THE trees began softly to sing a hymn of twi-
light. The sun sank until slanted bronze rays
struck the forest. There was a lull in the noises
of insects as if they had bowed their beaks and
were making a devotional pause. There was
silence save for the chanted chorus of the trees.
Then, upon this stillness, there suddenly broke
a tremendous clangor of sounds. A crimson roar
came from the distance.
The youth stopped. He was transfixed by
this terrific medley of all noises. It was as if
worlds were being rended. There was the rip-
ping sound of musketry and the breaking crash
of the artillery.
His mind flew in all directions. He conceived
the two armies to be at each other panther
fashion. He listened for a time. Then he began
to run in the direction of the battle. He saw
that it was an ironical thing for him to be run-
ning thus toward that which he had been at such
pains to avoid. But he said, in substance, to him-
self that if the earth and the moon were about to
clash, many persons would doubtless plan to get
upon the roofs to witness the collision.
As he ran, he became aware that the forest
had stopped its music, as if at last becoming
capable of hearing the foreign sounds. The trees
hushed and stood motionless. Everything seemed
to be listening to the crackle and clatter and ear-
shaking thunder. The chorus pealed over the still earth.
It suddenly occurred to the youth that the
fight in which he had been was, after all, but
perfunctory popping. In the hearing of this
present din he was doubtful if he had seen real
battle scenes. This uproar explained a celes-
tial battle; it was tumbling hordes a-struggle in
Reflecting, he saw a sort of a humor in the
point of view of himself and his fellows during
the late encounter. They had taken themselves
and the enemy very seriously and had imagined
that they were deciding the war. Individuals
must have supposed that they were cutting the
letters of their names deep into everlasting tablets
of brass, or enshrining their reputations forever in
the hearts of their countrymen, while, as to fact,
the affair would appear in printed reports under a
meek and immaterial title. But he saw that it was
good, else, he said, in battle every one would
surely run save forlorn hopes and their ilk.
He went rapidly on. He wished to come to
the edge of the forest that he might peer out.
As he hastened, there passed through his mind
pictures of stupendous conflicts. His accumulated
thought upon such subjects was used to form
scenes. The noise was as the voice of an eloquent
Sometimes the brambles formed chains and
tried to hold him back. Trees, confronting him,
stretched out their arms and forbade him to pass.
After its previous hostility this new resistance of
the forest filled him with a fine bitterness. It
seemed that Nature could not be quite ready to kill him.
But he obstinately took roundabout ways, and
presently he was where he could see long gray
walls of vapor where lay battle lines. The voices
of cannon shook him. The musketry sounded in
long irregular surges that played havoc with his
ears. He stood regardant for a moment. His
eyes had an awestruck expression. He gawked
in the direction of the fight.
Presently he proceeded again on his forward
way. The battle was like the grinding of an
immense and terrible machine to him. Its com-
plexities and powers, its grim processes, fascinated
him. He must go close and see it produce corpses.
He came to a fence and clambered over it.
On the far side, the ground was littered with
clothes and guns. A newspaper, folded up, lay
in the dirt. A dead soldier was stretched with
his face hidden in his arm. Farther off there
was a group of four or five corpses keeping
mournful company. A hot sun had blazed upon
In this place the youth felt that he was an
invader. This forgotten part of the battle ground
was owned by the dead men, and he hurried, in
the vague apprehension that one of the swollen
forms would rise and tell him to begone.
He came finally to a road from which he
could see in the distance dark and agitated
bodies of troops, smoke-fringed. In the lane
was a blood-stained crowd streaming to the rear.
The wounded men were cursing, groaning, and
wailing. In the air, always, was a mighty swell
of sound that it seemed could sway the earth.
With the courageous words of the artillery and
the spiteful sentences of the musketry mingled
red cheers. And from this region of noises came
the steady current of the maimed.
One of the wounded men had a shoeful of
blood. He hopped like a schoolboy in a game.
He was laughing hysterically.
One was swearing that he had been shot in the
arm through the commanding general's misman-
agement of the army. One was marching with
an air imitative of some sublime drum major.
Upon his features was an unholy mixture of
merriment and agony. As he marched he sang
a bit of doggerel in a high and quavering voice:
"Sing a song 'a vic'try,
A pocketful 'a bullets,
Five an' twenty dead men
Baked in a--pie."
Parts of the procession limped and staggered to this tune.
Another had the gray seal of death already
upon his face. His lips were curled in hard lines
and his teeth were clinched. His hands were
bloody from where he had pressed them upon his
wound. He seemed to be awaiting the moment
when he should pitch headlong. He stalked like
the specter of a soldier, his eyes burning with the
power of a stare into the unknown.
There were some who proceeded sullenly, full
of anger at their wounds, and ready to turn upon
anything as an obscure cause.
An officer was carried along by two privates.
He was peevish. "Don't joggle so, Johnson, yeh
fool," he cried. "Think m' leg is made of iron?
If yeh can't carry me decent, put me down an'
let some one else do it."
He bellowed at the tottering crowd who
blocked the quick march of his bearers. "Say,
make way there, can't yeh? Make way, dickens
take it all."
They sulkily parted and went to the road-
sides. As he was carried past they made pert
remarks to him. When he raged in reply and
threatened them, they told him to be damned.
The shoulder of one of the tramping bearers
knocked heavily against the spectral soldier who
was staring into the unknown.
The youth joined this crowd and marched
along with it. The torn bodies expressed the
awful machinery in which the men had been entangled.
Orderlies and couriers occasionally broke
through the throng in the roadway, scattering
wounded men right and left, galloping on fol-
lowed by howls. The melancholy march was
continually disturbed by the messengers, and
sometimes by bustling batteries that came swing-
ing and thumping down upon them, the officers
shouting orders to clear the way.
There was a tattered man, fouled with dust,
blood and powder stain from hair to shoes, who
trudged quietly at the youth's side. He was lis-
tening with eagerness and much humility to the
lurid descriptions of a bearded sergeant. His
lean features wore an expression of awe and ad-
miration. He was like a listener in a country
store to wondrous tales told among the sugar
barrels. He eyed the story-teller with unspeak-
able wonder. His mouth was agape in yokel fashion.
The sergeant, taking note of this, gave pause
to his elaborate history while he administered a
sardonic comment. "Be keerful, honey, you 'll
be a-ketchin' flies," he said.
The tattered man shrank back abashed.
After a time he began to sidle near to the
youth, and in a different way try to make him a
friend. His voice was gentle as a girl's voice
and his eyes were pleading. The youth saw
with surprise that the soldier had two wounds,
one in the head, bound with a blood-soaked rag,
and the other in the arm, making that member
dangle like a broken bough.
After they had walked together for some time
the tattered man mustered sufficient courage to
speak. "Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?"
he timidly said. The youth, deep in thought,
glanced up at the bloody and grim figure with
its lamblike eyes. "What?"
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?
"Yes," said the youth shortly. He quickened his pace.
But the other hobbled industriously after him.
There was an air of apology in his manner, but
he evidently thought that he needed only to talk
for a time, and the youth would perceive that he
was a good fellow.
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?" he began
in a small voice, and then he achieved the forti-
tude to continue. "Dern me if I ever see fellers
fight so. Laws, how they did fight! I knowed
th' boys 'd like when they onct got square at it.
Th' boys ain't had no fair chanct up t' now, but
this time they showed what they was. I knowed
it 'd turn out this way. Yeh can't lick them boys.
No, sir! They're fighters, they be."
He breathed a deep breath of humble admiration.
He had looked at the youth for encouragement
several times. He received none, but gradually
he seemed to get absorbed in his subject.
"I was talkin' 'cross pickets with a boy from
Georgie, onct, an' that boy, he ses, 'Your fellers
'll all run like hell when they onct hearn a gun,'
he ses. 'Mebbe they will,' I ses, 'but I don't
b'lieve none of it,' I ses; 'an' b'jiminey,' I ses back
t' 'um, 'mebbe your fellers 'll all run like hell
when they onct hearn a gun,' I ses. He larfed.
Well, they didn't run t' day, did they, hey? No,
sir! They fit, an' fit, an' fit."
His homely face was suffused with a light of
love for the army which was to him all things
beautiful and powerful.
After a time he turned to the youth. "Where
yeh hit, ol' boy?" he asked in a brotherly tone.
The youth felt instant panic at this question,
although at first its full import was not borne in
"What?" he asked.
"Where yeh hit?" repeated the tattered man.
"Why," began the youth, "I--I--that is--why--I--"
He turned away suddenly and slid through
the crowd. His brow was heavily flushed, and
his fingers were picking nervously at one of his
buttons. He bent his head and fastened his eyes
studiously upon the button as if it were a little problem.
The tattered man looked after him in astonishment.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage