"'Twas only a little mite o' terbacker," the man explained. "They'uns said they'uns was mouty hongry, and wanted t' know if I'd anything t'
eat. I hadn't nothing, but I done had a little terbacker, which I tole 'em'd take away the hongry feelin', and I gin each o' they'uns a lettle chaw."
"I shouldn't wonder but he's tellin' the truth," Shorty whispered to Si.
"Le's take him back there and see."
Coming back to the platform they found the boys there recovering but still very weak and pale. They confirmed the story about the tobacco. Shorty examined the rest of the tobacco in the man's possession with the practiced taste of a connoisseur, found it strong black plug, just the thing to upset a green boy who took it on an empty stomach, cut off a liberal chew for himself and dismissed the man with a kick.
"Now, le's form agin and march to breakfast. Great Scott, how hungry I am," said Si. "'Tention. Fall in 'cordin' to size. Single rank."
"What's size got to do with gittin' breakfast?" complained Harry Joslyn, who had another grievance, now that he had again been disappointed in hanging a guerrilla. "Biggest boys'll git there first and get the most to eat. The rest of us need just as much as they do."
"Silence in the ranks," commanded Shorty, snappishly. "Don't fool around. Git into your place and stay there. We want breakfast some time today."
Shorty lined up the boys in a hurry and Si commanded.
"Right dress! Come out a little there on the left! Steady! Without doublin', right face!"
A squad of Provost-Guards came up at a double-quick, deployed, surrounded the squad and began bunching the boys together rather roughly, using the butts of their muskets.
"What does this mean?" Si asked angrily of the Lieutenant in command.
"It means that you and your precious gang have to go down to Provo'
Headquarters at once," answered the Lieutenant. "And no words about it.
Forward, march, now."
"But you've got no business to interfere with me," protested Si. "I've got my orders to take this squad o' recruits to my regiment, and I'm doin' it. I'm goin' to put 'em on the cars as soon's I kin git breakfast for 'em, and start for Chattanoogy."
"Well, why didn't you get breakfast for them and put them on the cars peaceably and quietly, without letting them riot around and kill citizens and do all manner of devilment. You have a fine account to settle."
"But they haint killed no citizen. They haint bin riotin' around, and I ain't a-goin' with you. You've no right, I tell you, to interfere with me."
"Well, you just will go with me, and no more chinning."
A Major, attracted by the altercation, rode up and asked what was the matter.
"Word came to Headquarters," explained the Lieutenant, "that a squad of recruits were rioting, and had killed a citizen, and I was sent down here on the run to stop it and arrest the men. This Sergeant, who seems to be in command, refuses to go with me."
"I tell you, Major," said Si, who recognized the officer as belonging to his brigade, "there was nobody killed, or even badly hurt. These little roosters got up a school-yard scrap all about a mistake; it was all over in a minute. There's the man they say was killed, settin' over there on that pile o' lumber smokin' his pipe."
"You're Si Klegg, aren't you, of the 200th Ind.?" asked the Major.
"Yes, Major," answered Si, saluting. "And you're Maj. Tomlinson, of the 1st Oshkosh. This is my pardner. Shorty."
"Glad to see you with Sergeant's stripes on," said the Major, shaking hands with him. "I congratulate you on your promotion. You deserved it, I know."
"So did Shorty," added Si, determined that his partner should not lack full measure of recognition.
"Yes, I congratulate Shorty, too. Lieutenant, I know these men, and they are all right. There has been a mistake. You can take your men back to Headquarters."
"'Tention," commanded the Lieutenant. "Get into line! Right dress!
Front! Right face! Forward, file left--march!"
"'Tention," commanded Si. "Fall in in single ranks, 'cordin' to size. Be mighty spry about it. Right dress! Count off in whole numbers."
Another Provost squad came double-quicking up, followed by some ambulances. Again the boys were hurriedly bunched up. The Provost squad, however, did not seem to want to come to as close quarters as the other had. They held back noticeably.
"Now, what in thunder does this mean?" asked Si with angry impatience.
"What's up now?"
"Sergeant, are you in command of this squad?" asked a brisk little man with the green stripes of a Surgeon, who got out of one of the ambulances.
"Yes, I am," said Si, saluting as stiffly as he dared. "What's the matter?"
"Well, get those men of yours that are down into the ambulances as quickly as you can, and form those that are able to walk close behind.
Be on the jump, because the consequences of your staying here may be serious to the army. How are you feeling yourself? Got any fever? Let me see your tongue."
"What in the world's the matter with you?" asked Si in bewilderment.
"Come, don't waste any time asking questions," answered the nervous little Surgeon. "There's more troops coming right along, and we mustn't take any chances of their catching it."
"Ketch what? Great grief, ketch what?" groaned Si. "They've already ketched everything in this mortal world that was ketchable. Now what are they goin' to ketch?"
"Why, the smallpox, you dumby," said the Surgeon irritably. "Don't you know that we are terribly afraid of a visitation of smallpox to the army? They've been having it very bad in some places up North, and we've been watching every squad of recruits from up there like hawks. A man came down to Hospital Headquarters just now and reported that a dozen of your boys had dropped right on the platform. He said that he knew you, and you came from a place in Indiana that's being swept by the smallpox."
[Illustration: SMALLPOX, YOUR GRANNY, SAID SI 237]
"Smallpox, your granny," said Si wrathfully. "There haint bin no smallpox in our neighborhood since the battle o' Tippecanoe. The only man there who ever had it fit in the battle under Gen. Harrison. He had it when he was a child, and was so old that the pockmarks on him wuz wore so smooth you could scarcely see 'em. Our neighborhood's so healthy you can't even have a square case o' measles. Gosh darn it," Si exploded, "what glandered fool was it that couldn't tell 'backer-sick from smallpox? What locoed calves have you runnin' up to your Headquarters bawlin' reports?"
"Sir," said the Surgeon stiffly, "you forget that you are speaking to your superior officer."
"Excuse me. Doctor," said Si, recovering himself and saluting. "I'm very hungry, and worried to death with these frisky kids that I'm trying to git to my regiment. The only trouble is that some of the trundle-bed graduates took their first chaw o' terbacker this mornin' on empty stomachs and it keeled 'em over. Come here and look at 'em yourself.
You'll see it in a minute."
"Certainly. I see it very plainly," said the Surgeon, after looking them over. "Very absurd to start such a report, but we are quite nervous on the subject of smallpox getting down to the army.
"Take your men in and give them their breakfast, Sergeant, and they'll be all right.
"That's what I've bin tryin' to do for the last two hours," said Si, as he saluted the Surgeon, departing with his ambulances and men.
"'Tention. Confound you, fall in in single rank, 'cordin' to size, and do it in short meter, before anything else happens. Right dress! Front!
Without doublin', right face! Great Scott, what's the matter with you roosters? Don't you know your right hands from your lefts? Turn around there, you moon-eyed goshngs! Forward--file right--march!"
"Here, Sergeant," said a large man with three chevrons on his arm. "I want to halt your men till I look 'em over. Somebody's gone through a sutler's car over there on the other track and I think it was your crowd. I want to find out."
"Halt nothin'," said Si, brushing him out of the way. "I'm goin' to git these youngsters their breakfast before there's a tornado or an earthquake. Go 'way, if you know what's good for you."
CHAPTER XVIII. NO PEACE FOR SI AND SHORTY