You may be attacked, and if you see signs of evacuation you are to attack, and the other regiments will support you. The General will come up later and give you further instructions. Good night."
The men nearest the Colonel heard plainly all that was said, and it was soon known throughout the regiment. The men seemed to forget their fatigue as they moved alertly but warily into line to the left, and studied intently the sky-line of the rising ground in front.
The whip-poor-wills were still calling, but at the flanks and rear of the regiment. None of them called in front.
"It's full o' rebels over there; that's the reason," said Si to himself, as he noted this. "Yes, they're all at home, and goin' to shoot," he added in a loud whisper. "Lay down, everybody."
He was none too soon. The tramping through the bushes, and the various noises that bodies of men will make when in motion, had reached the ears of the alert rebels. A dazzling series of flashes ran along the sky-line, and a flight of bullets sang wickedly over the heads of the 200th Ind., striking in the bushes and trees far behind them.
"Don't anybody yell! Don't anybody shoot!" called the Colonel in a loud whisper, and it was repeated by the line oflficers. "It will reveal our position. Lie down and keep perfectly quiet. They're overshooting us."
The rebel battery in the fort waked up, and, more to show its good will than anything else, began shelling the surrounding landscape.
One of our batteries, a mile or so to the rear, which had not had an opportunity to fire during the day, could not resist this challenge, and began throwing shells at the fort with so fair an aim as to draw the attention of the rebel battery to it.
The lurid flashes of the muskets, cannon, and shells revealed a belt of jagged abatis several rods wide covering the entire front of the fort and breastworks.
"Great Scott!" muttered Si to himself, for he was not on speaking terms with Shorty, and would not alarm the boys; "there's a porcupine nest to git through. How in the Nation are we ever goin' to do it?"
"Unroll your blankets and lie down on them," came down the line from the Colonel. "Lay your guns beside you. Don't attempt to stack them. You may attract the attention of the rebels. Everybody keep his place, and be ready to form and move at once."
"Stop firing. What are you shooting at?" said a voice of authority in the rebel works. "Who gave the order to fire?"
"The men began it themselves," said a second voice. "They heard Yankees moving over there, and commenced shooting at them."
"How do you know there are any Yankees out there? I don't believe they have advanced beyond the crest of the hill. I think they are all going down toward Resaca. Haven't you any pickets out there?"
"No. We only moved in here this afternoon, and did not know how long we were going to stay. I was ordered to stay here till further orders, to protect the road beyond."
"Well, we haven't any ammunition to waste firing at uncertainties.
There's enough Yankees in sight all the time for all the bullets we have, without wasting any on imaginary ones. It'll be time enough for you to begin shooting when you see them coming to the edge of the abatis there. Before they get through that you'll have time enough to shoot away all the ammunition you have."
"I'm going to see whether there are any Yankees there," said the second voice in the rebel works.
"Jim, you and Joe go down to the edge of the abatis and see what you can see."
The wearied boys had nearly all fallen asleep on their blankets. Even the noisy artillery duel had not kept Jim Humphreys awake, and Monty Scruggs and Alf Russell followed his example soon after the firing ceased. Then Harry Joslyn and Gid Mackall, spreading their blankets apart for the first time since they had been in the service, sought rest from their fatigue and forgetfulness of their mutual anger. Si and Shorty kept sternly apart. Shorty occupied himself in fixing the blankets comfortably for a nest for little Pete Skidmore, while Si, brooding over the way that Shorty "had flared up about nothin' at all,"
and the Orderly-Sergeant's and Capt. McGillicuddy's unjust heat to him, had kept his eyes fixed on the skyline beyond, and had listened to the conversation of the rebel officers. It occurred to him that by watching the two rebels come down he might get an idea of a passage through the abatis, which would be useful in the morning. He strained his eyes to catch sight of their movements.
He saw two projections against the sky-line, which he knew were the men crossing the works. They separated, and he could make out two black blotches above the level of darkness and moving down the slope. One came almost directly toward him, the other going to the left. It occurred to him to capture one of the men. He would have suggested to Shorty to get the other, but he could not bring himself to speak to his partner.
Keeping his eyes fixed on the man directly in front, he slowly wriggled forward without rising. The man was evidently coming cautiously, halting every few steps, and looking and listening.
Perfect quiet reigned in the regiment. The men were mostly asleep. Those who were awake were intently watching the hill for some sign of the enemy, or as silently foreboding the happenings of the morrow.
Without making the least noise, Si reached the edge of the abatis. There a young tulip tree had been left standing, and its plentiful branches and large leaves made a thick mass of darkness. He rose upright behind, but his foot came down on a dead stick, which broke with a sharp crack.
All the blood rushed to his heart. But at the same instant his head had disturbed a whip-poor-will who had taken refuge there from the noise.
She flew away with a tumult of plaintive "whips." The rebel in front halted for a long time. Then he apparently concluded that an owl was after the whip-poor-will, and, reassured, came forward.
As he had crawled along. Si had felt with his hands that he was on a tolerably beaten path, which ran by the sapling he was now standing behind. He was sure that this led through the abatis, and the rebel was coming down it. The rebel came on so near that Si could hear his breathing, and Si feared he could hear his. The rebel was carrying his gun at a trail in his right hand, and putting all his powers into his eyes and ears to detect signs of the presence of Yankees. He hesitated for a little while before the sapling, and then stepped past it.
As he did so Si shot out his right arm and caught him around the neck with so quick and tight a hug that the rebel could not open his mouth to yell. Si raised his arm so as to press the rebel's jaws together, and with his left hand reached for his gun. The rebel swayed and struggled, but the slender Southerner was no match for the broad-shouldered Indiana boy, whose muscles had been knit by hard work.
The struggle was only momentary until Si secured the gun, and the rebel's muscles relaxed from the stoppage of his breath.
"If you say a word, or try to, you're a dead man," Si whispered, as he dropped the gun, and substituted his left hand at the man's throat for his right arm. Taking silence for acquiescence, Si picked up his own gun and started with his prisoner for the Colonel. He walked upright boldly now, for the watchers on the rebel works could not see that there was more than one man in the path.
The Colonel ordered Si to bring his prisoner back into a gully some distance behind the line, where he could be interrogated without the sound reaching the men in the works.
"Where do you belong?" asked the Colonel.
"To Kunnel Wheatstone's Jawjy rijimint."
"How many men have you got over there in the works."
"Well, a right smart passul."
"What do you mean by a right smart parcel?"
"Well, a good big heap."
"What, a thousand?"
"Yes, I reckon so."
"I 'spects so."
"You don't seem to have a clear idea of numbers. How many regiments have you got over there?"
"Well, thar's Kunnel Wheatstone's Jawjy rijimint--that's mine; then thar's Kunnel Tarrant's South Carliny rijimint, and then thar's Kunnel Bird's Tennessee rijimint, and I don't mind how many others. They've bin comin' and goin' all day, and I hain't paid no attention to 'em. I only know that thar's enough to give yo'uns a wallopin' if yo'uns only come on."
"Sergeant," said the Colonel, "you did a splendid thing in capturing this man and bringing him to me, but I fear I shall not get as much information out of him as I'd like to. I don't presume anybody really knows just how many men are over there. We've got to jump the works and take the chances on what we find."
"We're ready the minute you give the word. Colonel," said Si, saluting.
"Colonel," said Shorty's voice out of the darkness, "I've brung you one o' the rebel scouts that was piroutin' out there. I don't know as you kin make much out o' him, though, for the welt I fetched him with my gun bar'l seems to've throwed his thinkery out o' gear, and he can't talk straight."
"And so you got the other one," Si started to say to his partner, but then he remembered Shorty's "flarin' up," and held his tongue.
"I don't imagine that his 'thinkery,' as you call it, was of much account when it was in order, if it was no better than this other man's," said the Colonel, with a smile. "Perhaps, if he could think better he wouldn't be in the rebel army. Sergeant (to the Provost-Sergeant), take charge of these two men. Give them something to eat, and send them to Division Headquarters."
Si and Shorty carefully avoided one another on their way back to the company, and declined to discuss their exploits with either the Orderly-Sergeant or Capt. McGillicuddy.
"Go out and git you a rebel for yourself, if you want to know about 'em," Shorty had snapped at the Orderly. "There's plenty more up there on the hill. It's full of 'em."