Face by 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
Lean shouted back to his little line, and two men came slowly, one
with a pick, one with a shovel. They started 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
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 his hands approached 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 touch it.
Go on, said the adjutant, hoarsely.
Lean stretched his wooden hand, and his fingers fumbled the
blood-stained buttons. At last he rose with 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? Hurry, do you hear? I never saw
Even as he cried out in his passion the two men were labouring for
their lives. Ever overhead the bullets were spitting.
The grave was finished. It was not a masterpiecea poor little
shallow thing. Lean and the adjutant again looked at each other in a
curious silent communication.
Suddenly the adjutant croaked out a weird laugh. It was a terrible
laugh, which had its origin in that part of the mind which is first
moved by the singing of the nerves. Well, he said, humorously to
Lean, I suppose we had best tumble him in.
Yes, said Lean. The two privates stood waiting, bent over their
implements. I suppose, said Lean, it would be better if we laid him
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 again at each otherthey were
always looking at each other. They sighed with relief.
The adjutant said, I suppose we shouldwe should say something. Do
you know the service, Tim?
They don't read the service until the grave is filled in, said
Lean, pressing his lips to an academic expression.
Don't they? said the adjutant, shocked that he had made the
Oh, well, he cried, suddenly, let uslet us say somethingwhile
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, but
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, bareheaded, stood over the grave.
The Rostina sharpshooters fired briskly.
Oh 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, Oh Father, the little flying bubble,
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 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 in.
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 onon the feet.
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
onon the face. It had been emptied on the feet. There was a great
point gained thereha, ha!the first shovelful had been emptied on
the feet. How satisfactory!
The adjutant began to babble. Well, of coursea man we've messed
with all these yearsimpossibleyou can't, you know, leave your
intimate friends rotting on the field. Go on, for God's sake, and
The man with the shovel suddenly ducked, grabbed his left arm with
his right hand, 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
finish this business.
The wounded man scrambled hard still 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 wayoftenof the hit and 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 soundplop. Lean suddenly stopped
and mopped his browa tired labourer.
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
Damn you, said Lean, shut your mouth. He was not the senior
He again filled the shovel and flung the earth. Always the earth
made that soundplop. 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 God, he cried to the adjutant. Why didn't
you turn him somehow when you put him in? This Then Lean began to
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