"Say, Corpril, the Orderly said we wuz goin' to fight a whole passel of rebel cavalry, didn't he?"
"Um-hum!" assented Shorty, cudgeling his brain as to what he should next write.
"Them's them awful kind o' rebels, ain't they--the John Morgan kind--that ride big horses that snort fire, and they have long swords, with which they chop men's heads off?"
"A lot o' yellin', gallopin' riff-raff," said Shorty, with the usual contempt of an infantryman for cavalry. "Ain't worth the fodder their bosses eat."
"Ain't they terribler than any other kind o' rebels?" asked Pete, anxiously.
"Naah," said Shorty, sharply. "Go to sleep, Pete, and don't bother me with no more questions. I'm writin' a letter." He proceeded with his literary effort:
"I was gladder than I kin tell you to git yore letter. You do write the best letters of any woman in the whole world."
He looked up, and there was little Pete's face before him.
"What do you do when one o' them wild rebels comes cavorting and tearing toward you, on a big hoss, with a long sword, and yelling like a catamount?" he asked.
"Paste him with a bullet and settle him," said Shorty testily, for he wanted to go on with his letter.
"But s'pose he comes on you when your gun ain't loaded, and his sword is, or you've missed him, as I did that hog?"
"Put on your bayonet and prod his hoss in the breast, and then give him 18 inches o' cold steel. That'll settle him. Go and lay down, Pete, I tell you. Don't disturb me. Don't you see I'm writing?"
Shorty went on with his letter.
"How I wish you wood rite offener. Ide like to get a letter from you every--"
"Say, Corpril," broke in little Pete, "they say that them rebel cavalry kin reach much further with their swords when they're up on a hoss than you kin with your gun and bayonit, especially when you're a little feller like me, and they're quicker'n wildcats, and there's just millions of 'em, and--"
"Who says?" said Shorty savagely. "You little open-mouthed squab, are you lettin' them lyin', gassin, galoots back there fill you up with roorbacks about them triflin', howlin', gallopin', rebel cavalry? Go back there, and tell 'em that if I ketch another man breathin' a word to you about the rebel cavalry I'll come and mash his head as flat as a pancake. Don't you be scared about rebel cavalry. You're in much more danger o' bein' struck by lightnin' than of bein' hit by a rebel on hossback. Go off and go to sleep, now, and don't ask me no more questions."
"Can't I ask you just one?" pleaded Pete.
"Yes, just one."
"If we form a holler square agin cavalry will I be in the holler, or up on the banks?"
For the first time in his life, Shorty restrained the merciless jeer that would come to his lips at any exhibition of weakness by those around him. The thought of Maria softened him and made him more sympathetic. He had promised her to be a second father to little Pete.
He saw that the poor boy was being frightened as he had never been before by the malicious fun of the veterans in pouring into his ears stories of the awful character of the rebel cavalry. Shorty sucked the ink off his pen, put his hand soothingly on Pete, and said in a paternally comforting way:
"My boy, don't let them blowhards back there stuff you with sich nonsense about the rebel cavalry. They won't git near enough you to hit you with a sword half a mile long. They're like yaller dogs--their bark's the wust thing about 'em. I'll look out for you. You'll stay right by me, all the time, and you won't git hurt. You go back there to my blankits and crawl into 'em and go to sleep. I'll be there as soon's I finish this letter, Forgit all about the rebel cavalry, and go to sleep. Ter-morrer you'll see every mother's son o' them rebels breakin'
their hoss' necks to git out o' range o' our Springfields."
Then Shorty finished his letter:
"Ime doin' my best to be a second father to little Pete.
Heze as good a little soul as ever lived, but when I talk another boy to raise it'll be sumwhair else than in the army.
"Yores, till deth."
Just then the silver-voiced bugles in hundreds of camps on mountain-sides, in glens, in the valleys, and on the plains began ringing out sweetly mournful "Taps," and the echoes reverberated from the towering palisades of Lookout to the rocky cliffs of the Pigeon Mountains.
It was the last general "Taps" that mighty army would hear for 100 days of stormy battling.
The cheering ceased, the bonfires burned out. Shorty put his letter in an envelope, directed it, and added it to the heap at the Chaplain's tent.
Then he went back and arranged his things so that he could lay his hands unfailingly on them in the darkness of the morning, straightened little Pete out so that he would lie easier, and crawled in beside him.
CHAPTER XIII. THE FIRST DAY OF THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN.
AS usual, it seemed to the boys of the 200th Ind. that they had only lain down when the bugle blew the reveille on the morning of May 3, 1864.
The vigilant Orderly-Sergeant was at once on his feet, rousing the other "non-coms" to get the men up.
Si and Shorty rose promptly, and, experienced campaigners as they were, were in a moment ready to march anywhere or do anything as long as their rations and their cartridges held out.
The supply of rations and cartridges were the only limitations Sherman's veterans knew. Their courage, their willingness, their ability to go any distance, fight and whip anything that breathed had no limitations. They had the supremest confidence in themselves and their leaders, and no more doubt of their final success than they had that the sun would rise in the morning.
Vigorous, self-reliant manhood never reached a higher plane than in the rank and file of Sherman's army in the Spring of 1864.
Si and Shorty had only partially undressed when they lay down. Their shoes, hats and blouses were with their haversacks under their heads.
Instinctively, as their eyes opened, they reached for them and put them on.
That was a little trick only learned by hard service.
The partners started in to rouse their boys. As soon as these were fairly awake they became greatly excited. They had gone to sleep bubbling over with the momentousness of the coming day, and now that day had opened.
There was a frantic scrambling for clothing, which it was impossible for them to find in the pitchy darkness. There were exclamations of boyish ill-temper at their failure. They thought the enemy were right upon them, and every instant was vital. Monty Scruggs and Alf Russell could not wait to dress, but rushed for their guns the first thing, and buckled on their cartridge-boxes.
"Gid Mackall, you've got on my shoes," screamed Harry Josyln. "I can't find 'em nowhere, and I laid 'em right beside me. Take 'em off this minute."
"Hain't got your shoes on; can't find but one o' my own," snorted Gid in reply. "You helter-skelter little fly-up-the-crick, you never know where your own things are, and you lose everybody else's."
"There's my shoe," exclaimed Harry, as he stumbled over one.
"No; that's mine. Let it alone--give it to me," yelled Gid, and in an instant the two were locked together in one of their usual fights.
Si snatched them apart, cuffed them, and lighted a bit of candle, which he kept for emergencies, to help them and the rest find their things.
He improved the occasion to lecture them as to the way they should do in the future.
After awakening him, Shorty had calmed down the excited little Pete, found his shoes and other clothes for him, and seen that he put them on properly.
"Have everything all right at startin', Pete," said he, "and you'll be all right for the day. You'll have plenty o' time. The rebels'll wait for us."
"Aint them them, right out there?" asked Pete nervously, pointing to the banks of blackness out in front.