I tel U now. He spile yore fun
Onless at once U send mi Gunn.
Yores til deth,
The reception of this perturbed Shorty to his depths. He had not forgotten his promise to Sammy--merely postponed its execution under the pressure of other engrossments. He reproached himself for not remembering how eagerly the boy had been looking forward to a possession which would make him the envy of the other boys--really hated by them for his towering and undeserved fortune.
"And Maria and the girls is talkin' about me," he communed with himself.
"I knowed that my left ear hadn't bin burnin' ever since we crossed the Ohio River for nothin'. I thought it was because it'd got so tender layin' on pillers that the blankets chafed it. Now I understand it. And I can't hear nothin' of what they've bin sayin' till I git that gun to Sammy. I'll start it to him this day, if it takes a leg. I'd intended to go over to the camp o' the Maumee Muskrats today, on a missionary, tower with them new tricks I brung back with me, but I'll put in the time gittin' Sammy's gun and shippin' it to him. Wonder where I kin pick up a rebel musket and trimmins'?" Shorty did not find this so easy as he had anticipated. Generally, rebel guns had been a drug in the market. They could be found lying around camp almost anywhere, and were used for any purpose to which they could be applied--poles to hang kettles on over the fire, tent-sticks, revetments to hold the dirt back, or any other use. But under the rigid system now prevailing in Sherman's camps everything had to be accounted for, and every gun sufficiently serviceable to be worth sending to Sammy had been gathered up and stored away in a large shed. Shorty went down there and scrutinized the armory.
There were plenty of guns in there, any one of which would make Sammy's heart leap for joy, and render him the object of the burning envy of all the boys for miles around. But there were guards pacing around, and they looked watchful. Still, if the night were dark he might slip in and steal one. But somehow since he had known Maria there had risen in his mind a repugnance to that way of procuring things. It was not in accordance with Klegg ideas. He sat down and pondered on other methods.
He went over and talked to the Sergeant in charge, an old acquaintance, but the Sergeant was obdurate.
"No, sir. Can't let one of 'em go on no account," said the Sergeant firmly. "My Captain's in charge of 'em, and he's put me in charge. He knows he can trust me, and I know that he can. He don't know how many guns and bayonets and cartridge-boxes there are, but I do, for I counted them first thing when I come on. I don't propose that he shall have to have any shortage charged against him when he comes to settle his accounts. I don't know whether they've got an account of the things at Headquarters, but they're likely to have, and I'm not taking any risks.
I'm looking out for my Captain."
"But suppose I pay you the value of the blamed old blunderbuss," said Shorty, as a desperate resort, for it was the first time that he had ever thought of a rebel gun having a money value.
"I wouldn't take it," replied the Sergeant. "First place, I haint no idea what they're worth. Next place, if I had, I wouldn't take it, for I don't want any shortage in Cap's accounts. Thirdly, if I took the money I'd like as not set into a game o' poker tonight and lose it, and then where'd I be, and where'd Cap be? I've been having monstrous hard luck at poker lately."
"That's because you ain't up to the latest kinks," said Shorty, hopefully. "I've been back to the rear--just come from Jeffersonville--and I've got on to a lot of new dodges. I'll show 'em all to you for one o' them guns."
The waver in the Sergeant's face showed the temptation was a trying one, but he answered firmly:
"No; I won't do it."
"I'll put up a $10 bill agin one o' the guns, play you two out o' three for it, learn you the tricks, and give you back the money if I win,"
said Shorty desperately.
Again the Sergeant's face showed great irresolution, but again his fidelity triumphed, and he answered firmly, "No I won't." Then he softened his refusal by saying:
"Come, Shorty, walk over a little way with me. I know where we can get something good."
After they had shared a tincupful of applejack that a teamster supplied them the Sergeant's heart thawed out a little.
"I tell you. Shorty, there's a gun in there that'd just tickle your boy to death. It's an Enfield, new one, and has a Yankee bullet sticking in the butt. Must've knocked the Johnny a double somersault when it struck.
I've been thinkin' sending it home myself. But I'll let you have it, and I'll tell you how you can get it. See that camp over there? Well, that's a regiment being organized out o' Tennessee refugees. They and their officers are the carelessest lot of galoots that ever lived. Their Quartermaster stores and their Commissary stores, and everything they have is allowed to lie around loose, just wherever they get the notion to drop them. I've had my eye on 'em for several days, and've helped several of my friends to straighten up their company accounts, and replace things that they'd lost. You just waltz over there, careless like, as if you belonged to the regiment, pick up a gun and traps, put 'em on, and sail back here, and I'll turn your things in, and give you that gun with the bullet in the stock in exchange."
Shorty lost no time in acting on the advice. That afternoon the express from Chattanooga carried a gun to Sammy Woggles, the contemplation of which deprived that youth of sleep the night after he received it, and won him the cordial hatred of every boy in his neighborhood for his overweening pride.
But after the gun was gone, and after Shorty had written a laborious letter, informing Sammy of the shipment of the gun and its history, which letter inclosed a crisp greenback, and was almost as urgent in injunctions to Sammy to write as Sammy had been about his piece of ordnance, Shorty sat down in sadness of heart. He was famishing for information from Maria, and at the lowest calculation he could not hope for a letter from Sammy for two weeks.
"It'll take at least a week for that little rat to git over his fever about that gun," he mused, "until he'll be able to set up and think about anything else. Then it'll take him at least another week to build a letter. Great Jehosephat, how'm I goin' to stand it till then?
Where'll I be two weeks from now? What kin I do? I a'most wish that something'd happen to Si that'd give me an excuse for writin'."
He racked his fertile brain with expedients and devices for getting up communication, but for once he had to reject them all. There was a halo of unapproachableness about Maria Klegg that paralyzed him.
He awoke the next morning with the same anxiety gnawing at his heart, and it haunted him so that he went through the morning's routine mechanically. When he came back from taking a squad up to Headquarters to report for fatigue duty, the Orderly-Sergeant called out:
"Here's a letter for you, Corporal Elliott." Shorty took the small white envelope from the Orderly's hand, and looked at it curiously. Who could it be from? It resembled somewhat the letters that once came from Bad Ax, Wis., but then again it was very different. He studied the handwriting, which was entirely strange to him. Then he was electrified by seeing that the postmark seemed to be something the same as on Si's letters, but was blurred. He gave a little gasp, and said:
"Orderly, I'd like to git off a little while today." "Why, Shorty,"
remonstrated the busy Sergeant, "you were off yesterday. But go. I'll try to get along without you. Don't stay long."
[Illustration: A LETTER FROM MARIA. 81]
Shorty would not trust himself to more than look at the outside, until he had gained a safe screen behind a clump of bushes. Then he took out his knife, carefully slit the envelope, and read:
Dear Mr. Elliot--
I take my pen in hand to inform you that we are all in good health and hope you are enjoyin' the same blessing fur which we should all be thankful to God. I am over on a visit to Prairie Hen and Mrs. Skidmore a widow woman called to see me today In the course of conversation she said her little boy Peter had run off and shed hurd hed joined the 200th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. She heard that we had folks in that regiment and so had come over to see me to see if I knowed anybody that would give her any news about her boy so as she could ask them to look out for him. I told her I knowed a gentleman in the 200th Indiana who would look out for Peter and be a second father to him and as soon as she had went I started this epistle. I thot id answer my letters because its all he can do to write answer my letter because its all he can do to write to mother and Annabel and dont write to mother haf often enuf besides id like to hear from you myself. Sincerely Yore Friend
"M-a-r-i-a-r K-l-e-g-g," gasped Shorty, spelling over the letters, one at a time, to make sure that his eyes were not making a fool of him.
"And she'd like to hear from me."
And he took off his hat, and fanned his burning face.
CHAPTER VIII. SHORTY WRITES A LETTER TO MARIA KLEGG
AND ENTERS UPON HIS PARENTAL RELATIONS TO LITTLE PETE SKIDMORE.
THE self-sufficient, self-reliant Shorty had never before had anything to so completely daze him. "Ackchelly a letter from Maria Klegg. Writ of her own free will and accord. And she wants to hear from me," he murmured, reading the letter over and over again, and scanning the envelope as if by intensity of gaze he would wring more from the mute white paper. The thought was overpowering that it had come directly from her soft hand; that she had written his name upon it; that her lips had touched the stamp upon it. He tenderly folded up the letter and replaced it in the envelope. His thoughts were too tumultuous for him to sit still. He would walk and calm himself. He wrapped the piece of Maria's dress around the letter, rose and started off. He had gone but a few steps when it seemed to him that he had not caught the full meaning of some of the words in the letter. He sought a secluded place where he could sit down, unseen by any eyes, and read the letter all over again several times. Then came the disturbing thought of how he was to care for and protect the precious missive? He could not bear to part with it for a single minute, and yet he did not want to carry the sacred thing around exposed to the dirt and moil of daily camp-life and the danger of loss. He thought long and earnestly, and at last went down to a large sutler's store, and purchased the finest morocco wallet from his stock.
Even this did not seem a sufficiently rich casket for such a gem, and he bought a large red silk bandana, in which he carefully wrapped letter, dress fragment and wallet, and put them in the pocket of his flannel shirt, next his breast. Next came the momentous duty of writing an answer to the letter. Yesterday he was burning with a desire to make an opportunity to write. Now the opportunity was at hand, the object of his desires had actually asked him to write her, and the completeness of the opportunity unnerved him.
"The first thing I have got to do," said he, "is to git some paper and envelopes and ink. I don't s'pose they've got anything here fit for a gentleman to write to a lady with." He turned over the sutler's stock of stationery disdainfully, and finally secured a full quire of heavy, gilt-edged paper, and a package of envelopes, on which was depicted a red-and-blue soldier, with a flag in one hand and a gun in the other, charging bayonets through a storm of bursting shells.
"It's true I ain't one o' the color-guard yit," mused Shorty, studying the picture, "but the Colonel sorter hinted that I might be, if Cap McGillicuddy could spare me from Co. Q, which ain't at all likely. Now, Mister, le'me see some pens."
"Here's some--Gillott's--best quality," said the sutler's clerk.
"Naw," said Shorty contemptuously. "Don't want no common steel pens.
Goin' to write to a lady. Git me your best gold ones."
Shorty made quite a pretense of trying, as he had seen penmen do, the temper of the pens upon his thumb-nail, but chose the largest and highest priced one, in an elaborate silver holder.
"I'm very partickler 'bout my pens," said he to the clerk. "I must have 'em to just suit my hand. Some folks's very keerless about what they write with, but I wasn't brung up that way."
"If you'd ask my advice," said the clerk, "I'd recommend this thing as the best for you to use. It'd suit fine Italian hand better'n any pen ever made."
And he held up a marking-pot and brush.
"Young man," said Shorty, solemnly, as he paid for his purchases, "the condition o' your health requires you not to try to be funny. It's one o' the dangerousest things in the army. You're exposed to a great many complaints down here, but nothin' 'll send you to the hospital as suddenly as bein' funny."