For an instant a wretched chill of sweat was upon him at the thought that he might be detected in the thing. As he stood persistently before his vision, he gave vent to a cry of sharp irritation and agony.
His friend turned. "What's the matter, Henry?" he demanded. The youth's reply was an outburst of crimson oaths.
As he marched along the little branch-hung roadway among his prattling companions this vision of cruelty brooded over him. It clung near him always and darkened his view of these deeds in purple and gold. Whichever way his thoughts turned they were followed by the somber phantom of the desertion in the fields. He looked stealthily at his companions, feeling sure that they must discern in his face evidences of this pursuit. But they were plodding in ragged array, discussing with quick tongues the accomplishments of the late battle.
"Oh, if a man should come up an' ask me, I'd say we got a dum good lickin'."
"Lickin' — in yer eye! We ain't licked, sonny. We're goin' down here aways, swing aroun', an' come in behint 'em."
"Oh, hush, with your comin' in behint 'em. I've seen all 'a that I wanta. Don't tell me about comin' in behint — "
"Bill Smithers, he ses he'd rather been in ten hundred battles than been in that heluva hospital. He ses they got shootin' in th' nighttime, an' shells dropped plum among 'em in th' hospital. He ses sech hollerin' he never see."
"Hasbrouck? He's th' best off'cer in this here reg'ment. He's a whale."
"Didn't I tell yeh we'd come aroun' in behint 'em? Didn't I tell yeh so? We — "
"Oh, shet yeh mouth!"
For a time this pursuing recollection of the tattered man took all elation from the youth's veins. He saw his vivid error, and he was afraid that it would stand before him all his life. He took no share in the chatter of his comrades, nor did he look at them or know them, save when he felt sudden suspicion that they were seeing his thoughts and scrutinizing each detail of the scene with the tattered soldier.
Yet gradually he mustered force to put the sin at a distance. And at last his eyes seemed to open to some new ways. He found that he could look back upon the brass and bombast of his earlier gospels and see them truly. He was gleeful when he discovered that he now despised them.
With this conviction came a store of assurance. He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point. He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.
So it came to pass that as he trudged from the place of blood and wrath his soul changed. He came from hot plowshares to prospects of clover tranquilly, and it was as if hot plowshares were not. Scars faded as flowers.
It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled train, despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort in a trough of liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky. Yet the youth smiled, for he saw that the world was a world for him, though many discovered it to be made of oaths and walking sticks. He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks — an existence of soft and eternal peace.
Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.
the dilapidated regiment Henry's regiment after the assault on the fence line.
the clogged clouds Henry's mental confusion as he reviews his behavior in combat.
the gilded images of memory Henry's thoughts as he thinks of his heroic deeds in battle.
the machinery of the universe nature's plan for the destiny of all creatures.
the bludgeon of correction Henry's guilt regarding his treatment of the tattered man and the actions he needs to take to alleviate that guilt.
the sultry nightmare Henry 's overcoming of all his doubts and shortcomings in his transformation into a brave, courageous soldier.
a bedraggled train the last image which the reader gets of Henry's Union division as it returns from all the battles in which it has participated.