A few rods east of the post-office, on the opposite side of the street, was a two-story building used as an engine-house, The second story consisted of a hall used for company meetings. This the fire company obligingly granted to the boys as a drill-room during the inclement season, until the weather became sufficiently warm to drill out of doors.
On the Monday afternoon succeeding the preliminary meeting at the academy, about thirty boys assembled in this hall, pursuant to a notice which had been given at school and posted up at the tavern and post-office.
At half-past two Frank entered, accompanied by Mr. Morton.
Some of the boys were already acquainted with him, and came up to speak. He had a frank, cordial way with boys, which secured their favor at first sight.
"Well, boys," said he pleasantly, "I believe I am expected to make soldiers of you."
"Yes, sir," said Charles Reynolds respectfully: "I hope we shall learn readily and do credit to your instructions."
"I have no fear on that score," was the reply. "Perhaps you may have some business to transact before we commence our lessons. If so, I will sit down a few minutes and wait till you are ready."
A short business meeting was held, organized as before.
John Haynes reported that he had spoken to his father, and the question of allowing the boys the use of the muskets belonging to the town would be acted upon at the next meeting of the Selectmen. Squire Haynes thought that the request would be granted.
"What are we going to do. this afternoon?" asked Robert Ingalls.
"I can answer that question, Mr. Chairman," said Henry Morton. "We are not yet ready for muskets. I shall have to drill you first in the proper position of a soldier, and the military step. Probably it will be a week before I shall wish to place muskets into your hands. May I inquire how soon there will be a meeting of the Selectmen?"
John Haynes announced that the next meeting would be held in less than a week.
"Then there will be no difficulty as to the muskets," said Mr. Morton.
Wilbur Summerfield reported that he had extended an invitation to boys not connected with the academy to join the company. Several were now present. Dick Bumstead, though not able to attend that day, would come to the next meeting. He thought they would be able to raise a company of fifty boys.
This report was considered very satisfactory.
Tom Wheeler arose and inquired by what name the new company would be called.
"I move," said Robert Ingalls, "that we take the name of the Rossville Home Guards."
"If the enemy should invade Rossville, you'd be the first to run," sneered John Haynes.
"Not unless I heard it before you," was the quick reply.
There was a general laugh, and cries of "Bully for you, Bob!" were heard.
"Order!" cried the chairman, pounding the table energetically. "Such disputes cannot be allowed. I think we had better defer obtaining a name for our company till we find how well we are likely to succeed."
This proposal seemed to be acquiesced in by the boys generally. The business meeting terminated, and Mr. Morton was invited to commence his instructions.
"The boys will please form themselves in a line," said the teacher, in a clear, commanding voice.
This was done.
The positions assumed were, most of them, far from military. Some stood with their legs too far apart, others with one behind the other, some with the shoulders of unequal height. Frank alone stood correctly, thanks to the private instructions he had received.
"Now, boys," said Mr. Morton, "when I say 'attention!' you must all look at me and follow my directions implicitly. Attention and subordination are of the first importance to a soldier. Let me say, to begin with, that, with one exception, you are all standing wrong."
Here there was a general shifting of positions. Robert Ingalls, who had been standing with his feet fifteen inches apart, suddenly brought them close together in a parallel position. Tom Wheeler, who had been resting his weight mainly on the left foot, shifted to the right. Moses Rogers, whose head was bent over so as to watch his feet, now threw it so far back that he seemed to be inspecting the ceiling. Frank alone remained stationary.
Mr. Morton smiled at the changes elicited by his remarks, and proceeded to give his first command.
"Heels on the same line!" he ordered.
All the boys turned their heads, and there was a noisy shuffling of feet.
"Quit crowding, Tom Baldwin!" exclaimed Sam Rivers in an audible tone.
"Quit crowding, yourself," was the reply. "You've got more room than I, now."
"Silence in the ranks!" said the instructor authoritatively. "Frank Frost, I desire you to see that the boys stand at regular distances." This was accomplished.
"Turn out your feet equally, so as to form a right angle with each other. So."
Mr. Morton illustrated his meaning practically. This was very necessary, as some of the boys had very confused ideas as to what was meant by a right angle.
After some time this order was satisfactorily carried out.
"The knees must be straight. I see that some are bent, as if the weight of the body were too much for them. Not too stiff! Rivers, yours are too rigid. You couldn't walk a mile in that way without becoming very tired. There, that is much better. Notice my position."
The boys, after adjusting their positions, looked at the rest to see how they had succeeded.
"Don't look at each other," said Mr. Morton. "If you do you will be certain to make blunders. I notice that some of you are standing with one shoulder higher than the other. The shoulders should be square, and the body should be erect upon the hips. Attention! So!"
"Very well. Haynes, you are trying to stand too upright. You must not bend backward. All, incline your bodies a little forward. Frank Ingalls is standing correctly."
"I don't think that's very soldierly," said John Haynes, who felt mortified at being corrected, having flattered himself that he was right and the rest were wrong.
"A soldier shouldn't be round-shouldered, or have a slouching gait," said the instructor quietly; "but you will find when you come to march that the opposite extreme is attended with great inconvenience and discomfort. Until then you must depend upon my assurance."
Mr. Morton ran his eye along the line, and observed that most of the boys were troubled about their arms. Some allowed them to hang in stiff rigidity by their sides. One, even, had his clasped behind his back., Others let theirs dangle loosely, swinging now hither, now thither.
He commented upon these errors, and added, "Let your arms hang naturally, with the elbows near the body, the palm of the hand a little turned to the front, the little finger behind the seam of the pantaloons. This you will find important when you come to drill with muskets. You will find that it will economize space by preventing your occupying more room than is necessary. Frank, will you show Sam Rivers and John Haynes how to hold their hands?"
"You needn't trouble yourself," said John haughtily, but in too low a voice, as he supposed, for Mr. Morton to hear. "I don't want a clodhopper to teach me."
Frank's face flushed slightly, and without a word he passed John and occupied himself with showing Sam Rivers, who proved more tractable.
"No talking in the ranks!" said Mr. Morton, in a tone of authority. "If any boy wishes to ask any explanation of me he may do so, but it is a breach of discipline to speak to each other."
"My next order will be, 'Faces to the front!' he resumed, after a pause. "Nothing looks worse than to see a file of men with heads turned in various directions. The eyes should be fixed straight before you, striking the ground at about fifteen paces forward."
It required some time to have this direction properly carried out. Half an hour had now passed, and some of the boys showed signs of weariness.
"I will now give you a little, breathing-spell for ten minutes," said Mr. Morton. "After this we will resume our exercises.'
The boys stretched their limbs, and began to converse in an animated strain about the lesson which they had just received.
At the expiration of ten minutes the lesson was resumed, and some additional directions were given.
It will not be necessary for us to follow the boys during the remainder of the lesson. Most of them made very creditable progress, and the line presented quite a different appearance at the end of the exercise from what it had at the commencement.
"I shall be prepared to give you a second lesson on Saturday afternoon," announced Mr. Morton. "In the meantime it will be well for you to remember what I have said, and if you should feel inclined to practice by yourselves, it will no doubt make your progress more rapid."
These remarks were followed by a clapping of hands on the part of the boys--a demonstration of applause which Mr. Morton acknowledged by a bow and a smile.
"Well, how do you like it?" asked Frank Frost of Robert Ingalls.
"Oh, it's bully fun!" returned Bob enthusiastically. "I feel like a hero already."
"You're as much of one now, Bob, as you'll ever be," said Wilbur good-naturedly.
"I wouldn't advise you to be a soldier," retorted Bob. "You're too fat to run, and would be too frightened to fight."
"I certainly couldn't expect to keep up with those long legs of yours, Bob," said Wilbur, laughing.
The boys dispersed in excellent humor, fully determined to persevere in their military exercises.