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

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THIS advance of the enemy had seemed to the

youth like a ruthless hunting. He began to fume

with rage and exasperation. He beat his foot

upon the ground, and scowled with hate at the

swirling smoke that was approaching like a phan-

tom flood. There was a maddening quality in

this seeming resolution of the foe to give him no

rest, to give him no time to sit down and think.

Yesterday he had fought and had fled rapidly.

There had been many adventures. For to-day he

felt that he had earned opportunities for contem-

plative repose. He could have enjoyed portraying

to uninitiated listeners various scenes at which he

had been a witness or ably discussing the pro-

cesses of war with other proved men. Too it was

important that he should have time for physical

recuperation. He was sore and stiff from his ex-

periences. He had received his fill of all exer-

tions, and he wished to rest.

But those other men seemed never to grow

weary; they were fighting with their old speed.

He had a wild hate for the relentless foe. Yester-

day, when he had imagined the universe to be

against him, he had hated it, little gods and big

gods; to-day he hated the army of the foe with

the same great hatred. He was not going to be

badgered of his life, like a kitten chased by boys,

he said. It was not well to drive men into final

corners; at those moments they could all develop

teeth and claws.

He leaned and spoke into his friend's ear. He

menaced the woods with a gesture. "If they

keep on chasing us, by Gawd, they'd better watch

out. Can't stand TOO much."

The friend twisted his head and made a calm

reply. "If they keep on a-chasin' us they'll drive

us all inteh th' river."

The youth cried out savagely at this state-

ment. He crouched behind a little tree, with his

eyes burning hatefully and his teeth set in a cur-

like snarl. The awkward bandage was still about

his head, and upon it, over his wound, there was

a spot of dry blood. His hair was wondrously

tousled, and some straggling, moving locks hung

over the cloth of the bandage down toward his

forehead. His jacket and shirt were open at the

throat, and exposed his young bronzed neck.

There could be seen spasmodic gulpings at his throat.

His fingers twined nervously about his rifle.

He wished that it was an engine of annihilating

power. He felt that he and his companions were

being taunted and derided from sincere convic-

tions that they were poor and puny. His knowl-

edge of his inability to take vengeance for it made

his rage into a dark and stormy specter, that pos-

sessed him and made him dream of abominable

cruelties. The tormentors were flies sucking in-

solently at his blood, and he thought that he would

have given his life for a revenge of seeing their

faces in pitiful plights.

The winds of battle had swept all about the

regiment, until the one rifle, instantly followed by

others, flashed in its front. A moment later the

regiment roared forth its sudden and valiant re-

tort. A dense wall of smoke settled slowly down.

It was furiously slit and slashed by the knifelike

fire from the rifles.

To the youth the fighters resembled animals

tossed for a death struggle into a dark pit. There

was a sensation that he and his fellows, at bay,

were pushing back, always pushing fierce on-

slaughts of creatures who were slippery. Their

beams of crimson seemed to get no purchase upon

the bodies of their foes; the latter seemed to evade

them with ease, and come through, between,

around, and about with unopposed skill.

When, in a dream, it occurred to the youth

that his rifle was an impotent stick, he lost sense

of everything but his hate, his desire to smash

into pulp the glittering smile of victory which he

could feel upon the faces of his enemies.

The blue smoke-swallowed line curled and

writhed like a snake stepped upon. It swung its

ends to and fro in an agony of fear and rage.

The youth was not conscious that he was erect

upon his feet. He did not know the direction of

the ground. Indeed, once he even lost the habit

of balance and fell heavily. He was up again

immediately. One thought went through the

chaos of his brain at the time. He wondered if

he had fallen because he had been shot. But the

suspicion flew away at once. He did not think

more of it.

He had taken up a first position behind the lit-

tle tree, with a direct determination to hold it

against the world. He had not deemed it possi-

ble that his army could that day succeed, and

from this he felt the ability to fight harder. But

the throng had surged in all ways, until he lost

directions and locations, save that he knew where

lay the enemy.

The flames bit him, and the hot smoke broiled

his skin. His rifle barrel grew so hot that ordi-

narily he could not have borne it upon his palms;

but he kept on stuffing cartridges into it, and

pounding them with his clanking, bending ram-

rod. If he aimed at some changing form through

the smoke, he pulled his trigger with a fierce

grunt, as if he were dealing a blow of the fist with

all his strength.

When the enemy seemed falling back before

him and his fellows, he went instantly forward,

like a dog who, seeing his foes lagging, turns and

insists upon being pursued. And when he was

compelled to retire again, he did it slowly, sul-

lenly, taking steps of wrathful despair.

Once he, in his intent hate, was almost alone,

and was firing, when all those near him had ceased.

He was so engrossed in his occupation that he

was not aware of a lull.

He was recalled by a hoarse laugh and a sen-

tence that came to his ears in a voice of contempt

and amazement. "Yeh infernal fool, don't yeh

know enough t' quit when there ain't anything t'

shoot at? Good Gawd!"

He turned then and, pausing with his rifle

thrown half into position, looked at the blue line

of his comrades. During this moment of leisure

they seemed all to be engaged in staring with

astonishment at him. They had become specta-

tors. Turning to the front again he saw, under

the lifted smoke, a deserted ground.

He looked bewildered for a moment. Then

there appeared upon the glazed vacancy of his

eyes a diamond point of intelligence. "Oh," he

said, comprehending.

He returned to his comrades and threw him-

self upon the ground. He sprawled like a man

who had been thrashed. His flesh seemed strange-

ly on fire, and the sounds of the battle continued

in his ears. He groped blindly for his canteen.

The lieutenant was crowing. He seemed

drunk with fighting. He called out to the youth:

"By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats like

you I could tear th' stomach outa this war in

less'n a week!" He puffed out his chest with

large dignity as he said it.

Some of the men muttered and looked at the

youth in awe-struck ways. It was plain that as

he had gone on loading and firing and cursing

without the proper intermission, they had found

time to regard him. And they now looked upon

him as a war devil.

The friend came staggering to him. There

was some fright and dismay in his voice. "Are yeh

all right, Fleming? Do yeh feel all right? There

ain't nothin' th' matter with yeh, Henry, is there?"

"No," said the youth with difficulty. His

throat seemed full of knobs and burs.

These incidents made the youth ponder. It

was revealed to him that he had been a barbarian,

a beast. He had fought like a pagan who de-

fends his religion. Regarding it, he saw that it

was fine, wild, and, in some ways, easy. He had

been a tremendous figure, no doubt. By this

struggle he had overcome obstacles which he

had admitted to be mountains. They had fallen

like paper peaks, and he was now what he called

a hero. And he had not been aware of the process.

He had slept and, awakening, found himself a knight.

He lay and basked in the occasional stares of

his comrades. Their faces were varied in de-

grees of blackness from the burned powder.

Some were utterly smudged. They were reek-

ing with perspiration, and their breaths came

hard and wheezing. And from these soiled ex-

panses they peered at him.

"Hot work! Hot work!" cried the lieu-

tenant deliriously. He walked up and down,

restless and eager. Sometimes his voice could

be heard in a wild, incomprehensible laugh.

When he had a particularly profound thought

upon the science of war he always unconsciously

addressed himself to the youth.

There was some grim rejoicing by the men.

"By thunder, I bet this army'll never see another

new reg'ment like us!"

"You bet!"

"A dog, a woman, an' a walnut tree,

Th' more yeh beat 'em, th' better they be!

That's like us."

"Lost a piler men, they did. If an' ol' woman

swep' up th' woods she'd git a dustpanful."

"Yes, an' if she'll come around ag'in in 'bout

an' hour she'll git a pile more."

The forest still bore its burden of clamor.

From off under the trees came the rolling clatter

of the musketry. Each distant thicket seemed a

strange porcupine with quills of flame. A cloud

of dark smoke, as from smoldering ruins, went

up toward the sun now bright and gay in the

blue, enameled sky.



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