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“ There is a syllable wanting,” said he, with a gloomy brow. “ Hah! What syllable ? ” was my inquiry.
“She asks, Can she write the word ? And no ; you see she could n't,” said the Colonel, pointing out the passage.
“And the word was?” said I.
“Cow — COW — coward,” hissed the Pirate-Colonel in my ear, and gave me back the note.
Feeling that I must forever tread the earth a branded boy - person I mean - or that I must clear up my honor, I demanded to be tried by a Court-Martial. The Colonel admitted my right to be tried. Some difficulty was found in composing the court, on account of the Emperor of France's aunt refusing to let him come out. He was to be the President. Ere yet we had appointed a substitute, he made his escape over the back-wall, and stood among us, a free monarch.
The court was held on the grass by the pond. recognized in a certain Admiral among my judges, my deadliest foe. A cocoa-nut had given rise to language that I could not brook. But confiding in my innocence, and also in the knowledge that the President of the United States (who sat next him) owed me a knife, I braced myself for the ordeal.
It was a solemn spectacle that court. Two executioners with pinafores reversed led me in. Under the shade of an umbrella, I perceived my Bride, supported by the Bride of the Pirate-Colonel. The President (having reproved a little female ensign for tittering, on a matter of Life and Death) called upon me to plead, “ Coward or no Coward, Guilty or not Guilty ?” I pleaded in a firm tone “ No Coward and Not Guilty. (The little female ensign being again reproved by the President for misconduct, mutinied, left the court, and threw stones.)
My implacable enemy, the Admiral, conducted the case against me. The Colonel's Bride was called to prove that I had remained behind the cornerlamp-post during the engagement. I might have been spared the anguish of my own Bride's being also made a witness to the same point, but the Admiral knew where to wound me. Be still, my soul, no matter. The Colonel was then brought forward with his evidence.
It was for this point that I had saved myself up, as the turning point of my case. Shaking myself free of my guards — who had no business to hold me, the stupids ! unless I was found Guilty – I asked the Colonel what he considered the first duty of a soldier? Ere he could reply, the President of the United States rose and informed the court that my foe the Admiral had suggested “Bravery,” and that prompting a witness was n't fair. The President of the court immediately ordered the Admiral's mouth to be filled with leaves, and tied up with string. I had the satisfaction of seeing the sentence carried into effect, before the proceedings went further.
I then took a paper from my trousers-pocket, and asked : “What do you consider, Colonel Redforth, the first duty of a soldier ? Is it obedience ?"
* It is,” said the Colonel.
“ It is," said the Colonel. “ Is it a military sketch ? " “ It is,” said the Colonel. “Of an engagement ?” “Quite so," said the Colonel. “Of the late engagement?” “Of the late engagement.” “ Please to describe it, and then hand it to the President of the Court.”
From that triumphant moment my sufferings and my dangers were at an end. The court rose up and jumped, on discovering that I had strictly obeyed orders. My foe, the Admiral, who though 'muzzled was malignant yet, contrived to suggest that I was dishonored by having quitted the field. But the Colonel himself had done as much, and gave his opinion, upon his word and honor as a Pirate, that when all was lost the field might be quitted without disgrace. I was going to be found " No Coward and Not Guilty," and my blooming Bride was going to be publicly restored to my arms in a procession, when an unlooked for event disturbed the general rejoicing. This was no other than the Emperor of France's aunt catching hold of his hair. The proceedings abruptly terminated, and the court tumultuously dissolved.
It was when the shades of the next evening but one were beginning to fall, ere yet the silver beams of Luna touched the earth, that four forms might have been descried slowly advancing towards the weeping willow on the borders of the pond, the now deserted scene of the day before yesterday's agonies and triumphs. On a nearer approach, and by a practised eye, these might have been identified as the forms of the Pirate-Colonel with his Bride, and of the day before yesterday's gallant prisoner with his Bride.
On the beauteous faces of the Nymphs, dejection sat enthroned. All four reclined under the willow for some minutes without speaking, till at length the Bride of the Colonel poutingly observed, " It's of no use pretending any more, and we had better give it up."
“ Hah!” exclaimed the Pirate. Pretending ?”
The lovely Bride of Tinkling echoed the incredible declaration. The two warriors exchanged stony glances.
“If,” said the Bride of the Pirate-Colonel, “grown-up people won't do what they ought to do, and will put us out, what comes of our pretending ?"
“We only get into scrapes,” said the Bride of Tinkling.
“You know very well,” pursued the Colonel's Bride, “that Miss Drowvey would n't fall. You complained of it yourself. And you know how disgracefully the court-martial ended. As to our marriage; would my people acknowledge it at home ?"
“Or would my people acknowledge ours ?” said the Bride of Tinkling. Again the two warriors exchanged stony glances.
“If you knocked at the door and claimed me, after you were told to go away,” said the Colonel's Bride, "you would only have your hair pulled, or your ears, or your nose.”
“ If you persisted in ringing at the bell and claiming Me," said the Bride of Tinkling to that gentleman, “ you would have things dropped on your head from the window over the handle, or you would be played upon by the garden-engine."
“ And at your own homes,” resumed the Bride of the Colonel, “it would be just as bad. You would be sent to bed, or something equally undignified. Again, how would you support us ?”
The Pirate-Colonel replied, in a courageous voice, “By rapine ! But his Bride retorted, Suppose the grown-up people would n't be rapined ? Then, said the Colonel, they should pay the penalty in Blood. But suppose they should object, retorted his Bride, and would n't pay the penalty in Blood or anything else?
A mournful silence ensued.
We all four embraced. Let me not be misunderstood by the giddy. The Colonel embraced his own Bride and I embraced mine. But two times two make four.
“ Nettie and I,” said Alice, mournfully, “ have been considering our position. The grown-up people are too strong for us. They make us ridiculous. Besides, they have changed the times. William Tinkling's baby brother was christened yesterday. What took place? Was any king present? Answer, William.”
I said, No, unless disguised as great-uncle Chopper. “Any queen ?”
There had been no queen that I knew of at our house. There might have been one in the kitchen; but I did n't think so, or the servants would have mentioned it.
“ Any fairies ?”
“We had an idea among us, I think,” said Alice, with a melancholy smile, “we four, that Miss Grimmer would prove to be the wicked fairy, and would come in at the christening with her crutch-stick, and give the child a bad gift? Was there anything of that sort? Answer, William.”
I said, that Ma had said afterwards (and so she had), that great-uncle Chopper's gift was a shabby one; but she had n't said a bad one. She had called it shabby, electrotyped, second-hand, and below his income.
“ It must be the grown-up people who have changed all this,” said Alice. “We could n't have changed it, if we had been so inclined, and we never should have been. Or perhaps Miss Grimmer is a wicked fairy, after all, and won't act up to it, because the grown-up people have persuaded her not to. Either way, they would make us ridiculous if we told them what we expected.”
“ Tyrants !” muttered the Pirate-Colonel.