They had marched more than thirty kilometres since dawn, along
the white, hot road where occasional thickets of trees threw a
moment of shade, then out into the glare again. On either hand, the
valley, wide and shallow, glittered with heat; dark green patches
of rye, pale young corn, fallow and meadow and black pine woods
spread in a dull, hot diagram under a glistening sky. But right in
front the mountains ranged across, pale blue and very still, snow
gleaming gently out of the deep atmosphere. And towards the
mountains, on and on, the regiment marched between the rye fields
and the meadows, between the scraggy fruit trees set regularly on
either side the high road. The burnished, dark green rye threw off
a suffocating heat, the mountains drew gradually nearer and more
distinct. While the feet of the soldiers grew hotter, sweat ran
through their hair under their helmets, and their knapsacks could
burn no more in contact with their shoulders, but seemed instead to
give off a cold, prickly sensation.
He walked on and on in silence, staring at the mountains ahead,
that rose sheer out of the land, and stood fold behind fold, half
earth, half heaven, the heaven, the barrier with slits of soft
snow, in the pale, bluish peaks.
He could now walk almost without pain. At the start, he had
determined not to limp. It had made him sick to take the first
steps, and during the first mile or so, he had compressed his
breath, and the cold drops of sweat had stood on his forehead. But
he had walked it off. What were they after all but bruises! He had
looked at them, as he was getting up: deep bruises on the backs of
his thighs. And since he had made his first step in the morning, he
had been conscious of them, till now he had a tight, hot place in
his chest, with suppressing the pain, and holding himself in. There
seemed no air when he breathed. But he walked almost lightly.
The Captain’s hand had trembled at taking his coffee at
dawn: his orderly saw it again. And he saw the fine figure of the
Captain wheeling on horseback at the farm-house ahead, a handsome
figure in pale blue uniform with facings of scarlet, and the metal
gleaming on the black helmet and the sword-scabbard, and dark
streaks of sweat coming on the silky bay horse. The orderly felt he
was connected with that figure moving so suddenly on horseback: he
followed it like a shadow, mute and inevitable and damned by it.
And the officer was always aware of the tramp of the company
behind, the march of his orderly among the men.
The Captain was a tall man of about forty, grey at the temples.
He had a handsome, finely knit figure, and was one of the best
horsemen in the West. His orderly, having to rub him down, admired
the amazing riding-muscles of his loins.
For the rest, the orderly scarcely noticed the officer any more
than he noticed himself. It was rarely he saw his master’s
face: he did not look at it. The Captain had reddish-brown, stiff
hair, that he wore short upon his skull. His moustache was also cut
short and bristly over a full, brutal mouth. His face was rather
rugged, the cheeks thin. Perhaps the man was the more handsome for
the deep lines in his face, the irritable tension of his brow,
which gave him the look of a man who fights with life. His fair
eyebrows stood bushy over light blue eyes that were always flashing
with cold fire.
He was a Prussian aristocrat, haughty and overbearing. But his
mother had been a Polish Countess. Having made too many gambling
debts when he was young, he had ruined his prospects in the Army,
and remained an infantry captain. He had never married: his
position did not allow of it, and no woman had ever moved him to
it. His time he spent riding—occasionally he rode one of his
own horses at the races—and at the officers’ club. Now
and then he took himself a mistress. But after such an event, he
returned to duty with his brow still more tense, his eyes still
more hostile and irritable. With the men, however, he was merely
impersonal, though a devil when roused; so that, on the whole, they
feared him, but had no great aversion from him. They accepted him
as the inevitable.
To his orderly he was at first cold and just and indifferent: he
did not fuss over trifles. So that his servant knew practically
nothing about him, except just what orders he would give, and how
he wanted them obeyed. That was quite simple. Then the change
The orderly was a youth of about twenty-two, of medium height,
and well built. He had strong, heavy limbs, was swarthy, with a
soft, black, young moustache. There was something altogether warm
and young about him. He had firmly marked eyebrows over dark,
expressionless eyes, that seemed never to have thought, only to
have received life direct through his senses, and acted straight
Gradually the officer had become aware of his servant’s
young, vigorous, unconscious presence about him. He could not get
away from the sense of the youth’s person, while he was in
attendance. It was like a warm flame upon the older man’s
tense, rigid body, that had become almost unliving, fixed. There
was something so free and self-contained about him, and something
in the young fellow’s movement, that made the officer aware
of him. And this irritated the Prussian. He did not choose to be
touched into life by his servant. He might easily have changed his
man, but he did not. He now very rarely looked direct at his
orderly, but kept his face averted, as if to avoid seeing him. And
yet as the young soldier moved unthinking about the apartment, the
elder watched him, and would notice the movement of his strong
young shoulders under the blue cloth, the bend of his neck. And it
irritated him. To see the soldier’s young, brown, shapely
peasant’s hand grasp the loaf or the wine-bottle sent a flash
of hate or of anger through the elder man’s blood. It was not
that the youth was clumsy: it was rather the blind, instinctive
sureness of movement of an unhampered young animal that irritated
the officer to such a degree.
Once, when a bottle of wine had gone over, and the red gushed
out on to the tablecloth, the officer had started up with an oath,
and his eyes, bluey like fire, had held those of the confused youth
for a moment. It was a shock for the young soldier. He felt
something sink deeper, deeper into his soul, where nothing had ever
gone before. It left him rather blank and wondering. Some of his
natural completeness in himself was gone, a little uneasiness took
its place. And from that time an undiscovered feeling had held
between the two men.
Henceforward the orderly was afraid of really meeting his
master. His subconsciousness remembered those steely blue eyes and
the harsh brows, and did not intend to meet them again. So he
always stared past his master, and avoided him. Also, in a little
anxiety, he waited for the three months to have gone, when his time
would be up. He began to feel a constraint in the Captain’s
presence, and the soldier even more than the officer wanted to be
left alone, in his neutrality as servant.
He had served the Captain for more than a year, and knew his
duty. This he performed easily, as if it were natural to him. The
officer and his commands he took for granted, as he took the sun
and the rain, and he served as a matter of course. It did not
implicate him personally.
But now if he were going to be forced into a personal
interchange with his master he would be like a wild thing caught,
he felt he must get away.
But the influence of the young soldier’s being had
penetrated through the officer’s stiffened discipline, and
perturbed the man in him. He, however, was a gentleman, with long,
fine hands and cultivated movements, and was not going to allow
such a thing as the stirring of his innate self. He was a man of
passionate temper, who had always kept himself suppressed.
Occasionally there had been a duel, an outburst before the
soldiers. He knew himself to be always on the point of breaking
out. But he kept himself hard to the idea of the Service. Whereas
the young soldier seemed to live out his warm, full nature, to give
it off in his very movements, which had a certain zest, such as
wild animals have in free movement. And this irritated the officer
more and more.
In spite of himself, the Captain could not regain his neutrality
of feeling towards his orderly. Nor could he leave the man alone.
In spite of himself, he watched him, gave him sharp orders, tried
to take up as much of his time as possible. Sometimes he flew into
a rage with the young soldier, and bullied him. Then the orderly
shut himself off, as it were out of earshot, and waited, with
sullen, flushed face, for the end of the noise. The words never
pierced to his intelligence, he made himself, protectively,
impervious to the feelings of his master.
He had a scar on his left thumb, a deep seam going across the
knuckle. The officer had long suffered from it, and wanted to do
something to it. Still it was there, ugly and brutal on the young,
brown hand. At last the Captain’s reserve gave way. One day,
as the orderly was smoothing out the tablecloth, the officer pinned
down his thumb with a pencil, asking:
“How did you come by that?”
The young man winced and drew back at attention.
“A wood axe, Herr Hauptmann,” he answered.
The officer waited for further explanation. None came. The
orderly went about his duties. The elder man was sullenly angry.
His servant avoided him. And the next day he had to use all his
will-power to avoid seeing the scarred thumb. He wanted to get hold
of it and—A hot flame ran in his blood.
He knew his servant would soon be free, and would be glad. As
yet, the soldier had held himself off from the elder man. The
Captain grew madly irritable. He could not rest when the soldier
was away, and when he was present, he glared at him with tormented
eyes. He hated those fine, black brows over the unmeaning, dark
eyes, he was infuriated by the free movement of the handsome limbs,
which no military discipline could make stiff. And he became harsh
and cruelly bullying, using contempt and satire. The young soldier
only grew more mute and expressionless.
“What cattle were you bred by, that you can’t keep
straight eyes? Look me in the eyes when I speak to you.”
And the soldier turned his dark eyes to the other’s face,
but there was no sight in them: he stared with the slightest
possible cast, holding back his sight, perceiving the blue of his
master’s eyes, but receiving no look from them. And the elder
man went pale, and his reddish eyebrows twitched. He gave his
Once he flung a heavy military glove into the young
soldier’s face. Then he had the satisfaction of seeing the
black eyes flare up into his own, like a blaze when straw is thrown
on a fire. And he had laughed with a little tremor and a sneer.
But there were only two months more. The youth instinctively
tried to keep himself intact: he tried to serve the officer as if
the latter were an abstract authority and not a man. All his
instinct was to avoid personal contact, even definite hate. But in
spite of himself the hate grew, responsive to the officer’s
passion. However, he put it in the background. When he had left the
Army he could dare acknowledge it. By nature he was active, and had
many friends. He thought what amazing good fellows they were. But,
without knowing it, he was alone. Now this solitariness was
intensified. It would carry him through his term. But the officer
seemed to be going irritably insane, and the youth was deeply
The soldier had a sweetheart, a girl from the mountains,
independent and primitive. The two walked together, rather
silently. He went with her, not to talk, but to have his arm round
her, and for the physical contact. This eased him, made it easier
for him to ignore the Captain; for he could rest with her held fast
against his chest. And she, in some unspoken fashion, was there for
him. They loved each other.
The Captain perceived it, and was mad with irritation. He kept
the young man engaged all the evenings long, and took pleasure in
the dark look that came on his face. Occasionally, the eyes of the
two men met, those of the younger sullen and dark, doggedly
unalterable, those of the elder sneering with restless
The officer tried hard not to admit the passion that had got
hold of him. He would not know that his feeling for his orderly was
anything but that of a man incensed by his stupid, perverse
servant. So, keeping quite justified and conventional in his
consciousness, he let the other thing run on. His nerves, however,
were suffering. At last he slung the end of a belt in his
servant’s face. When he saw the youth start back, the
pain-tears in his eyes and the blood on his mouth, he had felt at
once a thrill of deep pleasure and of shame.
But this, he acknowledged to himself, was a thing he had never
done before. The fellow was too exasperating. His own nerves must
be going to pieces. He went away for some days with a woman.
It was a mockery of pleasure. He simply did not want the woman.
But he stayed on for his time. At the end of it, he came back in an
agony of irritation, torment, and misery. He rode all the evening,
then came straight in to supper. His orderly was out. The officer
sat with his long, fine hands lying on the table, perfectly still,
and all his blood seemed to be corroding.
At last his servant entered. He watched the strong, easy young
figure, the fine eyebrows, the thick black hair. In a week’s
time the youth had got back his old well-being. The hands of the
officer twitched and seemed to be full of mad flame. The young man
stood at attention, unmoving, shut off.
The meal went in silence. But the orderly seemed eager. He made
a clatter with the dishes.
“Are you in a hurry?” asked the officer, watching
the intent, warm face of his servant. The other did not reply.
“Will you answer my question?” said the Captain.
“Yes, sir,” replied the orderly, standing with his
pile of deep Army plates. The Captain waited, looked at him, then
“Are you in a hurry?”
“Yes, sir,” came the answer, that sent a flash
through the listener.
“I was going out, sir.”
“I want you this evening.”
There was a moment’s hesitation. The officer had a curious
stiffness of countenance.
“Yes, sir,” replied the servant, in his throat.
“I want you tomorrow evening also—in fact, you may
consider your evenings occupied, unless I give you
The mouth with the young moustache set close.
“Yes, sir,” answered the orderly, loosening his lips
for a moment.
He again turned to the door.
“And why have you a piece of pencil in your
The orderly hesitated, then continued on his way without
answering. He set the plates in a pile outside the door, took the
stump of pencil from his ear, and put it in his pocket. He had been
copying a verse for his sweetheart’s birthday card. He
returned to finish clearing the table. The officer’s eyes
were dancing, he had a little, eager smile.
“Why have you a piece of pencil in your ear?” he
The orderly took his hands full of dishes. His master was
standing near the great green stove, a little smile on his face,
his chin thrust forward. When the young soldier saw him his heart
suddenly ran hot. He felt blind. Instead of answering, he turned
dazedly to the door. As he was crouching to set down the dishes, he
was pitched forward by a kick from behind. The pots went in a
stream down the stairs, he clung to the pillar of the banisters.
And as he was rising he was kicked heavily again, and again, so
that he clung sickly to the post for some moments. His master had
gone swiftly into the room and closed the door. The maid-servant
downstairs looked up the staircase and made a mocking face at the
The officer’s heart was plunging. He poured himself a
glass of wine, part of which he spilled on the floor, and gulped
the remainder, leaning against the cool, green stove. He heard his
man collecting the dishes from the stairs. Pale, as if intoxicated,
he waited. The servant entered again. The Captain’s heart
gave a pang, as of pleasure, seeing the young fellow bewildered and
uncertain on his feet, with pain.
“Schöner!” he said.
The soldier was a little slower in coming to attention.
The youth stood before him, with pathetic young moustache, and
fine eyebrows very distinct on his forehead of dark marble.
“I asked you a question.”
The officer’s tone bit like acid.
“Why had you a pencil in your ear?”
Again the servant’s heart ran hot, and he could not
breathe. With dark, strained eyes, he looked at the officer, as if
fascinated. And he stood there sturdily planted, unconscious. The
withering smile came into the Captain’s eyes, and he lifted
“I—I forgot it—sir,” panted the soldier,
his dark eyes fixed on the other man’s dancing blue ones.
“What was it doing there?”
He saw the young man’s breast heaving as he made an effort
“I had been writing.”
Again the soldier looked up and down. The officer could hear him
panting. The smile came into the blue eyes. The soldier worked his
dry throat, but could not speak. Suddenly the smile lit like a
flame on the officer’s face, and a kick came heavily against
the orderly’s thigh. The youth moved a pace sideways. His
face went dead, with two black, staring eyes.
“Well?” said the officer.
The orderly’s mouth had gone dry, and his tongue rubbed in
it as on dry brown-paper. He worked his throat. The officer raised
his foot. The servant went stiff.
“Some poetry, sir,” came the crackling,
unrecognizable sound of his voice.
“Poetry, what poetry?” asked the Captain, with a
Again there was the working in the throat. The Captain’s
heart had suddenly gone down heavily, and he stood sick and
“For my girl, sir,” he heard the dry, inhuman
“Oh!” he said, turning away. “Clear the
“Click!” went the soldier’s throat; then
again, “click!” and then the half-articulate:
The young soldier was gone, looking old, and walking
The officer, left alone, held himself rigid, to prevent himself
from thinking. His instinct warned him that he must not think. Deep
inside him was the intense gratification of his passion, still
working powerfully. Then there was a counter-action, a horrible
breaking down of something inside him, a whole agony of reaction.
He stood there for an hour motionless, a chaos of sensations, but
rigid with a will to keep blank his consciousness, to prevent his
mind grasping. And he held himself so until the worst of the stress
had passed, when he began to drink, drank himself to an
intoxication, till he slept obliterated. When he woke in the
morning he was shaken to the base of his nature. But he had fought
off the realization of what he had done. He had prevented his mind
from taking it in, had suppressed it along with his instincts, and
the conscious man had nothing to do with it. He felt only as after
a bout of intoxication, weak, but the affair itself all dim and not
to be recovered. Of the drunkenness of his passion he successfully
refused remembrance. And when his orderly appeared with coffee, the
officer assumed the same self he had had the morning before. He
refused the event of the past night—denied it had ever
been— and was successful in his denial. He had not done any
such thing— not he himself. Whatever there might be lay at
the door of a stupid, insubordinate servant.
The orderly had gone about in a stupor all the evening. He drank
some beer because he was parched, but not much, the alcohol made
his feeling come back, and he could not bear it. He was dulled, as
if nine-tenths of the ordinary man in him were inert. He crawled
about disfigured. Still, when he thought of the kicks, he went
sick, and when he thought of the threat of more kicking, in the
room afterwards, his heart went hot and faint, and he panted,
remembering the one that had come. He had been forced to say,
“For my girl.” He was much too done even to want to
cry. His mouth hung slightly open, like an idiot’s. He felt
vacant, and wasted. So, he wandered at his work, painfully, and
very slowly and clumsily, fumbling blindly with the brushes, and
finding it difficult, when he sat down, to summon the energy to
move again. His limbs, his jaw, were slack and nerveless. But he
was very tired. He got to bed at last, and slept inert, relaxed, in
a sleep that was rather stupor than slumber, a dead night of
stupefaction shot through with gleams of anguish.
In the morning were the manoeuvres. But he woke even before the
bugle sounded. The painful ache in his chest, the dryness of his
throat, the awful steady feeling of misery made his eyes come awake
and dreary at once. He knew, without thinking, what had happened.
And he knew that the day had come again, when he must go on with
his round. The last bit of darkness was being pushed out of the
room. He would have to move his inert body and go on. He was so
young, and had known so little trouble, that he was bewildered. He
only wished it would stay night, so that he could lie still,
covered up by the darkness. And yet nothing would prevent the day
from coming, nothing would save him from having to get up and
saddle the Captain’s horse, and make the Captain’s
coffee. It was there, inevitable. And then, he thought, it was
impossible. Yet they would not leave him free. He must go and take
the coffee to the Captain. He was too stunned to understand it. He
only knew it was inevitable—inevitable, however long he lay
At last, after heaving at himself, for he seemed to be a mass of
inertia, he got up. But he had to force every one of his movements
from behind, with his will. He felt lost, and dazed, and helpless.
Then he clutched hold of the bed, the pain was so keen. And looking
at his thighs, he saw the darker bruises on his swarthy flesh and
he knew that, if he pressed one of his fingers on one of the
bruises, he should faint. But he did not want to faint—he did
not want anybody to know. No one should ever know. It was between
him and the Captain. There were only the two people in the world
now—himself and the Captain.
Slowly, economically, he got dressed and forced himself to walk.
Everything was obscure, except just what he had his hands on. But
he managed to get through his work. The very pain revived his dull
senses. The worst remained yet. He took the tray and went up to the
Captain’s room. The officer, pale and heavy, sat at the
table. The orderly, as he saluted, felt himself put out of
existence. He stood still for a moment submitting to his own
nullification—then he gathered himself, seemed to regain
himself, and then the Captain began to grow vague, unreal, and the
younger soldier’s heart beat up. He clung to this
situation—that the Captain did not exist—so that he
himself might live. But when he saw his officer’s hand
tremble as he took the coffee, he felt everything falling
shattered. And he went away, feeling as if he himself were coming
to pieces, disintegrated. And when the Captain was there on
horseback, giving orders, while he himself stood, with rifle and
knapsack, sick with pain, he felt as if he must shut his
eyes—as if he must shut his eyes on everything. It was only
the long agony of marching with a parched throat that filled him
with one single, sleep-heavy intention: to save himself.
He was getting used even to his parched throat. That the snowy
peaks were radiant among the sky, that the whity-green
glacier-river twisted through its pale shoals, in the valley below,
seemed almost supernatural. But he was going mad with fever and
thirst. He plodded on uncomplaining. He did not want to speak, not
to anybody. There were two gulls, like flakes of water and snow,
over the river. The scent of green rye soaked in sunshine came like
a sickness. And the march continued, monotonously, almost like a
At the next farm-house, which stood low and broad near the high
road, tubs of water had been put out. The soldiers clustered round
to drink. They took off their helmets, and the steam mounted from
their wet hair. The Captain sat on horseback, watching. He needed
to see his orderly. His helmet threw a dark shadow over his light,
fierce eyes, but his moustache and mouth and chin were distinct in
the sunshine. The orderly must move under the presence of the
figure of the horseman. It was not that he was afraid, or cowed. It
was as if he was disembowelled, made empty, like an empty shell. He
felt himself as nothing, a shadow creeping under the sunshine. And,
thirsty as he was, he could scarcely drink, feeling the Captain
near him. He would not take off his helmet to wipe his wet hair. He
wanted to stay in shadow, not to be forced into consciousness.
Starting, he saw the light heel of the officer prick the belly of
the horse; the Captain cantered away, and he himself could relapse
Nothing, however, could give him back his living place in the
hot, bright morning. He felt like a gap among it all. Whereas the
Captain was prouder, overriding. A hot flash went through the young
servant’s body. The Captain was firmer and prouder with life,
he himself was empty as a shadow. Again the flash went through him,
dazing him out. But his heart ran a little firmer.
The company turned up the hill, to make a loop for the return.
Below, from among the trees, the farm-bell clanged. He saw the
labourers, mowing barefoot at the thick grass, leave off their work
and go downhill, their scythes hanging over their shoulders, like
long, bright claws curving down behind them. They seemed like
dream-people, as if they had no relation to himself. He felt as in
a blackish dream: as if all the other things were there and had
form, but he himself was only a consciousness, a gap that could
think and perceive.
The soldiers were tramping silently up the glaring hillside.
Gradually his head began to revolve, slowly, rhythmically.
Sometimes it was dark before his eyes, as if he saw this world
through a smoked glass, frail shadows and unreal. It gave him a
pain in his head to walk.
The air was too scented, it gave no breath. All the lush
greenstuff seemed to be issuing its sap, till the air was deathly,
sickly with the smell of greenness. There was the perfume of
clover, like pure honey and bees. Then there grew a faint acrid
tang—they were near the beeches; and then a queer clattering
noise, and a suffocating, hideous smell; they were passing a flock
of sheep, a shepherd in a black smock, holding his crook. Why
should the sheep huddle together under this fierce sun? He felt
that the shepherd would not see him, though he could see the
At last there was the halt. They stacked rifles in a conical
stack, put down their kit in a scattered circle around it, and
dispersed a little, sitting on a small knoll high on the hillside.
The chatter began. The soldiers were steaming with heat, but were
lively. He sat still, seeing the blue mountains rising upon the
land, twenty kilometres away. There was a blue fold in the ranges,
then out of that, at the foot, the broad, pale bed of the river,
stretches of whity-green water between pinkish-grey shoals among
the dark pine woods. There it was, spread out a long way off. And
it seemed to come downhill, the river. There was a raft being
steered, a mile away. It was a strange country. Nearer, a
red-roofed, broad farm with white base and square dots of windows
crouched beside the wall of beech foliage on the wood’s edge.
There were long strips of rye and clover and pale green corn. And
just at his feet, below the knoll, was a darkish bog, where globe
flowers stood breathless still on their slim stalks. And some of
the pale gold bubbles were burst, and a broken fragment hung in the
air. He thought he was going to sleep.
Suddenly something moved into this coloured mirage before his
eyes. The Captain, a small, light-blue and scarlet figure, was
trotting evenly between the strips of corn, along the level brow of
the hill. And the man making flag-signals was coming on. Proud and
sure moved the horseman’s figure, the quick, bright thing, in
which was concentrated all the light of this morning, which for the
rest lay a fragile, shining shadow. Submissive, apathetic, the
young soldier sat and stared. But as the horse slowed to a walk,
coming up the last steep path, the great flash flared over the body
and soul of the orderly. He sat waiting. The back of his head felt
as if it were weighted with a heavy piece of fire. He did not want
to eat. His hands trembled slightly as he moved them. Meanwhile the
officer on horseback was approaching slowly and proudly. The
tension grew in the orderly’s soul. Then again, seeing the
Captain ease himself on the saddle, the flash blazed through
The Captain looked at the patch of light blue and scarlet, and
dark heads, scattered closely on the hillside. It pleased him. The
command pleased him. And he was feeling proud. His orderly was
among them in common subjection. The officer rose a little on his
stirrups to look. The young soldier sat with averted, dumb face.
The Captain relaxed on his seat. His slim-legged, beautiful horse,
brown as a beech nut, walked proudly uphill. The Captain passed
into the zone of the company’s atmosphere: a hot smell of
men, of sweat, of leather. He knew it very well. After a word with
the lieutenant, he went a few paces higher, and sat there, a
dominant figure, his sweat-marked horse swishing its tail, while he
looked down on his men, on his orderly, a nonentity among the
The young soldier’s heart was like fire in his chest, and
he breathed with difficulty. The officer, looking downhill, saw
three of the young soldiers, two pails of water between them,
staggering across a sunny green field. A table had been set up
under a tree, and there the slim lieutenant stood, importantly
busy. Then the Captain summoned himself to an act of courage. He
called his orderly.
The flame leapt into the young soldier’s throat as he
heard the command, and he rose blindly, stifled. He saluted,
standing below the officer. He did not look up. But there was the
flicker in the Captain’s voice.
“Go to the inn and fetch me . . .” the officer gave
his commands. “Quick!” he added.
At the last word, the heart of the servant leapt with a flash,
and he felt the strength come over his body. But he turned in
mechanical obedience, and set off at a heavy run downhill, looking
almost like a bear, his trousers bagging over his military boots.
And the officer watched this blind, plunging run all the way.
But it was only the outside of the orderly’s body that was
obeying so humbly and mechanically. Inside had gradually
accumulated a core into which all the energy of that young life was
compact and concentrated. He executed his commission, and plodded
quickly back uphill. There was a pain in his head, as he walked,
that made him twist his features unknowingly. But hard there in the
centre of his chest was himself, himself, firm, and not to be
plucked to pieces.
The Captain had gone up into the wood. The orderly plodded
through the hot, powerfully smelling zone of the company’s
atmosphere. He had a curious mass of energy inside him now. The
Captain was less real than himself. He approached the green
entrance to the wood. There, in the half-shade, he saw the horse
standing, the sunshine and the flickering shadow of leaves dancing
over his brown body. There was a clearing where timber had lately
been felled. Here, in the gold-green shade beside the brilliant cup
of sunshine, stood two figures, blue and pink, the bits of pink
showing out plainly. The Captain was talking to his lieutenant.
The orderly stood on the edge of the bright clearing, where
great trunks of trees, stripped and glistening, lay stretched like
naked, brown-skinned bodies. Chips of wood littered the trampled
floor, like splashed light, and the bases of the felled trees stood
here and there, with their raw, level tops. Beyond was the
brilliant, sunlit green of a beech.
“Then I will ride forward,” the orderly heard his
Captain say. The lieutenant saluted and strode away. He himself
went forward. A hot flash passed through his belly, as he tramped
towards his officer.
The Captain watched the rather heavy figure of the young soldier
stumble forward, and his veins, too, ran hot. This was to be man to
man between them. He yielded before the solid, stumbling figure
with bent head. The orderly stooped and put the food on a
level-sawn tree-base. The Captain watched the glistening,
sun-inflamed, naked hands. He wanted to speak to the young soldier,
but could not. The servant propped a bottle against his thigh,
pressed open the cork, and poured out the beer into the mug. He
kept his head bent. The Captain accepted the mug.
“Hot!” he said, as if amiably.
The flame sprang out of the orderly’s heart, nearly
“Yes, sir,” he replied, between shut teeth.
And he heard the sound of the Captain’s drinking, and he
clenched his fists, such a strong torment came into his wrists.
Then came the faint clang of the closing pot-lid. He looked up. The
Captain was watching him. He glanced swiftly away. Then he saw the
officer stoop and take a piece of bread from the tree-base. Again
the flash of flame went through the young soldier, seeing the stiff
body stoop beneath him, and his hands jerked. He looked away. He
could feel the officer was nervous. The bread fell as it was being
broken. The officer ate the other piece. The two men stood tense
and still, the master laboriously chewing his bread, the servant
staring with averted face, his fist clenched.
Then the young soldier started. The officer had pressed open the
lid of the mug again. The orderly watched the lid of the mug, and
the white hand that clenched the handle, as if he were fascinated.
It was raised. The youth followed it with his eyes. And then he saw
the thin, strong throat of the elder man moving up and down as he
drank, the strong jaw working. And the instinct which had been
jerking at the young man’s wrists suddenly jerked free. He
jumped, feeling as if it were rent in two by a strong flame.
The spur of the officer caught in a tree-root, he went down
backwards with a crash, the middle of his back thudding sickeningly
against a sharp-edged tree-base, the pot flying away. And in a
second the orderly, with serious, earnest young face, and underlip
between his teeth, had got his knee in the officer’s chest
and was pressing the chin backward over the farther edge of the
tree-stump, pressing, with all his heart behind in a passion of
relief, the tension of his wrists exquisite with relief. And with
the base of his palms he shoved at the chin, with all his might.
And it was pleasant, too, to have that chin, that hard jaw already
slightly rough with beard, in his hands. He did not relax one
hair’s breadth, but, all the force of all his blood exulting
in his thrust, he shoved back the head of the other man, till there
was a little “cluck” and a crunching sensation. Then he
felt as if his head went to vapour. Heavy convulsions shook the
body of the officer, frightening and horrifying the young soldier.
Yet it pleased him, too, to repress them. It pleased him to keep
his hands pressing back the chin, to feel the chest of the other
man yield in expiration to the weight of his strong, young knees,
to feel the hard twitchings of the prostrate body jerking his own
whole frame, which was pressed down on it.
But it went still. He could look into the nostrils of the other
man, the eyes he could scarcely see. How curiously the mouth was
pushed out, exaggerating the full lips, and the moustache bristling
up from them. Then, with a start, he noticed the nostrils gradually
filled with blood. The red brimmed, hesitated, ran over, and went
in a thin trickle down the face to the eyes.
It shocked and distressed him. Slowly, he got up. The body
twitched and sprawled there, inert. He stood and looked at it in
silence. It was a pity IT was broken. It represented more than the
thing which had kicked and bullied him. He was afraid to look at
the eyes. They were hideous now, only the whites showing, and the
blood running to them. The face of the orderly was drawn with
horror at the sight. Well, it was so. In his heart he was
satisfied. He had hated the face of the Captain. It was
extinguished now. There was a heavy relief in the orderly’s
soul. That was as it should be. But he could not bear to see the
long, military body lying broken over the tree-base, the fine
fingers crisped. He wanted to hide it away.
Quickly, busily, he gathered it up and pushed it under the
felled tree-trunks, which rested their beautiful, smooth length
either end on logs. The face was horrible with blood. He covered it
with the helmet. Then he pushed the limbs straight and decent, and
brushed the dead leaves off the fine cloth of the uniform. So, it
lay quite still in the shadow under there. A little strip of
sunshine ran along the breast, from a chink between the logs. The
orderly sat by it for a few moments. Here his own life also
Then, through his daze, he heard the lieutenant, in a loud
voice, explaining to the men outside the wood, that they were to
suppose the bridge on the river below was held by the enemy. Now
they were to march to the attack in such and such a manner. The
lieutenant had no gift of expression. The orderly, listening from
habit, got muddled. And when the lieutenant began it all again he
ceased to hear.
He knew he must go. He stood up. It surprised him that the
leaves were glittering in the sun, and the chips of wood reflecting
white from the ground. For him a change had come over the world.
But for the rest it had not—all seemed the same. Only he had
left it. And he could not go back. It was his duty to return with
the beer-pot and the bottle. He could not. He had left all that.
The lieutenant was still hoarsely explaining. He must go, or they
would overtake him. And he could not bear contact with anyone
He drew his fingers over his eyes, trying to find out where he
was. Then he turned away. He saw the horse standing in the path. He
went up to it and mounted. It hurt him to sit in the saddle. The
pain of keeping his seat occupied him as they cantered through the
wood. He would not have minded anything, but he could not get away
from the sense of being divided from the others. The path led out
of the trees. On the edge of the wood he pulled up and stood
watching. There in the spacious sunshine of the valley soldiers
were moving in a little swarm. Every now and then, a man harrowing
on a strip of fallow shouted to his oxen, at the turn. The village
and the white-towered church was small in the sunshine. And he no
longer belonged to it—he sat there, beyond, like a man
outside in the dark. He had gone out from everyday life into the
unknown, and he could not, he even did not want to go back.
Turning from the sun-blazing valley, he rode deep into the wood.
Tree-trunks, like people standing grey and still, took no notice as
he went. A doe, herself a moving bit of sunshine and shadow, went
running through the flecked shade. There were bright green rents in
the foliage. Then it was all pine wood, dark and cool. And he was
sick with pain, he had an intolerable great pulse in his head, and
he was sick. He had never been ill in his life. He felt lost, quite
dazed with all this.
Trying to get down from the horse, he fell, astonished at the
pain and his lack of balance. The horse shifted uneasily. He jerked
its bridle and sent it cantering jerkily away. It was his last
connection with the rest of things.
But he only wanted to lie down and not be disturbed. Stumbling
through the trees, he came on a quiet place where beeches and pine
trees grew on a slope. Immediately he had lain down and closed his
eyes, his consciousness went racing on without him. A big pulse of
sickness beat in him as if it throbbed through the whole earth. He
was burning with dry heat. But he was too busy, too tearingly
active in the incoherent race of delirium to observe.
He came to with a start. His mouth was dry and hard, his heart
beat heavily, but he had not the energy to get up. His heart beat
heavily. Where was he?—the barracks—at home? There was
something knocking. And, making an effort, he looked
round—trees, and litter of greenery, and reddish, bright,
still pieces of sunshine on the floor. He did not believe he was
himself, he did not believe what he saw. Something was knocking. He
made a struggle towards consciousness, but relapsed. Then he
struggled again. And gradually his surroundings fell into
relationship with himself. He knew, and a great pang of fear went
through his heart. Somebody was knocking. He could see the heavy,
black rags of a fir tree overhead. Then everything went black. Yet
he did not believe he had closed his eyes. He had not. Out of the
blackness sight slowly emerged again. And someone was knocking.
Quickly, he saw the blood-disfigured face of his Captain, which he
hated. And he held himself still with horror. Yet, deep inside him,
he knew that it was so, the Captain should be dead. But the
physical delirium got hold of him. Someone was knocking. He lay
perfectly still, as if dead, with fear. And he went
When he opened his eyes again, he started, seeing something
creeping swiftly up a tree-trunk. It was a little bird. And the
bird was whistling overhead. Tap-tap-tap—it was the small,
quick bird rapping the tree-trunk with its beak, as if its head
were a little round hammer. He watched it curiously. It shifted
sharply, in its creeping fashion. Then, like a mouse, it slid down
the bare trunk. Its swift creeping sent a flash of revulsion
through him. He raised his head. It felt a great weight. Then, the
little bird ran out of the shadow across a still patch of sunshine,
its little head bobbing swiftly, its white legs twinkling brightly
for a moment. How neat it was in its build, so compact, with pieces
of white on its wings. There were several of them. They were so
pretty—but they crept like swift, erratic mice, running here
and there among the beech-mast.
He lay down again exhausted, and his consciousness lapsed. He
had a horror of the little creeping birds. All his blood seemed to
be darting and creeping in his head. And yet he could not move.
He came to with a further ache of exhaustion. There was the pain
in his head, and the horrible sickness, and his inability to move.
He had never been ill in his life. He did not know where he was or
what he was. Probably he had got sunstroke. Or what else?—he
had silenced the Captain for ever—some time ago—oh, a
long time ago. There had been blood on his face, and his eyes had
turned upwards. It was all right, somehow. It was peace. But now he
had got beyond himself. He had never been here before. Was it life,
or not life? He was by himself. They were in a big, bright place,
those others, and he was outside. The town, all the country, a big
bright place of light: and he was outside, here, in the darkened
open beyond, where each thing existed alone. But they would all
have to come out there sometime, those others. Little, and left
behind him, they all were. There had been father and mother and
sweetheart. What did they all matter? This was the open land.
He sat up. Something scuffled. It was a little, brown squirrel
running in lovely, undulating bounds over the floor, its red tail
completing the undulation of its body—and then, as it sat up,
furling and unfurling. He watched it, pleased. It ran on again,
friskily, enjoying itself. It flew wildly at another squirrel, and
they were chasing each other, and making little scolding,
chattering noises. The soldier wanted to speak to them. But only a
hoarse sound came out of his throat. The squirrels burst
away— they flew up the trees. And then he saw the one peeping
round at him, half-way up a tree-trunk. A start of fear went
through him, though, in so far as he was conscious, he was amused.
It still stayed, its little, keen face staring at him halfway up
the tree-trunk, its little ears pricked up, its clawey little hands
clinging to the bark, its white breast reared. He started from it
Struggling to his feet, he lurched away. He went on walking,
walking, looking for something—for a drink. His brain felt
hot and inflamed for want of water. He stumbled on. Then he did not
know anything. He went unconscious as he walked. Yet he stumbled
on, his mouth open.
When, to his dumb wonder, he opened his eyes on the world again,
he no longer tried to remember what it was. There was thick, golden
light behind golden-green glitterings, and tall, grey-purple
shafts, and darknesses further off, surrounding him, growing
deeper. He was conscious of a sense of arrival. He was amid the
reality, on the real, dark bottom. But there was the thirst burning
in his brain. He felt lighter, not so heavy. He supposed it was
newness. The air was muttering with thunder. He thought he was
walking wonderfully swiftly and was coming straight to
relief— or was it to water?
Suddenly he stood still with fear. There was a tremendous flare
of gold, immense—just a few dark trunks like bars between him
and it. All the young level wheat was burnished gold glaring on its
silky green. A woman, full-skirted, a black cloth on her head for
head-dress, was passing like a block of shadow through the
glistening, green corn, into the full glare. There was a farm, too,
pale blue in shadow, and the timber black. And there was a church
spire, nearly fused away in the gold. The woman moved on, away from
him. He had no language with which to speak to her. She was the
bright, solid unreality. She would make a noise of words that would
confuse him, and her eyes would look at him without seeing him. She
was crossing there to the other side. He stood against a tree.
When at last he turned, looking down the long, bare grove whose
flat bed was already filling dark, he saw the mountains in a
wonder-light, not far away, and radiant. Behind the soft, grey
ridge of the nearest range the further mountains stood golden and
pale grey, the snow all radiant like pure, soft gold. So still,
gleaming in the sky, fashioned pure out of the ore of the sky, they
shone in their silence. He stood and looked at them, his face
illuminated. And like the golden, lustrous gleaming of the snow he
felt his own thirst bright in him. He stood and gazed, leaning
against a tree. And then everything slid away into space.
During the night the lightning fluttered perpetually, making the
whole sky white. He must have walked again. The world hung livid
round him for moments, fields a level sheen of grey-green light,
trees in dark bulk, and the range of clouds black across a white
sky. Then the darkness fell like a shutter, and the night was
whole. A faint flutter of a half-revealed world, that could not
quite leap out of the darkness!—Then there again stood a
sweep of pallor for the land, dark shapes looming, a range of
clouds hanging overhead. The world was a ghostly shadow, thrown for
a moment upon the pure darkness, which returned ever whole and
And the mere delirium of sickness and fever went on inside
him— his brain opening and shutting like the night—then
sometimes convulsions of terror from something with great eyes that
stared round a tree—then the long agony of the march, and the
sun decomposing his blood—then the pang of hate for the
Captain, followed by a pang of tenderness and ease. But everything
was distorted, born of an ache and resolving into an ache.
In the morning he came definitely awake. Then his brain flamed
with the sole horror of thirstiness! The sun was on his face, the
dew was steaming from his wet clothes. Like one possessed, he got
up. There, straight in front of him, blue and cool and tender, the
mountains ranged across the pale edge of the morning sky. He wanted
them—he wanted them alone—he wanted to leave himself
and be identified with them. They did not move, they were still
soft, with white, gentle markings of snow. He stood still, mad with
suffering, his hands crisping and clutching. Then he was twisting
in a paroxysm on the grass.
He lay still, in a kind of dream of anguish. His thirst seemed
to have separated itself from him, and to stand apart, a single
demand. Then the pain he felt was another single self. Then there
was the clog of his body, another separate thing. He was divided
among all kinds of separate beings. There was some strange,
agonized connection between them, but they were drawing further
apart. Then they would all split. The sun, drilling down on him,
was drilling through the bond. Then they would all fall, fall
through the everlasting lapse of space. Then again, his
consciousness reasserted itself. He roused on to his elbow and
stared at the gleaming mountains. There they ranked, all still and
wonderful between earth and heaven. He stared till his eyes went
black, and the mountains, as they stood in their beauty, so clean
and cool, seemed to have it, that which was lost in him.
When the soldiers found him, three hours later, he was lying
with his face over his arm, his black hair giving off heat under
the sun. But he was still alive. Seeing the open, black mouth the
young soldiers dropped him in horror.
He died in the hospital at night, without having seen again.
The doctors saw the bruises on his legs, behind, and were
The bodies of the two men lay together, side by side, in the
mortuary, the one white and slender, but laid rigidly at rest, the
other looking as if every moment it must rouse into life again, so
young and unused, from a slumber.