“A breath of good honest prayer would serve better than all your fun,” groaned the sergeant, soberly.
The gray eyes resting thoughtfully on the old soldier’s haggard face became instantly grave and earnest.
“Sincerely I wish I might aid you with one,” the man admitted, “but I fear, old fellow, any prayer coming from my lips would never ascend very far. However, I might try the comfort of a hymn, and you will remember this one, which, no doubt, you have helped to sing back in God’s country.”
There was a moment’s hushed pause, during which a rifle cracked sharply out in the ravine; then the reckless fellow, his head partially supported against the protecting bowlder, lifted up a full, rich barytone in rendition of that hymn of Christian faith—
“Nearer, my God, to Thee!
Nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross
That raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee!
Nearer to Thee.”
Glazed and wearied eyes glanced cautiously toward the singer around the edges of protecting rocks; fingers loosened their grasp upon the rifle barrels; smoke-begrimed cheeks became moist; while lips, a moment before profaned by oaths, grew silent and trembling. Out in front a revengeful brave sent his bullet swirling just above the singer’s head, the sharp fragments of rock dislodged falling in a shower upon his upturned face; but the fearless rascal sang serenely on to the end, without a quaver.
“Mistake it for a death song likely,” he remarked dryly, while the last clear, lingering note, reechoed by the cliff, died reluctantly away in softened cadence. “Beautiful old song, sergeant, and I trust hearing it again has done you good. Sang it once in a church way back in New England. But what is the trouble? Did you call me for some special reason?”
“Yes,” came the almost gruff response; for Wyman, the fever stealing back upon him, felt half ashamed of his unshed tears. “That is, provided you retain sufficient sense to listen. Old Gillis was shot over an hour ago, yonder behind that big bowlder, and his girl sits there still holding his head in her lap. She’ll get hit also unless somebody pulls her out of there, and she’s doing no good to Gillis—he’s dead.”
Hampton’s clear-cut, expressive face became graver, all trace of recklessness gone from it. He lifted his head cautiously, peering over his rock cover toward where he remembered earlier in the fight Gillis had sought refuge.
OLD GILLIS’S GIRL