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Now the first thing learned by a Letitia and a Corporal Leg'ré at the very beginning of life's setting-up, when they were but mere rookies both, is to obey.
So face about, up-stairs they went, and Letty squared around, and slowly but accurately Corporal Leg'ré slipped buttons out of holes. Then he found towels.
The passage to the bath-room was long and dim, so that Letitia, holding loosened garments with one hand, sought Corporal Leg'ré's hand with the other.
Then he, big and grave, filled the tub, which takes a bit of time.
Letitia knew company affairs like an old sergeant.
"And you haven't said why company's cookie is in guardhouse?" she reminded him.
""Twas a question of that which they do call grammar, ma'am," said Corporal Leg'ré, as equal to equal in discussing company affairs and easing on the hot-water supply; "and which they do say too, no disrespect meant, ma'am, the off'cer in question ain't strong on. Says he to cookie, who'd had schoolin' 'fore his failin' led him to enlistin'-says he to cookie anent a small row in the kitchen—
"Was you the man that did it?' says he to cookie, up for trial.
"I were,' says cookie, solemn like. And there you are, and guard-house it was. And baker's bread and reveille is all we are like to get, reveille being dry hash, as you know, ma'am, and it being the extent of 'Sisty's repertoire, as far as we're finding out," and Corporal Leg'ré felt the temperature of the water with a judicious finger.
Then he went.
"Right outside the door," called Letitia.
"Here, ma'am," answered Corporal Leg'ré.
But a bath-room is a lonesome place, and water makes echoes.
"Whistle, so I'll know."
At attention, outside the door, Corporal Leg'ré whistledfirst call, reveille, assembly, mess-call—
Now porcelain tubs are big and slippery, and Letitias are
but baby affairs, and so when, following a splashing sound which might be a fall, she cried out, it could be depended upon that she was hurt.
And so she was, and with her gleaming baby self lifted onto a towel on Corporal Leg'ré's big knees a moment after, gravely they examined the blue welt lifting on the little thigh.
And then, after she had raised her chin for Corporal Leg'ré to button the band of the gown slipped over her head, she remembered to cry some more. It is a rare luxury with a Letitia, you see.
Next Corporal Leg'ré led her back by the hand down the long, dim passage.
"Prayers," said he, not that he had instituted them but that, having learned what the manual of a Letitia is, a Corporal Leg'ré puts her through it unflinchingly.
"Prayers," said he.
"You too," said Letitia. It was the condition.
"Ma'am, yes," said he seriously as with one who knows his duty, and he and Letitia went down together. It was some preceding instructor's form of prayer Letitia favored, Corporal Leg'ré being no innovator.
Four corners to my bed,
said Letitia and the corporal together,
Four angels at my head.
When Letitia next spoke, it was from her pillow. "You won't go?" she asked.
Corporal Leg'ré had fetched in his superior officer's shoes and a shoe-brush.
"Ma'am, no," said he, getting to work.
On the return of papa and mama, something waked Letty. Perhaps it was mama's voice speaking sharply. "Better see him to his room, Leg'ré," she was saying.
But Letitia, unworried, was already asleep. It is the mere
routine of things that papas have to be helped to bed in a Letty's experience of them.
Cooks, following Christmas dinner, leave until next morning. Holidays spent at home seem gloomy affairs to papas and mamas too.
"Toddy has just sent for us to join the rest at his house for eggnog," said mama about dark.
"You told him we would not?" returned papa.
"I told him that we would."
"We'll stay home-with Letty," said papa. "Leg'ré will, certainly," said mama.
"You shall not ask him to give up his Christmas evening -the men have a jollification on-"
"It's all arranged. Are you going with me, Buckner?" Papa started up. "If you do, I'll go to town," said he; "I warn you."
"As you please," said mama, pleasantly. "You can't afford to play too high though, if you do, after last month—”
When papa went he was in civilian's clothes. The crash of the door after him sounded above the raging wind and the boom of the sea. Christmas nights on a post are depressing times when it storms.
Mama's dress, when she was ready, was scarlet and her slippers were scarlet too. Letty, standing on a chair, laid a gauzy red scarf about the lovely shoulders before the scarlet wrap should go on. She adored to wait on mama.
Afterward, because on Christmas night children are allowed to stay up, Letty and Corporal Leg'ré sat with the story-book before the down-stairs fire, she in his lap. Outside the wind and the sea raged. It made her creep close to her companion.
The story-book had been sent to her by the chaplain at the last post and moreover it was fairy-tales.
"By one Andersen who sets it down his being a Christian," explained the corporal, examining the volume: "the same, no doubt, ma'am, pleasing to a chaplain."
Corporal Leg'ré, left to himself, would read to one straight through a book, marking the place from time to time with a straw, but Letitia, on being consulted, preferred to choose. "The Red Shoes," which she elected to hear, he, after start
ing, said he couldn't get onto, on account of its being mighty peculiar.
Letitia on the contrary thought she liked it, though at times she clutched the corporal close and heard it fearfully. Christmas nights seem to be creepy times at best.
In the story which the corporal read, so much of a passion for red shoes had lovely Karen and so averse was she to being parted from these shoes in which her feet tripped so charmingly, that she went in them to confirmation; and taking the golden cup of the sacrament from the priest's hands to her lips, she thought impatiently of the time lost from tripping it in her red shoes; these things, and others, did Karen; and again, grown older, stealing by night away from home, she danced at the ball while the one to whom she owed most, lay at home, dying. And so, dancing, dancing lightly in the red shoes, suddenly it was they dancing and not Karen at all, who herself had no power to stop; and it was the red shoes that danced Karen out of the ball-room and down the stairs and into the street and out of the town gate, in spite of herself.
She was frightened. She tried to pull off the red shoes, but they clung fast. She tore at her stockings, but the shoes were grown to her feet, and she was borne on, on, over field, over meadows, even to the churchyard. Never believe the dead dance in the churchyards! They are better employed! It is the Karens in their red shoes, the Karens whom you know, the Karens I know!
And while Karen would gladly have sat, for even one moment, and even on a pauper grave where the bitter fern leaves grow, for her there was no rest. And as she danced on past the church door, behold, it was no Gothic arched door filling the space, but an angel, his wings from his shoulders to the ground, enfolding him.
"Thou shalt dance," said he to Karen tripping it there among the dead, "dance in thy red shoes till thou art pale and cold and thy skin shrivels to thy skeleton. Thou shalt dance, and shall knock at doors where men and children live that they may hear and be afraid-"
But already the red shoes had borne Karen away across the fields and the highways, dancing, dancing, ever dancing—
There was more; but Letty buried her head in Corporal Leg'ré's blouse and they stopped. It was only the clock ticking-that noise
No, not the clock
"It's mama!" cried Letty, and she and Corporal Leg'ré hurried to open the door. Mama it was, and early, it being even more than an hour to taps!
The light from the red globe of the hall fell on her. The rain sparkled in her hair, a little disheveled now. And something sparkled in her eyes. Was it anger?
"What drunken brutes enlisted men are, Leg'ré," said mama sharply, dropping her cloak. "It's disgraceful! There's a big row on among them, most of them, I suppose, have been to town to-day, officers called out, all sorts of heads broken, the colonel furious-you're wanted-"
"Ma'am, yes, thank you." Corporal Leg'ré came to attention before turning to go, his big face perturbed. "It's sorry they'll be, to-morrow. I've been there myself, ma'am; it's sorry they'll be, the shame they've brought on the post and the off'cers."
And Corporal Leg'ré went out with haste. "While as for our pleasure-” said mama. you want, Letty?"
For Letitia was touching mama's hand as they two, alone, and at a creepy time like Christmas night, were left. Mere vagaries, such as are indulged in by human natures, com., non., or private, did not disturb Letitia, she had something that really mattered at heart.
"Was the little bush lonesome, mama, did you notice, as you came in?”