The Red Badge of Courage
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
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.