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

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PRESENTLY they knew that no firing threat-

ened them. All ways seemed once more opened

to them. The dusty blue lines of their friends

were disclosed a short distance away. In the

distance there were many colossal noises, but in

all this part of the field there was a sudden stillness.

They perceived that they were free. The

depleted band drew a long breath of relief

and gathered itself into a bunch to complete

its trip.

In this last length of journey the men began

to show strange emotions. They hurried with

nervous fear. Some who had been dark and un-

faltering in the grimmest moments now could not

conceal an anxiety that made them frantic. It

was perhaps that they dreaded to be killed in

insignificant ways after the times for proper

military deaths had passed. Or, perhaps, they

thought it would be too ironical to get killed at

the portals of safety. With backward looks of

perturbation, they hastened.

As they approached their own lines there was

some sarcasm exhibited on the part of a gaunt

and bronzed regiment that lay resting in the

shade of trees. Questions were wafted to them.

"Where th' hell yeh been?"

"What yeh comin' back fer?"

"Why didn't yeh stay there?"

"Was it warm out there, sonny?"

"Goin' home now, boys?"

One shouted in taunting mimicry: "Oh,

mother, come quick an' look at th' sojers!"

There was no reply from the bruised and bat-

tered regiment, save that one man made broad-

cast challenges to fist fights and the red-bearded

officer walked rather near and glared in great

swashbuckler style at a tall captain in the other

regiment. But the lieutenant suppressed the

man who wished to fist fight, and the tall captain,

flushing at the little fanfare of the red-bearded one,

was obliged to look intently at some trees.

The youth's tender flesh was deeply stung by

these remarks. From under his creased brows

he glowered with hate at the mockers. He

meditated upon a few revenges. Still, many in

the regiment hung their heads in criminal fashion,

so that it came to pass that the men trudged with

sudden heaviness, as if they bore upon their

bended shoulders the coffin of their honor. And

the youthful lieutenant, recollecting himself, be-

gan to mutter softly in black curses.

They turned when they arrived at their old

position to regard the ground over which they

had charged.

The youth in this contemplation was smitten

with a large astonishment. He discovered that

the distances, as compared with the brilliant

measurings of his mind, were trivial and ridicu-

lous. The stolid trees, where much had taken

place, seemed incredibly near. The time, too,

now that he reflected, he saw to have been short.

He wondered at the number of emotions and

events that had been crowded into such little

spaces. Elfin thoughts must have exaggerated

and enlarged everything, he said.

It seemed, then, that there was bitter justice

in the speeches of the gaunt and bronzed vet-

erans. He veiled a glance of disdain at his fel-

lows who strewed the ground, choking with dust,

red from perspiration, misty-eyed, disheveled.

They were gulping at their canteens, fierce to

wring every mite of water from them, and they

polished at their swollen and watery features

with coat sleeves and bunches of grass.

However, to the youth there was a consider-

able joy in musing upon his performances during

the charge. He had had very little time pre-

viously in which to appreciate himself, so that

there was now much satisfaction in quietly think-

ing of his actions. He recalled bits of color that

in the flurry had stamped themselves unawares

upon his engaged senses.

As the regiment lay heaving from its hot exer-

tions the officer who had named them as mule

drivers came galloping along the line. He had

lost his cap. His tousled hair streamed wildly,

and his face was dark with vexation and wrath.

His temper was displayed with more clearness

by the way in which he managed his horse. He

jerked and wrenched savagely at his bridle, stop-

ping the hard-breathing animal with a furious

pull near the colonel of the regiment. He im-

mediately exploded in reproaches which came

unbidden to the ears of the men. They were

suddenly alert, being always curious about black

words between officers.

"Oh, thunder, MacChesnay, what an awful

bull you made of this thing!" began the officer.

He attempted low tones, but his indignation

caused certain of the men to learn the sense of

his words. "What an awful mess you made!

Good Lord, man, you stopped about a hun-

dred feet this side of a very pretty success! If

your men had gone a hundred feet farther you

would have made a great charge, but as it is

--what a lot of mud diggers you've got anyway!"

The men, listening with bated breath, now

turned their curious eyes upon the colonel.

They had a ragamuffin interest in this affair.

The colonel was seen to straighten his form

and put one hand forth in oratorical fashion.

He wore an injured air; it was as if a deacon

had been accused of stealing. The men were

wiggling in an ecstasy of excitement.

But of a sudden the colonel's manner changed

from that of a deacon to that of a Frenchman.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, well, general,

we went as far as we could," he said calmly.

"As far as you could? Did you, b'Gawd?"

snorted the other. "Well, that wasn't very far,

was it?" he added, with a glance of cold con-

tempt into the other's eyes. "Not very far, I

think. You were intended to make a diversion

in favor of Whiterside. How well you succeeded

your own ears can now tell you." He wheeled

his horse and rode stiffly away.

The colonel, bidden to hear the jarring noises

of an engagement in the woods to the left, broke

out in vague damnations.

The lieutenant, who had listened with an air

of impotent rage to the interview, spoke suddenly

in firm and undaunted tones. "I don't care what

a man is--whether he is a general or what--if

he says th' boys didn't put up a good fight out

there he's a damned fool."

"Lieutenant," began the colonel, severely,

"this is my own affair, and I'll trouble you--"

The lieutenant made an obedient gesture.

"All right, colonel, all right," he said. He sat

down with an air of being content with himself.

The news that the regiment had been re-

proached went along the line. For a time the

men were bewildered by it. "Good thunder!"

they ejaculated, staring at the vanishing form of

the general. They conceived it to be a huge mistake.

Presently, however, they began to believe that

in truth their efforts had been called light. The

youth could see this conviction weigh upon the

entire regiment until the men were like cuffed

and cursed animals, but withal rebellious.

The friend, with a grievance in his eye,

went to the youth. "I wonder what he does

want," he said. "He must think we went out

there an' played marbles! I never see sech a man!"

The youth developed a tranquil philosophy

for these moments of irritation. "Oh, well," he

rejoined, "he probably didn't see nothing of it at

all and got mad as blazes, and concluded we were

a lot of sheep, just because we didn't do what he

wanted done. It's a pity old Grandpa Hender-

son got killed yestirday--he'd have known that

we did our best and fought good. It's just our

awful luck, that's what."

"I should say so," replied the friend. He

seemed to be deeply wounded at an injustice.

"I should say we did have awful luck! There's

no fun in fightin' fer people when everything

yeh do--no matter what--ain't done right. I

have a notion t' stay behind next time an' let

'em take their ol' charge an' go t' th' devil with it."

The youth spoke soothingly to his comrade.

"Well, we both did good. I'd like to see the

fool what'd say we both didn't do as good as we could!"

"Of course we did," declared the friend

stoutly. "An' I'd break th' feller's neck if he was

as big as a church. But we're all right, anyhow,

for I heard one feller say that we two fit th' best

in th' reg'ment, an' they had a great argument

'bout it. Another feller, 'a course, he had t' up

an' say it was a lie--he seen all what was goin'

on an' he never seen us from th' beginnin' t' th'

end. An' a lot more struck in an' ses it wasn't

a lie--we did fight like thunder, an' they give

us quite a send-off. But this is what I can't

stand--these everlastin' ol' soldiers, titterin' an'

laughin', an' then that general, he's crazy."

The youth exclaimed with sudden exaspera-

tion: "He's a lunkhead! He makes me mad.

I wish he'd come along next time. We'd show

'im what--"

He ceased because several men had come

hurrying up. Their faces expressed a bringing

of great news.

"O Flem, yeh jest oughta heard!" cried one, eagerly.

"Heard what?" said the youth.

"Yeh jest oughta heard!" repeated the other,

and he arranged himself to tell his tidings. The

others made an excited circle. "Well, sir, th'

colonel met your lieutenant right by us--it was

damnedest thing I ever heard--an' he ses: 'Ahem!

ahem!' he ses. 'Mr. Hasbrouck!' he ses, 'by

th' way, who was that lad what carried th' flag?'

he ses. There, Flemin', what d' yeh think 'a

that? 'Who was th' lad what carried th' flag?'

he ses, an' th' lieutenant, he speaks up right

away: 'That's Flemin', an' he's a jimhickey,' he

ses, right away. What? I say he did. 'A jim-

hickey,' he ses--those 'r his words. He did, too.

I say he did. If you kin tell this story better

than I kin, go ahead an' tell it. Well, then, keep

yer mouth shet. Th' lieutenant, he ses: 'He's a

jimhickey,' an' th' colonel, he ses: 'Ahem! ahem!

he is, indeed, a very good man t' have, ahem! He

kep' th' flag 'way t' th' front. I saw 'im. He's a

good un,' ses th' colonel. 'You bet,' ses th' lieu-

tenant, 'he an' a feller named Wilson was at th'

head 'a th' charge, an' howlin' like Indians all th'

time,' he ses. 'Head 'a th' charge all th' time,'

he ses. 'A feller named Wilson,' he ses. There,

Wilson, m'boy, put that in a letter an' send it

hum t' yer mother, hay? 'A feller named Wil-

son,' he ses. An' th' colonel, he ses: 'Were they,

indeed? Ahem! ahem! My sakes!' he ses. 'At

th' head 'a th' reg'ment?' he ses. 'They were,'

ses th' lieutenant. 'My sakes!' ses th' colonel.

He ses: 'Well, well, well,' he ses, 'those two

babies?' 'They were,' ses th' lieutenant.

'Well, well,' ses th' colonel, 'they deserve t' be

major generals,' he ses. 'They deserve t' be


The youth and his friend had said: "Huh!"

"Yer lyin', Thompson." "Oh, go t' blazes!"

"He never sed it." "Oh, what a lie!" "Huh!"

But despite these youthful scoffings and embar-

rassments, they knew that their faces were deeply

flushing from thrills of pleasure. They exchanged

a secret glance of joy and congratulation.

They speedily forgot many things. The past

held no pictures of error and disappointment.

They were very happy, and their hearts swelled

with grateful affection for the colonel and the

youthful lieutenant.



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