A selection from
THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Narrated by Lloyd James
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running time is 21 minutes
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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.
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