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
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
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
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.
Top of Page
Room | The
Red Badge of Courage