"But the less you bother your heads with Captains and Curnels and Generals the better you'll git along. The feller that's right over you--in arm's length o' you all the time--is the feller that you've got to look out for sharply. I'm him. Now I want you to form in two ranks quicker'n scat, and 'tend to business. I'm goin' to drill you. Gid Mackall, take your place there. Harry Joslyn, stand behind him."
The old squabbles as to precedence immediately broke out between Gid and Harry, which Si impatiently ended by snatching Harry by the collar and yanking him behind Gid, with the wrathful Harry protesting that he intended carrying the matter up through the whole military hierarchy, even to the President of the United States, if necessary. He did not come into the army to be run over.
"You came into the army to do just as I tell you, and you'll do it.
Silence in the ranks," commanded Si. "Humphreys, stand next to Mackall.
Scruggs, stand behind Humphreys."
"Why do you put one man behind another?" queried Monty Scruggs. "I don't think that's right.--Jim's big head'll be forever in my way, so's I can't see anything. Why don't you put us out in one line, like a class in school? Then everybody's got the same show."
"I didn't make the tactics. Git into your places," snapped Si.
"Well, I don't think much of a teacher that can't explain what he's teaching," mumbled Monty, as he reluctantly obeyed.
"Now, Russell, stand next to Humphreys; Baker, stand behind Russell; Skidmore, stand next to Russell."
"Goody, I'm in the front rank," giggled little Pete, and Harry Joslyn looked as if here was another case of favoritism that he would have to call the President's attention to.
"Now," commanded Si, "put your heels together, turn your toes out, stand erect, draw your stomachs in--"
[Illustration: "DRAW YOUR STOMACHS IN. 73]
"Look here, Jim Humphreys," grumbled Monty Scruggs, "when he told you to draw your stomach in he didn't mean for you to stick your hips out till you bumped me over into the next Township. I've got to have room to stand here, as well as you."
"Silence in the ranks," commanded Si. "Draw your stomachs in, put your little fingers down to the seams of your pantaloons--"
"You mean the middle finger, don't you?" queried Monty Scruggs. "That's more natural way of standing."
"No, I mean the little finger," asserted Si.
"But the middle finger is more natural," persisted Monty. "You can't stand straight with your little finger at the seam. See here."
"Scruggs, do as I say, without no words," said Si, and then Monty's face took on an expression of determination to carry the matter to a higher court.
"Now, keep your faces straight to the front, and at the command 'Right dress!' turn your eyes, without moving your heads, until you kin see the buttons on the breast of the second man to the right. 'Right dress!'"
"There's no man on my right for me to look toward. What 'm I to do?"
complained Gid Mackall.
"There, you see what come o' putting him in front," exulted Harry Joslyn. "Now, if I'd bin--"
"Say, I can't see up to Jim Humphreys' big breast without twistin' my neck nearly off," murmured little Pete Skidmore. "Can't you make him scrooch a little? Jest see him swell up."
"What's the use o' linin' on a feller that can't stand still a second?"
complained the others.
"Great Scott, what a line," groaned Si, walking along, shoving the boys back, and twisting them around, to get them straight. "Crooked as a pumpkin vine in a cornfield. Here, I told you not to turn your heads, but only your eyes. If you snipes wouldn't gab so much, but listen to what I say, you'd git along better. Silence in ranks. Now, try it over again. Faces straight to the front. Eyes cast to the right, until they catch the buttons on the breast of the second man. Right dress!"
"Great grief," sighed he, looking at the result. "You wriggle about like so many eels. Might as well try to line up so many kittens. Won't you straighten Up and keep straight?" Then came a renewal of the noisy discussion, with mutual blaming of one another.
Si picked up a stick and drew a line in the ground. "Now bring your toes to that line, and keep 'em there."
"Shall we take that scratch along with us as we march, or will you draw another one for us as we need it?" Monty Scruggs asked, at which the other boys laughed, which did not improve Si's temper. It was long, hard work before he got the restless, talkative young fellows so that they would form a fairly straight line, and maintain it for a minute or two.
He looked at them, wiped his perspiring brow, and remarked internally:
"Well, I thought them was bright boys, that it'd be no trouble to drill.
I'd ruther break in the stoonidest lot o' hayseeds that ever breathed, rather than boys that think they know more'n I do. Now I'm goin' to have the time o' my life learnin' 'em the right face."
He began the explanation of that complicated manuver:
"Now, I want every one o' you to stop talkin', gether up them scatter-fire brains o' your'n, and pay strict 'tention to every word I say--"
"Harry Joslyn," broke in Gid, "if you tramp on my heels just one more time, I'll knock your head off. I've told you often enough."
"Well, you just keep off en my toes with them rockgrinders o' your'n,"
"Silence in ranks," commanded Si. "Each rank will count twos."
"What are twos? Where are they, and how many of 'em do you want us to count?" asked Monty Scruggs, at which the other boys snickered. They were getting very tired of the drill, and in the humor to nag and balk the drillmaster. Si lost a trifle of his temper, and said:
"You're too all-fired smart with your tongue, Scruggs. If you were only half as smart learnin' your business--"
"Sergeant," said one of the Lieutenants who happened to be passing, "keep your temper. You'll get along better. Don't squabble with your men."
This made the boys much worse.
"What I mean by countin' twos," explained Si, "is that the man on the right in each rank shall count one, the next one, two; the next one, one and so on. Count twos!"
They made such an exasperating muddle of it, that Si almost had a fit.
The cooks, teamsters and other hangers-on saw the trouble and came flocking around with all manner of jesting remarks and laughter, which strained Si's temper to the utmost, and encouraged the boys in their perversity. Si curbed himself down, and laboriously exemplified the manner of counting until the boys had no excuse for not understanding it.
"Now, said he, at the command 'Right face,' the No. 1 man in the front rank faces to the right and stand fast--"
"What do the rest of us do?" they chorused.
"The rest o' you chase yourselves around him," said a humorist among the cooks, while the others laughed uproariously.
"Shut up, you pot-wrastlers," said Si wrathfully. "If I hear another word from you, I'll light into you with a club. Now you brats--"
"Sergeant," admonished the Lieutenant, "you mustn't use such language to your men."
This made Si angrier, and the boys more cantankerous. Si controlled himself to go on with his explanations in a calm tone:
"No 1 in the front rank will face to the right, and stand fast, and take a side step to the right. Each No. 2 will face to the right, and take on oblique side step to the right to place himself on the right hand of his No. 1 man."
"Say that all again, Sergeant," asked Monty Scruggs.
Si patiently repeated the explanation.