But Williams was not disconcerted. He was used to such badinage. He spread out his large hands soothingly.
"Boys," he said, "those shoes wore out so fast because you chased the Yankees so hard. They were made for walking, not for foot races. Why do you want to buy blankets on time when you can get them more cheaply by capturing them from the enemy?"
His answers pleased them, and some one called for three cheers for Williams, which were given with a will, and he rode on, unmolested. But in a few minutes another and greater roar arose. Now it was swelling, continuous, and there was in it no note whatever of criticism or derision. It was made up wholly of affection and admiration, and it rolled in unceasing volume along the stream and through the forest.
The four lads and Sherburne sprang to their feet, shading their eyes with their hands as they looked.
"By the great Jupiter!" exclaimed Sherburne, "it's Old Jack himself in a new uniform on Little Sorrel! The boys, I imagine, have heard that he's been made lieutenant-general."
"I knew that nothing could stir up the corps this way except Old Jack or a rabbit," said Happy Tom, as he sprang to his feet—he meant no disrespect to his commander, as thousands would give chase to a rabbit when it happened to be roused out of the bushes.
"Thunderation! What a change!" exclaimed St. Clair, as he ran with the others to the edge of the road to see Stonewall Jackson, the victor of twenty battles, go past in a uniform that at first had almost disguised him from his amazed soldiers. Little Sorrel was galloping. He had learned to do so whenever the soldiers cheered his rider. Applause always embarrassed Jackson, and Little Sorrel, of his own volition, now obeyed his wish to get by it as soon as possible.
"What splendor!" exclaimed Harry. "Did you ever see Old Jack looking like this before?"
"Never! Never!" they exclaimed in chorus.
Stonewall Jackson wore a magnificent uniform of the richest gray, with heavy gold lace wherever gold lace could be used, and massive epaulets of gold. A thick gold cord tied in a bow in front surrounded the fine gray hat, and never did a famous general look more embarrassed as the faithful horse took him along at an easy gallop.
All through the woods spread the word that Stonewall Jackson was riding by arrayed in plumage like that of the dandy, Jeb Stuart himself. It was wonderful, miraculous, but it was true, and the cheers rolled continuously, like those of troops about to go into battle and confident of victory.
Harry saw clearly that his commander was terribly abashed. Blushes showed through the tan of his cheeks, and the soldiers, who would not have dared to disobey a single word of his on the battlefield, now ran joyously among the woods and bushes. Harry and the other three lads, being on Jackson's staff, hid discreetly behind the log as he passed, but they heard the thunder of the cheering following him down the road.
It was in truth a most singular scene. These were citizen soldiers, welded into a terrible machine by battle after battle and the genius of a great leader, but with their youth they retained their personality and independence. Affection was strongly mingled with their admiration for Jackson. He was the head of the family, and they felt free to cheer their usually dingy hero as he rode abroad in his magnificent new uniform.
"I think we'd better cut across the woods to headquarters," said Harry. "I want to see the arrival of Old Jack, and I'd wager any of you five cents to a cent that he'll never wear that uniform again. Why, he doesn't look natural in it at all."
"I won't take your bet," said Happy Tom, "because I'm thinking just as you do. Arthur, here, would look all right in it—he needs clothes to hold him up, anyway, but it doesn't suit Old Jack."
Their short cut took them through the woods to the general's quarters in time to see him arrive and spring hurriedly from Little Sorrel. The man whose name was a very synonym of victorious war was still embarrassed and blushing, and as Harry followed him into the tent he took off the gorgeous uniform and hat and handed them to his young aide. Then as he put on his usual dingy gray, he said to an officer who had brought him the new clothes:
"Give my thanks to General Stuart, Major, but tell him that the uniform is far too magnificent for me. I value the gift, however, and shall keep it in recollection of him."
The major and Harry took the uniform and, smoothing it carefully, laid it away. But Harry, having further leave of absence went forth and answered many questions. Was the general going to wear that uniform all the time? Would he ride into battle clothed in it? When Harry replied that, in his belief, he would never put it on again, the young soldiers seemed to feel a kind of relief. The head of the family was not going to be too splendid for them. Yet the event had heightened their spirits, already high, and they began to sing a favorite song:
"Come, stack arms, men, pile on the rails;
Stir up the camp fires bright.
No matter if the canteen fails,
We'll make a roaring night.
Here Shenandoah brawls along,
There lofty Blue Ridge echoes strong
To swell the brigade's rousing song
Of Stonewall Jackson's way."
"It's a bully song!" exclaimed Happy Tom, who had a deep and thunderous voice. Then snatching up a long stick he began to wave it as a baton, and the others, instinctively following their leader, roared it forth, more than ten thousand strong.
Langdon in his glory led his cohorts in a vast circle around Jackson's quarters, and the mighty chorus thundered through verse after verse, until they closed in a lower tone with the lines:
"Silence! ground arms! kneel all! caps off!
Old Blue Light's going to pray;
Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!
Attention! it's his way!
Appealing from his native sod
In forma pauperis to God
Lay bare thine arm—stretch forth thy rod,
Amen! That's Stonewall Jackson's way."
Then Happy Tom threw down his stick and the men dispersed to their quarters. But they had paid Stonewall Jackson a tribute that few generals ever received.
"You're a wild and foolish fellow, Tom Langdon," said Dalton, "but I like you for this thing you've done."
"You'll notice that Old Jack never appeared while we were singing," said Langdon. "I don't see why a man should be so modest and bashful. Why, if I'd done half what he's done I'd ride the tallest horse in the country; I'd have one of those Mexican saddles of yellow leather studded with large golden-headed nails; the stirrups would be of gold and the bridle bit would be gold, too. I'd have twelve uniforms all covered with gold lace, and I'd have hats with gold-colored ostrich plumes waving in them after the fashion of Jeb Stuart."
"Don't you worry, Tom," said Dalton. "You'll never have any excuse for wearing so much gold. Have you heard what one of the boys said after the chaplain preached the sermon to us last Sunday about leading the children of Israel forty years through the wilderness?"
"No, George; what was it?"
"Forty years going through the wilderness," he growled. "Why, Stonewall Jackson would have double-quicked 'em through in three days, and on half rations, too."
"And so he would," exclaimed Harry with emphasis. The great affection and admiration in which his troops held Jackson began to be tinged with something that bordered upon superstition. They regarded his mental powers, his intuition, judgment and quickness as something almost supernatural. His great flanking movement at the Second Manassas, and his arrival in time to save the army at Antietam, inspired them with awe for a man who could do such things. They had long since ceased to grumble when he undertook one of his tremendous marches, and they never asked why they were sent to do a thing—they had absolute confidence in the one who sent them to do it.
The great excitement of Jackson in his new uniform passed and the boys resumed their luxurious quarters on the leaves beside the Opequon. Sherburne, who had left them a while, returned, riding a splendid bay horse, which he tethered to a bush before rejoining them.
"That's not the horse I saw you riding at Antietam, Captain," said Langdon. "I counted that fellow's ribs, and none show in this one. It's no business of mine, but I want to know where you got that fine brute."
"No, it's none of your business, Tom," replied Sherburne, as he settled himself comfortably, "you haven't anything in the world to do with it, but that's no reason why you shouldn't ask and I shouldn't answer."
"Drop the long-winded preliminaries, then, and go ahead."
"I got him on a wild ride with the general, General Stuart. What a cavalryman! I don't believe there was ever such another glutton for adventure and battle. General Lee wasn't just sure what McClellan meant to do, and he ordered General Stuart to pick his men and go see.
"The general took six hundred of us, and four light guns, and we crossed the Potomac at dawn. Then we rode straight toward the north, exchanging shots here and there with Northern pickets. We went across Maryland and clear up into Pennsylvania, a hundred miles it must have been, I think, and at a town called Chambersburg we got a great supply of Yankee stores, including five hundred horses, which came in mighty handy, I can tell you. I got Bucephalus there. He's a fine steed, too, I can tell you. He was intended to carry some fat Pennsylvania colonel or major, and instead he has me for a rider, a thinner and consequently a lighter man. I haven't heard him expressing any sorrow over the exchange."
"What did you do after you got the remounts?" asked Harry.
"We began to curve then. We passed a town called Gettysburg, and we went squarely behind the Union army. Mountainous and hilly country up there, but good and cultivated beautifully. Those Pennsylvania Germans, Harry, beat us all hollow at farming. I'm beginning to think that slaves are not worth owning. They ruin our land."
"Which may be so," interrupted Langdon, "but we're not the kind of people to give them up because a lot of other people order us to do it."
"Shut up, Tom," exclaimed Harry. "Let the captain go on with his story."
"We went on around the Union rear, rode another hundred miles after leaving Chambersburg, coming to a place called Hyattstown, near which we cut across McClellan's communications with Washington. Things grew warm, as the Yankees, learning that we were in the country, began to assemble in great force. They tried to prevent our crossing the Monocacy River, and we had a sharp fight, but we drove them off before they could get up a big enough force to hold us. Then we came on, forded the Potomac and got back after having made an entire circuit of McClellan's army."
"What a ride!" exclaimed St. Clair, his eyes sparkling. "I wish I had been with you. It would have been something to talk about."
"We did stir 'em up," said Sherburne with pardonable pride, "and we got a lot of information, too, some of it beyond price. We've learned that there will be no more attempts on Richmond by sea. The Yankee armies will come across Virginia soil or not at all."
"I imagine McClellan won't be in any hurry to cross the Potomac," said Harry. "He certainly got us into a hot corner at Antietam, and if the reports are true he had plenty of time to come up and wipe out General Lee's whole force, while Old Jack was tied up at Harper's Ferry. They feel that way about McClellan in the North, too. I've got an old Philadelphia newspaper and I'll read to you part of a poem that's reprinted in it. The poem is called 'Tardy George.' Listen: