TWENTY-FIVE men were making
a road out of a path up the hillside. The light batteries in the
rear were impatient to advance, but first must be done all that
digging and smoothing which gains no incrusted medals from war.
The men worked like gardeners, and a road was growing from the
old pack-animal trail. Trees arched from a field of guinea-grass,
which resembled young wild corn. The day was still and dry. The
men working were dressed in the consistent blue of United States
regulars. They looked indifferent, almost stolid, despite the
heat and the labor. There was little talking. From time to time,
a government pack-train, led by a sleek-sided, tender bell-mare,
came from one way or the other, and the men stood aside as the
strong, hard, black-and-tan animals crowded eagerly after their
curious little feminine leader.
A volunteer staff officer appeared, and, sitting on his horse in the
middle of the work, asked the sergeant in
command some questions which were apparently not relevant to any
Men straggling along on
various duties almost invariably spun some kind of a joke as they
A corporal and four men
were guarding boxes of spare ammunition at the top of the hill,
and one of the number often went to the foot of the hill, swinging
The day wore down to the
Cuban dusk in which the shadows are all grim and of ghastly shape.
The men began to lift their eyes from the shovels and picks, and
glance in the direction of their camp. The sun threw his last
lance through the foliage. The steep mountain range on the right
turned blue, and as without detail as a curtain. The tiny ruby
of light ahead meant that the ammunition guard were cooking their
supper. From somewhere in the world came a single rifle-shot.
Figures appeared dim in the shadow of the trees. A murmur, a sigh
of quiet relief, arose from the working party. Later, they swung
up the hill in an unformed formation, being always like soldiers,
and unable even to carry a spade save like United States regular
soldiers. As they passed through some fields, the bland white
light of the end of the day feebly touched each hard bronze profile.
"Wonder if we'll git
anythin' to eat?" said Watkins, in a low voice.
"Should think so," said Nolan, in the same tone. They betrayed no
impatience; they seemed to feel a kind of
awe of the situation.
The sergeant turned. One could see the cool gray eye flashing under the
brim of the campaign hat. "What in hell you fellers kickin' about?" he
asked. They made no reply, understanding
that they were being suppressed.
As they moved on, a murmur
arose from the tall grass on each hand. It was the noise from
the bivouac of ten thousand men, although one saw practically
nothing from the low-cut roadway. The sergeant led his party up
a wet clay bank and into a trampled field. Here were scattered
tiny white shelter-tents, and in the darkness they were luminous
like the rearing stones in a graveyard. A few fires burned blood-red,
and the shadowy figures of men moved with no more expression of
detail than there is in the swaying of the foliage on a windy
The working party felt
their way to where their tents were pitched. A man suddenly cursed;
he had mislaid something and he knew he was not going to find
it that night. Watkins spoke again, with the monotony of a clock.
"Wonder if we'll git
anythin' to eat."
Martin, with eyes turned
pensively to the stars, began a treatise.
"Them Spaniards --
"Oh, quit it!" cried Nolan. "What the piper do you know about th'
Spaniards, you fat-headed Dutchman? Better think of your belly, you
blunderin' swine, an' what you're goin' to
put in it, grass or dirt."
A laugh, a sort of deep
growl, arose from the prostrate men. In the mean time the sergeant
had reappeared and was standing over them. "No rations tonight,"
he said, gruffly, and turning on his heel walked away.
This announcement was received
in silence. But Watkins had flung himself face downward, and putting
his lips close to a tuft of grass, he formulated oaths. Martin
arose, and going to his shelter, crawled in sulkily. After a long
interval Nolan said aloud, "Hell!" Grierson, enlisted
for the war, raised a querulous voice. "Well, I wonder when
we will git fed?"
From the ground about him
came a low chuckle full of ironical comment upon Grierson's lack
of certain qualities which the other men felt themselves to possess.
In the cold light of dawn, the men were on their knees, packing,
strapping and buckling. The comic toy hamlet of shelter-tents had been wiped out as if by a cyclone. Through the trees could be seen the crimson of a light battery's blankets, and the wheels creaked like the sound of a
musketry fight. Nolan, well gripped by his
shelter-tent, his blanket and his cartridge belt, and bearing
his rifle, advanced upon a small group of men who were hastily
finishing a can of coffee.
"Say, give us a drink, will ye?" he asked wistfully. He was as sad-eyed
as an orphan beggar.
Every man in the group turned to look him straight in the face. He had
asked for the principal ruby out of each one's crown. There was grim
silence. Then one said, "What fer?"
Nolan cast his glance to the ground and went away abashed.
But he espied Watkins and
Martin surrounding Grierson, who had gained three pieces of hard-tack
by mere force of his audacious inexperience. Grierson was fending
his comrades off tearfully. "Now don't be damn pigs,"
he cried; "hold on a minute." Here Nolan asserted a
claim. Grierson groaned. Kneeling piously, he divided the hard-tack
with minute care into four portions. The men, who had had their
heads together, like players watching a wheel of fortune, arose
suddenly, each chewing. Nolan interpolated a drink of water and
The whole forest seemed
to be moving. From the field on the other side of the road a column
of men in blue was slowly pouring; the battery had creaked on
ahead; from the rear came a hum of advancing regiments. Then from
a mile away rang the noise of a shot, then another shot; in a
moment the rifles there were drumming, drumming, drumming. The
artillery boomed out suddenly. A day of battle was begun.
The men made no exclamations. They rolled their eyes in the direction of the sound, and then swept with a calm glance the forests and the hills which surrounded them, implacably mysterious forests and hills which lent to every rifle-shot the ominous quality which belongs to secret assassination. The
whole scene would have spoken to the private
soldiers of ambushes, sudden flank attacks, terrible disasters
if it were not for those cool gentlemen with shoulder-straps and
swords, who, the private soldiers knew, were of another world
and omnipotent for the business.
The battalion moved out into the mud and began a leisurely march in the damp shade of the trees. The advance of two batteries had churned the black soil into a formidable paste. The brown leggings of the men, stained with the mud of other days, took on a deeper color. Perspiration broke gently out on the reddish faces. With his heavy roll of blanket and the half of a shelter-tent crossing his right shoulder and under his left arm, each man presented the appearance of being clasped from behind, wrestler fashion, by a pair of thick white arms. There was something distinctive in the way they carried their rifles. There was the grace of an old hunter somewhere in it,
the grace of a man whose rifle has become absolutely a part of himself.
Furthermore, almost every blue shirt-sleeve was rolled to the elbow,
disclosing forearms of almost incredible brawn. The rifles seemed light,
almost fragile, in the hands that were at the end of these arms, never fat,
but always with rolling muscles, and veins that seemed on the point of
bursting. And another thing was the silence
and the marvelous impassivity of the faces as the column made
its slow way toward where the whole forest spluttered and fluttered
Opportunely, the battalion was halted astraddle of a stream, and before it again moved most of the men had filled their canteens. The firing increased. Ahead and to the left, a battery was booming at methodical intervals, while the infantry racket was that
continual drumming which, after all, often sounds like rain on a roof.
Directly ahead, one could hear the deep voices
Some wounded Cubans were carried by in litters improvised from hammocks
swung on poles. One had a ghastly cut in the throat, probably from a
fragment of shell, and his head was turned as if Providence particularly
wished to display this wide and lapping gash to the long column that was winding toward the front. And another Cuban, shot through the groin, kept up a continual wail as he swung from the tread of his bearers. "Ay -- ee! Ay --
ee! Madre mia! Madre mia!" He sang this bitter ballad into the ears of at
least three thousand men as they slowly made way for his bearers on the
narrow wood-path. These wounded insurgents
were, then, to a large part of the advancing army, the visible
messengers of blood-shed, death, and the men regarded them with
thoughtful awe. This doleful sobbing cry, "Madre mia,"
was a tangible consequent misery of all that firing on in front,
into which the men knew they were soon to be plunged. Some of
them wished to inquire of the bearers the details of what had
happened, but they could not speak Spanish, and so it was as if
fate had intentionally sealed the lips of all in order that even
meager information might not leak out concerning this mystery
-- battle. On the other hand, many unversed private soldiers looked
upon the unfortunate as men who had seen thousands maimed and
bleeding, and absolutely could not conjure up any further interest
in such scenes.
A young staff officer passed on horseback. The vocal Cuban was always
wailing, but the officer wheeled past the bearers without heeding anything. And yet he never before had seen such a sight. His case was different from that of the private soldiers. He heeded nothing because he was busy, immensely busy, and hurried with a multitude of reasons and desires for doing his duty perfectly. His whole life had been a mere period of preliminary reflection for this situation, and he had no clear idea of
anything save his obligation as an officer. A man of this kind might be
stupid; it is conceivable that in remote cases certain bumps on his head
might be composed entirely of wood; but those traditions of fidelity and
courage which have been handed to him from
generation to generation, and which he has tenaciously preserved
despite the persecution of legislators and the indifference of
his country, make it incredible that in battle he should ever
fail to give his best blood and his best thought for his general,
for his men and for himself.
And so this young officer in the shapeless hat and the torn and dirty
shirt failed to heed the wails of the wounded
man, even as the pilgrim fails to heed the world as he raises
his illumined face toward his purpose--rightly or wrongly his
purpose -- his sky of the ideal of duty; and the wonderful part
of it is that he is guided by an ideal which he has himself created,
and has alone protected from attack. The young man was merely
an officer in the United States regular army.
The column swung across
a shallow ford and took a road which passed the right flank of
one of the American batteries.
On a hill it was booming and belching great clouds of white smoke. The infantry looked up with interest. Arrayed below the hill and behind the battery were the horses and limbers, the riders checking their pawing
mounts, and behind each rider a red blanket
flamed against the fervent green of the bushes. As the infantry
moved along the road, some of the battery horses turned at the
noise of the trampling feet and surveyed the men with eyes deep
as wells, serene, mournful, generous eyes, lit heart breakingly
with something that was akin to a philosophy, a religion of self-sacrifice--oh,
gallant, gallant horses!
"I know a feller in
that battery," said Nolan musingly. "A driver."
"Damn sight rather
be a gunner," said Martin.
"Why would ye?"
said Nolan opposingly.
"Well, I'd take my chances as a gunner b'fore I'd sit 'way up in th' air
on a raw-boned plug an' git shot at."
"Aw -- " began
"They've had some
losses t'-day all right," interrupted Grierson.
"Horses, an' men too,"
"How d'yeh know?"
"A feller told me
there by the ford."
They kept only a part of their minds bearing on this discussion because
they could already hear high in the air the wire-string note of the enemy's
The road taken by this battalion, as it followed other battalions, is
something less than a mile long in its journey across a heavily wooded
plain. It is greatly changed now; in fact,
it was metamorphosed in two days; but at that time it was a mere
track through dense shrubbery from which rose great, dignified
arching trees. It was, in fact, a path through a jungle.
The battalion had no sooner left the battery in rear than bullets began
to drive overhead. They made several different sounds, but as they were
mainly high shots, it was usual for them
to make the faint note of a vibrant string touched elusively,
The military balloon, a fat, wavering yellow thing, was leading the
advance like some new conception of war-god.
Its bloated mass shone above the trees, and served incidentally
to indicate to the men at the rear that comrades were in advance.
The track itself exhibited, for all its visible length, a closely
knit procession of soldiers in blue, with breasts crossed by white
shelter-tents. The first ominous order of battle came down the
line. "Use the cut-off. Don't use the magazine until you're
Non-commissioned officers repeated the command gruffly. A sound of
clicking locks rattled along the column. All men knew that the time had
The front had burst out with a roar like a brush fire. The balloon was
dying, dying a gigantic and public death before the eyes of two armies. It
quivered, sank, faded into the trees amid the flurry of a battle that was
suddenly and tremendously like a storm.
The American battery thundered
behind the men with a shock that seemed likely to tear the backs
of their heads off. The Spanish shrapnel fled on a line to their
left, swirling and swishing in supernatural velocity. The noise
of the rifle bullets broke in their faces like the noise of so
many lamp chimneys, or sped overhead in swift, cruel spitting.
And at the front, the battle-sound, as if it were simply music,
was beginning to swell and swell until the volleys rolled like
The officers shouted hoarsely.
"Come on, men! Hurry
up, boys! Come on, now! Hurry up!" The soldiers, running
heavily in their accouterments, dashed forward. A baggage guard
was swiftly detailed; the men tore their rolls from their shoulders
as if the things were afire. The battalion, stripped for action,
again dashed forward.
"Come on, men! Come
To them the battle was as yet merely a road through the woodscrowded
with troops who lowered their heads anxiously
as the bullets fled high. But a moment later the column wheeled
abruptly to the left and entered a field of tall green grass.
The line scattered to a skirmish formation. In front was a series
of knolls, treed sparsely like orchards, and although no enemy
was visible, these knolls were all popping and spitting with rifle
fire. In some places there were to be seen long gray lines of
dirt intrenchments. The American shells were kicking up reddish
clouds of dust from the brow of one of the knolls where stood
a pagoda-like house. It was not much like a battle with men; it
was a battle with a bit of charming scenery, enigmatically potent
Nolan knew that Martin
had suddenly fallen. "What -- " he began.
"They've hit me,"
Martin lay on the ground, clutching his left fore-arm just below the
elbow with all the strength of his right hand. His lips were pursed
ruefully. He did not seem to know what to do. He continued to stare at his
Then suddenly the bullets drove at them low and hard. The men flung
themselves face down in the grass. Nolan lost all thought of his friend.
Oddly enough, he felt somewhat like a man hiding under a
bed, and he was just as sure that he could
not raise his head high without being shot, as a man hiding under
a bed is sure that he cannot raise his head without bumping it.
A lieutenant was seated in the grass just behind him. He was in the
careless and yet rigid pose of a man balancing
a loaded plate on his knee at a picnic. He was talking in soothing,
"Now don't get rattled. We're all right here. Just as safe as being in
church. . . . They're all going high. Don't mind them. . . . Don't mind
them. . . . They're all going high. We've got them rattled and they can't
shoot straight. Don't mind them."
The sun burned down steadily
from a pale sky upon the crackling woods and knolls and fields.
From the roar of musketry, it might have been that the celestial
heat was frying this part of the world.
Nolan snuggled close to
He watched a gray line
of intrenchments, above which floated the veriest gossamer of
smoke. A flag lolled on a staff behind it. The men in the trench
volleyed whenever an American shell exploded near them. It was
some kind of infantile defiance. Frequently a bullet came from
the woods directly behind Nolan and his comrades. They thought
at the time that these bullets were from the rifle of some incompetent
soldier of their own side.
There was no cheering.
The men would have looked about them wondering where the army
was if it were not that the crash of the fighting for the distance
of a mile denoted plainly enough where that army was.
Officially, the battalion had not yet fired a shot; there had been merely
some irresponsible popping by men on the extreme left flank. But it was
known that the Lieutenant-Colonel who had
been in command was dead, shot through the heart, and that the
Captains were thinned down to two. At the rear went on a long
tragedy in which men, bent and hasty, hurried to shelter with
other men, helpless, dazed and bloody. Nolan knew of it all from
the hoarse and affrighted voices which he heard as he lay flattened
in the grass. There came to him a sense of exultation. Here, then,
was one of those dread and lurid situations which in a nation's
history stand out in crimson letters, becoming tales of blood
to stir generation after generation. And he was in it and unharmed.
If he lived through the battle, he would be a hero of the desperate
fight at -- and here he wondered for a second what fate would
be pleased to bestow as a name for this battle.
But it is quite sure that
hardly another man in the battalion was engaged in any thoughts
concerning the historic. On the contrary, they deemed it ill that
they were being badly cut up on a most unimportant occasion. It
would have benefited the conduct of whoever were weak if they
had known that they were engaged in a battle that would be famous
Martin had picked himself
up from where the bullet had knocked him, and addressed the Lieutenant.
"I'm hit, sir," he said.
The Lieutenant was very busy. "All right, all right," he said, heeding
the man just enough to learn where he was
wounded. "Go over that way. You ought to see a dressing-station
under those trees."
Martin found himself dizzy and sick. The sensation in his arm was
distinctly galvanic. The feeling was so strange that he could wonder at
times if a wound was really what ailed him. Once, in this dazed way, he
examined his arm; he was the hole. Yes, he was shot; that was it. And more
than in any other way it affected him with
a profound sadness.
As directed by the Lieutenant, he went to the clump of trees, but he
found no dressing-station there. He found only a dead soldier lying with his face buried in his arms, and with his shoulders humped high as if he was convulsively sobbing. Martin decided to make his way to the road, deeming that he thus would better his chances of getting to a surgeon. But he suddenly found his way blocked by a fence of barbed wire. Such was his mental condition that he brought up at a rigid halt before this fence and stared stupidly at it. It did not seem to him possible that
this obstacle could be defeated by any means. The fence was there and it
stopped his progress. He could not go in
But as he turned he espied that procession of wounded men, strange
pilgrims, which had already worn a path in
the tall grass. They were passing through a gap in the fence.
Martin joined them. The bullets were flying over them in sheets,
but many of them bore themselves as men who had now exacted from
fate a singular immunity. Generally there were no out-cries, no
kicking, no talk at all. They too, like Martin, seemed buried
in a vague but profound melancholy.
But there was one who cried
out loudly. A man shot in the head was being carried arduously
by four comrades, and he continually yelled one word that was
terrible in its primitive strength. "Bread! Bread! Bread!"
Following him and his bearers
were a limping crowd of men, less cruelly wounded, who kept their
eyes always fixed on him, as if they gained from his extreme agony
some balm for their own sufferings.
"Bread! Give me bread!"
Martin plucked a man by
the sleeve. The man had been shot in the foot and was making his
way with the help of a curved, incompetent stick. It is an axiom
of war that wounded men can never find straight sticks.
"What's the matter
with that feller?" asked Martin.
"Why is he?"
"Shot in th' head,"
answered the other impatiently.
The wail of the sufferer rose in the field, amid the swift rasp of
bullets and the boom and shatter of shrapnel.
"Bread! Bread! Oh, God, can't you give me bread? Bread!"
The bearers of him were suffering exquisite agony, and often exchanged
glances which exhibited their despair of ever getting free of
this tragedy. It seemed endless.
"Bread! Bread! Bread!"
But despite the fact that there was always in the way of this crowd's
wistful melancholy, one must know that there
were plenty of men who laughed, laughed at their wounds, whimsically,
quaintly, inventing odd humors concerning bicycles and cabs, extracting
from this shedding of their blood a wonderful amount of material
for cheerful badinage, and with their faces twisted from pain
as they stepped, they often joked like music-hall stars. And perhaps
this was the most tearful part of all.
They trudged along a road
until they reached a ford. Here, under the eave of the bank, lay
a dismal company. In the mud and the damp shade of some bushes
were a half-hundred pale-faced men prostrate. Two or three surgeons
were working there. Also there was a chaplain, grim-mouthed, resolute,
his surtout discarded. Overhead always was that incessant, maddening
wail of bullets.
Martin was standing gazing
drowsily at the scene when a surgeon grabbed him. "Here!
What's the matter with you?" Martin was daunted. He wondered
what he had done that the surgeon should be so angry with him.
"In the arm,"
he muttered, half shame-facedly.
After the surgeon had hastily
and irritably bandaged the injured member, he glared at Martin
and said, "You can walk all right, can't you?"
"Yes, sir," said
"Well, now, you just
make tracks down that road."
"Yes, sir." Martin went meekly off. The doctor had seemed exasperated
almost to the point of madness.
The road was at this time swept with the fire of a body of Spanish
sharpshooters who had come cunningly around the flanks of the American army, and were now hidden in the dense foliage that lined both sides of the road. They were shooting at everything. The road was as crowded as a street in a city, and at an absurdly short range they emptied at the passing people. They were aided always by the over-sweep from the regular Spanish line of
Martin was sleepy from his wounds. He saw tragedy follow tragedy, but
they created in him no feeling of horror.
A man, with a red cross on his arm was leaning against a great tree.
Suddenly he tumbled to the ground and writhed for a moment in the way of a child oppressed with colic. A comrade immediately began
to bustle importantly. "Here!"
he called to Martin, "help me carry this man, will you?"
Martin looked at him with dull scorn. "I'll be damned if I do," he said.
"Can't carry myself, let alone somebody
This answer, which rings now so inhuman, pitiless, did not affect the
other man. "Well, all right," he said; "here comes some other fellers." The
wounded man had now turned blue-gray; his
eyes were closed; his body shook in a gentle, persistent chill.
Occasionally Martin came upon dead horses, their limbs sticking out and up like stakes. One beast, mortally shot, was besieged by three or four men who were trying to push it into the bushes where it could live its brief
time of anguish without thrashing to death
any of the wounded men in the gloomy procession.
The mule train, with extra ammunition, charged toward the front, still
led by the tinkling bell-mare.
An ambulance was stuck
momentarily in the mud, and above the crack of battle one could
hear the familiar objurgations of the driver as he whirled his
Two privates were having
a hard time with a wounded captain whom they were supporting to
the rear. He was half cursing, half wailing out the information
that he not only would not go another step toward the rear, but
was certainly going to return at once to the front. They begged,
pleaded, at great length, as they continually headed him off.
They were not unlike two nurses with an exceptionally bad and
headstrong little duke.
The wounded soldiers paused
to look impassively upon this struggle. They were always like
men who could not be aroused by anything further.
The visible hospital was mainly straggling thickets intersected with
narrow paths, the ground being covered with
men. Martin saw a busy person with a book and a pencil, but he
did not approach him to become officially a member of the hospital.
All he desired was rest and immunity from nagging. He took seat
painfully under a bush and leaned his back upon the trunk. There
he remained thinking, his face wooden.
"My Gawd," said Nolan, squirming on his belly in the grass, "I can't
stand this much longer."
Then suddenly every rifle in the firing line seemed to go off of its own
accord. It was the result of an order, but few men had heard the order; in
the main they had fired because they heard
others fire, and their sense was so quick that the volley did
not sound too ragged. These marksmen had been lying for nearly
an hour in stony silence, their sights adjusted, their fingers
fondling their rifles, their eyes staring at the intrenchments
of the enemy. The battalion had suffered heavy losses, and these
losses had been hard to bear, for a soldier always reasons that
men lost during a period of inaction are men badly lost.
The line now sounded like a great machine set to running frantically in
the open air, the bright sunshine of a green field. To the "prut" of the
magazine rifles was added the under-chorus
of the clicking mechanism, steady and swift as if the hand of
one operator was controlling it all. It reminds one always of
a loom, a great, grand steel loom, clinking, clanking, plunking,
plinking, to weave a woof of thin red threads, the cloth of death.
By the men's shoulders, under their eager hands, dropped continually
the yellow empty shells, spinning into the crushed grass blades,
to remain there and mark for the belated eye the line of a battalion's
All impatience, all rebellious
feeling, had passed out of the men as soon as they had been allowed
to use their weapons against the enemy. They now were absorbed
in this business of hitting something, and all the long training
at the rifle ranges, all the pride of the marksman which had been
so long alive in them, made them forget for the time everything
but shooting. They were as deliberate and exact as so many watchmakers.
A new sense of safety was rightfully upon them. They knew that those
mysterious men in the high far trenches in front were having the bullets
sping in their faces with relentless and remarkable precision; they knew, in fact, that they were now doing the thing which they had been
trained endlessly to do, and they knew they were doing it well. Nolan, for
instance, was overjoyed. "Plug 'em!"
he said. "Plug 'em!" He was aiming his rifle under the
shadow of a certain portico of a fortified house; there he could
faintly see a long black line which he knew to be a loophole cut
for riflemen, and he knew that every shot of his was going there
under the portico, mayhap through the loophole to the brain of
another man like himself. He loaded the awkward magazine of his
rifle again and again. He was so intent that he did not know of
new orders until he saw the men about him scrambling to their
feet and running forward, crouching low as they ran.
He heard a shout. "Come on, boys! We can't be last! We're going up! We're
going up!" He sprang to his feet and, stooping, ran with the others.
Something fine, soft, gentle, touched his
heart as he ran. He had loved the regiment, the army, because
the regiment, the army, was his life. He had no other outlook;
and now these men, his comrades, were performing his dream-scenes
for him. They were doing as he had ordained in his visions. It
is curious that in this charge, he considered himself as rather
unworthy. Although he himself was in the assault with the rest
of them, it seemed to him that his comrades were dazzlingly courageous.
His part, to his mind, was merely that of a man who was going
along with the crowd.
He saw Grierson biting madly with his pincers at a barbed-wire fence.
They were half-way up the beautiful sylvan
slope; there was no enemy to be seen, and yet the landscape rained
bullets. Somebody punched him violently in the stomach. He thought
dully to lie down and rest, but instead he fell with a crash.
The sparse line of men in blue shirts and dirty slouch hats swept on up
the hill. He decided to shut his eyes for a moment, because he felt very
dreamy and peaceful. It seemed only a minute before he heard a voice say,
"There he is." Grierson and Watkins
had come to look for him. He searched their faces at once and
keenly, for he had a thought that the line might be driven down
the hill and leave him in Spanish hands. But he saw that everything
was secure and he prepared no questions.
Grierson clumsily, "do you know me?"
The man on the ground smiled softly. "Of course I know you, you
chowder-faced monkey. Why wouldn't I know
Watkins knelt beside him.
"Where did they plug you, boy?"
Nolan was somewhat dubious.
"It ain't much, I don't think, but it's somewheres there." He laid a
finger on the pit of his stomach. They lifted his shirt and then privately
they exchanged a glance of horror.
"Does it hurt, Jimmie?"
said Grierson, hoarsely.
"No," said Nolan, "it don't hurt any, but I feel sort of
dead-to-the-world and numb all over. I don't
think it's very bad."
"Oh, it's all right,"
"What I need is a drink," said Nolan, grinning at them. "I'm chilly --
lyin' on this damp ground."
"It ain't very damp,
Jimmie," said Grierson.
"Well, it is damp," said Nolan, with sudden irritability. "I can feel it.
I'm wet, I tell you -- wet through -- just
from lyin' here."
They answered hastily.
"Yes, that's so, Jimmie. It is damp. That's so."
"Just put your hand under my back and see how wet the ground is," he
"No," they answered.
"That's all right, Jimmie. We know it's wet."
"Well, put your hand
under and see," he cried, stubbornly.
"Oh, never mind, Jimmie."
"No," he said
in a temper, "see for yourself."
Grierson seemed to be afraid of Nolan's agitation, and so he slipped a
hand under the prostrate man, and presently
withdrew it covered with blood. "Yes," he said, hiding
his hand carefully from Nolan's eyes, "you were right, Jimmie."
"Of course I was," said Nolan, contentedly closing his eyes. "This
hillside holds water like a swamp." After a moment he said: "Guess I ought
to know. I'm flat here on it, and you fellers
are standing up."
He did not know he was
dying. He thought he was holding an argument on the condition
of the turf.
"Cover his face,"
said Grierson in a low and husky voice, afterward.
"What'll I cover it
with?" said Watkins.
They looked at themselves. They stood in their shirts, trousers,
leggings, shoes; they had nothing.
"Oh," said Grierson, "here's his hat." He brought it and laid it on the
face of the dead man. They stood for a time. It was apparent that they
thought it essential and decent to say or
do something. Finally Watkins said in a broken voice, "Aw,
it's a damn shame."
They moved slowly off toward
the firing line.
* * * * * *
In the blue gloom of evening, in one of the fever tents, the two rows of
still figures became hideous, charnel. The
languid movement of a hand was surrounded with spectral mystery,
and the occasional painful twisting of a body under a blanket
was terrifying, as if dead men were moving in their graves under
the sod. A heavy odor of sickness and medicine hung in the air.
"What regiment are
you in?" said a feeble voice.
answered another voice.
"Twenty-ninth! Why, the man on the other side of me is in the
"He is? . . . Hey
there, partner, are you in the Twenty-ninth?"
A third voice merely answered
wearily: "Martin, of C Company."
"What? Jack, is that
"It's a part of me.
. . . Who are you?"
"Grierson, you fat-head.
I thought you were wounded."
There was the noise of a man gulping a great drink of water, and at its
conclusion Martin said, "I am."
"Well, what you doin'
in the fever place, then?"
Martin replied with drowsy
impatience. "Got the fever, too."
"Gee!" said Grierson.
Thereafter there was silence in the fever tent save for the noise made by
a man over in a corner, a kind of man always
found in an American crowd, a heroic, implacable comedian and
patriot, of a humor that has bitterness and ferocity and love
in it, and he was wringing from the situation a grim meaning by
singing the Star-Spangled Banner with all the ardor which could
be procured from his fever-stricken body.
Martin, in a low voice, "where's Jimmie Nolan?"
A tangle of raw gold light
shone on a side of the tent. Somewhere in the valley an engine's
bell was ringing, and it sounded of peace and home as if it hung
on a cow's neck.
"An' where's Ike Watkins?"
"Well, he ain't dead, but he got shot through the lungs. They say he
ain't got much show."
Through the clouded odors of sickness and medicine rang the dauntless
voice of the man in the corner:
" . . . Long may it wave. . . ."