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Chapter 8 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

Major Blossom

On reaching the camp I found a mounted orderly in front of my tent.

“From the general,” said the soldier, touching his cap, and handing me a sealed note.

The orderly, without waiting a reply, leaped into his saddle and rode off.

I broke the seal with delight:

“Sir,—You will report, with fifty men, to Major Blossom, at 4 a.m. to-morrow.

“By order,—”

(Signed) “A.A.A.-G.

“Captain Haller, commanding Co. Rifle Rangers.”

“Old Bios, eh? Quartermaster scouting, I hope,” said Clayley, looking over the contents of the note.

“Anything but the trenches; I am sick of them.”

“Had it been anybody else but Blossom—fighting Daniels, for instance—we might have reckoned on a comfortable bit of duty; but the old whale can hardly climb into his saddle—it does look bad.”

“I will not long remain in doubt. Order the sergeant to warn the men for four.”

I walked through the camp in search of Blossom’s marquee, which I found in a grove of caoutchouc-trees, and out of range of the heaviest metal in Vera Cruz. The major himself was seated in a large Campeachy chair, that had been “borrowed” from some neighbouring rancho, and perhaps it was never so well filled as by its present occupant.

It would be useless to attempt an elaborate description of Major Blossom. That would require an entire chapter.

Perhaps the best that can be done to give the reader an idea of him is to say that he was a great, fat, red man, and known among his brother officers as “the swearing major”. If anyone in the army loved good living, it was Major Blossom; and if anyone hated hard living, that man was Major George Blossom. He hated Mexicans, too, and mosquitoes, and scorpions, and snakes, and sand-flies, and all enemies to his rest and comfort; and the manner in which he swore at these natural foes would have entitled him to a high commission in the celebrated army of Flanders.

Major Blossom was a quarter-master in more senses than one, as he occupied more quarters than any two men in the army, not excepting the general-in-chief; and when many a braver man and better officer was cut down to “twenty-five pounds of baggage”, the private lumber of Major Blossom, including himself, occupied a string of wagons like a siege-train.

As I entered the tent he was seated at supper. The viands before him were in striking contrast to the food upon which the army was then subsisting. There was no gravel gritting between the major’s teeth as he masticated mess-pork or mouldy biscuit. He found no débris of sand and small rocks at the bottom of his coffee-cup. No; quite the contrary.

A dish of pickled salmon, a side of cold turkey, a plate of sliced tongue, with a fine Virginia ham, were the striking features of the major’s supper, while a handsome French coffee-urn, containing the essence of Mocha, simmered upon the table. Out of this the major from time to time replenished his silver cup. A bottle of eau-de-vie, that stood near his right hand, assisted him likewise in swallowing his ample ration.

“Major Blossom, I presume?” said I.

“My name,” ejaculated the major, between two swallows, so short and quick that the phrase sounded like a monosyllable.

“I have received orders to report to you, sir.”

“Ah! bad business! bad business!” exclaimed the major, qualifying the words with an energetic oath.

“How, sir?”

“Atrocious business! dangerous service! Can’t see why they sent me.”

“I came, Major, to inquire the nature of the service, so that I may have my men in order for it.”

“Dangerous service!”

“It is?”

“Infernal cut-throats! thousands of ’em in the bushes—bore a man through as soon as wink. Those yellow devils are worse than—!” and again the swearing major wound up with an exclamation not proper to be repeated.

“Can’t see why they picked me out. There’s Myers, and Wayne, and Wood, not half my size, and that thin scare-the-crows Allen; but no—the general wants me killed. Die soon enough in this infernal nest of centipedes without being shot in the chaparral! I wish the chaparral was—!” and again the major’s unmentionable words came pouring forth in a volley.

I saw that it was useless to interrupt him until the first burst was over. From his frequent anathemas on the “bushes” and the “chaparral”, I could gather that the service I was called upon to perform lay at some distance from the camp; but beyond this I could learn nothing, until the major had sworn himself into a degree of composure, which after some minutes he accomplished. I then re-stated the object of my visit.

“We’re going into the country for mules,” replied the major. “Mules, indeed! Heaven knows there isn’t a mule within ten miles, unless with a yellow-hided Mexican on his back, and such mules we don’t want. The volunteers—curse them!—have scared everything to the mountains: not a stick of celery nor an onion to be had at any price.”

“How long do you think we may be gone?” I inquired.

“Long? Only a day. If I stay overnight in the chaparral, may a wolf eat me! Oh, no! if the mules don’t turn up soon, somebody else may go fetch ’em—that’s all.”

“I may ration them for one day?” said I.

“Two—two; your fellows’ll be hungry. Roberts, of the Rifles, who’s been out in the country, tells me there isn’t enough forage to feed a cat. So you’d better take two days’ biscuit. I suppose we’ll meet with beef enough on the hoof, though I’d rather have a rump-steak out of the Philadelphia market than all the beef in Mexico. Hang their beef! it’s as tough as tan leather!”

“At four o’clock then, Major, I’ll be with you,” said I, preparing to take my leave.

“Make it a little later, Captain. I get no sleep with these cursed gally-nippers and things; but, stay—how many men have you got?”

“In my company eighty; but my order is to take only fifty.”

“There again! I told you so; want me killed—they want old Bios killed! Fifty men, when a thousand of the leather-skinned devils have been seen not ten miles off! Fifty men! great heavens! fifty men! There’s an escort to take the chaparral with!”

“But they are fifty men worth a hundred, I promise you.”

“Bring all—every son of a gun—bugler and all.”

“But that, Major, would be contrary to the general’s orders.”

“Hang the general’s orders! Obey some generals’ orders in this army, and you would do queer things. Bring them all; take my advice. I tell you, if you don’t, our lives may answer for it. Fifty men!”

I was about to depart when the major stopped me with a loud “Hilloa!”

“Why,” cried he, “I have lost my senses! Your pardon, Captain! This unlucky thing has driven me crazy. They must pick upon me! What will you drink? Here’s some good brandy; sorry I can’t say as much for the water.”

I mixed a glass of brandy and water; the major did the same; and, having pledged each other, we bade “good night”, and separated.

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