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

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THE youth fell back in the procession until

the tattered soldier was not in sight. Then he

started to walk on with the others.

But he was amid wounds. The mob of men

was bleeding. Because of the tattered soldier's

question he now felt that his shame could be

viewed. He was continually casting sidelong

glances to see if the men were contemplating the

letters of guilt he felt burned into his brow.

At times he regarded the wounded soldiers

in an envious way. He conceived persons with

torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished

that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.

The spectral soldier was at his side like a

stalking reproach. The man's eyes were still

fixed in a stare into the unknown. His gray,

appalling face had attracted attention in the

crowd, and men, slowing to his dreary pace, were

walking with him. They were discussing his

plight, questioning him and giving him advice.

In a dogged way he repelled them, signing to them

to go on and leave him alone. The shadows of

his face were deepening and his tight lips seemed

holding in check the moan of great despair.

There could be seen a certain stiffness in the

movements of his body, as if he were taking

infinite care not to arouse the passion of his

wounds. As he went on, he seemed always looking

for a place, like one who goes to choose a grave.

Something in the gesture of the man as he

waved the bloody and pitying soldiers away

made the youth start as if bitten. He yelled in

horror. Tottering forward he laid a quivering

hand upon the man's arm. As the latter slowly

turned his waxlike features toward him, the

youth screamed:

"Gawd! Jim Conklin!"

The tall soldier made a little commonplace

smile. "Hello, Henry," he said.

The youth swayed on his legs and glared

strangely. He stuttered and stammered. "Oh,

Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"

The tall soldier held out his gory hand. There

was a curious red and black combination of new

blood and old blood upon it. "Where yeh been,

Henry?" he asked. He continued in a monoto-

nous voice, "I thought mebbe yeh got keeled

over. There 's been thunder t' pay t'-day. I was

worryin' about it a good deal."

The youth still lamented. "Oh, Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"

"Yeh know," said the tall soldier, "I was out

there." He made a careful gesture. "An',

Lord, what a circus! An', b'jiminey, I got shot--

I got shot. Yes, b'jiminey, I got shot." He

reiterated this fact in a bewildered way, as if he

did not know how it came about.

The youth put forth anxious arms to assist

him, but the tall soldier went firmly on as if pro-

pelled. Since the youth's arrival as a guardian

for his friend, the other wounded men had ceased

to display much interest. They occupied them-

selves again in dragging their own tragedies

toward the rear.

Suddenly, as the two friends marched on, the

tall soldier seemed to be overcome by a terror.

His face turned to a semblance of gray paste.

He clutched the youth's arm and looked all about

him, as if dreading to be overheard. Then he

began to speak in a shaking whisper:

"I tell yeh what I'm 'fraid of, Henry--I 'll tell

yeh what I 'm 'fraid of. I 'm 'fraid I 'll fall down

--an' then yeh know--them damned artillery

wagons--they like as not 'll run over me. That 's

what I 'm 'fraid of--"

The youth cried out to him hysterically: "I 'll

take care of yeh, Jim! I'll take care of yeh! I

swear t' Gawd I will!"

"Sure--will yeh, Henry?" the tall soldier beseeched.

"Yes--yes--I tell yeh--I'll take care of yeh,

Jim!" protested the youth. He could not speak

accurately because of the gulpings in his throat.

But the tall soldier continued to beg in a

lowly way. He now hung babelike to the

youth's arm. His eyes rolled in the wildness of

his terror. "I was allus a good friend t' yeh,

wa'n't I, Henry? I 've allus been a pretty good

feller, ain't I? An' it ain't much t' ask, is it? Jest

t' pull me along outer th' road? I 'd do it fer you,

Wouldn't I, Henry?"

He paused in piteous anxiety to await his friend's reply.

The youth had reached an anguish where the

sobs scorched him. He strove to express his

loyalty, but he could only make fantastic gestures.

However, the tall soldier seemed suddenly to

forget all those fears. He became again the

grim, stalking specter of a soldier. He went

stonily forward. The youth wished his friend to

lean upon him, but the other always shook his

head and strangely protested. "No--no--no--

leave me be--leave me be--"

His look was fixed again upon the unknown.

He moved with mysterious purpose, and all of

the youth's offers he brushed aside. "No--no--

leave me be--leave me be--"

The youth had to follow.

Presently the latter heard a voice talking

softly near his shoulders. Turning he saw that it

belonged to the tattered soldier. "Ye 'd better

take 'im outa th' road, pardner. There 's a batt'ry

comin' helitywhoop down th' road an' he 'll git

runned over. He 's a goner anyhow in about five

minutes--yeh kin see that. Ye 'd better take 'im

outa th' road. Where th' blazes does he git his

stren'th from?"

"Lord knows!" cried the youth. He was

shaking his hands helplessly.

He ran forward presently and grasped the

tall soldier by the arm. "Jim! Jim!" he coaxed,

"come with me."

The tall soldier weakly tried to wrench himself

free. "Huh," he said vacantly. He stared at the

youth for a moment. At last he spoke as if dimly

comprehending. "Oh! Inteh th' fields? Oh!"

He started blindly through the grass.

The youth turned once to look at the lashing

riders and jouncing guns of the battery. He was

startled from this view by a shrill outcry from

the tattered man.

"Gawd! He's runnin'!"

Turning his head swiftly, the youth saw his

friend running in a staggering and stumbling

way toward a little clump of bushes. His heart

seemed to wrench itself almost free from his

body at this sight. He made a noise of pain.

He and the tattered man began a pursuit. There

was a singular race.

When he overtook the tall soldier he began

to plead with all the words he could find. "Jim

--Jim--what are you doing--what makes you do

this way--you 'll hurt yerself."

The same purpose was in the tall soldier's face.

He protested in a dulled way, keeping his eyes

fastened on the mystic place of his intentions.

"No--no--don't tech me--leave me be--leave me be--"

The youth, aghast and filled with wonder at the

tall soldier, began quaveringly to question him.

"Where yeh goin', Jim? What you thinking

about? Where you going? Tell me, won't you, Jim?"

The tall soldier faced about as upon relentless

pursuers. In his eyes there was a great appeal.

"Leave me be, can't yeh? Leave me be fer a minnit."

The youth recoiled. "Why, Jim," he said, in

a dazed way, "what's the matter with you?"

The tall soldier turned and, lurching danger-

ously, went on. The youth and the tattered

soldier followed, sneaking as if whipped, feeling

unable to face the stricken man if he should again

confront them. They began to have thoughts of

a solemn ceremony. There was something rite-

like in these movements of the doomed soldier.

And there was a resemblance in him to a devotee

of a mad religion, blood-sucking, muscle-wrench-

ing, bone-crushing. They were awed and afraid.

They hung back lest he have at command a

dreadful weapon.

At last, they saw him stop and stand motion-

less. Hastening up, they perceived that his face

wore an expression telling that he had at last

found the place for which he had struggled. His

spare figure was erect; his bloody hands were

quietly at his side. He was waiting with patience

for something that he had come to meet. He was

at the rendezvous. They paused and stood, expectant.

There was a silence.

Finally, the chest of the doomed soldier began

to heave with a strained motion. It increased in

violence until it was as if an animal was within

and was kicking and tumbling furiously to be free.

This spectacle of gradual strangulation made

the youth writhe, and once as his friend rolled his

eyes, he saw something in them that made him

sink wailing to the ground. He raised his voice

in a last supreme call.


The tall soldier opened his lips and spoke.

He made a gesture. "Leave me be--don't tech

me--leave me be--"

There was another silence while he waited.

Suddenly, his form stiffened and straightened.

Then it was shaken by a prolonged ague. He

stared into space. To the two watchers there

was a curious and profound dignity in the firm

lines of his awful face.

He was invaded by a creeping strangeness

that slowly enveloped him. For a moment the

tremor of his legs caused him to dance a sort of

hideous hornpipe. His arms beat wildly about

his head in expression of implike enthusiasm.

His tall figure stretched itself to its full height.

There was a slight rending sound. Then it began

to swing forward, slow and straight, in the man-

ner of a falling tree. A swift muscular contortion

made the left shoulder strike the ground first.

The body seemed to bounce a little way from

the earth. "God!" said the tattered soldier.

The youth had watched, spellbound, this

ceremony at the place of meeting. His face

had been twisted into an expression of every

agony he had imagined for his friend.

He now sprang to his feet and, going closer,

gazed upon the pastelike face. The mouth was

open and the teeth showed in a laugh.

As the flap of the blue jacket fell away from

the body, he could see that the side looked as if it

had been chewed by wolves.

The youth turned, with sudden, livid rage,

toward the battlefield. He shook his fist. He

seemed about to deliver a philippic.


The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.



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