It was astonishing what things they found, besides guns and equipments.
Evidently, the rebels had left quite hurriedly, and many personal belongings were either forgotten or could not be found in the darkness.
Samples of about everything that soldiers carry, and a good many that they are not supposed to, were found lying around. There were cooking utensils, some on the fire, with corn-pone and meat in them; some where the imperative orders to march found their owners with their breakfasts half-devoured; there were hats clumsily fashioned of wisps of long-leaved pine sewed together; there were caps which had been jaunty red-and-blue "Zouaves" when their owners had mustered around Nashville in 1861, but had been faded and tarnished and frayed by the mud and rain at Donelson, Shiloh and Stone River, and by the dust and grime of Perryville and Chickamauga, until they had as little semblance to their former perkiness as the grim-visaged war had to the picnic of capturing ungarrisoned forts and lolling in pleasant Summer camps on the banks of the Cumberland. There were coats of many patterns and stages of dilapidation, telling the same story of former finery, draggled through the injurious grime of a thousand camps and marches. There were patched and threadbare blankets, tramped-out boots and shoes, an occasional book, many decks of cards, and so on.
Shorty came across a new cedar canteen with bright brass hoops. He slung it over his shoulder, with the thought that it would be a nice thing to send back to Maria, as a souvenir of the battle. She might hang it up in her room, or make a pin-cushion or a work-basket out of it.
Presently he came to a box of shells, which he picked up and carried back to the tree. It was quite heavy, and when he set it down again he felt thirsty. The canteen occurred to him. It was full. He raised it to his lips and took a long swig.
"Great Jehosephat," he gasped, his eyes starting out with astonishment.
"That ain't water. It's prime old applejack, smoother'n butter, and smellin' sweeter'n a rose. Best I ever tasted."
Shorty had been strictly abstinent since his return from Indiana, The rigid views of the Klegg family as to liquor-drinking had sunk into his heart, and somehow whenever temptation came his way the clear, far-seeing eyes of Maria would intervene with such a reproachful glance that the thought of yielding became repugnant.
But the smooth, creamy applejack had slipped past his lips so unexpectedly that it possessed him, before principle could raise an objection. Shorty was the kind of a man to whom the first drink is the greatest danger. After he had one almost anything was likely to happen.
Still, though his blood was already warming with the exhilarating thrill, there were some twinges of conscience.
"Now, I mustn't take no more o' that," he said to himself. "That one drink was good and all right enough, because I really thought I was goin' to take a drink of water when I put the canteen to my lips. I could swear that to Maria on a stack o' Bibles high as her dear head.
God bless her!"
He began bustling about with more activity, and giving his orders in a louder voice. He saw Pete Skidmore pick up what had been once a militia officer's gaudy coat, and examine it curiously. He shouted at him:
"Here, drop that, drop that, you little brat. What 'd I tell you? That you mustn't fetch a rag of anything you see in here, except with the point o' your bayonet and with your bayonet on your gun. Drop it, I tell you."
"Why, what's the matter with that old coat?" asked Pete in an injured tone, astonished at Shorty's vehemence.
"Everything's the matter with it, and every stitch o' cloth you find.
They're swarmin' with rebel bugs. I've trouble enough to keep the Yankee graybacks off you. If you git the rebel kind on you angwintum won't save you."
Pete dropped the coat in affright.
"And you, Sandy Baker," continued Shorty in a yell, "don't you walk through them piles o' brush and leaves, where the rebels has bin sleepin'. You'll git covered with rebel bugs, too, and we'll never git 'em out o' the company. How often 've I got to tell you that?"
Yelling so much made him dry, and the canteen hung so invitingly near his hand.
"I don't think another pull at that old applejack 'll hurt me a mite.
I really didn't git a square drink the first time, because I was choked off by astonishment at findin' it wasn't water. I'll just take enough of a swig to finish up that drink."
"Jerusalem crickets," he exclaimed, wiping his mouth, "but that's good stuff. Wonder if bein' in cedar makes it taste so bang-up? If I though so I'd never drink out o' anything but cedar as long's I lived. Guess I'll keep this canteen to carry water in. I kin send Maria--"
He stopped. He was not so far gone as to forget that any thought of Maria was very inappropriate to his present condition. He started to blustering at the boys who were carrying in guns:
"Here, how often have I got to caution you galoots about bein' careful with them guns? Don't let the muzzles pint at yourselves, nor anybody else. They're all likely to be loaded, and go off any minute, and blow some o' your cussed heads offen you. Don't slam 'em down that way. Be careful with 'em, I tell you. I'll come over there and larrup some o'
you, if you don't mind me."
"What's excitin' Shorty so, to make him yell that way? wondered Si, stopping in his shoveling down the embankment upon the rebel dead, and wiping his hot face.
"O, he's trying to keep them fresh young kids from blowin' themselves into Kingdom Come with the rebel guns," answered one of the veterans indifferently, and they resumed their shoveling.
Shorty started over to where some of the boys were trying to extricate a rebel limber abandoned in a ravine. He spied a pair of fine field glasses lying on the ground, and picked them up with an exclamation of delight.
"Great Jehosephat," he said, turning them over for careful inspection.
"Ain't this a puddin'? Just the thing to give the Cap. He got his smashed with a bullet comin' through the abatis, and's bin mournin'
about 'em ever since. These is better'n his was, and he'll be ticked to death to git 'em."
He put them to his eyes and scanned the landscape.
"Ain't they just daisies, though. Bring that teamster over there so close that I kin hear him cussin' his mules. Cap'll have a better pair o' glasses than the Colonel or the General has. He deserves 'em, too.
Capt. McGillicuddy's good all the way through, from skin to bone, and as brave as they make 'em. He'll be tickleder than a boy with a new pair o'
red-topped boots. He'll invite me to take a drink with him, but he won't have nothin' so good as this old apple-jack. I guess I'll give the rest to him, too, for his friends at headquarters. They don't often smack their lips over stuff like that. But I'll treat myself once more, just as Capt. McGillicuddy'd do."
The last drink was a settler. He was then in a frame of mind for anything--to tear down a mountain, or lift a hill, or to fight anybody, with or without cause. He looked over at the boys struggling with the limber, and yelled, as he laid his coat, hat, canteen, and cartridge-box down on the stump upon which he had been sitting, and placed the field-glass upon them:
"Hoopee! Yank her out o' there, boys. Yank h'er out, and don't be all day about it, either. Let me git at her and I'll fetch her out. Stand by, you kids, and see your uncle Eph snatch her."
He bolted in to the ravine, swung the limber-tongue about, and with aid of the rest, stirred to united effort by much profane vociferation on his part, disengaged the limber and trundled it up the bank.
The tall, very stiff young Aid, with whom Si and Shorty had had the previous affair, came stalking on to the ground, viewing everything with his usual cold, superior, critical gaze.
"You are doing well, my man," he remarked to Shorty, "but too much noise. A non-commissioned officer must not swear at his men. It's strictly against regulations."
"Go to blazes," said Shorty, scarcely under his breath. The Aid picked up the field-glasses, looked at them a minute, scanned the field with them, and then looked around for the case, as if to appropriate them himself.
"Here, drop them," said Shorty roughly. "Them's mine."
"How did they come to be yours, sir?" said the Aid sternly. "Picked them up, didn't you?"
"None o' your business how I got 'em. They're mine, I tell you. Give 'em to me."
"You picked them up on the battlefield, sir. They are military equipments which you must turn over to the proper officer. I'll take charge of them myself."
"You'll do nothin' o' the kind," roared Shorty, striding up to him.
"Give me them glasses."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," said the Aid sternly. "Don't you dare approach me in that w-ay. Go back to your duties at once. I shall punish you for disrespect to me and threatening an officer. Fall back, sir, I tell you."
Shorty made a grab for the glasses, which the Aid tried to evade, but Shorty fixed his firm clutch upon them. The Aid held on tightly, but Shorty wrenched them from his grasp.
"You bob-tailed brevet West Pointer," said Shorty savagely, raising his fist, "I've a notion to break you in two for tryin' to beat me out o'
what's mine. Git out o' here, or I'll--"
"Shorty! Shorty! Stop that!" shouted Si, rushing over to his partner, and catching his back-drawn fist. He had been suspicious as to the cause of his partner's noisiness, and ran up as soon as the disturbance began.
"Stop it, I say. Are you crazy?"
Poor little Pete, badly excited as to what was happening to his best friend, was nervously fumbling his gun and eyeing the Aid.
"Si Klegg, go off and mind your own business, and let me attend to mine," yelled Shorty, struggling to free himself from his partner's iron grasp. "Am I goin' to be run over by every pin-feather snipe from West Point? I'll break him in two."
"Sergeant," commanded the Aid, reaching to take the field-glasses from Shorty's hand; "buck and gag that man at once. Knock him down if he resists. Knock him down, I say."