by Stephen Crane
Out of the low window could be seen three hickory
trees placed irregularly in a meadow that was
resplendent in springtime green. Farther away,
the old, dismal belfry of the village church loomed
over the pines. A horse, meditating in the shade
of one of the hickories, lazily swished his tail.
The warm sunshine made an oblong of vivid yellow
on the floor of the grocery.
"Could you see the whites of their eyes?" said
the man, who was seated on a soap box.
"Nothing of the kind," replied old Henry warmly.
"Just a lot of flitting figures, and I let go at
where they 'peared to be the thickest. Bang!"
"Mr. Fleming," said the grocer--his deferential
voice expressed somehow the old man's exact social
weight--"Mr. Fleming, you never was frightened much
in them battles, was you?"
The veteran looked down and grinned. Observing
his manner, the entire group tittered. "Well, I
guess I was," he answered finally. "Pretty well
scared, sometimes. Why, in my first battle I
thought the sky was falling down. I thought the
world was coming to an end. You bet I was scared."
Every one laughed. Perhaps it seemed strange
and rather wonderful to them that a man should
admit the thing, and in the tone of their laughter
there was probably more admiration than if old
Fleming had declared that he had always been a
lion. Moreover, they knew that he had ranked as
an orderly sergeant, and so their opinion of his
heroism was fixed. None, to be sure, knew how an
orderly sergeant ranked, but then it was understood
to be somewhere just shy of a major-general's
stars. So, when old Henry admitted that he had
been frightened, there was a laugh.
"The trouble was," said the old man, "I thought
they were all shooting at me. Yes, sir, I thought
every man in the other army was aiming at me in
particular, and only me. And it seemed so darned
unreasonable, you know. I wanted to explain to
'em what an almighty good fellow I was, because
I thought then they might quit all trying to hit
me. But I couldn't explain, and they kept on being
unreasonable--blim!--blam! bang! So I run!"
Two little triangles of wrinkles appeared at the
corners of his eyes. Evidently he appreciated some
comedy in this recital. Down near his feet, however,
little Jim, his grandson, was visibly horror-stricken.
His hands were clasped nervously, and his eyes were
wide with astonishment at this terrible scandal, his
most magnificent grandfather telling such a thing.
"That was at Chancellorsville. Of course, afterward
I got kind of used to it. A man does. Lots of men,
though, seem to feel all right from the start. I
did, as soon as I 'got on to it,' as they say now;
but at first I was pretty well flustered. Now, there
was young Jim Conklin, old Si Conklin's son--that
used to keep the tannery--you none of you recollect
him--well, he went into it from the start just as
if he was born to it. But with me it was different.
I had to get used to it."
When little Jim walked with his grandfather he was
in the habit of skipping along on the stone pavement,
in front of the three stores and the hotel of the
town, and betting that he could avoid the cracks.
But upon this day he walked soberly, with his hand
gripping two of his grandfather's fingers. Sometimes
he kicked abstractedly at dandelions that curved
over the walk. Any one could see that he was much
"There's Sickles's colt over in the medder, Jimmie,"
said the old man. "Don't you wish you owned one like
"Um," said the boy, with a strange lack of interest.
He continued his reflections. Then finally he ventured:
"Grandpa--now--was that true what you was telling
"What?" asked the grandfather. "What was I telling
"Oh, about your running."
"Why, yes, that was true enough, Jimmie. It was my
first fight, and there was an awful lot of noise,
Jimmie seemed dazed that this idol, of its own will,
should so totter. His stout boyish idealism was
Presently the grandfather said: "Sickles's colt is
going for a drink. Don't you wish you owned Sickles's
The boy merely answered: "He ain't as nice as our'n."
He lapsed then into another moody silence.
* * * * * *
One of the hired men, a Swede, desired to drive to
the county seat for purposes of his own. The old man
loaned a horse and an unwashed buggy. It appeared
later that one of the purposes of the Swede was to
After quelling some boisterous frolic of the farm
hands and boys in the garret, the old man had that
night gone peacefully to sleep, when he was aroused
by clamouring at the kitchen door. He grabbed his
trousers, and they waved out behind as he dashed
forward. He could hear the voice of the Swede,
screaming and blubbering. He pushed the wooden
button, and, as the door flew open, the Swede, a
maniac, stumbled inward, chattering, weeping,
still screaming: "De barn fire! Fire! Fire! De
barn fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!"
There was a swift and indescribable change in the
old man. His face ceased instantly to be a face; it
became a mask, a gray thing, with horror written
about the mouth and eyes. He hoarsely shouted at
the foot of the little rickety stairs, and
immediately, it seemed, there came down an
avalanche of men. No one knew that during this
time the old lady had been standing in her
night-clothes at the bedroom door, yelling:
"What's th' matter? What's th' matter? What's
When they dashed toward the barn it presented to
their eyes its usual appearance, solemn, rather
mystic in the black night. The Swede's lantern
was overturned at a point some yards in front
of the barn doors. It contained a wild little
conflagration of its own, and even in their
excitement some of those who ran felt a gentle
secondary vibration of the thrifty part of their
minds at sight of this overturned lantern. Under
ordinary circumstances it would have been a
But the cattle in the barn were trampling,
trampling, trampling, and above this noise
could be heard a humming like the song of
innumerable bees. The old man hurled aside
the great doors, and a yellow flame leaped
out at one corner and sped and wavered
frantically up the old grey wall. It was glad,
terrible, this single flame, like the wild
banner of deadly and triumphant foes.
The motley crowd from the garret had come
with all the pails of the farm. They flung
themselves upon the well. It was a leisurely
old machine, long dwelling in indolence. It
was in the habit of giving out water with a
sort of reluctance. The men stormed at it,
cursed it; but it continued to allow the
buckets to be filled only after the wheezy
windlass had howled many protests at the
With his opened knife in his hand old Fleming
himself had gone headlong into the barn, where
the stifling smoke swirled with the air currents,
and where could be heard in its fulness the
terrible chorus of the flames, laden with tones
of hate and death, a hymn of wonderful ferocity.
He flung a blanket over an old mare's head,
cut the halter close to the manger, led the
mare to the door, and fairly kicked her out
to safety. He returned with the same blanket,
and rescued one of the work horses. He took
five horses out, and then came out himself,
with his clothes bravely on fire. He had no
whiskers, and very little hair on his head.
They soused five pailfuls of water on him.
His eldest son made a clean miss with the
sixth pailful, because the old man had turned
and was running down the decline and around
to the basement of the barn, where were the
stanchions of the cows. Some one noticed at
the time that he ran very lamely, as if one
of the frenzied horses had smashed his hip.
The cows, with their heads held in the heavy
stanchions, had thrown themselves, strangled
themselves, tangled themselves: done everything
which the ingenuity of their exuberant fear
could suggest to them.
Here, as at the well, the same thing happened
to every man save one. Their hands went mad.
They became incapable of everything save the
power to rush into dangerous situations.
The old man released the cow nearest the door,
and she, blind drunk with terror, crashed into
the Swede. The Swede had been running to and
fro babbling. He carried an empty milk-pail,
to which he clung with an unconscious, fierce
enthusiasm. He shrieked like one lost as he
went under the cow's hoofs, and the milk-pail,
rolling across the floor, made a flash of silver
in the gloom.
Old Fleming took a fork, beat off the cow, and
dragged the paralyzed Swede to the open air.
When they had rescued all the cows save one,
which had so fastened herself that she could
not be moved an inch, they returned to the
front of the barn, and stood sadly, breathing
like men who had reached the final point of
Many people had come running. Some one had
even gone to the church, and now, from the
distance, rang the tocsin note of the old bell.
There was a long flare of crimson on the sky,
which made remote people speculate as to the
whereabouts of the fire.
The long flames sang their drumming chorus in
voices of the heaviest bass. The wind whirled
clouds of smoke and cinders into the faces of
the spectators. The form of the old barn was
outlined in black amid these masses of orange-hued
And then came this Swede again, crying as one
who is the weapon of the sinister fates: "De
colts! De colts! You have forgot de colts!"
Old Fleming staggered. It was true; they had
forgotten the two colts in the box-stalls at
the back of the barn. "Boys," he said, "I must
try to get 'em out." They clamoured about him
then, afraid for him, afraid of what they should
see. Then they talked wildly each to each. "Why,
it's sure death!" "He would never get out!" "Why,
it's suicide for a man to go in there!" Old
Fleming stared absent-mindedly at the open doors.
"The poor little things!" he said. He rushed into
When the roof fell in, a great funnel of smoke
swarmed toward the sky, as if the old man's
mighty spirit, released from its body--a little
bottle--had swelled like the genie of fable.
The smoke was tinted rose-hue from the flames,
and perhaps the unutterable midnights of the
universe will have no power to daunt the colour
of this soul.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~