THAT SABBATH AT SHILOH
“Whole theatre of action.”
The figure had sounded apt to Anna on that Sunday evening when the Doctor employed it; apt enough—until the outburst of that great and dreadful news whose inseparable implications and forebodings robbed her of all sleep that night and made her the first one astir at daybreak. But thenceforward, and now for half a week or more, the aptness seemed quite to have passed. Strange was the theatre whose play was all and only a frightful reality; whose swarming, thundering, smoking stage had its audience, its New Orleans audience, wholly behind it, and whose curtain of distance, however thin, mocked every bodily sense and compelled all to be seen and heard by the soul’s eye and ear, with all the joy and woe of its actuality and all its suspense, terror, triumph, heartbreak, and despair.
Yet here was that theatre, and the Doctor’s metaphor was still good enough for the unexacting taste of the two Valcour ladies, to whom Anna had quoted it. And here, sprinkled through the vast audience of that theatre, with as keen a greed for its play as any, were all the various non-combatants with whom we are here concerned, though not easily to be singled out, such mere units were they of the impassioned multitude every mere unit of which, to loved and loving ones, counted for more than we can tell.
However, our favourites might be glimpsed now and then. On a certain midday of that awful half-week the Callenders, driving, took up Victorine at her gate and Flora at her door and sped up-town to the newspaper offices in Camp street to rein in against a countless surge of old men in fine dress, their precious dignity thrown to the dogs, each now but one of the common herd, and each against all, shouldering, sweating, and brandishing wide hands to be the first purchaser and reader of the list, the long, ever-lengthening list of the killed and wounded. Much had been learned of the great two-days’ battle, and many an infantry sister, and many a battery sister besides Anna, was second-sighted enough to see, night and day, night and day, the muddy labyrinth of roads and by-roads that braided and traversed the wide, unbroken reaches of dense timber—with their deep ravines, their long ridges, and their creek-bottom marshes and sloughs—in the day’s journey from Corinth to the bluffs of the Tennessee. They saw them, not empty, nor fearlessly crossed by the quail, the wild turkey, the fox, or the unhunted deer, nor travelled alone by the homespun “citizen” or by scouts or foragers, but slowly overflowed by a great gray, silent, tangled, armed host—cavalry, infantry, ordnance trains, batteries, battery wagons and ambulances: Saw Hilary Kincaid and all his heroes and their guns, and all the “big generals” and their smart escorts and busy staffs: Saw the various columns impeding each other, taking wrong ways and losing priceless hours while thousands of inexperienced boys, footsore, drenched and shivering yet keen for the fight, ate their five-days’ food in one, or threw it away to lighten the march, and toiled on in hunger, mud, cold and rain, without the note of a horn or drum or the distant eye of one blue scout to tell of their oncoming.