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Read Si Klegg The Deacon’s Adventures At Chattanooga In Caring For The Boys Part 13

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“Old Billings, who used to be Lieutenant-Colonel, is Provost-Marshal.

He’s Lieutenant-Colonel of our regiment. He’ll be likely to give you a great song and dance, especially if he finds out that you belonged to the old regiment. But don’t let it sink too deep on you. I’ll stand by you, if there’s anything I can do.”

“Much obliged,” said Shorty, “but I’m all right, and I oughtn’t to need any standing by from anybody. That old fly-up-the-crick ought to be ashamed to even speak to a man who’s bin fightin’ at the front, while he was playin’ off around home.”

“He’ll have plenty to say all the same,” returned the Sergeant. “He’s got one o’ these self-acting mouths, with a perpetual-motion attachment.

He don’t do anything but talk, and mostly bad. Blame him, it’s his fault that we’re kept here, instead of being sent to the front, as we ought to be. Wish somebody’d shoot him.”

The Provost-Marshal was found in his office, dealing out sentences like a shoulder-strapped Rhadamanthes. It was a place that just suited Billings’s tastes. There he could bully to his heart’s content, with no chance for his victims getting back at him, and could make it very uncomfortable for those who were disposed to sneer at his military career. With a scowl on his brow, and a big chew of tobacco in his mouth, he sat in his chair, and disposed of the cases brought before him with abusive comments, and in the ways that he thought would give the men the most pain and trouble. It was a manifestation of his power that he gloated over.

“Take the position of soldiers, you slouching clodhoppers,” he said, with an a.s.sortment of oaths, as the squad entered the office. “One’d think you a pa.s.sel o’ hawbucks half-drunk at a log-rollin’, instead o’

soldiers in the presence o’ your superior officer. Shut them gapin’

mouths, lift up them shock-heads, b.u.t.ton up your blouses, put your hands down to your sides, and don’t no man speak to me without salootin’. And mind what you say, or I’ll give you a spell on bread and water, and send you back in irons. I want you to understand that I’ll have no foolishness. You can’t monkey with me as you can with some officers.

“Had your pocket picked, and your furlough as well as your money taken,”

he sneered to the first statement. “You expect me to believe that, you sickly-faced yallerhammer. I’ll just give you five days’ hard labor before sending you back, for lying to me. Go over there to the left, and take your place in that police squad.”

“No,” he said to the second, “that sick mother racket won’t work.

Every man we ketch now skulking home is goin’ to see his sick and dying mother. There wouldn’t be no army if we allowed every man who has a sick mother to go and visit her. None o’ your back talk, or I’ll put the irons on you.”

“No,” to a third, “you can’t go back to your boarding place for your things, not even with a guard. I know you. You’d give the guard the slip before you went 10 rods. Let your things go. Probably you stole ’em, anyway.”

Lieut.-Col. Billings’s eye lighted on Shorty, with an expression of having seen him somewhere.

“Where do you belong?” he asked crossly.

“Co. Q, 200th Injianny Volunteer Infantry,” replied Shorty proudly.

“Yes. I remember you now,” said the Provost-Marshal savagely. “You’re one o’ them infernal n.i.g.g.e.r-thieves that brung disgrace on the regiment.

You’re one o’ them that made it so notorious that decent men who had a respect for other people’s property was glad to get out of it.”

“You’re a liar,” said Shorty hotly. “You didn’t git out o’ the regiment because it stole n.i.g.g.e.rs. That’s only a pretend. The rear is full o’

fellers like you who pretend to be sore on the n.i.g.g.e.r question, as an excuse for not going to the front. You sneaked out o’ every fight the regiment went into. You got out of the regiment because it was too fond of doin’ its duty.”

“Shut up, you scoundrel! Buck-and-gag him, men,” roared Billings, rising and shaking his fist at him.

“Stop that! You musn’t talk that way,” said the Sergeant, going over to Shorty, and shaking him roughly, while he whispered, “Don’t make a blamed fool o’ yourself. Keep quiet.”

“I won’t stop,” said Shorty angrily; “I won’t let no man talk that way about the 200th Ind., no matter if he wears as many leaves on his shoulders as there is on a beech tree. I’d tell the Major-General that he lied if he slandered the regiment, if I died for it the next minute.”

“I order you to take him out and buck-and-gag him,” shouted the Provost-Marshal.

The Sergeant caught Shorty by the shoulder, and pushed him out of the room, with much apparent roughness, but really using no more force than would make a show, while muttering his adjurations to cool down.

“I s’pose I’ve got to obey orders, and buck-and-gag you,” said the Sergeant ruefully, as they were alone together in the room. “It goes against my grain, like the toothache. I’d rather you’d buck-and-gag me.

But you are to blame for it yourself. You ought to have more sense than lay it into a Lieutenant-Colonel and Provost-Marshal that way. But you did give it to him fine, the old blow-hard and whisky-sucker. He’s no more fit for shoulderstraps than a hog is for a paper-collar. Haven’t heard anything for a long time that tickled me so, even while I was mad enough to pound you for having no more sense. I’ve bin aching to talk that way to him myself.”

“Go ahead and obey your orders,” said Shorty. “Don’t mind me. I’m willin’ to take it. I’ve had my say, which was worth a whole week o’

buckin’. It ‘ll be something to tell the boys when I git back, that I saw old Billings swellin’ around, and told him right before his own men just what we think of him. Lord, how it ‘ll tickle ’em. I’ll forgit all about the buckin’, but they won’t forgit that.”

“Blamed if I’ll do it,” said the Sergeant. “He can take off my stripes, and be blest to him. You said just what I think, and what we all think, and I ought to stand by you. I’ve a notion to go right back in the room and tell him I won’t do it, and pull off my stripes and hand ’em to him, and tell him to take ’em and go to Halifax.”

“Now, don’t be a fool, Jim,” remonstrated Shorty. “You won’t help me, and you’ll git yourself into trouble. Somebody’s got to do it, and I’d rather it’d be you than somebody else. Go ahead and obey your orders.

Git your rope and your stick and your bayonet.”

“They’re all here,” said the Sergeant, producing them, with a regretful air. “We’ve plenty of use for them as long as old Billings is on deck.

Say,” said he, stopping, as a brighter look came into his face, “I’ve got an idea.”

“Hold on to it till you kin mark its ears, so’s you’ll know it again for your property,” said Shorty sarcastically. “Good idees are skeerce and valuable.”

“Jeff Wilson, the General’s Chief Clerk, who belongs to my company,”

said the Sergeant, “told me yesterday that they wanted another Orderly, and to pick out one for him. I’ll send a note for him to detail you right off.”

He hastily scratched off the following note on a piece of wrapping paper, folded it up, and sent secretly one of his boys on a run with it:

“Dear Jeff: Found you a first-cla.s.s Orderly. It’s Shorty, of my old regiment. He’s in Billings’s clutches, and in trouble. Send down a detail at once for Shorty Elliott, Co.

Q, 200th Ind. Rush. Yours, Jim.”

“Here, Sergeant,” called out the Provost-Marshal from the other room, “what are you fooling around in there so long for?”

“Somebody’s been monkeying with my things,” called back the Sergeant.

“If they don’t let ’em alone I’ll scalp somebody.”

“Well, get through, and come out here, for there’s some more work for you. Make a good job with that scoundrel. I’ll be in presently and see it.”

Shorty squatted down, and the Sergeant made as easy going an imitation as he could of the punishment.

The messenger encountered the young General near by, limping along on a conscientious morning inspection of things about his post. He had been but recently a.s.signed to the position, to employ him while he was getting well of his wound received at Chickamauga, and was making a characteristic effort to know all about his command. He had sent his staff on various errands, but had his Chief Clerk with him to make notes.

“What’s that?” he inquired, as the messenger handed the latter the note.

“Just a note from the Sergeant of the Guard about an Orderly,” answered the clerk.

“Let me see it,” said the General, who had an inveterate disposition for looking into the smallest details. “What’s this? One of the 200th Ind.?

Why, that was in my brigade. The 200th Ind. was cut all to pieces, but it stuck to that Snodgra.s.s Hill tighter than a real-estate mortgage. One of the boys in trouble? We’ll just go over to the Provost-Marshal’s and see about him. It may be that I know him.”

The sharp call of the Sergeant on duty outside to “Turn out the Guard for the General,” the clatter of muskets, as he was obeyed, the sudden stiffening up of the men lounging about the entrance into the position of the soldier, and their respectful salutes as the General limped in, conveyed to Lieut.-Col. Billings intelligence as to his visitor, and his whole demeanor changed to one of obsequious welcome.

“Very unexpected, General, but very kind in you to visit me,” he said, bowing, and washing his hands with invisible soap.

“No kindness at all. Colonel,” said the General with official curtness.

“Merely my duty, to personally acquaint myself with all portions of my command. I should have visited you before. By the way, I understand you have picked up here a man belonging to my brigade–to the 200th Ind.

Where is he?”

Billings’s face clouded.

“Yes, we have a man who claimed to belong to that regiment–a straggler, who hadn’t any papers to show. I had no idea whether he was telling the truth. He was outrageously sa.s.sy, and I had to give him a lesson to keep a civil tongue in his head. Take a seat. I’ll send for him.”

“No; I’ll go and see him,” said the General. “Where is he?”

———-

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