Captain Dearden was dead, his mouth open in a soundless scream to protest at the agony of the Russian bayonet that protruded obscenely from his belly. Corporal O’Hara lay across his body, writhing as he stared at the gaping holes in his chest and the blood that pumped from the ragged stump of his left arm. Beside him, Aitken lay, choking on the blood that filled his mouth and ran in dark rivulets down his chin and chest. Half a score Russian infantrymen lay among them, shot or bayoneted, unheeded in death as they had been neglected in life.
‘Get the bodies,’ Jack ordered. ‘Pile them up into the breastwork.’
The men stared at him. Their eyes were dazed, their mouths slack with shock, but they did as he ordered, adding the corpses of friends and enemies to the low barricade of sandbags that was their only protection against the dropping musket balls and murderous round shot.
‘Here they come again,’ Coleman gripped the blood-sticky stock of his Minie rifle and staggered to his feet. The once-proud scarlet of his tunic was torn and shredded; his face was powder stained, gaunt and unshaven; blood congealed on the ragged hole in his trousers just above the left knee.
‘Hot as hell and thick as thieves,’ Thorpe spat blood on his hands and ran a grimy thumb over the length of his bayonet. ‘Just listen to them.’