From School to Battle-field: A Story of the War Days
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And this was more than Binny could say when confronted by Desmond, the pawnbroker, and certain members of the police force who had had an eye on him, especially when within twenty-four hours of his incarceration there was landed in the neighboring cell the person of Mr. Briggs, late of the First Latin, but no longer on the rolls of Columbia. Others, long since fathomed as to character by Pop, were under the watchful eye of "the force," and Messrs. Brodrick and the Hulkers, both, betook themselves to summer resorts, despite the fact that the tide of fashion was turning back from the sea-shore and the mountains. Then Briggs the elder, a broken-down politician and former office-holder, was sent for and closeted with the Doctor, Halsey, Hoover senior, Martigny, and the detective, with the result that within an hour Briggs junior was summoned into the presence of the same tribunal, and then his last remaining trace of nerve gave way.
Even then he lied, shifted, dodged, accused, but one after another his lies were met and overthrown, and at last the miserable story came out in driblets, but the chain was complete. To raise small sums he had begun selling books, sometimes from his father's scant stock, then from other boys' fathers. Binny, on some similar errand bent, had twice encountered him and recognized him as the young "fellar" that used to come to see Mahster George, and bolt up to his room even when the lad was out. Binny found that discovery worth working. He gave Briggs a bracelet, once worn by "me sainted wife, now in 'eaven," but Binny said he was in need of funds and must dispose of it, and wouldn't mind giving Mahster Briggs something "'ansom'" out of what he could get for it. Then Binny had Briggs "by the hair," so to speak, and held him for future service. Hoover, too, and the Hulkers, had used him as a cat's-paw. They loaned him money, and then when he could not repay, demanded service in kind. Then the Hulkers themselves were emboldened to try their luck at the pawnbroker's, and by going only at night – and generally stormy nights – they managed to keep their identity concealed. Briggs was dreadfully in debt to both Hoover and the Hulkers when one day in the early fall the First Latin indulged in one of its famous charges. Briggs, crushed against the bookcase, and making as much noise as anybody, was one of the last to quit the spot. Joy's beautiful watch caught his eye, dangling at the end of its chain, as the class was disentangling, and a quick jerk transferred it to his capacious pocket. He swore he never meant to keep it. He only wanted to "have some fun with Joy," and to prove it, he said, he ran round to Brodrick's stable and told him and the Hulkers all about it, and left it with the Hulkers for safe-keeping, and that night they pawned it. He didn't dare report it, for they could tell far worse things about him than he could about them, but all were scared when they heard of the Doctor's vigorous measures, and not daring to return for it themselves, Briggs bethought him of Binny, and between them they raised the money necessary to redeem it and sent him, Binny, as their emissary.Then the Hulkers hid it somewhere, and the next thing Briggs knew Binny, and the Hulkers, too, were demanding tribute of him. Briggs vowed he was horrified when he found that Snipe was suspected and accused; he always liked Snipe, Hoover wouldn't lend him another cent, and he was at his wit's end where to raise the money to meet their demands and forestall the threatened exposure, when quarter day and the fire came. He saw his opportunity when Halsey left the desk unguarded, and ran and scooped some gold out of the drawer, poked some of the pieces in his trousers, some in his waistcoat, and some in his overcoat-pocket when at the rack. If he poked any in Shorty's, which hung next to his, it was all a mistake. He wouldn't have done that for the world, he said, and then, as he daren't be found with the money, he gave most of it to the Hulkers, as before, "for safe-keeping" and to square accounts, and that was about all poor Briggs's inquisitors cared to know. A warrant went out for Brodrick, who managed to precede it to Montreal, but the Hulkers were quietly apprehended and escorted back to Gotham. And here ended the last of the cabal against Snipe. Now came the reaction.
One glorious day in late September the old First Latin reassembled in strong force at the old school, the occasion being a flag-raising. There they were, the same glad-hearted lot of boys that had made merry in the old school-room many and many a day, Hoover and Briggs being conspicuous by their absence. "Regimental duties," wrote the father of the former, would prevent his son's attendance on the auspicious occasion, whereat the Doctor winked over his spectacles at the grinning array of listeners, and "other engagements," it was casually mentioned, would account for the non-appearance of Briggs. At the usual hour of recess the whole school, Classical and English departments both, had clustered about two young fellows in martial uniform, Snipe Lawton, brown-eyed, blushing and shy, towering over most of them in stature, arrayed in the trim-fitting frock-coat and complete uniform of a first lieutenant of infantry, and Shorty, full to the brim of mingled pride and delight, wearing the garb of the famous Zouave regiment to which he had been attached, even while being, by order, as he not infrequently remarked, on detached duty at brigade head-quarters. This was emphatically Snipe's benefit, however, and no one begrudged it to him less than did his old chum. A little after noon a burst of martial music was heard far up the avenue, and the majestic Doctor waved his thronging boys to their posts, and down the stairs they tumbled, tumultuous, and "lined up," six deep, on the opposite curb. And then, led by a capital band, a great regiment in full marching order, with knapsacks packed and overcoats rolled, came striding down the west side of the broad thoroughfare in column of fours, and a soldierly-looking colonel reined out as they reached the school, and let the right wing, five strong companies, go swinging by until the beautiful silken colors, national and State, were directly opposite the window, where in immaculate broadcloth and immense dignity stood the Doctor, a brand-new bunting flag on his arm, Snipe, with the "down haul" halliard on his right, Shorty, with the slack, on his left. Then the colonel's powerful voice rang out along the thronging street, "Battalio-o-n-n-n halt! Front!" and the whole regiment, at least a thousand strong, stood motionless facing the east. Then the band was drawn up in front of the right centre company, and at a signal, struck up the grand strains of the "Star-Spangled Banner." "Present arms!" shouted Colonel Stark, then reined his horse about and lowered his glistening sword in salute. The school and the great crowd set up a stupendous cheer. The Doctor beamed and waved his white cambric handkerchief. Halsey and Meeker and other masters smiled from the windows. Snipe hauled away with might and main, Shorty paid out, and the beautiful folds of blue and scarlet and dazzling white went sailing slowly aloft until they touched the peak of the tall white staff at the top of the building. Then the Doctor shook hands with Snipe again and again and put his hand on his shoulder and waved to the crowd as though he would say "Cheer for Lawton," and cheer they did, and presently that cheer swelled into a lusty-lunged roar, for the colonel gave the command shoulder and order arms, magnificently executed, followed by "Rest!" which gave the regiment leave to make itself heard, and never before had Fourth Avenue rung to such acclaim.
Then Snipe shook hands with his old teachers again, poor, pallid Meeker's eyes filling with tears, and with John, the janitor, who grinned and writhed in ecstasy. Then he and Shorty came bounding down the stairs, and another shout went up from the school, and something like a sob rose in Shorty's throat as Lawton drew for the first time his beautiful sword, the gift of all the classes, and, throwing his left arm about the "little 'un's" neck, held him in close hug one second, then bounded away to the post of the adjutant, his eyes too full to look back, his heart too full to speak. Once more the great regiment sprang into column of fours, the arms snapped up to the right shoulder, the band broke into a magnificent swinging quickstep, and the Fourth New England strode sturdily away to make its mark on many a field, its boy adjutant marching at the head of column. Many a long block it went before the last of Pop's boys dropped off and turned back, only to find that half-holiday had been declared in honor of the event of the day. Snipe and Shorty, big Damon and little Pythias, Mr. Lincoln's "long and short of it," had seen the last of the old school and school-days, with all their fun and frolic and their sad and solemn memories. The old First Latin went on to collegiate days minus its soldier boys and the little lamented Briggs. After all, there was aroused a bit of sympathy for him when the Hulkers were bought off in some mysterious way and never appeared for trial, when Brodrick was heard of as "living high" in Canada, and only the detestable butler was left to share the punishment with the rapscallion of the class. Some boys thought Hoover was so low that "even if he didn't steal he put Briggs up to it," and the school was furious at the thought of his being an officer in the regular army.
It did poor Hoover little good, however. His regiment was soon taken from the comforts of Washington and sent campaigning, and three days' marching through Virginia dust proved more than the poor fellow could stand. He broke down on the eve of battle, had to be sent to the rear in an ambulance, and the regiment said he would be wise to resign: so for once wisdom and Hoover worked together. John, the janitor, lived to tell many a wonderful tale of the times they had when the First Latin had such "fellers" in it as Lawton and Joy, Bertram and Beekman, Julian and Prime. Meeker got a new lease of life with the going out of the old class and the coming in of the new, for the Doctor did not spoil these latter as he had their predecessors, and the Doctor treated him with a consideration that had been lacking a long time, for there were days in the past when Meeker's poverty and troubles, coupled with other circumstantial evidence, had made him the object of the Doctor's suspicions, and Meeker knew it, and thanked heaven for the load that was lifted when Briggs broke down and bore it all with him. As for the Doctor himself, he came at the same hour every day, poked his cane and the old jokes at the occupants on the mourners' bench, and never seemed more tickled in his life than when, from the distant front, there came a joint letter from Damon and Pythias, who happened to meet for one blissful evening. The watch episode was a thing he would never speak of, but shrewd school-boy observers found a topic that would sometimes start him even to the extent of proclaiming subsequent half-holiday, and that was "our polemical young friends" who had abandoned the classic shades of Columbia for the sword.
"'Et tunc pugnabant pugnis,'" he began one day —
"Ha, young gentlemen of the First Latin, behold the line immortalized by your predecessors of the year agone. Half-holiday to him who completes it with a new reading.
"'Et tunc – pugna – bant pug – nis' —
"Who supplies the ellipsis? What! a volunteer already? Let us see: 'Et nunc gladiis pugnan.' Neither brilliant nor metrical, but pregnant with patriotic truth. Half-holiday to Douglas, and – How have the rest done, Mr. Halsey?"
"H'm," says Halsey, "rather worse if anything."
"Ha! Ominous report. Take your seats, young gentlemen, and we resume the consideration of Xenophon. What's that suggestion? 'Fresh air to clear your brains?' Loquax redivivus! However, Mr. Halsey, – there may be something in it. We'll try it."
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