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The Prussian Officer

The Prussian Officer

David Herbert Lawrence

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • They had marched more than thirty kilometres since dawn, along the white, ho_oad where occasional thickets of trees threw a moment of shade, then out int_he glare again. On either hand, the valley, wide and shallow, glittered wit_eat; dark green patches of rye, pale young corn, fallow and meadow and blac_ine woods spread in a dull, hot diagram under a glistening sky. But right i_ront the mountains ranged across, pale blue and very still, snow gleamin_ently out of the deep atmosphere. And towards the mountains, on and on, th_egiment marched between the rye fields and the meadows, between the scragg_ruit trees set regularly on either side the high road. The burnished, dar_reen rye threw off a suffocating heat, the mountains drew gradually neare_nd more distinct. While the feet of the soldiers grew hotter, sweat ra_hrough their hair under their helmets, and their knapsacks could burn no mor_n 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 ros_heer out of the land, and stood fold behind fold, half earth, half heaven, the heaven, the barrier with slits of soft snow, in the pale, bluish peaks.
  • He could now walk almost without pain. At the start, he had determined not t_imp. It had made him sick to take the first steps, and during the first mil_r so, he had compressed his breath, and the cold drops of sweat had stood o_is 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 hi_highs. And since he had made his first step in the morning, he had bee_onscious of them, till now he had a tight, hot place in his chest, wit_uppressing the pain, and holding himself in. There seemed no air when h_reathed. But he walked almost lightly.
  • The Captain’s hand had trembled at taking his coffee at dawn: his orderly sa_t again. And he saw the fine figure of the Captain wheeling on horseback a_he farm-house ahead, a handsome figure in pale blue uniform with facings o_carlet, 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 h_as connected with that figure moving so suddenly on horseback: he followed i_ike a shadow, mute and inevitable and damned by it. And the officer wa_lways aware of the tramp of the company behind, the march of his orderl_mong the men.
  • The Captain was a tall man of about forty, grey at the temples. He had _andsome, 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 hi_oins.
  • For the rest, the orderly scarcely noticed the officer any more than h_oticed himself. It was rarely he saw his master’s face: he did not look a_t. The Captain had reddish-brown, stiff hair, that he wore short upon hi_kull. 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 mor_andsome 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 stoo_ushy over light blue eyes that were always flashing with cold fire.
  • He was a Prussian aristocrat, haughty and overbearing. But his mother had bee_ Polish Countess. Having made too many gambling debts when he was young, h_ad ruined his prospects in the Army, and remained an infantry captain. He ha_ever married: his position did not allow of it, and no woman had ever move_im to it. His time he spent riding—occasionally he rode one of his own horse_t the races—and at the officers’ club. Now and then he took himself _istress. But after such an event, he returned to duty with his brow stil_ore 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 th_nevitable.
  • To his orderly he was at first cold and just and indifferent: he did not fus_ver trifles. So that his servant knew practically nothing about him, excep_ust what orders he would give, and how he wanted them obeyed. That was quit_imple. 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 marke_yebrows over dark, expressionless eyes, that seemed never to have thought, only to have received life direct through his senses, and acted straight fro_nstinct.
  • 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 th_outh’s person, while he was in attendance. It was like a warm flame upon th_lder man’s tense, rigid body, that had become almost unliving, fixed. Ther_as something so free and self-contained about him, and something in the youn_ellow’s movement, that made the officer aware of him. And this irritated th_russian. He did not choose to be touched into life by his servant. He migh_asily have changed his man, but he did not. He now very rarely looked direc_t his orderly, but kept his face averted, as if to avoid seeing him. And ye_s the young soldier moved unthinking about the apartment, the elder watche_im, and would notice the movement of his strong young shoulders under th_lue cloth, the bend of his neck. And it irritated him. To see the soldier’_oung, brown, shapely peasant’s hand grasp the loaf or the wine-bottle sent _lash of hate or of anger through the elder man’s blood. It was not that th_outh was clumsy: it was rather the blind, instinctive sureness of movement o_n 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 th_ablecloth, the officer had started up with an oath, and his eyes, bluey lik_ire, had held those of the confused youth for a moment. It was a shock fo_he young soldier. He felt something sink deeper, deeper into his soul, wher_othing had ever gone before. It left him rather blank and wondering. Some o_is natural completeness in himself was gone, a little uneasiness took it_lace. And from that time an undiscovered feeling had held between the tw_en.
  • Henceforward the orderly was afraid of really meeting his master. Hi_ubconsciousness remembered those steely blue eyes and the harsh brows, an_id not intend to meet them again. So he always stared past his master, an_voided him. Also, in a little anxiety, he waited for the three months to hav_one, when his time would be up. He began to feel a constraint in th_aptain’s presence, and the soldier even more than the officer wanted to b_eft alone, in his neutrality as servant.
  • He had served the Captain for more than a year, and knew his duty. This h_erformed easily, as if it were natural to him. The officer and his command_e took for granted, as he took the sun and the rain, and he served as _atter of course. It did not implicate him personally.
  • But now if he were going to be forced into a personal interchange with hi_aster he would be like a wild thing caught, he felt he must get away.
  • But the influence of the young soldier’s being had penetrated through th_fficer’s stiffened discipline, and perturbed the man in him. He, however, wa_ gentleman, with long, fine hands and cultivated movements, and was not goin_o allow such a thing as the stirring of his innate self. He was a man o_assionate temper, who had always kept himself suppressed. Occasionally ther_ad been a duel, an outburst before the soldiers. He knew himself to be alway_n the point of breaking out. But he kept himself hard to the idea of th_ervice. 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 wil_nimals have in free movement. And this irritated the officer more and more.
  • In spite of himself, the Captain could not regain his neutrality of feelin_owards his orderly. Nor could he leave the man alone. In spite of himself, h_atched him, gave him sharp orders, tried to take up as much of his time a_ossible. Sometimes he flew into a rage with the young soldier, and bullie_im. 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 pierce_o his intelligence, he made himself, protectively, impervious to the feeling_f his master.
  • He had a scar on his left thumb, a deep seam going across the knuckle. Th_fficer had long suffered from it, and wanted to do something to it. Still i_as there, ugly and brutal on the young, brown hand. At last the Captain’_eserve 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 abou_is duties. The elder man was sullenly angry. His servant avoided him. And th_ext day he had to use all his will-power to avoid seeing the scarred thumb.
  • He wanted to get hold of it and—A hot flame ran in his blood.
  • He knew his servant would soon be free, and would be glad. As yet, the soldie_ad held himself off from the elder man. The Captain grew madly irritable. H_ould not rest when the soldier was away, and when he was present, he glare_t him with tormented eyes. He hated those fine, black brows over th_nmeaning, dark eyes, he was infuriated by the free movement of the handsom_imbs, which no military discipline could make stiff. And he became harsh an_ruelly bullying, using contempt and satire. The young soldier only grew mor_ute and expressionless.
  • "What cattle were you bred by, that you can’t keep straight eyes? Look me i_he eyes when I speak to you."
  • And the soldier turned his dark eyes to the other’s face, but there was n_ight in them: he stared with the slightest possible cast, holding back hi_ight, perceiving the blue of his master’s eyes, but receiving no look fro_hem. And the elder man went pale, and his reddish eyebrows twitched. He gav_is order, barrenly.
  • Once he flung a heavy military glove into the young soldier’s face. Then h_ad the satisfaction of seeing the black eyes flare up into his own, like _laze when straw is thrown on a fire. And he had laughed with a little tremo_nd a sneer.
  • But there were only two months more. The youth instinctively tried to kee_imself intact: he tried to serve the officer as if the latter were a_bstract authority and not a man. All his instinct was to avoid persona_ontact, even definite hate. But in spite of himself the hate grew, responsiv_o the officer’s passion. However, he put it in the background. When he ha_eft the Army he could dare acknowledge it. By nature he was active, and ha_any friends. He thought what amazing good fellows they were. But, withou_nowing it, he was alone. Now this solitariness was intensified. It woul_arry him through his term. But the officer seemed to be going irritabl_nsane, and the youth was deeply frightened.
  • The soldier had a sweetheart, a girl from the mountains, independent an_rimitive. The two walked together, rather silently. He went with her, not t_alk, but to have his arm round her, and for the physical contact. This ease_im, made it easier for him to ignore the Captain; for he could rest with he_eld fast against his chest. And she, in some unspoken fashion, was there fo_im. They loved each other.
  • The Captain perceived it, and was mad with irritation. He kept the young ma_ngaged all the evenings long, and took pleasure in the dark look that came o_is face. Occasionally, the eyes of the two men met, those of the younge_ullen and dark, doggedly unalterable, those of the elder sneering wit_estless contempt.
  • The officer tried hard not to admit the passion that had got hold of him. H_ould not know that his feeling for his orderly was anything but that of a ma_ncensed by his stupid, perverse servant. So, keeping quite justified an_onventional 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’_ace. When he saw the youth start back, the pain-tears in his eyes and th_lood on his mouth, he had felt at once a thrill of deep pleasure and o_hame.
  • 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. H_ent away for some days with a woman.
  • It was a mockery of pleasure. He simply did not want the woman. But he staye_n 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 th_able, perfectly still, and all his blood seemed to be corroding.
  • At last his servant entered. He watched the strong, easy young figure, th_ine eyebrows, the thick black hair. In a week’s time the youth had got bac_is old well-being. The hands of the officer twitched and seemed to be full o_ad flame. The young man stood at attention, unmoving, shut off.
  • The meal went in silence. But the orderly seemed eager. He made a clatter wit_he dishes.
  • "Are you in a hurry?" asked the officer, watching the intent, warm face of hi_ervant. The other did not reply.
  • "Will you answer my question?" said the Captain.
  • "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 what?"
  • "I was going out, sir."
  • "I want you this evening."
  • There was a moment’s hesitation. The officer had a curious stiffness o_ountenance.
  • "Yes, sir," replied the servant, in his throat.
  • "I want you tomorrow evening also—in fact, you may consider your evening_ccupied, 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 th_lates in a pile outside the door, took the stump of pencil from his ear, an_ut it in his pocket. He had been copying a verse for his sweetheart’_irthday card. He returned to finish clearing the table. The officer’s eye_ere 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 th_reat green stove, a little smile on his face, his chin thrust forward. Whe_he young soldier saw him his heart suddenly ran hot. He felt blind. Instea_f answering, he turned dazedly to the door. As he was crouching to set dow_he dishes, he was pitched forward by a kick from behind. The pots went in _tream down the stairs, he clung to the pillar of the banisters. And as he wa_ising he was kicked heavily again, and again, so that he clung sickly to th_ost for some moments. His master had gone swiftly into the room and close_he door. The maid-servant downstairs looked up the staircase and made _ocking face at the crockery disaster.
  • The officer’s heart was plunging. He poured himself a glass of wine, part o_hich he spilled on the floor, and gulped the remainder, leaning against th_ool, green stove. He heard his man collecting the dishes from the stairs.
  • Pale, as if intoxicated, he waited. The servant entered again. The Captain’_eart gave a pang, as of pleasure, seeing the young fellow bewildered an_ncertain 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 eyebrow_ery 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 ther_turdily planted, unconscious. The withering smile came into the Captain’_yes, and he lifted his foot.
  • "I—I forgot it—sir," panted the soldier, his dark eyes fixed on the othe_an’s dancing blue ones.
  • "What was it doing there?"
  • He saw the young man’s breast heaving as he made an effort for words.
  • "I had been writing."
  • "Writing what?"
  • Again the soldier looked up and down. The officer could hear him panting. Th_mile came into the blue eyes. The soldier worked his dry throat, but coul_ot speak. Suddenly the smile lit like a flame on the officer’s face, and _ick came heavily against the orderly’s thigh. The youth moved a pac_ideways. His face went dead, with two black, staring eyes.
  • "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 wen_tiff.
  • "Some poetry, sir," came the crackling, unrecognizable sound of his voice.
  • "Poetry, what poetry?" asked the Captain, with a sickly smile.
  • Again there was the working in the throat. The Captain’s heart had suddenl_one 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 half- 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 th_ntense gratification of his passion, still working powerfully. Then there wa_ counter-action, a horrible breaking down of something inside him, a whol_gony of reaction. He stood there for an hour motionless, a chaos o_ensations, but rigid with a will to keep blank his consciousness, to preven_is mind grasping. And he held himself so until the worst of the stress ha_assed, when he began to drink, drank himself to an intoxication, till h_lept obliterated. When he woke in the morning he was shaken to the base o_is nature. But he had fought off the realization of what he had done. He ha_revented his mind from taking it in, had suppressed it along with hi_nstincts, and the conscious man had nothing to do with it. He felt only a_fter a bout of intoxication, weak, but the affair itself all dim and not t_e recovered. Of the drunkenness of his passion he successfully refuse_emembrance. And when his orderly appeared with coffee, the officer assume_he same self he had had the morning before. He refused the event of the pas_ight—denied it had ever been— and was successful in his denial. He had no_one any such thing— not he himself. Whatever there might be lay at the doo_f a stupid, insubordinate servant.
  • The orderly had gone about in a stupor all the evening. He drank some bee_ecause 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 ma_n him were inert. He crawled about disfigured. Still, when he thought of th_icks, he went sick, and when he thought of the threat of more kicking, in th_oom afterwards, his heart went hot and faint, and he panted, remembering th_ne that had come. He had been forced to say, "For my girl." He was much to_one even to want to cry. His mouth hung slightly open, like an idiot’s. H_elt vacant, and wasted. So, he wandered at his work, painfully, and ver_lowly and clumsily, fumbling blindly with the brushes, and finding i_ifficult, 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 a_ast, and slept inert, relaxed, in a sleep that was rather stupor tha_lumber, 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 stead_eeling 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 pushe_ut of the room. He would have to move his inert body and go on. He was s_oung, and had known so little trouble, that he was bewildered. He only wishe_t 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 fro_aving to get up and saddle the Captain’s horse, and make the Captain’_offee. It was there, inevitable. And then, he thought, it was impossible. Ye_hey 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 wa_nevitable—inevitable, however long he lay inert.
  • At last, after heaving at himself, for he seemed to be a mass of inertia, h_ot up. But he had to force every one of his movements from behind, with hi_ill. 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 o_is swarthy flesh and he knew that, if he pressed one of his fingers on one o_he bruises, he should faint. But he did not want to faint—he did not wan_nybody to know. No one should ever know. It was between him and the Captain.
  • There were only the two people in the world now—himself and the Captain.
  • Slowly, economically, he got dressed and forced himself to walk. Everythin_as obscure, except just what he had his hands on. But he managed to ge_hrough his work. The very pain revived his dull senses. The worst remaine_et. He took the tray and went up to the Captain’s room. The officer, pale an_eavy, sat at the table. The orderly, as he saluted, felt himself put out o_xistence. He stood still for a moment submitting to his ow_ullification—then he gathered himself, seemed to regain himself, and then th_aptain began to grow vague, unreal, and the younger soldier’s heart beat up.
  • He clung to this situation—that the Captain did not exist—so that he himsel_ight 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 h_imself were coming to pieces, disintegrated. And when the Captain was ther_n horseback, giving orders, while he himself stood, with rifle and knapsack, sick with pain, he felt as if he must shut his eyes—as if he must shut hi_yes on everything. It was only the long agony of marching with a parche_hroat that filled him with one single, sleep-heavy intention: to sav_imself.