“Attention!” once more called Joe. “To the right face— no—I mean, shoulder firelocks first off. Now to the left face.” But by this time he was so confused that his voice sank as he spoke the last words, and so some faced right and some left; while altercations at once arose in the ranks that broke the alignment into a number of disputing groups and set the captain to swearing.
“Come,” shouted one soldier, “cut it, Joe, an’ let Charles take yer place. Yer only mixes us up.”
The suggestion was greeted by numerous, if various, assenting opinions from the ranks, and without so much as waiting to hear Bagby’s reply, Charles sprang forward. Giving the salute to the mounted officers, he wheeled about, and, with two orders, had the lines in formation, after which the manoeuvres were gone through quickly and comparatively smoothly.
The reviewing officer had not laughed during the confusion, watching it with a sternly anxious face, but as the drill proceeded this look changed, and when the parade was finished, he rode forward and saluted the Invincibles. “Gentlemen,” he said, “if you but conduct yourselves with the same steadiness in the face of the enemy as you have this afternoon, your country will have little to ask of you and much to owe.” He turned to Joe, standing shamefaced at one side, and continued: “You are to be complimented on your company, sir. ’T is far and away the best I have seen since I left Virginia.”
“And that is n’t all, your honour,” replied Joe, his face brightening and his self-importance evidently restored. “We are a forehanded lot, and we’ve got twenty half-barrels of powder laid in against trouble.”
After a few more words with Bagby, which put a pleased smile on his face, the officer wheeled his horse. “Well, gentlemen, we’ll proceed,” he called to the group; and, as they were mounting, he rode to where Charles stood. “You have served?” he said.
Charles, with the old sullen look upon his face, saluted, and replied bitterly: “Yes, general, and would give an eye to be in the ranks again.”
The general looked at him steadily. “If ye served in the ranks, how comes it that ye give the officer’s salute?” he asked.
Charles flushed, but met the scrutinising eye to eye, as he answered: “None know it here, but I held his Majesty’s commission for seven years.”
“You look o’er young to have done that,” said the general.
“I was made a cornet at twelve.”
“How comes it that you are here?”
“My own folly,” muttered the man.
“’T is a pity thou ’rt indentured, for we have crying need of trained men. But do what you can hereabouts, since you are not free to join us.”
“I will, general,” said Charles, eagerly, and, as the officer wheeled his horse, he once more saluted. Then as the travellers rode toward the bridge, the bondsman walked over and looked up at his crude likeness of the general.