(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Doug, an enterprising southern lad, has found a few days’ employment with a Yankee contractor. He has been hired to remove from a pit in an ice house the skeletons of Union soldiers who were killed in a battle about four years earlier, in 1862. At that time, the frozen December ground precluded digging graves, and the bodies were placed in the ice house to await a future burial.

After enlisting the aid of his close friend Raeburn, Doug waits for him early on an April morning. When Raeburn is late, he becomes irritated, fearing that the contractor might not pay the agreed-on sum. Arriving at about six, Raeburn explains his tardiness, saying, “I ain’t going to work for nobody on an empty stomach,” but Doug argues that they should earn their pay and provide a full day’s labor.

The two youths meet the Yankee contractor at the ice house and begin the task of separating the tangle of bones. Working inside, Doug passes armfuls of bones to Raeburn, who places them in a wheelbarrow. The contractor then deposits the bones in the waiting pine boxes. Because the skeletons are not intact and are often without skulls, however, the boys question whether the contractor knows when he has a complete body in any one of the coffins.

At noon the three rest and have their dinner. Raeburn, more sensitive to handling the skeletons than the other two, drinks some coffee but is unable to eat the biscuit and cold meat that he has brought. Doug and...

(The entire section is 563 words.)