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VI ON THE ROAD TO ROMNEY AFTER a peaceful Christmas, New Year's Day rose bright and mild, and Dan as he started from Winchester with the column felt that he was escaping to freedom from the tedious duties of camp life. "Thank God we're on the war-path again," he remarked to Pinetop, who was stalking at his side. The two had become close friends during the dull weeks after their first battle, and Bland, who had brought a taste for the classics from the lectureroom , had already referred to them in pointkss jokes as "Pylades and Orestes." " It looks mighty like summer," responded Pinetop cheerfully. He threw a keen glance up into the blue clouds, and then sniffed suspiciously at the dust that rose high in the road. "But I ain't one to put much faith in looks," he added with his usual caution, as he shifted the knapsack upon his shoulders . Dan laughed easily. "Well, I'm heartily glad I left my overcoat behind me," he said, breathing hard as he climbed the mountain road, where the red clay had stiffened into channels. The sunshine fell brightly over them, lying in golden drops upon the fallen leaves. To Dan the 338 On the Road to Romney 339 march brought back the early winter rides at Chericoke , and the chain of lights and shadows that ran on clear days over the tavern road. Joyously throwing back his head, he whistled a love song as he tramped up the mountain side. The irksome summer , with its slow fevers and its sharp attacks of measles, its scarcity of pure water and supplies of half-cooked food, was suddenly blotted from his thoughts, and his first romantic ardour returned to him in long draughts of wind and sun. After each depression his elastic temperament had sprung upward; the past months had but strengthened him in body as in mind. In the afternoon a gray cloud came up suddenly and the sunshine, after a feeble struggle, was driven from the mountains. As the wind blew in short gusts down the steep road, Dan tightened his coat and looked at Pinetop's knapsack with his unfailing laugh. "That's beginning to look comfortable. I hope to heaven the wagons aren't far off." Pinetop turned and glanced back into the valley. " I'll be blessed if I believe they're anywhere," was his answer. " Well, if they aren't, I'll be somewhere before morning; why, it feels like snow." A gust of wind, sharp as a blade, struck from the gray sky, and whirlpools of dead leaves were swept into the forest. Falling silent, Dan swung his arms to quicken the current of his blood, and walked on more rapidly. Over the long column gloom had settled with the clouds, and they were brave lips that offered a jest in the teeth of the wind. The Battle-Ground There were no blankets, few overcoats, and fewer rations, and the supply wagons were crawling somewhere in the valley. The day wore on, and still the rough country road climbed upward embedded in withered leaves. On the high wind came the first flakes of a snowstorm , followed by a fine rain that enveloped the hills like mist. As Dan stumbled on, his feet slipped on the wet clay, and he was forced to catch at the bared saplings for support. The cold had entered his lungs as a knife, and his breath circled in a little cloud about his mouth. Through the storm he heard the quick oaths of his companions ring out like distant shots. When night fell they halted to bivouac by the roadside, and until daybreak the pine woods were fined with the cheerful glow of the campfires. There were no rations, and Dan, making a jest of his hunger, had stretched himself in the full light of the crackling branches. With the defiant humour which had made him the favourite of the mess, he laughed at the frozen roads, at the change in the wind, at his own struggles with the wet kindling wood, at the supply wagons creeping slowly after them. His courage had all the gayety of his passions - it showed itself in a smile, in a whistle, in the steady hand with which he played toss and catch with fate. The superb silence of Pinetop, plodding evenly along, was as far removed from him as the lofty grandeur of the mountains. A jest warmed his...


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