"Spies nothin'!" said Si. "Why, them fellers hain't brains enough to tell a battery from a regiment, nor pluck enough to take a settin' hen offen her nest. Let them go at once."
"Why, Corpril Elliott told us that every man in Kentucky, particularly them what sold pies, wuz dangerous, and liable to go guerrillying at any minute," said Harry in an aggrieved tone. "These fellers seemed to be sneakin' down to find that we hadn't no guns and then jump us."
"Well, what I said wuz true on jineral principles," laughed Shorty. "But there's occasionally exceptions to even what I tell you. These fellers are as harmless as garter-snakes. Why didn't you come and speak to us?"
"Why, you shoved our car out there into the brush and went off and left us. We thought we had to look out for ourselves," explained Harry.
"Can't we hang 'em, anyway?" he added in an appealing tone, and the rest of the boys looked wistfully at Si for permission to proceed.
"No, you can't, I tell you. Turn 'em loose this minute, and give 'em back their things, and go yourselves to your car. We're goin' to start now. Here," he continued to the two men, "is a dollar. Take your pies and dig out. Don't attempt to sell any o' them pies to these boys, or I'll hang you myself, and there won't be no foolishness about it. Git back to your car, boys."
"There won't be no hangin', and we won't git none o' the pies,"
complained the boys among themselves. "Sargint Klegg's gittin'
overbearin'. What'd he interfere for? Them fellers was guerrillas, as sure as you're born, just as Corpril Elliott described 'em before we crossed the river."
CHAPTER XVII. THE FRIGHTENED SURGEON
SI AND SHORTY HAVE A TIME WITH THEIR WILD, YOUNG SQUAD.
MUCH to their amazement, the boys waked up the next morning in Nashville, and found that they had passed through the "dark and bloody ground" of Kentucky absolutely without adventure.
"How in the world'd we ever git clean through the State without the least bit o' trouble?" asked Harry Joslyn, as they stood together on the platform awaiting the return of Si and Shorty, who had gone to see about their breakfast. "It was fight from the word go with the other men from the minute they struck Kentucky."
"Probably it was Corpril Elliott's good management," suggested Gid Mackall, whose hero-worship of Shorty grew apace. "I tell you there aint a trick o' soldierin' that he aint up to."
"Corpril Elliott's?" sneered Harry Joslyn. "You're just stuck on Corpril Elliott. If it was anybody's good management it was Sargint Klegg's. I tell you, he's the boss. He got shot through the breast, while Corpril Elliott only got a crack over the head. That settles it as to who's the best soldier. I'm kind o' sorry that we didn't have no trouble. Mebbe the folks at home'll git the idea that we skulked and dodged."
"That's so," accorded the others, with a troubled look.
"But we are now in Tennessee," chirped in Gid Mackall hopefully. "That's ever so much worse'n Kentucky. We must come to rebels purty soon now.
They won't let so many reinforcements git to Gen. Thomas if they kin help it." And Gid looked around on his companions, as if he thought their arrival would turn the scale and settle the fate of the Confederacy. "They'll probably jump us just as soon as we leave town.
Them big forts on the hills mebbe keeps them outside now, but they're layin' for us just beyond. Wonder if we'll git our guns here? Mebbe that's what the Sargint and Corpril's gone for."
"They said they were going for our breakfast," said Harry. "And I hope it's true, for I'm hungrier'n a rip-saw. But I could put off breakfast for awhile, if they'd only bring us our guns. I hope they'll be nice Springfield rifles that'll kill a man at a mile."
"'Tention!" commanded Si. "Fall in single rank 'cordin' to your size.
Tall boys on the right, short ones on the left, medium in the center.
Gid Mackall, you're the tallest. You can go there to the corner o' the platform and let the others form on you."
Si stepped back into the shed to look after some matters.
Harry Joslyn whipped around and took his stand on the right of Gid Mackall.
"Here," protested Gid; "Sargint Klegg told me to stand on the right.
You're smaller'n me. Git on the other side."
"I won't do it," answered Harry. "I've always stood ahead o' you in school, ever since we were in the primer class, and I aint goin' to stand behind you in the army. You needn't try to gouge me out o' my rights because you're half-a-head taller. I'm two months older'n you, and I can throw you in a wrastle every time."
"I tell you," said Gid, giving Harry an angry shove toward the left, "that this is my place, and I'm goin' to stand here. The Sargint told me to. Go down where you belong, you little rat."
The hot-headed Harry mixed up with him immediately, school-boy fashion.
Shorty rushed up and separated the two, giving Harry a sharp shake.
"Stop that, and go down to your place in the center," said he.
"Yes; you side with him," whimpered Harry, "because he praises you and says you're a better soldier'n Sargint Klegg. I'm goin' to tell Sargint Klegg that."
"Here," said Si, sternly, as he came back again. "What's all this row?
Why don't you boys fall in 'cordin' to size, as I told you?"
"Sargint," protested Harry, "Gid Mackall wants to stand at the head o'
the class. I'm older'n him, I can spell him down, and I can throw him in--"
Si interrupted the appeal by taking Harry by the ear and marching him to his place.
"Look here," he said, "when you git an order from anyone, don't give 'em no back talk. That's the first thing you've got to learn, and the earlier you learn it the less trouble you'll have. If you don't like it, take it out in swearin' under your breath, but obey."
"But, Sargint, he said that Corpril Elliott was a better soldier'n"
"Silence in ranks," said Si, giving him a shake. "Right dress. Come out in the center. Mackall, stand up straight there. Take that hump out o'
your shoulders. Put your heels together, all of you. Turn your toes out.
Put your little fingers down to the seams o' your pantaloons. Draw your stomachs in. Throw your chests out. Hold your heads up. Keep your faces straight to the front, and cast your eyes to the right until you kin see the buttons on the breast o' the third man to your right. Come forward until they're in line.
"Goodness," moaned some of the boys, as they were trying to obey what seemed a' hopeless mass of directions, "do we have to do this every mornin' before we kin have breakfast? We'll starve to death before we git anything to eat. No use tellin' us to draw our stomachs in. They're clean in to our backbones now."
"Mustn't talk in ranks, boys," Shorty kindly admonished. "It's strictly agin' regulations. Straighten up, there, like soldiers, all o' you, and git into a line. Looks like a ram's horn now. If the rebels'd shoot down that line they wouldn't hit one o' you."
Jim Humphries, one of the medium-sized boys, suddenly turned as white as a sheet and fell on the planks. One after another of those around him did the same, until a half-dozen were lying there in a heap.
"What in the world's the matter?" asked Si, rushing up to them in dismay.
"They're pizened, that's what they are," shouted Harry Joslyn.
"That guerrilla goin' over there pizened 'em. I saw him a-givin' 'em something. He's tryin' to git away. Le's ketch him."
At the word the boys made a rush for the man who was quietly walking off. As they ran they threw stones, which went with astonishing precision and force. One of them struck the man on the head and felled him. Then the boys jumped on him and began pounding and kicking him. Si and Shorty came up, pushed off the boys and pulled the man to his feet.
He was terrified at the onset which had been made upon him, and could not understand its reason.
"What've I done?" he gasped. "What're all yo'uns weltin' me for? I haint no rebel. I've done tuk the oath of allegiance long ago."
"Now there'll be a hangin' sure," said Harry, in eager expectancy.
"What'd you do to them boys back there?" demanded Si.
"Didn't do nothin' to 'em. Sw'ar to God A'mighty I didn't."
"That telegraph pole will be just the thing to hang him on," suggested Harry to Gid. "We could put him on a flat car and push the car out from under him. I'll look around for a rope, Gid, and you git ready to climb the pole."
"He did do something to 'em, Sargint," said Gid Mackall. "I seen him givin' 'em something."