Jeremiah, Bonaparte, ‘Awkins, and Belcher meet Noble and Feeney. ‘Awkins immediately lays into Noble for his complicity in this scheme and continues to profess his friendship for both Noble and Bonaparte.
Seeing Noble fully participating in the execution, ‘Awkins feels betrayed all over again. When he insists he wouldn’t kill the Irish soldiers if the situation were reversed, he tries to put the execution in human terms, rather than seeing it through Jereimiah’s notions of duty and opposing armies. Friendship is the primary motivator for ‘Awkins, which explains his disbelief that someone he calls a friend would kill him because of something that happened far away.
Jeremiah readies his gun and asks ‘Awkins whether he has any final messages or prayers. Instead, ‘Awkins appeals to Noble and Bonaparte as his “chums” and even offers to desert and fight for the Irish side. Neither Noble nor Bonaparte responds.
Jeremiah asks ‘Awkins if he wants to say his prayers, which is especially ironic considering ‘Awkins’ opinions on religion. Instead, ‘Awkins offers the ultimate act of “disunion between brothers”—deserting his own army to fight for the “enemy—something Bonaparte imagined doing to a lesser extent. By offering to switch sides in a national conflict, he nullifies any questions of national identity or duty. Instead, it’s “chums” that he’s chiefly concerned with.
Jeremiah asks a final time for a last message before shooting ‘Awkins in the back of the neck. Bonaparte tries to say a prayer as he watches. The Irish are silent as they witness ‘Awkins’s last moments.
Bonparte shuts his eyes and “tried to say a prayer” as Jeremiah shoots ‘Awkins. The word choice of “tried” is crucial because it implies the effort wasn’t entirely successful, emphasizing the inadequacy of traditional belief in the face of this violence. All talk of duty or country also falls silent, as ‘Awkins death seems to render these ideas meaningless.
Belcher, anticipating his own execution, pulls out a handkerchief to tie over his eyes and borrows another from Bonaparte. In their excitement and inexperience, the Irish had forgotten to offer this courtesy to the condemned men. Belcher notes that ‘Awkins isn’t dead and asks Bonaparte to shoot him again, which he does, killing him.
Belcher needs to provide his own handkerchief to place over his eyes. This seems to validate ‘Awkins’s accusation that the Irish were playing at soldiers, as they seem to have stumbled into this execution and are merely going through the motions. Belcher even has to remind Bonaparte to shoot ‘Awkins again to kill him. It’s telling that Bonaparte delivers the second shot rather than Jeremiah, as it’s an act of mercy delivered by someone who cared about ‘Awkins.
After ‘Awkins dies, Belcher laughs darkly. He remarks that ‘Awkins was so concerned about the afterlife, but he knew nothing for certain. Now he knows much more about it than anyone living.
Belcher here seems to introduce his own theology as distinct from ‘Awkins’s or the old woman’s. He believes that only the dead have full access to spiritual truth, and that while we’re alive, we live “in the dark.”
Belcher asks the Irishmen to deliver the letter on ‘Awkins body to his mother. He says that he has no family of his own, as his wife and child left long ago. He likes the “feeling of a ‘ome,” but hadn’t been able to find that simple family life afterward.
Belcher’s revelation that he lost his family gives a deeper meaning to his puzzling actions throughout the story. As he says, he was trying to recreate a “feeling of a ‘ome.” Warming himself the fireplace (a symbol of home), helping the old woman with chores, and instituting the nightly ritual of the card game all point to a desire to create a new family.
Belcher apologizes for babbling about domestic life, and Jeremiah asks him for a final prayer. Belcher responds that he doesn’t see the point.
Belcher seems ashamed to talk about doing housework while facing death, but the fact that his thoughts return there proves how important these simple actions were to him. O’Connor implies that the household chores that seem so trivial were the basis of Belcher’s “feeling of ‘ome.” In contrast, Belcher shrugs off Jeremiah’s invitation to a final prayer. In the end, he found his domestic life more important than his spiritual life.
As he prepares to fire, Jeremiah tries to explain that he’s only doing his duty, but Belcher doesn’t understand what duty really means. He says that he doesn’t blame them and that he still thinks they’re “good lads.” Jeremiah then shoots him once and kills him.
Jeremiah tries to soothe his conscience by insisting once again that he’s just doing his duty. But Belcher doesn’t play along. Instead of duty, Belcher proposes that what’s important is whether you’re a good person. This forces the Irish to face the horror of what they’re doing without the help of duty or service.
With both men dead, the Irish take the corpses to the bog to bury them. Noble finds the letter on ‘Awkins’ body. After the burial, Noble and Bonaparte return in silence to the old woman’s house, which they find cold and dark. The old woman asks what’s been done with Belcher and ‘Awkins. Noble answers indirectly until it’s clear that they’ve been killed.
Belcher’s idea that to live is to be “in the dark” holds true in the aftermath of the execution. Multiple references to the darkness and loneliness of the bog suggest that Bonaparte and Noble are spiritually lost. The return to the old woman’s house, once a lively home, is now also “cold and dark.” The dark both outside and in seems a physical indicator that the home that once was here is gone.
The old woman falls to the ground in grief, praying with her rosary beads. Noble also sinks to his knees near the fireplace. Overwhelmed, Bonaparte pushes his way out of the house.
In the face of grief, the old woman turns to a religious symbol, while Noble kneels at the fireplace, an enduring symbol of domestic life. Bonaparte can’t find comfort in either of these, and in fact, seems disgusted by them.
Bonaparte remembers that during the execution and burial, he felt thousands of miles away from where he was, distant from the bog and the bodies of Belcher and ‘Awkins. He feels unbearably lonely, and notes that nothing in his life felt the same way afterward.
Bonaparte’s feeling of being thousands of miles away speaks to the loneliness he feels, and it also reflects an estrangement from his country and an inability to look at his homeland in the same way. Both home (his time at the old woman’s house) and homeland (attachment to Ireland) are broken by a single act of violence. And he further explains that these feelings are permanent and that he views every subsequent event in his life through that lens.