"What will we do now?" said the adjutant, troubled and
"Bury him," said Timothy Lean.
The two officers looked down close to their toes where lay the body of
their comrade. The face was chalk-blue; gleaming eyes stared at the sky.
Over the two upright figures was a windy sound of bullets, and on the top of
the hill, Lean's prostrate company of Spitzbergen infantry was firing
"Don't you think it would be better -- " began the adjutant. "We might
leave him until to-morrow."
"No," said Lean, "I can't hold that post an hour longer. I've got to fall
back, and we've got to bury old Bill."
"Of course," said the adjutant at once. "Your men
got intrenching tools?"
Lean shouted back to his little firing line, and two men came slowly, one
with a pick, one with a shovel. They stared in the direction of the Rostina
sharpshooters. Bullets cracked near their ears. "Dig here," said Lean,
gruffly. The men, thus caused to lower their glances to the turf, became
hurried and frightened merely because they could not look to see whence the
bullets came. The dull beat of the pick striking the earth sounded amid the
swift snap of close bullets. Presently the other private began
"I suppose," said the adjutant, slowly, "we'd better search his clothes
for . . . things.
Lean nodded; together in curious abstraction they looked at the body.
Then Lean stirred his shoulders, suddenly arousing himself. "Yes," he said,
"we'd better see . . . what he's got." He dropped to his knees and
approached his hands to the body of the dead officer. But his hands wavered
over the buttons of the tunic. The first button was brick-red with drying
blood, and he did not seem to dare to touch it.
"Go on," said the adjutant, hoarsely.
Lean stretched his wooden hand, and his fingers fumbled blood-stained
buttons. . . . At last he arose with a ghastly face. He had gathered a
watch, a whistle, a pipe, a tobacco pouch, a handkerchief, a little case of
cards and papers. He looked at the adjutant. There was a silence. The
adjutant was feeling that he had been a coward to make Lean do all the
"Well," said Lean, "that's all, I think. You have his sword and
"Yes," said the adjutant, his face working. And then he burst out in a
sudden strange fury at the two privates. "Why don't you hurry up with that
grave? What are you doing, anyhow?"
Even as he cried out in this passion, the two men were laboring for their
lives. Ever overhead, the bullets were spitting.
The grave was finished. It was not a masterpiece -- poor little shallow
thing. Lean and the adjutant again looked at each other in a curious, silent
Suddenly the adjutant croaked out a weird laugh. It was a terrible laugh
which had its origin in that part of the mind whichis first moved by the
singing of the nerves. "Well," he said, humorously toLean, "I suppose we
had best tumble him in."
"Yes," said Lean. The two privates stood waiting bent over on their
implements. "I suppose," said Lean, "it would be better if we laid him in
"Yes," said the adjutant. Then apparently remembering that he had made
Lean search the body, he stooped with great fortitude and took hold of the
dead officer's clothing. Lean joined him. Both were particular that their
fingers should not feel the corpse. They tugged away; the corpse lifted,
heaved, toppled, flopped into the grave, and the two officers,
straightening, looked at each other. They sighed with relief.
The adjutant said: "I suppose we should . . . we should say something. Do
you know the service, Tim?"
"They don't read the service until the grave is filled in,"
"Don't they?" said the adjutant, shocked that he had made the mistake.
"Oh, well," he cried, suddenly, "let us . . . let us say something. . . .
while he can hear us."
"All right," said Lean. "Do you know the service?"
"I can't remember a line of it," said the adjutant.
Lean was extremely dubious. "I can repeat two lines out --
"Well, do it," said the adjutant. "Go as far as you can. That's better
than nothing. And . . . the beasts have got our range exactly."
Lean looked at his two men. "Attention!" he barked. The privates came to
attention with a click, looking much aggrieved. The adjutant lowered his
helmet to his knee. Lean, bare-headed, stood over the grave. The Rostina
sharpshooters fired briskly.
"O, Father, our friend has sunk in the deep waters of death, but his
spirit has leaped toward Thee as the bubble arises from the lips of the
drowning. Perceive, we beseech, O, Father, the little flying bubble
and -- "
Lean, although husky and ashamed, had suffered no hesitation up to this
point, but he stopped with a hopeless feeling and looked at the
The adjutant moved uneasily. "And from Thy superb heights -- " he began,
and then he, too, came to an end.
"And from Thy superb heights," said Lean.
The adjutant suddenly remembered a phrase in the back part of the
Spitzbergen burial service, and he exploited it with the triumphant manner
of a man who has recalled everything and can go on.
"Oh, God, have mercy -- "
Oh, God, have mercy -- " said Lean.
"'Mercy,'" repeated the adjutant, in a quick failure.
"'Mercy,'" said Lean. And then he was moved by some violence of feeling,
for he turned suddenly upon his two men and tigerishly said: "Throw the dirt
The fire of the Rostina sharpshooters was accurate and continuous.
One of the aggrieved privates came forward with his shovel. He lifted his
first shovel load of earth, and for a moment of inexplicable hesitation, it
was held poised above this corpse which, from its chalk-blue face, looked
keenly out from the grave. Then the soldier emptied his shovel on -- on the
Timothy Lean felt as if tons had been swiftly lifted from off his
forehead. He had felt that perhaps the private might empty the shovel on --
on the face. It had been emptied on the feet. There was a great point gained
there. The adjutant began to babble. "Well, of course . . . a man we've
messed with all these years . . . impossible . . . you can't, you know,
leave your intimate friends rotting on the field . . . Go on, for God's
sake, and shovel, you."
The man with the shovel suddenly ducked, grabbed his left arm with his
right and looked at his officer for orders. Lean picked the shovel from the
ground. "Go to the rear," he said to the wounded man. He also addressed the
"You get under cover, too. I'll . . . I'll finish this business."
The wounded man scrambled hastily for the top of the ridge without
devoting any glances to the direction from whence the bullets came, and the
other man followed at an equal pace, but he was different in that he looked
back anxiously three times. This is merely the way -- often -- of the hit
and the unhit.
Timothy Lean filled the shovel, hesitated, and then in a movement which
was like a gesture of abhorrence, he flung the dirt into the grave, and as
it landed it made a sound -- plop. Lean suddenly paused and mopped his brow
-- a tired laborer.
"Perhaps we have been wrong," said the adjutant. His glance wavered
stupidly. "It might have been better if we hadn't buried him just
at this time. Of course, if we advance to-morrow, the body would
have been-- "
"Damn you," said Lean. "Shut your mouth. He was
not the senior officer."
He again filled the shovel and flung in the earth. . . . . For a space,
Lean worked frantically, like a man digging himself out of danger. . . .
Soon there was nothing to be seen but the chalk-blue face. Lean filled the
shovel. . . . "Good Good [sic]," he cried to the adjutant, why didn't you
turn him somehow when you put him in? This -- "
The adjutant understood. He was pale to the lips. "Go on, man," he cried,
beseechingly, almost in a shout. . . . Lean swung back the shovel; it went
forward in a pendulum curve. When the earth landed it made a sound -- plop.