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Wounds in the rain: war stories online

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Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected
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_War Stories_



_Author of_

"The Red Badge of Courage," "Active Service," "War is Kind," etc.

New York
Frederick A. Stokes Company

Copyright, 1899, by

Copyright, 1899, by

Copyright, 1899, by

Copyright, 1900, by

_All Rights Reserved._


Moreton Frewen





BREDE PLACE, SUSSEX, _April_, 1900.
















Twenty-five men were making a road out of a path up the hillside. The
light batteries in the rear were impatient to advance, but first must
be done all that digging and smoothing which gains no encrusted medals
from war. The men worked like gardeners, and a road was growing from
the old pack-animal trail.

Trees arched from a field of guinea-grass which resembled young wild
corn. The day was still and dry. The men working were dressed in the
consistent blue of United States regulars. They looked indifferent,
almost stolid, despite the heat and the labour. There was little
talking. From time to time a Government pack-train, led by a
sleek-sided tender bell-mare, came from one way or the other way, and
the men stood aside as the strong, hard, black-and-tan animals crowded
eagerly after their curious little feminine leader.

A volunteer staff-officer appeared, and, sitting on his horse in the
middle of the work, asked the sergeant in command some questions which
were apparently not relevant to any military business. Men straggling
along on various duties almost invariably spun some kind of a joke as
they passed.

A corporal and four men were guarding boxes of spare ammunition at the
top of the hill, and one of the number often went to the foot of the
hill swinging canteens.

The day wore down to the Cuban dusk, in which the shadows are all grim
and of ghostly shape. The men began to lift their eyes from the shovels
and picks, and glance in the direction of their camp. The sun threw his
last lance through the foliage. The steep mountain-range on the right
turned blue and as without detail as a curtain. The tiny ruby of light
ahead meant that the ammunition-guard were cooking their supper. From
somewhere in the world came a single rifle-shot.

Figures appeared, dim in the shadow of the trees. A murmur, a sigh of
quiet relief, arose from the working party. Later, they swung up the
hill in an unformed formation, being always like soldiers, and unable
even to carry a spade save like United States regular soldiers. As they
passed through some fields, the bland white light of the end of the day
feebly touched each hard bronze profile.

"Wonder if we'll git anythin' to eat," said Watkins, in a low voice.

"Should think so," said Nolan, in the same tone. They betrayed no
impatience; they seemed to feel a kind of awe of the situation.

The sergeant turned. One could see the cool grey eye flashing under the
brim of the campaign hat. "What in hell you fellers kickin' about?" he
asked. They made no reply, understanding that they were being

As they moved on, a murmur arose from the tall grass on either hand. It
was the noise from the bivouac of ten thousand men, although one saw
practically nothing from the low-cart roadway. The sergeant led his
party up a wet clay bank and into a trampled field. Here were scattered
tiny white shelter tents, and in the darkness they were luminous like
the rearing stones in a graveyard. A few fires burned blood-red, and
the shadowy figures of men moved with no more expression of detail than
there is in the swaying of foliage on a windy night.

The working party felt their way to where their tents were pitched. A
man suddenly cursed; he had mislaid something, and he knew he was not
going to find it that night. Watkins spoke again with the monotony of a
clock, "Wonder if we'll git anythin' to eat."

Martin, with eyes turned pensively to the stars, began a treatise.
"Them Spaniards - - "

"Oh, quit it," cried Nolan. "What th' piper do you know about th'
Spaniards, you fat-headed Dutchman? Better think of your belly, you
blunderin' swine, an' what you're goin' to put in it, grass or dirt."

A laugh, a sort of a deep growl, arose from the prostrate men. In the
meantime the sergeant had reappeared and was standing over them. "No
rations to-night," he said gruffly, and turning on his heel, walked

This announcement was received in silence. But Watkins had flung
himself face downward, and putting his lips close to a tuft of grass,
he formulated oaths. Martin arose and, going to his shelter, crawled in
sulkily. After a long interval Nolan said aloud, "Hell!" Grierson,
enlisted for the war, raised a querulous voice. "Well, I wonder when we
_will_ git fed?"

From the ground about him came a low chuckle, full of ironical comment
upon Grierson's lack of certain qualities which the other men felt
themselves to possess.


In the cold light of dawn the men were on their knees, packing,
strapping, and buckling. The comic toy hamlet of shelter-tents had been
wiped out as if by a cyclone. Through the trees could be seen the
crimson of a light battery's blankets, and the wheels creaked like the
sound of a musketry fight. Nolan, well gripped by his shelter tent, his
blanket, and his cartridge-belt, and bearing his rifle, advanced upon a
small group of men who were hastily finishing a can of coffee.

"Say, give us a drink, will yeh?" he asked, wistfully. He was as
sad-eyed as an orphan beggar.

Every man in the group turned to look him straight in the face. He had
asked for the principal ruby out of each one's crown. There was a grim
silence. Then one said, "What fer?" Nolan cast his glance to the
ground, and went away abashed.

But he espied Watkins and Martin surrounding Grierson, who had gained
three pieces of hard-tack by mere force of his audacious inexperience.
Grierson was fending his comrades off tearfully.

"Now, don't be damn pigs," he cried. "Hold on a minute." Here Nolan
asserted a claim. Grierson groaned. Kneeling piously, he divided the
hard-tack with minute care into four portions. The men, who had had
their heads together like players watching a wheel of fortune, arose
suddenly, each chewing. Nolan interpolated a drink of water, and sighed

The whole forest seemed to be moving. From the field on the other side
of the road a column of men in blue was slowly pouring; the battery had
creaked on ahead; from the rear came a hum of advancing regiments. Then
from a mile away rang the noise of a shot; then another shot; in a
moment the rifles there were drumming, drumming, drumming. The
artillery boomed out suddenly. A day of battle was begun.

The men made no exclamations. They rolled their eyes in the direction
of the sound, and then swept with a calm glance the forests and the
hills which surrounded them, implacably mysterious forests and hills
which lent to every rifle-shot the ominous quality which belongs to
secret assassination. The whole scene would have spoken to the private
soldiers of ambushes, sudden flank attacks, terrible disasters, if it
were not for those cool gentlemen with shoulder-straps and swords who,
the private soldiers knew, were of another world and omnipotent for the

The battalions moved out into the mud and began a leisurely march in
the damp shade of the trees. The advance of two batteries had churned
the black soil into a formidable paste. The brown leggings of the men,
stained with the mud of other days, took on a deeper colour.
Perspiration broke gently out on the reddish faces. With his heavy roll
of blanket and the half of a shelter-tent crossing his right shoulder
and under his left arm, each man presented the appearance of being
clasped from behind, wrestler fashion, by a pair of thick white arms.

There was something distinctive in the way they carried their rifles.
There was the grace of an old hunter somewhere in it, the grace of a
man whose rifle has become absolutely a part of himself. Furthermore,
almost every blue shirt sleeve was rolled to the elbow, disclosing
fore-arms of almost incredible brawn. The rifles seemed light, almost
fragile, in the hands that were at the end of these arms, never fat but
always with rolling muscles and veins that seemed on the point of
bursting. And another thing was the silence and the marvellous
impassivity of the faces as the column made its slow way toward where
the whole forest spluttered and fluttered with battle.

Opportunely, the battalion was halted a-straddle of a stream, and
before it again moved, most of the men had filled their canteens. The
firing increased. Ahead and to the left a battery was booming at
methodical intervals, while the infantry racket was that continual
drumming which, after all, often sounds like rain on a roof. Directly
ahead one could hear the deep voices of field-pieces.

Some wounded Cubans were carried by in litters improvised from hammocks
swung on poles. One had a ghastly cut in the throat, probably from a
fragment of shell, and his head was turned as if Providence
particularly wished to display this wide and lapping gash to the long
column that was winding toward the front. And another Cuban, shot
through the groin, kept up a continual wail as he swung from the tread
of his bearers. "Ay - ee! Ay - ee! Madre mia! Madre mia!" He sang this
bitter ballad into the ears of at least three thousand men as they
slowly made way for his bearers on the narrow wood-path. These wounded
insurgents were, then, to a large part of the advancing army, the
visible messengers of bloodshed and death, and the men regarded them
with thoughtful awe. This doleful sobbing cry - "Madre mia" - was a
tangible consequent misery of all that firing on in front into which
the men knew they were soon to be plunged. Some of them wished to
inquire of the bearers the details of what had happened; but they could
not speak Spanish, and so it was as if fate had intentionally sealed
the lips of all in order that even meagre information might not leak
out concerning this mystery - battle. On the other hand, many unversed
private soldiers looked upon the unfortunate as men who had seen
thousands maimed and bleeding, and absolutely could not conjure any
further interest in such scenes.

A young staff-officer passed on horseback. The vocal Cuban was always
wailing, but the officer wheeled past the bearers without heeding
anything. And yet he never before had seen such a sight. His case was
different from that of the private soldiers. He heeded nothing because
he was busy - immensely busy and hurried with a multitude of reasons and
desires for doing his duty perfectly. His whole life had been a mere
period of preliminary reflection for this situation, and he had no
clear idea of anything save his obligation as an officer. A man of this
kind might be stupid; it is conceivable that in remote cases certain
bumps on his head might be composed entirely of wood; but those
traditions of fidelity and courage which have been handed to him from
generation to generation, and which he has tenaciously preserved
despite the persecution of legislators and the indifference of his
country, make it incredible that in battle he should ever fail to give
his best blood and his best thought for his general, for his men, and
for himself. And so this young officer in the shapeless hat and the
torn and dirty shirt failed to heed the wails of the wounded man, even
as the pilgrim fails to heed the world as he raises his illumined face
toward his purpose - rightly or wrongly, his purpose - his sky of the
ideal of duty; and the wonderful part of it is, that he is guided by an
ideal which he has himself created, and has alone protected from
attack. The young man was merely an officer in the United States
regular army.

The column swung across a shallow ford and took a road which passed the
right flank of one of the American batteries. On a hill it was booming
and belching great clouds of white smoke. The infantry looked up with
interest. Arrayed below the hill and behind the battery were the horses
and limbers, the riders checking their pawing mounts, and behind each
rider a red blanket flamed against the fervent green of the bushes. As
the infantry moved along the road, some of the battery horses turned at
the noise of the trampling feet and surveyed the men with eyes as deep
as wells, serene, mournful, generous eyes, lit heart-breakingly with
something that was akin to a philosophy, a religion of self-sacrifice - oh,
gallant, gallant horses!

"I know a feller in that battery," said Nolan, musingly. "A driver."

"Dam sight rather be a gunner," said Martin.

"Why would ye?" said Nolan, opposingly.

"Well, I'd take my chances as a gunner b'fore I'd sit way up in th' air
on a raw-boned plug an' git shot at."

"Aw - - " began Nolan.

"They've had some losses t'-day all right," interrupted Grierson.

"Horses?" asked Watkins.

"Horses and men too," said Grierson.

"How d'yeh know?"

"A feller told me there by the ford."

They kept only a part of their minds bearing on this discussion because
they could already hear high in the air the wire-string note of the
enemy's bullets.


The road taken by this battalion as it followed other battalions is
something less than a mile long in its journey across a heavily-wooded
plain. It is greatly changed now, - in fact it was metamorphosed in two
days; but at that time it was a mere track through dense shrubbery,
from which rose great dignified arching trees. It was, in fact, a path
through a jungle.

The battalion had no sooner left the battery in rear when bullets began
to drive overhead. They made several different sounds, but as these
were mainly high shots it was usual for them to make the faint note of
a vibrant string, touched elusively, half-dreamily.

The military balloon, a fat, wavering, yellow thing, was leading the
advance like some new conception of war-god. Its bloated mass shone
above the trees, and served incidentally to indicate to the men at the
rear that comrades were in advance. The track itself exhibited for all
its visible length a closely-knit procession of soldiers in blue with
breasts crossed with white shelter-tents. The first ominous order of
battle came down the line. "Use the cut-off. Don't use the magazine
until you're ordered." Non-commissioned officers repeated the command
gruffly. A sound of clicking locks rattled along the columns. All men
knew that the time had come.

The front had burst out with a roar like a brush-fire. The balloon was
dying, dying a gigantic and public death before the eyes of two armies.
It quivered, sank, faded into the trees amid the flurry of a battle
that was suddenly and tremendously like a storm.

The American battery thundered behind the men with a shock that seemed
likely to tear the backs of their heads off. The Spanish shrapnel fled
on a line to their left, swirling and swishing in supernatural
velocity. The noise of the rifle bullets broke in their faces like the
noise of so many lamp-chimneys or sped overhead in swift cruel
spitting. And at the front the battle-sound, as if it were simply
music, was beginning to swell and swell until the volleys rolled like a

The officers shouted hoarsely, "Come on, men! Hurry up, boys! Come on
now! Hurry up!" The soldiers, running heavily in their accoutrements,
dashed forward. A baggage guard was swiftly detailed; the men tore
their rolls from their shoulders as if the things were afire. The
battalion, stripped for action, again dashed forward.

"Come on, men! Come on!" To them the battle was as yet merely a road
through the woods crowded with troops, who lowered their heads
anxiously as the bullets fled high. But a moment later the column
wheeled abruptly to the left and entered a field of tall green grass.
The line scattered to a skirmish formation. In front was a series of
knolls treed sparsely like orchards; and although no enemy was visible,
these knolls were all popping and spitting with rifle-fire. In some
places there were to be seen long grey lines of dirt, intrenchments.
The American shells were kicking up reddish clouds of dust from the
brow of one of the knolls, where stood a pagoda-like house. It was not
much like a battle with men; it was a battle with a bit of charming
scenery, enigmatically potent for death.

Nolan knew that Martin had suddenly fallen. "What - - " he began.

"They've hit me," said Martin.

"Jesus!" said Nolan.

Martin lay on the ground, clutching his left forearm just below the
elbow with all the strength of his right hand. His lips were pursed
ruefully. He did not seem to know what to do. He continued to stare at
his arm.

Then suddenly the bullets drove at them low and hard. The men flung
themselves face downward in the grass. Nolan lost all thought of his
friend. Oddly enough, he felt somewhat like a man hiding under a bed,
and he was just as sure that he could not raise his head high without
being shot as a man hiding under a bed is sure that he cannot raise his
head without bumping it.

A lieutenant was seated in the grass just behind him. He was in the
careless and yet rigid pose of a man balancing a loaded plate on his
knee at a picnic. He was talking in soothing paternal tones.

"Now, don't get rattled. We're all right here. Just as safe as being in
church.... They're all going high. Don't mind them.... Don't mind
them.... They're all going high. We've got them rattled and they can't
shoot straight. Don't mind them."

The sun burned down steadily from a pale blue sky upon the crackling
woods and knolls and fields. From the roar of musketry it might have
been that the celestial heat was frying this part of the world.

Nolan snuggled close to the grass. He watched a grey line of
intrenchments, above which floated the veriest gossamer of smoke. A
flag lolled on a staff behind it. The men in the trench volleyed
whenever an American shell exploded near them. It was some kind of
infantile defiance. Frequently a bullet came from the woods directly
behind Nolan and his comrades. They thought at the time that these
bullets were from the rifle of some incompetent soldier of their own

There was no cheering. The men would have looked about them, wondering
where was the army, if it were not that the crash of the fighting for
the distance of a mile denoted plainly enough where was the army.

Officially, the battalion had not yet fired a shot; there had been
merely some irresponsible popping by men on the extreme left flank. But
it was known that the lieutenant-colonel who had been in command was
dead - shot through the heart - and that the captains were thinned down
to two. At the rear went on a long tragedy, in which men, bent and
hasty, hurried to shelter with other men, helpless, dazed, and bloody.
Nolan knew of it all from the hoarse and affrighted voices which he
heard as he lay flattened in the grass. There came to him a sense of
exultation. Here, then, was one of those dread and lurid situations,
which in a nation's history stand out in crimson letters, becoming a
tale of blood to stir generation after generation. And he was in it,
and unharmed. If he lived through the battle, he would be a hero of the
desperate fight at - - ; and here he wondered for a second what fate
would be pleased to bestow as a name for this battle.

But it is quite sure that hardly another man in the battalion was
engaged in any thoughts concerning the historic. On the contrary, they
deemed it ill that they were being badly cut up on a most unimportant
occasion. It would have benefited the conduct of whoever were weak if
they had known that they were engaged in a battle that would be famous
for ever.


Martin had picked himself up from where the bullet had knocked him and
addressed the lieutenant. "I'm hit, sir," he said.

The lieutenant was very busy. "All right, all right," he said, just
heeding the man enough to learn where he was wounded. "Go over that
way. You ought to see a dressing-station under those trees."

Martin found himself dizzy and sick. The sensation in his arm was
distinctly galvanic. The feeling was so strange that he could wonder at
times if a wound was really what ailed him. Once, in this dazed way, he
examined his arm; he saw the hole. Yes, he was shot; that was it. And
more than in any other way it affected him with a profound sadness.

As directed by the lieutenant, he went to the clump of trees, but he
found no dressing-station there. He found only a dead soldier lying
with his face buried in his arms and with his shoulders humped high as
if he were convulsively sobbing. Martin decided to make his way to the
road, deeming that he thus would better his chances of getting to a
surgeon. But he suddenly found his way blocked by a fence of barbed
wire. Such was his mental condition that he brought up at a rigid halt
before this fence, and stared stupidly at it. It did not seem to him
possible that this obstacle could be defeated by any means. The fence
was there, and it stopped his progress. He could not go in that

But as he turned he espied that procession of wounded men, strange
pilgrims, that had already worn a path in the tall grass. They were
passing through a gap in the fence. Martin joined them. The bullets
were flying over them in sheets, but many of them bore themselves as
men who had now exacted from fate a singular immunity. Generally there
were no outcries, no kicking, no talk at all. They too, like Martin,
seemed buried in a vague but profound melancholy.

But there was one who cried out loudly. A man shot in the head was
being carried arduously by four comrades, and he continually yelled one
word that was terrible in its primitive strength, - "Bread! Bread!
Bread!" Following him and his bearers were a limping crowd of men less
cruelly wounded, who kept their eyes always fixed on him, as if they
gained from his extreme agony some balm for their own sufferings.

"Bread! Give me bread!"

Martin plucked a man by the sleeve. The man had been shot in the foot,
and was making his way with the help of a curved, incompetent stick. It
is an axiom of war that wounded men can never find straight sticks.

"What's the matter with that feller?" asked Martin.

"Nutty," said the man.

"Why is he?"

"Shot in th' head," answered the other, impatiently.

The wail of the sufferer arose in the field amid the swift rasp of
bullets and the boom and shatter of shrapnel. "Bread! Bread! Oh, God,
can't you give me bread? Bread!" The bearers of him were suffering
exquisite agony, and often they exchanged glances which exhibited their
despair of ever getting free of this tragedy. It seemed endless.

"Bread! Bread! Bread!"

But despite the fact that there was always in the way of this crowd a
wistful melancholy, one must know that there were plenty of men who
laughed, laughed at their wounds whimsically, quaintly inventing odd
humours concerning bicycles and cabs, extracting from this shedding of
their blood a wonderful amount of material for cheerful badinage, and,
with their faces twisted from pain as they stepped, they often joked
like music-hall stars. And perhaps this was the most tearful part of

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Online LibraryStephen CraneWounds in the rain: war stories → online text (page 1 of 17)