gave their whole attention to the one that maintained its place in the open–the lawn in front of the house. Over and about that hardy piece the shells exploded at intervals of a few seconds. Some exploded in the house, as could be seen by thin ascensions of smoke from the breached roof. Figures of prostrate men and horses were plainly visible.
“If our fellows are doing so good work with a single gun,” said the colonel to an aide who happened to be nearest, “they must be suffering like the devil from twelve. Go down and present the commander of that piece with my congratulations on the accuracy of his fire.”
Turning to his adjutant-general he said, “Did you observe Coulter’s damned reluctance to obey orders?”
“Yes, sir, I did.”
“Well, say nothing about it, please. I don’t think the general will care to make any accusations. He will probably have enough to do in explaining his own connection with this uncommon way of amusing the rear-guard of a retreating enemy.”
A young officer approached from below, climbing breathless up the acclivity. Almost before he had saluted, he gasped out:
“Colonel, I am directed by Colonel Harmon to say that the enemy’s guns are within easy reach of our rifles, and most of them visible from several points along the ridge.”
The brigade commander looked at him without a trace of interest in his expression. “I know it,” he said quietly.
The young adjutant was visibly embarrassed. “Colonel Harmon would like to have permission to silence those guns,” he stammered.
“So should I,” the colonel said in the same tone. “Present my compliments to Colonel Harmon and say to him that the general’s orders for the infantry not to fire are still in force.”
The adjutant saluted and retired. The colonel ground his heel into the earth and turned to look again at the enemy’s guns.
“Colonel,” said the adjutant-general, “I don’t know that I ought to say anything, but there is something wrong in all this. Do you happen to know that Captain Coulter is from the South?”
“No; _was_ he, indeed?”
“I heard that last summer the division which the general then commanded was in the vicinity of Coulter’s home–camped there for weeks, and–“
“Listen!” said the colonel, interrupting with an upward gesture. “Do you hear _that_?”
“That” was the silence of the Federal gun. The staff, the orderlies, the lines of infantry behind the crest–all had “heard,” and were looking curiously in the direction of the crater, whence no smoke now ascended except desultory cloudlets from the enemy’s shells. Then came the blare of a bugle, a faint rattle of wheels; a minute later the sharp reports recommenced with double activity. The demolished gun had been replaced with a sound one.
“Yes,” said the adjutant-general, resuming his narrative, “the general made the acquaintance of Coulter’s family. There was trouble–I don’t know the exact nature of it–something about Coulter’s wife. She is a red-hot Secessionist, as they all are, except Coulter himself, but she is a good wife and high-bred lady. There was a complaint to army headquarters. The general was transferred to this division. It is odd that Coulter’s battery should afterward have been assigned to it.”
The colonel had risen from the rock upon which they had been sitting. His eyes were blazing with a generous indignation.
“See here, Morrison,” said he, looking his gossiping staff officer straight in the face, “did you get that story from a gentleman or a liar?”
“I don’t want to say how I got it, Colonel, unless it is necessary”–he was blushing a trifle–“but I’ll stake my life upon its truth in the main.”
The colonel turned toward a small knot of officers some distance away. “Lieutenant Williams!” he shouted.
One of the officers detached himself from the group and coming forward saluted, saying: “Pardon me, Colonel, I thought you had been informed. Williams is dead down there by the gun. What can I do, sir?”
Lieutenant Williams was the aide who had had the pleasure of conveying to the officer in charge of the gun his brigade commander’s congratulations.
“Go,” said the colonel, “and direct the withdrawal of that gun instantly. No–I’ll go myself.”
He strode down the declivity toward the rear of the Notch at a break-neck pace, over rocks and through brambles, followed by his little retinue in tumultuous disorder. At the foot of the declivity they mounted their waiting animals and took to the road at a lively trot, round a bend and into the Notch. The spectacle which they encountered there was appalling!
Within that defile, barely broad enough for a single gun, were piled the wrecks of no fewer than four. They had noted the silencing of only the last one disabled–there had been a lack of men to replace it quickly with another. The debris lay on both sides of the road; the men had managed to keep an open way between, through which the fifth piece was now firing. The men?–they looked like demons of the pit! All were hatless, all stripped to the waist, their reeking skins black with blotches of powder and spattered with gouts of blood. They worked like madmen, with rammer and cartridge, lever and lanyard. They set their swollen shoulders and bleeding hands against the wheels at each recoil and heaved the heavy gun back to its place. There were no commands; in that awful environment of whooping shot, exploding shells, shrieking fragments of iron, and flying splinters of wood, none could have been heard. Officers, if officers there were, were indistinguishable; all worked together–each while he lasted–governed by the eye. When the gun was sponged, it was loaded; when loaded, aimed and fired. The colonel observed something new to his military experience–something horrible and unnatural: the gun was bleeding at the mouth! In temporary default of water, the man sponging had dipped his sponge into a pool of comrade’s blood. In all this work there was no clashing; the duty of the instant was obvious. When one fell, another, looking a trifle cleaner, seemed to rise from the earth in the dead man’s tracks, to fall in his turn.
With the ruined guns lay the ruined men–alongside the wreckage, under it and atop of it; and back down the road–a ghastly procession!–crept on hands and knees such of the wounded as were able to move. The colonel–he had compassionately sent his cavalcade to the right about– had to ride over those who were entirely dead in order not to crush those who were partly alive. Into that hell he tranquilly held his way, rode up alongside the gun, and, in the obscurity of the last discharge, tapped upon the cheek the man holding the rammer–who straightway fell, thinking himself killed. A fiend seven times damned sprang out of the smoke to take his place, but paused and gazed up at the mounted officer with an unearthly regard, his teeth flashing between his black lips, his eyes, fierce and expanded, burning like coals beneath his bloody brow. The colonel made an authoritative gesture and pointed to the rear. The fiend bowed in token of obedience. It was Captain Coulter.
Simultaneously with the colonel’s arresting sign, silence fell upon the whole field of action. The procession of missiles no longer streamed into that defile of death, for the enemy also had ceased firing. His army had been gone for hours, and the commander of his rear-guard, who had held his position perilously long in hope to silence the Federal fire, at that strange moment had silenced his own. “I was not aware of the breadth of my authority,” said the colonel to anybody, riding forward to the crest to see what had really happened. An hour later his brigade was in bivouac on the enemy’s ground, and its idlers were examining, with something of awe, as the faithful inspect a saint’s relics, a score of straddling dead horses and three disabled guns, all spiked. The fallen men had been carried away; their torn and broken bodies would have given too great satisfaction.
Naturally, the colonel established himself and his military family in the plantation house. It was somewhat shattered, but it was better than the open air. The furniture was greatly deranged and broken. Walls and ceilings were knocked away here and there, and a lingering odor of powder smoke was everywhere. The beds, the closets of women’s clothing, the cupboards were not greatly dam-aged. The new tenants for a night made themselves comfortable, and the virtual effacement of Coulter’s battery supplied them with an interesting topic.
During supper an orderly of the escort showed himself into the dining-room and asked permission to speak to the colonel.
“What is it, Barbour?” said that officer pleasantly, having overheard the request.
“Colonel, there is something wrong in the cellar; I don’t know what– somebody there. I was down there rummaging about.”
“I will go down and see,” said a staff officer, rising.
“So will I,” the colonel said; “let the others remain. Lead on, orderly.”
They took a candle from the table and descended the cellar stairs, the orderly in visible trepidation. The candle made but a feeble light, but presently, as they advanced, its narrow circle of illumination revealed a human figure seated on the ground against the black stone wall which they were skirting, its knees elevated, its head bowed sharply forward. The face, which should have been seen in profile, was invisible, for the man was bent so far forward that his long hair concealed it; and, strange to relate, the beard, of a much darker hue, fell in a great tangled mass and lay along the ground at his side. They involuntarily paused; then the colonel, taking the candle from the orderly’s shaking hand, approached the man and attentively considered him. The long dark beard was the hair of a woman–dead. The dead woman clasped in her arms a dead babe. Both were clasped in the arms of the man, pressed against his breast, against his lips. There was blood in the hair of the woman; there was blood in the hair of the man. A yard away, near an irregular depression in the beaten earth which formed the cellar’s floor–fresh excavation with a convex bit of iron, having jagged edges, visible in one of the sides–lay an infant’s foot. The colonel held the light as high as he could. The floor of the room above was broken through, the splinters pointing at all angles downward. “This casemate is not bomb-proof,” said the colonel gravely. It did not occur to him that his summing up of the matter had any levity in it.
They stood about the group awhile in silence; the staff officer was thinking of his unfinished supper, the orderly of what might possibly be in one of the casks on the other side of the cellar. Suddenly the man whom they had thought dead raised his head and gazed tranquilly into their faces. His complexion was coal black; the cheeks were apparently tattooed in irregular sinuous lines from the eyes downward. The lips, too, were white, like those of a stage negro. There was blood upon his forehead.
The staff officer drew back a pace, the orderly two paces.
“What are you doing here, my man?” said the colonel, unmoved.
“This house belongs to me, sir,” was the reply, civilly delivered.
“To you? Ah, I see! And these?”
“My wife and child. I am Captain Coulter.”
THE COUP DE GRACE
The fighting had been hard and continuous; that was attested by all the senses. The very taste of battle was in the air. All was now over; it remained only to succor the wounded and bury the dead–to “tidy up a bit,” as the humorist of a burial squad put it. A good deal of “tidying up” was required. As far as one could see through the forests, among the splintered trees, lay wrecks of men and horses. Among them moved the stretcher-bearers, gathering and carrying away the few who showed signs of life. Most of the wounded had died of neglect while the right to minister to their wants was in dispute. It is an army regulation that the wounded must wait; the best way to care for them is to win the battle. It must be confessed that victory is a distinct advantage to a man requiring attention, but many do not live to avail themselves of it.
The dead were collected in groups of a dozen or a score and laid side by side in rows while the trenches were dug to receive them.
Some, found at too great a distance from these rallying points, were buried where they lay. There was little attempt at identification, though in most cases, the burial parties being detailed to glean the same ground which they had assisted to reap, the names of the victorious dead were known and listed. The enemy’s fallen had to be content with counting. But of that they got enough: many of them were counted several times, and the total, as given afterward in the official report of the victorious commander, denoted rather a hope than a result.
At some little distance from the spot where one of the burial parties had established its “bivouac of the dead,” a man in the uniform of a Federal officer stood leaning against a tree. From his feet upward to his neck his attitude was that of weariness reposing; but he turned his head uneasily from side to side; his mind was apparently not at rest. He was perhaps uncertain in which direction to go; he was not likely to remain long where he was, for already the level rays of the setting sun straggled redly through the open spaces of the wood and the weary soldiers were quitting their task for the day. He would hardly make a night of it alone there among the dead.
Nine men in ten whom you meet after a battle inquire the way to some fraction of the army–as if any one could know. Doubtless this officer was lost. After resting himself a moment he would presumably follow one of the retiring burial squads.
When all were gone he walked straight away into the forest toward the red west, its light staining his face like blood. The air of confidence with which he now strode along showed that he was on familiar ground; he had recovered his bearings. The dead on his right and on his left were unregarded as he passed. An occasional low moan from some sorely-stricken wretch whom the relief-parties had not reached, and who would have to pass a comfortless night beneath the stars with his thirst to keep him company, was equally unheeded. What, indeed, could the officer have done, being no surgeon and having no water?
At the head of a shallow ravine, a mere depression of the ground, lay a small group of bodies. He saw, and swerving suddenly from his course walked rapidly toward them. Scanning each one sharply as he passed, he stopped at last above one which lay at a slight remove from the others, near a clump of small trees. He looked at it narrowly. It seemed to stir. He stooped and laid his hand upon its face. It screamed.
* * * * *
The officer was Captain Downing Madwell, of a Massachusetts regiment of infantry, a daring and intelligent soldier, an honorable man.
In the regiment were two brothers named Halcrow–Caffal and Creede Halcrow. Caffal Halcrow was a sergeant in Captain Madwell’s company, and these two men, the sergeant and the captain, were devoted friends. In so far as disparity of rank, difference in duties and considerations of military discipline would permit they were commonly together. They had, indeed, grown up together from childhood. A habit of the heart is not easily broken off. Caffal Halcrow had nothing military in his taste nor disposition, but the thought of separation from his friend was disagreeable; he enlisted in the company in which Madwell was second-lieutenant. Each had taken two steps upward in rank, but between the highest non-commissioned and the lowest commissioned officer the gulf is deep and wide and the old relation was maintained with difficulty and a difference.
Creede Halcrow, the brother of Caffal, was the major of the regiment–a cynical, saturnine man, between whom and Captain Madwell there was a natural antipathy which circumstances had nourished and strengthened to an active animosity. But for the restraining influence of their mutual relation to Caffal these two patriots would doubtless have endeavored to deprive their country of each other’s services.
At the opening of the battle that morning the regiment was performing outpost duty a mile away from the main army. It was attacked and nearly surrounded in the forest, but stubbornly held its ground. During a lull in the fighting, Major Halcrow came to Captain Madwell. The two exchanged formal salutes, and the major said: “Captain, the colonel directs that you push your company to the head of this ravine and hold your place there until recalled. I need hardly apprise you of the dangerous character of the movement, but if you wish, you can, I suppose, turn over the command to your first-lieutenant. I was not, however, directed to authorize the substitution; it is merely a suggestion of my own, unofficially made.”
To this deadly insult Captain Madwell coolly replied:
“Sir, I invite you to accompany the movement. A mounted officer would be a conspicuous mark, and I have long held the opinion that it would be better if you were dead.”
The art of repartee was cultivated in military circles as early as 1862.
A half-hour later Captain Madwell’s company was driven from its position at the head of the ravine, with a loss of one-third its number. Among the fallen was Sergeant Halcrow. The regiment was soon afterward forced back to the main line, and at the close of the battle was miles away. The captain was now standing at the side of his subordinate and friend.
Sergeant Halcrow was mortally hurt. His clothing was deranged; it seemed to have been violently torn apart, exposing the abdomen. Some of the buttons of his jacket had been pulled off and lay on the ground beside him and fragments of his other garments were strewn about. His leather belt was parted and had apparently been dragged from beneath him as he lay. There had been no great effusion of blood. The only visible wound was a wide, ragged opening in the abdomen.
It was defiled with earth and dead leaves. Protruding from it was a loop of small intestine. In all his experience Captain Madwell had not seen a wound like this. He could neither conjecture how it was made nor explain the attendant circumstances–the strangely torn clothing, the parted belt, the besmirching of the white skin. He knelt and made a closer examination. When he rose to his feet, he turned his eyes in different directions as if looking for an enemy. Fifty yards away, on the crest of a low, thinly wooded hill, he saw several dark objects moving about among the fallen men–a herd of swine. One stood with its back to him, its shoulders sharply elevated. Its forefeet were upon a human body, its head was depressed and invisible. The bristly ridge of its chine showed black against the red west. Captain Madwell drew away his eyes and fixed them again upon the thing which had been his friend.
The man who had suffered these monstrous mutilations was alive. At intervals he moved his limbs; he moaned at every breath. He stared blankly into the face of his friend and if touched screamed. In his giant agony he had torn up the ground on which he lay; his clenched hands were full of leaves and twigs and earth. Articulate speech was beyond his power; it was impossible to know if he were sensible to anything but pain. The expression of his face was an appeal; his eyes were full of prayer. For what?
There was no misreading that look; the captain had too frequently seen it in eyes of those whose lips had still the power to formulate it by an entreaty for death. Consciously or unconsciously, this writhing fragment of humanity, this type and example of acute sensation, this handiwork of man and beast, this humble, unheroic Prometheus, was imploring everything, all, the whole non-ego, for the boon of oblivion. To the earth and the sky alike, to the trees, to the man, to whatever took form in sense or consciousness, this incarnate suffering addressed that silent plea.
For what, indeed? For that which we accord to even the meanest creature without sense to demand it, denying it only to the wretched of our own race: for the blessed release, the rite of uttermost compassion, the _coup de grace_.
Captain Madwell spoke the name of his friend. He repeated it over and over without effect until emotion choked his utterance.
His tears plashed upon the livid face beneath his own and blinded himself. He saw nothing but a blurred and moving object, but the moans were more distinct than ever, interrupted at briefer intervals by sharper shrieks. He turned away, struck his hand upon his forehead, and strode from the spot. The swine, catching sight of him, threw up their crimson muzzles, regarding him suspiciously a second, and then with a gruff, concerted grunt, raced away out of sight. A horse, its foreleg splintered by a cannon-shot, lifted its head sidewise from the ground and neighed piteously. Madwell stepped forward, drew his revolver and shot the poor beast between the eyes, narrowly observing its death-struggle, which, contrary to his expectation, was violent and long; but at last it lay still. The tense muscles of its lips, which had uncovered the teeth in a horrible grin, relaxed; the sharp, clean-cut profile took on a look of profound peace and rest.
Along the distant, thinly wooded crest to westward the fringe of sunset fire had now nearly burned itself out. The light upon the trunks of the trees had faded to a tender gray; shadows were in their tops, like great dark birds aperch. Night was coming and there were miles of haunted forest between Captain Madwell and camp. Yet he stood there at the side of the dead animal, apparently lost to all sense of his surroundings. His eyes were bent upon the earth at his feet; his left hand hung loosely at his side, his right still held the pistol. Presently he lifted his face, turned it toward his dying friend and walked rapidly back to his side. He knelt upon one knee, cocked the weapon, placed the muzzle against the man’s forehead, and turning away his eyes pulled the trigger. There was no report. He had used his last cartridge for the horse.
The sufferer moaned and his lips moved convulsively. The froth that ran from them had a tinge of blood.
Captain Madwell rose to his feet and drew his sword from the scabbard. He passed the fingers of his left hand along the edge from hilt to point. He held it out straight before him, as if to test his nerves. There was no visible tremor of the blade; the ray of bleak skylight that it reflected was steady and true. He stooped and with his left hand tore away the dying man’s shirt, rose and placed the point of the sword just over the heart. This time he did not withdraw his eyes. Grasping the hilt with both hands, he thrust downward with all his strength and weight. The blade sank into the man’s body–through his body into the earth; Captain Madwell came near falling forward upon his work. The dying man drew up his knees and at the same time threw his right arm across his breast and grasped the steel so tightly that the knuckles of the hand visibly whitened. By a violent but vain effort to withdraw the blade the wound was enlarged; a rill of blood escaped, running sinuously down into the deranged clothing. At that moment three men stepped silently forward from behind the clump of young trees which had concealed their approach. Two were hospital attendants and carried a stretcher.
The third was Major Creede Halcrow.
PARKER ADDERSON, PHILOSOPHER
“Prisoner, what is your name?”
“As I am to lose it at daylight to-morrow morning it is hardly worth while concealing it. Parker Adderson.”
“A somewhat humble one; commissioned officers are too precious to be risked in the perilous business of a spy. I am a sergeant.”
“Of what regiment?”
“You must excuse me; my answer might, for anything I know, give you an idea of whose forces are in your front. Such knowledge as that is what I came into your lines to obtain, not to impart.”
“You are not without wit.”
“If you have the patience to wait you will find me dull enough to-morrow.”
“How do you know that you are to die to-morrow morning?”
“Among spies captured by night that is the custom. It is one of the nice observances of the profession.”
The general so far laid aside the dignity appropriate to a Confederate officer of high rank and wide renown as to smile. But no one in his power and out of his favor would have drawn any happy augury from that outward and visible sign of approval. It was neither genial nor infectious; it did not communicate itself to the other persons exposed to it–the caught spy who had provoked it and the armed guard who had brought him into the tent and now stood a little apart, watching his prisoner in the yellow candle-light. It was no part of that warrior’s duty to smile; he had been detailed for another purpose. The conversation was resumed; it was in character a trial for a capital offense.
“You admit, then, that you are a spy–that you came into my camp, disguised as you are in the uniform of a Confederate soldier, to obtain information secretly regarding the numbers and disposition of my troops.”
“Regarding, particularly, their numbers. Their disposition I already knew. It is morose.”
The general brightened again; the guard, with a severer sense of his responsibility, accentuated the austerity of his expression an stood a trifle more erect than before. Twirling his gray slouch hat round and round upon his forefinger, the spy took a leisurely survey of his surroundings. They were simple enough. The tent was a common “wall tent,” about eight feet by ten in dimensions, lighted by a single tallow candle stuck into the haft of a bayonet, which was itself stuck into a pine table at which the general sat, now busily writing and apparently forgetful of his unwilling guest. An old rag carpet covered the earthen floor; an older leather trunk, a second chair and a roll of blankets were about all else that the tent contained; in General Clavering’s command Confederate simplicity and penury of “pomp and circumstance” had attained their highest development. On a large nail driven into the tent pole at the entrance was suspended a sword-belt supporting a long sabre, a pistol in its holster and, absurdly enough, a bowie-knife. Of that most unmilitary weapon it was the general’s habit to explain that it was a souvenir of the peaceful days when he was a civilian.
It was a stormy night. The rain cascaded upon the canvas in torrents, with the dull, drum-like sound familiar to dwellers in tents. As the whooping blasts charged upon it the frail structure shook and swayed and strained at its confining stakes and ropes.
The general finished writing, folded the half-sheet of paper and spoke to the soldier guarding Adderson: “Here, Tassman, take that to the adjutant-general; then return.”
“And the prisoner, General?” said the soldier, saluting, with an inquiring glance in the direction of that unfortunate.
“Do as I said,” replied the officer, curtly.
The soldier took the note and ducked himself out of the tent. General Clavering turned his handsome face toward the Federal spy, looked him in the eyes, not unkindly, and said: “It is a bad night, my man.”
“For me, yes.”
“Do you guess what I have written?”
“Something worth reading, I dare say. And–perhaps it is my vanity–I venture to suppose that I am mentioned in it.”
“Yes; it is a memorandum for an order to be read to the troops at _reveille_ concerning your execution. Also some notes for the guidance of the provost-marshal in arranging the details of that event.”
“I hope, General, the spectacle will be intelligently arranged, for I shall attend it myself.”
“Have you any arrangements of your own that you wish to make? Do you wish to see a chaplain, for example?”
“I could hardly secure a longer rest for myself by depriving him of some of his.”
“Good God, man! do you mean to go to your death with nothing but jokes upon your lips? Do you know that this is a serious matter?”
“How can I know that? I have never been dead in all my life. I have heard that death is a serious matter, but never from any of those who have experienced it.”
The general was silent for a moment; the man interested, perhaps amused him–a type not previously encountered.
“Death,” he said, “is at least a loss–a loss of such happiness as we have, and of opportunities for more.”
“A loss of which we shall never be conscious can be borne with composure and therefore expected without apprehension. You must have observed, General, that of all the dead men with whom it is your soldierly pleasure to strew your path none shows signs of regret.”
“If the being dead is not a regrettable condition, yet the becoming so– the act of dying–appears to be distinctly disagreeable to one who has not lost the power to feel.”
“Pain is disagreeable, no doubt. I never suffer it without more or less discomfort. But he who lives longest is most exposed to it. What you call dying is simply the last pain–there is really no such thing as dying. Suppose, for illustration, that I attempt to escape. You lift the revolver that you are courteously concealing in your lap, and–“
The general blushed like a girl, then laughed softly, disclosing his brilliant teeth, made a slight inclination of his handsome head and said nothing. The spy continued: “You fire, and I have in my stomach what I did not swallow. I fall, but am not dead. After a half-hour of agony I am dead. But at any given instant of that half-hour I was either alive or dead. There is no transition period.
“When I am hanged to-morrow morning it will be quite the same; while conscious I shall be living; when dead, unconscious. Nature appears to have ordered the matter quite in my interest–the way that I should have ordered it myself. It is so simple,” he added with a smile, “that it seems hardly worth while to be hanged at all.”
At the finish of his remarks there was a long silence. The general sat impassive, looking into the man’s face, but apparently not attentive to what had been said. It was as if his eyes had mounted guard over the prisoner while his mind concerned itself with other matters. Presently he drew a long, deep breath, shuddered, as one awakened from a dreadful dream, and exclaimed almost inaudibly: “Death is horrible!”–this man of death.
“It was horrible to our savage ancestors,” said the spy, gravely, “because they had not enough intelligence to dissociate the idea of consciousness from the idea of the physical forms in which it is manifested–as an even lower order of intelligence, that of the monkey, for example, may be unable to imagine a house without inhabitants, and seeing a ruined hut fancies a suffering occupant. To us it is horrible because we have inherited the tendency to think it so, accounting for the notion by wild and fanciful theories of another world–as names of places give rise to legends explaining them and reasonless conduct to philosophies in justification. You can hang me, General, but there your power of evil ends; you cannot condemn me to heaven.”
The general appeared not to have heard; the spy’s talk had merely turned his thoughts into an unfamiliar channel, but there they pursued their will independently to conclusions of their own. The storm had ceased, and something of the solemn spirit of the night had imparted itself to his reflections, giving them the sombre tinge of a supernatural dread. Perhaps there was an element of prescience in it. “I should not like to die,” he said–“not to-night.”
He was interrupted–if, indeed, he had intended to speak further–by the entrance of an officer of his staff, Captain Hasterlick, the provost-marshal. This recalled him to himself; the absent look passed away from his face.
“Captain,” he said, acknowledging the officer’s salute, “this man is a Yankee spy captured inside our lines with incriminating papers on him. He has confessed. How is the weather?”
“The storm is over, sir, and the moon shining.”
“Good; take a file of men, conduct him at once to the parade ground, and shoot him.”
A sharp cry broke from the spy’s lips. He threw himself forward, thrust out his neck, expanded his eyes, clenched his hands.
“Good God!” he cried hoarsely, almost inarticulately; “you do not mean that! You forget–I am not to die until morning.”
“I have said nothing of morning,” replied the general, coldly; “that was an assumption of your own. You die now.”
“But, General, I beg–I implore you to remember; I am to hang! It will take some time to erect the gallows–two hours–an hour. Spies are hanged; I have rights under military law. For Heaven’s sake, General, consider how short–“
“Captain, observe my directions.”
The officer drew his sword and fixing his eyes upon the prisoner pointed silently to the opening of the tent. The prisoner hesitated; the officer grasped him by the collar and pushed him gently forward. As he approached the tent pole the frantic man sprang to it and with cat-like agility seized the handle of the bowie-knife, plucked the weapon from the scabbard and thrusting the captain aside leaped upon the general with the fury of a madman, hurling him to the ground and falling headlong upon him as he lay. The table was overturned, the candle extinguished and they fought blindly in the darkness. The provost-marshal sprang to the assistance of his Superior officer and was himself prostrated upon the struggling forms. Curses and inarticulate cries of rage and pain came from the welter of limbs and bodies; the tent came down upon them and beneath its hampering and enveloping folds the struggle went on. Private Tassman, returning from his errand and dimly conjecturing the situation, threw down his rifle and laying hold of the flouncing canvas at random vainly tried to drag it off the men under it; and the sentinel who paced up and down in front, not daring to leave his beat though the skies should fall, discharged his rifle. The report alarmed the camp; drums beat the long roll and bugles sounded the assembly, bringing swarms of half-clad men into the moonlight, dressing as they ran, and falling into line at the sharp commands of their officers. This was well; being in line the men were under control; they stood at arms while the general’s staff and the men of his escort brought order out of confusion by lifting off the fallen tent and pulling apart the breathless and bleeding actors in that strange contention.
Breathless, indeed, was one: the captain was dead; the handle of the bowie-knife, protruding from his throat, was pressed back beneath his chin until the end had caught in the angle of the jaw and the hand that delivered the blow had been unable to remove the weapon. In the dead man’s hand was his sword, clenched with a grip that defied the strength of the living. Its blade was streaked with red to the hilt.
Lifted to his feet, the general sank back to the earth with a moan and fainted. Besides his bruises he had two sword-thrusts–one through the thigh, the other through the shoulder.
The spy had suffered the least damage. Apart from a broken right arm, his wounds were such only as might have been incurred in an ordinary combat with nature’s weapons. But he was dazed and seemed hardly to know what had occurred. He shrank away from those attending him, cowered upon the ground and uttered unintelligible remonstrances. His face, swollen by blows and stained with gouts of blood, nevertheless showed white beneath his disheveled hair–as white as that of a corpse.
“The man is not insane,” said the surgeon, preparing bandages and replying to a question; “he is suffering from fright. Who and what is he?”
Private Tassman began to explain. It was the opportunity of his life; he omitted nothing that could in any way accentuate the importance of his own relation to the night’s events. When he had finished his story and was ready to begin it again nobody gave him any attention.
The general had now recovered consciousness. He raised himself upon his elbow, looked about him, and, seeing the spy crouching by a camp-fire, guarded, said simply:
“Take that man to the parade ground and shoot him.”
“The general’s mind wanders,” said an officer standing near.
“His mind does _not_ wander,” the adjutant-general said. “I have a memorandum from him about this business; he had given that same order to Hasterlick”–with a motion of the hand toward the dead provost-marshal– “and, by God! it shall be executed.”
Ten minutes later Sergeant Parker Adderson, of the Federal army, philosopher and wit, kneeling in the moonlight and begging incoherently for his life, was shot to death by twenty men. As the volley rang out upon the keen air of the midnight, General Clavering, lying white and still in the red glow of the camp-fire, opened his big blue eyes, looked pleasantly upon those about him and said: “How silent it all is!”
The surgeon looked at the adjutant-general, gravely and significantly. The patient’s eyes slowly closed, and thus he lay for a few moments; then, his face suffused with a smile of ineffable sweetness, he said, faintly: “I suppose this must be death,” and so passed away.
AN AFFAIR OF OUTPOSTS
CONCERNING THE WISH TO BE DEAD
Two men sat in conversation. One was the Governor of the State. The year was 1861; the war was on and the Governor already famous for the intelligence and zeal with which he directed all the powers and resources of his State to the service of the Union.
“What! _you_?” the Governor was saying in evident surprise–“you too want a military commission? Really, the fifing and drumming must have effected a profound alteration in your convictions. In my character of recruiting sergeant I suppose I ought not to be fastidious, but”–there was a touch of irony in his manner–“well, have you forgotten that an oath of allegiance is required?”
“I have altered neither my convictions nor my sympathies,” said the other, tranquilly. “While my sympathies are with the South, as you do me the honor to recollect, I have never doubted that the North was in the right. I am a Southerner in fact and in feeling, but it is my habit in matters of importance to act as I think, not as I feel.”
The Governor was absently tapping his desk with a pencil; he did not immediately reply. After a while he said: “I have heard that there are all kinds of men in the world, so I suppose there are some like that, and doubtless you think yourself one. I’ve known you a long time and– pardon me–I don’t think so.”
“Then I am to understand that my application is denied?”
“Unless you can remove my belief that your Southern sympathies are in some degree a disqualification, yes. I do not doubt your good faith, and I know you to be abundantly fitted by intelligence and special training for the duties of an officer. Your convictions, you say, favor the Union cause, but I prefer a man with his heart in it. The heart is what men fight with.”
“Look here, Governor,” said the younger man, with a smile that had more light than warmth: “I have something up my sleeve–a qualification which I had hoped it would not be necessary to mention. A great military authority has given a simple recipe for being a good soldier: ‘Try always to get yourself killed.’ It is with that purpose that I wish to enter the service. I am not, perhaps, much of a patriot, but I wish to be dead.”
The Governor looked at him rather sharply, then a little coldly. “There is a simpler and franker way,” he said.
“In my family, sir,” was the reply, “we do not do that–no Armisted has ever done that.”
A long silence ensued and neither man looked at the other. Presently the Governor lifted his eyes from the pencil, which had resumed its tapping, and said:
“Who is she?”
The Governor tossed the pencil into the desk, rose and walked two or three times across the room. Then he turned to Armisted, who also had risen, looked at him more coldly than before and said: “But the man– would it not be better that he–could not the country spare him better than it can spare you? Or are the Armisteds opposed to ‘the unwritten law’?”
The Armisteds, apparently, could feel an insult: the face of the younger man flushed, then paled, but he subdued himself to the service of his purpose.
“The man’s identity is unknown to me,” he said, calmly enough.
“Pardon me,” said the Governor, with even less of visible contrition than commonly underlies those words. After a moment’s reflection he added: “I shall send you to-morrow a captain’s commission in the Tenth Infantry, now at Nashville, Tennessee. Good night.”
“Good night, sir. I thank you.”
Left alone, the Governor remained for a time motionless, leaning against his desk. Presently he shrugged his shoulders as if throwing off a burden. “This is a bad business,” he said.
Seating himself at a reading-table before the fire, he took up the book nearest his hand, absently opening it. His eyes fell upon this sentence:
“When God made it necessary for an unfaithful wife to lie about her husband in justification of her own sins He had the tenderness to endow men with the folly to believe her.”
He looked at the title of the book; it was, _His Excellency the Fool_.
He flung the volume into the fire.
HOW TO SAY WHAT IS WORTH HEARING
The enemy, defeated in two days of battle at Pittsburg Landing, had sullenly retired to Corinth, whence he had come. For manifest incompetence Grant, whose beaten army had been saved from destruction and capture by Buell’s soldierly activity and skill, had been relieved of his command, which nevertheless had not been given to Buell, but to Halleck, a man of unproved powers, a theorist, sluggish, irresolute. Foot by foot his troops, always deployed in line-of-battle to resist the enemy’s bickering skirmishers, always entrenching against the columns that never came, advanced across the thirty miles of forest and swamp toward an antagonist prepared to vanish at contact, like a ghost at cock-crow. It was a campaign of “excursions and alarums,” of reconnoissances and counter-marches, of cross-purposes and countermanded orders. For weeks the solemn farce held attention, luring distinguished civilians from fields of political ambition to see what they safely could of the horrors of war. Among these was our friend the Governor. At the headquarters of the army and in the camps of the troops from his State he was a familiar figure, attended by the several members of his personal staff, showily horsed, faultlessly betailored and bravely silk-hatted. Things of charm they were, rich in suggestions of peaceful lands beyond a sea of strife. The bedraggled soldier looked up from his trench as they passed, leaned upon his spade and audibly damned them to signify his sense of their ornamental irrelevance to the austerities of his trade.
“I think, Governor,” said General Masterson one day, going into informal session atop of his horse and throwing one leg across the pommel of his saddle, his favorite posture–“I think I would not ride any farther in that direction if I were you. We’ve nothing out there but a line of skirmishers. That, I presume, is why I was directed to put these siege guns here: if the skirmishers are driven in the enemy will die of dejection at being unable to haul them away–they’re a trifle heavy.”
There is reason to fear that the unstrained quality of this military humor dropped not as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath the civilian’s silk hat. Anyhow he abated none of his dignity in recognition.
“I understand,” he said, gravely, “that some of my men are out there–a company of the Tenth, commanded by Captain Armisted. I should like to meet him if you do not mind.”
“He is worth meeting. But there’s a bad bit of jungle out there, and I should advise that you leave your horse and”–with a look at the Governor’s retinue–“your other impedimenta.”
The Governor went forward alone and on foot. In a half-hour he had pushed through a tangled undergrowth covering a boggy soil and entered upon firm and more open ground. Here he found a half-company of infantry lounging behind a line of stacked rifles. The men wore their accoutrements–their belts, cartridge-boxes, haversacks and canteens. Some lying at full length on the dry leaves were fast asleep: others in small groups gossiped idly of this and that; a few played at cards; none was far from the line of stacked arms. To the civilian’s eye the scene was one of carelessness, confusion, indifference; a soldier would have observed expectancy and readiness.
At a little distance apart an officer in fatigue uniform, armed, sat on a fallen tree noting the approach of the visitor, to whom a sergeant, rising from one of the groups, now came forward.
“I wish to see Captain Armisted,” said the Governor.
The sergeant eyed him narrowly, saying nothing, pointed to the officer, and taking a rifle from one of the stacks, accompanied him.
“This man wants to see you, sir,” said the sergeant, saluting. The officer rose.
It would have been a sharp eye that would have recognized him. His hair, which but a few months before had been brown, was streaked with gray. His face, tanned by exposure, was seamed as with age. A long livid scar across the forehead marked the stroke of a sabre; one cheek was drawn and puckered by the work of a bullet. Only a woman of the loyal North would have thought the man handsome.
“Armisted–Captain,” said the Governor, extending his hand, “do you not know me?”
“I know you, sir, and I salute you–as the Governor of my State.”
Lifting his right hand to the level of his eyes he threw it outward and downward. In the code of military etiquette there is no provision for shaking hands. That of the civilian was withdrawn. If he felt either surprise or chagrin his face did not betray it.
“It is the hand that signed your commission,” he said.
“And it is the hand–“
The sentence remains unfinished. The sharp report of a rifle came from the front, followed by another and another. A bullet hissed through the forest and struck a tree near by. The men sprang from the ground and even before the captain’s high, clear voice was done intoning the command “At-ten-tion!” had fallen into line in rear of the stacked arms. Again–and now through the din of a crackling fusillade–sounded the strong, deliberate sing-song of authority: “Take… arms!” followed by the rattle of unlocking bayonets.
Bullets from the unseen enemy were now flying thick and fast, though mostly well spent and emitting the humming sound which signified interference by twigs and rotation in the plane of flight. Two or three of the men in the line were already struck and down. A few wounded men came limping awkwardly out of the undergrowth from the skirmish line in front; most of them did not pause, but held their way with white faces and set teeth to the rear.
Suddenly there was a deep, jarring report in front, followed by the startling rush of a shell, which passing overhead exploded in the edge of a thicket, setting afire the fallen leaves. Penetrating the din– seeming to float above it like the melody of a soaring bird–rang the slow, aspirated monotones of the captain’s several commands, without emphasis, without accent, musical and restful as an evensong under the harvest moon. Familiar with this tranquilizing chant in moments of imminent peril, these raw soldiers of less than a year’s training yielded themselves to the spell, executing its mandates with the composure and precision of veterans. Even the distinguished civilian behind his tree, hesitating between pride and terror, was accessible to its charm and suasion. He was conscious of a fortified resolution and ran away only when the skirmishers, under orders to rally on the reserve, came out of the woods like hunted hares and formed on the left of the stiff little line, breathing hard and thankful for the boon of breath.
THE FIGHTING OF ONE WHOSE HEART WAS NOT IN THE QUARREL
Guided in his retreat by that of the fugitive wounded, the Governor struggled bravely to the rear through the “bad bit of jungle.” He was well winded and a trifle confused. Excepting a single rifle-shot now and again, there was no sound of strife behind him; the enemy was pulling himself together for a new onset against an antagonist of whose numbers and tactical disposition he was in doubt. The fugitive felt that he would probably be spared to his country, and only commended the arrangements of Providence to that end, but in leaping a small brook in more open ground one of the arrangements incurred the mischance of a disabling sprain at the ankle. He was unable to continue his flight, for he was too fat to hop, and after several vain attempts, causing intolerable pain, seated himself on the earth to nurse his ignoble disability and deprecate the military situation.
A brisk renewal of the firing broke out and stray bullets came flitting and droning by. Then came the crash of two clean, definite volleys, followed by a continuous rattle, through which he heard the yells and cheers of the combatants, punctuated by thunderclaps of cannon. All this told him that Armisted’s little command was bitterly beset and fighting at close quarters. The wounded men whom he had distanced began to straggle by on either hand, their numbers visibly augmented by new levies from the line. Singly and by twos and threes, some supporting comrades more desperately hurt than themselves, but all deaf to his appeals for assistance, they sifted through the underbrush and disappeared. The firing was increasingly louder and more distinct, and presently the ailing fugitives were succeeded by men who strode with a firmer tread, occasionally facing about and discharging their pieces, then doggedly resuming their retreat, reloading as they walked. Two or three fell as he looked, and lay motionless. One had enough of life left in him to make a pitiful attempt to drag himself to cover. A passing comrade paused beside him long enough to fire, appraised the poor devil’s disability with a look and moved sullenly on, inserting a cartridge in his weapon.
In all this was none of the pomp of war–no hint of glory. Even in his distress and peril the helpless civilian could not forbear to contrast it with the gorgeous parades and reviews held in honor of himself–with the brilliant uniforms, the music, the banners, and the marching. It was an ugly and sickening business: to all that was artistic in his nature, revolting, brutal, in bad taste.
“Ugh!” he grunted, shuddering–“this is beastly! Where is the charm of it all? Where are the elevated sentiments, the devotion, the heroism, the–“
From a point somewhere near, in the direction of the pursuing enemy, rose the clear, deliberate sing-song of Captain Armisted.
“Stead-y, men–stead-y. Halt! Com-mence fir-ing.”
The rattle of fewer than a score of rifles could be distinguished through the general uproar, and again that penetrating falsetto:
“Cease fir-ing. In re-treat… maaarch!”
In a few moments this remnant had drifted slowly past the Governor, all to the right of him as they faced in retiring, the men deployed at intervals of a half-dozen paces. At the extreme left and a few yards behind came the captain. The civilian called out his name, but he did not hear. A swarm of men in gray now broke out of cover in pursuit, making directly for the spot where the Governor lay–some accident of the ground had caused them to converge upon that point: their line had become a crowd. In a last struggle for life and liberty the Governor attempted to rise, and looking back the captain saw him. Promptly, but with the same slow precision as before, he sang his commands:
“Skirm-ish-ers, halt!” The men stopped and according to rule turned to face the enemy.
“Ral-ly on the right!”–and they came in at a run, fixing bayonets and forming loosely on the man at that end of the line.
“Forward… to save the Gov-ern-or of your State… doub-le quick… maaarch!”
Only one man disobeyed this astonishing command! He was dead. With a cheer they sprang forward over the twenty or thirty paces between them and their task. The captain having a shorter distance to go arrived first–simultaneously with the enemy. A half-dozen hasty shots were fired at him, and the foremost man–a fellow of heroic stature, hatless and bare-breasted–made a vicious sweep at his head with a clubbed rifle. The officer parried the blow at the cost of a broken arm and drove his sword to the hilt into the giant’s breast. As the body fell the weapon was wrenched from his hand and before he could pluck his revolver from the scabbard at his belt another man leaped upon him like a tiger, fastening both hands upon his throat and bearing him backward upon the prostrate Governor, still struggling to rise. This man was promptly spitted upon the bayonet of a Federal sergeant and his death-gripe on the captain’s throat loosened by a kick upon each wrist. When the captain had risen he was at the rear of his men, who had all passed over and around him and were thrusting fiercely at their more numerous but less coherent antagonists. Nearly all the rifles on both sides were empty and in the crush there was neither time nor room to reload. The Confederates were at a disadvantage in that most of them lacked bayonets; they fought by bludgeoning–and a clubbed rifle is a formidable arm. The sound of the conflict was a clatter like that of the interlocking horns of battling bulls–now and then the pash of a crushed skull, an oath, or a grunt caused by the impact of a rifle’s muzzle against the abdomen transfixed by its bayonet. Through an opening made by the fall of one of his men Captain Armisted sprang, with his dangling left arm; in his right hand a full-charged revolver, which he fired with rapidity and terrible effect into the thick of the gray crowd: but across the bodies of the slain the survivors in the front were pushed forward by their comrades in the rear till again they breasted the tireless bayonets. There were fewer bayonets now to breast–a beggarly half-dozen, all told. A few minutes more of this rough work–a little fighting back to back–and all would be over.
Suddenly a lively firing was heard on the right and the left: a fresh line of Federal skirmishers came forward at a run, driving before them those parts of the Confederate line that had been separated by staying the advance of the centre. And behind these new and noisy combatants, at a distance of two or three hundred yards, could be seen, indistinct among the trees a line-of-battle!
Instinctively before retiring, the crowd in gray made a tremendous rush upon its handful of antagonists, overwhelming them by mere momentum and, unable to use weapons in the crush, trampled them, stamped savagely on their limbs, their bodies, their necks, their faces; then retiring with bloody feet across its own dead it joined the general rout and the incident was at an end.
THE GREAT HONOR THE GREAT
The Governor, who had been unconscious, opened his eyes and stared about him, slowly recalling the day’s events. A man in the uniform of a major was kneeling beside him; he was a surgeon. Grouped about were the civilian members of the Governor’s staff, their faces expressing a natural solicitude regarding their offices. A little apart stood General Masterson addressing another officer and gesticulating with a cigar. He was saying: “It was the beautifulest fight ever made–by God, sir, it was great!”
The beauty and greatness were attested by a row of dead, trimly disposed, and another of wounded, less formally placed, restless, half-naked, but bravely bebandaged.
“How do you feel, sir?” said the surgeon. “I find no wound.”
“I think I am all right,” the patient replied, sitting up. “It is that ankle.”
The surgeon transferred his attention to the ankle, cutting away the boot. All eyes followed the knife.
In moving the leg a folded paper was uncovered. The patient picked it up and carelessly opened it. It was a letter three months old, signed “Julia.” Catching sight of his name in it he read it. It was nothing very remarkable–merely a weak woman’s confession of unprofitable sin– the penitence of a faithless wife deserted by her betrayer. The letter had fallen from the pocket of Captain Armisted; the reader quietly transferred it to his own.
An aide-de-camp rode up and dismounted. Advancing to the Governor he saluted.
“Sir,” he said, “I am sorry to find you wounded–the Commanding General has not been informed. He presents his compliments and I am directed to say that he has ordered for to-morrow a grand review of the reserve corps in your honor. I venture to add that the General’s carriage is at your service if you are able to attend.”
“Be pleased to say to the Commanding General that I am deeply touched by his kindness. If you have the patience to wait a few moments you shall convey a more definite reply.”
He smiled brightly and glancing at the surgeon and his assistants added: “At present–if you will permit an allusion to the horrors of peace–I am ‘in the hands of my friends.'”
The humor of the great is infectious; all laughed who heard.
“Where is Captain Armisted?” the Governor asked, not altogether carelessly.
The surgeon looked up from his work, pointing silently to the nearest body in the row of dead, the features discreetly covered with a handkerchief. It was so near that the great man could have laid his hand upon it, but he did not. He may have feared that it would bleed.
THE STORY OF A CONSCIENCE
Captain Parrol Hartroy stood at the advanced post of his picket-guard, talking in low tones with the sentinel. This post was on a turnpike which bisected the captain’s camp, a half-mile in rear, though the camp was not in sight from that point. The officer was apparently giving the soldier certain instructions–was perhaps merely inquiring if all were quiet in front. As the two stood talking a man approached them from the direction of the camp, carelessly whistling, and was promptly halted by the soldier. He was evidently a civilian–a tall person, coarsely clad in the home-made stuff of yellow gray, called “butternut,” which was men’s only wear in the latter days of the Confederacy. On his head was a slouch felt hat, once white, from beneath which hung masses of uneven hair, seemingly unacquainted with either scissors or comb. The man’s face was rather striking; a broad forehead, high nose, and thin cheeks, the mouth invisible in the full dark beard, which seemed as neglected as the hair. The eyes were large and had that steadiness and fixity of attention which so frequently mark a considering intelligence and a will not easily turned from its purpose–so say those physiognomists who have that kind of eyes. On the whole, this was a man whom one would be likely to observe and be observed by. He carried a walking-stick freshly cut from the forest and his ailing cowskin boots were white with dust.
“Show your pass,” said the Federal soldier, a trifle more imperiously perhaps than he would have thought necessary if he had not been under the eye of his commander, who with folded arms looked on from the roadside.
“‘Lowed you’d rec’lect me, Gineral,” said the wayfarer tranquilly, while producing the paper from the pocket of his coat. There was something in his tone–perhaps a faint suggestion of irony–which made his elevation of his obstructor to exalted rank less agreeable to that worthy warrior than promotion is commonly found to be. “You-all have to be purty pertickler, I reckon,” he added, in a more conciliatory tone, as if in half-apology for being halted.
Having read the pass, with his rifle resting on the ground, the soldier handed the document back without a word, shouldered his weapon, and returned to his commander. The civilian passed on in the middle of the road, and when he had penetrated the circumjacent Confederacy a few yards resumed his whistling and was soon out of sight beyond an angle in the road, which at that point entered a thin forest. Suddenly the officer undid his arms from his breast, drew a revolver from his belt and sprang forward at a run in the same direction, leaving his sentinel in gaping astonishment at his post. After making to the various visible forms of nature a solemn promise to be damned, that gentleman resumed the air of stolidity which is supposed to be appropriate to a state of alert military attention.
Captain Hartroy held an independent command. His force consisted of a company of infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and a section of artillery, detached from the army to which they belonged, to defend an important defile in the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee. It was a field officer’s command held by a line officer promoted from the ranks, where he had quietly served until “discovered.” His post was one of exceptional peril; its defense entailed a heavy responsibility and he had wisely been given corresponding discretionary powers, all the more necessary because of his distance from the main army, the precarious nature of his communications and the lawless character of the enemy’s irregular troops infesting that region. He had strongly fortified his little camp, which embraced a village of a half-dozen dwellings and a country store, and had collected a considerable quantity of supplies. To a few resident civilians of known loyalty, with whom it was desirable to trade, and of whose services in various ways he sometimes availed himself, he had given written passes admitting them within his lines. It is easy to understand that an abuse of this privilege in the interest of the enemy might entail serious consequences. Captain Hartroy had made an order to the effect that any one so abusing it would be summarily shot.
While the sentinel had been examining the civilian’s pass the captain had eyed the latter narrowly. He thought his appearance familiar and had at first no doubt of having given him the pass which had satisfied the sentinel. It was not until the man had got out of sight and hearing that his identity was disclosed by a revealing light from memory. With soldierly promptness of decision the officer had acted on the revelation.
To any but a singularly self-possessed man the apparition of an officer of the military forces, formidably clad, bearing in one hand a sheathed sword and in the other a cocked revolver, and rushing in furious pursuit, is no doubt disquieting to a high degree; upon the man to whom the pursuit was in this instance directed it appeared to have no other effect than somewhat to intensify his tranquillity. He might easily enough have escaped into the forest to the right or the left, but chose another course of action–turned and quietly faced the captain, saying as he came up: “I reckon ye must have something to say to me, which ye disremembered. What mout it be, neighbor?”
But the “neighbor” did not answer, being engaged in the unneighborly act of covering him with a cocked pistol.
“Surrender,” said the captain as calmly as a slight breathlessness from exertion would permit, “or you die.”
There was no menace in the manner of this demand; that was all in the matter and in the means of enforcing it. There was, too, something not altogether reassuring in the cold gray eyes that glanced along the barrel of the weapon. For a moment the two men stood looking at each other in silence; then the civilian, with no appearance of fear–with as great apparent unconcern as when complying with the less austere demand of the sentinel–slowly pulled from his pocket the paper which had satisfied that humble functionary and held it out, saying:
“I reckon this ‘ere parss from Mister Hartroy is–“
“The pass is a forgery,” the officer said, interrupting. “I am Captain Hartroy–and you are Dramer Brune.”
It would have required a sharp eye to observe the slight pallor of the civilian’s face at these words, and the only other manifestation attesting their significance was a voluntary relaxation of the thumb and fingers holding the dishonored paper, which, falling to the road, unheeded, was rolled by a gentle wind and then lay still, with a coating of dust, as in humiliation for the lie that it bore. A moment later the civilian, still looking unmoved into the barrel of the pistol, said:
“Yes, I am Dramer Brune, a Confederate spy, and your prisoner. I have on my person, as you will soon discover, a plan of your fort and its armament, a statement of the distribution of your men and their number, a map of the approaches, showing the positions of all your outposts. My life is fairly yours, but if you wish it taken in a more formal way than by your own hand, and if you are willing to spare me the indignity of marching into camp at the muzzle of your pistol, I promise you that I will neither resist, escape, nor remonstrate, but will submit to whatever penalty may be imposed.”
The officer lowered his pistol, uncocked it, and thrust it into its place in his belt. Brune advanced a step, extending his right hand.
“It is the hand of a traitor and a spy,” said the officer coldly, and did not take it. The other bowed.
“Come,” said the captain, “let us go to camp; you shall not die until to-morrow morning.”
He turned his back upon his prisoner, and these two enigmatical men retraced their steps and soon passed the sentinel, who expressed his general sense of things by a needless and exaggerated salute to his commander.
Early on the morning after these events the two men, captor and captive, sat in the tent of the former. A table was between them on which lay, among a number of letters, official and private, which the captain had written during the night, the incriminating papers found upon the spy. That gentleman had slept through the night in an adjoining tent, unguarded. Both, having breakfasted, were now smoking.
“Mr. Brune,” said Captain Hartroy, “you probably do not understand why I recognized you in your disguise, nor how I was aware of your name.”
“I have not sought to learn, Captain,” the prisoner said with quiet dignity.
“Nevertheless I should like you to know–if the story will not offend. You will perceive that my knowledge of you goes back to the autumn of 1861. At that time you were a private in an Ohio regiment–a brave and trusted soldier. To the surprise and grief of your officers and comrades you deserted and went over to the enemy. Soon afterward you were captured in a skirmish, recognized, tried by court-martial and sentenced to be shot. Awaiting the execution of the sentence you were confined, unfettered, in a freight car standing on a side track of a railway.”
“At Grafton, Virginia,” said Brune, pushing the ashes from his cigar with the little finger of the hand holding it, and without looking up.
“At Grafton, Virginia,” the captain repeated. “One dark and stormy night a soldier who had just returned from a long, fatiguing march was put on guard over you. He sat on a cracker box inside the car, near the door, his rifle loaded and the bayonet fixed. You sat in a corner and his orders were to kill you if you attempted to rise.”
“But if I _asked_ to rise he might call the corporal of the guard.”
“Yes. As the long silent hours wore away the soldier yielded to the demands of nature: he himself incurred the death penalty by sleeping at his post of duty.”
“What! you recognize me? you have known me all along?”
The captain had risen and was walking the floor of his tent, visibly excited. His face was flushed, the gray eyes had lost the cold, pitiless look which they had shown when Brune had seen them over the pistol barrel; they had softened wonderfully.
“I knew you,” said the spy, with his customary tranquillity, “the moment you faced me, demanding my surrender. In the circumstances it would have been hardly becoming in me to recall these matters. I am perhaps a traitor, certainly a spy; but I should not wish to seem a suppliant.”
The captain had paused in his walk and was facing his prisoner. There was a singular huskiness in his voice as he spoke again.
“Mr. Brune, whatever your conscience may permit you to be, you saved my life at what you must have believed the cost of your own. Until I saw you yesterday when halted by my sentinel I believed you dead–thought that you had suffered the fate which through my own crime you might easily have escaped. You had only to step from the car and leave me to take your place before the firing-squad. You had a divine compassion. You pitied my fatigue. You let me sleep, watched over me, and as the time drew near for the relief-guard to come and detect me in my crime, you gently waked me. Ah, Brune, Brune, that was well done–that was great–that–“
The captain’s voice failed him; the tears were running down his face and sparkled upon his beard and his breast. Resuming his seat at the table, he buried his face in his arms and sobbed. All else was silence.
Suddenly the clear warble of a bugle was heard sounding the “assembly.” The captain started and raised his wet face from his arms; it had turned ghastly pale. Outside, in the sunlight, were heard the stir of the men falling into line; the voices of the sergeants calling the roll; the tapping of the drummers as they braced their drums. The captain spoke again:
“I ought to have confessed my fault in order to relate the story of your magnanimity; it might have procured you a pardon. A hundred times I resolved to do so, but shame prevented. Besides, your sentence was just and righteous. Well, Heaven forgive me! I said nothing, and my regiment was soon afterward ordered to Tennessee and I never heard about you.”
“It was all right, sir,” said Brune, without visible emotion; “I escaped and returned to my colors–the Confederate colors. I should like to add that before deserting from the Federal service I had earnestly asked a discharge, on the ground of altered convictions. I was answered by punishment.”
“Ah, but if I had suffered the penalty of my crime–if you had not generously given me the life that I accepted without gratitude you would not be again in the shadow and imminence of death.”
The prisoner started slightly and a look of anxiety came into his face. One would have said, too, that he was surprised. At that moment a lieutenant, the adjutant, appeared at the opening of the tent and saluted. “Captain,” he said, “the battalion is formed.”
Captain Hartroy had recovered his composure. He turned to the officer and said: “Lieutenant, go to Captain Graham and say that I direct him to assume command of the battalion and parade it outside the parapet. This gentleman is a deserter and a spy; he is to be shot to death in the presence of the troops. He will accompany you, unbound and unguarded.”
While the adjutant waited at the door the two men inside the tent rose and exchanged ceremonious bows, Brune immediately retiring.
Half an hour later an old negro cook, the only person left in camp except the commander, was so startled by the sound of a volley of musketry that he dropped the kettle that he was lifting from a fire. But for his consternation and the hissing which the contents of the kettle made among the embers, he might also have heard, nearer at hand, the single pistol shot with which Captain Hartroy renounced the life which in conscience he could no longer keep.
In compliance with the terms of a note that he left for the officer who succeeded him in command, he was buried, like the deserter and spy, without military honors; and in the solemn shadow of the mountain which knows no more of war the two sleep well in long-forgotten graves.
ONE KIND OF OFFICER
OF THE USES OF CIVILITY
“Captain Ransome, it is not permitted to you to know _anything_. It is sufficient that you obey my order–which permit me to repeat. If you perceive any movement of troops in your front you are to open fire, and if attacked hold this position as long as you can. Do I make myself understood, sir?”
“Nothing could be plainer. Lieutenant Price,”–this to an officer of his own battery, who had ridden up in time to hear the order–“the general’s meaning is clear, is it not?”
The lieutenant passed on to his post. For a moment General Cameron and the commander of the battery sat in their saddles, looking at each other in silence. There was no more to say; apparently too much had already been said. Then the superior officer nodded coldly and turned his horse to ride away. The artillerist saluted slowly, gravely, and with extreme formality. One acquainted with the niceties of military etiquette would have said that by his manner he attested a sense of the rebuke that he had incurred. It is one of the important uses of civility to signify resentment.
When the general had joined his staff and escort, awaiting him at a little distance, the whole cavalcade moved off toward the right of the guns and vanished in the fog. Captain Ransome was alone, silent, motionless as an equestrian statue. The gray fog, thickening every moment, closed in about him like a visible doom.
UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES MEN DO NOT WISH TO BE SHOT
The fighting of the day before had been desultory and indecisive. At the points of collision the smoke of battle had hung in blue sheets among the branches of the trees till beaten into nothing by the falling rain. In the softened earth the wheels of cannon and ammunition wagons cut deep, ragged furrows, and movements of infantry seemed impeded by the mud that clung to the soldiers’ feet as, with soaken garments and rifles imperfectly protected by capes of overcoats they went dragging in sinuous lines hither and thither through dripping forest and flooded field. Mounted officers, their heads protruding from rubber ponchos that glittered like black armor, picked their way, singly and in loose groups, among the men, coming and going with apparent aimlessness and commanding attention from nobody but one another. Here and there a dead man, his clothing defiled with earth, his face covered with a blanket or showing yellow and claylike in the rain, added his dispiriting influence to that of the other dismal features of the scene and augmented the general discomfort with a particular dejection. Very repulsive these wrecks looked–not at all heroic, and nobody was accessible to the infection of their patriotic example. Dead upon the field of honor, yes; but the field of honor was so very wet! It makes a difference.
The general engagement that all expected did not occur, none of the small advantages accruing, now to this side and now to that, in isolated and accidental collisions being followed up. Half-hearted attacks provoked a sullen resistance which was satisfied with mere repulse. Orders were obeyed with mechanical fidelity; no one did any more than his duty.
“The army is cowardly to-day,” said General Cameron, the commander of a Federal brigade, to his adjutant-general.
“The army is cold,” replied the officer addressed, “and–yes, it doesn’t wish to be like that.”
He pointed to one of the dead bodies, lying in a thin pool of yellow water, its face and clothing bespattered with mud from hoof and wheel.
The army’s weapons seemed to share its military delinquency. The rattle of rifles sounded flat and contemptible. It had no meaning and scarcely roused to attention and expectancy the unengaged parts of the line-of-battle and the waiting reserves. Heard at a little distance, the reports of cannon were feeble in volume and _timbre_: they lacked sting and resonance. The guns seemed to be fired with light charges, unshotted. And so the futile day wore on to its dreary close, and then to a night of discomfort succeeded a day of apprehension.
An army has a personality. Beneath the individual thoughts and emotions of its component parts it thinks and feels as a unit. And in this large, inclusive sense of things lies a wiser wisdom than the mere sum of all that it knows. On that dismal morning this great brute force, groping at the bottom of a white ocean of fog among trees that seemed as sea weeds, had a dumb consciousness that all was not well; that a day’s manoeuvring had resulted in a faulty disposition of its parts, a blind diffusion of its strength. The men felt insecure and talked among themselves of such tactical errors as with their meager military vocabulary they were able to name. Field and line officers gathered in groups and spoke more learnedly of what they apprehended with no greater clearness. Commanders of brigades and divisions looked anxiously to their connections on the right and on the left, sent staff officers on errands of inquiry and pushed skirmish lines silently and cautiously forward into the dubious region between the known and the unknown. At some points on the line the troops, apparently of their own volition, constructed such defenses as they could without the silent spade and the noisy ax.
One of these points was held by Captain Ransome’s battery of six guns. Provided always with intrenching tools, his men had labored with diligence during the night, and now his guns thrust their black muzzles through the embrasures of a really formidable earthwork. It crowned a slight acclivity devoid of undergrowth and providing an unobstructed fire that would sweep the ground for an unknown distance in front. The position could hardly have been better chosen. It had this peculiarity, which Captain Ransome, who was greatly addicted to the use of the compass, had not failed to observe: it faced northward, whereas he knew that the general line of the army must face eastward. In fact, that part of the line was “refused”–that is to say, bent backward, away from the enemy. This implied that Captain Ransome’s battery was somewhere near the left flank of the army; for an army in line of battle retires its flanks if the nature of the ground will permit, they being its vulnerable points. Actually, Captain Ransome appeared to hold the extreme left of the line, no troops being visible in that direction beyond his own. Immediately in rear of his guns occurred that conversation between him and his brigade commander, the concluding and more picturesque part of which is reported above.
HOW TO PLAY THE CANNON WITHOUT NOTES
Captain Ransome sat motionless and silent on horseback. A few yards away his men were standing at their guns. Somewhere–everywhere within a few miles–were a hundred thousand men, friends and enemies. Yet he was alone. The mist had isolated him as completely as if he had been in the heart of a desert. His world was a few square yards of wet and trampled earth about the feet of his horse. His comrades in that ghostly domain were invisible and inaudible. These were conditions favorable to thought, and he was thinking. Of the nature of his thoughts his clear-cut handsome features yielded no attesting sign. His face was as inscrutable as that of the sphinx. Why should it have made a record which there was none to observe? At the sound of a footstep he merely turned his eyes in the direction whence it came; one of his sergeants, looking a giant in stature in the false perspective of the fog, approached, and when clearly defined and reduced to his true dimensions by propinquity, saluted and stood at attention.
“Well, Morris,” said the officer, returning his subordinate’s salute.
“Lieutenant Price directed me to tell you, sir, that most of the infantry has been withdrawn. We have not sufficient support.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I am to say that some of our men have been out over the works a hundred yards and report that our front is not picketed.”
“They were so far forward that they heard the enemy.”
“They heard the rattle of the wheels of artillery and the commands of officers.”
“The enemy is moving toward our works.”
Captain Ransome, who had been facing to the rear of his line–toward the point where the brigade commander and his cavalcade had been swallowed up by the fog–reined his horse about and faced the other way. Then he sat motionless as before.
“Who are the men who made that statement?” he inquired, without looking at the sergeant; his eyes were directed straight into the fog over the head of his horse.
“Corporal Hassman and Gunner Manning.”
Captain Ransome was a moment silent. A slight pallor came into his face, a slight compression affected the lines of his lips, but it would have required a closer observer than Sergeant Morris to note the change. There was none in the voice.
“Sergeant, present my compliments to Lieutenant Price and direct him to open fire with all the guns. Grape.”
The sergeant saluted and vanished in the fog.
TO INTRODUCE GENERAL MASTERSON
Searching for his division commander, General Cameron and his escort had followed the line of battle for nearly a mile to the right of Ransome’s battery, and there learned that the division commander had gone in search of the corps commander. It seemed that everybody was looking for his immediate superior–an ominous circumstance. It meant that nobody was quite at ease. So General Cameron rode on for another half-mile, where by good luck he met General Masterson, the division commander, returning.
“Ah, Cameron,” said the higher officer, reining up, and throwing his right leg across the pommel of his saddle in a most unmilitary way– “anything up? Found a good position for your battery, I hope–if one place is better than another in a fog.”
“Yes, general,” said the other, with the greater dignity appropriate to his less exalted rank, “my battery is very well placed. I wish I could say that it is as well commanded.”
“Eh, what’s that? Ransome? I think him a fine fellow. In the army we should be proud of him.”
It was customary for officers of the regular army to speak of it as “the army.” As the greatest cities are most provincial, so the self-complacency of aristocracies is most frankly plebeian.
“He is too fond of his opinion. By the way, in order to occupy the hill that he holds I had to extend my line dangerously. The hill is on my left–that is to say the left flank of the army.”
“Oh, no, Hart’s brigade is beyond. It was ordered up from Drytown during the night and directed to hook on to you. Better go and–“
The sentence was unfinished: a lively cannonade had broken out on the left, and both officers, followed by their retinues of aides and orderlies making a great jingle and clank, rode rapidly toward the spot. But they were soon impeded, for they were compelled by the fog to keep within sight of the line-of-battle, behind which were swarms of men, all in motion across their way. Everywhere the line was assuming a sharper and harder definition, as the men sprang to arms and the officers, with drawn swords, “dressed” the ranks. Color-bearers unfurled the flags, buglers blew the “assembly,” hospital attendants appeared with stretchers. Field officers mounted and sent their impedimenta to the rear in care of negro servants. Back in the ghostly spaces of the forest could be heard the rustle and murmur of the reserves, pulling themselves together.
Nor was all this preparation vain, for scarcely five minutes had passed since Captain Ransome’s guns had broken the truce of doubt before the whole region was aroar: the enemy had attacked nearly everywhere.
HOW SOUNDS CAN FIGHT SHADOWS
Captain Ransome walked up and down behind his guns, which were firing rapidly but with steadiness. The gunners worked alertly, but without haste or apparent excitement. There was really no reason for excitement; it is not much to point a cannon into a fog and fire it. Anybody can do as much as that.
The men smiled at their noisy work, performing it with a lessening alacrity. They cast curious regards upon their captain, who had now mounted the banquette of the fortification and was looking across the parapet as if observing the effect of his fire. But the only visible effect was the substitution of wide, low-lying sheets of smoke for their bulk of fog. Suddenly out of the obscurity burst a great sound of cheering, which filled the intervals between the reports of the guns with startling distinctness! To the few with leisure and opportunity to observe, the sound was inexpressibly strange–so loud, so near, so menacing, yet nothing seen! The men who had smiled at their work smiled no more, but performed it with a serious and feverish activity.
From his station at the parapet Captain Ransome now saw a great multitude of dim gray figures taking shape in the mist below him and swarming up the slope. But the work of the guns was now fast and furious. They swept the populous declivity with gusts of grape and canister, the whirring of which could be heard through the thunder of the explosions. In this awful tempest of iron the assailants struggled forward foot by foot across their dead, firing into the embrasures, reloading, firing again, and at last falling in their turn, a little in advance of those who had fallen before. Soon the smoke was dense enough to cover all. It settled down upon the attack and, drifting back, involved the defense. The gunners could hardly see to serve their pieces, and when occasional figures of the enemy appeared upon the parapet–having had the good luck to get near enough to it, between two embrasures, to be protected from the guns–they looked so unsubstantial that it seemed hardly worth while for the few infantrymen to go to work upon them with the bayonet and tumble them back into the ditch.
As the commander of a battery in action can find something better to do than cracking individual skulls, Captain Ransome had retired from the parapet to his proper post in rear of his guns, where he stood with folded arms, his bugler beside him. Here, during the hottest of the fight, he was approached by Lieutenant Price, who had just sabred a daring assailant inside the work. A spirited colloquy ensued between the two officers–spirited, at least, on the part of the lieutenant, who gesticulated with energy and shouted again and again into his commander’s ear in the attempt to make himself heard above the infernal din of the guns. His gestures, if coolly noted by an actor, would have been pronounced to be those of protestation: one would have said that he was opposed to the proceedings. Did he wish to surrender?
Captain Ransome listened without a change of countenance or attitude, and when the other man had finished his harangue, looked him coldly in the eyes and during a seasonable abatement of the uproar said:
“Lieutenant Price, it is not permitted to you to know _anything_. It is sufficient that you obey my orders.”
The lieutenant went to his post, and the parapet being now apparently clear Captain Ransome returned to it to have a look over. As he mounted the banquette a man sprang upon the crest, waving a great brilliant flag. The captain drew a pistol from his belt and shot him dead. The body, pitching forward, hung over the inner edge of the embankment, the arms straight downward, both hands still grasping the flag. The man’s few followers turned and fled down the slope. Looking over the parapet, the captain saw no living thing. He observed also that no bullets were coming into the work.
He made a sign to the bugler, who sounded the command to cease firing. At all other points the action had already ended with a repulse of the Confederate attack; with the cessation of this cannonade the silence was absolute.
WHY, BEING AFFRONTED BY A, IT IS NOT BEST TO AFFRONT B
General Masterson rode into the redoubt. The men, gathered in groups, were talking loudly and gesticulating. They pointed at the dead, running from one body to another. They neglected their foul and heated guns and forgot to resume their outer clothing. They ran to the parapet and looked over, some of them leaping down into the ditch. A score were gathered about a flag rigidly held by a dead man.
“Well, my men,” said the general cheerily, “you have had a pretty fight of it.”
They stared; nobody replied; the presence of the great man seemed to embarrass and alarm.
Getting no response to his pleasant condescension, the easy-mannered officer whistled a bar or two of a popular air, and riding forward to the parapet, looked over at the dead. In an instant he had whirled his horse about and was spurring along in rear of the guns, his eyes everywhere at once. An officer sat on the trail of one of the guns, smoking a cigar. As the general dashed up he rose and tranquilly saluted.
“Captain Ransome!”–the words fell sharp and harsh, like the clash of steel blades–“you have been fighting our own men–our own men, sir; do you hear? Hart’s brigade!”
“General, I know that.”
“You know it–you know that, and you sit here smoking? Oh, damn it, Hamilton, I’m losing my temper,”–this to his provost-marshal. “Sir– Captain Ransome, be good enough to say–to say why you fought our own men.”
“That I am unable to say. In my orders that information was withheld.”
Apparently the general did not comprehend.
“Who was the aggressor in this affair, you or General Hart?” he asked.
“And could you not have known–could you not see, sir, that you were attacking our own men?”
The reply was astounding!
“I knew that, general. It appeared to be none of my business.”
Then, breaking the dead silence that followed his answer, he said:
“I must refer you to General Cameron.”
“General Cameron is dead, sir–as dead as he can be–as dead as any man in this army. He lies back yonder under a tree. Do you mean to say that he had anything to do with this horrible business?”
Captain Ransome did not reply. Observing the altercation his men had gathered about to watch the outcome. They were greatly excited. The fog, which had been partly dissipated by the firing, had again closed in so darkly about them that they drew more closely together till the judge on horseback and the accused standing calmly before him had but a narrow space free from intrusion. It was the most informal of courts-martial, but all felt that the formal one to follow would but affirm its judgment. It had no jurisdiction, but it had the significance of prophecy.
“Captain Ransome,” the general cried impetuously, but with something in his voice that was almost entreaty, “if you can say anything to put a better light upon your incomprehensible conduct I beg you will do so.”
Having recovered his temper this generous soldier sought for something to justify his naturally sympathetic attitude toward a brave man in the imminence of a dishonorable death.
“Where is Lieutenant Price?” the captain said.
That officer stood forward, his dark saturnine face looking somewhat forbidding under a bloody handkerchief bound about his brow. He understood the summons and needed no invitation to speak. He did not look at the captain, but addressed the general:
“During the engagement I discovered the state of affairs, and apprised the commander of the battery. I ventured to urge that the firing cease. I was insulted and ordered to my post.”
“Do you know anything of the orders under which I was acting?” asked the captain.
“Of any orders under which the commander of the battery was acting,” the lieutenant continued, still addressing the general, “I know nothing.”
Captain Ransome felt his world sink away from his feet. In those cruel words he heard the murmur of the centuries breaking upon the shore of eternity. He heard the voice of doom; it said, in cold, mechanical, and measured tones: “Ready, aim, fire!” and he felt the bullets tear his heart to shreds. He heard the sound of the earth upon his coffin and (if the good God was so merciful) the song of a bird above his forgotten grave. Quietly detaching his sabre from its supports, he handed it up to the provost-marshal.
ONE OFFICER, ONE MAN
Captain Graffenreid stood at the head of his company. The regiment was not engaged. It formed a part of the front line-of-battle, which stretched away to the right with a visible length of nearly two miles through the open ground. The left flank was veiled by woods; to the right also the line was lost to sight, but it extended many miles. A hundred yards in rear was a second line; behind this, the reserve brigades and divisions in column. Batteries of artillery occupied the spaces between and crowned the low hills. Groups of horsemen–generals with their staffs and escorts, and field officers of regiments behind the colors–broke the regularity of the lines and columns. Numbers of these figures of interest had field-glasses at their eyes and sat motionless, stolidly scanning the country in front; others came and went at a slow canter, bearing orders. There were squads of stretcher-bearers, ambulances, wagon-trains with ammunition, and officers’ servants in rear of all–of all that was visible–for still in rear of these, along the roads, extended for many miles all that vast multitude of non-combatants who with their various _impedimenta_ are assigned to the inglorious but important duty of supplying the fighters’ many needs.
An army in line-of-battle awaiting attack, or prepared to deliver it, presents strange contrasts. At the front are precision, formality, fixity, and silence. Toward the rear these characteristics are less and less conspicuous, and finally, in point of space, are lost altogether in confusion, motion and noise. The homogeneous becomes heterogeneous. Definition is lacking; repose is replaced by an apparently purposeless activity; harmony vanishes in hubbub, form in disorder. Commotion everywhere and ceaseless unrest. The men who do not fight are never ready.
From his position at the right of his company in the front rank, Captain Graffenreid had an unobstructed outlook toward the enemy. A half-mile of open and nearly level ground lay before him, and beyond it an irregular wood, covering a slight acclivity; not a human being anywhere visible. He could imagine nothing more peaceful than the appearance of that pleasant landscape with its long stretches of brown fields over which the atmosphere was beginning to quiver in the heat of the morning sun. Not a sound came from forest or field–not even the barking of a dog or the crowing of a cock at the half-seen plantation house on the crest among the trees. Yet every man in those miles of men knew that he and death were face to face.
Captain Graffenreid had never in his life seen an armed enemy, and the war in which his regiment was one of the first to take the field was two years old. He had had the rare advantage of a military education, and when his comrades had marched to the front he had been detached for administrative service at the capital of his State, where it was thought that he could be most useful. Like a bad soldier he protested, and like a good one obeyed. In close official and personal relations with the governor of his State, and enjoying his confidence and favor, he had firmly refused promotion and seen his juniors elevated above him. Death had been busy in his distant regiment; vacancies among the field officers had occurred again and again; but from a chivalrous feeling that war’s rewards belonged of right to those who bore the storm and stress of battle he had held his humble rank and generously advanced the fortunes of others. His silent devotion to principle had conquered at last: he had been relieved of his hateful duties and ordered to the front, and now, untried by fire, stood in the van of battle in command of a company of hardy veterans, to whom he had been only a name, and that name a by-word. By none–not even by those of his brother officers in whose favor he had waived his rights–was his devotion to duty understood. They were too busy to be just; he was looked upon as one who had shirked his duty, until forced unwillingly into the field. Too proud to explain, yet not too insensible to feel, he could only endure and hope.
Of all the Federal Army on that summer morning none had accepted battle more joyously than Anderton Graffenreid. His spirit was buoyant, his faculties were riotous. He was in a state of mental exaltation and scarcely could endure the enemy’s tardiness in advancing to the attack. To him this was opportunity–for the result he cared nothing. Victory or defeat, as God might will; in one or in the other he should prove himself a soldier and a hero; he should vindicate his right to the respect of his men and the companionship of his brother officers–to the consideration of his superiors. How his heart leaped in his breast as the bugle sounded the stirring notes of the “assembly”! With what a light tread, scarcely conscious of the earth beneath his feet, he strode forward at the head of his company, and how exultingly he noted the tactical dispositions which placed his regiment in the front line! And if perchance some memory came to him of a pair of dark eyes that might take on a tenderer light in reading the account of that day’s doings, who shall blame him for the unmartial thought or count it a debasement of soldierly ardor?
Suddenly, from the forest a half-mile in front–apparently from among the upper branches of the trees, but really from the ridge beyond–rose a tall column of white smoke. A moment later came a deep, jarring explosion, followed–almost attended–by a hideous rushing sound that seemed to leap forward across the intervening space with inconceivable rapidity, rising from whisper to roar with too quick a gradation for attention to note the successive stages of its horrible progression! A visible tremor ran along the lines of men; all were startled into motion. Captain Graffenreid dodged and threw up his hands to one side of his head, palms outward.
As he did so he heard a keen, ringing report, and saw on a hillside behind the line a fierce roll of smoke and dust–the shell’s explosion. It had passed a hundred feet to his left! He heard, or fancied he heard, a low, mocking laugh and turning in the direction whence it came saw the eyes of his first lieutenant fixed upon him with an unmistakable look of amusement. He looked along the line of faces in the front ranks. The men were laughing. At him? The thought restored the color to his bloodless face–restored too much of it. His cheeks burned with a fever of shame.
The enemy’s shot was not answered: the officer in command at that exposed part of the line had evidently no desire to provoke a cannonade. For the forbearance Captain Graffenreid was conscious of a sense of gratitude. He had not known that the flight of a projectile was a phenomenon of so appalling character. His conception of war had already undergone a profound change, and he was conscious that his new feeling was manifesting itself in visible perturbation. His blood was boiling in his veins; he had a choking sensation and felt that if he had a command to give it would be inaudible, or at least unintelligible. The hand in which he held his sword trembled; the other moved automatically, clutching at various parts of his clothing. He found a difficulty in standing still and fancied that his men observed it. Was it fear? He feared it was.
From somewhere away to the right came, as the wind served, a low, intermittent murmur like that of ocean in a storm–like that of a distant railway train–like that of wind among the pines–three sounds so nearly alike that the ear, unaided by the judgment, cannot distinguish them one from another. The eyes of the troops were drawn in that direction; the mounted officers turned their field-glasses that way. Mingled with the sound was an irregular throbbing. He thought it, at first, the beating of his fevered blood in his ears; next, the distant tapping of a bass drum.
“The ball is opened on the right flank,” said an officer.
Captain Graffenreid understood: the sounds were musketry and artillery. He nodded and tried to smile. There was apparently nothing infectious in the smile.
Presently a light line of blue smoke-puffs broke out along the edge of the wood in front, succeeded by a crackle of rifles. There were keen, sharp hissings in the air, terminating abruptly with a thump near by. The man at Captain Graffenreid’s side dropped his rifle; his knees gave way and he pitched awkwardly forward, falling upon his face. Somebody shouted “Lie down!” and the dead man was hardly distinguishable from the living. It looked as if those few rifle-shots had slain ten thousand men. Only the field officers remained erect; their concession to the emergency consisted in dismounting and sending their horses to the shelter of the low hills immediately in rear.
Captain Graffenreid lay alongside the dead man, from beneath whose breast flowed a little rill of blood. It had a faint, sweetish odor that sickened him. The face was crushed into the earth and flattened. It looked yellow already, and was repulsive. Nothing suggested the glory of a soldier’s death nor mitigated the loathsomeness of the incident. He could not turn his back upon the body without facing away from his company.
He fixed his eyes upon the forest, where all again was silent. He tried to imagine what was going on there–the lines of troops forming to attack, the guns being pushed forward by hand to the edge of the open. He fancied he could see their black muzzles protruding from the undergrowth, ready to deliver their storm of missiles–such missiles as the one whose shriek had so unsettled his nerves. The distension of his eyes became painful; a mist seemed to gather before them; he could no longer see across the field, yet would not withdraw his gaze lest he see the dead man at his side.
The fire of battle was not now burning very brightly in this warrior’s soul. From inaction had come introspection. He sought rather to analyze his feelings than distinguish himself by courage and devotion. The result was profoundly disappointing. He covered his face with his hands and groaned aloud.
The hoarse murmur of battle grew more and more distinct upon the right; the murmur had, indeed, become a roar, the throbbing, a thunder. The sounds had worked round obliquely to the front; evidently the enemy’s