He slipped down and communicated his information to the anxiously-expectant comrades of Co. Q.
"It mayn't be as bad as we expect," the Orderly-Sergeant tried to console them. "The bite of most of them regulations and charges and specifications ain't never near as bad as their bark. If they were, a good many of us would have been shot long ago. My experience in the army's been that the regulations are like the switches the teachers used to have in school--a willow for the good scholars, and a stout hickory for the bad ones. Still, I'm afraid that Shorty won't get off with less than hard labor for life on the fortifications."
"Prisoner, you have heard the charges and specifications," said Lieut.
Bowersox, in a stern voice. "How do you plead to them?"
"O, I'm guilty--guilty o' the whole lot," said Shorty dejectedly.
"Inasmuch," said Lieut. Bowersox, with an entire change of tone, "as it is my duty to represent the prisoner's interests as counsel, I shall disregard his plea, and enter one of not guilty."
Shorty started to gasp. "But I done all that--"
"Silence," thundered Lieut. Bowersox, "you are only to speak, sir, when I or some other member of the court ask you a question."
"But has the Judge-Advocate the right to disregard the plain plea?"
Lieut. McJimsey started to inquire, when the President interrupted with,
"Lieutenant, we can have no discussion of the court's practices in the presence of the prisoner. If you want to enter upon that we shall have to clear the court. Do you desire that?"
There was something in the bluff old Major's tone that made the Lieutenant think this inadvisable, and he signified the negative.
"Call your first witness, then, Judge-Advocate," said Maj. Truax, with a wave of his hand.
Lieut. Steigermeyer, in full-dress, even to epaulets, rigidly erect and sternly important as to look, testified that he was a Second Lieutenant in the Regular Army, but had the staff rank of Captain and Inspector-General, and after going out of his way to allude to the laxness of discipline he found prevailing in the Western armies, testified that on the day mentioned, while in pursuance of his duty, he was going over the battlefield, he came upon the prisoner, whose drunken yelling attracted his attention; that he had admonished him, and received insults in reply.
"My way is to knock a man down, when he gives me any back talk,"
remarked the Major, sotto voce, taking a fresh chew of tobacco. "That's better than court-martialing to promote discipline."
"Further admonitions," continued the Lieutenant, "had the same result, and I was about to call a guard to put him under arrest, when I happened to notice a pair of field-glasses that the prisoner had picked up, and was evidently intending to appropriate to his own use, and not account for them. This was confirmed by his approaching me in a menacing manner, insolently demanding their return, and threatening me in a loud voice if I did not give them up, which I properly refused to do, and ordered a Sergeant who had come up to seize and buck-and-gag him. The Sergeant, against whom I shall appear later, did not obey my orders, but seemed to abet his companion's gross insubordination. The scene finally culminated, in the presence of a number of enlisted men, in the prisoner's wrenching the field-glasses away from me by main force, and would have struck me had not the Sergeant prevented this. It was such an act as in any other army in the world would have subjected the offender to instant execution. It was only possible in--"
"Pardon me, Lieutenant--I should perhaps say Captain"--interrupted Lieut. Bowersox, with much sweetness of manner, "but the most of us are familiar with your views as to the inferiority of the discipline of the Western Armies to that of the Army of the Potomac and European armies, so that we need not take up the' time of the court with its reiteration.
What farther happened?"
"Nothing. The Provost Guard came up at that moment, and I directed a Sergeant to place the two principal offenders in custody, and secure the names of the witnesses."
"Is that all, Captain?"
"Yes, except that in closing my testimony I feel that it is my duty to impress upon the court that so flagrant a case as this should be made the opportunity for an example in the interests of discipline in the whole army. I have known this prisoner for some time, and watched him.
This is not the first time that he and the Sergeant have insulted me.
They are leaders in that class of uneducated fellows who have entirely too little respect for officers and gentlemen. They should be taught a lesson. This is necessary for the dignity and effectiveness of gentlemen who bear commissions, and--"
"I will ask the witness if this lecture on military ethics is a part of his testimony?" asked the Major:
"I think it is needed," answered the Lieutenant tartly.
"Let me see, Steigermeyer," said the Major, adjusting another chew of tobacco to his mouth, and balancing the knife with which he had cut it off, judicially in his fingers, a favorite position of his when, as a lawyer, he was putting a witness through a cross-examination. "How long have you been with this army? Came West with the Eleventh Corps, didn't you?"
"No; I was left behind on duty. I didn't come for several weeks after."
"So I thought. You weren't with us at Stone River, or Chickamauga, or Mission Ridge. You'd know more if you had been. Your mental horizon would have been enlarged, so to speak. Aren't you from Milwaukee?"
"I was born and brought up there, until I went to West Point," answered the Lieutenant, rather uneasily.
"So I thought. The only man of your name that I ever heard of kept a saloon in Milwaukee--a great place for politicians to hang around. I used to go there myself when I was in politics. He was a sort of a ward boss. Was he your father?"
"Yes, sir," said the Lieutenant, with reddening face; "but I don't know what this has to do with the case that I have presented to your attention."
"It has a great deal to do with this lecture with which you have favored us," answered the Major dryly. "But we'll not discuss that in open court. Are you through with the witness, Judge-Advocate? If so, call the next."
"I'll just ask the Captain a few questions for the defense," said Lieut.
Bowersox. "How did you know that the prisoner was drunk?"
"How did I know it? How does any man know that another is drunk? He was boisterous, excited and yelling--that kind of a drunk."
"But that does not prove that he was drunk. That may be his way of doing his work. Did you see him drink?"
"Did you ever see him before?"
"How was he acting then?"
"I shall have to say that he was boisterous and yelling then, but not so wildly excited."
"Then it was only a difference in degree, not kind. Was he not accomplishing what he was ordered to do?"
"Yes, he certainly did bring that limber out of the gulch."
"Then it is only a matter of opinion that he was drunk. You have nothing to guide you except your judgment that the man was drunk, who was still doing his duty pretty effectively."
"But there could be no mistake. I know that the man was raging drunk."
"As I said before, that is a matter of opinion and judgment which I will discuss with the court later. Did the prisoner actually strike you?"
"I cannot say that he actually did, farther than snatch out of my hand the field-glasses."
"He didn't do it! You're lyin'! I yanked the glasses out of your hand.
'Twas me," shouted little Pete, from the oak leaves.
The members all looked up in astonishment.
"Sergeant," said the Major to the Sergeant of the Provost Guard, "fetch that little rascal down and buck-an-gag him, until I can decide what further punishment he deserves for eavesdropping, and interrupting the court."
"I don't care if you kill me," whimpered little Pete, as they tied his hands together, "if you'll only let Corp'l Elliott off. He wasn't to blame. It was me.
"You can go," said Lieut. Bowersox to the Lieutenant. "Sergeant, bring in Orderly-Sergeant Jacob Whitelaw."