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The End Of The Battle
by [?]

A sergeant, a corporal, and fourteen men of the Twelfth Regiment of the Line had been sent out to occupy a house on the main highway. They would be at least a half of a mile in advance of any other picket of their own people. Sergeant Morton was deeply angry at being sent on this duty. He said that he was over-worked. There were at least two sergeants, he claimed furiously, whose turn it should have been to go on this arduous mission. He was treated unfairly; he was abused by his superiors; why did any damned fool ever join the army? As for him he would get out of it as soon as possible; he was sick of it; the life of a dog. All this he said to the corporal, who listened attentively, giving grunts of respectful assent. On the way to this post two privates took occasion to drop to the rear and pilfer in the orchard of a deserted plantation. When the sergeant discovered this absence, he grew black with a rage which was an accumulation of all his irritations. “Run, you!” he howled. “Bring them here! I’ll show them–” A private ran swiftly to the rear. The remainder of the squad began to shout nervously at the two delinquents, whose figures they could see in the deep shade of the orchard, hurriedly picking fruit from the ground and cramming it within their shirts, next to their skins. The beseeching cries of their comrades stirred the criminals more than did the barking of the sergeant. They ran to rejoin the squad, while holding their loaded bosoms and with their mouths open with aggrieved explanations.

Jones faced the sergeant with a horrible cancer marked in bumps on his left side. The disease of Patterson showed quite around the front of his waist in many protuberances. “A nice pair!” said the sergeant, with sudden frigidity. “You’re the kind of soldiers a man wants to choose for a dangerous outpost duty, ain’t you?”

The two privates stood at attention, still looking much aggrieved. “We only–” began Jones huskily.

“Oh, you ‘only!'” cried the sergeant. “Yes, you ‘only.’ I know all about that. But if you think you are going to trifle with me–“

A moment later the squad moved on towards its station. Behind the sergeant’s back Jones and Patterson were slyly passing apples and pears to their friends while the sergeant expounded eloquently to the corporal. “You see what kind of men are in the army now. Why, when I joined the regiment it was a very different thing, I can tell you. Then a sergeant had some authority, and if a man disobeyed orders, he had a very small chance of escaping something extremely serious. But now! Good God! If I report these men, the captain will look over a lot of beastly orderly sheets and say–‘Haw, eh, well, Sergeant Morton, these men seem to have very good records; very good records, indeed. I can’t be too hard on them; no, not too hard.'” Continued the sergeant: “I tell you, Flagler, the army is no place for a decent man.”

Flagler, the corporal, answered with a sincerity of appreciation which with him had become a science. “I think you are right, sergeant,” he answered.

Behind them the privates mumbled discreetly. “Damn this sergeant of ours. He thinks we are made of wood. I don’t see any reason for all this strictness when we are on active service. It isn’t like being at home in barracks! There is no great harm in a couple of men dropping out to raid an orchard of the enemy when all the world knows that we haven’t had a decent meal in twenty days.”

The reddened face of Sergeant Morton suddenly showed to the rear. “A little more marching and less talking,” he said.

When he came to the house he had been ordered to occupy the sergeant sniffed with disdain. “These people must have lived like cattle,” he said angrily. To be sure, the place was not alluring. The ground floor had been used for the housing of cattle, and it was dark and terrible. A flight of steps led to the lofty first floor, which was denuded but respectable. The sergeant’s visage lightened when he saw the strong walls of stone and cement. “Unless they turn guns on us, they will never get us out of here,” he said cheerfully to the squad. The men, anxious to keep him in an amiable mood, all hurriedly grinned and seemed very appreciative and pleased. “I’ll make this into a fortress,” he announced. He sent Jones and Patterson, the two orchard thieves, out on sentry-duty. He worked the others, then, until he could think of no more things to tell them to do. Afterwards he went forth, with a major- general’s serious scowl, and examined the ground in front of his position. In returning he came upon a sentry, Jones, munching an apple. He sternly commanded him to throw it away.