J. E. Chamberlain.

Cotton stealing. A novel online

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against Leette, were most eager to obtain some clew
of the extent of the conflict to be met in the future,
neither spoke a word nor asked a question. On the
part of the corporal no word was uttered except the
direction " File right," " File left/' as they turned
diflFerent street corners. At the entrance to head-
quarters, when challenged by the guard, the corporal


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went forward and said to the soldier on duty, " Pris-
oners by special order. Call the orderly,** whereon
they were passed into the gate, meeting the orderly in
the hall. A moment's conversation between them,
then a soldier oflF duty was called to stand guard over
the prisoners, for so James represented both until he
reported to the Adjutant General in person.

Headquarters were situated in one of the largest,
finest private mansions in the city ; a noble sample of
luxury, adorned by a lofty colonade in front, reached
by a flight of marble steps ; steps, which in peaceful
times had cooled the bare feet of the African ; from
which the little lords and ladies, — ^masters of the sun-
ny South, — had looked with satisfied scorn upon pass-
ing poor trash plodding on foot, and with satisfied
pride upon the prancing horses of aristocrats like
themselves enjoying the air, which their magnolias,
jessamines and crape myrtle, their marble platform,
their mosaic paved hall made cool and delicious.-^
Those large parlors and reception rooms were now oc-
cupied by war desks and war papers. The velvet
carpets had been removed, to be out of the way of
muddy army boots and sharp steel spurs. Still,
there were remnants of splendor on the walls;
pictures which had made bright eyes grow brighter,
none the less appreciated by the earnest art loving
soldier of the Union ; mirrors, that the young officers
on detached service consulted ; where the l)earer of
despatches discovered the effects of his haste, causing
him to make his stay in the saloon as short as possible.

Every one was busy. Officers coming and going.


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Reports received, — orders sent. The head work, the
heart pulse of a great army was beating here, almost
noiselessly. Each private or oflScer had work to do
which must be, which was done ; and the two persons
waiting the GeneraVs convenience in the hall, excited
no remark, drew no peculiar attention; hundreds,
thousands had so waited before ; some to return to
liberty, some to be sent to prison, some to death ; some
lost, some recovered property ; to the hard working
men who represented the nation, all was in the line
of business, of duty ; performed in accordance with
the laws of war, after a decision arrived at upon the
facts before the Court ; each act driving some other
out of sight into forgetfulness. And some things
were done, as was this, now before the General Com-

The Corporal came from the General's oflSce, say-
ing, "You will come in.'* Following, they passed an
orderly with a sword, entered a large parlor where
were desks, oflScers and persons in waiting, and con-
tinuing, reached a boudoir, where General Scienter
sat alone.

"This is a bad business. Miss Ledonc."

Her disguise was no more than the primitive style
of dress in which Leette was first introduced at Hele-
na. The General saw her shape more as nature de-
signed, though fashion did not imprison feet in steel,
like the dungeon keep of an old castle, whose naked
top was barred to the noon day sun and the twinkling
sharp-eyed stars. Leette asked, —

" What is the charge against meV*


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" A spy, and furnishing rebels with contraband of

"Tis false! Where is my accuser? I demand
the proof/*

" One accuser stands by your side. The Adjutant
General is another. You have taken quinine outside
of the lines, and were taking news to the enemy."

" My presence here refutes the last charge. The
other is false as hell. I am a Union woman. What
could I do to aid them ? I defy my enemies to the

Said La Scheme, " The Adjutant General informed
me of these charges. I knew them false, and imme-
diately sought Leette. This corporal had won some-
thing of love which her kindness in saving his life,
ought to have made respect, if nothing more. She,
like a true woman, could not endure his presence in
the society of a preferred rival, and weak as woman
is, had put on sackcloth, hiding away from the possi-
bility of meeting him. I found her, and was bringing
her to meet you, to explain these appearances, when
his mean soul must needs add insult to ingratitude,
and drag her, thus shabbily clad, into your presence.
I know but little of Miss Leette. Your knowledge
goes as far as mine. Does it not entitle her to respect
and consideration as a woman ?"

" It certainly does."

" Then, why keep her under arrest ? Let her go
upon her parole. I will be responsible for her appear-
ance when and where you order."

"No. The charge is too serious, at this time, too.
She must remain in custody."


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" General," said Leette, " I do not wish to be re-
lieved of guard so long as I am under suspicion. —
Watch me. Let my accuser be my guard. I am in-
nocent, I fear no investigation. James knows me and
I dare trust in him though he has proved unkind. Oh,
James, how could you !"

" This is all foolishness, General. The woman is
not competent to watch her own interests. She ought
to consult her friends. She should change her dress
and appear more like a sane person. I almost fear
she is love cracked. General, she needs female care;
I will be surety for her."

" No. La Scheme, you may consider yourself un-
der arrest, with the privilege of the city, to report
here every morning at nine o'clock. She must remain
in charge. I will yield this ; corporal, you shall take
her to her friends, and remain as a guard near until
she shall be prepared to be restrained her liberty. —
You will then accompany her to the dwelling occu-
pied by Mr. Sandison, and remain in charge until re-
lieved, giving her the liberty of the parlors and the
portico, not letting her out of your sight, nor holding
any intercourse with any one, except in your pres-
ence. There is a small ventilated room, back from
the parlor which was made for just such prisoners. I
•will send you written orders."


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The parlors of the Sandison dwelling were lighted,
and company was gathering, on the evening of that
day. Leette never was more elegantly attired, nor
ever looked so handsome. She attracted attention,
and was treated so courteously by her guard that no
uninformed spectator would suspect her to be a pris-
oner under arrest. When asked for music, she un-
hesitatingly complied, requesting the Corporal, as a
favor, to turn her pages, and gracefully accepted his
arm who invited her to play.

With this part of our characters we have not now
to do ; but with the Adjutant General, who took La
Scheme by the arm and led him out upon the portico.

" I have orderat to write the Judge Advocate, com-
manding him to examine Corporal Manet under oath,
preliminary to drawing up charges against you and
Miss Ledonc, for trial before a commission.'*

" What are the charges against me ?"

^^ Being in communication with the enemy and aid-


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ing them with contraband of war. All that saved
you was the engagement of the witness as guard."

" And/* said La Scheme, " The fact that I had been
engaged with the General himself in cotton specu-
lating, which I should be most certain to reveal, and
which my partners at (he North would so publish as
to ruin his character. No, no, the General has not
considered 'all the bearings of such a charge against
me. You need only suggest this to him, and tell
him I can explain whatever he desires to understand,
and he will perceive it is for his interest to let me
alone. I have friends in Washington who can easily
procure my release, even if a commission should find
me guilty. And you, who know something of such
things, ought to be wise enough to perceive I stand
in no danger. I know too much. Why, Adjutant,
so far as you yourself are concerned, you would
never permit me to go to trial. Now I want you to
understand me — I do not threaten, I know better —
but I can make more money in cotton than any other
live man, and he is in the business and it will not
pay for him to confine me. I should certainly re-
member it. It would not pay to have my ill-will in-
side the other lines. This is all talk: your own
good sense tells you what a foolish, inconsiderate
folly haste would be in this matter, and before the
evening is over you will be glad nothing has been

He paused a moment, then continued :
*' I thank you for giving me this notice. I ex«
pected as much, and am happy not to be disappointed*


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I have been interested in you from the first. To tell
the truth, I had rather see you make money than
any person I am concerned with, even the General.
(}ood-wiIl calls for a return in kind. I ask only
the opportunity to make you one of the wealthiest
men on the continent. Another person might doubt
my ability ; this very charge indicates the ground of
my confidence. I am in favor the other side of the
lines, by which advantage- 1 am enabled to deliver
any amoufit of cotton at any safe point. The idea
of delivering contraband! My dear sir, our last
engagement was undertaken with that express under-
standing. It is too late for you now to profess
horror at the event, particularly when a mere Cor-
poral attempts to expose. Face it down. Tour
word, the GeneraFs, is double, treble, will over-
whelm that of any private ; especially when, as in
this case, the goods were immediately divided among
individuals and never benefitted the army. The
people at the North have confidence in you — are
predisposed to believe you are honest, as you are.
I hold it right to use these side opportunities to
make money. There is no reason in the world why
you should not make your share, while irresponsible
foreigners, and men too cowardly to fight, are mak-
ing fortunes every day. I think I have said enough
on this point.

" That Corporal could not understand how and
why I should, in the legitimate course of business,
seem to aid and abet the rebels. I did, but it was
when in your employ, doing your business and do-.


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livering your goods. You know the whole transac-
tion, and have the money in your pocket. Now
judge, ask the General to decide, if or not, I am

There being no reply he resumed :

^^ I am inclined to think the Corporal has some
secret cause against you. I know he is a smart,
sharp fellow ; and learning from the accident of his
imprisonment that you were making money, sees that
ho can reach you through me."

Charlie gave a start. His jealousy was aroused.
They had turned and were looking through the open
window. La Scheme continued :

'^ See him now, pretending to guard Leette while
he is really paying attention to Miss Sandison. It
may be you do not read human nature as I do ; but
no great penetration is needed to determine an under-
standing exists between them, and perhaps more. —
He has a long head. He won't touch you, oh no !
but he will involve Leette and me, knowing I am
your agent ; that, in order to defend myself, I shall
have to call upon you, to prove the authority under
which I acted, and then £e hopes to see you brought
down. Did you ever give him cause to hate you ?"

Charlie answered slowly, "T-e-s, but Scienter
was most to blame. I never gave him credit for
such scheming. It looks likely. I do not believe
Allie is party concerned."

<^ No, I do not think she is. She is not smart
enough. How did it happen you ever fancied her ?
Such d talented man as you are could have your


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pick, among the richest, and most splendid girls of
the country."

" She was the pick/'

" You thought so then : you were too much in a
hurry. She is nothing but an unsophisticated coun-
try girl, and will never change — ^no more calculated
for you, and the society in which you will move,
than a maid servant for mistress of your establish-
ment. You are rich already ; before the war is over
will be worth a million, then your little Western
village will be too small, and you will live in New
York. I know what I am saying, I know where the
cotton is, and you, I, and the General can get it.
Now, Adjutant, why don't you try and get Leette ?
She thinks well of you : somehow you make an im-
pression. You sing and play, and all that — ^fight,
too. Leette is worth winning."

" Indeed she is !" said Charlie. " One of the most
affectionate creatures I ever knew. If I was not en-
gaged, I should be tempted. Isn't she splendid!
She is a gem !"

This burst from Charlie was produced by the grace-
ful reception given to Gen. Scienter, who then came
into the room. La Scheme immediately said :

"Now is your time; you know what to say. In
these matters the General will do what must be done,
and you know, you nor he, can afford to compromise
my safety. Say to him also from me, that Miss Le-
donc is innocent ; and were she not, we cannot afford
to have an investigation at the present time. You
understand me ?"


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' Yes. I think I can arrange it, though that con-
founded pass I gave last night has made him cross as
two sticks ; not that he cares, but General Sherman
may chance to light upon him, and he would rather
see the devil."

" All the more reason for not stirring at this time.
Would it help him any to be known as cotton specu-
lating ? and it will be known. Hush it up ; let it die ;
certainly no damage has yet been done — make a farce
of the examination. Always keep such things in the
dark. Tell the General to see Leette himself, and
he will be satisfied of her innocence."

" I will see what can be done."

Thus saying, the Adjutant General went on his
mission to his commanding officer.

While the interview between them was progressing
La Scheme held aloof from the gay groups in the
parlors. These were large rooms, lighted by gas
chandeliers, with great bay-windows: the former
owner having sought to realize the splendor of no-
bility. Curtains of heavy damask hung over the
recesses, mirrors of French plate glass reached from
floor to ceiling, and oil paintings decorated the walls.
There were portraits of master and mistress. Ah !
had they been here, would they have gazed unmoved
on the lace and shining decorations of the officers of
the nation ? Would those selections of their taste
and wealth have occasioned happiness ; the means, as
they now were, of adding to the pleasures of Yankee
soldiers — the aiders and abettors of flirtation with
conquerors of the South ? More than one of these


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though were present, interfering not, rather height-
ening, the zest of enjoyment.

From one of the alcoves the Adjutant General
came from his interview with his commander, sajing
to La Scheme when they met :

" I believe it is all right ; he will see Leette him-
self and give her an opportunity for explanation, and
if satisfactory, that will be the end. He admitted
the force of your suggestions, and said he should not
have moved in the matter had it not been for outside
pressure. Let us go in. Didn't I tell you ?"

Leette, the rebel, is walking with the Greneral,
who has destroyed her home, whom she hates most
cordially ; and though he holds her destiny in his
hands, she does not change a feature. From infancy,
society has educated her to deceive. She has been
more true to herself since the war broke down res-
traint and permitted nature to think and act out loud,
than when peace imposed the white liesof graceful
society upon her. She returns easily to the mask
which art puts upon the soul.

" General, what return can I make for your gen-
tlemanly conduct this day ? You do not know how I
appreciate your consideration.* I am tempted to be-
lieve that you do not share in the motives of my ac-
cuser, or else, do not believe the truth of the accusa-
tion. Is it true that James is the only witness against
me ? What does he say?"

*' Miss Ledonc, I do not know. As yet the charges
are not put in writing. I have ordered the examina-
tion to take place to-morrow ; as soon as the Judge


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Advocate has framed the specifications you shall have
a copy. To tell the truth, I am very sorry this has
ever happened, for I had entertained a different opin-
ion of you ; indeed, it seems impossible now.'*

" It is impossible, General. It is not true. The
charges are false. General, if I can convince you,
cannot these proceedings cease ? Must I still be a
prisoner, and be subjected to the indignity of a trial
before that dreadful commission?"

" I fear you must. The matter has gone too far.
It is too public."

" Why who knows it but us ? Few even of my
friends know of my arrest. It will die of itself."

'* You mistake, Miss Ledonc. It will reach home
and influence the public there."

"I understand. That Corporal, that lYoman's
tongue, you fear. I can remove that, because he can
prove nothing against me. Will you confront us ?"

" Certainly." Turning from their promenade they
met the corporal, who was following at a respectful
distance, doing his duty when his prisoner was in
charge of the General himself. At a motion, he ad-
vanced, and the General addressed him, —

" Corporal, state when, how and where you became
acquainted with Miss Ledonc ; also the evidence you
possess of her character as a rebel and a spy." He
answered, —

" I first saw her on the street in Helena in com-
pany of Mr. La Scheme ; next, when she attempted
to run the picket guard : and afterwards, when she
saved my life from the guerillas, which was given to


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her in consideration of her services as a spy and smug-
gler of contraband of war.*'

* It is false !'* exclaimed Leette, " and if I were a
man I would crush your perjured tongue down your
lying throat. You are meanly and cowardly false to
lie against the character of a woman who saved your
life ! You are a liar and you know it !**

" Mr. La Scheme told the guerillas this was true in
the speech he made when dividing the articles among
them. They left me and went with him, saying, ' Let
her have him. Let her have the dyed Yankee. Bul-
ly for Miss Leette !' and those of our boys who were
present can prove it.**

The exclamation of Leette, loud and fiery, drew
the Adjutant General and La Scheme to hear the
conversation. Upon hearing his name, La Scheme
said, —

" Since my name has been mentioned, it becomes
me to explain my appearance among the guerillas,
and my connection with this affair. I do not blame
Leette for anger under such circumstances ; certain-
ly, if I could have imagined how ungrateful the cor-
poral has proved, I would have spoken no word in his
behalf. I see my old friend Sandison. I am glad to
welcome you under such circumstances, for we knew
each other as college mates, and he can confirm the
facts 1 now relate.

". When we were in college a boy used to black our
boots and sweep our rooms, a small matter of a penny
a day, which we settled by gifts of old clothes, boots,
&c. He was a reasonably smart enterprising lad, and


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we were pleased with him ; were we not, Sandison ?"
" Yes, and his name was James Manet, now before
us. Goon.**

" I recognized him among the prisoners, as a gu-
erilla was about to save the trouble of toting his car-
cass to the other side; and with difficulty saved his
life, by asking Leette as a woman, to do what was be-
yond my power, as a man. Even then, the men were
not satisfied, for he had shot several, (much to his
credit, which made me the more anxious to save him,)
but I myself was sailing under false colors, and had
a narrow and delicate path to walk to save my own
life and accomplish the cotton mission I was on. You
know gentlemen, and I need not'explain, how that de-
mands peculiar finesse ; and I must say, under the
circumstances, I had no great regard for truth. I
thought the end justified the means. Besides, our
friend here, could hardly be said to be in a condition
to gain very clear ideas, as he had been ridden down ;
which blow had broken three ribs, while a stone upon
which he had fallen had stunned him, leaving that
scar on his forehead. Besides, he had a pistol wound
in the arm. Such a pitiable object you never set eyes
on. Had I not a good memory I would have passed
him by, but I never forget a face I have once seen. —
Under these circumstances, gentlemen, it is more
than hard for Miss Ledonc, who is innocent as a babe,
to receive such a return for her kindness, since alVhe
is to day, he owes to her care.**

" Very true,** said the General. " There is, how-
ever, one thing unexplained. Where did the articles


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which you distributed to the guerillas come from ?"

" That was a matter of special permit from the
General in command of the Post, to Miss Leette, for
the slaves on her plantation. It was all right- Cor-
poral, were not the papers properly signed?"

" Yes, the signatures were correct, but the ambig-
uity and quantity were suspicious, and therefore I
stopped them."

** You understand how such things are. General. I
was getting in the cotton : Leette saw difficulty was
inevitable and foolishly attempted to come to me. The
Corporal fired and drew the attention of the guerillas,
who were after my cotton to burn. They went in
for a fight. I got the cotton in safe, and then went to
look after Leette and arrived in time to save the cor-
poraVs life. They used to say one good turn deserves
another. I should be very sorry if such an act of
hospitality should endanger the life or even safety of
Miss Ledonc,"

"I do not believe one word of it," said Allie San-
dison. ^ The cotton was guerilla cotton. You must
have been with the guerillas, and Leette must ha^e
been a spy. Why did you tell the gang, Leette was
going to Yazoo city ? Why did Leette tell me, James
insulted her ; why did she set the guerillas and blood-
hounds on his track, and try to burn him to death ?"

" I did not try to burn him to death."

^ You did, you know you did. You oflFered him
your love. You tried to seduce him from his allegiance
to his. country, to make him a rebel, a traitor like
yourself. And when you failed, like a fiend, for no


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true woman would set blood hounds upon the track
of the bare feet of one whom she loved ; would come
and look coolly on when the house waa burning, where
every blast seemed full of his scorched flesh and burnt
bones. Yes, like a fiend! you called ofi'the dogs when
your work was done. You thought it was done. You
with a woman's heart to leave that poor widow alone
with that murdered babe ! Yes, murdered babe ! and
you murdered it. When Bill Wolgo, hounded on by
you, stood cursing that lone, unprotected woman,
threatening her infant's life, unconsciously stifled its
feeble breath, the act was yours."

"It is false! Girl, you .lie!"

"It is true," said James Manet, "I saw you my-

" Where were you ?"

"Under the floor!"

" The dogs did not find you I"

"Leette !" warned La Scheme. He was too late.

" I know it. I had found the slave's secret. I
threw them from the track and outwitted the hounds."

" This has gone far enough," interrupted General
Scienter. " I see clearly there will have to be an in-
vestigation. So far as you are concerned, Mr. La
Scheme, the explanation is satisfactory. Adjutant,
leave Mr. La Scheme's name^out of the order. I am
sorry for you, Miss Ledonc, but the examination must
be held. Corporal, I leave her in your custody fer
the night, or until relieved. See every want attend-
ed to so far as possible."

" Stay, General. Do not leave before you hear


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my answer to this monstrous accusation. Wliile I
was astounded by it, I could not but admire the ef-
frontery with which this young maiden espoused the
cause of her discarded lover, and the readiness with

Online LibraryJ. E. ChamberlainCotton stealing. A novel → online text (page 23 of 29)