Colonel Hampton’s first inspection of the troops after his illness sent a grumbling among the ranks. His soldiers, accustomed to their finely-tailored clothing, an indication of their wealth, were quite shocked to see how humbly the Colonel was dressed. However, the day Colonel Hampton’s son, Preston, arrived with a unit of his classmates from South Carolina College was quite a different story.
It was the first night James had been released from confinement to his quarters that the news of Preston’s arrival reached camp. Fierce, two-day rains had left the camp wet and soggy. The evening of Preston’s arrival found James and his friends huddled around a smoky campfire trying to dry out from the day’s drilling.
Joshua nudged James’ arm. “Look over there.” All of those seated around the fire looked up. There, walking towards them, was Preston Hampton, dressed magnificently in a finely tailored uniform.
“That’s the Colonel’s son,” Isaac said.
“Looks too damn clean for me!” James said, looking down at the mud clinging to his own boots and trousers.
“I’d have to agree,” Joshua replied. They all watched Preston walk down the makeshift road separating the rows of canvas tents.
“Got himself some mighty clean yellow leather gloves, too,” Joshua added. A soft laughter stirred around the fire.
“Maybe we ought to do something about it,” Elvin said, with a gleam of mischief in his green eyes.
“See that puddle over there?” Joshua asked.
“Maybe we ought to make sure it’s him,” Philip suggested. This sort of sport always made him a bit on the nervous side.
“Say, are you Preston Hampton?” James called out, rising to his feet. The rest of his friends stood with him.
“Yes, I am,” Preston said proudly and then very cordially added, “And who may you be?”
“Ohhhh… You might say we’re your welcoming committee,” Joshua called out. They all ran in Preston’s direction. Colonel Hampton’s son, being a bright young man, saw what was in store for him and knew there was no escape.
His so-called welcoming committee picked him up and, after swinging him back and forth several times, tossed him into the mud puddle. He landed with a splosh. Clumps of mud flew in every direction. Several others rolled him around, covering him generously with mud. Laughter filled the air. Preston slowly picked his head up to look at them. James walked up to Preston and held out a muddy hand. Preston looked up at James with the slightest trace of a smirk on his handsome, boyish face.
“Travis. The name’s James Travis.” He held out a hand for Preston to shake. Preston shook James’ hand, but before James knew what was happening, he found himself sharing the puddle with Preston. The crowd started to laugh again. So did Preston.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Travis.”
“Likewise, Mr. Hampton.” Then all of a sudden above the laughter they heard someone calling them to attention.
“Oh, no,” James whispered. He looked at the highly polished boots in front of him and then to Preston. James grimaced. They tried to get up, but slipped and slid in the mud.
“As you were, men.” From their position in the puddle, James and Preston looked up at Captain Butler. “I must say, Private Travis. This is a most unusual choice of where to spend your first evening not confined to quarters.”
“Yes, Sir. I’d have to agree.”
“Would someone like to tell me what’s going on here, since Private Travis’ memory usually fails him on such occasions?” The crowd was silent until Jefferson left the campfire and stepped forward.
“I know, Captain Butler, Sir.”
“What’s your name, Private?”
“Private Jefferson Albert Benet, III, Sir!” Jefferson snapped a salute.
“Alright then, Private Benet. Suppose you tell me what’s happened here.”
“Private Travis and these men tossed the Colonel’s son into the puddle.” Jefferson said, pointing at James. Captain Butler turned away from Jefferson and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Mustering up a fake cough to conceal his laughter, he turned around to face the two muddy troopers in the puddle.
“Is that true, Private Hampton?” the Captain asked, fighting back a smile.
“Well… Actually, Sir, it might have appeared that way to some. But, I distinctly remember just falling in here. Quite by accident. Then Private Travis here was gracious enough to try to help me out. Then he…”
“Just fell in there, as well.” Captain Butler finished the sentence for Preston. He turned to several men in the crowd and asked them what had happened. They all quickly agreed with Preston. Captain Butler said, “Carry on.”
Shortly after Preston’s Hussars’ welcome, he was assigned to Captain Butler’s troop. The good-natured way he had accepted their reception quickly won him friends among the men. Jefferson’s popularity, on the other hand, was waning quickly.