THE youth stared at the land in front of him.
Its foliages now seemed to veil powers and hor-
rors. He was unaware of the machinery of orders
that started the charge, although from the cor-
ners of his eyes he saw an officer, who looked
like a boy a-horseback, come galloping, waving
his hat. Suddenly he felt a straining and heaving
among the men. The line fell slowly forward
like a toppling wall, and, with a convulsive gasp
that was intended for a cheer, the regiment began
its journey. The youth was pushed and jostled
for a moment before he understood the move-
ment at all, but directly he lunged ahead and
began to run.
He fixed his eye upon a distant and promi-
nent clump of trees where he had concluded the
enemy were to be met, and he ran toward it as
toward a goal. He had believed throughout that
it was a mere question of getting over an unpleas-
ant matter as quickly as possible, and he ran
desperately, as if pursued for a murder. His
face was drawn hard and tight with the stress of
his endeavor. His eyes were fixed in a lurid
glare. And with his soiled and disordered dress,
his red and inflamed features surmounted by the
dingy rag with its spot of blood, his wildly
swinging rifle and banging accouterments, he
looked to be an insane soldier.
As the regiment swung from its position out
into a cleared space the woods and thickets be-
fore it awakened. Yellow flames leaped toward
it from many directions. The forest made a tre-
The line lurched straight for a moment. Then
the right wing swung forward; it in turn was
surpassed by the left. Afterward the center
careered to the front until the regiment was a
wedge-shaped mass, but an instant later the
opposition of the bushes, trees, and uneven places
on the ground split the command and scattered
it into detached clusters.
The youth, light-footed, was unconsciously in
advance. His eyes still kept note of the clump of
trees. From all places near it the clannish yell
of the enemy could be heard. The little flames
of rifles leaped from it. The song of the bullets
was in the air and shells snarled among the tree-
tops. One tumbled directly into the middle of a
hurrying group and exploded in crimson fury.
There was an instant's spectacle of a man, almost
over it, throwing up his hands to shield his eyes.
Other men, punched by bullets, fell in gro-
tesque agonies. The regiment left a coherent
trail of bodies.
They had passed into a clearer atmosphere.
There was an effect like a revelation in the new
appearance of the landscape. Some men work-
ing madly at a battery were plain to them, and
the opposing infantry's lines were defined by the
gray walls and fringes of smoke.
It seemed to the youth that he saw every-
thing. Each blade of the green grass was bold
and clear. He thought that he was aware of
every change in the thin, transparent vapor that
floated idly in sheets. The brown or gray trunks
of the trees showed each roughness of their sur-
faces. And the men of the regiment, with their
starting eyes and sweating faces, running madly,
or falling, as if thrown headlong, to queer,
heaped-up corpses--all were comprehended. His
mind took a mechanical but firm impression, so
that afterward everything was pictured and ex-
plained to him, save why he himself was there.
But there was a frenzy made from this furious
rush. The men, pitching forward insanely, had
burst into cheerings, moblike and barbaric, but
tuned in strange keys that can arouse the dullard
and the stoic. It made a mad enthusiasm that, it
seemed, would be incapable of checking itself
before granite and brass. There was the deli-
rium that encounters despair and death, and is
heedless and blind to the odds. It is a temporary
but sublime absence of selfishness. And because
it was of this order was the reason, perhaps, why
the youth wondered, afterward, what reasons he
could have had for being there.
Presently the straining pace ate up the ener-
gies of the men. As if by agreement, the leaders
began to slacken their speed. The volleys di-
rected against them had had a seeming windlike
effect. The regiment snorted and blew. Among
some stolid trees it began to falter and hesitate.
The men, staring intently, began to wait for some
of the distant walls of smoke to move and dis-
close to them the scene. Since much of their
strength and their breath had vanished, they re-
turned to caution. They were become men again.
The youth had a vague belief that he had run
miles, and he thought, in a way, that he was now
in some new and unknown land.
The moment the regiment ceased its advance
the protesting splutter of musketry became a
steadied roar. Long and accurate fringes of
smoke spread out. From the top of a small hill
came level belchings of yellow flame that caused
an inhuman whistling in the air.
The men, halted, had opportunity to see some
of their comrades dropping with moans and
shrieks. A few lay under foot, still or wailing.
And now for an instant the men stood, their rifles
slack in their hands, and watched the regiment
dwindle. They appeared dazed and stupid. This
spectacle seemed to paralyze them, overcome
them with a fatal fascination. They stared wood-
enly at the sights, and, lowering their eyes, looked
from face to face. It was a strange pause, and a
Then, above the sounds of the outside commo-
tion, arose the roar of the lieutenant. He strode
suddenly forth, his infantile features black with rage.
"Come on, yeh fools!" he bellowed. "Come
on! Yeh can't stay here. Yeh must come on."
He said more, but much of it could not be understood.
He started rapidly forward, with his head
turned toward the men. "Come on," he was
shouting. The men stared with blank and yokel-
like eyes at him. He was obliged to halt and
retrace his steps. He stood then with his back
to the enemy and delivered gigantic curses into
the faces of the men. His body vibrated from
the weight and force of his imprecations. And
he could string oaths with the facility of a maiden
who strings beads.
The friend of the youth aroused. Lurching
suddenly forward and dropping to his knees, he
fired an angry shot at the persistent woods. This
action awakened the men. They huddled no
more like sheep. They seemed suddenly to be-
think them of their weapons, and at once com-
menced firing. Belabored by their officers, they
began to move forward. The regiment, involved
like a cart involved in mud and muddle, started
unevenly with many jolts and jerks. The men
stopped now every few paces to fire and load,
and in this manner moved slowly on from trees to trees.
The flaming opposition in their front grew
with their advance until it seemed that all for-
ward ways were barred by the thin leaping
tongues, and off to the right an ominous demon-
stration could sometimes be dimly discerned.
The smoke lately generated was in confusing
clouds that made it difficult for the regiment to
proceed with intelligence. As he passed through
each curling mass the youth wondered what
would confront him on the farther side.
The command went painfully forward until an
open space interposed between them and the
lurid lines. Here, crouching and cowering be-
hind some trees, the men clung with desperation,
as if threatened by a wave. They looked wild-
eyed, and as if amazed at this furious disturbance
they had stirred. In the storm there was an
ironical expression of their importance. The
faces of the men, too, showed a lack of a certain
feeling of responsibility for being there. It was
as if they had been driven. It was the dominant
animal failing to remember in the supreme mo-
ments the forceful causes of various superficial
qualities. The whole affair seemed incompre-
hensible to many of them.
As they halted thus the lieutenant again be-
gan to bellow profanely. Regardless of the vin-
dictive threats of the bullets, he went about
coaxing, berating, and bedamning. His lips,
that were habitually in a soft and childlike curve,
were now writhed into unholy contortions. He
swore by all possible deities.
Once he grabbed the youth by the arm.
"Come on, yeh lunkhead!" he roared. "Come
on! We'll all git killed if we stay here. We've
on'y got t' go across that lot. An' then"--the
remainder of his idea disappeared in a blue haze
The youth stretched forth his arm. "Cross
there?" His mouth was puckered in doubt and awe.
"Certainly. Jest 'cross th' lot! We can't
stay here," screamed the lieutenant. He poked
his face close to the youth and waved his ban-
daged hand. "Come on!" Presently he grap-
pled with him as if for a wrestling bout. It was
as if he planned to drag the youth by the ear on
to the assault.
The private felt a sudden unspeakable indig-
nation against his officer. He wrenched fiercely
and shook him off.
"Come on herself, then," he yelled. There
was a bitter challenge in his voice.
They galloped together down the regimental
front. The friend scrambled after them. In front
of the colors the three men began to bawl:
"Come on! come on!" They danced and gy-
rated like tortured savages.
The flag, obedient to these appeals, bended its
glittering form and swept toward them. The
men wavered in indecision for a moment, and then
with a long, wailful cry the dilapidated regiment
surged forward and began its new journey.
Over the field went the scurrying mass. It
was a handful of men splattered into the faces of
the enemy. Toward it instantly sprang the yellow
tongues. A vast quantity of blue smoke hung
before them. A mighty banging made ears valueless.
The youth ran like a madman to reach the
woods before a bullet could discover him. He
ducked his head low, like a football player. In
his haste his eyes almost closed, and the scene was
a wild blur. Pulsating saliva stood at the corners
of his mouth.
Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was
born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag
which was near him. It was a creation of beauty
and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant,
that bended its form with an imperious gesture to
him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and
loving, that called him with the voice of his
hopes. Because no harm could come to it he en-
dowed it with power. He kept near, as if it
could be a saver of lives, and an imploring cry
went from his mind.
In the mad scramble he was aware that the
color sergeant flinched suddenly, as if struck by a
bludgeon. He faltered, and then became motion-
less, save for his quivering knees.
He made a spring and a clutch at the pole.
At the same instant his friend grabbed it from the
other side. They jerked at it, stout and furious,
but the color sergeant was dead, and the corpse
would not relinquish its trust. For a moment
there was a grim encounter. The dead man,
swinging with bended back, seemed to be obsti-
nately tugging, in ludicrous and awful ways, for
the possession of the flag.
It was past in an instant of time. They
wrenched the flag furiously from the dead man,
and, as they turned again, the corpse swayed for-
ward with bowed head. One arm swung high,
and the curved hand fell with heavy protest on
the friend's unheeding shoulder.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage