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My Red Cap
by [?]

“He who serves well need not fear to ask his wages.”


It was under a blue cap that I first saw the honest face of Joe Collins. In the third year of the late war a Maine regiment was passing through Boston, on its way to Washington. The Common was all alive with troops and the spectators who clustered round them to say God-speed, as the brave fellows marched away to meet danger and death for our sakes.

Every one was eager to do something; and, as the men stood at ease, the people mingled freely with them, offering gifts, hearty grips of the hand, and hopeful prophecies of victory in the end. Irresistibly attracted, my boy Tom and I drew near, and soon, becoming excited by the scene, ravaged the fruit-stands in our neighborhood for tokens of our regard, mingling candy and congratulations, peanuts and prayers, apples and applause, in one enthusiastic jumble.

While Tom was off on his third raid, my attention was attracted by a man who stood a little apart, looking as if his thoughts were far away. All the men were fine, stalwart fellows, as Maine men usually are; but this one over-topped his comrades, standing straight and tall as a Norway pine, with a face full of the mingled shrewdness, sobriety, and self-possession of the typical New Englander. I liked the look of him; and, seeing that he seemed solitary, even in a crowd, I offered him my last apple with a word of interest. The keen blue eyes met mine gratefully, and the apple began to vanish in vigorous bites as we talked; for no one thought of ceremony at such a time.

“Where are you from?”

“Woolidge, ma’am.”

“Are you glad to go?”

“Wal, there’s two sides to that question. I calk’late to do my duty, and do it hearty: but it is rough on a feller leavin’ his folks, for good, maybe.”

There was a sudden huskiness in the man’s voice that was not apple-skins, though he tried to make believe that it was. I knew a word about home would comfort him, so I went on with my questions.

“It is very hard. Do you leave a family?”

“My old mother, a sick brother,–and Lucindy.”

The last word was uttered in a tone of intense regret, and his brown cheek reddened as he added hastily, to hide some embarrassment.–

“You see, Jim went last year, and got pretty well used up; so I felt as if I’d ought to take my turn now. Mother was a regular old hero about it and I dropped everything, and come off. Lucindy didn’t think it was my duty; and that made it awful hard, I tell you.”

“Wives are less patriotic than mothers,” I began; but he would not hear Lucindy blamed, and said quickly,–

“She ain’t my wife yet, but we calk’lated to be married in a month or so; and it was wus for her than for me, women lot so on not being disappointed. I couldn’t shirk, and here I be. When I git to work, I shall be all right: the first wrench is the tryin’ part.”

Here he straightened his broad shoulders, and turned his face toward the flags fluttering far in front, as if no backward look should betray the longing of his heart for mother, home, and wife. I liked that little glimpse of character; and when Tom returned with empty hands, reporting that every stall was exhausted, I told him to find out what the man would like best, then run across the street and get it.

“I know without asking. Give us your purse, and I’ll make him as happy as a king,” said the boy, laughing, as he looked up admiringly at our tall friend, who looked down on him with an elder-brotherly air pleasant to see. While Tom was gone, I found out Joe’s name and business, promised to write and tell his mother how finely the regiment went off, and was just expressing a hope that we might meet again, for I too was going to the war as nurse, when the order to “Fall in!” came rolling down the ranks, and the talk was over. Fearing Tom would miss our man in the confusion, I kept my eye on him till the boy came rushing up with a packet of tobacco in one hand and a good supply of cigars in the other. Not a romantic offering, certainly, but a very acceptable one, as Joe’s face proved, as we scrambled these treasures into his pockets, all laughing at the flurry, while less fortunate comrades helped us, with an eye to a share of these fragrant luxuries by and by. There was just time for this, a hearty shake of the big hand, and a grateful “Good-by, ma’am;” then the word was given, and they were off. Bent on seeing the last of them, Tom and I took a short cut, and came out on the wide street down which so many troops marched that year; and, mounting some high steps, we watched for our man, as we already called him.