Summary and Analysis
As Henry approaches the campfire, he is stopped by a sentry. The sentry is Wilson, who is overjoyed to see Henry because he feared that Henry had been killed in battle. As the two talk, Henry explains his disappearance by saying that he got separated from the company, and he extends this falsehood by saying that he also got shot in the head. The corporal, Simpson, overhears this conversation (the other men, including an officer, are all asleep) and asks Wilson what is going on. Wilson explains that Henry has returned, and Simpson comments that if men continue to return at this rate over the course of the night, by morning, the entire company will be back.
Simpson tells Henry to sit down, and Henry does so with great relief. Wilson comforts Henry, dresses his head wound (commenting on the unusual nature if this head wound — a wound which looked more like someone had hit him over the head rather than a bullet wound), lets him have some coffee, and gives him his blankets for the night.
The themes of doubt and duty are addressed in this chapter as the reader sees the company, as demonstrated through the behavior of Wilson and Simpson, welcome, without question, the return of Henry. In their duties as soldiers and as friends, his comrades care for him, joyfully accepting his return.
Henry, on the other hand, responds to their kindness with doubt and lies. Henry doubts that his comrades can accept that he was overcome by fear and ran from battle, and, what's more, that they would forgive him for this breakdown. Rather than face the possibility of ridicule and scorn, he lies.
Henry makes up a story to cover-up his disappearance and his injury. In describing Henry telling these falsehoods, Crane uses a significant prepositional phrase which further complicates the reader's decision about whether to sympathize with Henry or to think of him as a calculating, selfish young man who does whatever is necessary to cover-up any questions regarding his commitment to duty. When Henry answers Corporal Simpson's question, "Where was yeh?" Crane writes Henry's answer as, "'Over on th' right. I got separated' — began the youth with considerable glibness." The prepositional phrase at issue is "with considerable glibness." (Synonyms for "glib" include "slick," "smooth," and "easy.") Henry doesn't stammer or stutter as he has done in the past when asked a similar question. Indeed, the phrase includes the intensifying adjective, "considerable."
Typically, Henry begins establishing his story with youthful confidence. But later, when his friend discusses his head wound further, Henry's glibness disappears, and he only fumbles with a button on his jacket in response. His initial glibness may disgust the reader and lead to the decision that Henry isn't capable of true honor. His retreat from this glibness is a sign that Henry is ashamed of the lies and his rejection of duty, which shows hope that he can return to valor.
This hope is given additional fuel when Henry shows concern for someone other than himself. After his friend gives Henry his blankets to sleep on, Henry asks where and on what the friend will sleep. It is the first time that Henry shows compassion and a feeling of connection with his fellow soldiers; this compassion and connection may enable Henry to face battle bravely and attain the honor that he craves.