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VIII THE LAST STAND IN the face of a damp April wind a remnant of Lee's army pushed forward along an old road skirted by thin pine woods. As the column moved on slowly, it threw out skirmishers on either flank, where the Federal cavalry hovered in the distance. Once in an open clearing it formed into a hollow square and marched in battle line to avoid capture. While the regiments kept in motion the men walked steadily in the ranks, with their hollowed eyes staring straight ahead from their gaunt, tanned faces; but at the first halt they fell like logs upon the roadside, sleeping amid the sound of shots and the stinging cavalry. With the cry of " Forward! " they struggled to their feet again, and went stumbling on into the vast uncertainty and the approaching night. Breathless, starving, with their rags pinned together, and their mouths bleeding from three days' rations of parched corn, they still kept onward, marching with determined eyes to whatever and wherever the end might be. Petersburg had fallen, Richmond was in flames behind them, the Confederacy was, perhaps, buried in the ruins of its Capitol, but Lee was still somewhere to the front, so his army followed. " How long have we been marching, boys? I can't 462 The Last Stand remember," asked Dan, when, after a short rest, they formed again and started forward over the old road. In the tatters of his gray uniform, with his broken shoes tied on his feet and his black hair hanging across his eyes, he might have been one of the beggars who warm themselves in the sun of Southern countries. " Oh, I reckon we left the Garden of Eden about six thousand years ago," responded a wag from somewhere - he was too tired to recognize the voice. " There! the skirmishers have struck that blamed cavalry again. Plague them! They're as bad as wasps! " "Has anybody some parched corn?" inquired Bland, plaintively. "I'll trade a whole raw ear for it. It makes my gums bleed so, I can't chew it." Dan plunged his hand into his pocket, and drew out the corn which he had shelled and parched at the last halt. As he exchanged it for the "whole raw ear," he fell to wondering vaguely what had become of Big Abel since that dim point in eternity when they had left the trenches that surrounded Petersburg. Then time was divided into periods of nights and days, now night and day alike were made up in breathless marching, in throwing out skirmishers against those "wasps" of cavalrymen , and in trying to force aching teeth to grind parched corn. Panting and sick with hunger, he struggled on like a driven beast that sees the place ahead, where he must turn and grapple for the end with the relentless hunter on his track. As the day ended the moist wind gathered strength and sang in his ears as he crept forward- The Battle-Ground now sleeping, now waking, for a time filled with warm memories of his college life, and again fighting over the last hopeless campaign from the Wilderness to the trenches where Petersburg had fallen. They had yielded step by step, but the great hunter had pressed on, and now the thin brigades were gathering for the last stand together. Overhead he heard the soughing of the pines, and around him the steady tramp of feet too tired to lift themselves from out the heavy mud. Straight above in the muffled sky a star shone dimly, and for a time he watched it in his effort to keep awake. Then he began on the raw corn in his pocket, shelling it from the cob as he walked along; but when the taste of blood rose to his lips, he put the ear away again, and stooped to rub his eyes with a handful of damp earth. Then, at last, in sheer desperation, he loosened the grip upon his thoughts, and stumbled on, between waking and sleeping, into the darkness that lay ahead. In the road before him the door at Chericoke opened wide as on the old Christmas Eves, and he saw the Major and the Governor draining their glasses under the garlands of mistletoe and holly, while Betty and Virginia, in dresses of white tarleton , stood against the ruddy glow that filled the panelled parlour. The cheerful Christmas smell was in the air - the smell of apple toddy, of roasted...


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