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III THE REIGN OF THE BRUTE THE noise of the guns rolled over the green hills into the little valley where the regiment had halted before a wayside spring, which lay hidden beneath a clump of rank pokeberry. As each company filled its canteens, it filed across the sunny road, from which the dust rose like steam, and stood resting in an open meadow that swept down into a hollow between two gently rising hills. From the spring a thin stream trickled, bordered by short grass, and the water, dashed from it by the thirsty men, gathered in shining puddles in the red clay road. By one of these puddles a man had knelt to wash his face, and as Dan passed, draining his canteen, he looked up with a sprinkling of brown drops on his forehead. Near him, unharmed by the tramping feet, a little purple flower was blooming in the mud. Dan gazed thoughtfully down upon him and upon the little purple flower in its dangerous spot. What did mud or dust matter, he questioned grimly, when in a breathing space they would be in the midst of the smoke that hung close above the hill-top? The sound of the cannon ceased suddenly, as abruptly as if the battery had sunk into the ground, and through the sunny air he heard a long rattle that reminded x 306 The Battle-Ground him of the fall of hail on the shingled roof at Chericoke . As his canteen struck against his side, it seemed to him that it met the resistance of a leaden weight. There was a lump in his throat and his lips felt parched, though the moisture from the fresh spring water was hardly dried. When he moved he was conscious of stepping high above the earth, as he had done once at college after an overmerry night and many wines. Straight ahead the sunshine lay hot and still over the smooth fields and the little hollow where a brook ran between marshy banks. High above he saw it flashing on the gray smoke that hung in tatters from the tree-tops on the hill. An ambulance, drawn by a white and a bay horse, turned gayly from the road into the meadow, and he saw, with surprise, that one of the surgeons was trimming his finger nails with a small penknife. The surgeon was a slight young man, with pointed yellow whiskers, and light blue eyes that squinted in the sunshine. As he passed he stifled a yawn with an elaborate affectation of unconcern. A man on horseback, with a white handkerchief tied above his collar, galloped up and spoke in a low voice to the Colonel. Then, as his horse reared, he glanced nervously about, grew embarrassed, and, with a sharp jerk of the bridle, galloped off again across the field. Presently other men rode back and forth along the road; there were so many of them that Dan wondered, bewildered, if anybody was left to make the battle beyond the hill. The regiment formed into line and started at " double quick" across the broad meadow powdered The Reign of the Brute 307 white with daisies. As it went into the ravine, skirting the hillside, a stream of men came toward it and passed slowly to the rear. Some were on stretchers, some were stumbling in the arms of slightly wounded comrades, some were merely warm and dirty and very much afraid. One and all advised the fresh regiment to "go home and finish ploughing." "The Yankees have got us on the hip," they declared emphatically. "Whoopee! it's as hot as hell where you're going." Then a boy, with a blood-stained sleeve, waved his shattered arm in the air and laughed deliriously. "Don't believe them, friends, it's glorious!" he cried, in the voice of the far South, and lurched forward upon the grass. The sight of the soaked shirt and the smell of blood turned Dan faint. He felt a sudden tremor in his limbs, and his arteries throbbed dully in his ears. "I didn't know it was like this," he muttered thickly. "Why, they're no better than mangled rabbits - I didn't know it was like this." They wound through the little ravine, climbed a hillside planted in thin corn, and were ordered to " load and lie down" in a strip of woodland. Dan tore at his cartridge with set teeth; then as he drove his...


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