The rebels on the rocks having quieted down, the boys stowed themselves around the roots of the trees, made little fires under the shelter of the rocks, cooked their suppers, smoked their pipes, and finally rolled themselves in their blankets and went to sleep.
Little Pete "snugged" in with Shorty, but when that gentleman was awakened by Si a little after daylight, Pete was gone.
Shorty fumed around at this while he was cooking his breakfast, for he wanted Pete to be there and eat heartily, in preparation for the arduous struggles of the momentous day which was breaking for them.
But little Pete continued to be absent. No one had seen him, no one had heard his voice, no one know anything about him. Shorty became greatly worried, and the others shared his feelings, and began beating up the woods around in search of some place that he might have fallen into.
With the daybreak the firing away to the left, where a lodgment had been made on Rocky Face Ridge, beyond the gap, broke out afresh, and rolled down toward the gap. The squad listened intently to it as it came nearer, for they felt that it meant the beginning of the day's bloody business. The crests above them remained silent.
Suddenly they heard little Pete's voice calling:
"Sergeant Klegg! Corporal Elliott!"
They looked in every direction, but could see no Pete.
"Sergeant Klegg! Corporal Elliott! Look up here. I'm up here on the rocks."
They turned their eyes to the crest, and there saw Pete waving his hat to them.
"Come up here," he called. "There ain't no rebels up here. They've all gone off down into the valley."
From their tense hearts the boys sent up a cheer, which drew all attention to them. The news quickly spread along the line, and was received with cheers.
"Go down that way about 100 yards," Pete called down, "and you'll find a tall pine blowed down agin the cliff. You kin climb that, and git up to where its top lays right agin a bunch of bushes. Shorty rolled on my leg this morning, and waked me up before daylight. I then thought I'd git up and take a look, and see how things appeared before they got to shooting. I found the pine tree, and dumb it mighty quiet, intending to sneak up close to the rebels. But I couldn't find none. They was all gone."
CHAPTER XVI. THE 200TH IND. ASSAULTS THE REBEL WORKS AT DAYBREAK
THERE were the same perplexing sounds of battle in many places and directions when the 200th Ind. went into line as there had been around Buzzard Roost.
Joe Johnston was fiercely contesting every hilltop and narrow gorge to gain time to adjust his army to the unexpected movement through Snake Creek Gap, and save the stores he had accumulated behind the heavy fortifications around Dalton.
Though they had felt themselves completely worn out by the work with the train, the prospect of a fight put new life into the 200th Ind., and they leaned on their guns and listened to the crackling of musketry and booming of artillery far away to their left, to their right, and apparently in their rear. Sometimes the sounds would come so near that the wave of battle would seem to be surely rolling down on them. Then they would clutch their guns more firmly, and their hands instinctively seek their cartridge-boxes. Then the firing would as inexplicably die down and stop, when they would again sink on the ground with fatigue.
So the late afternoon wore on. It grew very quiet all around. Even the dull booming of the cannon far up the valley where Howard and Schofield were advancing on the heavy works immediately in front of Dalton, died down into sullen fitfulness.
The silence of the woods and the mountains as night drew on became more oppressive than the crashing sounds, the feverish movements, and the strained expectancy of the day had been.
The whip-poor-wills began to fill the evening air with their mournful calls, which accentuated and intensified the weird loneliness of the scene, where but a little while before there had been no thought but of deadly hatred and bitter strife.
"I never heard the whip-poor-wills whip so gloomily," remarked the sentimental Alf Russell, after the regiment had stacked arms, and the men were resting, exhausted and out of temper, on the ground. "Seems to me it sounds altogether different from the way they do at home; got something savage in it."
"Probably they're yelling their satisfaction over the number of men they've seen killed and wounded today," ventured Monty Scruggs. "Does 'em good to see men shooting at one another instead of birds."
"Dumbed little brutes," grumbled Shorty, nursing his hurt foot, "if they'd bin wrastlin' all day with a mule train they'd be too tired to go yellin' around like that. I always did hate a whip-poor-will, anyway.
They hain't got sense enough to do anything but yell, jest like a pasel o' rebel cavalry."
"Great Scott! I wisht I knowed whether we're goin' to stay here tonight," said Si, handling his blanket roll with a look of anticipation.
"No," said the Orderly, coming down from the right of the regiment.
"We're to move forward about a mile, and establish a line for the rest of the brigade to form on. We're to go quietly, without noise or commands, and then bivouac without fires. Get your guns and fall in quietly."
As ill-tempered as tired, the boys roused up from the ground, and began taking their guns from the stacks. Harry Joslin snatched his out first, and the stack, falling over, the bayonet points struck Gid Mackall's face. The angry Gid responded with a blow landed on the side of Harry's head. In an instant the two clinched, and the others, who were in no better humor, began striking at one another in blind temper. Si and Shorty snatched the two principals apart with a good deal of violence and much show of their own tempers.
"You long legged sand hill crane," said Si, shaking Gid. "Will you always be kickin' up a rumpus? I'll break your neck if you don't act better."
"You senseless little bantam," said Shorty, with his grip on Harry's throat; "will you always be raising a ruction? Will I have to wring your neck to learn you to behave?"
"Let him alone, Shorty," said Si irritably. "He ain't to blame. This gangling fly-up the crick started it." And he gave Gid another shake.
"You let him alone. Si," said Shorty crossly. "I know better. This whelp started it, as he always does. I'll throw him down and tramp on him."
"You won't do nothin' o' the kind. Shorty. Don't you contradict me. Let him go, I tell you."
"You take your hands off that boy, or I'll make you, Si Klegg," said Shorty hotly. "I won't see you imposin' on somebody's that's smaller'n you."
The spectacle of the two partners quarreling startled them all. They stopped and looked aghast.
"Here, what's all this disorder here," said the Orderly, coming up, impetuously, and as cross as any one. "Why don't you get into line as ordered? Sergeant Klegg, you're always making trouble for me."
"I ain't doin' nothing o' the kind. What's the sense o' your sayin' sich a thing?" Si retorted. "You know it ain't true."
"Si Klegg, be careful how you call me a liar," answered the Orderly.
"What in the world does all this mean?" said Capt. McGillicuddy angrily, as he stepped back to them. "What are you wasting time squabbling before the men for? Fall into your places at once, and don't let me hear another word from any of you. Don't you see the regiment is moving?"
"We'll finish this later," the Orderly whispered to Si, as he went to his place on the right.
"I'll settle with you, Shorty, when I have more time," Si remarked as he took his place.
"The sooner the better," grunted Shorty. "You can't run over me, if you are a Sergeant."
The wearied men went stumbling along the rough road for what seemed the longest mile ever known. It had grown very dark. At last a form separated itself from the bank of blackness on the left, and a voice said in a penetrating whisper:
"Is this the 200th Ind?"
"Yes," answered the Colonel.
"I'm Lieut. Snowden, of the General's staff," said the whisper.
"Yes; I recognize your voice," answered the Colonel.
"I was sent here," continued the Whisper, "to post you when you came up. You will make this your right, and form out there to the left. Do it without the slightest noise. There is a strong force of rebels out there in front. They have a line of works with abatis in front, and a fort on the hill there to the right, as you can see by looking up against the sky. You will not allow any fires to be made or lights to be shown. The other regiments will come up and form on your right and left, and you will be ready to attack and carry the line immediately in front of you the moment that it is light enough to see to move. The signal will be given by the headquarters bugle."
"Very good," replied the Colonel. "Tell the General that we'll be ready, and he'll find us inside the rebel line five minutes after the bugle sounds."
"In the meanwhile," continue the Aid, "you will keep a sharp lookout.