Sample K21 from Bruce Palmer, "My Brother's Keeper", Many Are the Hearts. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1961. Pp. 132-138. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,011 words 2 symbolsK21

Used by permission of Bruce Palmer.0010-1720

Bruce Palmer, "My Brother's Keeper", Many Are the Hearts. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1961. Pp. 132-138.

Note: No quotation marks are used in this text. Beginning of quotation is marked by -; end of quotation by end of paragraph.

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Beckworth handed the pass to the colonel . He had thought that the suggestion of taking it himself would tip the colonel in the direction of serving his own order , but the slip of paper was folded and absently thrust into the colonel's belt . Despite his yearning , the colonel would not go down to see the men come through the lines . He would remain in the tent , waiting impatiently , occupied by some trivial task .

-- Beckworth .

-- Sir ? ?

-- Fetch me the copies of everything B and C companies have requisitioned in the last six months .

-- The last six months , sir ? ?

-- You heard me . There's a lot of waste going on here . It's got to stop . I want to take a look . This is no damned holiday , Beckworth . Get busy .

-- Yes , sir .

Beckworth left the tent . Below he could see the bright torches lighting the riverbank . He glanced back . The colonel crouched tensely on one of the folding chairs , methodically tearing at his thumbnail .

The bombproof was a low-ceilinged structure of heavy timbers covered with earth . It stood some fifty paces from the edge of the bank . From the outside , it seemed no more than a low drumlin , a lump on the dark earth . A crude ladder ran down to a wooden floor . Two slits enabled observers to watch across the river . The place smelled strongly of rank , fertile earth , rotting wood and urine . The plank floor was slimed beneath Watson's boots . At least the Union officer had been decent enough to provide a candle . There was no place to sit , but Watson walked slowly from the ladder to the window slits and back , stooping slightly to avoid striking his head on the heavy beams . In the corner was the soldier with the white flag . He stood stiffly erect , clutching the staff , his body half hidden by the limp cloth . Watson hardly looked at him . The man had come floundering aboard the flat-bottomed barge at the last instant , brandishing the flag of truce . Someone had hauled him over the side , and he had remained silent while they crossed .

An officer with a squad of men had been waiting on the bank . The men in the boats had started yelling happily at first sight of the officer , two of them calling him Billy . When the boat had touched , the weaker ones and the two wounded men had been lifted out and carried away by the soldiers . Watson had presented his pouch and been led to the bombproof . The officer had told him that both lists must be checked . Watson had given his name and asked for a safe-conduct pass . The officer , surprised , said he would have to see . Watson had nodded absently and muttered that he would check the lists himself later . He had peered through the darkness at the rampart . The men he would take back across the river stood there , but he turned away from them . He wanted no part of the emotions of the exchange , no memory of the joy and gratitude that other men felt . He had hoped to be alone in the bombproof , but the soldier had followed him . Though Watson carefully ignored the man , he could not deny his presence . Perhaps it would be better to speak to him , since silence could not exorcise his form . Watson glanced briefly at him , seeing only a body rigidly erect behind the languid banner .

-- We won't be too long . If my pass is approved , I may be a half hour .

The soldier answered in a curious , muffled voice , his lips barely moving . Watson turned away and did not see the man's knees buckle and his body sag .

-- Yes , sir .

He had acknowledged the man . It was easier to think now , Watson decided . The stiff figure in the corner no longer blocked his thoughts . He paced slowly , stooping , staring at the damp , slippery floor . He tried to order the words of the three Union officers , seeking to create some coherent portrait of the dead boy . But he groped blindly . His lack of success steadily eroded his interest . He stopped pacing , leaned against the dank , timbered wall and let his mind drift . A feeling of futility , an enervation of mind greater than any fatigue he had ever known , seeped through him . What in the name of God was he doing , crouched in a timbered pit on the wrong bank of the river ? ? Why had he crossed the dark water , to bring back a group of reclaimed soldiers or to skulk in a foul-smelling hole ? ?

He grew annoyed and at the same time surprised at that emotion . He was conscious of a growing sense of absurdity . Hillman had written it all out , hadn't he ? ? Wasn't the report official enough ? ? What did he hope to accomplish here ? ? Hillman had ordered him not to leave the far bank . Prompted by a guilty urge , he had disobeyed the order of a man he respected . For what ? ? To tell John something he would find out for himself .

The figure in the corner belched loudly , a deep , liquid eruption . Watson snorted and then laughed aloud . Exactly ! !

The soldier's voice was muffled again , stricken with chagrin . He clutched the staff , and his dark eyes blinked apologetically .

-- 'scuse me , sir .

-- Let's get out of here .

Watson ran up the ladder and stood for a second sucking in the cool air that smelled of mud and river weeds . To his left , the two skiffs dented their sharp bows into the soft bank . The flat-bottomed boat swung slowly to the pull of the current . A soldier held the end of a frayed rope .

Three Union guards appeared , carrying their rifles at ready . Watson stared at them curiously . They were stocky men , well fed and clean-shaven , with neat uniforms and sturdy boots . Behind them shambled a long column of weak , tattered men . The thin gray figures raised a hoarse , cawing cry like the call of a bird flock . They moved toward the skiffs with shocking eagerness , elbowing and shoving . Four men were knocked down , but did not attempt to rise . They crept down the muddy slope toward the waiting boats . The Union soldiers grounded arms and settled into healthy , indifferent postures to watch the feeble boarding of the skiffs . The crawling men tried to rise and fell again . No one moved to them . Watson watched two of them flounder into the shallow water and listened to their voices beg shrilly . In a confused , soaked and stumbling shift of bodies and lifting arms , the two men were dragged into the same skiff . The third crawling man forced himself erect . He swayed like a drunkard , his arms milling in slow circles . He paced forward unsteadily , leaning too far back , his head tilted oddly . His steps were short and stiff , and , with his head thrown back , his progress was a supercilious strut . He appeared to be peering haughtily down his nose at the crowded and unclean vessel that would carry him to freedom . He stalked into the water and fell heavily over the side of the flat-bottomed barge , his weight nearly swamping the craft . Watson looked for the fourth man . He had reached the three passive guards ; ; he crept in an incertain manner , patting the ground before him . The guards did not look at him . The figure on the earth halted , seemingly bewildered . He sank back on his thin haunches like a weary hound . Then he began to crawl again . Watson watched the creeping figure . He felt a spectator interest . Would the man make it or not ? ? If only there was a clock for him to crawl against . If he failed to reach the riverbank in five minutes , say , then the skiffs would pull away and leave him groping in the mud . Say three minutes to make it sporting . Still the guards did not move , but stood inert , aloof from the slow-scrambling man . The figure halted , and Watson gasped . The man began to creep in the wrong direction , deceived by a slight rise in the ground ! ! He turned slowly and began to crawl back up the bank toward the rampart . Watson raced for him , his boots slamming the soft earth .

The guards came to life with astonishing menace . They spun and flung their rifles up . Watson gesticulated wildly . One man dropped to his knee for better aim .

-- Let me help him , for the love of God ! !

The guards lowered their rifles and their rifles and peered at Watson with sullen , puzzled faces . Watson pounded to the crawling man and stopped , panting heavily . He reached down and closed his fingers on the man's upper arm . Beneath his clutch , a flat strip of muscle surged on the bone . Watson bent awkwardly and lifted the man to his feet . Watson stared into a cadaverous face . Two clotted balls the color of mucus rolled between fiery lids . Light sticks of fingers , the tips gummy with dark earth , patted at Watson's throat . The man's voice was a sweet , patient whisper .

-- Henry said that he'd take my arm and get me right there . But you ain't Henry .

-- no .

-- It don't matter . Is it far ? ?

How far could it be , Watson thought bleakly , how far can a blind man crawl ? ? Another body length or all the rest of his nighted life ? ?

-- Not far .

-- You talk deep . Not like us fellas . It raises the voice , bein in camp . You Secesh ? ?

-- yes . Come on , now . Can you walk ? ?

-- Why , course I can . I can walk real good .

Watson stumbled down the bank . The man leaned his frail body against Watson's shoulder . He was no heavier than a child . Watson paused for breath . The man wheezed weakly , his fetid breath beating softly against Watson's neck . His sweet whisper came after great effort .

-- Oh , Christ . I wish you was Henry . He promised to take me .

-- hush . We're almost there .

Watson supported the man to the edge of the bank and passed the frail figure over the bow of the nearest skiff . The man swayed on a thwart , turning his ruined eyes from side to side . Watson turned away , sickened for the first time in many months . He heard the patient voice calling .

-- Henry ? ? Where are you , Henry ? ?

-- Make him lie down ! !

Watson snatched a deep breath . He had not meant to shout . He stood with his back to the skiff . The men mewed and scratched , begging to be taken away . Watson spoke bewilderedly to the dark night flecked with pine-knot torches .

-- Goddamn you ! ! What do you do to them ? ?

Intelligence jabbed at him accusingly . He was angry , sickened . He had not felt that during the afternoon . No , nor later . All his emotions had been inward , self-conscious . In war , on a night like this , it was only the outward emotions that mattered , what could be flung out into the darkness to damage others . Yes . That was it . He was sure of it .

John's type of man allowed this sort of thing to happen . What a fool he had been to think of his brother ! ! So Charles was dead . What did it matter ? ? His name had been crossed off a list . Already his cool body lay in the ground . What words had any meaning ? ? What had he thought of , to go to John , grovel and beg understanding ? ? To confess with a canvas chair as a prie-dieu , gouging at his heart until a rough and stupid hand bade him rise and go ? ? Men were slaughtered every day , tumbled into eternity like so many torn parcels flung down a portable chute . What made him think John had a right to witness his brother's humiliation ? ? What right had John to any special consideration ? ? Was John better , more deserving ? ? To hell with John . Let him chafe with impatience to see Charles , rip open the note with trembling hands and read the formal report in Hillman's beautiful , schoolmaster's hand . John would curse . He believed that brave boys didn't cry .

Watson spat on the ground . He was grimly satisfied . He had stupidly thought himself compelled to ease his brother's pain . Now he knew perfectly that he had but longed to increase his own suffering .