“Sergeant, are you on duty?”
“No, sir; I’m on leave for the day.”
“Ah, good; my orderly was here a moment ago, but I don’t see him anywhere. Would you mind taking this telegram to the War Department, through the park yonder?”
He gave Jack an envelope and hurried back into the building as the two lads started with alacrity across the street.
“I’ve seen that chap before, somewhere,” Barney said, panting with the rapid pace.
“He’s a staff officer, I suppose, not very high rank, for he only had a blouse on. General officers always wear double-button frocks even if they don’t carry the insignia.”
The War Department was easy of access, an old building not unlike Jack’s own home in Acredale. He asked the sentry at the door where his envelope was to be delivered. The man looked at it, pointed to a closed door, and Jack, receiving no response to his knock, entered. Three men were in the room. One was seated at a vast desk with papers, maps, dispatches, and books piled in disheartening confusion, within reach of his hand. Behind him a young captain in uniform sat writing. But the figure that fixed Jack’s reverential attention was half sprawling, half lying over the heaped-up impediments of the big desk. The young soldier caught sight of the serious, sad face, the wistful humorous eyes, and he knew, with a thrill through all his body and an adoring throb in his breast, that it was the President—hapless heritor of generations of disjointed time. All thought of his errand, all thought of place and person, faded as he realized this presence. How long he would have remained in this mute adoration there is no telling. The restless, keen eyes looked up sharply and a dissonant, imperious, repellent voice jerked out:
“Well, my man, what is it?”
Without a word Jack handed him the envelope, and with a sort of reverence to the tall figure whose face was turned kindly toward him he backed to the door.
“O Barney, I’ve seen the President!”
“Seen the President! No? Oh! Why could not I have gone in with you? It’s always my luck.”
“No: it was my luck. But take heart. He will come out pretty soon, and we’ll loaf about here. Perhaps we can see him as he goes back to the White House yonder.”
But though they waited far into the afternoon, forgetting their dinner in the impulse of homage, they did not catch sight of the well-known figure, for the President’s way to the Secretary’s room was a private one, and when he went away the boys of course could not see him. But Jack’s good fortune was the talk of the regiment for many a day, and for months when the fellows of the Caribee got leave they lingered expectantly about the modest headquarters, hoping that a missing orderly might bring them Jack Sprague’s proud distinction of seeing the President face to face. On the grand review, a few days later, Jack and his crony were reminded of the encounter at headquarters,