THE cold passed reluctantly from the earth,
and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched
out on the hills, resting. As the landscape
changed from brown to green, the army awak-
ened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the
noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads,
which were growing from long troughs of liquid
mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-
tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the
army's feet; and at night, when the stream had
become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see
across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp-
fires set in the low brows of distant hills.
Once a certain tall soldier developed virtues
and went resolutely to wash a shirt. He came
flying back from a brook waving his garment
bannerlike. He was swelled with a tale he had
heard from a reliable friend, who had heard it
from a truthful cavalryman, who had heard it
from his trustworthy brother, one of the order-
lies at division headquarters. He adopted the
important air of a herald in red and gold.
"We're goin' t' move t' morrah--sure," he
said pompously to a group in the company
street. "We're goin' 'way up the river, cut
across, an' come around in behint 'em."
To his attentive audience he drew a loud
and elaborate plan of a very brilliant campaign.
When he had finished, the blue-clothed men
scattered into small arguing groups between the
rows of squat brown huts. A negro teamster who
had been dancing upon a cracker box with the
hilarious encouragement of twoscore soldiers
was deserted. He sat mournfully down. Smoke
drifted lazily from a multitude of quaint chimneys.
"It's a lie! that's all it is--a thunderin' lie!"
said another private loudly. His smooth face was
flushed, and his hands were thrust sulkily into his
trousers' pockets. He took the matter as an
affront to him. "I don't believe the derned old
army's ever going to move. We're set. I've
got ready to move eight times in the last two
weeks, and we ain't moved yet."
The tall soldier felt called upon to defend
the truth of a rumor he himself had intro-
duced. He and the loud one came near to fight-
ing over it.
A corporal began to swear before the assem-
blage. He had just put a costly board floor in
his house, he said. During the early spring he
had refrained from adding extensively to the
comfort of his environment because he had felt
that the army might start on the march at any
moment. Of late, however, he had been im-
pressed that they were in a sort of eternal camp.
Many of the men engaged in a spirited debate.
One outlined in a peculiarly lucid manner all the
plans of the commanding general. He was op-
posed by men who advocated that there were
other plans of campaign. They clamored at each
other, numbers making futile bids for the pop-
ular attention. Meanwhile, the soldier who had
fetched the rumor bustled about with much
importance. He was continually assailed by questions.
"What's up, Jim?"
"Th' army's goin' t' move."
"Ah, what yeh talkin' about? How yeh know it is?"
"Well, yeh kin b'lieve me er not, jest as yeh
like. I don't care a hang."
There was much food for thought in the man-
ner in which he replied. He came near to con-
vincing them by disdaining to produce proofs.
They grew excited over it.
There was a youthful private who listened
with eager ears to the words of the tall soldier
and to the varied comments of his comrades.
After receiving a fill of discussions concerning
marches and attacks, he went to his hut and
crawled through an intricate hole that served it
as a door. He wished to be alone with some
new thoughts that had lately come to him.
He lay down on a wide bank that stretched
across the end of the room. In the other end,
cracker boxes were made to serve as furniture.
They were grouped about the fireplace. A pic-
ture from an illustrated weekly was upon the log
walls, and three rifles were paralleled on pegs.
Equipments hunt on handy projections, and some
tin dishes lay upon a small pile of firewood. A
folded tent was serving as a roof. The sunlight,
without, beating upon it, made it glow a light
yellow shade. A small window shot an oblique
square of whiter light upon the cluttered floor.
The smoke from the fire at times neglected the
clay chimney and wreathed into the room, and
this flimsy chimney of clay and sticks made end-
less threats to set ablaze the whole establishment.
The youth was in a little trance of astonish-
ment. So they were at last going to fight. On
the morrow, perhaps, there would be a battle, and
he would be in it. For a time he was obliged
to labor to make himself believe. He could not
accept with assurance an omen that he was about
to mingle in one of those great affairs of the earth.
He had, of course, dreamed of battles all
his life--of vague and bloody conflicts that had
thrilled him with their sweep and fire. In visions
he had seen himself in many struggles. He had
imagined peoples secure in the shadow of his
eagle-eyed prowess. But awake he had regarded
battles as crimson blotches on the pages of the
past. He had put them as things of the bygone
with his thought-images of heavy crowns and
high castles. There was a portion of the world's
history which he had regarded as the time of
wars, but it, he thought, had been long gone over
the horizon and had disappeared forever.
From his home his youthful eyes had looked
upon the war in his own country with distrust.
It must be some sort of a play affair. He had
long despaired of witnessing a Greeklike struggle.
Such would be no more, he had said. Men were
better, or more timid. Secular and religious
education had effaced the throat-grappling in-
stinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.
He had burned several times to enlist. Tales
of great movements shook the land. They might
not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to
be much glory in them. He had read of marches,
sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all.
His busy mind had drawn for him large pictures
extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds.
But his mother had discouraged him. She
had affected to look with some contempt upon
the quality of his war ardor and patriotism. She
could calmly seat herself and with no apparent
difficulty give him many hundreds of reasons
why he was of vastly more importance on the
farm than on the field of battle. She had had
certain ways of expression that told him that her
statements on the subject came from a deep con-
viction. Moreover, on her side, was his belief
that her ethical motive in the argument was impregnable.
At last, however, he had made firm rebellion
against this yellow light thrown upon the color of
his ambitions. The newspapers, the gossip of the
village, his own picturings had aroused him to
an uncheckable degree. They were in truth
fighting finely down there. Almost every day
the newspapers printed accounts of a decisive victory.
One night, as he lay in bed, the winds had
carried to him the clangoring of the church bell
as some enthusiast jerked the rope frantically to
tell the twisted news of a great battle. This
voice of the people rejoicing in the night had
made him shiver in a prolonged ecstasy of ex-
citement. Later, he had gone down to his
mother's room and had spoken thus: "Ma, I'm
going to enlist."
"Henry, don't you be a fool," his mother had
replied. She had then covered her face with the
quilt. There was an end to the matter for that night.
Nevertheless, the next morning he had gone
to a town that was near his mother's farm and
had enlisted in a company that was forming there.
When he had returned home his mother was
milking the brindle cow. Four others stood
waiting. "Ma, I've enlisted," he had said to her
diffidently. There was a short silence. "The
Lord's will be done, Henry," she had finally
replied, and had then continued to milk the
When he had stood in the doorway with his
soldier's clothes on his back, and with the light of
excitement and expectancy in his eyes almost
defeating the glow of regret for the home bonds,
he had seen two tears leaving their trails on his
mother's scarred cheeks.
Still, she had disappointed him by saying
nothing whatever about returning with his shield
or on it. He had privately primed himself for a
beautiful scene. He had prepared certain sen-
tences which he thought could be used with
touching effect. But her words destroyed his
plans. She had doggedly peeled potatoes and
addressed him as follows: "You watch out,
Henry, an' take good care of yerself in this here
fighting business--you watch out, an' take good
care of yerself. Don't go a-thinkin' you can
lick the hull rebel army at the start, because yeh
can't. Yer jest one little feller amongst a hull lot
of others, and yeh've got to keep quiet an' do what
they tell yeh. I know how you are, Henry.
"I've knet yeh eight pair of socks, Henry, and
I've put in all yer best shirts, because I want my
boy to be jest as warm and comf'able as anybody
in the army. Whenever they get holes in 'em, I
want yeh to send 'em right-away back to me, so's
I kin dern 'em.
"An' allus be careful an' choose yer comp'ny.
There's lots of bad men in the army, Henry.
The army makes 'em wild, and they like nothing
better than the job of leading off a young feller
like you, as ain't never been away from home
much and has allus had a mother, an' a-learning
'em to drink and swear. Keep clear of them
folks, Henry. I don't want yeh to ever do any-
thing, Henry, that yeh would be 'shamed to let
me know about. Jest think as if I was a-watchin'
yeh. If yeh keep that in yer mind allus, I guess
yeh'll come out about right.
"Yeh must allus remember yer father, too,
child, an' remember he never drunk a drop of
licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross oath.
"I don't know what else to tell yeh, Henry,
excepting that yeh must never do no shirking,
child, on my account. If so be a time comes when
yeh have to be kilt or do a mean thing, why,
Henry, don't think of anything 'cept what's right,
because there's many a woman has to bear up
'ginst sech things these times, and the Lord 'll
take keer of us all.
"Don't forgit about the socks and the shirts,
child; and I've put a cup of blackberry jam with
yer bundle, because I know yeh like it above all
things. Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good boy."
He had, of course, been impatient under the
ordeal of this speech. It had not been quite what
he expected, and he had borne it with an air of
irritation. He departed feeling vague relief.
Still, when he had looked back from the gate,
he had seen his mother kneeling among the po-
tato parings. Her brown face, upraised, was
stained with tears, and her spare form was quiver-
ing. He bowed his head and went on, feeling
suddenly ashamed of his purposes.
From his home he had gone to the seminary
to bid adieu to many schoolmates. They had
thronged about him with wonder and admiration.
He had felt the gulf now between them and had
swelled with calm pride. He and some of his
fellows who had donned blue were quite over-
whelmed with privileges for all of one afternoon,
and it had been a very delicious thing. They had
A certain light-haired girl had made vivacious
fun at his martial spirit, but there was another and
darker girl whom he had gazed at steadfastly, and
he thought she grew demure and sad at sight of
his blue and brass. As he had walked down the
path between the rows of oaks, he had turned his
head and detected her at a window watching his
departure. As he perceived her, she had im-
mediately begun to stare up through the high
tree branches at the sky. He had seen a good
deal of flurry and haste in her movement as she
changed her attitude. He often thought of it.
On the way to Washington his spirit had
soared. The regiment was fed and caressed at
station after station until the youth had believed
that he must be a hero. There was a lavish ex-
penditure of bread and cold meats, coffee, and
pickles and cheese. As he basked in the smiles
of the girls and was patted and complimented by
the old men, he had felt growing within him the
strength to do mighty deeds of arms.
After complicated journeyings with many
pauses, there had come months of monotonous
life in a camp. He had had the belief that real
war was a series of death struggles with small
time in between for sleep and meals; but since his
regiment had come to the field the army had done
little but sit still and try to keep warm.
He was brought then gradually back to his old
ideas. Greeklike struggles would be no more.
Men were better, or more timid. Secular and
religious education had effaced the throat-grap-
pling instinct, or else firm finance held in check
He had grown to regard himself merely as a
part of a vast blue demonstration. His province
was to look out, as far as he could, for his per-
sonal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle
his thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which
must agitate the minds of the generals. Also, he
was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled
and drilled and reviewed.
The only foes he had seen were some pickets
along the river bank. They were a sun-tanned,
philosophical lot, who sometimes shot reflectively
at the blue pickets. When reproached for this
afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and
swore by their gods that the guns had exploded
without their permission. The youth, on guard
duty one night, conversed across the stream with
one of them. He was a slightly ragged man, who
spat skillfully between his shoes and possessed a
great fund of bland and infantile assurance. The
youth liked him personally.
"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a
right dum good feller." This sentiment, floating
to him upon the still air, had made him tempo-
rarily regret war.
Various veterans had told him tales. Some
talked of gray, bewhiskered hordes who were
advancing with relentless curses and chewing
tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous
bodies of fierce soldiery who were sweeping
along like the Huns. Others spoke of tattered
and eternally hungry men who fired despondent
powders. "They'll charge through hell's fire an'
brimstone t' git a holt on a haversack, an' sech
stomachs ain't a-lastin' long," he was told. From
the stories, the youth imagined the red, live bones
sticking out through slits in the faded uniforms.
Still, he could not put a whole faith in veter-
ans' tales, for recruits were their prey. They
talked much of smoke, fire, and blood, but he
could not tell how much might be lies. They
persistently yelled "Fresh fish!" at him, and were
in no wise to be trusted.
However, he perceived now that it did not
greatly matter what kind of soldiers he was going
to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no one
disputed. There was a more serious problem. He
lay in his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to
mathematically prove to himself that he would
not run from a battle.
Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle
too seriously with this question. In his life he had
taken certain things for granted, never challeng-
ing his belief in ultimate success, and bothering
little about means and roads. But here he was
confronted with a thing of moment. It had sud-
denly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he
might run. He was forced to admit that as far as
war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.
A sufficient time before he would have allowed
the problem to kick its heels at the outer portals
of his mind, but now he felt compelled to give
serious attention to it.
A little panic-fear grew in his mind. As his
imagination went forward to a fight, he saw hide-
ous possibilities. He contemplated the lurking
menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to
see himself standing stoutly in the midst of them.
He recalled his visions of broken-bladed glory,
but in the shadow of the impending tumult he
suspected them to be impossible pictures.
He sprang from the bunk and began to pace
nervously to and fro. "Good Lord, what's th'
matter with me?" he said aloud.
He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were
useless. Whatever he had learned of himself was
here of no avail. He was an unknown quantity.
He saw that he would again be obliged to experi-
ment as he had in early youth. He must accumu-
late information of himself, and meanwhile he re-
solved to remain close upon his guard lest those
qualities of which he knew nothing should ever-
lastingly disgrace him. "Good Lord!" he re-
peated in dismay.
After a time the tall soldier slid dexterously
through the hole. The loud private followed.
They were wrangling.
"That's all right," said the tall soldier as he
entered. He waved his hand expressively. "You
can believe me or not, jest as you like. All you
got to do is to sit down and wait as quiet as you
can. Then pretty soon you'll find out I was right."
His comrade grunted stubbornly. For a mo-
ment he seemed to be searching for a formidable
reply. Finally he said: "Well, you don't know
everything in the world, do you?"
"Didn't say I knew everything in the world,"
retorted the other sharply. He began to stow
various articles snugly into his knapsack.
The youth, pausing in his nervous walk, looked
down at the busy figure. "Going to be a battle,
sure, is there, Jim?" he asked.
"Of course there is," replied the tall soldier.
"Of course there is. You jest wait 'til to-morrow,
and you'll see one of the biggest battles ever was.
You jest wait."
"Thunder!" said the youth.
"Oh, you'll see fighting this time, my boy,
what'll be regular out-and-out fighting," added
the tall soldier, with the air of a man who is
about to exhibit a battle for the benefit of his friends.
"Huh!" said the loud one from a corner.
"Well," remarked the youth, "like as not this
story'll turn out jest like them others did."
"Not much it won't," replied the tall soldier,
exasperated. "Not much it won't. Didn't the
cavalry all start this morning?" He glared about
him. No one denied his statement. "The cav-
alry started this morning," he continued. "They
say there ain't hardly any cavalry left in camp.
They're going to Richmond, or some place, while
we fight all the Johnnies. It's some dodge like
that. The regiment's got orders, too. A feller
what seen 'em go to headquarters told me a little
while ago. And they're raising blazes all over
camp--anybody can see that."
"Shucks!" said the loud one.
The youth remained silent for a time. At last
he spoke to the tall soldier. "Jim!"
"How do you think the reg'ment 'll do?"
"Oh, they'll fight all right, I guess, after they
once get into it," said the other with cold judg-
ment. He made a fine use of the third person.
"There's been heaps of fun poked at 'em because
they're new, of course, and all that; but they'll
fight all right, I guess."
"Think any of the boys 'll run?" persisted the youth.
"Oh, there may be a few of 'em run, but
there's them kind in every regiment, 'specially
when they first goes under fire," said the other
in a tolerant way. "Of course it might happen
that the hull kit-and-boodle might start and run,
if some big fighting came first-off, and then again
they might stay and fight like fun. But you can't
bet on nothing. Of course they ain't never been
under fire yet, and it ain't likely they'll lick the
hull rebel army all-to-oncet the first time; but I
think they'll fight better than some, if worse than
others. That's the way I figger. They call the
reg'ment 'Fresh fish' and everything; but the
boys come of good stock, and most of 'em 'll fight
like sin after they oncet git shootin'," he added,
with a mighty emphasis on the last four words.
"Oh, you think you know--" began the loud
soldier with scorn.
The other turned savagely upon him. They
had a rapid altercation, in which they fastened
upon each other various strange epithets.
The youth at last interrupted them. "Did
you ever think you might run yourself, Jim?" he
asked. On concluding the sentence he laughed
as if he had meant to aim a joke. The loud sol-
dier also giggled.
The tall private waved his hand. "Well," said
he profoundly, "I've thought it might get too hot
for Jim Conklin in some of them scrimmages, and
if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I
s'pose I'd start and run. And if I once started to
run, I'd run like the devil, and no mistake. But
if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting, why,
I'd stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would. I'll bet on it."
"Huh!" said the loud one.
The youth of this tale felt gratitude for these
words of his comrade. He had feared that all of
the untried men possessed a great and correct
confidence. He now was in a measure reassured.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage