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The next day Quentin rose early and found breakfast, which amounted to very little except biscuits and bacon. Doctor Alexander wandered off somewhere, and Quentin visited the patients he had seen the night before. When he entered the tent of the man with the head wound, Quentin went to him at once and saw that he was sleeping peacefully.
'I think he's gettin' better,' the soldier next to him said.
'That's good. I hope all of you will get well.'
Leaving the tent, Quentin walked along the lines. From time to time a shot rang out and once a burly sergeant said, 'Better keep your head down. Them Rebs got some good sharpshooters over there--a few anyhow.'
Quentin spent the day in an almost leisurely fashion. Doctor Alexander did not return, and by three o'clock Quentin was preparing to visit the patients again. He was gathering supplies out of the wagon when a sudden sound caught his attention--musket fire. He spun toward it, listening intently. The sound increased in intensity, and a sour taste came to his mouth---which he recognized with surprise as fear. He had never been tried in battle; he was not a soldier. One had to be trained for that. Suddenly a group of Union soldiers ran toward him, shouting, as the sound of a bugle erupted.
'What's happening?' Quentin asked a private running past. 'What's going on?'
'It's an attack! The Rebs are coming!' the private gasped, his eyes wide and staring. 'They're comin' this way! You better get back if you -don't want to get shot.'
Quentin's first thought was the wounded men. If the makeshift hospital was about to be overrun, perhaps his place was with them. He left the wagon at a dead run, but a sergeant with a group of soldiers behind him charged across Quentin's path. 'Hey!' the sergeant yelled. 'Come on! Grab a musket!'
'But I -don't even know how to shoot one! I'm a doctor's assistant!'
'I -don't give a blast what you are!' the sergeant roared. 'The Rebs are breakin' through, and we need every man we can get to stop 'em! Hey, Clyde, show this fellow how to load a musket.'
A young man with a pale face and unsteady hands came forward. 'Here,' he said, 'do you know how to load a musket?'
'I've shot a few, but maybe you'd better show me again.'
'Well, we ain't got much time, but look. Here's what you do. You take this ball ...'
After hurried instruction, Quentin found himself running along with an escorted group including cooks and wood haulers. A major charged by, his face red with exertion. He waved his hand in the air and said, 'All of you men! Get in the line over there! -We've got to stop 'em--we've got to stop 'em!'
Suddenly Quentin heard the hoarse whistling sound of an incoming cannon shell, quickly growing louder. The more experienced soldiers threw themselves down, but Quentin simply stood there.
A sudden explosion shook the earth, and the concussion of the shell struck him like a fist. Dirt flew into his face, and he fell backwards, dropping the musket. Clawing at his eyes, he rolled over, groping blindly for the musket. His hand found it and he crawled to his feet.
'Come on. Let's go!' A hand grasped Quentin's arm and he felt himself pulled along.
'Wait a minute! I -can't see!'
'You're all right. Just a little dirt. Come on!'
Ten minutes later Quentin found himself amidst a bunch of screaming, shouting men. He could see only faintly, and he held his musket awkwardly. From every side came the rattling of musket fire, and he heard the whistling of bullets around his head. Frantically the command came: 'Spread out! Spread out! We got to cover this whole gap!'
For Quentin the world seemed to have turned upside down. The explosion had not only half-blinded him, but also confused him terribly. Now he sensed that the men on his right and his left had moved away, and he found himself alone in what seemed to be a field with deep gullies. He scrambled down one, stopped at the bottom to pull out his handkerchief, and tried once more to rub the dirt from his stinging eyes. If I could only find a stream--something to wash out my eyes! But the musket fire was getting heavier, and fear swept over him. To get killed here, at the end of the war--what a tremendous waste! He stumbled on, trying to see, but his foot dropped into a hole and he fell full-length. The fall knocked the breath out of him and he lay there for a while. The rattle of musket fire seemed to fall off. He heard the crash of Union cannon fire coming from the right flank, and then from the left. A troop galloped past, the officer cursing and waving his sword. Quentin scrambled to his feet, confused and frightened, but stumbled forward almost blindly. Afterwards, he could not remember how long he lurched through the woods. Branches struck him across the face--once across an open eye, which made his vision even worse.
Unable to see anything but shadows, he knew he would be useless in the front line. But which way back to his own lines? He chose a direction and forced his way through the undergrowth, listening carefully to the sound of gunfire, which seemed to be tapering off.
The ground dropped away from him and he fell headlong into a small gully, rolling wildly down the steep side. The ground at the bottom knocked the breath out of him, but struggling to his feet, he scrambled up the other side. As he hauled himself over the lip, he heard a bugle blowing, thin and clear, somewhere to his right. Turning toward the sound, he saw a sudden movement--a soldier emerging from a thicket not twenty feet away. Shock ran through Quentin, freezing him in place, and he peered at the man through dirt-filled eyes. He could see only one detail--the soldier was wearing a gray uniform, not the blue of a Union soldier!
Time stopped, and Quentin heard his own raspy breathing and the silver snarling of the distant bugle. His legs trembled, and his hands grasped the musket so hard that his fingers ached.