"Now sing it to the tune of 'When this Cruel War is Over,' called out the cook-humorist.
"Right face," commanded Si.
A roar went up from the camp-follower audience at the hopeless tangle which ensued. No two of the boys seemed to have done the same thing.
Several had turned to the left, and all were sprinting around in various ways in a more or less genuine pretense of executing the order.
Meanwhile the news that Si's squad of recruits were having fun with him spread through the camp, and a crowd gathered to watch the performance and give their jeering advice in that characteristic soldierly way when they see a comrade wrestling with a perplexing job.
"Git a bushel basket, and gather 'em up in it."
"Tie straw around their left feet, and hay around their right ones, so's they'll know 'em."
"Back 'em up agin' a rail fence and git 'em into line;" were among the freely offered suggestions. Si was sweating all over, and so angry that he had to stolidly bite his words off, one at a time, to keep from showing his temper. To add to his troubles, he saw the Colonel, of whom he stood in proper awe, become interested in the crowd and the shouting, and stroll down from his tent to see what the excitement was.
"As you were," Si commanded, steadying his voice with a great effort.
"Every one of you git back as I placed you. Right dress!"
To his wonderment they formed as good a line as veterans could have done. They heard a whisper that the Colonel was coming, and it sobered them.
"Right face!" commanded Si.
They all faced to the right and stepped into their places without an error.
"Front!" commanded Si, and they returned to two ranks.
"Ah, Sergeant," said the Colonel, kindly, as he made his way through the respectfully opened, saluting crowd. "Giving your men their first drill, are you? Well, you are getting along remarkably well for recruits. I saw that last movement, and it was very well done, indeed. You've got some very nice-looking boys there, and I think they'll be a credit to the regiment."
"Saved by the skin o' my teeth," gasped Si to himself, as the Colonel strolled on. "Now, you young roosters, I see that you kin do it whenever you want to, and you've got to want to after this. A boy that don't want to I'll take down to the branch there, and hold his head under water till he does want to. I'm goin' to stay with you until you learn the drill dead letter perfect. You can't git rid of me. You'll save trouble by rememberin' that. Now we'll go back for supper. Right face--forward--file left--March!"
CHAPTER VII. SHORTY'S HEART TURNS TOWARD MARIA
AND HE FINALLY GETS A LETTER FROM HER.
AFTER the flush of excitement of returning to his old regiment and meeting his comrades--after the process of readjusting himself to the changed relations made by death, wounds, discharges, resignations and promotions--after the days had brought a settling back into the old routine of camp-life, there developed in Shorty's heart growing homesickness for Maria Klegg.
At least that was what it seemed to him. He did not exactly know what homesickness was from personal experience, as he had never really had a home. But he had seen thousands of boys more or less affected by that obscure but stubborn and dangerous malady, and had noted their symptoms, which strongly resembled his own.
Somehow, the sun only shone with real brightness and warmth over the pleasant homes and fertile fields of Posey County, Ind. Somehow, women had a fairness and sweetness there denied to their sex elsewhere, and somehow the flower of them all was a buxom maiden of 20 dwelling under the roof of Deacon Klegg.
Shorty appreciated very properly the dignity and responsibilities of his two stripes. He was going to be the model Corporal of the regiment, and give all the rest a copy which they could follow to advantage. Of all the Corporals he had ever known, Si Klegg had come nearest his ideas as to what a Corporal should be, but even Si had his limitations. He would show him some improvements. So shorty bent his mind upon the performance of everything pertaining to the Corporalcy with promptness and zeal.
He even set to studying the Regulations and Tactics--at least those paragraphs relating to Corporals and their duties--where heretofore he had despised "book-soldiering," and relied on quick observation and "horse sense" to teach him all that was worth knowing. But his stay in the Deacon's home showed him that they esteemed "book-knowledge" even in common things as of much value, and he began to have a new respect for that source of instruction.
Even through the pressure of official duties and responsibilities there would steal, like the wafting of a sweet song to the ears of the reapers in a hot field, thoughts of the coolness, the beauty and the peace of that quiet home on the Wabash, with one flower-faced girl, with white, soft arms, going about her daily tasks, singing with such blithe cheeriness that even the birds stopped to listen to a sweeter note than theirs. Some subtle fragrance from her seemed to be with him wherever he was, and whatever he might be doing. When, as the tallest Corporal in Co. Q, he stood on the right of the company, on drill and dress parade, and made the others "dress" on him, he wished that Maria Klegg could only see how straight the line was, and how soldierly the boys looked.
When the Colonel personally selected him to command the squad which was to escort the Paymaster through a dangerous part of the country, he would have given much had Maria known of the trust reposed in him. And when, as Corporal of the Guard, he suppressed in his usual summary way a noisy row among the teamsters and cooks, he was very glad that Maria did not hear the remarks that a Corporal always thinks necessary to make on such occasions. Shorty did not swear with the fluent ease of before his visit to the Klegg homestead, but a little excitement gave the old looseness to his tongue. And when he sat around the guard-fire, he would refuse to be drawn into any "little games," but turn his back upon the chattering crowd, and furtively draw from his breast-pocket the remnant of Maria's dress, and feel it, and muse over it, until aroused by the call:
"Corporal of the Guard, Post No. 14. I want a drink o' water."
Shorty began to watch for Si's mail a good deal more anxiously than that worthy did. He managed to go by the Chaplain's tent whenever duty took him in that part of the camp, and sometimes when it did not, and inquire if there was any mail there for Si. One day he was rewarded by the Chaplain handing him two letters. His heart beat a little quicker by seeing that they were both postmarked Bean Blossom Creek. The smaller--a white envelope, superscribed in Annabel's cramped little hand--he thrust indifferently into his pocket, and the larger--a fat, yellow envelope, covered with the good Deacon's massive crow-tracks, and securely fastened by a dab of sealing wax, pressed down with a cent--he studied with tender interest. It had come directly from her home--from her father. It probably told something about her.
It seemed as if there was something of the perfume of her presence about it. Possibly she had carried it to the station and mailed it. He turned it over gently, studied every detail, and fixed his eyes upon it, as if he would make them pierce the thick, strong paper and devour the contents. Then it occurred to him that the better and quicker way to get at the inside would be to deliver the letters to Si. So he hunted up his partner, whom he found about to take his squad out for a turn at wagon guarding.
Si looked pleased as he recognized his father's letter, but his face flushed to the roots of his sandy hair at the sight of Annabel's. He put the latter carefully in his pocket. It was too sweet and sacred a thing to be opened and read under the gaze of any one else's eyes. He broke open his father's and as his eyes traveled slowly down the large foolscap pages, covered with the Deacon's full-grown characters, for the Deacon made his letters as he liked his stock--big and full--he said:
"They're all well at home, but mother's had a tech of her old rheumatiz.
Pap's sold his wheat at a dollar and four bits. Peaches about half killed. Had good luck with his lambs. Wheat's lookin' unusually well.
Beck Spangler's married Josh Wilson, whose wife died last Fall, leavin'
him two little children. Brindle cow's come in fresh, with a nice calf, quarter Jersey. Copperhead's gittin' sassy agin. Holdin' night meetin's and wearin' butternut badges, and talkin' about resistin' draft. Hogs wintered well, and looks as if Pap'd have a nice drove to sell in the Fall. Pap'll put in 'bout 90 acres o' corn, and'll have to hustle his plowin' ez soon's the ground's fit. Little Sammy Woggles had a fight with Beecham's boy, who's six months older, and licked him. Sammy likes school better now than he did. Pap's bought Abraham Lincoln a new suit o' store clothes and the girls have made him some white shirts. He goes to church every Sunday now, and carries a cane. Pap sends his regards to you, Shorty, and mother and the girls want to be kindly remembered.
There, take the letter, Shorty, and read it for yourself. I've got to skip out with my squad."
Shorty took the letter with eagerness, and retired to a nook to read it all over carefully, and see if he could not mayhap glean out of it something more relating to Her. But the main satisfaction was in reading again and again "Mother and the girls want to be kindly remembered to Shorty."
"Not uncomfortably warm, and purty general, like the gal who promised to be a sister to the hull rijimint," mused Shorty, as he refolded the letter and replaced it in the envelope. "But, then, it is better to be kindly remembered by sich people as them than to be slobbered over by anybody else in the world. Wisht I knowed jest how much o' the kind remembrance was Maria's, and if it differed in any way from her mother's and sister's?"
The next evening the Orderly-Sergeant handed Shorty a badly-thumb-marked and blotted yellow envelope, on which was scrawled in a very schoolish hand:
"To Mister Corpril Elliott, "Co. Q, Two Hundred Injianny Volintears,
Opening it he read:
U ar a Frawd!!! That's what U ar!!!
Whairz mi Gunn??????
U ar a long-shanked, brick-topt Frawd & a promisbraker!!!
Whairz mi Gunn???
U hav now bin away a hole month, & I haint seen no Gunn!
Awl the boiz is makin fun ov Me, bekaws I blowed around bout the Gunn I waz going 2 git, & I didn't git none.
Whairz mi Gunn???
I likked Ans. Beechum till he hollered nuff, for teezin Me bout mi Gunn. That's quiled the other boiz.
But I want mi Gunn!
I have just lots & Gobs 2 tell U, bout what Maria's bin sayin bout yore saffron head, but I shant write a word till I git mi Gunn!
I wont tell U how the girls is pleggin her bout her Big Sunflower till I git mi Gunn!
If U doant send mi Gunn rite off He tel Maria everything I no.