"Then some o' them smarties found out that Scruggs was stuck on his spouting. Seems that he was the star declaimer in his school. They laid it in to him that I was soft on hearing poetry spouted, especially after night, when the moon was up, and everything quiet in camp, and that I was particularly tender on 'Bingen on the Rhine.' You know that if there is anything I'm dead sore on it's that sniveling rot. There used to be a pasty-faced boy in school that'd wail that out, and set all the girls to bawling. Then they gave us an entertainment just before we left, and all the girls were there, and Pasty-Face he must be the star attraction.
He wailed out his condemned old There-was-a-soldier-of-the Legion--laying-i-n-Algiers, and all the girls looked at us as if we were already dead, and they'd better look out for new beaux. My own particular geranium did not lose any time, but married another feller before we got to Stone River. That made me hate the blasted caterwaul worse'n ever. Then that white-eyed, moon-struck Alfonso used to be yowling it at every chance, until he went to the hospital, and he got all the rest so that they were sputtering rags and tags of it. But I've been sorer than a bile on the condemned sick calfishness ever since I brung my chum Jim Bridgewater off the field at Chickamauga, and watched him die as the moon rose, back there at McFarland Gap. Well, what do these smarties do but fill up Scruggs with the idea that the best way to make himself forever solid with me was to stroll down close to my tent and casually let off 'Bingen on the Rhine' in his best style. I'd just got down to work on them pesky pay-rolls, having kept Monaghan two days in the guard-house, so's to be sure that he'd be sober enough to help me--and you know Monaghan's lightning with the pen when he's sober--when that possessed sap-sucker Scruggs began blatting out 'Bingen on the Rhine' till you could hear him down to the Colonel's quarters. It made me so mad that I knocked over the ink as I jumped up, and spoiled the triplicate rolls that we'd got about half made out. I snatched up a club to simply mash the bawling brat, but they got him away before I could reach 'im. They explained to Scruggs afterward that I was subject to fits whenever the moon was in her last quarter, and they'd forgotten to look at the almanac that evening. O, but I'll soak 'em for that yet."
"Trouble is," said Si, laughing, "the boys've bin layin' around doin'
nothin' too long. They're fuller o' devilment than a dog is of fleas."
"But I haint told you half," continued the Orderly-Sergeant. "Them smarties were quick to find out that Alf Russell and Jim Humphreys leaned strongly toward religion, and they filled 'em with the idea that Cap McGillicuddy was a very devout man, and held family devotions every evening in his tent, in which his company joined."
"Great goodness," gasped Si. "They never heard Cap's remarks when we balked on a right wheel in company column."
"Well," continued the Orderly, "Cap had been waxed by Cap Summerville two games hand-running, and they were nip-and-tuck on the third, and just as impatient and cross as they always are when they're neck-and-neck in the last heat. The tent-flap raised, and in walked Russell and Humphreys soft and quietlike, as if they were going into the sitting-room for evening prayers. They had their caps in their hands, and didn't say anything but brushed their hair back and took their seats in the first place they could find, which happened to be Cap's cot. Cap didn't notice 'em till after Cap Summerville had caught his queen and then checkmated him in two moves. You know how redhot Cap gets when he loses a game of chess, particularly to Cap Summerville, who rubs it in on him without mercy.
"Cap looked at the boys in astonishment, and then snapped out: 'Well, what do you boys want?' 'We've just come in for evening prayers,' says they, mild as skimmed milk. 'Evening what?' roared the Cap. 'Evening prayers,' says they. 'Don't you have family devotion every evening?
Cap Summerville couldn't hold in any longer, and just roared, and the fellers outside, who'd had their ears against the canvas listening to every word, they roared too. Cap was madder'n a July hornet, and cussed till the ridgepole shook. Then he took the two boys by the ears and marched 'em out and says: 'You two brats go back to your tents and stay there. When I want you to come to my tent I'll send for you, and you'll wish I hadn't. You'll do praying enough if you're on hand when the church call's sounded. You'll be mightily different from the rest of my company if you don't prefer going on guard to church. Get, now!'"
"Now the Captain oughtn't to say that about the company," protested Si.
"I for one go to church every chance I get."
"O, yes, you do," sneered the Orderly-Sergeant. "Who was it, I'd like to know, that sent word back to the boys in the rear to steal the Chaplain's horse, and keep him hid for a day or two so's he couldn't get up and hold services, because you boys wanted to go fishing in the Tennessee River?"
"Yes, I did," Si confessed; "but it was because the boys begged me to.
We'd just got there, and it looked as if the biting was good, and we probably wouldn't stay there longer'n over Sunday."
"Well, I ain't done yet," continued the Orderly-Sergeant. "That little snipe, Pete Skidmore--"
"Good gracious, he wasn't lost again, was he?" gasped Si.
"That's just what he was, the little runt, and we had the devil's own time finding him. What in Sam Hill did the Captain take him for, I'd like to know? Co. Q aint no nursery. Well, the bugler up at Brigade Headquarters blowed some sort of a call, and Skidmore wanted to know what it meant. They told him that it was an order for the youngest man in each company to come up there and get some milk for his coffee tomorrow morning, and butter for his bread. There was only enough issued for the youngest boys, and if he wanted his share he'd have to get a big hustle on him, for the feller whose nose he'd put out o' joint 'd try hard to get there ahead o' him, and get his share. So Skidmore went off at a dead run toward the sound of the bugle, with the boys looking after him and snickering. But he didn't come back at roll-call, nor at tattoo, and the smart Alecks begun to get scared, and abuse each other for setting up a job on a poor, innocent little boy. Osc Brewster and Ol Perry, who had been foremost in the trick had a fight as to which had been to blame. Taps come, and he didn't get back, and then we all became scared. I'd sent Jim Hunter over to Brigade Headquarters to look for him, but he came back, and said they hadn't seen anything of him there.
Then I turned out the whole company to look for him. Of course, them too-awfully smart galoots of Co. A had to get very funny over our trouble. They asked why we didn't get the right kind of nurses for our company, that wouldn't let the members stray out of their sight? Why we didn't call the children in when the chickens went to roost, undress 'em, and tuck 'em in their little beds, and sing to 'em after they'd said 'Now I lay me down to sleep?' I stood it all until that big, hulking Pete Nasmith came down with a camp-kettle, which he was making ring like a bell, as he yelled out, 'Child lost! Child lost!' Behind him was Tub Rawlings singing, 'Empty's the cradle, baby's gone.' Then I pulled off my blouse and slung it into my tent, and told 'em there went my chevrons, and I was simply Scott Ralston, and able to lick any man in Co. A. One o' their Lieutenants came out and ordered them back to their quarters, and I deployed the company in a skirmish-line, and started 'em through the brush toward Brigade Headquarters. About three-quarters o'
the way Osc Brewster and Ol Perry, when going through a thicket, heard a boy boo-hooing. They made their way to him, and there was little Skidmore sitting on a stump, completely confused and fagged out. He'd lost his way, and the more he tried to find it the worse he got turned around. They called out to him, and he blubbered out: 'Yes, it's me; little Pete Skidmore. Them doddurned fools in my company 've lost me, just as I've bin tellin' 'em right along they would, durn 'em.' Osc and Ol were so tickled at finding him that they gathered him up, and come whooping back to camp, carrying him every step of the way."
"Well, I declare to gracious," ejaculated Si. "But there's one left yet.
Didn't anything happen to Sandy Baker?"
"O, yes," groaned the Orderly. "He had to be in it, too. He took advantage of the tumult to fall into the company well. We didn't know anything about it till we come back from hunting Skidmore. By that time he was so chilled that he could hardly holler any more, and his teeth chattered like a nigger minstrel's bones. I'd got a can of brandied peaches down at the sutler's, and it took all the brandy to bring him around, and I had nothing left but the peaches. Now, while I like a little variety in camp-life as well as the next man, I don't want no more ructions like last night's. I'll put you in charge of those kids, and hold you responsible for 'em. I don't care what you do with 'em, so long's you keep 'em quiet, and don't disturb the company. Kill 'em, if you want to, but keep 'em quiet. I've got to finish up them pay-rolls tonight."
"You bet me and Shorty'll stop these smart Alecks from imposin' on the poor little greenies," asserted Si.
CHAPTER VI. SI KLEGG PUTS HIS AWKWARD SQUAD THROUGH ITS FIRST DRILL
"I GUESS," thought Si, as he left the Orderly-Sergeant, and walked down the company street to the left, "that the best way to begin is to get them little whelps into an awkward squad, and give 'em an hour or two o'
sharp drillin'. That'll introduce 'em to the realities o' soljerin'."
It was a warm, bright March day, with the North Georgia mountains rapidly robing themselves in fresh green, to welcome the coming Spring.
The effervescent boys had entirely forgotten the worries of the previous night, and were frolicking in the bright sunshine as if "out-at-recess"
Mackall, Joslyn, Humphreys and Baker had gotten hold of a ball, and were having a game of "two-cornered cat," with noise enough for a whole school play-ground. Russell and Scruggs were running a foot-race, for the entertainment of a squad of cooks and teamsters, and little Pete Skidmore was giving an exhibition before the same audience of his ability to stand on his head, and turn somersaults.
"Little thought they have of the seriousness of war," thought Si, with a shrug of his shoulders, as he yelled out:
"Come, boys, fall in here."
When the boys had first come under Si's command they regarded him as one of the greatest men in the army. In their shadowy notions of military matters they rather thought that he stood next to the great Generals whose names filled all mouths. These ideas had been toppled into dust by their arrival in camp, and seeing so many different men order him around. They felt ashamed of themselves that they had ever mistaken him for a great man, and put him up on a pedestal. That is the way with boys. They resent nothing more sharply than the thought of their having been deceived into honoring somebody or something unworthy of honor.
They can stand anything better than a reflection upon their shrewdness and judgment.
"Hear Klegg a-calling?" said Joslyn, pausing for an instant, with the ball in his hand.
"Let him call," said Mackall, indifferently, finishing his run to base. "He ain't big boss no more. He's only the lowest Sergeant in the company. Throw the ball, Harry. You must do better'n you've been doing.
We're getting away with you."
"Fall in here, boys, I tell you," said Si so sternly that Pete Skidmore stopped in his handspring, but seeing the bigger boys making no move to obey, decided that it would be improper for him to show any signs of weakness, and he executed his flip-flap.
"Here, you're out, Gid. Gi' me the bat," shouted Harry Joslyn, as he caught the ball which Mackall had vainly struck at.
Si strode over to the group, snatched the bat from Harry's hand, spanked him with it, and started for the others of the group.
"Say, you musn't hit that boy," exclaimed Gid, jumping on Si's back. Gid was as ready to fight for Harry as to fight with him. The others rushed up, school boy like, to defend their companion against "the man," and little Pete Skidmore picked up a stone and adjusted it for throwing.
"Why, you little scamps you," gasped Si in amazement. "What'd you mean?
Ain't you goin' to obey my orders?"
"You haint no right to give us orders no more," asserted Humphreys, flourishing his bat defiantly. "You're only an enlisted man, same as the rest o' us. They told us so, last night, and that we mustn't let you impose on us, as you'd bin doin'. Only the Captain and the Colonel command us. We've bin posted. And if you dare hit any o' us we'll all jump on you and maul your head offen you."
The rest looked approval of Jim's brave words.
"We're goin' to strike for our altars and our fires. Strike for the green graves of our sires. God and our native land," declaimed Monty Scruggs.
The waspish little mutiny was so amusing that Si had to smile in spite of himself. With a quick, unexpected movement he snatched the bat from Jim Humphreys' hand, and said good-humoredly:
"Now, boys, you mustn't make fools of yourselves agin'. Stop this nonsense at once, I tell you. I'm just as much your commandin' officer as I ever was."
"How can you be a commanding officer, when everybody else bosses you about?" persisted the argumentative Monty Scruggs. "Everybody that comes near you orders you around, just the same as you used to us, and you mind 'em. That ain't no way for a commanding officer. We don't want anybody bossing us that everybody else bosses."
"Well, that's the way o' the army," Si explained patiently, "and you've got to git used to it. 'Most everybody bosses somebody else. The President tells Gen. Grant what he wants done. Gen. Grant orders Gen, Thomas to do it. Gen. Thomas orders a Major-General. The Major-General orders a Brigadier-General. The Brigadier-General orders our Colonel.
Our Colonel orders Cap McGillicuddy. Cap McGillicuddy orders the Orderly-Sarjint, the Orderly-Sarjint orders me, and I command you."
"Why, it's worse'n 'The-House-That-Jack-Built,'" said Monty Scruggs.
"Well, you needn't learn all of it," said Si. "It's enough for you to know that I command you. That's the A B C of the business, and all you need know. A man in the army gits into trouble offen by knowin' too much. You git it well into your craws that I command you, and that you've got to do just as I say, and I'll do the rest o' the knowin' that you need.--"
"But how're we to know that you're right every time," argued Monty Scruggs.
"Well," explained the patient Si, "if you've any doubts, go to the Orderly-Sarjint. If he don't satisfy you, go to the Captain. If you have doubts about him, carry it to the Colonel. If you're still in doubt, refer it to the Brigadier-General, then to the Major-General, to Gen.
Thomas, Gen. Grant, and lastly to the President of the United States."
"Great goodness!" they gasped.