Soldiers by Stephen Crane
The girl was in the front room on the second floor, peering through
the blinds. It was the best room. There was a very new rag carpet on
the floor. The edges of it had been dyed with alternate stripes of red
and green. Upon the wooden mantel there were two little puffy figures
in claya shepherd and a shepherdess probably. A triangle of pink and
white wool hung carefully over the edge of this shelf. Upon the bureau
there was nothing at all save a spread newspaper, with edges folded to
make it into a mat. The quilts and sheets had been removed from the bed
and were stacked upon a chair. The pillows and the great feather
mattress were muffled and tumbled until they resembled great dumplings.
The picture of a man terribly leaden in complexion hung in an oval
frame on one white wall and steadily confronted the bureau.
From between the slats of the blinds she had a view of the road as
it wended across the meadow to the woods, and again where it reappeared
crossing the hill, half a mile away. It lay yellow and warm in the
summer sunshine. From the long grasses of the meadow came the rhythmic
click of the insects. Occasional frogs in the hidden brook made a
peculiar chug-chug sound, as if somebody throttled them. The leaves of
the wood swung in gentle winds. Through the dark-green branches of the
pines that grew in the front yard could be seen the mountains, far to
the southeast, and inexpressibly blue.
Mary's eyes were fastened upon the little streak of road that
appeared on the distant hill. Her face was flushed with excitement, and
the hand which stretched in a strained pose on the sill trembled
because of the nervous shaking of the wrist. The pines whisked their
green needles with a soft, hissing sound against the house.
At last the girl turned from the window and went to the head of the
stairs. Well, I just know they're coming, anyhow, she cried
argumentatively to the depths.
A voice from below called to her angrily: They ain't. We've never
seen one yet. They never come into this neighbourhood. You just come
down here and 'tend to your work insteader watching for soldiers.
Well, ma, I just know they're coming.
A voice retorted with the shrillness and mechanical violence of
occasional housewives. The girl swished her skirts defiantly and
returned to the window.
Upon the yellow streak of road that lay across the hillside there
now was a handful of black dotshorsemen. A cloud of dust floated
away. The girl flew to the head of the stairs and whirled down into the
They're coming! They're coming!
It was as if she had cried Fire! Her mother had been peeling
potatoes while seated comfortably at the table. She sprang to her feet.
Noit can't behow you know it's themwhere? The stubby knife fell
from her hand, and two or three curls of potato skin dropped from her
apron to the floor.
The girl turned and dashed upstairs. Her mother followed, gasping
for breath, and yet contriving to fill the air with questions,
reproach, and remonstrance. The girl was already at the window, eagerly
pointing. There! There! See 'em! See 'em!
Rushing to the window, the mother scanned for an instant the road on
the hill. She crouched back with a groan. It's them, sure as the
world! It's them! She waved her hands in despairing gestures.
The black dots vanished into the wood. The girl at the window was
quivering and her eyes were shining like water when the sun flashes.
Hush! They're in the woods! They'll be here directly. She bent down
and intently watched the green archway whence the road emerged. Hush!
I hear 'em coming, she swiftly whispered to her mother, for the elder
woman had dropped dolefully upon the mattress and was sobbing. And
indeed the girl could hear the quick, dull trample of horses. She
stepped aside with sudden apprehension, but she bent her head forward
in order to still scan the road.
Here they are!
There was something very theatrical in the sudden appearance of
these men to the eyes of the girl. It was as if a scene had been
shifted. The forest suddenly disclosed thema dozen brown-faced
troopers in bluegalloping.
Oh, look! breathed the girl. Her mouth was puckered into an
expression of strange fascination as if she had expected to see the
troopers change into demons and gloat at her. She was at last looking
upon those curious beings who rode down from the Norththose men of
legend and colossal talethey who were possessed of such marvellous
The little troop rode in silence. At its head was a youthful fellow
with some dim yellow stripes upon his arm. In his right hand he held
his carbine, slanting upward, with the stock resting upon his knee. He
was absorbed in a scrutiny of the country before him.
At the heels of the sergeant the rest of the squad rode in thin
column, with creak of leather and tinkle of steel and tin. The girl
scanned the faces of the horsemen, seeming astonished vaguely to find
them of the type she knew.
The lad at the head of the troop comprehended the house and its
environments in two glances. He did not check the long, swinging stride
of his horse. The troopers glanced for a moment like casual tourists,
and then returned to their study of the region in front. The heavy
thudding of the hoofs became a small noise. The dust, hanging in
sheets, slowly sank.
The sobs of the woman on the bed took form in words which, while
strong in their note of calamity, yet expressed a querulous mental
reaching for some near thing to blame. And it'll be lucky fer us if we
ain't both butchered in our sleepplundering and running off
horsesold Santo's goneyou see if he ain'tplundering
But, ma, said the girl, perplexed and terrified in the same
moment, they've gone.
Oh, but they'll come back! cried the mother, without pausing her
wail. They'll come backtrust them for thatrunning off horses. O
John, John! why did you, why did you? She suddenly lifted herself and
sat rigid, staring at her daughter. Mary, she said in tragic whisper,
the kitchen door isn't locked! Already she was bended forward to
listen, her mouth agape, her eyes fixed upon her daughter.
Mother, faltered the girl.
Her mother again whispered, The kitchen door isn't locked.
Motionless and mute they stared into each other's eyes.
At last the girl quavered, We betterwe better go and lock it.
The mother nodded. Hanging arm in arm they stole across the floor
toward the head of the stairs. A board of the floor creaked. They
halted and exchanged a look of dumb agony.
At last they reached the head of the stairs. From the kitchen came
the bass humming of the kettle and frequent sputterings and cracklings
from the fire. These sounds were sinister. The mother and the girl
stood incapable of movement. There's somebody down there! whispered
the elder woman.
Finally, the girl made a gesture of resolution. She twisted her arm
from her mother's hands and went two steps downward. She addressed the
kitchen: Who's there? Her tone was intended to be dauntless. It rang
so dramatically in the silence that a sudden new panic seized them as
if the suspected presence in the kitchen had cried out to them. But the
girl ventured again: Is there anybody there? No reply was made save
by the kettle and the fire.
With a stealthy tread the girl continued her journey. As she neared
the last step the fire crackled explosively and the girl screamed. But
the mystic presence had not swept around the corner to grab her, so she
dropped to a seat on the step and laughed. It waswas only thethe
fire, she said, stammering hysterically.
Then she arose with sudden fortitude and cried: Why, there isn't
anybody there! I know there isn't. She marched down into the kitchen.
In her face was dread, as if she half expected to confront something,
but the room was empty. She cried joyously: There's nobody here! Come
on down, ma. She ran to the kitchen door and locked it.
The mother came down to the kitchen. Oh, dear, what a fright I've
had! It's given me the sick headache. I know it has.
Oh, ma, said the girl.
I know it hasI know it. Oh, if your father was only here! He'd
settle those Yankees mighty quickhe'd settle 'em! Two poor helpless
Why, ma, what makes you act so? The Yankees haven't
Oh, they'll be backthey'll be back. Two poor helpless women! Your
father and your uncle Asa and Bill off galavanting around and fighting
when they ought to be protecting their home! That's the kind of men
they are. Didn't I say to your father just before he left
Ma, said the girl, coming suddenly from the window, the barn door
is open. I wonder if they took old Santo?
Oh, of course they haveof courseMary, I don't see what we are
going to doI don't see what we are going to do.
The girl said, Ma, I'm going to see if they took old Santo.
Mary, cried the mother, don't you dare!
But think of poor old Sant, ma.
Never you mind old Santo. We're lucky to be safe ourselves, I tell
you. Never mind old Santo. Don't you dare to go out there, MaryMary!
The girl had unlocked the door and stepped out upon the porch. The
mother cried in despair, Mary!
Why, there isn't anybody out here, the girl called in response.
She stood for a moment with a curious smile upon her face as of gleeful
satisfaction at her daring.
The breeze was waving the boughs of the apple trees. A rooster with
an air importantly courteous was conducting three hens upon a foraging
tour. On the hillside at the rear of the gray old barn the red leaves
of a creeper flamed amid the summer foliage. High in the sky clouds
rolled toward the north. The girl swung impulsively from the little
stoop and ran toward the barn.
The great door was open, and the carved peg which usually performed
the office of a catch lay on the ground. The girl could not see into
the barn because of the heavy shadows. She paused in a listening
attitude and heard a horse munching placidly. She gave a cry of delight
and sprang across the threshold. Then she suddenly shrank back and
gasped. She had confronted three men in gray seated upon the floor with
their legs stretched out and their backs against Santo's manger. Their
dust-covered countenances were expanded in grins.
As Mary sprang backward and screamed, one of the calm men in gray,
still grinning, announced, I knowed you'd holler. Sitting there
comfortably the three surveyed her with amusement.
Mary caught her breath, throwing her hand up to her throat. Oh!
she said, youyou frightened me!
We're sorry, lady, but couldn't help it no way, cheerfully
responded another. I knowed you'd holler when I seen you coming yere,
but I raikoned we couldn't help it no way. We hain't a-troubling this
yere barn, I don't guess. We been doing some mighty tall sleeping yere.
We done woke when them Yanks loped past.
Where did you come from? Diddid you escape from thethe
Yankees? The girl still stammered and trembled. The three soldiers
laughed. No, m'm. No, m'm. They never cotch us. We was in a muss down
the road yere about two mile. And Bill yere they gin it to him in the
arm, kehplunk. And they pasted me thar, too. Curious. And Sim yere, he
didn't get nothing, but they chased us all quite a little piece, and we
done lose track of our boys.
Was itwas it those who passed here just now? Did they chase you?
The men in gray laughed again. Whatthem? No, indeedee! There was
a mighty big swarm of Yanks and a mighty big swarm of our boys, too.
Whatthat little passel? No, m'm.
She became calm enough to scan them more attentively. They were much
begrimed and very dusty. Their gray clothes were tattered. Splashed mud
had dried upon them in reddish spots. It appeared, too, that the men
had not shaved in many days. In the hats there was a singular
diversity. One soldier wore the little blue cap of the Northern
infantry, with corps emblem and regimental number; one wore a great
slouch hat with a wide hole in the crown; and the other wore no hat at
all. The left sleeve of one man and the right sleeve of another had
been slit and the arms were neatly bandaged with clean cloth. These
hain't no more than two little cuts, explained one. We stopped up
yere to Mis' Leavittsshe said her name wasand she bind them for us.
Bill yere, he had the thirst come on him. And the fever too. We
Did you ever see my father in the army? asked Mary. John
Hincksonhis name is.
The three soldiers grinned again, but they replied kindly: No, m'm.
No, m'm, we hain't never. What is hein the cavalry?
No, said the girl. He and my uncle Asa and my cousinhis name is
Bill Parkerthey are all with Longstreetthey call him.
Oh, said the soldiers. Longstreet? Oh, they're a good smart ways
from yere. 'Way off up nawtheast. There hain't nothing but cavalry down
yere. They're in the infantry, probably.
We haven't heard anything from them for days and days, said Mary.
Oh, they're all right in the infantry, said one man, to be
consoling. The infantry don't do much fighting. They go bellering out
in a big swarm and only a few of 'em get hurt. But if they was in the
Mary interrupted him without intention. Are you hungry? she asked.
The soldiers looked at each other, struck by some sudden and
singular shame. They hung their heads. No, m'm, replied one at last.
Santo, in his stall, was tranquilly chewing and chewing. Sometimes
he looked benevolently over at them. He was an old horse and there was
something about his eyes and his forelock which created the impression
that he wore spectacles. Mary went and patted his nose. Well, if you
are hungry, I can get you something, she told the men. Or you might
come to the house.
We wouldn't dast go to the house, said one. That passel of Yanks
was only a scouting crowd, most like. Just an advance. More coming,
Well, I can bring you something, cried the girl eagerly. Won't
you let me bring you something?
Well, said a soldier with embarrassment, we hain't had much. If
you could bring us a little snack-likejust a snackwe'd
Without waiting for him to cease, the girl turned toward the door.
But before she had reached it she stopped abruptly. Listen! she
whispered. Her form was bent forward, her head turned and lowered, her
hand extended toward the men in a command for silence.
They could faintly hear the thudding of many hoofs, the clank of
arms, and frequent calling voices.
By cracky, it's the Yanks! The soldiers scrambled to their feet
and came toward the door. I knowed that first crowd was only an
The girl and the three men peered from the shadows of the barn. The
view of the road was intersected by tree trunks and a little henhouse.
However, they could see many horsemen streaming down the road. The
horsemen were in blue. Oh, hidehidehide! cried the girl, with a
sob in her voice.
Wait a minute, whispered a gray soldier excitedly. Maybe they're
going along by. No, by thunder, they hain't! They're halting. Scoot,
They made a noiseless dash into the dark end of the barn. The girl,
standing by the door, heard them break forth an instant later in
clamorous whispers. Where'll we hide? Where'll we hide? There hain't a
place to hide! The girl turned and glanced wildly about the barn. It
seemed true. The stock of hay had grown low under Santo's endless
munching, and from occasional levyings by passing troopers in gray. The
poles of the mow were barely covered, save in one corner where there
was a little bunch.
The girl espied the great feed box. She ran to it and lifted the
lid. Here! here! she called. Get in here.
They had been tearing noiselessly around the rear part of the barn.
At her low call they came and plunged at the box. They did not all get
in at the same moment without a good deal of a tangle. The wounded men
gasped and muttered, but they at last were flopped down on the layer of
feed which covered the bottom. Swiftly and softly the girl lowered the
lid and then turned like a flash toward the door.
No one appeared there, so she went close to survey the situation.
The troopers had dismounted and stood in silence by their horses. A
gray-bearded man, whose red cheeks and nose shone vividly above the
whiskers, was strolling about with two or three others. They wore
double-breasted coats, and faded yellow sashes were wound under their
black leather sword belts. The gray-bearded soldier was apparently
giving orders, pointing here and there.
Mary tiptoed to the feed box. They've all got off their horses,
she said to it. A finger projected from a knothole near the top and
said to her very plainly, Come closer. She obeyed, and then a muffled
voice could be heard: Scoot for the house, lady, and if we don't see
you again, why, much obliged for what you done.
Good-bye, she said to the feed box.
She made two attempts to walk dauntlessly from the barn, but each
time she faltered and failed just before she reached the point where
she could have been seen by the blue-coated troopers. At last, however,
she made a sort of a rush forward and went out into the bright
The group of men in double-breasted coats wheeled in her direction
at the instant. The gray-bearded officer forgot to lower his arm which
had been stretched forth in giving an order.
She felt that her feet were touching the ground in a most unnatural
manner. Her bearing, she believed, was suddenly grown awkward and
ungainly. Upon her face she thought that this sentence was plainly
written: There are three men hidden in the feed box.
The gray-bearded soldier came toward her. She stopped; she seemed
about to run away. But the soldier doffed his little blue cap and
looked amiable. You live here, I presume? he said.
Yes, she answered.
Well, we are obliged to camp here for the night, and as we've got
two wounded men with us I don't suppose you'd mind if we put them in
Inin the barn?
He became aware that she was agitated. He smiled assuringly. You
needn't be frightened. We won't hurt anything around here. You'll all
be safe enough.
The girl balanced on one foot and swung the other to and fro in the
grass. She was looking down at it. Butbut I don't think ma would
like it ifif you took the barn.
The old officer laughed. Wouldn't she? said he. That's so. Maybe
she wouldn't. He reflected for a time and then decided cheerfully:
Well, we will have to go ask her, anyhow. Where is she? In the house?
Yes, replied the girl, she's in the house. Sheshe'll be scared
to death when she sees you!
Well, you go and ask her then, said the soldier, always wearing a
benign smile. You go ask her and then come and tell me.
When the girl pushed open the door and entered the kitchen, she
found it empty. Ma! she called softly. There was no answer. The
kettle still was humming its low song. The knife and the curl of potato
skin lay on the floor.
She went to her mother's room and entered timidly. The new, lonely
aspect of the house shook her nerves. Upon the bed was a confusion of
coverings. Ma! called the girl, quaking in fear that her mother was
not there to reply. But there was a sudden turmoil of the quilts, and
her mother's head was thrust forth. Mary! she cried, in what seemed
to be a supreme astonishment, I thoughtI thought
Oh, ma, blurted the girl, there's over a thousand Yankees in the
yard, and I've hidden three of our men in the feed box!
The elder woman, however, upon the appearance of her daughter had
begun to thrash hysterically about on the bed and wail.
Ma, the girl exclaimed, and now they want to use the barnand
our men in the feed box! What shall I do, ma? What shall I do?
Her mother did not seem to hear, so absorbed was she in her grievous
flounderings and tears. Ma! appealed the girl. Ma!
For a moment Mary stood silently debating, her lips apart, her eyes
fixed. Then she went to the kitchen window and peeked.
The old officer and the others were staring up the road. She went to
another window in order to get a proper view of the road, and saw that
they were gazing at a small body of horsemen approaching at a trot and
raising much dust. Presently she recognised them as the squad that had
passed the house earlier, for the young man with the dim yellow chevron
still rode at their head. An unarmed horseman in gray was receiving
their close attention.
As they came very near to the house she darted to the first window
again. The gray-bearded officer was smiling a fine broad smile of
satisfaction. So you got him? he called out. The young sergeant
sprang from his horse and his brown hand moved in a salute. The girl
could not hear his reply. She saw the unarmed horseman in gray stroking
a very black mustache and looking about him coolly and with an
interested air. He appeared so indifferent that she did not understand
he was a prisoner until she heard the graybeard call out: Well, put
him in the barn. He'll be safe there, I guess. A party of troopers
moved with the prisoner toward the barn.
The girl made a sudden gesture of horror, remembering the three men
in the feed box.
The busy troopers in blue scurried about the long lines of stamping
horses. Men crooked their backs and perspired in order to rub with
cloths or bunches of grass these slim equine legs, upon whose splendid
machinery they depended so greatly. The lips of the horses were still
wet and frothy from the steel bars which had wrenched at their mouths
all day. Over their backs and about their noses sped the talk of the
Moind where yer plug is steppin', Finerty! Keep 'im aff me!
An ould elephant! He shtrides like a schoolhouse.
Bill's little marshe was plum beat when she come in with
Crawford's the hardest-ridin' cavalryman in the army. An he don't
use up a horse, neithermuch. They stay fresh when the others are most
Finerty, will yeh moind that cow a yours?
Amid a bustle of gossip and banter, the horses retained their air of
solemn rumination, twisting their lower jaws from side to side and
sometimes rubbing noses dreamfully.
Over in front of the barn three troopers sat talking comfortably.
Their carbines were leaned against the wall. At their side and outlined
in the black of the open door stood a sentry, his weapon resting in the
hollow of his arm. Four horses, saddled and accoutred, were conferring
with their heads close together. The four bridle reins were flung over
Upon the calm green of the land, typical in every way of peace, the
hues of war brought thither by the troops shone strangely. Mary, gazing
curiously, did not feel that she was contemplating a familiar scene. It
was no longer the home acres. The new blue, steel, and faded yellow
thoroughly dominated the old green and brown. She could hear the voices
of the men, and it seemed from their tone that they had camped there
for years. Everything with them was usual. They had taken possession of
the landscape in such a way that even the old marks appeared strange
and formidable to the girl.
Mary had intended to go and tell the commander in blue that her
mother did not wish his men to use the barn at all, but she paused when
she heard him speak to the sergeant. She thought she perceived then
that it mattered little to him what her mother wished, and that an
objection by her or by anybody would be futile. She saw the soldiers
conduct the prisoner in gray into the barn, and for a long time she
watched the three chatting guards and the pondering sentry. Upon her
mind in desolate weight was the recollection of the three men in the
It seemed to her that in a case of this description it was her duty
to be a heroine. In all the stories she had read when at boarding
school in Pennsylvania, the girl characters, confronted with such
difficulties, invariably did hair breadth things. True, they were
usually bent upon rescuing and recovering their lovers, and neither the
calm man in gray nor any of the three in the feed box was lover of
hers, but then a real heroine would not pause over this minor question.
Plainly a heroine would take measures to rescue the four men. If she
did not at least make the attempt, she would be false to those
carefully constructed ideals which were the accumulation of years of
But the situation puzzled her. There was the barn with only one
door, and with four armed troopers in front of this door, one of them
with his back to the rest of the world, engaged, no doubt, in a
steadfast contemplation of the calm man and, incidentally, of the feed
box. She knew, too, that even if she should open the kitchen door,
three heads and perhaps four would turn casually in her direction.
Their ears were real ears.
Heroines, she knew, conducted these matters with infinite precision
and despatch. They severed the hero's bonds, cried a dramatic sentence,
and stood between him and his enemies until he had run far enough away.
She saw well, however, that even should she achieve all things up to
the point where she might take glorious stand between the escaping and
the pursuers, those grim troopers in blue would not pause. They would
run around her, make a circuit. One by one she saw the gorgeous
contrivances and expedients of fiction fall before the plain, homely
difficulties of this situation. They were of no service. Sadly,
ruefully, she thought of the calm man and of the contents of the feed
The sum of her invention was that she could sally forth to the
commander of the blue cavalry, and confessing to him that there were
three of her friends and his enemies secreted in the feed box, pray him
to let them depart unmolested. But she was beginning to believe the old
graybeard to be a bear. It was hardly probable that he would give this
plan his support. It was more probable that he and some of his men
would at once descend upon the feed box and confiscate her three
friends. The difficulty with her idea was that she could not learn its
value without trying it, and then in case of failure it would be too
late for remedies and other plans. She reflected that war made men very
All that she could do was to stand at the window and mournfully
regard the barn. She admitted this to herself with a sense of deep
humiliation. She was not, then, made of that fine stuff, that mental
satin, which enabled some other beings to be of such mighty service to
the distressed. She was defeated by a barn with one door, by four men
with eight eyes and eight earstrivialities that would not impede the
The vivid white light of broad day began slowly to fade. Tones of
gray came upon the fields, and the shadows were of lead. In this more
sombre atmosphere the fires built by the troops down in the far end of
the orchard grew more brilliant, becoming spots of crimson colour in
the dark grove.
The girl heard a fretting voice from her mother's room. Mary! She
hastily obeyed the call. She perceived that she had quite forgotten her
mother's existence in this time of excitement.
The elder woman still lay upon the bed. Her face was flushed and
perspiration stood amid new wrinkles upon her forehead. Weaving wild
glances from side to side, she began to whimper. Oh, I'm just
sickI'm just sick! Have those men gone yet? Have they gone?
The girl smoothed a pillow carefully for her mother's head. No, ma.
They're here yet. But they haven't hurt anythingit doesn't seem. Will
I get you something to eat?
Her mother gestured her away with the impatience of the ill.
Nonojust don't bother me. My head is splitting, and you know very
well that nothing can be done for me when I get one of these spells.
It's troublethat's what makes them. When are those men going? Look
here, don't you go 'way. You stick close to the house now.
I'll stay right here, said the girl. She sat in the gloom and
listened to her mother's incessant moaning. When she attempted to move,
her mother cried out at her. When she desired to ask if she might try
to alleviate the pain, she was interrupted shortly. Somehow her sitting
in passive silence within hearing of this illness seemed to contribute
to her mother's relief. She assumed a posture of submission. Sometimes
her mother projected questions concerning the local condition, and
although she laboured to be graphic and at the same time soothing,
unalarming, her form of reply was always displeasing to the sick woman,
and brought forth ejaculations of angry impatience.
Eventually the woman slept in the manner of one worn from terrible
labour. The girl went slowly and softly to the kitchen. When she looked
from the window, she saw the four soldiers still at the barn door. In
the west, the sky was yellow. Some tree trunks intersecting it appeared
black as streaks of ink. Soldiers hovered in blue clouds about the
bright splendour of the fires in the orchard. There were glimmers of
The girl sat in the new gloom of the kitchen and watched. The
soldiers lit a lantern and hung it in the barn. Its rays made the form
of the sentry seem gigantic. Horses whinnied from the orchard. There
was a low hum of human voices. Sometimes small detachments of troopers
rode past the front of the house. The girl heard the abrupt calls of
sentries. She fetched some food and ate it from her hand, standing by
the window. She was so afraid that something would occur that she
barely left her post for an instant.
A picture of the interior of the barn hung vividly in her mind. She
recalled the knot-holes in the boards at the rear, but she admitted
that the prisoners could not escape through them. She remembered some
inadequacies of the roof, but these also counted for nothing. When
confronting the problem, she felt her ambitions, her ideals tumbling
headlong like cottages of straw.
Once she felt that she had decided to reconnoitre at any rate. It
was night; the lantern at the barn and the camp fires made everything
without their circle into masses of heavy mystic blackness. She took
two steps toward the door. But there she paused. Innumerable
possibilities of danger had assailed her mind. She returned to the
window and stood wavering. At last, she went swiftly to the door,
opened it, and slid noiselessly into the darkness.
For a moment she regarded the shadows. Down in the orchard the camp
fires of the troops appeared precisely like a great painting, all in
reds upon a black cloth. The voices of the troopers still hummed. The
girl started slowly off in the opposite direction. Her eyes were fixed
in a stare; she studied the darkness in front for a moment, before she
ventured upon a forward step. Unconsciously, her throat was arranged
for a sudden shrill scream. High in the tree branches she could hear
the voice of the wind, a melody of the night, low and sad, the plaint
of an endless, incommunicable sorrow. Her own distress, the plight of
the men in graythese near matters as well as all she had known or
imagined of griefeverything was expressed in this soft mourning of
the wind in the trees. At first she felt like weeping. This sound told
her of human impotency and doom. Then later the trees and the wind
breathed strength to her, sang of sacrifice, of dauntless effort, of
hard carven faces that did not blanch when Duty came at midnight or at
She turned often to scan the shadowy figures that moved from time to
time in the light at the barn door. Once she trod upon a stick, and it
flopped, crackling in the intolerable manner of all sticks. At this
noise, however, the guards at the barn made no sign. Finally, she was
where she could see the knot-holes in the rear of the structure
gleaming like pieces of metal from the effect of the light within.
Scarcely breathing in her excitement she glided close and applied an
eye to a knothole. She had barely achieved one glance at the interior
before she sprang back shuddering.
For the unconscious and cheerful sentry at the door was swearing
away in flaming sentences, heaping one gorgeous oath upon another,
making a conflagration of his description of his troop horse.
Why, he was declaring to the calm prisoner in gray, you ain't got
a horse in your hull army that can run forty rod with that there
As in the outer darkness Mary cautiously returned to the knothole,
the three guards in front suddenly called in low tones: S-s-s-h!
Quit, Pete; here comes the lieutenant. The sentry had apparently
been about to resume his declamation, but at these warnings he suddenly
posed in a soldierly manner.
A tall and lean officer with a smooth face entered the barn. The
sentry saluted primly. The officer flashed a comprehensive glance about
him. Everything all right?
All right, sir.
This officer had eyes like the points of stilettos. The lines from
his nose to the corners of his mouth were deep and gave him a slightly
disagreeable aspect, but somewhere in his face there was a quality of
singular thoughtfulness, as of the absorbed student dealing in
generalities, which was utterly in opposition to the rapacious keenness
of the eyes which saw everything.
Suddenly he lifted a long finger and pointed. What's that?
That? That's a feed box, I suppose.
What's in it?
I don't know. I
You ought to know, said the officer sharply. He walked over to the
feed box and flung up the lid. With a sweeping gesture, he reached down
and scooped a handful of feed. You ought to know what's in everything
when you have prisoners in your care, he added, scowling.
During the time of this incident, the girl had nearly swooned. Her
hands searched weakly over the boards for something to which to cling.
With the pallor of the dying she had watched the downward sweep of the
officer's arm, which after all had only brought forth a handful of
feed. The result was a stupefaction of her mind. She was astonished out
of her senses at this spectacle of three large men metamorphosed into a
handful of feed.
It is perhaps a singular thing that this absence of the three men
from the feed box at the time of the sharp lieutenant's investigation
should terrify the girl more than it should joy her. That for which she
had prayed had come to pass. Apparently the escape of these men in the
face of every improbability had been granted her, but her dominating
emotion was fright. The feed box was a mystic and terrible machine,
like some dark magician's trap. She felt it almost possible that she
should see the three weird men floating spectrally away through the
air. She glanced with swift apprehension behind her, and when the
dazzle from the lantern's light had left her eyes, saw only the dim
hillside stretched in solemn silence.
The interior of the barn possessed for her another fascination
because it was now uncanny. It contained that extraordinary feed box.
When she peeped again at the knothole, the calm, gray prisoner was
seated upon the feed box, thumping it with his dangling, careless heels
as if it were in nowise his conception of a remarkable feed-box. The
sentry also stood facing it. His carbine he held in the hollow of his
arm. His legs were spread apart, and he mused. From without came the
low mumble of the three other troopers. The sharp lieutenant had
The trembling yellow light of the lantern caused the figures of the
men to cast monstrous wavering shadows. There were spaces of gloom
which shrouded ordinary things in impressive garb. The roof presented
an inscrutable blackness, save where small rifts in the shingles glowed
phosphorescently. Frequently old Santo put down a thunderous hoof. The
heels of the prisoner made a sound like the booming of a wild kind of
drum. When the men moved their heads, their eyes shone with ghoulish
whiteness, and their complexions were always waxen and unreal. And
there was that profoundly strange feed box, imperturbable with its
burden of fantastic mystery.
Suddenly from down near her feet the girl heard a crunching sound, a
sort of a nibbling, as if some silent and very discreet terrier was at
work upon the turf. She faltered back; here was no doubt another
grotesque detail of this most unnatural episode. She did not run,
because physically she was in the power of these events. Her feet
chained her to the ground in submission to this march of terror after
terror. As she stared at the spot from which this sound seemed to come,
there floated through her mind a vague, sweet visiona vision of her
safe little room, in which at this hour she usually was sleeping.
The scratching continued faintly and with frequent pauses, as if the
terrier was then listening. When the girl first removed her eyes from
the knothole the scene appeared of one velvet blackness; then gradually
objects loomed with a dim lustre. She could see now where the tops of
the trees joined the sky and the form of the barn was before her dyed
in heavy purple. She was ever about to shriek, but no sound came from
her constricted throat. She gazed at the ground with the expression of
countenance of one who watches the sinister-moving grass where a
Dimly she saw a piece of sod wrenched free and drawn under the great
foundation beam of the barn. Once she imagined that she saw human
hands, not outlined at all, but sufficient in colour, form, or movement
to make subtle suggestion.
Then suddenly a thought that illuminated the entire situation
flashed in her mind like a light. The three men, late of the feed box,
were beneath the floor of the barn and were now scraping their way
under this beam. She did not consider for a moment how they could come
there. They were marvellous creatures. The supernatural was to be
expected of them. She no longer trembled, for she was possessed upon
this instant of the most unchangeable species of conviction. The
evidence before her amounted to no evidence at all, but nevertheless
her opinion grew in an instant from an irresponsible acorn to a rooted
and immovable tree. It was as if she was on a jury.
She stooped down hastily and scanned the ground. There she indeed
saw a pair of hands hauling at the dirt where the sod had been
displaced. Softly, in a whisper like a breath, she said, Hey!
The dim hands were drawn hastily under the barn. The girl reflected
for a moment. Then she stooped and whispered: Hey! It's me!
After a time there was a resumption of the digging. The ghostly
hands began once more their cautious mining. She waited. In hollow
reverberations from the interior of the barn came the frequent sounds
of old Santo's lazy movements. The sentry conversed with the prisoner.
At last the girl saw a head thrust slowly from under the beam. She
perceived the face of one of the miraculous soldiers from the feed box.
A pair of eyes glintered and wavered, then finally settled upon her, a
pale statue of a girl. The eyes became lit with a kind of humorous
greeting. An arm gestured at her.
Stooping, she breathed, All right. The man drew himself silently
back under the beam. A moment later the pair of hands resumed their
cautious task. Ultimately the head and arms of the man were thrust
strangely from the earth. He was lying on his back. The girl thought of
the dirt in his hair. Wriggling slowly and pushing at the beam above
him he forced his way out of the curious little passage. He twisted his
body and raised himself upon his hands. He grinned at the girl and drew
his feet carefully from under the beam. When he at last stood erect
beside her, he at once began mechanically to brush the dirt from his
clothes with his hands. In the barn the sentry and his prisoner were
evidently engaged in an argument.
The girl and the first miraculous soldier signalled warily. It
seemed that they feared that their arms would make noises in passing
through the air. Their lips moved, conveying dim meanings.
In this sign language the girl described the situation in the barn.
With guarded motions, she told him of the importance of absolute
stillness. He nodded, and then in the same manner he told her of his
two companions under the barn floor. He informed her again of their
wounded state, and wagged his head to express his despair. He contorted
his face, to tell how sore were their arms; and jabbed the air
mournfully, to express their remote geographical position.
This signalling was interrupted by the sound of a body being dragged
or dragging itself with slow, swishing sound under the barn. The sound
was too loud for safety. They rushed to the hole and began to semaphore
until a shaggy head appeared with rolling eyes and quick grin.
With frantic downward motions of their arms they suppressed this
grin and with it the swishing noise. In dramatic pantomime they
informed this head of the terrible consequences of so much noise. The
head nodded, and painfully but with extreme care the second man pushed
and pulled himself from the hole.
In a faint whisper the first man said, Where's Sim?
The second man made low reply. He's right here. He motioned
reassuringly toward the hole.
When the third head appeared, a soft smile of glee came upon each
face, and the mute group exchanged expressive glances.
When they all stood together, free from this tragic barn, they
breathed a long sigh that was contemporaneous with another smile and
another exchange of glances.
One of the men tiptoed to a knothole and peered into the barn. The
sentry was at that moment speaking. Yes, we know 'em all. There isn't
a house in this region that we don't know who is in it most of the
time. We collar 'em once in a whilelike we did you. Now, that house
out yonder, we
The man suddenly left the knothole and returned to the others. Upon
his face, dimly discerned, there was an indication that he had made an
astonishing discovery. The others questioned him with their eyes, but
he simply waved an arm to express his inability to speak at that spot.
He led them back toward the hill, prowling carefully. At a safe
distance from the barn he halted and as they grouped eagerly about him,
he exploded in an intense undertone: Why, thatthat's Cap'n Sawyer
they got in yonder.
Cap'n Sawyer! incredulously whispered the other men.
But the girl had something to ask. How did you get out of that feed
box? He smiled. Well, when you put us in there, we was just in a
minute when we allowed it wasn't a mighty safe place, and we allowed
we'd get out. And we did. We skedaddled 'round and 'round until it
'peared like we was going to get cotched, and then we flung ourselves
down in the cow stalls where it's low-likejust dirt floorand then
we just naturally went a-whooping under the barn floor when the Yanks
come. And we didn't know Cap'n Sawyer by his voice nohow. We heard 'im
discoursing, and we allowed it was a mighty pert man, but we didn't
know that it was him. No, m'm.
These three men, so recently from a situation of peril, seemed
suddenly to have dropped all thought of it. They stood with sad faces
looking at the barn. They seemed to be making no plans at all to reach
a place of more complete safety. They were halted and stupefied by some
How do you raikon they cotch him, Sim? one whispered mournfully.
I don't know, replied another, in the same tone.
Another with a low snarl expressed in two words his opinion of the
methods of Fate: Oh, hell!
The three men started then as if simultaneously stung and gazed at
the young girl who stood silently near them. The man who had sworn
began to make agitated apology: Pardon, miss! 'Pon my soul I clean
forgot you was by. 'Deed, and I wouldn't swear like that if I had
knowed. 'Deed, I wouldn't.
The girl did not seem to hear him. She was staring at the barn.
Suddenly she turned and whispered, Who is he?
He's Cap'n Sawyer, m'm, they told her sorrowfully. He's our own
cap'n. He's been in command of us yere since a long time. He's got
folks about yere. Raikon they cotch him while he was a-visiting.
She was still for a time and then, awed, she said, Will theywill
they hang him?
No, m'm. Oh, no, m'm. Don't raikon no such thing. No, m'm.
The group became absorbed in a contemplation of the barn. For a time
no one moved nor spoke. At last the girl was aroused by slight sounds,
and turning, she perceived that the three men who had so recently
escaped from the barn were now advancing toward it.
The girl, waiting in the darkness, expected to hear the sudden crash
and uproar of a fight as soon as the three creeping men should reach
the barn. She reflected in an agony upon the swift disaster that would
befall any enterprise so desperate. She had an impulse to beg them to
come away. The grass rustled in silken movements as she sped toward the
When she arrived, however, she gazed about her bewildered. The men
were gone. She searched with her eyes, trying to detect some moving
thing, but she could see nothing.
Left alone again, she began to be afraid of the night. The great
stretches of darkness could hide crawling dangers. From sheer desire to
see a human, she was obliged to peep again at the knothole. The sentry
had apparently wearied of talking. Instead, he was reflecting. The
prisoner still sat on the feed box, moodily staring at the floor. The
girl felt in one way that she was looking at a ghastly group in wax.
She started when the old horse put down an echoing hoof. She wished the
men would speak; their silence re-enforced the strange aspect. They
might have been two dead men.
The girl felt impelled to look at the corner of the interior where
were the cow stalls. There was no light there save the appearance of
peculiar gray haze which marked the track of the dimming rays of the
lantern. All else was sombre shadow. At last she saw something move
there. It might have been as small as a rat, or it might have been a
part of something as large as a man. At any rate, it proclaimed that
something in that spot was alive. At one time she saw it plainly and at
other times it vanished, because her fixture of gaze caused her
occasionally to greatly tangle and blur those peculiar shadows and
faint lights. At last, however, she perceived a human head. It was
monstrously dishevelled and wild. It moved slowly forward until its
glance could fall upon the prisoner and then upon the sentry. The
wandering rays caused the eyes to glitter like silver. The girl's heart
pounded so that she put her hand over it.
The sentry and the prisoner remained immovably waxen, and over in
the gloom the head thrust from the floor watched them with its silver
Finally, the prisoner slipped from the feed box, and, raising his
arms, yawned at great length. Oh, well, he remarked, you boys will
get a good licking if you fool around here much longer. That's some
satisfaction, anyhow, even if you did bag me. You'll get a good
walloping. He reflected for a moment, and decided: I'm sort of
willing to be captured if you fellows only get a dd good licking
for being so smart.
The sentry looked up and smiled a superior smile. Licking, hey?
Nixey! He winked exasperatingly at the prisoner. You fellows are not
fast enough, my boy. Why didn't you lick us at ? and at ? and
at ? He named some of the great battles.
To this the captive officer blurted in angry astonishment, Why, we
The sentry winked again in profound irony. YesI know you did. Of
course. You whipped us, didn't you? Fine kind of whipping that was!
He suddenly ceased, smitten mute by a sound that broke the stillness
of the night. It was the sharp crack of a distant shot that made wild
echoes among the hills. It was instantly followed by the hoarse cry of
a human voice, a far-away yell of warning, singing of surprise, peril,
fear of death. A moment later there was a distant, fierce spattering of
shots. The sentry and the prisoner stood facing each other, their lips
The orchard at that instant awoke to sudden tumult. There were the
thud and scramble and scamper of feet, the mellow, swift clash of arms,
men's voices in question, oath, command, hurried and unhurried,
resolute and frantic. A horse sped along the road at a raging gallop. A
loud voice shouted, What is it, Ferguson? Another voice yelled
something incoherent. There was a sharp, discordant chorus of command.
An uproarious volley suddenly rang from the orchard. The prisoner in
gray moved from his intent, listening attitude. Instantly the eyes of
the sentry blazed, and he said with a new and terrible sternness,
Stand where you are!
The prisoner trembled in his excitement. Expressions of delight and
triumph bubbled to his lips. A surprise, by Gawd! Nownow, you'll
The sentry stolidly swung his carbine to his shoulder. He sighted
carefully along the barrel until it pointed at the prisoner's head,
about at his nose. Well, I've got you, anyhow. Remember that! Don't
The prisoner could not keep his arms from nervously gesturing. I
And shut your mouth!
The three comrades of the sentry flung themselves into view.
Petedevil of a row!can you
I've got him, said the sentry calmly and without moving. It was as
if the barrel of the carbine rested on piers of stone. The three
comrades turned and plunged into the darkness.
In the orchard it seemed as if two gigantic animals were engaged in
a mad, floundering encounter, snarling, howling in a whirling chaos of
noise and motion. In the barn the prisoner and his guard faced each
other in silence.
As for the girl at the knothole, the sky had fallen at the beginning
of this clamour. She would not have been astonished to see the stars
swinging from their abodes, and the vegetation, the barn, all blow
away. It was the end of everything, the grand universal murder. When
two of the three miraculous soldiers who formed the original feed-box
corps emerged in detail from the hole under the beam and slid away into
the darkness, she did no more than glance at them.
Suddenly she recollected the head with silver eyes. She started
forward and again applied her eyes to the knothole. Even with the din
resounding from the orchard, from up the road and down the road, from
the heavens and from the deep earth, the central fascination was this
mystic head. There, to her, was the dark god of the tragedy.
The prisoner in gray at this moment burst into a laugh that was no
more than a hysterical gurgle. Well, you can't hold that gun out
forever! Pretty soon you'll have to lower it.
The sentry's voice sounded slightly muffled, for his cheek was
pressed against the weapon. I won't be tired for some time yet.
The girl saw the head slowly rise, the eyes fixed upon the sentry's
face. A tall, black figure slunk across the cow stalls and vanished
back of old Santo's quarters. She knew what was to come to pass. She
knew this grim thing was upon a terrible mission, and that it would
reappear again at the head of the little passage between Santo's stall
and the wall, almost at the sentry's elbow; and yet when she saw a
faint indication as of a form crouching there, a scream from an utterly
new alarm almost escaped her.
The sentry's arms, after all, were not of granite. He moved
restively. At last he spoke in his even, unchanging tone: Well, I
guess you'll have to climb into that feed box. Step back and lift the
Why, you don't mean
The girl felt a cry of warning arising to her lips as she gazed at
this sentry. She noted every detail of his facial expression. She saw,
moreover, his mass of brown hair bunching disgracefully about his ears,
his clear eyes lit now with a hard, cold light, his forehead puckered
in a mighty scowl, the ring upon the third finger of the left hand.
Oh, they won't kill him! Surely they won't kill him! The noise of the
fight in the orchard was the loud music, the thunder and lightning, the
rioting of the tempest which people love during the critical scene of a
When the prisoner moved back in reluctant obedience, he faced for an
instant the entrance of the little passage, and what he saw there must
have been written swiftly, graphically in his eyes. And the sentry read
it and knew then that he was upon the threshold of his death. In a
fraction of time, certain information went from the grim thing in the
passage to the prisoner, and from the prisoner to the sentry. But at
that instant the black formidable figure arose, towered, and made its
leap. A new shadow flashed across the floor when the blow was struck.
As for the girl at the knothole, when she returned to sense she
found herself standing with clinched hands and screaming with her
As if her reason had again departed from her, she ran around the
barn, in at the door, and flung herself sobbing beside the body of the
soldier in blue.
The uproar of the fight became at last coherent, inasmuch as one
party was giving shouts of supreme exultation. The firing no longer
sounded in crashes; it was now expressed in spiteful crackles, the last
words of the combat, spoken with feminine vindictiveness.
Presently there was a thud of flying feet. A grimy panting,
red-faced mob of troopers in blue plunged into the barn, became
instantly frozen to attitudes of amazement and rage, and then roared in
one great chorus, He's gone!
The girl who knelt beside the body upon the floor turned toward them
her lamenting eyes and cried: He's not dead, is he? He can't be dead?
They thronged forward. The sharp lieutenant who had been so
particular about the feed box knelt by the side of the girl and laid
his head against the chest of the prostrate soldier. Why, no, he
said, rising and looking at the man. He's all right. Some of you boys
throw some water on him.
Are you sure? demanded the girl, feverishly.
Of course! He'll be better after awhile.
Oh! said she softly, and then looked down at the sentry. She
started to arise, and the lieutenant reached down and hoisted rather
awkwardly at her arm.
Don't you worry about him. He's all right.
She turned her face with its curving lips and shining eyes once more
toward the unconscious soldier upon the floor. The troopers made a lane
to the door, the lieutenant bowed, the girl vanished.
Queer, said a young officer. Girl very clearly worst kind of
rebel, and yet she falls to weeping and wailing like mad over one of
her enemies. Be around in the morning with all sorts of doctoringyou
see if she ain't. Queer.
The sharp lieutenant shrugged his shoulders. After reflection he
shrugged his shoulders again. He said: War changes many things; but it
doesn't change everything, thank God!