He rode on in search of Lee and before he was yet beyond the range of fire he met Dalton, mounted and emerging from the smoke.
“The commander-in-chief, where is he?” asked Harry.
“On a little hill not far from here, watching the battle. I’m just returning with a dispatch from Hill.”
“I saw that Hill was holding his ground.”
“So my dispatch says, and it says also that he will continue to hold it. You come from Ewell?”
“Yes, and he has done more than stand fast. He was driven back at first, but when reinforcements came he drove Warren back in his turn, and took guns and prisoners.”
“The chief will be glad to hear it. We’ll ride together. Look out for your horse! He may go knee deep into mire at any time. Harry, the Wilderness looks even more somber to me than it did a year ago when we fought Chancellorsville.”
“I feel the same way about it. But see, George, how they’re fighting! General Hill is making a great resistance!”
“Never better. But if you look over those low bushes you can see General Lee on the hill.”
Harry made out the figure of Lee on Traveller, outlined against the sky, with about a dozen men sitting on their horses behind him. He hurried forward as fast as he could. The commander-in-chief was reading a dispatch, while the fierce struggle in the thickets was going on, but when Harry saluted and Marshall told him that he had come to report the general put away the dispatch and said:
“What news from General Ewell?”
“General Ewell was at first borne back by the enemy’s numbers, but when help came he returned to the charge, and has been victorious. He has gained much ground.”
A gleam of triumph shot from Lee’s eyes, usually so calm.
“Well done, Ewell!” he said. “The loss of a leg has not dimmed his ardor or judgment. I truly believe that if he were to lose the other one also he would still have himself strapped into the saddle and lead his men to victory. We thank you for the news you have brought, Lieutenant Kenton.”
He put his glasses to his eyes and Harry and Dalton as usual withdrew to the rear of the staff. But they used their glasses also, bringing nearer to them the different phases of the battle, which now raged through the Wilderness. They saw at some points the continuous blaze of guns, and the acrid powder smoke, lying low, was floating through all the thickets.
But Harry now knew that the combat, however violent and fierce, was only a prelude. The sun was already setting, and they could not fight at night in those wild thickets, where men and guns would become mired and tangled beyond extrication. The great struggle, with both leaders hurling in their full forces, would come on the morrow.
The sun already hung very low, and in the twilight and smoke the savagery of the Wilderness became fiercer than ever. The dusk gathered around Lee, but his erect figure and white horse still showed distinctly through it. Harry, his spirit touched by the tremendous scenes in the very center of which he stood, regarded him with a fresh measure of respect and admiration. He was the bulwark of the Confederacy, and he did not doubt that on the morrow he would stop Grant as he had stopped the others.