THE colonel came running along back of the
line. There were other officers following him.
"We must charge'm!" they shouted. "We must
charge'm!" they cried with resentful voices, as
if anticipating a rebellion against this plan by the men.
The youth, upon hearing the shouts, began to
study the distance between him and the enemy.
He made vague calculations. He saw that to be
firm soldiers they must go forward. It would be
death to stay in the present place, and with all
the circumstances to go backward would exalt
too many others. Their hope was to push the
galling foes away from the fence.
He expected that his companions, weary and
stiffened, would have to be driven to this assault,
but as he turned toward them he perceived with
a certain surprise that they were giving quick
and unqualified expressions of assent. There was
an ominous, clanging overture to the charge
when the shafts of the bayonets rattled upon the
rifle barrels. At the yelled words of command
the soldiers sprang forward in eager leaps.
There was new and unexpected force in the
movement of the regiment. A knowledge of its
faded and jaded condition made the charge ap-
pear like a paroxysm, a display of the strength
that comes before a final feebleness. The men
scampered in insane fever of haste, racing as if to
achieve a sudden success before an exhilarating
fluid should leave them. It was a blind and de-
spairing rush by the collection of men in dusty
and tattered blue, over a green sward and under
a sapphire sky, toward a fence, dimly outlined in
smoke, from behind which spluttered the fierce
rifles of enemies.
The youth kept the bright colors to the front.
He was waving his free arm in furious circles,
the while shrieking mad calls and appeals, urging
on those that did not need to be urged, for it
seemed that the mob of blue men hurling them-
selves on the dangerous group of rifles were
again grown suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of
unselfishness. From the many firings starting
toward them, it looked as if they would merely
succeed in making a great sprinkling of corpses
on the grass between their former position and
the fence. But they were in a state of frenzy,
perhaps because of forgotten vanities, and it made
an exhibition of sublime recklessness. There was
no obvious questioning, nor figurings, nor dia-
grams. There was, apparently, no considered
loopholes. It appeared that the swift wings of
their desires would have shattered against the
iron gates of the impossible.
He himself felt the daring spirit of a savage
religion mad. He was capable of profound sacri-
fices, a tremendous death. He had no time for
dissections, but he knew that he thought of the
bullets only as things that could prevent him
from reaching the place of his endeavor. There
were subtle flashings of joy within him that thus
should be his mind.
He strained all his strength. His eyesight
was shaken and dazzled by the tension of thought
and muscle. He did not see anything excepting
the mist of smoke gashed by the little knives of
fire, but he knew that in it lay the aged fence of a
vanished farmer protecting the snuggled bodies
of the gray men.
As he ran a thought of the shock of contact
gleamed in his mind. He expected a great con-
cussion when the two bodies of troops crashed
together. This became a part of his wild battle
madness. He could feel the onward swing of the
regiment about him and he conceived of a thun-
derous, crushing blow that would prostrate the
resistance and spread consternation and amaze-
ment for miles. The flying regiment was going
to have a catapultian effect. This dream made
him run faster among his comrades, who were
giving vent to hoarse and frantic cheers.
But presently he could see that many of the
men in gray did not intend to abide the blow.
The smoke, rolling, disclosed men who ran, their
faces still turned. These grew to a crowd, who
retired stubbornly. Individuals wheeled fre-
quently to send a bullet at the blue wave.
But at one part of the line there was a grim
and obdurate group that made no movement.
They were settled firmly down behind posts and
rails. A flag, ruffled and fierce, waved over them
and their rifles dinned fiercely.
The blue whirl of men got very near, until
it seemed that in truth there would be a close
and frightful scuffle. There was an expressed
disdain in the opposition of the little group,
that changed the meaning of the cheers of the
men in blue. They became yells of wrath,
directed, personal. The cries of the two parties
were now in sound an interchange of scathing insults.
They in blue showed their teeth; their eyes
shone all white. They launched themselves as at
the throats of those who stood resisting. The
space between dwindled to an insignificant distance.
The youth had centered the gaze of his soul
upon that other flag. Its possession would be
high pride. It would express bloody minglings,
near blows. He had a gigantic hatred for those
who made great difficulties and complications.
They caused it to be as a craved treasure of my-
thology, hung amid tasks and contrivances of danger.
He plunged like a mad horse at it. He was
resolved it should not escape if wild blows and
darings of blows could seize it. His own em-
blem, quivering and aflare, was winging toward
the other. It seemed there would shortly be
an encounter of strange beaks and claws, as of eagles.
The swirling body of blue men came to a
sudden halt at close and disastrous range and
roared a swift volley. The group in gray was
split and broken by this fire, but its riddled body
still fought. The men in blue yelled again and
rushed in upon it.
The youth, in his leapings, saw, as through a
mist, a picture of four or five men stretched upon
the ground or writhing upon their knees with
bowed heads as if they had been stricken by bolts
from the sky. Tottering among them was the
rival color bearer, whom the youth saw had been
bitten vitally by the bullets of the last formidable
volley. He perceived this man fighting a last
struggle, the struggle of one whose legs are
grasped by demons. It was a ghastly battle.
Over his face was the bleach of death, but set
upon it was the dark and hard lines of desperate
purpose. With this terrible grin of resolution he
hugged his precious flag to him and was stum-
bling and staggering in his design to go the way
that led to safety for it.
But his wounds always made it seem that his
feet were retarded, held, and he fought a grim
fight, as with invisible ghouls fastened greedily
upon his limbs. Those in advance of the scam-
pering blue men, howling cheers, leaped at the
fence. The despair of the lost was in his eyes as
he glanced back at them.
The youth's friend went over the obstruction
in a tumbling heap and sprang at the flag as a
panther at prey. He pulled at it and, wrench-
ing it free, swung up its red brilliancy with a
mad cry of exultation even as the color bearer,
gasping, lurched over in a final throe and, stiff-
ening convulsively, turned his dead face to the
ground. There was much blood upon the grass blades.
At the place of success there began more wild
clamorings of cheers. The men gesticulated and
bellowed in an ecstasy. When they spoke it was
as if they considered their listener to be a mile
away. What hats and caps were left to them
they often slung high in the air.
At one part of the line four men had been
swooped upon, and they now sat as prisoners.
Some blue men were about them in an eager and
curious circle. The soldiers had trapped strange
birds, and there was an examination. A flurry of
fast questions was in the air.
One of the prisoners was nursing a superficial
wound in the foot. He cuddled it, baby-wise,
but he looked up from it often to curse with an
astonishing utter abandon straight at the noses of
his captors. He consigned them to red regions;
he called upon the pestilential wrath of strange
gods. And with it all he was singularly free
from recognition of the finer points of the con-
duct of prisoners of war. It was as if a clumsy
clod had trod upon his toe and he conceived it to
be his privilege, his duty, to use deep, resentful oaths.
Another, who was a boy in years, took his
plight with great calmness and apparent good
nature. He conversed with the men in blue,
studying their faces with his bright and keen
eyes. They spoke of battles and conditions.
There was an acute interest in all their faces dur-
ing this exchange of view points. It seemed a
great satisfaction to hear voices from where all
had been darkness and speculation.
The third captive sat with a morose counte-
nance. He preserved a stoical and cold attitude.
To all advances he made one reply without varia-
tion, "Ah, go t' hell!"
The last of the four was always silent and,
for the most part, kept his face turned in un-
molested directions. From the views the youth
received he seemed to be in a state of absolute
dejection. Shame was upon him, and with it
profound regret that he was, perhaps, no more
to be counted in the ranks of his fellows. The
youth could detect no expression that would
allow him to believe that the other was giving
a thought to his narrowed future, the pictured
dungeons, perhaps, and starvations and brutali-
ties, liable to the imagination. All to be seen
was shame for captivity and regret for the right
After the men had celebrated sufficiently they
settled down behind the old rail fence, on the
opposite side to the one from which their foes
had been driven. A few shot perfunctorily at
There was some long grass. The youth
nestled in it and rested, making a convenient rail
support the flag. His friend, jubilant and glori-
fied, holding his treasure with vanity, came to
him there. They sat side by side and congratu-
lated each other.
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Room | The
Red Badge of Courage