THE ragged line had respite for some min-
utes, but during its pause the struggle in the
forest became magnified until the trees seemed to
quiver from the firing and the ground to shake
from the rushing of the men. The voices of the
cannon were mingled in a long and interminable
row. It seemed difficult to live in such an atmos-
phere. The chests of the men strained for a bit
of freshness, and their throats craved water.
There was one shot through the body, who
raised a cry of bitter lamentation when came this
lull. Perhaps he had been calling out during
the fighting also, but at that time no one had
heard him. But now the men turned at the woe-
ful complaints of him upon the ground.
"Who is it? Who is it?"
"It's Jimmie Rogers. Jimmie Rogers."
When their eyes first encountered him there
was a sudden halt, as if they feared to go near.
He was thrashing about in the grass, twisting his
shuddering body into many strange postures.
He was screaming loudly. This instant's hesita-
tion seemed to fill him with a tremendous, fantastic
contempt, and he damned them in shrieked sentences.
The youth's friend had a geographical illusion
concerning a stream, and he obtained permission
to go for some water. Immediately canteens
were showered upon him. "Fill mine, will
yeh?" "Bring me some, too." "And me, too."
He departed, ladened. The youth went with his
friend, feeling a desire to throw his heated body
onto the stream and, soaking there, drink quarts.
They made a hurried search for the supposed
stream, but did not find it. "No water here,"
said the youth. They turned without delay and
began to retrace their steps.
From their position as they again faced to-
ward the place of the fighting, they could of
course comprehend a greater amount of the bat-
tle than when their visions had been blurred by
the hurling smoke of the line. They could see
dark stretches winding along the land, and on
one cleared space there was a row of guns mak-
ing gray clouds, which were filled with large
flashes of orange-colored flame. Over some foli-
age they could see the roof of a house. One win-
dow, glowing a deep murder red, shone squarely
through the leaves. From the edifice a tall lean-
ing tower of smoke went far into the sky.
Looking over their own troops, they saw
mixed masses slowly getting into regular form.
The sunlight made twinkling points of the bright
steel. To the rear there was a glimpse of a dis-
tant roadway as it curved over a slope. It was
crowded with retreating infantry. From all the
interwoven forest arose the smoke and bluster
of the battle. The air was always occupied by
Near where they stood shells were flip-flap-
ping and hooting. Occasional bullets buzzed in
the air and spanged into tree trunks. Wounded
men and other stragglers were slinking through
Looking down an aisle of the grove, the
youth and his companion saw a jangling general
and his staff almost ride upon a wounded man,
who was crawling on his hands and knees. The
general reined strongly at his charger's opened
and foamy mouth and guided it with dexterous
horsemanship past the man. The latter scram-
bled in wild and torturing haste. His strength
evidently failed him as he reached a place of
safety. One of his arms suddenly weakened, and
he fell, sliding over upon his back. He lay
stretched out, breathing gently.
A moment later the small, creaking cavalcade
was directly in front of the two soldiers. An-
other officer, riding with the skillful abandon of a
cowboy, galloped his horse to a position directly
before the general. The two unnoticed foot sol-
diers made a little show of going on, but they
lingered near in the desire to overhear the con-
versation. Perhaps, they thought, some great
inner historical things would be said.
The general, whom the boys knew as the com-
mander of their division, looked at the other
officer and spoke coolly, as if he were criticising
his clothes. "Th' enemy's formin' over there for
another charge," he said. "It'll be directed
against Whiterside, an' I fear they'll break
through there unless we work like thunder t' stop them."
The other swore at his restive horse, and then
cleared his throat. He made a gesture toward
his cap. "It'll be hell t' pay stoppin' them," he said shortly.
"I presume so," remarked the general. Then
he began to talk rapidly and in a lower tone. He
frequently illustrated his words with a pointing
finger. The two infantrymen could hear nothing
until finally he asked: "What troops can you spare?"
The officer who rode like a cowboy reflected
for an instant. "Well," he said, "I had to order
in th' 12th to help th' 76th, an' I haven't really got
any. But there's th' 304th. They fight like a
lot 'a mule drivers. I can spare them best of any."
The youth and his friend exchanged glances
The general spoke sharply. "Get 'em ready,
then. I'll watch developments from here, an'
send you word when t' start them. It'll happen
in five minutes."
As the other officer tossed his fingers toward
his cap and wheeling his horse, started away, the
general called out to him in a sober voice: "I
don't believe many of your mule drivers will get back."
The other shouted something in reply. He smiled.
With scared faces, the youth and his compan-
ion hurried back to the line.
These happenings had occupied an incredibly
short time, yet the youth felt that in them he had
been made aged. New eyes were given to him.
And the most startling thing was to learn sud-
denly that he was very insignificant. The officer
spoke of the regiment as if he referred to a
broom. Some part of the woods needed sweep-
ing, perhaps, and he merely indicated a broom in
a tone properly indifferent to its fate. It was
war, no doubt, but it appeared strange.
As the two boys approached the line, the lieu-
tenant perceived them and swelled with wrath.
"Fleming--Wilson--how long does it take yeh
to git water, anyhow--where yeh been to."
But his oration ceased as he saw their eyes,
which were large with great tales. "We're goin'
t' charge--we're goin' t' charge!" cried the
youth's friend, hastening with his news.
"Charge?" said the lieutenant. "Charge?
Well, b'Gawd! Now, this is real fightin'." Over
his soiled countenance there went a boastful
smile. "Charge? Well, b'Gawd!"
A little group of soldiers surrounded the two
youths. "Are we, sure 'nough? Well, I'll be
derned! Charge? What fer? What at? Wilson, you're lyin'."
"I hope to die," said the youth, pitching his
tones to the key of angry remonstrance. "Sure
as shooting, I tell you."
And his friend spoke in re-enforcement. "Not
by a blame sight, he ain't lyin'. We heard 'em talkin'."
They caught sight of two mounted figures a
short distance from them. One was the colonel
of the regiment and the other was the officer who
had received orders from the commander of the
division. They were gesticulating at each other.
The soldier, pointing at them, interpreted the scene.
One man had a final objection: "How could
yeh hear 'em talkin'?" But the men, for a large
part, nodded, admitting that previously the two
friends had spoken truth.
They settled back into reposeful attitudes
with airs of having accepted the matter. And
they mused upon it, with a hundred varieties of
expression. It was an engrossing thing to think
about. Many tightened their belts carefully and
hitched at their trousers.
A moment later the officers began to bustle
among the men, pushing them into a more com-
pact mass and into a better alignment. They
chased those that straggled and fumed at a few
men who seemed to show by their attitudes that
they had decided to remain at that spot. They
were like critical shepherds struggling with sheep.
Presently, the regiment seemed to draw itself
up and heave a deep breath. None of the men's
faces were mirrors of large thoughts. The sol-
diers were bended and stooped like sprinters be-
fore a signal. Many pairs of glinting eyes peered
from the grimy faces toward the curtains of the
deeper woods. They seemed to be engaged in
deep calculations of time and distance.
They were surrounded by the noises of the
monstrous altercation between the two armies.
The world was fully interested in other matters.
Apparently, the regiment had its small affair to itself.
The youth, turning, shot a quick, inquiring
glance at his friend. The latter returned to him
the same manner of look. They were the only
ones who possessed an inner knowledge. "Mule
drivers--hell t' pay--don't believe many will get
back." It was an ironical secret. Still, they saw
no hesitation in each other's faces, and they nod-
ded a mute and unprotesting assent when a shag-
gy man near them said in a meek voice: "We'll
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage