by John McElroy.
BOOK No. 6
"Si Klegg, of the 200th Ind., and Shorty, his Partner," were born years ago in the brain of John McElroy, Editor of The National Tribune.
These sketches are the original ones published in The National Tribune, revised and enlarged somewhat by the author. How true they are to nature every veteran can abundantly testify from his own service. Really, only the name of the regiment was invented. There is no doubt that there were several men of the name of Josiah Klegg in the Union Army, and who did valiant service for the Government. They had experiences akin to, if not identical with, those narrated here, and substantially every man who faithfully and bravely carried a musket in defense of the best Government on earth had sometimes, if not often, experiences of which those of Si Klegg are a strong reminder.
CHAPTER I. SHORTY BEGINS BEING A FATHER TO PETE SKIDMORE.
"Come, my boy," Si said kindly. "Don't cry. You're a soldier now, and soldiers don't cry. Stop it."
"Dod durn it," blubbered Pete, "I ain't cryin' bekase Pm skeered. I'm cryin' bekase I'm afeared you'll lose me. I know durned well you'll lose me yit, with all this foolin' around."
"No, we won't," Si assured him. "You just keep with us and you'll be all right."
"Here, you blim-blammed, moon-eyed suckers, git offen that 'ere crossin'," yelled at them a fireman whose engine came tearing down toward the middle of the squad. "Hain't you got no more sense than to stand on a crossin'?"
He hurled a chunk of coal at the squad, which hastily followed Si to the other side of the track.
"Hello, there; where are you goin', you chuckle-headed clodhoppers?"
yelled the men on another train rushing down from a different direction.
"This ain't no hayfield. Go back home and drive cows, and git out o' the way o' men who're at work."
There was more scurrying, and when at last Si reached a clear space, he had only a portion of his squad with him, while Shorty was vowing he would not go a step farther until he had licked a railroad man. But the engines continued to whirl back and forth in apparently purposeless confusion, and the moment that he fixed upon any particular victim of his wrath, he was sure to be compelled to jump out of the way of a locomotive clanging up from an unexpected direction and interposing a train of freight cars between him and the man he was after.
Si was too deeply exercised about getting his squad together to pay attention to Shorty or the jeering, taunting railroaders. He became very fearful that some of them had been caught and badly hurt, probably killed, by the remorseless locomotives.
"This's wuss'n a battle," he remarked to the boys around him. "I'd ruther take you out on the skirmish-line than through them trains agin."
However, he had come to get some comprehension of the lay of the ground and the movements of the trains by this time, and by careful watching succeeded in gathering in his boys, one after another, until he had them all but little Pete Skidmore. The opinion grew among them that Pete had unwisely tried to keep up with the bigger boys, who had jumped across the track in front of a locomotive, and had been caught and crushed beneath the wheels. He had been seen up to a certain time, and then those who were last with him had been so busy getting out of the way that they had forgotten to look for him. Si calmed Shorty down enough to get him to forget the trainmen for awhile and take charge of the squad while he went to look for Pete. He had become so bewildered that he could not tell the direction whence they had come, or where the tragedy was likely to have happened. The farther he went in attempting to penetrate the maze of moving trains, the more hopeless the quest seemed.
Finally he went over to the engineer of a locomotive that was standing still and inquired if he had heard of any accident to a boy soldier during the day.
"Seems to me that I did hear some o' the boys talkin' about No. 47 or 63 havin' run over a boy, or something," answered the engineer carelessly, without removing his pipe from his mouth. "I didn't pay no attention to it. Them things happen every day. Sometimes it's my engine, sometimes it's some other man's. But I hain't run over nobody for nigh a month now."
"Confound it," said Si savagely; "you talk about runnin' over men as if it was part o' your business."
"No," said the engineer languidly, as he reached up for his bell-rope.
"'Tain't, so to speak, part o' our regler business. But the yard's awfully crowded, old Sherman's makin' it do five times the work it was calculated for, trains has got to be run on the dot, and men must keep off the track if they don't want to git hurt. Stand clear, there, yourself, for I'm goin' to start."
Si returned dejectedly to the place where he had left his squad. The expression of his face told the news before he had spoken a word. It was now getting dark, and he and Shorty decided that it was the best thing to go into bivouac where they were and wait till morning before attempting to penetrate the maze beyond in search of their regiment.
They gathered up some wood, built fires, made coffee and ate the remainder of their rations. They were all horribly depressed by little Pete Skidmore's fate, and Si and Shorty, accustomed as they were to violent deaths, could not free themselves from responsibility however much they tried to reason it out as an unavoidable accident. They could not talk to one another, but each wrapped himself up in his blanket and sat moodily, a little distance from the fires, chewing the cud of bitter fancies. Neither could bear the thought of reporting to their regiment that they had been unable to take care of the smallest boy in their squad. Si's mind went back to Peter Skidmore's home, and his mother, whose heart would break over the news.
The clanging and whistling of the trains kept up unabated, and Si thought they made the most hateful din that ever assailed his ears.
Presently one of the trains stopped opposite them and a voice called from the locomotive:
"Do you men know of a squad of Injianny recruits commanded by Serg't Klegg?"
"Yes, here they are," said Si, springing up. "I'm Serg't Klegg."
[Illustration: LITTLE PETE FOUND 13]
"That's him," piped out Pete Skidmore's voice from the engine, with a very noticeable blubber of joy. "He's the same durned old-fool that I kept tellin' all the time he'd lose me if he wasn't careful, and he went and done it all the same."
"Well, here's your boy," continued the first voice. "Be mighty glad you've got him back and see that you take care o' him after this. My fireman run down on the cow-ketcher and snatched him up just in the nick o' time. A second more and he'd bin mince-meat. Men what can't take better care o' boys oughtn't to be allowed to have charge of 'em. But the Government gits all sorts o' damn fools for $13 a month."
Si was so delighted at getting Pete back unhurt that he did not have the heart to reply to the engineer's gibes.
CHAPTER II. SI AND SHORTY COME VERY NEAR LOSING THEIR BOYS.
ALL healthy boys have a strong tincture of the savage in them. The savage alternately worships his gods with blind, unreasoning idolatry, or treats them with measureless contumely.
Boys do the same with their heroes. It is either fervent admiration, or profound distrust, merging into actual contempt. After the successful little skirmish with the guerrillas the boys were wild in their enthusiasm over Si and Shorty. They could not be made to believe that Gens. Grant, Sherman or Thomas could conduct a battle better. But the moment that Si and Shorty seemed dazed by the multitude into which they were launched, a revulsion of feeling developed, which soon threatened to be ruinous to the partners' ascendancy.
During the uncomfortable, wakeful night the prestige of the partners still further diminished. In their absence the army had been turned topsy-turvy and reorganized in a most bewildering way. The old familiar guide-marks had disappeared. Two of the great corps had been abolished--consolidated into one, with a new number and a strange commander. Two corps of strange troops had come in from the Army of the Potomac, and had been consolidated into one, taking an old corps'
number. Divisions, brigades and regiments had been totally changed in commanders, formation and position. Then the Army of the Tennessee had come in, to complicate the seeming muddle, and the more that Si and Shorty cross-questioned such stragglers as came by the clearer it seemed to the boys that they were hopelessly bewildered, and the more depressed the youngsters became.
The morning brought no relief. Si and Shorty talked together, standing apart from the squad, and casting anxious glances over the swirling mass of army activity, which the boys did not fail to note and read with dismal forebodings.
"I do believe they're lost," whimpered little Pete Skidmore. "What in goodness will ever become of us, if we're lost in this awful wilderness?"
The rest shuddered and grew pale at this horrible prospect.
"That looks like a brigade headquarters over there," said Si, pointing to the left. "And I believe that's our old brigade flag. I'm goin' over there to see."
"I don't believe that's any brigade headquarters at all," said Shorty.
"Up there, to the right, looks ever so much more like a brigade headquarters. I'm goin' up there to see. You boys stay right there, and don't move off the ground till I come back. I won't be gone long."
As he left, the boys began to feel more lonely and hopeless than ever, and little Pete Skidmore had hard work to restrain his tears.
A large, heavy-jowled man, with a mass of black whiskers, and wearing a showy but nondescript uniform, appeared.
"That must be one o' the big Generals," said Harry Joslyn. "Looks like the pictures o' Grant. Git into line, boys, and salute."