James Albert Frye.

From headquarters; odd tales picked up in the volunteer service online

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Copyright, 1892



In the odd though truthful tales here brought together - of which, by
the way, some already have been in print - there is not the slightest
attempt at pen portraiture, nor is there any pretence to the accuracy
of the military historian; in other words, this is a collection of
chance yarns, and not a portrait gallery - and no one is asked to
believe that either the Nineteenth Army Corps or the "Old Regiment"
ever were found in any situations like those in which they here find
themselves placed.

This book, perhaps, may fall into the hands of one of those - and
they are far too many - whose habit it is to scoff at the volunteer
service, and to look askance at all who enter it. I sincerely trust
that it may, for I wish to say - and in all earnestness - that the
militia of today is not the militia of thirty, twenty, or even ten
years ago; that nowadays the incompetent and the vicious are allowed
to remain in civil life, and are not given places in the ranks of the
volunteers; and that those who take the solemn oath of enlistment do
so with the full understanding that they will be required to devote
their time, their money, and their best energies to the service, and
that they have assumed an obligation to fit themselves carefully and
intelligently for the duties of a soldier.

The volunteer service of the present time means, to those who find
themselves enrolled in it, something more than a mere pastime; and
if those who hold it in small esteem could but know of the faithful,
conscientious, and untiring work that, from year's end to year's end,
is being done in armory and camp, they would leave unsaid, it seems
to me, the half-contemptuous words that too often come to the ears of
the hard-working, long-suffering, and unrewarded citizen-soldier.

It has been said that the best is none too good for the service of the
Commonwealth. If this be true, - and who can question it? - the stigma
of whatever blemishes have been found in the militia must be borne by
those men of ability and position who, while ever ready to point out
weaknesses and faults, negligently have left to hands less competent,
or, it may be, less worthy, the work which they themselves were in
honor bound to do.

J. A. F.












Well up town, something above quarter of a mile beyond the massive,
battlemented armory in which we of the Third Infantry have our
headquarters, a side street, branching off from one of the main
thoroughfares, ambitiously stretches away until it finds its farther
progress barred by a high, stone-capped, brick wall. There it stops.
Beyond lie the quadruple tracks of a railway, over which, all day
long - and, for that matter, all night, too - thunder the coming and
going trains, with such an outpouring of smoke and downpouring of
cinders that it is small wonder that a quiet street, such as this one
pretends to be, should have lost all desire to continue its course in
that direction.

A few paces from the end of the _cul-de-sac_ formed by the halting
street and the obstructing wall, and facing a lamp-post which
awkwardly rears itself up from the curbstone to present for inspection
a glass panel lettered "Battery Court," there is - in one of the long
row of houses - an opening which looks like the entrance to a tunnel.

In point of fact, it _is_ the entrance to a tunnel, for, in order to
reach the court which lies hidden beyond, one has to grope through
fifty feet of brick-bound darkness. And even when that venture has
been made, the change from shade to light is not a startling one,
for the court is small and entirely surrounded by lofty buildings,
so that one standing in it and looking up at the patch of blue sky
overhead feels much as if he had landed at the bottom of a well, and
instinctively glances about in search of a rope by which to climb up
and out again.

It is an odd corner - and oddly utilized. All around it stretch streets
of dwellings, but in this silent and dim court the few structures are
plainly and solidly built, and heavily shuttered with iron, for they
all are devoted to storage. It was the lack of breathing space, I
dare say, and the close proximity of the railway that made this nook
undesirable for any other purpose; and in all probability "Battery
Court" would be unknown to-day if we had not happened to stumble upon
it in our search for a place where we could pitch our tent, without
being forced to pitch after it a king's ransom in the shape of rent.

Facing the dark passageway which offers the only avenue for escape
to the street beyond, and entirely filling one end of the court,
there looms up a five-storied warehouse. For four stories it bears a
perfect family resemblance to its companions on either hand, and up
to that height its dull, red bricks and rusty, red iron entitle it to
no distinction whatever. But the _fifth_ story is altogether another
story, and though from an architect's point of view it might seem
wofully incongruous, yet to our eyes it is supremely satisfying - _for
we did it_.

Yes, the fifth story of that old warehouse asserts itself like a
diamond pin in a soiled and rumpled scarf, for the mansard roof
with its galvanized-iron trimmings, which once made it appear
no more respectable than it ought to be, has given place to a
long, well-glazed, dormer window, finished on the outside with
heavy timbering and rough plaster work, and fitted with swinging
sashes through whose many panes the southern sun may shine without
let or hinderance, save when, in summer months, a wide, striped
awning parries the hottest rays. In every sense of the word it is
a great window, and - as I and many another officer of the Third
can testify - the comfortable, cushioned seat which runs its entire
length has many attractions for a lazy, tobacco-loving man. Above
the window, and crowning glory of all, a straight and slender spar
points skyward, from which, on sunny days, floats a great, white flag,
bearing in mid-field the blue Maltese cross, on which the figure "3"
is displayed: for the present Third is the successor of a "fighting
regiment," and we proudly preserve the old corps' device and the
traditions that go with it.

So much for the _outside_ of our nightly gathering-place.

Within-doors the effect is even more surprising, for the four long
and dusty flights of dimly-lighted stairs give no hint of the
cheery quarters up to which they lead the way. Once they had their
termination in a loft - a bare, rough, unfinished loft; but we have
changed all that, and now it would be hard to find at any club in town
a cosier spot. Thirty feet from side to side the great room stretches,
and twice that from front to rear; ample room, yet none too much for
our needs, for our friends are many, and the times are not infrequent
when we find even these quarters crowded. At the southern end, almost
from wall to wall, extends the long window, with its softly cushioned
seat - a vantage point that never lacks for tenants. Midway of one side
wall the great fireplace yawns, waiting for the sharp, cold nights
when the load of logs upon its iron fire-dogs shall be called upon
to send the smoke wreathing and curling up the chimney's broad and
blackened throat.

Above the wide mantel-shelf are crossed two faded colors, hanging
motionless from their staves, save when some stray current of air
idly stirs their tarnished, golden fringes: "Old Glory," with its
stripes and star-sown field, is one; the other, the white banner of
the Commonwealth, beneath whose crest the ever-watchful Indian stands
guard. In a long, glittering row, below the mantel, hang the polished
pewter mugs, swinging expectantly, each upon its hook, and seeming to
say - as they flash back the sunbeams, or reflect the light of the fire
below - "Come, fill us, empty us: and have done with the worries of the

Furniture? Yes, there's a plenty. Fronting the hospitable fireplace
a long, oaken table stands sturdily upon its solid legs, as indeed
it _must_ - for often and often, when the fire is crackling, it has
to bear a load of lazy soldiers, who delight to roost along its edge
and match the logs in smoking: chairs enough there are to be sure,
but somehow there comes a greater sense of comfort and ease to one
who perches on a table's edge. Beneath a trophy of Arab swords and
spears stands the bookcase, on whose shelves the literature ranges
from Tibdall, Upton, and the long and ever-lengthening series of
solemn black "Reports," to the crazy yarns of Lever, and the books
whose backs bear the names of Captain King and Kipling. In one corner
the upright piano, in its ebony case, has its station - and here our
lieutenant-colonel holds command undisputed, for his touch upon the
ivory keys can make the rafters ring with the airs that we all know
and like the best; not far away, a pillowed lounge stands waiting
for an occupant; and all about are scattered small tables, ready for
the whist players. A few rugs and half a dozen deer-skins litter the
floor; while here and there, along the walls, are fixed the heads
and horns of elk and mountain sheep - for there are two among us who
spend their leaves each year far in the West, amid the big game.
Everywhere there are pictures: engravings, etchings, colored prints,
and, last and most of all, photographs by the dozen, and almost by
the hundred - for we of the Third always have borne a reputation for
unflinchingly facing the camera.

This is "The Battery."

Yes, this is The Battery, and here you may drop in on any night with
the certainty of finding a pipe and a mug, and good fellows in plenty
with whom to pass the time of day and pick to bits the latest thing in
the way of general orders.

What gave it the name? I cannot tell. I only know that we always have
spoken of it thus, perhaps because of the shining brass howitzers
that stand on end, one on either side of the chimney-piece. At odd
times, to be sure, we have talked of giving the old sky-parlor some
more high-sounding title, but the years have gone by without ever our
getting to it, and the name which first was thrown at the place has
stuck to it. And now, since Pollard, our junior major, has used his
influence in municipal politics to have the name of the court changed
to correspond, the chances are that "The Battery" it will be, so long
as the Third stands _first_ in the service - which, we fondly hope,
will be always.

One night in December we had been having a battalion drill at the
armory, and - an occurrence by no means uncommon - a goodly array of
officers from other regiments had come over to see our work, and
openly congratulate us upon the beauty of it, while secretly hugging
to their hearts the conviction that _they_ could do the same things
twice as well. When the armory part of the programme had been put out
of the way, we all adjourned to The Battery, and there - after Sam had
relieved the visitors of their heavy, military coats, which he folded
and stacked upon a chair, like so many cheap ulsters in a ready-made
clothing store - our guests went 'round the room on the usual tour of
inspection, while those of us who had not detailed ourselves to act as
guides helped Sam to load the long table with pewters.

Presently all the mugs had been filled with beer, and at a glance
from the colonel we gathered about him. "Gentlemen of the Third,"
he said, raising his froth-capped mug, "our guests!" - and upon this
hint we drank heartily, and very willingly indeed, to the visiting
officers whom we had with us. Then Major Wilson, the senior of our
guests, proposed _our_ healths, and with the conclusion of this simple
ceremony we laid aside all formality, and scattered ourselves over the
room, while Sam passed around the tray of pipes and the great Japanese
jar of cut-plug.

Each equipped with corn-cob and mug - for our tastes are not luxurious,
and beer and tobacco amply satisfy them - we split up into groups, and
as the smoke-cloud became more dense the talk grew louder, until the
clatter of mugs, the humming monotone of many voices, and the frequent
bursts of laughter combined to drown the sound of the hissing and
crackling logs in the fireplace.

"Is that one of your trophies, Major?" asked Kenryck, of the brigade
staff, speaking to Sawin, our surgeon, and nodding up at a huge pair
of moose horns upon the wall above the mantel.

"No, that's a contribution from the colonel," replied Sawin, _alias_
"Bones," setting down his mug and wiping his mustache as he spoke.
"Langforth and I plead guilty to the slaughter of most of these horns
and hides, for we're the 'mighty hunters' of this aggregation, but
_that_ pair of antlers fell to someone else's rifle. Splendid pair,
eh? There's a sort of story goes with 'em, too. Ask the colonel."

"Yes, there _is_ a story connected with that pair," said Colonel
Elliott, who, from his side of the table, overheard the doctor's
suggestion. He rose, transferred his chair and mug to a position
next Kenryck, and continued: "In fact, when we began to fit up this
place, we made it a rule not to admit among the decorations anything
which didn't have a history of some sort. So, you see, The Battery
is rather an interesting establishment, and if any of us had time or
taste for that sort of thing we could get up a good-sized book without
having to go outside these walls to hunt for material."

"It's a mighty interesting outfit - the whole of it," said Kenryck,
glancing up and down the long room, and noting the collection of odds
and ends upon the walls and in every nook and corner. "We're pretty
well fixed, up at _our_ headquarters, but we've nothing so homelike
as this. The general often says that he enjoys nothing more than an
inspection of the Third, with a 'wind-up' afterwards up here. Possibly
you've noticed that, on occasions of that sort, his whole staff is apt
to come with him."

"Yes," said the colonel dryly, remembering the extra cases of beer
which have to be laid in against such emergencies as an official visit
from the brigade staff; "yes, I've noticed it. It's very flattering to
us, I'm sure."

Kenryck must have been aware of something in the colonel's tone, for
he promptly drew upon his reserve supply of tact and said, "Do you
mind telling me the story of those horns? It's worth hearing, I know,
for Sawin put me up to asking for it."

"It's an old story to 'Bones,'" said the colonel, adding, as Sam
passed him, "Break into another case, Sam, and then chuck a couple
more sticks into the fire."

"It must be a good one, then, or he never would have let me in for
it," remarked Kenryck.

"I wouldn't be too sure of that," said the colonel, laughing; "the
doctor's capable of almost anything inhuman, and he may be paying
off an old score, for all _you_ know, by letting you in for a
twenty-minute bore. 'Bones,' what's your grudge against Kenryck?" - but
the surgeon had joined a group at another table, and so the colonel,
getting no reply to his question, went on: "Do you see that little
ivory plate fastened to the shield on which the horns are mounted?
Well, that bears an inscription something like this:

John Harnden Pender, C.S.N.,
Henry Elliott, U.S.N.
Jan'y 29th, 1871.

"And the story is not a long one:

"My father was interested in shipping, and at the breaking out of the
war he owned quite a respectable little fleet of vessels. Most of them
were employed in coastwise trade, but he had something like three
or four square-riggers winging it back and forth between here and
England - and sometimes, though rarely, one of his vessels would make a
longer voyage, to Bombay, or 'round the Horn to Frisco. Ah, those were
the good old days! when the harbor was crowded with shipping, and at
least every other ship flew the stars and stripes," and the colonel
raised his mug to his lips, as if drinking to the past glories of our
merchant marine.

"It must have been a pleasant sight," said Kenryck, in the pause
incident to this operation. "I'm a young man, and can't remember that
time, but now-days it's sort of pathetic to see the harbor filled with
huge steamers under foreign bunting, while here and there along the
docks a few wretched little schooners represent our maritime dignity."

"Yes, it's pathetic enough," said the colonel, "but it's more
humiliating than pathetic. However, we can't go into the discussion
of what knocked in the head our ocean carrying trade without running
foul of politics, and politics are barred, up here in The Battery.

"Well, to get back to my story: my father naturally had quite an
acquaintance among Englishmen, and in Liverpool there was an old party
named McClintock, with whom, in particular, he had very extensive
dealings. In course of time he and my governor became great chums,
and finally it got so that once in two years, and sometimes oftener,
one or the other of them would cross the pond, nominally on business,
but really for a visit. Lord! how well I can remember old David
McClintock - 'Mac,' my governor used to call him. Square-built and
stocky, hearty and bluff, intellectually sure, but _awfully_ slow - he
certainly was a man to make an impression, for he represented a type
with which we are not over-familiar on this side the water. I can't
forget how he used to laugh at the governor's yarns: ten minutes would
go by without any sign of comprehension from him; then he would begin
to shake; and finally the spasm would pass away, leaving him gasping
for breath, and scarlet in the face. Really, Kenryck, I used to worry
about old Mac, at those times, for his internal mirth was something
awful, and it made me fear for his blood-vessels."

"I know a man like that," put in Kenryck, "and it makes me nervous to
be near him when anything amuses him. But somehow, Colonel, he seems
to get more satisfaction from his silent way of laughing than most men
do who laugh out loud."

"The last time that McClintock came over to this side," continued
the colonel, after a glance at the antlers and the faded colors
crossed below them, "was in '60. He brought his daughter with him - a
pretty girl, too; about eighteen at that time. I'm not making any
official statement, Kenryck, but I've always thought that the two old
gentlemen had put their heads together with an idea of arranging an
international marriage, in which one of the leading parts was to have
been assigned to me. It may be, though, that my suspicions have been
unfounded, for there certainly never was anything _said_ about it.
Anyway, if either old Mac or my governor had been indulging in any
schemes of that sort, they were destined to disappointment, because,
firstly, I had reasons for thinking that a certain little Boston girl
was about the proper thing for me, and secondly - and a clincher on
obstacle number one - little Bess McClintock took a strong dislike to
me. Never quite understood _why_," said the colonel, meditatively
tugging at his mustache, "and don't yet. I thought that most girls
rather liked me, in those days. Probably she saw through the whole
business - for she was a level-headed little chap - and got huffed at
the idea of being 'managed.'"

"Yes?" said Kenryck, with a rising inflection which hinted at a
lack of any very lively interest in what was being said, and led
the colonel to continue: "Well, all this is neither here nor there,
Kenryck, and you must pardon me for getting away from my yarn. But
a pipe and a good listener always tempt me to talk along rather

"When old Mac and his daughter came for their visit, we had with
us a young fellow named Pender, from Charleston. He was the son of
a man with whom my father, in the course of his southern trade,
had a very considerable amount of business, and he had come north
to settle up some matter or other - _just_ what, I forget. Gad! but
he was a hot-headed little chap! At that time, you know, feeling
was beginning to run pretty high, and I had to do some pretty sharp
manoeuvering in order to keep peace in our house, for my father
was uncompromisingly patriotic, and even went so far as to favor
abolition, while Pender - well, Pender was a southerner to the
core, and went in, neck-or-nothing, for the 'Sacred Institution,'
and States' Rights, and all those things over which later we went
to fighting. It was a cheerful day for me when he finished up his
business and went back home, for though in some ways I liked him well
enough, yet while he was at our house I never sat down to a meal
without an uncomfortable feeling that at any minute some chance remark
might fire a train that would bring about a general explosion.

"It always seems strange to me, when I remember the radical difference
in temperament, but old McClintock developed quite a liking for
Pender. To be sure, he didn't fall in with all of his ideas, but
he had a certain amount of sympathy for the southern view of the
situation, and he used to reply to my governor's criticisms of Pender
with, 'Eh, but he's a spirited lad, ye know - a spirited lad. Bide a
wee, Elliott, bide a wee. Years will give the boy more wisdom.'

"Well, in due time old Mac and his daughter went, and the war came,"
went on Colonel Elliott, after a pause which lessened by half a pint
the contents of his mug. "I went out with the 'Old Regiment,' and
for the better part of four years I was a stranger to this part of
the country. When finally I came home for good and all, I found my
father retired from business, and in feeble health. His little fleet
had disappeared. For some of the vessels which once composed it the
_Alabama_ could have accounted, and the general feeling of insecurity
in shipping circles had caused him to sell the rest. In '66 the
governor died, and about a month afterwards I received a letter from
old Mac, in which he expressed the deepest sorrow, and said that I
must come to see him in Liverpool, since he had determined never again
to visit the States.

"Pender I had lost sight of, and almost had forgotten, for with my
father's retirement from business I lost touch with many of our old
friends and acquaintances, and besides, the war rather cleaned the
slate of our southern connections."

"There must have been a funny state of affairs in business, right
after the war," observed Kenryck, making a gallant attempt to conceal
a yawn, and, by the aid of his sheltering mug, succeeding in his

"There _was_," said the colonel, "and for some time afterwards, too.
It took more than one year for northern business men to forget some
slight irregularities which showed themselves in the course of trade
about that period.

"Well, after I'd hung up my sword, had my commission and discharge
properly framed, and told my war stories to everyone who could be
induced to listen to them, I began to look about for an occupation. I
ended up by drifting into marine insurance.

"One forenoon, early in '71 - the 29th of January, according to that
little plate up there on the horns - I was sitting in my office and
wrestling with the question whether I should lunch at half-past
twelve or wait until one. Business happened to be quiet then, you see,
and so I was able to give a good deal of thought to minor details
like that. I had just decided in favor of half-past twelve, when a
messenger came in and informed me that a certain Captain Pender was
very desirous of having me come to the county jail to see him. Beyond
this bald statement I could get no information except that the man who
had sent for me was locked up on a pretty serious charge - just what,
or how grave, the messenger didn't know.

"This bit of information made me forget all about the lunch question,
and I wasted no time in getting over to the jail. And there, safely

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Online LibraryJames Albert FryeFrom headquarters; odd tales picked up in the volunteer service → online text (page 1 of 9)