“O, my boy, you mustn’t go out there,” exclaimed Mrs. Gordon, as Bert dashed forward to obey the order. Her face was very white, and she clung to her husband for support.
“Let him go,” said the general. “If he has any pluck at all, now is the time for him to show it.”
He did not know what the matter was – there were few in that camp who did – but he was a soldier. When he was in the service he had yielded prompt and willing obedience to every order given him by his superiors, no matter how great the danger he might incur by so doing, and he wanted his boys to do the same thing. Bert proved that he had inherited a goodly share of his father’s courage, for, although he was badly frightened, he lost not a moment in obeying the order to fall in. He ran into the guard-tent and seized his musket; but, to his great surprise, he found that the bayonet that belonged to it was gone. In fact the bayonets were all gone, and the pieces were stacked by the ramrods. Utterly at a loss how to account for this, Bert caught up the weapon and ran to join his company, which was forming on the street in front of its own tents.
“Fall in!” commanded the boy captain. “Right dress! – Front! Order arms! – Fix bayonets!”
These orders were promptly obeyed – all except the last. When the young soldiers came to feel for their bayonets, they discovered that their scabbards were empty. Before anybody could ask the meaning of this, an orderly hurried up with instructions for the captain to move his company by the left flank, and take up a position in reserve, so as to protect the big tent and its occupants.
All this while those hideous yells had been arising on all sides, and now they were accompanied by the discharge of fire-arms. These discharges rapidly increased in number and frequency, until it seemed as if the camp were surrounded by a wall of flame; and still nobody knew what was the matter. As Bert’s company wheeled into position the first company went by, moving at double time, and disappeared in the darkness; and a few moments later, rapid platoon firing sounded in the direction of the bridge. Then the students began to understand the matter.
“It’s a sham fight,” said the boy who stood at Bert’s elbow.
“But who are our assailants?” asked the latter, who was greatly relieved.
That was a question the boy could not answer, but Bert was able to answer it for himself a few minutes later. The fight at the bridge increased in fury, and the first company, finding its position there untenable, was ordered to fall back so that the artillery could have a chance to come into play. Encouraged by this retrograde movement the enemy rushed across the bridge in overwhelming numbers, pressing the young soldiers so closely that the retreat, which was begun in good order, very speedily became a rout. The old German professor, highly excited, ran up, sword in hand, and made frantic appeals to them to stand their ground and defend the gate; but the ranks were hopelessly broken.
“Young shentlemens,” exclaimed the professor, flourishing his sword angrily over his head, “I been ashamed of you. Such fighting is von grand disgrace to the Pridgebort Military Academy. Captain Bumroy,” he added, turning to the commander of Bert’s company, “go ahead and sweep the enemy from the face of the earth. Make good piziness now.”
Captain Pomeroy and his men went about this work as if they were in earnest. Holding their muskets at “arms port” they advanced in good order, and when they reached the end of their company street, they found out who the enemy were. They were Indians – veritable Indians, hideously painted and dressed in all sorts of odd costumes. They had gained a footing inside the works, and were engaged in pulling down the tents preparatory to carrying them off. Excited as Bert was, he could nevertheless calmly recall some of the incidents of the afternoon.
“Now I know the meaning of that order regarding prowlers,” said he to himself. “I did see somebody in the bushes with feathers on his head, and it was one of these Indians who was reconnoitering our position.”
Being interrupted in the work of stealing the tents, the Indians advanced in a body, brandishing their weapons and yelling with all the power of their lungs. They hoped, no doubt, to frighten Captain Pomeroy and his men, create a panic among them, and, having scattered them, to take some of them prisoners; but in this they failed. The boys were so very much in earnest, and so fully determined to save their tents, that they came very near changing the sham fight into a real fight. Now Captain Pomeroy saw why it was that the teachers had taken the precaution to remove the bayonets. If his men had been provided with those dangerous weapons, he would have charged the Indians without an instant’s hesitation, and there was no telling what the young soldiers might have done in their excitement.
“Steady!” commanded the boy captain. “Butts to the front! Strike!”
The order was obeyed with the greatest alacrity. Raising a yell, the boys rushed upon the Indians, and if the latter had stood their ground, there would have been a fight, sure. But fortunately they broke and ran. The captain followed them as far as the gate, and then drawing his men up in platoon front, opened a hot fire of blank cartridges on the bridge.
“Vell done, Captain Bumroy,” said the German professor, who had kept a sharp eye on the whole proceeding. “Vell done. Ven you been in my good Brussia and fights like dot in a true pattle, you gets a decoration from the Emperor. Aha! Now stay here, and don’t let them red fellows come in some more.”
Meanwhile the rest of the battalion had not been idle. The battery had been in almost constant use; the first platoon of the second company had successfully defended the south gate; and the second platoon, assisted by the third company, had held the rest of the works, repulsing every charge that had been made upon them. The artillery roared, small arms popped, the threatening war-whoops of the Indians were answered by yells of defiance from the boy soldiers – in short, there was nothing wanting to make a real fight of it except bullets and bayonets. This state of affairs continued for half an hour, during which the different companies were handled just as they would have been in action, and then the firing ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The battle was over. Just then an orderly from headquarters stepped up and saluted Captain Pomeroy.
“The superintendent presents his compliments and requests that you will keep a lookout for a delegation from the Indian camp,” said he. “Should any appear, you will receive it and send it to the big tent under guard.”
The young captain at once detailed a corporal’s guard to wait at the bridge and escort the expected delegation inside the lines; and scarcely had the squad disappeared before it came in again, accompanied by half a dozen stately Indians, who were closely wrapped up in their blankets. They were fine-looking fellows, in spite of their feathers and paint, and if they had been entering a hostile camp they could not have behaved with more dignity and seriousness.
“What do you want?” demanded Captain Pomeroy.
“Want to see big chief,” grunted one of the Indians, in reply.
“Have you any weapons about you?” inquired the captain, recalling the stratagem to which Pontiac resorted when he tried to capture Detroit.
The Indians shook their heads, but the captain, as in duty bound, ordered them to be searched; after which he told his first lieutenant to take command of the squad, and to conduct the visitors to the big tent. Then, as there was no danger to be apprehended so long as the delegation was in camp, he placed a guard at the gate, and allowed the rest of his men to stack arms and sit down on the grass. At the end of half an hour, two of the Indians came back, guarded by the lieutenant and his squad, and accompanied by the officer of the day.
“Captain Pomeroy,” said the latter, “pass these two chiefs, and stand ready to receive them when they return.”
“Very good, sir,” replied the captain. “What did they do in the big tent, Perkins?” he asked of his lieutenant, as soon as the officer of the day had retired; “and who are they, any way?”
“Why, they are Mount Pleasant Indians,” answered the lieutenant, who, during his absence, had had opportunity to talk with some of the boys in the first class who knew all about the matter. “They are principally farmers and mechanics; but there are one or two professional men among them – school teachers and the like.”
“Well, I declare!” exclaimed the captain. “They haven’t forgotten how to give the war-whoop if they are civilized, have they? Of course this night’s work was a put-up job?”
“Certainly it was. The superintendent wanted to do something to amuse us, so he went out to their reservation, which is about twenty miles from here, and easily induced the head-chief to promise to bring in three hundred of his young men on a certain night and make an attack on us. Then he wrote to our parents; and that’s what brought this crowd here to-day.”
“Ah! That explains it. But they didn’t know anything about it, for I noticed that some of them were as frightened as we were. Didn’t you hear the women scream? I thought the girl I was dancing with was going to faint, she turned so white. What did they do in the big tent?”
“O, they held a pow-wow there in the presence of all our guests, smoking a pipe and going through all the motions of a regular Indian peace commission. The chief made a speech (I tell you it was a good one and astonished everybody), during which he said that his young men had taken some prisoners whom he would be happy to surrender – ”
“Prisoners!” repeated the captain, incredulously.
“Yes. Eight of the first-class boys are missing. You see this company was thrown into confusion when they fell back from the bridge, and as soon as they became separated, the Indians jumped in and dragged some of them off.”
“Well, they didn’t serve me that way,” said Captain Pomeroy, with an air of triumph. “They had the impudence to try to steal my boys’ tents; but when we turned butts to the front, didn’t they dig out in a hurry?”
Lieutenant Perkins, who had borne his full part in that gallant charge, said he thought they did.
“Well, what did the chief say about the prisoners?” asked Captain Pomeroy, after a moment’s pause.
“O, he went through the usual formula,” answered Lieutenant Perkins. “He said he would be happy to surrender his captives if the white chief would give him and his warriors presents enough to make it an object for him to do so. The superintendent said he wouldn’t do that, but if the chief would give up the prisoners and come into camp to-morrow afternoon and dance for us, he would furnish him and his warriors with all the grub they could eat. The chief finally accepted the offer, and those two Indians who went out a little while ago are to bring in the captives.”
“Who comes there?” shouted the sentry at the bridge.
“There they are now,” exclaimed the lieutenant. “Corporal, go out there.”
The corporal went, and presently returned accompanied by the two Indians and ten prisoners instead of eight. Bert and his companions moved up close to the gate to see who the prisoners were, and the former was astonished beyond measure to find that his brother and Sergeant Egan were marching with the squad. The boys wanted to laugh at them, but they were on duty, and they knew that such a breach of discipline would not be allowed. Led by Lieutenant Perkins and his squad, they were marched to the big tent, where the ceremony of surrendering them was gone through with; after which the Indian delegation was escorted out of the camp, Captain Pomeroy and his men were ordered to their quarters, the sentries were posted, the ranks broken, and all the young soldiers who were off duty flocked into the big tent to talk over the incidents of the fight with their guests. Bert quickly found his way to a merry group consisting of his father, mother and brother, and Egan, Hopkins and Curtis, with their fathers and mothers, all of whom were listening with interest to what the deserters had to say regarding their experience among the Indians. When they had finished their story General Gordon said: —
“You missed it, boys. The members of your company covered themselves with glory and you have no share in it. The first company was so badly demoralized by the very first charge the Indians made that they couldn’t be rallied; while Pomeroy, with his raw recruits, as you might call them, drove the enemy from the field and saved the tents from capture.”
“It was really thrilling, Mr. Gordon,” said Egan’s pretty sister, to whom Don had just been introduced, “and I never before was so badly frightened. We were not expecting anything of the kind, you know, and I could not imagine what the matter was.”
“I wouldn’t have had those Indians get their hands on us for anything,” exclaimed Egan, who seemed to take the matter very much to heart. “I knew the fight was coming, and I wanted very much to take part in it. Well, it serves me right for deserting when I ought to have stayed in camp.”
It was growing late now – so late that the dancing was not resumed. The carriages, which had been ordered for eleven o’clock, began to arrive and the guests to take their departure for Bridgeport, whose two hotels and numerous boarding-houses were taxed to the utmost to find room for them.
The next morning passes were granted by wholesale, and every boy who was able to secure one started at once for the Indian camp, which was located in a deep ravine about a mile away. The young braves drove a thriving trade in bows and arrows, and earned a snug sum of pocket money by shooting dimes and quarters out of split sticks; while the squaws sold moccasins, beaded purses and miniature birch-bark canoes by the bushel. At one o’clock the big tent was again crowded with guests, and an hour later the Indian warriors, who were all armed and freshly painted, filed silently into the works. The entertainment that followed, and which was much better than some the boys had paid twenty-five cents to witness, included the corn-dance, hunting-dance, war-dance and a scalping scene. By the time it was ended dinner had been served in the big tent. After the dancers had done full justice to it, and had exchanged courtesies with their late antagonists by giving an ear-splitting war-whoop in return for their three cheers and a tiger, they filed out of the works as silently as they had come into them, and the students once more settled down to business.
There were no more desertions after that. Some of their friends came to see them every day, and as there were many veterans among them who watched their movements with a critical eye, of course the boys were careful to perform all their duties in a prompt and soldier-like manner. In due time the camp was broken and the students marched back to the academy, which during their absence had been thoroughly renovated. The examination was held, the members of the first class received their degrees and new officers were appointed for the coming year. Among the latter were Bert Gordon and Sam Arkwright – the former being made first sergeant of the fourth company, which was yet to be organized, and the other receiving a warrant as second corporal. Don Gordon stood head and shoulders above everybody in his class, and the only thing that prevented him from being commissioned lieutenant of the new company was his record as a soldier, which, as we know, was by no means perfect.
Contrary to Dick Henderson’s prediction, the school had not been disgraced by the presence of the New York boot-black. Its popularity seemed to be increasing, for the number of those who applied for admission was greater than it had ever been before; and when the examination was over, Bert found that he had a hundred and ten names on his company roster. Dick would not have made such a prediction now, for he was different in every way from the boy we introduced to the reader at the beginning of this story. Having got out from under Clarence Duncan’s baneful influence, and having Don Gordon’s example and Tom Fisher’s to encourage him, he was in a fair way to make a man of himself.
At length the exercises were all ended, and one bright morning Hopkins, Egan and Curtis took leave of their friends, and in company with Don and Bert Gordon and their parents, set out for Rochdale. They went fully prepared to enjoy themselves. As soon as it was settled that they were to go home with the Gordons, they had written for their hunting rigs, which were duly forwarded to them. Walter Curtis’s favorite, in fact his only, weapon, was a light Stevens rifle, with which he had broken twenty-three out of twenty-five feather-filled glass balls thrown from a revolving trap. Hopkins took pride in a short double-barrel shotgun, of large calibre, that he had often used on horseback while following deer and foxes to the music of the hounds; while Egan, who lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where canvas-backs and red-heads abound, put all his faith in a ponderous ten-gauge Parker, which was so heavy that Don Gordon, strong and enduring as he was, declared that he wouldn’t carry it all day through the woods if his friend Egan would make him a present of it.
“Neither would I,” chimed in Hopkins.
“You!” exclaimed Egan, standing off and looking at the speaker’s rotund figure. “You’d look nice starting out for an all-day tramp, you would. Your legs are too short, and you carry too much weight around with you. You would get out of breath before you had gone half a mile. But as I am not going to Mississippi after squirrels, I don’t intend to tramp about the woods. Gordon promised me some duck-shooting.”
“As for myself,” Curtis remarked, “I always did despise a scatter-gun. A blind man ought to be able to hit a duck by sending a pound or two of shot at him – ”
“Well, it’s not so easy, either,” interrupted Egan. “A duck, when flying down wind, moves at the rate of ninety miles an hour, old fellow, and it takes the best kind of a marksman to make a good bag.”
“A true sportsman never prides himself upon the number of birds he kills, but upon the superiority of his shots,” said Curtis. “When you can strike a rapidly moving object with a single ball from a rifle, then you can boast of your skill.”
During the journey down the Mississippi the boys were on deck almost all the time, listening to Don, who pointed out the various places of interest along the route, adding some entertaining scraps of the history of each. Over there, on the right bank, he said, was the battle-field of Belmont; and on the opposite shore was Columbus, from which came the Confederate reinforcements that had turned the Union victory into defeat. This was Island No. 10, where the gunboat Cincinnati distinguished herself by running the batteries, and a young master’s mate, afterward the brave commander of the Champion, won his shoulder-straps by going ashore with a boat’s crew, spiking some of the guns, and bringing off the wipers and spongers that belonged to them. Over there on the bluff was Fort Pillow, where that terrible massacre took place under Forrest; and this was Memphis, the scene of the fight between the Union and Confederate fleets, which resulted in the utter defeat of the latter, and in the capture of the Bragg, Price, and Little Rebel. This was Yazoo river. It was here that the Confederate ram Arkansas, after eluding the Cincinnati and whipping the Tyler, ran the fire of the whole Union fleet and took refuge under the guns of Vicksburg. Having been repaired she started down the river to raise the siege of Port Hudson, but was met and destroyed by a single Union gunboat, the Essex, under command of Captain Porter. And here was Rochdale at last. It had a history too, Don said, and he promised that he would relate it when they reached the shooting-box.
Egan and Hopkins were Southern boys, and consequently life on a plantation was not new to them; but Curtis, who was from New England, found much to interest him, and showed himself to be a true Yankee by asking a thousand and one questions about everything he saw. Hopkins’s first exploit was riding a kicking mule that Fred and Joe Packard brought out for him to try his skill upon. To the surprise of everybody Hopkins mounted in regular Texas style, placing his left hand on the mule’s shoulder and throwing his right leg over his back. The moment he was firmly settled, his appearance changed as if by magic. His seat was easy and graceful, and he kept his place on that mule’s back with as little trouble as he would have kept his place in a rocking chair. The animal could not move him an inch with all his kicking and plunging. The performance effectually silenced Egan, who was himself a fine horseman, and he never had anything to say about Hopkins’s riding after that.