How does one react to the ending of this story?
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The ending of this excellent story is one of the most perfect moments of situational irony in literature. Consider what has happened: Fred Collins has risked death by going to get water for his men, and after all of that effort and risk, finally, he returns alive and with the bucket full of water. However, the water does not last for long:
Suddenly there was an oath, the thud of wood on the ground, and a swift murmur of astonishment from the ranks. The two lieutenants glared at each other. The bucket lay on the ground empty.
After all of the effort that has gone into obtaining the water, it ends up all over the muddy floor. Crane thus seems to use the spilled water to suggest the futility of human efforts to control the course of events. This was an important theme in his writings, which portray characters who, in spite of their best efforts, cannot change or alter their fates or are left to trust in chance alone for survival.