The Upturned Face

Stephen Crane


"What will we do now?" said the adjutant, troubled and excited.

"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

measured volleys.

"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 to shovel.

"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

grizzly business.

"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," said Lean.

"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 corpse.

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

other private.

"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.