The Search (Chapter 4, page 1 of 10)


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Chapter 4

The sun shone blindly over the broad dusty drill-field. The men marched and wheeled, about-faced and counter-marched in their new olive-drab uniforms and thought of home--those that had any homes to think about. Some who did not thought of a home that might have been if this war had not happened.

There were times when their souls could rise to the great occasion and their enthusiasm against the foe could carry them to all lengths of joyful sacrifice, but this was not one of the times. It was a breathless Indian summer morning, and the dust was inches thick. It rose like a soft yellow mist over the mushroom city of forty thousand men, brought into being at the command of a Nation's leader. Dust lay like a fine yellow powder over everything. An approaching company looked like a cloud as it drew near. One could scarcely see the men near by for the cloud of yellow dust everywhere.

The water was bad this morning when every man was thirsty. It had been boiled for safety and was served warm and tasted of disinfectants. The breakfast had been oatmeal and salty bacon swimming in congealed grease. The "boy" in the soldier's body was very low indeed that morning. The "man" with his disillusioned eyes had come to the front. Of course this was nothing like the hardships they would have to endure later, but it was enough for the present to their unaccustomed minds, and harder because they were doing nothing that seemed worth while--just marching about and doing sordid duties when they were all eager for the fray and to have it over with. They had begun to see that they were going to have to learn to wait and be patient, to obey blindly; they--who never had brooked commands from any one, most of them, not even from their own parents. They had been free as air, and they had never been tied down to certain company. Here they were all mixed up, college men and foreign laborers, rich and poor, cultured and coarse, clean and defiled, and it went pretty hard with them all. They had come, a bundle of prejudices and wills, and they had first to learn that every prejudice they had been born with or cultivated, must be given up or laid aside. They were not their own. They belonged to a great machine. The great perfect conception of the army as a whole had not yet dawned upon them. They were occupied with unpleasant details in the first experimental stages. At first the discomforts seemed to rise and obliterate even the great object for which they had come, and discontent sat upon their faces.

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