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The Red Badge of Courage
An Episode of the American Civil War
by Stephen Crane

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THE next morning the youth discovered that

his tall comrade had been the fast-flying messen-

ger of a mistake. There was much scoffing at

the latter by those who had yesterday been firm

adherents of his views, and there was even a lit-

tle sneering by men who had never believed the

rumor. The tall one fought with a man from

Chatfield Corners and beat him severely.

The youth felt, however, that his problem was

in no wise lifted from him. There was, on the

contrary, an irritating prolongation. The tale

had created in him a great concern for himself.

Now, with the newborn question in his mind, he

was compelled to sink back into his old place as

part of a blue demonstration.

For days he made ceaseless calculations, but

they were all wondrously unsatisfactory. He

found that he could establish nothing. He final-

ly concluded that the only way to prove himself

was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively to

watch his legs to discover their merits and faults.

He reluctantly admitted that he could not sit

still and with a mental slate and pencil derive an

answer. To gain it, he must have blaze, blood,

and danger, even as a chemist requires this, that,

and the other. So he fretted for an opportunity.

Meanwhile he continually tried to measure

himself by his comrades. The tall soldier, for

one, gave him some assurance. This man's se-

rene unconcern dealt him a measure of con-

fidence, for he had known him since childhood,

and from his intimate knowledge he did not see

how he could be capable of anything that was

beyond him, the youth. Still, he thought that

his comrade might be mistaken about himself.

Or, on the other hand, he might be a man here-

tofore doomed to peace and obscurity, but, in

reality, made to shine in war.

The youth would have liked to have discov-

ered another who suspected himself. A sympa-

thetic comparison of mental notes would have

been a joy to him.

He occasionally tried to fathom a comrade

with seductive sentences. He looked about to

find men in the proper mood. All attempts

failed to bring forth any statement which looked

in any way like a confession to those doubts

which he privately acknowledged in himself.

He was afraid to make an open declaration of

his concern, because he dreaded to place some

unscrupulous confidant upon the high plane of

the unconfessed from which elevation he could

be derided.

In regard to his companions his mind wa-

vered between two opinions, according to his

mood. Sometimes he inclined to believing them

all heroes. In fact, he usually admitted in secret

the superior development of the higher qualities

in others. He could conceive of men going very

insignificantly about the world bearing a load of

courage unseen, and although he had known

many of his comrades through boyhood, he be-

gan to fear that his judgment of them had been

blind. Then, in other moments, he flouted these

theories, and assured himself that his fellows

were all privately wondering and quaking.

His emotions made him feel strange in the

presence of men who talked excitedly of a pro-

spective battle as of a drama they were about to

witness, with nothing but eagerness and curiosity

apparent in their faces. It was often that he sus-

pected them to be liars.

He did not pass such thoughts without severe

condemnation of himself. He dinned reproaches

at times. He was convicted by himself of many

shameful crimes against the gods of traditions.

In his great anxiety his heart was continually

clamoring at what he considered the intolerable

slowness of the generals. They seemed content

to perch tranquilly on the river bank, and leave

him bowed down by the weight of a great prob-

lem. He wanted it settled forthwith. He could

not long bear such a load, he said. Sometimes

his anger at the commanders reached an acute

stage, and he grumbled about the camp like a veteran.

One morning, however, he found himself in

the ranks of his prepared regiment. The men

were whispering speculations and recounting the

old rumors. In the gloom before the break of

the day their uniforms glowed a deep purple

hue. From across the river the red eyes were

still peering. In the eastern sky there was a yel-

low patch like a rug laid for the feet of the com-

ing sun; and against it, black and patternlike,

loomed the gigantic figure of the colonel on a

gigantic horse.

From off in the darkness came the trampling

of feet. The youth could occasionally see dark

shadows that moved like monsters. The regi-

ment stood at rest for what seemed a long time.

The youth grew impatient. It was unendurable

the way these affairs were managed. He won-

dered how long they were to be kept waiting.

As he looked all about him and pondered

upon the mystic gloom, he began to believe that

at any moment the ominous distance might be

aflare, and the rolling crashes of an engagement

come to his ears. Staring once at the red eyes

across the river, he conceived them to be grow-

ing larger, as the orbs of a row of dragons ad-

vancing. He turned toward the colonel and saw

him lift his gigantic arm and calmly stroke his mustache.

At last he heard from along the road at the

foot of the hill the clatter of a horse's galloping

hoofs. It must be the coming of orders. He

bent forward, scarce breathing. The exciting

clickety-click, as it grew louder and louder,

seemed to be beating upon his soul. Presently a

horseman with jangling equipment drew rein be-

fore the colonel of the regiment. The two held

a short, sharp-worded conversation. The men in

the foremost ranks craned their necks.

As the horseman wheeled his animal and gal-

loped away he turned to shout over his shoulder,

"Don't forget that box of cigars!" The colonel

mumbled in reply. The youth wondered what a

box of cigars had to do with war.

A moment later the regiment went swinging

off into the darkness. It was now like one of

those moving monsters wending with many feet.

The air was heavy, and cold with dew. A mass

of wet grass, marched upon, rustled like silk.

There was an occasional flash and glimmer

of steel from the backs of all these huge crawl-

ing reptiles. From the road came creakings and

grumblings as some surly guns were dragged away.

The men stumbled along still muttering specu-

lations. There was a subdued debate. Once a

man fell down, and as he reached for his rifle a

comrade, unseeing, trod upon his hand. He of

the injured fingers swore bitterly and aloud. A

low, tittering laugh went among his fellows.

Presently they passed into a roadway and

marched forward with easy strides. A dark

regiment moved before them, and from behind

also came the tinkle of equipments on the bodies

of marching men.

The rushing yellow of the developing day

went on behind their backs. When the sunrays

at last struck full and mellowingly upon the

earth, the youth saw that the landscape was

streaked with two long, thin, black columns

which disappeared on the brow of a hill in front

and rearward vanished in a wood. They were

like two serpents crawling from the cavern of the night.

The river was not in view. The tall soldier

burst into praises of what he thought to be his

powers of perception.

Some of the tall one's companions cried with

emphasis that they, too, had evolved the same

thing, and they congratulated themselves upon

it. But there were others who said that the tall

one's plan was not the true one at all. They per-

sisted with other theories. There was a vigorous


The youth took no part in them. As he

walked along in careless line he was engaged

with his own eternal debate. He could not hin-

der himself from dwelling upon it. He was de-

spondent and sullen, and threw shifting glances

about him. He looked ahead, often expecting to

hear from the advance the rattle of firing.

But the long serpents crawled slowly from

hill to hill without bluster of smoke. A dun-col-

ored cloud of dust floated away to the right.

The sky overhead was of a fairy blue.

The youth studied the faces of his compan-

ions, ever on the watch to detect kindred emo-

tions. He suffered disappointment. Some ardor

of the air which was causing the veteran com-

mands to move with glee--almost with song--

had infected the new regiment. The men began

to speak of victory as of a thing they knew.

Also, the tall soldier received his vindication.

They were certainly going to come around in

behind the enemy. They expressed commisera-

tion for that part of the army which had been

left upon the river bank, felicitating themselves

upon being a part of a blasting host.

The youth, considering himself as separated

from the others, was saddened by the blithe and

merry speeches that went from rank to rank.

The company wags all made their best endeav-

ors. The regiment tramped to the tune of laughter.

The blatant soldier often convulsed whole

files by his biting sarcasms aimed at the tall one.

And it was not long before all the men seemed

to forget their mission. Whole brigades grinned

in unison, and regiments laughed.

A rather fat soldier attempted to pilfer a horse

from a dooryard. He planned to load his knap-

sack upon it. He was escaping with his prize

when a young girl rushed from the house and

grabbed the animal's mane. There followed a

wrangle. The young girl, with pink cheeks and

shining eyes, stood like a dauntless statue.

The observant regiment, standing at rest in

the roadway, whooped at once, and entered

whole-souled upon the side of the maiden. The

men became so engrossed in this affair that they

entirely ceased to remember their own large war.

They jeered the piratical private, and called

attention to various defects in his personal ap-

pearance; and they were wildly enthusiastic in

support of the young girl.

To her, from some distance, came bold advice.

"Hit him with a stick."

There were crows and catcalls showered

upon him when he retreated without the horse.

The regiment rejoiced at his downfall. Loud

and vociferous congratulations were showered

upon the maiden, who stood panting and regard-

ing the troops with defiance.

At nightfall the column broke into regimental

pieces, and the fragments went into the fields to

camp. Tents sprang up like strange plants.

Camp fires, like red, peculiar blossoms, dotted the night.

The youth kept from intercourse with his

companions as much as circumstances would

allow him. In the evening he wandered a few

paces into the gloom. From this little distance

the many fires, with the black forms of men pass-

ing to and fro before the crimson rays, made

weird and satanic effects.

He lay down in the grass. The blades

pressed tenderly against his cheek. The moon

had been lighted and was hung in a treetop.

The liquid stillness of the night enveloping him

made him feel vast pity for himself. There was

a caress in the soft winds; and the whole mood

of the darkness, he thought, was one of sympathy

for himself in his distress.

He wished, without reserve, that he was at

home again making the endless rounds from the

house to the barn, from the barn to the fields,

from the fields to the barn, from the barn to the

house. He remembered he had often cursed the

brindle cow and her mates, and had sometimes

flung milking stools. But, from his present point

of view, there was a halo of happiness about each

of their heads, and he would have sacrificed all

the brass buttons on the continent to have been

enabled to return to them. He told himself that

he was not formed for a soldier. And he mused

seriously upon the radical differences between

himself and those men who were dodging imp-

like around the fires.

As he mused thus he heard the rustle of grass,

and, upon turning his head, discovered the loud

soldier. He called out, "Oh, Wilson!"

The latter approached and looked down.

"Why, hello, Henry; is it you? What you doing here?"

"Oh, thinking," said the youth.

The other sat down and carefully lighted his

pipe. "You're getting blue, my boy. You're

looking thundering peeked. What the dickens

is wrong with you?"

"Oh, nothing," said the youth.

The loud soldier launched then into the sub-

ject of the anticipated fight. "Oh, we've got

'em now!" As he spoke his boyish face was

wreathed in a gleeful smile, and his voice had

an exultant ring. "We've got 'em now. At

last, by the eternal thunders, we'll lick 'em good!"

"If the truth was known," he added, more

soberly, "THEY'VE licked US about every clip up to

now; but this time--this time--we'll lick 'em good!"

"I thought you was objecting to this march

a little while ago," said the youth coldly.

"Oh, it wasn't that," explained the other. "I

don't mind marching, if there's going to be fight-

ing at the end of it. What I hate is this getting

moved here and moved there, with no good com-

ing of it, as far as I can see, excepting sore feet

and damned short rations."

"Well, Jim Conklin says we'll get a plenty of

fighting this time."

"He's right for once, I guess, though I can't

see how it come. This time we're in for a big

battle, and we've got the best end of it, certain

sure. Gee rod! how we will thump 'em!"

He arose and began to pace to and fro excit-

edly. The thrill of his enthusiasm made him

walk with an elastic step. He was sprightly,

vigorous, fiery in his belief in success. He

looked into the future with clear, proud eye, and

he swore with the air of an old soldier.

The youth watched him for a moment in

silence. When he finally spoke his voice was as

bitter as dregs. "Oh, you're going to do great

things, I s'pose!"

The loud soldier blew a thoughtful cloud of

smoke from his pipe. "Oh, I don't know," he

remarked with dignity; "I don't know. I s'pose

I'll do as well as the rest. I'm going to try like

thunder." He evidently complimented himself

upon the modesty of this statement.

"How do you know you won't run when the

time comes?" asked the youth.

"Run?" said the loud one; "run?--of course

not!" He laughed.

"Well," continued the youth, "lots of good-

a-'nough men have thought they was going to do

great things before the fight, but when the time

come they skedaddled."

"Oh, that's all true, I s'pose," replied the

other; "but I'm not going to skedaddle. The

man that bets on my running will lose his money,

that's all." He nodded confidently.

"Oh, shucks!" said the youth. "You ain't

the bravest man in the world, are you?"

"No, I ain't," exclaimed the loud soldier in-

dignantly; "and I didn't say I was the bravest

man in the world, neither. I said I was going to

do my share of fighting--that's what I said. And

I am, too. Who are you, anyhow. You talk as

if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte."

He glared at the youth for a moment, and then

strode away.

The youth called in a savage voice after his

comrade: "Well, you needn't git mad about it!"

But the other continued on his way and made no reply.

He felt alone in space when his injured com-

rade had disappeared. His failure to discover

any mite of resemblance in their view points

made him more miserable than before. No one

seemed to be wrestling with such a terrific per-

sonal problem. He was a mental outcast.

He went slowly to his tent and stretched him-

self on a blanket by the side of the snoring tall

soldier. In the darkness he saw visions of a thou-

sand-tongued fear that would babble at his back

and cause him to flee, while others were going

coolly about their country's business. He admit-

ted that he would not be able to cope with this

monster. He felt that every nerve in his body

would be an ear to hear the voices, while other

men would remain stolid and deaf.

And as he sweated with the pain of these

thoughts, he could hear low, serene sentences.

"I'll bid five." "Make it six." "Seven."

"Seven goes."

He stared at the red, shivering reflection of

a fire on the white wall of his tent until, ex-

hausted and ill from the monotony of his suf-

fering, he fell asleep.



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