THE column that had butted stoutly at the
obstacles in the roadway was barely out of the
youth's sight before he saw dark waves of men
come sweeping out of the woods and down
through the fields. He knew at once that the
steel fibers had been washed from their hearts.
They were bursting from their coats and
their equipments as from entanglements. They
charged down upon him like terrified buffaloes.
Behind them blue smoke curled and clouded
above the treetops, and through the thickets he
could sometimes see a distant pink glare. The
voices of the cannon were clamoring in interminable chorus.
The youth was horrorstricken. He stared
in agony and amazement. He forgot that he
was engaged in combating the universe. He
threw aside his mental pamphlets on the philoso-
phy of the retreated and rules for the guidance
of the damned.
The fight was lost. The dragons were com-
ing with invincible strides. The army, helpless
in the matted thickets and blinded by the over-
hanging night, was going to be swallowed. War,
the red animal, war, the blood-swollen god, would
have bloated fill.
Within him something bade to cry out. He
had the impulse to make a rallying speech, to sing
a battle hymn, but he could only get his tongue to
call into the air: "Why--why--what--what 's
Soon he was in the midst of them. They
were leaping and scampering all about him.
Their blanched faces shone in the dusk. They
seemed, for the most part, to be very burly men.
The youth turned from one to another of them as
they galloped along. His incoherent questions
were lost. They were heedless of his appeals.
They did not seem to see him.
They sometimes gabbled insanely. One huge
man was asking of the sky: "Say, where de
plank road? Where de plank road!" It was as if
he had lost a child. He wept in his pain and dismay.
Presently, men were running hither and
thither in all ways. The artillery booming,
forward, rearward, and on the flanks made
jumble of ideas of direction. Landmarks had
vanished into the gathered gloom. The youth
began to imagine that he had got into the
center of the tremendous quarrel, and he could
perceive no way out of it. From the mouths of
the fleeing men came a thousand wild questions,
but no one made answers.
The youth, after rushing about and throwing
interrogations at the heedless bands of retreating
infantry, finally clutched a man by the arm. They
swung around face to face.
"Why--why--" stammered the youth strug-
gling with his balking tongue.
The man screamed: "Let go me! Let go
me!" His face was livid and his eyes were roll-
ing uncontrolled. He was heaving and panting.
He still grasped his rifle, perhaps having for-
gotten to release his hold upon it. He tugged
frantically, and the youth being compelled to lean
forward was dragged several paces.
"Let go me! Let go me!"
"Why--why--" stuttered the youth.
"Well, then!" bawled the man in a lurid
rage. He adroitly and fiercely swung his rifle.
It crushed upon the youth's head. The man ran on.
The youth's fingers had turned to paste upon
the other's arm. The energy was smitten from
his muscles. He saw the flaming wings of light-
ning flash before his vision. There was a deaf-
ening rumble of thunder within his head.
Suddenly his legs seemed to die. He sank
writhing to the ground. He tried to arise. In
his efforts against the numbing pain he was like a
man wrestling with a creature of the air.
There was a sinister struggle.
Sometimes he would achieve a position half
erect, battle with the air for a moment, and
then fall again, grabbing at the grass. His face
was of a clammy pallor. Deep groans were
wrenched from him.
At last, with a twisting movement, he got
upon his hands and knees, and from thence, like a
babe trying to walk, to his feet. Pressing his
hands to his temples he went lurching over the grass.
He fought an intense battle with his body.
His dulled senses wished him to swoon and he
opposed them stubbornly, his mind portraying
unknown dangers and mutilations if he should
fall upon the field. He went tall soldier fashion.
He imagined secluded spots where he could fall
and be unmolested. To search for one he strove
against the tide of his pain.
Once he put his hand to the top of his head
and timidly touched the wound. The scratching
pain of the contact made him draw a long breath
through his clinched teeth. His fingers were
dabbled with blood. He regarded them with a
Around him he could hear the grumble of
jolted cannon as the scurrying horses were lashed
toward the front. Once, a young officer on a
besplashed charger nearly ran him down. He
turned and watched the mass of guns, men, and
horses sweeping in a wide curve toward a gap in
a fence. The officer was making excited motions
with a gauntleted hand. The guns followed the
teams with an air of unwillingness, of being
dragged by the heels.
Some officers of the scattered infantry were
cursing and railing like fishwives. Their scold-
ing voices could be heard above the din. Into
the unspeakable jumble in the roadway rode a
squadron of cavalry. The faded yellow of their
facings shone bravely. There was a mighty altercation.
The artillery were assembling as if for a conference.
The blue haze of evening was upon the field.
The lines of forest were long purple shadows.
One cloud lay along the western sky partly
smothering the red.
As the youth left the scene behind him, he
heard the guns suddenly roar out. He imagined
them shaking in black rage. They belched and
howled like brass devils guarding a gate. The
soft air was filled with the tremendous remon-
strance. With it came the shattering peal of
opposing infantry. Turning to look behind him,
he could see sheets of orange light illumine the
shadowy distance. There were subtle and sudden
lightnings in the far air. At times he thought he
could see heaving masses of men.
He hurried on in the dusk. The day had
faded until he could barely distinguish place for
his feet. The purple darkness was filled with
men who lectured and jabbered. Sometimes he
could see them gesticulating against the blue and
somber sky. There seemed to be a great ruck of
men and munitions spread about in the forest and
in the fields.
The little narrow roadway now lay lifeless.
There were overturned wagons like sun-dried
bowlders. The bed of the former torrent was
choked with the bodies of horses and splintered
parts of war machines.
It had come to pass that his wound pained him
but little. He was afraid to move rapidly, how-
ever, for a dread of disturbing it. He held his
head very still and took many precautions against
stumbling. He was filled with anxiety, and his
face was pinched and drawn in anticipation of the
pain of any sudden mistake of his feet in the gloom.
His thoughts, as he walked, fixed intently
upon his hurt. There was a cool, liquid feeling
about it and he imagined blood moving slowly
down under his hair. His head seemed swollen
to a size that made him think his neck to be
The new silence of his wound made much
worriment. The little blistering voices of pain
that had called out from his scalp were, he
thought, definite in their expression of danger.
By them he believed that he could measure his
plight. But when they remained ominously
silent he became frightened and imagined ter-
rible fingers that clutched into his brain.
Amid it he began to reflect upon various
incidents and conditions of the past. He be-
thought him of certain meals his mother had
cooked at home, in which those dishes of which
he was particularly fond had occupied prominent
positions. He saw the spread table. The pine
walls of the kitchen were glowing in the warm
light from the stove. Too, he remembered how
he and his companions used to go from the school-
house to the bank of a shaded pool. He saw his
clothes in disorderly array upon the grass of the
bank. He felt the swash of the fragrant water
upon his body. The leaves of the overhanging
maple rustled with melody in the wind of youthful summer.
He was overcome presently by a dragging
weariness. His head hung forward and his
shoulders were stooped as if he were bearing a
great bundle. His feet shuffled along the ground.
He held continuous arguments as to whether
he should lie down and sleep at some near spot,
or force himself on until he reached a certain
haven. He often tried to dismiss the question,
but his body persisted in rebellion and his senses
nagged at him like pampered babies.
At last he heard a cheery voice near his shoulder:
"Yeh seem t' be in a pretty bad way, boy?"
The youth did not look up, but he assented
with thick tongue. "Uh!"
The owner of the cheery voice took him firmly
by the arm. "Well," he said, with a round
laugh, "I'm goin' your way. Th' hull gang is
goin' your way. An' I guess I kin give yeh a
lift." They began to walk like a drunken man
and his friend.
As they went along, the man questioned the
youth and assisted him with the replies like one
manipulating the mind of a child. Sometimes he
interjected anecdotes. "What reg'ment do yeh
b'long teh? Eh? What's that? Th' 304th N'
York? Why, what corps is that in? Oh, it is?
Why, I thought they wasn't engaged t'-day--
they 're 'way over in th' center. Oh, they was,
eh? Well, pretty nearly everybody got their
share 'a fightin' t'-day. By dad, I give myself up
fer dead any number 'a times. There was shootin'
here an' shootin' there, an' hollerin' here an'
hollerin' there, in th' damn' darkness, until I
couldn't tell t' save m' soul which side I was on.
Sometimes I thought I was sure 'nough from
Ohier, an' other times I could 'a swore I was
from th' bitter end of Florida. It was th' most
mixed up dern thing I ever see. An' these here
hull woods is a reg'lar mess. It'll be a miracle
if we find our reg'ments t'-night. Pretty soon,
though, we 'll meet a-plenty of guards an' provost-
guards, an' one thing an' another. Ho! there they
go with an off'cer, I guess. Look at his hand
a-draggin'. He 's got all th' war he wants, I bet.
He won't be talkin' so big about his reputation
an' all when they go t' sawin' off his leg. Poor
feller! My brother 's got whiskers jest like that.
How did yeh git 'way over here, anyhow? Your
reg'ment is a long way from here, ain't it? Well,
I guess we can find it. Yeh know there was a
boy killed in my comp'ny t'-day that I thought
th' world an' all of. Jack was a nice feller. By
ginger, it hurt like thunder t' see ol' Jack jest git
knocked flat. We was a-standin' purty peaceable
fer a spell, 'though there was men runnin' ev'ry
way all 'round us, an' while we was a-standin'
like that, 'long come a big fat feller. He began
t' peck at Jack's elbow, an' he ses: 'Say, where 's
th' road t' th' river?' An' Jack, he never paid no
attention, an' th' feller kept on a-peckin' at his
elbow an' sayin': 'Say, where 's th' road t' th'
river?' Jack was a-lookin' ahead all th' time
tryin' t' see th' Johnnies comin' through th'
woods, an' he never paid no attention t' this big
fat feller fer a long time, but at last he turned
'round an' he ses: 'Ah, go t' hell an' find th'
road t' th' river!' An' jest then a shot slapped
him bang on th' side th' head. He was a sergeant,
too. Them was his last words. Thunder, I wish
we was sure 'a findin' our reg'ments t'-night. It 's
goin' t' be long huntin'. But I guess we kin do it."
In the search which followed, the man of the
cheery voice seemed to the youth to possess a
wand of a magic kind. He threaded the mazes
of the tangled forest with a strange fortune. In
encounters with guards and patrols he displayed
the keenness of a detective and the valor of a
gamin. Obstacles fell before him and became of
assistance. The youth, with his chin still on his
breast, stood woodenly by while his companion
beat ways and means out of sullen things.
The forest seemed a vast hive of men buzzing
about in frantic circles, but the cheery man con-
ducted the youth without mistakes, until at last
he began to chuckle with glee and self-satisfaction.
"Ah, there yeh are! See that fire?"
The youth nodded stupidly.
"Well, there 's where your reg'ment is. An'
now, good-by, ol' boy, good luck t' yeh."
A warm and strong hand clasped the youth's
languid fingers for an instant, and then he heard
a cheerful and audacious whistling as the man
strode away. As he who had so befriended him
was thus passing out of his life, it suddenly occurred
to the youth that he had not once seen his face.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage