Then his face grew hot with the thought that everyone saw through his transparent scheme to get an hour or two more with Maria.
"No," said Si, decisively. "You'll go back with me. Father and mother and 'Mandy are all anxious to see you, and they'll never forgive me if I don't bring you back with me. Le's start."
If, at parting. Shorty had mustered up courage enough to look Maria squarely in the eyes, he might have read something there to encourage him, but no deeply-smitten man ever can do this. There is where the "light o' loves" have the great advantage. He could only grip her hand convulsively for an instant, and then turn and follow Si.
At the Deacon's home Shorty found the same quiet, warm welcome, with too much tact on the part of anyone except little Sammy Woggles to make any comment on the circumstances of his disappearance. Sammy was clearly of the opinion that Si had run down Shorty and brought him back, and this had the beneficial effect of dampening Sammy's runaway schemes. He was also incensed at Shorty's perfidy in not sending him the rebel gun, and thought that his being brought back was righteous retribution.
"Served you right, you black-hearted promise-breaker," he hissed at Shorty when they found themselves momentarily alone. "I writ you that letter, and it nearly killed me--brung me down with the measles, and you never sent me that gun. But I'll foller yer trail till you do."
"Don't be a little fool, Sammy. You stay right here. You've got the best home in the world here. If you do I'll send you your gun inside of a month, with some real rebel catridges and a bayonet that's killed a man, and a catridge-box with a belt that you kin carry your ammunition in--that is, if you'll write me another letter, all about Maria."
"I won't write you a word about Maria," said the youth, seeing his advantage, "onless you promise to send me a whole lot o' catridges--a hatful. Powder and lead costs a heap o' money. And so do caps."
[Illustration: I'LL SEND YOU A CATRIDGE AND CAP FOR EVERY WORD YOU WRITE ABOUT MARIA. 213]
"You shall have 'em. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll send you a catridge and cap for every word you write about Maria."
"It's a go," said the delighted boy. "I'm goin' to learn someway to write without bitin' my tongue, an' I'll write you as many words every day as I want catridges to shoot off, so that I'll have enough for the next Fourth o' July, and kill all old Pete Walker's snappin' dogs besides."
The boys were to leave on the midnight train. The bigger part of Si's leave-taking seemed to be outside of his family, for he quit the house immediately after supper and did not leave Annabel's side until he had just barely time to get back home, take leave of his weeping mother and help store in the spring wagon more than he and Shorty could carry of the good things she had provided for them.
"What's this?" said Si to Shorty the next day at Jeffersonville, when they had reported to the Provost-Marshal, and had mustered before them the squad of recruits that they were to conduct to their regiment. "Have they bin roundin' up some country school-houses, and enlisted all the boys that was in the fourth reader and Ray's arithmetic?"
"Seems like it," said Shorty, looking down the line of bright, beardless, callow faces. "Some o' them don't look as if they'd got as fur as the fourth reader. Ain't old enough to spell words o' more than two syllables. What do they want with so many drummer-boys?"
"We aint no drummer-boys," said a bright-faced five-footer, who overhead the question. "Nary drum for us. We haint got no ear for music. We're regular soldiers, we are, and don't you forget it."
"But you ain't nigh 18," said Si, looking him over, pleased with the boy's spirit.
"You bet I'm over 18," answered the boy. "I told the Mustering Officer I was, and stuck to it in spite of him. There, you can see for yourself that I am," and he turned up his foot so as to show a large 18 marked on the sole of his shoe. "There, if that don't make me over 18, I'd like to know what does," he added triumphantly, to the chorus of laughter from his companions.
In the entire squad of 65 there were not more than half a dozen bearded men. The rest were boys, all clearly under their majority, and many seeming not over 15. There were tall, lathy boys, with tallowy faces; there were short, stocky boys, with big legs and arms and fat faces as red as ripe apples, and there were boys neither very fat nor very lean, but active and sprightly as cats. They were in the majority. Long and short, fat and lean, they were all bubbling over with animal spirits and activity, and eager to get where they could see "real war."
"Say, mister," said the irrepressible five-footer, who had first spoken to Si; "we've bin awful anxious for you to come and take us to our regiment. We want to begin to be real soldiers."
"Well, my boy," said Si, with as much paternalism as if he had been a grandfather, "you must begin right now, by actin' like a real soldier.
First, you mustn't call me mister. Mustn't call nobody mister in the army. My name's Sergeant Klegg. This other man is Corporal Elliott, You must always call us by those names, When you speak to either of us you must take the position of a soldier--stand up straight, put your heels together, turn your toes out, and salute, this way."
"Is this right?" asked the boy, carefully imitating Si.
"Yes, that's purty near right--very good for first attempt. Now, when I speak to you, you salute and answer me. What is your name?"
"Henry Joslyn, sir."
"Well, Henry, you are now Private Joslyn, of the 200th Injianny Volunteer Infantry. I can't tell what company you'll belong to till we git to the rigimint, but I'll try to have you in Co. Q, my company."
"But when are we going to get our guns and knapsacks and things, and start for the regiment?" persisted the eager boy, and the others joined in the impatient inquiry.
"You won't git your guns and accourterments till you git to the rigimint. As soon's I kin go over this roll and identify each one o'
you, I'll see what the orders is for starting."
"There goes some men for the ferry now. Why can't we go with them?"
persisted the boy.
"Private Joslyn," said Si, with some official sternness, "the first thing a soldier's got to learn is to keep quiet and wait for orders. You understand?"
"'Pears to me that there's a lot o' first things to learn," grumbled the boy to the others, "and it's nothin' but wait, wait forever. The army'll go off and leave us if we don't get down there purty soon."
"Don't worry, my boy, about the army goin' off and leavin' you," said Shorty in a kindly way. "It'll wait. It kin be depended on for that.
Besides, it's got to wait for me and Sargint Klegg."
"That's so. Didn't think o' that," chorused the boys, to whose eyes the two veterans seemed as important as Gens. Grant or Thomas.
"That's purty light material for serious bizniss, I'm afeared," said Shorty to Si, as they stood a little apart for a moment and surveyed the coltish boys, frisking around in their new blouses and pantaloons, which fitted about like the traditional shirt on a bean-pole.
"I think they're just splendid," said Si, enthusiastically. "They'll fill in the holes o' the old rigimint in great shape. They're as tough as little wildcats; they'll obey orders and go wherever you send 'em, and four out o' every five o' them kin knock over a crow at a hundred yards with a squirrel rifle. But, Shorty," he added with a sudden assumption of paternal dignity, "me and you's got to be fathers to them.
We've got a great responsibility for them. We must do the very best we kin by 'em."
"That's so," said Shorty, catching at once the fatherly feeling. "I'll punch the head off en the first sneezer that I ketch tryin' to impose on 'em."
CHAPTER XVI. THE TROUBLESOME BOYS
SI AND SHORTY'S RECRUITS ENTER KENTUCKY.
THE bright, active minds of the 65 boys that Si and Shorty were put in charge of were aflame with curiosity regarding everything connected with the war. For two years they had been fed on stories and incidents of the mighty conflict then convulsing the land. Every breath they had drawn had some taste of battle in it. Wherever they went or were they heard incessantly of the storm-swept "front"--of terrific battles, perilous adventures, heroic achievements, death, wounds and marvelous escapes.
The older boys were all at the front, or going there, or coming back with heroic marks of shot and shell. The one burning aspiration in every well-constructed boy's heart was to get big enough to crowd past the recruiting officer, and go where he could see with his own eyes the thunderous drama. There was concentrated all that fills a healthy boy's imagination and stirs his blood--something greater than Indian-fighting, or hunting lions and tigers. They looked on Si and Shorty with little short of reverence. Here were two men who had captured a rebel flag in a hand-to-hand fight, both of whom had been left for dead, and both promoted for gallantry. What higher pinnacle of greatness could any boy hope to reach?
They began at once seriously imitating the walk and manners of their heroes. The tall, lank boys modeled themselves on Shorty, and the short, chubby ones on Si. And there at once rose contention between them as to which was the greater hero.
"I heard," said Henry Joslyn, "that Corpril Elliott was the first to reach the rebel flag, he havin' much the longest legs, but jest as he grabbed it a big rebel knocked him, and then they all piled on to him, and about had him finished when Serg't Klegg reached there at a charge bayonets, and he bayoneted everybody in sight, until a sharpshooter in a tree shot him with an explosive bullet that tore his breast all to pieces, but he kept right on bayonetin' 'em till he dropped from loss o' blood. Then they fired a cannon at the sharpshooter and blowed him to pieces just as you'd blow a chippy to pieces with a bullet from a bear-gun."
"'Twan't that way at all," said tall, lathy Gid Mackall. "A whole lot of 'em made for the flag together. A charge o' grapeshot come along and blowed the rest away, but Serg't Klegg and Corpril Elliott kep' right on. Then Corpril Elliott he lit into the crowd o' rebels and laid a swath right around him, while Sergint Klegg grabbed the flag. A rebel Colonel shot him, but they couldn't stop Corpril Elliott till they shot a brass six-pounder at him."
The boys stood on the banks of the Ohio River and gazed eagerly at the other side. There was the enemy's country--there the theater in which the great drama was being enacted. Everything there had a weird fascination for them, as a part of, or accessory to, the stupendous play. It was like peeping under the circus tent, when they were smaller, and catching glimpses of the flying horses' feet.
And the questions they asked. Si had in a manner repelled them by his curt treatment of Harry Joslyn, and his preoccupied air as he went back and forth getting his orders and making preparations for starting. But Shorty was in an affable mood, and by pleasantly answering a few of their inquiries brought the whole fire of their questioning upon him.
"Are any o' them men you see over there guerrillas?" they asked.
"Mebbe," Shorty answered. "Kentucky's full of 'em. Mebbe they're peaceable citizens, though."
"How kin you tell the guerrillas from the citizens?"
"By the way they shoot at you. The peaceable citizens don't shoot--at least, in day time and out in the open. They lay for you with sole-leather pies, and chuck-a-luck boards and 40-rod whisky, and aid.
and abet the Southern Confedrisy that way. They get away with more Union soldiers than the guerrillas do. But you can never tell what an able-bodied man in Kentucky'll do. He may lay for you all day with wildcat whisky, at $5 a canteenful, to git money to buy ammunition to shoot at you at night. He's surer o' gittin' you with a canteen o'
never-miss whisky, but there's more healthy excitement about shootin' at you from behind a bank. And his pies is deadlier'n his apple-jack. A man kin git over an apple-jack drunk, but Kentucky pies 's wuss'n nux vomica on fish."