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Harriet Theresa Comstock was an American novelist and author of children's books. Harriet Theresa Comstock was born in Nichols, New York, and educated in Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1885, she married Philip Comstock of Brooklyn, New York.Collection of 10 Works of Harriet T. Comstock________________________________________A Little Dusky HeroA Son of the HillsAt the CrossroadsJanet of the DunesJoyce of the North WoodsMam'selle JoThe Man Thou GavestThe Place Beyond the WindsThe Shield of SilenceThen Marched the Brave
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The Premium Complete Collection of Harriet T. Comstock
Detailed Biography of Harriet T. Comstock
A Little Dusky Hero
A Son of the Hills
At the Crossroads
Janet of the Dunes
Joyce of the North Woods
The Man Thou Gavest
The Place Beyond the Winds
The Shield of Silence
Then Marched the Brave
Harriet Theresa Comstock (1860–1925) was an American novelist and author of children's books.
Harriet Theresa Comstock was born in Nichols, New York, and educated in Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1885, she married Philip Comstock of Brooklyn, New York.
AUTHOR OF "CEDRIC THE SAXON," "TOWER OR THRONE," ETC.
I.George Washington McKinley JonesII.The Box from up NorthIII.The Little Gauntlet and SwordIV.Waiting in the Turret ChamberV. The Boy up NorthVI. "War, G. W.!"VII. The Battle on the Hill-TopVIII. The Colonel's Body-GuardIX. "I'se Got de Colonel!"X.In the Tent HospitalXI. "It's all yours, G. W.!"XII.A History-Evening at OakwoodTHE GOLDEN HOUR SERIES
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Scratch! scratch! scratch! went Colonel Austin's pen over the smooth white sheets of paper, sheet after sheet.
The dead heat of Tampa hung heavy within the tent; the buzz of the flies was most distressing; but the reports must be got off, and after them there were letters to be written to "the Boy and his Mother" up North, telling them—especially the Boy—what a glorious thing it is to serve one's country under any circumstances. The present circumstances were extremely trying, to be sure, but the firm brown hand glided back and forth over the long pages in a determined manner that showed how Colonel Austin believed in doing his duty.
Scratch! scratch! scratch!
Buzz! buzz! buzz!
It was a soft little voice, and it droned away into the buzz of the flies and the scratching of the pen so that the writer at the rough table took no heed.
"Good mornin', sah!"
This time Colonel Austin turned. He was a firm believer in discipline, and the unannounced arrival annoyed him. He swung around and gazed sternly about six feet from the ground. There was nothing there! His eyes dropped and finally rested upon the very smallest, dirtiest, raggedest black boy he had ever seen. But the beautiful great eyes of the forlorn mite looked trustingly up at the surprised officer, and Colonel Austin noticed that the grimy cheeks were tear-stained though the childish lips were smiling bravely.
"Good mornin', sah!" again piped the soft voice.
"Why, good morning to you!" the Colonel replied. He was always tender with sick soldiers, women, and children, and the pathetic little figure before him touched his sympathy. "Who are you, my small friend?"
"George Washington McKinley Jones, sah."
"Just so; and where are your folks?"
"No folks any more, sah. Daddy he done got put in prison fur life, sah, 'cos he killed a frien' of his, an' my mammy she done died yesterday. I jus' come from her buryin', sah." Two slow tears fell from the soft brown eyes and rolled over the stained cheeks.
Colonel Austin's throat grew dry, as it always did when he looked upon suffering things bearing pain and trouble bravely.
"And why do you come here, my child?" he asked kindly.
"I likes de look ob your face, sah, an' I'se hungry—I'se starved, I is—an' 'sides I want work!"
The boy certainly was not over nine, and was undersized and childish-looking even for that.
"Work!" smiled the grave Colonel, "what in the world can you do?"
"Why, sah, I'se de best shot you ebber saw; I reckon I'se what you call a real crack shot; dat's what I am, sah!"
The ring of pride in the piping voice reached the Colonel's heart. "Oh! I see," he nodded. "You wish to be a soldier boy, is that it?"
The grimy little applicant drew himself up to his extreme height, and replied with magnificent scorn. "No, sah! I does not wish to be a sojer boy. I wish ter be one ob dem heroes, sah!"
A joke was a rare thing in those dull, waiting days, and George Washington McKinley Jones was delicious. The Colonel smoothed the smiles from his mouth as best he could. But not a quiver of mirth ruffled the dirt-stained countenance of the child. His severe stare sobered the Colonel, and he asked in a gentle tone, "Do you know what a hero is, my boy?"
George Washington drew his ragged coat about him with a gesture of patient pity, then answered with a slow, pained dignity. "Co'se I knows what a hero is, sah. How could I know dat I wanted ter be one if I didn't? A hero is a pusson, sah, what ain't afraid to tackle a job too big fur other folks, an' goes right froo wid it or dies a-doin' it!"
Something in the quiet words drove all desire to laugh for good and all from the listening officer. "I have a character on my hands, evidently," he thought; aloud he said, "George Washington McKinley Jones, I presume you haven't any particular job in heroism in sight at present?"
"No, sah. I jes' wants to go 'long wid de boys, an' watch out fur my chance. Mammy done tole me heaps ob times dat if I jes' was wid sojers, I was boun'ter be a hero some day, shore. She 'lowed she had visions."
"You shall have your chance, comrade!" The Colonel got up and took the thin little hand in his. "If you have told me the truth, my boy, I will take you along with my regiment and give you a show." He called to an officer who was passing the tent. "Martin!"
The man stopped and touched his cap.
"Martin, we have a young volunteer here. He's no common soldier, please understand; he's enlisted as a hero. Feed him up, give him all that he can hold, and let him report to me later."
Lieutenant Martin's face never changed expression; he simply held out his hand gravely to George Washington McKinley Jones, saluted his superior officer, and led the volunteer out of the tent.
While George Washington ate, solemnly and long, investigations were made as to the truth of his story. Colonel Austin made them himself. He wished to make sure, for his sympathy was deeply enlisted, and he did not intend to be deceived. He found the little fellow had not departed from the facts in the least particular. He belonged to nobody; but every one who knew him had a kindly word for him. He was known as an honest, good-natured little waif, with a reputation for hitting the bull's-eye every time any one would lend him a gun at a rifle-match.
Upon the evidence gathered the boy was taken into the army as the "mascot of the Ninth," and before long he was the pet of the men in that city of white tents, and became known as "G. W.," for who in that hot, lazy place could waste time in calling him all of his various historical national names? It was "G. W." here and "G. W." there. He danced for them and sang for them, and was never weary, never ill-tempered.
When once he had had enough to eat—and for many days the men thought that he never could get enough—he became the healthiest and ruggedest of boys, and beyond doubt one of the happiest that ever breathed.
One day a box came from the North. It was addressed to "George Washington McKinley Jones, care of Colonel Austin;" but as G. W. was incapable of reading he sharply questioned the messenger who delivered it.
"How you know dis 'blongs ter me?" asked he.
"There's your name," said the messenger.
The patient messenger traced the boy's illustrious name.
"What's dar 'sides my name?"
"Care of Colonel Austin."
"Oh!" said G. W., understandingly, "dat means I'se got ter take care ob it fur my Colonel! I reckon dey needn't took all de trouble to write dat foolishness out! Co'se I'll take care of it."
G. W. ran straight to Colonel Austin's tent. The officer was sitting inside, and, as it happened, alone.
"Hello, G. W., what have you there?"
The boy held the big box out gravely. Colonel Austin read the address. "It's for you, my boy," he said. "Open it and let us see what is inside. Here, let us drop the tent-flap and keep the surprise to ourselves."
When the Colonel said the package was for him all doubt fled from G. W.'s heart. Others might step from truth's narrow way—but his Colonel? Oh, never! The exciting thought that the box was really for himself made the sturdy little form quiver. His hands shook, and the big brown eyes stood open, as round as full moons.
The heavy papers were off at last. Upon the box itself lay a square white envelope, breathing forth a fragrance of violets, and stating as plainly as could be, in delicate lettering, that the contents of the envelope were also for G. W.
"There's something for you in the letter—open that first," said the Colonel. He was eyeing the scene with a strange look upon his face. "Shall I read it for you, G. W.?" he added.
"Yes, sah! I guess you'll have to, sah, sump-in' seems de matter wid my eyes," said G. W. "You jes' read it, Colonel. Read it slow an' exactly what it done say, kase I doan't want any mistake, sah, 'bout dis sort ob thing."
"All right, old man,—just tell me if I go too fast."
Then the Colonel began:
"To George Washington McKinley Jones,
private in the Ninth Infantry:
"Dear Sir: The enclosed are for you. They were made in Uncle Sam's workshop, just where all the brave boys have theirs made"—
"You reads too fast, Colonel!" gasped G. W., tiny drops of perspiration standing out on his face.
The Colonel began again at the beginning, and then went on, reading slowly:
"I am sure they will fit, because a little messenger brought me the measurements. Accept them with our love, and wear them like the hero you will certainly be some day. There is just one way you can thank us; bring Colonel Austin home to us safe and sound, well and strong. See that he obeys you where this is concerned. We wish him to do his duty, but do not let anything happen to him.
"God bless you, little soldier! That is the daily wish of
"The Boy and his Mother."
There was silence in the tent.
Then said the Colonel, "Well, why don't you open the box, G. W.?"
The boy was kneeling before the box, but his eyes were fastened upon a photograph on the rude table. It was a photograph of "the Boy and his Mother," G. W. felt certain; and he was realizing that these two, far away in the unknown, had spoken to him.
"Open it, G. W.," again the Colonel said.
"You do it, sah! I clar I doan't dare!"
The officer laughed, and cut the string. Within the box, neatly folded, but in such a way as to hide none of their charms, lay trousers and jacket of army blue resplendent with flashing buttons.
Colonel Austin took the garments out, and held them up at arms' length. They were small, but perfect.
"Lawd!" gasped G. W.; "for de Lawd's sake!"
A moment of breathless silence followed; then Colonel Austin said, "They are yours, G. W., try them on! You are 'one of the boys' now for sure and certain, buttons and all! See, there is a '9' on every button!"
Slowly the surprise cleared away in G. W.'s brain. He gave a low whistle, like the note of a bird, and struggled to his feet, for he was still on his knees by the box.
"Colonel," he whispered, "you ain't never tole me a lie—but dis here 'sperience done tries my mind! Turn away yo' head, sah."
Colonel Austin turned away his head and waited.
Behind his back arose a rustling, with mutters of impatience, as buttons refused to comply with the nervous efforts of awkward and trembling fingers. Then came a long breath of content, as things began to run smoother, and presently a sigh of superhuman bliss; then a voice, new and deep, gasped forth:
"Look at me!"
The Colonel turned. There, his face and hands in a tremble, but all exultant, stood G. W. in the uniform of the Ninth. The coat was buttoned crooked, the cap, which G. W. had discovered at the bottom of the box, was hind part before—but what of that? In all the army of the great Republic was no manlier soldier than the little fellow who now faced his Colonel with a look of rapture on his round, dusky face.
"Comrade, give us your hand!" There was a mistiness in the Colonel's eyes, a queer chokiness in his voice. "You'll never disgrace the uniform, my boy,—it isn't in you to do it!"
G. W. saluted, and then gravely placed his hand in Colonel Austin's.
"Dese clo'es," he said, "are jes' goin' to help make me a hero for sho! An', Colonel, I'se goin' ter take care ob you jis' like de Boy an' his Mother tole me. I is sho! Nothin' ain't goin' to happen 'long o' you while George Washington McKinley Jones knows what hisself am about! I'se goin' ter put dis letter in my breas'-pocket, an' it's goin' ter stay right plumb ober my heart, till I take yer back to dem two all right! Now, sah, let me show de boys. Lawd! I clar if my mammy"—the proud smile quivered—"should see me, I jes' reckon de visions she'd have would make her trimble!"
The sunlight beat down upon Tampa until every man in camp shed his coat in despair, but not one button did G. W. unfasten!
He strutted and sweltered, and complained not. He gave daily exhibitions of his sharp-shooting—which, by the way, was an accomplishment truly remarkable. For the first time in his life he was absolutely and perfectly happy.
While all "the boys" felt a personal interest in the child, it was a well-understood fact that he belonged to Colonel Austin. To that officer alone did G. W. report, and from him alone did he accept orders as to his outgoings and incomings.
As the long languid weeks dragged on, G. W. became the life of the camp. His "break-downs," danced with wondrous grace and skill, set many a lazy foot shuffling in sympathy. He sang songs to a banjo accompaniment which made the listeners forget their pipes and cards, and set them to thinking of home—and other things. He appeared to be singularly innocent and child-like for such an uncared-for waif. He seemed to have gathered only good nature and a love for the brave and noble from his starved, cruel years. As Colonel Austin watched him from day to day he became more interested in him, and began to wonder what he should do with the odd little chap when the business with Spain was settled, and life assumed its ordinary aspect once more.
Perhaps the Colonel's hunger for the Boy up North made him glad of the companionship; perhaps it was only his noble heart always yearning over the needy. Be that as it may, the little black boy and the handsome young Colonel became daily closer comrades.
There was one regulation which Colonel Austin had insisted upon from the first. G. W., who was to sleep upon a mattress in his tent, was to go to bed early, as a child should. The men might bribe or coax him for a dance or a song during the day; but the little soldier had his orders to "turn in" at eight-thirty, and although G. W. often longed for an hour more, he obeyed like the hero he meant some day to be. Love and a strong sense of duty governed the heart beating faithfully under the hot, trimly-buttoned uniform. He might wish to stay where the fun was, but he never varied his obedience by an extra five minutes.
When it was possible the Colonel took a few moments from duty or pleasure at the twilight hour, and followed G. W. into the tent. When the flap fell to after the pair, not a soldier but knew that the Colonel was not to be disturbed except upon the most urgent business. When the Colonel came out of the tent the look in his eyes made more than one man remember it.
Old General Wallace was once known to have taken off his hat as he came face to face with G. W.'s Colonel at the tent door, after one of those mysterious twilight talks. When the older man realized what he had done he jammed his hat down over his eyes, and, with an impatient laugh, said, "What in thunder is the matter with you, Austin? You look like a Methodist camp-meeting!"
G. W.'s Colonel saluted and passed on.
One night when he went into the tent after G. W., he found the boy divested of his splendid regimentals, kneeling in a very scant and child-like costume before the table—which, by the way, was composed of two soap-boxes covered with a flag—and scanning the faces of "the Boy and his Mother." A strange yearning in G. W.'s eyes caused the officer to speak very gently.
"What is it, old fellow? Surely you are not envying the Boy up North? You, a full-fledged soldier of Uncle Sam!"
Envy! why G. W.'s heart just then was filled with pity for that boy nearly as old as he, who was obliged to wear humiliating garments. Actually there was lace on his collar. And the boy wore curls! not long ones, but curls nevertheless. G. W. had by this time acquired tact sufficient to forbid mention of these pitiful details, but he said slowly, "I'se right sorry fur de Boy, Colonel, kase he's 'bliged to stay away frum being wid you!"
G. W. was too sincere to be laughed at, and the Boy's father replied gently:
"Well, you see, comrade, it is this way: the Boy is serving his country as well as you. He'd like to be here first-rate,—a drum-call sets him prancing like a war horse,—but there's the Mother, you know. It would never do to leave her quite alone—he's taking my place by her side until the country needs me no longer and I may go home. There are a good many ways of serving, old man.
"G. W., once I was walking through a gallery of an ancient castle, and I noticed among the armor and weapons which lined the walls a little gauntlet and sword. So very small were they that I questioned the guide, and he told me this story:
'In the dark days of long ago, when a man's castle had to be defended from his foes, and every one was on guard against an attack, there was a knight who had four sons and one fair daughter. Three of the sons were great stalwart fellows, but the fourth was a crippled lad who lay upon his bed in the turret chamber week after week, dreaming his dreams and looking out across the wide parks over which he was never to ride to wage war against a cruel foe. The pretty sister sat much with him and wove wondrous stories from her busy brain to help while away the weary hours; and she got the father to have the slender gauntlet and sword made, so that the patient soldier upon the bed might the better believe himself like the strong, brave heroes of her tales.
'Now it came to pass that a very wicked lord of an adjoining country wished to marry the pretty sister, and take her to his gloomy castle. To that the father and brothers said, "No!" They vowed that they would fight to the end rather than that the wicked lord should have his way. And soon they saw that they must indeed fight if they would keep her, for rumor reached them that the lord had raised a mighty company and was nearing their castle. Then every man prepared himself for battle, and in the turret room the small warrior lay upon his bed with the gauntlet upon his hand, and the keen sword ready in case the foe should enter. Day by day the fair sister, white and full of fear, knelt beside him, and tried to be brave for his dear sake.
'At length the day of conflict came. The two in the high room saw the banners of the wicked lord advancing, and the little brother said valiantly, "I will defend you!"
'The struggle came on. Long and nobly did the knight and his men strive to keep back the terrible lord, and many fell in court-yard and hall. But at last the wicked lord and his followers triumphed, and with shouts of victory strode to the turret-room.
'There knelt the maid, her golden head bowed beside her brother. His left hand pressed her fair curls, but his right hand was ready for its task. The lord bent to grasp the prize for which he had fought, little heeding the crippled boy; but as his fingers were about to close upon the girl's arm the keen slender sword was raised in a hand made strong for the deed, and a desperate blow fell upon the wrist of the lord, and his hand was nearly severed from the arm. An awed silence followed the doughty deed. Then out spoke the lord: "Let no man touch the pair. Of all warriors this cripple is the greatest, because in his weakness he has dared all things for love!"'
"So you see, G. W., the poor young stay-at-home was a soldier, too!" said the Colonel. "I have always loved to remember the story. And now I often think of the Boy up North defending his mother from loneliness and foreboding—he is doing his share, G. W."
G. W.'s soft, big, brown eyes were fixed upon his Colonel's face. The great hero-tales of legend and history were new to his empty childhood, and this one thrilled him to his heart's core.
"Dat's a mighty fine story!" he mused. "When you was telling me dat story, Colonel, it done seem as if nothing was mean in all de world; it seems like every one was brave!"
"Never reckon out any honest service, old man," the Colonel went on; "very little things count in this world, and oftentimes the weakest do the greatest deeds. That little hero of long ago stretches forth a hand to every child who tries to do his part!"
A gleam of admiration flashed into G. W.'s eyes. "Well, I 'low dat de Boy up North is a bigger soldier dan I 'magined. I knowed from de fust I done got to take care ob you, Colonel, but now I jis' feel like I 'd be glad to do something fur de Boy hisself!"
Colonel Austin seemed to understand. "Well," said he, "you and he are both taking care of me. You are helping him and he is helping you, and maybe some day you may tell each other all about it."
There was surely one thing the Colonel's two "boys" had in common: they both had the same devouring passion for hero-stories.
During almost every spring evening of that year, by a bedside in a cool Northern home, a pretty young mother had sat and told to an eager little lad thrilling tales of bravery and courage. Always she began with the one the Colonel had told to G. W.—the story of the crippled boy in the old castle turret. There was something in that legend that stirred Jack Austin in a wonderful manner.
It had been hard for Jack to be separated from his father from the first; but now, whenever he heard from his father's letters about G. W., and realized that among war's perils there could be a place for a small boy, his heart simply ached with longing. G. W., a boy little older than himself, was there beside Daddy! But at this point Jack always recalled the story of the gauntlet and the small sword, and stifled back the tears and looked lovingly at his pretty mother. No matter how he envied G. W., he would stay, patient, in his "turret chamber." His place was beside his mother until Daddy came marching home. How many times his father had sent him that message! Jack dreamed almost every night of his father coming home, keeping step to the cheerful drum; so he had marched away, and so he would return, with G. W. at his side!
Near his bed, at night, always lay Jack's own splendid suit of make-believe soldier clothes. It was hard sometimes for him to think that they were make-believe clothes, while the suit of blue his mother had sent to G. W. were real, true ones, and worn by the dusky little soldier who lived in his dear father's tent. There often seemed to him an unendurable difference between G. W. and himself.
Poor little Jack! he was braver than he realized when he turned away from this feeling and smiled up into his mother's face.
But Jack's mother knew all about this feeling.
"And so you see, dear," the stories for Jack always ended, "that though you are but mother's obedient little boy now, your chance in the great world's work will come!"
And in the tent, beneath the glorious sunsets of Tampa, at about the same time "Daddy" would be sitting and smoking beside a small mattress bed, urging the same line of conduct upon another boy "hero" with a heart under the brown skin as pure and innocent as the one throbbing beneath the snowy night-gown so far away.
"Your chance will come, G. W.!"
And both boys generally fell asleep with the resolve that they would do the things and bear the things of the present, and "wait" without a murmur, because heroes had done the same since the world began.
It was never clear to G. W. why the "boys" were always anxious to be "going." For him the lazy, fun-loving life was never tedious or unpleasant. From all that he could gather by endless questioning, war was not half so agreeable, although he granted it must certainly be more exciting.
"When will the order come for us to move?" That was the daily question in camp.
At last it came! They were to sail at once. Of course the President of the United States, whose illustrious name G. W. bore himself, meant all the thousands who were encamped in Tampa; but to G. W. the order meant that he and "de Colonel" were to "pull up stakes" and sail away to that strange, mysterious Cuba, and face war!
The little dusky fellow in blue suddenly felt that his hands were pretty full.
He it was who packed all the Colonel's belongings, giving special care to the photograph. He polished up the guns and swords, and even his own buttons. He meant at least to command the respect of the foe. He often grew hot and tired, during those days, but never made a complaint. And when the hurried camp preparations were completed, it was G. W. and "de Colonel" who marched down the long pier to the waiting transports. To G. W.'s mind, it was for them the cheers rang out, and for them did the band play the inspiring music that set his feet dancing. Oh, it was the proudest moment of G. W.'s life so far. His buttons almost burst over his swelling chest. He was marching straight into the glorious future. He was going to be a hero without further delay. He saw "visions," like his mammy. Somewhere, off in the misty distance, his "chance" was waiting for him; he felt as certain of it as he was that under his beloved uniform he was surely melting.
The days in the crowded transport put little G. W.'s endurance to the test. But during the wretched hours one glance at the Colonel's face gave him courage to suffer and be—still!
His Colonel saw it all.
"Bear up, old chap! Heroes grin—and conquer things," said the officer, while his heart ached for the silent child; and in the end, through sea-sickness and a longing for old easy days, G. W. did grin and "conquer things."
Then they came to Cuba! Under the dark palms and cacti, once more the white tents were pitched; and facing the fact of approaching battles, the men made ready, but still lightened the heavy hours by song and joke, and boisterously welcomed the old comradeship of G. W.
G. W. revived when once his feet touched solid land. "I doan't like de water," he explained; "it's shaky an' onsartain an'—an'—wet! Dere's too much ob it too, an' when it gets wobbly, whar are yo?"
So the boy cheerfully took up again his dancing and singing. War grew again to seem to him a matter of some other day. The regiment seemed merely to have shifted its pleasure-ground. To be sure, there were fewer hours alone with the Colonel, for he was very busy, but G. W. followed him about at a distance whenever and wherever he could. If love could shield the young officer from harm, surely never was he safer.
But presently G. W. began to form new and more personal ideas of war; his imagination, fed by the stories he had heard, sprang to life. Perhaps war wasn't anything they would know about beforehand. That might be the reason for the look of anxiety he had noticed upon the face of his Colonel. Possibly war was like a great cloud hurled along by the hurricane—G. W. knew how that looked. They might all be sitting by the camp-fire some night, when suddenly war would descend upon them and find them unprepared. With that thought G. W.'s face took on an expression of anxiety. He clung closer to his Colonel; he did not intend that war should find his Colonel unattended by body-guard.
Colonel Austin often took heed of the faithful little shadow, and began to fear anew for the time when he might be obliged to "go to the front" and leave the boy behind.
"G. W., you must never go beyond that point alone," he said one day, naming a hill a half mile or so distant. "These are not play-days, comrade; I want to feel that you are safe. I cannot afford to worry about you now. Obedience first, old man, you know, and then you are on the way to being a hero."
"Yes, sah!" The small black hand gave the salute gravely. G. W. never by any possible chance forgot his military training. "But, Colonel, you goes furder dan de hill right often."
"That's true, G. W., but my duty calls me beyond; your duty bids you stay this side of the hill—that's the difference, G. W."
"Yes, sah! but how is I goin' ter take care ob you, wid you trapesing off de Lawd knows whar?"
Colonel Austin smiled. "You must try to be willing to trust me out of your sight, my boy," he said, "just as I have to trust you when you stay behind."
"But, Colonel, jes' 'spose war should attack you, wid me fur off? How does yo' 'spec I 'se goin' ter report to de Boy an' his Mother?"
Colonel Austin saw trouble ahead unless he got G. W. into shape.
"Look here, old fellow," he replied, taking the young body-guard between his knees. "War isn't going to catch us napping. We'll know at what minute to point our guns at the enemy. We shall know and we shall obey our orders. And you'll know, and you must obey your orders, comrade. You must stay in your turret chamber, like the brave boy of old. You mustn't follow me past that point. If you do, G. W.,"—Colonel Austin had never threatened the boy before,—"unless you promise me, G. W., I'll tie the flaps of the tent upon you every time I leave it."
The childish lips quivered in an un-soldier-like way. "I'll promise, Colonel!"
"All right, then, and give us your hand. Comrade, you've taken a load from my mind."
The days following grew to be hard days for the boy, so long petted by the regiment. Food was scarce, and when there was plenty it was often of a kind that he turned from. The evenings in the tent were very long and lonely before he fell asleep. No stories now. His Colonel's absences grew more frequent and more prolonged. G. W.'s only solace was to gaze at the picture of the Boy and his Mother.
The half-mile hill became more and more every day a dread landmark. From that hated point of view he had to watch the Colonel's tall figure disappear only too often, while he stayed behind to return ingloriously to the tent. Where was the "chance" that was going to make him a hero if he must always stay behind in the place of safety? Did the Colonel think heroes were made on hill-tops a half mile from camp? G. W. grew sarcastic. He kept his buttons bright and his uniform brushed and trim; not because he loved it as when he expected to soon wear it as a hero, but because the Colonel kept himself in order—his faithful G. W. could at least follow him in that.
But at last came a thing that roused him from this mood. Fever broke out in camp, and G. W. developed into a nurse of no mean order. He carried water and bathed aching heads. Hot hands clung to him, forgetting how very small and weak he was. "Sing to us, G. W.," often those weary, suffering fellows said, "and don't give us the jig-tunes, old man, but something soft."
With his brown, childish face upraised G. W. would sing the old camp-meeting songs that his mother used to sing in the days of long ago before he had dreamed of being a hero.
Was it the religious thought in the quaint words, or the tender quality of the airs, or was it G. W.'s pathetic voice that had the power to quiet the delirium and make it possible for the tired sick men to rest? How can one tell? But as the boy sang stillness settled down over the rough hospital, and many a "God bless you, G. W.!" came from thankful lips.
Colonel Austin watched the little comforter bustling to and fro, and with a grim smile he thought that the hero-side of G. W. was developing fast.
The boy had grown thin, and an anxious, worn look made the small dusky face very touching; but weariness, disappointment, and bodily discomfort never dragged a complaint from the firm lips.
Just before the Colonel and G. W. had been ordered by President McKinley to "move on," Colonel Austin had had the dear dusky little attendant photographed, dazzling uniform and all and had sent it to little Jack who was playing his harder part away up in the Northern home. Underneath he had written, "My Body-Guard."
After Mrs. Austin had gazed long and searchingly at the radiant little soldier, she had surprised her son by suddenly bursting into tears.
"Why, Mamma-dear!" cried Jack, "don't you like his looks?"
"Oh! I do indeed, Jack; I like his looks so well that it almost breaks my heart—poor little fellow!"
"Poor little fellow?" Jack fell to pondering. He examined every detail of the fascinating photograph—the suit of "real" soldier clothes, the straight, proud wearer with that look of exultation upon his round face. Why "poor little fellow"? Jacky would have given anything in the world—except his mother—to have been in his place.
"Mamma-dear," he sighed at last, "I'd rather be G. W. than President of the United States!"
Mrs. Austin laughed and wiped away her tears.
"That's because you are Daddy's boy," she replied; "but poor G. W. has a hard way to travel through life, and your mother was wondering just where he will fit in when heroes are not required."
"Heroes are always required," Jack answered sagely, "and I bet G. W. will be brave anywhere. He's got brave eyes."
"I believe you are right, Jack," said his mother. "Put his photograph upon your table, and try to be the same kind of boy you think he is. He certainly is a dear little chap!"
So upon the table in Jack's room G. W.'s photograph was placed; and often and often when he was quite alone Colonel Austin's son visited with his father's small dusky body-guard until, on Jack's side at least, the two became intimate friends.
Then into the Northern home came Daddy's letters telling of the approach of battle and the change of scene. Nothing of G. W.'s doings was ever omitted by the Colonel; he knew Jack's hunger for hero-news.
The little mother was less gay during those early days of summer; a shadow rested upon her sweet face, and she clung to Jack with a sort of passion. Jack was full of comfort and cheer when he was with her, but he had his hours of unhappiness too, and then he used to go into his room and stay with G. W.
One day Mrs. Austin went to drive with a friend, and Jack took that opportunity for a private drill, with G. W. to look on. Up in his bright sunlit room he put on his soldier suit and marched to and fro with swelling chest and mighty stride.
Oh! if he were only to be with his father in the battles to come! He might keep danger away if he were with him. No one would hurt a little boy—he would go, in every battle, in front of his father!
At last he went to the table and kneeling down scanned the likeness of G. W.—the boy who was filling his place, Daddy's body-guard! He grew very unhappy as he looked at the small colored boy.
"I'm a toy boy," he faltered, "and G. W. is a live soldier!" Then he thought of Daddy's last letter, in which he had written of the hill which marked G. W.'s boundary.
"I bet that makes you turn hot and cold, G. W.," he mused. "Oh, I know just how you feel!" The blue eyes searched deep into the pictured ones of brown. "Oh! G. W., I wish you knew how to manage Daddy as Mamma-dear and I do! Daddy'll let you do what's necessary always, if you just know how, but he's awful particular about being obeyed. I wish you could make him change his mind about that hill. Of course they won't fight a battle there; if there was any danger of that Daddy'd set your limit at camp! But, G. W., if you should go ahead and do a brave thing, like saving a life, he'd forgive you; he'd punish you, I guess, but he'd forgive you—Mamma-dear and I'd make him, anyway. If I were in your place, in the very clothes of the Ninth, I'd dare a good sound punishing to be by Daddy's side. I'd just ask him what he called me a body-guard for."
The tears blinded Jack's eyes, and through their gleam G. W.'s face seemed to grow rigid with disapproval.
"I know," half sobbed Jack, wiping his tears upon the sleeve of his blue "make-believe" coat; "Daddy's trained you to think you must obey; but, oh, I wish that particular old hill wasn't in Cuba!
"I'm going to tell you something, G. W.," Jack went on. "Once, the summer before Daddy went away, I had a 'sperience with him. I was a year littler than I am now. He told me not on any account to go down to the river without him. I wanted to, for Daddy had taught me how to swim and I wanted to float about and practise. Every day I went near, to look at the water, and every night Daddy would say, 'Now remember, Jack, for no reason go to the river without me.' But I went nearer and nearer, until one day I could see the other boys in, and then—I pulled off my clothes and in I went, too! I hadn't been in long when Don Grover—he's my best friend, but a year littler—got out further than any one else, and suddenly he put his arms right up in the air and screamed that he was a-drowning. We were all scared, and the other boys swam to the shore to get help. I couldn't think of anything but Don, and I swam right out to him, and he didn't grab hold of me or anything, but let me kind of tow him in; and course it was awful far and we were nearly dead, and I kept thinking how I had disobeyed Daddy, and seeing Mamma-dear's mournful eyes. But Don and I didn't talk, only just swam. When we got to the shore we crawled out and lay down and went to sleep, but when the boys came back with some men I waked up and told them to take Don home and I could go alone. G. W., I was terribly fearful to go, for you know how particular Daddy is about obeying and waiting in your own place of duty.
"I ached, and my knees just fluttered. When I got there Daddy and Mamma-dear were sitting on the piazza, and the minute I looked at Daddy I was sure he knew I had disobeyed. 'Where have you been, Jack?' he said, solemn. I said, 'Swimming.' He got up, and Mamma-dear began to cry, but Daddy took me in the study and he—he whipped me, G. W., like anything, for disobedience. I wouldn't cry, because I had been disobedient.
"That evening Don's father came over and told Daddy how I tugged Don in, and I saw Daddy's eyes looking like two big steady stars, and the whipping was just nothing, and Mamma-dear cried the same as if Don and I were drowned dead. And, G. W., what do you think Daddy did? When Don's father finished, Daddy came and said, 'You deserved the thrashing, Jack, for not obeying, you know; but let me shake hands with you because you are a brave fellow,' and I almost choked. I said, 'Don't mention it!' but I shook his hand like anything. Oh, G. W., if only I could make you know just how to be a true body-guard to Daddy! If you should go over that hill he'd punish you for disobeying, sure, but if some time you just had to do it for a brave reason, he'd shake your hand, G. W."
The boy in the photograph seemed to be listening to Jack, and trying to understand him, and to be thinking about it, as if he knew that Jack's very heart was in what he said.
Presently a slow smile lit up the features of the make-believe boy in blue. "G. W.," he whispered, "I'm not going to worry any more about Daddy! You'll do the right thing by him, I'll bet! When you come home, G. W., you shall have half of everything I own. We're going to be brothers!"
Little Jack Austin ran down to meet his mother when she returned, with a cheery smile, because he had in his heart a sure trust that G. W. would save the day, no matter what the danger that threatened Daddy!
G. W.'s wanderings from camp became less and less frequent. He thought no longer of going anywhere but to the hill-top; and that detested limit became more hated as oftener and oftener the Colonel passed beyond the faithful little guardian's gaze.
"I'd jes' like to know whar de Colonel goes all de time!" sighed G. W.
Colonel Austin was not unmindful of the boy, but evidently he was deep in business and anxiety. An occasional pat upon the little woolly head, or a word of cheer, was all the devoted comrade received; yet, with only that to feed upon, the childish devotion continually grew.
He took to talking aloud to the Boy and his Mother, in the long silent hours of evening. They became as alive and intimate to him as he, all unknown to himself, had become to Jack. He made solemn promises regarding the Colonel which, had Jack heard, would have set to rest any doubt as to G. W.'s capabilities of "managing the Colonel."
"Doan you-uns be frettin'," he whispered one night when his own heart was like lead in his body; "you kin jes' keep on a-smilin' an' a-smilin'—I 'low I can take care ob de Colonel. Dat hill gets de best ob me, jes' fur de minute, but you min' I'm a-thinkin' 'bout dat ar hill! I'se goin' git de bes' ob dat der hill, yit!"
One hot day when G. W. had smothered as usual his loathing for his limit, and followed at a respectful distance the tall, well-beloved figure of his Colonel, he had a hard fit of sighing. "I reckon if de Colonel knew 'bout how I is feelin' dis minute," he said, wiping the perspiration from his face, "he'd jes' holler back 'howdy' ter me." But the Colonel not knowing of the faithful little henchman's nearness, sent back no word of loving cheer—did not once turn.
The two were plodding along the road called the Santiago Road at the time, and the long strides of the officer presently put him beyond G. W.'s vision.
Suddenly G. W. sighed aloud. "He's gone!" There was a break in the soft voice. "I clar ter goodness, he's always gone! I'm bressed if I doan't wish de war would come an' be done wid! Dese days done w'ar me to frazzles!"
A low, deep, rumbling sound made G. W. start. By instinct, he crouched under some nearby bushes.
"What's dat?" he muttered, his eyes growing round and full of inquiry. "Dat ain't thunder!" The ominous, threatening sounds were drawing nearer, approaching over the road along which he had come, and along which he must return to camp.
"Lawd!" gasped G. W.; "jes' 'spose dat is war a-comin' an' a-ketchin' me alone by myself; good Lawd!" The small face became terror-stricken. He clutched his hands in the pockets of his trousers.
The rumble grew louder. Suddenly the sun flashed upon a strange object being drawn up the rough trail.
"Cannoneers, forward!" came a full loud cry that echoed and re-echoed in G. W.'s brain. Then the boy perceived, as far as his gaze could travel, soldiers and cannon filling the familiar road. He forgot his terror, and thrilled and palpitated as he gazed from his leaf-covered hiding-spot.
Then a new thought made him reel backward. Was the entire American army marching away from camp, leaving him behind who was bound to return there?
The Colonel had left no orders for him; and the hill stood, as ever, between him and any following of the soldiers. Then came a thought that relieved him—there would be the sick in camp; surely they could not join this rushing company and he would remain with them until the Colonel remembered him.
Back toward camp he sped, keeping within the tangle of bushes and out of sight of the oncoming men; pushing and tumbling, he made his way as fast as his uniformed legs would carry him.
When he reached camp, panting and heated, he found a scene of great excitement; and as far as he could judge, the men, both sick and well, were all there! The Ninth, at least, had not gone over the hill-top!
"What's goin' ter happen?" G. W. gasped.
A boyish soldier who was writing a letter home looked up and answered,
"War, G. W.! that's what's going to happen, and mighty quick, too."
"And is us all goin' to de war?" G. W. sat down beside the soldier; indeed, his legs could hold him up no longer.
"There are no orders yet, but I reckon we'll get our chance. Two more transports are in, and a lot of guns."
"I saw dem," said G. W., thrilling again. "Miles ob dem an' millions of men! Lawd, Corporal!" Then, after a pause, and very softly, he said, "Say, Corporal Jack, if—if my Colonel don't send orders back fur me to come ter him, an' if youse all get orders ter go on, will yer jes' fur my sake try ter find de Colonel an' tell him a message? Jes' tell him not ter fret 'bout me, cos I'se goin' ter remember de hill!" G. W. had never humiliated himself by allowing any one to suppose he cared to go beyond the hill-top. "An' jes' tell him I'll take care ob de picture!"
There were tears rolling down G. W.'s upturned face. Corporal Jack laid down his pen and pad. "Well!" he cried, "you're a brick, G. W. But the Colonel is not going to forget you, G. W. Brace up and hold on. And just give us your hand, comrade!"
The two clasped hands gravely; then Corporal Jack went on with his letter, and G. W. passed into Colonel Austin's tent, to have all things ready in case there came an order to march.
Late that night, as G. W. lay upon his camp-bed (for he had been promoted from the humble mattress) in the dismantled tent, Colonel Austin entered. He was very weary, very pale. The boy upon the bed watched him silently. The moonlight was streaming in the opening, and the tall figure was distinctly outlined as the Colonel paused within the doorway and glanced about the bare, disordered place. All at once he seemed to understand; a smile flitted across his worn face. He went over to the soapbox table, shorn of its gorgeous cover, the photograph alone adorning it. He took the picture, looked long and tenderly at the two faces, then slipping the card out of the frame he put it in his breast pocket.
A moment later he came over to G. W.'s bed. The boy looked up trustingly.
"I'se awake, Colonel."
"Good for you, comrade. I want to have a little talk with you."
A thin brown little hand slipped itself into the large firm one, and G. W. sat up.
"G. W.," said the Colonel, "I'm going to the front. You know what that means?"
"I 'low I does, Colonel. When does we start? I'se been a-workin' ter get ready."
"But, comrade, you are not to go!" The poor little body-guard had feared this. In his misery he looked up into the Colonel's face and gulped helplessly.
"Don't take it that way, my child," said the Colonel, smoothing the little woolly head burrowing back in the pillow; "it would be impossible for me to take a little fellow like you along. There's just a chance, you know, G. W., that I may not get back. I've thought lately that I did wrong to bring you from Tampa; but you had nothing there, and we have had each other here, comrade, and that ought to count for something."
A tightening of the little hand replied.
"If I shouldn't come back, my child," the Colonel continued, "I want you to know that I have made all arrangements for you to be sent up to the Boy and his Mother. They'll look out for you, comrade, for they know that you are my little body-guard, and they will adopt you in their home—for your own sake too, G. W.; there's the making of a man in you, G. W., and you will not ever disappoint anybody, no matter what happens to me. During the coming days here, keep within your limits, my boy. Obey orders, and you will be a hero indeed, for I know how much you want to go along to take care of me. By staying right here you are doing a harder thing."
G. W. was sobbing forlornly. The Colonel got up and paced the tent for a silent moment or two.
"You've been the best kind of a comrade, G. W.," he went on, as he came back, while the listener drew his legs up and down under the coarse gray blanket, in an agony of sorrow. "And you're not going to fail me now, old fellow."
"Yes, sah! No, sah!" The pillow half stifled the words.
Presently poor G. W. sat up in bed again. "Colonel," he said, "you jes' banish me out yo' mind! You do your work, an' be keerful to take keer ob yo'self. I'se goin' ter do what yo want an' keep in dem limits—but if yo' does not come back frum dat front, I doan' think I can face dem two up Norf! I'd jes' feel dat I hadn't done been no body-guard—fo de Lawd, Colonel Austin, doan't ask me ter face de Boy an' his Mother 'thout you! I ain't goin' ebber ter forget what you don teach me, an' I'se nebber goin' ter shame yer while I lib, but I can't go 'thout you to dem—de Lawd knows I can't."
"Under those circumstances I'll be obliged to come back, G. W." Something choked the soldier's voice. Then bending down he kissed the boy's dusky brow, as often he had kissed the white one of his own little son.
"God bless you, comrade!" he whispered. "You've lightened many a burden for us all since you came among us. I trust you and I may be spared to meet again."
Then G. W. saw the tall form of the best friend he had on earth pass out of the tent, and fade away into the confusion and unreality of the moonlit night.
A strange atmosphere hung over the camp, an air of expectant waiting. The sick men tossed upon their beds bewailing their inability to be up and doing, and calling feverishly for "news!" But no news came; nothing to break the dismal monotony.
Everybody utilized G. W. The cook taught him to cook, and the nurses made him useful. The sick men smiled up at him as their only diversion. It was well for the boy that his days were filled with labor, and that he was too utterly weary at night to stay awake long. His dreams were filled far oftener than his waking thoughts with visions of the Colonel. His dreams were always happy ones—then the Colonel appeared well and jolly as G. W. had first known him. The little fellow hailed bed-time as the release from wretchedness.
"Now, then!" he would say to himself, as his lids grew heavy, "now I'se goin' ter see my Colonel Austin!" Sometimes he would laugh aloud in his sleep, so very jolly was he, but there was no one to hear the sound in the empty tent. Little G. W. had no folks now. His only good-night was the bugle-call, "All lights out!"
But in the trenches at the front a brave man always included G. W. in his loving thoughts of home and dear ones; and up North the Mother and the Boy ended their evening prayer, "God bless Daddy and G. W. Keep them safe and bring them home to us very soon!"
No one questioned G. W.'s goings and comings. If any thought was given, it was that he was probably obeying orders which Colonel Austin had left, and that he was proving himself a blessing where most boys would have been an annoyance and burden.
So one day when he sauntered away from the cluster of tents, no one asked him where he was bound, or how soon he would be back. He passed along walking very straight as became a uniformed soldier, whistling a march-tune, now and then interrupting himself to introduce a clear flute-like note.
Something had happened to G. W. The day was oppressively hot, but his languor and sadness had vanished. He felt strong and happy; everything was beautiful, life was full of keen interest.
"I 'low somethin' is goin' ter occur!" he said to himself; "I has feelin's like my mammy used ter have. Sure's I'se a-walkin' here, the front is off dere 'yond de hill! Dat's whar de Colonel always went, an' dat's why he fix de top like a stun wall fur me. I 'clar I'se goin' up ter jes' look. What's I worth if I doan't take some chances ter find out news 'bout my Colonel Austin? Lawd! it seems like forty-seben years since he done walk away like a dream!"
Now, strange to say, before G. W. had started on this tramp, besides donning his entire uniform, he had taken his gun, a small but perfect one that some of the officers had given him as a reward for excellent target-shooting; and also he had filled his canteen with water in true soldier fashion.
Under the blazing sun his hot coat and trousers became almost unendurable, and except for his new feeling of strength and joyousness, his precious gun would have become a burden.
Suddenly he stood still, and his face became rapt and eager. He gazed up to the tall trees under which he stood.
"I'se clean forgot 'bout dat 'chance' ob mine fur ages; but, Lawd! jes' s'pose it should come to-day!" he gasped. The remembrance that his mammy had said that if he wanted to be a hero he would have the "chance" filled him with a wild delight. For a moment he could not move, so great was his glad feeling—then with a cheery whistle he plodded on straight toward his hill-top. It was an unlikely spot for "chances." It was too near camp for the foe to be there; but irresistibly G. W.'s feet carried him forward.
Overcome at length by the heat, G. W. reached the summit, only to sink down at once in the tangle of bushes and pant and puff. But after a while he revived; and then peering through the undergrowth he gazed down upon the plain below that stretched beyond his limit.
What had happened since last he had seen the spot? Was he dreaming, or actually looking down upon something that was really taking place? G. W. stood up and steadying himself against a tree continued to gaze and gaze below.
There was a big rude tent, with all sides open. Within was a long table around which figures moved restlessly or stood strangely still. Wagons were rolling up to this tent bringing burdens which turned poor little G. W. ill as he realized what they were. They were men! Sick or wounded men! Ready hands lifted the limp forms from the carts and laid them in long rows upon the ground; then, over and over again, as the fear-filled little watcher on the hill strained his eyes, he saw a man singled out from the lines and borne to the table. G. W. grew chill under the blazing sun as he looked, not comprehending what it meant.
"I can't—think—what—dat—means!" he said aloud; "'pears like I am habin' a dream standin' up out-doors wid my clo'es on. Lawd! how—I—does—wish—I—knew—what—dat—dar—means!"
The poor little fellow rubbed his head in a hopeless, forlorn way, while his heart beat fast and chokingly. Suddenly it came to him; like a flash the meaning became clear.
There had been a battle! They were bringing in the dead and wounded from the front to that fearsome spot below. Then G. W. shuddered as a new thought broke upon his brain. Perhaps his Colonel was there! The sudden idea took the form of a frenzy. He flung his arms up with a wild gesture, and then, alone on the hill-top, there was a battle on for G. W.—an exceedingly hard battle.
"Obey!" cried Honor; "'tis the thing you are called to do! 'Tis the thing you have promised!"
"But the Colonel may lie in the long row," pleaded Love; "no one near him to tend just him; no one to give him a drink or hold his head or his hand; to follow him and stay by him. He is just one of a row!"
G. W.'s sad little face turned gray.
"You promised!" Honor admonished. "He trusted you, with no doubt of your obedience!"
"But they may have forgotten him. He may be lying out on the battle-field—and no one could find him as surely as you!" Love sobbed in his ears.
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