The Red Badge of Courage
Part 2 out of 3
As he ran, he became aware that the forest had stopped its music,
as if at last becoming capable of hearing the foregin sounds.
The trees hushed and stood motionless. Everything seemed to be
listening to the crackle and clatter and earthshaking thunder.
The chorus peaked over the still earth.
It suddenly occurred to the youth that the fight in which he had
been was, after all, but perfunctory popping. In the hearing of
this present din he was doubtful if he had seen real battle scenes.
This uproar explained a celestial battle; it was tumbling hordes
a-struggle in the air.
Reflecting, he saw a sort of a humor in the point of view of
himself and his fellows during the late encounter. They had
taken themselves and the enemy very seriously and had imagined
that they were deciding the war. Individuals must have supposed
that they were cutting the letters of their names deep into
everlasting tablets of brass, or enshrining their reputations
forever in the hearts of their countrymen, while, as to fact,
the affair would appear in printed reports under a meek and
immaterial title. But he saw that it was good, else, he said, in
battle every one would surely run save forlorn hopes and their ilk.
He went rapidly on. He wished to come to the edge of the forest
that he might peer out.
As he hastened, there passed through his mind pictures of
stupendous conflicts. His accumulated thought upon such
subjects was used to form scenes. The noise was as the
voice of an eloquent being, describing.
Sometimes the brambles formed chains and tried to hold him back.
Trees, confronting him, stretched out their arms and forbade him
to pass. After its previous hostility this new resistance of the
forest filled him with a fine bitterness. It seemed that Nature
could not be quite ready to kill him.
But he obstinately took roundabout ways, and presently he was
where he could see long gray walls of vapor where lay battle
lines. The voices of cannon shook him. The musketry sounded
in long irregular surges that played havoc with his ears. He stood
regardant for a moment. His eyes had an awestruck expression.
He gawked in the direction of th fight.
Presently he proceeded again on his forward way. The battle
was like the grinding of an immense and terrible machine to him.
Its complexities and powers, its grim processes, fascinated him.
He must go close and see it produce corpses.
He came to a fence and clambered over it. On the far side, the
ground was littered with clothes and guns. A newspaper, folded up,
lay in the dirt. A dead soldier was stretched with his face hidden
in his arm. Farther off there was a group of four or five corpses
keeping mournful company. A hot sun had blazed upon this spot.
In this place the youth felt that he was an invader. This
forgotten part of the battle ground was owned by the dead men,
and he hurried, in the vague apprehension that one of the
swollen forms would rise and tell him to begone.
He came finally to a road from which he could see in the distance
dark and agitated bodies of troops, smoke-fringed. In the lane
was a blood-stained crowd streaming to the rear. The wounded men
were cursing, groaning, and wailing. In the air, always, was a
mighty swell of sound that it seemed could sway the earth. With
the courageous words of the artillery and the spiteful sentences
of the musketry mingled red cheers. And from this region of
noises came the steady current of the maimed.
One of the wounded men had a shoeful of blood. He hopped like a
schoolboy in a game. He was laughing hysterically.
One was swearing that he had been shot in the arm through the
commanding general's mismanagement of the army. One was marching
with an air imitative of some sublime drum major. Upon his
features was an unholy mixture of merriment and agony. As he
marched he sang a bit of doggerel in a high and quavering voice:
"Sing a song 'a vic'try,
A pocketful 'a bullets,
Five an' twenty dead men
Baked in a--pie."
Parts of the procession limped and staggered to this tune.
Another had the gray seal of death already upon his face.
His lips were curled in hard lines and his teeth were clinched.
His hands were bloody from where he had pressed them upon his wound.
He seemed to be awaiting the moment when he should pitch headlong.
He stalked like the specter of a soldier, his eyes burning with
the power of a stare into the unknown.
There were some who proceeded sullenly, full of anger at their wounds,
and ready to turn upon anything as an obscure cause.
An officer was carried along by two privates. He was peevish.
"Don't joggle so, Johnson, yeh fool," he cried. "Think m' leg is
made of iron? If yeh can't carry me decent, put me down an' let
some one else do it."
He bellowed at the tottering crowd who blocked the quick march of
his bearers. "Say, make way there, can't yeh? Make way, dickens
take it all."
They sulkily parted and went to the roadsides. As he was carried
past they made pert remarks to him. When he raged in reply and
threatened them, they told him to be damned.
The shoulder of one of the tramping bearers knocked heavily
against the spectral soldier who was staring into the unknown.
The youth joined this crowd and marched along with it. The torn
bodies expressed the awful machinery in which the men had been entangled.
Orderlies and couriers occasionally broke through the throng in
the roadway, scattering wounded men right and left, galloping on
followed by howls. The melancholy march was continually
disturbed by the messengers, and sometimes by bustling batteries
that came swinging and thumping down upon them, the officers
shouting orders to clear the way.
There was a tattered man, fouled with dust, blood and powder
stain from hair to shoes, who trudged quietly at the youth's side.
He was listening with eagerness and much humility to the lurid
descriptions of a bearded sergeant. His lean features wore
an expression of awe and admiration. He was like a listener
in a country store to wondrous tales told among the sugar barrels.
He eyed the story-teller with unspeakable wonder. His mouth was
agape in yokel fashion.
The sergeant, taking note of this, gave pause to his elaborate
history while he administered a sardonic comment. "Be keerful,
honey, you 'll be a-ketchin' flies," he said.
The tattered man shrank back abashed.
After a time he began to sidle near to the youth, and in a
diffident way try to make him a friend. His voice was gentle as
a girl's voice and his eyes were pleading. The youth saw with
surprise that the soldier had two wounds, one in the head, bound
with a blood-soaked rag, and the other in the arm, making that
member dangle like a broken bough.
After they had walked together for some time the tattered man
mustered sufficient courage to speak. "Was pretty good fight,
wa'n't it?" he timidly said. The youth, deep in thought, glanced
up at the bloody and grim figure with its lamblike eyes. "What?"
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?"
"Yes," said the youth shortly. He quickened his pace.
But the other hobbled industriously after him. There was an
air of apology in his manner, but he evidently thought that he
needed only to talk for a time, and the youth would perceive
that he was a good fellow.
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?" he began in a small voice,
and the he achieved the fortitude to continue. "Dern me if I
ever see fellers fight so. Laws, how they did fight! I knowed th'
boys 'd like it when they onct got square at it. Th' boys ain't
had no fair chanct up t' now, but this time they showed what they was.
I knowed it 'd turn out this way. Yeh can't lick them boys. No, sir!
They 're fighters, they be."
He breathed a deep breath of humble admiration. He had looked
at the youth for encouragement several times. He received none,
but gradually he seemed to get absorbed in his subject.
"I was talkin' 'cross pickets with a boy from Georgie, onct, an'
that boy, he ses, 'Your fellers 'll all run like hell when they
onct hearn a gun,' he ses. 'Mebbe they will,' I ses, 'but I
don't b'lieve none of it,' I ses; 'an' b'jiminey,' I ses back t'
'um, 'mebbe your fellers 'll all run like hell when they onct
hearn a gun,' I ses. He larfed. Well, they didn't run t' day,
did they, hey? No, sir! They fit, an' fit, an' fit."
His homely face was suffused with a light of love for the army
which was to him all things beautiful and powerful.
After a time he turned to the youth. "Where yeh hit, ol' boy?"
he asked in a brotherly tone.
The youth felt instant panic at this question, although at first
its full import was not borne in upon him.
"What?" he asked.
"Where yeh hit?" repeated the tattered man.
"Why," began the youth, "I--I--that is--why--I--"
He turned away suddenly and slid through the crowd. His brow was
heavily flushed, and his fingers were picking nervously at one of
his buttons. He bent his head and fastened his eyes studiously
upon the button as if it were a little problem.
The tattered man looked after him in astonishment.
The youth fell back in the procession until the tattered soldier
was not in sight. Then he started to walk on with the others.
But he was amid wounds. The mob of men was bleeding. Because of
the tattered soldier's question he now felt that his shame could
be viewed. He was continually casting sidelong glances to see if
the men were contemplating the letters of guilt he felt burned
into his brow.
At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way.
He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy.
He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.
The spectral soldier was at his side like a stalking reproach.
The man's eyes were still fixed in a stare into the unknown.
His gray, appalling face had attracted attention in the crowd,
and men, slowing to his dreary pace, were walking with him.
They were discussing his plight, questioning him and giving
him advice. In a dogged way he repelled them, signing to them
to go on and leave him alone. The shadows of his face were
deepening and his tight lips seemed holding in check the moan
of great despair. There could be seen a certain stiffness in
the movements of his body, as if he were taking infinite care
not to arouse the passion of his wounds. As he went on, he seemed
always looking for a place, like one who goes to choose a grave.
Something in the gesture of the man as he waved the bloody
and pitying soldiers away made the youth start as if bitten.
He yelled in horror. Tottering forward he laid a quivering
hand upon the man's arm. As the latter slowly turned his
waxlike features toward him the youth screamed:
"Gawd! Jim Conklin!"
The tall soldier made a little commonplace smile. "Hello,
Henry," he said.
The youth swayed on his legs and glared strangely. He stuttered
and stammered. "Oh, Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"
The tall soldier held out his gory hand. There was a curious red
and black combination of new blood and old blood upon it. "Where
yeh been, Henry?" he asked. He continued in a monotonous voice,
"I thought mebbe yeh got keeled over. There 's been thunder t'
pay t'-day. I was worryin' about it a good deal."
The youth still lamented. "Oh, Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"
"Yeh know," said the tall soldier, "I was out there." He made a
careful gesture. "An', Lord, what a circus! An', b'jiminey, I got
shot--I got shot. Yes, b'jiminey, I got shot." He reiterated this
fact in a bewildered way, as if he did not know how it came about.
The youth put forth anxious arms to assist him, but the tall
soldier went firmly as if propelled. Since the youth's arrival
as a guardian for his friend, the other wounded men had ceased
to display much interest. They occupied themselves again in
dragging their own tragedies toward the rear.
Suddenly, as the two friends marched on, the tall soldier seemed to be
overcome by a tremor. His face turned to a semblance of gray paste.
He clutched the youth's arm and looked all about him, as if dreading
to be overheard. Then he began to speak in a shaking whisper:
"I tell yeh what I'm 'fraid of, Henry--I'll tell yeh what I'm
'fraid of. I 'm 'fraid I 'll fall down--an' them yeh know -
them damned artillery wagons--they like as not 'll run over me.
That 's what I 'm 'fraid of--"
The youth cried out to him hysterically: "I 'll take care of
yeh, Jim! I 'll take care of yeh! I swear t' Gawd I will!"
"Sure--will yeh, Henry?" the tall soldier beseeched.
"Yes--yes--I tell yeh--I'll take care of yeh, Jim!" protested
the youth. He could not speak accurately because of the gulpings
in his throat.
But the tall soldier continued to beg in a lowly way. He now hung
babelike to the youth's arm. His eyes rolled in the wildness of
his terror. "I was allus a good friend t' yeh, wa'n't I, Henry?
I 've allus been a pretty good feller, ain't I? An' it ain't
much t' ask, is it? Jest t' pull me along outer th' road?
I'd do it fer you, wouldn't I, Henry?"
He paused in piteous anxiety to await his friend's reply.
The youth had reached an anguish where the sobs scorched him.
He strove to express his loyalty, but he could only make
However, the tall soldier seemed suddenly to forget all those
fears. He became again the grim, stalking specter of a soldier.
He went stonily forward. The youth wished his friend to lean
upon him, but the other always shook his head and strangely
protested. "No--no--no--leave me be--leave me be--"
His look was fixed again upon the unknown. He moved
with mysterious purpose, and all of the youth's offers
he brushed aside. "No--no--leave me be--leave me be--"
The youth had to follow.
Presently the latter heard a voice talking softly near his shoulder.
Turning he saw that it belonged to the tattered soldier. "Ye'd better
take 'im outa th' road, pardner. There's a batt'ry comin' helitywhoop
down th' road an' he 'll git runned over. He 's a goner anyhow in
about five minutes--yeh kin see that. Ye 'd better take 'im outa
th' road. Where th' blazes does hi git his stren'th from?"
"Lord knows!" cried the youth. He was shaking his hands helplessly.
He ran forward presently and grasped the tall soldier by the arm.
"Jim! Jim!" he coaxed, "come with me."
The tall soldier weakly tried to wrench himself free. "Huh," he
said vacantly. He stared at the youth for a moment. At last he
spoke as if dimly comprehending. "Oh! Inteh th' fields? Oh!"
He started blindly through the grass.
The youth turned once to look at the lashing riders and jouncing
guns of the battery. He was startled from this view by a shrill
outcry from the tattered man.
"Gawd! He's runnin'!"
Turning his head swiftly, the youth saw his friend running in a
staggering and stumbling way toward a little clump of bushes.
His heart seemed to wrench itself almost free from his body at
this sight. He made a noise of pain. He and the tattered man
began a pursuit. There was a singular race.
When he overtook the tall soldier he began to plead with all the
words he could find. "Jim--Jim--what are you doing--what
makes you do this way--you'll hurt yerself."
The same purpose was in the tall soldier's face. He protested in
a dulled way, keeping his eyes fastened on the mystic place of
his intentions. "No--no--don't tech me--leave me be--leave me be--"
The youth, aghast and filled with wonder at the tall soldier,
began quaveringly to question him. "Where yeh goin', Jim? What
you thinking about? Where you going? Tell me, won't you, Jim?"
The tall soldier faced about as upon relentless pursuers. In his
eyes there was a great appeal. "Leave me be, can't yeh? Leave me
be for a minnit."
The youth recoiled. "Why, Jim," he said, in a dazed way, "what
's the matter with you?"
The tall soldier turned and, lurching dangerously, went on. The
youth and the tattered soldier followed, sneaking as if whipped,
feeling unable to face the stricken man if he should again
confront them. They began to have thoughts of a solemn ceremony.
There was something rite-like in these movements of the doomed
soldier. And there was a resemblance in him to a devotee of a
mad religion, blood-sucking, muscle-wrenching, bone-crushing.
They were awed and afraid. They hung back lest he have at
command a dreadful weapon.
At last, they saw him stop and stand motionless. Hastening up,
they perceived that his face wore an expression telling that
he had at last found the place for which he had struggled.
His spare figure was erect; his bloody hands were quietly at
his side. He was waiting with patience for something that he had
come to meet. He was at the rendezvous. They paused and stood,
There was a silence.
Finally, the chest of the doomed soldier began to heave with a
strained motion. It increased in violence until it was as if an
animal was within and was kicking and tumbling furiously to be free.
This spectacle of gradual strangulation made the youth writhe,
and once as his friend rolled his eyes, he saw something in them
that made him sink wailing to the ground. He raised his voice in
a last supreme call.
The tall soldier opened his lips and spoke. He made a gesture.
"Leave me be--don't tech me--leave me be--"
There was another silence while he waited.
Suddenly his form stiffened and straightened. Then it was shaken
by a prolonged ague. He stared into space. To the two watchers
there was a curious and profound dignity in the firm lines of
his awful face.
He was invaded by a creeping strangeness that slowly enveloped him.
For a moment the tremor of his legs caused him to dance a sort of
hideous hornpipe. His arms beat wildly about his head in expression
of implike enthusiasm.
His tall figure stretched itself to its full height. There was a
slight rending sound. Then it began to swing forward, slow and
straight, in the manner of a falling tree. A swift muscular
contortion made the left shoulder strike the ground first.
The body seemed to bounce a little way from the earth. "God!"
said the tattered soldier.
The youth had watched, spellbound, this ceremony at the place of
meeting. His face had been twisted into an expression of every
agony he had imagined for his friend.
He now sprang to his feet and, going closer, gazed upon the
pastelike face. The mouth was open and the teeth showed in a laugh.
As the flap of the blue jacket fell away from the body, he could
see that the side looked as if it had been chewed by wolves.
The youth turned, with sudden, livid rage, toward the battlefield.
He shook his fist. He seemed about to deliver a philippic.
The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.
The tattered man stood musing.
"Well, he was a reg'lar jim-dandy fer nerve, wa'n't he," said he
finally in a little awestruck voice. "A reg'lar jim-dandy."
He thoughtfully poked one of the docile hands with his foot.
"I wonner where he got 'is stren'th from? I never seen a man
do like that before. It was a funny thing. Well, he was a
The youth desired to screech out his grief. He was stabbed, but
his tongue lay dead in the tomb of his mouth. He threw himself
again upon the ground and began to brood.
The tattered man stood musing.
"Look-a-here, pardner," he said, after a time. He regarded the
corpse as he spoke. "He 's up an' gone, ain't 'e, an' we might
as well begin t' look out fer ol' number one. This here thing is
all over. He 's up an' gone, ain't 'e? An' he 's all right here.
Nobody won't bother 'im. An' I must say I ain't enjoying any great
health m'self these days."
The youth, awakened by the tattered soldier's tone, looked quickly up.
He saw that he was swinging uncertainly on his legs and that his face
had turned to a shade of blue.
"Good Lord!" he cried, "you ain't goin' t'--not you, too."
The tattered man waved his hand. "Nary die," he said.
"All I want is some pea soup an' a good bed. Some pea soup,"
he repeated dreamfully.
The youth arose from the ground. "I wonder where he came from.
I left him over there." He pointed. "And now I find 'im here.
And he was coming from over there, too." He indicated a new direction.
They both turned toward the body as if to ask of it a question.
"Well," at length spoke the tattered man, "there ain't no use in
our stayin' here an' tryin' t' ask him anything."
The youth nodded an assent wearily. They both turned to gaze
for a moment at the corpse.
The youth murmured something.
"Well, he was a jim-dandy, wa'n't 'e?" said the tattered man as
if in response.
They turned their backs upon it and started away. For a time
they stole softly, treading with their toes. It remained
laughing there in the grass.
"I'm commencin' t' feel pretty bad," said the tattered man,
suddenly breaking one of his little silences. "I'm commencin' t'
feel pretty damn' bad."
The youth groaned. "Oh Lord!" He wondered if he was to be the
tortured witness of another grim encounter.
But his companion waved his hand reassuringly. "Oh, I'm not goin'
t' die yit! There too much dependin' on me fer me t' die yit.
No, sir! Nary die! I CAN'T! Ye'd oughta see th' swad a'
chil'ren I've got, an' all like that."
The youth glancing at his companion could see by the
shadow of a smile that he was making some kind of fun.
As the plodded on the tattered soldier continued to talk.
"Besides, if I died, I wouldn't die th' way that feller did.
That was th' funniest thing. I'd jest flop down, I would.
I never seen a feller die th' way that feller did.
"Yeh know Tom Jamison, he lives next door t' me up home.
He's a nice feller, he is, an' we was allus good friends.
Smart, too. Smart as a steel trap. Well, when we was a-fightin'
this atternoon, all-of-a-sudden he begin t' rip up an' cuss an'
beller at me. 'Yer shot, yeh blamed infernal!'--he swear
horrible--he ses t' me. I put up m' hand t' m' head an' when I
looked at m' fingers, I seen, sure 'nough, I was shot. I give a
holler an' begin t' run, but b'fore I could git away another one
hit me in th' arm an' whirl' me clean 'round. I got skeared when
they was all a-shootin' b'hind me an' I run t' beat all, but I
cotch it pretty bad. I've an idee I'd a been fightin' yit,
if t'was n't fer Tom Jamison."
Then he made a calm announcement: "There's two of 'em--little
ones--but they 're beginnin' t' have fun with me now. I don't
b'lieve I kin walk much furder."
They went slowly on in silence. "Yeh look pretty peek'ed yerself,"
said the tattered man at last. "I bet yeh 've got a worser one
than yeh think. Ye'd better take keer of yer hurt. It don't do
t' let sech things go. It might be inside mostly, an' them
plays thunder. Where is it located?" But he continued his
harangue without waiting for a reply. "I see a feller git hit
plum in th' head when my reg'ment was a-standin' at ease onct.
An' everybody yelled to 'im: 'Hurt, John? Are yeh hurt much?'
'No,' ses he. He looked kinder surprised, an' he went on
tellin' 'em how he felt. He sed he didn't feel nothin'.
But, by dad, th' first thing that feller knowed he was dead.
Yes, he was dead--stone dead. So, yeh wanta watch out.
Yeh might have some queer kind 'a hurt yerself. Yeh can't
never tell. Where is your'n located?"
The youth had been wriggling since the introduction of this topic.
He now gave a cry of exasperation and made a furious motion with
his hand. "Oh, don't bother me!" he said. He was enraged against
the tattered man, and could have strangled him. His companions
seemed ever to play intolerable parts. They were ever upraising
the ghost of shame on the stick of their curiosity. He turned
toward the tattered man as one at bay. "Now, don't bother me,"
he repeated with desperate menace.
"Well, Lord knows I don't wanta bother anybody," said the other.
There was a little accent of despair in his voice as he replied,
"Lord knows I 've gota 'nough m' own t' tend to."
The youth, who had been holding a bitter debate with himself and
casting glances of hatred and contempt at the tattered man, here
spoke in a hard voice. "Good-by," he said.
The tattered man looked at him in gaping amazement. "Why--why,
pardner, where yeh goin'?" he asked unsteadily. The youth looking
at him, could see that he, too, like that other one, was beginning
to act dumb and animal-like. His thoughts seemed to be floundering
about in his head. "Now--now--look--a--here, you Tom Jamison--now--
I won't have this--this here won't do. Where--where yeh goin'?"
The youth pointed vaguely. "Over there," he replied.
"Well, now look--a--here--now," said the tattered man,
rambling on in idiot fashion. His head was hanging forward and
his words were slurred. "This thing won't do, now, Tom Jamison.
It won't do. I know yeh, yeh pig-headed devil. Yeh wanta go
trompin' off with a bad hurt. It ain't right--now--Tom Jamison
--it ain't. Yeh wanta leave me take keer of yeh, Tom Jamison.
It ain't--right--it ain't--fer yeh t' go--trompin' off--with
a bad hurt--it ain't--ain't--ain't right--it ain't."
In reply the youth climbed a fence and started away.
He could hear the tattered man bleating plaintively.
Once he faced about angrily. "What?"
"Look--a--here, now, Tom Jamison--now--it ain't--"
The youth went on. Turning at a distance he saw the tattered man
wandering about helplessly in the field.
He now thought that he wished he was dead. He believed he envied
those men whose bodies lay strewn over the grass of the fields
and on the fallen leaves of the forest.
The simple questions of the tattered man had been knife thrusts
to him. They asserted a society that probes pitilessly at
secrets until all is apparent. His late companion's chance
persistency made him feel that he could not keep his crime
concealed in his bosom. It was sure to be brought plain by one
of those arrows which cloud the air and are constantly pricking,
discovering, proclaiming those things which are willed to be
forever hidden. He admitted that he could not defend himself
against this agency. It was not within the power of vigilance.
He became aware that the furnace roar of the battle was growing louder.
Great blown clouds had floated to the still heights of air before him.
The noise, too, was approaching. The woods filtered men and the fields
As he rounded a hillock, he perceived that the roadway was now a
crying mass of wagons, teams, and men. From the heaving tangle
issued exhortations, commands, imprecations. Fear was sweeping
it all along. The cracking whips bit and horses plunged and tugged.
The white-topped wagons strained and stumbled in their exertions
like fat sheep.
The youth felt comforted in a measure by this sight. They were
all retreating. Perhaps, then, he was not so bad after all.
He seated himself and watched the terror-stricken wagons.
They fled like soft, ungainly animals. All the roarers and
lashers served to help him to magnify the dangers and horrors
of the engagement that he might try to prove to himself that the
thing with which men could charge him was in truth a symmetrical act.
There was an amount of pleasure to him in watching the wild march of
Presently the calm head of a forward-going column of infantry
appeared in the road. It came swiftly on. Avoiding the
obstructions gave it the sinuous movement of a serpent.
The men at the head butted mules with their musket stocks.
They prodded teamsters indifferent to all howls. The men
forced their way through parts of the dense mass by strength.
The blunt head of the column pushed. The raving teamsters
swore many strange oaths.
The commands to make way had the ring of a great importance in them.
The men were going forward to the heart of the din. They were to
confront the eager rush of the enemy. They felt the pride of their
onward movement when the remainder of the army seemed trying to
dribble down this road. They tumbled teams about with a fine
feeling that it was no matter so long as their column got to the
front in time. This importance made their faces grave and stern.
And the backs of the officers were very rigid.
As the youth looked at them the black weight of his woe returned
to him. He felt that he was regarding a procession of chosen beings.
The separation was as great to him as if they had marched with weapons
of flame and banners of sunlight. He could never be like them.
He could have wept in his longings.
He searched about in his mind for an adequate malediction for the
indefinite cause, the thing upon which men turn the words of
final blame. It--whatever it was--was responsible for him,
he said. There lay the fault.
The haste of the column to reach the battle seemed to the forlorn
young man to be something much finer than stout fighting.
Heroes, he thought, could find excuses in that long seething lane.
They could retire with perfect self-respect and make excuses to the stars.
He wondered what those men had eaten that they could be in such
haste to force their way to grim chances of death. As he watched
his envy grew until he thought that he wished to change lives with
one of them. He would have liked to have used a tremendous force,
he said, throw off himself and become a better. Swift pictures
of himself, apart, yet in himself, came to him--a blue desperate
figure leading lurid charges with one knee forward and a broken
blade high--a blue, determined figure standing before a crimson
and steel assault, getting calmly killed on a high place before
the eyes of all. He thought of the magnificent pathos of his
These thoughts uplifted him. He felt the quiver of war desire.
In his ears, he heard the ring of victory. He knew the frenzy
of a rapid successful charge. The music of the trampling feet,
the sharp voices, the clanking arms of the column near him made
him soar on the red wings of war. For a few moments he was sublime.
He thought that he was about to start for the front. Indeed, he
saw a picture of himself, dust-stained, haggard, panting, flying
to the front at the proper moment to seize and throttle the dark,
leering witch of calamity.
Then the difficulties of the thing began to drag at him.
He hesitated, balancing awkwardly on one foot.
He had no rifle; he could not fight with his hands,
said he resentfully to his plan. Well, rifles could
be had for the picking. They were extraordinarily profuse.
Also, he continued, it would be a miracle if he found his regiment.
Well, he could fight with any regiment.
He started forward slowly. He stepped as if he expected to tread
upon some explosive thing. Doubts and he were struggling.
He would truly be a worm if any of his comrades should see him
returning thus, the marks of his flight upon him. There was a
reply that the intent fighters did not care for what happened
rearward saving that no hostile bayonets appeared there.
In the battle-blur his face would, in a way, be hidden,
like the face of a cowled man.
But then he said that his tireless fate would bring forth,
when the strife lulled for a moment, a man to ask of him
an explanation. In imagination he felt the scrutiny of
his companions as he painfully labored through some lies.
Eventually, his courage expended itself upon these objections.
The debates drained him of his fire.
He was not cast down by this defeat of his plan, for,
upon studying the affair carefully, he could not but
admit that the objections were very formidable.
Furthermore, various ailments had begun to cry out. In their
presence he could not persist in flying high with the wings of war;
they rendered it almost impossible for him to see himself in a
heroic light. He tumbled headlong.
He discovered that he had a scorching thirst. His face was so
dry and grimy that he thought he could feel his skin crackle.
Each bone of his body had an ache in it, and seemingly threatened
to break with each movement. His feet were like two sores.
Also, his body was calling for food. It was more powerful than
a direct hunger. There was a dull, weight-like feeling in
his stomach, and, when he tried to walk, his head swayed and
he tottered. He could not see with distinctness. Small patches
of green mist floated before his vision.
While he had been tossed by many emotions, he had not been
aware of ailments. Now the beset him and made clamor. As he
was at last compelled to pay attention to them, his capacity for
self-hate was multiplied. In despair, he declared that he was
not like those others. He now conceded it to be impossible that
he should ever become a hero. He was a craven loon. Those pictures
of glory were piteous things. He groaned from his heart and went
A certain mothlike quality within him kept him in the vicinity
of the battle. He had a great desire to see, and to get news.
He wished to know who was winning.
He told himself that, despite his unprecedented suffering,
he had never lost his greed for a victory, yet, he said, in a
half-apologetic manner to his conscience, he could not but know
that a defeat for the army this time might mean many favorable
things for him. The blows of the enemy would splinter regiments
into fragments. Thus, many men of courage, he considered,
would be obliged to desert the colors and scurry like chickens.
He would appear as one of them. They would be sullen brothers
in distress, and he could then easily believe he had not run any
farther or faster than they. And if he himself could believe in
his virtuous perfection, he conceived that there would be small
trouble in convincing all others.
He said, as if in excuse for this hope, that previously the army
had encountered great defeats and in a few months had shaken off
all blood and tradition of them, emerging as bright and valiant
as a new one; thrusting out of sight the memory of disaster,
and appearing with the valor and confidence of unconquered legions.
The shrilling voices of the people at home would pipe dismally
for a time, but various general were usually compelled to listen
to these ditties. He of course felt no compunctions for
proposing a general as a sacrifice. He could not tell who
the chosen for the barbs might be, so he could center no direct
sympathy upon him. The people were afar and he did not conceive
public opinion to be accurate at long range. It was quite probable
they would hit the wrong man who, after he had recovered from his
amazement would perhaps spend the rest of his days in writing replies
to the songs of his alleged failure. It would be very unfortunate,
no doubt, but in this case a general was of no consequence to the youth.
In a defeat there would be a roundabout vindication of himself.
He thought it would prove, in a manner, that he had fled early
because of his superior powers of perception. A serious prophet
upon predicting a flood should be the first man to climb a tree.
This would demonstrate that he was indeed a seer.
A moral vindication was regarded by the youth as a very important
thing. Without salve, he could not, he though, were the sore badge
of his dishonor through life. With his heart continually assuring
him that he was despicable, he could not exist without making it,
through his actions, apparent to all men.
If the army had gone gloriously on he would be lost. If the
din meant that now his army's flags were tilted forward he was a
condemned wretch. He would be compelled to doom himself to isolation.
If the men were advancing, their indifferent feet were trampling upon
his chances for a successful life.
As these thoughts went rapidly through his mind, he turned upon them
and tried to thrust them away. He denounced himself as a villain.
He said that he was the most unutterably selfish man in existence.
His mind pictured the soldiers who would place their defiant bodies
before the spear of the yelling battle fiend, and as he saw their
dripping corpses on an imagined field, he said that he was their murderer.
Again he thought that he wished he was dead. He believed that he
envied a corpse. Thinking of the slain, he achieved a great
contempt for some of them, as if they were guilty for thus
becoming lifeless. They might have been killed by lucky chances,
he said, before they had had opportunities to flee or before
they had been really tested. Yet they would receive laurels
from tradition. He cried out bitterly that their crowns were
stolen and their robes of glorious memories were shams. However,
he still said that it was a great pity he was not as they.
A defeat of the army had suggested itself to him as a means of
escape from the consequences of his fall. He considered, now,
however, that it was useless to think of such a possibility.
His education had been that success for that might blue machine
was certain; that it would make victories as a contrivance turns
out buttons. He presently discarded all his speculations in the
other direction. He returned to the creed of soldiers.
When he perceived again that it was not possible for the army to
be defeated, he tried to bethink him of a fine tale which he
could take back to his regiment, and with it turn the expected
shafts of derision.
But, as he mortally feared these shafts, it became impossible for
him to invent a tale he felt he could trust. He experimented
with many schemes, but threw them aside one by one as flimsy.
He was quick to see vulnerable places in them all.
Furthermore, he was much afraid that some arrow of scorn might
lay him mentally low before he could raise his protecting tale.
He imagined the whole regiment saying: "Where's Henry Fleming?
He run, didn't 'e? Oh, my!" He recalled various persons who
would be quite sure to leave him no peace about it. They would
doubtless question him with sneers, and laugh at his stammering
hesitation. In the next engagement they would try to keep watch
of him to discover when he would run.
Wherever he went in camp, he would encounter insolent and
lingeringly cruel stares. As he imagined himself passing near
a crowd of comrades, he could hear one say, "There he goes!"
Then, as if the heads were moved by one muscle, all the faces
were turned toward him with wide, derisive grins. He seemed to
hear some one make a humorous remark in a low tone. At it the
others all crowed and cackled. He was a slang phrase.
The column that had butted stoutly at the obstacles in the
roadway was barely out of the youth's sight before he saw dark
waves of men come sweeping out of the woods and down through the
fields. He knew at once that the steel fibers had been washed
from their hearts. They were bursting from their coats and their
equipments as from entanglements. They charged down upon him
like terrified buffaloes.
Behind them blue smoke curled and clouded above the treetops,
and through the thickets he could sometimes see a distant pink glare.
The voices of the cannon were clamoring in interminable chorus.
The youth was horrorstricken. He stared in agony and amazement.
He forgot that he was engaged in combating the universe.
He threw aside his mental pamphlets on the philosophy of
the retreated and rules for the guidance of the damned.
The fight was lost. The dragons were coming with invincible strides.
The army, helpless in the matted thickets and blinded by the
overhanging night, was going to be swallowed. War, the red animal,
war, the blood-swollen god, would have bloated fill.
Within him something bade to cry out. He had the impulse to make
a rallying speech, to sing a battle hymn, but he could only get his
tongue to call into the air: "Why--why--what--what 's th' matter?"
Soon he was in the midst of them. They were leaping and scampering
all about him. Their blanched faces shone in the dusk. They seemed,
for the most part, to be very burly men. The youth turned from
one to another of them as they galloped along. His incoherent
questions were lost. They were heedless of his appeals.
They did not seem to see him.
They sometimes gabbled insanely. One huge man was asking of the sky:
"Say, where de plank road? Where de plank road!" It was as if he
had lost a child. He wept in his pain and dismay.
Presently, men were running hither and thither in all ways.
The artillery booming, forward, rearward, and on the flanks
made jumble of ideas of direction. Landmarks had vanished into
the gathered gloom. The youth began to imagine that he had got
into the center of the tremendous quarrel, and he could perceive
no way out of it. From the mouths of the fleeing men came a
thousand wild questions, but no one made answers.
The youth, after rushing about and throwing interrogations at the
heedless bands of retreating infantry, finally clutched a man by
the arm. They swung around face to face.
"Why--why--" stammered the youth struggling with his balking tongue.
The man screamed: "Let go me! Let go me!" His face was livid and
his eyes were rolling uncontrolled. He was heaving and panting.
He still grasped his rifle, perhaps having forgotten to release
his hold upon it. He tugged frantically, and the youth being
compelled to lean forward was dragged several paces.
"Let go me! Let go me!"
"Why--why--" stuttered the youth.
"Well, then!" bawled the man in a lurid rage. He adroitly and
fiercely swung his rifle. It crushed upon the youth's head.
The man ran on.
The youth's fingers had turned to paste upon the other's arm.
The energy was smitten from his muscles. He saw the flaming
wings of lightning flash before his vision. There was a
deafening rumble of thunder within his head.
Suddenly his legs seemed to die. He sank writhing to the ground.
He tried to arise. In his efforts against the numbing pain he
was like a man wrestling with a creature of the air.
There was a sinister struggle.
Sometimes he would achieve a position half erect, battle with
the air for a moment, and then fall again, grabbing at the grass.
His face was of a clammy pallor. Deep groans were wrenched from him.
At last, with a twisting movement, he got upon his hands and
knees, and from thence, like a babe trying to walk, to his feet.
Pressing his hands to his temples he went lurching over the grass.
He fought an intense battle with his body. His dulled senses
wished him to swoon and he opposed them stubbornly, his mind
portraying unknown dangers and mutilations if he should fall
upon the field. He went tall soldier fashion. He imagined
secluded spots where he could fall and be unmolested. To search
for one he strove against the tide of pain.
Once he put his hand to the top of his head and timidly touched
the wound. The scratching pain of the contact made him draw a
long breath through his clinched teeth. His fingers were dabbled
with blood. He regarded them with a fixed stare.
Around him he could hear the grumble of jolted cannon as the
scurrying horses were lashed toward the front. Once, a young
officer on a besplashed charger nearly ran him down. He turned
and watched the mass of guns, men, and horses sweeping in a wide
curve toward a gap in a fence. The officer was making excited
motions with a gauntleted hand. The guns followed the teams with
an air of unwillingness, of being dragged by the heels.
Some officers of the scattered infantry were cursing and railing
like fishwives. Their scolding voices could be heard above the din.
Into the unspeakable jumble in the roadway rode a squadron of cavalry.
The faded yellow of their facings shone bravely. There was a mighty
The artillery were assembling as if for a conference.
The blue haze of evening was upon the field. The lines of forest
were long purple shadows. One cloud lay along the western sky
partly smothering the red.
As the youth left the scene behind him, he heard the guns
suddenly roar out. He imagined them shaking in black rage.
They belched and howled like brass devils guarding a gate.
The soft air was filled with the tremendous remonstrance.
With it came the shattering peal of opposing infantry.
Turning to look behind him, he could see sheets of orange
light illumine the shadowy distance. There were subtle
and sudden lightnings in the far air. At times he thought
he could see heaving masses of men.
He hurried on in the dusk. The day had faded until he could barely
distinguish place for his feet. The purple darkness was filled with
men who lectured and jabbered. Sometimes he could see them
gesticulating against the blue and somber sky. There seemed
to be a great ruck of men and munitions spread about in the
forest and in the fields.
The little narrow roadway now lay lifeless. There were overturned
wagons like sun-dried bowlders. The bed of the former torrent was
choked with the bodies of horses and splintered parts of war machines.
It had come to pass that his wound pained him but little. He was
afraid to move rapidly, however, for a dread of disturbing it.
He held his head very still and took many precautions against
stumbling. He was filled with anxiety, and his face was pinched
and drawn in anticipation of the pain of any sudden mistake of
his feet in the gloom.
His thoughts, as he walked, fixed intently upon his hurt.
There was a cool, liquid feeling about it and he imagined blood
moving slowly down under his hair. His head seemed swollen
to a size that made him think his neck to be inadequate.
The new silence of his wound made much worriment. The little
blistering voices of pain that had called out from his scalp were,
he thought, definite in their expression of danger. By them he
believed he could measure his plight. But when they remained
ominously silent he became frightened and imagined terrible
fingers that clutched into his brain.
Amid it he began to reflect upon various incidents and conditions
of the past. He bethought him of certain meals his mother had
cooked at home, in which those dishes of which he was particularly
fond had occupied prominent positions. He saw the spread table.
The pine walls of the kitchen were glowing in the warm light
from the stove. Too, he remembered how he and his companions
used to go from the school-house to the bank of a shaded pool.
He saw his clothes in disorderly array upon the grass of the bank.
He felt the swash of the fragrant water upon his body. The leaves of
the overhanging maple rustled with melody in the wind of youthful summer.
He was overcome presently by a dragging weariness. His head hung
forward and his shoulders were stooped as if he were bearing a
great bundle. His feet shuffled along the ground.
He held continuous arguments as to whether he should lie down and
sleep at some near spot, or force himself on until he reached a
certain haven. He often tried to dismiss the question, but his
body persisted in rebellion and his senses nagged at him like
At last he heard a cheery voice near his shoulder:
"Yeh seem t' be in a pretty bad way, boy?"
The youth did not look up, but he assented with thick tongue. "Uh!"
The owner of the cheery voice took him firmly by the arm.
"Well," he said, with a round laugh, "I'm goin' your way.
"Th' hull gang is goin' your way. An' I guess I kin give yeh
a lift." They began to walk like a drunken man and his friend.
As they went along, the man questioned the youth and assisted
him with the replies like one manipulating the mind of a child.
Sometimes he interjected anecdotes. "What reg'ment do yeh b'long
teh? Eh? What 's that? Th' 304th N' York? Why, what corps is
that in? Oh, it is? Why, I thought they wasn't engaged t'-day -
they 're 'way over in th' center. Oh, they was, eh? Well pretty
nearly everybody got their share 'a fightin' t'-day. By dad, I
give myself up fer dead any number 'a times. There was shootin'
here an' shootin' there, an' hollerin' here an' hollerin' there,
in th' damn' darkness, until I couldn't tell t' save m' soul
which side I was on. Sometimes I thought I was sure 'nough from
Ohier, an' other times I could 'a swore I was from th' bitter
end of Florida. It was th' most mixed up dern thing I ever see.
An' these here hull woods is a reg'lar mess. It 'll be a miracle
if we find our reg'ments t'-night. Pretty soon, though, we 'll meet
a-plenty of guards an' provost-guards, an' one thing an' another. Ho!
there they go with an off'cer, I guess. Look at his hand a-draggin'.
He 's got all th' war he wants, I bet. He won't be talkin' so big
about his reputation an' all when they go t' sawin' off his leg.
Poor feller! My brother 's got whiskers jest like that. How did yeh
git 'way over here, anyhow? Your reg'ment is a long way from here,
ain't it? Well, I guess we can find it. Yeh know there was a boy
killed in my comp'ny t'-day that I thought th' world an' all of.
Jack was a nice feller. By ginger, it hurt like thunder t' see ol'
Jack jest git knocked flat. We was a-standin' purty peaceable
fer a spell, 'though there was men runnin' ev'ry way all 'round us,
an' while we was a-standin' like that, 'long come a big fat feller.
He began t' peck at Jack's elbow, an' he ses: 'Say, where 's th'
road t' th' river?' An' Jack, he never paid no attention, an' th'
feller kept on a-peckin' at his elbow an' sayin': 'Say, where 's
th' road t' th' river?' Jack was a-lookin' ahead all th' time tryin'
t' see th' Johnnies comin' through th' woods, an' he never paid no
attention t' this big fat feller fer a long time, but at last he turned
'round an' he ses: 'Ah, go t' hell an' find th' road t' th' river!'
An' jest then a shot slapped him bang on th' side th' head.
He was a sergeant, too. Them was his last words. Thunder,
I wish we was sure 'a findin' our reg'ments t'-night.
It 's goin' t' be long huntin'. But I guess we kin do it."
In the search which followed, the man of the cheery voice seemed
to the youth to possess a wand of a magic kind. He threaded the
mazes of the tangled forest with a strange fortune. In encounters
with guards and patrols he displayed the keenness of a detective
and the valor of a gamin. Obstacles fell before him and became
of assistance. The youth, with his chin still on his breast,
stood woodenly by while his companion beat ways and means out
of sullen things.
The forest seemed a vast hive of men buzzing about in frantic circles,
but the cheery man conducted the youth without mistakes, until at last
he began to chuckle with glee and self-satisfaction. "Ah, there yeh are!
See that fire?"
The youth nodded stupidly.
"Well, there 's where your reg'ment is. An' now, good-by, ol' boy,
good luck t' yeh."
A warm and strong hand clasped the youth's languid fingers for an instant,
and then he heard a cheerful and audacious whistling as the man strode away.
As he who had so befriended him was thus passing out of his life,
it suddenly occurred to the youth that he had not once seen his face.
The youth went slowly toward the fire indicated by his departed friend.
As he reeled, he bethought him of the welcome his comrades would give him.
He had a conviction that he would soon feel in his sore heart the barbed
missiles of ridicule. He had no strength to invent a tale; he would be
a soft target.
He made vague plans to go off into the deeper darkness and hide,
but they were all destroyed by the voices of exhaustion and pain
from his body. His ailments, clamoring, forced him to seek the
place of food and rest, at whatever cost.
He swung unsteadily toward the fire. He could see the forms
of men throwing black shadows in the red light, and as he went
nearer it became known to him in some way that the ground was
strewn with sleeping men.
Of a sudden he confronted a black and monstrous figure. A rifle
barrel caught some glinting beams. "Halt! halt!" He was dismayed
for a moment, but he presently thought that he recognized the
nervous voice. As he stood tottering before the rifle barrel,
he called out: "Why, hello, Wilson, you--you here?"
The rifle was lowered to a position of caution and the loud
soldier came slowly forward. He peered into the youth's face.
"That you, Henry?"
"Yes, it's--it's me."
"Well, well, ol' boy," said the other, "by ginger, I'm glad t'
see yeh! I give yeh up fer a goner. I thought yeh was dead
sure enough." There was husky emotion in his voice.
The youth found that now he could barely stand upon his feet.
There was a sudden sinking of his forces. He thought he must
hasten to produce his tale to protect him from the missiles
already on the lips of his redoubtable comrades. So, staggering
before the loud soldier, he began: "Yes, yes. I've--I've had
an awful time. I've been all over. Way over on th' right.
Ter'ble fightin' over there. I had an awful time. I got
separated from the reg'ment. Over on th' right, I got shot.
In th' head. I never see sech fightin'. Awful time. I don't see
how I could a' got separated from th' reg'ment. I got shot, too."
His friend had stepped forward quickly. "What? Got shot?
Why didn't yeh say so first? Poor ol' boy, we must--hol' on
a minnit; what am I doin'. I'll call Simpson."
Another figure at that moment loomed in the gloom. They could
see that it was the corporal. "Who yeh talkin' to, Wilson?"
he demanded. His voice was anger- toned. "Who yeh talkin' to?
Yeh th' derndest sentinel--why--hello, Henry, you here? Why, I
thought you was dead four hours ago! Great Jerusalem, they keep
turnin' up every ten minutes or so! We thought we'd lost
forty-two men by straight count, but if they keep on a-comin'
this way, we'll git th' comp'ny all back by mornin' yit.
Where was yeh?"
"Over on th' right. I got separated"--began the youth with
But his friend had interrupted hastily. "Yes, an' he got shot in
th' head an' he's in a fix, an' we must see t' him right away."
He rested his rifle in the hollow of his left arm and his right
around the youth's shoulder.
"Gee, it must hurt like thunder!" he said.
The youth leaned heavily upon his friend. "Yes, it hurts--hurts
a good deal," he replied. There was a faltering in his voice.
"Oh," said the corporal. He linked his arm in the youth's and
drew him forward. "Come on, Henry. I'll take keer 'a yeh."
As they went on together the loud private called out after them:
"Put 'im t' sleep in my blanket, Simpson. An'--hol' on a minnit
--here's my canteen. It's full 'a coffee. Look at his head by
th' fire an' see how it looks. Maybe it's a pretty bad un. When I
git relieved in a couple 'a minnits, I'll be over an' see t' him."
The youth's senses were so deadened that his friend's voice sounded
from afar and he could scarcely feel the pressure of the corporal's arm.
He submitted passively to the latter's directing strength.
His head was in the old manner hanging forward upon his breast.
His knees wobbled.
The corporal led him into the glare of the fire. "Now, Henry,"
he said, "let's have look at yer ol' head."
The youth sat obediently and the corporal, laying aside his rifle,
began to fumble in the bushy hair of his comrade. He was obliged
to turn the other's head so that the full flush of the fire light
would beam upon it. He puckered his mouth with a critical air.
He drew back his lips and whistled through his teeth when his
fingers came in contact with the splashed blood and the rare wound.
"Ah, here we are!" he said. He awkwardly made further investigations.
"Jest as I thought," he added, presently. "Yeh've been grazed by a ball.
It's raised a queer lump jest as if some feller had lammed yeh on th'
head with a club. It stopped a-bleedin' long time ago. Th' most about
it is that in th' mornin' yeh'll fell that a number ten hat wouldn't
fit yeh. An' your head'll be all het up an' feel as dry as burnt pork.
An' yeh may git a lot 'a other sicknesses, too, by mornin'. Yeh can't
never tell. Still, I don't much think so. It's jest a damn' good belt
on th' head, an' nothin' more. Now, you jest sit here an' don't move,
while I go rout out th' relief. Then I'll send Wilson t' take keer 'a yeh."
The corporal went away. The youth remained on the ground like a parcel.
He stared with a vacant look into the fire.
After a time he aroused, for some part, and the things about him
began to take form. He saw that the ground in the deep shadows
was cluttered with men, sprawling in every conceivable posture.
Glancing narrowly into the more distant darkness, he caught
occasional glimpses of visages that loomed pallid and ghostly,
lit with a phosphorescent glow. These faces expressed in their
lines the deep stupor of the tired soldiers. They made them
appear like men drunk with wine. This bit of forest might
have appeared to an ethereal wanderer as a scene of the
result of some frightful debauch.
On the other side of the fire the youth observed an officer asleep,
seated bolt upright, with his back against a tree. There was
something perilous in his position. Badgered by dreams,
perhaps, he swayed with little bounces and starts, like an old,
toddy-stricken grandfather in a chimney corner. Dust and stains
were upon his face. His lower jaw hung down as if lacking strength
to assume its normal position. He was the picture of an exhausted
soldier after a feast of war.
He had evidently gone to sleep with his sword in his arms.
These two had slumbered in an embrace, but the weapon had been
allowed in time to fall unheeded to the ground. The brass-mounted
hilt lay in contact with some parts of the fire.
Within the gleam of rose and orange light from the burning
sticks were other soldiers, snoring and heaving, or lying
deathlike in slumber. A few pairs of legs were stuck forth,
rigid and straight. The shoes displayed the mud or dust of marches
and bits of rounded trousers, protruding from the blankets, showed
rents and tears from hurried pitchings through the dense brambles.
The fire cackled musically. From it swelled light smoke.
Overhead the foliage moved softly. The leaves, with their faces
turned toward the blaze, were colored shifting hues of silver,
often edged with red. Far off to the right, through a window
in the forest could be seen a handful of stars lying,
like glittering pebbles, on the black level of the night.
Occasionally, in this low-arched hall, a soldier would arouse and
turn his body to a new position, the experience of his sleep
having taught him of uneven and objectionable places upon the
ground under him. Or, perhaps, he would lift himself to a
sitting posture, blink at the fire for an unintelligent moment,
throw a swift glance at his prostrate companion, and then cuddle
down again with a grunt of sleepy content.
The youth sat in a forlorn heap until his friend the loud young
soldier came, swinging two canteens by their light strings.
"Well, now, Henry, ol' boy," said the latter, "we'll have yeh
fixed up in jest about a minnit."
He had the bustling ways of an amateur nurse. He fussed around
the fire and stirred the sticks to brilliant exertions. He made
his patient drink largely from the canteen that contained the coffee.
It was to the youth a delicious draught. He tilted his head afar
back and held the canteen long to his lips. The cool mixture went
caressingly down his blistered throat. Having finished, he sighed
with comfortable delight.
The loud young soldier watched his comrade with an air of
satisfaction. He later produced an extensive handkerchief from
his pocket. He folded it into a manner of bandage and soused
water from the other canteen upon the middle of it. This crude
arrangement he bound over the youth's head, tying the ends in a
queer knot at the back of the neck.
"There," he said, moving off and surveying his deed, "yeh look
like th' devil, but I bet yeh feel better."
The youth contemplated his friend with grateful eyes. Upon his aching
and swelling head the cold cloth was like a tender woman's hand.
"Yeh don't holler ner say nothin'," remarked his friend approvingly.
"I know I'm a blacksmith at takin' keer 'a sick folks, an' yeh
never squeaked. Yer a good un, Henry. Most 'a men would a' been
in th' hospital long ago. A shot in th' head ain't foolin' business."
The youth made no reply, but began to fumble with the buttons of
"Well, come, now," continued his friend, "come on. I must put
yeh t' bed an' see that yeh git a good night's rest."
The other got carefully erect, and the loud young soldier led him
among the sleeping forms lying in groups and rows. Presently he
stooped and picked up his blankets. He spread the rubber one upon
the ground and placed the woolen one about the youth's shoulders.
"There now," he said, "lie down an' git some sleep."
The youth, with his manner of doglike obedience, got carefully
down like a crone stooping. He stretched out with a murmur of
relief and comfort. The ground felt like the softest couch.
But of a sudden he ejaculated: "Hol' on a minnit! Where you
goin' t' sleep?"
His friend waved his hand impatiently. "Right down there by yeh."
"Well, but hol' on a minnit," continued the youth. "What yeh
goin' t' sleep in? I've got your--"
The loud young soldier snarled: "Shet up an' go on t' sleep.
Don't be makin' a damn' fool 'a yerself," he said severely.
After the reproof the youth said no more. An exquisite
drowsiness had spread through him. The warm comfort of the
blanket enveloped him and made a gentle langour. His head fell
forward on his crooked arm and his weighted lids went softly down
over his eyes. Hearing a splatter of musketry from the distance,
he wondered indifferently if those men sometimes slept. He gave
a long sigh, snuggled down into his blanket, and in a moment was
like his comrades.
When the youth awoke it seemed to him that he had been asleep for
a thousand years, and he felt sure that he opened his eyes upon an
unexpected world. Gray mists were slowly shifting before the
first efforts of the sun rays. An impending splendor could be
seen in the eastern sky. An icy dew had chilled his face,
and immediately upon arousing he curled farther down into
his blanket. He stared for a while at the leaves overhead,
moving in a heraldic wind of the day.
The distance was splintering and blaring with the noise of
fighting. There was in the sound an expression of a deadly
persistency, as if it had not began and was not to cease.
About him were the rows and groups of men that he had dimly seen
the previous night. They were getting a last draught of sleep
before the awakening. The gaunt, careworn features and dusty
figures were made plain by this quaint light at the dawning,
but it dressed the skin of the men in corpse-like hues and made
the tangled limbs appear pulseless and dead. The youth started up
with a little cry when his eyes first swept over this motionless
mass of men, thick-spread upon the ground, pallid, and in
strange postures. His disordered mind interpreted the hall of
the forest as a charnel place. He believed for an instant that
he was in the house of the dead, and he did not dare to move
lest these corpses start up, squalling and squawking. In a
second, however, he achieved his proper mind. He swore a
complicated oath at himself. He saw that this somber picture
was not a fact of the present, but a mere prophecy.
He heard then the noise of a fire crackling briskly in the cold air,
and, turning his head, he saw his friend pottering busily about
a small blaze. A few other figures moved in the fog, and he heard
the hard cracking of axe blows.
Suddenly there was a hollow rumble of drums. A distant bugle
sang faintly. Similar sounds, varying in strength, came from near
and far over the forest. The bugles called to each other like
brazen gamecocks. The near thunder of the regimental drums rolled.
The body of men in the woods rustled. There was a general
uplifting of heads. A murmuring of voices broke upon the air.
In it there was much bass of grumbling oaths. Strange gods were
addressed in condemnation of the early hours necessary to
correct war. An officer's peremptory tenor rang out and
quickened the stiffened movement of the men. The tangled
limbs unraveled. The corpse-hued faces were hidden behind
fists that twisted slowly in the eye sockets.
The youth sat up and gave vent to an enormous yawn. "Thunder!"
he remarked petulantly. He rubbed his eyes, and then putting up
his hand felt carefully the bandage over his wound. His friend,
perceiving him to be awake, came from the fire. "Well, Henry,
ol' man, how do yeh feel this mornin'?" he demanded.
The youth yawned again. Then he puckered his mouth to a
little pucker. His head, in truth, felt precisely like a melon,
and there was an unpleasant sensation at his stomach.
"Oh, Lord, I feel pretty bad," he said.
"Thunder!" exclaimed the other. "I hoped ye'd feel all right
this mornin'. Let's see th' bandage--I guess it's slipped."
He began to tinker at the wound in rather a clumsy way until
the youth exploded.
"Gosh-dern it!" he said in sharp irritation; "you're the hangdest
man I ever saw! You wear muffs on your hands. Why in good
thunderation can't you be more easy? I'd rather you'd stand off
an' throw guns at it. Now, go slow, an' don't act as if you was
nailing down carpet."
He glared with insolent command at his friend, but the latter
answered soothingly. "Well, well, come now, an' git some grub,"
he said. "Then, maybe, yeh'll feel better."
At the fireside the loud young soldier watched over his comrade's
wants with tenderness and care. He was very busy marshaling the
little black vagabonds of tin cups and pouring into them the
streaming iron colored mixture from a small and sooty tin pail.
He had some fresh meat, which he roasted hurriedly on a stick.
He sat down then and contemplated the youth's appetite with glee.
The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade since
those days of camp life upon the river bank. He seemed no more
to be continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess.
He was not furious at small words that pricked his conceits.
He was no more a loud young soldier. There was about him now
a fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief in his purposes
and his abilities. And this inward confidence evidently enabled
him to be indifferent to little words of other men aimed at him.
The youth reflected. He had been used to regarding his comrade
as a blatant child with an audacity grown from his inexperience,
thoughtless, headstrong, jealous, and filled with a tinsel courage.
A swaggering babe accustomed to strut in his own dooryard.
The youth wondered where had been born these new eyes;
when his comrade had made the great discovery that there
were many men who would refuse to be subjected by him.
Apparently, the other had now climbed a peak of wisdom from which
he could perceive himself as a very wee thing. And the youth saw that
ever after it would be easier to live in his friend's neighborhood.
His comrade balanced his ebony coffee-cup on his knee.
"Well, Henry," he said, "what d'yeh think th' chances are?
D'yeh think we'll wallop 'em?"
The youth considered for a moment. "Day-b'fore-yesterday,"
he finally replied, with boldness, "you would 'a' bet you'd
lick the hull kit-an'-boodle all by yourself."
His friend looked a trifle amazed. "Would I?" he asked.
He pondered. "Well, perhaps I would," he decided at last.
He stared humbly at the fire.
The youth was quite disconcerted at this surprising reception
of his remarks. "Oh, no, you wouldn't either," he said, hastily
trying to retrace.
But the other made a deprecating gesture. "Oh, yeh needn't mind,
Henry," he said. "I believe I was a pretty big fool in those days."
He spoke as after a lapse of years.
There was a little pause.
"All th' officers say we've got th' rebs in a pretty tight box,"
said the friend, clearing his throat in a commonplace way.
"They all seem t' think we've got 'em jest where we want 'em."
"I don't know about that," the youth replied. "What I seen over on
th' right makes me think it was th' other way about. From where
I was, it looked as if we was gettin' a good poundin' yestirday."
"D'yeh think so?" inquired the friend. "I thought we handled 'em
pretty rough yestirday."
"Not a bit," said the youth. "Why, lord, man, you didn't see
nothing of the fight. Why!" Then a sudden thought came to him.
"Oh! Jim Conklin's dead."
His friend started. "What? Is he? Jim Conklin?"
The youth spoke slowly. "Yes. He's dead. Shot in th' side."
"Yeh don't say so. Jim Conklin. . .poor cuss!"
All about them were other small fires surrounded by men with
their little black utensils. From one of these near came sudden
sharp voices in a row. It appeared that two light-footed
soldiers had been teasing a huge, bearded man, causing him to
spill coffee upon his blue knees. The man had gone into a
rage and had sworn comprehensively. Stung by his language,
his tormentors had immediately bristled at him with a great show
of resenting unjust oaths. Possibly there was going to be a fight.
The friend arose and went over to them, making pacific motions
with his arms. "Oh, here, now, boys, what's th' use?" he said.
"We'll be at th' rebs in less'n an hour. What's th' good
fightin' 'mong ourselves?"
One of the light-footed soldiers turned upon him red-faced and violent.
"Yeh needn't come around here with yer preachin'. I s'pose yeh don't
approve 'a fightin' since Charley Morgan licked yeh; but I don't see
what business this here is 'a yours or anybody else."
"Well, it ain't," said the friend mildly. "Still I hate t' see--"
There was a tangled argument.
"Well, he--," said the two, indicating their opponent with
The huge soldier was quite purple with rage. He pointed at the
two soldiers with his great hand, extended clawlike. "Well, they--"
But during this argumentative time the desire to deal blows
seemed to pass, although they said much to each other. Finally
the friend returned to his old seat. In a short while the three
antagonists could be seen together in an amiable bunch.
"Jimmie Rogers ses I'll have t' fight him after th' battle t'-day,"
announced the friend as he again seated himself. "He ses he don't
allow no interferin' in his business. I hate t' see th' boys
fightin' 'mong themselves."
The youth laughed. "Yer changed a good bit. Yeh ain't at all
like yeh was. I remember when you an' that Irish feller--" He
stopped and laughed again.
"No, I didn't use t' be that way," said his friend thoughtfully.
"That's true 'nough."
"Well, I didn't mean--" began the youth.
The friend made another deprecatory gesture.
"Oh, yeh needn't mind, Henry."
There was another little pause.
"Th' reg'ment lost over half th' men yestirday," remarked the
friend eventually. "I thought 'a course they was all dead,
but, laws, they kep' a-comin' back last night until it seems,
after all, we didn't lose but a few. They'd been scattered all over,
wanderin' around in th' woods, fightin' with other reg'ments,
an' everything. Jest like you done."
"So?" said the youth.
The regiment was standing at order arms at the side of a lane,
waiting for the command to march, when suddenly the youth
remembered the little packet enwrapped in a faded yellow
envelope which the loud young soldier with lugubrious words
had intrusted to him. It made him start. He uttered an
exclamation and turned toward his comrade.
His friend, at his side in the ranks, was thoughtfully staring
down the road. From some cause his expression was at that moment
very meek. The youth, regarding him with sidelong glances,
felt impelled to change his purpose. "Oh, nothing," he said.
His friend turned his head in some surprise, "Why, what was
yeh goin' t' say?"
"Oh, nothing," repeated the youth.
He resolved not to deal the little blow. It was sufficient that
the fact made him glad. It was not necessary to knock his friend
on the head with the misguided packet.
He had been possessed of much fear of his friend, for he saw how
easily questionings could make holes in his feelings. Lately, he
had assured himself that the altered comrade would not tantalize
him with a persistent curiousity, but he felt certain that
during the first period of leisure his friend would ask him to
relate his adventures of the previous day.
He now rejoiced in the possession of a small weapon with which he
could prostrate his comrade at the first signs of a cross-examination.
He was master. It would now be he who could laugh and shoot the
shafts of derision.
The friend had, in a weak hour, spoken with sobs of his own death.
He had delivered a melancholy oration previous to his funeral,
and had doubtless in the packet of letters, presented various
keepsakes to relatives. But he had not died, and thus he had
delivered himself into the hands of the youth.
The latter felt immensely superior to his friend, but he inclined
to condescension. He adopted toward him an air of patronizing good humor.
His self-pride was now entirely restored. In the shade of its
flourishing growth he stood with braced and self-confident legs,
and since nothing could now be discovered he did not shrink from
an encounter with the eyes of judges, and allowed no thoughts
of his own to keep him from an attitude of manfulness. He had
performed his mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man.
Indeed, when he remembered his fortunes of yesterday, and looked
at them from a distance he began to see something fine there.
He had license to be pompous and veteranlike.
His panting agonies of the past he put out of his sight.
In the present, he declared to himself that it was only the
doomed and the damned who roared with sincerity at circumstance.
Few but they ever did it. A man with a full stomach and the
respect of his fellows had no business to scold about anything
that he might think to be wrong in the ways of the universe,
or even with the ways of society. Let the unfortunates rail;
the others may play marbles.
He did not give a great deal of thought to these battles that lay
directly before him. It was not essential that he should plan
his ways in regard to them. He had been taught that many
obligations of a life were easily avoided. The lessons of
yesterday had been that retribution was a laggard and blind.
With these facts before him he did not deem it necessary that
he should become feverish over the possibilities of the ensuing
twenty-four hours. He could leave much to chance. Besides,
a faith in himself had secretly blossomed. There was a little
flower of confidence growing within him. He was now a man of
experience. He had been out among the dragons, he said,
and he assured himself that they were not so hideous as he had
imagined them. Also, they were inaccurate; they did not sting
with precision. A stout heart often defied, and defying, escaped.
And, furthermore, how could they kill him who was the chosen of
gods and doomed to greatness?
He remembered how some of the men had run from the battle.
As he recalled their terror-struck faces he felt a scorn for them.
They had surely been more fleet and more wild than was
absolutely necessary. They were weak mortals. As for himself,
he had fled with discretion and dignity.
He was aroused from this reverie by his friend, who, having
hitched about nervously and blinked at the trees for a time,
suddenly coughed in an introductory way, and spoke.
The friend put his hand up to his mouth and coughed again.
He fidgeted in his jacket.
"Well," he gulped at last, "I guess yeh might as well give me
back them letters." Dark, prickling blood had flushed into his
cheeks and brow.
"All right, Wilson," said the youth. He loosened two buttons
of his coat, thrust in his hand, and brought forth the packet.
As he extended it to his friend the latter's face was turned from him.
He had been slow in the act of producing the packet because
during it he had been trying to invent a remarkable comment on
the affair. He could conjure up nothing of sufficient point.
He was compelled to allow his friend to escape unmolested with
his packet. And for this he took unto himself considerable credit.
It was a generous thing.
His friend at his side seemed suffering great shame. As he
contemplated him, the youth felt his heart grow more strong
and stout. He had never been compelled to blush in such manner
for his acts; he was an individual of extraordinary virtues.
He reflected, with condescending pity: "Too bad! Too bad!
The poor devil, it makes him feel tough!"
After this incident, and as he reviewed the battle pictures he
had seen, he felt quite competent to return home and make the
hearts of the people glow with stories of war. He could see
himself in a room of warm tints telling tales to listener.
He could exhibit laurels. They were insignificant; still,
in a district where laurels were infrequent, they might shine.
He saw his gaping audience picturing him as the central figure
in blazing scenes. And he imagined the consternation and the
ejaculations of his mother and the young lady at the seminary
as they drank his recitals. Their vague feminine formula for
beloved ones doing brave deeds on the field of battle without
risk of life would be destroyed.
A sputtering of musketry was always to be heard. Later, the
cannon had entered the dispute. In the fog-filled air their
voices made a thudding sound. The reverberations were continual.
This part of the world led a strange, battleful existence.
The youth's regiment was marched to relieve a command that had
lain long in some damp trenches. The men took positions behind a
curving line of rifle pits that had been turned up, like a large
furrow, along the line of woods. Before them was a level stretch,
peopled with short, deformed stumps. From the woods beyond came
the dull popping of the skirmishers and pickets, firing in the fog.
From the right came the noise of a terrific fracas.
The men cuddled behind the small embankment and sat in easy attitudes
awaiting their turn. Many had their backs to the firing. The youth's
friend lay down, buried his face in his arms, and almost instantly,
it seemed, he was in a deep sleep.
The youth leaned his breast against the brown dirt and peered
over at the woods and up and down the line. Curtains of trees
interfered with his ways of vision. He could see the low line of
trenches but for a short distance. A few idle flags were perched
on the dirt hills. Behind them were rows of dark bodies with a
few heads sticking curiously over the top.
Always the noise of skirmishers came from the woods on the
front and left, and the din on the right had grown to
frightful proportions. The guns were roaring without an
instant's pause for breath. It seemed that the cannon had
come from all parts and were engaged in a stupendous wrangle.
It became impossible to make a sentence heard.
The youth wished to launch a joke--a quotation from newspapers.
He desired to say, "All quiet on the Rappahannock," but the guns
refused to permit even a comment upon their uproar. He never
successfully concluded the sentence. But at last the guns
stopped, and among the men in the rifle pits rumors again flew,
like birds, but they were now for the most part black creatures
who flapped their wings drearily near to the ground and refused
to rise on any wings of hope. The men's faces grew doleful from
the interpreting of omens. Tales of hesitation and uncertainty
on the part of those high in place and responsibility came to
their ears. Stories of disaster were borne into their minds with
many proofs. This din of musketry on the right, growing like a
released genie of sound, expressed and emphasized the army's plight.
The men were disheartened and began to mutter. They made
gestures expressive of the sentence: "Ah, what more can we do?"
And it could always be seen that they were bewildered by the
alleged news and could not fully comprehend a defeat.
Before the gray mists had been totally obliterated by the sun
rays, the regiment was marching in a spread column that was
retiring carefully through the woods. The disordered, hurrying
lines of the enemy could sometimes be seen down through the groves
and little fields. They were yelling, shrill and exultant.
At this sight the youth forgot many personal matters and became
greatly enraged. He exploded in loud sentences. "B'jiminey,
we're generaled by a lot 'a lunkheads."
"More than one feller has said that t'-day," observed a man.
His friend, recently aroused, was still very drowsy. He looked
behind him until his mind took in the meaning of the movement.
Then he sighed. "Oh, well, I s'pose we got licked," he remarked sadly.
The youth had a thought that it would not be handsome for him to
freely condemn other men. He made an attempt to restrain himself,
but the words upon his tongue were too bitter. He presently began
a long and intricate denunciation of the commander of the forces.
"Mebbe, it wa'n't all his fault--not all together. He did th' best
he knowed. It's our luck t' git licked often," said his friend
in a weary tone. He was trudging along with stooped shoulders
and shifting eyes like a man who has been caned and kicked.
"Well, don't we fight like the devil? Don't we do all that men can?"
demanded the youth loudly.
He was secretly dumfounded at this sentiment when it came from
his lips. For a moment his face lost its valor and he looked
guiltily about him. But no one questioned his right to deal
in such words, and presently he recovered his air of courage.
He went on to repeat a statement he had heard going from group
to group at the camp that morning. "The brigadier said he never
saw a new reg'ment fight the way we fought yestirday, didn't he?
And we didn't do better than many another reg'ment, did we?
Well, then, you can't say it's th' army's fault, can you?"
In his reply, the friend's voice was stern. "'A course not,"
he said. "No man dare say we don't fight like th' devil.
No man will ever dare say it. Th' boys fight like hell-roosters.
But still--still, we don't have no luck."
"Well, then, if we fight like the devil an' don't ever whip, it
must be the general's fault," said the youth grandly and decisively.
"And I don't see any sense in fighting and fighting and fighting,
yet always losing through some derned old lunkhead of a general."
A sarcastic man who was tramping at the youth's side, then
spoke lazily. "Mebbe yeh think yeh fit th' hull battle yestirday,
Fleming," he remarked.
The speech pierced the youth. Inwardly he was reduced to an
abject pulp by these chance words. His legs quaked privately.
He cast a frightened glance at the sarcastic man.
"Why, no," he hastened to say in a conciliating voice
"I don't think I fought the whole battle yesterday."
But the other seemed innocent of any deeper meaning. Apparently,
he had no information. It was merely his habit. "Oh!" he replied
in the same tone of calm derision.
The youth, nevertheless, felt a threat. His mind shrank
from going near to the danger, and thereafter he was silent.
The significance of the sarcastic man's words took from
him all loud moods that would make him appear prominent.
He became suddenly a modest person.
There was low-toned talk among the troops. The officers were
impatient and snappy, their countenances clouded with the tales
of misfortune. The troops, sifting through the forest, were sullen.
In the youth's company once a man's laugh rang out. A dozen soldiers
turned their faces quickly toward him and frowned with vague displeasure.
The noise of firing dogged their footsteps. Sometimes, it seemed to be
driven a little way, but it always returned again with increased insolence.
The men muttered and cursed, throwing black looks in its direction.
In a clear space the troops were at last halted. Regiments and brigades,
broken and detached through their encounters with thickets, grew together
again and lines were faced toward the pursuing bark of the enemy's infantry.
This noise, following like the yelpings of eager, metallic hounds,
increased to a loud and joyous burst, and then, as the sun
went serenely up the sky, throwing illuminating rays into
the gloomy thickets, it broke forth into prolonged pealings.
The woods began to crackle as if afire.
"Whoop-a-dadee," said a man, "here we are! Everybody fightin'.
Blood an' destruction."
"I was willin' t' bet they'd attack as soon as th' sun got fairly up,"
savagely asserted the lieutenant who commanded the youth's company.
He jerked without mercy at his little mustache. He strode to and fro
with dark dignity in the rear of his men, who were lying down behind
whatever protection they had collected.
A battery had trundled into position in the rear and was thoughtfully
shelling the distance. The regiment, unmolested as yet, awaited the
moment when the gray shadows of the woods before them should be
slashed by the lines of flame. There was much growling and swearing.
"Good Gawd," the youth grumbled, "we're always being chased
around like rats! It makes me sick. Nobody seems to know where
we go or why we go. We just get fired around from pillar to post
and get licked here and get licked there, and nobody knows what
it's done for. It makes a man feel like a damn' kitten in a bag.
Now, I'd like to know what the eternal thunders we was marched
into these woods for anyhow, unless it was to give the rebs a
regular pot shot at us. We came in here and got our legs all
tangled up in these cussed briers, and then we begin to fight and
the rebs had an easy time of it. Don't tell me it's just luck!
I know better. It's this derned old--"
The friend seemed jaded, but he interrupted his comrade with a
voice of calm confidence. "It'll turn out all right in th' end,"
"Oh ,the devil it will! You always talk like a dog-hanged parson.
Don't tell me! I know--"
At this time there was an interposition by the savage-minded lieutenant,
who was obliged to vent some of his inward dissatisfaction upon his men.
"You boys shut right up! There no need 'a your wastin' your breath in
long-winded arguments about this an' that an' th' other. You've been
jawin' like a lot 'a old hens. All you've got t' do is to fight,
an' you'll get plenty 'a that t' do in about ten minutes. Less talkin'
an' more fightin' is what's best for you boys. I never saw sech
He paused, ready to pounce upon any man who might have the temerity
to reply. No words being said, he resumed his dignified pacing.
"There's too much chin music an' too little fightin' in this war,
anyhow," he said to them, turning his head for a final remark.
The day had grown more white, until the sun shed his full
radiance upon the thronged forest. A sort of a gust of battle
came sweeping toward that part of the line where lay the youth's
regiment. The front shifted a trifle to meet it squarely.
There was a wait. In this part of the field there passed slowly
the intense moments that precede the tempest.
A single rifle flashed in a thicket before the regiment. In an
instant it was joined by many others. There was a mighty song
of clashes and crashes that went sweeping through the woods.
The guns in the rear, aroused and enraged by shells that had been
thrown burr-like at them, suddenly involved themselves in a hideous
altercation with another band of guns. The battle roar settled
to a rolling thunder, which was a single, long explosion.
In the regiment there was a peculiar kind of hesitation denoted in the
attitudes of the men. They were worn, exhausted, having slept but
little and labored much. They rolled their eyes toward the advancing
battle as they stood awaiting the shock. Some shrank and flinched.
They stood as men tied to stakes.
This advance of the enemy had seemed to the youth like a
ruthless hunting. He began to fume with rage and exasperation.
He beat his foot upon the ground, and scowled with hate at
the swirling smoke that was approaching like a phantom flood.
There was a maddening quality in this seeming resolution of the
foe to give him no rest, to give him no time to sit down and think.
Yesterday he had fought and had fled rapidly. There had been many
adventures. For to-day he felt that he had earned opportunities
for contemplative repose. He could have enjoyed portraying to
uninitiated listeners various scenes at which he had been a witness
or ably discussing the processes of war with other proved men.
Too it was important that he should have time for physical recuperation.
He was sore and stiff from his experiences. He had received his fill of
all exertions, and he wished to rest.
But those other men seemed never to grow weary; they were fighting
with their old speed. He had a wild hate for the relentless foe.
Yesterday, when he had imagined the universe to be against him,
he had hated it, little gods and big gods; to-day he hated the
army of the foe with the same great hatred. He was not going
to be badgered of his life, like a kitten chased by boys, he said.
It was not well to drive men into final corners; at those moments
they could all develop teeth and claws.
He leaned and spoke into his friend's ear. He menaced the woods
with a gesture. "If they keep on chasing us, by Gawd, they'd better
watch out. Can't stand TOO much."
The friend twisted his head and made a calm reply. "If they keep
on a-chasin' us they'll drive us all inteh th' river."
The youth cried out savagely at this statement. He crouched
behind a little tree, with his eyes burning hatefully and his
teeth set in a curlike snarl. The awkward bandage was still
about his head, and upon it, over his wound, there was a spot of
dry blood. His hair was wondrously tousled, and some straggling,
moving locks hung over the cloth of the bandage down toward his
forehead. His jacket and shirt were open at the throat, and
exposed his young bronzed neck. There could be seen spasmodic
gulpings at his throat.
His fingers twined nervously about his rifle. He wished that it
was an engine of annihilating power. He felt that he and his
companions were being taunted and derided from sincere
convictions that they were poor and puny. His knowledge of his
inability to take vengeance for it made his rage into a dark and
stormy specter, that possessed him and made him dream of
abominable cruelties. The tormentors were flies sucking
insolently at his blood, and he thought that he would have given
his life for a revenge of seeing their faces in pitiful plights.
The winds of battle had swept all about the regiment, until the
one rifle, instantly followed by others, flashed in its front.
A moment later the regiment roared forth its sudden and valiant
retort. A dense wall of smoke settled down. It was furiously
slit and slashed by the knifelike fire from the rifles.
To the youth the fighters resembled animals tossed for a death
struggle into a dark pit. There was a sensation that he and
his fellows, at bay, were pushing back, always pushing fierce
onslaughts of creatures who were slippery. Their beams of crimson
seemed to get no purchase upon the bodies of their foes;
the latter seemed to evade them with ease, and come through,
between, around, and about with unopposed skill.
When, in a dream, it occurred to the youth that his rifle was
an impotent stick, he lost sense of everything but his hate,
his desire to smash into pulp the glittering smile of victory
which he could feel upon the faces of his enemies.
The blue smoke-swallowed line curled and writhed like a snake stepped upon.
It swung its ends to and fro in an agony of fear and rage.
The youth was not conscious that he was erect upon his feet.
He did not know the direction of the ground. Indeed, once he
even lost the habit of balance and fell heavily. He was up again
immediately. One thought went through the chaos of his brain at
the time. He wondered if he had fallen because he had been shot.
But the suspicion flew away at once. He did not think more of it.
Back to Full Books