(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An army lieutenant concentrates on rationing out his company’s supply of coffee, meticulously dividing the brown squares before him, when a shot rings out. The enlisted men, startled by the noise, suddenly see blood saturating their lieutenant’s sleeve. In pain, the wounded officer sways, winces in disbelief, mutely surveys the forest, and tries instinctively and clumsily to sheathe the sword that he has been using to count out the coffee packets. His mind swirls with mysterious revelations about existence and the meaning of life. As his dumbstruck, sympathetic troops try haltingly and timidly to assist him, he realizes his helplessness. He desperately holds his right wrist with his left hand. Silently and mournfully, he leaves the field to seek medical attention. His dark journey begins.

The lieutenant’s wandering quest takes him through scenes of wartime horror: An aide gallops to a general, salutes, and presents his commander a vital message; batteries sweep in majestic, frightening curves bent on destruction; and horsemen curse and shout amid a chaos of levers, motors, and wheels. This chorus of war is ferocious and emotional with dramatic passion. A beautiful unity seems to hover over these fields of mindless destruction and sudden death. The lieutenant comes on a group of stragglers who are insensately trudging his path, all excitedly caught up in the drama; he encounters a roadside brigade making coffee—the pedestrian task in which he had...

(The entire section is 551 words.)