For some time Frank had been revolving in his mind the feasibility of a scheme which he hoped to be able to carry into execution. It was no less than this--to form a military company among the boys, which should be organized and drilled in all respects like those composed of older persons. He did not feel like taking any steps in the matter till he had consulted with some one in whose judgment he had confidence.
One evening he mentioned his plan to Mr. Morton.
"It is a capital idea, Frank," said the young man, with warm approval. "If I can be of service to you in this matter, it will afford me much pleasure."
"There is one difficulty," suggested Frank. "None of us boys know anything about military tactics, and we shall need instruction to begin with; but where we are to find a teacher I am sure I can't tell."
"I don't think you will have to look far," said Mr. Morton, with a smile.
"Are you acquainted with the manual?" asked Frank eagerly.
"I believe so. You see you have not yet got to the end of my accomplishments. I shall be happy to act as your drill-master until some one among your number is competent to take my place. I can previously give you some private lessons, if you desire it."
"There's nothing I should like better, Mr. Morton," said Frank joyfully.
"Have you got a musket in the house, then? We shall get along better with one."
"There's one in the attic."
"Very well; if you will get it, we can make a beginning now."
Frank went in search of the musket; but in his haste tumbled down the attic stairs, losing his grasp of the musket, which fell down with a clatter.
Mrs. Frost, opening the door of her bedroom in alarm, saw Frank on his back with the musket lying across his chest.
"What's the matter?" she asked, not a little startled.
Frank got up rubbing himself and looking rather foolish.
"Nothing, mother; only I was in a little too much of a hurry."
"What are you going to do with that musket, Frank?"
"Mr. Morton is going to teach me the manual, that is all, mother."
"I suppose the first position is horizontal," said his mother, with a smile.
"I don't like that position very well," returned Frank, with a laugh. "I prefer the perpendicular."
Under his friend's instructions, Frank progressed rapidly. At the end of the third lesson, Mr. Morton said, "You are nearly as competent to give instructions now as I am. There are some things, however, that cannot be learned alone. You had better take measures to form your company."
Frank called upon Mr. Rathburn, the principal of the academy, and after communicating his plan, which met with the teacher's full approval, arranged to have notice given of a meeting of the boys immediately after the afternoon session.
On Thursday afternoon when the last class had recited, previous to ringing the bell, which was a signal that school was over, Mr. Rathburn gave this brief notice:
"I am requested to ask the boys present to remain in their seats, and in which I think they will all feel interested."
Looks of curiosity were interchanged among the boys, and every one thought, "What's coming now?"
At this moment a modest knock was heard, and Mr. Rathburn, going to the door, admitted Frank. He quietly slipped into the nearest seat.
"Your late schoolfellow, Frank Frost," proceeded Mr. Rathburn, "has the merit of originating the plan to which I have referred, and he is no doubt prepared to unfold it to you."
Mr. Rathburn put on his hat and coat, and left the schoolroom. After his departure Frank rose and spoke modestly, thus:
"Boys, I have been thinking for some time past that we were not doing all that we ought in this crisis, which puts in such danger the welfare of our country. If anything, we boys ought to feel more deeply interested than our elders, for while they will soon pass off the stage we have not yet reached even the threshold of manhood. You will ask me what we can do. Let me remind you that when the war broke out the great want was, not of volunteers, but of men trained to military exercises. Our regiments were at first composed wholly of raw recruits. In Europe, military instruction is given as a matter of course; and in Germany, and perhaps other countries, young men are obliged to serve for a time in the army.
"I think we ought to profit by the lessons of experience. However the present war may turn out, we cannot be certain that other wars will not at some time break out. By that time we shall have grown to manhood, and the duty of defending our country in arms will devolve upon us. Should that time come, let it not find us unprepared. I propose that we organize a military company among the boys, and meet for drill at such times as we may hereafter agree upon. I hope that any who feel interested in the matter will express their opinions freely."
Frank sat down, and a number of the boys testified their approbation by stamping with their feet.
John Haynes rose, with a sneer upon his face.
"I would humbly inquire, Mr. Chairman, for you appear to have assumed that position, whether you intend to favor us with your valuable services as drillmaster."
Frank rose, with a flushed face.
"I am glad to be reminded of one thing, which I had forgotten," he said. "As this is a meeting for the transaction of business, it is proper that it should be regularly organized. Will some one nominate a chairman?"
"Frank Frost!" exclaimed half a dozen voices.
"I thank you for the nomination," said Frank, "but as I have something further to communicate to the meeting, it will be better to select some one else."
"I nominate Charles Reynolds," said one voice.
"Second the motion," said another.
"Those who are in favor of Charles Reynolds, as chairman of this meeting, will please signify it in the usual manner," said Frank.
Charles Reynolds, being declared duly elected, advanced to the teacher's chair.
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, "I will now answer the question just put to me. I do not propose to offer my services as drill-master, but I am authorized to say that a gentleman whom you have all seen, Mr. Henry Morton, is willing to give instruction till you are sufficiently advanced to get along without it."
John Haynes, who felt disappointed at not having been called upon to preside over the meeting, determined to make as much trouble as possible.
"How are we to know that this Morton is qualified to give instruction?" he asked, looking round at the boys.
"The gentleman is out of order. He will please address his remarks to the Chair, and not to the audience," said the presiding officer.
"I beg pardon, Mr. Chairman," said John mockingly. "I forgot how tenacious some people are of their brief authority."
"Order! order!" called half a dozen voices.
"The gentleman will come to order," said the chairman firmly, "and make way for others unless he can treat the Chair with proper respect."
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, rising, "I will mention, for the general information, that Mr. Morton has acted as an officer of militia, and that I consider his offer a kind one, since it will take up considerable of his time and put him to some trouble."
"I move that Mr. Morton's offer be accepted, with thanks," said Henry Tufts.
The motion was seconded by Tom Wheeler, and carried unanimously, with the exception of one vote. John Haynes sat sullenly in his seat and took no part in it.
"Who shall belong to the company?" asked the chairman. "Shall a fixed age be required?"
"I move that the age be fixed at eleven," said Robert Ingalls.
This was objected to as too young, and twelve was finally fixed upon.
John Haynes moved not to admit any one who did not attend the academy. Of course, this would exclude Frank, and his motion was not seconded.
It was finally decided to admit any above the age of twelve who desired it, but the boys reserved to themselves the right of rejecting any who should conduct himself in a manner to bring disgrace upon them.
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, "in order to get under way as soon as possible, I have written down an agreement to which those who wish to join our proposed company can sign their names. If anybody can think of anything better, I shall be glad to have it adopted instead of this."
He handed a sheet of paper to the chairman, who read from it the following form of agreement: "We, the subscribers, agree to form a boys' volunteer company, and to conform to the regulations which may hereafter be made for its government."
"If there is no objection, we will adopt this form, and subscribe our names," said the chairman.
The motion for adoption being carried, the boys came up one by one and signed their names.
John Haynes would have held back, but for the thought that he might be elected an officer of the new company.
"Is there any further business to come before the meeting?" inquired the presiding officer.
"The boys at Webbington had a company three or four years ago," said Joe Barry, "and they used wooden guns."
"Wooden guns!" exclaimed Wilbur Summerfield disdainfully. "You won't catch me training round town with a wooden gun."
"I would remind the last three gentlemen that their remarks should be addressed to the Chair," said the presiding officer. "Of course, I don't care anything about it, but I think you would all prefer to have the meeting conducted properly."
"That's so!" exclaimed several boys.
"Then," said the chairman, "I shall call to order any boy who addresses the meeting except through me."
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, rising, "as to the wooden guns, I quite agree with the last speaker. It would seem too much like boy's play, and we are too much in earnest for that. I have thought of an arrangement which can be made if the Selectmen will give their consent. Ten or fifteen years ago, longer than most of us can remember, as my father has told me, there was a militia company in Rossville, whose arms were supplied and owned by the town. When the company was disbanded the muskets went back to the town, and I believe they are now kept in the basement of the Town Hall. I presume that we can have the use of them on application. I move that a committee be appointed to lay the matter before the Selectmen and ask their permission."
His motion was agreed to.
"I will appoint John Haynes to serve on that committee," said the chairman, after a pause.
This was a politic appointment, as Squire Haynes was one of the Selectmen, and would be gratified at the compliment paid to his son.
"I accept the duty," said John, rising, and speaking in a tone of importance.
"Is there any other business to come before the meeting?"
"I should like to inquire, Mr. Chairman, when our first meeting will take place, and where is it to be?" asked Herbert Metcalf.
"I will appoint as a committee to make the necessary arrangements, Frank Frost, Tom Wheeler, and Robert Ingalls. Due notice will be given in school of the time and place selected, and a written notice will also be posted up in the postoffice."
"Would it not be well, Mr. Chairman," suggested Frank, "to circulate an invitation to other boys not present to-day to join the company? The larger our number, the more interest will be felt. I can think of quite a number who would be valuable members. There are Dick Bumstead, and William Chamberlain, and many others."
At the sound of Dick Bumstead's name John Haynes looked askance at Frank, but for the moment the thought of Dick's agency in the affair of the pig-pen had escaped his recollection, and he looked quite unconscious of any indirect reference to it.
"Will you make a motion to that effect?"
"Yes, if necessary."
"Is the motion seconded?"
"Second it," said Moses Rogers.
"I will appoint Wilbur Summerfield and Moses Rogers on that committee," said the chairman.
"I move that the meeting adjourn ipse dixit," said Sam Davis, bringing out the latter phrase with considerable emphasis.
A roar of laughter followed which shook the schoolhouse to the very rafters, and then a deafening clamor of applause. The proposer sat down in confusion.
"What are you laughing at?" he burst forth indignantly.
"Mr. Chairman," said Henry Tufts, struggling with his laughter, "I second the gentleman's motion, all except the Latin."
The motion was carried in spite of the manner in which it was worded, and the boys formed little groups, and began eagerly to discuss the plan which had been proposed. Frank had reason to feel satisfied with the success of his suggestion. Several of the boys came up to him and expressed their pleasure that he had brought the matter before them.
"I say, Frank," said Robert Ingalls, "We'll have a bully company."
"Yes," said Wilbur Summerfield, "if John Haynes belongs to it. He's a bully, and no mistake."
"What's that you are saying about me?" blustered John Haynes, who caught a little of what was said.
"Listeners never hear anything good of themselves," answered Wilbur.
"Say that again, Wilbur Summerfield," said John menacingly.
"Certainly, if it will do you any good. I said that you were a bully, John Haynes; and there's not a boy here that doesn't know it to be true."
"Take care!" said John, turning white with passion.
"While I'm about it, there's something more I want to say," continued Wilbur undauntedly. "Yesterday you knocked my little brother off his sled and sent him home crying. If you do it again, you will have somebody else to deal with."
John trembled with anger. It would have done him good to "pitch into" Wilbur, but the latter looked him in the face so calmly and resolutely that discretion seemed to him the better part of valor, and with an oath he turned away.
"I don't know what's got into John Haynes," said Wilbur. "I never liked him, but now he seems to be getting worse and worse every day."