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

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THE roarings that had stretched in a long line

of sound across the face of the forest began to

grow intermittent and weaker. The stentorian

speeches of the artillery continued in some dis-

tant encounter, but the crashes of the musketry

had almost ceased. The youth and his friend of

a sudden looked up, feeling a deadened form of

distress at the waning of these noises, which had

become a part of life. They could see changes

going on among the troops. There were march-

ings this way and that way. A battery wheeled

leisurely. On the crest of a small hill was the

thick gleam of many departing muskets.

The youth arose. "Well, what now, I won-

der?" he said. By his tone he seemed to be

preparing to resent some new monstrosity in

the way of dins and smashes. He shaded his

eyes with his grimy hand and gazed over the field.

His friend also arose and stared. "I bet

we're goin' t' git along out of this an' back over

th' river," said he.

"Well, I swan!" said the youth.

They waited, watching. Within a little while

the regiment received orders to retrace its way.

The men got up grunting from the grass, regret-

ting the soft repose. They jerked their stiffened

legs, and stretched their arms over their heads.

One man swore as he rubbed his eyes. They all

groaned "O Lord!" They had as many objec-

tions to this change as they would have had to a

proposal for a new battle.

They trampled slowly back over the field

across which they had run in a mad scamper.

The regiment marched until it had joined its

fellows. The reformed brigade, in column, aimed

through a wood at the road. Directly they were

in a mass of dust-covered troops, and were

trudging along in a way parallel to the enemy's

lines as these had been defined by the previous turmoil.

They passed within view of a stolid white

house, and saw in front of it groups of their com-

rades lying in wait behind a neat breastwork. A

row of guns were booming at a distant enemy.

Shells thrown in reply were raising clouds of

dust and splinters. Horsemen dashed along the

line of intrenchments.

At this point of its march the division curved

away from the field and went winding off in the

direction of the river. When the significance of

this movement had impressed itself upon the

youth he turned his head and looked over his

shoulder toward the trampled and debris-strewed

ground. He breathed a breath of new satisfac-

tion. He finally nudged his friend. "Well, it's

all over," he said to him.

His friend gazed backward. "B'Gawd, it

is," he assented. They mused.

For a time the youth was obliged to reflect

in a puzzled and uncertain way. His mind was

undergoing a subtle change. It took moments

for it to cast off its battleful ways and resume

its accustomed course of thought. Gradually his

brain emerged from the clogged clouds, and at

last he was enabled to more closely compre-

hend himself and circumstance.

He understood then that the existence of shot

and counter-shot was in the past. He had dwelt

in a land of strange, squalling upheavals and had

come forth. He had been where there was red

of blood and black of passion, and he was es-

caped. His first thoughts were given to rejoic-

ings at this fact.

Later he began to study his deeds, his fail-

ures, and his achievements. Thus, fresh from

scenes where many of his usual machines of re-

flection had been idle, from where he had pro-

ceeded sheeplike, he struggled to marshal all his acts.

At last they marched before him clearly.

From this present view point he was enabled

to look upon them in spectator fashion and

to criticise them with some correctness, for his

new condition had already defeated certain sympathies.

Regarding his procession of memory he felt

gleeful and unregretting, for in it his public deeds

were paraded in great and shining prominence.

Those performances which had been witnessed

by his fellows marched now in wide purple and

gold, having various deflections. They went

gayly with music. It was pleasure to watch these

things. He spent delightful minutes viewing the

gilded images of memory.

He saw that he was good. He recalled with

a thrill of joy the respectful comments of his fel-

lows upon his conduct.

Nevertheless, the ghost of his flight from

the first engagement appeared to him and

danced. There were small shoutings in his brain

about these matters. For a moment he blushed,

and the light of his soul flickered with shame.

A specter of reproach came to him. There

loomed the dogging memory of the tattered

soldier--he who, gored by bullets and faint for

blood, had fretted concerning an imagined wound

in another; he who had loaned his last of strength

and intellect for the tall soldier; he who, blind

with weariness and pain, had been deserted in

the field.

For an instant a wretched chill of sweat was

upon him at the thought that he might be

detected in the thing. As he stood persistently

before his vision, he gave vent to a cry of sharp

irritation and agony.

His friend turned. "What's the matter,

Henry?" he demanded. The youth's reply was

an outburst of crimson oaths.

As he marched along the little branch-hung

roadway among his prattling companions this

vision of cruelty brooded over him. It clung

near him always and darkened his view of these

deeds in purple and gold. Whichever way his

thoughts turned they were followed by the

somber phantom of the desertion in the fields.

He looked stealthily at his companions, feeling

sure that they must discern in his face evidences

of this pursuit. But they were plodding in

ragged array, discussing with quick tongues the

accomplishments of the late battle.

"Oh, if a man should come up an' ask me, I'd

say we got a dum good lickin'."

"Lickin'--in yer eye! We ain't licked, sonny.

We're goin' down here aways, swing aroun', an'

come in behint 'em."

"Oh, hush, with your comin' in behint 'em.

I've seen all 'a that I wanta. Don't tell me about

comin' in behint--"

"Bill Smithers, he ses he'd rather been in

ten hundred battles than been in that heluva

hospital. He ses they got shootin' in th' night-

time, an' shells dropped plum among 'em in th'

hospital. He ses sech hollerin' he never see."

"Hasbrouck? He's th' best off'cer in this

here reg'ment. He's a whale."

"Didn't I tell yeh we'd come aroun' in behint

'em? Didn't I tell yeh so? We--"

"Oh, shet yeh mouth!"

For a time this pursuing recollection of the

tattered man took all elation from the youth's

veins. He saw his vivid error, and he was afraid

that it would stand before him all his life. He

took no share in the chatter of his comrades, nor

did he look at them or know them, save when he

felt sudden suspicion that they were seeing his

thoughts and scrutinizing each detail of the scene

with the tattered soldier.

Yet gradually he mustered force to put the sin

at a distance. And at last his eyes seemed to

open to some new ways. He found that he could

look back upon the brass and bombast of his

earlier gospels and see them truly. He was gleeful

when he discovered that he now despised them.

With this conviction came a store of assur-

ance. He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but

of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he

would no more quail before his guides wher-

ever they should point. He had been to touch

the great death, and found that, after all, it was

but the great death. He was a man.

So it came to pass that as he trudged from

the place of blood and wrath his soul changed.

He came from hot plowshares to prospects of

clover tranquilly, and it was as if hot plowshares

were not. Scars faded as flowers.

It rained. The procession of weary soldiers

became a bedraggled train, despondent and

muttering, marching with churning effort in a

trough of liquid brown mud under a low,

wretched sky. Yet the youth smiled, for he saw

that the world was a world for him, though many

discovered it to be made of oaths and walking

sticks. He had rid himself of the red sickness of

battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past.

He had been an animal blistered and sweating in

the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a

lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh

meadows, cool brooks--an existence of soft and

eternal peace.

Over the river a golden ray of sun came

through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.



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