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The Red Badge of Courage

Chapter 16
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
 
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