CAPT. CHARLES KING,
U. S. ARMY,
AUTHOR OF "THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER," "FOES IN AMBUSH," "AN ARMY PORTIA," "TWO SOLDIERS," "A SOLDIER'S SECRET," ETC.
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
COPYRIGHT, 1893, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY, PHILADELPHIA.
"What time is it?"
"Gyahd-mountin' done gone, suh."
"The devil it has! What do you mean, sir, by allowing me to sleep on in this shameless and unconscionable manner, when an indulgent government is suffering for my services? What sort of day is it, sir?"
"Beautiful day, Mr. Waring."
"Then go at once to Mr. Larkin and tell him he can't wear his new silk hat this morning,—I want it, and you fetch it. Don't allow him to ring in the old one on you. Tell him I mean the new 'spring style' he just brought from New York. Tell Mr. Ferry I want that new Hatfield suit of his, and you get Mr. Pierce's silk umbrella; then come back here and get my bath and my coffee. Stop there, Ananias! Give my pious regards to the commanding officer, sir, and tell him that there's no drill for 'X' Battery this morning, as I'm to breakfast at Moreau's at eleven o'clock and go to the matinee afterwards."
"Beg pahdon, suh, but de cunnle's done ohdered review fo' de whole command, suh, right at nine o'clock."
"So much the better. Then Captain Cram must stay, and won't need his swell team. Go right down to the stable and tell Jeffers I'll drive at nine-thirty."
"No buts, you incorrigible rascal! I don't pay you a princely salary to raise obstacles. I don't pay you at all, sir, except at rare intervals and in moments of mental decrepitude. Go at once! Allez! Chassez! Skoot!"
"But, lieutenant," says Ananias, his black face shining, his even white teeth all agleam, "Captain Cram stopped in on de way back from stables to say Glenco 'd sprained his foot and you was to ride de bay colt. Please get up, suh. Boots and Saddles 'll soun' in ten minutes."
"It won't, but if it does I'll brain the bugler. Tell him so. Tell Captain Cram he's entirely mistaken: I won't ride the bay colt—nor Glenco. I'm going driving, sir, with Captain Cram's own team and road-wagon. Tell him so. Going in forty-five minutes by my watch. Where is it, sir?"
"It ain't back from de jeweller's, suh, where you done lef' it day before yist'day; but his boy's hyuh now, suh, wid de bill for las' year. What shall I tell him?"
"Tell him to go to—quarantine. No! Tell him the fever has broken out here again, sir, and not to call until ten o'clock next spring,—next mainspring they put in that watch. Go and get Mr. Merton's watch. Tell him I'll be sure to overstay in town if he doesn't send it, and then I can't take him up and introduce him to those ladies from Louisville to-morrow. Impress that on him, sir, unless he's gone and left it on his bureau, in which case impress the watch,—the watch, sir, in any case. No! Stop again, Ananias; not in any case, only in the gold hunting-case; no other. Now then, vanish!"
"But, lieutenant, 'fo' Gawd, suh, dey'll put you in arrest if you cuts drill dis time. Cunnle Braxton says to Captain Cram only two days ago, suh, dat——"
But here a white arm shot out from a canopy of mosquito-netting, and first a boot-jack, then a slipper, then a heavy top-boot, came whizzing past the darky's dodging head, and, finding expostulation vain, that faithful servitor bolted out in search of some ally more potent, and found one, though not the one he sought or desired, just entering the adjoining room.
A big fellow, too,—too big, in fact, to be seen wearing, as was the fashion in the sixties, the shell jacket of the light artillery. He had a full round body, and a full round ruddy face, and a little round visorless cap cocked on one side of a round bullet head, not very full of brains, perhaps, yet reputed to be fairly stocked with what is termed "horse sense." His bulky legs were thrust deep in long boots, and ornamented, so far as the skin-tight breeches of sky-blue were concerned, with a scarlet welt along the seam, a welt that his comrades were wont to say would make a white mark on his nose, so red and bulbous was that organ. He came noisily in from the broad veranda overlooking the parade-ground, glanced about on the disarray of the bachelor sitting-room, then whirled on Ananias.
"Mr. Waring dressed?"
"No-o, suh; jus' woke up, suh; ain't out o' bed yit."
"The lazy vagabond! Just let me get at him a minute," said the big man, tramping over to the door-way as though bent on invading the chamber beyond. But Ananias had halted short at sight of the intruder, and stood there resolutely barring the way.
"Beg pahdon, lieutenant, but Mr. Waring ain't had his bath yit. Can I mix de lieutenant a cocktail, suh?"
"Can you? You black imp of Satan, why isn't it ready now, sir? Sure you could have seen I was as dhry as a lime-kiln from the time I came through the gate. Hware's the demijohn, you villain?"
"Bein' refilled, suh, down to de sto', but dar's a little on de sideboa'd, suh," answered Ananias, edging over thither now that he had lured the invader away from the guarded door-way. "Take it straight, suh, o' wid bitters—o' toddy?"
"Faith, I'll answer ye as Pat did the parson: I'll take it straight now, and then be drinkin' the toddy while your honor is mixin' the punch. Give me hold of it, you smudge! and tell your masther it's review,—full dress,—and it's time for him to be up. Has he had his two cocktails yet?"
"The lieutenant doesn't care fo' any dis mawnin', suh. I'll fetch him his coffee in a minute. Did you see de cunnle's oade'ly, suh? He was lookin' fo' you a moment ago."
The big red man was gulping down a big drink of the fiery liquor at the instant. He set the glass back on the sideboard with unsteady hand and glared at Ananias suspiciously.
"Is it troot' you're tellin', nigger? Hwat did he say was wanted?"
"Didn't say, suh, but de cunnle's in his office. Yawnduh comes de oade'ly, too, suh; guess he must have hyuhd you was over hyuh."
The result of this announcement was not unexpected. The big man made a leap for the chamber door, only to find it slammed in his face from the other side.
"Hwat the devil's the matter with your master this morning, Ananias?—Waring! Waring, I say! Let me in: the K. O.'s orderly is afther me, and all on account of your bringing me in at that hour last night.—Tell him I've gone, Ananias.—Let me in, Waring, there's a good fellow."
"Go to blazes, Doyle!" is the unfeeling answer from the other side. "I'm bathing." And a vigorous splashing follows the announcement.
"For the Lord's sake, Waring, let me in. Sure I can't see the colonel now. If I could stand him off until review and inspection's over and he's had his dhrink, he'd let the whole thing drop; but that blackguard of a sinthry has given us away. Sure I told you he would."
"Then slide down the lightning-rod! Fly up the chimney! Evaporate! Dry up and blow away, but get out! You can't come in here."
"Oh, for mercy's sake, Waring! Sure 'twas you that got me into the scrape. You know that I was dhrunk when you found me up the levee. You made me come down when I didn't want to. Hwat did I say to the man last night, anyhow?"
"Say to him? Poor devil! why, you never can remember after you're drunk what you've been doing the night before. Some time it'll be the death of you. You abused him like a pickpocket,—the sergeant of the guard and everybody connected with it."
"Oh, murther, murther, murther!" groaned the poor Irishman, sitting down and covering his face with his hands. "Sure they'll court-martial me this time without fail, and I know it. For God's sake, Waring, can't ye let a fellow in and say that I'm not here?"
"Hyuh, dis way, lieutenant," whispered Ananias, mysteriously. "Slip out on de po'ch and into Mr. Pierce's room. I'll tell you when he's gone." And in a moment the huge bulk of the senior lieutenant of Light Battery "X" was being boosted through a window opening from the gallery into the bachelor den of the junior second lieutenant. No sooner was this done than the negro servant darted back, closed and bolted the long green Venetian blinds behind him, tiptoed to the bedroom door, and, softly tapping, called,—
"Mr. Waring! Mr. Waring! get dressed quick as you can, suh; I'll lay out your uniform in hyuh."
"I tell you, Ananias, I'm going to town, sir; not to any ridiculous review. Go and get what I ordered you. See that I'm properly dressed, sir, or I'll discharge you. Confound you, sir! there isn't a drop of Florida water in this bath, and none on my bureau. Go and rob Mr. Pierce,—or anybody."
But Ananias was already gone. Darting out on the gallery, he took a header through the window of the adjoining quarters through which Mr. Doyle had escaped, snatched a long flask from the dressing-table, and was back in the twinkling of an eye.
"What became of Mr. Doyle?" asked Waring, as he thrust a bare arm through a narrow aperture to receive the spoil. "Don't let him get drunk; he's got to go to review, sir. If he doesn't, Colonel Braxton may be so inconsiderate as to inquire why both the lieutenants of 'X' Battery are missing. Take good care of him till the review, sir, then let him go to grass; and don't you dare leave me without Florida water again, if you have to burglarize the whole post. What's Mr. Doyle doing, sir?"
"Peekin' froo de blin's in Mr. Pierce's room, suh; lookin' fo' de oade'ly. I done told him de cunnle was ahter him, but he ain't, suh," chuckled Ananias. "I fixed it all right wid de gyahd dis mawnin', suh. Dey won' tell 'bout his cuttin' up las' night. He'd forgot de whole t'ing, suh; he allays does; he never does know what's happened de night befo'. He wouldn't 'a' known about dis, but I told his boy Jim to tell him 'bout it ahter stables. I told Jim to sweah dat dey'd repohted it to de cunnle."
"Very well, Ananias; very well, sir; you're a credit to your name. Now go and carry out my orders. Don't forget Captain Cram's wagon. Tell Jeffers to be here with it on time." And the lieutenant returned to his bath without waiting for reply.
"Ye-as, suh," was the subordinate answer, as Ananias promptly turned, and, whistling cheerily, went banging out upon the gallery and clattering down the open stairway to the brick-paved court below. Here he as promptly turned, and, noiseless as a cat, shot up the stairway, tiptoed back into the sitting-room, kicked off his low-heeled slippers, and rapidly, but with hardly an audible sound, resumed the work on which he had been engaged,—the arrangement of his master's kit.
Already, faultlessly brushed, folded and hanging over the back of a chair close by the chamber door were the bright blue, scarlet-welted battery trousers then in vogue, very snug at the knee, very springy over the foot. Underneath them, spread over the square back of the chair, a dark-blue, single-breasted frock-coat, hanging nearly to the floor, its shoulders decked with huge epaulettes, to the right one of which were attached the braid and loops of a heavy gilt aiguillette whose glistening pendants were hung temporarily on the upper button. On the seat of the chair was folded a broad soft sash of red silk net, its tassels carefully spread. Beside it lay a pair of long buff gauntlets, new and spotless. At the door, brilliantly polished, stood a pair of buttoned gaiter boots, the heels decorated with small glistening brass spurs. In the corner, close at hand, leaned a long curved sabre, its gold sword-knot, its triple-guarded hilt, its steel scabbard and plated bands and rings, as well as the swivels and buckle of the black sword-belt, showing the perfection of finish in manufacture and care in keeping. From a round leather box Ananias now extracted a new gold-wire fouragere, which he softly wiped with a silk handkerchief, dandled lovingly an instant the glistening tassels, coiled it carefully upon the sash, then producing from the same box a long scarlet horsehair plume he first brushed it into shimmering freedom from the faintest knot or kink, then set it firmly through its socket into the front of a gold-braided shako whose black front was decked with the embroidered cross cannon of the regiment, surmounted by the arms of the United States. This he noiselessly placed upon the edge of the mantel, stepped back to complacently view his work, flicked off a possible speck of dust on the sleeve of the coat, touched with a chamois-skin the gold crescent of the nearest epaulette, then softly, noiselessly as before vanished through the door-way, tiptoed to the adjoining window, and peeked in. Mr. Doyle had thrown himself into Pierce's arm-chair, and was trying to read the morning paper.
"Wunner what Mars'er Pierce will say when he gits back from breakfast," was Ananias's comment, as he sped softly down the stairs, a broad grin on his black face, a grin that almost instantly gave place to preternatural solemnity and respect as, turning sharply on the sidewalk at the foot of the stairs, he came face to face with the battery commander. Ananias would have passed with a low obeisance, but the captain halted him short.
"Where's Mr. Waring, sir?"
"Dressin' fo' inspection, captain."
"He is? I just heard in the mess-room that he didn't propose attending,—that he had an engagement to breakfast and was going in town."
"Ye-as, suh, ye-as, suh, General Roosseau, suh, expected de lieutenant in to breakfast, but de moment he hyuhd 'twas review he ohdered me to git everything ready, suh. I's goin' for de bay colt now. Beg pahdon, captain, de lieutenant says is de captain goin' to wear gauntlets or gloves dis mawnin'? He wants to do just as de captain does, suh."
What a merciful interposition of divine Providence it is that the African cannot blush! Captain Cram looked suspiciously at the earnest, unwinking, black face before him. Some memory of old college days flitted through his mind at the moment. "O Kunopes!" ("thou dog-faced one!") he caught himself muttering, but negro diplomacy was too much for him, and the innocence in the face of Ananias would have baffled a man far more suspicious. Cram was a fellow who loved his battery and his profession as few men loved before. He was full of big ideas in one way and little oddities in another. Undoubted ability had been at the bottom of his selection over the head of many a senior to command one of the light batteries when the general dismounting took place in '66. Unusual attractions of person had won him a wife with a fortune only a little later. The fortune had warranted a short leave abroad this very year. (He would not have taken a day over sixty, for fear of losing his light battery.) He had been a stickler for gauntlets on all mounted duty when he went away, and he came home converted to white wash-leather gloves because the British horse-artillery wore no other, "and they, sir, are the nattiest in the world." He could not tolerate an officer whose soul was not aflame with enthusiasm for battery duty, and so was perpetually at war with Waring, who dared to have other aspirations. He delighted in a man who took pride in his dress and equipment, and so rejoiced in Waring, who, more than any subaltern ever attached to "X," was the very glass of soldier fashion and mould of soldier form. He had dropped in at the bachelor mess just in time to hear some gabbling youngster blurt out a bet that Sam Waring would cut review and keep his tryst in town, and he had known him many a time to overpersuade his superiors into excusing him from duty on pretext of social claims, and more than once into pardoning deliberate absence. But he and the post commander had deemed it high time to block all that nonsense in future, and had so informed him, and were nonplussed at Waring's cheery acceptance of the implied rebuke and most airy, graceful, and immediate change of the subject. The whole garrison was chuckling over it by night.
"Why, certainly, colonel," said he, "I have been most derelict of late during the visit of all these charming people from the North; and that reminds me, some of them are going to drive out here to hear the band this afternoon and take a bite at my quarters. I was just on my way to beg Mrs. Braxton and Mrs. Cram to receive for me, when your orderly came. And, colonel, I want your advice about the champagne. Of course I needn't say I hope you both will honor me with your presence." Old Brax loved champagne and salad better than anything his profession afforded, and was disarmed at once. As for Cram, what could he say when the post commander dropped the matter? With all his daring disregard of orders and established customs, with all his consummate sang-froid and what some called impudence and others "cheek," every superior under whom he had ever served had sooner or later become actually fond of Sam Waring,—even stern old Rounds,—"old Double Rounds" the boys called him, one of the martinets of the service, whose first experience with the fellow was as memorable as it was unexpected, and who wound up, after a vehement scoring of some two minutes' duration, during which Waring had stood patiently at attention with an expression of the liveliest sympathy and interest on his handsome face, by asking impressively, "Now, sir, what have you to say for yourself?"
To which, with inimitable mixture of suavity and concern, Sam replied, "Nothing whatever, sir. I doubt if anything more could be said. I had no adequate idea of the extent of my misdoing. Have I your permission to sit down, sir, and think it over?"
Rounds actually didn't know what to think, and still less what to say. Had he believed for an instant that the young gentleman was insincere, he would have had him in close arrest in the twinkling of an eye; but Waring's tone and words and manner were those of contrition itself. It was not possible that one of the boys should dare to be guying him, the implacable Rounds, "old Grand Rounds" of the Sixth Corps, old Double Rounds of the horse-artillery of the Peninsula days. Mrs. Rounds had her suspicions when told of the affair, but was silent, for of all the officers stationed in and around the old Southern city Sam Waring was by long odds the most graceful and accomplished dancer and german leader, the best informed on all manner of interesting matters,—social, musical, dramatic, fashionable,—the prime mover in garrison hops and parties, the connecting link between the families of the general and staff officers in town and the linesmen at the surrounding posts, the man whose dictum as to a dinner or luncheon and whose judgment as to a woman's toilet were most quoted and least questioned, the man whose word could almost make or mar an army girl's success; and good old Lady Rounds had two such encumbrances the first winter of their sojourn in the South, and two army girls among so many are subjects of not a little thought and care. If Mr. Waring had not led the second german with Margaret Rounds the mother's heart would have been well-nigh crushed. It was fear of some such catastrophe that kept her silent on the score of Waring's reply to her irate lord, for if Sam did mean to be impertinent, as he unquestionably could be, the colonel she knew would be merciless in his discipline and social amenities would be at instant end. Waring had covered her with maternal triumph and Margaret with bliss unutterable by leading the ante-Lenten german with the elder daughter and making her brief stay a month of infinite joy. The Rounds were ordered on to Texas, and Margaret's brief romance was speedily and properly forgotten in the devotions of a more solid if less fascinating fellow. To do Waring justice, he had paid the girl no more marked attention than he showed to any one else. He would have led the next german with Genevieve had there been another to lead, just as he had led previous affairs with other dames and damsels. It was one of the ninety-nine articles of his social faith that a girl should have a good time her first season, just as it was another that a bride should have a lovely wedding, a belle at least one offer a month, a married woman as much attention at an army ball as could be lavished on a bud. He prided himself on the fact that no woman at the army parties given that winter had remained a wall-flower. Among such a host of officers as was there assembled during the year that followed on the heels of the war it was no difficult matter, to be sure, to find partners for the thirty or forty ladies who honored those occasions with their presence. Of local belles there were none. It was far too soon after the bitter strife to hope for bliss so great as that. There were hardly any but army women to provide for, and even the bulkiest and least attractive of the lot was led out for the dance. Waring would go to any length to see them on the floor but that of being himself the partner. There the line was drawn irrevocably. The best dancer among the men, he simply would not dance except with the best dancers among the women. As to personal appearance and traits, it may be said first that Waring was a man of slender, graceful physique, with singularly well shaped hands and feet and a head and face that were almost too good-looking to be manly. Dark hazel eyes, dark brown hair, eyebrows, lashes, and a very heavy drooping moustache, a straight nose, a soft, sensitive mouth with even white teeth that were, however, rarely visible, a clear-cut chin, and with it all a soft, almost languid Southern intonation, musical, even ultra-refined, and he shrank like a woman from a coarse word or the utterance of an impure thought. He was a man whom many women admired, of whom some were afraid, whom many liked and trusted, for he could not be bribed to say a mean thing about one of their number, though he would sometimes be satirical to her very face. It was among the men that Sam Waring was hated or loved,—loved, laughed over, indulged, even spoiled, perhaps, to any and every extent, by the chosen few who were his chums and intimates, and absolutely hated by a very considerable element that was prominent in the army in those queer old days,—the array of officers who, by reason of birth, antecedents, lack of education or of social opportunities, were wanting in those graces of manner and language to which Waring had been accustomed from earliest boyhood. His people were Southerners, yet, not being slave-owners, had stood firm for the Union, and were exiled from the old home as a natural consequence in a war in which the South held all against who were not for her. Appointed a cadet and sent to the Military Academy in recognition of the loyalty of his immediate relatives, he was not graduated until the war was practically over, and then, gazetted to an infantry regiment, he was stationed for a time among the scenes of his boyhood, ostracized by his former friends and unable to associate with most of the war-worn officers among whom his lot was cast. It was a year of misery, that ended in long and dangerous illness, his final shipment to Washington on sick-leave, and then a winter of keen delight, a social campaign in which he won fame, honors, friends at court, and a transfer to the artillery, and then, joining his new regiment, he plunged with eagerness into the gayeties of city life. The blues were left behind with the cold facings of his former corps, and hope, life, duty, were all blended in hues as roseate as his new straps were red. It wasn't a month before all the best fellows in the batteries swore by Sam Waring and all the others at him, so that where there were five who liked there were at least twenty who didn't, and these made up in quantity what they lacked in quality.
To sum up the situation, Lieutenant Doyle's expression was perhaps the most comprehensive, as giving the views of the great majority: "If I were his K. O. and this crowd the coort, he'd 'a' been kicked out of the service months ago."
And yet, entertaining or expressing so hostile an opinion of the laughing lieutenant, Mr. Doyle did not hesitate to seek his society on many an occasion when he wasn't wanted, and to solace himself at Waring's sideboard at any hour of the day or night, for Waring kept what was known as "open house" to all comers, and the very men who wondered how he could afford it and who predicted his speedy swamping in a mire of debt and disgrace were the very ones who were most frequently to be found loafing about his gallery, smoking his tobacco and swigging his whiskey, a pretty sure sign that the occupant of the quarters, however, was absent. With none of their number had he ever had open quarrel. Remarks made at his expense and reported to him in moments of bibulous confidence he treated with gay disdain, often to the manifest disappointment of his informant. In his presence even the most reckless of their number were conscious of a certain restraint. Waring, as has been said, detested foul language, and had a very quiet but effective way of suppressing it, often without so much as uttering a word. These were the rough days of the army, the very roughest it ever knew, the days that intervened between the incessant strain and tension of the four years' battling and the slow gradual resumption of good order and military discipline. The rude speech and manners of the camp still permeated every garrison. The bulk of the commissioned force was made up of hard fighters, brave soldiers and loyal servants of the nation, to be sure, but as a class they had known no other life or language since the day of their muster-in. Of the line officers stationed in and around this Southern city in the lovely spring-tide of 186-, of a force aggregating twenty companies of infantry and cavalry, there were fifty captains and lieutenants appointed from the volunteers, the ranks, or civil life, to one graduated from West Point. The predominance was in favor of ex-sergeants, corporals, or company clerks,—good men and true when they wore the chevrons, but who, with a few marked and most admirable exceptions, proved to be utterly out of their element when promoted to a higher sphere. The entrance into their midst of Captain Cram with his swell light battery, with officers and men in scarlet plumes and full-dress uniforms, was a revelation to the sombre battalions whose officers had not yet even purchased their epaulettes and had seen no occasion to wear them. But when Cram and his lieutenants came swaggering about the garrison croquet-ground in natty shell jackets, Russian shoulder-knots, riding-breeches, boots, and spurs, there were not lacking those among the sturdy foot who looked upon the whole proceeding with great disfavor. Cram had two "rankers" with him when he came, but one had transferred out in favor of Waring, and now his battery was supplied with the full complement of subalterns,—Doyle, very much out of place, commanding the right section (as a platoon was called in those days), Waring commanding the left, Ferry serving as chief of caissons, and Pierce as battery adjutant and general utility man. Two of the officers were graduates of West Point and not yet three years out of the cadet uniform. Under these circumstances it was injudicious in Cram to sport in person the aiguillettes and thereby set an example to his subalterns which they were not slow to follow. With their gold hat-braids, cords, tassels, and epaulettes, with scarlet plumes and facings, he and his officers were already much more gorgeously bedecked than were their infantry friends. The post commander, old Rounds, had said nothing, because he had had his start in the light artillery and might have lived and died a captain had he not pushed for a volunteer regiment and fought his way up to a division command and a lieutenant-colonelcy of regulars at the close of the war, while his seniors who stuck to their own corps never rose beyond the possibilities of their arm of the service and probably never will. But Braxton, who succeeded as post commander, knew that in European armies and in the old Mexican War days the aiguillette was ordinarily the distinctive badge of general officers or those empowered to give orders in their name. It wasn't the proper thing for a linesman—battery, cavalry, or foot—to wear, said Brax, and he thought Cram was wrong in wearing it, even though some other battery officers did so. But Cram was just back from Britain.
"Why, sir, look at the Life Guards! Look at the Horse Guards in London! Every officer and man wears the aiguillette." And Braxton was a Briton by birth and breeding, and that ended it,—at least so nearly ended it that Cram's diplomatic invitation to come up and try some Veuve Clicquot, extra dry, upon the merits of which he desired the colonel's opinion, had settled it for good and all. Braxton's officers who ventured to suggest that he trim the plumage of these popinjays only got snubbed, therefore, for the time being, and ordered to buy the infantry full dress forthwith, and Cram and his quartette continued to blaze forth in gilded panoply until long after Sam Waring led his last german within those echoing walls and his name lived only as a dim and mist-wreathed memory in the annals of old Jackson Barracks.
But on this exquisite April morning no fellow in all the garrison was more prominent, if not more popular. Despite the slight jealousy existing between the rival arms of the service, there were good fellows and gallant men among the infantry officers at the post, who were as cordially disposed towards the gay lieutenant as were the comrades of his own (colored) cloth. This is the more remarkable because he was never known to make the faintest effort to conciliate anybody and was utterly indifferent to public opinion. It would have been fortune far better than his deserts, but for the fact that by nature he was most generous, courteous, and considerate. The soldiers of the battery were devoted to him. The servants, black or white, would run at any time to do his capricious will. The garrison children adored him. There was simply no subject under discussion at the barracks in those days on which such utter variety of opinion existed as the real character of Lieutenant Sam Waring. As to his habits there was none whatever. He was a bon vivant, a "swell," a lover of all that was sweet and fair and good and gracious in life. Self-indulgent, said everybody; selfish, said some; lazy, said many, who watched him day-dreaming through the haze of cigar-smoke until a drive, a hop, a ride, or an opera-party would call him into action. Slow, said the men, until they saw him catch Mrs. Winslow's runaway horse just at that ugly turn in the levee below the south tower. Cold-hearted, said many of the women, until Baby Brainard's fatal illness, when he watched by the little sufferer's side and brought her flowers and luscious fruit from town, and would sit at her mother's piano and play soft, sweet melodies and sing in low tremulous tone until the wearied eyelids closed and the sleep no potion could bring to that fever-racked brain would come at last for him to whom child-love was incense and music at once a passion and a prayer. Men who little knew and less liked him thought his enmity would be but light, and few men knew him so well as to realize that his friendship could be firm and true as steel.
And so the garrison was mixed in its mind as to Mr. Waring, and among those who heard it said at the mess that he meant at all hazards to keep his engagement to breakfast in town there were some who really wished he might cut the suddenly-ordered review and thereby bring down upon his shapely, nonchalant head the wrath of Colonel Braxton.
"Boots and Saddles" had sounded at the artillery barracks. Mr. Pierce, as battery officer of the day, had clattered off through the north gateway. The battery had marched with dancing plumes and clanking sabres out to the stables and gun-shed. The horses of Lieutenants Doyle and Ferry were waiting for their riders underneath the gallery of their quarters. Captain Cram, in much state, followed by his orderly bugler and guidon-bearer, all in full uniform, was riding slowly down the sunny side of the garrison, and at sight of him Doyle and Ferry, who were leisurely pulling on their gauntlets in front of their respective doors, hooked up their sabres and came clattering down their stairway; but no Waring had appeared. There, across the parade on the southern side, the bay colt, caparisoned in Waring's unimpeachable horse-equipments, was being led up and down in the shade of the quarters, Mr. Pierce's boy Jim officiating as groom, while his confrere Ananias, out of sight, was at the moment on his knees fastening the strap of his master's riding-trousers underneath the dainty gaiter boot, Mr. Waring the while surveying the proceeding over the rim of his coffee-cup.
"Dar, suh. Now into de coat, quick! Yawnduh goes Captain Cram."
"Ananias, how often have I told you that, howsoever necessary it might be for you to hurry, I never do? It's unbecoming an officer and a gentleman to hurry, sir."
"But you's got to inspect yo' section, suh, befo' you can repote to Captain Cram. Please hurry wid de sash, suh." And, holding the belt extended with both hands, Ananias stood eager to clasp it around Waring's slender waist, but the lieutenant waved him away.
"Get thee behind me, imp of Satan! Would you have me neglect one of the foremost articles of an artilleryman's faith? Never, sir! If there were a wrinkle in that sash it would cut a chasm in my reputation, sir." And, so saying, he stepped to the open door-way, threw the heavy tassel over and around the knob, kissed his hand jauntily to his battery commander, now riding down the opposite side of the parade, backed deliberately away the full length of the sash across the room, then, humming a favorite snatch from "Faust," deliberately wound himself into the bright crimson web, and, making a broad flat loop near the farther end and without stopping his song, nodded coolly to Ananias to come on with the belt. In the same calm and deliberate fashion he finished his military toilet, set his shako well forward on his forehead, the chin-strap hanging just below the under lip, pulled on the buff gauntlets, surveyed himself critically and leisurely in the glass, and then began slowly to descend the stairs.
"Wait—jus' one moment, please, suh," implored Ananias, hastening after him. "Jus' happened to think of it, suh: Captain Cram's wearin' gloves dis mawnin'."
"Ah! So much the more chance to come back here in ten minutes.—Whoa, coltikins: how are you this morning, sir? Think you could run away if I begged you to pretty hard? You'll try, won't you, old boy?" said Waring, stroking the glossy neck of the impatient bay.—"Now, Jim, let go. Never allow anybody to hold a horse for you when you mount. That's highly unprofessional, sir. That'll do." And, so saying, he swung himself into saddle, and, checking the bounds of his excited colt, rode calmly away to join the battery.
Already the bandsmen were marching through the north gate on the way to the broad open field in which the manoeuvres were held. The adjutant, sergeant-major, and markers were following. Just outside the gate the post commander was seated on horseback, and Cram had reined in to speak with him. Now, in his blithest, cheeriest tones, Waring accosted them, raising his hand in salute as he did so:
"Good-morning, colonel. Good-morning, Captain Cram. We're in luck to-day. Couldn't possibly have lovelier weather. I'm only sorry this came off so suddenly and I hadn't time to invite our friends out from town. They would have been so pleased to see the battalion;—the ceremonies."
"H'm! There was plenty of time if you'd returned to the post at retreat yesterday, sir," growled old Braxton. "Everybody was notified who was here then. What time did you get back, sir?"
"Upon my word, colonel, I don't know. I never thought to look or inquire; but it was long after taps. Pardon me, though, I see I'm late inspecting." And in a moment he was riding quietly around among his teams and guns, narrowly scrutinizing each toggle, trace, and strap before taking station midway between his lead drivers, and then, as Cram approached, reporting, "Left section ready, sir."
Meantime, the infantry companies were marching out through the gate and then ordering arms and resting until adjutant's call should sound. Drivers and cannoneers were dismounted to await the formation of the battalion line. Waring rode forward and in the most jovial off-hand way began telling Cram of the incidents of the previous day and his sight-seeing with the party of visitors from the North.
"By the way, I promised Mr. Allerton that they should see that team of yours before they left: so, if you've no objection, the first morning you're on duty and can't go up, I'll take advantage of your invitation and drive Miss Allerton myself. Doesn't that court adjourn this week?"
"I'm afraid not," said Cram, grimly. "It looks as though we'd have to sit to-day and to-morrow both."
"Well, that's too bad! They all want to meet you again. Couldn't you come up this evening after stables? Hello! this won't do; our infantry friends will be criticising us: I see you're wearing gloves, and I'm in gauntlets. So is Doyle. We can't fit him out, I'm afraid, but I've just got some from New York exactly like yours. I'll trot back while we're waiting, if you don't object, and change them."
Cram didn't want to say yes, yet didn't like to say no. He hesitated, and—was lost. In another moment, as though never imagining refusal were possible, Waring had quickly ridden away through the gate and disappeared behind the high brick wall.
When the bugle sounded "mount," three minutes later, and the battery broke into column of pieces to march away to the manoeuvring grounds, Mr. Ferry left the line of caissons and took command of the rear section. All that the battery saw of Waring or his mount the rest of the morning was just after reaching the line, when the fiery colt came tearing riderless around the field, joyously dodging every attempt of the spectators to catch him, and revelling in the delight of kicking up his heels and showing off in the presence and sight of his envious friends in harness. Plunge though they might, the horses could not join; dodge though they might, the bipeds could not catch him. Review, inspection, and the long ceremonials of the morning went off without the junior first lieutenant of Battery "X," who, for his part, went off without ceremony of any kind, Cram's stylish team and wagon with him. That afternoon he reappeared driving about the barrack square, a pretty girl at his side, both engrossed in the music of the band and apparently oblivious of the bottled-up wrath of either battery or post commander.
"Be gorra!" said Doyle, "I'd like to be in his place now, provided I didn't have to be in it to-morrow."
But when the morrow came there came no Waring with it.
For twenty-four hours old Brax had been mad as a hornet. He was not much of a drillmaster or tactician, but he thought he was, and it delighted him to put his battalion through the form of review, the commands for which he had memorized thoroughly and delivered with resonant voice and with all proper emphasis. What he did not fancy, and indeed could not do, was the drudge-work of teaching the minutiae of the school of the battalion, explaining each movement before undertaking its execution. This was a matter he delegated to one of his senior captains. For a week, therefore, in preparation for a possible visit on the part of the new brigadier-general or his inspector, the six companies of the regiment stationed at the post had been fairly well schooled in the ceremonies of review and parade, and so long as nothing more was required of them than a march past in quick time and a ten minutes' stand in line all might go well. The general had unexpectedly appeared one evening with only a single aide-de-camp, simply, as he explained, to return the calls of the officers of the garrison, six or eight of whom had known enough to present themselves and pay their respects in person when he arrived in town. Braxton swelled with gratified pride at the general's praise of the spick-span condition of the parade, the walks, roads, and visible quarters. But it was the very first old-time garrison the new chief had ever seen, a splendid fighting record with the volunteers during the war, and the advantage of taking sides for the Union from a doubtful State, having conspired to win him a star in the regular service only a year or two before.
"We would have had out the battery and given you a salute, sir," said Brax, "had we known you were coming; but it's after retreat now. Next time, general, if you'll ride down some day, I'll be proud to give you a review of the whole command. We have a great big field back here."
And the general had promised to come. This necessitated combined preparation, hence the order for full-dress rehearsal with battery and all, and then came confusion. Fresh from the command of his beautiful horse-battery and the dashing service with a cavalry division, Cram hated the idea of limping along, as he expressed it, behind a battalion of foot, and said so, and somebody told Brax he had said so,—more than one somebody, probably, for Brax had many an adviser to help keep him in trouble. The order that Cram should appear for instruction in review of infantry and artillery combined gave umbrage to the battery commander, and his reported remarks thereupon, renewed cause for displeasure to his garrison chief.
"So far as we're concerned," said Cram, who wanted to utilize the good weather for battery drill, "we need no instruction, as we have done the trick time and again before; and if we hadn't, who in the bloody Fifty-First is there to teach us? Certainly not old Brax."
All the same the order was obeyed, and Cram started out that loveliest of lovely spring mornings not entirely innocent of the conviction that he and his fellows were going to have some fun out of the thing before they got through with it. Not that he purposed putting any hitch or impediment in the way. He meant to do just exactly as he was bid; and so, when adjutant's call had sounded and the blue lines of the infantry were well out on the field, he followed in glittering column of pieces, his satin-coated horses dancing in sheer exuberance of spirits and his red-crested cannoneers sitting with folded arms, erect and statuesque, upon the ammunition-chests. Mrs. Cram, in her pretty basket phaeton, with Mrs. Lawrence, of the infantry, and several of the ladies of the garrison in ambulances or afoot, had taken station well to the front of the forming line. Then it became apparent that old Brax purposed to figure as the reviewing officer and had delegated Major Minor to command the troops. Now, Minor had been on mustering and disbursing duty most of the war, had never figured in a review with artillery before, and knew no more about battery tactics than Cram did of diplomacy. Mounted on a sedate old sorrel, borrowed from the quartermaster for the occasion, with an antiquated, brass-bound Jenifer saddle, minus breast-strap and housings of any kind, but equipped with his better half's brown leather bridle, Minor knew perfectly well he was only a guy, and felt indignant at Brax for putting him in so false a plight. He took his station, however, in front of the regimental colors, without stopping to think where the centre of the line might be after the battery came, and there awaited further developments. Cram kept nobody waiting, however: his leading team was close at the nimble heels of Captain Lawrence's company as it marched gayly forth to the music of the band. He formed sections at the trot the instant the ground was clear, then wheeled into line, passed well to the rear of the prolongation of the infantry rank, and by a beautiful countermarch came up to the front and halted exactly at the instant that Lawrence, with the left flank company, reached his post, each caisson accurately in trace of its piece, each team and carriage exactly at its proper interval, and with his crimson silk guidon on the right flank and little Pierce signalling "up" or "back" from a point outside where he could verify the alignment of the gun-wheels on the rank of the infantry, Cram was able to command "front" before little Drake, the adjutant, should have piped out his shrill "Guides posts."
But Drake didn't pipe. There stood all the companies at support, each captain at the inner flank, and the guides with their inverted muskets still stolidly gazing along the line. It was time for him to pipe, but, instead of so doing, there he stuck at the extreme right, glaring down towards the now immovable battery and its serene commander, and the little adjutant's face was getting redder and puffier every minute.
"Go ahead! What are you waiting for?" hoarsely whispered the senior captain.
"Waiting for the battery to dress," was the stanch reply. Then aloud the shrill voice swept down the line: "Dress that battery to the right!"
Cram looked over a glittering shoulder to the right of the line, where stood the diminutive infantryman. The battery had still its war allowance of horses, three teams to each carriage, lead, swing, and wheel, and that brought its captain far out to the front of the sombre blue rank of foot,—so far out, in fact, that he was about on line with Major Minor, though facing in opposite direction. Perfectly confident that he was exactly where he should be, yet equally determined to abide by any order he might receive, even though he fully understood the cause of Drake's delay, Cram promptly rode over to the guidon and ordered "Right dress," at which every driver's head and eyes were promptly turned, but not an inch of a wheel, for the alignment simply could not be improved. Then after commanding "front" the captain as deliberately trotted back to his post without so much as a glance at the irate staff officer. It was just at this juncture that the bay colt came tearing down the field, his mane and tail streaming in the breeze, his reins and stirrups dangling. In the course of his gyrations about the battery and the sympathetic plunging of the teams some slight disarrangement occurred. But when he presently decided on a rush for the stables, the captain re-established the alignment as coolly as before, and only noticed as he resumed his post that the basket phaeton and Mrs. Cram had gone. Alarmed, possibly, by the non-appearance of her warm friend Mr. Waring and the excited gambolings of his vagrant steed, she had promptly driven back to the main garrison to see if any accident had occurred, the colt meantime amusing himself in a game of fast-and-loose with the stable guard.
Then it was that old Brax came down and took a hand. Riding to where Minor still sat on his patient sorrel, the senior bluntly inquired,—
"What the devil's the matter?"
"I don't know," said Minor.
"Who does know?"
"Well, Drake, possibly, or else he doesn't know anything. He's been trying to get Cram to dress his battery back."
"Why, yes, confound it! he's a mile ahead of the line," said the colonel, and off he trotted to expostulate with the batteryman. "Captain Cram, isn't there room for your battery back of the line instead of in front of it?" inquired the chief, in tone both aggrieved and aggressive.
"Lots, sir," answered Cram, cheerfully. "Just countermarched there."
"Then I wish you'd oblige me by moving back at once, sir: you're delaying the whole ceremony here. I'm told Mr. Drake has twice ordered you to dress to the right."
"I've heard it, sir, only once, but have dressed twice, so it's all right," responded Cram, as affably as though he had no other aim in life than to gratify the whims of his post commander.
"Why, confound it, sir, it isn't all right by a da—— good deal! Here you are 'way out on line with Major Minor, and your battery's—— why, it isn't dressed on our rank at all, sir. Just look at it."
Cram resumed the carry with the sabre he had lowered in salute, calmly reversed so as to face his battery, and, with preternatural gravity of mien, looked along his front. There midway between his lead drivers sat Mr. Doyle, his face well-nigh as red as his plume, his bleary eyes nearly popping out of his skull in his effort to repress the emotions excited by this colloquy. There midway between the lead drivers in the left section sat Mr. Ferry, gazing straight to the front over the erected ears of his handsome bay and doing his very best to keep a solemn face, though the unshaded corners of his boyish mouth were twitching with mischief and merriment. There, silent, disciplined, and rigid, sat the sergeants, drivers, and cannoneers of famous old Light Battery "X," all agog with interest in the proceedings and all looking as though they never heard a word.
"I declare, sir," said Cram, with exasperating civility, "I can see nothing out of the way. Will you kindly indicate what is amiss?"
This was too much for Ferry. In his effort to restrain his merriment and gulp down a rising flood of laughter there was heard an explosion that sounded something like the sudden collapse of an inflated paper bag, and old Brax, glaring angrily at the boy, now red in the face with mingled mirth and consternation, caught sudden idea from the sight. Was the battery laughing at—was the battery commander guying—him? Was it possible that they were profiting by his ignorance of their regulations? It put him on his guard and suggested a tentative.
"Do you mean that you are right in being so far ahead of our line instead of dressed upon it?" asked he of the big blond soldier in the glittering uniform. "Where do you find authority for it?"
"Oh, perfectly right, colonel. In fact, for six years past I've never seen it done any other way. You'll find the authority on page 562, Field Artillery Tactics of 1864."
For a moment Brax was dumb; he had long heard of Cram as an expert in his own branch of the service; but presently he burst forth:
"Well, in our tactics there's reason for every blessed thing we do, but I'll be dinged if I can see rhyme or reason in such a formation as that. Why, sir, your one company takes up more room than my six,—makes twice as much of a show. Of course if a combined review is to show off the artillery it's all very well. However, go ahead, if you think you're right, sir; go ahead! I'll inquire into this later."
"I know we're right, colonel; and as for the reason, you'll see it when you open ranks for review and we come to 'action front:' then our line will be exactly that of the infantry. Meantime, sir, it isn't for us to go ahead. We've gone as far as we can until your adjutant makes the next move."
But Braxton had ridden away disgusted before Cram wound up his remarks.
"Go on, Major Minor; just run this thing without reference to the battery. Damned if I understand their methods. Let Cram look after his own affairs; if he goes wrong, why—it's none of our concern."
And so Minor had nodded "Go ahead" to Mr. Drake, and presently the whole command made its bow, so to speak, to Minor as its immediate chief, and then he drew sword and his untried voice became faintly audible. The orders "Prepare for review" and "To the rear open order" were instantly followed by a stentorian "Action front" down at the left, the instant leap and rush of some thirty nimble cannoneers, shouts of "Drive on!" the cracking of whips, the thunder and rumble of wheels, the thud of plunging hoofs. Forty-eight mettlesome horses in teams of two abreast went dancing briskly away to the rear, at sight of which Minor dropped his jaw and the point of his sword and sat gazing blankly after them, over the bowed head of his placid sorrel, wondering what on earth it meant that they should all be running away at the very instant when he expected them to brace up for review. But before he could give utterance to his thoughts eight glossy teams in almost simultaneous sweep to the left about came sharply around again. The black muzzles of the guns were pointed to the front, every axle exactly in the prolongation of his front rank, every little group of red-topped, red-trimmed cannoneers standing erect and square, the chiefs of section and of pieces sitting like statues on their handsome horses, the line of limbers accurately covering the guns, and, still farther back, Mr. Pierce could be heard shouting his orders for the alignment of the caissons. In the twinkling of an eye the rush and thunder were stilled, the battery without the twitch of a muscle stood ready for review, and old Brax, sitting in saddle at the reviewing point, watching the stirring sight with gloomy and cynical eye, was chafed still more to hear in a silvery voice from the group of ladies the unwelcome words, "Oh, wasn't that pretty!" He meant with all his heart to pull in some of the plumage of those confounded "woodpeckers," as he called them, before the day was over.
In grim silence, therefore, he rode along the front of the battalion, taking little comfort in the neatness of their quaint old-fashioned garb, the single-breasted, long-skirted frock-coats, the bulging black felt hats looped up on one side and decked with skimpy black feather, the glistening shoulder-scales and circular breastplates, the polish of their black leather belts, cartridge- and cap-boxes and bayonet-scabbards. It was all trim and soldierly, but he was bottling up his sense of annoyance for the benefit of Cram and his people. Yet what could he say? Neither he nor Minor had ever before been brought into such relations with the light artillery, and he simply didn't know where to hit. Lots of things looked queer, but after this initial experience he felt it best to say nothing until he could light on a point that no one could gainsay, and he found it in front of the left section.
"Where is Mr. Waring, sir?" he sternly asked.
"I wish I knew, colonel. His horse came back without him, as you doubtless saw, and, as he hasn't appeared, I'm afraid of accident."
"How did he come to leave his post, sir? I have no recollection of authorizing anything of the kind."
"Certainly not, colonel. He rode back to his quarters with my consent before adjutant's call had sounded, and he should have been with us again in abundant time."
"That young gentleman needs more discipline than he is apt to receive at this rate, Captain Cram, and I desire that you pay closer attention to his movements than you have done in the past.—Mr. Drake," he said to his adjutant, who was tripping around after his chief afoot, "call on Mr. Waring to explain his absence in writing and without delay.—This indifference to duty is something to which I am utterly unaccustomed," continued Braxton, again addressing Cram, who preserved a most uncompromising serenity of countenance; and with this parting shot the colonel turned gruffly away and soon retook his station at the reviewing point.
Then came the second hitch. Minor had had no experience whatever, as has been said, and he first tried to wheel into column of companies without closing ranks, whereupon every captain promptly cautioned "Stand fast," and thereby banished the last remnant of Minor's senses. Seeing that something was wrong, he tried again, this time prefacing with "Pass in review," and still the captains were implacable. The nearest one, in a stage whisper, tried to make the major hear "Close order, first." But all the time Brax was losing more of his temper and Minor what was left of his head, and Brax came down like the wolf on the fold, gave the command to "Close order" himself, and was instantly echoed by Cram's powerful shout "Limber to the rear," followed by "Pieces left about! Caissons forward!" Then in the rumble and clank of the responding battery, Minor's next command was heard by only the right wing of the battalion, and the company wheels were ragged. So was the next part of the performance when he started to march in review, never waiting, of course, for the battery to wheel into column of sections. This omission, however, in no wise disconcerted Cram, who, following at rapid walk, soon gained on the rear of column, passing his post commander in beautiful order and with most accurate salute on the part of himself and officers, and, observing this, Minor took heart, and, recovering his senses to a certain extent, gave the command "Guide left" in abundant time to see that the new guides were accurately in trace, thereby insuring what he expected to find a beautiful wheel into line to the left, the commands for which movement he gave in louder and more confident tone, but was instantly nonplussed by seeing the battery wheel into line to the right and move off in exactly the opposite direction from what he had expected. This was altogether too much for his equanimity. Digging his spurs into the flanks of the astonished sorrel, he darted off after Cram, waving his sword, and shouting,—
"Left into line wheel, captain. Left into line wheel."
In vain Mr. Pierce undertook to explain matters. Minor presumed that the artilleryman had made an actual blunder and was only enabled to correct it by a countermarch, and so rode back to his position in front of the centre of the reforming line, convinced that at last he had caught the battery commander.
When Braxton, therefore, came down to make his criticisms and comments upon the conduct of the review, Minor was simply amazed to find that instead of being in error Cram had gone exactly right and as prescribed by his drill regulations in wheeling to the right and gaining ground to the rear before coming up on the line. He almost peevishly declared that he wished the colonel, if he proposed having a combined review, would assume command himself, as he didn't care to be bothered with combination tactics of which he had never had previous knowledge. Being of the same opinion, Braxton himself took hold, and the next performance, though somewhat erroneous in many respects, was a slight improvement on the first, though Braxton did not give time for the battery to complete one movement before he would rush it into another. When the officers assembled to compare notes during the rest after the second repetition, Minor growled that this was "a little better, yet not good," which led to some one suggesting in low tone that the major got his positives and comparatives worse mixed than his tactics, and inquiring further "whether it might not be well to dub him Minor Major." The laughter that followed this sally naturally reached the ears of the seniors, and so Brax never let up on the command until the review went off without an error of any appreciable weight, without, in fact, "a hitch in the fut or an unhitch in the harse," as Doyle expressed it. It was high noon when the battalion got back to barracks and the officers hung out their moist clothing to dry in the sun. It was near one when the battery men, officers and all, came steaming up from the stables, and there was the colonel's orderly with the colonel's compliments and desires to see Captain Cram before the big battery man had time to change his dress.
Braxton's first performance on getting into cool habiliments was to go over to his office and hunt through the book-shelves for a volume in which he never before had felt the faintest interest,—the Light Artillery Tactics of 1864. There on his desk lay a stack of mail unopened, and Mr. Drake was already silently inditing the summary note to the culprit Waring. Brax wanted first to see with his own eyes the instructions for light artillery when reviewed with other troops, vaguely hoping that there might still he some point on which to catch his foeman on the hip. But if there were he did not find it. He was tactician enough to see that even if Cram had formed with his leading drivers on line with the infantry, as Braxton thought he should have done, neither of the two methods of forming into battery would then have got his guns where they belonged. Cram's interpretation of the text was backed by the custom of service, and there was no use criticising it further. And so, after discontentedly hunting through the dust-covered pages awhile in hopes of stumbling on some codicil or rebuttal, the colonel shut it with a disgusted snap and tossed the offending tome on the farthest table. At that moment Brax could have wished the board of officers who prepared the Light Artillery Tactics in the nethermost depths of the neighboring swamp. Then he turned on his silent staff officer,—a not unusual expedient.
"Why on earth, Mr. Drake, didn't you look up that point, instead of making such a break before the whole command?"
"I couldn't find anything about it in Casey, sir, anywhere," replied the perturbed young man. "I didn't know where else to look."
"Well, you might have asked Mr. Ferry or Mr. Pierce. The Lord knows you waste enough time with 'em."
"You might have asked Captain Cram," was what Drake wanted to say, but wisely did not. He bit the end of his penholder instead, and bridled his tongue and temper.
"The next time I have a review with a mounted battery, by George!" said the post commander, finally, bringing his fist down on the table with a crash, "I just—won't have it."
He had brought down the pile of letters as well as his fist, and Drake sprang to gather them, replacing them on the desk and dexterously slipping a paper-cutter under the flap of each envelope as he did so. At the very first note he opened, Brax threw himself back in his chair with a long whistle of mingled amazement and concern, then turned suddenly on his adjutant.
"What became of Mr. Waring? He wasn't hurt?"
"Not a bit, sir, that I know of. He drove to town with Captain Cram's team,—at least I was told so,—and left that note for you there, sir."
"He did!—left the post and left a note for me? Why!——" But here Braxton broke off short, tore open the note, and read:
"MY DEAR COLONEL,—I trust you will overlook the informality of my going to town without previously consulting you. I had purposed, of course, asking your permission, but the mishap that befell me in the runaway of my horse prevented my appearance at the review, and had I waited your return from the field it would have compelled me to break my engagement with our friends the Allertons. Under the circumstances I felt sure of your complaisance.
"As I hope to drive Miss Allerton down after the matinee, might it not be a good idea to have dress-parade and the band out? They have seen the battery drills, but are much more desirous of seeing the infantry. "Most sincerely yours, "S. G. WARING."
"Well, for consummate impudence this beats the Jews!" exclaimed Brax. "Orderly, my compliments to Captain Cram, and say I wish to see him at once, if he's back from stables."
Now, as has been said, Cram had had no time to change to undress uniform, but Mrs. Cram had received the orderly's message, had informed that martial Mercury that the captain was not yet back from stables, and that she would tell him at once on his return. Well she knew that mischief was brewing, and her woman's wit was already enlisted in behalf of her friend. Hurriedly pencilling a note, she sent a messenger to her liege, still busy with his horses, to bid him come to her, if only for a moment, on his way to the office. And when he came, heated, tired, but bubbling over with eagerness to tell her of the fun they had been having with Brax, she met him with a cool tankard of "shandygaff," which he had learned to like in England among the horse-artillery fellows, and declared the very prince of drinks after active exercise in hot weather. He quaffed it eagerly, flung off his shako and kissed her gratefully, and burst all at once into laughing narration of the morning's work, but she checked him:
"Ned, dear, don't stop for that yet. I know you're too full of tact to let Colonel Braxton see it was any fun for you, and he's waiting at the office. Something tells me it's about Mr. Waring. Now put yourself in Mr. Waring's place. Of course he ought never to have made that engagement until he had consulted you, but he never dreamed that there would be a review to-day, and so he invited the Allertons to breakfast with him at Moreau's and go to the matinee."
"Why, that rascal Ananias said it was to breakfast at the general's," interrupted the battery commander.
"Well, perhaps he was invited there too. I believe I did hear something of that. But he had made this arrangement with the Allertons. Now, of course, if review were over at ten he could just about have time to dress and catch the eleven-o'clock car, but that would make it very late, and when Bay Billy broke away from Ananias nobody could catch him for over half an hour. Mr. Ferry had taken the section, Mr. Waring wasn't needed, and—— Why, Ned, when I drove in, fearing to find him injured, and saw him standing there the picture of consternation and despair, and he told me about his engagement, I said myself, 'Why don't you go now?' I told him it was what you surely would say if you were here. Neither of us thought the colonel would object, so long as you approved, and he wrote such a nice note. Why, Ned, he only just had time to change his dress and drive up with Jeffers——"
"With Jeffers? With my—er—our team and wagon? Well, I like——"
"Of course you like it, you old darling. She's such a dear girl, though just a little bit gushing, you know. Why, I said, certainly the team should go. But, Ned, here's what I'm afraid of. Mrs. Braxton saw it drive in at nine-thirty, just after Billy ran away, and she asked Jeffers who was going, and he told her Mr. Waring, and she has told the colonel, I'll wager. Now, what you have got to do is to explain that to him, so that he won't blame Mr. Waring."
"The dickens I have! The most barefaced piece of impudence even Sam Waring was ever guilty of—to me, at least, though I've no doubt he's done worse a dozen times. Why, bless your heart, Nell, how can I explain? You might, but——"
"But would you have me suppose my big soldier couldn't handle that matter as well as I? No, sir! Go and do it, sir. And, mind you, I'm going to invite them all up here to the gallery to hear the band play and have a cup of tea and a nibble when they come down this evening. He's going to drive the Allertons here."
"Worse and more of it! Why, you conspiracy in petticoats, you'll be the ruin of me! Old Brax is boiling over now. If he dreams that Waring has been taking liberties with him he'll fetch him up so short——"
"Exactly! You mustn't let him. You must tell him I sent him up with your team—yours, mind you—to keep his engagement, since it was impossible for him to come back to review ground. Of course he wouldn't expect him to appear afoot."
"Don't know about that, Nell. I reckon that's the way he'll order out the whole gang of us next time. He's had his fill of mounted work to-day."
"Well, if he should, you be sure to acquiesce gracefully now. Whatsoever you do, don't let him put Mr. Waring in arrest while Gwen Allerton is here. It would spoil—everything."
"Oh, match-making, is it? Then I'll try." And so, vexed, but laughing, half indignant, yet wholly subordinate to the whim of his beloved better half, the captain hastened over, and found Colonel Braxton sitting with gloomy brow at his littered desk, his annoyance of the morning evidently forgotten in matters more serious.
"Oh—er—Cram, come in, come in, man," said he, distractedly. "Here's a matter I want to see you about. It's—well, just take that letter and read. Sit down, sit down. Read, and tell me what we ought to do about it."
And as Cram's blue eyes wandered over the written page they began to dilate. He read from start to finish, and then dropped his head into his hand, his elbow on his knee, his face full of perplexity and concern.
"What do you think of it? Is there any truth——" and the colonel hesitated.
"As to their being seen together, perhaps. As to the other,—the challenge,—I don't believe it."
"Well, Cram, this is the second or third letter that has come to me in the same hand. Now, you must see to it that he returns and doesn't quit the post until this matter is arranged."
"I'll attend to it, sir," was the answer.
And so that evening, while Waring was slowly driving his friends about the shaded roads under the glistening white pillars of the rows of officers' quarters, chatting joyously with them and describing the objects so strange to their eyes, Mrs. Cram's "little foot-page" came to beg that they should alight a few minutes and take a cup of tea. They could not. The Allertons were engaged, and it was necessary to drive back at once to town, but they stopped for a moment to chat with their pretty hostess under the gallery, and then a moment later, as they rolled out of the resounding sally-port, an orderly ran up, saluted, and slipped a note in Waring's hand.
"It is immediate, sir," was his explanation.
"Ah! Miss Allerton, will you pardon me one moment?" said Waring, as he shifted whip and reins into the left hand and turned coolly up the levee road. Then with the right he forced open and held up the missive.
It only said, "Whatsoever you do, be here before taps to-night. Come direct to me, and I will explain. "Your friend, "CRAM."
"All right," said Waring, aloud. "My compliments to the captain, and say I'll be with him."
But even with this injunction he failed to appear. Midnight came without a word from Waring, and the morning dawned and found him absent still.
It was one of Sam Waring's oddities that, like the hero of "Happy Thoughts," other people's belongings seemed to suit him so much better than his own. The most immaculately dressed man in the regiment, he was never satisfied with the result of the efforts of the New York artists whom he favored with his custom and his criticism. He would wear three or four times a new coat just received from that metropolis, and spend not a little time, when not on duty or in uniform, in studying critically its cut and fit in the various mirrors that hung about his bachelor den, gayly humming some operatic air as he conducted the survey, and generally winding up with a wholesale denunciation of the cutter and an order to Ananias to go over and get some other fellow's coat, that he might try the effect of that. These were liberties he took only with his chums and intimates, to be sure, but they were liberties all the same, and it was delicious to hear the laugh with which he would tell how Pierce had to dress in uniform when he went up to the opera Thursday night, or how, after he had worn Ferry's stylish morning suit to make a round of calls in town and that young gentleman later on went up to see a pretty girl in whom he felt a growing interest, her hateful little sister had come in and commented on his "borrowing Mr. Waring's clothes." No man in the battery would ever think of refusing Sam the use of anything he possessed, and there were half a dozen young fellows in the infantry who were just as ready to pay tribute to his whims. Nor was it among the men alone that he found such indulgence. Mrs. Cram had not known him a fortnight when, with twinkling eyes and a betraying twitch about the corners of his mouth, he appeared one morning to say he had invited some friends down to luncheon at the officers' mess and the mess had no suitable china, therefore he would thank her to send over hers, also some table-cloths and napkins, and forks and spoons. When the Forty-Sixth Infantry were on their way to Texas and the officers' families were entertained over-night at the barracks and his rooms were to be occupied by the wife, sister, and daughters of Captain Craney, Waring sent the battery team and spring wagon to town with a note to Mrs. Converse, of the staff, telling her the ladies had said so much about the lovely way her spare rooms were furnished that he had decided to draw on her for wash-bowls, pitchers, mosquito-frames, nets and coverlets, blankets, pillows, slips, shams, and anything else she might think of. And Mrs. Converse loaded up the wagon accordingly. This was the more remarkable in her case because she was one of the women with whom he had never yet danced, which was tantamount to saying that in the opinion of this social bashaw Mrs. Converse was not considered a good partner, and, as the lady entertained very different views on that subject and was passionately fond of dancing, she had resented not a little the line thus drawn to her detriment. She not only loaned, however, all he asked for, but begged to be informed if there were not something more she could do to help entertain his visitors. Waring sent her some lovely flowers the next week, but failed to take her out even once at the staff german. Mrs. Cram was alternately aghast and delighted at what she perhaps justly called his incomparable impudence. They were coming out of church together one lovely morning during the winter. There was a crowd in the vestibule. Street dresses were then worn looped, yet there was a sudden sound of rip, rent, and tear, and a portly woman gathered up the trailing skirt of a costly silken gown and whirled with annihilation in her eyes upon the owner of the offending foot.
"That is far too elegant a skirt to be worn unlooped, madame," said Mrs. Cram's imperturbable escort, in his most suave and dulcet tones, lifting a glossy silk hat and bowing profoundly. And Mrs. Cram laughed all the way back to barracks at the recollection of the utter discomfiture in the woman's face.
These are mere specimen bricks from the fabric which Waring had builded in his few months of artillery service. The limits of the story are all too contracted to admit of extended detail. So, without further expansion, it may be said that when he drove up to town on this eventful April day in Cram's wagon and Larkin's hat and Ferry's Hatfield clothes, with Pierce's precious London umbrella by his side and Merton's watch in his pocket, he was as stylish and presentable a fellow as ever issued from a battery barrack, and Jeffers, Cram's English groom, mutely approved the general appearance of his prime favorite among the officers at the post, at most of whom he opened his eyes in cockney amaze, and critically noted the skill with which Mr. Waring tooled the spirited bays along the levee road.
Nearly a mile above the barracks, midway between the long embankment to their left and the tall white picket fence surmounted by the olive-green foliage of magnolias and orange-trees on the other hand, they had come upon a series of deep mud-holes in the way, where the seepage-water from the rapidly-rising flood was turning the road-way into a pond. Stuck helplessly in the mud, an old-fashioned cabriolet was halted. Its driver was out and up to his knees thrashing vainly at his straining, staggering horse. The tortuous road-way was blocked, but Waring had been up and down the river-bank too many times both day and night to be daunted by a matter so trivial. He simply cautioned Jeffers to lean well over the inner wheel, guided his team obliquely up the slope of the levee, and drove quietly along its level top until abreast the scene of the wreck. One glance into the interior of the cab caused him suddenly to stop, to pass the reins back to Jeffers, to spring down the slope until he stood at the edge of the sea of mud. Here he raised his hat and cried,—
"Madame Lascelles! madame! this is indeed lucky—for me. Let me get you out."
At his call a slender, graceful woman who was gazing in anxiety and dismay from the opposite side of the cab and pleading with the driver not to beat his horse, turned suddenly, and a pair of lovely dark eyes lighted up at sight of his face. Her pallor, too, gave instant place to a warm flush. A pretty child at her side clapped her little hands and screamed with delight,—
"Maman! maman! C'est M'sieu' Vayreeng; c'est Sa-am."
"Oh, Monsieur Wareeng! I'm so glad you've come! Do speak to that man! It is horrible the way he beat that poor horse.—Mais non, Nin Nin!" she cried, reproving the child, now stretching forth her little arms to her friend and striving to rise and leap to him.
"I'd like to know how in hell I'm to get this cab out of such a hole as this if I don't beat him," exclaimed the driver, roughly. Then once more, "Dash blank dash your infernal hide! I'll learn you to balk with me again!" Then down came more furious lashes on the quivering hide, and the poor tortured brute began to back, thereby placing the frail four-wheeler in imminent danger of being upset.
"Steady there! Hold your hand, sir! Don't strike that horse again. Just stand at his head a moment and keep quiet till I get these ladies out," called Waring, in tone quiet yet commanding.
"I'll get 'em out myself in my own way, if they'll only stop their infernal yellin'," was the coarse reply.
"Oh, Monsieur Wareeng," exclaimed the lady in undertone, "the man has been drinking, I am sure. He has been so rude in his language."
Waring waited for no more words. Looking quickly about him, he saw a plank lying on the levee slope. This he seized, thrust one end across the muddy hole until it rested in the cab, stepped lightly across, took the child in his arms, bore her to the embankment and set her down, then sprang back for her young mother, who, trembling slightly, rose and took his outstretched hand just as another lash fell on the horse's back and another lurch followed. Waring caught at the cab-rail with one hand, threw the other arm about her slender waist, and, fairly lifting little Madame over the wheel, sprang with her to the shore, and in an instant more had carried her, speechless and somewhat agitated, to the top of the levee.
"Now," said he, "let me drive you and Nin Nin wherever you were going. Is it to market or church?"
"Mais non—to bonne maman's, of whom it is the fete," cried the eager little one, despite her mother's stern orders of silence. "Look!" she exclaimed, showing her dainty little legs and feet in creamy silken hose and kid.
It was "bonne maman," explained Madame, who had ordered the cab from town for them, never dreaming of the condition of the river road or suspecting that of the driver.
"So much the happier for me," laughed Waring.—"Take the front seat, Jeffers.—Now, Nin Nin, ma fleurette, up with you!" And the delighted child was lifted to her perch in the stylish trap she had so often admired. "Now, madame," he continued, extending his hand.
But Madame hung back, hesitant and blushing.
"Oh, Monsieur Wareeng, I cannot, I must not. Is it not that some one shall extricate the cab?"
"No one from this party, at least," laughed Waring, mischievously making the most of her idiomatic query. "Your driver is more cochon than cocher, and if he drowns in that mud 'twill only serve him right. Like your famous compatriot, he'll have a chance to say, 'I will drown, and no one shall help me,' for all I care. The brute! Allons! I will drive you to bonne maman's of whom it is the fete. Bless that baby daughter! And Madame d'Hervilly shall bless Nin Nin's tout devoue Sam."
And Madame Lascelles found further remonstrance useless. She was lifted into the seat, by which time the driver, drunken and truculent, had waded after them.
"Who's to pay for this?" was his surly question.
"You, I fancy, as soon as your employer learns of your driving into that hole," was Waring's cool reply.
"Well, by God, I want five dollars for my fare and trouble, and I want it right off." And, whip in hand, the burly, mud-covered fellow came lurching up the bank. Across the boggy street beyond the white picket fence the green blinds of a chamber window in an old-fashioned Southern house were thrown open, and two feminine faces peered forth, interested spectators of the scene.
"Here, my man!" said Waring, in low tone, "you have earned no five dollars, and you know it. Get your cab out, come to Madame d'Hervilly's, where you were called, and whatever is your due will be paid you; but no more of this swearing or threatening,—not another word of it."
"I want my money, I say, and I mean to have it. I'm not talking to you; I'm talking to the lady that hired me."
"But I have not the money. It is for my mother—Madame d'Hervilly—to pay. You will come there."
"I want it now, I say. I've got to hire teams to get my cab out. I got stalled here carrying you and your child, and I mean to have my pay right now, or I'll know the reason why. Your swell friend's got the money. It's none of my business how you pay him."
But that ended the colloquy. Waring's fist landed with resounding whack under the cabman's jaw, and sent him rolling down into the mud below. He was up, floundering and furious, in less than a minute, cursing horribly and groping in the pocket of his overcoat.
"It's a pistol, lieutenant. Look out!" cried Jeffers.
There was a flash, a sharp report, a stifled cry from the cab, a scream of terror from the child. But Waring had leaped lightly aside, and before the half-drunken brute could cock his weapon for a second shot he was felled like a log, and the pistol wrested from his hand and hurled across the levee. Another blow crashed full in his face as he strove to find his feet, and this time his muddled senses warned him it were best to lie still.
Two minutes more, when he lifted his battered head and strove to stanch the blood streaming from his nostrils, he saw the team driving briskly away up the crest of the levee; and, overcome by maudlin contemplation of his foeman's triumph and his own wretched plight, the cabman sat him down and wept aloud.
And to his succor presently there came ministering angels from across the muddy way, one with a brogue, the other in a bandanna, and between the two he was escorted across a dry path to the magnolia-fringed enclosure, comforted with soothing applications without and within, and encouraged to tell his tale of woe. That he should wind it up with vehement expression of his ability to thrash a thousand swells like the one who had abused him, and a piratical prophecy that he'd drink his heart's blood within the week, was due not so much to confidence in his own powers, perhaps, as to the strength of the whiskey with which he had been liberally supplied. Then the lady of the house addressed her Ethiop maid-of-all-work:
"Go you over to Anatole's now, 'Louette. Tell him if any of the byes are there I wahnt 'um. If Dawson is there, from the adjutant's office, I wahnt him quick. Tell him it's Mrs. Doyle, and never mind if he's been dhrinkin'; he shall have another dhrop here."
And at her beck there presently appeared three or four besotted-looking specimens in the coarse undress uniform of the day, poor devils, absent without leave from their post below and hoping only to be able to beg or steal whiskey enough to stupefy them before the patrol should come and drag them away to the guard-house. Promise of liberal reward in shape of liquor was sufficient to induce three of their number to go out with the fuming cabman and help rescue his wretched brute and trap. The moment they were outside the gate she turned on the fourth, a pallid, sickly man, whose features were delicate, whose hands were white and slender, and whose whole appearance, despite glassy eyes and tremulous mouth and limbs, told the pathetic story of better days.
"You're off ag'in, are you? Sure I heerd so, and you're mad for a dhrink now. Can ye write, Dawson, or must I brace you up furrst?"
An imploring look, an unsteady gesture, alone answered.
"Here, thin, wait! It's absinthe ye need, my buck. Go you into that room now and wash yourself, and I'll bring it, and whin the others come back for their whiskey I'll tell 'um you've gone. You're to do what I say, now, and Doyle will see you t'rough; if not, it's back to that hell in the guard-house you'll go, my word on it."
"Oh, for God's sake, Mrs. Doyle——" began the poor wretch, imploringly, but the woman shut him off.
"In there wid you! the others are coming." And, unbarring the front door, she presently admitted the trio returning to claim the fruits of their honest labor.
"Is he gone? Did he tell you what happened?"
"He's gone, yes," answered one: "he's gone to get square with the lieutenant and his cockney dog-robber. He says they both jumped on him and kicked his face in when he was down and unarmed and helpless. Was he lyin'?"
"Oh, they bate him cruel. But did he tell you of the lady—who it was they took from him?"
"Why, sure, the wife of that old Frenchman, Lascelles, that lives below,—her the lieutenant's been sparkin' this three months."
"The very wan, mind ye!" replied the lady of the house, with significant emphasis and glance from her bleary eyes; "the very wan," she finished, with slow nodding accompaniment of the frowzy head. "And that's the kind of gintlemen that undertakes to hold up their heads over soldiers like Doyle. Here, byes, dhrink now, but be off ag'inst his coming. He'll be here any minute. Take this to comfort ye, but kape still about this till ye see me ag'in—or Doyle. Now run." And with scant ceremony the dreary party was hustled out through a paved court-yard to a gate-way opening on a side street. Houses were few and scattering so far below the heart of the city. The narrow strip of land between the great river and the swamp was cut up into walled enclosures, as a rule,—abandoned warehouses and cotton-presses, moss-grown one-storied frame structures, standing in the midst of desolate fields and decrepit fences. Only among the peaceful shades of the Ursuline convent and the warlike flanking towers at the barracks was there aught that spoke of anything but demoralization and decay. Back from the levee a block or two the double lines of strap-iron stretched over a wooden causeway between parallel wet ditches gave evidence of some kind of a railway, on which, at rare intervals, jogged a sleepy mule with a sleepier driver and a musty old rattle-trap of a car,—a car butting up against the animal's lazy hocks and rousing him occasionally to ringing and retaliatory kicks. Around the barracks the buildings were closer, mainly in the way of saloons; then came a mile-long northward stretch of track, with wet fields on either side, fringed along the river by solid structures and walled enclosures that told of days more prosperous than those which so closely followed the war. It was to one of these graceless drinking-shops and into the hands of a rascally "dago" known as Anatole that Mrs. Doyle commended her trio of allies, and being rid of them she turned back to her prisoner, their erstwhile companion. Absinthe wrought its work on his meek and pliant spirit, and the shaking hand was nerved to do the woman's work. At her dictation, with such corrections as his better education suggested, two letters were draughted, and with these in her hand she went aloft. In fifteen minutes she returned, placed one of these letters in an envelope already addressed to Monsieur Armand Lascelles, No.—Rue Royale, the other she handed to Dawson. It was addressed in neat and delicate feminine hand to Colonel Braxton, Jackson Barracks.