"Si," said Shorty, "didn't you say that it was a squad o' the Maumee Muskrats in the mill, and that we wuz goin' to relieve 'em."
"Yes, and the Orderly said that railroad 'Mick'--Hennessey--was the Sarjint in command."
"O, that bog-trottin' old section boss, that hairy-handed artist with the long shovel, is there, is he with his crucifix and his prayers to the Saints. That's all right. He's bin stormin' and swearin' ever since the fight begun; because he's bin obliged to stay inside and shoot, and instid of making a grand rush and settling things, according to Donnybrook Fair rules. I tell you what you do. You work the boys carefully down through the brush toward the race, and git 'em into position in easy range of the rebels, covering 'em behind logs. I'll take a circuit around to the left, and git over to the hill, behind the rebels, and near enough the mill for Hennessey to hear me. Then I'll fire a shot and yell for Hennessey. He knows my voice, and he'll bring his men out like a pack o' hornets. Then you let into the rebels from your side. They can't git across the race at you, and we'll have 'em where we kin whipsaw 'em."
"Shorty," said Si admiringly, "Gen. Grant 'll hear o' you some day, and then Co. Q will lose its brightest star, but the army'll gain a great General."
"I know it; I know it," said Shorty, modestly; "but don't stop to talk about it now. I think I've got the lay o' the mill in mind. I'll just cut around that way. Don't shoot till you hear me."
Si quietly deployed his boys to the left of the road, and worked them through the brush until they came to the crest overlooking the mill-race. They took readily to this sort of work. They had all hunted rabbits over the hills of southern Indiana, and they came into position so softly that the rebels beyond did not suspect their presence.
Then came a long wait for the signal from Shorty. The rebels seemed to get tired first. Presently they could be seen moving around, and Si had hard work restraining his squad from shooting at the tempting marks.
Then the rebels began talking, at first in murmurs, and then louder.
There seemed to be a division of opinion among them. Those who had been run back were sure that the Yankee were coming on to the relief of their comrades in the mill. The others thought that their comrades had run the other away just as fast.
"I tell you, hit's no use to wait for they'uns no longer," said one strong voice. "Them Yankees is runnin' back to their camps as fast as they'uns's legs 'll carry they'uns. If yo'uns 'd had any sand, and stood yer ground, you'd 'a seed 'em. But yo' yaller hammers allers git the ager when ever a cap's busted, and run yer rabbit-gizzards out."
"Y're a liar," hotly responded another voice. "Thar was more'n 50 o'
them Yankees, if thar was a man. We fit 'em awful, before we give away, and they'd killed Burt Dolson and Bob Whittyker, and I don't know how many more. They come bulgin' right on toward the mill, arter they'd reformed. I know hit, bekase Eph and me staid and watched 'em, and shot at 'em, till we thought hit best to run back and warn ye."
"Ye wuz in a powerful hurry to warn us," sneered the other. "Well, thar's no Yankees over thar, and none haint a-comin' till daylight. I've ketched all the ager and rhematiz here that I'm a-gwine ter. Le's go back and salivate them fellers in the mill, and set fire to it."
This seemed to be the prevailing sentiment, and Si began to fear that they would all go, and might intercept Shorty. He was on the point of ordering the boys to fire, and attract their attention, when Shorty's rifle rang out, and the next instant came a roar from Shorty's powerful lungs, with each word clear and distinct:
"Hennessy--you--red--mouthed--Mick--come out. The 200th Injianny is--here. Come out--with a rush--you--imported spalpeen--and jump--'em--in--the--rear!"
"Now, boys," commanded Si, "keep cool, pick your man, and fire low. I'm goin' to take the feller that's bin doin' the big talkin'."
Each of the boys had already picked his man, and was eagerly waiting the word. Their fire threw their enemies into confusion, and as their guns rattled, the barricaded doors of the mill were thrown open, and Hennessey rushed out with a wild Irish "hurroo." The rebels incontinently fled, without an attempt at resistance.
After it was ascertained that every unhurt rebel was running for dear life to get away, after Hennessey and his squad had gathered up the wounded and carried them into the mill, and after the boys had yelled themselves hoarse over their victory gained with such unexpected ease, they suddenly remembered that they were so tired that they could scarcely drag one foot after another, and hungrier than young wolves at the end of a hard Winter.
"Gewhillikins," murmured Jim Humphreys, "I wonder when we're going to have supper. I'm as holler as a stovepipe."
"You've got your suppers in your haversacks," said Si. "We'll go into the mill and build a fire and make some coffee and fry some meat."
"In my haversack," said Jim ruefully, after they had entered the mill, and he had run his hand into his forgotten haversack, and withdrawn it covered with a viscid greasy mush. "My haversack's full o' water, that's soaked everything else in it to a gruel."
"So's mine; so's mine," echoed the rest, as they examined.
"Confound it," said Si' wrathfully, as he looked into one after another. "Didn't none o' you have sense enough to fasten down the covers carefully, so's to keep the water out? Here it is--salt and sugar and coffee, bread and greasy pork all in one nasty mess. I declare, you don't seem to have the sense you wuz born with. You've bin breakin'
yourselves down luggin' around 10 or 15 pounds o' water, besides spilin'
"Probably Sarjint Hennessey has some rations that he kin give us,"
suggested Shorty, who was genuinely sorry for the poor boys.
"Dade I haint--not a smidgeon," answered Hennessey. "We ixpicted ye's to git here this forenoon and relieve us, and we et up ivery spoonful of our grub for breakfast, so's to lighten us for a quick march back to camp. They've not bin runnin' in the mill for several days, and've carted off ivery bit of the male they ground. We're nigh starved oursilves, but we've had a lovely little foight, and we forgive ye's for not coming airlier. Oi wouldn't 've missed that last rush on thim divil's for a month's double rations."
"Well," said Si, encouragingly, "we'll have to make mine and Shorty's rations go around as well as they kin, among all of you. Fish the meat out o' your haversacks, boys, and wash the dope off it. It ain't spiled, anyway. We kin each of us have a little to eat tonight, and we'll trust to Providence for termorrer."
CHAPTER XI. SHORTY GIVES THE BOYS THEIR FIRST LESSON IN FORAGING.
WITH the elasticity of youth the boys slept away their fatigue during the night, but woke up the next morning ravenously hungry.
"What in the world are we goin' to do for grub, Si?" asked Shorty, as soon as he got his eyes fairly open.
"Oi know what Oi'm goin' to do," said Hennessey. "Oi'm goin to show the foinest pace av shprinting back to camp that has been sane in these parts since our roight bruk that day at Chickamaugy. No grass'll grow under me fate, Oi tell yez. And as I pass through your camp Oi'll foind yer Captain, and tell the fix you're in, and to sind out some rations."
"But even if he does send them at once, they can't git here till evenin', and I hate powerfully to let him and the rest know that we didn't have sense enough to take care o' our victuals after we'd drawed 'em," said Si.
"If it was only one, or even two days, I'd let the boys starve it out, as a good lesson to 'em," said Shorty. "But three seems like cruelty to dumb beasts."
"But what'll they say about us in camp?" groaned Si. "They'll have the grand laugh on me and you, and every one o' the boys. I'd ruther go on quarter rations for a month than stand the riggin' they'll give us, and have Capt. McGillicuddy give me one look when he asks the question about how we come to lose all our rations so soon? He'll think me a purty Sarjint to send out into the country in charge o' men, and you a fine Corpril."
"Say," said Shorty, his face illuminated with a bright idea. "We might report the rations 'lost in action.' That'd fix it fine. We had two good fights, and come out ahead. That'll tickle the Captain so that he won't be partickler what we report."
"Hurroo!" echoed Hennessey; "that's the ticket."
"But we didn't lose 'em in action, and to say so'd be a lie," answered Si, whose conscience had none of the easy elasticity of his partner's.
"We could report 'em burnt up by lightnin','but we won't. They was lost by sheer, dumbed carelessness, that me and you and the boys should knowed better than to've allowed. That's all there is of it, and that's what I'm goin' to report, if I have to."
"Great Jehosephat," exploded Shorty; "you kin certainly be the stubbornest mule over nothin', Si Klegg, that I ever seen. We've done fightin' enough to excuse sich a report, or any that we've a mind to make."
"Nothin' kin justify a lie," persisted the obdurate Si.
"Holy smoke! bigger men than you--lots bigger--have squared up their accounts that way. Didn't all the Captains in the rijiment, and the Quartermaster and Commissary, and, for what I know, the Chaplain and the Colonel, git clean bills o' health after the battle o' Stone River, by reportin' everything that they couldn't find 'lost in action?'"
"Yis," added Hennessey, "and didn't my Captain, after Chickamaugy, git us all new uniforms and complete kits, by reportin' iverything 'lost in action?' Smart man, my Captain, Oi tell yez."
"Well, I don't think any the more o' them for it. We spiled our rations before the fightin' begun, they'd bin spiled if there'd bin no fightin', and I haint going to send no other words, if I've got to send any word."
"Who the divil's goin' to carry this word, Oi'd like to know, Misther Klegg?" broke in Hennessey. "Are you goin' to put words into my mouth, Misther Klegg? Oi'll tell your Captain just fwhat Oi plaze, about you and your foight and your rations. Oi want no more worrids wid ye. Attintion, min! Shoulder, a-r-m-s! Roight face! Forward, foile left!--M-a-r-c-h!"
"I s'pose I ain't responsible for any o' the fairy tales with which that wild Mick'll fill up the Captain," said Si, self-consolingly, as Hennessey and his squad marched away in quick time. "He'll put a rich, red, County Connaught color on everything that's happened out here, and the Captain'll believe as much as suits him. Anyhow, Hennessey'll not say anything to our disadvantage, and probably the Captain'll send out some rations by fast mule express."
"Yes," accorded Shorty; "we'll git some rations from camp by this evenin'. Cap will look out for that. Meanwhile, I'll take out two or three o' the boys on a scout into the country, to see if we can't pick up something to eat."
"Humph," said Si, skeptically, "you'll find mighty poor pickin', after them Ohio boys 's bin out here three days. What they haint taken has been rooted in the ground."
"Yes; they're awful foragers and thieves," assented Shorty. "All Ohio boys is. I'm glad I'm from Injianny. Still, I've generally bin able to find something, even after the Ohio boys had bin there."
"Well, I think we'd better first go back and see about them rebels that we wounded last night. They may be sufferin' awfully, and we oughtn't to think about something to eat, before doin' what we kin for them."
"That's so," assented Shorty. "I'd a-gone back last night, but we was all so dead tired."