"Yes," echoed Shorty, speaking for the first time since he had come into the house; "I feel as if I'd like to begin all over agin."
"I wish you could begin all over agin," said Maria in a tone very different from her former one. "I'd like to cook another supper for you. I wish I could do something to help. Can't I go with you and do something--load guns, or something? I've read about women doin'
somethin' o' that kind in the Injun fightin'."
"If you could git 'em within range o' your tongue, Maria," said Si merrily, "you'd scatter, 'em in short order. No; you stay here, and say your prayers, and go to bed like a good girl, and don't worry about us.
We'll come out all right. It's the other fellers' womenfolks that've cause to worry. Let them stay up and walk the floor."
As the boys walked down to the jail they saw in the darkness squads of men moving around in a portentious way. At the jail were the Sheriff, wearing an anxious look, two or three citizens, and several soldiers, some with their arms in slings, others on crutches.
"I'm so glad you've come," said the Sheriff. "Things is beginnin' to look very ugly outside. They've got the whole country stirred up, and men are coming in on every road. You take command, Sergeant Klegg. I've bin waitin' for you, so's I could drive over to the station and send a dispatch to the Governor. The station's about a mile from here, but I'll be back as soon as my horse'll bring me. I didn't want to send the dispatch till I was sure there was need of it, for I don't want to bring soldiers here for nothin'."
The wheels of the Sheriff's buggy rattled over the graveled road, and a minute later there was a knock at the outside door. Si opened it and saw there a young man with a smoothly-shaven face, a shock of rumpled hair and wearing a silk hat, a black frockcoat and seedy vest and pantaloons.
Si at once recognized him as a lawyer of the place.
"Who's in charge here?" he asked.
"I am, for the present," said Si.
"There it is," said he, in a loud voice, that others might hear; "a military guard over citizens arrested without warrant of law. I have come, sir, in the name of the people of Indiana, to demand the immediate release of those men."
"You kin go, sir, and report to them people that it won't be did,"
answered Si firmly.
"But they've been arrested without due process of law. They've been arrested in violation of the Constitution and laws of the State of Indiana, which provide--"
"I ain't here to run no debatin' society," Si interrupted, "but to obey my orders, which is to hold these men safe and secure till otherwise ordered."
"I give you fair warning that you will save bloodshed by releasing the men peaceably. We don't want to shed blood, but--"
"We'll take care o' the bloodshed," said Si, nonchalantly. "We're in that business. We git $13 a month for it."
"Do you defy the sovereign people of Indiana, you military autocrat?"
said the lawyer.
"Look here, mister," said Shorty, striding forward. "Don't you call my pardner no names, especially none like that. If you want a fight we're here to accommodate you till you git plum-full of it. But you musn't call no sich names as that, or I'll knock your head off."
"Whose head'll you knock off?" said a burly man, thrusting himself in front of the lawyer, with his fist doubled.
"Yours, for example," promptly responded Shorty, sending out his mighty right against the man's head.
"Don't be a fool, Markham," said the lawyer, catching the man and pushing him back into the crowd behind. "Now, sir, Sergeant, or Captain, or Colonel, whatever you may call yourself, for I despise military titles, and don't pretend to know them, I again demand the release of those men. You'll be foolish to attempt to resist, for we've men enough to tear you limb from limb, and jerk down the jail over your heads. Look out for yourself. You can see that the courtyard is full of men. They are determined--desperate, for they have groaned under the iron heel of tyranny."
"O, cheese that stump-speech," said Si, weariedly. "'Taint in our enlistment papers to have to listen to 'em. You've bin warnin', now I'll do a little. I'll shoot the first man that attempts to enter this jail till the Sheriff gits back. If you begin any shootin' we'll begin right into your crowd, and we'll make you sick. There's some warnin' that means somethin'."
"Your blood be on your own heads, then, you brass-button despots," said the lawyer, retiring into the darkness and the crowd. He seemed to give a signal, for a rocket shot up into the air, followed by wild yells from the mob. The large wooden stable in the Courthouse yard burst into flames, and the prisoners inside yelled viciously in response. There was a fusillade of shots, apparently excited and aimless, for none of them struck near.
"Don't fire, boys," said Si, walking around among his guards, "until there is some reason for it. They'll probably try to make a rush and batter down the jail door. We'll watch for that."
The glare of the burning building showed them preparing for that move.
A gang had torn off the heavy rail from the hitching-post on the outside of the square, and were going to use it as a battering-ram. Then came another kind of yell from farther away, and suddenly the mob began running in wild confusion, while into the glare swept a line of soldiers, charging with fixed bayonets.
"A train came in while I was at the depot," the Sheriff explained, as he entered the office. "It had on it a regiment going home on veteran furlough. I asked the Major in command to come over and help us. He and his boys was only too glad for a chance to have some fun and stretch their legs. They came off the cars with a whoop as soon's they knowed what was wanted. Now, you boys kin go home and git a good night's sleep.
I'll take these prisoners along with the regiment over to the next County seat, and keep 'em there till things cool down here. I'm awfully obliged to you."
"Don't mention it. Glad to do a little thing like that for you any time," responded Si, as he and Shorty shook hands with the Sheriff.
At the next corner, after leaving the Courthouse square, they met Maria and Martha.
"I just couldn't stay in the house while this was goin' on," Maria explained. "I had to come out and see. O, I'm so glad it's all over and you're not hurt."
She caught Shorty's arm with a fervor that made him thrill all over.
CHAPTER XV. OFF FOR THE FRONT
SI AND SHORTY TAKE CHARGE OF A SQUAD OF RECRUITS.
WHEN the boys came to breakfast the next morning, they found Maria with the hollyhock effulgence of garb of the day before changed to the usual prim simplicity of her housedress. This meant admiration striking Shorty still dumber. He was in that state of mind when every change in the young woman's appearance seemed a marvelous transformation and made her more captivating than before. He had thought her queenly dazzling in her highly-colored "go-to-meeting" plumage of the day before. She was now simply overpowering in her plain, close-fitting calico, that outlined her superb bust and curves, with her hair combed smoothly back from her bright, animated face. Shorty devoured her with his eyes--that is, when she was not looking in his direction. He would rather watch her than eat his breakfast, but when her glance turned toward him he would drop his eyes to his plate. This became plain to everybody, even Maria, but did not prevent her beginning to tease.
"What's the matter with you? Where's your appetite?" asked she. "You're clean off your feed. You must be in love. Nothin' else'd make a man go back on these slapjacks that Cousin Marthy made with her own hands, and she kin beat the County on slapjacks. Mebbe you're thinkin' o' your Bad Ax girl and her widower. Perk up. He may fall offen a saw-log and git drowned, and you git her yit. Never kin tell. Life's mighty uncertain, especially around saw-mills. When I marry a man he's got to give bonds not to have anything to do, in no way or shape, with saw-mills. I don't want to be a widder, or take care o' half a man for the rest o' my days.
You've got a chance to git your girl yit. Mebbe she'll git tired o' him after he's bin run through the mill two or three times, and there's more o' him in the graveyard than there is walkin' to church with her. Cheer up."
Shorty tried to disprove the charge as to the subject of his thoughts by falling to furiously and with such precipitation that he spilt his coffee, upset the molasses-jug, and then collapsed in dismay at his clumsiness.
Maria did not go free herself. The other girls had not been blind to Shorty's condition of mind, and rather suspected that Maria was not wholly indifferent to him. When she came into the kitchen for another supply. Cousin Susie, younger sister of Martha, remarked:
"Maria, I've a notion to take your advice, and set my cap for Corpril Shorty. Do you know, I think he's very good lookin'. He's a little rough and clumsy, but a girl could take that out o' him. I believe I'll begin right away. You stay in here and bake and I'll wait on the table."
"Don't be a little goose, Susie," said Maria severely. "You're too young yit to think about beaux. You hain't got used to long dresses yit. You go practice on boys in roundabouts awhile. This is a full-grown man and a soldier. He hain't got no time to waste on schoolgirls."
"Ha, how you talk, Miss Jealousy," responded Susie. "How scared you are lest I cut you out. I've a great mind to do it, just to show you I kin.
I'd like awfully to have a sweetheart down at the front, just to crow over the rest o' the girls. Here, you take the turner and let me carry that plate in."
"I'll do nothin' o' the kind," said Maria, decisively. "You look out for your cakes there. They're burnin' while you're gossipin'. That's my brother and his friend, and I hain't got but a short time to be with 'em. I may never see 'em agin, and I want to do all I kin for 'em while they're with me."
"Too bad about your brother," laughed Susie. "How lovin' and attentive all at once. I remember how you used to wig him without mercy at school, and try to make him go off and take me home, instid o' taggin' along after you, when that big-eyed school teacher that sung tenor'd be makin'
sheep's eyes at you in school, and wantin' to walk home with you in the evenin'. I remember your slappin' Si for tellin' the folks at home about the teacher and you takin' long walks at noon out to the honeysuckle patch. I've a great mind to go in and tell it all to Si right before that feller. Then your cake'll all be dough. Don't git too uppish with me, young lady. Gi' me that plate and let me take it in."
The cakes on the griddles burned while Maria watched through the door what she mentally described as the "arts and manuvers o' that sassy little piece." She was gratified to see that Shorty's eyes kept glancing at the door for her own reappearance. She carried in the next plate of cakes herself, and though they were a little scorched, Shorty ate them with more zest than any of their predecessors.
Si announced, as he shoved back from the table:
"Well, we've got to go right off. We must ketch that accommodation and git back to Bean Blossom Crick. I want to say good-by to the folks, and then strike out for Jeffersonville. I've reported that I'm able for dooty agin, and there's orders at home for me and Shorty to go to Jeffersonville and git a gang o' recruits that's bin gethered there, and bring 'em to the rijimint."
Shorty had been in hopes that Si would dally for a day or so in these pleasant pastures, but then he reflected that where Annabel was was likely to be much more attractive to Si than where she was not.
"No need o' my goin' back with you," he ventured to suggest, speaking for the first time. "I might take the train goin' East, and git things in shape at Jeffersonville by the time you come."