Chapter XII. The Court Martial of the Kaiser
 

"'Gee, ain't it fierce, we ain't got no flag to fight this here Revolution with!'" Agony, carrying a baseball bat at "shoulder arms," paced slowly back and forth across the attic in the Wing home with an exaggerated military stride. "Is that loud enough, Nyoda?" she asked.

"Yes, your voice is all right," approved Nyoda, jabbing a pin into the large felt hat which she was transferring into a tricorn, "but don't kick your feet straight up in front of you that way. The American army didn't goose-step, remember. Try it again. There, that's better.

"Now, Second Soldier, your little speech, and remember to salute when you're through."

Oh-Pshaw, similarly outfitted as to firearms, added her bit to the drama which was unfolding under Nyoda's direction.

"Now we'll do it with the scenery," announced Nyoda. "Come on, scenery, all up! Here, Trees, you stand here," pushing Hinpoha into place at one side of the landscape, "and More Trees, you get over on the other side. Who is More Trees? Oh, Migwan. All right, you two stand there and sway gently in the breeze. Where are the Guns? Oh, here you are, Sahwah. And the rest of the Guns, that's you, Veronica. Here, you Guns, stack yourselves against Trees."

Sahwah and Veronica inclined toward each other at a precarious angle and leaned against Trees. Trees promptly doubled up and clapped both her hands over the pit of her stomach, and Guns, losing their balance, fell in a heap on the floor.

"What's the matter?" demanded Nyoda.

"Oooo-oo-oo-oh!" giggled Trees. "Sahwah tickled my ribs!"

"Try it again," directed Nyoda, assisting Guns to rise from the floor and stacking them against an invulnerable spot on Trees.

"Now, where's the Moon?"

"Gone downstairs to get a paintbrush," replied More Trees.

"What'll Moon rise on?" asked Nyoda, knitting her brows in thought.

"Take the piano stool," suggested the First Soldier, leaning on his weapon in a picturesque attitude.

"The very thing!" exclaimed Nyoda. "Bring up the piano stool!" she shouted down the stairway, and a few minutes later the Moon came into view, carrying her rising power in one hand, a bottle of India ink in the other, a number of sheets of cardboard under her arm and a paintbrush held crosswise in her mouth.

"Gracious, if you'd ever slipped coming up the stairs!" exclaimed the Second Soldier, springing forward to take the bottle of ink out of the hand of the Moon.

"Now Moon, you rise behind More Trees," ordered Nyoda, setting the piano stool behind Migwan.

"How does a moon rise, anyway?" asked Gladys in perplexity.

"Oh, begin by crouching on the piano stool, and then straighten up gradually to a standing position over Migwan's shoulder," answered Nyoda. "Now then! 'Curtain rises. Scene shows camp of the American army at the time of the Revolution. Trees on left, more trees on right, guns stacked against trees. Moon rises,' All right, Moon, rise!"

Gladys rose shakily to a standing position, her hand on the shoulder of More Trees.

"Now beam over the trees, Moon."

Moon did her best to beam and grinned from ear to ear; Guns howled with laughter; the piano stool began to turn; Moon clutched wildly at More Trees and went down with a crash on the floor.

"Eclipse of the Moon," laughed Nyoda, rushing to the aid of the fallen one.

"Let somebody else be the Moon," declared Gladys, when she had been restored to the perpendicular, viewing the shaky stool with disfavor. "Let Sahwah be it, she's more of an acrobat."

"You have to be the Moon because you've got light hair," replied Nyoda in a tone of finality. "You'll just have to manage so the stool doesn't turn, that's all. Try it again."

Moon rose over the trees and accomplished the difficult feat of holding the stool still and beaming at the same time with a fair degree of success, and the rehearsal began.

"Oh-Pshaw, you're forgetting to salute!" called Nyoda when Second Soldier had finished his speech. "There, that's all right, now don't forget to do it the next time. Now you get behind the Moon and hold her up through the next scene. She's wobbling again. What comes next? Oh, yes, here's where I come in."

Throwing down her prompting book and setting the partially cocked hat upon her head, Nyoda made a flourishing entrance upon the stage as the Father of her Country, and the second touching scene of the drama was enacted, in which George is informed by the sentry that "we ain't got no flag to fight this here Revolution with," and soothingly promises to "see Betsy." Just as George was delivering his reassuring promise Trees felt a fly walking across her nose and sneezed a tremendous sneeze, sending Guns sprawling upon the floor.

"Gracious, Hinpoha, can't you hold still a minute?" sighed Nyoda, pushing the hat up from her left eye where it had hung ever since she had knocked it crooked returning the sentry's salute. "And who's going to work our 'Quick Curtain' there?"

"Oh, either Slim or the Captain can draw the curtain for us," said Hinpoha.

"But we want it all to be a surprise for them," Sahwah reminded her. "They're not supposed to know anything about it."

"Well, grandmother can draw the curtain, then," said Agony.

"But she's supposed to be in the audience, too," objected Oh-Pshaw.

"Why, you can draw the curtain, you're not doing anything at the end of this scene!" exclaimed Nyoda triumphantly to Oh-Pshaw. "Second Soldier goes out after his one speech and doesn't come on again."

"I'm a rocking chair in the last scene, though," Oh-Pshaw reminded her.

Nyoda thought deeply for a moment. "We'll have to do without that one rocking chair in the last act. You'll have to draw the curtain. No show is complete without a quick curtain at the end. How can we have curtain calls without a curtain? Anyway, we don't need three rocking chairs, two are plenty."

So Oh-Pshaw good-naturedly shifted her role from rocking chair to curtain puller.

"Next scene, home of Betsy Ross," proclaimed Nyoda. "Trees, you'll have to turn into a chair in this scene, and More Trees, you turn into another chair. Guns, you will become a spinet and a spinning wheel respectively, and Moon, you'll turn into a table. First Soldier, you'll become Betsy Ross. Now then! All the stage settings get in place for the last scene!"

The two chairs solemnly began to rock back and forth on their heels, causing the Spinning Wheel to go off into fits of uncontrollable laughter, and Betsy Ross, hearing George's knock, rose to answer it, but, catching sight of the two rocking chairs, promptly doubled up on the floor instead of letting George in.

"I can't do anything if they're going to rock," gasped Betsy.

"You'll have to get used to it," said Nyoda emphatically. "We want those rocking chairs, they're the funniest part of the show. Don't look at them if you can't keep a straight face. Now start again. Where's your baby? Here, take this towel for a baby until you can find a doll.

"Now, remember, when I come in you say 'Hello, George,' in a very familiar tone, and when I say, 'Gee, ain't it fierce, we ain't go no flag to fight this here Revolution with,' you say, 'I know, ain't it fierce! Here, you hold the baby and I'll make one.' Then you give me the baby and I walk up and down while you sew, and the baby screams all the while--Oh-Pshaw, you'll have to make the noise for the baby behind the scenes. Now, all ready!"

George came in, with a yardstick tied around his waist for a sword, and made a deep bow which made the spinet giggle violently. "'Gee, ain't it fierce--' Stop laughing, Sahwah, remember you're the scenery!"

Sahwah lasted until the towel baby was laid in the arms of the Commander-in-Chief, and Oh-Pshaw, trying to imitate the noise of a crying baby behind the scenes, emitted a series of yelps which were harrowingly suggestive of a large yellow dog going through the meat chopper. It was too much for the rest of the scenery; the rocking chair howled, the spinning wheel choked, the table wept into her handkerchief, and even George's composure forsook him and he and Betsy fell up against each other and shouted.

"Good gracious, Oh-Pshaw, a baby doesn't cry like that! It makes a wailing noise in a high key. Try it again, now."

Oh-Pshaw amended her vocal efforts so that the results were not fatal, and the historical First Edition of the Stars and Stripes proceeded without further mishap.

"Where's the flag I'm to hold up when it's done?" demanded Betsy.

"Who brought the flag along?" asked Nyoda.

The spinet suddenly clapped a hand to her brow. "I left it on the porch at Carver House!" she exclaimed. "I was going to bring it along with the rest of the things, and then I forgot it. Shall I go and get it?"

"Never mind," said Nyoda, "we'll get along without it now and bring it along when we come over to-night. Come on, now, go through the whole thing once more, and then we're finished. Oh-Pshaw, while you're not on the stage, you make the signs for the scenery, TREES, MORE TREES, GUNS--make two signs for Guns--MOON, etc., and on the other side paint CHAIR, TABLE, SPINNING WHEEL, SPINET, etc., so all the scenery will have to do is turn the signs around on themselves when they change from the first to the second scenes."

All the above commotion was in preparation for the party which Agony and Oh-Pshaw were giving that night in honor of Slim's birthday. The birthday was already past, it is true, but it was still recent enough to make it a legitimate excuse for a party. The Winnebagos, as usual, could not have a party without some select private theatricals in honor of the occasion.

The rehearsal over, Nyoda and the Winnebagos wended their way back to Carver House to get ready for the evening.

"Kaiser Bill's out!" exclaimed Sahwah, as they approached the house. "I just saw him jump the hedge and run around the side of the house with something red in his mouth."

"The cover of the porch table!" exclaimed Nyoda. "Run, head him off, quick!"

They sped into the yard and round the side of the house as the sportive Kaiser doubled in his tracks and missed them by an inch.

"Oh, he's got the flag!" shrieked Sahwah. "I left it on the porch! Get it! Get it! He's got it half eaten!" They gave strenuous chase, but the wily Capricorn, mischief sparkling in his wicked eyes, eluded them again and again, and each time they passed him there was less of the flag hanging out of his mouth. Not until the last shred was gulped down did he suffer himself to be cowed by the persistent umbrella in Nyoda's hand, and then he came to a stand in a triumphant attitude, and on his face was the satisfied expression of an epicure who has just discovered a rare new dainty to tickle his palate.

The Winnebagos looked at each other and were speechless with horror. Kaiser Bill had eaten up the American flag!

Nyoda recovered herself first, and the Winnebagos saw her in one of her rare moods of anger.

"This is the last straw!" she exclaimed indignantly. "He's chewed up two sofa pillows and a twelve-dollar hammock and no end of books; he destroyed Sahwah's kite last week; he's broken the windows in the greenhouse three or four times; he's ruined large numbers of valuable plants; and still I bore with him patiently for old Hercules' sake. But I won't stand it any longer. I'm tired of being kept in hot water by that fiendish old goat. He's the terror of the neighbors, and I live in hourly expectation of damage suits that will ruin me. Now I've reached the limit of endurance. Either that goat leaves Carver House or I do, and as Carver House belongs to me and Kaiser Bill doesn't, I reckon he'll be the one to go."

"What are you going to do with him?" asked Sahwah.

"Oh, give him away, or sell him--anything," replied Nyoda.

"Hercules, come here!" she called, as she spied a kinky white head bobbing around in the barnyard.

Hercules approached with a painfully stew, shuffling gait. "What is it, Mis' Elizabeth?" he inquired mildly, eyeing his mistress with affection in his look.

"Hercules," said Nyoda crisply, "we're going to get rid of that goat."

"What's 'at ol' goat bin a-doin', honey?" quavered Hercules anxiously.

"He's eaten up the American flag!" replied Nyoda in an outraged tone. "This is positively the last straw. I put up with several hundred dollars' worth of damage about the place, but this is too much. Do you realize what he's done? He's eaten up the American flag!"

"Why-e-e-e-e-e!" exclaimed Hercules, and then, "Lord a-massy! Kaiser Bill," he remarked reproachfully, "ain't I done fetched you up no better'n 'at?"

"Do you know of anyone who would take him?" asked Nyoda.

The old man considered, with his head in his hands. "Oh, Mis' Elizabeth, you-all ain't goin' ter give dat goat away?" he broke out pleadingly. "'At goat's lived here all his life, deed he has, Mis' Elizabeth, an' he wouldn' feel to home nowheres else!"

But for once Nyoda stood her ground and refused to be cajoled.

"Mis' Elizabeth," said old Hercules solemnly, when all pleading had been in vain, "you-all ain' goin' ter give 'at goat away, because you-all can't give him away! Ain't anybody livin' 'at can give dat goat away! He'd come back just as fast as you'd give him away! 'At ol' Kaiser's a mighty foxy goat. Ain't no door bin invented 'at he can't break down!"

The old man's voice quavered triumphantly, and he winked at the goat solemnly. Nyoda had a mental vision of Kaiser Bill putting on a Return from Elba act every day in the future, and her resolution took a sudden hardy turn.

"You're right," she said. "It wouldn't do any good to give him away. He'd come back. The only way to get rid of him is to kill him. Then we'll be sure he can't come back."

Hercules looked at her unbelievingly, and shook his head.

"I mean it," repeated Nyoda. "I'm going to get rid of that goat."

She stood still, waiting for the torrent of dissuading argument that would presently come from Hercules' lips, intending to cut it short, but the flow never came. Just when Hercules had his mouth open to begin there came a sudden earthquake shock from behind, and he found himself sitting in a flower bed a dozen feet away, rubbing his bruised knees and struggling to regain his breath. His first impression was that he had been run over by a locomotive.

When he could finally be persuaded that Kaiser Bill, base and ungrateful animal, had rewarded his championship of him by deliberately assaulting him with the full force of his concrete forehead, his heart was broken, and he mutely bowed to the decision of the judge.

"'T's all one ter me now," he said sadly. "Kaiser Bill done turn agin' ol' Hercules; ol' Hercules' heart broke now. Don' care whether you kill him er not. 'T's all one ter me."

"We'll have a Court Martial," announced Sahwah.

The Court Martial duly sat, and in a most formal manner Kaiser Bill was tried and convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and of traitorously destroying the American flag, and was sentenced to be shot at sunrise the next morning.

"Who's going to shoot him?" asked Hinpoha.

"Oh, we'll get Slim and the Captain to do it," replied Sahwah.

With the death sentence hanging over his head, the Kaiser was led away to await his execution.