.. ering upon it. He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle. Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with this question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted, never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering little about means and roads.
But here he was confronted with a thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself. A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to kick its heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt compelled to give serious attention to it. A little panic-fear grew in his mind.
As his imagination went forward to a fight, he saw hideous possibilities. He contemplated the lurking menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to see himself standing stoutly in the midst of them. He recalled his visions of broken-bladed glory, but in the shadow of the impending tumult he suspected them to be impossible pictures. He sprang from the bunk and began to pace nervously to and fro. Good Lord, what’s th’ matter with me? he said aloud.
He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless. Whatever he had learned of himself was here of no avail. He was an unknown quantity. He saw that he would again be obliged to experiment as he had in early youth. He must accumulate information of himself, and meanwhile he resolved to remain close upon his guard lest those qualities of which he knew nothing should everlastingly disgrace him. Good Lord! he repeated in dismay. After a time the tall soldier slid dexterously through the hole. The loud private followed.
They were wrangling. That’s all right, said the tall soldier as he entered. He waved his hand expressively. You can believe me or not, jest as you like. All you got to do is sit down and wait as quiet as you can. Then pretty soon you’ll find out I was right. His comrade grunted stubbornly.
For a moment he seemed to be searching for a formidable reply. Finally he said: Well, you don’t know everything in the world, do you? Didn’t say I knew everything in the world, retorted the other sharply. He began to stow various articles snugly into his knapsack. The youth, pausing in his nervous walk, looked down at the busy figure. Going to be a battle, sure, is there, Jim? he asked. Of course there is, replied the tall soldier.
Of course there is. You jest wait ’til to-morrow, and you’ll see one of the biggest battles ever was. You jest wait. Thunder! said the youth. Oh, you’ll see fighting this time, my boy, what’ll be regular out-and-out fighting, added the tall soldier, with the air of a man who is about to exhibit a battle for the benefit of his friends. Huh! said the loud one from a corner.
Well, remarked the youth, like as not this story’ll turn out jest like them others did. Not much it won’t, replied the tall soldier, exasperated. Not much it won’t. Didn’t the cavalry all start this morning? He glared about him. No one denied his statement.
The cavalry started this morning, he continued. They say there ain’t hardly any cavalry left in camp. They’re going to Richmond, or some place, while we fight all the Johnnies. It’s some dodge like that. The regiment’s got orders, too.
A feller what seen ’em go to headquarters told me a little while ago. And they’re raising blazes all over camp–anybody can see that. Shucks! said the loud one. The youth remained silent for a time. At last he spoke to the tall soldier.
Jim! What? How do you think the reg’ment ‘ll do? Oh, they’ll fight all right, I guess, after they once get into it, said the other with cold judgment. He made a fine use of the third person. There’s been heaps of fun poked at ’em because they’re new, of course, and all that; but they’ll fight all right, I guess. Think any of the boys ‘ll run? persisted the youth. Oh, there may be a few of ’em run, but there’s them kind in every regiment, ‘specially when they first goes under fire, said the other in a tolerant way.
Of course it might happen that the hull kit-and-boodle might start and run, if some big fighting came first-off, and then again they might stay and fight like fun. But you can’t bet on nothing. Of course they ain’t never been under fire yet, and it ain’t likely they’ll lick the hull rebel army all-to-oncet the first time; but I think they’ll fight better than some, if worse than others. That’s the way I figger. They call the reg’ment ‘Fresh fish’ and everything; but the boys come of good stock, and most of ’em ‘ll fight like sin after they oncet git shootin’, he added, with a mighty emphasis on the last four words.
Oh, you think you know– began the loud soldier with scorn. The other turned savagely upon him. They had a rapid altercation, in which they fastened upon each other various strange epithets. The youth at last interrupted them. Did you ever think you might run yourself, Jim? he asked.
On concluding the sentence he laughed as if he had meant to aim a joke. The loud soldier also giggled. The tall private waved his hand. Well, said he profoundly, I’ve thought it might get too hot for Jim Conklin in some of them scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I s’pose I’d start and run. And if I once started to run, I’d run like the devil, and no mistake.
But if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting, why, I’d stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would. I’ll bet on it. Huh! said the loud one. The youth of this tale felt gratitude for these words of his comrade.
He had feared that all of the untried men possessed great and correct confidence. He now was in a measure reassured. Previous chapter: Chapter 1 CHAPTER 2 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 in war.
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. His emotions made him feel strange in the presence of men who talked excitedly of a prospective battle as of a drama they were about to witness, with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent in their faces. It was often that he suspected them to be liars. He did not pass such thoughts without severe condemnation of himself. He dinned reproaches at times. He was convicted by himself of many shameful crimes against the gods of traditions.
In his great anxiety his heart was continually clamoring at what he considered the intolerable slowness of the generals. They seemed content to perch tranquilly on the river bank, and leave him bowed down by the weight of a great problem. He wanted it settled forthwith. He could not long bear such a load, he said. Sometimes his anger at the commanders reached an acute stage, and he grumbled about the camp like a veteran.
One morning, however, he found himself in the ranks of his prepared regiment. The men were whispering speculations and recounting the old rumors. In the gloom before the break of the day their uniforms glowed a deep purple hue. From across the river the red eyes were still peering. In the eastern sky there was a yellow patch like a rug laid for the feet of the coming sun; and against it, black and patternlike, loomed the gigantic figure of the colonel on a gigantic horse.
From off in the darkness came the trampling of feet. The youth could occasionally see dark shadows that moved like monsters. The regiment stood at rest for what seemed a long time. The youth grew impatient. It was unendurable the way these affairs were managed.
He wondered how long they were to be kept waiting. As he looked all about him and pondered upon the mystic gloom, he began to believe that at any moment the ominous distance might be aflare, and the rolling crashes of an engagement come to his ears. Staring once at the red eyes across the river, he conceived them to be growing larger, as the orbs of a row of dragons advancing. He turned toward the colonel and saw him lift his gigantic arm and calmly stroke his mustache. At last he heard from along the road at the foot of the hill the clatter of a horse’s galloping hoofs.
It must be the coming of orders. He bent forward, scarce breathing. The exciting clickety-click, as it grew louder and louder, seemed to be beating upon his soul. Presently a horseman with jangling equipment drew rein before the colonel of the regiment. The two held a short, sharp-worded conversation.
The men in the foremost ranks craned their necks. As the horseman wheeled his animal and galloped away he turned to shout over his shoulder, Don’t forget that box of cigars! The colonel mumbled in reply. The youth wondered what a box of cigars had to do with war. A moment later the regiment went swinging off into the darkness. It was now like one of those moving monsters wending with many feet. The air was heavy, and cold with dew.
A mass of wet grass, marched upon, rustled like silk. There was an occasional flash and glimmer of steel from the backs of all these huge crawling reptiles. From the road came creakings and grumblings as some surly guns were dragged away. The men stumbled along still muttering speculations. There was a subdued debate. Once a man fell down, and as he reached for his rifle a comrade, unseeing, trod upon his hand. He of the injured fingers swore bitterly, and aloud.
A low, tittering laugh went among his fellows. Presently they passed into a roadway and marched forward with easy strides. A dark regiment moved before them, and from behind also came the tinkle of equipments on the bodies of marching men. The rushing yellow of the developing day went on behind their backs. When the sunrays at last struck full and mellowingly upon the earth, the youth saw that the landscape was streaked with two long, thin, black columns which disappeared on the brow of a hill in front and rearward vanished in a wood.
They were like two serpents crawling from the cavern of the night. The river was not in view. The tall soldier burst into praises of what he thought to be his powers of perception. Some of the tall one’s companions cried with emphasis that they, too, had evolved the same thing, and they congratulated themselves upon it. But there were others who said that the tall one’s plan was not the true one at all.
They persisted with other theories. There was a vigorous discussion. The youth took no part in them. As he walked along in careless line he was engaged with his own eternal debate. He could not hinder himself from dwelling upon it.
He was despondent and sullen, and threw shifting glances about him. He looked ahead, often expecting to hear from the advance the rattle of firing. But the long serpents crawled slowly from hill to hill without bluster of smoke. A dun-colored cloud of dust floated away to the right. The sky overhead was of a fairy blue.
The youth studied the faces of his companions, ever on the watch to detect kindred emotions. He suffered disappointment. Some ardor of the air which was causing the veteran commands to move with glee–almost with song–had infected the new regiment. The men began to speak of victory as of a thing they knew. Also, the tall soldier received his vindication.
They were certainly going to come around in behind the enemy. They expressed commiseration for that part of the army which had been left upon the river bank, felicitating themselves upon being a part of a blasting host. The youth, considering himself as separated from the others, was saddened by the blithe and merry speeches that went from rank to rank. The company wags all made their best endeavors. The regiment tramped to the tune of laughter. The blatant soldier often convulsed whole files by his biting sarcasms aimed at the tall one.
And it was not long before all the men seemed to forget their mission. Whole brigades grinned in unison, and regiments laughed. Bibliography I am 13 and I just wrote the best paper in the world! English Essays.