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"Deer Bat: Got yore $100 all right, but doant send by that man again. He's shaky, and talks too much. Bring it yourself, or put it in an envelope directed to me, & drop it in my box. Yores,
"That's enough," said Shorty, with his mind in a tumult, as to how he was to get these papers into his possession. "I'll go in with you, if you'll take me. Here's my fist."
He reached out and shook hands with Bat Meacham over the bargain, and called to the waiter, "Here, fill 'em up agin."
Shorty pulled some papers out of his pocket to search for his money, and fumbled them over. There were two pieces among them resembling the sc.r.a.ps on which Billings had written his notes. They contained some army doggerel which the poet of Co. Q had written and Shorty was carrying about as literary treasures.
The waiter wiped off the table as he replaced the gla.s.ses, and Shorty lifted up the gambler's papers to permit him to do so. He laid down his own papers instead, and with them a $10 bill.
"There," he said; "I find that's all the money I have with me, but it's enough to bind the bargain. I left a couple hundred with the clerk at the tavern. I'll go right up and git it, and we'll settle the thing right here."
"Very good," replied Bat Meacham; "git back as quick as you kin. You'll find me either here or hangin' around near. Let's fix the thing up and git ready. I think a new regiment'll be down here tomorrow, and all the men'll have their first installment o' bounty and a month's pay."
Shorty hurried back to Headquarters and laid his precious papers before the Chief Clerk, who could not contain his exultation.
"Won't there be a tornado when the General sees these in the morning,"
he exclaimed. "He's gone out to camp, now, or I'd take them right to him. But he shall have them first thing in the morning."
The next morning Shorty waited with eager impatience while the General was closeted with his Chief Clerk. Presently the General stepped to the door and said sternly:
"Yes, sir," said Shorty, springing to his feet and saluting.
"Go down at once to the Provost-Marshal's office and tell Col. Billings to come to Headquarters at once. To come at once, without a moment's delay."
"Yes, sir," said Shorty saluting, with a furtive wink at the Chief Clerk, which said as plainly as words, "No presenting compliments this time."
He found Billings, all unconscious of the impending storm, dealing out wrath on those who were hauled before him.
"Col. Billings," said Shorty, standing stiff as a ramrod and curtly saluting, "the General wants you to come to Headquarters at once."
"Very well," replied Billings; "report to the General that I'll come as soon as I dispose of this business."
"That'll not do," said Shorty with stern imperiousness. "The General orders (with a gloating emphasis on 'orders') you to drop everything else, and come instantly. You're to go right back with me."
Shorty enjoyed the manifest consternation in Billings's face as he heard this summons. The men of the office p.r.i.c.ked up their ears, and looked meaningly at one another. Shorty saw it all, and stood as straight and stern as if about to lead Billings to execution.
Billings, with scowling face, picked up his hat, b.u.t.toned his coat, and walked out.
"Do you know what the General wants with me. Shorty?" he asked in a conciliatory way, when they were alone together on the sidewalk.
"My name's Corporal Elliott. You will address me as such," answered Shorty.
"Go to the devil," said Billings.
Billings tried to a.s.sume a cheerfully-genial air as he entered the General's office, but the grin faded at the sight of the General's stern countenance.
"Col. Billings," said the General, handing him the two pieces of paper, "do you recognize these?"
"Can't say that I do," answered Billings, pretending to examine them while he could recover his wits sufficiently for a fine of defense.
"Don't attempt to lie to me," said the General wrathfully, "or I'll forget myself sufficiently to tear the straps from your disgraced shoulders. I have compared these with other specimens of your handwriting, until I have no doubt. I have sent for you not to hear your defense, or to listen to any words from you. I want you to merely sit down there and sign this resignation, and then get out of my office as quickly as you can. I don't want to breathe the same air with you.
I ought to courtmartial you, and set you to hard work on the fortifications, but I hate the scandal. I have already telegraphed to Army Headquarters to accept your resignation by wire, and I shall send it by telegraph.
"I cannot get you out of the army too quickly. Sign this, and leave my office, and take off your person every sign of your connection with the army. I shall give orders that if you appear on the street with so much as a military b.u.t.ton on, it shall be torn off you."
As the crushed Lieutenant-Colonel was leaving the office, Shorty lounged up, and said:
"See here. Mister Billings--you're Mister Billings now, and a mighty ornery Mister, too, I'm going to lay for you, and settle several little p'ints with you. You've bin breedin' a busted head, and I'm detailed to give it to you. Git out, you hound."
CHAPTER XI. SHORTY RUNS HEADQUARTERS
GETS ENTIRELY TOO BIG FOR HIS PLACE.
THE disturbance in the Deacon's family when Shorty's note was delivered by little Sammy Woggles quite came up to that romance-loving youth's fond antic.i.p.ations. If he could only hope that his own disappearance would create a fraction of the sensation he would have run away the next day. It would be such a glorious retribution on those who subjected him to the daily tyranny of rising early in the morning, washing his face, combing his hair, and going to school. For the first time in his life the boy found himself the center of interest in the family. He knew something that all the rest were intensely eager to know, and they plied him with questions until his young brain whirled. He told them all that he knew, except that which Shorty had enjoined upon him not to tell, and repeated his story without variation when separately examined by different members of the family. All his leisure for the next few days was put in laboriously constructing, on large sheets of foolscap, the following letter, in which the thumb-marks and blots were more conspicuous than the "pot-hook" letters:
doNt 4git thAt REblE guN u promist mE.
thAir wAs An oRful time wheN i giv um yorE lEttEr.
missis klEgg shE cride.
mAriAr shE sEd did u EvEr No Ennything so Ridiklus.
si hE sed thAt shorty kood be morE Kinds ov fool in A minnit thAn Ary uthEr boy hE Ever node, Not bArrin Tompsons colt.
thE deAcon hE wAntid 2 go 2 the tranE & stop u. When hE found hE kooddEnt do that, hE wAntid 2 tElEgrAf 2 Arrest u & bring u bAk.
But si hE sEd bEttEr let u run till u got tirEd. Ude fEtch up sum whAir soon. Then thEy wood sHp a bridlE ovEr yore hEAd & brink u bAk.
i hAint told mAriA nothin but u hAd bEtEr sEnd thAt gun rite off.
ile look 4 it EvEry dAy til i git it.
mi pen iz bAd, mi ink iz pAle, send thAt gun & NEVEr f ALE.
As soon as he saw that he was likely to remain at Headquarters for some time. Shorty became anxious about that letter from Sammy, and after much scheming and planning, he at last bethought himself of the expedient of having the Chief Clerk write an official letter to Sam Elkins, the postmaster and operator at Bean Blossom Creek Station, directing him to forward to Headquarters any communications addressed to Corp'l Elliott, 200th Ind. Vols., and keep this matter a military secret.
In spite of his prepossessions against it, Shorty took naturally to Headquarters duty, as he did to everything else in the army. He even took a pride in his personal appearance, and appeared every morning as spick and span as the barber-shop around the corner could make him.
This was because the General saw and approved it, and--because of the influence Maria had projected into his life. The Deacon's well-ordered home had been a revelation to him of another world, of which he wanted to be a part. The gentle quiet and the constant consideration for others that reigned there smoothed off his rough corners and checked the rasping of his ready tongue.