The Tree of Appomattox
The Tree of Appomattox
THE WOMAN AT THE HOUSE
The men marched on for a long time, and, after a while, they heard the hum of many voices and the restless movements that betokened the presence of numerous troops. Dick, who had dismounted, walked forward a little distance with Colonel Winchester, and, in the moonlight, he was able to see that a large division of the army was gathered near, resting on its arms. It was obvious that the important movement, of which he had been hearing so much, was at hand, but the colonel volunteered nothing concerning its nature.
The troops were allowed to lie down, and, with the calmness that comes of long experience, they soon fell asleep. But the officers waited and watched, and Dick saw other regiments arriving. Warner, who had pushed through some bushes, came back and said in a whisper:
"I've seen a half-dozen great mounds of fresh earth."
"Earth taken out to make a trench, no doubt," said Dick.
But Warner shook his head.
"There's too much of it," he said, "and it's been carried too far to the rear. In my opinion extensive mining operations have been going on here."
"For what?" asked Pennington. "Not for silver or gold. We're no treasure hunters, and besides, there's none here."
Warner shook his head again.
"I don't know," he replied, "but I'm quite sure that it has something to do, perhaps all to do, with the movement now at hand. To the right of us, regiments, including several of colored troops, are already forming in line of battle, and I've no doubt our turn will come before long."
"We must be intending to make an attack," said Dick, "but I don't suppose we'll move until day."
He had learned long since that night attacks were very risky. Friend was likely to fire into friend and the dusk and confusion invariably forbade victory. But the faculties that create anxiety and alarm had been dulled for the time by immense exertions and dangers, and he placidly awaited the event, whatever it might be.
"What time is it?" asked Pennington.
"Half past three in the morning," replied Dick, who was able to see the face of his watch.
"Not such a long wait then. Day comes early this time of the year."
"You lads can sit down and make yourselves comfortable," said Colonel Winchester. "It's desirable for you to be as fresh as possible when you're wanted. I'm glad to see the men sleeping. They'll receive a signal in ample time."
The young officers followed his suggestion, but they kept very wide awake, talking for a little while in whispers and then sinking away into silence. The noise from the massed troops near them decreased also and Dick's curiosity began to grow again. He stood up, but he saw no movement, nothing to indicate the nature of any coming event. He looked at his watch again. Dawn was almost at hand. A narrow band of gray would soon rim the eastern hills. An aide arrived, gave a dispatch to Colonel Winchester, and quickly passed on.
The men were awakened and stood up, shaking the sleep from their eyes and then, through habit, looking to their arms and ammunition. The thread of gray showed in the east.
"Whatever it is, it will come soon," whispered Warner to Dick.
The gray thread broadened and became a ribbon of silver. The silver, as it widened, was shot through with pink and red and yellow, the colors of the morning. Dick caught a glimpse of massed bayonets near him, and of the Southern trenches rising slowly out of the dusk not far away. Then the earth rocked.
He felt a sudden violent and convulsive movement that nearly threw him from his feet, and the whole world in front of him blazed with fire, as if a volcano, after a long silence, had burst suddenly into furious activity. Black objects, the bodies of men, were borne upon the mass of shooting flames, and the roar was so tremendous that it was heard thirty miles away.
Dick had been