THE youth went slowly toward the fire in-
dicated by his departed friend. As he reeled, he
bethought him of the welcome his comrades
would give him. He had a conviction that he
would soon feel in his sore heart the barbed
missiles of ridicule. He had no strength to in-
vent a tale; he would be a soft target.
He made vague plans to go off into the deeper
darkness and hide, but they were all destroyed
by the voices of exhaustion and pain from his
body. His ailments, clamoring, forced him to
seek the place of food and rest, at whatever cost.
He swung unsteadily toward the fire. He
could see the forms of men throwing black
shadows in the red light, and as he went nearer
it became known to him in some way that the
ground was strewn with sleeping men.
Of a sudden he confronted a black and
monstrous figure. A rifle barrel caught some
glinting beams. "Halt! halt!" He was dismayed
for a moment, but he presently thought
that he recognized the nervous voice. As he
stood tottering before the rifle barrel, he called
out: "Why, hello, Wilson, you--you here?"
The rifle was lowered to a position of caution
and the loud soldier came slowly forward. He
peered into the youth's face. "That you, Henry?"
"Yes, it's--it's me."
"Well, well, ol' boy," said the other, "by
ginger, I'm glad t' see yeh! I give yeh up
fer a goner. I thought yeh was dead sure
enough." There was husky emotion in his voice.
The youth found that now he could barely
stand upon his feet. There was a sudden sinking
of his forces. He thought he must hasten to pro-
duce his tale to protect him from the missiles
already at the lips of his redoubtable comrades.
So, staggering before the loud soldier, he began:
"Yes, yes. I've--I've had an awful time. I've
been all over. Way over on th' right. Ter'ble
fightin' over there. I had an awful time. I got
separated from th' reg'ment. Over on th' right,
I got shot. In th' head. I never see sech
fightin'. Awful time. I don't see how I could 'a
got separated from th' reg'ment. I got shot, too."
His friend had stepped forward quickly.
"What? Got shot? Why didn't yeh say so
first? Poor ol' boy, we must--hol' on a minnit;
what am I doin'. I'll call Simpson."
Another figure at that moment loomed in the
gloom. They could see that it was the corporal.
"Who yeh talkin' to, Wilson?" he demanded.
His voice was anger-toned. "Who yeh talkin'
to? Yeh th' derndest sentinel--why--hello,
Henry, you here? Why, I thought you was
dead four hours ago! Great Jerusalem, they
keep turnin' up every ten minutes or so! We
thought we'd lost forty-two men by straight
count, but if they keep on a-comin' this way, we'll
git th' comp'ny all back by mornin' yit. Where was yeh?"
"Over on th' right. I got separated"--began
the youth with considerable glibness.
But his friend had interrupted hastily. "Yes,
an' he got shot in th' head an' he's in a fix, an' we
must see t' him right away." He rested his rifle
in the hollow of his left arm and his right around
the youth's shoulder.
"Gee, it must hurt like thunder!" he said.
The youth leaned heavily upon his friend.
"Yes, it hurts--hurts a good deal," he replied.
There was a faltering in his voice.
"Oh," said the corporal. He linked his arm
in the youth's and drew him forward. "Come
on, Henry. I'll take keer 'a yeh."
As they went on together the loud private
called out after them: "Put 'im t' sleep in my
blanket, Simpson. An'--hol' on a minnit--here's
my canteen. It's full 'a coffee. Look at his head
by th' fire an' see how it looks. Maybe it's a
pretty bad un. When I git relieved in a couple
'a minnits, I'll be over an' see t' him."
The youth's senses were so deadened that his
friend's voice sounded from afar and he could
scarcely feel the pressure of the corporal's arm.
He submitted passively to the latter's directing
strength. His head was in the old manner hang-
ing forward upon his breast. His knees wobbled.
The corporal led him into the glare of the
fire. "Now, Henry," he said, "let's have look at
yer ol' head."
The youth sat down obediently and the cor-
poral, laying aside his rifle, began to fumble in the
bushy hair of his comrade. He was obliged to
turn the other's head so that the full flush of the
fire light would beam upon it. He puckered his
mouth with a critical air. He drew back his lips
and whistled through his teeth when his fingers
came in contact with the splashed blood and the
"Ah, here we are!" he said. He awkwardly
made further investigations. "Jest as I thought,"
he added, presently. "Yeh've been grazed by a
ball. It's raised a queer lump jest as if some
feller had lammed yeh on th' head with a club.
It stopped a-bleedin' long time ago. Th' most
about it is that in th' mornin' yeh'll feel that a
number ten hat wouldn't fit yeh. An' your
head'll be all het up an' feel as dry as burnt pork.
An' yeh may git a lot 'a other sicknesses, too, by
mornin'. Yeh can't never tell. Still, I don't
much think so. It's jest a damn' good belt on th'
head, an' nothin' more. Now, you jest sit here
an' don't move, while I go rout out th' relief.
Then I'll send Wilson t' take keer 'a yeh."
The corporal went away. The youth re-
mained on the ground like a parcel. He stared
with a vacant look into the fire.
After a time he aroused, for some part, and
the things about him began to take form. He
saw that the ground in the deep shadows was
cluttered with men, sprawling in every con-
ceivable posture. Glancing narrowly into the
more distant darkness, he caught occasional
glimpses of visages that loomed pallid and
ghostly, lit with a phosphorescent glow. These
faces expressed in their lines the deep stupor of
the tired soldiers. They made them appear like
men drunk with wine. This bit of forest might
have appeared to an ethereal wanderer as a scene
of the result of some frightful debauch.
On the other side of the fire the youth
observed an officer asleep, seated bolt upright,
with his back against a tree. There was some-
thing perilous in his position. Badgered by
dreams, perhaps, he swayed with little bounces
and starts, like an old toddy-stricken grandfather
in a chimney corner. Dust and stains were upon
his face. His lower jaw hung down as if lacking
strength to assume its normal position. He was
the picture of an exhausted soldier after a feast of war.
He had evidently gone to sleep with his
sword in his arms. These two had slumbered in
an embrace, but the weapon had been allowed
in time to fall unheeded to the ground. The
brass-mounted hilt lay in contact with some parts
of the fire.
Within the gleam of rose and orange light
from the burning sticks were other soldiers,
snoring and heaving, or lying deathlike in
slumber. A few pairs of legs were stuck forth,
rigid and straight. The shoes displayed the mud
or dust of marches and bits of rounded trousers,
protruding from the blankets, showed rents and
tears from hurried pitchings through the dense brambles.
The fire crackled musically. From it swelled
light smoke. Overhead the foliage moved
softly. The leaves, with their faces turned
toward the blaze, were colored shifting hues of
silver, often edged with red. Far off to the right,
through a window in the forest could be seen a
handful of stars lying, like glittering pebbles, on
the black level of the night.
Occasionally, in this low-arched hall, a soldier
would arouse and turn his body to a new posi-
tion, the experience of his sleep having taught
him of uneven and objectionable places upon the
ground under him. Or, perhaps, he would lift
himself to a sitting posture, blink at the fire for
an unintelligent moment, throw a swift glance at
his prostrate companion, and then cuddle down
again with a grunt of sleepy content.
The youth sat in a forlorn heap until his
friend the loud young soldier came, swinging two
canteens by their light strings. "Well, now,
Henry, ol' boy," said the latter, "we'll have yeh
fixed up in jest about a minnit."
He had the bustling ways of an amateur
nurse. He fussed around the fire and stirred the
sticks to brilliant exertions. He made his patient
drink largely from the canteen that contained the
coffee. It was to the youth a delicious draught.
He tilted his head afar back and held the canteen
long to his lips. The cool mixture went caress-
ingly down his blistered throat. Having finished,
he sighed with comfortable delight.
The loud young soldier watched his comrade
with an air of satisfaction. He later produced
an extensive handkerchief from his pocket. He
folded it into a manner of bandage and soused
water from the other canteen upon the middle of
it. This crude arrangement he bound over the
youth's head, tying the ends in a queer knot at
the back of the neck.
"There," he said, moving off and surveying
his deed, "yeh look like th' devil, but I bet yeh feel better."
The youth contemplated his friend with grate-
ful eyes. Upon his aching and swelling head the
cold cloth was like a tender woman's hand.
"Yeh don't holler ner say nothin'," remarked
his friend approvingly. "I know I'm a black-
smith at takin' keer 'a sick folks, an' yeh never
squeaked. Yer a good un, Henry. Most 'a men
would a' been in th' hospital long ago. A shot in
th' head ain't foolin' business."
The youth made no reply, but began to fumble
with the buttons of his jacket.
"Well, come, now," continued his friend,
"come on. I must put yeh t' bed an' see that yeh
git a good night's rest."
The other got carefully erect, and the loud
young soldier led him among the sleeping forms
lying in groups and rows. Presently he stooped
and picked up his blankets. He spread the rubber
one upon the ground and placed the woolen one
about the youth's shoulders.
"There now," he said, "lie down an' git some sleep."
The youth, with his manner of doglike obe-
dience, got carefully down like a crone stoop-
ing. He stretched out with a murmur of relief
and comfort. The ground felt like the softest couch.
But of a sudden he ejaculated: "Hol' on a
minnit! Where you goin' t' sleep?"
His friend waved his hand impatiently.
"Right down there by yeh."
"Well, but hol' on a minnit," continued the youth.
"What yeh goin' t' sleep in? I've got your--"
The loud young soldier snarled: "Shet up
an' go on t' sleep. Don't be makin' a damn' fool
'a yerself," he said severely.
After the reproof the youth said no more.
An exquisite drowsiness had spread through him.
The warm comfort of the blanket enveloped him
and made a gentle languor. His head fell for-
ward on his crooked arm and his weighted lids
went softly down over his eyes. Hearing a
splatter of musketry from the distance, he
wondered indifferently if those men sometimes
slept. He gave a long sigh, snuggled down into
his blanket, and in a moment was like his comrades.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage