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The Upturned Face
by [?]

“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 tomorrow.”

“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 line, and two men came slowly, one with a pick, one with a shovel. They started in the direction of the Rostina sharp-shooters. 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 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 grisly business.

“Well,” said Lean, “that’s all, I think. You have his sword and revolver?”

“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 such stupid–“

Even as he cried out in his passion the two men were laboring for their lives. Ever overhead the bullets were spitting.

The grave was finished, It was not a masterpiece–a 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 in ourselves.”

“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 other–they were always looking 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, pressing his lips to an academic expression.

“Don’t they?” said the adjutant, shocked that he had made the mistake.