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As this chapter opens, the young soldier and the tattered man are talking about Jim Conklin's death. The tattered man calls him a "reg'lar jim-dandy fer nerve" and wonders "where he got 'is stren'th from?" The youth, too upset to speak, throws himself on the ground. The tattered man reminds him that the tall soldier is dead and no longer needs help, while he "ain't enjoying any great health m'self these days." The young soldier is afraid that he is about to witness another horrible death, but the tattered man assures him that he is not ready to die. He calls the way the tall soldier died "th' funniest thing," and urges the youth to come away-"there ain't no use in our stayin' here an' tryin' t' ask him anything." (The youth, we remember, also wanted to ask a question of the dead man in Chapter 7.)
In this chapter, as in Chapter 8 where he first appeared, it's hard to know what to make of the tattered man. The repetition of the phrase "tattered" makes the reader think of a jester or a clown, and sometimes the tattered man seems so simple as to be silly. Indeed, the sergeant in Chapter 8 laughed at him. But the tattered man seems good and innocent, proud of his fellow soldiers, fond of the children he mentions as the reason he isn't going to die.
As they begin to walk along the road, the tattered man tells how he received
his wounds. He was fighting, he recalls, and a neighbor from home, Tom
Jamison, told him that he had been shot in the head. Until then, he hadn't
realized it. Trying to move to the rear, he was hit again, in the arm.
The tattered man observes that the young soldier isn't looking well, either.
"I bet yeh 've got a worser one than yeh think," he says solicitously.
"It might be inside mostly, an' them plays thunder.... Yeh might
have some queer kind 'a hurt
The youth, feeling terribly ashamed, grumbles, "Oh, don't bother me!" and, looking at the tattered man with hatred, goes off. The tattered man can't believe it. In his confused mind-he seems to be going into a state of shock-the young soldier has become Tom Jamison, and he tells him, "Yeh wanta go trompin' off with a bad hurt. It ain't right-now-Tom Jamison-it ain't. You wanta leave me take keer of yeh, Tom Jamison." Running away, the young soldier sees the tattered man wandering helplessly around the field.
These constant questions about where the wound is located make the young soldier feel terrible, and he turns in anger on the tattered man. Of course, Henry has no wound, and he doesn't want to be found out. But in a way the tattered man is right-Henry's wound is worse than he thinks, and it is "inside mostly, an' them plays thunder." Henry's wound is psychological-it is his lack of courage, his shame at deserting his comrades in the heat of battle.
At the chapter's end Henry runs away from this wounded and suffering man who showed so much sympathy for him (and who would not, we realize, have deserted the young soldier in a time of need). The tattered man may be a little ridiculous, but he is kinder than Henry. In the closing lines the tattered soldier represents the society that will find out the young soldier's shame, and he recognizes that he "could not defend himself forever" against it-as if his own fellows, not the Confederates, were the enemy. He wishes he were dead.