General Frankie: A Story For Little People/IV
"Uncle Charlie! Uncle Charlie! won't you drill our company this morning? You promised."
Uncle Charlie didn't seem to hear the General, though surely he spoke loud enough. What could have been the reason? He had a book in his hand, to be sure; but his eyes were not on it. He was only looking over the top of it, away off down the garden-walk, and there was only Rosa Merrian and Fred Graham to be seen there—the brown-eyed maiden swinging her hat by its ribbon; and Fred, with his handsome curling head lightly resting on his arm as he leaned against the gate-post. What was there about that to look at so earnestly or so long? And when the General, by dint of pulling his arm, had succeeded in arousing him, what made him go to the glass in the parlor and straighten his collar and rearrange his hair, and then sigh, and say,
"Well, Frankie, your Uncle Charlie never was a beauty, and he don't improve as he grows older; does he, General?"
He spoke so sadly that his little friend wanted to say something pleasant, so he answered, "Oh, I think you're bully, Uncle Charlie; and Cousin Rosa thinks so too."
"Where is Rosa?"
"Oh, there she is with Fred. I wish he would go away. He won't talk to me any more; he is all the time with her. And do you know, Uncle Charlie, that she said, the other day, she had always loved Fred Graham? She did say so; and I wish he would go away—don't you?"
Uncle Charlie pulled his felt hat down over his eyes, and picked up his cane and started off in a side-path; but he came back a moment to kiss Frankie, and say, "I can't play drill to-day. You must be an officer in my place"—and he was off. He beheaded all the daisies that lay in his way, walked along with his eyes to the ground, and pushed the gate open with his foot, leaving Frankie to cogitate about matters and things in general, while he picked a little bit of a hole in the knee of his pants into a palpable fracture.
"I don't see what makes Uncle Charlie act so nowadays. He and Cousin Rosa used to be such good friends, and now he hardly speaks to her at all; and she just says a few words to him, and don't look at him full in the face. Then, there's Fred; he ain't jolly a bit, as he used to be. He is so wise, and so busy talking to Rosa, that she never plays battle-door with me at all. Well, I'll drill, any way!"
Toot—toot—to-o-o-t. The tin trumpet was the signal for the recruits to gather on the broad walk in front of the house, and when they heard the signal out came Elliott Wyman and his cousin Hal Lord from the next house, and Dot made her appearance too. Now the awkward squad had talked a great deal about the propriety of allowing a girl in the ranks; but she promised very faithfully to keep her hoops down, and never to laugh. Indeed their number was so small that they couldn't do without her very well; so that was settled. Aunt Fanny and mamma had gone to the village this morning. Fred had gone to find a carriage to take Rosa to ride, and so the children had full possession and liberty to enjoy themselves heartily. There was one order given, however, that they must not let Jack Nogood come to play with them, as he was a very bad boy.
SO they were soon arrayed with paper caps—a long feather in each. Elliott had a lunch-box on his back, and Dot her reticule strapped on hers, while Hal was obliged to be content with an atlas to do duty as a knapsack.
"Right face!" "Left face!" "Eyes right!" "Eyes left!" "Right face!" "Front!" "About!"
Now Uncle Charlie had taken a great deal of pains to teach him this movement, and Frankie forgot how long it was before he learned which way to turn when the command "About!" was given. So, after he had told them two or three times, he thought they ought to remember, and he grew very angry when Dot turned to the left and Hal quite round.
The General was just about to get in a rage when he happened to remember how easily he always fell into Captain Temper's hads, and he just whispered to Captain Patience, of the regular army, to come and help him, and then I can tell you the frowns went away in a hurry, and the play went on pleasantly enough until they came to march. Frankie grew red in the face trying to play a tune on the tin trumpet, but it wouldn't do at all.
Just then they heard a drum beating quite near them. It was carried by Jack Nogood, who lived in the old cottage down the lane. He had heard the first toot, and made up his mind accordingly. He knew that Frankie was forbidden his company; so he gave the twine string that held his torn suspender a hitch, punched the ragged straw-hat crown farther over his stiff red locks, and seated himself very quietly on the corner of the fence directly opposite.
"Oh, there's a boy with a drum!" shouted Hal. "Let's have him—that will be splendid. Say, are you a drummer?"
The loafer set his hat on the back of his head. "Yes, I'm a gallus drummer, I am."
Frankie said, "Don't call him, boys; he is a bad boy, and mamma won't like him to come:" and then he tried to march again.
This time Jack kept the time for them until they were half-way down the walk, then stopped suddenly, and they were thrown into disorder. They had another consultation; and at last, like a weak, foolish little boy, Frankie beckoned to him with his sword, though he did not say any thing. The rest shouted to him, and he was soon among them.
Now, who was trying to get General Frankie now? Why that bad Colonel, Disobedience. He told him that his mother would never know, and that she ought not to be so strict any way. Then his son, Corporal Lying, whispered to him to say to her that he didn't call Jack over, because he had only made motions with his sword. SO between them they had Frankie fast; and we will see how he fared in their camp.
Rub-a-dub-dub, rub-a-dub-dub, rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub-dub. The drummer was fairly enlisted, and the company marched nicely for a time; but Jack soon grew tired and proposed to be Captain himself. At this Frankie rebelled; but Jack declared he would never drum again, and that he would tell the Guv'nor that Frankie had broken rules in asking him inside the gate. The General began to reap some bitter fruits already—for he was a little bit afraid of the great strong loafer; so he submitted with but a poor grace to the arrangement. Captain Jack took the sword and cup from him, but wouldn't give him the drum in its place, saying he could be drummer and captain both.
"Now, boys," said he, "I ain't goin' to train the old fogy way. I'll learn you the Zou-avee tick-tacs. In the first place, the Zou-aves al'lus lyas down to load. Ill give you the order to lie down and load; and don't you move until I give the order to 'Fire.'"
They lay still so long after the first order that they began to grow tired, and Dot said, "I don't hear Captain Jack." Frankie turned over on his elbow, but he didn't see him. He got up on one knee and peeped around, but the drummer had disappeared. The children looked at one another in distress.
"My sword and cup," said Frankie.
"And my handkerchief that I gave him for a turban," said Dot.
"And my knife that he borrowed," said Elliott.
THeir faces were rueful enough, and they sat down dolefully to talk over their losses. As for Frankie, he began to think of the miserable item for the next bulletin; and finally concluded to tell the story himself. So when Mrs. Merrian came back he went to her directly and told the story.
"Oh, mamma! it's no use: I am the baddest boy: some dreadful general or other is all the while catching me, and I can't help tit. I suppose you know the captains' names that took me this morning, and you'll put them on paper, won't you? Oh, dear!"
Mamma looked a little grave at first, but comforted him much by saying that she was glad he didn't employ Major Deceit to keep the truth away from her; for that, she said, would have been worse than all. And after his tears were all wiped away, she produced the cup, drum, and other things, which she had recognized just as Jack Nogood was trying to make sale of them near a store where she was shopping. She employed one of the clerks to get them for her, which he did without much trouble by threatening to take him before a justice.
Thus ended the Zou-a-vee drill.
Frankie thought to himself that Major Deceit would never get him: indeed I think it was because he was so sure that he did fall into his hands. And it happened in this wise:
Uncle Charlie had grown very quiet of late; he didn't come in the house whistling and singing as he used to; and he called Cousin Rosa Miss Merrian all the while. At first she used to look up in a wondering way, but seemed to get used to it, and called him Mr. Rinell very often. Fred had gone back to college. Whether she missed his merry voice and handsome face I don't know; but she looked very sober, and at last she said she would go home very soon. SHe had made a long visit to Cousin Merrian, and a very pleasant one; and she should be bevery sorry to leave them all, especially Frankie, and then she stooped down to kiss him; and he told Uncle Charlie afterward that "Rosa was crying like any thing," but she didn't stay to let any body else see the tears.
And now it had come to the last day of her stay. In the morning Uncle Charlie had given Frankie a little note directed to Miss Rosa Merrian, with twenty charges to deliver it before she went away. Frankie thought it must be quite important, for the writer was a long while finishing it; besides, he walked up and down the floor a great deal before he began it. And he heard him say, "'Tis worth trying for, any way;" and then he sat down and wrote three different ones before it was sealed and given to the little enjoy.
Well, the General felt proud enough of his trust, and stowed the note away in the breast pocket of his jacket. If it had been in some other pocket, among tops and twine, it would have been sadly soiled, but it would not have been forgotten as it was. Yes, it was even so. He had a famous frolic with his dog Dixie first, then went to play with Hal Lord, and never thought of the note until long after Cousin Rosa had gone and left them.
When Uncle Charlie's foot touched the step at night he remembered it all, and then it was that Captain Deceit told him what to say when he heard his uncle's voice, a little husky and low, saying:
"Did Cousin Rosa leave any for me?"
"Well—no, she didn't."
"What did she say when you gave it to her, Frankie?"
"She didn't say any thing at all;" and then added at a venture—"She didn't look happy a bit."
Uncle Charlie put him down out of his arms and walked to the window and stood looking out into the twilight shadows. When the lamps were lit and they sat down for the evening, Mrs. Merrian said—"How much we shall miss Rosa, won't we?" He looked up absently and only answered, "Yes."
I am ashamed to say that Frankie hadn't courage enough to confess his fault that night, nor the next, and by that time he began to think it was not worth while; and so a week went by, and he was yet a prisoner with Captain Deceit.