"No; Oi've not bin on extry doty for narely two wakes now, but it's about due. But here comes Barney Maguire and Con Taylor, Tony Wilson and the rest iv the gang. Lord love yez, but they'll be surely glad to see yez."
The others came up with a tumultuous welcome to both.
"Where's the camp?" asked Si.
"Jist bey ant--jist bey ant them cedars there--not a musket-shot away,"
answered Jim, pointing to the place.
"What'd you mean, you infernal liars, by tellin' us that the rijimint was gone?" said Shorty, wrathfully to the men whom he had met, and who were still standing near, looking puzzled at the demonstrations.
"Aisy, now, aisy," said Jim. "We're to blame for that, so we are. Ye say, we wint over by Rossville last night and had a bit av a shindy and cleaned out a sutler's shop. We brought away some av the most illegant whisky that iver wet a man's lips, and hid it down there in the gulch, where we had jist come back for it. We sane you comin' and thought yez was the provo-guard after us. Ye say ye stopped there and talked to that peacock at the Provo-Marshal's quarters, and we thought yez was gittin'
instructions. We sint these rookies out, who we thought nobody'd know, to give you a little fairy story about the rijimint being gone, to throw you off the scint, until we could finish the liquor."
"Yes, I know," laughed Shorty, "after you'd got the budge down you didn't care what happened. You're the same old brick-topped Connaught Ranger."
"You and Si come down into the gulch and jine us."
"Can't think of it for a minute," said Shorty with great self-denial.
"Don't speak so loud before these boys. They're recruits for the rijimint. We must take 'em into camp. We'll see you later."
CHAPTER IV. THE RECRUITS ARE ASSIGNED TO COMPANIES.
THE strangest feeling possessed Si and Shorty when once in the camp of their old regiment, and after the first hearty welcome of their comrades was over.
There was a strangeness about everything that they could not comprehend.
It was their regiment--the 200th Ind.; it was made up of the same companies, with the great majority of the men the same, but it was very far from being the 200th Ind. which crossed the Ohio River in September, 1862.
Marvelous changes had been wrought by 18 months' tuition in the iron school of war, in the 10 separate herds of undisciplined farmer boys which originally constituted the regiment. Yellow, downy beards appeared on faces which had been of boyish smoothness when the river was crossed, but this was only one of the minor changes. There was an alertness, a sureness, a self-confidence shining from eyes which was even more marked. Every one carried himself as if he knew precisely what he was there for, and intended doing it. There was enough merriment around camp, but it was very different from the noisy rollicking of the earlier days. The men who had something to do were doing it with systematic earnestness; the men who had nothing to do were getting as much solid comfort and fun as the situation afforded. The frothy element among officers and men had been rigorously weeded out or repressed. All that remained were soldiers in the truest sense of the word. The change had been very great even since the regiment had lined up for the fearful ordeal of Chickamauga.
"Did you ever see a gang o' half-baked kids get to be men as quick as these boys?" Si asked Shorty. "Think o' the awkward squads that used to be continually fallin' over their own feet, and stabbing theirselves with their own bayonets."
"Seems so," answered Shorty, "but I don't know that they've growed any faster'n we have. Walt Slusser, who's bin Orderly at Headquarters, says that he heard Capt. McGillicuddy tell Col. McBiddle that he'd never seen men come out as me and you had, and he thought we'd make very effective noncommish."
"Probably we've all growed," Si assented thoughtfully. "Just think o'
McBiddle as Lieutenant-Colonel, in place o' old Billings. Remember the first time we saw McBiddle to know him? That time he was Sergeant o' the Guard before Perryville, and was so gentle and soft-spoken that lots o' the boys fooled themselves with the idee that he lacked sand. Same fellers thought that old bellerin' bull Billings was a great fightin'
man. What chumps we all wuz that we stood Billings a week."
"Wonder if I'm ever goin' to have a chanst for a little private sociable with Billings? Just as I think I'm goin' to have it, something interferes. That feller's bin so long ripe for a lickin' that I'm afraid he'll be completely spiled before my chanst comes."
"But I can't git over missin' so many familiar voices in command, and hearin' others in their places," said Si. "That battalion drill they wuz havin' as we come in didn't sound like our rijimint at all. I could always tell which was our rijimint drillin' half a mile away by the sound of the voices. What a ringin' voice Capt. Scudder had. It beat the bugle. You could hear him sing out, 'Co. C, on right, into line!
Forward, guide right--March!' farther'n you could the bugle. The last time I heard him wuz as we wuz' going up Snodgrass Hill. A rebel bullet went through his head just as he said, 'March!' Now, Lieut. Scripps is in command o' Co. C, and he's got a penny-whistle voice that I can't git used to."
"Lieut. Scripps's a mighty good man. He'll take Co. C as far as Capt.
"I know that Scripps's all right. No discount on him. But it don't seem natural, that's all. Every one o' the companies except ours has a new man in command, and in ours Capt. McGillicuddy's voice has got a different ring to it than before Chickamaugy."
"Practicin' to command the battalion," suggested Shorty. "You know he'll be Major if McBiddle's made a full Kurnel."
"That reminds me," said Shorty, "that our squad o' recruits'll probably fill up the rijimint so's to give McBiddle his eagle. They'll be 'round presently to divide up the squad and assign 'em to companies. As all the companies is about equally strong, they'll divide 'em equally--that'll make six and one-half boys to each company. Capt. McGillicuddy bein' the senior Captain, is to have first choice. We want to pick out the best six and one-half for our company and put 'em in one squad at the right or left, and give the Captain the wink to choose 'em."
"If we do it's got to be done mighty slick," said Si. "They're all mighty good boys, and spunky. They'll all want to go with us, and if they find out we've made any choice they'll never forgive us. I'd a'most as soon have one six boys as another, yit if I had to pick out six I believe I'd take Harry Joslyn, Gid Mackall, Alf Russell, Monty Scruggs, Jim Humphreys and Sandy Baker."
"And Pete Skidmore," added Shorty. "We've got to take special care o'
that little rat. Besides, I want to. Somehow I've took quite a fancy to the brat."
"Yes, we must take little Pete," assented Si. "The proportion's six and one-half to a company. He 'll pass for the half man. But it won't do to let him know it. He thinks he's as big as any man in the rijimint. But how're we goin' to fix it not to let the other boys know that we've picked 'em out?"
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Shorty, the man of many wiles. "When the boys are drawed up in line and Capt. McGillicuddy goes down it to pick 'em out, you stand at attention, two paces in front, facin' 'em and lookin' as severe and impartial as a judge on the bench. I'll stand behind you with my leg against your'n, this way, and apparently fixing my gun-lock. When Cap comes in front o' one that we want, yo give me a little hunch with your leg, and I'll make the lock click."
"Splendid idee," said Si. "I'll go and post the Cap while you git the boys into line."
When Shorty returned to the squad he found them in feverish excitement about the distribution to the different companies. As he and Si had apprehended, all were exceedingly anxious to go with them into Co. Q, which Si and Shorty had unwittingly impressed upon them was the crack company of the regiment, and contained the very cream of the men. To be assigned to any other company seemed to them, if not an actual misfortune, a lack of good luck.
"Nonsense," Shorty replied to their eager entreaties; "all the companies in the 200th Injianny is good, prime, first-class--better'n the companies in ary other rijimint. You're playin' in great luck to git into any one o' 'em, I tell you. You might've got into one o' 'em rijimints that're back there at Nashville guardin' fortifications, or one o' 'em that lost their colors at Chickamaugy. I'd ruther be the tail end o' the 200th Injianny, than the Drum Major o' any other."
"That's all right," they shouted. "We're glad we're in the 200th Injianny, but we want to be in Co. Q."
"Well, you can't all be in Co. Q. Only six and one-half of you. The rest's got to go to other companies."
"Say, Corpril," spoke up Harry Joslyn, "you'll see that I git in, won't you? You know I shot that rebel at the burnt bridge."
"And didn't I shoot one, too?" put in Gid Mackall. "Just as much as you did. They want tall men in the company, don't they, Corpril? Not little runts."
"And didn't I watch the crossing down there at the burnt bridge?"
pleaded Jim Humphreys.
"And git scared to death by a nigger huntin' coons," laughed the others.
"Who kept the rebel from gittin' back to the train and settin' it on fire, but me and Sandy Baker?" piped up little Pete Skidmore. "Who got lost, and nearly killed by a locomotive. Don't that count for nothin'?"
[Illustration: YOU'VE LOST LITTLE PETE 51]
"Boys," said Shorty, leaning on his musket, and speaking with the utmost gravity, "this's a great military dooty and must be performed without fear, favor nor affection. I'd like to have you all in Co. Q, but this's a thing 'bout which I hain't got no say. There's a great many things in the army 'bout which a Corpril hain't as much inflooence as he orter have, as you'll find out later on. Here comes the Captain o' Co. Q, who, because o' his rank, has the first pick o' the recruits. He's never seen you before, and don't know one o' you from Adam's off-ox. He has his own ideas as to who he wants in the company, and what he says goes. It may be that the color o' your hair'll decide him, mebbe the look in your eyes, mebbe the shape o' your noses. 'Tention! Right dress! Front!
Capt. McGillicuddy came down at the head of the company officers of the regiment, and took a comprehensive survey of the squad.
"Fine-looking lot of youngsters," he remarked. "They'll make good soldiers."
"Every one o' them true-blue, all wool and a yard wide. Captain," said Si.
"You'll play fair, now, Captain, won't you, and choose for yourself?"
said Capt. Scripps. "I've no doubt they're all good boys, but there's a choice in good boys, and that Sergeant of yours has learned where the choice is. You let him stay back, while you go down the line yourself."
"Certainly," replied Capt. McGillicuddy. "Serg't Klegg, stay where you are."