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The Red Badge of Courage

Chapter 19
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.
 
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