A strange thing had happened at the old fort during the still watches of the night. Even now, at nine in the morning, no one seemed to be in possession of the exact circumstances. The officer of the day was engaged in an investigation, and all that appeared to be generally known was the bald statement that the sentry on "Number Five" had fired at somebody or other about half after three; that he had ...
A strange thing had happened at the old fort during the still watches of the night. Even now, at nine in the morning, no one seemed to be in possession of the exact circumstances. The officer of the day was engaged in an investigation, and all that appeared to be generally known was the bald statement that the sentry on "Number Five" had fired at somebody or other about half after three; that he had fired by order of the officer of the day, who was on his post at the time; and that now he flatly refused to talk about the matter.
Garrison curiosity, it is perhaps needless to say, was rather stimulated than lulled by this announcement. An unusual number of officers were chatting about head-quarters when Colonel Maynard came over to his office. Several ladies, too, who had hitherto shown but languid interest in the morning music of the band, had taken the trouble to stroll down to the old quadrangle, ostensibly to see guard-mounting. Mrs. Maynard was almost always on her piazza at this time, and her lovely daughter was almost sure to be at the gate with two or three young fellows lounging about her. This morning, however, not a soul appeared in front of the colonel's quarters.
Guard-mounting at the fort was not held until nine o'clock, contrary to the somewhat general custom at other posts in our scattered army. Colonel Maynard had ideas of his own upon the subject, and it was his theory that everything worked more smoothly if he had finished a leisurely breakfast before beginning office-work of any kind, and neither the colonel nor his family cared to breakfast before eight o'clock. In view of the fact that Mrs. Maynard had borne that name but a very short time and that her knowledge of army life dated only from the month of May, the garrison was disposed to consider her entitled to much latitude of choice in such matters, even while it did say that she was old enough to be above bride-like sentiment. The womenfolk at the fort were of opinion that Mrs. Maynard was fifty. It must be conceded that she was over forty, also that this was her second entry into the bonds of matrimony.
That no one should now appear on the colonel's piazza was obviously a disappointment to several people. In some way or other most of the breakfast tables at the post had been enlivened by accounts of the mysterious shooting. The soldiers going the rounds with the "police-cart," the butcher and grocer and baker from town, the old milkwoman with her glistening cans, had all served as newsmongers from kitchen to kitchen, and the story that came in with the coffee to the lady of the house had lost nothing in bulk or bravery. The groups of officers chatting and smoking in front of head-quarters gained accessions every moment, while the ladies seemed more absorbed in chat and confidences than in the sweet music of the band.
What fairly exasperated some men was the fact that the old officer of the day was not out on the parade where he belonged. Only the new incumbent was standing there in statuesque pose as the band trooped along the line, and the fact that the colonel had sent out word that the ceremony would proceed without Captain Chester only served to add fuel to the flame of popular conjecture. It was known that the colonel was holding a consultation with closed doors with the old officer of the day, and never before since he came to the regiment had the colonel been known to look so pale and strange as when he glanced out for just one moment and called his orderly. The soldier sprang up, saluted, received his message, and, with every eye following him, sped off towards the old stone guard-house. In three minutes he was on his way back, accompanied by a corporal and private of the guard in full dress uniform.
"That's Leary,—the man who fired the shot," said Captain Wilton to his senior lieutenant, who stood by his side.
"Belongs to B Company, doesn't he?" queried the subaltern. "Seems to me I have heard Captain Armitage say he was one of his best men."
"Yes. He's been in the regiment as long as I can remember. What on earth can the colonel want him for? Near as I can learn, he only fired by Chester's order."
"And neither of them knows what he fired at."
It was perhaps ten minutes more before Private Leary came forth from the door-way of the colonel's office, nodded to the corporal, and, raising their white-gloved hands in salute to the group of officers, the two men tossed their rifles to the right shoulder and strode back to the guard.