The men had that year a Christmas present which they enjoyed to the utmost,--furnishing the detail, every other day, for provost-guard duty in Beaufort
It was the only military service which they had ever shared within the town, and it moreover gave a sense of self-respect to be keeping the peace of their own streets.
I enjoyed seeing them put on duty those mornings; there was such a twinkle of delight in their eyes, though their features were immovable.
As the “reliefs” went round, posting the guard, under charge of a corporal, one could watch the black sentinels successively dropped and the whites picked up,--gradually changing the complexion, like Lord Somebody's black stockings which became white stockings,--till at last there was only a squad of white soldiers obeying the “Support arms!
of a black corporal.
Then, when once posted, they glorified their office, you may be sure.
Discipline had grown rather free-and-easy in the town about that time, and it is said that the guard-house never was so full within human memory as after their first tour of duty.
I remember hearing that one young reprobate, son of a leading Northern philanthropist in those parts, was much aggrieved at being taken to the lock — up merely because he was found drunk in the streets.
“Why,” said he, “the white corporals always showed me the way home.”
And I can testify that, after an evening party, some weeks later, I heard with pleasure the officers asking eagerly for the countersign.
“Who has the countersign?;” said they.
“The darkeys are on guard to-night, and we must look out for our lives.”
Even after a Christmas party at General Saxton
's, the guard at the door very properly refused to let the ambulance be brought