CHAPTER X. General Alison And Dorcas
"Too much company for her, Marse Tom. Betwixt you, and Shekels, the Colonel's wife, and the Cid - "
"The Cid? Oh, I remember - the raven."
" - and Mrs. Captain Marsh and Famine and Pestilence the baby COYOTES, and Sour-Mash and her pups, and Sardanapalus and her kittens - hang these names she gives the creatures, they warp my jaw - and Potter: you - all sitting around in the house, and Soldier Boy at the window the entire time, it's a wonder to me she comes along as well as she does. She - "
"You want her all to yourself, you stingy old thing!"
"Marse Tom, you know better. It's too much company. And then the idea of her receiving reports all the time from her officers, and acting upon them, and giving orders, the same as if she was well! It ain't good for her, and the surgeon don't like it, and tried to persuade her not to and couldn't; and when he ORDERED her, she was that outraged and indignant, and was very severe on him, and accused him of insubordination, and said it didn't become him to give orders to an officer of her rank. Well, he saw he had excited her more and done more harm than all the rest put together, so he was vexed at himself and wished he had kept still. Doctors DON'T know much, and that's a fact. She's too much interested in things - she ought to rest more. She's all the time sending messages to BB, and to soldiers and Injuns and whatnot, and to the animals."
"To the animals?"
"Who carries them?"
"Sometimes Potter, but mostly it's Shekels."
"Now come! who can find fault with such pretty make-believe as that?"
"But it ain't make-believe, Marse Tom. She does send them."
"Yes, I don't doubt that part of it."
"Do you doubt they get them, sir?"
"Certainly. Don't you?"
"No, sir. Animals talk to one another. I know it perfectly well, Marse Tom, and I ain't saying it by guess."
"What a curious superstition!"
"It ain't a superstition, Marse Tom. Look at that Shekels - look at him, NOW. Is he listening, or ain't he? NOW you see! he's turned his head away. It's because he was caught - caught in the act. I'll ask you - could a Christian look any more ashamed than what he looks now? - LAY DOWN! You see? he was going to sneak out. Don't tell ME, Marse Tom! If animals don't talk, I miss MY guess. And Shekels is the worst. He goes and tells the animals everything that happens in the officers' quarters; and if he's short of facts, he invents them. He hasn't any more principle than a blue jay; and as for morals, he's empty. Look at him now; look at him grovel. He knows what I am saying, and he knows it's the truth. You see, yourself, that he can feel shame; it's the only virtue he's got. It's wonderful how they find out everything that's going on - the animals. They - "
"Do you really believe they do, Dorcas?"
"I don't only just believe it, Marse Tom, I know it. Day before yesterday they knew something was going to happen. They were that excited, and whispering around together; why, anybody could see that they - But my! I must get back to her, and I haven't got to my errand yet."
"What is it, Dorcas?"
"Well, it's two or three things. One is, the doctor don't salute when he comes . . . Now, Marse Tom, it ain't anything to laugh at, and so - "
"Well, then, forgive me; I didn't mean to laugh - I got caught unprepared."
"You see, she don't want to hurt the doctor's feelings, so she don't say anything to him about it; but she is always polite, herself, and it hurts that kind for people to be rude to them."
"I'll have that doctor hanged."
"Marse Tom, she don't WANT him hanged. She - "
"Well, then, I'll have him boiled in oil."
"But she don't WANT him boiled. I - "
"Oh, very well, very well, I only want to please her; I'll have him skinned."
"Why, SHE don't want him skinned; it would break her heart. Now - "
"Woman, this is perfectly unreasonable. What in the nation DOES she want?"
"Marse Tom, if you would only be a little patient, and not fly off the handle at the least little thing. Why, she only wants you to speak to him."
"Speak to him! Well, upon my word! All this unseemly rage and row about such a - a - Dorcas, I never saw you carry on like this before. You have alarmed the sentry; he thinks I am being assassinated; he thinks there's a mutiny, a revolt, an insurrection; he - "
"Marse Tom, you are just putting on; you know it perfectly well; I don't know what makes you act like that - but you always did, even when you was little, and you can't get over it, I reckon. Are you over it now, Marse Tom?"
"Oh, well, yes; but it would try anybody to be doing the best he could, offering every kindness he could think of, only to have it rejected with contumely and . . . Oh, well, let it go; it's no matter - I'll talk to the doctor. Is that satisfactory, or are you going to break out again?"
"Yes, sir, it is; and it's only right to talk to him, too, because it's just as she says; she's trying to keep up discipline in the Rangers, and this insubordination of his is a bad example for them - now ain't it so, Marse Tom?"
"Well, there IS reason in it, I can't deny it; so I will speak to him, though at bottom I think hanging would be more lasting. What is the rest of your errand, Dorcas?"
"Of course her room is Ranger headquarters now, Marse Tom, while she's sick. Well, soldiers of the cavalry and the dragoons that are off duty come and get her sentries to let them relieve them and serve in their place. It's only out of affection, sir, and because they know military honors please her, and please the children too, for her sake; and they don't bring their muskets; and so - "
"I've noticed them there, but didn't twig the idea. They are standing guard, are they?"
"Yes, sir, and she is afraid you will reprove them and hurt their feelings, if you see them there; so she begs, if - if you don't mind coming in the back way - "
"Bear me up, Dorcas; don't let me faint."
"There - sit up and behave, Marse Tom. You are not going to faint; you are only pretending - you used to act just so when you was little; it does seem a long time for you to get grown up."
"Dorcas, the way the child is progressing, I shall be out of my job before long - she'll have the whole post in her hands. I must make a stand, I must not go down without a struggle. These encroachments. . . . Dorcas, what do you think she will think of next?"
"Marse Tom, she don't mean any harm."
"Are you sure of it?"
"Yes, Marse Tom."
"You feel sure she has no ulterior designs?"
"I don't know what that is, Marse Tom, but I know she hasn't."
"Very well, then, for the present I am satisfied. What else have you come about?"
"I reckon I better tell you the whole thing first, Marse Tom, then tell you what she wants. There's been an emeute, as she calls it. It was before she got back with BB. The officer of the day reported it to her this morning. It happened at her fort. There was a fuss betwixt Major-General Tommy Drake and Lieutenant-Colonel Agnes Frisbie, and he snatched her doll away, which is made of white kid stuffed with sawdust, and tore every rag of its clothes off, right before them all, and is under arrest, and the charge is conduct un - "
"Yes, I know - conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman - a plain case, too, it seems to me. This is a serious matter. Well, what is her pleasure?"
"Well, Marse Tom, she has summoned a court-martial, but the doctor don't think she is well enough to preside over it, and she says there ain't anybody competent but her, because there's a major- general concerned; and so she - she - well, she says, would you preside over it for her? . . . Marse Tom, SIT up! You ain't any more going to faint than Shekels is."
"Look here, Dorcas, go along back, and be tactful. Be persuasive; don't fret her; tell her it's all right, the matter is in my hands, but it isn't good form to hurry so grave a matter as this. Explain to her that we have to go by precedents, and that I believe this one to be new. In fact, you can say I know that nothing just like it has happened in our army, therefore I must be guided by European precedents, and must go cautiously and examine them carefully. Tell her not to be impatient, it will take me several days, but it will all come out right, and I will come over and report progress as I go along. Do you get the idea, Dorcas?"
"I don't know as I do, sir."
"Well, it's this. You see, it won't ever do for me, a brigadier in the regular army, to preside over that infant court-martial - there isn't any precedent for it, don't you see. Very well. I will go on examining authorities and reporting progress until she is well enough to get me out of this scrape by presiding herself. Do you get it now?"
"Oh, yes, sir, I get it, and it's good, I'll go and fix it with her. LAY DOWN! and stay where you are."
"Why, what harm is he doing?"
"Oh, it ain't any harm, but it just vexes me to see him act so."
"What was he doing?"
"Can't you see, and him in such a sweat? He was starting out to spread it all over the post. NOW I reckon you won't deny, any more, that they go and tell everything they hear, now that you've seen it with yo' own eyes."
"Well, I don't like to acknowledge it, Dorcas, but I don't see how I can consistently stick to my doubts in the face of such overwhelming proof as this dog is furnishing."
"There, now, you've got in yo' right mind at last! I wonder you can be so stubborn, Marse Tom. But you always was, even when you was little. I'm going now."
"Look here; tell her that in view of the delay, it is my judgment that she ought to enlarge the accused on his parole."
"Yes, sir, I'll tell her. Marse Tom?"
"She can't get to Soldier Boy, and he stands there all the time, down in the mouth and lonesome; and she says will you shake hands with him and comfort him? Everybody does."
"It's a curious kind of lonesomeness; but, all right, I will."Next