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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A town has been invaded with minimum casualties. Six of the local defense troops are killed, three are wounded, and three escape into the nearby hills. Mayor Orden is informed that the invading commander, Colonel Lanser, wishes to meet with him. Shortly thereafter, the colonel arrives at the mayor’s residence accompanied by a local shopkeeper, George Corell, who is now known to have been a spy for the invaders. The town doctor, Winter, who is a close friend of the mayor, is also present. Colonel Lanser informs the mayor that the invaders are there primarily to obtain coal and that they want the local people to mine it for them. He also informs him that the town will be allowed to keep its government as long as the people cooperate. The mayor and the doctor tell him that they are uncertain how the people will react to these demands.

Suddenly there is a disturbance in the back of the house: The mayor’s cook, Annie, has thrown boiling water on a soldier who had been looking at her through the window. The colonel orders the soldiers to move away from the house even though they had been following his earlier orders. Discussion continues about the likely reaction of the people to the idea of working for the invaders.

The colonel and his staff soon establish their headquarters on the upper floor of the mayor’s house. Days later, Corell arrives to speak with the colonel, suggesting that he be allowed to replace the mayor as the leader of the town. The colonel, however, recommends that he leave the area entirely. The colonel is trying to warn him of what is likely to happen to him if he stays. A report comes in that one of the invading officers has been killed. The man who committed the crime, Alexander Morden, a local miner, is quickly arrested. A trial is scheduled to take place at the mayor’s house. As the drawing room is being arranged, Joseph, the mayor’s servant, informs Annie the cook that two local men had escaped the night before in a boat for England. As the trial is about to begin the colonel tells the mayor that he regrets what has happened but that he needs to take steps to maintain order in the town. The mayor tells the colonel that his soldiers had killed six men when they invaded the town; if the miner is guilty of murder, he reasons, so too are the colonel’s own soldiers.

The trial begins during a day with heavy snow; the people in the streets are sullen and angry. Inside, after a brief review of the incident, the colonel declares Morden guilty. The mayor stands and speaks directly to the accused. He tells him that he is indeed going to die, but that his death will serve to unify the people against the invaders. Morden is then taken out of the house and shot to death. At nearly the same moment, a shot is fired through the window, hitting one of the invading officers in his shoulder. The colonel orders that all the guns in the town be confiscated and that all who resist be arrested.

The work of mining the coal moves forward, but...

(The entire section is 1,531 words.)