The Red Badge of Courage HTML version

Chapter 12
The column that had butted stoutly at the obstacles in the roadway was barely out of the
youth's sight before he saw dark waves of men come sweeping out of the woods and
down through the fields. He knew at once that the steel fibers had been washed from their
hearts. They were bursting from their coats and their equipments as from entanglements.
They charged down upon him like terrified buffaloes.
Behind them blue smoke curled and clouded above the treetops, and through the thickets
he could sometimes see a distant pink glare. The voices of the cannon were clamoring in
interminable chorus.
The youth was horrorstricken. He stared in agony and amazement. He forgot that he was
engaged in combating the universe. He threw aside his mental pamphlets on the
philosophy of the retreated and rules for the guidance of the damned.
The fight was lost. The dragons were coming with invincible strides. The army, helpless
in the matted thickets and blinded by the overhanging night, was going to be swallowed.
War, the red animal, war, the blood-swollen god, would have bloated fill.
Within him something bade to cry out. He had the impulse to make a rallying speech, to
sing a battle hymn, but he could only get his tongue to call into the air: "Why--why--
what--what 's th' matter?"
Soon he was in the midst of them. They were leaping and scampering all about him.
Their blanched faces shone in the dusk. They seemed, for the most part, to be very burly
men. The youth turned from one to another of them as they galloped along. His
incoherent questions were lost. They were heedless of his appeals. They did not seem to
see him.
They sometimes gabbled insanely. One huge man was asking of the sky: "Say, where de
plank road? Where de plank road!" It was as if he had lost a child. He wept in his pain
and dismay.
Presently, men were running hither and thither in all ways. The artillery booming,
forward, rearward, and on the flanks made jumble of ideas of direction. Landmarks had
vanished into the gathered gloom. The youth began to imagine that he had got into the
center of the tremendous quarrel, and he could perceive no way out of it. From the
mouths of the fleeing men came a thousand wild questions, but no one made answers.
The youth, after rushing about and throwing interrogations at the heedless bands of
retreating infantry, finally clutched a man by the arm. They swung around face to face.
"Why--why--" stammered the youth struggling with his balking tongue.