The youth awakened slowly. He came gradually back to a position from which he could regard himself. For moments he had been scrutinizing his person in a dazed way as if he had never before seen himself. Then he picked up his cap from the ground. He wriggled in his jacket to make a more comfortable fit, and kneeling relaced his shoe. He thoughtfully mopped his reeking features.
So it was all over at last! The supreme trial had been passed. The red, formidable difficulties of war had been vanquished.
He went into an ecstasy of self-satisfaction. He had the most delightful sensations of his life. Standing as if apart from himself, he viewed that last scene. He perceived that the man who had fought thus was magnificent.
He felt that he was a fine fellow. He saw himself even with those ideals which he had considered as far beyond him. He smiled in deep gratification.
Upon his fellows he beamed tenderness and good will. Gee! aint it hot, hey? he said affably to a man who was polishing his streaming face with his coat sleeves.
You bet! said the other, grinning sociably. I never seen sech dumb hotness. He sprawled out luxuriously on the ground. Gee, yes! An I hope we dont have no more fightin till a week from Monday.
There were some handshakings and deep speeches with men whose features were familiar, but with whom the youth now felt the bonds of tied hearts. He helped a cursing comrade to bind up a wound of the shin.
But, of a sudden, cries of amazement broke out along the ranks of the new regiment. Here they come agin! Here they come agin! The man who had sprawled upon the ground started up and said, Gosh!
The youth turned quick eyes upon the field. He discerned forms begin to swell in masses out of a distant wood. He again saw the tilted flag speeding forward.
The shells, which had ceased to trouble the regiment for a time, came swirling again, and exploded in the grass or among the leaves of the trees. They looked to be strange war flowers bursting into fierce bloom.
The men groaned. The luster faded from their eyes. Their smudged countenances now expressed a profound dejection. They moved their stiffened bodies slowly, and watched in sullen mood the frantic approach of the enemy. The slaves toiling in the temple of this god began to feel rebellion at his harsh tasks.
They fretted and complained each to each. Oh, say, this is too much of a good thing! Why cant somebody send us supports?
We aint never goin to stand this second banging. I didnt come here to fight the hull damn rebel army.
There was one who raised a doleful cry. I wish Bill Smithers had trod on my hand, insteader me treddin on hisn. The sore joints of the regiment creaked as it painfully floundered into position to repulse.
The youth stared. Surely, he thought, this impossible thing was not about to happen. He waited as if he expected the enemy to suddenly stop, apologize, and retire bowing. It was all a mistake.
But the firing began somewhere on the regimental line and ripped along in both directions. The level sheets of flame developed great clouds of smoke that tumbled and tossed in the mild wind near the ground for a moment, and then rolled through the ranks as through a grate. The clouds were tinged an earthlike yellow in the sunrays and in the shadow were a sorry blue. The flag was sometimes eaten and lost in this mass of vapor, but more often it projected, sun-touched, resplendent.
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