Flag dispatch to the commanding officer of the Allied forces at Spy Hill at 10:30 AM, from the Commander-in-Chief:
"I am sending two battalions, and the Fifth Light Infantry are on their way up. You must hold on to the last. No surrender."
I would like to tell you what a trench attack is like. I would also like to tell you what it's like to be hit by a bullet. In both cases, though, the act is too swift, the pain too intense – the mind reels, the memory forgets.
An officer has to make reports, though, so I will piece together, as best I can, the events that followed.
Thanks to the mist, the near surrender, and Doyle's endless chatter, the Mippite soldiers were able to creep within ten yards of us. The moment they attacked, the left and right flanks began to shoot our attackers . . . but not for long. The Mippites were too close. Far too soon, the Mippites reached the main trench: Fairview and his men.
Fairview's men were caught off-guard, still fumbling to attach their bayonets to their rifles. Some of the men discharged their rifles at point-blank range; Mippites fell. But many of the Mippites who reached Fairview's men yanked the rifles out of our soldiers' grips and used those same rifles to shoot, stab, or simply break our soldiers' heads.
I caught no more than a glimpse of this. My place was with my men, who, if they were going to be of any help, needed orders. I was halfway back to the right flank's trench when I heard Doyle shout.
I turned, not because of Doyle, but because I knew he was standing next to Fairview. It was Doyle, though, who was in trouble; a Mippite had just succeeded in wrenching away Doyle's rifle.
Fairview, having called out initial orders and fixed his bayonet to his rifle, had taken several limping steps away. He was retreating to the General's rock in order to direct the fighting. That was the proper thing to do.
Now he turned around, ran back to the main trench, and stabbed Doyle's attacker in the thigh.
I've wondered since then if he would have done this if Doyle hadn't given his "pity poor me" speech beforehand. I doubt it. Fairview knew as well as I did that a general who deliberately stays to grapple with the enemy in a trench skirmish is no general at all. A general has to be somewhat distant from the events, so that he can properly direct them. The fact that Fairview was on this hill at all was a disadvantage; for him to come to the aid of one of his soldiers was as foolish . . .
Well, as foolish as stepping out from the shelter of a rock to give a cigarette to a dying soldier. Perhaps Fairview had more in common with General Pentheusson than we had realized.
What happened next was a blur. I saw the Mippite attacker fall, clutching at his thigh. He was still alive. I'm not sure whether Fairview would have killed him or simply restored Doyle's rifle to him.
But another man had no doubt as to Fairview's intentions. I reached the scene just as the Mippite field-cornet did. He took no notice of me; he simply raised his rifle and brought it down with a loud crack on Fairview's head.
Fairview fell, like a lamphouse that has been plowed into the water by a giant steamer. The field-cornet, whose rifle was now broken, grabbed Fairview's rifle. Fairview's fixed bayonet glittered in the soft sunlight that had broken through the mist. The deadly blade was poised over Fairview's body.
I stepped in front of the bayonet and waited, motionless. Have I mentioned that I'd carelessly left my rifle in my own trench?
I don't know whether I would have acted as I did, if it hadn't been for Doyle's bloody guidebook. Common sense would have told me that, after a blow like that, Fairview was probably dead, and my men needed me alive. Sacrificing my life for Fairview's corpse would be of no use.
But the illogical part of my mind – the part that was still remembering that frieze and the cycle back that had accompanied it – said, "I rescued Fairview once before. I can do it again."
"Colonel!" It was Doyle. He had reached down and scooped up his rifle, which was fallen from the hand of the wounded Mippite. He laughed as he tossed it toward me. He was still laughing when the field-cornet shot him.
That shot was the field-cornet's mistake. So was coming to the wounded Mippite's aid. The officer had made the same error Fairview had, of focussing his attention on one soldier, rather than on the battle as a whole. All around us, having failed to receive the orders they needed, the Mippites were falling back.
The field-cornet took a swift look at me. He was armed; I was armed. This was no time for a duel. With ill-concealed irony, I tipped my helmet at him; after all, he had risked his own life for the sake of the wounded soldier lying at my feet.
He gave a half-smile, pulled the wounded soldier to his feet, and as the cloud that had misted us rose higher, he helped the wounded soldier stagger back to the Mippites' territory.
I let them go; I was too busy staring at Fairview and Doyle, lying motionless next to each other. Blood covered them both. The white spaniel licked at Doyle's face, vainly trying to bring him back to life. Fairview's eyes stared sightlessly at the sky. His beard was dirty, his shirt torn, his face cloud-dappled under the midday sun.
I was granted time enough to kneel down and close Fairview's eyes. Then I was too busy to do anything except issue orders, because the Mippites' big guns were beginning to boom again, and the General's rock belonged to me.