Monday, 2 September 2013

Courage and coincidence

   I recently posted on the blog a brief biography, a thumbnail sketch you could say, of the life of Stephen Crane the author of this book. It's to be found under the heading: Stephen Crane's creature in the desert. 

The story in the novelette, The Red Badge of Courage, concerns the events surrounding a young man, Henry Fleming, fighting on the side of the Unionists in the American Civil War. At one point he receives an injury in unusual circumstances. 

The bloodstain from the wound becomes his red badge of courage. And so the story progresses. Both Fleming's and mine. And its mine I go to now. It concerns a strange event that duly unfolded. 

Two days ago I found myself  in the Austrian town of Bad Vöslau, a place famous for its mineral waters, and since the weather was fine I took the opportunity to go swimming in the special waters of the Bad Vöslau mineral baths. The sun was shining and the place was relatively busy. 

There were many people sitting at the poolside cafe. They looked so relaxed that I decided to join them. And so after toweling off I donned my t-shirt and flipflops and made my way there. 

Arriving at the cafe terrace I was surprised to see an open door behind which was a large room full of books neatly arranged on shelves along three of its sides. Needless to say, I entered. 

After some diligent searching I spotted a shelf on which was a small selection of English books, mainly second-hand paperback novels (perhaps 20 books in all). 

Several of the books were obscured by a framed notice on which were written words to the effect that most of the books on the shelves had been donated by previous visitors to Bad Vöslau and that the person reading the notice was free to take and a keep a book, or books, of his choice. 

I decided to move the notice so that I could examine the books behind the notice, the few books on which it was leaning.

As I gently moved the notice to one side a pane of glass fell suddenly from the frame and sliced into my thumb before clattering loudly on the hard floor. I glanced around; there was no-one else in the room. 

I peered at my thumb and saw blood oozing from the joint below the nail. I staunched the flow of red liquid with a paper tissue I was fortunate to have with me. I then wrapped the tissue around my thumb and held it in place with my index finger. 

Having picked up the glass, by some small miracle unbroken, and the frame also undamaged, and placed them on a small round table together with the printed notice, I turned to the shelves. And there revealed, where the sign had been, was Crane's book, The Red Badge of Courage

Naturally I took Crane's book to keep and to read; my own red badge of curiosity and the recruit Henry Fleming's Red Badge of Courage were united in Bad Vöslau. I wondered about this strange turn of events; had some divine force been at work? Or was it all purely coincidence?


  1. Come along now Gwilym - don't start believing in things like that - this is not you at all - ever the realist.
    You'll be telling me you believe in astrology next.
    Fantastic book by the way - some years since I read it.

  2. Hi Pat, I'm taking great delight in reading the book. I don't think I've read it before. You are right, I don't read the stars in the paper. But I think there is something in synchronicity. I think there is a kind of synchronicity at work in the universe. Yes, it's hard to pin down. But some things are beyond pining down. What I didn't mention in my report was the first book I picked off the shelf and glanced at before I moved the notice and the glass fell on my thumb - I put it back but it was by a doctor who explained how people walk on hot coals and such survive various painful things using similar techniques . So there was also another strange 'coincidence' at work. You cannot prove or test these kinds of experiences such as I had at Bad Vöslau in a laboratory but they nevertheless when they happen they make you stop and think.


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