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| Home | Reading Room The Red Badge of Courage

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

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THE regiment was standing at order arms at

the side of a lane, waiting for the command to

march, when suddenly the youth remembered

the little packet enwrapped in a faded yellow

envelope which the loud young soldier with lugu-

brious words had intrusted to him. It made him

start. He uttered an exclamation and turned

toward his comrade.



His friend, at his side in the ranks, was thought-

fully staring down the road. From some cause

his expression was at that moment very meek.

The youth, regarding him with sidelong glances,

felt impelled to change his purpose. "Oh, nothing," he said.

His friend turned his head in some surprise,

"Why, what was yeh goin' t' say?"

"Oh, nothing," repeated the youth.

He resolved not to deal the little blow. It

was sufficient that the fact made him glad. It

was not necessary to knock his friend on the head

with the misguided packet.

He had been possessed of much fear of his

friend, for he saw how easily questionings could

make holes in his feelings. Lately, he had as-

sured himself that the altered comrade would not

tantalize him with a persistent curiosity, but he

felt certain that during the first period of leisure

his friend would ask him to relate his adventures

of the previous day.

He now rejoiced in the possession of a small

weapon with which he could prostrate his com-

rade at the first signs of a cross-examination. He

was master. It would now be he who could

laugh and shoot the shafts of derision.

The friend had, in a weak hour, spoken with

sobs of his own death. He had delivered a mel-

ancholy oration previous to his funeral, and had

doubtless in the packet of letters, presented vari-

ous keepsakes to relatives. But he had not died,

and thus he had delivered himself into the hands

of the youth.

The latter felt immensely superior to his friend,

but he inclined to condescension. He adopted toward him

an air of patronizing good humor.

His self-pride was now entirely restored. In

the shade of its flourishing growth he stood with

braced and self-confident legs, and since nothing

could now be discovered he did not shrink from

an encounter with the eyes of judges, and allowed

no thoughts of his own to keep him from an

attitude of manfulness. He had performed his

mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man.

Indeed, when he remembered his fortunes of

yesterday, and looked at them from a distance he

began to see something fine there. He had

license to be pompous and veteranlike.

His panting agonies of the past he put out of his sight.

In the present, he declared to himself that it

was only the doomed and the damned who roared

with sincerity at circumstance. Few but they

ever did it. A man with a full stomach and the

respect of his fellows had no business to scold

about anything that he might think to be wrong

in the ways of the universe, or even with the

ways of society. Let the unfortunates rail; the

others may play marbles.

He did not give a great deal of thought to

these battles that lay directly before him. It was

not essential that he should plan his ways in

regard to them. He had been taught that many

obligations of a life were easily avoided. The

lessons of yesterday had been that retribution

was a laggard and blind. With these facts before

him he did not deem it necessary that he should

become feverish over the possibilities of the

ensuing twenty-four hours. He could leave

much to chance. Besides, a faith in himself had

secretly blossomed. There was a little flower of

confidence growing within him. He was now a

man of experience. He had been out among the

dragons, he said, and he assured himself that they

were not so hideous as he had imagined them.

Also, they were inaccurate; they did not sting

with precision. A stout heart often defied, and

defying, escaped.

And, furthermore, how could they kill him

who was the chosen of gods and doomed to greatness?

He remembered how some of the men had

run from the battle. As he recalled their terror-

struck faces he felt a scorn for them. They had

surely been more fleet and more wild than was

absolutely necessary. They were weak mortals.

As for himself, he had fled with discretion and dignity.

He was aroused from this reverie by his

friend, who, having hitched about nervously and

blinked at the trees for a time, suddenly coughed

in an introductory way, and spoke.



The friend put his hand up to his mouth and

coughed again. He fidgeted in his jacket.

"Well," he gulped, at last, "I guess yeh might

as well give me back them letters." Dark, prick-

ling blood had flushed into his cheeks and brow.

"All right, Wilson," said the youth. He

loosened two buttons of his coat, thrust in his

hand, and brought forth the packet. As he ex-

tended it to his friend the latter's face was turned

from him.

He had been slow in the act of producing the

packet because during it he had been trying to

invent a remarkable comment upon the affair.

He could conjure nothing of sufficient point. He

was compelled to allow his friend to escape

unmolested with his packet. And for this he

took unto himself considerable credit. It was a

generous thing.

His friend at his side seemed suffering great

shame. As he contemplated him, the youth felt

his heart grow more strong and stout. He had

never been compelled to blush in such manner

for his acts; he was an individual of extraordinary virtues.

He reflected, with condescending pity: "Too bad! Too bad!

The poor devil, it makes him feel tough!"

After this incident, and as he reviewed the

battle pictures he had seen, he felt quite com-

petent to return home and make the hearts of

the people glow with stories of war. He could

see himself in a room of warm tints telling tales

to listeners. He could exhibit laurels. They

were insignificant; still, in a district where

laurels were infrequent, they might shine.

He saw his gaping audience picturing him as

the central figure in blazing scenes. And he

imagined the consternation and the ejaculations

of his mother and the young lady at the seminary

as they drank his recitals. Their vague feminine

formula for beloved ones doing brave deeds on

the field of battle without risk of life would be destroyed.



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