“You are quite sure that you saw them?”
“Sure? My God, sir, I could have counted them!”
“Why, really,” said the physician, with an amusing consciousness of his own resemblance to the loquacious barber of the Arabian Nights, “this is very interesting. I met no troops.”
The man looked at him coldly, as if he had himself observed the likeness to the barber. “It is plain,” he said, “that you do not care to assist me. Sir, you may go to the devil!”
He turned and strode away, very much at random, across the dewy fields, his half-penitent tormentor quietly watching him from his point of vantage in the saddle till he disappeared beyond an array of trees.
After leaving the road the man slackened his pace, and now went forward, rather deviously, with a distinct feeling of fatigue. He could not account for this, though truly the interminable loquacity of that country doctor offered itself in explanation. Seating himself upon a rock, he laid one hand upon his knee, back upward, and casually looked at it. It was lean and withered. He lifted both hands to his face. It was seamed and furrowed; he could trace the lines with the tips of his fingers. How strange!—a mere bullet-stroke and a brief unconsciousness should not make one a physical wreck.
“I must have been a long time in hospital,” he said aloud. “Why, what a fool I am! The battle was in December, and it is now summer!” He laughed. “No wonder that fellow thought me an escaped lunatic. He was wrong: I am only an escaped patient.”
At a little distance a small plot of ground enclosed by a stone wall caught his attention. With no very definite intent he rose and went to it. In the center was a square, solid monument of hewn stone. It was brown with age, weather-worn at the angles, spotted with moss and lichen. Between the massive blocks were strips of grass the leverage of whose roots had pushed them apart. In answer to the challenge of this ambitious structure Time had laid his destroying hand upon it, and it would soon be “one with Nineveh and Tyre.” In an inscription on one side his eye caught a familiar name. Shaking with excitement, he craned his body across the wall and read:
The Memory of Its Soldiers
who fell at
Stone River, Dec. 31, 1862.
The man fell back from the wall, faint and sick. Almost within an arm’s length was a little depression in the earth; it had been filled by a recent rain—a pool of clear water. He crept to it to revive himself, lifted the upper part of his body on his trembling arms, thrust forward his head and saw the reflection of his face, as in a mirror. He uttered a terrible cry. His arms gave way; he fell, face downward, into the pool and yielded up the life that had spanned another life.