A SPUTTERING of musketry was always to be
heard. Later, the cannon had entered the dis-
pute. In the fog-filled air their voices made a
thudding sound. The reverberations were con-
tinued. This part of the world led a strange,
The youth's regiment was marched to relieve
a command that had lain long in some damp
trenches. The men took positions behind a curv-
ing line of rifle pits that had been turned up, like
a large furrow, along the line of woods. Before
them was a level stretch, peopled with short,
deformed stumps. From the woods beyond
came the dull popping of the skirmishers and
pickets, firing in the fog. From the right came
the noise of a terrific fracas.
The men cuddled behind the small embank-
ment and sat in easy attitudes awaiting their
turn. Many had their backs to the firing. The
youth's friend lay down, buried his face in his arms,
and almost instantly, it seemed, he was in a deep sleep.
The youth leaned his breast against the
brown dirt and peered over at the woods and up
and down the line. Curtains of trees interfered
with his ways of vision. He could see the low
line of trenches but for a short distance. A few
idle flags were perched on the dirt hills. Behind
them were rows of dark bodies with a few heads
sticking curiously over the top.
Always the noise of skirmishers came from
the woods on the front and left, and the din on
the right had grown to frightful proportions.
The guns were roaring without an instant's pause
for breath. It seemed that the cannon had come
from all parts and were engaged in a stupendous
wrangle. It became impossible to make a sentence heard.
The youth wished to launch a joke--a quota-
tion from newspapers. He desired to say, "All
quiet on the Rappahannock," but the guns refused
to permit even a comment upon their uproar.
He never successfully concluded the sentence.
But at last the guns stopped, and among the
men in the rifle pits rumors again flew, like birds,
but they were now for the most part black
creatures who flapped their wings drearily near
to the ground and refused to rise on any wings of
hope. The men's faces grew doleful from the
interpreting of omens. Tales of hesitation and
uncertainty on the part of those high in place and
responsibility came to their ears. Stories of
disaster were borne into their minds with many
proofs. This din of musketry on the right, grow-
ing like a released genie of sound, expressed and
emphasized the army's plight.
The men were disheartened and began to
mutter. They made gestures expressive of the
sentence: "Ah, what more can we do?" And it
could always be seen that they were bewildered
by the alleged news and could not fully compre-
hend a defeat.
Before the gray mists had been totally ob-
literated by the sun rays, the regiment was march-
ing in a spread column that was retiring carefully
through the woods. The disordered, hurrying
lines of the enemy could sometimes be seen down
through the groves and little fields. They were
yelling, shrill and exultant.
At this sight the youth forgot many personal
matters and became greatly enraged. He ex-
ploded in loud sentences. "B'jiminey, we're
generaled by a lot 'a lunkheads."
"More than one feller has said that t'-day,"
observed a man.
His friend, recently aroused, was still very
drowsy. He looked behind him until his mind
took in the meaning of the movement. Then he
sighed. "Oh, well, I s'pose we got licked," he
The youth had a thought that it would not be
handsome for him to freely condemn other men.
He made an attempt to restrain himself, but the
words upon his tongue were too bitter. He
presently began a long and intricate denunciation
of the commander of the forces.
"Mebbe, it wa'n't all his fault--not all to-
gether. He did th' best he knowed. It's our
luck t' git licked often," said his friend in a weary
tone. He was trudging along with stooped
shoulders and shifting eyes like a man who has
been caned and kicked.
"Well, don't we fight like the devil? Don't
we do all that men can?" demanded the youth loudly.
He was secretly dumfounded at this sentiment
when it came from his lips. For a moment his
face lost its valor and he looked guiltily about
him. But no one questioned his right to deal in
such words, and presently he recovered his air
of courage. He went on to repeat a statement
he had heard going from group to group at the
camp that morning. "The brigadier said he
never saw a new reg'ment fight the way we
fought yestirday, didn't he? And we didn't do
better than many another reg'ment, did we?
Well, then, you can't say it's th' army's fault, can you?"
In his reply, the friend's voice was stern. "'A
course not," he said. "No man dare say we
don't fight like th' devil. No man will ever dare
say it. Th' boys fight like hell-roosters. But
still--still, we don't have no luck."
"Well, then, if we fight like the devil an'
don't ever whip, it must be the general's fault,"
said the youth grandly and decisively. "And I
don't see any sense in fighting and fighting and
fighting, yet always losing through some derned
old lunkhead of a general."
A sarcastic man who was tramping at the
youth's side, then spoke lazily. "Mebbe yeh
think yeh fit th' hull battle yestirday, Fleming,"
The speech pierced the youth. Inwardly he
was reduced to an abject pulp by these chance
words. His legs quaked privately. He cast a
frightened glance at the sarcastic man.
"Why, no," he hastened to say in a concili-
ating voice, "I don't think I fought the whole
But the other seemed innocent of any deeper
meaning. Apparently, he had no information.
It was merely his habit. "Oh!" he replied in the
same tone of calm derision.
The youth, nevertheless, felt a threat. His
mind shrank from going near to the danger, and
thereafter he was silent. The significance of the
sarcastic man's words took from him all loud
moods that would make him appear prominent.
He became suddenly a modest person.
There was low-toned talk among the troops.
The officers were impatient and snappy, their
countenances clouded with the tales of misfor-
tune. The troops, sifting through the forest,
were sullen. In the youth's company once a
man's laugh rang out. A dozen soldiers turned
their faces quickly toward him and frowned with
The noise of firing dogged their footsteps.
Sometimes, it seemed to be driven a little way,
but it always returned again with increased
insolence. The men muttered and cursed,
throwing black looks in its direction.
In a clear space the troops were at last halted.
Regiments and brigades, broken and detached
through their encounters with thickets, grew
together again and lines were faced toward the
pursuing bark of the enemy's infantry.
This noise, following like the yellings of eager,
metallic hounds, increased to a loud and joyous
burst, and then, as the sun went serenely up the
sky, throwing illuminating rays into the gloomy
thickets, it broke forth into prolonged pealings.
The woods began to crackle as if afire.
"Whoop-a-dadee," said a man, "here we are!
Everybody fightin'. Blood an' destruction."
"I was willin' t' bet they'd attack as soon as
th' sun got fairly up," savagely asserted the
lieutenant who commanded the youth's company.
He jerked without mercy at his little mustache.
He strode to and fro with dark dignity in the
rear of his men, who were lying down behind
whatever protection they had collected.
A battery had trundled into position in the
rear and was thoughtfully shelling the distance.
The regiment, unmolested as yet, awaited the
moment when the gray shadows of the woods
before them should be slashed by the lines of
flame. There was much growling and swearing.
"Good Gawd," the youth grumbled, "we're
always being chased around like rats! It makes
me sick. Nobody seems to know where we go
or why we go. We just get fired around from
pillar to post and get licked here and get licked
there, and nobody knows what it's done for. It
makes a man feel like a damn' kitten in a bag.
Now, I'd like to know what the eternal thunders
we was marched into these woods for anyhow,
unless it was to give the rebs a regular pot shot
at us. We came in here and got our legs all
tangled up in these cussed briers, and then we
begin to fight and the rebs had an easy time of it.
Don't tell me it's just luck! I know better. It's
this derned old--"
The friend seemed jaded, but he interrupted
his comrade with a voice of calm confidence.
"It'll turn out all right in th' end," he said.
"Oh, the devil it will! You always talk like a
dog-hanged parson. Don't tell me! I know--"
At this time there was an interposition by the
savage-minded lieutenant, who was obliged to
vent some of his inward dissatisfaction upon his
men. "You boys shut right up! There no
need 'a your wastin' your breath in long-winded
arguments about this an' that an' th' other.
You've been jawin' like a lot 'a old hens. All
you've got t' do is to fight, an' you'll get plenty 'a
that t' do in about ten minutes. Less talkin' an'
more fightin' is what's best for you boys. I never
saw sech gabbling jackasses."
He paused, ready to pounce upon any man
who might have the temerity to reply. No words
being said, he resumed his dignified pacing.
"There's too much chin music an' too little
fightin' in this war, anyhow," he said to them,
turning his head for a final remark.
The day had grown more white, until the sun
shed his full radiance upon the thronged forest.
A sort of a gust of battle came sweeping toward
that part of the line where lay the youth's regi-
ment. The front shifted a trifle to meet it square-
ly. There was a wait. In this part of the field
there passed slowly the intense moments that pre-
cede the tempest.
A single rifle flashed in a thicket before the
regiment. In an instant it was joined by many
others. There was a mighty song of clashes and
crashes that went sweeping through the woods.
The guns in the rear, aroused and enraged by
shells that had been thrown burlike at them,
suddenly involved themselves in a hideous alter-
cation with another band of guns. The battle
roar settled to a rolling thunder, which was a
single, long explosion.
In the regiment there was a peculiar kind of
hesitation denoted in the attitudes of the men.
They were worn, exhausted, having slept but lit-
tle and labored much. They rolled their eyes
toward the advancing battle as they stood await-
ing the shock. Some shrank and flinched. They
stood as men tied to stakes.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage