From School to Battle-field: A Story of the War Days
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Foremost, half stunned and sorely wounded, but a fighter to the last, the Virginia captain struggles to his feet. Bayonets are levelled at his dauntless heart, but a sharp order restrains them. Strong hands seize and disarm him. Strong arms bear him, struggling faintly, within the ranks of his captors. The dead are left to their friends, the wounded tenderly raised and borne as gently as possible to the rear. Then once again the column resumes its homeward march, and in half an hour is safe within the Union lines.
Meantime where is Shorty, whose craze it was to see what might be going on about that hamlet of Lewinsville, whose longing it was to "do something" like Snipe, and who was sleeping the sleep of healthful, hearty boyhood, when he would have given his ears to be with that raiding column? Somewhere about midnight he became conscious of excited whisperings about him. Marmion was bustling around. Horses were being saddled, and, sitting bolt upright, he heard the clamor of bugles and drums, and, rushing out in front of head-quarters, could distinguish the distant crash of musketry. Then out came two officers, buckling on revolvers and swords. Marmion came running with their horses, and to Shorty's excited question, "Where's the general?" he got the heartless answer, "Gone hours ago, youngster, while you were asleep." Never stopping to saddle, only whipping through "Badger's" rattling teeth the bit of his bridle and throwing the reins over his head, Shorty is astride in a second, and, hardly yet wide awake, is away at a sputtering gallop after the departing officers. Before they have reached the little run half a mile out he has overtaken them. The sound of skirmish firing is still lively at the distant southwest front. He knows every inch of the road, and is mad to get ahead, for the officers ride slowly and with caution.
"Let me lead, captain!" he cries, regardless of martial propriety. "I know the way." And it is a case for common sense, not ceremony, and the staff-officers say, "Go on." And now there is a race through the night, "Badger" having a big lead and easily keeping it. But the road narrows, the sounds of fight subside, and when at last the little party reaches the outposts they meet the left wing of the regiment briskly marching homeward. They see the light of a guard-fire in a hollow a little farther to the front, and there a dense throng of Connor's men in tattered gray, mingling with the blue of the picket-guards, groups about a little knot of officers and three gaunt, ragged, haggard fellows, one a bearded man of forty-five or fifty, who leans heavily on the shoulder of a supporter, while he grasps the hand of the general and looks gratefully into his eyes. Another is a wiry little specimen in the relics of a Fire Zouave jacket, the chevrons of a sergeant on his sleeve. The third is a tall, lank, long-legged youth, with hollow cheeks and big brown eyes, and a brownish fuzz just sprouting on lip and cheeks and chin, – a tall lad to whom the elder man turns suddenly, laying a thin hand upon his shoulder, a tall lad who looks up shyly and silently as the general grasps his hands and begins some words of hearty praise.But the general's remarks are brought to sudden stop by the impetuous rush of a snorting horse into the midst of the group, the precipitate leap of a half-crazed lad from his back to the ground, and the general's voice is drowned by that of his graceless orderly, half squeal, half choking cry, as the "little 'un" springs upon the tall youth, twining legs and arms, both, about him, and the only intelligible word he says is "Snipe!" The only answer is a long, straining hug and the almost bashful murmur, "Shorty!"
One would say that in that meeting there was interest sufficient for one night – and two boys, – but it was by no means all. A few minutes later two trooper prisoners, led in beside the litter of their wounded captain, were being examined by the general. Both were silent, badly shaken by the fall of their horses. One was slightly wounded; neither wished to talk. The leader had swooned, and the surgeons were doing their best for him.
"What is your captain's name?" was asked the unhurt cavalier, a dashing young sergeant who might well lay claim to being of one of the famous "first families of Virginia" – a dandy trooper.
"Grayson," was the short reply.
Major Stark and Snipe glanced quickly at each other, and then the former spoke. "Pardon me, general; that was the name of the cavalry lieutenant captured by Corporal Lawton, here, just before Bull Run. Is this another Grayson?" he asked of the prisoner.
"No. You asked our captain's name. He was wounded and has not rejoined yet. That's our first lieutenant." And then, as though to emphasize his disgust at being bored by "mudsill" questions, the young gallant languidly yawned; then, thrusting his hand into the breast of his jaunty trooper jacket, with admirable assumption of supreme indifference to his surroundings, he drew forth a fine watch, coolly stepped to the fire, held it so that the light would shine upon its face, and then was about returning it, when the irrepressible Shorty sprang forward into the fire-lit circle.
"Where'd you get that watch?" he cried. "Look, Snipe! General! It was stolen at school last fall! It's Joy's!"
The week that followed was one not soon to be forgotten by two at least of Pop's old boys. To begin with, after all the wear and tear and exposure of the month, it was several days before Major Stark, with his gallant companions, was able to go into Washington. He lay in a big tent close to brigade head-quarters, the guest of the general and the object of assiduous attentions from high officials, accomplished surgeons, and enthusiastic soldiers, Snipe and Keating coming in for many a word of praise and promise of advancement and reward. Even the great President, accompanied by Secretary Seward, drove out in his carriage and visited the invalid New-Englander and listened to his story, and sent for Sergeant Keating and the "two boys." He wanted to see that queerly assorted team, said he, and whimsically remarked, after looking them over, with a smile for both and a hearty shake of the hand, "Well, the long and short of it is, you're both bound to be soldiers, I see. Perhaps we can help."
Keating, promptly commissioned a lieutenant in the Second Fire Zouaves, was ordered to join that command. Stark, as soon as he was able to move with comfort, was to go home and accept the colonelcy of a new regiment awaiting him in its camp, Snipe with him. But meantime Mr. and Mrs. Park had reached the capital, and had been driven out to Chain Bridge, where the fond mother had a very warm reception from all who by this time had heard Snipe's school story (and who that got within hail of Shorty any day that week had failed to hear it?) and the grim step-father a correspondingly cool one. Park had borne more than his share of worry and woe for long months past, and as means to the end, had come with the cool determination of making George an offer, either to put him through college with a fair allowance, or start him in business at Rhinebeck, for Park had been in correspondence with the Doctor and with Halsey, and had reluctantly come to the conclusion that the boy couldn't have been the thief he thought, though of course he was an ingrate and lacking in appreciation. But Park found that step-parental authority was not recognized in the army. The boy himself was bent on following the fortunes of his soldier friends. Major Stark had told the mother of his own plans and the President's promises with regard to her son, and the fond mother, proud, yet full of fears, yielded to the wishes of her boy and the advice of his comrades, and decided against those of her lord and master. Park found the atmosphere of the camp uncongenial. It chilled him like a channel fog, and he left for home, and pressing business, within another day, while Mrs. Park remained. There were other sympathetic women there, wives of officers visiting in camp, and she did not lack for friends.
But for Snipe and Shorty there came a day of thrilling interest when Captain Beach, of the "First Long Island," together with Keating and Desmond, of the Zouaves, met at the provost-marshal's in Washington, and what a meeting it was! The story of the school-boy days had been told the general, who listened with vivid interest. It was he who planned further movements and arranged the necessary preliminaries at the War Department. Among the few Confederate prisoners in the city at the time were young Grayson, captured as a lieutenant just before Bull Run, and Spottswood, captured as sergeant the night of the rescue in front of Chain Bridge, both of the Virginia cavalry. The latter had wrathfully declined to surrender the watch claimed by Shorty to be stolen property (those were the earliest – the callow – days of the war, when the wishes of prisoners as to their personal property were occasionally respected), and a tremendous scene had ensued. But within three days there appeared at Washington two young gentlemen, Pop's boys, sent thither in response to telegraphic inquiries, – Messrs. Paul Grayson and Clinton Joy, – and they had been taken to the Capitol prison by Captain Winthrop, a former Pop boy, and there had been an interview between the cousins, Northern and Southern; then, a conference between Grayson the Confederate and his bumptious statesman, and then Mr. Spottswood very gracefully surrendered the watch, which Mr. Joy positively and conclusively identified as his own, notwithstanding the obliteration of the name, and Spottswood told how it came into his possession. He had spent some time the previous winter and spring in Mobile, Savannah, and Charleston, had seen a good deal of two young – gentlemen – and he used the word with hesitation – from New York, two brothers by the name of Hulker. There had grown up something of an intimacy. They had money in abundance at first, but finally seemed to run out, and they had to "baw-wo," said Mr. Spottswood, with a blush, from their friends. In fact, they had "baw-woed" so much from friends to whom he had presented them that he felt in honor bound to make it good, and as the young men had to get out of the South in a hurry in May, and he had become suspicious as to their solvency, he had felt compelled, he said it regretfully, to demand some security, and they had left with him diamonds and this watch. The diamonds were at his home in Richmond. The watch he unhesitatingly turned over, as became a gentleman, to its proper owner. When Lieutenant Grayson was told that all this was necessary to clear the good name of the young scholar soldier who had captured him, you can imagine his interest in the case was by no means diminished.
This matter settled, and a joyous meeting having taken place between the four schoolmates, Captains Beach and Winthrop, brother officers now and ex-Columbiads, affably supervising, the next thing was to follow up the trail of Desmond's statements to Shorty, and this duty was intrusted to Keating. An odd feature with the old fire department was the alliance, offensive and defensive, which existed among certain companies, in contradistinction to the bitter rivalries which were inevitable. In the long-continued feud between Big Six and Manhattan Eight whole communities were involved. Political societies and clubs took sides with one or the other, and rows innumerable went on for years. Downtown companies, generally at odds with their neighbors, swore eternal friendship with some up-town organization which "ran" in lower districts. Marion 9 and Lady Washington 40 "lay" within three blocks of each other in the lower Fifth Fire District, but did duty, the former in the Fourth and Fifth, the latter in the Sixth and Seventh; turning out, of course, for all fires within a few blocks of their respective stations; and these two companies were on terms of very distant and dignified reserve. Away up-town, in like manner, were Lexington 7 and Pacific 28, both of which answered alarms from the Fifth District, both of which ran down Third Avenue to the Bowery in so doing, and as a consequence, time and again met and raced every inch of the way. The long run from Twenty-seventh Street to the Cooper Institute or beyond would almost exhaust their own men, but by the time they got far down-town there were swarms of allies to man the drag-ropes, 9's men with No. 7, 40's lively lads with 28, and, counting on this old alliance, Keating called on Desmond to redeem his promise to Shorty and tell what he knew about the school or its scholars, and Desmond's story was what boys of a later generation would have called "a corker."
He used to be hard up himself, he said, and more than once had had to "spout" his watch, and several times in other ways to raise money at a pawnbroker's, and there were some young fellows, whom he had twice encountered there, regular young Fifth Avenue swells, and one night while he was in a stall at the counter, he heard two of them come into an adjoining box, and they had a beautiful gold watch on which they wished to make a raise. He could not see it even by leaning away forward, for the partition prevented, but he could hear distinctly all the talk. The pawnbroker didn't want to take it. He said he was afraid. He knew both the "young fellers;" they'd often been there before, and he knew that watch didn't belong to either of the two. They swore, however, that it belonged to a friend in their set who didn't wish to be known, but had to have money that very night, and, "why, that watch must have been worth over three hundred dollars!" It was a beautiful thing, they said, and all they wanted was fifty; their friend would redeem it the very next week and pay high. They were so earnest about it that Desmond forgot his own troubles in listening to theirs. At last they got some thirty or forty dollars and left in a hurry. Desmond looked after them. Both wore fur caps pulled down over their ears, and coat-collars up almost hiding their heads, although it was quite early in the fall, and, though a raw east wind was blowing and a rain pouring, it was not cold enough for such attire. Outside the shop they were joined by others who were in waiting, three of them, and they scooted back toward the west in a hurry. Not two months afterwards Desmond was there again, and a big, smooth-faced, smug-looking fellow came in, with his head all bundled up, and he had the pawn ticket for that very watch, Desmond knew by the talk; and the pawnbroker had some words with the fellow because he tried to get it back for less by a good deal than the young men agreed to pay, and both got mad and abused each other, and each said he could send the other to jail. It was fun to hear them, said Desmond, and he wondered who the big man could be, and followed him out and saw him meet the same two "young fellers" that were there before. The big man took off his hat and wiped his face, he was "so blown with jawing," and Desmond said he had a good long look at him, and would know him again anywhere.
Now he was sure he had seen some of those young fellers with the school crowd that used to be up at Duncan's every day for luncheon, and in the "Shanghai" set that ran with Metamora Hose. But from that time they quit going to that pawnshop. The owner told him the police came round there looking for that very watch, and he was glad he was rid of them, and of that "big, smug-faced feller," too. He felt sure he was a thief. As for the boys, the broker said two of them had been there time and again before, and they were a hard lot. "Would you know the two if you were to see them again?" Keating asked the Zouave.
"I didn't see them, plainly. I couldn't, they were wrapped up so, but I could hear them plain, and I'd know their voices among a million."
All this having been duly reported, and Beach, Winthrop, and one or two senior officers having been in consultation, this strange meeting was decided upon, and, not knowing why they were bidden, Snipe and Shorty found themselves one bright September morning in the anteroom of the provost-marshal's office. Beach and Winthrop were already there. It was just one week after the arrest of the general's orderly by the patrol and his incarceration by order of the lieutenant of the guard. There was a moment of greeting and quiet chat. Then the boys were shown into a side room, and there sat Keating and Desmond. Beach called to the latter. "I wish you to sit here with me close to the door and listen to every word spoken in the office during the next five minutes." Then he, too, seated himself. There was silence a moment or two, then a low-toned conference between the provost-marshal and Winthrop, and presently a door opened, a somewhat unsteady, clinking step was heard, and then a voice, at sound of which Snipe and Shorty started and looked into each other's faces, while Beach sat watching Desmond.
"Did you wish to see me, sir?"
The speaker was invisible, but there was no mistaking the voice, with its odd, jerky, nervous accent.
"Yes, sir. I have been called upon to explain why the guard held a bearer of despatches and an important message last week. You were officer of the guard at the time. What have you to say?"
"Why – major – I don't know much about it. The men said they ordered him to stop all the way for half a mile, and he defied 'em. He – was all covered with dirt and looked like some common volunteer drummer-boy out on a drunk. I didn't suppose any general would trust despatches to – anybody like that. I thought he was lyin'."
"In point of fact, sir," interposed the provost-marshal, "did you not recognize the messenger and have reason to know that his story was true? Did you not order him to the cells, refusing to listen?"
"P'r'aps I did, and just because I did know him to be a no-account little ragamuffin that used to be runnin' round with the firemen and such like – "
Sir Toby Belch listening from ambush to Malvolio's soliloquy at his expense could not have looked more amazed and wrathful than did Shorty at this. Beach, unable to repress a grin, suppressed him with a gesture.
"You may retire, Mr. Hoover. Remain at the guard-room. I may want you in a moment."
And then the party was summoned from its concealment, and then all eyes were on Desmond, and Winthrop propounded this question:
"Well, did you recognize any voice?"
"That young feller's – that was in here just now? I couldn't see him through the screen, but I never heard his voice before in all me life."
And this ended the first lesson. But there were others to come, for the Doctor and Beach had been in rapid correspondence, and when three days later still Major Stark, a celebrity now whom Gotham was eager to honor, arrived at the Cortlandt Street ferry, faithful Snipe still at his side, and Lieutenant Keating, furloughed that he, too, might be lionized, there accompanied them the little corporal of Zouaves, Desmond, late of "28's Engine."
Aunt Lawrence, with her carriage, was at the ferry, effusive in her regrets that Colonel Stark had to go on at once, but grateful that he could permit George to remain, for nothing would answer but that dear, brave George must spend a few days under her roof before reporting at the camp of his new regiment. And with Aunt Lawrence, obsequious, smug, assiduous in his attentions to Mahster George, loading up with Mahster George's light luggage, and bowing low in homage to Mahster George's distinguished commander, as that gallant officer was driven away, was Aunt Lawrence's most expensive household luxury, the English butler, and as that dignitary closed the door of the Lawrence carriage and lifted his hat and wiped his glowing face, and then waddled pompously off in quest of a horse-car, Desmond grabbed his officer by the arm. "There's the Shanghai that got the watch and jawed the pawnbroker and ran with that gang of young fellers," said he. And only another day and Aunt Lawrence's butler marched away in the grip of the law, and Aunt Lawrence's house-maid lay screaming in simulated hysterics.
A precious pair were these, as events and detectives speedily disclosed, and words can hardly describe the shame and horror with which Aunt Lawrence presently realized that, to divert suspicion from themselves, her own domestics had found means of attaching it to George. Their stealings had as yet been confined to old-fashioned trinkets and jewelry, which she seldom looked at and the loss of which would not soon be discovered. It was not the jewels, but the good name the servitor had stolen, that now arrayed all the household against him and his unhappy victim, the damsel who so neglected George's room and linen. Binny, the butler, went to the police station without a chance to caution her, so she went to the priest, and one confession led to another. The girl was Irish and had a conscience or compunctions, and returning to her mistress, threw herself at her feet, and sobbed out her story. Binny had her completely in his power, or made her think he had. It was he who compelled her to take the cameo and other jewelry from time to time, and who planned more extensive raids to follow. It was he to whom she surrendered Seymour's gold pencil-case, which she found on the floor of Mahster George's room, but stoutly she declared, when questioned by Mrs. Lawrence, that of Joy's beautiful watch she had never even heard.
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