"That ain't true, General," Si protested. "He was fired out of the regiment a year ago. He's a citizen."
"Silence, Sergeant. Billings? Billings? The name of the Lieutenant-Colonel of the 200th Ind. happens to be McBiddle--one-armed man, good soldier. Billings? Billings? T. J. Billings? Is that your name?"
"Yes, sir," answered Billings, beginning to look very uncomfortable.
"Didn't you have some trouble about a bunch of cattle you sold to the Quartermaster-General?"
"Well, there was little difference of opinion, but--"
"That'll do, sir. That'll do for the present. I begin to get you placed.
I thought I knew the name Billings as soon as you spoke it, but I couldn't remember any officer in my army of that name. Now, Sergeant, tell me your story."
"General, me and my pardner here," began Si, "have bin home on wounded furlough. Wounded at Chickamauga and promoted. We got orders to bring on this squad o' recruits from Jeffersonville for our rijimint. We got in last night and this mornin' me and my pardner started out to see if we could find someone to direct us to the rijimint, leavin' the squad alone for a few minutes. While we wuz gone this feller, who's bin fired out of our rijimint and another one that he was in, come along and tolled our boys off, intendin' to sneak 'em into another rijimint and git pay for 'em. By great good luck we ketched him in time, just before you come up.
You kin ask the boys themselves if I hain't told you the truth."
"Good idea," said the General, in his quick, peremptory way. "You three (indicating Si, Shorty and Billings) march off there 25 paces, while I talk to the boys."
Gen. Sherman, for it was the Commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, who, with his usual impetuous, thorough way, would investigate even the most insignificant affair in his camps, when the humor seized him, now sprang from his horse, and began a sharp, nervous cross-questioning of the boys as to their names, residence, ages, how they came there and whither they were bound.
"You came down with this Sergeant and Corporal, did you? You were recruited for the 200th Ind., were you? You were put under the charge of those men to be taken to your regiment?" he asked Pete Skidmore, at the end of the line.
"Yes, sir," blubbered Pete. "And they are always losin' us, particularly me, durn 'em. Spite of all I kin say to 'em they'll lose me, durn their skins."
"No, my boy, you sha'n't be lost," said the General kindly, as he remounted. "Stick to our command and you'll come through all right.
Billings, you thorough-paced rascal, I want you to get to the other side of the Ohio River as quickly as the trains will carry you. I haven't time to deal with you as you deserve, but if I have occasion to speak to you again you'll rue it as long as you live. There's a train getting ready to go out. If you are wise, you'll take it. Serg't Klegg and Corp'l Elliott, you deserve to lose your stripes for both of you leaving your squad at the same time. See that you don't do it again. You'll find the 200th Ind. in camp on the east side of Mission Ridge, about a mile south of Rossville Gap. Go out this road until you pass old John Ross's house about a half a mile. You'll find several roads leading off to the right, but don't take any of them till you come to one that turns off by a sweet gum and a honey-locust standing together on the banks of a creek. Understand? A sweet gum and a honey-locust standing together on the banks of a creek. Turn off there, go across the mountain and you'll find your camp. Move promptly now."
"I declare," said a big Wagonmaster, as the General galloped off, "if that old Gump Sherman don't beat the world. He not only knows where every regiment in his whole army is located, but I believe he knows every man in it. He's a far-reacher, I tell you."
"Great Jehosephat," gasped Shorty, "was that Gen. Tecumseh Sherman?"
"As sure 's you're a foot high," replied the Wagonmaster.
"And I told him to mind his own business," stammered Shorty.
"Yes, and if it hadn't bin for him you'd 'a' lost us, durn it,"
ejaculated little Pete Skidmore.
CHAPTER III. THE PARTNERS GET BACK TO THEIR REGIMENT AT LAST
WITH ALL THEIR RECRUITS.
SI AND SHORTY were too glad to get their boys back, and too eager to find their regiment, to waste any time in scolding the derelicts.
"Now that you boys have had a good breakfast," Si remarked with an accent of cutting sarcasm, "at the expense of that kind-hearted gentleman, Mr. Billings, I'm goin' to give you a pleasant little exercise in the shape of a forced march. If you don't make the distance between here and the other side o' Rossville Gap quicker'n ary squad has ever made it I'm much mistaken. Shorty, put yourself on the left and bring up the rear."
"You bet," answered Shorty, "and I'll take durned good care I don't lose little Pete Skidmore."
"Now," commanded Si, getting a good lay of the ground toward the gap, "Attention. All ready? Forward, march."
He led off with the long march stride of the veteran, and began threading his way through the maze of teams, batteries, herds, and marching men and stragglers with the ease and certainty born of long acquaintance with crowded camps. He dodged around a regiment here, avoided a train there, and slipped through a marching battery at the next place with a swift, unresting progress that quickly took away the boys' wind and made them pant with the exertion of keeping up.
In the rear was the relentless Shorty.
"Close up, there! Close up!" he kept shouting to those in front. "Don't allow no gaps between you. Keep marchin' distance--19 inches from back to breast. Come along, Pete. I ain't a-goin' to lose you, no matter what happens."
"Sarjint," gasped flarry Joslyn, after they had gone a couple of miles, "don't you call this purty fast marchin'?"
"Naah," said Si contemptuously. "We're just crawlin' along. Wait till we git where it's a little clear, and then we'll go. Here, cut acrost ahead o' that battery that's comin' up a-trot."
There was a rush for another mile or two, when there was a momentary halt to allow a regiment of cavalry to go by at a quick walk.
"Goodness," murmured Gid Mackall, as he set down the carpet-sack which he would persist in carrying, "are they always in a hurry? I s'posed that when soldiers wuzzent marchin' or fightin' they lay around camp and played cards and stole chickens, and wrote letters home, but everybody 'round here seems on the dead rush."
"Don't seem to be nobody pic-nickin' as far's I kin see," responded Si, "but we hain't no time to talk about it now. We must git to the rijimint. Forward!"
Another swift push of two or three miles brought them toward the foot of Mission Ridge, and near the little, unpainted frame house which had once been the home of John Ross, the chief of the Cherokees.
"Boys, there's the shebang or palace of the big Injun who used to be king of all these mountains and valleys," said Si, stopping the squad to give them a much needed rest. "He run this whole country, and had Injuns to burn, though he generally preferred to burn them that didn't belong to his church."
"Roasted his neighbors instid o' his friends in a heathen sort of a way," continued Shorty.
"What was his name?" inquired Monty Scruggs.
"Humph, not much of a name," said Monty in a disappointed tone, for he had been an assiduous reader of dime novels. "'Tain't anything like as fine as Tecumseh, and Osceola, and Powhatan, and Jibbeninosay, and Man-Afraid-of-Gettin'-His-Neck-Broke. Wasn't much of a big Injun."
"Deed he was," answered Si. "He and his fathers before him run' this whole neck o' woods accordin' to the big Injun taste, and give the Army o' the United States all they wanted to do. Used to knock all the other Injuns around here about like ten-pins. The Rosses were bosses from the word go."
"Don't sound right, though," said Monty regretfully. "And such a shack as that don't look like the wigwam of a great chief. 'Tain't any different from the hired men's houses on the farms in Injianny."
"Well, all the same, it's got to go for the scene of a cord o'
dime novels," said Shorty. "We've brung in civilization and modern improvements and killed more men around here in a hour o' working time than the ignorant, screechin' Injuns killed since the flood."
"Do them rijimints look like the 200th Injianny?" anxiously inquired Harry Joslyn, pointing to some camps on the mountain-side, where the men were drilling and engaged in other soldierly duties.
"Them," snorted Shorty contemptuously. "Them's only recruits that ain't got licked into shape yet. When you see the 200th Injianny you'll see a rijimint, I tell you. Best one in the army. You ought to be mighty proud you got a chanst to git into sich a rijimint."
"We are; we are," the boys assured him. "But we're awful anxious to see jest what it's like."
"Well, you'll see in a little while the boss lot o' boys. Every one of 'em fightin' cocks, thoroughbred--not a dunghill feather or strain in the lot. Weeded 'em all out long ago. All straight-cut gentlemen.
They'll welcome you like brothers and skin you out of every cent o' your bounty, if you play cards with 'em. They're a dandy crowd when it comes to fingerin' the pasteboards. They'll be regler fathers to you, but you don't want to play no cards with 'em."
"I thought you said they wuz all gentlemen and would be regler brothers to us," said Harry Joslyn.
"So they will--so they will. But your brother's the feller that you've got to watch clostest when he's settin' in front o' you with one little pair. He's the feller that's most likely to know all you know about the cards and what he knows besides. They've bin skinnin' one another so long that they'll be as anxious to git at your fresh young blood as a New Orleans skeeter is to sink into a man just from the North."