"A Corporal from my Headquarters?" repeated the General, beginning to understand. "That's another development of that irrepressible Shorty."
And he called:
"Yes, sir," responded Shorty, appearing at the door and saluting.
"Did you raid the establishment of a person named"
"Eph Glick," supplied the Provost-Marshal.
"Yes, Ephraim Glick. Did you direct it; and, if so, what authority had you for doing so?"
"Yes, sir," said Shorty promptly. "I done it on my own motion. It was a little matter that needed tending to, and I didn't think it worth while to trouble either you or the Provo about it. The feller's bin dead-ripe for killin' a long time. I hadn't nothin' else to do, so I thought I'd jest git that job offen my hands, and not to have to think about it any more."
"Corporal," said the General sternly, "I have not objected to your running my office, for I probably need all the help in brains and activity that I can get. But I must draw the line at your assuming the duties of the Provost-Marshal in addition. He is quite capable of taking care of his own office. You have too much talent for this narrow sphere.
Gen. Thomas needs you to help him run the army. Tell Wilson to make out your transportation, so that you can start for your regiment tomorrow.
The Provost-Marshal and I will have to try to run this town without your help. It will be hard work, I know; but, then, that is what we came into the service for."
Shorty grumbled to another Orderly as he returned to his place in the next room:
"There, you see all the thanks you git for bein' a hustler in the way of doin' your dooty. I done a job for 'em that they should've 'tended to long ago, and now they sit down on me for it."
CHAPTER XII. SHORTY ON A HUNT
GOES AFTER KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE.
THAT evening, as Shorty was gathering his things together, preparatory for starting to the front the next morning, Lieut. Bigelow, one of the General's young Aids, thrust his head through the doorway and said gleefully:
"Here, Corporal; I want you. I've got a great lark. Our Secret Service people report a bad lodge of the Knights of the Golden Circle out here in the country that threatens to make trouble. It is made up of local scalawags and runaway rebels from Kentucky and Tennessee. They have a regular lodge-room in a log house out in the woods, which they have fixed up into a regular fort, and they hold their meetings at nights, with pickets thrown out, and no end of secrecy and mystery. The General thinks that they are some of the old counterfeiting, horse-stealing gang that infested the country, and are up to their old tricks. But it may be that they are planning wrecking a train, burning bridges and the like.
They've got so bold that the Sheriff and civil officials are afraid of them, and don't dare go near them. I've persuaded the General to let me take out a squad and jump them. Want to go along?"
"I'm your huckleberry," said Shorty.
"I knew you'd be," answered the Lieutenant; "so I got the General to let me have you. We'll get some 10 or 12 other good boys. That will be enough. I understand that there are about 100 regular attendants at the lodge, but they'll not all be there at any time, and a dozen of us can easily handle what we find there at home."
"A dozen'll be a great plenty," assented Shorty. "More'd be in the way."
"Well, go out and pick up that many of the right kind of boys, bring them here, and have them all ready by 10 o'clock. You can find guns and ammunition for them in that room upstairs."
Shorty's first thought was of his old friend, Bob Ramsey, Sergeant of the Provost-Guard. He found him, and said:
"See here, Bob, I've got something on hand better'n roundin' up stragglers and squelchin' whisky rows. I've got to pick out some men for a little raid, where there'll be a chance for a red-hot shindy. Want to go along?"
"You bet," answered the Sergeant. "How many men do you want? I'll get 'em and go right along."
"No, you don't," answered Shorty. "I'm to be the non-commish of this crowd. A Lieutenant'll go along for style, but I'll run the thing."
"But you're only a Corporal, while I'm a Sergeant," protested Bob.
"'Taint natural that you should go ahead of me. Why can't you and I run it together, you next to me? That's the correct thing."
"Well, then," said Shorty, turning away, "you stay and run your old Provo-Guard. This is my show, and I aint goin' to let nobody in it ahead o' me."
"Come, now, be reasonable," pleaded Bob. "Why can't you and I go along together and run the thing? We'll pull together all right. You know I've been a Sergeant for a long time, and know all about the handling of men."
"Well, stay here and handle 'em. I'll handle the men that I take, all right. You kin gamble on that. And what I say to them has to go. Won't have nobody along that outranks me."
"Well," answered Bob, with a gulp, "let me go along, then, as a Corporal--I'll change my blouse and borrow a Corporal's--"
"Rankin' after me?" inquired Shorty.
"Yes; we had a Corporal promoted day before yesterday. I'll borrow his blouse."
"Promoted day before yesterday," communed Shorty; "and you won't presume to boss or command no more'n he would?"
"Not a mite," asserted Bob.
"Well, then, you kin come along, and I'll be mighty glad to have you, for I know you're a standup feller and a good friend o' mine, and I always want to oblige a friend by lettin' him have a share in any good fight I have on hand."
Jeff Wilson, the Chief Clerk, got wind of the expedition, and he too begged to be taken along, to which Shorty consented.
When Lieut. Bigelow came in at 10 o'clock he found Shorty at the head of 12 good men, all armed and equipped, and eager for the service.
"In talking with the Secret Service men," explained the Lieutenant, "they suggested that it would be well to have one good man, a stranger, dressed in citizen's clothes--butternut jeans, if possible--to go ahead at times and reconnoiter. He ought to be able to play off refugee rebel, if possible."
"I'll do it. I'm just the man," said Shorty eagerly.
"Well, just come in here," said the Lieutenant. "Now, there's a lot of butternut jeans. I guess there's a pair of pantaloons long enough for you."
When Shorty emerged from the room again there was a complete transformation. Except that his hair was cut close, he was a perfect reproduction of the tall, gaunt, slouching Tennesseean.
"Perfect," said the Lieutenant, handing him a couple of heavy Remington revolvers. "Stow these somewhere about your clothes, and get that blacking off your shoes as soon as you can, and you'll do."
It was planned that they should sleep until near morning, when the spies of the Knights of the Golden Circle were not alert, enter a freight-car, which they would keep tightly shut, to escape observation, while the train ran all day toward a point within easy reach of their quarry. It would arrive there after dark, and so they hoped to catch the Knights entirely unawares, and in the full bloom of their audacity and pride.
The car which the squad entered was locked and sealed, and labeled, "Perishable freight. Do not delay." Their presence was kept secret from all the train hands but the conductor, a man of known loyalty and discretion.
Shorty being in disguise, it was decided that he should saunter down apart from the rest and take his place in the caboose. He lay down on the long seat, drew his slouch-hat over his eyes, and seemed to go to sleep. The train pulled out to the edge of the yard, went onto a switch and waited for the early morning accommodation to pass out and get the right-of-way.
A heavily-built, middle-aged man, whose coarse face had evidently been closely shaved a few days before, entered, carrying a large carpet-sack, which was well-filled and seemingly quite heavy. He set this carefully down on the seat, in the corner, walked up to the stove, warmed his hands, glanced sharply at Shorty, said "Good morning," to which Shorty replied with a snore, took a plug of tobacco from his pocket, from which he cut a liberal chew with a long dirk that he opened by giving a skillful flip with his wrist, put the chew in his mouth, released the spring which held the blade in place, put both knife and tobacco in his pocket, and turning around spread the tails of his seedy black frock coat, and seemed lost in meditation as he warmed.
"Not a farmer, storekeeper or stock-buyer," Shorty mentally sized him up, "Looks more like a hickory lawyer, herb-doctor or tin-horn gambler.
What's he doin' in this caboose? Up to some devilment, no doubt. He'll bear watchin'."
And Shorty gave another snore. The man, having completed his warming, sat down by his carpetsack, laid his arm across it to secure possession, pulled his battered silk hat down over his eyes, and tried to go to sleep.
The train rumbled out, and presently stopped at another station. Another man got on, also carrying a large, heavy carpet-sack. He was younger than the other, looked like a farm-hand, was dressed partly in homespun, partly in "store-clothes," wore a weather-stained wool hat, and his sullen face terminated in a goatee. The first-comer looked him over an instant, and then said: