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ERNEST HAYCOX

A BATTLE PIECE

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First published in Adventure, 23 September 1936

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
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Adventure, 23 September 1926, with "A Battle Piece"



Illustration

Headpiece from Adventure.



Illustration

T was late on the night of August 26, 1776. The sun had set blood-red beyond the Jersey palisades, touching, as it dipped, the British ships in New York harbor. The nine thousand Continentals, camped on Brooklyn Heights, with their backs to the East River and their gun muzzles pointed toward the rugged hills which masked Flatbush, wondered where Howe kept himself and wished for the actual presence of Washington.

"Old Uncle Putnam!" grumbled the spruce Marylanders. "Galloping around here in his shirt sleeves and a dirty leather jacket. A —— New England farmer. A very fine appearing gentleman,indeed. Why doesn't Washington put a military man in command of the Long Island troops?"

In this impatient mood they scanned the line of hill and timber before them. Through that dark mass were scattered their outposts and beyond it somewhere Howe moved his twenty thousand troops—of which number a great many were veterans of the continent —and waited for a chance to fling them against the rebellious Americans in the first open and pitched battle of the revolution.

"Why won't he come and fight it now? fretted the Marylanders. "Why won't Washington force him? Why don't we fight?"

High-strung men, these sons of planters and Baltimore shopkeepers; proud but green troops who did not yet know what iron discipline or patient waiting meant.

"Howe's afraid," said the New Englanders posted in the distant timbered defiles. "He's remembering Bunker Hill and he wants to take his time. But why don't they bring up reinforcements? We can't hold these passes against the whole British army. Where is Washington?"

If they thought the commander-in-chief slept and forgot them they were mistaken. Washington stood in New York town and stared across the black tide of the East River; watching anxiously, knowing that the odds were heavy against the untenable position over there; knowing, too, that his general had not fully comprehended the spirit of his orders.

His last injunction to Putnam had been, "Keep an eye on the Jamaica road. I fear your main trouble will be from that quarter." He had personally supervised the placing of the troops on Long Island. He himself had seen to the disposition of trenches on the Heights and had even gone so far as to pace off a distance of ten yards in front of these trenches. "Do not waste powder. If attacked, wait until the enemy is within this space before firing." He, too, had placed the outposts in the two defiles of the broken hills; one on the southwestern end and one in the center. By these two passes only could Howe penetrate the jungle of brush, marsh and sharp inclines. But there was another road to the northeast which skirted the range entirely—the Jamaica highway. And Washington had repeated again, "Keep a sharp lookout along that road."

Old Israel Putnam, a doughty, courageous veteran of the French and Indian campaigns, gaily agreed and rode away as if he were on a holiday. To fight was his business and if he found the enemy he would engage. Meanwhile, like a jolly old uncle he circulated among his soldiers quite as if he were at a town meeting.


Illustration

SERGEANT ABNER COTTON led his detail back through the dark, answered the challenge of the sentry and trudged toward the general's tent. There was no formality about speaking with Putnam. One private supposedly stood guard at the door but Putnam, hearing the sergeant's voice, boomed out—

"Ne'mind that horseplay! Come in, sonny, come in!" Sergeant Cotton entered, saluted and stood straight. "What's story, sonny?"

"I went as far as ordered, sir, and saw nothing. Another patrol passed me on the Jamaica road but the sergeant in charge said he'd found nothing suspicious either."

"All right, sonny. Guess you've done your night's work. Meanwhile your company's moved out to the hills, so you just fall in with the nearest outfit—that will prob'ly be the Maryland boys."

Cotton saluted and started to leave; Putnam held him with a gesture and looked at the young man's face as if he were reading a book. There could be no mistaking the nativity of Abner Cotton. Yankee awkwardness and Yankee conscience were stamped plainly on his features. His nut-brown cheeks were almost cadaverous and a kind of parsimony of flesh was evident from head to foot; he was, in fact, bony and march-worn. When he moved, it needed no second glance to place him as one who had worked hard all his life and in consequence had learned to husband his efforts. The illusion was further sustained by a thin-lipped mouth that appeared to be keeping in attempted speech. All in all, it made the man seem a little grim, a trifle dour, a shade hardbitten; as if living had been none too easy and as if there were nothing much to laugh about in a toilsome world. But the eyes told another story. They were veritable mirrors of the man's conscience.

"Sonny," said Putnam, worrying a quill pen in his chubby fist, "your face does look f'miliar. What's name?"

"Cotton, sir."

The general's face lighted with a rare, beaming smile.

"Thought so. Know your Paw. Carried a fowling piece with him in Canada years ago. Good heart, good mind—Cotton's I mean." He nodded.

Sergeant Cotton retreated to his detail, dismissed them and made his way slowly to the foremost fires which danced fitfully and brilliantly behind the rough earthworks. One particular blaze seemed less crowded than the others and he advanced to it. Within ten yards a remark floated out to him:

"There's a —— Yankee now, in a regular Yankee suit of clothes. Good ——, don't they know how to dress?"

His head was bent a little in reflection and so none could see the slight change of features. He passed the remark by as if he had been oblivious to it and advanced to the heat. The Marylanders regarded him in a speculative, disapproving silence. One gave way a little to admit him; he sat down and looked into the flames, offering nothing by way of greeting. He was more or less familiar with these proud, high-spirited Southerners, their fine manners and their well-kept buff-and-blue uniforms; he knew them to be prejudiced against anything savoring of New England. He knew they looked upon him as almost an alien. Perhaps if he could speak well he might mingle with these men, make them see that although he came from another province he was as they were. Clothes made no difference. They had ruffles on their shirts and their buttons were bright and their gaiters clean. He had no ruffles at all and no gaiters covered his homespun socks and cowhide shoes.

But they were all fighting for the same end. Moreover that fight had begun—and he felt a mild touch of pride in the fact—on Yankee soil. It was New England who first had shown her stiff backbone and given the other colonies the tempo of American humor. But, though he thought it, he could not say it. The words were landlocked; he had spent too many years at sober communion to change style now. So he kept his eyes lowered, listening to the idle talk around him.


Illustration

"SURE'S my name Is Alex Carroll, if we don't fight soon I'll walk home. I came to tote a gun, not a shovel. Let the —— Yankees dig ditches. They do it so well."

A silence pervaded the circle. Sergeant Cotton would not take notice of them and presently the talk flowed again. Then he spent a brief glance around him. Handsome, flushed faces. All full of plain courage, all sighing for glory. But of other and more sober virtues, he told himself, perhaps he knew more. The same drawling voice broke in:

"Putnam! A fine general to command a Southern brigade. Man likes to feed at home under his commanding officer. For me, I need a Southern gentleman to give me orders. Sure's my name's Alex Carroll, I'll not abide the word of a New Englander."

Sergeant Cotton's fine eyes were lighted with trouble. He seemed struggling with his conscience, as perhaps he had been doing all his life, At last his mild voice, waiting for a lull in the talk, broke in, hesitant but free of embarrassment..

"Guess you'll find some New Englanders that know about war."

The circle turned upon him, voicing their hereditary antagonism. Carroll swooped down with a single, malicious—

"Who?"

Sergeant Cotton ventured to put up his own general's name.

"Putnam knows enough to win battles."

A howl of scorn overwhelmed him. The Marylanders rent "Uncle Putnam" in a dozen shreds.

"He looks like a village blacksmith, not a soldier," added Carroll.

"Clothes, now," ventured the sergeant, "do they make a fighting man?"

"There are certain elements of military discipline and appearance that go with general officers," stiffly admonished Carroll. "If they have not dignity and command, now can they inspire their subordinates?"

Cotton was imperturbable. He seemed to he searching himself to find the proper words, to gain these men over by the use of a mild reasonableness.

"He was good enough at Bunker Hill" he reminded them. "Right smart amount of New Englanders there. Guess they did a little fighting. Seemed so to me."

That silenced most, but not Alex Carroll the impatient, the scornful.

"Good ——! Must we be forever hearing about Bunker Hill? They talk as if it was the only battle under heaven. Why did you break and run when you had the British twice beaten and disorganized?"

Sergeant Cotton's eyes were half closed; he seemed to be reviewing the memorable struggle in which he had played a part at the immortal redoubt.

"Powder and shot. Can't fight without ammunition or parry a bayonet with a gun butt."

"So? Maryland men, had they been there, would have died to the last private before quitting that Hill!"

The resounding sentence met with the circle's manifest approval. Alex Carroll raised his head, flushed by the sounding oratorical blast.

Sergeant Cotton's ancestry permitted him a dry, wintry smile. It skittered over his face and vanished.

"Guess you'll most all have a chance to do that before th war's over," said he and drew within his shell.

He had done an undue amount of talking and he had not succeeded. He could not find the words that would touch them; he could not penetrate that fraternity of spirits and he felt a little lonely, a little disappointed. Brotherhood was a very real thing to Cotton; he believed in it with a stronger faith than he believed in anything else, saving only everlasting salvation. He would have made a great many sacrifices to show these Southerners that he, as a New Englander, was a man of their own stamp and standing, possessing their own optimisms and follies. He wanted to vindicate his people; he wanted sorely to do his mite to ease a little of that antagonism and prejudice which existed so heartily in America, And he wanted, in his wistful way, to join that cheerful camaraderie. But he was a mute instrument; regretfully he thought of precious pen and ink. He wanted to inscribe in his neglected diary—he had not written in it for five days—that which he could not put in speech.

Alex was again speaking.

"As for me, I will never believe New Englanders make good fighters. They lack spirit. ——, they've no dash! They go at a battle as if it were a job in ditch-digging. It stands to reason that a people so accustomed to spade and ax lack the flame that goes with good soldiers. My name's not Alex Carroll if I ever let one give me orders."

The fire veered and spent a momentary gleam upon Sergeant Cotton and upon the narrow red flannel tabard pinned to his shoulder which indicated his rank. Once more had Carroll arrived at a challenge and once more did the circle wait. Sergeant Cotton's sturdy democracy, of the same part and parcel as old General Putnam's, spoke forth.

"Guess I'll never ask a man to do anything I'd be afraid or unwilling to do," said he with just a shade more than the usual vigor. "But if he doesn't do it then I shall name him a coward."


Illustration

Site of Battle.


The camp fires along the Heights flickered and died. Most of the men were rolled in their blankets and sleeping under the open sky. A few of the more suspicious or forehanded kept the blanket rolled and ready, themselves stretched by the flames, dozing lightly. Sergeant Cotton sat cross-legged and communed with himself, now staring at the orange point of the seeking blaze, now watching the star-scattered heavens. His eyes, so perfectly mirroring the inner man, were a little sad. He had tried very hard to join this circle of men. In his own quiet fashion he admired their dash and their gallantry. His own manner was so different.


Illustration

HOWE, the ever-cautious, at last satisfied himself of the enemy's position and under cover of the night set in motion the ranks and columns of the twenty thousand. There were only three routes of advance upon the American position; he dispatched Grant and a brigade of Highlanders to push through the southwestern gap; De Heister and the Hessians moved directly onward to the central pass; while he, himself, with the main body, pressed onward over the Jamaica road. Thus did the British army advance upon the dark woods in three separate columns. It was half a night's journey and the trampling feet sent clouds of summer's dust rolling over farmer's hedges and rosebushes while accoutrements clinked and bayonets gleamed. But Long Island was Tory and no word or suspicion of their progress was heralded until, in the early morning, Grant's Highlanders met the American pickets at the southwestern pass and set up a skirmishing, tentative fire.

It was three o'clock when a messenger from the outpost made the three miles back to Putnam's tent on Brooklyn Heights. He dropped off his horse with a weary gesture that was meant to be, but was not, a salute.

"Captain Ord begs to report, sir, that the enemy has advanced and opened fire. Very heavy force, and it sounds like it might be a general attack. Our line has retreated to heavier timber."

Sergeant Abner Cotton, still sitting cross-legged by the fire, saw them waiting for further sounds. He heard snatches of talk among the staff officers—

"Howe may be over there—sounds like attack in force, all right—but the left flank?"

Putnam was impatient; he made a pretense of listening for warning in another quarter. Washington had warned him of the exposed Jamaica road. But there was action ensuing in the southwest, and where powder burned the staunch old warrior was reluctant not to join the issue. Nothing indicated that the enemy was anywhere save in the southwest. On that basis he made his decision.

"General Stirling, take the Delaware and Maryland battalions and support the pass to the southwest."

Abner Cotton rose and inspected his gun. Presently the drums rolled and the cry went down the line.

"Marylanders, roll out, roll out! We're going to march. Roll out, roll out!"

The sergeant leaned on his weapon and waited for formation. Uncle Putnam was pacing back and forth like an impatient mastiff. He saw his scout and came up.

"Now take care of yourself, sonny."

The sergeant saluted gravely, fell in, and marched through the darkness.

The firing that came out of the southwest seemed to advance on successive waves, rising and falling, running in ragged volleys and in sharp, explosive detonations. The column fell over the hill and groped along an uncertain road. Up at the head of the line a cry was picked up and carried on.

"Watch out for horsemen! Make way to the right!"

They grudgingly relinquished the road for the uncertainties of marsh-land. Three riders came by at a gallop. Questions were flung after them and a shouted, unintelligible answer was heard,

Sergeant Abner Cotton stumbled in the file-closers as they descended the hill and crossed the lone bridge over Gowanus creek. The columns swung sharply to the southwest with the Delawares under Colonel Haslet in the lead and the Marylanders following. To a man they were jubilant. They sang, they swore, they laughed hilariously. After all the weary weeks of waiting they were going into battle. Moreover, they were going into battle under a Southern general and a man who boasted being a Scottish lord. Fit commander for proud troops. If the did not distinguish themselves this coming day, then let Maryland never again claim them as sons. Somebody crooned a melody and in a moment the line broke into song.

"Stop that singing, men! Want to draw the whole English army down on us? Close up—close up! We've got a long ways to go."

The singing subsided amid muttered rebellion.

"Sure's my name's Alex Carroll, I'll not vote for Ben Marshall as captain next company election. He's too strict to suit me."

"Well, old horse, we're going to fight for a change. How's that suit your liver? Bet you wish Polly Mellis could see you now."

"That's what we came for wasn't it? Let the New Englanders dig ditches."

"Hurrah for Baltimore, boys! Guess the old town'll hear something soon enough."

"Well, anyway, the general had sense enough to pick out fighting troops to take care of the heavy work. Wonder if we're going to have the honor of whipping the whole British army at Long Island?"


Illustration

SERGEANT COTTON was silent. In all the extravagant, boisterous speech he caught the twang of nervousness, the note of anxiety. They spoke a little too loud and their laughter was pitched to an abnormally treble key. He contrasted these fellows with his comrades who had stood behind the redoubt at Bunker Hill and watched the flashing, close-ordered line of British bayonets advance up the incline. They had not jested to hide their nervousness, even though they were starting a great war and knowing that if they failed they all doomed to hang, as traitors to the English king. They had been deadly sober when face to face with death. And they had fought as well as men can fight.

The column passed into the woods. The gravel crunched under their feet. Accoutrements clacked and swished. They had worn off a little f their vigor and for a half hour and then another half hour slogged along, nearly silent.

"Close up, men! Close up!"

"You'd think, by ——, we were on the drill-ground," muttered Alex Carroll. "Ain't that fool got anything better to think of than 'close up?'"

The sound of firing grew stronger in the cool air. A rooster crowed for the morning and a light flared in a farmhouse window, winking through the trees. A draught of wind struck Sergeant Cotton. The night shadows were dissolving into the false dawn. He saw the tree-tops against the sky and found them parting to admit the road as it slashed through the hills. Suddenly the firing bore down on them from ahead. The column came to a halt while one of the lonely pickets who had borne the brunt of the first attack filtered through the brush.

The Marylanders were uneasy.

"What're we stopping for? This ain't no place to leave a column. Might be ambushed."

The picket laughed.

"Glad to see you boys come. They ain't in the woods. They're out on the far side of a meadow, poppin' away like it was target practise. Ain't moved ten feet forward all night. Noise and bluster, but no real attack. Wait 'till morning comes and then you'll see fighting."

"That isn't far off," said a Marylander. "I'm right curious to see how this gun shoots."

"Guess you'll find that out, too," prophesied the picket. "You Southern boys been wantin' to fight. Sure get a belly full of it before sundown. Mark my word."

A Maryland corporal was thinking of grand tactics.

"This may be a feint to draw us away from the main point of attack. Sounds queer to me they don't push forward."

"Why, you don't figure we're bein' led away from the hot work?"

"Either that," replied the corporal darkly, "or else they mean to crush us from the side."

"Shut up, Caesar, and keep your commentaries for the barracks room."

The column dissolved and fell wearily against the banks of the defile. Horsemen galloped to and fro and at each such excursion Alex Carroll and his compatriots grew more and more fretful. They didn't mind hot work, they opined, but it was uncomfortable, this feeling around in the dark like a troop of gray ghosts playing tag.

"Where's the general? Hope he didn't go back to the Heights and leave us."

"Say! He wouldn't do that! He's taking a little reconnaissance of the ground."

"Boys, it's going to be a dreadful hot day. I can smell it in the air."

It promised as much. Sergeant Cotton, serenely watching the light arrive, felt the breeze turn warmer on his cheeks. The stars grew dimmer. It left him with a small regret until he saw newer beauties in the August woods.

The column cocked its ear. There was a roar and a plunk, followed by a spray of earth and leaves near by. Within the minute a second and closer geyser baptized the foremost Marylanders. Grant had opened his cannons as a prelude to the dawn.

"Fall in! Fall in! Hurry up, men, we've got to get out of here!"

"I should think so," muttered Alex Carroll. "If I'm going to get shot I'd at least want to see the enemy."

"Close up!"

Sergeant Cotton felt like a veteran. He echoed the command down the column. "Close up!"

The reaction from Carroll was immediate.

"You —— New Englander, keep your orders for your own kind. Don't ever attempt to shout me around."

"Tain't no time to be quarreling. Do as you're told and keep your eyes to the front."


THEY debouched swiftly from the defile and found themselves deploying on a sloping meadow. The Delaware men were already stretched in close lines on the ground and Maryland followed suit. Stirling and his men marched up and down the front, encouraging them by example. A compact, ruddy fellow was Stirling, fond of pleasure; a stubborn, capable fighter who had yet not quite emancipated himself from the drill-book. Grant's Highlanders, across the meadow, were under the cover of trees. Stirling counseled his soldiers and kept them in formation on the open ground.

"Don't break, boys. Keep elbow to elbow, fire slow and look for your man. Never mind shelter. Let the other fellow do that. We're fighting continental style now and not Indian bushwhacking."

The cannonading continued in full force, a full-throated monotony of booming that battered away at the ear drums for an hour and more as the sun rose behind a bank of heat clouds. The musket balls came through the air with a peculiar sighing sound—Wheeee—Wheeee. Marylanders cursed the noise and inevitably ducked their heads.

"Sounds like a cussed bee bothering around," explained Alex Carroll. "You ain't exactly afraid of a bee, but nevertheless you're careful."

"Ah," murmured the man to his right. Carroll turned curiously and found a blank, dead face staring at him.

Sergeant Cotton, kneeling in the grass, saw a line of skirmishers pop out of the woods, zigzag a hundred feet and drop. The Marylanders opened a more vigorous fire. The powder stung Sergeant Cotton's nostrils.

"Aim low," he counseled. "You're shooting too high. Make the bullets plough the ground. That's the thing to get the nerves."

Alex Carroll turned stubbornly.

"Guess I can fight without help."

"Looks like we'll need all the help we can get," replied the sergeant. "Especially the Lord's."


Illustration

THE advanced line of Highlanders were finding better marks. The puffs of powder ballooned up from their line. Another wave of skirmishers moved out stolidly, reached the hundred-yard mark and faded in the grass, whereupon the first set rose and trudged to the protection of a rail fence.

"See, they don't dodge and scurry, Show 'em we're of the same metal. Don't waste the powder. Wait until they come in full force.

Into the mle, which was as yet only a minor engagement, arrived the witness of another struggle in progress northward. The rolling report of musketry reverberated over the meadows and the oak copses, punctuated by the steady assault and reply of cannons. A murmur of wonder ran along the line of Marylanders, marked by uneasiness.

"Who's that? Somebody trying to flank us? Good ——, let's get up and have this over with."

"Caesar, your prognostication seems dead right."

"But what is it?" muttered another, screwing his flint tighter in the socket. "Are we to be clamped between a vise, or is the real battle to be up there?"

Wheeeeee!—Wheeeeee!—

"—— that bee!" broke out Alex Carroll. "Does a man ever get over the eternal habit of ducking?"

"Doesn't take long," advised Sergeant Cotton comfortingly. "Comes a time when you can hear a tune in that noise."

"A devlish tune!"

The echoing reports northward burst into unprecedented fury. The sky seemed rent by the belching of the heavy guns. The sun broke through the heat-clouds in a blood-red aura. It seemed to be a signal; or more likely the noise of the not far distant engagement was the signal. At any rate, a fresh line of skirmishers broke out of the woods and found their position. Then, behind them, advancing in splendid order, bayonets flashing, drums rolling, bagpipes skirling, came the main body of Grant's Highlanders with their kilts riffling against their knees. Stirling's men dug in their heels and prepared for heavy work.

Sergeant Cotton felt the heat of the oppressive day. The sweat rolled over his nut-brown face and the chaff of the meadow grass crept down his neck. It was desperate work in the meadow and he wondered that men could keep their heads amid such a clamor. He wistfully thought of the bracing air and serenity of his own native State and lined up his sights on an advancing kilt. There were gaps in the Maryland ranks. Alex Carroll fought, a dead man either side. Sergeant Cotton edged up to his erstwhile antagonist and the two blazed away alternately, each announcing the man he meant to take.

"——, I'm thirsty!" croaked Carroll. Did you ever see such heat?"

"The work has only started."

Carroll swore.

"You're a cool one. —— I don't think maybe I like you."

"The fight northward has died down," said Sergeant Cotton meditatively. "That's the British trying to get through the Fort Road, I guess. One side or the other's winded."

Stirling stood as plain as any target and showed encouragement. Not a hundred yards away the Highlanders wavered and took refuge behind another wire fence while reorganizing their ranks. The American fire was effective and continuous. Their own marksmanship was only indifferent. But they knew no backward road and in a short space were again crawling over the fence and forming in solid line. Sergeant Cotton marveled at their ability to face fire without flinching.

A courier galloped out of the woods and dismounted by the general.

"You are being surrounded, sir! There's a force cutting your communication with the Heights. The bridge across Gowanus creek has been burned."

Stirling's ruddy cheeks went crimson and he dipped the point of his sword to the ground, watching the Highlanders press onward.

"The hounds are upon the fox, eh? Evidently we are being hunted by more than one pack."

He clapped his hand to his chest. "I conceive it my duty to give them as much trouble as I can. We will drop back down the road. Colonel Haslet, bring your battalion off first."

The Delaware battalion gave ground slowly, keeping up a vigorous fire as they climbed the meadow to the defile. The Marylanders were still more reluctant to go and covered the Highlanders until Haslet had his men through the pass. Then they backed away. Sergeant Cotton and Alex Carroll were side by side as the broken companies poured through the gap and down the wooded coast road. It was for a short while something worse than confusion, with captains crying and raising their swords and young lieutenants rallying the ranks until the original outfits were assembled. "Now where?"

"General's taking us back to the Heights. What's the hurry? I believe we could whip those Highlanders."

"Powerful lot of soldiers there, my boy. ——, but I'm dry!"

"Where's he taking us, anyway? —— if I care about running from those Scotch skirts."

"Better to run and fight another day. Anything but digging ditches. There's my mind on that subject."

"Boys, the general's stopping. Maybe, we're going back."

"Oh!"

The column halted. Stirling rode by the Marylanders and looked them over with the eye of a man bent on particular knowledge.

"Not much worse for the wear," said he.

"Just a little winded and the blood up. Colonel Haslet, I think we'll cheat Mister Howe of part of his bag. Take your men and retreat across the marshes, southward of this road. The bridge is burned and I understand a force is coming up to engage with me. You will avoid them and swim your battalion over Gowanus creek. I shall stay here and cover you."

Haslet saluted and went off at the head of his battalion, dodging rapidly through the timber, along a mere cow-path. The news flew down the Maryland ranks,

"We're elected, huh?"

"Rear-guard action," quoted the corporal dubbed Caesar. "Boys, old Baltimore will do some weeping tonight."

"To make a Roman holiday. No, not that. But, Lord, I love you, it does look mighty slick pickin's."

The five Maryland companies ware stinging with the forced retreat and somberly contemplating the future. The Highlanders were coming up from the meadow. They could hear the rumble of the advance just over the brow of the hill. Somewhere below, toward the Heights, a new foe lay athwart their path. The last of the Delaware column disappeared through the maples, going at the double. Stirling raised his sword, his ruddy face lighted with excitement. Maryland retreated along their route of a previous night. They had not gone a quarter mile before they flushed the advance guard of this new British column.


Illustration

THE woods rang with fresh volleys. Sergeant Cotton came up alongside of Alex Carroll and took his station by a maple. A storm of lead was pouring into their position as the fresh regiment closed up, anxious to decide the issue. Over the hill swarmed the Highlanders, eager to resume the combat. Front and rear Maryland was taken.

The deployed line had become circular and the proud continental style of fighting was lost in the urgent necessity of protecting two sides. Americans fought best as individuals, obeying their own wisdom as to tactics and taking their protection wherever they could find it. Stirling stood in the center of the narrowing circle.

"Take your time, boys. Shoot straight and don't be afraid of cold steel."

Sergeant Cotton thought of the peaceful Connecticut home. Alex Carroll loaded and fired with a kind of religious intensity.

"—— the bees!" he shouted. "I'll duck my head no more."

Sergeant Cotton nodded.

"Now you're baptized."

Some one next to him, reeling like a drunk and streaming in blood, waved his weapon and cried—

"Oh, Caesar, what a prophet you are!"

His falling body knocked Sergeant Cotton aside.

Stirling had seen one lone avenue of retreat and was waving his sword again.

"Come, boys! Up the hill for better cover."

Maryland turned to follow him, took a few grudging steps and then halted. From one despairing throat came a cry—

"Good ——, look there, will you!"

Sergeant Cotton had no need to look. He was already turned toward the little vista of oak-trees to which Stirling had pointed as being better cover. But there was a sudden threshing of underbrush and the filling of open spaces with men's bodies. A higher, harsher shout rang out in the glade and a third British column, flung in irregular lines, joined the first two to form a triangle of steel and lead.

Alex Carroll was sobbing in anger.

"Oh, why can't we have more powder?"

Sergeant Cotton had long ago made his peace; he had nothing now to say. As long as the ammunition lasted he continued to load, aim and fire with the same sober precision. The ring closed in; the firing spat in men's faces and trembled on the tortured ear-drums. Ricocheting bullets whined and the little glade spilled over with straggling and desperate men; interlocked combatants swayed back and forth, bumped over other combatants and drew off to thrust with bayonet or club with gun butt. A haze of burnt powder sifted like twilight through the tree-trunks and voices, once normal and human, screeched like mad.

There were five companies of Marylanders in buff-and-blue. Those five companies were wiped out, man by man. Stirling still kept his place in the center, his sword always raised and his voice shouting the final encouragement.

It was a maelstrom of combat. Sergeant Cotton loaded for the last time, shot a Highlander and instantly was engaged with a bayonet. The calm deserted him and some ancient fire utterly betrayed his lifetime training. He raised his voice to a cry of defiance.

"Come on, you beef-eaters!"

He knocked the bayonet aside and struck his opponent down. Behind him was a war-whoop. Alex Carroll cried encouragement.

"Good boy! You can fight! Go to 'er, New England, I'm right beside you!"

The glade roared like a heavy surf. Sergeant Cotton's nostrils were stinging and his feet stumbled over bodies and slipped in fresh blood. He had no more powder and his arms ached from the toil of struggle.

He knew nothing of the rest of his company. It appeared they were swallowed up in the inextricable mass of dead and living British, He did care; a wine-like glow pervaded his body and he fought on with one fact singing in his head. The Marylander had admitted him to friendship. It was an accolade. They saw that New Englanders could fight. He was vindicating his nativity,

He slashed and struck and jabbed and parried until has eyes distinguished only a blur. Something struck him sharply in the chest and it felt as if a great wall were falling atop him. Successively he was hit in the head and in the ribs. From a great distance he heard Alex Carroll giving one tremendous heart- breaking shout. After that all the bullets in creation did not matter. He could so longer be hurt by them.


Illustration

THE roar of battle ebbed and the hot day drew to a close. The Delaware men looked down from a safe position on the Heights. Howe collected his columns and, like a wary fighter, recoiled from too close proximity with Putnam's entrenchments. Washington came across the East River and began a series of moves that led to his masterly retreat. The great captain, never emotional, uttered one phrase that rang like a trumpet throughout the land:

"Great God, what fine men I have lost to-day!"

That was the epitaph of the Marylanders, whose buff-and-blue checkered the little glade. At one particular angle of this forest theater two men lay across each other. One of them, Sergeant Abner Cotton, was smiling a dry, wintry smile. The other, Alex Carroll, rested face downward with a broken musket in his hand. They were now fellow-members of a great company.



Illustration

Tailpiece from Adventure.


THE END


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