THE youth cringed as if discovered in a crime.
By heavens, they had won after all! The im-
becile line had remained and become victors.
He could hear cheering.
He lifted himself upon his toes and looked in
the direction of the fight. A yellow fog lay wal-
lowing on the treetops. From beneath it came
the clatter of musketry. Hoarse cries told of an advance.
He turned away amazed and angry. He felt
that he had been wronged.
He had fled, he told himself, because annihila-
tion approached. He had done a good part in
saving himself, who was a little piece of the army.
He had considered the time, he said, to be one in
which it was the duty of every little piece to res-
cue itself if possible. Later the officers could fit
the little pieces together again, and make a battle
front. If none of the little pieces were wise enough
to save themselves from the flurry of death at such
a time, why, then, where would be the army?
It was all plain that he had proceeded according to
very correct and commendable rules. His ac-
tions had been sagacious things. They had been
full of strategy. They were the work of a master's legs.
Thoughts of his comrades came to him. The
brittle blue line had withstood the blows and won.
He grew bitter over it. It seemed that the blind
ignorance and stupidity of those little pieces had
betrayed him. He had been overturned and
crushed by their lack of sense in holding the po-
sition, when intelligent deliberation would have
convinced them that it was impossible. He, the
enlightened man who looks afar in the dark, had
fled because of his superior perceptions and
knowledge. He felt a great anger against his
comrades. He knew it could be proved that
they had been fools.
He wondered what they would remark when
later he appeared in camp. His mind heard
howls of derision. Their density would not en-
able them to understand his sharper point of view.
He began to pity himself acutely. He was
ill used. He was trodden beneath the feet of an
iron injustice. He had proceeded with wisdom
and from the most righteous motives under
heaven's blue only to be frustrated by hateful
A dull, animal-like rebellion against his fel-
lows, war in the abstract, and fate grew within
him. He shambled along with bowed head, his
brain in a tumult of agony and despair. When
he looked loweringly up, quivering at each
sound, his eyes had the expression of those of
a criminal who thinks his guilt and his punishment great,
and knows that he can find no words.
He went from the fields into a thick woods, as
if resolved to bury himself. He wished to get
out of hearing of the crackling shots which were
to him like voices.
The ground was cluttered with vines and
bushes, and the trees grew close and spread out
like bouquets. He was obliged to force his way
with much noise. The creepers, catching against
his legs, cried out harshly as their sprays were
torn from the barks of trees. The swishing sap-
lings tried to make known his presence to the
world. He could not conciliate the forest. As
he made his way, it was always calling out prot-
estations. When he separated embraces of trees
and vines the disturbed foliages waved their arms
and turned their face leaves toward him. He
dreaded lest these noisy motions and cries should
bring men to look at him. So he went far,
seeking dark and intricate places.
After a time the sound of musketry grew faint
and the cannon boomed in the distance. The sun,
suddenly apparent, blazed among the trees. The
insects were making rhythmical noises. They
seemed to be grinding their teeth in unison. A
woodpecker stuck his impudent head around the
side of a tree. A bird flew on lighthearted wing.
Off was the rumble of death. It seemed now
that Nature had no ears.
This landscape gave him assurance. A fair
field holding life. It was the religion of peace.
It would die if its timid eyes were compelled to
see blood. He conceived Nature to be a woman
with a deep aversion to tragedy.
He threw a pine cone at a jovial squirrel, and
he ran with chattering fear. High in a treetop
he stopped, and, poking his head cautiously from
behind a branch, looked down with an air of trepidation.
The youth felt triumphant at this exhibition.
There was the law, he said. Nature had given
him a sign. The squirrel, immediately upon rec-
ognizing danger, had taken to his legs without
ado. He did not stand stolidly baring his furry
belly to the missile, and die with an upward
glance at the sympathetic heavens. On the con-
trary, he had fled as fast as his legs could carry
him; and he was but an ordinary squirrel, too--
doubtless no philosopher of his race. The youth
wended, feeling that Nature was of his mind.
She re-enforced his argument with proofs that
lived where the sun shone.
Once he found himself almost into a swamp.
He was obliged to walk upon bog tufts and
watch his feet to keep from the oily mire. Paus-
ing at one time to look about him he saw, out at
some black water, a small animal pounce in and
emerge directly with a gleaming fish.
The youth went again into the deep thickets.
The brushed branches made a noise that drowned
the sounds of cannon. He walked on, going from
obscurity into promises of a greater obscurity.
At length he reached a place where the high,
arching boughs made a chapel. He softly pushed
the green doors aside and entered. Pine needles
were a gentle brown carpet. There was a reli-
gious half light.
Near the threshold he stopped, horror-stricken
at the sight of a thing.
He was being looked at by a dead man who
was seated with his back against a columnlike
tree. The corpse was dressed in a uniform that
once had been blue, but was now faded to a mel-
ancholy shade of green. The eyes, staring at the
youth, had changed to the dull hue to be seen on
the side of a dead fish. The mouth was open.
Its red had changed to an appalling yellow.
Over the gray skin of the face ran little ants.
One was trundling some sort of a bundle along
the upper lip.
The youth gave a shriek as he confronted the
thing. He was for moments turned to stone be-
fore it. He remained staring into the liquid-look-
ing eyes. The dead man and the living man ex-
changed a long look. Then the youth cautiously
put one hand behind him and brought it against
a tree. Leaning upon this he retreated, step by
step, with his face still toward the thing. He
feared that if he turned his back the body might
spring up and stealthily pursue him.
The branches, pushing against him, threat-
ened to throw him over upon it. His unguided
feet, too, caught aggravatingly in brambles; and
with it all he received a subtle suggestion to
touch the corpse. As he thought of his hand
upon it he shuddered profoundly.
At last he burst the bonds which had fastened
him to the spot and fled, unheeding the under-
brush. He was pursued by a sight of the black
ants swarming greedily upon the gray face and
venturing horribly near to the eyes.
After a time he paused, and, breathless and
panting, listened. He imagined some strange
voice would come from the dead throat and
squawk after him in horrible menaces.
The trees about the portal of the chapel
moved soughingly in a soft wind. A sad silence
was upon the little guarding edifice.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage