The Prussian Officer
by D. H. Lawrence
THE PRUSSIAN OFFICER
By D. H. Lawrence
3 HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN
Published December 1914
THE PRUSSIAN OFFICER
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 on 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 banner 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, stilt 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 ridingoccasionally he rode one of his own horses at the
racesand 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 gradually came.
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 from instinct.
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
sen-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 Hash 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 some-thing 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
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
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 willpower to avoid
seeing the scarred thumb. He wanted to get hold of it andA 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 trie 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
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 order, barrenly.
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
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 contempt.
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 on.
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 Cap-tam.
Yes, sir, replied the orderly, standing with his pile of deep Army
plates. The Captain waited, looked at him, then asked again: Are you
in a hurry?
Yes, sir, came the answer, that sent a flash through the listener.
For whaat? I was going out, sir. I want you this evening. There
was a moment's hesitation. The officer had a curious stiffness of
Yes, sir, replied the servant, in his throat. I want you
to-morrow evening alsoin fact, you may consider your evenings
occupied, unless I give you leave.
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 ear?
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 asked.
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 crockery disaster.
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.
Yes, sir! 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.
Yes, sir. 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 trie Captain's eyes, and he lifted his foot. I-I forgot
itsir, 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 for
I had been writing.
Again the soldier looked him 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 name 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,
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
Poetry, what poetry? asked the Captain, with a sickly smile.
Again there was the working in the throat. The Captain's heart had
suddenly gone down heavily, and he stood sick and tired.
For my girl, sir, he heard the dry, inhuman sound.
Oh! he said, turning away. Clear the table.
Click! went the soldier's throat; then again, click! and then
the hail-articulate: Yes, sir.
The young soldier was gone, looking old, and walking heavily.
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 nightdenied it had ever
beenand was successful in his denial. He had not done any such
thingnot 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 inevitableinevitable however long he lay inert.
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 nowhimself 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
situationthat the Captain did not existso 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
eyesas 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 bad sleep.
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. Captain sat on horseback, watching. He needed to see his
orderly. His hel-met 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
disembowllled, 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 into vacancy.
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
The air was too scented, it gave no breath. All the lush green-stuff
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 tangthey 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 shepherd.
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 him.
The Captain looked at the patch of light blue and scarlet, and dark
head's, 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 crowd.
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 name 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
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 on 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 commisssion, 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 tuckering
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
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
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
Hot! he said, as if amiably.
The flame sprang out of the orderly's heart, nearly suffocating mm.
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 of the 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 under-lip 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. Will, 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 ended.
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 notall
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 now.
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 ithe 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
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 barracksat home? There was something knocking.
And, making an effort, he looked roundtrees, and litter of greenery,
and reddish, night, 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-disgfigured 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 unconscious.
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-tapit 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 prettybut 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 eversome time agooh, 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 bodyand then, as it sat up, furling
and unfurling. He watched it, pleased. It ran on 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 awaythey 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 in
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
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
Suddenly he stood still with fear. There was a tremendous flare of
gold, immensejust 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
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 mutter
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 complete.
And the mere delirium of sickness and fever went on inside himhis
brain opening and shutting like the nightthen sometimes convulsions
of terror from something with great eyes that stared round a treethen
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
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 themhe
wanted them alonehe wanted to leave himself and be identified with
them. They did not move, they were still and 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
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 everasting 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 silent.
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.