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The Red Badge of Courage

Chapter 21
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.
 
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