The Orderly-Sergeant and his detail came back for the things, and Shorty and the boys, picking up those belonging to the squad, made their way to the company.
By the time they got back everybody's emotions had subsided sufficiently to allow him to remember that he was terribly hungry, and that the next business in order should be the cooking of the first warm meal they had had for more than a day. Fires were soon blazing in every direction, and the air was fragrant with the smell of hot coffee and cooking meat. Even Monty Scruggs felt that the kink had gone out of his backbone, and the disturbance in his dietetic department had sufficiently subsided to allow him to enjoy a cup of coffee and piece of toasted meat on a hardtack. The Surgeon had reached Gid Mackall, and had put him in comfortable shape.
The bodies of Bob Willis and Jim Humphreys were wrapped in their blankets, and mournfully consigned to the earth. A cedar bush was stuck in the head of each grave, and Si, finding a piece of smooth board and a chunk of soft charcoal from a fire, sat down on the bank, and begun laboriously composing the following inscription:
JAMES HUMFRI CO. Q.
200th injianny VolunTer Infantry KiLD may, 15th 1864 He dide For His country The lord luvs a
"That's all right. Si," said Shorty coming up with his mouthful of hardtack and meat, and inspecting Si's work with critical approval.
"You kin lay away over me and all the rest when it comes to writin' and composin'. And you know how to spell, too. I wish I had your education.
But I never had a chance to go to school."
"Then you think it'll do, Shorty," said Si, much flattered by his partner's approval.
"Yes, it's just bully. But I think you ought to say something about Jim's good character. That's usual on tombstones. You might say of him that he had in him the makin' of the finest poker player in the Army of the Cumberland. I never see a sleepyheaded boy pick up the fine pints o'
the game like he did, and he had nerve, too, along with his science."
"No, it wouldn't do at all to put anything o' that kind on," answered Si, going to the grave, and driving the board down with a pick. "Mustn't let Jim's folks know for the world that he gambled. It'd be the last straw on his poor old mother, who's a strict Baptist. She may stand hearing that he's killed, but never could that he played cards. What in the world's become of Alf Russell, do you s'pose?"
"Who in Jeff Davis's dominions is that comin' up?" said Shorty, scanning an approaching figure. "Looks as if he'd had his head busted and then tied up agin with strings."
The figure certainly looked like Alf Russell and wore Alf Russell's clothes, but the head was unrecognizable. A broad white bandage encircled the face, going from the top of the forehead around under the chin, and there were several folds of it. Then it ran around the head transversely, covering the nose and the cheeks, and only allowing the mouth and the eyes to show.
"Hello, boys," said a weak voice, which was unmistakably Alf Russell's.
"Hello, Alf," said Si delightedly. "I'm so glad to see you. I've bin huntin' everywhere for you. What's happened to you? Badly hurt?"
"Nothing, only the left side o' my head tore out," said Alf feebly.
"Something struck me, probably a bomb-shell, just as I was going up the bank after you. I went down to our Surgeon, but he was too busy to attend to me. I then found the brigade hospital, but the Surgeons there were too busy, too. They gave me a roll of bandages, and told me to fix it up myself. I did it with the help of one of the men who was waiting to have his leg dressed. I fancy I did quite a neat piece of bandaging, as well as the Surgeons themselves could've done it. Don't you think so?"
"Great Scott!" gasped Si, "you couldn't be walkin' around with the side of your head knocked out. I'm astonished at you."
"So'm I," returned Alf placidly. "I'm surprised that I'm doing as well as I am. But I gave myself good attendance, and that's a great thing.
I'm awful hungry. Got anything to eat? Where's my haversack?"
"Here it is," said Si, readily. "And here's a cup o' hot coffee. I'll brile you a piece o' meat. But really, I don't think you ought to eat anything before the Surgeon sees you. Mebbe it won't be good for you."
"I'll chance it," said Alf desperately, reaching for the cup of coffee.
"I'm sure it'll be better for me to eat something."
"Le's go down and see the Surgeon," insisted Si.
"No," protested Alf, "it ain't hurting me much now, and he's awful busy with other men, so we hadn't better interrupt him."
"The Surgeon ought to see you at once, Alf," interjected Shorty. "Here comes one of 'em now. Doctor, will you please look at this boy."
"Certainly," said the Surgeon, stopping on his way. "I guess I can spare a minute. Take off that bandage, my boy."
"Don't mind me. Doctor," said Alf. "'Taint hurting me now, at all, scarcely. I did it up very carefully."
"Take off the bandage at once, I tell you," said the Surgeon imperatively. "I haven't any time to waste. Let me see your wound."
Alf set down his cup of coffee, and began laboriously unwinding the long bandage, while the rest stood around in anxious expectation. Yards of folds came off from around his forehead and chin, and then he reached that around his nose and the back of his head. Still the ghastly edges of the terrible wound did not develop. Finally the blood-soaked last layer came off, and revealed where a bullet had made a shallow but ugly-looking furrow across the cheek and made a nick in the ear.
"Alf, that rebel come dumbed nigh missin' you," said the greatly relieved Si.
"If you should happen to ketch cold in that it wouldn't git well for a week," added Shorty.
"Give me that bandage," said the Surgeon just before he hurried away.
"Take this sticking-plaster and draw the lips of the wound together, and if you keep the dirt out it may heal without a scar."
CHAPTER XVIII. AN ARTILLERY DUEL
AND A "DEMONSTRATION" ON THE ENEMY'S POSITION.
"RUSSELL, that ain't going to heal without a A scar," Alf Russell consoled himself, as he studied his hurt with a little round pocket looking-glass, a screen of bushes concealing him from his unappreciative comrades. "It's more than Monty Scruggs nor Harry Joslyn nor Sandy Baker'll have to show for the fight. It's even more than Gid Mackall has, even though he is knocked out. I ought to be sent to the hospital, too. It'll be something to write home to father and mother, and they'll put it in the paper and the folks'll talk about it. Gracious, there's a bugle blowing again. Wonder what that means?"
"That's the Headquarters bugle," said Si, pricking up his ears. "That's 'Attention.' Git your traps together, boys. 'Assembly' 'll come next."
"Good gracious!" gasped Alf Russell, coming out from behind the bushes, "they don't expect us to do any more fighting today, do they?"
"Very likely," said Shorty, helping Pete Skidmore on with his blanket-roll. "The job ain't done till it is done, and there's lots o'
rebels over there yit who need lickin'. Now's the best time to finish it. This ain't nothin' to Stone River and Chickamaugy. Got your canteen full, Pete? Better fill it before we start. Take mine, too. Don't go any further'n that first spring there, for I don't want to take no chances on losin' you again."
The cannonading in the distance grew fiercer, and regiments could be seen rushing up at the doublequick. Long, shrill rebel yells came from the hilltops, and were answered by volleys and deep-toned cheers.
Another bugle-call rang out from Brigade Headquarters.
"Fall in, Co. Q," sharply commanded the Orderly-Sergeant.
With a shiver of apprehension, with a nervous memory of the bitter hours just past, with the sight before their eyes of the scarcely-cold dead, the remainder of the company fell in with sadly-shrunken ranks.
"Orderly, we need some more cartridges," suggested Shorty.
"I've been thinking of that," replied the Orderly, "and wondering where to go for them."
"I saw some boxes of Enfields up there toward the battery," said Si.
"The rebels left 'em. They'll fit our guns, and them English cartridges is just as good as ours."
"Pike over and get them, quick, before the other fellows drop on to 'em," said the Orderly.
"Gracious! going to shoot the rebels with their own bullets," remarked Monty, who had nearly recovered, and came up pluckily to take his place in the ranks. "Isn't that great medicine! How I should like to pop one into that fellow that belted me with that bowlder."
"Hello, Monty," called Shorty jovially to drive out the sad thoughts.