He ran up against Groundhog.
"Where are you goin' in sich a devil of a hurry?" the teamster asked.
"Smell a distillery somewhere?"
"Hello, Groundhog, is that you? Ain't you dead yit? Say, have you seen a squad o' recruits around here--all boys, with new uniforms, and no letters or numbers on their caps?"
"Lots and gobs of 'em. Camp's full of 'em. More comin' in by every train."
"But these wuz all Injianny boys, most of 'em little. Not an old man among 'em."
"Shorty, I know where your boys are. What'll you give me to tell you?"
Shorty knew his man of old, and just the basis on which to open negotiations.
"Groundhog, I've just had my canteen filled with first-class whisky--none o' your commissary rotgut, but old rye, hand-made, fire-distilled. I got it to take out to the boys o' the rijimint to celebrate my comin' back. Le' me have just one drink out of it, and I'll give it to you if you'll tell."
Groundhog wavered an instant. "I wuz offered $10 on the other side."
Shorty was desperate. "I'll give you the whisky and $10."
"Le' me see your money and taste your licker."
"Here's the money," said Shorty, showing a bill. "I ain't goin' to trust you with the canteen, but I'll pour out this big spoon full, which'll be enough for you to taste." Shorty drew a spoon from his haversack and filled it level full.
"It's certainly boss licker," said Groundhog, after he had drunk it, and prudently hefted the canteen to see if it was full. "I'll take your offer. You're to have just one swig out o' it, and no more, and not a hog-swaller neither. I know you. You'd drink that hull canteenful at one gulp, if you had to. You'll let me put my thumb on your throat?"
"Yes, and I'll give you the canteen now and the money after we find the boys."
"All right. Go ahead. Drink quick, for you must go on the jump, or you'll lose your boys."
Shorty lifted the canteen to his lips and Groundhog clasped his throat with his thumb on Adam's apple. When Shorty got his breath he sputtered:
"Great Jehosephat, you didn't let me git more'n a spoonful. But where are the boys?"
"Old Jeff Billings's got 'em down at Zeke Wiggins's hash-foundry feedin'
'em, so's he kin toll 'em off into another rijimint."
"Old Billings agin," shouted Shorty in a rage. "Where's the place? Show it to me. But wait a minute till I run back and git my pardner."
"Gi' me that licker fust," shouted Groundhog, but Shorty was already running back for Si. When he returned with him he threw the canteen to Groundhog with the order, "Go ahead and show us the place."
By the time they came in sight of the sutler's shanty the boys had finished their breakfast and were moving off after Billings.
"There's your man and there's your boys," said Groundhog, pointing to them. "Now gi' me that 'ere sawbuck. You'll have to excuse me havin'
anything to do with old Billings. He's licked me twice already."
Shorty shoved the bill into his hand, and rushed down in front of Billings.
"Here, you black-whiskered old roustabout, where 're you takin' them boys?" he demanded.
"Git out o' my way, you red-headed snipe," answered Billings, making a motion as if to brush him away.
"If you don't go off and leave them boys alone I'll belt you over the head with my gun," said Si, raising his musket.
"You drunken maverick," answered Billings, trying to brave it out. "I'll have you shot for insultin' and threatenin' your sooperior officer.
Skip out o' here before the Provo comes up and ketches you. Let me go on about my business. Forward, boys."
"Officer nothin'. You can't play that on us," said Si. "Halt, there, boys, and stand fast."
A crowd of teamsters, sutlers' men and other camp followers gathered around. A tall, sandybearded man with keen, gray eyes and a rugged, stony face rode up. He wore a shabby slouch hat, his coat was old and weather-stained, but he rode a spirited horse.
"Here, what's all this row about?" he asked in quick, sharp tones.
"Keep out o' this mix," said Shorty, without looking around. "'Tain't none o' your business. This is our party." With that he made a snatch at Billings's collar to jerk him out of the way.
"What, you rascal, would you assault an officer?" said the newcomer, spurring his horse through the crowd to get at Shorty.
[Illustration: HE AIN'T NO OFFICER 27]
"He ain't no officer, General," said Si, catching sight of two dim stars on the man's shoulders. "He's tryin' to steal our recruits from us."
"Yes, I am an officer," said Billings, avoiding Shorty's clutch. "These men are assaultin' me while I'm on duty. I want them arrested and punished."
"Fall back there, both of you," said the General severely, as Si and Shorty came to a present arms. "Sergeant, who are you, and where do you belong?"
"I'm Serg't Klegg, sir, of Co. Q, 200th Injianny Volunteer Infantry."
"Who are you, Corporal?"
"I'm Corp'l Elliott, sir, of Co. Q, 200th Injianny Volunteer Infantry."
"Now, officer, who are you?"
"I'm Lieut.-Col. Billings, sir."
"Where's your shoulder-straps?"
"I had 'em taken off this coat to git fixed. They were torn."
"Where's your sword?"
"I left it in my quarters."
"Fine officer, to go on duty that way. Where do you belong?"
Billings hesitated an instant, but he felt sure that the General did not belong to the Army of the Cumberland, and he answered:
"I belong to the 200th Ind."