"Where's Alf Russell?"
"Yes, Where's Alf Russell?" echoed Si, with a new pang clutching at his heart, for he then recalled that he had not seen Alf since he had helped him up the embankment, immediately after which Si's thoughts, had been engrossed by the struggle for the flag. "Did any of you boys see either Alf or Monty?" he asked nervously.
"And has anybody seen Pete Skidmore?" chimed in Shorty, his voice suddenly changing from a tone of exultation to one of deepest concern.
"Why don't some o' you speak? Are you all dumb?"
Somehow everybody instinctively stopped cheering, and an awed hush followed.
"All of Co. Q step this way," called out the Orderly-Sergeant. All of the usual "rasp" had left the strong, rough voice. There was a mournful tremor in it. "Fall in, Co. Q, over there by this pile of picks and shovels."
Scarcely 20 of the 80 stalwart youths who had lined up at the foot of the rugged palisades of Rocky Face two evenings before grouped themselves together in response to the Orderly's call.
Capt. McGillicuddy, the Orderly, Si, and Shorty strained their eyes to see more of the company disengaging themselves from the throng around the Colonel.
The Orderlies of the other companies called to their men to fall in at different places.
The Colonel looked at the muster with sad eyes.
"Didn't nobody see nothin' o' little Skidmore?" savagely repeated Shorty, walking back to the works and scanning the country round. "Was you all so blamed anxious lookin' out for yourselves that you didn't pay no attention to that little boy? Nice gang, you are."
"Orderly, take the company back into the abatis, and look for the boys,"
ordered Capt. McGillicuddy.
"'Tention, company!" commanded the Orderly. "Stack arms! Right face--Break ranks--March!"
"Hello, boys," said Monty Scruggs's voice, weak but unmistakably his, as the company recrossed the works.
"Great heavens! he's bin shot through the bowels?" thought Si, turning toward him with sickening apprehension of this most dreaded of wounds.
Then, aloud, with forced cheerfulness--"I hope you ain't hurt bad, Monty."
"I was hurt bad enough, the Lord knows," answered the boy with a wan smile. "I hain't been hurt so bad since I stubbed by sore toe last Summer. But I'm getting over it pretty fast. Just as I started up the bank a rebel threw a stone as big as my fist at me, and it took me square where I live. I thought at first that whole battery over there in the fort had shot at me all at once. Goodness, but it hurt! My, but that fellow could throw a stone! Seemed to me that it went clear into me, and bent my back-bone. I've been feeling to see if it wasn't bent. But we got the works all right, didn't we?"
"You bet we did," Si answered exultantly. "Licked the stuffin' out of 'em. Awful glad you're no worse hurt, Monty. Make your way inside there, and you'll find the Surgeon. He'll bring you around all right. We're goin' to look for the other boys."
"Alf Russell caught a bullet," said Monty Scruggs. "I heard him yell, and turned to look at him, when that rebel's bowlder gave me something else to think about, so I don't know where he is."
"Gid Mackall's lying over there, somewhere," said Larry Joslyn, who was all anxiety in regard to his old partner and antagonist. "Let me go and find him."
"Go ahead," said Si, helping Monty to his feet. "I'll be right with you."
While Si was going back the way he had come Shorty was tearing through the tangled brush, turning over the tree-tops by main strength, searching for Pete Skidmore. The rest of the company were seeking out the fallen ones hither and thither, and calling to one another, as they made discoveries, but Shorty only looked for Pete Skidmore. Si and Harry presently came to Gid Mackall's body, lying motionless in a pool of blood that dyed crimson the brown leaves thickly covering the ground.
His cap had fallen off, and his head had crushed down into a bunch of slender oak twigs; his eyes were closed, and his callow face white as paper.
"O, he's dead! He's stone dead," wailed Harry Joslyn. "And just think how I quarreled and fought with him this morning."
"Mebbe not," said Si, to whom such sights were more familiar, "That bullet hole in his blouse is too low down and too fur out to've hit either his heart or his lungs, seems to me. Mebbe he's only fainted from loss o' blood. Ketch hold o' his feet. I'll take his head, and we'll carry him back to the Surgeon. Likely he kin bring him to."
The rough motion roused Gid, and as they clambered back over the works, Harry was thrilled to see him open his eyes a little ways.
"Apparently," said the busy Surgeon, stopping for a minute, with knife and bullet-forceps in his bloodstained hands, to give a brief glance and two or three swift touches to Gid, "the ball has struck his side and broke a rib or two. He's swooned from loss of blood. The blood's stopped flowing now, and he'll come around all right. Lay him over there in the shade of those trees. Put something under his head, and make him as comfortable as possible. I'll attend to him as soon as I can get through with these men who are much worse off than he is."
And the over-worked Surgeon hurried away to where loud groans were imperatively calling for his helpful ministrations.
Si and Harry broke down a thick layer of cedar branches to make a comfortable bed for Gid, placed a chunk under his head, and hurried away again to search for Alf Russell. They went over carefully that part of the works they had crossed, and the abatis in front, but could find no trace of him. They feared that after he had been shot he had crawled back under the shelter of some tree-tops, to protect him from the flying bullets, and died there. They turned over and pulled apart the branches for a wide space, but did not succeed in finding him, or any trace. But they found Bob Willis, stark in death, lying prone in the top of a young hickory, into which he had crashed, when the fatal bullet found him pressing courageously forward. Him they carried pitifully forward, and added to the lengthening row of the regiment's dead, which was being gathered up.
Then they went reluctantly back--shuddering with the certainty of what they should find, to bring in Jim Humphreys's body.
Harry Joslyn was so agitated by the sight of Humphreys's mangled head and staring eyes that Si made him turn his back, place himself between the feet, one of which he took in each hand, and go before in carrying the body back. Si stripped the blouse up so as to cover the head, and took the shoulders between his hands, and so another body was added to the row of the regimental dead.
Si himself was so sick at heart that he had little inclination to continue the search farther than to look over the wounded, as they were brought in, in hopes of finding some of his squad there.
"There are three of us yet missing," he said. "Mebbe they've got mixed up with the Kankakee boys on our left, and'll come in all right after awhile. Mebbe they're out with Shorty somewhere. I'll wait till he comes in. Harry, I expect me and you'd better dig poor Jim's grave. There's no tellin' how long we'll stay here. Jim 'd rather we put him under than strangers what don't know and care for him. It's all we kin do for the poor feller; I'll git a pick and you take a shovel. We'll make the grave right here, where the Colonel lit when he jumped over the works with the flag. That'll tickle Jim, if he's lookin' down from the clouds. Too bad, he couldn't have lived long enough to see us go over the embankment, with the Colonel in the lead, wavin' the flag."
"The best thing," said Harry, forgetting his sorrow in the exciting memories of the fight, "was to see the Orderly sock his bayonet up to the shank in the rebel, and you blow off that officer's head--"
"Hush, Harry. Never speak o' that," Si admonished him.
"And see you," continued Harry, "stand off all three of them rebels, who was tryin' to bayonet you, until Corp'l Elliott came raring down, swinging his gun like a flail. Great Scott! didn't he lay 'em out, though! I saw it all, as I was loading my gun in nine times to shoot one of the rebels attacking you, I'd just got the cap on, when Corp'l Elliott loped in."
"Orderly," said Si a little later, "we've got Jim Humphreys's grave dug.
Will you take the things out of his pockets to send to his folks? and then we'll bury him."
"Better wait till the Captain comes back and gives the orders," said the Orderly. "I don't want to touch his pockets without the Captain's orders. Then, we ought to have his blanket to bury him in. You go ahead and dig Bob Willis's grave, and I'll take a detail back and bring up the blankets and things."
Shorty had pushed his unavailing search for little Pete far past the point where he remembered to have seen the boy, in the midst of the fighting. He had torn his hands and worn out his strength in tearing aside the brush to expose every possible place that the dying boy or his dead body might be concealed. He had reached the further side of the obstruction, and sat down on a stump, in despair of heart and exhaustion of body.
Those with him, more intent on getting something to eat, had pushed on back to where their haversacks and canteens and blankets had been left.
Presently Shorty heard a call across the little valley:
"Cor--po--ral Ell--iott. Cor--po--ral Ell--iott!"
"Well, what is it?" Shorty called back, crustily.
"Lit--tle--Pete--and--Sandy--Ba--ker--is--o--ver--here," came back upon the bright Spring air.
Shorty sprang up electrified, and tore across the intervening space at the double-quick. He found Pete and Sandy Baker standing soberly on guard over the line of the company's blankets and belongings.
"Great Jehosephat, you little brats, how did you git here?" he exclaimed, snatching little Pete up and hugging him.
"Why shouldn't we be here?" asked Pete, as soon as he could get breath.
"Didn't the Captain order us to stay here? Me and Sandy follered you fellers until you jumped inside the works, and the rebels was a runnin'.
We stood on top o' the bank and shot at the rebels as fast as we could load our guns. We kept shootin' at 'em till they got clean down to the road. Then we saw the Captain lookin' over our way, and we thought he was comin' over there to skin us alive for leaving the things, and we ducked down behind the bank and run back here as fast as we could fetch it. You ain't goin' to tell the Captain on us, and have us tied up by the thumbs, are you, Corporal? Everything's safe. Nothing's gone. You won't tell, will you?"
"O, you worthless little scamp," said Shorty, with tears of joy in his eyes. "You ain't worth the powder that'd blow you up. I could pound you for the worry you've given me in the last hour. But you ain't hurt a bit, are you?"
"Nope," answered Pete. "But we both got awfully scratched runnin'
through that brush. Say, wasn't the way the boys jumped the works and waded into them sardines just grand?"