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I followed the camp and took my place in the ranks at Ogdensburg. We went immediately into barracks--a structure long and low and weather-stained, overlooking the St. Lawrence. There was a fine level field in front of it, and a flag waving at the top of a high staff. The men cheered lustily that afternoon as they passed it, where stood General Jacob Brown, his cocked hat in his hand--a splendid figure of a man, My delight in the life of a soldier began that hour, and has never left me.
There was a lot of horse-play that night, in which some of the green boys were roughly handled. They told me, I remember, that all new recruits had to fight a duel; but when they gave me the choice of weapons I was well content. I had the sure eye of my father, and the last time I had fenced with him, there at home, he said my arm was stronger and quicker than his had ever been. Indeed, I was no sooner tall enough to swing a sword than he began teaching me how to use it. In the wood back of the barracks that night, they learned I was not a man to be fooled with. The tall sergeant who stood before me saw his sword go flying in the gloom the second thrust he made at me, and ran for his life, amid roars of laughter. I had no lack of friends after that day.
It was a year of surprises in the Northern army, and D'ri was the greatest of all. That long, wiry, sober-faced Yankee conquered the smartness of the new camp in one decisive and immortal victory. At first they were disposed to poke fun at him.
"Looks a little tired," said the sergeant of the guard.
"Needs rest--that's what's matter o' him," said the captain.
"Orter be turned out t' grass a leetle while," the adjutant suggested.
The compliments he failed to hear soon came to him indirectly, and he had much to put up with. He kept his temper and smoked thoughtfully, and took it ail in good part. The night after he came they put him on guard duty--a greenhorn, with no knowledge of any orders but gee and haw. They told him he should allow nobody to pass him while on duty, but omitted to mention the countersign. They instructed him in the serious nature of his task, adding that his failure to comply with orders would incur the penalty of death. D'ri looked very sober as he listened. No man ever felt a keener sense of responsibility. They intended, I think, to cross the lines and take his gun away and have fun with him, but the countersign would have interfered with their plans.
D'ri went to his post a little after sundown. The guard was posted. The sergeant, with his party of six, started back to the guard-house, but they never got there. They went as far as D'ri. He stood with his gun raised.
"Come another step," said he, "an' I'll let the moonlight through ye."
They knew he meant it, and they stood still.
"Come for'ard--one et a time," said D'ri, "Drop yer guns 'n' set down. Ye look tired."
They did as he commanded, for they could see he meant business, and they knew he had the right to kill.
Another man came along shortly.
"Halt! Who comes there?" D'ri demanded,
"Friend with the countersign," he replied.
"Can't fool me," said D'ri. "Come up here 'n' set down 'n' mek yerself t' hum. Drop yer gun fust. Drop it, er I 'll drop you."
He dropped his gun promptly and accepted the invitation to sit down. This last man had some arguments to offer, but D'ri stood sternly and made no reply.
At eleven o'clock Captain Hawkins sent out inquiries for the sergeant of the guard and his relief. He could find nobody who had seen them since dark. A corporal was also missing. The captain sent a man to look for them. He got as far as D'ri and sat down. They waited for him in vain. The captain stood looking into the darkness and wondering about his men. He conferred with Adjutant Church. Then he set out with two men to go the rounds. They got as far as D'ri.
"Halt! Who comes there?" he demanded.
"Grand rounds," was the answer of the captain.
"Lay down yer arms," said D'ri, "an" come up here 'n' set down."
"Haven't time," said the captain, failing at first to grasp the situation.
"You tek time, er I 'll put a hole 'n yer jacket," said D'ri.
One of the privates turned quickly and ran. D'ri sent a shot after him, that only grazed a leg, and he kept on. Then D'ri gave all attention to his new prisoners. They could see no amusement in dodging bullets; they threw their arms on the side-hill and sat down with the others.
The captain swore as he submitted,
"Don't rile yerself," said D'ri; "you need rest."
"No, I don't, nuther," said the captain.
"Ye'll hev t' hev it, anyway," said D'ri.
"This beats h--!" the captain answered, with a laugh.
A feeling of alarm began to spread. The adjutant was standing in a group of men at headquarters soon after midnight. They were ears under in the mystery. The escaped soldier came running toward them out of the dark. He was breathing heavily; his leg was bleeding and sore.
"Wall, what is it?" the adjutant demanded.
"D'ri!" the man gasped, and dropped down exhausted.
"D'ri?" the officer inquired.
"D'ri!" the man repeated. "It's thet air man they call D'ri. He's roped in everybody thet come his way. They 're all settin' on the hill up there beside him. Won't let a man move when he gits him."
The adjutant snickered as he spat an oath. He was made of iron, that man Church.
"Post a guard around him," said he, turning to an officer. "The dem fool 'd tek the hull garrison ef we did n't. I 'll go 'n' try t' pull him off his perch."
"He 'll lay ye up," said the returned private, baring his bloody leg. "Eff ye try t' fool with him ye'll limp. See what he done t' me."
The adjutant swore again.
"Go t' the hospital," he commanded.
Then he strode away, but he did not return that night.
The moon was shining as the adjutant came, in sight and hailed the group of prisoners.
"What ye settin' there fer?" he shouted.
"You 'll know 'n a minute," said one of them.
"Halt! Who comes there?" D'ri demanded.
"Don't ye purten' t' be my friend," D'ri answered. "'T won't work. Come up here 'n' set down."
"Stop foolin', man," said the adjutant.
"I ain't a-foolin'."
"He ain't a-foolin'; he means business," said one of the prisoners.
"Don't ye tamper with me. I 'll teach you--" the adjutant threatened.
"Ain't a-goin' t' tamper with ye a minute," said D'ri. "If ye don't set down here quick, I 'll put a hole in ye."
"Lunatic! wha' d' ye mean?"
"I mean t' turn ye out t' grass a leetle while," D'ri answered soberly. "Ye look tired."
The officer made at him, but in a flash D'ri had knocked him down with his musket. The adjutant rose and, with an oath, joined the others.
"Dunno but he 'll tek the hull garrison 'fore sunrise," he muttered. "Let 'em come--might es well hev comp'ny."
A little before daylight a man sick in the hospital explained the situation. He had given D'ri his orders. They brought him out on a stretcher. The orders were rescinded, the prisoners released.
Captain Hawkins, hot to his toes with anger, took D'ri to headquarters. General Brown laughed heartily when he heard the facts, and told D'ri he was made of the right stuff.
"These greenhorns are not nice to play with," he said. "They're like some guns--loaded when you don't expect it. We 've had enough skylarking."
And when the sick man came out of hospital he went to the guard-house.
After we had shown our mettle the general always had a good word for D'ri and me, and he put us to the front in every difficult enterprise.
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