glascock?” the butler repeated. “She
know
you, young
sir?” And his wise eyes studied Barry’s shabby clothes.

 
          
“I’ve
got to see her,” pleaded Barry. “It’s—it’s a matter of life and death.”

 
          
“What’s
all that, Simon?” demanded another voice, and over the butler’s shoulder looked
the square, proud face of Judge Westfall. Dark eyes scowled under heavy white
brows. “What’s your name, son? Wait a second, I know you. Aren’t you Jeff
Mills’ boy? Let him in, Simon, and close the door.”

 
          
The
butler moved aside, and Barry stepped into the dark, spacious hall.

 
          
“Now,”
said the judge, impressively, “you spoke a lady’s name. What have you to tell
her, son?”

 
          
Barry
licked his dry lips. “Judge, I know you love the South, and you know my
father’s a Confederate cavalryman,” said Barry, all in a breath. “You can trust
me, sir. If Miss Lucy Glascock happens to be here, I want to tell her that—that
somebody she’s mighty fond of is in big danger. It’s—it’s—”

 
          
He
stammered, and fell silent. Someone else had come into the hall, Judge
Westfall’s stately wife.

 
          
“You
say I can trust you, son,” the judge reminded Barry, with great calm. “All
right, and you can trust us. So if you’re holding a name back, speak it out and
don’t be afraid.”

 
          
“Absalom
Grimes,” said Barry.

 
          
“What
about Absalom Grimes?” the judge challenged Barry. “Don’t stop talking now;
what about him?”

 
          
“They’re
coming to catch him,” said Barry, fresh words tumbling out in a torrent. “I
heard them at August Batz’s wood yard—Mr. Batz and my cousin Buckalew. They’re
bringing soldiers. They say Captain Grimes is here with Miss Glascock, and
there’s a reward for him, and—”

 
          
“Soldiers
coming!” cried the judge’s wife.

 
          
“Let
me speak to that boy,” said another voice, quietly, from a half-open door into
a side room.

 
          
Judge
Westfall glanced that way,
then
turned back to Barry.

 
          
“Mr.
Barry Mills,” he said, as though he addressed his equal in age, fortune, and
importance, “permit me to acquaint you with Captain Absalom Grimes.”

 
          
Barry
blinked at Captain Grimes with respectful interest. He had often imagined the
mail runner as gigantic and overwhelming, a headlong hero,
half
pirate, half circus acrobat, cloaked and booted and spurred, with pistol and
dagger ready to hand. Absalom Grimes was nothing like this. He was of medium
height and build, dressed neatly in dark coat and pantaloons and checkered
vest, with a fair skin, straight nose, and broad, high forehead. His dark brown
hair and beard contrasted with the light gray of his mild eyes. He might have
been a young doctor or schoolmaster. But the slim hand he held out looked
steely strong, and as he moved toward Barry his feet were silent as a cat’s on
the floor boards.

BOOK: Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1954
4.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

F Paul Wilson - Sims 02 by The Portero Method (v5.0)
Heart Lies & Alibis by Chase, Pepper
Destiny by Jason A. Cheek
The Sword of Darrow by Hal Malchow
A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothee de Fombelle
The Fahrenheit Twins by Michel Faber
Unable to Resist by Cassie Graham
Beware of the Trains by Edmund Crispin