“Renny’s Uniform” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, March 1862; pp. 70-73)
How fast the feet of that little boy take him down yonder hill!
What can have happened to make Renny Page run at such a rate of speed?
We will hurry on to see.
We had a grand autumn in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty-one, and the view is so pretty just here: the view of the valley where the river runs all summer, and falls fast asleep in wintry weather, that I know you wish to stop and look at it; but, never mind now, the squirrels, the chestnuts, and great pine-tree-cones won’t run away half as fast as Renny Page did; so now, hurry little feet, before the hall-door is shut by the north wind that rushes around the country like a grand huge-buttoned policeman, and shakes, and shuts, and slams doors, as if to say, “Ho! ho! good people, don’t you know that there is a thief coming? His stealthy steps I hear, treading on all these forest-leaves. His name is Winter, and he has ever so many little children, and, oddly enough, they all have the same name. Every one is called “cold,” and they are so thievy and cunning, they crawl in at the windows and whistle right through the key-holes, they climb over the tops of the doors, and whisk themselves under the cracks, until you’ll all run away, rather than stay and drive them out. So take care, good people, and shut your doors, or, before you know it, Winter will get in after all his children, and then, what a time you’ll have. I’ve done my duty this time, but don’t expect it of me every day.”
What a hill! here, breathless, we are, but we’ve got here before the policeman found the door open. Come in, you know we are after that little boy, Renny Page, that we saw “hurrying” so.
Here he is, in the nursery, talking as fast as ever he can to his mother. He has awakened the baby, whose wondering eyes are fixed on Renny, and saying as plainly as they can, “What a funny, noisy fellow you are for a brother, to come in here when I was asleep and make such a clatter with your feet and your tongue!”
Renny doesn’t mind the baby, nor yet what baby’s eyes are saying, for Renny hasn’t finished his story; we’re just in time to hear the ending.
“It’s all true, mamma; just as true as anything you ever heard of; we’ve got a general, and a captain, and a lieu— lu— I can’t remember the name, but Sam Clark’s to be it; and Sam said I ‘was too small;’ but Joe and Cal said I ‘could fight, and bite, too, like a musquito,’ and you know how they bited us all when we were down to Newport; papa, too, and he’s a big man, and I don’t think we shall have anybody to fight bigger than boys. Just see here, mamma, how I can bite when I don’t half try;” and Renny seized baby’s fat,
little arm, and tried his teeth on it, looking up with a triumphant air, exclaiming, “there!” as baby’s arm showed little red marks where Renny’s white teeth had been, and baby’s face and voice testified to their sharpness.
“Don’t, don’t cry—be a brave soldier, baby, and then you shall have a uniform when you’re big enough to walk; true, mamma, I didn’t mean to hurt baby; I thought he’d know, and never make such a fuss; but he’s a real goose, and I know Sam and Cal won’t ever vote for him.”
“Renny,” said Mrs. Page, “roll up your sleeve and come to me.”
“I wish to bite you, to see how brave you will be; now, you are not to cry—you are to think you are a soldier; come, give me your arm.”
Renny slowly rolled up his little coat-sleeve and bared his arm, his rosy face quivering meanwhile, and his eyes taking rapid glances at his mother, to see if he could tell how hard she would bite; but Mrs. Page was soothing baby and kissing his wounded arm, until Renny began to pull his sleeve down, his martial ardor somewhat lessened; and he began to think of running, but Mrs. Page had not forgotten, and when she had kissed the last tear away, she took up Renny’s arm and bit it pretty thoroughly; but Renny gave no sign, only his lips shut very tightly; and when his mother said, “You may go now, and the next time remember not to hurt your brother,” Renny availed himself of the permission to hide his tears, and a little time late he came into the nursery and patted baby, whispering to him, and I am quite certain that he told him that “he was sorry, and would never bite him any more.”
Renny did not dare to ask his mother again that night for the “soldier-dress” that he wanted, and the next morning following the night, his courage was not quite strong enough, and so it came to pass that he went to school and met “the boys” and their questions.
“General Sam” was the first to accost him: “How is it, little corporal, are you to have your uniform?”
“Oh,” said Renny, “I wanted mother to see how I could fight, and so I tried baby’s arm, and hurt it, too, and then mother bit me, and I didn’t dare to ask her.”
“Never mind, ask her again—I’m sure you deserve one for telling the truth; and I’ll have you promoted right away.”
“What’s promoted, General, if you please?”
“Going up higher—being made seargeant, in your case.”
“Thank you,” said Renny, “I’d most bite baby again for that.”
“If you did, I’d court-martial you.”
“What’s that? next higher than sergeant, isn’t it?” asked Renny; but General Sam’s attention had been called another way, and Renny received no reply.
The leaves were just as golden and brown, and the blue river in the valley sang the same tune to the rustling of the leaves, when Renny went down the hill the next evening from school. He was seriously resolving in his mind whether he could endure another bite for the sake of a further promotion from “General Sam;” but he no sooner saw baby, than he remembered his promise never to hurt him again, and he manfully resolved that he wouldn’t tell his baby
brother a lie for all the court-martial promotions in the world.
Renny was wise in his own way, and his wisdom led him to tell his mother all that had happened during the day, the story of his promotion not being omitted, and Renny was secretly very glad that “General Sam” hadn’t heard his last question when his mother explained to him the meaning of court-martial, “for his General would think him such a goose not to know;” and then Renny went bravely on and told how “he had longed to get as high as ever he could, even if he had to feel the teeth in his arm again;” and Renny finished his story, with the full expectation that his naughtiness had made the matter of the uniform beyond his reach; but his mother said, “You may have the dress, because you have fought with a lie, and conquered it, and I welcome you as a little soldier.”
“Oh, mamma, how good of you!” said Renny; “I thought you’d never love me, for thinking I could bite baby again;” and Renny kissed his mother, and then kissed baby, and afterward ran on with his happy tongue, telling how the soldier-clothes should be made, and where he should want the buttons, and how he would have his blanket folded “just like the first men’s that went from Massachusetts.”
The forming of the embryo regiment went bravely on, and it was nearly time for their first parade in uniform, and yet Renny’s was not ready. Baby had been very sick, and Renny had heard of hydrophobia, and he wouldn’t believe that his bite hadn’t made baby sick, until one day his mother told him that “his brother was nearly well, and that she was going, on that individual afternoon, into the village to buy everything he needed for his uniform, and that the next day she would have it all made for him;” and the “tiny seargeant” rejoiced greatly, and went to his company of ten little men, as happy as a soldier boy could be. The regiment, for regiment must be had, consisted of ten companies, of ten men each, and they had marched and countermarched over half the fields in the river-valley, and now, on this afternoon, preparatory to the grand parade in uniform, orders were given to march, none knew where.
“General Sam” reviewed his forces on the plain before the village school-house, and after a serious exhortation to valor and courage, gave the word of command, “Forward!” and his regiment of five-score men advanced, until they came to Cogasset. Cogasset was a little rivulet that crossed the plain, and made haste to join the wider river, ambitious for larger life.
“Now, men,” said “General Sam,” “this is the broad Potomac, and just over its banks are the enemy; I am told that they are full of ‘strategem and wiles.’ Now obey only one watch-word, that comes with every
command. Men! who are we fighting for?”
“For Uncle Sam, to be sure,” answered the entire regiment.
“Very well, then; let our watch-word be—” and the General hesitated one moment—“whatever Uncle Sam loves best.”
“That’s his wife!” exclaimed the little sergeant, Renny Page.
“Good!” said General Sam; “let the watch-word be, Uncle Sam’s wife; but what is her name?”
“Hail Columbia, to be sure,” was the answer.
“Hurrah for Hail Columbia! leap the Potomac, boys.”
It didn’t take long to reach a high hill that shut in the valley on one side, and then came the command—“Scale the mountain, for Hail Columbia!” and with a step not known in military schools, the hundred boys “got up” the mountain. On its summit they paused a moment, tired, by pushing through the undergrowth and brambles, and waited for the next order. It came from the tiny trumpet of the General: “Scale Fort Sumter, for Hail Columbia!” and immediately the hundred boys were scrambling with each other to get the highest position on the giant chestnut-tree of the mountain. Up its mammoth trunk they crawled like ants, and ran out on its huge branches like squirrels.
The little sergeant, by the chance of position and nimbleness of limb, was the first one up the tree, and he gained the highest point of honor; from thence he began to pour down a shower of chestnuts, burs and all.
In double-quick time the tree was divested of every chestnut, except a very few on the branch the nearest to the sky, and that the little sergeant left for the squirrels, who he thought were loyal and true, and oughtn’t to starve in the enemy’s country.
After this signal victory over the chestnut-tree, General Sam prudently resolved to retire before the forces of General Night, whose legions of cloud and darkness already were seen gathering in the valley, and soon they would besiege the mountain; therefore a very orderly retreat was begun, and it ended on the farther side of Cogasset, where the march began.
[To be continued.]
“Renny’s Uniform” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, April 1862; pp. 105-108)
Before retiring into private life, for the night, the General made a congratulatory speech to his men, wherein he recorded the acts of individual bravery, especially commending Sergeant Renny for his noble charge at the enemy, and his humanity toward the loyal inhabitants of the country, in that he left them food to eat, and a habitation of leaves wherein to dwell; and he ended by promoting Renny to the position of Lieutenant: and Renny started for his home, saying the hard word over to himself “ever so many times,” so that he could remember to tell his mother; and he went through the gathering shadows, hurrying as fast as possible, for General Frost had effected a junction with the forces of General Night, and Renny was somewhat afraid of being taken prisoner, and then, he thought, “he would only be kept so much the longer for his new promotion.”
The road was a little lonely. Its course, just where Renny then was, followed the river, and the tall, dark pines that love river courses in Massachusetts, and in all the New England States, shut in his way.
Renny kicked the dry leaves because he wanted their rustle for company; but over rustle, wind, and all, Renny heard a great sobbing moan, that made him stand still and look far up into the tree-tops, for Renny knew that the pines had a mournful sob of their own, and now he believed them to be crying together perhaps because the summer was gone, and, may-be, he thought, “because winter was coming to whip them with his long wind lashes, all thorned with icicles;” and Renny’s heart began to be very sorry for these desolate old pine trees that had to stand on guard always; then, he thought, “Well, when I am made General (and I mean to be some day), I will order my men to shoulder a hundred new axes, ever so sharp and strong, and we will come and cut these trees down, and pile them up in a snug, warm place, and by-and-by we can burn them, to get them warm.”
The sob and the cry came again, and Renny peered over the fence on the river-side, down where the under-growth and the rocks were the thickest, and he saw a boy, larger than himself, it is true, and yet a little boy.
He sat on a stone, crying very bitterly, all alone, as he thought, with God and the trees and the river.
“Who’s there?” called Renny.
“It’s I,” suddenly answered the boy, frightened for an instant out of his sorrow.
“Who are you, and what in the world are you sitting down there for, crying, too?”
The boy got up for answer, but suddenly sat down again, and said, “I can’t walk any farther.”
“Can’t walk!” exclaimed Renny, jumping the fence with a bound, “I don’t see why—you’ve got feet, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but they’re full of things from chestnut burs, and they prick and prick, and I can’t get home. I’ve been crawling ever so far, and I had to wade the river, because I couldn’t go round by the bridge.”
“Well, look here,” said Renny, “I guess you can walk, if you have my
shoes and stockings on, then the prickles won’t hurt so much, and you can get up the hill to mother, and she will take them out for you in no time at all, so I wouldn’t cry for that.[”]
“I’m not crying for that,” answered the boy, forgetting his trouble in the momentary indignation.
“What, then?” asked Renny, as he hastily got off his shoes and sotckings, “I don’t see anything else to cry for.”
“You don’t know, oh! you don’t know—my father is killed; he went to the war, and mother heard to-day that there had been a battle, and she knew father was in it, and she sent me to the Captain’s house to ask his wife if she had heard, and she told me that father was killed, surely, for he was shot in the battle, and then drowned in an old boat that was full of hurt men, that they were trying to get across to an island in the river, where they had a hospital. Poor father! and poor mother! I can’t go and tell her; but I was hurrying as fast as I could, and taking the shortest way over the hill, ’cause I knew mother was waiting, and when I came to the fence, on the other side of the river, I jumped over it, right down into a lot of chestnut burs, that some boys had put there, I suppose, but they were all covered up with leaves, and I didn’t see.”
During his story, Renny had kneeled down before the boy, and was trying to put on one of his stockings, but they wouldn’t fit, and the feet were bleeding from the burs and the stones, so Renny put on his shoes again, and told the boy that he had helped him all he could. Then he asked the boy his name.
“It’s George,” was the answer.
“Now, George, I’m a soldier, and I ought to know how to help you; you put your arm around me and I’ll half carry you—I can’t quite, only you mustn’t cry, because I shall cry, too, and then we won’t ever get up the hill. My goodness! what a thin coat you’ve got on—it’s no thicker than I wear in dog-days; haven’t you a thick coat, one ever so thick, like mine?”
“You’ve got a comforter, and a cap with fur around it, and all over the ears?”
“But it’s too late for any boys to go barefoot; why didn’t you put on your thick boots to-day? I declare it’s real cold—and then you wouldn’t have got into our burs. We’ve been up on the hill, playing battle, and charging the ‘big chestnut,’ and when we came down we gathered all the burs together, and thought we’d be very good, better than the rebels are, and bury the killed and wounded, so we put ’em all in a pile, and threw a mess of leaves over them, and then we marched away. I’m real sorry; but the rebels are always in mischief, and can’t stay dead. There’s their big President, Mr. Davis; he died a great while ago; ever so many people saw him lying, all laid out, just as if he was a good man; but he’s come to life again, and isn’t a bit better than he used to be; and then there’s that other fellow, out West, General mc—Mc—I can’t think his name—but he’s been killed in battle ever so many times, but, somehow, up he gets again when there’s anybody to fight, and goes at it. See here, George! may-be that’s the kind your father died.”
“No, ’tisn’t,” said George; “my father wasn’t a rebel, and our soldiers don’t sham that way.”
“I didn’t think of that,” said Renny;
“but here is the fence—we’ve got so far; now you wait when you get most over, and I’ll lift you down.”
“You can’t—I shall throw you over.”
“Nonsense! didn’t I tell you I was a soldier, and soldiers have to lift, and dig, and do everything. Come on, now; I am stronger than I ever was before;” and Renny managed it so that George landed safely, and got up the hill. It was quite dark then, and Renny’s mother had put her hat and shawl on, and come out of the house to search for Renny. She met him, and asked, “Why, Renny, where have you been?”
“Busy, mother, bringing in the wounded; have you got a hospital here? ’cause I’ve found a boy with his feet full of chestnut burs, and he can’t walk without most killing himself, and he’s cold, and may be hungry; and, mother”—Renny whispered this, going quite close to his mother—“his father is dead, killed in that battle you read about this morning, at the Ferry.”
“Come in,” kindly said Renny’s mother; and she helped the boy in, and tended his bleeding feet as tenderly as if he had been her Renny. After the sharp points had been removed, she fitted his feet with stockings and shoes that had long been unused, for the feet that wore them had gone forever out of her home, and her mother-heart listened vainly through the years for their faintest echo “from over the river.”
Renny’s father was a soldier, and Renny’s mother felt her own heart ache and quiver as George told her his story. “Why was not George, Renny—why was not George’s father Renny’s father?” and the answer came to her from the God of battles, but she only heard it.
Mrs. Page took George home that night—after her soldier-boy was busy with his dreams—took him home to his mother to tell the story—“the story,” must it be told near every hearth-stone—must it be heard going, mid shot and shell, down into every woman’s heart in the nation?
The morning following, very early, in the late October morning, came the woman to make Renny’s uniform; but Renny was up before her, and he had spread out the bright material, and its gay trimmings, on the table, and looked at them with admiring eyes.
“Come, Master Renny,” said the woman, taking out her measuring-line, “I am ready.”
“You can go home, if you please, after mother has given you some breakfast, for I don’t want any soldier-clothes now.”
“Why not?” asked Mrs. Page, in astonishment at this sudden change.
“Because Goerge is a dead soldier’s boy, and he hasn’t got even one warm coat to wear; please, mother, take these things back again, and get something to make a lot of clothes for George, and then get them made. I guess I can be a soldier if I don’t wear uniform; and if General Sam won’t let me, then I’ll be Renny Page right back again. I’ve got a real soldier for a father, I’m glad of that.”
The unmade uniform went back, and George was fitted with comfortable clothing, even to boots, for his hurt feet. Renny did not tell this story to the regiment, but somebody else did, for before the week was over, Renny was promoted still farther, and “Captain Renny,” in citizen’s dress, became very popular.
A week passed away. Saturday night came—Renny said “Good-night, mother,” and was on the top-
most stair when he heard a man ask, at the door, “Does Captain Renny Page live here?”
“That’s me,” shouted Renny.
“A box for you, by Adams’ Express; please to pay me for bringing it.”
“Here is a letter for you, Renny,” said Mrs. Paige, when she had opened the box.
Renny unfolded the letter, and read, “For my brave soldier-boy—God bless his kind little heart.”
Mrs. Page and Renny looked beneath the cover, and Renny exclaimed, “A little uniform for me, just like father’s own. Now, won’t I be Captain, in good earnest? Mother, do you believe General Sam will be sorry? for this is grander than his uniform. I hope he won’t. How sorry I am for poor George! He hasn’t any father to be good to him. Don’t you believe God will be his father, and send him nice things? I am going to tell God about George this very night, and ask Him to be better to him than He is to me, because I’ve got a father down here that can see when holes come in my boots, and when I want a new jacket; a father here, and a Father up in heaven—isn’t it nice? and this uniform besides;[”] and Renny Page went slowly up the stairs to his bed, carrying his present, hugged tightly to his heart, that beat faster and faster with gladness, until sleep came and wrapped him in one of her rosiest dreams, wherein he dreamed that George came to live with them, and got a uniform, just like his own, that nobody ever found out who sent.