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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.
As he ran, he became aware that the forest had stopped its music,
as if at last becoming capable of hearing the foregin sounds.
The trees hushed and stood motionless. Everything seemed to be
listening to the crackle and clatter and earthshaking thunder.
The chorus peaked over the still earth.
It suddenly occurred to the youth that the fight in which he had
been was, after all, but perfunctory popping. In the hearing of
this present din he was doubtful if he had seen real battle scenes.
This uproar explained a celestial battle; it was tumbling hordes
a-struggle in the air.
Reflecting, he saw a sort of a humor in the point of view of
himself and his fellows during the late encounter. They had
taken themselves and the enemy very seriously and had imagined
that they were deciding the war. Individuals must have supposed
that they were cutting the letters of their names deep into
everlasting tablets of brass, or enshrining their reputations
forever in the hearts of their countrymen, while, as to fact,
the affair would appear in printed reports under a meek and
immaterial title. But he saw that it was good, else, he said, in
battle every one would surely run save forlorn hopes and their ilk.
He went rapidly on. He wished to come to the edge of the forest
that he might peer out.
As he hastened, there passed through his mind pictures of
stupendous conflicts. His accumulated thought upon such
subjects was used to form scenes. The noise was as the
voice of an eloquent being, describing.
Sometimes the brambles formed chains and tried to hold him back.
Trees, confronting him, stretched out their arms and forbade him
to pass. After its previous hostility this new resistance of the
forest filled him with a fine bitterness. It seemed that Nature
could not be quite ready to kill him.
But he obstinately took roundabout ways, and presently he was
where he could see long gray walls of vapor where lay battle
lines. The voices of cannon shook him. The musketry sounded
in long irregular surges that played havoc with his ears. He stood
regardant for a moment. His eyes had an awestruck expression.
He gawked in the direction of th fight.
Presently he proceeded again on his forward way. The battle
was like the grinding of an immense and terrible machine to him.
Its complexities and powers, its grim processes, fascinated him.
He must go close and see it produce corpses.
He came to a fence and clambered over it. On the far side, the
ground was littered with clothes and guns. A newspaper, folded up,
lay in the dirt. A dead soldier was stretched with his face hidden
in his arm. Farther off there was a group of four or five corpses
keeping mournful company. A hot sun had blazed upon this spot.
In this place the youth felt that he was an invader. This
forgotten part of the battle ground was owned by the dead men,
and he hurried, in the vague apprehension that one of the
swollen forms would rise and tell him to begone.
He came finally to a road from which he could see in the distance
dark and agitated bodies of troops, smoke-fringed. In the lane
was a blood-stained crowd streaming to the rear. The wounded men
were cursing, groaning, and wailing. In the air, always, was a
mighty swell of sound that it seemed could sway the earth. With
the courageous words of the artillery and the spiteful sentences
of the musketry mingled red cheers. And from this region of
noises came the steady current of the maimed.
One of the wounded men had a shoeful of blood. He hopped like a
schoolboy in a game. He was laughing hysterically.
One was swearing that he had been shot in the arm through the
commanding general's mismanagement of the army. One was marching
with an air imitative of some sublime drum major. Upon his
features was an unholy mixture of merriment and agony. As he
marched he sang a bit of doggerel in a high and quavering voice:
"Sing a song 'a vic'try,
A pocketful 'a bullets,
Five an' twenty dead men
Baked in a--pie."
Parts of the procession limped and staggered to this tune.
Another had the gray seal of death already upon his face.
His lips were curled in hard lines and his teeth were clinched.
His hands were bloody from where he had pressed them upon his wound.
He seemed to be awaiting the moment when he should pitch headlong.
He stalked like the specter of a soldier, his eyes burning with
the power of a stare into the unknown.
There were some who proceeded sullenly, full of anger at their wounds,
and ready to turn upon anything as an obscure cause.
An officer was carried along by two privates. He was peevish.
"Don't joggle so, Johnson, yeh fool," he cried. "Think m' leg is
made of iron? If yeh can't carry me decent, put me down an' let
some one else do it."
He bellowed at the tottering crowd who blocked the quick march of
his bearers. "Say, make way there, can't yeh? Make way, dickens
take it all."
They sulkily parted and went to the roadsides. As he was carried
past they made pert remarks to him. When he raged in reply and
threatened them, they told him to be damned.
The shoulder of one of the tramping bearers knocked heavily
against the spectral soldier who was staring into the unknown.
The youth joined this crowd and marched along with it. The torn
bodies expressed the awful machinery in which the men had been entangled.
Orderlies and couriers occasionally broke through the throng in
the roadway, scattering wounded men right and left, galloping on
followed by howls. The melancholy march was continually
disturbed by the messengers, and sometimes by bustling batteries
that came swinging and thumping down upon them, the officers
shouting orders to clear the way.
There was a tattered man, fouled with dust, blood and powder
stain from hair to shoes, who trudged quietly at the youth's side.
He was listening with eagerness and much humility to the lurid
descriptions of a bearded sergeant. His lean features wore
an expression of awe and admiration. He was like a listener
in a country store to wondrous tales told among the sugar barrels.
He eyed the story-teller with unspeakable wonder. His mouth was
agape in yokel fashion.
The sergeant, taking note of this, gave pause to his elaborate
history while he administered a sardonic comment. "Be keerful,
honey, you 'll be a-ketchin' flies," he said.
The tattered man shrank back abashed.
After a time he began to sidle near to the youth, and in a
diffident way try to make him a friend. His voice was gentle as
a girl's voice and his eyes were pleading. The youth saw with
surprise that the soldier had two wounds, one in the head, bound
with a blood-soaked rag, and the other in the arm, making that
member dangle like a broken bough.
After they had walked together for some time the tattered man
mustered sufficient courage to speak. "Was pretty good fight,
wa'n't it?" he timidly said. The youth, deep in thought, glanced
up at the bloody and grim figure with its lamblike eyes. "What?"
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?"
"Yes," said the youth shortly. He quickened his pace.
But the other hobbled industriously after him. There was an
air of apology in his manner, but he evidently thought that he
needed only to talk for a time, and the youth would perceive
that he was a good fellow.
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?" he began in a small voice,
and the he achieved the fortitude to continue. "Dern me if I
ever see fellers fight so. Laws, how they did fight! I knowed th'
boys 'd like it when they onct got square at it. Th' boys ain't
had no fair chanct up t' now, but this time they showed what they was.
I knowed it 'd turn out this way. Yeh can't lick them boys. No, sir!
They 're fighters, they be."
He breathed a deep breath of humble admiration. He had looked
at the youth for encouragement several times. He received none,
but gradually he seemed to get absorbed in his subject.
"I was talkin' 'cross pickets with a boy from Georgie, onct, an'
that boy, he ses, 'Your fellers 'll all run like hell when they
onct hearn a gun,' he ses. 'Mebbe they will,' I ses, 'but I
don't b'lieve none of it,' I ses; 'an' b'jiminey,' I ses back t'
'um, 'mebbe your fellers 'll all run like hell when they onct
hearn a gun,' I ses. He larfed. Well, they didn't run t' day,
did they, hey? No, sir! They fit, an' fit, an' fit."
His homely face was suffused with a light of love for the army
which was to him all things beautiful and powerful.
After a time he turned to the youth. "Where yeh hit, ol' boy?"
he asked in a brotherly tone.
The youth felt instant panic at this question, although at first
its full import was not borne in upon him.
"What?" he asked.
"Where yeh hit?" repeated the tattered man.
"Why," began the youth, "I--I--that is--why--I--"
He turned away suddenly and slid through the crowd. His brow was
heavily flushed, and his fingers were picking nervously at one of
his buttons. He bent his head and fastened his eyes studiously
upon the button as if it were a little problem.
The tattered man looked after him in astonishment.
The youth fell back in the procession until the tattered soldier
was not in sight. Then he started to walk on with the others.
But he was amid wounds. The mob of men was bleeding. Because of
the tattered soldier's question he now felt that his shame could
be viewed. He was continually casting sidelong glances to see if
the men were contemplating the letters of guilt he felt burned
into his brow.
At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way.
He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy.
He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.
The spectral soldier was at his side like a stalking reproach.
The man's eyes were still fixed in a stare into the unknown.
His gray, appalling face had attracted attention in the crowd,
and men, slowing to his dreary pace, were walking with him.
They were discussing his plight, questioning him and giving
him advice. In a dogged way he repelled them, signing to them
to go on and leave him alone. The shadows of his face were
deepening and his tight lips seemed holding in check the moan
of great despair. There could be seen a certain stiffness in
the movements of his body, as if he were taking infinite care
not to arouse the passion of his wounds. As he went on, he seemed
always looking for a place, like one who goes to choose a grave.
Something in the gesture of the man as he waved the bloody
and pitying soldiers away made the youth start as if bitten.
He yelled in horror. Tottering forward he laid a quivering
hand upon the man's arm. As the latter slowly turned his
waxlike features toward him the youth screamed:
"Gawd! Jim Conklin!"
The tall soldier made a little commonplace smile. "Hello,
Henry," he said.
The youth swayed on his legs and glared strangely. He stuttered
and stammered. "Oh, Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"
The tall soldier held out his gory hand. There was a curious red
and black combination of new blood and old blood upon it. "Where
yeh been, Henry?" he asked. He continued in a monotonous voice,
"I thought mebbe yeh got keeled over. There 's been thunder t'
pay t'-day. I was worryin' about it a good deal."
The youth still lamented. "Oh, Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"
"Yeh know," said the tall soldier, "I was out there." He made a
careful gesture. "An', Lord, what a circus! An', b'jiminey, I got
shot--I got shot. Yes, b'jiminey, I got shot." He reiterated this
fact in a bewildered way, as if he did not know how it came about.
The youth put forth anxious arms to assist him, but the tall
soldier went firmly as if propelled. Since the youth's arrival
as a guardian for his friend, the other wounded men had ceased
to display much interest. They occupied themselves again in
dragging their own tragedies toward the rear.
Suddenly, as the two friends marched on, the tall soldier seemed to be
overcome by a tremor. His face turned to a semblance of gray paste.
He clutched the youth's arm and looked all about him, as if dreading
to be overheard. Then he began to speak in a shaking whisper:
"I tell yeh what I'm 'fraid of, Henry--I'll tell yeh what I'm
'fraid of. I 'm 'fraid I 'll fall down--an' them yeh know -
them damned artillery wagons--they like as not 'll run over me.
That 's what I 'm 'fraid of--"
The youth cried out to him hysterically: "I 'll take care of
yeh, Jim! I 'll take care of yeh! I swear t' Gawd I will!"
"Sure--will yeh, Henry?" the tall soldier beseeched.
"Yes--yes--I tell yeh--I'll take care of yeh, Jim!" protested
the youth. He could not speak accurately because of the gulpings
in his throat.
But the tall soldier continued to beg in a lowly way. He now hung
babelike to the youth's arm. His eyes rolled in the wildness of
his terror. "I was allus a good friend t' yeh, wa'n't I, Henry?
I 've allus been a pretty good feller, ain't I? An' it ain't
much t' ask, is it? Jest t' pull me along outer th' road?
I'd do it fer you, wouldn't I, Henry?"
He paused in piteous anxiety to await his friend's reply.
The youth had reached an anguish where the sobs scorched him.
He strove to express his loyalty, but he could only make
However, the tall soldier seemed suddenly to forget all those
fears. He became again the grim, stalking specter of a soldier.
He went stonily forward. The youth wished his friend to lean
upon him, but the other always shook his head and strangely
protested. "No--no--no--leave me be--leave me be--"
His look was fixed again upon the unknown. He moved
with mysterious purpose, and all of the youth's offers
he brushed aside. "No--no--leave me be--leave me be--"
The youth had to follow.
Presently the latter heard a voice talking softly near his shoulder.
Turning he saw that it belonged to the tattered soldier. "Ye'd better
take 'im outa th' road, pardner. There's a batt'ry comin' helitywhoop
down th' road an' he 'll git runned over. He 's a goner anyhow in
about five minutes--yeh kin see that. Ye 'd better take 'im outa
th' road. Where th' blazes does hi git his stren'th from?"
"Lord knows!" cried the youth. He was shaking his hands helplessly.
He ran forward presently and grasped the tall soldier by the arm.
"Jim! Jim!" he coaxed, "come with me."
The tall soldier weakly tried to wrench himself free. "Huh," he
said vacantly. He stared at the youth for a moment. At last he
spoke as if dimly comprehending. "Oh! Inteh th' fields? Oh!"
He started blindly through the grass.
The youth turned once to look at the lashing riders and jouncing
guns of the battery. He was startled from this view by a shrill
outcry from the tattered man.
"Gawd! He's runnin'!"
Turning his head swiftly, the youth saw his friend running in a
staggering and stumbling way toward a little clump of bushes.
His heart seemed to wrench itself almost free from his body at
this sight. He made a noise of pain. He and the tattered man
began a pursuit. There was a singular race.
When he overtook the tall soldier he began to plead with all the
words he could find. "Jim--Jim--what are you doing--what
makes you do this way--you'll hurt yerself."
The same purpose was in the tall soldier's face. He protested in
a dulled way, keeping his eyes fastened on the mystic place of
his intentions. "No--no--don't tech me--leave me be--leave me be--"
The youth, aghast and filled with wonder at the tall soldier,
began quaveringly to question him. "Where yeh goin', Jim? What
you thinking about? Where you going? Tell me, won't you, Jim?"
The tall soldier faced about as upon relentless pursuers. In his
eyes there was a great appeal. "Leave me be, can't yeh? Leave me
be for a minnit."
The youth recoiled. "Why, Jim," he said, in a dazed way, "what
's the matter with you?"
The tall soldier turned and, lurching dangerously, went on. The
youth and the tattered soldier followed, sneaking as if whipped,
feeling unable to face the stricken man if he should again
confront them. They began to have thoughts of a solemn ceremony.
There was something rite-like in these movements of the doomed
soldier. And there was a resemblance in him to a devotee of a
mad religion, blood-sucking, muscle-wrenching, bone-crushing.
They were awed and afraid. They hung back lest he have at
command a dreadful weapon.
At last, they saw him stop and stand motionless. Hastening up,
they perceived that his face wore an expression telling that
he had at last found the place for which he had struggled.
His spare figure was erect; his bloody hands were quietly at
his side. He was waiting with patience for something that he had
come to meet. He was at the rendezvous. They paused and stood,
There was a silence.
Finally, the chest of the doomed soldier began to heave with a
strained motion. It increased in violence until it was as if an
animal was within and was kicking and tumbling furiously to be free.
This spectacle of gradual strangulation made the youth writhe,
and once as his friend rolled his eyes, he saw something in them
that made him sink wailing to the ground. He raised his voice in
a last supreme call.
The tall soldier opened his lips and spoke. He made a gesture.
"Leave me be--don't tech me--leave me be--"
There was another silence while he waited.
Suddenly his form stiffened and straightened. Then it was shaken
by a prolonged ague. He stared into space. To the two watchers
there was a curious and profound dignity in the firm lines of
his awful face.
He was invaded by a creeping strangeness that slowly enveloped him.
For a moment the tremor of his legs caused him to dance a sort of
hideous hornpipe. His arms beat wildly about his head in expression
of implike enthusiasm.
His tall figure stretched itself to its full height. There was a
slight rending sound. Then it began to swing forward, slow and
straight, in the manner of a falling tree. A swift muscular
contortion made the left shoulder strike the ground first.
The body seemed to bounce a little way from the earth. "God!"
said the tattered soldier.
The youth had watched, spellbound, this ceremony at the place of
meeting. His face had been twisted into an expression of every
agony he had imagined for his friend.
He now sprang to his feet and, going closer, gazed upon the
pastelike face. The mouth was open and the teeth showed in a laugh.
As the flap of the blue jacket fell away from the body, he could
see that the side looked as if it had been chewed by wolves.
The youth turned, with sudden, livid rage, toward the battlefield.
He shook his fist. He seemed about to deliver a philippic.
The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.
The tattered man stood musing.
"Well, he was a reg'lar jim-dandy fer nerve, wa'n't he," said he
finally in a little awestruck voice. "A reg'lar jim-dandy."
He thoughtfully poked one of the docile hands with his foot.
"I wonner where he got 'is stren'th from? I never seen a man
do like that before. It was a funny thing. Well, he was a
The youth desired to screech out his grief. He was stabbed, but
his tongue lay dead in the tomb of his mouth. He threw himself
again upon the ground and began to brood.
The tattered man stood musing.
"Look-a-here, pardner," he said, after a time. He regarded the
corpse as he spoke. "He 's up an' gone, ain't 'e, an' we might
as well begin t' look out fer ol' number one. This here thing is
all over. He 's up an' gone, ain't 'e? An' he 's all right here.
Nobody won't bother 'im. An' I must say I ain't enjoying any great
health m'self these days."
The youth, awakened by the tattered soldier's tone, looked quickly up.
He saw that he was swinging uncertainly on his legs and that his face
had turned to a shade of blue.
"Good Lord!" he cried, "you ain't goin' t'--not you, too."
The tattered man waved his hand. "Nary die," he said.
"All I want is some pea soup an' a good bed. Some pea soup,"
he repeated dreamfully.
The youth arose from the ground. "I wonder where he came from.
I left him over there." He pointed. "And now I find 'im here.
And he was coming from over there, too." He indicated a new direction.
They both turned toward the body as if to ask of it a question.
"Well," at length spoke the tattered man, "there ain't no use in
our stayin' here an' tryin' t' ask him anything."
The youth nodded an assent wearily. They both turned to gaze
for a moment at the corpse.
The youth murmured something.
"Well, he was a jim-dandy, wa'n't 'e?" said the tattered man as
if in response.
They turned their backs upon it and started away. For a time
they stole softly, treading with their toes. It remained
laughing there in the grass.
"I'm commencin' t' feel pretty bad," said the tattered man,
suddenly breaking one of his little silences. "I'm commencin' t'
feel pretty damn' bad."
The youth groaned. "Oh Lord!" He wondered if he was to be the
tortured witness of another grim encounter.
But his companion waved his hand reassuringly. "Oh, I'm not goin'
t' die yit! There too much dependin' on me fer me t' die yit.
No, sir! Nary die! I CAN'T! Ye'd oughta see th' swad a'
chil'ren I've got, an' all like that."
The youth glancing at his companion could see by the
shadow of a smile that he was making some kind of fun.
As the plodded on the tattered soldier continued to talk.
"Besides, if I died, I wouldn't die th' way that feller did.
That was th' funniest thing. I'd jest flop down, I would.
I never seen a feller die th' way that feller did.
"Yeh know Tom Jamison, he lives next door t' me up home.
He's a nice feller, he is, an' we was allus good friends.
Smart, too. Smart as a steel trap. Well, when we was a-fightin'
this atternoon, all-of-a-sudden he begin t' rip up an' cuss an'
beller at me. 'Yer shot, yeh blamed infernal!'--he swear
horrible--he ses t' me. I put up m' hand t' m' head an' when I
looked at m' fingers, I seen, sure 'nough, I was shot. I give a
holler an' begin t' run, but b'fore I could git away another one
hit me in th' arm an' whirl' me clean 'round. I got skeared when
they was all a-shootin' b'hind me an' I run t' beat all, but I
cotch it pretty bad. I've an idee I'd a been fightin' yit,
if t'was n't fer Tom Jamison."
Then he made a calm announcement: "There's two of 'em--little
ones--but they 're beginnin' t' have fun with me now. I don't
b'lieve I kin walk much furder."
They went slowly on in silence. "Yeh look pretty peek'ed yerself,"
said the tattered man at last. "I bet yeh 've got a worser one
than yeh think. Ye'd better take keer of yer hurt. It don't do
t' let sech things go. It might be inside mostly, an' them
plays thunder. Where is it located?" But he continued his
harangue without waiting for a reply. "I see a feller git hit
plum in th' head when my reg'ment was a-standin' at ease onct.
An' everybody yelled to 'im: 'Hurt, John? Are yeh hurt much?'
'No,' ses he. He looked kinder surprised, an' he went on
tellin' 'em how he felt. He sed he didn't feel nothin'.
But, by dad, th' first thing that feller knowed he was dead.
Yes, he was dead--stone dead. So, yeh wanta watch out.
Yeh might have some queer kind 'a hurt yerself. Yeh can't
never tell. Where is your'n located?"
The youth had been wriggling since the introduction of this topic.
He now gave a cry of exasperation and made a furious motion with
his hand. "Oh, don't bother me!" he said. He was enraged against
the tattered man, and could have strangled him. His companions
seemed ever to play intolerable parts. They were ever upraising
the ghost of shame on the stick of their curiosity. He turned
toward the tattered man as one at bay. "Now, don't bother me,"
he repeated with desperate menace.
"Well, Lord knows I don't wanta bother anybody," said the other.
There was a little accent of despair in his voice as he replied,
"Lord knows I 've gota 'nough m' own t' tend to."
The youth, who had been holding a bitter debate with himself and
casting glances of hatred and contempt at the tattered man, here
spoke in a hard voice. "Good-by," he said.
The tattered man looked at him in gaping amazement. "Why--why,
pardner, where yeh goin'?" he asked unsteadily. The youth looking
at him, could see that he, too, like that other one, was beginning
to act dumb and animal-like. His thoughts seemed to be floundering
about in his head. "Now--now--look--a--here, you Tom Jamison--now--
I won't have this--this here won't do. Where--where yeh goin'?"
The youth pointed vaguely. "Over there," he replied.
"Well, now look--a--here--now," said the tattered man,
rambling on in idiot fashion. His head was hanging forward and
his words were slurred. "This thing won't do, now, Tom Jamison.
It won't do. I know yeh, yeh pig-headed devil. Yeh wanta go
trompin' off with a bad hurt. It ain't right--now--Tom Jamison
--it ain't. Yeh wanta leave me take keer of yeh, Tom Jamison.
It ain't--right--it ain't--fer yeh t' go--trompin' off--with
a bad hurt--it ain't--ain't--ain't right--it ain't."
In reply the youth climbed a fence and started away.
He could hear the tattered man bleating plaintively.
Once he faced about angrily. "What?"
"Look--a--here, now, Tom Jamison--now--it ain't--"
The youth went on. Turning at a distance he saw the tattered man
wandering about helplessly in the field.
He now thought that he wished he was dead. He believed he envied
those men whose bodies lay strewn over the grass of the fields
and on the fallen leaves of the forest.
The simple questions of the tattered man had been knife thrusts
to him. They asserted a society that probes pitilessly at
secrets until all is apparent. His late companion's chance
persistency made him feel that he could not keep his crime
concealed in his bosom. It was sure to be brought plain by one
of those arrows which cloud the air and are constantly pricking,
discovering, proclaiming those things which are willed to be
forever hidden. He admitted that he could not defend himself
against this agency. It was not within the power of vigilance.
He became aware that the furnace roar of the battle was growing louder.
Great blown clouds had floated to the still heights of air before him.
The noise, too, was approaching. The woods filtered men and the fields
As he rounded a hillock, he perceived that the roadway was now a
crying mass of wagons, teams, and men. From the heaving tangle
issued exhortations, commands, imprecations. Fear was sweeping
it all along. The cracking whips bit and horses plunged and tugged.
The white-topped wagons strained and stumbled in their exertions
like fat sheep.
The youth felt comforted in a measure by this sight. They were
all retreating. Perhaps, then, he was not so bad after all.
He seated himself and watched the terror-stricken wagons.
They fled like soft, ungainly animals. All the roarers and
lashers served to help him to magnify the dangers and horrors
of the engagement that he might try to prove to himself that the
thing with which men could charge him was in truth a symmetrical act.
There was an amount of pleasure to him in watching the wild march of
Presently the calm head of a forward-going column of infantry
appeared in the road. It came swiftly on. Avoiding the
obstructions gave it the sinuous movement of a serpent.
The men at the head butted mules with their musket stocks.
They prodded teamsters indifferent to all howls. The men
forced their way through parts of the dense mass by strength.
The blunt head of the column pushed. The raving teamsters
swore many strange oaths.
The commands to make way had the ring of a great importance in them.
The men were going forward to the heart of the din. They were to
confront the eager rush of the enemy. They felt the pride of their
onward movement when the remainder of the army seemed trying to
dribble down this road. They tumbled teams about with a fine
feeling that it was no matter so long as their column got to the
front in time. This importance made their faces grave and stern.
And the backs of the officers were very rigid.
As the youth looked at them the black weight of his woe returned
to him. He felt that he was regarding a procession of chosen beings.
The separation was as great to him as if they had marched with weapons
of flame and banners of sunlight. He could never be like them.
He could have wept in his longings.
He searched about in his mind for an adequate malediction for the
indefinite cause, the thing upon which men turn the words of
final blame. It--whatever it was--was responsible for him,
he said. There lay the fault.
The haste of the column to reach the battle seemed to the forlorn
young man to be something much finer than stout fighting.
Heroes, he thought, could find excuses in that long seething lane.
They could retire with perfect self-respect and make excuses to the stars.
He wondered what those men had eaten that they could be in such
haste to force their way to grim chances of death. As he watched
his envy grew until he thought that he wished to change lives with
one of them. He would have liked to have used a tremendous force,
he said, throw off himself and become a better. Swift pictures
of himself, apart, yet in himself, came to him--a blue desperate
figure leading lurid charges with one knee forward and a broken
blade high--a blue, determined figure standing before a crimson
and steel assault, getting calmly killed on a high place before
the eyes of all. He thought of the magnificent pathos of his
These thoughts uplifted him. He felt the quiver of war desire.
In his ears, he heard the ring of victory. He knew the frenzy
of a rapid successful charge. The music of the trampling feet,
the sharp voices, the clanking arms of the column near him made
him soar on the red wings of war. For a few moments he was sublime.
He thought that he was about to start for the front. Indeed, he
saw a picture of himself, dust-stained, haggard, panting, flying
to the front at the proper moment to seize and throttle the dark,
leering witch of calamity.
Then the difficulties of the thing began to drag at him.
He hesitated, balancing awkwardly on one foot.
He had no rifle; he could not fight with his hands,
said he resentfully to his plan. Well, rifles could
be had for the picking. They were extraordinarily profuse.
Also, he continued, it would be a miracle if he found his regiment.
Well, he could fight with any regiment.
He started forward slowly. He stepped as if he expected to tread
upon some explosive thing. Doubts and he were struggling.
He would truly be a worm if any of his comrades should see him
returning thus, the marks of his flight upon him. There was a
reply that the intent fighters did not care for what happened
rearward saving that no hostile bayonets appeared there.
In the battle-blur his face would, in a way, be hidden,
like the face of a cowled man.
But then he said that his tireless fate would bring forth,
when the strife lulled for a moment, a man to ask of him
an explanation. In imagination he felt the scrutiny of
his companions as he painfully labored through some lies.
Eventually, his courage expended itself upon these objections.
The debates drained him of his fire.
He was not cast down by this defeat of his plan, for,
upon studying the affair carefully, he could not but
admit that the objections were very formidable.
Furthermore, various ailments had begun to cry out. In their
presence he could not persist in flying high with the wings of war;
they rendered it almost impossible for him to see himself in a
heroic light. He tumbled headlong.
He discovered that he had a scorching thirst. His face was so
dry and grimy that he thought he could feel his skin crackle.
Each bone of his body had an ache in it, and seemingly threatened
to break with each movement. His feet were like two sores.
Also, his body was calling for food. It was more powerful than
a direct hunger. There was a dull, weight-like feeling in
his stomach, and, when he tried to walk, his head swayed and
he tottered. He could not see with distinctness. Small patches
of green mist floated before his vision.
While he had been tossed by many emotions, he had not been
aware of ailments. Now the beset him and made clamor. As he
was at last compelled to pay attention to them, his capacity for
self-hate was multiplied. In despair, he declared that he was
not like those others. He now conceded it to be impossible that
he should ever become a hero. He was a craven loon. Those pictures
of glory were piteous things. He groaned from his heart and went
A certain mothlike quality within him kept him in the vicinity
of the battle. He had a great desire to see, and to get news.
He wished to know who was winning.
He told himself that, despite his unprecedented suffering,
he had never lost his greed for a victory, yet, he said, in a
half-apologetic manner to his conscience, he could not but know
that a defeat for the army this time might mean many favorable
things for him. The blows of the enemy would splinter regiments
into fragments. Thus, many men of courage, he considered,
would be obliged to desert the colors and scurry like chickens.
He would appear as one of them. They would be sullen brothers
in distress, and he could then easily believe he had not run any
farther or faster than they. And if he himself could believe in
his virtuous perfection, he conceived that there would be small
trouble in convincing all others.
He said, as if in excuse for this hope, that previously the army
had encountered great defeats and in a few months had shaken off
all blood and tradition of them, emerging as bright and valiant
as a new one; thrusting out of sight the memory of disaster,
and appearing with the valor and confidence of unconquered legions.
The shrilling voices of the people at home would pipe dismally
for a time, but various general were usually compelled to listen
to these ditties. He of course felt no compunctions for
proposing a general as a sacrifice. He could not tell who
the chosen for the barbs might be, so he could center no direct
sympathy upon him. The people were afar and he did not conceive
public opinion to be accurate at long range. It was quite probable
they would hit the wrong man who, after he had recovered from his
amazement would perhaps spend the rest of his days in writing replies
to the songs of his alleged failure. It would be very unfortunate,
no doubt, but in this case a general was of no consequence to the youth.
In a defeat there would be a roundabout vindication of himself.
He thought it would prove, in a manner, that he had fled early
because of his superior powers of perception. A serious prophet
upon predicting a flood should be the first man to climb a tree.
This would demonstrate that he was indeed a seer.
A moral vindication was regarded by the youth as a very important
thing. Without salve, he could not, he though, were the sore badge
of his dishonor through life. With his heart continually assuring
him that he was despicable, he could not exist without making it,
through his actions, apparent to all men.
If the army had gone gloriously on he would be lost. If the
din meant that now his army's flags were tilted forward he was a
condemned wretch. He would be compelled to doom himself to isolation.
If the men were advancing, their indifferent feet were trampling upon
his chances for a successful life.
As these thoughts went rapidly through his mind, he turned upon them
and tried to thrust them away. He denounced himself as a villain.
He said that he was the most unutterably selfish man in existence.
His mind pictured the soldiers who would place their defiant bodies
before the spear of the yelling battle fiend, and as he saw their
dripping corpses on an imagined field, he said that he was their murderer.
Again he thought that he wished he was dead. He believed that he
envied a corpse. Thinking of the slain, he achieved a great
contempt for some of them, as if they were guilty for thus
becoming lifeless. They might have been killed by lucky chances,
he said, before they had had opportunities to flee or before
they had been really tested. Yet they would receive laurels
from tradition. He cried out bitterly that their crowns were
stolen and their robes of glorious memories were shams. However,
he still said that it was a great pity he was not as they.
A defeat of the army had suggested itself to him as a means of
escape from the consequences of his fall. He considered, now,
however, that it was useless to think of such a possibility.
His education had been that success for that might blue machine
was certain; that it would make victories as a contrivance turns
out buttons. He presently discarded all his speculations in the
other direction. He returned to the creed of soldiers.
When he perceived again that it was not possible for the army to
be defeated, he tried to bethink him of a fine tale which he
could take back to his regiment, and with it turn the expected
shafts of derision.
But, as he mortally feared these shafts, it became impossible for
him to invent a tale he felt he could trust. He experimented
with many schemes, but threw them aside one by one as flimsy.
He was quick to see vulnerable places in them all.
Furthermore, he was much afraid that some arrow of scorn might
lay him mentally low before he could raise his protecting tale.
He imagined the whole regiment saying: "Where's Henry Fleming?
He run, didn't 'e? Oh, my!" He recalled various persons who
would be quite sure to leave him no peace about it. They would
doubtless question him with sneers, and laugh at his stammering
hesitation. In the next engagement they would try to keep watch
of him to discover when he would run.
Wherever he went in camp, he would encounter insolent and
lingeringly cruel stares. As he imagined himself passing near
a crowd of comrades, he could hear one say, "There he goes!"
Then, as if the heads were moved by one muscle, all the faces
were turned toward him with wide, derisive grins. He seemed to
hear some one make a humorous remark in a low tone. At it the
others all crowed and cackled. He was a slang phrase.
The column that had butted stoutly at the obstacles in the
roadway was barely out of the youth's sight before he saw dark
waves of men come sweeping out of the woods and down through the
fields. He knew at once that the steel fibers had been washed
from their hearts. They were bursting from their coats and their
equipments as from entanglements. They charged down upon him
like terrified buffaloes.
Behind them blue smoke curled and clouded above the treetops,
and through the thickets he could sometimes see a distant pink glare.
The voices of the cannon were clamoring in interminable chorus.
The youth was horrorstricken. He stared in agony and amazement.
He forgot that he was engaged in combating the universe.
He threw aside his mental pamphlets on the philosophy of
the retreated and rules for the guidance of the damned.
The fight was lost. The dragons were coming with invincible strides.
The army, helpless in the matted thickets and blinded by the
overhanging night, was going to be swallowed. War, the red animal,
war, the blood-swollen god, would have bloated fill.
Within him something bade to cry out. He had the impulse to make
a rallying speech, to sing a battle hymn, but he could only get his
tongue to call into the air: "Why--why--what--what 's th' matter?"
Soon he was in the midst of them. They were leaping and scampering
all about him. Their blanched faces shone in the dusk. They seemed,
for the most part, to be very burly men. The youth turned from
one to another of them as they galloped along. His incoherent
questions were lost. They were heedless of his appeals.
They did not seem to see him.
They sometimes gabbled insanely. One huge man was asking of the sky:
"Say, where de plank road? Where de plank road!" It was as if he
had lost a child. He wept in his pain and dismay.
Presently, men were running hither and thither in all ways.
The artillery booming, forward, rearward, and on the flanks
made jumble of ideas of direction. Landmarks had vanished into
the gathered gloom. The youth began to imagine that he had got
into the center of the tremendous quarrel, and he could perceive
no way out of it. From the mouths of the fleeing men came a
thousand wild questions, but no one made answers.
The youth, after rushing about and throwing interrogations at the
heedless bands of retreating infantry, finally clutched a man by
the arm. They swung around face to face.
"Why--why--" stammered the youth struggling with his balking tongue.
The man screamed: "Let go me! Let go me!" His face was livid and
his eyes were rolling uncontrolled. He was heaving and panting.
He still grasped his rifle, perhaps having forgotten to release
his hold upon it. He tugged frantically, and the youth being
compelled to lean forward was dragged several paces.
"Let go me! Let go me!"
"Why--why--" stuttered the youth.
"Well, then!" bawled the man in a lurid rage. He adroitly and
fiercely swung his rifle. It crushed upon the youth's head.
The man ran on.
The youth's fingers had turned to paste upon the other's arm.
The energy was smitten from his muscles. He saw the flaming
wings of lightning flash before his vision. There was a
deafening rumble of thunder within his head.
Suddenly his legs seemed to die. He sank writhing to the ground.
He tried to arise. In his efforts against the numbing pain he
was like a man wrestling with a creature of the air.
There was a sinister struggle.
Sometimes he would achieve a position half erect, battle with
the air for a moment, and then fall again, grabbing at the grass.
His face was of a clammy pallor. Deep groans were wrenched from him.
At last, with a twisting movement, he got upon his hands and
knees, and from thence, like a babe trying to walk, to his feet.
Pressing his hands to his temples he went lurching over the grass.
He fought an intense battle with his body. His dulled senses
wished him to swoon and he opposed them stubbornly, his mind
portraying unknown dangers and mutilations if he should fall
upon the field. He went tall soldier fashion. He imagined
secluded spots where he could fall and be unmolested. To search
for one he strove against the tide of pain.
Once he put his hand to the top of his head and timidly touched
the wound. The scratching pain of the contact made him draw a
long breath through his clinched teeth. His fingers were dabbled
with blood. He regarded them with a fixed stare.
Around him he could hear the grumble of jolted cannon as the
scurrying horses were lashed toward the front. Once, a young
officer on a besplashed charger nearly ran him down. He turned
and watched the mass of guns, men, and horses sweeping in a wide
curve toward a gap in a fence. The officer was making excited
motions with a gauntleted hand. The guns followed the teams with
an air of unwillingness, of being dragged by the heels.
Some officers of the scattered infantry were cursing and railing
like fishwives. Their scolding voices could be heard above the din.
Into the unspeakable jumble in the roadway rode a squadron of cavalry.
The faded yellow of their facings shone bravely. There was a mighty
The artillery were assembling as if for a conference.
The blue haze of evening was upon the field. The lines of forest
were long purple shadows. One cloud lay along the western sky
partly smothering the red.
As the youth left the scene behind him, he heard the guns
suddenly roar out. He imagined them shaking in black rage.
They belched and howled like brass devils guarding a gate.
The soft air was filled with the tremendous remonstrance.
With it came the shattering peal of opposing infantry.
Turning to look behind him, he could see sheets of orange
light illumine the shadowy distance. There were subtle
and sudden lightnings in the far air. At times he thought
he could see heaving masses of men.
He hurried on in the dusk. The day had faded until he could barely
distinguish place for his feet. The purple darkness was filled with
men who lectured and jabbered. Sometimes he could see them
gesticulating against the blue and somber sky. There seemed
to be a great ruck of men and munitions spread about in the
forest and in the fields.
The little narrow roadway now lay lifeless. There were overturned
wagons like sun-dried bowlders. The bed of the former torrent was
choked with the bodies of horses and splintered parts of war machines.
It had come to pass that his wound pained him but little. He was
afraid to move rapidly, however, for a dread of disturbing it.
He held his head very still and took many precautions against
stumbling. He was filled with anxiety, and his face was pinched
and drawn in anticipation of the pain of any sudden mistake of
his feet in the gloom.
His thoughts, as he walked, fixed intently upon his hurt.
There was a cool, liquid feeling about it and he imagined blood
moving slowly down under his hair. His head seemed swollen
to a size that made him think his neck to be inadequate.
The new silence of his wound made much worriment. The little
blistering voices of pain that had called out from his scalp were,
he thought, definite in their expression of danger. By them he
believed he could measure his plight. But when they remained
ominously silent he became frightened and imagined terrible
fingers that clutched into his brain.
Amid it he began to reflect upon various incidents and conditions
of the past. He bethought him of certain meals his mother had
cooked at home, in which those dishes of which he was particularly
fond had occupied prominent positions. He saw the spread table.
The pine walls of the kitchen were glowing in the warm light
from the stove. Too, he remembered how he and his companions
used to go from the school-house to the bank of a shaded pool.
He saw his clothes in disorderly array upon the grass of the bank.
He felt the swash of the fragrant water upon his body. The leaves of
the overhanging maple rustled with melody in the wind of youthful summer.
He was overcome presently by a dragging weariness. His head hung
forward and his shoulders were stooped as if he were bearing a
great bundle. His feet shuffled along the ground.
He held continuous arguments as to whether he should lie down and
sleep at some near spot, or force himself on until he reached a
certain haven. He often tried to dismiss the question, but his
body persisted in rebellion and his senses nagged at him like
At last he heard a cheery voice near his shoulder:
"Yeh seem t' be in a pretty bad way, boy?"
The youth did not look up, but he assented with thick tongue. "Uh!"
The owner of the cheery voice took him firmly by the arm.
"Well," he said, with a round laugh, "I'm goin' your way.
"Th' hull gang is goin' your way. An' I guess I kin give yeh
a lift." They began to walk like a drunken man and his friend.
As they went along, the man questioned the youth and assisted
him with the replies like one manipulating the mind of a child.
Sometimes he interjected anecdotes. "What reg'ment do yeh b'long
teh? Eh? What 's that? Th' 304th N' York? Why, what corps is
that in? Oh, it is? Why, I thought they wasn't engaged t'-day -
they 're 'way over in th' center. Oh, they was, eh? Well pretty
nearly everybody got their share 'a fightin' t'-day. By dad, I
give myself up fer dead any number 'a times. There was shootin'
here an' shootin' there, an' hollerin' here an' hollerin' there,
in th' damn' darkness, until I couldn't tell t' save m' soul
which side I was on. Sometimes I thought I was sure 'nough from
Ohier, an' other times I could 'a swore I was from th' bitter
end of Florida. It was th' most mixed up dern thing I ever see.
An' these here hull woods is a reg'lar mess. It 'll be a miracle
if we find our reg'ments t'-night. Pretty soon, though, we 'll meet
a-plenty of guards an' provost-guards, an' one thing an' another. Ho!
there they go with an off'cer, I guess. Look at his hand a-draggin'.
He 's got all th' war he wants, I bet. He won't be talkin' so big
about his reputation an' all when they go t' sawin' off his leg.
Poor feller! My brother 's got whiskers jest like that. How did yeh
git 'way over here, anyhow? Your reg'ment is a long way from here,
ain't it? Well, I guess we can find it. Yeh know there was a boy
killed in my comp'ny t'-day that I thought th' world an' all of.
Jack was a nice feller. By ginger, it hurt like thunder t' see ol'
Jack jest git knocked flat. We was a-standin' purty peaceable
fer a spell, 'though there was men runnin' ev'ry way all 'round us,
an' while we was a-standin' like that, 'long come a big fat feller.
He began t' peck at Jack's elbow, an' he ses: 'Say, where 's th'
road t' th' river?' An' Jack, he never paid no attention, an' th'
feller kept on a-peckin' at his elbow an' sayin': 'Say, where 's
th' road t' th' river?' Jack was a-lookin' ahead all th' time tryin'
t' see th' Johnnies comin' through th' woods, an' he never paid no
attention t' this big fat feller fer a long time, but at last he turned
'round an' he ses: 'Ah, go t' hell an' find th' road t' th' river!'
An' jest then a shot slapped him bang on th' side th' head.
He was a sergeant, too. Them was his last words. Thunder,
I wish we was sure 'a findin' our reg'ments t'-night.
It 's goin' t' be long huntin'. But I guess we kin do it."
In the search which followed, the man of the cheery voice seemed
to the youth to possess a wand of a magic kind. He threaded the
mazes of the tangled forest with a strange fortune. In encounters
with guards and patrols he displayed the keenness of a detective
and the valor of a gamin. Obstacles fell before him and became
of assistance. The youth, with his chin still on his breast,
stood woodenly by while his companion beat ways and means out
of sullen things.
The forest seemed a vast hive of men buzzing about in frantic circles,
but the cheery man conducted the youth without mistakes, until at last
he began to chuckle with glee and self-satisfaction. "Ah, there yeh are!
See that fire?"
The youth nodded stupidly.
"Well, there 's where your reg'ment is. An' now, good-by, ol' boy,
good luck t' yeh."
A warm and strong hand clasped the youth's languid fingers for an instant,
and then he heard a cheerful and audacious whistling as the man strode away.
As he who had so befriended him was thus passing out of his life,
it suddenly occurred to the youth that he had not once seen his face.
The youth went slowly toward the fire indicated by his departed friend.
As he reeled, he bethought him of the welcome his comrades would give him.
He had a conviction that he would soon feel in his sore heart the barbed
missiles of ridicule. He had no strength to invent a tale; he would be
a soft target.
He made vague plans to go off into the deeper darkness and hide,
but they were all destroyed by the voices of exhaustion and pain
from his body. His ailments, clamoring, forced him to seek the
place of food and rest, at whatever cost.
He swung unsteadily toward the fire. He could see the forms
of men throwing black shadows in the red light, and as he went
nearer it became known to him in some way that the ground was
strewn with sleeping men.
Of a sudden he confronted a black and monstrous figure. A rifle
barrel caught some glinting beams. "Halt! halt!" He was dismayed
for a moment, but he presently thought that he recognized the
nervous voice. As he stood tottering before the rifle barrel,
he called out: "Why, hello, Wilson, you--you here?"
The rifle was lowered to a position of caution and the loud
soldier came slowly forward. He peered into the youth's face.
"That you, Henry?"
"Yes, it's--it's me."
"Well, well, ol' boy," said the other, "by ginger, I'm glad t'
see yeh! I give yeh up fer a goner. I thought yeh was dead
sure enough." There was husky emotion in his voice.
The youth found that now he could barely stand upon his feet.
There was a sudden sinking of his forces. He thought he must
hasten to produce his tale to protect him from the missiles
already on the lips of his redoubtable comrades. So, staggering
before the loud soldier, he began: "Yes, yes. I've--I've had
an awful time. I've been all over. Way over on th' right.
Ter'ble fightin' over there. I had an awful time. I got
separated from the reg'ment. Over on th' right, I got shot.
In th' head. I never see sech fightin'. Awful time. I don't see
how I could a' got separated from th' reg'ment. I got shot, too."
His friend had stepped forward quickly. "What? Got shot?
Why didn't yeh say so first? Poor ol' boy, we must--hol' on
a minnit; what am I doin'. I'll call Simpson."
Another figure at that moment loomed in the gloom. They could
see that it was the corporal. "Who yeh talkin' to, Wilson?"
he demanded. His voice was anger- toned. "Who yeh talkin' to?
Yeh th' derndest sentinel--why--hello, Henry, you here? Why, I
thought you was dead four hours ago! Great Jerusalem, they keep
turnin' up every ten minutes or so! We thought we'd lost
forty-two men by straight count, but if they keep on a-comin'
this way, we'll git th' comp'ny all back by mornin' yit.
Where was yeh?"
"Over on th' right. I got separated"--began the youth with
But his friend had interrupted hastily. "Yes, an' he got shot in
th' head an' he's in a fix, an' we must see t' him right away."
He rested his rifle in the hollow of his left arm and his right
around the youth's shoulder.
"Gee, it must hurt like thunder!" he said.
The youth leaned heavily upon his friend. "Yes, it hurts--hurts
a good deal," he replied. There was a faltering in his voice.
"Oh," said the corporal. He linked his arm in the youth's and
drew him forward. "Come on, Henry. I'll take keer 'a yeh."
As they went on together the loud private called out after them:
"Put 'im t' sleep in my blanket, Simpson. An'--hol' on a minnit
--here's my canteen. It's full 'a coffee. Look at his head by
th' fire an' see how it looks. Maybe it's a pretty bad un. When I
git relieved in a couple 'a minnits, I'll be over an' see t' him."
The youth's senses were so deadened that his friend's voice sounded
from afar and he could scarcely feel the pressure of the corporal's arm.
He submitted passively to the latter's directing strength.
His head was in the old manner hanging forward upon his breast.
His knees wobbled.
The corporal led him into the glare of the fire. "Now, Henry,"
he said, "let's have look at yer ol' head."
The youth sat obediently and the corporal, laying aside his rifle,
began to fumble in the bushy hair of his comrade. He was obliged
to turn the other's head so that the full flush of the fire light
would beam upon it. He puckered his mouth with a critical air.
He drew back his lips and whistled through his teeth when his
fingers came in contact with the splashed blood and the rare wound.
"Ah, here we are!" he said. He awkwardly made further investigations.
"Jest as I thought," he added, presently. "Yeh've been grazed by a ball.
It's raised a queer lump jest as if some feller had lammed yeh on th'
head with a club. It stopped a-bleedin' long time ago. Th' most about
it is that in th' mornin' yeh'll fell that a number ten hat wouldn't
fit yeh. An' your head'll be all het up an' feel as dry as burnt pork.
An' yeh may git a lot 'a other sicknesses, too, by mornin'. Yeh can't
never tell. Still, I don't much think so. It's jest a damn' good belt
on th' head, an' nothin' more. Now, you jest sit here an' don't move,
while I go rout out th' relief. Then I'll send Wilson t' take keer 'a yeh."
The corporal went away. The youth remained on the ground like a parcel.
He stared with a vacant look into the fire.
After a time he aroused, for some part, and the things about him
began to take form. He saw that the ground in the deep shadows
was cluttered with men, sprawling in every conceivable posture.
Glancing narrowly into the more distant darkness, he caught
occasional glimpses of visages that loomed pallid and ghostly,
lit with a phosphorescent glow. These faces expressed in their
lines the deep stupor of the tired soldiers. They made them
appear like men drunk with wine. This bit of forest might
have appeared to an ethereal wanderer as a scene of the
result of some frightful debauch.
On the other side of the fire the youth observed an officer asleep,
seated bolt upright, with his back against a tree. There was
something perilous in his position. Badgered by dreams,
perhaps, he swayed with little bounces and starts, like an old,
toddy-stricken grandfather in a chimney corner. Dust and stains
were upon his face. His lower jaw hung down as if lacking strength
to assume its normal position. He was the picture of an exhausted
soldier after a feast of war.
He had evidently gone to sleep with his sword in his arms.
These two had slumbered in an embrace, but the weapon had been
allowed in time to fall unheeded to the ground. The brass-mounted
hilt lay in contact with some parts of the fire.
Within the gleam of rose and orange light from the burning
sticks were other soldiers, snoring and heaving, or lying
deathlike in slumber. A few pairs of legs were stuck forth,
rigid and straight. The shoes displayed the mud or dust of marches
and bits of rounded trousers, protruding from the blankets, showed
rents and tears from hurried pitchings through the dense brambles.
The fire cackled musically. From it swelled light smoke.
Overhead the foliage moved softly. The leaves, with their faces
turned toward the blaze, were colored shifting hues of silver,
often edged with red. Far off to the right, through a window
in the forest could be seen a handful of stars lying,
like glittering pebbles, on the black level of the night.
Occasionally, in this low-arched hall, a soldier would arouse and
turn his body to a new position, the experience of his sleep
having taught him of uneven and objectionable places upon the
ground under him. Or, perhaps, he would lift himself to a
sitting posture, blink at the fire for an unintelligent moment,
throw a swift glance at his prostrate companion, and then cuddle
down again with a grunt of sleepy content.
The youth sat in a forlorn heap until his friend the loud young
soldier came, swinging two canteens by their light strings.
"Well, now, Henry, ol' boy," said the latter, "we'll have yeh
fixed up in jest about a minnit."
He had the bustling ways of an amateur nurse. He fussed around
the fire and stirred the sticks to brilliant exertions. He made
his patient drink largely from the canteen that contained the coffee.
It was to the youth a delicious draught. He tilted his head afar
back and held the canteen long to his lips. The cool mixture went
caressingly down his blistered throat. Having finished, he sighed
with comfortable delight.
The loud young soldier watched his comrade with an air of
satisfaction. He later produced an extensive handkerchief from
his pocket. He folded it into a manner of bandage and soused
water from the other canteen upon the middle of it. This crude
arrangement he bound over the youth's head, tying the ends in a
queer knot at the back of the neck.
"There," he said, moving off and surveying his deed, "yeh look
like th' devil, but I bet yeh feel better."
The youth contemplated his friend with grateful eyes. Upon his aching
and swelling head the cold cloth was like a tender woman's hand.
"Yeh don't holler ner say nothin'," remarked his friend approvingly.
"I know I'm a blacksmith at takin' keer 'a sick folks, an' yeh
never squeaked. Yer a good un, Henry. Most 'a men would a' been
in th' hospital long ago. A shot in th' head ain't foolin' business."
The youth made no reply, but began to fumble with the buttons of
"Well, come, now," continued his friend, "come on. I must put
yeh t' bed an' see that yeh git a good night's rest."
The other got carefully erect, and the loud young soldier led him
among the sleeping forms lying in groups and rows. Presently he
stooped and picked up his blankets. He spread the rubber one upon
the ground and placed the woolen one about the youth's shoulders.
"There now," he said, "lie down an' git some sleep."
The youth, with his manner of doglike obedience, got carefully
down like a crone stooping. He stretched out with a murmur of
relief and comfort. The ground felt like the softest couch.
But of a sudden he ejaculated: "Hol' on a minnit! Where you
goin' t' sleep?"
His friend waved his hand impatiently. "Right down there by yeh."
"Well, but hol' on a minnit," continued the youth. "What yeh
goin' t' sleep in? I've got your--"
The loud young soldier snarled: "Shet up an' go on t' sleep.
Don't be makin' a damn' fool 'a yerself," he said severely.
After the reproof the youth said no more. An exquisite
drowsiness had spread through him. The warm comfort of the
blanket enveloped him and made a gentle langour. His head fell
forward on his crooked arm and his weighted lids went softly down
over his eyes. Hearing a splatter of musketry from the distance,
he wondered indifferently if those men sometimes slept. He gave
a long sigh, snuggled down into his blanket, and in a moment was
like his comrades.
When the youth awoke it seemed to him that he had been asleep for
a thousand years, and he felt sure that he opened his eyes upon an
unexpected world. Gray mists were slowly shifting before the
first efforts of the sun rays. An impending splendor could be
seen in the eastern sky. An icy dew had chilled his face,
and immediately upon arousing he curled farther down into
his blanket. He stared for a while at the leaves overhead,
moving in a heraldic wind of the day.
The distance was splintering and blaring with the noise of
fighting. There was in the sound an expression of a deadly
persistency, as if it had not began and was not to cease.
About him were the rows and groups of men that he had dimly seen
the previous night. They were getting a last draught of sleep
before the awakening. The gaunt, careworn features and dusty
figures were made plain by this quaint light at the dawning,
but it dressed the skin of the men in corpse-like hues and made
the tangled limbs appear pulseless and dead. The youth started up
with a little cry when his eyes first swept over this motionless
mass of men, thick-spread upon the ground, pallid, and in
strange postures. His disordered mind interpreted the hall of
the forest as a charnel place. He believed for an instant that
he was in the house of the dead, and he did not dare to move
lest these corpses start up, squalling and squawking. In a
second, however, he achieved his proper mind. He swore a
complicated oath at himself. He saw that this somber picture
was not a fact of the present, but a mere prophecy.
He heard then the noise of a fire crackling briskly in the cold air,
and, turning his head, he saw his friend pottering busily about
a small blaze. A few other figures moved in the fog, and he heard
the hard cracking of axe blows.
Suddenly there was a hollow rumble of drums. A distant bugle
sang faintly. Similar sounds, varying in strength, came from near
and far over the forest. The bugles called to each other like
brazen gamecocks. The near thunder of the regimental drums rolled.
The body of men in the woods rustled. There was a general
uplifting of heads. A murmuring of voices broke upon the air.
In it there was much bass of grumbling oaths. Strange gods were
addressed in condemnation of the early hours necessary to
correct war. An officer's peremptory tenor rang out and
quickened the stiffened movement of the men. The tangled
limbs unraveled. The corpse-hued faces were hidden behind
fists that twisted slowly in the eye sockets.
The youth sat up and gave vent to an enormous yawn. "Thunder!"
he remarked petulantly. He rubbed his eyes, and then putting up
his hand felt carefully the bandage over his wound. His friend,
perceiving him to be awake, came from the fire. "Well, Henry,
ol' man, how do yeh feel this mornin'?" he demanded.
The youth yawned again. Then he puckered his mouth to a
little pucker. His head, in truth, felt precisely like a melon,
and there was an unpleasant sensation at his stomach.
"Oh, Lord, I feel pretty bad," he said.
"Thunder!" exclaimed the other. "I hoped ye'd feel all right
this mornin'. Let's see th' bandage--I guess it's slipped."
He began to tinker at the wound in rather a clumsy way until
the youth exploded.
"Gosh-dern it!" he said in sharp irritation; "you're the hangdest
man I ever saw! You wear muffs on your hands. Why in good
thunderation can't you be more easy? I'd rather you'd stand off
an' throw guns at it. Now, go slow, an' don't act as if you was
nailing down carpet."
He glared with insolent command at his friend, but the latter
answered soothingly. "Well, well, come now, an' git some grub,"
he said. "Then, maybe, yeh'll feel better."
At the fireside the loud young soldier watched over his comrade's
wants with tenderness and care. He was very busy marshaling the
little black vagabonds of tin cups and pouring into them the
streaming iron colored mixture from a small and sooty tin pail.
He had some fresh meat, which he roasted hurriedly on a stick.
He sat down then and contemplated the youth's appetite with glee.
The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade since
those days of camp life upon the river bank. He seemed no more
to be continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess.
He was not furious at small words that pricked his conceits.
He was no more a loud young soldier. There was about him now
a fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief in his purposes
and his abilities. And this inward confidence evidently enabled
him to be indifferent to little words of other men aimed at him.
The youth reflected. He had been used to regarding his comrade
as a blatant child with an audacity grown from his inexperience,
thoughtless, headstrong, jealous, and filled with a tinsel courage.
A swaggering babe accustomed to strut in his own dooryard.
The youth wondered where had been born these new eyes;
when his comrade had made the great discovery that there
were many men who would refuse to be subjected by him.
Apparently, the other had now climbed a peak of wisdom from which
he could perceive himself as a very wee thing. And the youth saw that
ever after it would be easier to live in his friend's neighborhood.
His comrade balanced his ebony coffee-cup on his knee.
"Well, Henry," he said, "what d'yeh think th' chances are?
D'yeh think we'll wallop 'em?"
The youth considered for a moment. "Day-b'fore-yesterday,"
he finally replied, with boldness, "you would 'a' bet you'd
lick the hull kit-an'-boodle all by yourself."
His friend looked a trifle amazed. "Would I?" he asked.
He pondered. "Well, perhaps I would," he decided at last.
He stared humbly at the fire.
The youth was quite disconcerted at this surprising reception
of his remarks. "Oh, no, you wouldn't either," he said, hastily
trying to retrace.
But the other made a deprecating gesture. "Oh, yeh needn't mind,
Henry," he said. "I believe I was a pretty big fool in those days."
He spoke as after a lapse of years.
There was a little pause.
"All th' officers say we've got th' rebs in a pretty tight box,"
said the friend, clearing his throat in a commonplace way.
"They all seem t' think we've got 'em jest where we want 'em."
"I don't know about that," the youth replied. "What I seen over on
th' right makes me think it was th' other way about. From where
I was, it looked as if we was gettin' a good poundin' yestirday."
"D'yeh think so?" inquired the friend. "I thought we handled 'em
pretty rough yestirday."
"Not a bit," said the youth. "Why, lord, man, you didn't see
nothing of the fight. Why!" Then a sudden thought came to him.
"Oh! Jim Conklin's dead."
His friend started. "What? Is he? Jim Conklin?"
The youth spoke slowly. "Yes. He's dead. Shot in th' side."
"Yeh don't say so. Jim Conklin. . .poor cuss!"
All about them were other small fires surrounded by men with
their little black utensils. From one of these near came sudden
sharp voices in a row. It appeared that two light-footed
soldiers had been teasing a huge, bearded man, causing him to
spill coffee upon his blue knees. The man had gone into a
rage and had sworn comprehensively. Stung by his language,
his tormentors had immediately bristled at him with a great show
of resenting unjust oaths. Possibly there was going to be a fight.
The friend arose and went over to them, making pacific motions
with his arms. "Oh, here, now, boys, what's th' use?" he said.
"We'll be at th' rebs in less'n an hour. What's th' good
fightin' 'mong ourselves?"
One of the light-footed soldiers turned upon him red-faced and violent.
"Yeh needn't come around here with yer preachin'. I s'pose yeh don't
approve 'a fightin' since Charley Morgan licked yeh; but I don't see
what business this here is 'a yours or anybody else."
"Well, it ain't," said the friend mildly. "Still I hate t' see--"
There was a tangled argument.
"Well, he--," said the two, indicating their opponent with
The huge soldier was quite purple with rage. He pointed at the
two soldiers with his great hand, extended clawlike. "Well, they--"
But during this argumentative time the desire to deal blows
seemed to pass, although they said much to each other. Finally
the friend returned to his old seat. In a short while the three
antagonists could be seen together in an amiable bunch.
"Jimmie Rogers ses I'll have t' fight him after th' battle t'-day,"
announced the friend as he again seated himself. "He ses he don't
allow no interferin' in his business. I hate t' see th' boys
fightin' 'mong themselves."
The youth laughed. "Yer changed a good bit. Yeh ain't at all
like yeh was. I remember when you an' that Irish feller--" He
stopped and laughed again.
"No, I didn't use t' be that way," said his friend thoughtfully.
"That's true 'nough."
"Well, I didn't mean--" began the youth.
The friend made another deprecatory gesture.
"Oh, yeh needn't mind, Henry."
There was another little pause.
"Th' reg'ment lost over half th' men yestirday," remarked the
friend eventually. "I thought 'a course they was all dead,
but, laws, they kep' a-comin' back last night until it seems,
after all, we didn't lose but a few. They'd been scattered all over,
wanderin' around in th' woods, fightin' with other reg'ments,
an' everything. Jest like you done."
"So?" said the youth.
The regiment was standing at order arms at the side of a lane,
waiting for the command to march, when suddenly the youth
remembered the little packet enwrapped in a faded yellow
envelope which the loud young soldier with lugubrious words
had intrusted to him. It made him start. He uttered an
exclamation and turned toward his comrade.
His friend, at his side in the ranks, was thoughtfully staring
down the road. From some cause his expression was at that moment
very meek. The youth, regarding him with sidelong glances,
felt impelled to change his purpose. "Oh, nothing," he said.
His friend turned his head in some surprise, "Why, what was
yeh goin' t' say?"
"Oh, nothing," repeated the youth.
He resolved not to deal the little blow. It was sufficient that
the fact made him glad. It was not necessary to knock his friend
on the head with the misguided packet.
He had been possessed of much fear of his friend, for he saw how
easily questionings could make holes in his feelings. Lately, he
had assured himself that the altered comrade would not tantalize
him with a persistent curiousity, but he felt certain that
during the first period of leisure his friend would ask him to
relate his adventures of the previous day.
He now rejoiced in the possession of a small weapon with which he
could prostrate his comrade at the first signs of a cross-examination.
He was master. It would now be he who could laugh and shoot the
shafts of derision.
The friend had, in a weak hour, spoken with sobs of his own death.
He had delivered a melancholy oration previous to his funeral,
and had doubtless in the packet of letters, presented various
keepsakes to relatives. But he had not died, and thus he had
delivered himself into the hands of the youth.
The latter felt immensely superior to his friend, but he inclined
to condescension. He adopted toward him an air of patronizing good humor.
His self-pride was now entirely restored. In the shade of its
flourishing growth he stood with braced and self-confident legs,
and since nothing could now be discovered he did not shrink from
an encounter with the eyes of judges, and allowed no thoughts
of his own to keep him from an attitude of manfulness. He had
performed his mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man.
Indeed, when he remembered his fortunes of yesterday, and looked
at them from a distance he began to see something fine there.
He had license to be pompous and veteranlike.
His panting agonies of the past he put out of his sight.
In the present, he declared to himself that it was only the
doomed and the damned who roared with sincerity at circumstance.
Few but they ever did it. A man with a full stomach and the
respect of his fellows had no business to scold about anything
that he might think to be wrong in the ways of the universe,
or even with the ways of society. Let the unfortunates rail;
the others may play marbles.
He did not give a great deal of thought to these battles that lay
directly before him. It was not essential that he should plan
his ways in regard to them. He had been taught that many
obligations of a life were easily avoided. The lessons of
yesterday had been that retribution was a laggard and blind.
With these facts before him he did not deem it necessary that
he should become feverish over the possibilities of the ensuing
twenty-four hours. He could leave much to chance. Besides,
a faith in himself had secretly blossomed. There was a little
flower of confidence growing within him. He was now a man of
experience. He had been out among the dragons, he said,
and he assured himself that they were not so hideous as he had
imagined them. Also, they were inaccurate; they did not sting
with precision. A stout heart often defied, and defying, escaped.
And, furthermore, how could they kill him who was the chosen of
gods and doomed to greatness?
He remembered how some of the men had run from the battle.
As he recalled their terror-struck faces he felt a scorn for them.
They had surely been more fleet and more wild than was
absolutely necessary. They were weak mortals. As for himself,
he had fled with discretion and dignity.
He was aroused from this reverie by his friend, who, having
hitched about nervously and blinked at the trees for a time,
suddenly coughed in an introductory way, and spoke.
The friend put his hand up to his mouth and coughed again.
He fidgeted in his jacket.
"Well," he gulped at last, "I guess yeh might as well give me
back them letters." Dark, prickling blood had flushed into his
cheeks and brow.
"All right, Wilson," said the youth. He loosened two buttons
of his coat, thrust in his hand, and brought forth the packet.
As he extended it to his friend the latter's face was turned from him.
He had been slow in the act of producing the packet because
during it he had been trying to invent a remarkable comment on
the affair. He could conjure up nothing of sufficient point.
He was compelled to allow his friend to escape unmolested with
his packet. And for this he took unto himself considerable credit.
It was a generous thing.
His friend at his side seemed suffering great shame. As he
contemplated him, the youth felt his heart grow more strong
and stout. He had never been compelled to blush in such manner
for his acts; he was an individual of extraordinary virtues.
He reflected, with condescending pity: "Too bad! Too bad!
The poor devil, it makes him feel tough!"
After this incident, and as he reviewed the battle pictures he
had seen, he felt quite competent to return home and make the
hearts of the people glow with stories of war. He could see
himself in a room of warm tints telling tales to listener.
He could exhibit laurels. They were insignificant; still,
in a district where laurels were infrequent, they might shine.
He saw his gaping audience picturing him as the central figure
in blazing scenes. And he imagined the consternation and the
ejaculations of his mother and the young lady at the seminary
as they drank his recitals. Their vague feminine formula for
beloved ones doing brave deeds on the field of battle without
risk of life would be destroyed.
A sputtering of musketry was always to be heard. Later, the
cannon had entered the dispute. In the fog-filled air their
voices made a thudding sound. The reverberations were continual.
This part of the world led a strange, battleful existence.
The youth's regiment was marched to relieve a command that had
lain long in some damp trenches. The men took positions behind a
curving line of rifle pits that had been turned up, like a large
furrow, along the line of woods. Before them was a level stretch,
peopled with short, deformed stumps. From the woods beyond came
the dull popping of the skirmishers and pickets, firing in the fog.
From the right came the noise of a terrific fracas.
The men cuddled behind the small embankment and sat in easy attitudes
awaiting their turn. Many had their backs to the firing. The youth's
friend lay down, buried his face in his arms, and almost instantly,
it seemed, he was in a deep sleep.
The youth leaned his breast against the brown dirt and peered
over at the woods and up and down the line. Curtains of trees
interfered with his ways of vision. He could see the low line of
trenches but for a short distance. A few idle flags were perched
on the dirt hills. Behind them were rows of dark bodies with a
few heads sticking curiously over the top.
Always the noise of skirmishers came from the woods on the
front and left, and the din on the right had grown to
frightful proportions. The guns were roaring without an
instant's pause for breath. It seemed that the cannon had
come from all parts and were engaged in a stupendous wrangle.
It became impossible to make a sentence heard.
The youth wished to launch a joke--a quotation from newspapers.
He desired to say, "All quiet on the Rappahannock," but the guns
refused to permit even a comment upon their uproar. He never
successfully concluded the sentence. But at last the guns
stopped, and among the men in the rifle pits rumors again flew,
like birds, but they were now for the most part black creatures
who flapped their wings drearily near to the ground and refused
to rise on any wings of hope. The men's faces grew doleful from
the interpreting of omens. Tales of hesitation and uncertainty
on the part of those high in place and responsibility came to
their ears. Stories of disaster were borne into their minds with
many proofs. This din of musketry on the right, growing like a
released genie of sound, expressed and emphasized the army's plight.
The men were disheartened and began to mutter. They made
gestures expressive of the sentence: "Ah, what more can we do?"
And it could always be seen that they were bewildered by the
alleged news and could not fully comprehend a defeat.
Before the gray mists had been totally obliterated by the sun
rays, the regiment was marching in a spread column that was
retiring carefully through the woods. The disordered, hurrying
lines of the enemy could sometimes be seen down through the groves
and little fields. They were yelling, shrill and exultant.
At this sight the youth forgot many personal matters and became
greatly enraged. He exploded in loud sentences. "B'jiminey,
we're generaled by a lot 'a lunkheads."
"More than one feller has said that t'-day," observed a man.
His friend, recently aroused, was still very drowsy. He looked
behind him until his mind took in the meaning of the movement.
Then he sighed. "Oh, well, I s'pose we got licked," he remarked sadly.
The youth had a thought that it would not be handsome for him to
freely condemn other men. He made an attempt to restrain himself,
but the words upon his tongue were too bitter. He presently began
a long and intricate denunciation of the commander of the forces.
"Mebbe, it wa'n't all his fault--not all together. He did th' best
he knowed. It's our luck t' git licked often," said his friend
in a weary tone. He was trudging along with stooped shoulders
and shifting eyes like a man who has been caned and kicked.
"Well, don't we fight like the devil? Don't we do all that men can?"
demanded the youth loudly.
He was secretly dumfounded at this sentiment when it came from
his lips. For a moment his face lost its valor and he looked
guiltily about him. But no one questioned his right to deal
in such words, and presently he recovered his air of courage.
He went on to repeat a statement he had heard going from group
to group at the camp that morning. "The brigadier said he never
saw a new reg'ment fight the way we fought yestirday, didn't he?
And we didn't do better than many another reg'ment, did we?
Well, then, you can't say it's th' army's fault, can you?"
In his reply, the friend's voice was stern. "'A course not,"
he said. "No man dare say we don't fight like th' devil.
No man will ever dare say it. Th' boys fight like hell-roosters.
But still--still, we don't have no luck."
"Well, then, if we fight like the devil an' don't ever whip, it
must be the general's fault," said the youth grandly and decisively.
"And I don't see any sense in fighting and fighting and fighting,
yet always losing through some derned old lunkhead of a general."
A sarcastic man who was tramping at the youth's side, then
spoke lazily. "Mebbe yeh think yeh fit th' hull battle yestirday,
Fleming," he remarked.
The speech pierced the youth. Inwardly he was reduced to an
abject pulp by these chance words. His legs quaked privately.
He cast a frightened glance at the sarcastic man.
"Why, no," he hastened to say in a conciliating voice
"I don't think I fought the whole battle yesterday."
But the other seemed innocent of any deeper meaning. Apparently,
he had no information. It was merely his habit. "Oh!" he replied
in the same tone of calm derision.
The youth, nevertheless, felt a threat. His mind shrank
from going near to the danger, and thereafter he was silent.
The significance of the sarcastic man's words took from
him all loud moods that would make him appear prominent.
He became suddenly a modest person.
There was low-toned talk among the troops. The officers were
impatient and snappy, their countenances clouded with the tales
of misfortune. The troops, sifting through the forest, were sullen.
In the youth's company once a man's laugh rang out. A dozen soldiers
turned their faces quickly toward him and frowned with vague displeasure.
The noise of firing dogged their footsteps. Sometimes, it seemed to be
driven a little way, but it always returned again with increased insolence.
The men muttered and cursed, throwing black looks in its direction.
In a clear space the troops were at last halted. Regiments and brigades,
broken and detached through their encounters with thickets, grew together
again and lines were faced toward the pursuing bark of the enemy's infantry.
This noise, following like the yelpings of eager, metallic hounds,
increased to a loud and joyous burst, and then, as the sun
went serenely up the sky, throwing illuminating rays into
the gloomy thickets, it broke forth into prolonged pealings.
The woods began to crackle as if afire.
"Whoop-a-dadee," said a man, "here we are! Everybody fightin'.
Blood an' destruction."
"I was willin' t' bet they'd attack as soon as th' sun got fairly up,"
savagely asserted the lieutenant who commanded the youth's company.
He jerked without mercy at his little mustache. He strode to and fro
with dark dignity in the rear of his men, who were lying down behind
whatever protection they had collected.
A battery had trundled into position in the rear and was thoughtfully
shelling the distance. The regiment, unmolested as yet, awaited the
moment when the gray shadows of the woods before them should be
slashed by the lines of flame. There was much growling and swearing.
"Good Gawd," the youth grumbled, "we're always being chased
around like rats! It makes me sick. Nobody seems to know where
we go or why we go. We just get fired around from pillar to post
and get licked here and get licked there, and nobody knows what
it's done for. It makes a man feel like a damn' kitten in a bag.
Now, I'd like to know what the eternal thunders we was marched
into these woods for anyhow, unless it was to give the rebs a
regular pot shot at us. We came in here and got our legs all
tangled up in these cussed briers, and then we begin to fight and
the rebs had an easy time of it. Don't tell me it's just luck!
I know better. It's this derned old--"
The friend seemed jaded, but he interrupted his comrade with a
voice of calm confidence. "It'll turn out all right in th' end,"
"Oh ,the devil it will! You always talk like a dog-hanged parson.
Don't tell me! I know--"
At this time there was an interposition by the savage-minded lieutenant,
who was obliged to vent some of his inward dissatisfaction upon his men.
"You boys shut right up! There no need 'a your wastin' your breath in
long-winded arguments about this an' that an' th' other. You've been
jawin' like a lot 'a old hens. All you've got t' do is to fight,
an' you'll get plenty 'a that t' do in about ten minutes. Less talkin'
an' more fightin' is what's best for you boys. I never saw sech
He paused, ready to pounce upon any man who might have the temerity
to reply. No words being said, he resumed his dignified pacing.
"There's too much chin music an' too little fightin' in this war,
anyhow," he said to them, turning his head for a final remark.
The day had grown more white, until the sun shed his full
radiance upon the thronged forest. A sort of a gust of battle
came sweeping toward that part of the line where lay the youth's
regiment. The front shifted a trifle to meet it squarely.
There was a wait. In this part of the field there passed slowly
the intense moments that precede the tempest.
A single rifle flashed in a thicket before the regiment. In an
instant it was joined by many others. There was a mighty song
of clashes and crashes that went sweeping through the woods.
The guns in the rear, aroused and enraged by shells that had been
thrown burr-like at them, suddenly involved themselves in a hideous
altercation with another band of guns. The battle roar settled
to a rolling thunder, which was a single, long explosion.
In the regiment there was a peculiar kind of hesitation denoted in the
attitudes of the men. They were worn, exhausted, having slept but
little and labored much. They rolled their eyes toward the advancing
battle as they stood awaiting the shock. Some shrank and flinched.
They stood as men tied to stakes.
This advance of the enemy had seemed to the youth like a
ruthless hunting. He began to fume with rage and exasperation.
He beat his foot upon the ground, and scowled with hate at
the swirling smoke that was approaching like a phantom flood.
There was a maddening quality in this seeming resolution of the
foe to give him no rest, to give him no time to sit down and think.
Yesterday he had fought and had fled rapidly. There had been many
adventures. For to-day he felt that he had earned opportunities
for contemplative repose. He could have enjoyed portraying to
uninitiated listeners various scenes at which he had been a witness
or ably discussing the processes of war with other proved men.
Too it was important that he should have time for physical recuperation.
He was sore and stiff from his experiences. He had received his fill of
all exertions, and he wished to rest.
But those other men seemed never to grow weary; they were fighting
with their old speed. He had a wild hate for the relentless foe.
Yesterday, when he had imagined the universe to be against him,
he had hated it, little gods and big gods; to-day he hated the
army of the foe with the same great hatred. He was not going
to be badgered of his life, like a kitten chased by boys, he said.
It was not well to drive men into final corners; at those moments
they could all develop teeth and claws.
He leaned and spoke into his friend's ear. He menaced the woods
with a gesture. "If they keep on chasing us, by Gawd, they'd better
watch out. Can't stand TOO much."
The friend twisted his head and made a calm reply. "If they keep
on a-chasin' us they'll drive us all inteh th' river."
The youth cried out savagely at this statement. He crouched
behind a little tree, with his eyes burning hatefully and his
teeth set in a curlike snarl. The awkward bandage was still
about his head, and upon it, over his wound, there was a spot of
dry blood. His hair was wondrously tousled, and some straggling,
moving locks hung over the cloth of the bandage down toward his
forehead. His jacket and shirt were open at the throat, and
exposed his young bronzed neck. There could be seen spasmodic
gulpings at his throat.
His fingers twined nervously about his rifle. He wished that it
was an engine of annihilating power. He felt that he and his
companions were being taunted and derided from sincere
convictions that they were poor and puny. His knowledge of his
inability to take vengeance for it made his rage into a dark and
stormy specter, that possessed him and made him dream of
abominable cruelties. The tormentors were flies sucking
insolently at his blood, and he thought that he would have given
his life for a revenge of seeing their faces in pitiful plights.
The winds of battle had swept all about the regiment, until the
one rifle, instantly followed by others, flashed in its front.
A moment later the regiment roared forth its sudden and valiant
retort. A dense wall of smoke settled down. It was furiously
slit and slashed by the knifelike fire from the rifles.
To the youth the fighters resembled animals tossed for a death
struggle into a dark pit. There was a sensation that he and
his fellows, at bay, were pushing back, always pushing fierce
onslaughts of creatures who were slippery. Their beams of crimson
seemed to get no purchase upon the bodies of their foes;
the latter seemed to evade them with ease, and come through,
between, around, and about with unopposed skill.
When, in a dream, it occurred to the youth that his rifle was
an impotent stick, he lost sense of everything but his hate,
his desire to smash into pulp the glittering smile of victory
which he could feel upon the faces of his enemies.
The blue smoke-swallowed line curled and writhed like a snake stepped upon.
It swung its ends to and fro in an agony of fear and rage.
The youth was not conscious that he was erect upon his feet.
He did not know the direction of the ground. Indeed, once he
even lost the habit of balance and fell heavily. He was up again
immediately. One thought went through the chaos of his brain at
the time. He wondered if he had fallen because he had been shot.
But the suspicion flew away at once. He did not think more of it.
He had taken up a first position behind the little tree, with a
direct determination to hold it against the world. He had not
deemed it possible that his army could that day succeed, and
from this he felt the ability to fight harder. But the throng
had surged in all ways, until he lost directions and locations,
save that he knew where lay the enemy.
The flames bit him, and the hot smoke broiled his skin. His rifle
barrel grew so hot that ordinarily he could not have borne
it upon his palms; but he kept on stuffing cartridges into it,
and pounding them with his clanking, bending ramrod. If he aimed
at some changing form through the smoke, he pulled the trigger
with a fierce grunt, as if he were dealing a blow of the fist
with all his strength.
When the enemy seemed falling back before him and his fellows, he
went instantly forward, like a dog who, seeing his foes lagging,
turns and insists upon being pursued. And when he was compelled
to retire again, he did it slowly, sullenly, taking steps of
Once he, in his intent hate, was almost alone, and was firing,
when all those near him had ceased. He was so engrossed in his
occupation that he was not aware of a lull.
He was recalled by a hoarse laugh and a sentence that came to his
ears in a voice of contempt and amazement. "Yeh infernal fool,
don't yeh know enough t' quit when there ain't anything t' shoot at?
He turned then and, pausing with his rifle thrown half into
position, looked at the blue line of his comrades. During this
moment of leisure they seemed all to be engaged in staring with
astonishment at him. They had become spectators. Turning to the
front again he saw, under the lifted smoke, a deserted ground.
He looked bewildered for a moment. Then there appeared upon the
glazed vacancy of his eyes a diamond point of intelligence.
"Oh," he said, comprehending.
He returned to his comrades and threw himself upon the ground.
He sprawled like a man who had been thrashed. His flesh seemed
strangely on fire, and the sounds of the battle continued in his ears.
He groped blindly for his canteen.
The lieutenant was crowing. He seemed drunk with fighting. He called
out to the youth: "By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats
like you I could tear th' stomach outa this war in less'n a week!"
He puffed out his chest with large dignity as he said it.
Some of the men muttered and looked at the youth in awestruck ways.
It was plain that as he had gone on loading and firing and cursing
without proper intermission, they had found time to regard him.
And they now looked upon him as a war devil.
The friend came staggering to him. There was some fright and dismay
in his voice. "Are yeh all right, Fleming? Do yeh feel all right?
There ain't nothin' th' matter with yeh, Henry, is there?"
"No," said the youth with difficulty. His throat seemed full of
knobs and burrs.
These incidents made the youth ponder. It was revealed to him
that he had been a barbarian, a beast. He had fought like a
pagan who defends his religion. Regarding it, he saw that it was
fine, wild, and, in some ways, easy. He had been a tremendous
figure, no doubt. By this struggle he had overcome obstacles
which he had admitted to be mountains. They had fallen like
paper peaks, and he was now what he called a hero. And he had
not been aware of the process. He had slept, and, awakening,
found himself a knight.
He lay and basked in the occasional stares of his comrades.
Their faces were varied in degrees of blackness from the
burned powder. Some were utterly smudged. They were reeking
with perspiration, and their breaths came hard and wheezing.
And from these soiled expanses they peered at him.
"Hot work! Hot work!" cried the lieutenant deliriously.
He walked up and down, restless and eager. Sometimes his
voice could be heard in a wild, incomprehensible laugh.
When he had a particularly profound thought upon the science of
war he always unconsciously addressed himself to the youth.
There was some grim rejoicing by the men. "By thunder,
I bet this army'll never see another new reg'ment like us!"
"A dog, a woman, an' a walnut tree
Th' more yeh beat 'em, th' better they be!
That's like us."
"Lost a piler men, they did. If an ol' woman swep' up th' woods
she'd git a dustpanful."
"Yes, an' if she'll come around ag'in in 'bout an hour she'll get
a pile more."
The forest still bore its burden of clamor. From off under the
trees came the rolling clatter of the musketry. Each distant
thicket seemed a strange porcupine with quills of flame. A cloud
of dark smoke, as from smoldering ruins, went up toward the sun
now bright and gay in the blue, enameled sky.
The ragged line had respite for some minutes, but during its
pause the struggle in the forest became magnified until the
trees seemed to quiver from the firing and the ground to shake
from the rushing of men. The voices of the cannon were mingled
in a long and interminable row. It seemed difficult to live in
such an atmosphere. The chests of the men strained for a bit
of freshness, and their throats craved water.
There was one shot through the body, who raised a cry of bitter
lamentation when came this lull. Perhaps he had been calling out
during the fighting also, but at that time no one had heard him.
But now the men turned at the woeful complaints of him upon the ground.
"Who is it? Who is it?"
"Its Jimmie Rogers. Jimmie Rogers."
When their eyes first encountered him there was a sudden halt,
as if they feared to go near. He was thrashing about in the grass,
twisting his shuddering body into many strange postures. He was
screaming loudly. This instant's hesitation seemed to fill him
with a tremendous, fantastic contempt, and he damned them in
The youth's friend had a geographical illusion concerning a stream,
and he obtained permission to go for some water. Immediately canteens
were showered upon him. "Fill mine, will yeh?" "Bring me some, too."
"And me, too." He departed, ladened. The youth went with his friend,
feeling a desire to throw his heated body into the stream and,
soaking there, drink quarts.
They made a hurried search for the supposed stream, but did not find it.
"No water here," said the youth. They turned without delay and began
to retrace their steps.
From their position as they again faced toward the place of the fighting,
they could of comprehend a greater amount of the battle than when their
visions had been blurred by the hurling smoke of the line. They could see
dark stretches winding along the land, and on one cleared space there was
a row of guns making gray clouds, which were filled with large flashes of
orange-colored flame. Over some foliage they could see the roof of a house.
One window, glowing a deep murder red, shone squarely through the leaves.
From the edifice a tall leaning tower of smoke went far into the sky.
Looking over their own troops, they saw mixed masses slowly getting
into regular form. The sunlight made twinkling points of the
bright steel. To the rear there was a glimpse of a distant
roadway as it curved over a slope. It was crowded with
retreating infantry. From all the interwoven forest arose the smoke
and bluster of the battle. The air was always occupied by a blaring.
Near where they stood shells were flip-flapping and hooting.
Occasional bullets buzzed in the air and spanged into tree trunks.
Wounded men and other stragglers were slinking through the woods.
Looking down an aisle of the grove, the youth and his companion
saw a jangling general and his staff almost ride upon a wounded man,
who was crawling on his hands and knees. The general reined
strongly at his charger's opened and foamy mouth and guided it
with dexterous horsemanship past the man. The latter scrambled
in wild and torturing haste. His strength evidently failed him
as he reached a place of safety. One of his arms suddenly
weakened, and he fell, sliding over upon his back. He lay
stretched out, breathing gently.
A moment later the small, creaking cavalcade was directly in
front of the two soldiers. Another officer, riding with the
skillful abandon of a cowboy, galloped his horse to a position
directly before the general. The two unnoticed foot soldiers
made a little show of going on, but they lingered near in the
desire to overhear the conversation. Perhaps, they thought,
some great inner historical things would be said.
The general, whom the boys knew as the commander of their division,
looked at the other officer and spoke coolly, as if he were
criticising his clothes. "Th' enemy's formin' over there
for another charge," he said. "It'll be directed against
Whiterside, an' I fear they'll break through unless we work
like thunder t' stop them."
The other swore at his restive horse, and then cleared his throat.
He made a gesture toward his cap. "It'll be hell t' pay stoppin' them,"
he said shortly.
"I presume so," remarked the general. Then he began to talk
rapidly and in a lower tone. He frequently illustrated his words
with a pointing finger. The two infantrymen could hear nothing
until finally he asked: "What troops can you spare?"
The officer who rode like a cowboy reflected for an instant.
"Well," he said, "I had to order in th' 12th to help th' 76th,
an' I haven't really got any. But there's th' 304th. They fight
like a lot 'a mule drivers. I can spare them best of any."
The youth and his friend exchanged glances of astonishment.
The general spoke sharply. "Get 'em ready, then. I'll watch
developments from here, an' send you word when t' start them.
It'll happen in five minutes."
As the other officer tossed his fingers toward his cap and
wheeling his horse, started away, the general called out to him
in a sober voice: "I don't believe many of your mule drivers
will get back."
The other shouted something in reply. He smiled.
With scared faces, the youth and his companion hurried back to the line.
These happenings had occupied an incredibly short time, yet the
youth felt that in them he had been made aged. New eyes were
given to him. And the most startling thing was to learn suddenly
that he was very insignificant. The officer spoke of the
regiment as if he referred to a broom. Some part of the woods
needed sweeping, perhaps, and he merely indicated a broom in a
tone properly indifferent to its fate. It was war, no doubt,
but it appeared strange.
As the two boys approached the line, the lieutenant perceived
them and swelled with wrath. "Fleming--Wilson--how long does
it take yeh to git water, anyhow--where yeh been to."
But his oration ceased as he saw their eyes, which were large
with great tales. "We're goin' t' charge--we're goin' t' charge!"
cried the youth's friend, hastening with his news.
"Charge?" said the lieutenant. "Charge? Well, b'Gawd! Now, this
is real fightin'." Over his soiled countenance there went a
boastful smile. "Charge? Well, b'Gawd!"
A little group of soldiers surrounded the two youths. "Are we,
sure 'nough? Well, I'll be derned! Charge? What fer? What at?
Wilson, you're lyin'."
"I hope to die," said the youth, pitching his tones to the key of
angry remonstrance. "Sure as shooting, I tell you."
And his friend spoke in re-enforcement. "Not by a blame sight,
he ain't lyin'. We heard 'em talkin'."
They caught sight of two mounted figures a short distance from them.
One was the colonel of the regiment and the other was the officer
who had received orders from the commander of the division.
They were gesticulating at each other. The soldier, pointing at them,
interpreted the scene.
One man had a final objection: "How could yeh hear 'em talkin'?"
But the men, for a large part, nodded, admitting that previously
the two friends had spoken truth.
They settled back into reposeful attitudes with airs of having
accepted the matter. And they mused upon it, with a hundred
varieties of expression. It was an engrossing thing to think about.
Many tightened their belts carefully and hitched at their trousers.
A moment later the officers began to bustle among the men,
pushing them into a more compact mass and into a better
alignment. They chased those that straggled and fumed at a few
men who seemed to show by their attitudes that they had decided
to remain at that spot. They were like critical shepherds,
struggling with sheep.
Presently, the regiment seemed to draw itself up and heave a deep breath.
None of the men's faces were mirrors of large thoughts. The soldiers
were bended and stooped like sprinters before a signal. Many pairs of
glinting eyes peered from the grimy faces toward the curtains of the
deeper woods. They seemed to be engaged in deep calculations of
time and distance.
They were surrounded by the noises of the monstrous altercation between
the two armies. The world was fully interested in other matters.
Apparently, the regiment had its small affair to itself.
The youth, turning, shot a quick, inquiring glance at his friend.
The latter returned to him the same manner of look. They were
the only ones who possessed an inner knowledge. "Mule drivers--
hell t' pay--don't believe many will get back." It was an
ironical secret. Still, they saw no hesitation in each
other's faces, and they nodded a mute and unprotesting assent when a
shaggy man near them said in a meek voice: "We'll git swallowed."
The youth stared at the land in front of him. Its foliages now
seemed to veil powers and horrors. He was unaware of the
machinery of orders that started the charge, although from the
corners of his eyes he saw an officer, who looked like a boy
a-horseback, come galloping, waving his hat. Suddenly he felt
a straining and heaving among the men. The line fell slowly
forward like a toppling wall, and, with a convulsive gasp that
was intended for a cheer, the regiment began its journey.
The youth was pushed and jostled for a moment before he understood
the movement at all, but directly he lunged ahead and began to run.
He fixed his eye upon a distant and prominent clump of trees
where he had concluded the enemy were to be met, and he ran
toward it as toward a goal. He had believe throughout that it
was a mere question of getting over an unpleasant matter as quickly
as possible, and he ran desperately, as if pursued for a murder.
His face was drawn hard and tight with the stress of his endeavor.
His eyes were fixed in a lurid glare. And with his soiled and
disordered dress, his red and inflamed features surmounted by the
dingy rag with its spot of blood, his wildly swinging rifle,
and banging accouterments, he looked to be an insane soldier.
As the regiment swung from its position out into a cleared space the
woods and thickets before it awakened. Yellow flames leaped toward
it from many directions. The forest made a tremendous objection.
The line lurched straight for a moment. Then the right wing
swung forward; it in turn was surpassed by the left. Afterward
the center careered to the front until the regiment was a
wedge-shaped mass, but an instant later the opposition of the
bushes, trees, and uneven places on the ground split the command
and scattered it into detached clusters.
The youth, light-footed, was unconsciously in advance. His eyes
still kept note of the clump of trees. From all places near it
the clannish yell of the enemy could be heard. The little flames
of rifles leaped from it. The song of the bullets was in the air
and shells snarled among the treetops. One tumbled directly into
the middle of a hurrying group and exploded in crimson fury.
There was an instant spectacle of a man, almost over it,
throwing up his hands to shield his eyes.
Other men, punched by bullets, fell in grotesque agonies.
The regiment left a coherent trail of bodies.
They had passed into a clearer atmosphere. There was an
effect like a revelation in the new appearance of the landscape.
Some men working madly at a battery were plain to them, and the
opposing infantry's lines were defined by the gray walls and
fringes of smoke.
It seemed to the youth that he saw everything. Each blade of
the green grass was bold and clear. He thought that he was aware
of every change in the thin, transparent vapor that floated idly
in sheets. The brown or gray trunks of the trees showed each
roughness of their surfaces. And the men of the regiment,
with their starting eyes and sweating faces, running madly,
or falling, as if thrown headlong, to queer, heaped-up corpses--
all were comprehended. His mind took a mechanical but firm
impression, so that afterward everything was pictured and
explained to him, save why he himself was there.
But there was a frenzy made from this furious rush. The men,
pitching forward insanely, had burst into cheerings, moblike and
barbaric, but tuned in strange keys that can arouse the dullard
and the stoic. It made a mad enthusiasm that, it seemed, would be
incapable of checking itself before granite and brass. There was
the delirium that encounters despair and death, and is heedless
and blind to the odds. It is a temporary but sublime absence
of selfishness. And because it was of this order was the reason,
perhaps, why the youth wondered, afterward, what reasons he could
have had for being there.
Presently the straining pace ate up the energies of the men.
As if by agreement, the leaders began to slacken their speed.
The volleys directed against them had had a seeming windlike effect.
The regiment snorted and blew. Among some stolid trees it began
to falter and hesitate. The men, staring intently, began to
wait for some of the distant walls fo smoke to move and disclose
to them the scene. Since much of their strength and their breath
had vanished, they returned to caution. They were become men again.
The youth had a vague belief that he had run miles, and he thought,
in a way, that he was now in some new and unknown land.
The moment the regiment ceased its advance the protesting splutter
of musketry became a steadied roar. Long and accurate fringes of
smoke spread out. From the top of a small hill came level belchings
of yellow flame that caused an inhuman whistling in the air.
The men, halted, had opportunity to see some of their comrades
dropping with moans and shrieks. A few lay under foot, still or
wailing. And now for an instant the men stood, their rifles
slack in their hands, and watched the regiment dwindle.
They appeared dazed and stupid. This spectacle seemed to
paralyze them, overcome them with a fatal fascination. They stared
woodenly at the sights, and, lowering their eyes, looked from
face to face. It was a strange pause, and a strange silence.
Then, above the sounds of the outside commotion, arose the roar
of the lieutenant. He strode suddenly forth, his infantile
features black with rage.
"Come on, yeh fools!" he bellowed. "Come on! Yeh can't stay here.
Yeh must come on." He said more, but much of it could not be understood.
He started rapidly forward, with his head turned toward the men,
"Come on," he was shouting. The men stared with blank and yokel-like
eyes at him. He was obliged to halt and retrace his steps.
He stood then with his back to the enemy and delivered
gigantic curses into the faces of the men. His body vibrated
from the weight and force of his imprecations. And he could
string oaths with the facility of a maiden who strings beads.
The friend of the youth aroused. Lurching suddenly forward and
dropping to his knees, he fired an angry shot at the persistent woods.
This action awakened the men. They huddled no more like sheep.
They seemed suddenly to bethink themselves of their weapons,
and at once commenced firing. Belabored by their officers,
they began to move forward. The regiment, involved like a
cart involved in mud and muddle, started unevenly with many
jolts and jerks. The men stopped now every few paces to fire
and load, and in this manner moved slowly on from trees to trees.
The flaming opposition in their front grew with their advance
until it seemed that all forward ways were barred by the thin
leaping tongues, and off to the right an ominous demonstration
could sometimes be dimly discerned. The smoke lately generated
was in confusing clouds that made it difficult for the regiment
to proceed with intelligence. As he passed through each curling
mass the youth wondered what would confront him on the farther side.
The command went painfully forward until an open space interposed
between them and the lurid lines. Here, crouching and cowering
behind some trees, the men clung with desperation, as if threatened
by a wave. They looked wild-eyed, and as if amazed at this furious
disturbance they had stirred. In the storm there was an ironical
expression of their importance. The faces of the men, too, showed
a lack of a certain feeling of responsibility for being there.
It was as if they had been driven. It was the dominant animal
failing to remember in the supreme moments the forceful causes
of various superficial qualities. The whole affair seemed
incomprehensible to many of them.
As they halted thus the lieutenant again began to bellow profanely.
Regardless of the vindictive threats of the bullets, he went about
coaxing, berating, and bedamning. His lips, that were habitually
in a soft and childlike curve, were now writhed into unholy contortions.
He swore by all possible deities.
Once he grabbed the youth by the arm. "Come on, yeh lunkhead!"
he roared. "Come one! We'll all git killed if we stay here.
We've on'y got t' go across that lot. An' then"--the remainder
of his idea disappeared in a blue haze of curses.
The youth stretched forth his arm. "Cross there?" His mouth was
puckered in doubt and awe.
"Certainly. Jest 'cross th' lot! We can't stay here," screamed
the lieutenant. He poked his face close to the youth and waved
his bandaged hand. "Come on!" Presently he grappled with him as
if for a wrestling bout. It was as if he planned to drag the
youth by the ear on to the assault.
The private felt a sudden unspeakable indignation against his officer.
He wrenched fiercely and shook him off.
"Come on yerself, then," he yelled. There was a bitter challenge
in his voice.
They galloped together down the regimental front. The friend
scrambled after them. In front of the colors the three men
began to bawl: "Come on! come on!" They danced and gyrated
like tortured savages.
The flag, obedient to these appeals, bended its glittering form
and swept toward them. The men wavered in indecision for a moment,
and then with a long, wailful cry the dilapidated regiment surged
forward and began its new journey.
Over the field went the scurrying mass. It was a handful of men
splattered into the faces of the enemy. Toward it instantly
sprang the yellow tongues. A vast quantity of blue smoke hung
before them. A mighty banging made ears valueless.
The youth ran like a madman to reach the woods before a bullet
could discover him. He ducked his head low, like a football player.
In his haste his eyes almost closed, and the scene was a wild blur.
Pulsating saliva stood at the corners of his mouth.
Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was born a love, a
despairing fondness for this flag which was near him. It was
a creation of beauty and invulnerability. It was a goddess,
radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him.
It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called
him with the voice of his hopes. Because no harm could come to
it he endowed it with power. He kept near, as if it could be a
saver of lives, and an imploring cry went from his mind.
In the mad scramble he was aware that the color sergeant
flinched suddenly, as if struck by a bludgeon. He faltered,
and then became motionless, save for his quivering knees.
He made a spring and a clutch at the pole. At the same instant
his friend grabbed it from the other side. They jerked at it,
stout and furious, but the color sergeant was dead, and the
corpse would not relinquish its trust. For a moment there was
a grim encounter. The dead man, swinging with bended back,
seemed to be obstinately tugging, in ludicrous and awful ways,
for the possession of the flag.
It was past in an instant of time. They wrenched the flag
furiously from the dead man, and, as they turned again,
the corpse swayed forward with bowed head. One arm swung high,
and the curved hand fell with heavy protest on the friend's
When the two youths turned with the flag they saw that much of
the regiment had crumbled away, and the dejected remnant was
coming slowly back. The men, having hurled themselves in
projectile fashion, had presently expended their forces.
They slowly retreated, with their faces still toward the
spluttering woods, and their hot rifles still replying to the din.
Several officers were giving orders, their voices keyed to screams.
"Where in hell yeh goin'?" the lieutenant was asking in a
sarcastic howl. And a red-bearded officer, whose voice of
triple brass could plainly be heard, was commanding: "Shoot into 'em!
Shoot into 'em, Gawd damn their souls!" There was a melee of screeches,
in which the men were ordered to do conflicting and impossible things.
The youth and his friend had a small scuffle over the flag.
"Give it t' me!" "No, let me keep it!" Each felt satisfied with
the other's possession of it, but each felt bound to declare,
by an offer to carry the emblem, his willingness to further
risk himself. The youth roughly pushed his friend away.
The regiment fell back to the stolid trees. There it halted for
a moment to blaze at some dark forms that had begun to steal upon
its track. Presently it resumed its march again, curving among
the tree trunks. By the time the depleted regiment had again
reached the first open space they were receiving a fast and
merciless fire. There seemed to be mobs all about them.
The greater part of the men, discouraged, their spirits worn by
the turmoil, acted as if stunned. They accepted the pelting of
the bullets with bowed and weary heads. It was of no purpose to
strive against walls. It was of no use to batter themselves
against granite. And from this consciousness that they had
attempted to conquer an unconquerable thing there seemed to arise
a feeling that they had been betrayed. They glowered with bent brows,
but dangerously, upon some of the officers, more particularly
upon the red-bearded one with the voice of triple brass.
However, the rear of the regiment was fringed with men, who
continued to shoot irritably at the advancing foes. They seemed
resolved to make every trouble. The youthful lieutenant was
perhaps the last man in the disordered mass. His forgotten back
was toward the enemy. He had been shot in the arm. It hung
straight and rigid. Occasionally he would cease to remember it,
and be about to emphasize an oath with a sweeping gesture.
The multiplied pain caused him to swear with incredible power.
The youth went along with slipping uncertain feet. He kept
watchful eyes rearward. A scowl of mortification and rage was
upon his face. He had thought of a fine revenge upon the officer
who had referred to him and his fellows as mule drivers.
But he saw that it could not come to pass. His dreams had
collapsed when the mule drivers, dwindling rapidly, had wavered
and hesitated on the little clearing, and then had recoiled.
And now the retreat of the mule drivers was a march of shame to him.
A dagger-pointed gaze from without his blackened face was held
toward the enemy, but his greater hatred was riveted upon the man,
who, not knowing him, had called him a mule driver.
When he knew that he and his comrades had failed to do anything
in successful ways that might bring the little pangs of a kind
of remorse upon the officer, the youth allowed the rage of the
baffled to possess him. This cold officer upon a monument,
who dropped epithets unconcernedly down, would be finer as a dead man,
he thought. So grievous did he think it that he could never possess
the secret right to taunt truly in answer.
He had pictured red letters of curious revenge. "We ARE mule
drivers, are we?" And now he was compelled to throw them away.
He presently wrapped his heart in the cloak of his pride and kept
the flag erect. He harangued his fellows, pushing against their
chests with his free hand. To those he knew well he made frantic
appeals, beseeching them by name. Between him and the lieutenant,
scolding and near to losing his mind with rage, there was felt a
subtle fellowship and equality. They supported each other in all
manner of hoarse, howling protests.
But the regiment was a machine run down. The two men babbled at
a forceless thing. The soldiers who had heart to go slowly were
continually shaken in their resolves by a knowledge that comrades
were slipping with speed back to the lines. It was difficult
to think of reputation when others were thinking of skins.
Wounded men were left crying on this black journey.
The smoke fringes and flames blustered always. The youth,
peering once through a sudden rift in a cloud, saw a brown
mass of troops, interwoven and magnified until they appeared
to be thousands. A fierce-hued flag flashed before his vision.
Immediately, as if the uplifting of the smoke had been prearranged,
the discovered troops burst into a rasping yell, and a hundred
flames jetted toward the retreating band. A rolling gray
cloud again interposed as the regiment doggedly replied.
The youth had to depend again upon his misused ears, which were
trembling and buzzing from the melee of musketry and yells.
The way seemed eternal. In the clouded haze men became
panic-stricken with the thought that the regiment had lost
its path, and was proceeding in a perilous direction.
Once the men who headed the wild procession turned and came pushing
back against their comrades, screaming that they were being fired upon
from points which they had considered to be toward their own lines.
At this cry a hysterical fear and dismay beset the troops.
A soldier, who heretofore had been ambitious to make the
regiment into a wise little band that would proceed calmly
amid the huge-appearing difficulties, suddenly sank down and
buried his face in his arms with an air of bowing to a doom.
From another a shrill lamentation rang out filled with profane
allusions to a general. Men ran hither and thither, seeking with
their eyes roads of escape. With serene regularity, as if
controlled by a schedule, bullets buffed into men.
The youth walked stolidly into the midst of the mob, and with his
flag in his hands took a stand as if he expected an attempt to
push him to the ground. He unconsciously assumed the attitude
of the color bearer in the fight of the preceding day. He passed
over his brow a hand that trembled. His breath did not come
freely. He was choking during this small wait for the crisis.
His friend came to him. "Well, Henry, I guess this is good-by-John."
"Oh, shut up, you damned fool!" replied the youth, and he would not
look at the other.
The officers labored like politicians to beat the mass into a
proper circle to face the menaces. The ground was uneven and torn.
The men curled into depressions and fitted themselves snugly
behind whatever would frustrate a bullet. The youth noted
with vague surprise that the lieutenant was standing mutely with
his legs far apart and his sword held in the manner of a cane.
The youth wondered what had happened to his vocal organs that he
no more cursed.
There was something curious in this little intent pause of the
lieutenant. He was like a babe which, having wept its fill,
raises its eyes and fixes upon a distant toy. He was engrossed
in this contemplation, and the soft under lip quivered from
Some lazy and ignorant smoke curled slowly. The men, hiding from
the bullets, waited anxiously for it to lift and disclose the
plight of the regiment.
The silent ranks were suddenly thrilled by the eager voice of the
youthful lieutenant bawling out: "Here they come! Right onto us,
b'Gawd!" His further words were lost in a roar of wicked thunder
from the men's rifles.
The youth's eyes had instantly turned in the direction indicated
by the awakened and agitated lieutenant, and he had seen the
haze of treachery disclosing a body of soldiers of the enemy.
They were so near that he could see their features. There was
a recognition as he looked at the types of faces. Also he
perceived with dim amazement that their uniforms were rather
gay in effect, being light gray, accented with a brilliant-hued
facing. Too, the clothes seemed new.
These troops had apparently been going forward with caution,
their rifles held in readiness, when the youthful lieutenant had
discovered them and their movement had been interrupted by the
volley from the blue regiment. From the moment's glimpse, it was
derived that they had been unaware of the proximity of their
dark-suited foes or had mistaken the direction. Almost instantly
they were shut utterly from the youth's sight by the smoke from the
energetic rifles of his companions. He strained his vision to learn
the accomplishment of the volley, but the smoke hung before him.
The two bodies of troops exchanged blows in the manner of a pair
of boxers. The fast angry firings went back and forth. The men
in blue were intent with the despair of their circumstances and
they seized upon the revenge to be had at close range. Their
thunder swelled loud and valiant. Their curving front bristled
with flashes and the place resounded with the clangor of their
ramrods. The youth ducked and dodged for a time and achieved a
few unsatisfactory views of the enemy. There appeared to be many
of them and they were replying swiftly. They seemed moving
toward the blue regiment, step by step. He seated himself
gloomily on the ground with his flag between his knees.
As he noted the vicious, wolflike temper of his comrades he had
a sweet thought that if the enemy was about to swallow the
regimental broom as a large prisoner, it could at least have the
consolation of going down with bristles forward.
But the blows of the antagonist began to grow more weak.
Fewer bullets ripped the air, and finally, when the men slackened
to learn of the fight, they could see only dark, floating smoke.
The regiment lay still and gazed. Presently some chance whim
came to the pestering blur, and it began to coil heavily away.
The men saw a ground vacant of fighters. It would have been an
empty stage if it were not for a few corpses that lay thrown and
twisted into fantastic shapes upon the sward.
At sight of this tableau, many of the men in blue sprang from
behind their covers and made an ungainly dance of joy. Their eyes
burned and a hoarse cheer of elation broke from their dry lips.
It had begun to seem to them that events were trying to prove
that they were impotent. These little battles had evidently
endeavored to demonstrate that the men could not fight well.
When on the verge of submission to these opinions, the small
duel had showed them that the proportions were not impossible,
and by it they had revenged themselves upon their misgivings
and upon the foe.
The impetus of enthusiasm was theirs again. They gazed about
them with looks of uplifted pride, feeling new trust in the grim,
always confident weapons in their hands. And they were men.
Presently they knew that no firing threatened them. All ways
seemed once more opened to them. The dusty blue lines of their
friends were disclosed a short distance away. In the distance
there were many colossal noises, but in all this part of the
field there was a sudden stillness.
They perceived that they were free. The depleted band drew a long
breath of relief and gathered itself into a bunch to complete its trip.
In this last length of journey the men began to show strange
emotions. They hurried with nervous fear. Some who had been
dark and unfaltering in the grimmest moments now could not
conceal an anxiety that made them frantic. It was perhaps that
they dreaded to be killed in insignificant ways after the times
for proper military deaths had passed. Or, perhaps, they thought
it would be too ironical to get killed at the portals of safety.
With backward looks of perturbation, they hastened.
As they approached their own lines there was some sarcasm exhibited
on the part of a gaunt and bronzed regiment that lay resting in the
shade of the trees. Questions were wafted to them.
"Where th' hell yeh been?"
"What yeh comin' back fer?"
"Why didn't yeh stay there?"
"Was it warm out there, sonny?"
"Goin' home now, boys?"
One shouted in taunting mimicry: "Oh, mother, come quick an'
look at th' sojers!"
There was no reply from the bruised and battered regiment,
save that one man made broadcast challenges to fist fights and
the red-bearded officer walked rather near and glared in great
swashbuckler style at a tall captain in the other regiment.
But the lieutenant suppressed the man who wished to fist fight,
and the tall captain, flushing at the little fanfare of the
red-bearded one, was obliged to look intently at some trees.
The youth's tender flesh was deeply stung by these remarks.
From under his creased brows he glowered with hate at the mockers.
He meditated upon a few revenges. Still, many in the regiment
hung their heads in criminal fashion, so that it came to pass
that the men trudged with sudden heaviness, as if they
bore upon their bended shoulders the coffin of their honor.
And the youthful lieutenant, recollecting himself, began to
mutter softly in black curses.
They turned when they arrived at their old position to regard
the ground over which they had charged.
The youth in this contemplation was smitten with a large astonishment.
He discovered that the distances, as compared with the brilliant
measurings of his mind, were trivial and ridiculous. The stolid trees,
where much had taken place, seemed incredibly near. The time, too,
now that he reflected, he saw to have been short. He wondered
at the number of emotions and events that had been crowded into
such little spaces. Elfin thoughts must have exaggerated and
enlarged everything, he said.
It seemed, then, that there was bitter justice in the speeches
of the gaunt and bronzed veterans. He veiled a glance of disdain
at his fellows who strewed the ground, choking with dust, red from
perspiration, misty-eyed, disheveled.
They were gulping at their canteens, fierce to wring every mite
of water from them, and they polished at their swollen and
watery features with coat sleeves and bunches of grass.
However, to the youth there was a considerable joy in musing
upon his performances during the charge. He had had very little
time previously in which to appreciate himself, so that there
was now much satisfaction in quietly thinking of his actions.
He recalled bits of color that in the flurry had stamped
themselves unawares upon his engaged senses.
As the regiment lay heaving from its hot exertions the officer
who had named them as mule drivers came galloping along the line.
He had lost his cap. His tousled hair streamed wildly,
and his face was dark with vexation and wrath. His temper
was displayed with more clearness by the way in which he managed
his horse. He jerked and wrenched savagely at his bridle, stopping
the hard-breathing animal with a furious pull near the colonel of
the regiment. He immediately exploded in reproaches which came
unbidden to the ears of the men. They were suddenly alert,
being always curious about black words between officers.
"Oh, thunder, MacChesnay, what an awful bull you made of this thing!"
began the officer. He attempted low tones, but his indignation
caused certain of the men to learn the sense of his words.
"What an awful mess you made! Good Lord, man, you stopped
about a hundred feet this side of a very pretty success! If your
men had gone a hundred feet farther you would have made a great
charge, but as it is--what a lot of mud diggers you've got anyway!"
The men, listening with bated breath, now turned their curious
eyes upon the colonel. They had a had a ragamuffin interest in
The colonel was seen to straighten his form and put one hand
forth in oratorical fashion. He wore an injured air; it was as
if a deacon had been accused of stealing. The men were wiggling
in an ecstasy of excitement.
But of a sudden the colonel's manner changed from that of a
deacon to that of a Frenchman. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, well, general, we went as far as we could," he said calmly.
"As far as you could? Did you, b'Gawd?" snorted the other.
"Well, that wasn't very far, was it?" he added, with a glance
of cold contempt into the other's eyes. "Not very far, I think.
You were intended to make a diversion in favor of Whiterside.
How well you succeeded your own ears can now tell you."
He wheeled his horse and rode stiffly away.
The colonel, bidden to hear the jarring noises of an engagement
in the woods to the left, broke out in vague damnations.
The lieutenant, who had listened with an air of impotent rage
to the interview, spoke suddenly in firm and undaunted tones.
"I don't care what a man is--whether he is a general or what--
if he says th' boys didn't put up a good fight out there he's
a damned fool."
"Lieutenant," began the colonel, severely, "this is my own
affair, and I'll trouble you--"
The lieutenant made an obedient gesture. "All right, colonel,
all right," he said. He sat down with an air of being content
The news that the regiment had been reproached went along the line.
For a time the men were bewildered by it. "Good thunder!"
they ejaculated, staring at the vanishing form of the general.
They conceived it to be a huge mistake.
Presently, however, they began to believe that in truth their
efforts had been called light. The youth could see this
conviction weight upon the entire regiment until the men were
like cuffed and cursed animals, but withal rebellious.
The friend, with a grievance in his eye, went to the youth.
I wonder what he does want," he said. "He must think we went
out there an' played marbles! I never see sech a man!"
The youth developed a tranquil philosophy for these moments of
irritation. "Oh, well," he rejoined, "he probably didn't see
nothing of it at all and god mad as blazes, and concluded we were
a lot of sheep, just because we didn't do what he wanted done.
It's a pity old Grandpa Henderson got killed yestirday--he'd have
known that we did our best and fought good. It's just our
awful luck, that's what."
"I should say so," replied the friend. He seemed to be deeply
wounded at an injustice. "I should say we did have awful luck!
There's no fun in fightin' fer people when everything yeh do--
no matter what--ain't done right. I have a notion t' stay
behind next time an' let 'em take their ol' charge an' go t'
th' devil with it."
The youth spoke soothingly to his comrade. "Well, we both did good.
I'd like to see the fool what'd say we both didn't do as good as
"Of course we did," declared the friend stoutly. "An' I'd break
th' feller's neck if he was as big as a church. But we're all right,
anyhow, for I heard one feller say that we two fit th' best in
th' reg'ment, an' they had a great argument 'bout it. Another feller,
'a course, he had t' up an' say it was a lie--he seen all what was
goin' on an' he never seen us from th' beginnin' t' th' end. An' a
lot more stuck in an' ses it wasn't a lie--we did fight like thunder,
an' they give us quite a sendoff. But this is what I can't stand--
these everlastin' ol' soldiers, titterin' an' laughin', an then
that general, he's crazy."
The youth exclaimed with sudden exasperation: "He's a lunkhead!
He makes me mad. I wish he'd come along next time. We'd show
He ceased because several men had come hurrying up. Their faces
expressed a bringing of great news.
"O Flem, yeh jest oughta heard!" cried one, eagerly.
"Heard what?" said the youth.
"Yeh jest oughta heard!" repeated the other, and he arranged
himself to tell his tidings. The others made an excited circle.
"Well, sir, th' colonel met your lieutenant right by us--it was
damnedest thing I ever heard--an' he ses: 'Ahem! ahem!' he ses.
'Mr. Hasbrouck!' he ses, 'by th' way, who was that lad what carried
th' flag?' he ses. There, Flemin', what d' yeh think 'a that?
'Who was th' lad what carried th' flag?' he ses, an' th'
lieutenant, he speaks up right away: 'That's Flemin', an'
he's a jimhickey,' he ses, right away. What? I say he did.
'A jimhickey,' he ses--those 'r his words. He did, too. I say
he did. If you kin tell this story better than I kin, go ahead an'
tell it. Well, then, keep yer mouth shet. Th' lieutenant, he ses:
'He's a jimhickey,' and th' colonel, he ses: 'Ahem! ahem! he is,
indeed, a very good man t' have, ahem! He kep' th' flag 'way t'
th' front. I saw 'im. He's a good un,' ses th' colonel.
'You bet,' ses th' lieutenant, 'he an' a feller named Wilson was
at th' head 'a th' charge, an' howlin' like Indians all th' time,'
he ses. 'Head 'a th' charge all th' time,' he ses. 'A feller
named Wilson,' he ses. There, Wilson, m'boy, put that in a letter
an' send it hum t' yer mother, hay? 'A feller named Wilson,' he ses.
An' th' colonel, he ses: 'Were they, indeed? Ahem! ahem! My sakes!'
he ses. 'At th' head 'a th' reg'ment?' he ses. 'They were,' ses th'
lieutenant. 'My sakes!' ses th' colonel. He ses: 'Well, well, well,'
he ses. 'They deserve t' be major-generals.'"
The youth and his friend had said: "Huh!" "Yer lyin' Thompson."
"Oh, go t' blazes!" "He never sed it." "Oh, what a lie!" "Huh!"
But despite these youthful scoffings and embarrassments, they knew
that their faces were deeply flushing from thrills of pleasure.
They exchanged a secret glance of joy and congratulation.
They speedily forgot many things. The past held no pictures of error
and disappointment. They were very happy, and their hearts swelled
with grateful affection for the colonel and the youthful lieutenant.
When the woods again began to pour forth the dark-hued masses
of the enemy the youth felt serene self-confidence. He smiled
briefly when he saw men dodge and duck at the long screechings
of shells that were thrown in giant handfuls over them. He
stood, erect and tranquil, watching the attack begin against
apart of the line that made a blue curve along the side of an
adjacent hill. His vision being unmolested by smoke from the
rifles of his companions, he had opportunities to see parts of
the hard fight. It was a relief to perceive at last from whence
came some of these noises which had been roared into his ears.
Off a short way he saw two regiments fighting a little separate
battle with two other regiments. It was in a cleared space,
wearing a set-apart look. They were blazing as if upon a wager,
giving and taking tremendous blows. The firings were incredibly
fierce and rapid. These intent regiments apparently were oblivious
of all larger purposes of war, and were slugging each other as if
at a matched game.
In another direction he saw a magnificent brigade going with the
evident intention of driving the enemy from a wood. They passed
in out of sight and presently there was a most awe-inspiring
racket in the wood. The noise was unspeakable. Having stirred
this prodigious uproar, and, apparently, finding it too prodigious,
the brigade, after a little time, came marching airily out again
with its fine formation in nowise disturbed. There were no traces
of speed in its movements. The brigade was jaunty and seemed to
point a proud thumb at the yelling wood.
On a slope to the left there was a long row of guns, gruff
and maddened, denouncing the enemy, who, down through the woods,
were forming for another attack in the pitiless monotony of conflicts.
The round red discharges from the guns made a crimson flare and a high,
thick smoke. Occasional glimpses could be caught of groups of the
toiling artillerymen. In the rear of this row of guns stood a house,
calm and white, amid bursting shells. A congregation of horses,
tied to a long railing, were tugging frenziedly at their bridles.
Men were running hither and thither.
The detached battle between the four regiments lasted for some time.
There chanced to be no interference, and they settled their dispute
by themselves. They struck savagely and powerfully at each other
for a period of minutes, and then the lighter-hued regiments faltered
and drew back, leaving the dark-blue lines shouting. The youth could
see the two flags shaking with laughter amid the smoke remnants.
Presently there was a stillness, pregnant with meaning. The blue
lines shifted and changed a trifle and stared expectantly at the
silent woods and fields before them. The hush was solemn and
churchlike, save for a distant battery that, evidently unable
to remain quiet, sent a faint rolling thunder over the ground.
It irritated, like the noises of unimpressed boys. The men
imagined that it would prevent their perched ears from hearing
the first words of the new battle.
Of a sudden the guns on the slope roared out a message of
warning. A spluttering sound had begun in the woods. It swelled
with amazing speed to a profound clamor that involved the earth
in noises. The splitting crashes swept along the lines until an
interminable roar was developed. To those in the midst of it it
became a din fitted to the universe. It was the whirring and
thumping of gigantic machinery, complications among the smaller stars.
The youth's ears were filled cups. They were incapable of hearing more.
On an incline over which a road wound he saw wild and desperate
rushes of men perpetually backward and forward in riotous surges.
These parts of the opposing armies were two long waves that
pitched upon each other madly at dictated points. To and fro
they swelled. Sometimes, one side by its yells and cheers
would proclaim decisive blows, but a moment later the other side
would be all yells and cheers. Once the youth saw a spray of
light forms go in houndlike leaps toward the waving blue lines.
There was much howling, and presently it went away with a vast
mouthful of prisoners. Again, he saw a blue wave dash with such
thunderous force against a gray obstruction that it seemed to
clear the earth of it and leave nothing but trampled sod.
And always in their swift and deadly rushes to and fro the
men screamed and yelled like maniacs.
Particular pieces of fence or secure positions behind collections
of trees were wrangled over, as gold thrones or pearl bedsteads.
There were desperate lunges at these chosen spots seemingly
every instant, and most of them were bandied like light toys
between the contending forces. The youth could not tell from the
battle flags flying like crimson foam in many directions which
color of cloth was winning.
His emaciated regiment bustled forth with undiminished fierceness
when its time came. When assaulted again by bullets, the men
burst out in a barbaric cry of rage and pain. They bent their
heads in aims of intent hatred behind the projected hammers of
their guns. Their ramrods clanged loud with fury as their eager
arms pounded the cartridges into the rifle barrels. The front of
the regiment was a smoke-wall penetrated by the flashing points
of yellow and red.
Wallowing in the fight, they were in an astonishingly short time resmudged.
They surpassed in stain and dirt all their previous appearances. Moving
to and fro with strained exertion, jabbering all the while, they were,
with their swaying bodies, black faces, and glowing eyes, like strange
and ugly fiends jigging heavily in the smoke.
The lieutenant, returning from a tour after a bandage, produced
from a hidden receptacle of his mind new and portentous oaths
suited to the emergency. Strings of expletives he swung lashlike
over the backs of his men, and it was evident that his previous
efforts had in nowise impaired his resources.
The youth, still the bearer of the colors, did not feel his idleness.
He was deeply absorbed as a spectator. The crash and swing of the
great drama made him lean forward, intent-eyed, his face working
in small contortions. Sometimes he prattled, words coming
unconsciously from him in grotesque exclamations. He did not
know that he breathed; that the flag hung silently over him,
so absorbed was he.
A formidable line of the enemy came within dangerous range.
They could be seen plainly--tall, gaunt men with excited faces
running with long strides toward a wandering fence.
At sight of this danger the men suddenly ceased their cursing
monotone. There was an instant of strained silence before they
threw up their rifles and fired a plumping volley at the foes.
There had been no order given; the men, upon recognizing the menace,
had immediately let drive their flock of bullets without waiting
for word of command.
But the enemy were quick to gain the protection of the wandering
line of fence. They slid down behind it with remarkable celerity,
and from this position they began briskly to slice up the blue men.
These latter braced their energies for a great struggle.
Often, white clinched teeth shone from the dusky faces.
Many heads surged to and fro, floating upon a pale sea of smoke.
Those behind the fence frequently shouted and yelped in taunts and
gibelike cries, but the regiment maintained a stressed silence.
Perhaps, at this new assault the men recalled the fact that they
had been named mud diggers, and it made their situation thrice bitter.
They were breathlessly intent upon keeping the ground and thrusting
away the rejoicing body of the enemy. They fought swiftly and with
a despairing savageness denoted in their expressions.
The youth had resolved not to budge whatever should happen.
Some arrows of scorn that had buried themselves in his heart had
generated strange and unspeakable hatred. It was clear to him
that his final and absolute revenge was to be achieved by his
dead body lying, torn and gluttering, upon the field. This was
to be a poignant retaliation upon the officer who had said
"mule drivers," and later "mud diggers," for in all the wild
graspings of his mind for a unit responsible for his sufferings and
commotions he always seized upon the man who had dubbed him wrongly.
And it was his idea, vaguely formulated, that his corpse would be
for those eyes a great and salt reproach.
The regiment bled extravagantly. Grunting bundles of blue began
to drop. The orderly sergeant of the youth's company was shot
through the cheeks. Its supports being injured, his jaw hung
afar down, disclosing in the wide cavern of his mouth a pulsing mass
of blood and teeth. And with it all he made attempts to cry out.
In his endeavor there was a dreadful earnestness, as if he
conceived that one great shriek would make him well.
The youth saw him presently go rearward. His strength seemed in
nowise impaired. He ran swiftly, casting wild glances for succor.
Others fell down about the feet of their companions. Some of the
wounded crawled out and away, but many lay still, their bodies
twisted into impossible shapes.
The youth looked once for his friend. He saw a vehement young man,
powder-smeared and frowzled, whom he knew to be him. The lieutenant,
also, was unscathed in his position at the rear. He had continued
to curse, but it was now with the air of a man who was using his
last box of oaths.
For the fire of the regiment had begun to wane and drip.
The robust voice, that had come strangely from the thin ranks,
was growing rapidly weak.
The colonel came running along the back of the line. There were
other officers following him. "We must charge'm!" they shouted.
"We must charge'm!" they cried with resentful voices, as if
anticipating a rebellion against this plan by the men.
The youth, upon hearing the shouts, began to study the distance
between him and the enemy. He made vague calculations. He saw
that to be firm soldiers they must go forward. It would be death
to stay in the present place, and with all the circumstances to
go backward would exalt too many others. Their hope was to push
the galling foes away from the fence.
He expected that his companions, weary and stiffened, would have
to be driven to this assault, but as he turned toward them he
perceived with a certain surprise that they were giving quick
and unqualified expressions of assent. There was an ominous,
clanging overture to the charge when the shafts of the bayonets
rattled upon the rifle barrels. At the yelled words of command
the soldiers sprang forward in eager leaps. There was new and
unexpected force in the movement of the regiment. A knowledge of
its faded and jaded condition made the charge appear like a paroxysm,
a display of the strength that comes before a final feebleness.
The men scampered in insane fever of haste, racing as if to achieve
a sudden success before an exhilarating fluid should leave them.
It was a blind and despairing rush by the collection of men in
dusty and tattered blue, over a green sward and under a sapphire sky,
toward a fence, dimly outlined in smoke, from behind which sputtered
the fierce rifles of enemies.
The youth kept the bright colors to the front. He was waving his
free arm in furious circles, the while shrieking mad calls and appeals,
urging on those that did not need to be urged, for it seemed that the
mob of blue men hurling themselves on the dangerous group of rifles
were again grown suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of unselfishness.
From the many firings starting toward them, it looked as if they
would merely succeed in making a great sprinkling of corpses
on the grass between their former position and the fence.
But they were in a state of frenzy, perhaps because of forgotten
vanities, and it made an exhibition of sublime recklessness.
There was no obvious questioning, nor figurings, nor diagrams.
There was, apparently, no considered loopholes. It appeared that
the swift wings of their desires would have shattered against
the iron gates of the impossible.
He himself felt the daring spirit of a savage, religion-mad.
He was capable of profound sacrifices, a tremendous death.
He had no time for dissections, but he knew that he thought of
the bullets only as things that could prevent him from reaching the
place of his endeavor. There were subtle flashings of joy within
him that thus should be his mind.
He strained all his strength. His eyesight was shaken and
dazzled by the tension of thought and muscle. He did not see
anything excepting the mist of smoke gashed by the little knives
of fire, but he knew that in it lay the aged fence of a vanished
farmer protecting the snuggled bodies of the gray men.
As he ran a thought of the shock of contact gleamed in his mind.
He expected a great concussion when the two bodies of troops
crashed together. This became a part of his wild battle madness.
He could feel the onward swing of the regiment about him and he
conceived of a thunderous, crushing blow that would prostrate
the resistance and spread consternation and amazement for miles.
The flying regiment was going to have a catapultian effect.
This dream made him run faster among his comrades, who were
giving vent to hoarse and frantic cheers.
But presently he could see that many of the men in gray did not
intend to abide the blow. The smoke, rolling, disclosed men
who ran, their faces still turned. These grew to a crowd, who
retired stubbornly. Individuals wheeled frequently to send a
bullet at the blue wave.
But at one part of the line there was a grim and obdurate group
that made no movement. They were settled firmly down behind
posts and rails. A flag, ruffled and fierce, waved over them
and their rifles dinned fiercely.
The blue whirl of men got very near, until it seemed that in
truth there would be a close and frightful scuffle. There was
an expressed disdain in the opposition of the little group,
that changed the meaning of the cheers of the men in blue.
They became yells of wrath, directed, personal. The cries of the
two parties were now in sound an interchange of scathing insults.
They in blue showed their teeth; their eyes shone all white.
They launched themselves as at the throats of those who stood
resisting. The space between dwindled to an insignificant distance.
The youth had centered the gaze of his soul upon that other flag.
Its possession would be high pride. It would express bloody
minglings, near blows. He had a gigantic hatred for those who
made great difficulties and complications. They caused it to be
as a craved treasure of mythology, hung amid tasks and contrivances
He plunged like a mad horse at it. He was resolved it should
not escape if wild blows and darings of blows could seize it.
His own emblem, quivering and aflare, was winging toward the other.
It seemed there would shortly be an encounter of strange beaks
and claws, as of eagles.
The swirling body of blue men came to a sudden halt at close and
disastrous range and roared a swift volley. The group in gray was
split and broken by this fire, but its riddled body still fought.
The men in blue yelled again and rushed in upon it.
The youth, in his leapings, saw, as through a mist, a picture
of four or five men stretched upon the ground or writhing upon
their knees with bowed heads as if they had been stricken
by bolts from the sky. Tottering among them was the rival
color bearer, whom the youth saw had been bitten vitally by
the bullets of the last formidable volley. He perceived this man
fighting a last struggle, the struggle of one whose legs are
grasped by demons. It was a ghastly battle. Over his face was
the bleach of death, but set upon it was the dark and hard lines
of desperate purpose. With this terrible grin of resolution he
hugged his precious flag to him and was stumbling and staggering
in his design to go the way that led to safety for it.
But his wounds always made it seem that his feet were retarded,
held, and he fought a grim fight, as with invisible ghouls
fastened greedily upon his limbs. Those in advance of the
scampering blue men, howling cheers, leaped at the fence.
The despair of the lost was in his eyes as he glanced back
The youth's friend went over the obstruction in a tumbling heap
and sprang at the flag as a panther at prey. He pulled at it
and, wrenching it free, swung up its red brilliancy with a mad
cry of exultation even as the color bearer, gasping, lurched over
in a final throe and, stiffening convulsively, turned his dead
face to the ground. There was much blood upon the grass blades.
At the place of success there began more wild clamorings of cheers.
The men gesticulated and bellowed in an ecstasy. When they spoke
it was as if they considered their listener to be a mile away.
What hats and caps were left to them they often slung high in the air.
At one part of the line four men had been swooped upon, and they
now sat as prisoners. Some blue men were about them in an eager
and curious circle. The soldiers had trapped strange birds, and
there was an examination. A flurry of fast questions was in the air.
One of the prisoners was nursing a superficial wound in the foot.
He cuddled it, baby-wise, but he looked up from it often to
curse with an astonishing utter abandon straight at the noses
of his captors. He consigned them to red regions; he called upon
the pestilential wrath of strange gods. And with it all he was
singularly free from recognition of the finer points of the
conduct of prisoners of war. It was as if a clumsy clod had trod
upon his toe and he conceived it to be his privilege, his duty,
to use deep, resentful oaths.
Another, who was a boy in years, took his plight with great
calmness and apparent good nature. He conversed with the men
in blue, studying their faces with his bright and keen eyes.
They spoke of battles and conditions. There was an acute
interest in all their faces during this exchange of view points.
It seemed a great satisfaction to hear voices from where all had
been darkness and speculation.
The third captive sat with a morose countenance. He preserved a
stoical and cold attitude. To all advances he made one reply
without variation, "Ah, go t' hell!"
The last of the four was always silent and, for the most part,
kept his face turned in unmolested directions. From the views
the youth received he seemed to be in a state of absolute dejection.
Shame was upon him, and with it profound regret that he was, perhaps,
no more to be counted in the ranks of his fellows. The youth could
detect no expression that would allow him to believe that the other
was giving a thought to his narrowed future, the pictured dungeons,
perhaps, and starvations and brutalities, liable to the imagination.
All to be seen was shame for captivity and regret for the right
After the men had celebrated sufficiently they settled down
behind the old rail fence, on the opposite side to the one from
which their foes had been driven. A few shot perfunctorily at
There was some long grass. The youth nestled in it and rested,
making a convenient rail support the flag. His friend, jubilant
and glorified, holding his treasure with vanity, came to him there.
They sat side by side and congratulated each other.
The roarings that had stretched in a long line of sound across
the face of the forest began to grow intermittent and weaker.
The stentorian speeches of the artillery continued in some
distant encounter, but the crashes of the musketry had almost ceased.
The youth and his friend of a sudden looked up, feeling a deadened
form of distress at the waning of these noises, which had become
a part of life. They could see changes going on among the troops.
There were marchings this way and that way. A battery wheeled leisurely.
On the crest of a small hill was the thick gleam of many departing muskets.
The youth arose. "Well, what now, I wonder?" he said. By his
tone he seemed to be preparing to resent some new monstrosity in
the way of dins and smashes. He shaded his eyes with his grimy
hand and gazed over the field.
His friend also arose and stared. "I bet we're goin' t' git
along out of this an' back over th' river," said he.
"Well, I swan!" said the youth.
They waited, watching. Within a little while the regiment
received orders to retrace its way. The men got up grunting
from the grass, regretting the soft repose. They jerked their
stiffened legs, and stretched their arms over their heads.
One man swore as he rubbed his eyes. They all groaned "O Lord!"
They had as many objections to this change as they would have
had to a proposal for a new battle.
They trampled slowly back over the field across which they had
run in a mad scamper.
The regiment marched until it had joined its fellows.
The reformed brigade, in column, aimed through a wood
at the road. Directly they were in a mass of dust-covered troops,
and were trudging along in a way parallel to the enemy's lines
as these had been defined by the previous turmoil.
They passed within view of a stolid white house, and saw in front
of it groups of their comrades lying in wait behind a neat breastwork.
A row of guns were booming at a distant enemy. Shells thrown in
reply were raising clouds of dust and splinters. Horsemen dashed
along the line of intrenchments.
At this point of its march the division curved away from the
field and went winding off in the direction of the river.
When the significance of this movement had impressed itself upon
the youth he turned his head and looked over his shoulder toward the
trampled and debris-strewed ground. He breathed a breath of
new satisfaction. He finally nudged his friend. "Well, it's all
over," he said to him.
His friend gazed backward. "B'Gawd, it is," he assented.
For a time the youth was obliged to reflect in a puzzled and
uncertain way. His mind was undergoing a subtle change. It took
moments for it to cast off its battleful ways and resume its
accustomed course of thought. Gradually his brain emerged from
the clogged clouds, and at last he was enabled to more closely
comprehend himself and circumstance.
He understood then that the existence of shot and countershot
was in the past. He had dwelt in a land of strange, squalling
upheavals and had come forth. He had been where there was red of
blood and black of passion, and he was escaped. His first thoughts
were given to rejoicings at this fact.
Later he began to study his deeds, his failures, and his
achievements. Thus, fresh from scenes where many of his usual
machines of reflection had been idle, from where he had
proceeded sheeplike, he struggled to marshal all his acts.
At last they marched before him clearly. From this present view
point he was enabled to look upon them in spectator fashion and
criticise them with some correctness, for his new condition had
already defeated certain sympathies.
Regarding his procession of memory he felt gleeful and unregretting,
for in it his public deeds were paraded in great and shining prominence.
Those performances which had been witnessed by his fellows marched now
in wide purple and gold, having various deflections. They went gayly
with music. It was pleasure to watch these things. He spent delightful
minutes viewing the gilded images of memory.
He saw that he was good. He recalled with a thrill of joy the
respectful comments of his fellows upon his conduct.
Nevertheless, the ghost of his flight from the first engagement
appeared to him and danced. There were small shoutings in his
brain about these matters. For a moment he blushed, and the
light of his soul flickered with shame.
A specter of reproach came to him. There loomed the dogging
memory of the tattered soldier--he who, gored by bullets and
faint of blood, had fretted concerning an imagined wound in
another; he who had loaned his last of strength and intellect
for the tall soldier; he who, blind with weariness and pain,
had been deserted in the field.
For an instant a wretched chill of sweat was upon him at the
thought that he might be detected in the thing. As he stood
persistently before his vision, he gave vent to a cry of sharp
irritation and agony.
His friend turned. "What's the matter, Henry?" he demanded.
The youth's reply was an outburst of crimson oaths.
As he marched along the little branch-hung roadway among his
prattling companions this vision of cruelty brooded over him.
It clung near him always and darkened his view of these deeds
in purple and gold. Whichever way his thoughts turned they were
followed by the somber phantom of the desertion in the fields.
He looked stealthily at his companions, feeling sure that they
must discern in his face evidences of this pursuit. But they
were plodding in ragged array, discussing with quick tongues the
accomplishments of the late battle.
"Oh, if a man should come up an' ask me, I'd say we got a dum good lickin'."
"Lickin'--in yer eye! We ain't licked, sonny. We're goin' down here aways,
swing aroun', an' come in behint 'em."
"Oh, hush, with your comin' in behint 'em. I've seen all 'a that I wanta.
Don't tell me about comin' in behint--"
"Bill Smithers, he ses he'd rather been in ten hundred battles than been
in that heluva hospital. He ses they got shootin' in th' nighttime,
an' shells dropped plum among 'em in th' hospital. He ses sech hollerin'
he never see."
"Hasbrouck? He's th' best off'cer in this here reg'ment. He's a whale."
"Didn't I tell yeh we'd come aroun' in behint 'em?
Didn't I tell yeh so?
"Oh, shet yeh mouth!"
For a time this pursuing recollection of the tattered man took
all elation from the youth's veins. He saw his vivid error,
and he was afraid that it would stand before him all his life.
He took no share in the chatter of his comrades, nor did he look
at them or know them, save when he felt sudden suspicion that
they were seeing his thoughts and scrutinizing each detail of
the scene with the tattered soldier.
Yet gradually he mustered force to put the sin at a distance.
And at last his eyes seemed to open to some new ways. He found
that he could look back upon the brass and bombast of his earlier
gospels and see them truly. He was gleeful when he discovered
that he now despised them.
With this conviction came a store of assurance. He felt a quiet
manhood, nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that
he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point.
He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all,
it was but the great death. He was a man.
So it came to pass that as he trudged from the place of blood and
wrath his soul changed. He came from hot plowshares to prospects
of clover tranquilly, and it was as if hot plowshares were not.
Scars faded as flowers.
It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled
train, despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort
in a trough of liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky.
Yet the youth smiled, for he saw that the world was a world for him,
though many discovered it to be made of oaths and walking sticks.
He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry
nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered
and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with
a lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows,
cool brooks--an existence of soft and eternal peace.
Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of
leaden rain clouds.