Part 1 out of 3
The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
An Episode of the American Civil War
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring
fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.
As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened,
and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors.
It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long
troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares. A river,
amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army's
feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful
blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam of
hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills.
Once a certain tall soldier developed virtues and went resolutely
to wash a shirt. He came flying back from a brook waving his
garment bannerlike. He was swelled with a tale he had heard from
a reliable friend, who had heard it from a truthful cavalryman,
who had heard it from his trustworthy brother, one of the
orderlies at division headquarters. He adopted the important air
of a herald in red and gold.
"We're goin' t' move t'morrah--sure," he said pompously to a
group in the company street. "We're goin' 'way up the river,
cut across, an' come around in behint 'em."
To his attentive audience he drew a loud and elaborate plan of a
very brilliant campaign. When he had finished, the blue-clothed
men scattered into small arguing groups between the rows of squat
brown huts. A negro teamster who had been dancing upon a cracker
box with the hilarious encouragement of twoscore soldiers
was deserted. He sat mournfully down. Smoke drifted lazily from
a multitude of quaint chimneys.
"It's a lie! that's all it is--a thunderin' lie!" said another
private loudly. His smooth face was flushed, and his hands were
thrust sulkily into his trouser's pockets. He took the matter as
an affront to him. "I don't believe the derned old army's ever
going to move. We're set. I've got ready to move eight times
in the last two weeks, and we ain't moved yet."
The tall soldier felT called upon to defend the truth of a rumor
he himself had introduced. He and the loud one came near to
fighting over it.
A corporal began to swear before the assemblage. He had just put
a costly board floor in his house, he said. During the early
spring he had refrained from adding extensively to the comfort
of his environment because he had felt that the army might start
on the march at any moment. Of late, however, he had been
impressed that they were in a sort of eternal camp.
Many of the men engaged in a spirited debate. One outlined in a
peculiarly lucid manner all the plans of the commanding general.
He was opposed by men who advocated that there were other plans
of campaign. They clamored at each other, numbers making futile
bids for the popular attention. Meanwhile, the soldier who had
fetched the rumor bustled about with much importance. He was
continually assailed by questions.
"What's up, Jim?"
"Th'army's goin' t' move."
"Ah, what yeh talkin' about? How yeh know it is?"
"Well, yeh kin b'lieve me er not, jest as yeh like.
I don't care a hang."
There was much food for thought in the manner in which he replied.
He came near to convincing them by disdaining to produce proofs.
They grew much excited over it.
There was a youthful private who listened with eager ears to the
words of the tall soldier and to the varied comments of his comrades.
After receiving a fill of discussions concerning marches and attacks,
he went to his hut and crawled through an intricate hole that served
it as a door. He wished to be alone with some new thoughts that had
lately come to him.
He lay down on a wide bunk that stretched across the end of the room.
In the other end, cracker boxes were made to serve as furniture.
They were grouped about the fireplace. A picture from an illustrated
weekly was upon the log walls, and three rifles were paralleled on pegs.
Equipments hung on handy projections, and some tin dishes lay upon
a small pile of firewood. A folded tent was serving as a roof.
The sunlight, without, beating upon it, made it glow a light yellow shade.
A small window shot an oblique square of whiter light upon the cluttered
floor. The smoke from the fire at times neglected the clay chimney and
wreathed into the room, and this flimsy chimney of clay and sticks
made endless threats to set ablaze the whole establishment.
The youth was in a little trance of astonishment. So they were
at last going to fight. On the morrow, perhaps, there would be a
battle, and he would be in it. For a time he was obliged to
labor to make himself believe. He could not accept with
assurance an omen that he was about to mingle in one of those
great affairs of the earth.
He had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life--of vague and
bloody conflicts that had thrilled him with their sweep and fire.
In visions he had seen himself in many struggles. He had
imagined peoples secure in the shadow of his eagle-eyed prowess.
But awake he had regarded battles as crimson blotches on the
pages of the past. He had put them as things of the bygone with
his thought-images of heavy crowns and high castles. There was a
portion of the world's history which he had regarded as the time
of wars, but it, he thought, had been long gone over the horizon
and had disappeared forever.
From his home his youthful eyes had looked upon the war in his
own country with distrust. It must be some sort of a play affair.
He had long despaired of witnessing a Greeklike struggle. Such
would be no more, he had said. Men were better, or more timid.
Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling
instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.
He had burned several times to enlist. Tales of great movements
shook the land. They might not be distinctly Homeric, but there
seemed to be much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges,
conflicts, and he had longed to see it all. His busy mind had
drawn for him large pictures extravagant in color, lurid with
But his mother had discouraged him. She had affected to look
with some contempt upon the quality of his war ardor and patriotism.
She could calmly seat herself and with no apparent difficulty give
him many hundreds of reasons why he was of vastly more importance
on the farm than on the field of battle. She had had certain ways
of expression that told him that her statements on the subject
came from a deep conviction. Moreover, on her side, was his
belief that her ethical motive in the argument was impregnable.
At last, however, he had made firm rebellion against this yellow
light thrown upon the color of his ambitions. The newspapers,
the gossip of the village, his own picturings, had aroused him
to an uncheckable degree. They were in truth fighting finely
down there. Almost every day the newspaper printed accounts of a
One night, as he lay in bed, the winds had carried to him the
clangoring of the church bell as some enthusiast jerked the
rope frantically to tell the twisted news of a great battle.
This voice of the people rejoicing in the night had made him shiver
in a prolonged ecstasy of excitement. Later, he had gone down to
his mother's room and had spoken thus: "Ma, I'm going to enlist."
"Henry, don't you be a fool," his mother had replied. She had
then covered her face with the quilt. There was an end to the
matter for that night.
Nevertheless, the next morning he had gone to a town that was
near his mother's farm and had enlisted in a company that was
forming there. When he had returned home his mother was milking
the brindle cow. Four others stood waiting. "Ma, I've enlisted,"
he had said to her diffidently. There was a short silence.
"The Lord's will be done, Henry," she had finally replied,
and had then continued to milk the brindle cow.
When he had stood in the doorway with his soldier's clothes on
his back, and with the light of excitement and expectancy in his
eyes almost defeating the glow of regret for the home bonds, he had
seen two tears leaving their trails on his mother's scarred cheeks.
Still, she had disappointed him by saying nothing whatever about
returning with his shield or on it. He had privately primed
himself for a beautiful scene. He had prepared certain sentences
which he thought could be used with touching effect. But her
words destroyed his plans. She had doggedly peeled potatoes and
addressed him as follows: "You watch out, Henry, an' take good
care of yerself in this here fighting business--you watch, an'
take good care of yerself. Don't go a-thinkin' you can lick the
hull rebel army at the start, because yeh can't. Yer jest one
little feller amongst a hull lot of others, and yeh've got to
keep quiet an' do what they tell yeh. I know how you are, Henry.
"I've knet yeh eight pair of socks, Henry, and I've put in all
yer best shirts, because I want my boy to be jest as warm and
comf'able as anybody in the army. Whenever they get holes in 'em,
I want yeh to send 'em right-away back to me, so's I kin dern 'em.
"An' allus be careful an' choose yer comp'ny. There's lots of
bad men in the army, Henry. The army makes 'em wild, and they
like nothing better than the job of leading off a young feller
like you, as ain't never been away from home much and has allus
had a mother, an' a-learning 'em to drink and swear. Keep clear
of them folks, Henry. I don't want yeh to ever do anything,
Henry, that yeh would be 'shamed to let me know about. Jest
think as if I was a-watchin' yeh. If yeh keep that in yer mind
allus, I guess yeh'll come out about right.
"Yeh must allus remember yer father, too, child, an' remember he never
drunk a drop of licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross oath.
"I don't know what else to tell yeh, Henry, excepting that yeh
must never do no shirking, child, on my account. If so be a time
comes when yeh have to be kilt of do a mean thing, why, Henry,
don't think of anything 'cept what's right, because there's many
a woman has to bear up 'ginst sech things these times, and the
Lord 'll take keer of us all.
"Don't forgit about the socks and the shirts, child; and I've put
a cup of blackberry jam with yer bundle, because I know yeh like
it above all things. Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good boy."
He had, of course, been impatient under the ordeal of this speech.
It had not been quite what he expected, and he had borne it with
an air of irritation. He departed feeling vague relief.
Still, when he had looked back from the gate, he had
seen his mother kneeling among the potato parings.
Her brown face, upraised, was stained with tears,
and her spare form was quivering. He bowed his head
and went on, feeling suddenly ashamed of his purposes.
From his home he had gone to the seminary to bid adieu to
many schoolmates. They had thronged about him with wonder
and admiration. He had felt the gulf now between them and
had swelled with calm pride. He and some of his fellows who
had donned blue were quite overwhelmed with privileges for
all of one afternoon, and it had been a very delicious thing.
They had strutted.
A certain light-haired girl had made vivacious fun at his martial
spirit, but there was another and darker girl whom he had gazed
at steadfastly, and he thought she grew demure and sad at sight
of his blue and brass. As he had walked down the path between
the rows of oaks, he had turned his head and detected her at a
window watching his departure. As he perceived her, she had
immediately begun to stare up through the high tree branches at
the sky. He had seen a good deal of flurry and haste in her
movement as she changed her attitude. He often thought of it.
On the way to Washington his spirit had soared. The regiment was
fed and caressed at station after station until the youth had
believed that he must be a hero. There was a lavish expenditure
of bread and cold meats, coffee, and pickles and cheese. As he
basked in the smiles of the girls and was patted and
complimented by the old men, he had felt growing within him the
strength to do mighty deeds of arms.
After complicated journeyings with many pauses, there had come
months of monotonous life in a camp. He had had the belief that
real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between
for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field
the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm.
He was brought then gradually back to his old ideas. Greeklike
struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid.
Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling
instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.
He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue
demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could,
for his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his
thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the
minds of the generals. Also, he was drilled and drilled and
reviewed, and drilled and drilled and reviewed.
The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the river bank.
They were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who sometimes shot
reflectively at the blue pickets. When reproached for this
afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and swore by their
gods that the guns had exploded without their permission. The
youth, on guard duty one night, conversed across the stream with
one of them. He was a slightly ragged man, who spat skillfully
between his shoes and possessed a great fund of bland and
infantile assurance. The youth liked him personally.
"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a right dum good feller."
This sentiment, floating to him upon the still air, had made him
temporarily regret war.
Various veterans had told him tales. Some talked of gray,
bewhiskered hordes who were advancing with relentless curses
and chewing tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous bodies of
fierce soldiery who were sweeping along like the Huns. Others
spoke of tattered and eternally hungry men who fired despondent
powders. "They'll charge through hell's fire an' brimstone t'
git a holt on a haversack, an' sech stomachs ain't a'lastin'
long," he was told. From the stories, the youth imagined the
red, live bones sticking out through slits in the faded uniforms.
Still, he could not put a whole faith in veteran's tales, for
recruits were their prey. They talked much of smoke, fire,
and blood, but he could not tell how much might be lies.
They persistently yelled "Fresh fish!" at him, and were
in no wise to be trusted.
However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what
kind of soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought,
which fact no one disputed. There was a more serious problem.
He lay in his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to mathematically
prove to himself that he would not run from a battle.
Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously
with this question. In his life he had taken certain things for
granted, never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and
bothering little about means and roads. But here he was
confronted with a thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to
him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to
admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.
A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to
kick its heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt
compelled to give serious attention to it.
A little panic-fear grew in his mind. As his imagination went
forward to a fight, he saw hideous possibilities. He contemplated
the lurking menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to
see himself standing stoutly in the midst of them. He recalled
his visions of broken-bladed glory, but in the shadow of the
impending tumult he suspected them to be impossible pictures.
He sprang from the bunk and began to pace nervously to and fro.
"Good Lord, what's th' matter with me?" he said aloud.
He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless.
Whatever he had learned of himself was here of no avail.
He was an unknown quantity. He saw that he would again be
obliged to experiment as he had in early youth. He must
accumulate information of himself, and meanwhile he resolved
to remain close upon his guard lest those qualities of which
he knew nothing should everlastingly disgrace him. "Good Lord!"
he repeated in dismay.
After a time the tall soldier slid dexterously through the hole.
The loud private followed. They were wrangling.
"That's all right," said the tall soldier as he entered.
He waved his hand expressively. "You can believe me or not,
jest as you like. All you got to do is sit down and wait as
quiet as you can. Then pretty soon you'll find out I was right."
His comrade grunted stubbornly. For a moment he seemed to be
searching for a formidable reply. Finally he said: "Well, you
don't know everything in the world, do you?"
"Didn't say I knew everything in the world," retorted the other sharply.
He began to stow various articles snugly into his knapsack.
The youth, pausing in his nervous walk, looked down at the busy
figure. "Going to be a battle, sure, is there, Jim?" he asked.
"Of course there is," replied the tall soldier. "Of course there is.
You jest wait 'til to-morrow, and you'll see one of the biggest battles
ever was. You jest wait."
"Thunder!" said the youth.
"Oh, you'll see fighting this time, my boy, what'll be regular
out-and-out fighting," added the tall soldier, with the air of a
man who is about to exhibit a battle for the benefit of his friends.
"Huh!" said the loud one from a corner.
"Well," remarked the youth, "like as not this story'll turn out
jest like them others did."
"Not much it won't," replied the tall soldier, exasperated.
"Not much it won't. Didn't the cavalry all start this morning?"
He glared about him. No one denied his statement. "The cavalry
started this morning," he continued. "They say there ain't
hardly any cavalry left in camp. They're going to Richmond,
or some place, while we fight all the Johnnies. It's some dodge
like that. The regiment's got orders, too. A feller what seen
'em go to headquarters told me a little while ago. And they're
raising blazes all over camp--anybody can see that."
"Shucks!" said the loud one.
The youth remained silent for a time. At last he spoke to the
tall soldier. "Jim!"
"How do you think the reg'ment 'll do?"
"Oh, they'll fight all right, I guess, after they once get into
it," said the other with cold judgment. He made a fine use of
the third person. "There's been heaps of fun poked at 'em
because they're new, of course, and all that; but they'll fight
all right, I guess."
"Think any of the boys 'll run?" persisted the youth.
"Oh, there may be a few of 'em run, but there's them kind in
every regiment, 'specially when they first goes under fire,"
said the other in a tolerant way. "Of course it might happen
that the hull kit-and-boodle might start and run, if some big
fighting came first-off, and then again they might stay and fight
like fun. But you can't bet on nothing. Of course they ain't
never been under fire yet, and it ain't likely they'll lick the
hull rebel army all-to-oncet the first time; but I think they'll
fight better than some, if worse than others. That's the way I
figger. They call the reg'ment 'Fresh fish' and everything; but
the boys come of good stock, and most of 'em 'll fight like sin
after they oncet git shootin'," he added, with a mighty emphasis
on the last four words.
"Oh, you think you know--" began the loud soldier with scorn.
The other turned savagely upon him. They had a rapid
altercation, in which they fastened upon each other various
The youth at last interrupted them. "Did you ever think you
might run yourself, Jim?" he asked. On concluding the sentence
he laughed as if he had meant to aim a joke. The loud soldier
The tall private waved his hand. "Well", said he profoundly,
"I've thought it might get too hot for Jim Conklin in some of
them scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run,
why, I s'pose I'd start and run. And if I once started to run,
I'd run like the devil, and no mistake. But if everybody was
a-standing and a-fighting, why, I'd stand and fight. Be jiminey,
I would. I'll bet on it."
"Huh!" said the loud one.
The youth of this tale felt gratitude for these words of his
comrade. He had feared that all of the untried men possessed
great and correct confidence. He now was in a measure reassured.
The next morning the youth discovered that his tall comrade had
been the fast-flying messenger of a mistake. There was much
scoffing at the latter by those who had yesterday been firm
adherents of his views, and there was even a little sneering by
men who had never believed the rumor. The tall one fought with a
man from Chatfield Corners and beat him severely.
The youth felt, however, that his problem was in no wise lifted
from him. There was, on the contrary, an irritating prolongation.
The tale had created in him a great concern for himself. Now, with
the newborn question in his mind, he was compelled to sink back
into his old place as part of a blue demonstration.
For days he made ceaseless calculations, but they were all
wondrously unsatisfactory. He found that he could establish
nothing. He finally concluded that the only way to prove himself
was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively to watch his
legs to discover their merits and faults. He reluctantly
admitted that he could not sit still and with a mental slate and
pencil derive an answer. To gain it, he must have blaze, blood,
and danger, even as a chemist requires this, that, and the
other. So he fretted for an opportunity.
Meanwhile, he continually tried to measure himself by his
comrades. The tall soldier, for one, gave him some assurance.
This man's serene unconcern dealt him a measure of confidence,
for he had known him since childhood, and from his intimate
knowledge he did not see how he could be capable of anything
that was beyond him, the youth. Still, he thought that his
comrade might be mistaken about himself. Or, on the other hand,
he might be a man heretofore doomed to peace and obscurity, but,
in reality, made to shine in war.
The youth would have liked to have discovered another who
suspected himself. A sympathetic comparison of mental notes
would have been a joy to him.
He occasionally tried to fathom a comrade with seductive
sentences. He looked about to find men in the proper mood.
All attempts failed to bring forth any statement which looked in
any way like a confession to those doubts which he privately
acknowledged in himself. He was afraid to make an open
declaration of his concern, because he dreaded to place some
unscrupulous confidant upon the high plane of the unconfessed
from which elevation he could be derided.
In regard to his companions his mind wavered between two opinions,
according to his mood. Sometimes he inclined to believing them
all heroes. In fact, he usually admired in secret the superior
development of the higher qualities in others. He could conceive
of men going very insignificantly about the world bearing a load
of courage unseen, and although he had known many of his comrades
through boyhood, he began to fear that his judgment of them had
been blind. Then, in other moments, he flouted these theories, and
assured him that his fellows were all privately wondering and quaking.
His emotions made him feel strange in the presence of men who talked
excitedly of a prospective battle as of a drama they were about
to witness, with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent
in their faces. It was often that he suspected them to be liars.
He did not pass such thoughts without severe condemnation of himself.
He dinned reproaches at times. He was convicted by himself of many
shameful crimes against the gods of traditions.
In his great anxiety his heart was continually clamoring at
what he considered the intolerable slowness of the generals.
They seemed content to perch tranquilly on the river bank,
and leave him bowed down by the weight of a great problem.
He wanted it settled forthwith. He could not long bear such
a load, he said. Sometimes his anger at the commanders reached
an acute stage, and he grumbled about the camp like a veteran.
One morning, however, he found himself in the ranks of his
prepared regiment. The men were whispering speculations and
recounting the old rumors. In the gloom before the break of the
day their uniforms glowed a deep purple hue. From across the
river the red eyes were still peering. In the eastern sky there
was a yellow patch like a rug laid for the feet of the coming
sun; and against it, black and patternlike, loomed the gigantic
figure of the colonel on a gigantic horse.
From off in the darkness came the trampling of feet. The youth
could occasionally see dark shadows that moved like monsters.
The regiment stood at rest for what seemed a long time. The youth
grew impatient. It was unendurable the way these affairs were managed.
He wondered how long they were to be kept waiting.
As he looked all about him and pondered upon the mystic gloom,
he began to believe that at any moment the ominous distance might
be aflare, and the rolling crashes of an engagement come to his ears.
Staring once at the red eyes across the river, he conceived them
to be growing larger, as the orbs of a row of dragons advancing.
He turned toward the colonel and saw him lift his gigantic arm
and calmly stroke his mustache.
At last he heard from along the road at the foot of the hill the
clatter of a horse's galloping hoofs. It must be the coming of orders.
He bent forward, scarce breathing. The exciting clickety-click,
as it grew louder and louder, seemed to be beating upon his soul.
Presently a horseman with jangling equipment drew rein before the
colonel of the regiment. The two held a short, sharp-worded conversation.
The men in the foremost ranks craned their necks.
As the horseman wheeled his animal and galloped away he turned to
shout over his shoulder, "Don't forget that box of cigars!"
The colonel mumbled in reply. The youth wondered what a box
of cigars had to do with war.
A moment later the regiment went swinging off into the darkness.
It was now like one of those moving monsters wending with many feet.
The air was heavy, and cold with dew. A mass of wet grass,
marched upon, rustled like silk.
There was an occasional flash and glimmer of steel from the
backs of all these huge crawling reptiles. From the road came
creakings and grumblings as some surly guns were dragged away.
The men stumbled along still muttering speculations. There was a
subdued debate. Once a man fell down, and as he reached for his
rifle a comrade, unseeing, trod upon his hand. He of the injured
fingers swore bitterly, and aloud. A low, tittering laugh went
among his fellows.
Presently they passed into a roadway and marched forward with
easy strides. A dark regiment moved before them, and from behind
also came the tinkle of equipments on the bodies of marching men.
The rushing yellow of the developing day went on behind their backs.
When the sunrays at last struck full and mellowingly upon the earth,
the youth saw that the landscape was streaked with two long, thin,
black columns which disappeared on the brow of a hill in front and
rearward vanished in a wood. They were like two serpents crawling
from the cavern of the night.
The river was not in view. The tall soldier burst into praises
of what he thought to be his powers of perception.
Some of the tall one's companions cried with emphasis that they, too,
had evolved the same thing, and they congratulated themselves upon it.
But there were others who said that the tall one's plan was not the
true one at all. They persisted with other theories. There was a
The youth took no part in them. As he walked along in careless
line he was engaged with his own eternal debate. He could not
hinder himself from dwelling upon it. He was despondent and
sullen, and threw shifting glances about him. He looked ahead,
often expecting to hear from the advance the rattle of firing.
But the long serpents crawled slowly from hill to hill without
bluster of smoke. A dun-colored cloud of dust floated away to
the right. The sky overhead was of a fairy blue.
The youth studied the faces of his companions, ever on the watch
to detect kindred emotions. He suffered disappointment.
Some ardor of the air which was causing the veteran commands to
move with glee--almost with song--had infected the new regiment.
The men began to speak of victory as of a thing they knew.
Also, the tall soldier received his vindication. They were
certainly going to come around in behind the enemy. They expressed
commiseration for that part of the army which had been left upon the
river bank, felicitating themselves upon being a part of a blasting host.
The youth, considering himself as separated from the others,
was saddened by the blithe and merry speeches that went from
rank to rank. The company wags all made their best endeavors.
The regiment tramped to the tune of laughter.
The blatant soldier often convulsed whole files by his biting
sarcasms aimed at the tall one.
And it was not long before all the men seemed to forget their mission.
Whole brigades grinned in unison, and regiments laughed.
A rather fat soldier attempted to pilfer a horse from a dooryard.
He planned to load his knapsack upon it. He was escaping with
his prize when a young girl rushed from the house and grabbed
the animal's mane. There followed a wrangle. The young girl,
with pink cheeks and shining eyes, stood like a dauntless statue.
The observant regiment, standing at rest in the roadway, whooped
at once, and entered whole-souled upon the side of the maiden.
The men became so engrossed in this affair that they entirely
ceased to remember their own large war. They jeered the
piratical private, and called attention to various defects in his
personal appearance; and they were wildly enthusiastic in support
of the young girl.
To her, from some distance, came bold advice. "Hit him with a stick."
There were crows and catcalls showered upon him when he retreated
without the horse. The regiment rejoiced at his downfall. Loud and
vociferous congratulations were showered upon the maiden,
who stood panting and regarding the troops with defiance.
At nightfall the column broke into regimental pieces, and the fragments
went into the fields to camp. Tents sprang up like strange plants.
Camp fires, like red, peculiar blossoms, dotted the night.
The youth kept from intercourse with his companions as much as
circumstances would allow him. In the evening he wandered a few
paces into the gloom. From this little distance the many fires,
with the black forms of men passing to and fro before the
crimson rays, made weird and satanic effects.
He lay down in the grass. The blades pressed tenderly against
his cheek. The moon had been lighted and was hung in a treetop.
The liquid stillness of the night enveloping him made him feel
vast pity for himself. There was a caress in the soft winds;
and the whole mood of the darkness, he thought, was one of
sympathy for himself in his distress.
He wished, without reserve, that he was at home again making the
endless rounds from the house to the barn, from the barn to the
fields, from the fields to the barn, from the barn to the house.
He remembered he had so often cursed the brindle cow and her
mates, and had sometimes flung milking stools. But, from his
present point of view, there was a halo of happiness about each
of their heads, and he would have sacrificed all the brass
buttons on the continent to have been enabled to return to them.
He told himself that he was not formed for a soldier. And he
mused seriously upon the radical differences between himself and
those men who were dodging implike around the fires.
As he mused thus he heard the rustle of grass, and, upon turning
his head, discovered the loud soldier. He called out, "Oh, Wilson!"
The latter approached and looked down. "Why, hello, Henry; is it you?
What are you doing here?"
"Oh, thinking," said the youth.
The other sat down and carefully lighted his pipe. "You're getting
blue my boy. You're looking thundering peek-ed. What the dickens
is wrong with you?"
"Oh, nothing," said the youth.
The loud soldier launched then into the subject of the
anticipated fight. "Oh, we've got 'em now!" As he spoke
his boyish face was wreathed in a gleeful smile, and his
voice had an exultant ring. "We've got 'em now. At last,
by the eternal thunders, we'll like 'em good!"
"If the truth was known," he added, more soberly,
"they've licked US about every clip up to now;
but this time--this time--we'll lick 'em good!"
"I thought you was objecting to this march a little while ago,"
said the youth coldly.
"Oh, it wasn't that," explained the other. "I don't mind
marching, if there's going to be fighting at the end of it.
What I hate is this getting moved here and moved there, with
no good coming of it, as far as I can see, excepting sore feet
and damned short rations."
"Well, Jim Conklin says we'll get plenty of fighting this time."
"He's right for once, I guess, though I can't see how it come.
This time we're in for a big battle, and we've got the best end
of it, certain sure. Gee rod! how we will thump 'em!"
He arose and began to pace to and fro excitedly. The thrill
of his enthusiasm made him walk with an elastic step. He was
sprightly, vigorous, fiery in his belief in success. He looked
into the future with clear proud eye, and he swore with the air
of an old soldier.
The youth watched him for a moment in silence. When he finally
spoke his voice was as bitter as dregs. "Oh, you're going to do
great things, I s'pose!"
The loud soldier blew a thoughtful cloud of smoke from his pipe.
"Oh, I don't know," he remarked with dignity; "I don't know.
I s'pose I'll do as well as the rest. I'm going to try
like thunder." He evidently complimented himself upon
the modesty of this statement.
"How do you know you won't run when the time comes?" asked the youth.
"Run?" said the loud one; "run?--of course not!" He laughed.
"Well," continued the youth, "lots of good-a-'nough men have
thought they was going to do great things before th fight,
but when the time come they skedaddled."
"Oh, that's all true, I s'pose," replied the other; "but I'm not
going to skedaddle. The man that bets on my running will lose
his money, that's all." He nodded confidently.
"Oh, shucks!" said the youth. "You ain't the bravest man in
the world, are you?"
"No, I ain't," exclaimed the loud soldier indignantly;
"and I didn't say I was the bravest man in the world, neither.
I said I was going to do my share of fighting--that's what I said.
And I am, too. Who are you, anyhow? You talk as if you thought
you was Napoleon Bonaparte." He glared at the youth for a moment,
and then strode away.
The youth called in a savage voice after his comrade: "Well, you
needn't git mad about it!" But the other continued on his way
and made no reply.
He felt alone in space when his injured comrade had disappeared.
His failure to discover any mite of resemblance in their viewpoints
made him more miserable than before. No one seemed to be wrestling
with such a terrific personal problem. He was a mental outcast.
He went slowly to his tent and stretched himself on a blanket by
the side of the snoring tall soldier. In the darkness he saw
visions of a thousand-tongued fear that would babble at his back
and cause him to flee, while others were going coolly about
their country's business. He admitted that he would not be able
to cope with this monster. He felt that every nerve in his body
would be an ear to hear the voices, while other men would remain
stolid and deaf.
And as he sweated with the pain of these thoughts, he could hear
low, serene sentences. "I'll bid five." "Make it six." "Seven."
He stared at the red, shivering reflection of a fire on the white
wall of his tent until, exhausted and ill from the monotony of
his suffering, he fell asleep.
When another night came, the columns, changed to purple streaks,
filed across two pontoon bridges. A glaring fire wine-tinted the
waters of the river. Its rays, shining upon the moving masses of troops,
brought forth here and there sudden gleams of silver or gold.
Upon the other shore a dark and mysterious range of hills was curved
against the sky. The insect voices of the night sang solemnly.
After this crossing the youth assured himself that at any moment
they might be suddenly and fearfully assaulted from the caves of
the lowering woods. He kept his eyes watchfully upon the darkness.
But his regiment went unmolested to a camping place, and its
soldiers slept the brave sleep of wearied men. In the morning
they were routed out with early energy, and hustled along a
narrow road that led deep into the forest.
It was during this rapid march that the regiment lost many of the
marks of a new command.
The men had begun to count the miles upon their fingers, and
they grew tired. "Sore feet an' damned short rations, that's all,"
said the loud soldier. There was perspiration and grumblings.
After a time they began to shed their knapsacks. Some tossed
them unconcernedly down; others hid them carefully, asserting
their plans to return for them at some convenient time.
Men extricated themselves from thick shirts. Presently few carried
anything but their necessary clothing, blankets, haversacks,
canteens, and arms and ammunition. "You can now eat and shoot,"
said the tall soldier to the youth. "That's all you want to do."
There was sudden change from the ponderous infantry of theory
to the light and speedy infantry of practice. The regiment,
relieved of a burden, received a new impetus. But there was much
loss of valuable knapsacks, and, on the whole, very good shirts.
But the regiment was not yet veteranlike in appearance. Veteran
regiments in the army were likely to be very small aggregations
of men. Once, when the command had first come to the field,
some perambulating veterans, noting the length of their column,
had accosted them thus: "Hey, fellers, what brigade is that?"
And when the men had replied that they formed a regiment and not
a brigade, the older soldiers had laughed, and said, "O Gawd!"
Also, there was too great a similarity in the hats. The hats of
a regiment should properly represent the history of headgear for
a period of years. And, moreover, there were no letters of faded
gold speaking from the colors. They were new and beautiful, and
the color bearer habitually oiled the pole.
Presently the army again sat down to think. The odor of the
peaceful pines was in the men's nostrils. The sound of
monotonous axe blows rang through the forest, and the insects,
nodding upon their perches, crooned like old women. The youth
returned to his theory of a blue demonstration.
One gray dawn, however, he was kicked in the leg by the
tall soldier, and then, before he was entirely awake, he found
himself running down a wood road in the midst of men who were
panting from the first effects of speed. His canteen banged
rythmically upon his thigh, and his haversack bobbed softly.
His musket bounced a trifle from his shoulder at each stride
and made his cap feel uncertain upon his head.
He could hear the men whisper jerky sentences: "Say--what's all
this--about?" "What th' thunder--we--skedaddlin' this way fer?"
"Billie--keep off m' feet. Yeh run--like a cow." And the loud
soldier's shrill voice could be heard: "What th'devil they in
sich a hurry for?"
The youth thought the damp fog of early morning moved from
the rush of a great body of troops. From the distance came
a sudden spatter of firing.
He was bewildered. As he ran with his comrades he strenuously
tried to think, but all he knew was that if he fell down those
coming behind would tread upon him. All his faculties seemed
to be needed to guide him over and past obstructions. He felt
carried along by a mob.
The sun spread disclosing rays, and, one by one, regiments burst
into view like armed men just born of the earth. The youth
perceived that the time had come. He was about to be measured.
For a moment he felt in the face of his great trial like a babe,
and the flesh over his heart seemed very thin. He seized time to
look about him calculatingly.
But he instantly saw that it would be impossible for him to
escape from the regiment. It inclosed him. And there were iron
laws of tradition and law on four sides. He was in a moving box.
As he perceived this fact it occurred to him that he had never
wished to come to the war. He had not enlisted of his free will.
He had been dragged by the merciless government. And now they
were taking him out to be slaughtered.
The regiment slid down a bank and wallowed across a little stream.
The mournful current moved slowly on, and from the water,
shaded black, some white bubble eyes looked at the men.
As they climbed the hill on the farther side artillery began to boom.
Here the youth forgot many things as he felt a sudden impulse of curiosity.
He scrambled up the bank with a speed that could not be exceeded by a
He expected a battle scene.
There were some little fields girted and squeezed by a forest.
Spread over the grass and in among the tree trunks, he could see
knots and waving lines of skirmishers who were running hither and
thither and firing at the landscape. A dark battle line lay upon
a sunstruck clearing that gleamed orange color. A flag fluttered.
Other regiments floundered up the bank. The brigade was formed
in line of battle, and after a pause started slowly through
the woods in the rear of the receding skirmishers, who were
continually melting into the scene to appear again farther on.
They were always busy as bees, deeply absorbed in their little combats.
The youth tried to observe everything. He did not use care to
avoid trees and branches, and his forgotten feet were constantly
knocking against stones or getting entangled in briers. He was
aware that these battalions with their commotions were woven red
and startling into the gentle fabric of softened greens and browns.
It looked to be a wrong place for a battle field.
The skirmishers in advance fascinated him. Their shots into
thickets and at distant and prominent trees spoke to him of
tragedies--hidden, mysterious, solemn.
Once the line encountered the body of a dead soldier. He lay
upon his back staring at the sky. He was dressed in an awkward
suit of yellowish brown. The youth could see that the soles of
his shoes had been worn to the thinness of writing paper, and
from a great rent in one the dead foot projected piteously. And
it was as if fate had betrayed the soldier. In death it exposed
to his enemies that poverty which in life he had perhaps concealed
from his friends.
The ranks opened covertly to avoid the corpse. The invulnerable
dead man forced a way for himself. The youth looked keenly at
the ashen face. The wind raised the tawny beard. It moved as if
a hand were stroking it. He vaguely desired to walk around and
around the body and stare; the impulse of the living to try to
read in dead eyes the answer to the Question.
During the march the ardor which the youth had acquired when out
of view of the field rapidly faded to nothing. His curiosity was
quite easily satisfied. If an intense scene had caught him with
its wild swing as he came to the top of the bank, he might have
gone gone roaring on. This advance upon Nature was too calm.
He had opportunity to reflect. He had time in which to wonder
about himself and to attempt to probe his sensations.
Absurd ideas took hold upon him. He thought that he did not
relish the landscape. It threatened him. A coldness swept over
his back, and it is true that his trousers felt to him that they
were no fit for his legs at all.
A house standing placidly in distant fields had to him an ominous look.
The shadows of the woods were formidable. He was certain that in this
vista there lurked fierce-eyed hosts. The swift thought came to him
that the generals did not know what they were about. It was all a trap.
Suddenly those close forests would bristle with rifle barrels.
Ironlike brigades would appear in the rear. They were all going
to be sacrificed. The generals were stupids. The enemy would
presently swallow the whole command. He glared about him,
expecting to see the stealthy approach of his death.
He thought that he must break from the ranks and harangue his comrades.
They must not all be killed like pigs; and he was sure it would come to
pass unless they were informed of these dangers. The generals were
idiots to send them marching into a regular pen. There was but one
pair of eyes in the corps. He would step forth and make a speech.
Shrill and passionate words came to his lips.
The line, broken into moving fragments by the ground, went calmly on
through fields and woods. The youth looked at the men nearest him,
and saw, for the most part, expressions of deep interest, as if
they were investigating something that had fascinated them.
One or two stepped with overvaliant airs as if they were
already plunged into war. Others walked as upon thin ice.
The greater part of the untested men appeared quiet and absorbed.
They were going to look at war, the red animal--war, the blood-swollen god.
And they were deeply engrossed in this march.
As he looked the youth gripped his outcry at his throat.
He saw that even if the men were tottering with fear they would
laugh at his warning. They would jeer him, and, if practicable,
pelt him with missiles. Admitting that he might be wrong,
a frenzied declamation of the kind would turn him into a worm.
He assumed, then, the demeanor of one who knows that he is doomed
alone to unwritten responsibilities. He lagged, with tragic
glances at the sky.
He was surprised presently by the young lieutenant of his company,
who began heartily to beat him with a sword, calling out in a loud
and insolent voice: "Come, young man, get up into ranks there.
No skulking 'll do here." He mended his pace with suitable haste.
And he hated the lieutenant, who had no appreciation of fine minds.
He was a mere brute.
After a time the brigade was halted in the cathedral light of a forest.
The busy skirmishers were still popping. Through the aisles of the
wood could be seen the floating smoke from their rifles.
Sometimes it went up in little balls, white and compact.
During this halt many men in the regiment began erecting tiny hills
in front of them. They used stones sticks, earth, and anything
they thought might turn a bullet. Some built comparatively
large ones, while others seems content with little ones.
This procedure caused a discussion among the men. Some wished to
fight like duelists, believing it to be correct to stand erect and be,
from their feet to their foreheads, a mark. They said they scorned
the devices of the cautious. But the others scoffed in reply,
and pointed to the veterans on the flanks who were digging at the
ground like terriers. In a short time there was quite a barricade
along the regimental fronts. Directly, however, they were ordered
to withdraw from that place.
This astounded the youth. He forgot his stewing over the
advance movement. "Well, then, what did they march us out here for?"
he demanded of the tall soldier. The latter with calm faith began
a heavy explanation, although he had been compelled to leave a
little protection of stones and dirt to which he had devoted
much care and skill.
When the regiment was aligned in another position each man's
regard for his safety caused another line of small intrenchments.
They ate their noon meal behind a third one. They were moved from
this one also. They were marched from place to place with apparent
The youth had been taught that a man became another thing in
battle. He saw his salvation in such a change. Hence this
waiting was an ordeal to him. He was in a fever of impatience.
He considered that there was denoted a lack of purpose on the
part of the generals. He began to complain to the tall soldier.
"I can't stand this much longer," he cried. "I don't see what
good it does to make us wear out our legs for nothin'." He wished
to return to camp, knowing that this affair was a blue demonstration;
or else to go into a battle and discover that he had been a fool
in his doubts, and was, in truth, a man of traditional courage.
The strain of present circumstances he felt to be intolerable.
The philosophical tall soldier measured a sandwich of cracker and
pork and swallowed it in a nonchalant manner. "Oh, I suppose we
must go reconnoitering around the country jest to keep 'em from
getting too close, or to develop 'em, or something."
"Huh!" said the loud soldier.
"Well," cried the youth, still fidgeting, "I'd rather do anything
'most than go tramping 'round the country all day doing no good
to nobody and jest tiring ourselves out."
"So would I," said the loud soldier. "It ain't right. I tell
you if anybody with any sense was a-runnin' this army it--"
"Oh, shut up!" roared the tall private. "You little fool. You
little damn' cuss. You ain't had that there coat and them pants
on for six months, and yet you talk as if--"
"Well, I wanta do some fighting anyway," interrupted the other.
"I didn't come here to walk. I could 'ave walked to home -
'round an' 'round the barn, if I jest wanted to walk."
The tall one, red-faced, swallowed another sandwich as if taking
poison in despair.
But gradually, as he chewed, his face became again quiet and
contented. He could not rage in fierce argument in the presence
of such sandwiches. During his meals he always wore an air of
blissful contemplation of the food he had swallowed. His spirit
seemed then to be communing with the viands.
He accepted new environment and circumstance with great coolness,
eating from his haversack at every opportunity. On the march he
went along with the stride of a hunter, objecting to neither
gait nor distance. And he had not raised his voice when he had
been ordered away from three little protective piles of earth
and stone, each of which had been an engineering feat worthy of
being made sacred to the name of his grandmother.
In the afternoon, the regiment went out over the same ground it
had taken in the morning. The landscape then ceased to threaten
the youth. He had been close to it and become familiar with it.
When, however, they began to pass into a new region, his old fears
of stupidity and incompetence reassailed him, but this time
he doggedly let them babble. He was occupied with his problem,
and in his deperation he concluded that the stupidity did not
Once he thought he had concluded that it would be better to get
killed directly and end his troubles. Regarding death thus out
of the corner of his eye, he conceived it to be nothing but rest,
and he was filled with a momentary astonishment that he should have
made an extraordinary commotion over the mere matter of getting killed.
He would die; he would go to some place where he would be understood.
It was useless to expect appreciation of his profound and fine sense from
such men as the lieutenant. He must look to the grave for comprehension.
The skirmish fire increased to a long clattering sound. With it
was mingled far-away cheering. A battery spoke.
Directly the youth could see the skirmishers running. They were
pursued by the sound of musketry fire. After a time the hot,
dangerous flashes of the rifles were visible. Smoke clouds went
slowly and insolently across the fields like observant phantoms.
The din became crescendo, like the roar of an oncoming train.
A brigade ahead of them and on the right went into action with a
rending roar. It was as if it had exploded. And thereafter it
lay stretched in the distance behind a long gray wall, that one
was obliged to look twice at to make sure that it was smoke.
The youth, forgetting his neat plan of getting killed, gazed spell bound.
His eyes grew wide and busy with the action of the scene. His mouth was
a little ways open.
Of a sudden he felt a heavy and sad hand laid upon his shoulder.
Awakening from his trance of observation he turned and beheld
the loud soldier.
"It's my first and last battle, old boy," said the latter, with
intense gloom. He was quite pale and his girlish lip was trembling.
"Eh?" murmured the youth in great astonishment.
"It's my first and last battle, old boy," continued the loud
soldier. "Something tells me--"
"I'm a gone coon this first time and--and I w-want you to take
these here things--to--my--folks." He ended in a quavering
sob of pity for himself. He handed the youth a little packet
done up in a yellow envelope.
"Why, what the devil--" began the youth again.
But the other gave him a glance as from the depths of a tomb,
and raised his limp hand in a prophetic manner and turned away.
The brigade was halted in the fringe of a grove. The men crouched
among the trees and pointed their restless guns out at the fields.
They tried to look beyond the smoke.
Out of this haze they could see running men. Some shouted
information and gestured as the hurried.
The men of the new regiment watched and listened eagerly,
while their tongues ran on in gossip of the battle.
They mouthed rumors that had flown like birds out of the unknown.
"They say Perry has been driven in with big loss."
"Yes, Carrott went t' th' hospital. He said he was sick. That
smart lieutenant is commanding 'G' Company. Th' boys say they
won't be under Carrott no more if they all have t' desert.
They allus knew he was a--"
"Hannises' batt'ry is took."
"It ain't either. I saw Hannises' batt'ry off on th' left not
more'n fifteen minutes ago."
"Th' general, he ses he is goin' t' take th' hull command of th'
304th when we go inteh action, an' then he ses we'll do sech
fightin' as never another one reg'ment done."
"They say we're catchin' it over on th' left. They say th' enemy
driv' our line inteh a devil of a swamp an' took Hannises' batt'ry."
"No sech thing. Hannises' batt'ry was 'long here 'bout a minute ago."
"That young Hasbrouck, he makes a good off'cer. He ain't afraid
"I met one of th' 148th Maine boys an' he ses his brigade fit
th' hull rebel army fer four hours over on th' turnpike road an'
killed about five thousand of 'em. He ses one more sech fight
as that an' th' war 'll be over."
"Bill wasn't scared either. No, sir! It wasn't that. Bill ain't
a-gittin' scared easy. He was jest mad, that's what he was.
When that feller trod on his hand, he up an' sed that he was
willin' t' give his hand t' his country, but he be dumbed if he
was goin' t' have every dumb bushwhacker in th' kentry walkin'
'round on it. So he went t' th' hospital disregardless of th' fight.
Three fingers was crunched. Th' dern doctor wanted t' amputate 'm,
an' Bill, he raised a heluva row, I hear. He's a funny feller."
The din in front swelled to a tremendous chorus. The youth and
his fellows were frozen to silence. They could see a flag that
tossed in the smoke angrily. Near it were the blurred and
agitated forms of troops. There came a turbulent stream of men
across the fields. A battery changing position at a frantic
gallop scattered the stragglers right and left.
A shell screaming like a storm banshee went over the huddled heads
of the reserves. It landed in the grove, and exploding redly
flung the brown earth. There was a little shower of pine needles.
Bullets began to whistle among the branches and nip at the trees.
Twigs and leaves came sailing down. It was as if a thousand axes,
wee and invisible, were being wielded. Many of the men were
constantly dodging and ducking their heads.
The lieutenant of the youth's company was shot in the hand.
He began to swear so wondrously that a nervous laugh went along the
regimental line. The officer's profanity sounded conventional.
It relieved the tightened senses of the new men. It was as if he
had hit his fingers with a tack hammer at home.
He held the wounded member carefully away from his side so that
the blood would not drip upon his trousers.
The captain of the company, tucking his sword under his arm,
produced a handkerchief and began to bind with it the
lieutenant's wound. And they disputed as to how the
binding should be done.
The battle flag in the distance jerked about madly. It seemed to
be struggling to free itself from an agony. The billowing smoke
was filled with horizontal flashes.
Men rushing swiftly emerged from it. They grew in numbers until
it was seen that the whole command was fleeing. The flag suddenly
sank down as if dying. Its motion as it fell was a gesture of despair.
Wild yells came from behind the walls of smoke. A sketch in gray
and red dissolved into a moblike body of men who galloped like
wild horses. The veteran regiments on the right and left of the
304th immediately began to jeer. With the passionate song of
the bullets and the banshee shrieks of shells were mingled loud
catcalls and bits of facetious advice concerning places of safety.
But the new regiment was breathless with horror. "Gawd!
Saunders's got crushed!" whispered the man at the youth's elbow.
They shrank back and crouched as if compelled to await a flood.
The youth shot a swift glance along the blue ranks of the regiment.
The profiles were motionless, carven; and afterward he remembered
that the color sergeant was standing with his legs apart,
as if he expected to be pushed to the ground.
The following throng went whirling around the flank. Here and there
were officers carried along on the stream like exasperated chips.
They were striking about them with their swords and with their
left fists, punching every head they could reach. They cursed
A mounted officer displayed the furious anger of a spoiled child.
He raged with his head, his arms, and his legs.
Another, the commander of the brigade, was galloping about bawling.
His hat was gone and his clothes were awry. He resembled a man
who has come from bed to go to a fire. The hoofs of his horse
often threatened the heads of the running men, but they scampered
with singular fortune. In this rush they were apparently all
deaf and blind. They heeded not the largest and longest of the
oaths that were thrown at them from all directions.
Frequently over this tumult could be heard the grim jokes of the
critical veterans; but the retreating men apparently were not
even conscious of the presence of an audience.
The battle reflection that shone for an instant in the faces on
the mad current made the youth feel that forceful hands from
heaven would not have been able to have held him in place if
he could have got intelligent control of his legs.
There was an appalling imprint upon these faces. The struggle in
the smoke had pictured an exaggeration of itself on the bleached
cheeks and in the eyes wild with one desire.
The sight of this stampede exerted a floodlike force that seemed able
to drag sticks and stones and men from the ground. They of the reserves
had to hold on. They grew pale and firm, and red and quaking.
The youth achieved one little thought in the midst of this chaos.
The composite monster which had caused the other troops to flee
had not then appeared. He resolved to get a view of it, and then,
he thought he might very likely run better than the best of them.
There were moments of waiting. The youth thought of the village
street at home before the arrival of the circus parade on a
day in the spring. He remembered how he had stood, a small,
thrillful boy, prepared to follow the dingy lady upon the white
horse, or the band in its faded chariot. He saw the yellow road,
the lines of expectant people, and the sober houses.
He particularly remembered an old fellow who used to sit
upon a cracker box in front of the store and feign to despise
such exhibitions. A thousand details of color and form surged
in his mind. The old fellow upon the cracker box appeared in
Some one cried, "Here they come!"
There was rustling and muttering among the men. They displayed a
feverish desire to have every possible cartridge ready to their hands.
The boxes were pulled around into various positions, and adjusted
with great care. It was as if seven hundred new bonnets were
being tried on.
The tall soldier, having prepared his rifle, produced a red
handkerchief of some kind. He was engaged in knotting it about
his throat with exquisite attention to its position, when the cry
was repeated up and down the line in a muffled roar of sound.
"Here they come! Here they come!" Gun locks clicked.
Across the smoke-infested fields came a brown swarm of running
men who were giving shrill yells. They came on, stooping and
swinging their rifles at all angles. A flag, tilted forward,
sped near the front.
As he caught sight of them the youth was momentarily startled by
a thought that perhaps his gun was not loaded. He stood trying
to rally his faltering intellect so that he might recollect the
moment when he had loaded, but he could not.
A hatless general pulled his dripping horse to a stand near the
colonel of the 304th. He shook his fist in the other's face.
"You've got to hold 'em back!" he shouted, savagely; "you've got
to hold 'em back!"
In his agitation the colonel began to stammer. "A-all r-right,
General, all right, by Gawd! We-we 'll do our--we-we 'll d-d-do-do
our best, General." The general made a passionate gesture and
galloped away. The colonel, perchance to relieve his feelings,
began to scold like a wet parrot. The youth, turning swiftly
to make sure that the rear was unmolested, saw the commander
regarding his men in a highly resentful manner, as if he
regretted above everything his association with them.
The man at the youth's elbow was mumbling, as if to himself:
"Oh, we 're in for it now! oh, we 're in for it now!"
The captain of the company had been pacing excitedly to and fro
in the rear. He coaxed in schoolmistress fashion, as to a
congregation of boys with primers. His talk was an endless
repetition. "Reserve your fire, boys--don't shoot till I tell
you--save your fire--wait till they get close up--don't be
Perspiration streamed down the youth's face, which was soiled like
that of a weeping urchin. He frequently, with a nervous movement,
wiped his eyes with his coat sleeve. His mouth was still a
little ways ope.
He got the one glance at the foe-swarming field in front of him,
and instantly ceased to debate the question of his piece being loaded.
Before he was ready to begin--before he had announced
to himself that he was about to fight--he threw the obedient
well-balanced rifle into position and fired a first wild shot.
Directly he was working at his weapon like an automatic affair.
He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a
menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that
something of which he was a part--a regiment, an army, a cause,
or a country--was in crisis. He was welded into a common
personality which was dominated by a single desire.
For some moments he could not flee no more than a
little finger can commit a revolution from a hand.
If he had thought the regiment was about to be annihilated
perhaps he could have amputated himself from it. But its noise
gave him assurance. The regiment was like a firework that,
once ignited, proceeds superior to circumstances until its
blazing vitality fades. It wheezed and banged with a mighty power.
He pictured the ground before it as strewn with the discomfited.
There was a consciousness always of the presence of his comrades
about him. He felt the subtle battle brotherhood more potent
even than the cause for which they were fighting. It was a
mysterious fraternity born of the smoke and danger of death.
He was at a task. He was like a carpenter who has made many boxes,
making still another box, only there was furious haste in
his movements. He, in his thoughts, was careering off in
other places, even as the carpenter who as he works whistles
and thinks of his friend or his enemy, his home or a saloon.
And these jolted dreams were never perfect to him afterward,
but remained a mass of blurred shapes.
Presently he began to feel the effects of the war atmosphere--a
blistering sweat, a sensation that his eyeballs were about to
crack like hot stones. A burning roar filled his ears.
Following this came a red rage. He developed the acute exasperation
of a pestered animal, a well-meaning cow worried by dogs. He had a
mad feeling against his rifle, which could only be used against one
life at a time. He wished to rush forward and strangle with his fingers.
He craved a power that would enable him to make a world-sweeping gesture
and brush all back. His impotency appeared to him, and made his rage
into that of a driven beast.
Buried in the smoke of many rifles his anger was directed not
so much against the men whom he knew were rushing toward him as
against the swirling battle phantoms which were choking him,
stuffing their smoke robes down his parched throat. He fought
frantically for respite for his senses, for air, as a babe being
smothered attacks the deadly blankets.
There was a blare of heated rage mingled with a certain
expression of intentness on all faces. Many of the men were
making low-toned noises with their mouths, and these subdued
cheers, snarls, imprecations, prayers, made a wild, barbaric
these subdued cheers, snarls, imprecations, prayers, made a wild,
barbaric these subdued cheers, snarls, imprecations, prayers,
made a wild, barbaric these subdued cheers, snarls, imprecations,
prayers, made a wild, barbaric song that went as an undercurrent
of sound, strange and chantlike with the resounding chords of the
war march. The man at the youth's elbow was babbling. In it
there was something soft and tender like the monologue of a babe.
The tall soldier was swearing in a loud voice. From his lips
came a black procession of curious oaths. Of a sudden another
broke out in a querulous way like a man who has mislaid his hat.
"Well, why don't they support us? Why don't they send supports?
Do they think--"
The youth in his battle sleep heard this as one who dozes hears.
There was a singular absence of heroic poses. The men bending and
surging in their haste and rage were in every impossible attitude.
The steel ramrods clanked and clanged with incessant din
as the men pounded them furiously into the hot rifle barrels.
The flaps of the cartridge boxes were all unfastened,
and bobbed idiotically with each movement. The rifles,
once loaded, were jerked to the shoulder and fired without
apparent aim into the smoke or at one of the blurred and
shifting forms which upon the field before the regiment
had been growing larger and larger like puppets under a
The officers, at their intervals, rearward, neglected to stand in
picturesque attitudes. They were bobbing to and fro roaring
directions and encouragements. The dimensions of their howls
were extraordinary. They expended their lungs with prodigal wills.
And often they nearly stood upon their heads in their anxiety
to observe the enemy on the other side of the tumbling smoke.
The lieutenant of the youth's company had encountered a soldier
who had fled screaming at the first volley of his comrades.
Behind the lines these two were acting a little isolated scene.
The man was blubbering and staring with sheeplike eyes at the
lieutenant, who had seized him by the collar and was pommeling him.
He drove him back into the ranks with many blows. The soldier went
mechanically, dully, with his animal-like eyes upon the officer.
Perhaps there was to him a divinity expressed in the voice of
the other--stern, hard, with no reflection of fear in it.
He tried to reload his gun, but his shaking hands prevented.
The lieutenant was obliged to assist him.
The men dropped here and there like bundles. The captain of the
youth's company had been killed in an early part of the action.
His body lay stretched out in the position of a tired man resting,
but upon his face there was an astonished and sorrowful look,
as if he thought some friend had done him an ill turn.
The babbling man was grazed by a shot that made the blood
stream widely down his face. He clapped both hand to his head.
"Oh!" he said, and ran. Another grunted suddenly as if he had been
struck by a club in the stomach. He sat down and gazed ruefully.
In his eyes there was mute, indefinite reproach. Farther up the
line a man, standing behind a tree, had had his knee joint
splintered by a ball. Immediately he had dropped his rifle and
gripped the tree with both arms. And there he remained, clinging
desperately and crying for assistance that he might withdraw his
hold upon the tree.
At last an exultant yell went along the quivering line. The firing
dwindled from an uproar to a last vindictive popping. As the smoke
slowly eddied away, the youth saw that the charge had been repulsed.
The enemy were scattered into reluctant groups. He saw a man climb
to the top of the fence, straddle the rail, and fire a parting shot.
The waves had receded, leaving bits of dark "debris" upon the ground.
Some in the regiment began to whoop frenziedly. Many were silent.
Apparently they were trying to contemplate themselves.
After the fever had left his veins, the youth thought that at
last he was going to suffocate. He became aware of the foul
atmosphere in which he had been struggling. He was grimy and
dripping like a laborer in a foundry. He grasped his canteen
and took a long swallow of the warmed water.
A sentence with variations went up and down the line. "Well, we
've helt 'em back. We 've helt 'em back; derned if we haven't."
The men said it blissfully, leering at each other with dirty smiles.
The youth turned to look behind him and off to the right and off
to the left. He experienced the joy of a man who at last finds
leisure in which to look about him.
Under foot there were a few ghastly forms motionless. They lay
twisted in fantastic contortions. Arms were bent and heads were
turned in incredible ways. It seemed that the dead men must have
fallen from some great height to get into such positions. They
looked to be dumped out upon the ground from the sky.
From a position in the rear of the grove a battery was throwing
shells over it. The flash of the guns startled the youth at first.
He thought they were aimed directly at him. Through the trees he
watched the black figures of the gunners as they worked swiftly
and intently. Their labor seemed a complicated thing. He wondered
how they could remember its formula in the midst of confusion.
The guns squatted in a row like savage chiefs. They argued with
abrupt violence. It was a grim pow-wow. Their busy servants ran
hither and thither.
A small procession of wounded men were going drearily toward the rear.
It was a flow of blood from the torn body of the brigade.
To the right and to the left were the dark lines of other troops.
Far in front he thought he could see lighter masses protruding in
points from the forest. They were suggestive of unnumbered thousands.
Once he saw a tiny battery go dashing along the line of the horizon.
The tiny riders were beating the tiny horses.
From a sloping hill came the sound of cheerings and clashes.
Smoke welled slowly through the leaves.
Batteries were speaking with thunderous oratorical effort.
Here and there were flags, the red in the stripes dominating.
They splashed bits of warm color upon the dark lines of troops.
The youth felt the old thrill at the sight of the emblems.
They were like beautiful birds strangely undaunted in a storm.
As he listened to the din from the hillside, to a deep pulsating
thunder that came from afar to the left, and to the lesser
clamors which came from many directions, it occurred to him that
they were fighting, too, over there, and over there, and over
there. Heretofore he had supposed that all the battle was
directly under his nose.
As he gazed around him the youth felt a flash of astonishment at
the blue, pure sky and the sun gleamings on the trees and fields.
It was surprising that Nature had gone tranquilly on with her
golden process in the midst of so much devilment.
The youth awakened slowly. He came gradually back to a position
from which he could regard himself. For moments he had been
scrutinizing his person in a dazed way as if he had never
before seen himself. Then he picked up his cap from the ground.
He wriggled in his jacket to make a more comfortable fit,
and kneeling relaced his shoe. He thoughtfully mopped his
So it was all over at last! The supreme trial had been passed.
The red, formidable difficulties of war had been vanquished.
He went into an ecstasy of self-satisfaction. He had the most
delightful sensations of his life. Standing as if apart from
himself, he viewed that last scene. He perceived that the man
who had fought thus was magnificent.
He felt that he was a fine fellow. He saw himself even
with those ideals which he had considered as far beyond him.
He smiled in deep gratification.
Upon his fellows he beamed tenderness and good will.
"Gee! ain't it hot, hey?" he said affably to a man who
was polishing his streaming face with his coat sleeves.
"You bet!" said the other, grinning sociably. "I never seen
sech dumb hotness." He sprawled out luxuriously on the ground.
"Gee, yes! An' I hope we don't have no more fightin' till a
week from Monday."
There were some handshakings and deep speeches with men whose
features were familiar, but with whom the youth now felt the
bonds of tied hearts. He helped a cursing comrade to bind up
a wound of the shin.
But, of a sudden, cries of amazement broke out along the ranks of
the new regiment. "Here they come ag'in! Here they come ag'in!"
The man who had sprawled upon the ground started up and said,
The youth turned quick eyes upon the field. He discerned forms
begin to swell in masses out of a distant wood. He again saw the
tilted flag speeding forward.
The shells, which had ceased to trouble the regiment for a time,
came swirling again, and exploded in the grass or among the
leaves of the trees. They looked to be strange war flowers
bursting into fierce bloom.
The men groaned. The luster faded from their eyes.
Their smudged countenances now expressed a profound dejection.
They moved their stiffened bodies slowly, and watched in sullen
mood the frantic approach of the enemy. The slaves toiling in
the temple of this god began to feel rebellion at his harsh tasks.
They fretted and complained each to each. "Oh, say, this is too
much of a good thing! Why can't somebody send us supports?"
"We ain't never goin' to stand this second banging. I didn't
come here to fight the hull damn' rebel army."
There was one who raised a doleful cry. "I wish Bill Smithers
had trod on my hand, insteader me treddin' on his'n." The sore
joints of the regiment creaked as it painfully floundered into
position to repulse.
The youth stared. Surely, he thought, this impossible thing was
not about to happen. He waited as if he expected the enemy to
suddenly stop, apologize, and retire bowing. It was all a mistake.
But the firing began somewhere on the regimental line and ripped
along in both directions. The level sheets of flame developed
great clouds of smoke that tumbled and tossed in the mild wind
near the ground for a moment, and then rolled through the ranks
as through a gate. The clouds were tinged an earthlike yellow
in the sunrays and in the shadow were a sorry blue. The flag was
sometimes eaten and lost in this mass of vapor, but more often
it projected, sun-touched, resplendent.
Into the youth's eyes there came a look that one can see in the
orbs of a jaded horse. His neck was quivering with nervous
weakness and the muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless.
His hands, too, seemed large and awkward as if he was wearing
invisible mittens. And there was a great uncertainty about his
The words that comrades had uttered previous to the firing began
to recur to him. "Oh, say, this is too much of a good thing!
What do they take us for--why don't they send supports?
I didn't come here to fight the hull damned rebel army."
He began to exaggerate the endurance, the skill, and the valor of
those who were coming. Himself reeling from exhaustion, he was
astonished beyond measure at such persistency. They must be
machines of steel. It was very gloomy struggling against such
affairs, wound up perhaps to fight until sundown.
He slowly lifted his rifle and catching a glimpse of the
thickspread field he blazed at a cantering cluster. He stopped
then and began to peer as best as he could through the smoke.
He caught changing views of the ground covered with men who
were all running like pursued imps, and yelling.
To the youth it was an onslaught of redoubtable dragons. He became like
the man who lost his legs at the approach of the red and green monster.
He waited in a sort of a horrified, listening attitude.
He seemed to shut his eyes and wait to be gobbled.
A man near him who up to this time had been working feverishly at
his rifle suddenly stopped and ran with howls. A lad whose face
had borne an expression of exalted courage, the majesty of he
who dares give his life, was, at an instant, smitten abject.
He blanched like one who has come to the edge of a cliff at
midnight and is suddenly made aware. There was a revelation.
He, too, threw down his gun and fled. There was no shame in his face.
He ran like a rabbit.
Others began to scamper away through the smoke. The youth turned
his head, shaken from his trance by this movement as if the
regiment was leaving him behind. He saw the few fleeting forms.
He yelled then with fright and swung about. For a moment, in the
great clamor, he was like a proverbial chicken. He lost the
direction of safety. Destruction threatened him from all points.
Directly he began to speed toward the rear in great leaps.
His rifle and cap were gone. His unbuttoned coat bulged in the wind.
The flap of his cartridge box bobbed wildly, and his canteen,
by its slender cord, swung out behind. On his face was all the
horror of those things which he imagined.
The lieutenant sprang forward bawling. The youth saw his
features wrathfully red, and saw him make a dab with his sword.
His one thought of the incident was that the lieutenant was
a peculiar creature to feel interested in such matters upon
He ran like a blind man. Two or three times he fell down. Once he
knocked his shoulder so heavily against a tree that he went headlong.
Since he had turned his back upon the fight his fears had been
wondrously magnified. Death about to thrust him between the
shoulder blades was far more dreadful than death about to smite him
between the eyes. When he thought of it later, he conceived the
impression that it is better to view the appalling than to be
merely within hearing. The noises of the battle were like stones;
he believed himself liable to be crushed.
As he ran on he mingled with others. He dimly saw men on
his right and on his left, and he heard footsteps behind him.
He thought that all the regiment was fleeing, pursued by those
In his flight the sound of these following footsteps gave him his
one meager relief. He felt vaguely that death must make a first
choice of the men who were nearest; the initial morsels for the
dragons would be then those who were following him. So he
displayed the zeal of an insane sprinter in his purpose to keep
them in the rear. There was a race.
As he, leading, went across a little field, he found himself in a
region of shells. They hurtled over his head with long wild screams.
As he listened he imagined them to have rows of cruel teeth that
grinned at him. Once one lit before him and the livid lightning
of the explosion effectually barred the way in his chosen direction.
He groveled on the ground and then springing up went careering
off through some bushes.
He experienced a thrill of amazement when he came within view of a
battery in action. The men there seemed to be in conventional moods,
altogether unaware of the impending annihilation. The battery was
disputing with a distant antagonist and the gunners were wrapped
in admiration of their shooting. They were continually bending
in coaxing postures over the guns. They seemed to be patting
them on the back and encouraging them with words. The guns,
stolid and undaunted, spoke with dogged valor.
The precise gunners were coolly enthusiastic. They lifted their
eyes every chance to the smoke-wreathed hillock from whence the
hostile battery addressed them. The youth pitied them as he ran.
Methodical idiots! Machine-like fools! The refined joy of
planting shells in the midst of the other battery's formation
would appear a little thing when the infantry came swooping out
of the woods.
The face of a youthful rider, who was jerking his frantic horse
with an abandon of temper he might display in a placid barnyard,
was impressed deeply upon his mind. He knew that he looked upon
a man who would presently be dead.
Too, he felt a pity for the guns, standing, six good comrades,
in a bold row.
He saw a brigade going to the relief of its pestered fellows.
He scrambled upon a wee hill and watched it sweeping finely,
keeping formation in difficult places. The blue of the line
was crusted with steel color, and the brilliant flags projected.
Officers were shouting.
This sight also filled him with wonder. The brigade was hurrying
briskly to be gulped into the infernal mouths of the war god.
What manner of men were they, anyhow? Ah, it was some wondrous breed!
Or else they didn't comprehend--the fools.
A furious order caused commotion in the artillery. An officer on
a bounding horse made maniacal motions with his arms. The teams
went swinging up from the rear, the guns were whirled about, and
the battery scampered away. The cannon with their noses poked
slantingly at the ground grunted and grumbled like stout men,
brave but with objections to hurry.
The youth went on, moderating his pace since he had left the
place of noises.
Later he came upon a general of division seated upon a horse that
pricked its ears in an interested way at the battle. There was a
great gleaming of yellow and patent leather about the saddle and
bridle. The quiet man astride looked mouse-colored upon such a
A jingling staff was galloping hither and thither. Sometimes the
general was surrounded by horsemen and at other times he was
quite alone. He looked to be much harassed. He had the appearance
of a business man whose market is swinging up and down.
The youth went slinking around this spot. He went as near as he
dared trying to overhear words. Perhaps the general, unable to
comprehend chaos, might call upon him for information. And he
could tell him. He knew all concerning it. Of a surety the
force was in a fix, and any fool could see that if they did not
retreat while they had opportunity--why--
He felt that he would like to thrash the general, or at least
approach and tell him in plain words exactly what he thought him
to be. It was criminal to stay calmly in one spot and make no
effort to stay destruction. He loitered in a fever of eagerness
for the division commander to apply to him.
As he warily moved about, he heard the general call out
irritably: "Tompkins, go over an' see Taylor, an' tell him not
t' be in such an all-fired hurry; tell him t' halt his brigade in
th' edge of th' woods; tell him t' detach a reg'ment--say I
think th' center 'll break if we don't help it out some; tell
him t' hurry up."
A slim youth on a fine chestnut horse caught these swift words
from the mouth of his superior. He made his horse bound into a
gallop almost from a walk in his haste to go upon his mission.
There was a cloud of dust.
A moment later the youth saw the general bounce excitedly in his saddle.
"Yes, by heavens, they have!" The officer leaned forward. His face
was aflame with excitement. "Yes, by heavens, they 've held 'im!
They 've held 'im!"
He began to blithely roar at his staff: "We 'll wallop 'im now.
We 'll wallop 'im now. We 've got 'em sure." He turned suddenly
upon an aide: "Here--you--Jons--quick--ride after Tompkins--see
Taylor--tell him t' go in--everlastingly--like blazes--anything."
As another officer sped his horse after the first messenger,
the general beamed upon the earth like a sun. In his eyes was a
desire to chant a paean. He kept repeating, "They 've held 'em,
His excitement made his horse plunge, and he merrily kicked and
swore at it. He held a little carnival of joy on horseback.
The youth cringed as if discovered in a crime. By heavens,
they had won after all! The imbecile line had remained and
become victors. He could hear cheering.
He lifted himself upon his toes and looked in the direction of the fight.
A yellow fog lay wallowing on the treetops. From beneath it came the
clatter of musketry. Hoarse cries told of an advance.
He turned away amazed and angry. He felt that he had been wronged.
He had fled, he told himself, because annihilation approached.
He had done a good part in saving himself, who was a little piece
of the army. He had considered the time, he said, to be one in
which it was the duty of every little piece to rescue itself if
possible. Later the officers could fit the little pieces
together again, and make a battle front. If none of the little
pieces were wise enough to save themselves from the flurry of
death at such a time, why, then, where would be the army? It was
all plain that he had proceeded according to very correct and
commendable rules. His actions had been sagacious things. They
had been full of strategy. They were the work of a master's legs.
Thoughts of his comrades came to him. The brittle blue line had
withstood the blows and won. He grew bitter over it. It seemed
that the blind ignorance and stupidity of those little pieces
had betrayed him. He had been overturned and crushed by their
lack of sense in holding the position, when intelligent
deliberation would have convinced them that it was impossible.
He, the enlightened man who looks afar in the dark, had fled
because of his superior perceptions and knowledge. He felt a
great anger against his comrades. He knew it could be proved
that they had been fools.
He wondered what they would remark when later he appeared in camp.
His mind heard howls of derision. Their density would not enable
them to understand his sharper point of view.
He began to pity himself acutely. He was ill used. He was
trodden beneath the feet of an iron injustice. He had proceeded
with wisdom and from the most righteous motives under heaven's
blue only to be frustrated by hateful circumstances.
A dull, animal-like rebellion against his fellows, war in the
abstract, and fate grew within him. He shambled along with bowed
head, his brain in a tumult of agony and despair. When he looked
loweringly up, quivering at each sound, his eyes had the
expression of those of a criminal who thinks his guilt little
and his punishment great, and knows that he can find no words.
He went from the fields into a thick woods, as if resolved to
bury himself. He wished to get out of hearing of the crackling
shots which were to him like voices.
The ground was cluttered with vines and bushes, and the trees
grew close and spread out like bouquets. He was obliged to force
his way with much noise. The creepers, catching against his legs,
cried out harshly as their sprays were torn from the barks
of trees. The swishing saplings tried to make known his presence
to the world. He could not conciliate the forest. As he made
his way, it was always calling out protestations. When he
separated embraces of trees and vines the disturbed foliages
waved their arms and turned their face leaves toward him.
He dreaded lest these noisy motions and cries should bring men
to look at him. So he went far, seeking dark and intricate places.
After a time the sound of musketry grew faint and the cannon
boomed in the distance. The sun, suddenly apparent, blazed among
the trees. The insects were making rhythmical noises. They seemed
to be grinding their teeth in unison. A woodpecker stuck
his impudent head around the side of a tree. A bird flew on
Off was the rumble of death. It seemed now that Nature had no ears.
This landscape gave him assurance. A fair field holding life.
It was the religion of peace. It would die if its timid eyes
were compelled to see blood. He conceived Nature to be a woman
with a deep aversion to tragedy.
He threw a pine cone at a jovial squirrel, and he ran with
chattering fear. High in a treetop he stopped, and, poking
his head cautiously from behind a branch, looked down with
an air of trepidation.
The youth felt triumphant at this exhibition. There was the law,
he said. Nature had given him a sign. The squirrel, immediately
upon recognizing danger, had taken to his legs without ado.
He did not stand stolidly baring his furry belly to the missile,
and die with an upward glance at the sympathetic heavens. On the
contrary, he had fled as fast as his legs could carry him; and
he was but an ordinary squirrel, too--doubtless no philosopher of
his race. The youth wended, feeling that Nature was of his mind.
She re-enforced his argument with proofs that lived where the sun shone.
Once he found himself almost into a swamp. He was obliged to
walk upon bog tufts and watch his feet to keep from the oily mire.
Pausing at one time to look about him he saw, out at some black water,
a small animal pounce in and emerge directly with a gleaming fish.
The youth went again into the deep thickets. The brushed
branches made a noise that drowned the sounds of cannon.
He walked on, going from obscurity into promises of a
At length he reached a place where the high, arching boughs
made a chapel. He softly pushed the green doors aside and entered.
Pine needles were a gentle brown carpet. There was a religious
Near the threshold he stopped, horror-stricken at the sight of a thing.
He was being looked at by a dead man who was seated with his back
against a columnlike tree. The corpse was dressed in a uniform
that had once been blue, but was now faded to a melancholy shade
of green. The eyes, staring at the youth, had changed to the dull
hue to be seen on the side of a dead fish. The mouth was open.
Its red had changed to an appalling yellow. Over the gray skin of
the face ran little ants. One was trundling some sort of bundle
along the upper lip.
The youth gave a shriek as he confronted the thing. He was for
moments turned to stone before it. He remained staring into the
liquid-looking eyes. The dead man and the living man exchanged a
long look. Then the youth cautiously put one hand behind him and
brought it against a tree. Leaning upon this he retreated, step by
step, with his face still toward the thing. He feared that if he
turned his back the body might spring up and stealthily pursue him.
The branches, pushing against him, threatened to throw him over
upon it. His unguided feet, too, caught aggravatingly in brambles;
and with it all he received a subtle suggestion to touch the corpse.
As he thought of his hand upon it he shuddered profoundly.
At last he burst the bonds which had fastened him to the spot and fled,
unheeding the underbrush. He was pursued by the sight of black ants
swarming greedily upon the gray face and venturing horribly near to
After a time he paused, and, breathless and panting, listened.
He imagined some strange voice would come from the dead throat
and squawk after him in horrible menaces.
The trees about the portal of the chapel moved soughingly in a
soft wind. A sad silence was upon the little guarding edifice.
The trees began softly to sing a hymn of twilight. The sun sank
until slanted bronze rays struck the forest. There was a lull in
the noises of insects as if they had bowed their beaks and were
making a devotional pause. There was silence save for the
chanted chorus of the trees.
Then, upon this stillness, there suddenly broke a tremendous
clangor of sounds. A crimson roar came from the distance.
The youth stopped. He was transfixed by this terrific medley of
all noises. It was as if worlds were being rended. There was the
ripping sound of musketry and the breaking crash of the artillery.
His mind flew in all directions. He conceived the two armies
to be at each other panther fashion. He listened for a time.
Then he began to run in the direction of the battle. He saw
that it was an ironical thing for him to be running thus
toward that which he had been at such pains to avoid. But he said,
in substance, to himself that if the earth and the moon were about
to clash, many persons would doubtless plan to get upon the roofs
to witness the collision.