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

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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

the air.

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

being, describing.

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

the spot.

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

upon him.

"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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