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"For Bravery On The Field Of Battle"
by [?]


The recruiting-office at Rivermouth was in a small, unpainted, weather- stained building on Anchor Street, not far from the custom-house. The tumble-down shell had long remained tenantless, and now, with its mouse- colored exterior, easily lent itself to its present requirements as a little military mouse-trap. In former years it had been occupied as a thread-and-needle and candy shop by one Dame Trippew. All such petty shops in the town were always kept by old women, and these old women were always styled dames. It is to be lamented that they and their innocent traffic have vanished into the unknown.

The interior of the building, consisting of one room and an attic covered by a lean-to roof, had undergone no change beyond the removal of Dame Trippew’s pathetic stock at the time of her bankruptcy. The narrow counter, painted pea-green and divided in the centre by a swinging gate, still stretched from wall to wall at the farther end of the room, and behind the counter rose a series of small wooden drawers, which now held nothing but a fleeting and inaccurate memory of the lavender, and pennyroyal, and the other sweet herbs that used to be deposited in them. Even the tiny cow-bell, which once served to warn Dame Trippew of the advent of a customer, still hung from a bit of curved iron on the inner side of the street-door, and continued to give out a petulant, spasmodic jingle whenever that door was opened, however cautiously. If the good soul could have returned to the scene of her terrestrial commerce, she might have resumed business at the old stand without making any alterations whatever. Everything remained precisely as she had left it at the instant of her exit. But a wide gulf separated Dame Trippew from the present occupant of the premises. Dame Trippew’s slight figure, with its crisp, snowy cap and apron, and steel-bowed spectacles, had been replaced by the stalwart personage of a sergeant of artillery in the regular army, between whose overhanging red mustache and the faint white down that had of late years come to Dame Trippew’s upper lip, it would have been impossible to establish a parallel. The only things these two might have claimed in common were a slackness of trade and a liking for the aromatic Virginia leaf, though Dame Trippew had taken hers in a dainty idealistic powder, and the sergeant took his in realistic plug through the medium of an aggressive clay pipe.

In spite of the starry shield, supported by two crossed cannon cut out of tin and surmounted by the national bird in the same material, which hung proudly over the transom outside; in spite of the drummer-boy from the fort, who broke the silence into slivers at intervals throughout the day; in brief, in spite of his own martial bearing and smart uniform, the sergeant found trade very slack. At Rivermouth the war with Mexico was not a popular undertaking. If there were any heroic blood left in the old town by the sea, it appeared to be in no hurry to come forward and get itself shed. There were hours in which Sergeant O’Neil despaired of his country. But by degrees the situation brightened, recruits began to come in, and finally the town and the outlying districts–chiefly the outlying districts–managed to furnish a company for the State regiment. One or two prominent citizens had been lured by commissions as officers; but neither of the two Rivermouthians who went in as privates was of the slightest civic importance. One of these men was named James Dutton.

Why on earth James Dutton wanted to go to the war was a puzzle to the few townsfolk who had any intimate acquaintance with the young man. Intimate acquaintance is perhaps too strong a term; for though Button was born in the town and had always lived there, he was more or less a stranger to those who knew him best. Comrades he had, of course, in a manner: the boys with whom he had formerly gone to the public school, and two or three maturer persons whose acquaintance he had contracted later in the way of trade. But with these he could scarcely be said to be intimate. James Dutton’s rather isolated condition was not in consequence of any morbid or uncouth streak in his mental make-up. He was of a shy and gentle nature, and his sedentary occupation had simply let the habit of solitude and unsociability form a shell about him. Dutton was a shoemaker and cobbler, like his father before him, plying his craft in the shabby cottage where he was born and had lived ever since, at the foot of a narrow lane leading down to the river–a lonely, doleful sort of place, enlivened with a bit of shelving sand where an ancient fisherman occasionally came to boil lobsters.