WHEN the woods again began to pour forth
the dark-hued masses of the enemy the youth felt
serene self-confidence. He smiled briefly when
he saw men dodge and duck at the long screech-
ings of shells that were thrown in giant handfuls
over them. He stood, erect and tranquil, watch-
ing the attack begin against a part of the line
that made a blue curve along the side of an adja-
cent hill. His vision being unmolested by smoke
from the rifles of his companions, he had oppor-
tunities to see parts of the hard fight. It was a
relief to perceive at last from whence came some
of these noises which had been roared into his ears.
Off a short way he saw two regiments fight-
ing a little separate battle with two other regi-
ments. It was in a cleared space, wearing a set-
apart look. They were blazing as if upon a
wager, giving and taking tremendous blows.
The firings were incredibly fierce and rapid.
These intent regiments apparently were oblivious
of all larger purposes of war, and were slugging
each other as if at a matched game.
In another direction he saw a magnificent
brigade going with the evident intention of driv-
ing the enemy from a wood. They passed in out
of sight and presently there was a most awe-in-
spiring racket in the wood. The noise was un-
speakable. Having stirred this prodigious up-
roar, and, apparently, finding it too prodigious,
the brigade, after a little time, came marching
airily out again with its fine formation in nowise
disturbed. There were no traces of speed in its
movements. The brigade was jaunty and seemed
to point a proud thumb at the yelling wood.
On a slope to the left there was a long row of
guns, gruff and maddened, denouncing the
enemy, who, down through the woods, were
forming for another attack in the pitiless mo-
notony of conflicts. The round red discharges
from the guns made a crimson flare and a high,
thick smoke. Occasional glimpses could be
caught of groups of the toiling artillerymen. In
the rear of this row of guns stood a house, calm
and white, amid bursting shells. A congregation
of horses, tied to a long railing, were tugging
frenziedly at their bridles. Men were running
hither and thither.
The detached battle between the four regi-
ments lasted for some time. There chanced to
be no interference, and they settled their dispute
by themselves. They struck savagely and pow-
erfully at each other for a period of minutes, and
then the lighter-hued regiments faltered and
drew back, leaving the dark-blue lines shouting.
The youth could see the two flags shaking with
laughter amid the smoke remnants.
Presently there was a stillness, pregnant with
meaning. The blue lines shifted and changed a
trifle and stared expectantly at the silent woods
and fields before them. The hush was solemn
and churchlike, save for a distant battery that,
evidently unable to remain quiet, sent a faint
rolling thunder over the ground. It irritated,
like the noises of unimpressed boys. The men
imagined that it would prevent their perched
ears from hearing the first words of the new battle.
Of a sudden the guns on the slope roared out
a message of warning. A spluttering sound had
begun in the woods. It swelled with amazing
speed to a profound clamor that involved the
earth in noises. The splitting crashes swept
along the lines until an interminable roar was
developed. To those in the midst of it it became
a din fitted to the universe. It was the whirring
and thumping of gigantic machinery, complica-
tions among the smaller stars. The youth's ears
were filled up. They were incapable of hearing more.
On an incline over which a road wound he
saw wild and desperate rushes of men perpet-
ually backward and forward in riotous surges.
These parts of the opposing armies were two
long waves that pitched upon each other madly
at dictated points. To and fro they swelled.
Sometimes, one side by its yells and cheers would
proclaim decisive blows, but a moment later
the other side would be all yells and cheers.
Once the youth saw a spray of light forms go in
houndlike leaps toward the waving blue lines.
There was much howling, and presently it went
away with a vast mouthful of prisoners. Again,
he saw a blue wave dash with such thunderous
force against a gray obstruction that it seemed to
clear the earth of it and leave nothing but
trampled sod. And always in their swift and
deadly rushes to and fro the men screamed
and yelled like maniacs.
Particular pieces of fence or secure positions
behind collections of trees were wrangled over,
as gold thrones or pearl bedsteads. There were
desperate lunges at these chosen spots seemingly
every instant, and most of them were bandied like
light toys between the contending forces. The
youth could not tell from the battle flags flying
like crimson foam in many directions which color
of cloth was winning.
His emaciated regiment bustled forth with
undiminished fierceness when its time came.
When assaulted again by bullets, the men burst
out in a barbaric cry of rage and pain. They
bent their heads in aims of intent hatred
behind the projected hammers of their guns.
Their ramrods clanged loud with fury as their
eager arms pounded the cartridges into the rifle
barrels. The front of the regiment was a smokewall
penetrated by the flashing points of yellow and red.
Wallowing in the fight, they were in an
astonishingly short time resmudged. They
surpassed in stain and dirt all their previous ap-
pearances. Moving to and fro with strained
exertion, jabbering the while, they were, with
their swaying bodies, black faces, and glowing
eyes, like strange and ugly friends jigging heavily
in the smoke.
The lieutenant, returning from a tour after a
bandage, produced from a hidden receptacle of
his mind new and portentous oaths suited to the
emergency. Strings of expletives he swung
lashlike over the backs of his men, and it was
evident that his previous efforts had in nowise
impaired his resources.
The youth, still the bearer of the colors, did
not feel his idleness. He was deeply absorbed as
a spectator. The crash and swing of the great
drama made him lean forward, intent-eyed, his
face working in small contortions. Sometimes he
prattled, words coming unconsciously from him
in grotesque exclamations. He did not know
that he breathed; that the flag hung silently over
him, so absorbed was he.
A formidable line of the enemy came within
dangerous range. They could be seen plainly--
tall, gaunt men with excited faces running with
long strides toward a wandering fence.
At sight of this danger the men suddenly
ceased their cursing monotone. There was an
instant of strained silence before they threw up
their rifles and fired a plumping volley at the
foes. There had been no order given; the men,
upon recognizing the menace, had immediately
let drive their flock of bullets without waiting for word
But the enemy were quick to gain the protection
of the wandering line of fence. They slid down
behind it with remarkable celerity, and from this
position they began briskly to slice up the blue men.
These latter braced their energies for a great
struggle. Often, white clinched teeth shone
from the dusky faces. Many heads surged to
and fro, floating upon a pale sea of smoke.
Those behind the fence frequently shouted and
yelped in taunts and gibelike cries, but the regi-
ment maintained a stressed silence. Perhaps, at
this new assault the men recalled the fact that
they had been named mud diggers, and it made
their situation thrice bitter. They were breath-
lessly intent upon keeping the ground and thrust-
ing away the rejoicing body of the enemy. They
fought swiftly and with a despairing savageness
denoted in their expressions.
The youth had resolved not to budge what-
ever should happen. Some arrows of scorn that
had buried themselves in his heart had generated
strange and unspeakable hatred. It was clear
to him that his final and absolute revenge was to
be achieved by his dead body lying, torn and
gluttering, upon the field. This was to be a
poignant retaliation upon the officer who had
said "mule drivers," and later "mud diggers,"
for in all the wild graspings of his mind for a
unit responsible for his sufferings and commo-
tions he always seized upon the man who had
dubbed him wrongly. And it was his idea,
vaguely formulated, that his corpse would be for
those eyes a great and salt reproach.
The regiment bled extravagantly. Grunting
bundles of blue began to drop. The orderly
sergeant of the youth's company was shot through
the cheeks. Its supports being injured, his jaw
hung afar down, disclosing in the wide cavern of
his mouth a pulsing mass of blood and teeth.
And with it all he made attempts to cry out.
In his endeavor there was a dreadful earnestness,
as if he conceived that one great shriek would
make him well.
The youth saw him presently go rearward.
His strength seemed in nowise impaired. He
ran swiftly, casting wild glances for succor.
Others fell down about the feet of their com-
panions. Some of the wounded crawled out and
away, but many lay still, their bodies twisted into
The youth looked once for his friend. He
saw a vehement young man, powder-smeared and
frowzled, whom he knew to be him. The lieu-
tenant, also, was unscathed in his position at the
rear. He had continued to curse, but it was now
with the air of a man who was using his last box of oaths.
For the fire of the regiment had begun to
wane and drip. The robust voice, that had come
strangely from the thin ranks, was growing rapidly weak.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage