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Title: Action Front
Author: Cable, Boyd, 1878-1943
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Action Front" ***

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ACTION FRONT


BY

BOYD CABLE


1916



TO

MR. J. A. SPENDER

_to whose recognition and appreciation of my work, and to whose instant
and eager hospitality in the "Westminster Gazette" so much of these war
writings is due, this book is very gratefully dedicated by_

THE AUTHOR



FOREWORD


I make no apology for having followed in this book the same plan as in
my other one, "Between the Lines," of taking extracts from the official
despatches as "texts" and endeavoring to show something of what these
brief messages cover, because so many of my own friends, and so many
more unknown friends amongst the reviewers, expressed themselves so
pleased with the plan that I feel its repetition is justified.

There were some who complained that my last book was in parts too grim
and too terrible, and no doubt the same complaint may lie against this
one. To that I can only reply that I have found it impossible to write
with any truth of the Front without the writing being grim, and in
writing my other book I felt it would be no bad thing if Home realized
the grimness a little better.

But now there are so many at Home whose nearest and dearest are in the
trenches, and who require no telling of the horrors of the war, that I
have tried here to show there is a lighter side to war, to let them
know that we have our relaxations, and even find occasion for jests, in
the course of our business.

I believe, or at least hope, that in showing both sides of the picture
I am doing what the Front would wish me to do. And I don't ask for any
greater satisfaction than that.

BOYD CABLE.

_May_, 1916.



CONTENTS


IN ENEMY HANDS
A BENEVOLENT NEUTRAL
DRILL
A NIGHT PATROL
AS OTHERS SEE
THE FEAR OF FEAR
ANTI-AIRCRAFT
A FRAGMENT
AN OPEN TOWN
THE SIGNALERS
CONSCRIPT COURAGE
SMASHING THE COUNTER-ATTACK
A GENERAL ACTION
AT LAST



IN ENEMY HANDS


The last conscious thought in the mind of Private Jock Macalister as he
reached the German trench was to get down into it; his next conscious
thought to get out of it. Up there on the level there were
uncomfortably many bullets, and even as he leaped on the low parapet
one of these struck the top of his forehead, ran deflecting over the
crown of his head, and away. He dropped limp as a pole-axed bullock,
slid and rolled helplessly down into the trench.

When he came to his senses he found himself huddled in a corner against
the traverse, his head smarting and a bruised elbow aching abominably.
He lifted his head and groaned, and as the mists cleared from his dazed
eyes he found himself looking into a fat and very dirty face and the
ring of a rifle muzzle about a foot from his head. The German said
something which Macalister could not understand, but which he rightly
interpreted as a command not to move. But he could hear no sound of
Scottish voices or of the uproar of hand-to-hand fighting in the
trench. When he saw the Germans duck down hastily and squeeze close up
against the wall of the trench, while overhead a string of shells
crashed angrily and the shrapnel beat down in gusts across the trench,
he diagnosed correctly that the assault had failed, and that the
British gunners were again searching the German trench with shrapnel.
His German guard said something to the other men, and while one of them
remained at the loophole and fired an occasional shot, the others drew
close to their prisoner. The first thing they did was to search him, to
turn each pocket outside-in, and when they had emptied these, carefully
feel all over his body for any concealed article. Macalister bore it
all with great philosophy, mildly satisfied that he had no money to
lose and no personal property of any value.

Their search concluded, the Germans held a short consultation, then one
of them slipped round the corner of the traverse, and, returning a
moment later, pointed the direction to Macalister and signed to him to
go.

The trench was boxed into small compartments by the traverses, and in
the next section Macalister found three Germans waiting for him. One of
them asked him something in German, and on Macalister shaking his head
to show that he did not understand, he was signaled to approach, and a
German ran deftly through his pockets, fingering his waist, and,
searching for a money-belt, made a short exclamation of disgust, and
signed to the prisoner to move on round the next traverse, at the same
time shouting to the Germans there, and passing Macalister on at the
bayonet point. This performance was repeated exactly in all its details
through the next half-dozen traverses, the only exception being that in
one an excitable German, making violent motions with a bayonet as he
appeared round the corner, insisted on his holding his hands over his
head.

At about the sixth traverse a German spoke to him in fairly good,
although strongly accented, English. He asked Macalister his rank and
regiment, and Macalister, knowing that the name on his shoulder-straps
would expose any attempt at deceit, gave these. Another man asked
something in German, which apparently he requested the English speaker
to translate.

"He say," interpreted the other, "Why you English war have made?"
Macalister stared at him. "I'm no English," he returned composedly.
"I'm a Scot."

"That the worse is," said the interpreter angrily. "Why have it your
business of the Scot?"

Macalister knitted his brows over this. "You mean, I suppose, what
business is it of ours! Well, it's just Scotland's a bit of Britain, so
when Britain's at war, we are at war."

A demand for an interpretation of this delayed the proceedings a
little, and then the English speaker returned to the attack.

"For why haf Britain this war made!" he demanded.

"We didna' make it," returned Macalister. "Germany began it." Excited
comment on the translation.

"If you'll just listen to me a minute," said Macalister deliberately,
"I can prove I am right. Sir Edward Grey----" Bursts of exclamation
greeted the name, and Macalister grinned slightly.

"You'll no be likin' him," he said. "An' I can weel understan' it."

The questioner went off on a different line. "Haf your soldiers know,"
he asked, "that the German fleet every day a town of England bombard?"

Macalister stared at him. "Havers!" he said abruptly.

The German went on to impart a great deal of astonishing
information--of the German advance on Petrograd, the invasion of Egypt,
the extermination of the Balkan Expedition, the complete blockade of
England, the decimation of the British fleet by submarines.

After some vain attempts to argue the matter and disprove the
statements, Macalister resigned himself to contemptuous silence, only
rousing when the German spoke of England and English, to correct him to
Britain and British.

When at last their interest flagged, the Germans ordered him to move
on. Macalister asked where he was going and what was to be done with
him, and received the scant comfort that he was being sent along to an
officer who would send him back as a prisoner, if he did not have him
killed--as German prisoners were killed by the English.

"British, you mean," Macalister corrected again. "And, besides that,
it's a lie."

He was told to go on; but as he moved be saw a foot-long piece of
barbed wire lying in the trench bottom. He asked gravely whether he
would be allowed to take it, and, receiving a somewhat puzzled and
grudging assent, picked it up, carefully rolled it in a small coil, and
placed it in a side jacket pocket. He derived immense gratification and
enjoyment at the ensuing searches he had to undergo, and the explosive
German that followed the diving of a hand into the barbed-wire pocket.

He arrived at last at an officer and at a point where a communication
trench entered the firing trench. The officer in very mangled English
was attempting to extract some information, when he was interrupted by
the arrival from the communication trench of a small party led by an
officer, a person evidently of some importance, since the other officer
sprang to attention, clicked his heels, saluted stiffly, and spoke in a
tone of respectful humility. The new arrival was a young man in a
surprisingly clean and beautifully fitting uniform, and wearing a
helmet instead of the cloth cap commonly worn in the trenches. His face
was not a particularly pleasant one, the eyes close set, hard, and
cruel, the jaw thin and sharp, the mouth thin-lipped and shrewish. He
spoke to Macalister in the most perfect English.

"Well, swine-hound," he said, "have you any reason to give why I should
not shoot you?" Macalister made no reply. He disliked exceedingly the
look of the new-comer, and had no wish to give an excuse for the
punishment he suspected would result from the officer's displeasure.
But his silence did not save him.

"Sulky, eh, my swine-hound!" said the officer. "But I think we can
improve those manners."

He gave an order in German, and a couple of men stepped forward and
placed their bayonets with the points touching Macalister's chest.

"If you do not answer next time I speak," he said smoothly, "I will
give one word that will pin you to the trench wall and leave you there.
Do you understand!" he snapped suddenly and savagely. "You English
dog."

"I understand," said Macalister. "But I'm no English. I'm a Scot"

The crashing of a shell and the whistling of the bullets overhead moved
the officer, as it had the others, to a more sheltered place. He seated
himself upon an ammunition-box, and pointed to the wall of the trench
opposite him.

"You," he said to Macalister, "will stand there, where you can get the
benefit of any bullets that come over. I suppose you would just as soon
be killed by an English bullet as by a German one."

Macalister moved to the place indicated.

"I'm no anxious," he said calmly, "to be killed by either a _British_
or a German bullet."

"Say 'sir' when you speak to me," roared the officer. "Say 'sir.'"

Macalister looked at him and said "Sir"--no more and no less.

"Have you no discipline in your English army?" he demanded, and
Macalister's lips silently formed the words "British Army." "Are you
not taught to say 'sir' to an officer?"

"Yes--sir; we say 'sir' to any officer and any gentleman."

"So," said the officer, an evil smile upon his thin lips. "You hint, I
suppose, that I am not a gentleman? We shall see. But first, as you
appear to be an insubordinate dog, we had better tie your hands up."

He gave an order, and after some little trouble to find a cord,
Macalister's hands were lashed behind his back with the bandage from a
field-dressing. The officer inspected the tying when it was completed,
spoke angrily to the cringing men, and made them unfasten and re-tie
the lashing as tightly as they could draw it.

"And now," said the officer, "we shall continue our little
conversation; but first you shall beg my pardon for that hint about a
gentleman. Do you hear me--beg," he snarled, as Macalister made no
reply.

"If I've said anything you're no likin' and that I'm sorry for masel',
I apologize," he said.

The officer glared at him with narrowed eyes. "That'll not do," he said
coldly. "When I say 'beg' you'll beg, and you will go on your knees to
beg. Do you hear? Kneel!"

Macalister stood rigid. At a word, two of the soldiers placed
themselves in position again, with their bayonets at the prisoner's
breast. The officer spoke to the men, and then to Macalister.

"Now," he said, "you will kneel, or they will thrust you through."

Macalister stood without a sign of movement; but behind his back his
hands were straining furiously at the lashings upon his wrist. They
stretched and gave ever so little, and he worked on at them with a
desperate hope dawning in his heart.

"Still obstinate," sneered the officer. "Well, it is rather early to
kill you yet, so we must find some other way."

At a sentence from him one of the men threw his weight on the
prisoner's shoulders, while the other struck him savagely across the
tendons behind the knees. Whether he would or no, his knees had to
give, and Macalister dropped to them. But he was not beaten yet. He
simply allowed himself to collapse, and fell over on his side. The
officer cursed angrily, commanding him to rise to his knees again; the
men kicked him and pricked him with their bayonet points, hauled him at
last to his knees, and held him there by main force.

"And now you will beg my pardon," the officer continued. Macalister
said nothing, but continued to stretch at his bonds and twist gently
with his hands and wrists.

The officer spent the next ten minutes trying to force his prisoner to
beg his pardon. They were long and humiliating and painful minutes for
Macalister, but he endured them doggedly and in silence. The officer's
temper rose minute by minute. The forward wall of the firing trench was
built up with wicker-work facings and the officer drew out a thick
switch.

"You will speak," he said, "or I shall flay you in strips and then
shoot you."

Macalister said nothing, and was slashed so heavily across the face
that the stick broke in the striker's hands. The blood rose to his
head, and deep in his heart he prayed, prayed only for ten seconds with
his hands loose; but still he did not speak.

At the end of ten minutes the officer's patience was exhausted.
Macalister was thrust back against the trench wall, and the officer
drew out a pistol.

"In five minutes from now," he gritted, "I'm going to shoot you. I give
you the five minutes that you may enjoy some pleasant thoughts in the
interval."

Macalister made no answer, but worked industriously at the lashings on
his wrists. The bandage stretched and loosened, and at last, at long
last, he succeeded in slipping one turn off his hand. He had no hope
now for anything but death, and the only wish left to him in life was
to get his hands free to wreak vengeance on the dapper little monster
opposite him, to die with his hands free and fighting.

The minutes slipped one by one, and one by one the loosened turns of
the bandage were uncoiled. The trenches at this point were apparently
very close, for Macalister could hear the crack of the British rifles,
the clack-clack-clack of a machine gun at close range, and the thought
flitted through his mind that over there in his own trenches his own
fellows would hear presently the crack of the officer's pistol with no
understanding of what it meant. But with luck and his loosened hands he
would give them a squeal or two to listen to as well.

Then the officer spoke. "One minute," he said, "and then I fire." He
lifted his pistol and pointed it straight at Macalister's face. "I am
not bandaging your eyes," went on the officer, "because I want you to
look into this little round, round hole, and wait to see the fire spout
out of it at you. Your minute is almost up ... you can watch my finger
pressing on the trigger."

The last coil slipped off Macalister's wrist; he was free, but with a
curse he knew it to be too late. A movement of his hands from behind
his back would finish the pressure of that finger, and finish him.
Desperately he sought for a fighting chance.

"I would like to ask," he muttered hoarsely, licking his dry lips,
"will ye no kill me if I say what ye wanted?"

Keenly he watched that finger about the trigger, breathed silent relief
as he saw it slacken, and watched the muzzle drop slowly from level of
his eyes. But it was still held pointed at him, and that barely gave
him the chance he longed for. Only let the muzzle leave him for an
instant, and he would ask no more. The officer was a small and slightly
made man, Macalister, tall and broadly built, big almost to hugeness
and strong as a Highland bull.

"So," said the officer softly, "your Scottish courage flinches then,
from dying?"

While he spoke, and in the interval before answering him, Macalister's
mind was running feverishly over the quickest and surest plan of
action. If he could get one hand on the officer's wrist, and the other
on his pistol, he could finish the officer and perhaps get off another
round or two before he was done himself. But the pistol hand might
evade his grasp, and there would be brief time to struggle for it with
those bayonets within arm's length. A straight blow from the shoulder
would stun, but it might not kill. Plan after plan flashed through his
mind, and was in turn set aside in search of a better. But he had to
speak.

"It's no just that I'm afraid," he said very slowly. "But it was just
somethin' I thought I might tell ye."

The pistol muzzle dropped another inch or two, with Macalister's eye
watching its every quiver. His words brought to the officer's mind
something that in his rage he had quite overlooked.

"If there is anything you can tell me," he said, "any useful
information you can give of where your regiment's headquarters are in
the trenches, or where there are any batteries placed, I might still
spare your life. But you must be quick," he added "for it sounds as if
another attack is coming."

It was true that the fire of the British artillery had increased
heavily during the last few minutes. It was booming and bellowing now
in a deep, thunderous roar, the shells were streaming and rushing
overhead, and shrapnel was crashing and hailing and pattering down
along the parapet of the forward trench; the heavy boom of big shells
bursting somewhere behind the forward line and the roaring explosion of
trench mortar bombs about the forward trench set the ground quivering
and shaking. A shell burst close overhead, and involuntarily Macalister
glanced up, only to curse himself next moment for missing a chance that
his captor offered by a similar momentary lifting of his eyes.
Macalister set his eyes on the other, determined that no such chance
should be missed again.

But now, above the thunder of the artillery and of the bursting shells,
they could hear the sound of rising rifle-fire. The officer must have
glimpsed the hope in Macalister's face, and, with an oath, he brought
the pistol up level again.

"Do not cheat yourself," he said. "You cannot escape. If a charge comes
I shall shoot you first."

With a sinking heart Macalister saw that his last slender hope was
gone. He could only pray that for the moment no attack was to be
launched; but then, just when it seemed that the tide of hope was at
its lowest ebb, the fates flung him another chance--a chance that for
the moment looked like no chance; looked, indeed, like a certainty of
sudden death. A soft, whistling hiss sounded in the air above them, a
note different from the shrill whine and buzz of bullets, the harsh
rush and shriek of the shells. The next instant a dark object fell with
a swoosh and thump in the bottom of the trench, rolled a little and lay
still, spitting a jet of fizzing sparks and wreathing smoke.

When a live bomb falls in a narrow trench it is almost certain that
everyone in that immediate section will at the worst die suddenly, at
the best be badly wounded. Sometimes a bomb may be picked up and thrown
clear before it can burst, but the man who picks it up is throwing away
such chance as he has of being only wounded for the smaller chance of
having time to pitch the bomb clear. The first instinct of every man is
to remove himself from that particular traverse; the teaching of
experience ought to make him throw himself flat on the ground, since by
far the greater part of the force and fragments from the explosion
clear the ground by a foot or two. Of the Germans in this particular
section of trench some followed one plan, some the other. Of the two
men guarding the prisoner the one who was near the corner of the
traverse leapt round it, the other whirled himself round behind
Macalister and crouched sheltering behind his body. Two men near the
corner of the other traverse disappeared round it, two more flung
themselves violently on their faces, and another leapt into the opening
of the communication trench. The officer, without hesitation, dropped
on his face, his head pressed close behind the sandbag on which he had
been sitting.

The whole of these movements happened, of course, in the twinkling of
an eye. Macalister's thoughts had been so full of his plans for the
destruction of the officer that the advent of the bomb merely switched
these plans in a new direction. His first realized thought was of the
man crouching beside and clinging to him, the quick following instinct
to free himself of this check to his movements. He was still on his
knees, with the man on his left side; without attempting to rise he
twisted round and backwards, and drove his fist full force in the
other's face; the man's head crashed back against the trench wall, and
his limp body collapsed and rolled sideways. His mind still running in
the groove of his set purpose, before his captor's relaxed fingers had
well loosed their grip, Macalister hurled himself across the trench and
fastened his ferocious grip on the body of the officer. He rose to his
feet, lifting the man with a jerking wrench, and swung him round. The
swift idea had come to him that by hurling the officer's body on top of
the bomb, and holding him there, he would at least make sure of his
vengeance, might even escape himself the fragments and full force of
the shock. Even in the midst of the swing he checked, glanced once at
the spitting fuse, and with a stoop and a heave flung the officer out
over the front parapet, leaped on the firing step, and hurled himself
over after him.

It must be remembered that the burning fuse of a bomb gives no
indication of the length that remains to burn before it explodes the
charge. The fuse looks like a short length of thin black rope, its
outer cover does not burn and the same stream of sparks and smoke pours
from its end in the burning of the first inch and of the last. There
was nothing, then, to show Macalister whether the explosion would come
before his quick muscles could complete their movement, or whether long
seconds would elapse before the bomb burst. It was an even chance
either way, so he took the one that gave him most. Fortune favored him,
and the roar of the explosion followed his flying heels over the
parapet.

The officer, dazed, shaken, and not yet realizing what had happened,
had gathered neither his wits nor his limbs to rise when Macalister
leaped down almost on top of him. The officer's hand still clung to the
pistol he had held, but Macalister's grasp swooped and clutched and
wrenched the weapon away.

"Get up, my man," he said grimly. "Get up, or I'll blow a hole in ye as
ye lie."

He added emphasis with the point of the pistol in the other's ribs, and
the officer staggered to his feet.

"Now," said Macalister, "you'll quick mairch--that way." He waved the
pistol towards the British trench.

The officer hesitated.

"It is no good," he said sullenly. "I should be killed a dozen times
before I got across."

"That's as may be," said Macalister coolly.

"But if you don't go you'll get your first killing here, and say
naething o' the rest o' the dizen."

A shell cracked overhead, and the shrapnel ripped down along the trench
behind them with a storm of bullets thudding into the ground about
their feet.

"I will make you an offer," said the officer hurriedly. "You can go
your way and leave me to go mine."

"You'll mak' an offer!" said Macalister contemptuously. "Here"--and he
waved the pistol across the open again. "Get along there."

"I will give you--" the officer began, when Macalister broke in
abruptly.

"This is no a debatin' society," he said. "But ye'll no walk ye maun
just drive."

Without further words he thrust the pistol in his pocket, grabbed and
took one handful of coat at the back of the officer's neck and another
at the skirt, and commenced to thrust him before him across the open
ground. But the officer refused to walk, and would have thrown himself
down if Macalister's grasp had not prevented it.

"Ye would, would ye?" growled the Scot, and seized his captive by the
shoulders and shook him till his teeth rattled. "Now," he said angrily,
"ye'll come wi' me or--" he broke off to fling a gigantic arm about the
officer's neck--"or I'll pull the heid aff ye."

So it was that the occupants of the British trench viewed presently the
figure of a huge Highlander appearing through the drifting haze and
smoke at a trot, a head clutched close to his side by a circling arm, a
struggling German half-running, half-dragging behind his captor.

Arrived at the parapet, "Here," shouted Macalister. "Catch, some o'
ye." He jerked his prisoner forward and thrust him over and into the
trench, and leaped in after him.

It was purely on impulse that Private Macalister flung his prisoner out
of the German trench, but it was a set and reasoned purpose that made
him drag his struggling captive back over the open to the British
trench. He knew that the British line would not shoot at an obvious
kilted Highlander, and he supposed that the Germans would hesitate to
fire on one dragging an equally obvious German officer behind him.
Either his reasoning or his blind luck held true, and both he and his
captive tumbled over into the British trench unhurt. An officer
appeared, and Macalister explained briefly to him what had happened.

"You'd better take him back with you," said the officer when he had
finished, and glanced at the German. "He's not likely to make trouble,
I suppose, but there are plenty of spare rifles, and you had better
take one. What's left of your battalion has withdrawn to the support
trench."

"I am an officer," said the German suddenly to the British subaltern?
"I surrender myself to you, and demand to be treated as an honorable
prisoner of war. I do not wish to be left in this man's hands."

"Wish this and wish that," said Macalister, "and much good may your
wishing do. Ye've heard what this officer said, so rise and mairch,
unless ye wad raither I took ye further like I brocht ye here." And he
moved as if to scoop the German's head under his arm again.

"I will not," said the German furiously, and turned again to the
subaltern. "I tell you I surrender----"

"There's no need for you to surrender," said the subaltern quietly. "I
might remind you that you are already a prisoner; and I am not here to
look after prisoners."

The German yielded with a very bad grace, and moved ahead of Macalister
and his threatening bayonet, along the line and down the communication
trench to the support trench. Here the Scot found his fellows, and
introduced his prisoner, made his report to an officer, and asked and
received permission to remain on guard over his captive. Then he
returned to the corner of the trench where the remains of his own
company were. He told them how he had fallen into the German trench and
what had happened up to the moment the German officer came into the
proceedings.

"This is the man," he said, nodding his head towards the officer, "and
I wad just like to tell you carefully and exactly what happened between
him an' me. Ye'll understaun' better if a' show ye as weel as tell ye.
Weel, now, he made twa men tie ma' hands behind ma' back first--if ony
o' ye will lend me a first field dressing I'll show ye how they did
it."

A field dressing was promptly forthcoming, and Macalister bound the
German's hands behind his back, overcoming a slight attempt at
resistance by a warning word and an accompanying sharp twist on his
arms.

"It's maybe no just as tight as mine was," said Macalister when he had
finished, and stood the prisoner back against the wall. "But it'll dae.
Then he made twa men stand wi' fixed bayonets against ma' breast, and
when I hinted what was true, that he was no gentleman, he said I was to
kneel and beg his pardon. And now you," he said, nodding to the
prisoner, "will go down on your marrow-bones and beg mine."

"That is sufficient of this fooling," said the officer, with an attempt
at bravado. "It's your turn, I'll admit; but I will pay you well--"

Macalister interrupted him-"Ye'll maybe think it's a bit mair than
fooling ere I'm done wi' ye," he said. "But speakin' o' pay... and
thank ye for reminding me. Ower there they riped ma pooches, an' took
a'thing I had."

He stepped over to the prisoner, went expeditiously through his
pockets, removed the contents, and transferred them to his own.

"I'm no saying but what I've got mair than I lost," he admitted to the
others, who stood round gravely watching and thoroughly enjoying the
proceedings. "But then they took all I had, an' I'm only taking all he
has."

He pulled a couple of sandbags off the parapet and seated himself on
them.

"To go on wi' this begging pardon business," he said, "If a couple o'
ye will just stand ower him wi' your fixed bayonets.... Thank ye. I
wouldna' kneel," he continued, "so one o' them put his weight on my
shoulders----" He looked at one of the guards, who, entering promptly
into the spirit of the play, put his massive weight on the German's
shoulders, and looked to Macalister for further instructions.

"Then," said Macalister, "the ither guard gave me a swipe across the
back o' the knees."

The "swipe" followed quickly and neatly, and the German went down with
a jerk.

"That's it exactly," said Macalister, with a pleasantly reminiscent
smile. The German's temper broke, and he spat forth a torrent of abuse
in mixed English and German.

Macalister listened a moment. "I said nothing; so I think he shouldna'
be allowed to say anything," he remarked judicially. His comment met
with emphatic approval from his listeners.

"I think I could gag him," said one of his guards; "or if ye preferred
it I could just throttle his windpipe a wee bit, just enough to stop
his tongue and no to hurt him much."

With an effort the German regained his control. "There is no need," he
said sullenly; "I shall be silent."

"Weel," resumed Macalister, "there was a bit o' chaff back and forrit
between us, and next thing he did was to slap me across the face wi'
his hand. Do ye think," he appealed to his audience, "it would brak'
his jaw if I gave him a bit lick across it?"

He advanced a huge hand for inspection, and listened to the free advice
given to try it, and the earnest assurances that it did not matter much
if the jaw did break.

"Ye'll feenish him off presently onyway, I suppose?" said one, and
winked at Macalister.

"Just bide a wee," answered Macalister, "I'm coming to that. I think
maybe I'll no brak his jaw, for fair's fair, and I want to give as near
as I can to what I got."

He leant forward and dealt a mild but tingling slap on the German's
cheek.

"I think," he went on, "the next thing I got was a slash wi' a bit
switch he pulled out from the trench wall. We've no sticks like it
here, so I maun just do the best I can instead."

He leant forward and fastened a huge hand on the prisoner's
coat-collar, jerked him to him, and, despite his frantic struggles and
raging tongue, placed him face down across his knees and administered
punishment.

"I think that's about enough," he said, and returned the choking and
spluttering prisoner to his place between the guards.

"He kept me," he said, "on my knees, so I think he ought ... thank ye,"
as the German went down again none too gently. "After that he went on
saying some things it would be waste o' time to repeat. Swine dog was
about the prettiest name he had any use for. But there was another
thing he did; ye'll see some muck on my face and on my jacket. It came
there like this; he took hold o' me by the hair--this way." And
Macalister proceeded to demonstrate as he explained.

"Then--my hands being tied behind my back you will remember, like
this--it was easy enough for him to pull me over on my face--like
this... and rub my face in the mud.... The bottom o' this trench is in
no such a state a' filth as theirs, but it'll just have to do." He
hoisted the German back to his knees. "Then I think it was after that
the pistol and the killing bit came in." And Macalister put his hand to
his pocket and drew out the officer's pistol which he had thrust there.

"He gave me five minutes, so I'll give him the same. Has ony o' ye a
watch?"

A timekeeper stepped forward out of the little knot of spectators that
crowded the trench, and Macalister requested him to notify them when
only one minute of the five was left.

"My manny here was good enough," said Macalister, "to tell me he
wouldna' bandage my eyes, because he wanted me to look down the muzzle
of his pistol; so now," turning to the prisoner, "you can watch my
finger pulling the trigger."

As the four minutes ebbed, the German's courage ran out with them. The
jokes and laughter about him had ceased. Macalister's face was set and
savage, and there was a cold, hard look in his eye, a stern ferocity on
his mud and bloodstained face that convinced the German the end of the
five minutes would also surely see his end.

"One minute to go," said the timekeeper. A sigh of indrawn breaths ran
round the circle, and then tense silence. Outside the trench they were
in the roar of the guns boomed unceasingly, the shells whooped and
screwed overhead, and from oat in front came the crackle and roar of
rifle-fire; and yet, despite the noise, the trench appeared still and
silent. Macalister noted that, as he had noted it over there in the
German trench.

"Time's up," said the man with the watch. The German, looking straight
at the pistol muzzle and the cold eye behind the sights, gasped and
closed his eyes. The silence held, and after a dragging minute the
German opened his eyes, to find the pistol lowered but still pointing
at him.

"To make it right and fair," said Macalister, "his hands should be
loose, because I had managed to loose mine. Will one o' ye ... thank
ye. It's no easy," continued Macalister, "to just fit the rest o' the
program in, seeing that it was here a bomb fell in the trench, an' his
men bein' weel occupied gettin' oot o' its way, I threw him ower the
parapet and dragged him across to oor lines. Maybe ye'd like to try and
throw me out the same way."

The German was perhaps a brave enough man, but the ordeal of those last
five minutes especially had brought his nerve to near its breaking
strain. His lips twitched and quivered, his jaw hung slack, and at
Macalister's invitation he tittered hysterically. There was a stir and
a movement at the back of the spectators that by now thronged the
trench, and an officer pushed his way through.

"What's this?" he said. "Oh, yes! the prisoner. Well, you fellows might
have more sense than heap yourselves up in a crowd like this. One
solitary Krupp dropping in here, and we'd have a pretty-looking mess.
Open out along the trench there, and keep low down. You can be ready to
move in a few minutes now; we are being relieved here and are going
further back. Now what about this prisoner? Who is looking after him?"

"I am, sir," said Macalister. "The Captain said I was to take him
back."

"Right," said the subaltern. "You can take him with you when you go.
They've got some more prisoners up the line, and you can join them."

It was here that the episode ended so far as Macalister was concerned,
and his relations with the German officer thereafter were of the purely
official nature of a prisoner's guard. There were some other
indignities, but in these Macalister had no hand. They were probably
due to the circulation of the tale Macalister had told and
demonstrated, and were altogether above and beyond anything that
usually happens to a German prisoner. They need not be detailed, but
apparently the most serious of them was the removal of a portion of the
black mud which masked the German's face, so as to leave a
diamond-shaped patch, of staring cleanness over one eye, after the
style of a music-hall star known to fame as the White-eyed Kaffir;
the ripping of a small portion of that garment which permitted of the
extraction of a dangling shirt into a ridiculous wagging tail about a
foot and a half long, and a pressing invitation, accompanied by a hint
from the bayonet point, to give an exposition of the goose-step at the
head of the other prisoners whenever they and their escort were passing
a sufficient number of troops to form a properly appreciative audience.
Probably a Cockney-born Highlander was responsible for these
pleasantries, as he certainly was for the explanation he gave to
curious inquirers.

"He's mad," he explained. "Mad as a coot; thinks he's the devil, and
insists on wagging his little tail. I have to keep him marching with
his hands up this way, because he might try to grab my rifle. Now, it's
no use you gritting your teeth and mumbling German swear words,
cherrybim. Keep your 'ands well up, and proceed with the goose-step."

But with all this Macalister had nothing to do. When he had returned as
nearly as he could the exact sufferings he had endured, he was quite
satisfied to let the matter drop. "I suppose," he said reflectively,
when the officer had gone, after giving him orders to see the prisoner
back, "as that finishes this play, we'll just need to treat ma lad here
like an ordinary preesoner. Has ony o' ye got a wee bit biscuit an'
bully beef an' a mouthful o' water t' gie the puir shiverin' crater!"



A BENEVOLENT NEUTRAL


" ... _the enemy temporarily gained a footing in a portion of our
trench, but in our counter-attack we retook this and a part of enemy
trench beyond_."--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


A wet night, a greasy road, and a side-slipping motor-bike provided the
means of an introduction between Second Lieutenant Courtenay of the 1st
Footsloggers and Sergeant Willard K. Rawbon of the Mechanical Transport
branch of the A.S.C. The Mechanical Transport as a rule extend a bland
contempt to motor-cycles running on the road, ignoring all their
frantic toots of entreaty for room to pass, and leaving them to scrape
as best they may along the narrow margin between a deep and muddy ditch
and the undeviating wheels of a Juggernaut Mechanical Transport lorry.
But a broken-down motor-cycle meets with a very different reception. It
invariably excites some feeling compounded apparently of compassion and
professional interest to the cycle, and an unlimited hospitality to the
stranded cyclist.

This being well known to Second Lieutenant Courtenay, he, after
collecting himself, his cycle, and his scattered wits from the ditch
and conscientiously cursing the road, the dark, and the wet, duly
turned to bless the luck that had brought about an accident right at
the doorstep of a section of the Motor Transport. There were about ten
massive lorries drawn up close to the side of the road under the
poplars, and Courtenay made a direct line for one from which a chink of
light showed under the tarpaulin and sounds of revelry issued from a
melodeon and a rasping file. Courtenay pulled aside the flap, poked his
head in and found himself blinking in the bright glare of an acetylene
lamp suspended in the middle of a Mechanical Transport traveling
workshop. The walls--tarpaulin over a wooden frame--were closely packed
with an array of tools, and the floor was still more closely packed
with a work-bench, vice and lathe, spare motor parts, boxes, and half a
dozen men. The men were reading newspapers and magazines; one was
manipulating the melodeon, and another at the vice was busy with the
file. The various occupations ceased abruptly as Courtenay poked his
head in and explained briefly who he was and what his troubles were.

"Thought you might be able to do something for me," he concluded, and
before he had finished speaking the man at the vice had laid down his
file and was reaching down a mackintosh from its hook. Courtenay
noticed a sergeant's stripes on his sleeve, and a thick and most
unsoldierly crop of hair on his head plastered back from the brow.

"Why sure," the sergeant said. "If she's anyways fixable, you reckon
her as fixed. Whereabouts is she ditched?"

Ten minutes later Courtenay was listening disconsolately to the list of
damages discovered by the glare of an electric torch and the sergeant's
searching examination.

"It'll take 'most a couple of hours to make any sort of a job," said
the sergeant. "That bust up fork alone--but we'll put her to rights for
you. Let's yank 'er over to the shop."

Courtenay was a good deal put out by this announcement.

"I suppose there's no help for it," he said resignedly, "but it's
dashed awkward. I'm due back at the billets now really, and another two
or three hours late--whew!"

"Carryin' a message, I s'pose," said the sergeant, as together they
seized the cycle and pushed it towards the repair lorry.

"No," said Courtenay, "I was over seeing another officer out this way."
He had an idea from the sergeant's free and easy style of address that
the mackintosh, without any visible badges and with a very visible
spattering of mud, had concealed the fact that he was an officer, and
when he reached the light he casually opened his coat to show his belts
and tunic. But the sergeant made not the slightest difference in his
manner.

"Guess you'd better pull that wet coat right off," he said casually,
"and set down while I get busy. You boys, pike out, hit it for the
downy, an' get any sleep you all can snatch. That break-down will be
ambling along in about three hours an' shoutin' for quick repairs, so
you'll have to hustle some. That three hours is about all the sleep
comin' to you to-night; so, beat it."

The damaged cycle was lifted into the lorry and propped up on its stand
and before the men had donned their mackintoshes and "beat it," the
sergeant was busy dismembering the damaged fork. Courtenay pulled off
his wet coat and settled himself comfortably on a box after offering
his assistance and being assured it was not required. The sergeant
conversed affably as he worked.

At first he addressed Courtenay as "mister," but suddenly--"Say," he
remarked, "what ought I to be calling you? I never can remember just
what those different stars-an'-stripes fixin's mean."

"My name is Courtenay and I'm second lieutenant," said the other. He
was a good deal surprised, for naturally, a man does not usually reach
the rank of sergeant without learning the meaning of the badges of rank
on an officer's sleeve.

"My name's Rawbon--Willard K. Rawbon," said the sergeant easily. "So
now we know where we are. Will you have a cigar, Loo-tenant?" he went
on, slipping a case from his pocket and extending it. Courtenay noticed
the solidly expensive get-up and the gold initials on the leather and
was still more puzzled. He reassured himself by another look at the
sergeant's stripes and the regulation soldier's khaki jacket. "No,
thanks," he said politely, and struggling with an inclination to laugh,
"I'll smoke a cigarette," and took one from his own case and lighted
it. He was a good deal interested and probed gently.

"You're Canadian, I suppose?" he said. "But this isn't Canadian
Transport, is it?"

"Not," said the sergeant "Neither it nor me. No Canuck in mine,
Loo-tenant. I'm good United States."

"I see," said Courtenay. "Just joined up to get a finger in the
fighting?"

"Yes an' no," said the sergeant, going on with his work in a manner
that showed plainly he was a thoroughly competent workman. "It was a
matter of business in the first place, a private business deal that--"

"I beg your pardon," said Courtenay hastily, reddening to his ear-tips.
"Please don't think I meant to question you. I say, are you sure I
can't help with that? It's too bad my sitting here watching you do all
the work."

The sergeant straightened himself slowly from the bench and looked at
Courtenay, a quizzical smile dawning on his thin lips. "Why now,
Loo-tenant," he said, "there's no need to get het up none. I know you
Britishers hate to be thought inquisitive--'bad form,' ain't it!--but I
didn't figure it thataway, not any. I'd forgot for a minute the
difference 'tween--" He broke off and looked down at his sleeve,
nodding to the stripes and then to the lieutenant's star. "An' if you
don't mind I'll keep on forgetting it meantime. 'Twon't hurt
discipline, seeing nobody's here anyway. Y' see," he went on, stooping
to his work again, "I'm not used to military manners an' customs. A
year ago if you'd told me I'd be a soldier, _and_ in the British Army,
I'd ha' thought you clean loco."

Courtenay laughed. "There's a good many in the same British Army can
say the same as you," he said.

"I was in London when the flare-up came, an' bein' interested in
business I didn't ball up my intellect with politics an' newspaper war
talk. So a cable I had from the firm hit me wallop, an' plumb dazed me.
It said, 'Try secure war contract. One hundred full-powered available
now. Two hundred delivery within month.' Then I began to sit up an'
take notice. Y' see, I'm in with a big firm of auto builders--mebbe you
know 'em--Rawbon an' Spedding, the Rawbon bein' my dad? No? Well,
anyhow, I got the contract, got it so quick it made my head swim. Gee,
that fellow in the War Office was buyin' up autos like I'd buy
pipe-lights. The hundred lorries was shipped over, an' I saw 'em safe
through the specified tests an' handed 'em over. Same with the next two
hundred, an' this"--tapping his toe on the floor--"is one of 'em right
here."

"I see how the lorry got here," said Courtenay, hugely interested, "but
I don't see how you've managed to be aboard. You and a suit of khaki
and a sergeant's stripes weren't all in the contract, I suppose?"

"Nope," said the sergeant, "not in the written one, mebbe. But I took a
fancy to seein' how the engines made out under war conditions, an'
figured I might get some useful notes on it for the firm, so I fixed it
to come right along."

"But how?" asked Courtenay--"if that's not a secret."

"Why, that guy in the testin' sheds was plump tickled when I told him
my notion. He fixed it all, and me suddenly discoverin' I was mistook
for a Canadian I just said 'M-m-m' when anybody asked me. I had to
enlist though, to put the deal through, an' after that there wasn't
trouble enough to clog the works of a lady's watch. But there was
trouble enough at the other end. My dad fair riz up an' screeched
cablegrams at me when I hinted at goin' to the Front. He made out it
was on the business side he was kickin', with the attitude of the
U-nited States toward the squabble thrown in as extra. Neutrals, he
said we was, benevolent neutrals, an' he wasn't goin' to have a son o'
his steppin' outside the ring-fence o' the U-nited States Constitution,
to say nothing of mebbe losin' good business we'd been do in' with the
Hoggheimers, an' Schmidt Brothers, an' Fritz Schneckluk, an' a heap
more buyers o' his that would rear up an' rip-snort an' refuse to do
another cent's worth of dealing with a firm that was sellin' 'em autos
wi' one hand an' shootin' holes in their brothers and cousins and
Kaisers wi' the other. I soothed the old man down by pointing out I was
to go working these lorries, and the British Army don't shoot Germans
with motor-lorries; and I'd be able to keep him posted in any weak
points, if, and as, and when they developed, so he could keep ahead o'
the crowd in improvements and hooking in more fat contracts; and
lastly, that the Schmidt customer crowd didn't need to know a thing
about me being here unless he was dub enough to tell 'em. So I signed
on to serve King George an' his missus an' kids for ever an' ever, or
duration of war, Amen, with a mental footnote, which last was the only
part I mentioned in mailing my dad, that I was a Benevolent Neutral.
An' here I am."

"Good egg," laughed Courtenay. "Hope you're liking the job."

"Waal, I'll amit I'm some disappointed, Loo-tenant," drawled the
sergeant. "Y' see I did expect I'd have a look in at some of the
fightin'. I'm no ragin' blood-drinker an' bone-buster by profession,
up-bringin', or liking. But it does seem sorter poor play that a man
should be plumb center of the biggest war in history an' never see a
single solitary corpse. An' that's me. I been trailin' around with this
convoy for months, and never got near enough to a shell burst to tell
it from a kid's firework. It ain't in the program of this trench
warfare to have motor transport under fire, and the program is bein'
strictly attended to. It's some sight too, they tell me, when a good
mix-up is goin' on up front. I've got a camera here that I bought
special, thinking it would be fun later to show round my album in the
States an' point out this man being skewered on a bayonet an' that one
being disrupted by a bomb an' the next lot charging a trench. But will
you believe me, Loo-tenant, I haven't as much as set eye or foot on the
trenches. I did once take a run up on the captain's 'Douglas,' thinking
I'd just have a walk around an' see the sights and get some snaps. But
I might as well have tried to break into Heaven an' steal the choir's
harps. I was turned back about ten ways I tried, and wound up by being
arrested as a spy an' darn near gettin' shot. I got mad at last and I
told some fellows, stuck all over with red tabs and cap-bands and
armlets, that they could keep their old trenches, and I didn't believe
they were worth looking at anyway."

Courtenay was laughing again. "I fancy I see the faces of the staff,"
he choked.

"Oh, they ante-d up all right later on," admitted the sergeant, "when
they'd discovered this column and roped in my captain to identify me.
One old leather-face, 'specially--they told me after he was a
General--was as nice as pie, an' had me in an' fed me a fresh meat and
canned asparagus lunch and near chuckled himself into a choking fit
when I told him about dad, an' my being booked up as a Benevolent
Neutral. He was so mighty pleasant that I told him I'd like to have my
dad make him a present of as dandy an auto as rolls in France. I would
have, too, but he simply wouldn't listen to me; told me he'd send it
back freight if I did; and I had to believe him, though, it seemed
unnatural. But they wouldn't let me go look at their blame trenches. I
tried to get this General joker to pass me in, but he wouldn't fall for
it. 'No, no,' he gurgles and splutters. 'A Benevolent Neutral in the
trenches! Never do, never do. We'll have to put some new initials on
the Mechanical Transport,' he says, 'B.N.M.T. Benevolent Neutral! I
must tell Dallas of the Transport that.' And he shooed me off with
that."

The sergeant had worked busily as he talked, and now, as he commenced
to replace the repaired fork, he was thoughtfully silent a moment.

"I suppose there's some dandy sna-aps up in those trenches,
Loo-tenant?" he said at last.

"Oh, well, I dunno," said Courtenay. "Sort of thing you see in the
picture papers, of course."

"Them!" said the sergeant contemptuously. "I could make better sna-aps
posin' some of the transport crowd in these emergency trenches dug
twenty miles back from the front. I mean real pictures of the real
thing--fellows knee-deep in mud, and a shell lobbing in, and such
like--real dandy snaps. It makes my mouth water to think of 'em. But I
suppose I'll go through this darn war and never see enough to let me
hold up my head when I get back home and they ask me what was the war
really like and to tell 'em about the trenches. I could have made out
if I'd even seen those blame trenches and got some good snaps of 'em."

Courtenay was moved to a rash compassion and a still more rash promise.

"Look here, sergeant," he said, "I'm dashed if I don't have a try to
get you a look at the trenches. We go in again in two days and it might
be managed."

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later Sergeant Rawbon, mounted on the motor-cycle which he
had repaired and which had been sent over to him, found all his
obstacles to the trenches melt and vanish before a couple of passes
with which he was provided--one readily granted by his captain on
hearing the reason for its request, and one signed by Second Lieutenant
Courtenay to pass the bearer, Sergeant Rawbon, on his way to the
headquarters of the 1st Footsloggers with motor-cycle belonging to that
battalion. The last quarter mile of the run to the headquarters
introduced Sergeant Rawbon to the sensation of being under fire, and,
as he afterwards informed Courtenay, he did not find the sensation in
any way pleasant.

"Loo-tenant," he said gravely, "I've had some of this under fire
performance already, and I tell you I finds it no ways nice. Coming
along that last bit of road I heard something whistling every now an'
then like the top note of a tin whistle, and something else goin'
_whisk_ like a cane switched past your ear, and another lot saying
_smack_ like a whip-lash snapping. I was riding slow and careful,
because that road ain't exactly--well, it would take a lot of
sandpapering to make it really smooth. But when I realized that those
sounds spelt bullets with a capital B, I decided that road wasn't as
bad as I'd thought, and that anything up to thirty knots wasn't outside
its limits."

"Oh, you were all right," said Courtenay carelessly, "bullets can't
touch you there, except a few long-distance ones that fall in enfilade
over the village. From the front they go over your head, or hit that
parapet along the side of the road."

"Which is comforting, so far," said the sergeant, "though, personally,
I've just about as much objection to be hit by a bullet that comes over
a village as any other kind."

They were outside the remains of a house in the cellar of which was
headquarters, Courtenay having timed the sergeant to arrive at an hour
when he, Courtenay, could arrange to be waiting at headquarters.

"Now we'll shove along down and round the trenches. I spoke to the O.C.
and explained the situation--partly. He didn't raise any trouble so
just follow me, and leave me to do any talking there is to do. You must
keep your eyes open and ask any questions about things after. It would
look a bit odd and raise remarks if the men saw me showing you round
and doing the Cook's Tour guide business. And if you've brought that
camera, keep it out of sight till I give you the word. When we get
along to my own company's bit of trench I'll tell you, and you can take
some snaps--when I'm not looking at you. Just tip the wink to any men
about and they'll be quite pleased to pose or anything you like."

"Loo-tenant," said Sergeant Rawbon earnestly, "you're doin' this thing
real handsome, and I won't forget it. If ever you hit the U-nited
States----"

"Oh, that's all right," said Courtenay, "come along now."

"When we find your bunch," said Rawbon as they moved off, "if you could
make some sort of excuse out loud, and fade from the scene a minute and
leave me there with the men, I'll sure get some of the dandiest snaps
I'd wish. I reckon it'll satisfy the crowd if I promise to send 'em
copies. It will if they're anything like my lot in the Mechanical
Transport."

They slid down into a deep and narrow and very muddy ditch that ran
twistingly through the wrecked village. Courtenay explained that
usually they could walk this part above ground, sheltered from bullets
by the broken-down houses and walls, but that a good few shells had
been coming over all day, and that in the communication trench they
were safe from all shells but those which burst directly over or in the
part they were in.

"You want to run across this bit," he said presently. "A high explosive
broke that in this morning, and it can't be repaired properly till
dark. You go first and wait the other side for me. Now--jump lively!"

Rawbon took one quick jumping stride to the middle of the gap, and
another and very much quicker one beyond it, as a bullet smacked
venomously into the broken side of the trench. Another threw a spurt of
mud at Courtenay's heels as he made the rush. "A sniper watches the gap
and pots at anyone passing," he explained to Rawbon. "It's fairly safe,
because at the range he's firing a bullet takes just a shade longer to
reach here than you take to run across. But it doesn't do to walk."

"No," said Rawbon, "and going back somehow I don't think I will walk. I
can see without any more explainin' that it's no spot for a pleasant,
easy little saunter." He stopped suddenly as a succession of whooping
rushes passed overhead. "Gee! What's that?"

"Shells from our own guns," said Courtenay, and took the lead again. In
his turn he stopped and crouched, calling to Rawbon to keek down. They
heard a long screaming whistle rising to a tempestuous roar and
breaking off in a crash which made the ground shake. Next moment a
shower of mud and earth and stones fell rattling and thumping about and
into the trench.

"Coal-box," said Courtenay hurriedly. "Come on. They're apt to drop
some more about the same spot."

"I'm with you," said Rawbon. "The same spot is a good one to quit, I
reckon."

They hurried, slipping and floundering, along the wet trench, and
turned at last into another zig-zag one where a step ran along one
side, and men muffled in wet coats stood behind a loopholed parapet.
Along the trench was a series of tiny shelters scooped out of the bank,
built up with sand-bags, covered ineffectually with wet, shiny,
waterproof ground-sheets. In these, men were crouched over scantily
filled braziers, or huddled, curled up like homeless dogs on a
doorstep. At intervals along the parapet men watched through periscopes
hoisted over the top edge, and every now and then one fired through a
loophole. The trench bottom where they walked was anything from ankle- to
knee-deep in evil-looking watery mud of the consistency of very thin
porridge. The whole scene, the picture of wet misery, the dirt and
squalor and discomfort made Rawbon shiver as much from disgust as from
the raw cold that clung about the oozing clay walls and began to bite
through to his soaking feet and legs. Courtenay stopped near a group of
men, and telling the sergeant to wait there a moment, moved on and left
him. A puff of cold wet wind blew over the parapet, and the sergeant
wrinkled his nose disgustedly. "Some odorous," he commented to a
mud-caked private hunkered down on his heels on the fire-step with his
back against the trench wall. "Does, the Boche run a glue factory or a
fertilizer works around here?"

"The last about fits it," said the private grimly. "They made an attack
here about a week back, and there's a tidy few fertilizin' out there
now--to say nothin' of some of ours we can't get in."

Rawbon squirmed uneasily to think he should, however unwittingly, have
jested about their dead, but nobody there seemed in any way shocked or
resentful. The sergeant suddenly remembered his camera, and had thrust
his hand under his coat to his pocket when the warning screech of an
approaching shell and the example of the other men in the traverse sent
him crouching low in the trench bottom. The trench there was almost
knee-deep in thin mud, but everyone apparently took that as a matter of
course. The shell burst well behind them, but it was followed
immediately by about a dozen rounds from a light gun. They came
uncomfortably close, crashing overhead and just in front of the
parapet. A splinter from one lifted a man's cap from his head and sent
it flying. The splinter's whirr and the man's sharp exclamation brought
all eyes in his direction. His look of comical surprise and the
half-dazed fashion of his lifting a hand to fumble cautiously at his
head raised some laughter and a good deal of chaff.

"Orright," he said angrily. "Orright, go on; laugh, dash yer. Fat lot
t' laugh at, seein' a man's good cap pitched in the mud."

"No use you feelin' that 'ead o' yours," said his neighbor, grinning.
"You can't even raise a sick 'eadache out o' that squeak. 'Arf an inch
lower now an' you might 'ave 'ad a nice little trip 'ome in an
'orspital ship."

"You're wrong there, Jack," said another solemnly. "That splinter hit
fair on top of his nut, an' glanced off. You don't think a pifflin'
little Pip-Squeak shell could go through _his_ head?" He stepped up on
the firing-step as he spoke, and on the instant, with a rush and crash,
another "Pip-Squeak" struck the parapet immediately in front of him,
blowing the top edge off it, filling the air with a volcano of mud,
dirt, smoke, and shrieking splinters, and, either from the shock of the
explosion or in an attempt to escape it, throwing the man off his
balance on the ledge of the firing-step to sprawl full length in the
mud. In the swirl of noise and smoke and flying earth Rawbon just
glimpsed the plunging fall of a man's body, and felt a curious sickly
feeling at the pit of his stomach. He was relieved beyond words to see
the figure rise to his knees and stagger to his feet, dripping mud and
filth, and swearing at the pitch of his voice. He paid no attention to
the stutter of laughter round him as he retrieved his mud-encrusted
rifle, and looked about him for his cap. The laughter rose as he groped
in the thin mud for it, still cursing wildly; and then the sergeant
noticed that the man who had lost his cap a minute before had quietly
snatched up the other one from the firing-step, clapped it on his own
head and pretended to help the loser to search.

"It was blame funny, I suppose," Rawbon told the lieutenant a few
minutes after, as they moved from the spot. "Him chasin' round in the
mud cussin' all blue about his 'blarsted cap'; and t'other fellow wi'
the cap on his head and pretending to hunt for it, and callin' the rest
to come help. I dessay I'll laugh some myself, if I remember it when
I'm safe back about ten mile from here. Just at the moment my funny
bone hasn't got goin' right after me expectin' to see that feller
blowed to ribbons an' remnants. But them others--say, I've seen men
sittin' comfortable in an armchair seat at a roof-garden vaudeville
that couldn't raise as hearty a laugh at the prize antics of the
thousand dollar star comedian, as them fellers riz on that cap
episode."

"Well, it was rather funny, you know," said Courtenay, grinning a
little himself.

"Mebbe, mebbe," said Rawbon. "But me--well, if you'll excuse it, I'll
keep that laugh in pickle till I feel more like usin' it."

"You wanted to come, you know," said Courtenay. "But I won't blame you
if you say you've had enough and head for home. As I told you before,
this 'joy-riding' game is rather silly. It's bad enough us taking risks
we have to, but----"

"Yes, you spoke that piece, Loo-tenant," said Rawbon, "but I want to
see all there is on show now I'm here. Only don't expect me to shriek
with hilarious mirth every time a shell busts six inches off my nose."

They had halted for a moment, and now another crackling string of light
shells burst along the trench.

"There's another bunch o' humor arriving," said Rawbon. "But I don't
feel yet like encoring the turn any;"

They moved on to a steady accompaniment of shell bursts and Courtenay
looked round uneasily.

"I don't half like this," he said. "They don't usually shell us so at
this time of day. Hope there's no attack coming."

"I agree with all you say, Loo-tenant, and then some. Especially about
not liking it."

"I'm beginning to think you'd be better off these premises," said
Courtenay. "I ought to be with my company if any trouble is coming off.
And it might lead to questions and unpleasantness if you were found
here--especially if you're a casualty, or I am."

"Nuff sed, Loo-tenant," said Rawbon promptly. "I don't want that sort
o' trouble for various reasons. I'd have an everlastin' job explaining
to my dad what I was doin' in the front seats o' the firing line. It
wouldn't just fit wi' my bein' a Benevolent Neutral, not anyhow."

"We're only about thirty or forty yards from the Germ trench in this
bit," said Courtenay. "Here, carry my periscope, and when I'm talking
to some of the men just take a look quietly."

But Rawbon was not able to see much when, a little later, he had a
chance to use the periscope. For one thing the short winter day was
fading and the light was already poor; for another any attempt to keep
the periscope above the parapet for more than a few seconds brought a
series of bullets hissing and zipping over, and periscope glasses in
those days were too precious to risk for mere curiosity's sake.

"We'll just have a look at the Frying Pan," said Courtenay, "and then
you'll have seen about the lot. We hold a bit of the trench running out
beyond the Pan and the Germs are holding the same trench a little
further along. We've both got the trench plugged up with sandbag
barricades."

They floundered along the twisting trench till it turned sharply to the
right and ran out into the shallow hollow of the Frying Pan. It was
swimming in greasy mud, and across the far side from where they stood
Rawbon could see a breastwork of sandbags.

"We call this entrance trench the Handle, and the trench that runs out
from behind that barricade the Leak. There's always more or less
bombing going on in the Leak, and I don't know if it's very wise of you
to go up there. We call this the Frying Pan because--well, 'into the
fire,' you know. Will you chance it?"

"Why, sure; if you don't mind, Loo-tenant," said Rawbon, "I might as
well see--" He was interrupted by a sudden crash and roar, running
bursts of flaring light, hoarse yells and shouts, and a few rifle shots
from somewhere beyond the barricade across the Leak. The work of the
next minute was too fast and furious for Rawbon to follow or
understand. The uproar beyond the barricade swelled and clamored, and
the earth shook to the roar of bursting bombs. In the Frying Pan there
was a sudden vision of confused figures, dimly seen through the
swirling smoke, swaying and struggling, threshing and splashing in the
liquid mud. He was just conscious of Courtenay shouting something about
"Get back," of his being thrust violently back into the wide trench, of
two or three figures crowding in after him, cursing and staggering and
shooting back into the Frying Pan, of Courtenay's voice shouting again
to "Stand clear," of a knot of men scrambling and heaving at something,
and then of a deafening "Rat-tat-tat-tat," and the streaming flashes of
a machine-gun. It stopped firing after a minute, and Rawbon, flattened
back against a corner of the trench wall, heard an explanation given by
a gasping private to Courtenay and another mud-bedaubed officer who
appeared mysteriously from somewhere.

"Flung a shower o' bombs an' rushed us, sir," said the private. "They
was over a-top o' us 'fore you could say 'knife.' Only two or three o'
us that wasn't downed and was able to get back out o' the Leak an'
across the Pan to here."

"We stopped them with the maxim," said Courtenay, "but I suppose
they'll rush again in a minute."

He and the other officer conferred hastily. Rawbon caught a few words
about "counterattack" and "quicker the better" and "all the men I can
find," and then the other officer moved hurriedly down the trench and
men came jostling and crowding to the end of the Handle, just clear of
the corner where it turned into the Pan. A few sandbags were pulled
down off the parapet and heaped across the end of the trench, the
machine-gun was run close up to them and a couple of men posted, one to
watch with a periscope, and the other to keep Verey pistol lights
flaring into the Frying Pan.

Two minutes later the other officer returned, spoke hastily to
Courtenay, and then calling to the men to follow, jumped the low
barricade and ran splashing out into the open hollow with the men
streaming after him. A burst of rifle fire and the shattering crash of
bombs met them, and continued fiercely for a few minutes after the last
of the counter-attacking party had swarmed out. But the attack broke
down, never reached the barricade beyond the Pan, was, in fact, cut
down almost as fast as it emerged into the open. A handful of men came
limping and floundering back, and Courtenay, waiting by the machine-gun
in case of another German rush, caught sight of the face of the last
man in.

"Rawbon!" he said sharply. "Good Lord, man! I'd forgotten--What took
you out there?"

"Say, Loo-tenant," said Rawbon, panting hard. "There's no crossin' that
mud puddle Fry-Pan. They're holding the barricade 'cross there; got
loopholes an' shootin' through 'em. Can't we climb out an' over the
open an' on top of 'em?"

"No good," said Courtenay. "They're sweeping it with maxims. Listen!"

Up to then Rawbon had heeded nothing above the level of the trench and
the hollow but now he could hear the steady roar of rifle and maxim
fire, and the constant whistle of bullets streaming overhead.

"I must rally another crowd and try'n' rush it," said Courtenay. "Stand
ready with that maxim there. I won't be long."

"I've got a box of bombs here, sir," said a man behind him.

Courtenay turned sharply. "Good," he said. "But no--it's too far to
throw them."

"I think I could just about fetch it, sir," said the man.

"All right," said Courtenay. "Try it while I get some men together."

"Here y' are, chum," said the man, "you light 'em an' I'll chuck 'em.
This way for the milky coco-nuts!"

Rawbon watched curiously. The bomb was round shaped and rather larger
than a cricket ball. A black tube affair an inch or two long projected
from it and emitted, when lit, a jet of hissing, spitting sparks. The
bomb-thrower seized the missile quickly, stepped clear of the
sheltering corner of the trench, threw the bomb, and jumped back under
cover. A couple of bullets slapped into the wall of the trench, and
next moment the bomb burst.

"Just short," said the thrower, who had peeped out at sound of the
report. "Let's 'ave another go."

This time a shower of bullets greeted him as he stepped out, but he
hurled his bomb and stepped back in safety. A third he threw, but this
time a bullet caught him and he reeled back with blood staining the
shoulder of his tunic.

"You'll 'ave to excuse me," he remarked gravely to the man with the
match. "Can't stay now. I 'ave an urgent appointment in
_Blighty_.[Footnote: England. A soldier's corruption of the Hindustani
word "Belati."] But I'll drink your 'ealth when I gets to Lunnon."

Rawbon had watched the throwing impatiently. "Look here," he said
suddenly. "Just lemme have a whale at this pitching. I'll show 'em some
curves that'll dazzle 'em."

The wounded man peered at him and then at his cap badge. "Now 'oo the
blank is this?" he demanded. "Blimey, Joe, if 'ere ain't a blooming
Universal Plum-an'-Apple Provider. 'Ere, 'oo stole the strawberry jam?"

"You let me in on this ball game," said Rawbon. "Light 'em and pass 'em
quick, and see me put the Indian sign on that bunch."

A minute later Courtenay came back and stared in amazement at the
scene. Two men were lighting and passing up bombs to the sergeant, who,
standing clear out in the opening, grabbed and hurled the balls with an
extraordinary prancing and dancing and arm-swinging series of
contortions, while the crowded trench laughed and applauded.

"Some pitchin', Loo-tenant," he panted beamingly, stepping back into
shelter. "Hark at 'em. And every darn one right over the plate. Say,
step out here an' watch this next lot."

"No time now," said Courtenay hurriedly.

"They're strengthening their defense every minute. Are you all ready
there, lads?"

"I don't know who this man is, sir," said a sergeant quickly. "But he's
doing great work. Every bomb has gone in behind the parado there. He
might try a few more to shake them before we advance."

"Behind the parakeet," snorted Rawbon. "I should smile. You watch! I'll
put some through the darn loopholes for you. Didn't know I was pitcher
to the Purple Socks, the year we whipped the League, did you? Gimme
thirty seconds, Loo-tenant, and I'll put thirty o' these balls right
where they live."

As he spoke he picked up two of the bombs from a fresh box and held
them to the lighter. As he plunged out a shower of bullets spattered
the trench wall about him, but without heeding these he began to throw.
As the roar of the bursting bombs began, the bullets slowed down and
ceased. "Keep the lights blazing," Rawbon paused to shout to the man
with the pistol flares. "You slide out for the home base, Loo-tenant,
and I'll keep 'em too busy to shoot their nasty little guns." He
commenced to hurl the bombs again. Courtenay stepped out and watched a
moment. Bomb after bomb whizzed true and hard across the hollow, just
skimmed the breastwork, struck on the trench wall that showed beyond
and a foot above it, and fell behind the barricade. Billowing
smoke-clouds and gusts of flame leaped and flashed above the parapet.
Courtenay saw the chance and took it. He plunged out into the lake of
mud and plowed through it towards the barricade, the men swarming
behind him, and the sergeant's bombs hurtling with trailing streams of
sparks over their heads.

"Come on, son," said the sergeant. "You carry that box and gimme the
slow match. I pitch better with a little run."

Courtenay reached the barricade and led his men over and round
it without a casualty. The space behind the barricade was
deserted--deserted, that is, except by the dead, and by some
unutterable things that would have been better dead.

The lost portion of trench was recaptured, and more, the defense,
demoralized by that tornado of explosions, was pushed a good fifty
yards further back before the counter-attack was stayed.

At daybreak next morning Courtenay and the sergeant stood together on
the road leading to the communication trench. Both were crusted to the
shoulders in thick mud; Rawbon's cap was gone, and his hair hung
plastered in a wet mop over his ears and forehead, and Courtenay showed
a red-stained bandage under his cap.

"Rawbon," he said, "I feel rotten over this business. Here you've done
some real good work--I don't believe we'd ever have got across without
your bombing--and you won't let me say a word about it. I'm dashed if I
like it. Dash it, you ought to get a V.C., or a D.C.M. at least, for
it."

"Now lookahere, Loo-tenant," said Rawbon soothingly. "There's no need
for you to feel peaked--not any. It was darn good of you to let me in
on these sacred no-admittance-'cept-on-business trenches, and I'm plumb
glad I landed in the mix-up. It would probably raise trouble for you if
your boss knew you'd slipped me in; and it sure would raise everlasting
trouble for me at home if my name was flourishin' in the papers gettin'
an A.B.C. or D.A.M.N. or whatever the fixin' is. And I'd sooner have
this"--slapping the German helmet that dangled at his belt--"than your
whole darn alphabet o' initials. Don't forget what I told you about the
dad an' those Schwartzeheimer friends o' his, the cousins o' which same
friends I've been blowin' off the earth with bomb base-balls. Let it go
at that, and never forget it, friend--I'm a Benevolent Neutral."

"I won't forget it," said Courtenay, laughing and shaking hands. He
watched the sergeant as he bestrode the motor-cycle, pushed off, and
swung off warily down the wet road into the morning mist.

"What was it that despatch said a while back!" he mused. "Something
about 'There are few who appreciate or even understand the value of the
varied work of the Army Service Corps.' Well, this lot was a bit more
varied than usual, and I fancy it might astonish even the fellow who
wrote that line."



DRILL


"_Yesterday one of the enemy's heavy guns was put out of action by our
artillery._"--EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH.


"Stand fast!" the instructor bellowed, and while the detachment
stiffened to immobility he went on, without stopping to draw breath,
bellowing other and less printable remarks. After he had finished these
he ordered "Detachment rear!" and taking more time and adding even more
point to his remarks, he repeated some of them and added others,
addressing abruptly and virulently the "Number" whose bungling had
aroused his wrath.

"You've learnt your gun drill," he said, "learned it like a
sulphur-crested cockatoo learns to gabble 'Pretty Polly scratch a
poll'; why in the name of Moses you can't make your hands do what your
tongue says 'as me beat. You, Donovan, that's Number Three, let me hear
you repeat the drill for Action Front."

Donovan, standing strictly to attention, and with his eyes fixed
straight to his front, drew a deep breath and rattled off:

"At the order or signal from the battery leader or section commander,
'Halt action front!' One orders 'Halt action front!'--At the order from
One, the detachment dismounts, Three unkeys, and with Two lifts the
trail; when the trail is clear of the hook, Three orders 'Limber drive
on.'"

The instructor interrupted explosively.

"You see," he growled, "you know it. Three orders 'Limber drive on.'
You're Three! but did you order limber drive on, or limber drive off,
or drive anywhere at all? Did you expect drivers that would be sitting
up there on their horses, with their backs turned to you, to have eyes
in the backs of their heads to see when you had the trail lifted, or
did you be expectin' them to thought-read that you wanted them to drive
on!"

Three, goaded at last to a sufficiency of daring, ventured to mutter
something about "was going to order it."

The instructor caught up the phrase and flayed him again with it. "'Was
going to,'" he repeated, "'was going to order it.' Perhaps some day,
when a bullet comes along and drills a hole in your thick head, you
will want to tell it you 'was going to' get out of the way. You maybe
expect the detachment to halt and stand easy, and light a cigarette,
and have a chat while you wait to make up your mind what you're going
to say, and when you're going to say it! And if ever you get past
recruit drill in the barracks square, my lad, and smell powder burnt in
action, you'll learn that there's no such thing as 'going to' in your
gun drill. If you're slow at it, if you fumble your fingers, and tie
knots in your tongue, and stop to think about your 'going to,' you'll
find maybe that 'going to' has gone before you make up your mind, and
the only thing 'going to' will be you and your detachment; and its
Kingdom Come you'll be 'going to' at that. And now we'll try it again,
and if I find any more 'going to' about it this time it's an hour's
extra drill a day you'll be 'going to' for the next week."

He kept the detachment grilling and grinding for another hour before he
let them go, and at the end of it he spent another five minutes
pointing out the manifold faults and failings of each individual in the
detachment, reminding them that they belonged to the Royal Regiment of
Artillery that is "The right of the line, the terror of the world, and
the pride of the British Army," and that any man who wasn't a shining
credit to the Royal Regiment was no less than a black disgrace to it.

When the detachment dismissed, and for the most part gravitated to the
canteen, they passed some remarks upon their instructor almost pungent
enough to have been worthy of his utterance. "Him an' his everlastin'
'Cut the Time!'"

"I'm just about fed up with him," said Gunner Donovan bitterly, "and
I'd like to know where's all the sense doing this drill against a
stop-watch. You'd think from the way he talks that a man's life was
hanging on the whiskers of a half-second. Blanky rot, I call it."

"I wouldn't mind so much," said another gunner, "if ever he thought to
say we done it good, but not 'im. The better we does it and the faster,
the better and the faster he wants it done. It's my belief that if he
had a gun detachment picked from the angels above he'd tell 'em their
buttons and their gold crowns was a disgrace to Heaven, that they was
too slow to catch worms or catch a cold, and that they'd 'ave to cut
the time it took 'em to fly into column o' route from the right down
the Golden Stairs, or to bring their 'arps to the 'Alt action front."

These were the mildest of the remarks that passed between the smarting
Numbers of the gun detachment, but they would have been astonished
beyond words if they could have heard what their instructor Sergeant
"Cut-the-Time" was saying at that moment to a fellow-sergeant in the
sergeants' mess.

"They're good lads," he said, "and it's me, that in my time has seen
the making and the breaking and the handling and the hammering of gun
detachments enough to man every gun in the Army, that's saying it. I
had them on the 'Halt action front' this morning, and I tell you
they've come on amazing since I took 'em in hand. We cut three solid
seconds this morning off the time we have been taking to get the gun
into action, and a second a round off the firing of ten rounds. They'll
make gunners yet if they keep at it."

"Three seconds is good enough," said the other mildly.

"It isn't good enough," returned the instructor, "if they can make it
four, and four's not good enough if they can make it five. It's when
they can't cut the time down by another split fraction of a second that
I'll be calling them good enough. They won't be blessing me for it now,
but come the day maybe they will."

       *       *       *       *       *

The battery was moving slowly down a muddy road that ran along the edge
of a thick wood. It had been marching most of the night, and, since the
night had been wet and dark, the battery was splashed and muddy to the
gun-muzzles and the tops of the drivers' caps. It was early morning,
and very cold. Gunners and drivers were muffled in coats and woolen
scarves, and sat half-asleep on their horses and wagons. A thick and
chilly mist had delayed the coming of light, but now the mist had
lifted suddenly, blown clear by a quickly risen chill wind. When the
mist had been swept away sufficiently for something to be seen of the
surrounding country, the Major, riding at the head of the battery,
passed the word to halt and dismount, and proceeded to "find himself on
the map." Glancing about him, he picked out a church steeple in the
distance, a wayside shrine, and a cross-road near at hand, a curve of
the wood beside the road, and by locating these on the squared map,
which he took from its mud-splashed leather case, he was enabled to
place his finger on the exact spot on the map where his battery stood
at that moment. Satisfied on this, he was just about to give the order
to mount when he heard the sound of breaking brushwood and saw an
infantry officer emerge from the trees close at hand.

The officer was a young man, and was evidently on an errand of haste.
He slithered down the steep bank at the edge of the wood, leaped the
roadside ditch, asked a question of the nearest man, and, getting an
answer from him, came at the double past the guns and teams towards the
Major. He saluted hastily, said "Mornin', sir," and went on
breathlessly: "My colonel sent me across to catch you. We are in a
ditch along the edge of the far side of this wood, and could just see
enough of you between the trees to make out your battery. From where we
are we can see a German gun, one of their big brutes, with a team of
about twenty horses pulling it, plain and fair out in the open. The
Colonel thinks you could knock 'em to glory before they could reach
cover."

"Where can I see them from!" said the Major quickly.

"I'll show you," said the subaltern, "if you'll leave your horse and
come with me through this wood. It's only a narrow belt of trees here."

The Major turned to one of his subalterns who was with him at the head
of the battery.

"Send back word to the captain to come up here and wait for me!" he
said rapidly. "Tell him what you have just heard this officer say, and
tell him to give the word, 'Prepare for action.' And now," he said,
turning to the infantryman, "go ahead."

The two of them jumped the ditch, scrambled up the bank, and
disappeared amongst the trees.

A message back to the captain who was at the rear of the battery
brought him up at a canter. The subaltern explained briefly what he had
heard, and the captain, after interrupting him to shout an order to
"Prepare for action," heard the finish of the story, pulled out his
map, and pointing out on it a road shown as running through the trees,
sent the subaltern off to reconnoiter it.

The men were stripping off their coats, rolling them and strapping them
to the saddles and the wagon seats; the Numbers One, the sergeants in
charge of each gun, bustling their gunners, and seeing everything about
the guns made ready: the gunners examining the mechanism and gears of
the gun, opening and closing the hinged flaps of the wagons, and
tearing the thin metal cover off the fuses.

It was all done smartly and handily, and one after another the
sergeants reported their subsections as ready. Immediately the captain
gave the order to mount, drivers swung themselves to their saddles, and
the gunners to their seats on the wagons, and all sat quietly waiting
for whatever order might come next.

The lifting of the mist had shown a target to the gunners on both sides
apparently, and the roar and boom of near and distant guns beat and
throbbed quicker and at closer intervals.

In three minutes the Major came running back through the wood, and the
captain moved to meet him.

"We've got a fair chance!" said the Major exultingly. "One of their big
guns clear in the open, and moving at a crawl. I want you to take the
battery along the road here, sharp to the right at the cross-road, and
through the wood. The Inf. tell me there is just a passable road
through. Take guns and firing battery wagons only; leave the others
here. When you get through the wood, turn to the right again, and along
its edge until you come to where I'll be waiting for you. I'll take the
range-taker with me. The order will be 'open sights'; it's the only
way--not time to hunt a covered position! Now, is all that clear?"

"Quite clear," said the captain tersely.

"Off you go, then," said the Major; "remember, it's quick work.
Trumpeter, come with me, and the range-taker. Sergeant-major, leave the
battery staff under cover with the first line."

He swung into the saddle, set his horse at the ditch, and with a leap
and scramble was over and up the bank and crashing into the
undergrowth, followed by his trumpeter and a man with the six-foot tube
of a range-finder strapped to the saddle.

Before he was well off the road the captain shouted the order to walk
march, and as the battery did so the subaltern who had been sent out to
reconnoiter the road came back at a canter.

"We can just do it," he reported; "it's greasy going, and the road is
narrow and rather twisty, but we can do it all right."

The captain sent back word to section commanders, and the other two
subalterns spurred forward and joined him.

"We go through the wood," he explained, "and come into action on the
other side. The order is 'open sights,' so I expect we'll be in an
exposed position. You know what that means. There's a gun to knock out,
and if we can do it and get back quick before they get our range we may
get off light. If we can't----" and he broke off significantly. "Get
back and tell your Numbers One, and be ready for quick moving."

Immediately they had fallen back the order was given to trot, and the
battery commenced to bump and rumble rapidly over the rough road. As
they neared the cross-roads they were halted a moment, and then the
guns and their attendant ammunition wagons only went on, turned into
the wood, and recommenced to trot.

They jolted and swayed and slid over the rough, wet road, the gunners
clinging fiercely to the handrails, the drivers picking a way as best
they could over bowlders and between ruts. They emerged on the far side
of the wood, found themselves in an open field, turned sharply to the
right, and kept on at a fast trot. A line of infantry were entrenched
amongst the trees on the edge of the wood, but their shouted remarks
were drowned in the clatter and rattle and jingle of wheels and
harness. Out on their left the ground rose very gently, and far beyond
a low crest could be seen clumps of trees, patches of fields, and a few
scattered farm? houses. At several points on this distant slope the
White smoke-clouds of bursting shells were puffing and breaking, but so
far there was no sign to be seen of any man or of any gun. When they
came to where the Major was waiting he rode out from the trees, blew
sharply on a whistle, and made a rapid signal with hand and arm. The
guns and wagons had been moving along the edge of the wood in single
file, but now at the shouted order each team swung abruptly to its left
and commenced to move in a long line out from the wood towards the low
crest, the whole movement being performed neatly and cleanly and still
at a trot. The Major rode to his place in the center of the line, and
the battery, keeping its place close on his heels, steadily increased
its pace almost to a canter. The Major's whistle screamed again, and at
another signal and the shouted orders the battery dropped to a walk.
Every man could see now over the crest and into the shallow valley that
fell away from it and rose again in gentle folds and slopes. At first
they could see nothing of the gun against which they had expected to be
brought into action, but presently some one discovered a string of tiny
black dots that told of the long team and heavy gun it drew. Another
sharp whistle and the Major's signal brought the battery up with a
jerk.

"Halt! action front!" The shouted order rang hoarsely along the line.
For a moment there was wild commotion; a seething chaos, a swirl of
bobbing heads and plunging horses. But in the apparent chaos there was
nothing but the most smooth and ordered movement, the quick but most
exact following of a routine drill so well ground in that its motions
were almost mechanical. The gunners were off their seats before the
wheels had stopped turning, the key snatched clear, and the trail of
the gun lifted, the wheels seized, and the gun whirled round in a
half-circle and dropped pointing to the enemy. The ammunition wagon
pulled up into place beside the gun, the traces flung clear, and the
teams hauled round and trotted off. As Gunner Donovan's trail was
lifted clear his yell of "Limber, drive on," started the team forward
with a jerk, and a moment later, as he and the Number Two slipped into
their seats on the gun the Number Two grinned at him. "Sharp's the
word," he said: "d'you mind the time----" He was interrupted roughly by
the sergeant, who had just had the target pointed out to him, jerking
up the trail to throw the gun roughly into line.

"Shut yer head, and get on to it, Donovan. You see that target there,
don't you?"

"See it a fair treat!" said Donovan joyfully; "I'll bet I plunk a bull
in the first three shots."

Back in the wood the infantry colonel, from a vantage-point half-way up
a tall tree, watched the ensuing duel with the keenest excitement.

The battery's first two ranging shots dropped in a neat bracket, one
over and one short; in the next two the bracket closed, the shorter
shot being almost on top of the target. This evidently gave the range
closely enough, and the whole battery burst into a roar of fire, the
blazing flashes running up and down the line of guns like the reports
of a gigantic Chinese cracker. Over the long team of the German gun a
thick cloud of white smoke hung heavily, burst following upon burst and
hail after hail of shrapnel sweeping the men and horses below. Then
through the crashing reports of the guns and the whimpering rush of
their shells' passage, there came a long whistling scream that rose and
rose and broke off abruptly in a deep rolling cr-r-r-rump. A spout of
brown earth and thick black smoke showed where the enemy shell had
burst far out in front of the battery.

The infantry colonel watched anxiously. He knew that out there
somewhere another heavy German gun had come into action; he knew that
it was a good deal slower in its rate of fire, but that once it had
secured its line and range it could practically obliterate the light
field guns of the battery. The battery was fighting against time and
the German gunners to complete their task before they could be
silenced. The first team was crippled and destroyed, and another team,
rushed out from the cover of the trees, was fallen upon by the shrapnel
tornado, and likewise swept out of existence.

Then another shell from the German gun roared over, to burst this time
well in the rear of the battery.

The colonel knew what this meant. The German gun had got its bracket.
The battery had ceased to fire shrapnel, and was pouring high-explosive
about the derelict gun. The white bursts of shrapnel had given place to
a series of spouting volcanoes that leaped from the ground about the
gun itself. Another German shell fell in front of the battery and a
good 200 yards nearer to it. A movement below attracted the colonel's
attention, and he saw the huddled teams straighten out and canter hard
towards the guns. He turned his glasses on the German gun again, and
could not restrain a cry of delight as he saw it collapsed and lying on
its side, while high-explosive shells still pelted about it.

The teams came up at a gallop, swept round the guns, and halted.
Instantly they were hooked in, the buried spades of the guns wrenched
free, the wheels manned, the trails dropped clashing on the limber
hooks. And as they dropped, another heavy shell soared over burst
behind the battery, so close this time that the pieces shrieked and
spun about the guns, wounding three horses and a couple of men. The
Major, mounted and waiting, cast quick glances from gun to gun. The
instant he saw they were ready he signaled an order, the drivers' spurs
clapped home, and the whips rose and fell whistling and snapping. The
battery jerked forward at a walk that broke immediately into a trot,
and from that to a hard canter.

Even above the clatter and roll of the wheels and the hammering
hoof-beats the whistle and rush of another heavy shell could be heard.
Gunner Donovan, twisted sideways and clinging close to the jolting
seat, heard the sound growing louder and louder, until it sounded so
close that it seemed the shell was going to drop on top of them. But it
fell behind them, and exactly on the position where the battery had
stood. Donovan's eye caught the blinding flash of the burst, the
springing of a thick cloud of black smoke. A second later something
shrieked hurtling down and past his gun team, and struck with a vicious
thump into the ground.

"That was near enough," shouted Mick, on the seat beside him. Donovan
craned over as they passed, and saw, half-buried in the soft ground,
the battered brass of one of their own shell cartridges. The heavy
shell had landed fairly on top of the spot where their gun had stood,
where the empty cartridge cases had been flung in a heap from the
breech. If they had been ten or twenty seconds later in getting clear,
if they had taken a few seconds longer over the coming into action or
limbering up, a few seconds more to the firing of their rounds, the
whole gun and detachment ...

Gunner Donovan leaned across to Mick and shouted loudly.

But his remark was so apparently irrelevant that Mick failed to
understand. A sudden skidding swerve as the team wheeled nearly jerked
him off his seat, the crackling bursts of half a dozen light shells
over the plain behind him distracted his attention for a moment
further. Then he leaned in towards Donovan, "What was that?" he yelled.
"What didjer say?"

Donovan repeated his remark. "Gawd--bless--old 'Cut-the-Time.'"

The battery plunged in amongst the trees, and into safety.



A NIGHT PATROL


"_During the night, only patrol and reconnoitering engagements of small
consequence are reported."_--EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH.


"Straff the Germans and all their works, particularly their mine
works!" said Lieutenant Ainsley disgustedly.

"Seeing that's exactly what you're told off to do," said the other
occupant of the dug-out, "why grouse about it?"

Lieutenant Ainsley laughed. "That's true enough," he admitted;
"although I fancy going out on patrol in this weather and on this part
of the line would be enough to make Mark Tapley himself grouse.
However, it's all in the course of a lifetime, I suppose."

He completed the fastening of his mackintosh, felt that the revolver on
his belt moved freely from its holster, and that the wire nippers were
in place, pulled his soft cap well down on his head, grunted a
"Good-night," and dropped on his hands and knees to crawl out of the
dug-out.

He made his way along the forward firing trench to where his little
patrol party awaited his coming, and having seen that they were
properly equipped and fully laden with bombs, and securing a number of
these for his own use, he issued careful instructions to the men to
crawl over the parapet one at a time, being cautious to do so only in
the intervals of darkness between the flaring lights.

He was a little ahead of the appointed time; and because the trench
generally had been warned not to fire at anyone moving out in front at
a certain hour, it was necessary to wait until then exactly. He told
the men to wait, and spent the interval in smoking a cigarette. As he
lit it the thought came to him that perhaps it was the last cigarette
he would ever smoke. He tried to dismiss the thought, but it persisted
uncomfortably. He argued with himself and told himself that he mustn't
get jumpy, that the surest way to get shot was to be nervous about
being shot, that the job was bad enough but was only made worse by
worrying about it. As a relief and distraction to his own thoughts, he
listened to catch the low remarks that were passing between the men of
his party.

"When I get home after this job's done," one of them was saying, "I'm
going to look for a billet as stoker in the gas works, or sign on in
one o' them factories that roll red-hot steel plates and you 'ave to
wear an asbestos sack to keep yourself from firing. After this I want
something as hot and as dry as I can find it."

"I think," said another, "my job's going to be barman in a nice snug
little public with a fire in the bar parlor and red blinds on the
window."

"Why don't you pick a job that'll be easy to get?" said the third, with
deep sarcasm--"say Prime Minister, or King of England. You've about as
much chance of getting them as the other."

Lieutenant Ainsley grinned to himself in the darkness. At least, he
thought, these men have no doubts about their coming back in safety
from this patrol; but then of course it was easier for them because
they did not know the full detail of the risk they ran. But it was no
use thinking of that again, he told himself.

He took his place in readiness, waited until one flare had burned out
and there was no immediate sign of another being thrown up, slipped
over the parapet and dropped flat in the mud on the other side. One by
one the men crawled over and dropped beside him, and then slowly and
cautiously, with the officer leading, they began to wend their way out
under their own entanglements.

There may be some who will wonder that an officer should feel such
qualms as Ainsley had over the simple job of a night patrol over the
open ground in front of the German trench; but, then, there are patrols
and patrols, or as the inattentive recruit at the gunnery class said
when he was asked to describe the varieties of shells he had been told
of: "There are some sorts of one kind, and some of another."

There are plenty of parts on the Western Front where affairs at
intervals settled down into such a peaceful state that there was
nothing more than a fair sporting risk attaching to the performance of
a patrol which leaves the shelter of our own lines at night to crawl
out amongst the barbed wire entanglements in the darkness. There have
been times when you might listen at night by the hour together and
hardly hear a rifle-shot, and when the burst of artillery fire was a
thing to be commented on. But at other times, and in some parts of the
line especially, business was run on very different lines. Then every
man in the forward firing-trench had a certain number of rounds to fire
each night, even although he had no definite target to fire at.
Magnesium flares and pistol lights were kept going almost without
ceasing, while the artillery made a regular practice of loosing off a
stated number of rounds per night. The Germans worked on fairly similar
lines, and as a result it can easily be imagined that any patrol or
reconnoitering work between the lines was apt to be exceedingly
unhealthy. Actually there were parts on the line where no feet had
pressed the ground of No Man's Land for weeks on end, unless in open
attack or counter-attack, and of these feet there were a good many that
never returned to the trench, and a good many others that did return
only to walk straight to the nearest aid-post and hospital.

The neutral ground at this period of Ainsley's patrol was a sea of mud,
broken by heaped earth and yawning shell-craters; strung about with
barbed wire entanglements, littered with equipments and with packs
which had been cut from or slipped from the shoulders of the wounded;
dotted more or less thickly with the bodies of British or German who
had fallen there and could not be reached alive by any stretcher-bearer
parties. Unpleasant as was the coming in contact with these bodies,
Ainsley knew that their being there was of considerable service to him.
He and his men crawled in a scattered line, and whenever the upward
trail of sparks showed that a flare was about to burst into light, the
whole party dropped and lay still until the light had burned itself
out. Any Germans looking out could only see their huddled forms lying
as still as the thickly scattered dead; could not know but what the
party was of their number.

It was necessary to move with the most extreme caution, because the
slightest motion might eaten the attention of a look-out, and would
certainly draw the fire of a score of rifles and probably of a
machine-gun. The first part of the journey was the worst, because they
had to cover a perfectly open piece of ground on their way to the
slight depression which Ainsley knew ran curling across the neutral
ground. Wide and shallow at the end nearest the British trench, this
depression narrowed and deepened as it ran slantingly towards the
German; halfway across, it turned abruptly and continued towards the
German side on another slant, and at a point about halfway between the
elbow and the German trench, came very close to an exploded
mine-crater, which was the objective of this night's patrol.

It was supposed, or at least suspected, that the mine-crater was being
made the starting-point of a tunnel to run under the British trench,
and Ainsley had been told off to find out if possible whether this
suspicion was correct, and if so to do what damage he could to the mine
entrance and the miners by bombing.

When his party reached the shallow depression, they moved cautiously
along it, and to Ainsley's relief reached the elbow in safety. Here
they were a good deal more protected from the German fire than they
could be at any point, because from here the depression was fully a
couple of feet deep and had its highest bank next the German trench.
Ainsley led his men at a fairly rapid crawl along the ditch, until he
had passed the point nearest to the mine-crater. Here he halted his
men, and with infinite caution crawled out to reconnoiter. The men, who
had been carefully instructed in the part they were to play, waited
huddling in silence under the bank for his return, or for the fusillade
of fire that would tell he was discovered. Immediately in front of the
crater was a patch of open ground without a single body lying in it;
and Ainsley knew that if he were seen lying there where no body had
been a minute before, the German who saw him would unhesitatingly place
a bullet in him. A bank of earth several feet high had been thrown up
by the mine explosion in a ring round the crater, and although this
covered him from the observation of the trench immediately behind the
mine, he knew that he could be seen from very little distance out on
the flank, and decided to abandon his crawling progress for once and
risk a quick dash across the open. For long he waited what seemed a
favorable moment, watched carefully in an endeavor to locate the nearer
positions in the German trench from which lights were being thrown up,
and to time the periods between them.

At last three lights were thrown and burned almost simultaneously
within the area over which he calculated the illumination would expose
him. The instant the last flicker of the third light died out, he
leaped to his feet, and made a rush. The lights had shown him a scanty
few rows of barbed wire between him and the crater; he had reckoned
roughly the number of steps to it and counted as he ran, then more
cautiously pushed on, feeling for the wire, found it, threw himself
down, and began to wriggle desperately underneath. When he thought he
was through the last, he rose; but he had miscalculated, and the first
step brought his thighs in scratching contact with another wire. His
heart was in his mouth, for some seconds had passed since the last
light had died and he knew that another one must flare up at any
instant. Sweeping his arm downward and forward, he could feel no wire
higher than the one-which had pricked his legs. There was no time now
to fiddle about avoiding tears and scratches. He swung over the wire,
first one leg, then another, felt his mackintosh catch, dragged it free
with a screech of ripping cloth that brought his heart to his mouth,
turned and rushed again for the crater. As he ran, first one light,
then another, soared upwards and broke out into balls of vivid white
light that showed the crater within a dozen steps. It was no time for
caution, and everything depended on the blind luck of whether a German
lookout had his eyes on that spot at that moment. Without hesitation,
he continued his rush to the foot of the mound on the crater's edge,
hurled himself down on it and lay panting and straining his ears for
the sounds of shots and whistling bullets that would tell him he was
discovered. But the lights flared and burned out, leaped afresh and
died out again, and there was no sign that he had been seen. For the
moment he felt reasonably secure. The earth on the crater's rim was
broken and irregular, the surface an eye-deceiving patchwork of broken
light and black heavy shadow under the glare of the flying lights. The
mackintosh he wore was caked and plastered with mud, and blended well
with the background on which he lay. He took care to keep his arms in,
to sink his head well into his rounded shoulders, to curl his feet and
legs up under the skirt of his mackintosh, knowing well from his own
experience that where the outline of a body is vague and easily escapes
notice, a head or an arm, or especially and particularly a booted foot
and leg, will stand out glaringly distinct. As he lay, he placed his
ear to the muddy ground, but could hear no sound of mining operations
beneath him. Foot by foot he hitched himself upward to the rim of the
crater's edge, and again lay and listened for thrilling long-drawn
minute after minute.

Suddenly his heart jumped and his flesh went cold. Unmistakingly he
heard the scuffle and swish of footsteps on the wet ground, the murmur
of voices apparently within a yard or two of his head. There were men
in the mine-crater, and, from the sound of their movements, they were
creeping out on a patrol similar to his own, perhaps, and, as near as
he could judge, on a line that would bring them directly on top of him.
The scuffing passed slowly in front of him and for a few yards along
the inside of the crater. The sound of the murmuring voices passed
suddenly from confused dullness to a sharp clearer-edged speech,
telling Ainsley, as plainly as if he could see, that the speaker had
risen from behind the sound-deadening ridge of earth and was looking
clear over its top, Ainsley lay as still as one of the clods of earth
about him, lay scarcely daring to breathe, and with his skin pringling.
There was a pause that may have been seconds, but that felt like hours.
He did not dare move his head to look; he could only wait in an agony
of apprehension with his flesh shrinking from the blow of a bullet that
he knew would be the first announcement of his discovery. But the
stillness was unbroken, and presently, to his infinite relief, he heard
again the guttural voices and the sliding footsteps pass back across
his front, and gradually diminish. But he would not let his impatience
risk the success of his enterprise; he lay without moving a muscle for
many long and nervous minutes. At last he began to hitch himself
slowly, an inch at a time, along the edge of the crater away from the
point to which the German lookout had moved. He halted and lay still
again when his ear caught a fresh murmur of guttural voices, the
trampling of many footsteps, and once or twice the low but clear clink
of an iron tool in the crater beneath him.

It seemed fairly certain that the Germans were occupying the crater,
were either making it the starting-point of a mine tunnel, or were
fortifying it as a defensive point. But it was not enough to surmise
these things; he must make sure, and, if possible, bomb the working
party or the entrance to the mine tunnel. He continued to work his way
along the rim of the crater's edge. Arrived at a position where he
expected to be able to see the likeliest point of the crater for a mine
working to commence, he took the final and greatest chance. Moving only
in the intervals of darkness between the lights, he dragged the
mackintosh up on his shoulders until the edge of its deep collar came
above the top of his head, opened the throat and spread it wide to
disguise any outline of his head and neck, found a suitable hollow on
the edge of the ridge, and boldly thrust his head over to look
downwards into the hole.

When the next light flared, he found that he could see the opposite
wall and perhaps a third of the bottom of the hole, with the head and
shoulders of two or three men moving about it. When the light died, he
hitched forward and again lay still. This time the light showed him
what he had come to seek: the black opening of a tunnel mouth in the
wall of the crater nearest the British line, a dozen men busily engaged
dragging sacks-full of earth from the opening, and emptying them
outside the shaft. He waited while several lights burned, marking as
carefully as possible the outline of the ridge immediately above the
mine shaft, endeavoring to pick a mark that would locate its position
from above it. It had begun to rain in a thin drizzling mist, and
although this obscured the outline of the crater to some extent, its
edge stood out well against the glow of such lights as were thrown up
from the British side.

It was now well after midnight, and the firing on both sides had
slackened considerably, although there was still an irregular rattle of
rifle fire, the distant boom of a gun and the scream of its shell
passing overhead. A good deal emboldened by his freedom from discovery
and by the misty rain, Ainsley slid backwards, moved round the crater,
crept back to the barbed wire and under it, ran across the opening on
the other side and dropped into the hole where he had left his men. He
found them waiting patiently, stretched full length in the wet
discomfort of the soaking ground, but enduring it philosophically and
concerned, apparently, only for his welfare.

His sergeant puffed a huge sigh of relief at his return. "I was just
about beginning to think you had 'gone west,' sir," he said, "and
wondering whether I oughtn't to come and 'ave a look for you."

Ainsley explained what had happened and what he had seen. "I'm going
back, and I want you all to come with me," he said. "I'm going to shove
every bomb we've got down that mine shaft. If we meet with any luck, we
should wreck it up pretty well."

"I suppose, sir," said the sergeant, "if we can plant a bomb or two in
the right spot, it will bottle up any Germans working inside?"

"Sure to!" said Ainsley. "It will cave in the entrance completely; and
then as soon as we get back, we'll give the gunners the tip, and leave
them to keep on lobbing some shells in and breaking up any attempt to
reopen the shaft and dig out the mining party."

"Billy!" said one of the men, in an audible aside, "don't you wish you
was a merry little German down that blinkin' tunnel, to-night!"

"Imphim," answered Billy, "I don't think!"

Ainsley explained his plan of campaign, saw that everything was in
readiness, and led his party out. The misty rain was still falling,
and, counting on this to hide them sufficiently from observation if
they lay still while any lights were burning, they crawled rapidly
across the open, wriggled underneath the wires, cut one or two of
them--especially any which were low enough to interfere with free
movement under them--and crawled along to the crater.

Ainsley left the party sprawling flat at the foot of the rim, while he
crept up to locate the position over the mine shaft. Each man had
brought about a dozen small bombs and one large one packed with high
explosive. Before leaving the ditch, on Ainsley's directions, each man
tied his own lot in one bundle, bringing the ends of the fuses together
and tying them securely with their ends as nearly as possible level, so
that they could be lit at the same time. Each man had with him one of
those tinder pipe-lighters which are ignited by the sparks of a little
twirled wheel. When Ainsley had placed the men on the edge of the
crater, he gave the word, and each man lit his tinder, holding it so as
to be sheltered from sight from the German trench, behind the flap of
his mackintosh. Then each took a separate piece of fuse about a foot
long, and, at a whispered word from Ainsley, pressed the end into the
glowing tinder. Almost at the same instant the four fuses began to
burn, throwing out a fizzing jet of sparks. Each man knew that, shelter
them as they would from observation, the sparks were almost certain to
betray them; but although some rifles began at once to crack
spasmodically and the bullets to whistle overhead, each man went on
with the allotted program steadily, without haste and without fluster,
devoting all their attention to the proper igniting of the bomb-fuses,
and leaving what might follow to take care of itself. As his length of
fuse caught, each man said "Ready" in a low tone; Ainsley immediately
said "Light!" and each instantly directed the jet of sparks as from a
tiny hose into the tied bundle of the bomb-fuses' ends. The instant
each man saw his own bundle well ignited, he reported "Lit!" and thrust
the fuse ends well into the soft mud. Being so waterproofed as to burn
if necessary completely under water, this made no difference to the
fuses, except that it smothered the sparks and showed only a curling
smoke-wreath. But the first sparks had evidently been seen, for the
bomb party heard shoutings and a rapidly increasing fire from the
German lines. A light flamed upward near the mine-crater. Ainsley said,
"Now!--, and take good aim." The men scrambled to their knees and,
leaning well over until they could see the black entrance of the mine
shaft, tossed their bundles of bombs as nearly as they could into and
around it. In the pit below, Ainsley had a momentary glimpse of half a
dozen faces, gleaming white in the strong light, upturned, and staring
at him; from somewhere down there a pistol snapped twice, and the
bullets hissed past over their heads. The party ducked back below the
ridge of earth, and as a rattle of rifle fire commenced to break out
along the whole length of the German line, they lit from their tinder
the fuses of a couple of bombs specially reserved for the purpose, and
tossed them as nearly as they could into the German trench, a score of
paces away. Their fuses being cut much shorter than the others, the
bombs exploded almost instantly, and Ainsley and his party leapt down
to the level ground and raced across to the wire.

By now the whole line had caught the alarm; the rifle fire had swelled
to a crackling roar, the bullets were whistling and storming across the
open. In desperate haste they threw themselves down and wriggled under
the wire, and as they did so they felt the earth beneath them jar and
quiver, heard a double and triple roar from behind them, saw the wet
ground in front of them and the wires overhead glow for an instant with
rosy light as the fire of the explosion flamed upwards from the crater.

At the crashing blast of the discharge, the rifle fire was hushed for a
moment; Ainsley saw the chance and shouted to his men, and, as they
scrambled clear of the wire, they jumped to their feet, rushed back
over the flat, and dropped panting in the shelter of the ditch. The
rifle fire opened again more heavily than ever, and the bullets were
hailing and splashing and thudding into the wet earth around them, but
the bank protected them well, and they took the fullest advantage of
its cover. Because the depression they were in shallowed and afforded
less cover as it ran towards the British lines, it was safer for the
party to stay where they were until the fire slackened enough to give
them a fair sporting chance of crawling back in safety.

They lay there for fully two hours before Ainsley considered it safe
enough to move. They were, of course, long since wet through, and by
now were chilled and numbed to the bone. Two of the men had been
wounded, but only very slightly in clean flesh wounds: one through the
arm and one in the flesh over the upper ribs. Ainsley himself bandaged
both men as well as he could in the darkness and the cramped position
necessary to keep below the level of the flying ballets, and both men,
when he had finished, assured him that they were quite comfortable and
entirely free from pain. Ainsley doubted this, and because of it was
the more impatient to get back to their own lines; but he restrained
his impatience, lest it should result in any of his party suffering
another and more serious wound. At last the rifle fire had died down to
about the normal night rate, had indeed dropped at the finish so
rapidly in the space of two or three minutes that Ainsley concluded
fresh orders for the slower rate must have been passed along the German
lines. He gave the word, and they began to creep slowly back, moving
again only when no lights were burning.

There were some gaspings and groanings as the men commenced to move
their stiffened limbs.

"I never knew," gasped one, "as I'd so many joints in my backbone, and
that each one of them could hold so many aches."

"Same like!" said another. "If you'll listen, you can hear my knees and
hips creaking like the rusty hinges of an old barn-door."

Although the men spoke in low tones, Ainsley whispered a stern command
for silence.

"We're not so far away," he said, "but that a voice might carry; and
you can bet they're jumpy enough for the rest of the night to shoot at
the shadow of a whisper. Now come along, and keep low, and drop the
instant a light flares."

They crawled back a score or so of yards that brought them to the
elbow-turn of the depression. The bank of the turn was practically the
last cover they could count upon, because here the ditch shallowed and
widened and was, in addition, more or less open to enfilading fire from
the German side.

Ainsley halted the men and whispered to them that as soon as they
cleared the ditch they were to crawl out into open order, starting as
soon as darkness fell after the next light. Next moment they commenced
to move, and as they did so Ainsley fancied he heard a stealthy
rustling in the grass immediately in front of him. It occurred to him
that their long delay might have led to the sending out of a search
party, and he was on the point of whispering an order back to the men
to halt, while he investigated, when a couple of pistol lights flared
upwards, lighting the ground immediately about them. To his
surprise--surprise was his only feeling for the moment--he found
himself staring into a bearded face not six feet from his own, and
above the face was the little round flat cap that marked the man a
German.

Both he and the German saw each other at the same instant; but because
the same imminent peril was over each, each instinctively dropped flat
to the wet ground. Ainsley had just time to glimpse the movement of
other three or four gray-coated figures as they also fell flat. Next
instant, he heard his sergeant's voice, hurried and sharp with warning,
but still low toned.

"Look out, sir! There's a big Boche just in front of you."

Ainsley "sh-sh-shed" him to silence, and at the same time was a little
amused and a great deal relieved to hear the German in front of him
similarly hush down the few low exclamations of his party. The flare
was still burning, and Ainsley, twisting his head, was able to look
across the muddy grass at the German eyes staring anxiously into his
own.

"Do not move!" said Ainsley, wondering to himself if the man understood
English, and fumbling in vain in his mind for the German phrase that
would express his meaning.

"Kamarade--eh?" grunted the German, with a note of interrogation that
left no doubt as to his meaning.

"Nein, nein!" answered Ainsley. "You kamarade--sie kamarade."

The other, in somewhat voluble gutturals, insisted that Ainsley must
"kamarade," otherwise surrender. He spoke too fast for Ainsley's very
limited knowledge of German to follow, but at least, to Ainsley's
relief, there was for the moment no motion towards hostilities on
either side. The Germans recognized, no doubt as he did, that the first
sign of a shot, the first wink of a rifle flash out there in the open,
would bring upon them a blaze of light and a storm of rifle and maxim
bullets. Even although his party had slightly the advantage of position
in the scanty cover of the ditch, he was not at all inclined to bring
about another burst of firing, particularly as he was not sure that
some excitable individuals in his own trench would not forget about his
party being in the open and hail indiscriminate bullets in the
direction of a rifle flash, or even the sound of indiscreetly loud
talking.

Painfully, in very broken German, and a word or two at a time, he tried
to make his enemy understand that it was his, the German party, that
must surrender, pointing out as an argument that they were nearer to
the British than to the German lines. The German, however, discounted
this argument by stating that he had one more man in his party than
Ainsley had, and must therefore claim the privilege of being captor.

The voice of his own sergeant close behind him spoke in a hoarse
undertone: "Shall I blow a blinkin' 'ole in 'im, sir? I could do 'im in
acrost your shoulder, as easy as kiss my 'and."

"No, no!" said Ainsley hurriedly; "a shot here would raise the
mischief."

At the same time he heard some of the other Germans speak to the man in
front of him and discovered that they were addressing him as
"Sergeant."

"Sie ein sergeant?" he questioned, and on the German admitting that he
was a sergeant, Ainsley, with more fumbling after German words and
phrases, explained that he was an officer, and that therefore his, an
officer's patrol, took precedence over that of a mere sergeant. He had
a good deal of difficulty in making this clear to the German--either
because the sergeant was particularly thick-witted or possibly because
Ainsley's German was particularly bad. Ainsley inclined to put it down
to the German's stupidity, and he began to grow exceedingly wroth over
the business. Naturally it never occurred to him that he should
surrender to the German, but it annoyed him exceedingly that the German
should have any similar feelings about surrendering to him. Once more
he bent his persuasive powers and indifferent German to the task of
over-persuading the sergeant, and in return had to wait and slowly
unravel some meaning from the odd words he could catch here and there
in the sergeant's endeavor to over-persuade him.

He began to think at last that there was no way out of it but that
suggested by his own sergeant--namely, to "blow a blinkin' 'ole in
'im," and his sergeant spoke again with the rattle of his chattering
teeth playing a castanet accompaniment to his words.

"If you don't mind, sir, we'd all like to fight it out and make a run
for it. We're all about froze stiff."

"I'm just about fed up with this fool, too," said Ainsley disgustedly.
"Look here, all of you! Watch me when the next light goes up. If you
see me grab my pistol, pick your man and shoot."

The voice of the German sergeant broke in:--

"Nein, nein!" and then in English: "You no shoot! You shoot, and uns
shoot alzo!"

Ainsley listened to the stammering English in an amazement that gave
way to overwhelming anger. "Here," he said angrily, "can you speak
English?"

"Ein leetle, just ein leetle," replied the German.

But at that and at the memory of the long minutes spent there lying in
the mud with chilled and frozen limbs trying to talk in German, at the
time wasted, at his own stumbling German and the probable amusement his
grammatical mistakes had given the others--the last, the Englishman's
dislike to being laughed at, being perhaps the strongest
factor--Ainsley's anger overcame him.

"You miserable blighter!" he said wrathfully. "You have the blazing
cheek to keep me lying here in this filthy muck, mumbling and bungling
over your beastly German, and then calmly tell me that you understand
English all the time.

"Why couldn't you _say_ you spoke English? What! D'you think I've
nothing better to do than lie out here in a puddle of mud listening to
you jabbering your beastly lingo? Silly ass! You saw that I didn't know
German properly, to begin with--why couldn't you say you spoke
English?"

But in his anger he had raised his voice a good deal above the safety
limit, and the quick crackle of rifle fire and the soaring lights told
that his voice had been heard, that the party or parties were
discovered or suspected.

The rest followed so quickly, the action was so rapid and
unpremeditated, that Ainsley never quite remembered its sequence. He
has a confused memory of seeing the wet ground illumined by many
lights, of drumming rifle fire and hissing bullets, and then,
immediately after, the rush and crash of a couple of German "Fizz-Bang"
shells. Probably it was the wet _plop_ of some of the backward-flung
bullets about him, possibly it was the movement of the German sergeant
that wiped out the instinctive desire to flatten himself close to
ground that drove him to instant action. The sergeant half lurched to
his knees, thrusting forward the muzzle of his rifle. Ainsley clutched
at the revolver in his holster, but before he could free it another
shell crashed, the German jerked forward as if struck by a
battering-ram between the shoulders, lay with white fingers clawing and
clutching at the muddy grass. A momentary darkness fell, and Ainsley
just had a glimpse of a knot of struggling figures, of the knot's
falling apart with a clash of steel, of a rifle spouting a long tongue
of flame ... and then a group of lights blazed again and disclosed the
figures of his own three men crouching and glancing about them.

Of all these happenings Ainsley retains only a very jumbled
recollection, but he remembers very distinctly his savage satisfaction
at seeing "that fool sergeant" downed and the unappeased anger he still
felt with him. He carried that anger back to his own trench; it still
burned hot in him as they floundered and wallowed for interminable
seconds over the greasy mud with the bullets slapping and smacking
about them, as they wrenched and struggled over their own wire--where
Ainsley, as it happened, had to wait to help his sergeant, who for all
the advantage of their initiative in the attack and in the Germans
being barely risen to meet it, had been caught by a bayonet-thrust in
the thigh--the scramble across the parapet and hurried roll over into
the waterlogged trench.

He arrived there wet to the skin and chilled to the bone, with his
shoulder stinging abominably from the ragged tear of a ricochet bullet
that had caught him in the last second on the parapet, and, above all,
still filled with a consuming anger against the German sergeant. Five
minutes later, in the Battalion H.Q. dugout, in making his report to
the O.C. while the Medical dressed his arm, he only gave the barest and
briefest account of his successful patrol and bombing work, but
descanted at full length and with lurid wrath on the incident of the
German patrol.

"When I think of that ignorant beast of a sergeant keeping me out
there," he concluded disgustedly, "mumbling and spluttering over his
confounded 'yaw, yaw' and 'nein, nein,' trying to scrape up odd German
words--which I probably got all wrong--to make him understand, and him
all the time quite well able to speak good enough English--that's what
beats me--why couldn't he _say_ he spoke English?"

"Well, anyhow," said the O.C. consolingly, "from what you tell me, he's
dead now."

"I hope so," said Ainsley viciously, "and serve him jolly well right.
But just think of the trouble it might have saved if he'd only said at
first that he spoke English!" He sputtered wrathfully again: "Silly
ass! Why couldn't he just _say_ so?"



AS OTHERS SEE


_"It may now be divulged that, some time ago, the British lines were
extended for a considerable distance to the South."_--EXTRACT FROM
OFFICIAL DISPATCH.


The first notice that the men of the Tower Bridge Foot had that they
were to move outside the territory they had learned so well in many
weary marches and wanderings in networks and mazes of trenches, was
when they crossed a road which had for long marked the boundary line
between the grounds occupied by the British and French forces.

"Do you suppose the O.C. is drunk, or that the guide has lost his way?"
said Private Robinson. "Somebody ought to tell him we're off our beat
and that trespassers will be prosecuted. Not but what he don't know
that, seeing he prosecuted me cruel six months ago for roving off into
the French lines--said if I did it again I might be took for a spy and
shot. Anyhow, I'd be took for being where I was out o' bounds and get a
dose of Field Punishment. Wonder where we're bound for?"

"Don't see as it matters much," said his next file. "I suppose one wet
field's as good as another to sleep in, so why worry?"

A little farther on, the battalion met a French Infantry Regiment on
the march. The French regiment's road discipline was rather more lax
than the British, and many tolerantly amused criticisms were passed on
the loose formation, the lack of keeping step, and the straggling lines
of the French. The criticisms, curiously enough, came in a great many
cases from the very men in the Towers' ranks who had often "groused"
most at the silliness of themselves being kept up to the mark in these
matters. The marching Frenchmen were singing--but singing in a fashion
quite novel to the British. Throughout their column there were anything
up to a dozen songs in progress, some as choruses and some as solos,
and the effect was certainly rather weird. The Tower Bridge officers,
knowing their own men's fondness for swinging march songs, expected,
and, to tell truth, half hoped that they would give a display of their
harmonious powers. They did, but hardly in the expected fashion. One
man demanded in a growling bass that the "Home Fires be kept Burning,"
while another bade farewell to Leicester Square in a high falsetto. The
giggling Towers caught the idea instantly, and a confused medley of
hymns, music-hall ditties, and patriotic songs in every key, from the
deepest bellowing bass to the shrillest wailing treble, arose from the
Towers' ranks, mixed with whistles and cat-calls and Corporal
Flannigan's famous imitation of "Life on a Farm." The joke lasted the
Towers for the rest of that march, and as sure as any Frenchman met or
overtook them on the road he was treated to a vocal entertainment that
must have left him forever convinced of the rumored potency of British
rum.

By now word had passed round the Towers that they were to take over a
portion of the trenches hitherto occupied by the French. Many were the
doubts, and many were the arguments, as to whether this would or would
not be to the personal advantage and comfort of themselves; but at
least it made a change of scene and surroundings from those they had
learned for months past, and since such a change is as the breath of
life to the British soldier, they were on the whole highly pleased with
it.

The morning was well advanced when they were met by guides and
interpreters from the French regiment which they were relieving, and
commenced to move into the new trenches. Although at first there were
some who were inclined to criticize, and reluctant to believe that a
Frenchman, or any other foreigner, could do or make anything better
than an Englishman, the Towers had to admit, even before they reached
the forward firing trench, that the work of making communication
trenches had been done in a manner beyond British praise. The trenches
were narrow and very deep, neatly paved throughout their length with
brick, spaced at regular intervals with sunk traps for draining off
rain-water, and with bays and niches cut deep in the side to permit the
passing of any one meeting a line of pack-burdened men in the
shoulder-wide alley-way.

When they reached the forward firing trench, their admiration became
unbounded; they were as full of eager curiosity as children on a school
picnic. They fraternized instantly and warmly with the outgoing
Frenchmen, and the Frenchmen for their part were equally eager to
express friendship, to show the English the dugouts, the handy little
contrivances for comfort and safety, to bequeath to their successors
all sorts of stoves and pots and cooking utensils, and generally to
give an impression, which was put into words by Private Robinson:
"Strike me if this ain't the most cordiawl bloomin' ongtongt I've ever
met!"

The Towers had never realized, or regretted, their lack of the French
as deeply as they came to do now. Hitherto dealings in the language had
been entirely with the women in the villages and billets of the reserve
lines, where there was plenty of time to find means of expressing the
two things that for the most part were all they had to express--their
wants and their thanks. And because by now they had no slightest
difficulty in making these billet inhabitants understand what they
required--a fire for cooking, stretching space on a floor, the location
of the nearest estaminets, whether eggs, butter, and bread were
obtainable, and how much was the price--they had fondly imagined in
their hearts, and boasted loudly in their home letters, that they were
quite satisfactorily conversant with the French language. Now they were
to discover that their knowledge was not quite so extensive as they had
imagined, although it never occurred to them that the French women in
the billets were learning English a great deal more rapidly and
efficiently than they were learning French, that it was not altogether
their mastery of the language which instantly produced soap and water,
for instance, when they made motions of washing their hands and said
slowly and loudly: "Soap--you compree, soap and l'eau; you
savvy--l'eau, wa-ter." But now, when it came to the technicalities of
their professional business, they found their command of the language
completely inadequate. There were many of them who could ask, "What is
the time?" but that helped them little to discover at what time the
Germans made a practice of shelling the trenches; they could have asked
with ease, "Have you any eggs?" but they could not twist this into a
sentence to ask whether there were any egg-selling farms in the
vicinity; could have asked "how much" was the bread, but not how many
yards it was to the German trench.

A few Frenchmen, who spoke more or less English, found themselves in
enormous French and English demand, while Private 'Enery Irving, who
had hitherto borne some reputation as a French speaker--a reputation,
it may be mentioned, largely due to his artful knack of helping out
spoken words by imitation and explanatory acting--found his bubble
reputation suddenly and disastrously pricked. He made some attempt to
clutch at its remains by listening to the remarks addressed to him by a
Frenchman, with a most potently intelligent and understanding
expression, by ejaculating "Nong, nong!" and a profoundly understanding
"Ah, wee!" at intervals in the one-sided conversation. He tried this
method when called upon by a puzzled private to interpret the
torrential speech of a Frenchman, who wished to know whether the Towers
had any jam to spare, or whether they would exchange a rum ration for
some French wine. 'Enery interjected a few "Ah, wee's!" and then at the
finish explained to the private.

"He speaks a bit fast," he said, "but he's trying to tell me something
about him coming from a place called Conserve, and that we can have his
'room' here--meaning, I suppose, his dug-out." He turned to the
Frenchman, spread out his hands, shrugged his shoulders, and
gesticulated after the most approved fashion of the stage Frenchman,
bowed deeply, and said, _"Merci, Monsieur,"_ many times. The Frenchman
naturally looked a good deal puzzled, but bowed politely in reply and
repeated his question at length. This producing no effect except
further stage shrugs, he seized upon one of the interpreters who was
passing and explained rapidly. "He asks," said the interpreter, turning
to 'Enery and the other men, "whether you have any _conserve et
rhum_--jam and rum--you wish to exchange for his wine." After that
'Enery Irving collapsed in the public estimation as a French speaker.

When the Towers were properly installed, and the French regiment
commenced to move out, a Tower Bridge officer came along and told his
men that they were to be careful to keep out of sight, as the orders
were to deceive the Germans opposite and to keep them ignorant as long
as possible of the British-French exchange. Private Robinson promptly
improved upon this idea. He found a discarded French képi, put it on
his head, and looked over the parapet. He only stayed up for a second
or two and ducked again, just as a bullet whizzed over the parapet. He
repeated the performance at intervals from different parts of the
trench, but finding that his challenge drew quicker and quicker replies
was obliged at last to lift the cap no more than into sight on the
point of a bayonet. He was rather pleased with the applause of his
fellows and the half-dozen prompt bullets which each appearance of the
cap at last drew, until one bullet, piercing the cap and striking the
point of the bayonet, jarred his fingers unpleasantly and deflected the
bullet dangerously and noisily close to his ear. Some of the Frenchmen
who were filing out had paused to watch this performance, laughing and
bravo-ing at its finish. Robinson bowed with a magnificent flourish,
then replaced the képi on the point of the bayonet, raised the képi,
and made the bayonet bow to the audience. A French officer came
bustling along the trench urging his men to move on. He stood there to
keep the file passing along without check, and Robinson turned
presently to some of the others and asked if they knew what was the
meaning of this "Mays ongfong" that the officer kept repeating to his
men. "Ongfong," said 'Enery Irving briskly, seizing the opportunity to
reëstablish himself as a French speaker, "means 'children'; spelled
e-n-f-a-n-t-s, pronounced _ongfong_."

"Children!" said Robinson. "Infants, eh? 'ealthy lookin' lot o'
infants. There's one now--that six-foot chap with the Father Christmas
whiskers; 'ow's that for a' infant?"

As the Frenchmen filed out some of them smiled and nodded and called
cheery good-bys to our men, and 'Enery Irving turned to a man beside
him. "This," he said, "is about where some appropriate music should
come in the book. Exit to triumphant strains of martial music Buck up,
Snapper! Can't you mouth-organ 'em the Mar-shall-aise?"

Snapper promptly produced his instrument and mouth-organed the opening
bars, and the Towers joined in and sang the tune with vociferous
"la-la-las." When they had finished, two or three of the Frenchmen,
after a quick word together struck up "God Save the King." Instantly
the others commenced to pick it up, but before they had sung three
words 'Enery Irving, in tones of horror, demanded "The Mar-shall-aise
again; quick, you idiot!" from Snapper, and himself swung off into a
falsetto rendering of "Three Blind Mice." In a moment the Towers had in
full swing their medley caricature of the French march singing, under
which "God Save the King" was very completely drowned.

"What the devil d'you mean? Are you all mad?" demanded a wrathful
subaltern, plunging round the traverse to where Snapper mouth-organed
the "Marseillaise," 'Enery Irving lustily intoned his anthem of the
Blind Mice, and Corporal Flannigan passed from the deep lowing of a cow
to the clarion calls of the farmyard rooster.

"Beg pardon, sir," said 'Enery Irving with lofty dignity, "but if I
'adn't started this row the 'ole trenchful o' Frenchies would 'ave been
'owling our 'Gawd Save.' I saw that 'ud be a clean give-away, an' the
order bein' to act so as to deceive----"

"Quite right," said the officer, "and a smart idea of yours to block
it. But who was the crazy ass who started it by singing the
'Marseillaise'?" On this point, however, 'Enery was discreetly silent.

Before the French had cleared the trench the Germans opened a leisurely
bombardment with a trench mortar. This delayed the proceeding somewhat,
because it was reckoned wiser to halt the men and clear them from the
crowded trench into the dug-outs. "With the double company of French
and British, there was rather a tight squeeze in the shelters,
wonderfully commodious as they were.

"Now this," said Corporal Flannigan, "is what I call something like a
dug-out." He looked appreciatively round the square, smooth-walled
chamber and up the steps to the small opening which gave admittance to
it. "Good dodge, too, this sinking it deep underground. Even if a bomb
dropped in the trench just outside, and pieces blew in the door, they'd
only go over our heads. Something like, this is."

"I wonder," said another reflectively, "why we don't have dug-outs like
this in our line?" He spoke in a slightly aggrieved tone, as if dugouts
were things that were issued from the Quarter-Master's store, and
therefore a legitimate cause for free complaint. He and his fellows
would certainly have felt a good deal more aggrieved, however, if they
had been set the labor of making such dug-outs.

Up above, such of the French and British as had been left in the trench
were having quite a busy time with the bombs. The Frenchmen had rather
a unique way of dodging these, which the Towers were quick to adopt.
The whole length of the trench was divided up into compartments by
strong traverses running back at right angles from the forward parapet,
and in each of these compartments there were anything from four or five
to a dozen men, all crowded to the backward end of the traverse,
waiting and watching there to see the bomb come twirling slowly and
clumsily over. As it reached the highest point of its curve and began
to fall down towards the trench, it was as a rule fairly easy to say
whether it would fall to right or left of the traverse. If it fell in
the trench to the right, the men hurriedly plunged round the corner of
the traverse to the left, and waited there till the bomb exploded. The
crushing together at the angle of the traverse, the confused cries of
warning or advice, or speculation as to which side a bomb would fall,
the scuffling, tumbling rush to one side or the other, the cries of
derision which greeted the ineffective explosion--all made up a sort of
game. The Towers had had a good many unhappy experiences with bombs,
and at first played the unknown game carefully and anxiously, and with
some doubts as to its results. But they soon picked it up, and
presently made quite merry at it, laughing and shouting noisily,
tumbling and picking themselves up and laughing again like children.

They lost three men, who were wounded through their slowness in
escaping from the compartment where the bomb exploded, and this rather
put the Towers on their mettle. As Private Robinson remarked, it wasn't
the cheese that a Frenchman should beat an Englishman at any blooming
game.

"If we could only get a little bit of a stake on it," he said
wistfully, "we could take 'em on, the winners being them that loses
least men."

It being impossible, however, to convey to the Frenchmen that interest
would be added by the addition of a little bet, the Towers had to
content themselves with playing platoon against platoon amongst
themselves, the losing platoon pay, what they could conveniently
afford, the day's rations of the men who were casualtied. The
subsequent task of dividing one and a quarter pots of jam, five
portions of cheese, bacon and a meat-and-potato stew was only settled
eventually by resource to a set of dice.

As the bombing continued methodically, the French artillery, who were
still covering this portion of the trench, set to work to silence the
mortar, and the Towers thoroughly enjoyed the ensuing performance, and
the generous, not to say extravagant, fashion in which the French
battery, after the usual custom of French batteries, lavished its
shells upon the task. For five minutes the battery spoke in
four-tongued emphatic tones, and the shells screamed over the forward
trench, crackled and crashed above the German line, dotted the German
parapet along its length, played up and down it in long bursts of fire,
and deluged the suspected hiding-place of the mortar with a torrent of
high explosive. When it stopped, the bombing also had stopped for that
day.

The French infantry did not wait for the ceasing of the artillery fire.
They gathered themselves and their belongings and recommenced to move
as soon as the guns began to speak.

"Feenish!" as one of them said, placing a finger on the ground, lifting
it in a long curve, twirling it over and over and downward again in
imitation of a falling bomb. "Ze soixante-quinze speak,
bang-bang-bang!" and his fist jerked out four blows in a row.
"Feenish!" he concluded, holding a hand out towards the German lines
and making a motion of rubbing something off the slate. Plainly they
were very proud of their artillery, and the Towers caught that word
"soixante-quinze" in every tone of pleasure, pride, and satisfaction.
But as Private Robinson said, "I don't wonder at it. Cans is a good
name, but can-an'-does would be a better."

When the last of the Frenchmen had gone, the Towers completed their
settling in and making themselves comfortable in the vacated quarters.
The greatest care was taken to avoid any man showing a British cap or
uniform. "Snapper" Brown, urged by the public-spirited 'Enery Irving,
exhausted himself in playing the "Marseillaise" at the fullest pitch of
his lungs and mouth-organ. His artistic soul revolted at last at the
repetition, but since the only other French tune that was suggested was
the Blue Danube Waltz, and there appeared to be divergent opinions as
to its nationality, "Snapper" at last struck, and refused to play the
"Marseillaise" a single time more. 'Enery Irving enthusiastically took
up this matter of "acting so as to deceive the Germans."

"Act!" he said. "If I'd a make-up box and a false mustache 'ere, I'd
act so as to cheat the French President 'imself, much less a parcel of
beer-swilling Germs."

The German trenches were too far away to allow of any conversation, but
'Enery secured a board, wrote on it in large letters "Veev la France,"
and displayed it over the parapet. After the Germans had signified
their notice of the sentiment by firing a dozen shots at it, 'Enery
replaced it by a fresh one, "A baa la Bosh." This notice was left
standing, but to 'Enery's annoyance the Germans displayed in return a
board which said in plain English, "Good morning." "Ain't that a knock
out," said 'Enery disgustedly. "Much use me acting to deceive the
Germans if some silly blighter in another bit o' the line goes and
gives the game away."

Throughout the rest of the day he endeavored to confuse the German's
evident information by the display of the French cap and of French
sentences on the board like "Bong jewr," "Bong nwee," and "Mercridi,"
which he told the others was the French for a day of the week, the
spelling being correct as he knew because he had seen it written down,
and the day indicated, he believed, being Wednesday--or Thursday. "And
that's near enough," he said, "because to-day is Wednesday, and if
Mercridi means Wednesday, they'll think I'm signaling 'to-day'; and if
it means Thursday, they'll think I'm talking about to-morrow." All
doubts of the German's knowledge appeared to be removed, however, by
their next notice, which stated plainly, "You are Englander." To that
'Enery, his French having failed him, could only retort by a drawing of
outstretched fingers and a thumb placed against a prominent nose on an
obviously French face, with pointed mustache and imperial, and a French
cap. But clearly even this failed, and the German's next message read,
"WELL DONE, WALES!" The Towers were annoyed, intensely annoyed, because
shortly before that time the strikes of the Welsh miners had been
prominent in the English papers, and as the Towers guessed from this
notice at least equally prominent in the German journals.

"And I only 'opes," said Robinson, "they sticks that notice up in front
of some of the Taffy regiments."

"I don't see that a bit," said 'Enery Irving. "The Taffys out 'ere 'ave
done their bit along with the best, and they're just as mad as us, and
maybe madder, at these ha'penny-grabbing loafers on strike."

"True enough," said Robinson, "but maybe they'll write 'ome and tell
their pals 'ow pleased the Bosche is with them, and 'ave a kind word in
passing to say when any of them goes 'ome casualtied or on leave, 'Well
done, Wales!' Well, I 'ope Wales likes that smack in the eye," and he
spat contemptuously. Presently he had the pleasure of expressing his
mind more freely to a French signaler of artillery who was on duty at
an observing post in this forward fire trench. The Frenchman had a
sufficient smattering of English to ask awkward questions as to why men
were allowed to strike in England in war time, but unfortunately not
enough to follow Robinson's lengthy and agonized explanations that
these men were not English but--a very different thing--Welsh, and,
more than that, unpatriotic swine, who ought to be shot. He was reduced
at last to turning the unpleasant subject aside by asking what the
Frenchman was doing there now the British had taken over. And presently
the matter was shelved by a French observing officer, who was on duty
there, calling his signalers to attention. The German guns had opened a
slow and casual fire about half an hour before on the forward British
trench, and now they quickened their fire and commenced methodically to
bombard the trench. At his captain's order a signaler called up a
battery by telephone. The telephone instrument was in a tall narrow box
with a handle at the side, and the signaler ground the handle
vigorously for a minute and shouted a long string of hello's into the
instrument, rapidly twirled the handle again and shouted, twirled and
shouted.

The Towers watched him in some amusement. "'Ere, chum," said Robinson,
"you 'aven't put your tuppence in the slot," and 'Enery Irving in a
falsetto imitation of a telephone girl's metallic voice drawled: "Put
two pennies in, please, and turn the handle after each--one--two--thank
you! You're through." The signaler revolved the handle again. "You're
mistook, 'Enery," said Robinson, "'e ain't through. Chum, you ought to
get your tuppence back."

"Ask to be put through to the inquiry office," said another. "Make a
complaint and tell 'em to come and take the blanky thing away if it
can't be kept in order. That's what I used to 'ear my governor say
every other day."

From his lookout corner the captain called down in rapid French to his
signaler.

"D 'ye 'ear that," said Robinson. "Garsong he called him. He's a
bloomin' waiter! Well, well, and me thought he was a signaler."

The captain at last was forced to descend from his place, and with the
signaler endeavored to rectify the faulty instrument. They got through
at last, and the captain spoke to his battery.

"'Ear that," said Robinson. "'Mes on-fong,' he says. He's got a lot o'
bloomin' infants too."

"Queer crowd!" said Flannigan. "What with infants for soldiers and a
waiter for a signaler, and a butcher or a baker or candlestick-maker
for a President, as I'm told they have, they're a rum crush
altogether."

The captain ascended to his place again. A German shell, soaring over,
burst with a loud _crump_ behind the trench. The French signaler
laughed and waved derisively towards the shell. He leaned his head and
body far to one side, straightened slowly, bent his head on a curve to
the other side, and brought it up with a jerk, imitating, as he did so,
the sound of the falling and bursting shell,
"_sss-eee-aaa-ahah-aow-Wump_." Another shell fell, and "_aow-Wump_," he
cried again, shuffling his feet and laughing gayly. The Towers laughed
with him, and when the next shell fell there was a general chorus of
imitation.

The captain called again, the signaler ground the handle and spoke into
the telephone. "Fire!" he said, nodding delightedly to the Towers;
"boom-boom-boom-boom." Immediately after they heard the loud, harsh,
crackling reports of the battery to their rear, and the shells rushed
whistling overhead.

The signaler mimicked the whistling sound, and clicked his heels
together. "Ha!" he said, "soixante-quinze--good, eh?" The captain
called to him, and again he revolved the handle and called to the
battery.

"Garsong," said Robinson, "a plate of swa-song-canned beans, si voo
play--and serve 'em hot"

A German shell dropped again, and again the chorused howls and laughter
of the Towers marked its fall. The captain called for high explosive,
and the signaler shouted on the order.

"Exploseef," repeated 'Enery Irving, again airing his French. "That's
high explosive."

"Garsong, twopennorth of exploseef soup," chanted Robinson.

Then the order was sent down for rapid fire, and a moment later the
battery burst out in running quadruple reports, and the shells streamed
whistling overhead. The Towers peered through periscopes and over the
parapet to watch the tossing plumes of smoke and dust that leaped and
twisted in the German lines. "Good old cans!" said Robinson
appreciatively.

When the fire stopped, the captain came to the telephone and spoke to
the battery in praise of their shooting. The Towers listened carefully
to catch a word here and there. "There he goes again," said Robinson,
"with 'is bloomin' infants," and later he asked the signaler the
meaning of "_mes braves_" that was so often in the captain's mouth.

"'Ear that," he said to the other Towers when the signaler explained it
meant "my braves." "Bloomin' braves he's calling his battery now.
Infants was bad enough, but 'braves' is about the limit. I'm open to
admit they're brave enough; that bombing didn't seem to worry them, and
shell-fire pleases them like a call for dinner; and you remember that
time we was in action one side of the La Bassée road and they was in it
on the other? Strewth! When I remember the wiping they got crossing the
open, and the way they stuck it and plugged through that mud, and tore
the barbed wire up by the roots, and sailed over into the German
trench, I'm not going to contradict anybody that calls 'em brave. But
it sounds rum to 'ear 'em call each other it."

Robinson was busy surveying in a periscope the ground between the
trenches. "I dunno if I'm seein' things," he remarked suddenly, "but I
could 've swore a man's 'and waved out o' the grass over there." With
the utmost caution half a dozen men peered out through loopholes and
with periscopes in the direction indicated, and presently a chorus of
exclamations told that the hand had again been seen. Robinson was just
about to wave in reply when 'Enery grabbed his arm.

"You're a nice one to 'act so as to deceive,' you are," he said warmly.
"I s'pose a khaki sleeve is likely to make the 'Uns believe we're
French. Now, you watch me."

He pulled back his tunic sleeve, held his shirtsleeved arm up the
moment the next wave came, and motioned a reply.

"He's in a hole o' some sort," said 'Enery. "Now I wonder who it is. A
Frenchie by his tunic sleeve."

"Yes; there's 'is cap," said Robinson suddenly. "Just up--and gone."

"Make the same motion wi' this cap on a bayonet," said 'Enery; "then
knock off, case the Boshies spot 'im."

The matter was reported, and presently a couple of officers came along,
made a careful examination, and waved the cap. A cautious reply, and a
couple of bullets whistling past their cap came at the same moment.

Later, 'Enery sought the sergeant. "Mind you this, sergeant," he said,
"if there's any volunteerin' for the job o' fetchin' that chap in, he
belongs to me. I found 'im." The sergeant grinned.

"Robinson was here two minutes ago wi' the same tale," he said. "Seems
you're all in a great hurry to get shot."

"Like his bloomin' cheek!" said the indignant 'Enery. "I know why he
wants to go out; he's after those German helmets the interpreter told
us was lyin' out there."

The difficulty was solved presently by the announcement that an officer
was going out and would take two volunteers--B Company to have first
offer. 'Enery and Robinson secured the post, and 'Enery immediately
sought the officer. Reminding him of the order to "act so as to
deceive," he unfolded a plan which was favorably considered.

"Those Boshies thought they was bloomin' clever to twig we was
English," he told the others of B Company; "but you wait till the
lime-light's on me. I'll puzzle 'em."

The two French artillery signalers were sleeping in the forward trench,
and after some explanation readily lent their long-skirted coats. The
officer and Robinson donned one each, and 'Enery carefully arrayed
himself in a torn and discarded pair of old French baggy red breeches
and the damaged French cap, and discarded his own jacket. His gray
shirt might have been of any nationality, so that on the whole he made
quite a passable Frenchman. While they waited for darkness he paraded
the trench, shrugging his shoulders, and gesticulating. "Bon joor, mays
ong-fong," he remarked with a careless hand-wave. "Hey, gar-song!
Donney-moi du pang eh du beurre, si voo play--and donnay-moi swoy-song
cans--rapeed--exploseef! Merci, mes braves, mes bloomin' 'eroes ... mes
noble warriors, merci. Snapper, strike up the 'Conkerin' 'Ero,' if you
please."

Before the time came to go he added to his make-up by marking on his
face with a burnt stick huge black mustachios and an imperial, and
although the officer stared a little when he came along he ended by
laughing, and leaving 'Enery his "make-up" disguise.

An hour after dark the three slipped quietly over the parapet and out
through the barbed wire, dragging a stretcher after them. It was a
fairly quiet night, with only an occasional rifle cracking and no
artillery fire. A bright moon floated behind scudding clouds, and
perhaps helped the adventure by the alternate minutes of light and dark
and the difficulty of focusing eyes to the differences of moonlight and
dark and the blaze of an occasional flare when the moon was obscured.
Behind the parapet the Towers waited with rifles ready, and stared out
through the loopholes; and behind them the French artillery officer,
and his signalers standing by their telephone, also waited with the
loaded guns and ready gunners at the other end of the wire. The
watchers saw the dark blot of men and stretcher slip under the wires,
and slowly, very slowly, creep on through the long grass. Half-way
across, the watchers lost them amidst the other black blots and
shadows, and it was a full half-hour after when a private exclaimed
suddenly: "I see them," he said. "There, close where we saw the hand."

The moon vanished a moment, then sailed clear, throwing a strong
silvery light across the open ground, and showing plainly the German
wire entanglements and the black-and-white patchwork of their
barricade. There were no visible signs of the rescue party, for the
good reason that they had slipped into and lay prone in the wide shell
crater that held the wounded Frenchman. Far spent the man was when they
found him, for he had lain there three nights and two days with a
bullet-smashed thigh and the scrape across his skull that had led the
rest of his night patrol to count him dead and so abandon him.

Now the moon slid again behind the racing clouds, and patches of light
and shadow in turn chased across the open ground.

"Here they come," said the captain of B Company a few minutes later.
"At least I think it's them, altho' I can only see two men and no
stretcher."

"Do you see them?" said an eager voice in French at his ear, and when
he turned and found the gunner captain and explained to him, the
captain made a gesture of despair. "Perhaps it is that they cannot move
him," he said. "Or would they, do you think, return for more help? I
should go myself but that I may be needed to talk with the battery.
Perhaps one of my signalers----"

But the Englishman assured him it was better to wait; they could not be
returning for help; that the three could do all a dozen could.

Again they waited and watched in eager suspense, glimpsing the crawling
figures now and then, losing them again, in doubts and certainty in
swift turns as to the whereabouts and identity of the crawling figures.

"There is one of them," said the captain quickly; "there, by himself,
in those cursed red breeches. They show up in the flarelight like a
blood-spot on a clean collar. Dashed idiot! And I was a fool, too, to
let him go like that."

But it was plain now that 'Enery Irving was dragging his red breeches
well clear of the others, although it was not plain, what the others
had done with the stretcher. There were two of them at the length of a
stretcher apart, and yet no visible stretcher lay between them. It was
the sergeant who solved the mystery.

"I'm blowed!" he said, in admiring wonder; "they've covered the
stretcher over with cut grass. They've got their man too--see his head
this end."

Now that they knew it, all could see the outline of the man's body
covered over with grass, the thick tufts waving upright from his hands
and nodding between his legs.

They were three-quarters of the way across now, but still with a
dangerous slope to cross. It was ever so slight, but, tilted as it was
towards the enemy's line, it was enough to show much more plainly
anything that moved or lay upon its face. They crawled on with a
slowness that was an agony to watch, crawled an inch at a time, lying
dead and still when a light flared, hitching themselves and the
dragging stretcher onwards as the dullness of hazed moonlight fell.

The French captain was consumed with impatience, muttering exhortations
to caution, whispering excited urgings to move, as if his lips were at
the creepers' ears, his fingers twitching and jerking, his body
hitching and holding still, exactly as if he too crawled out there and
dragged at the stretcher.

And then when it seemed that the worst was over, when there was no more
than a score of feet to cover to the barbed wire, when they were
actually crawling over the brow of the gentle rise, discovery came.
There were quick shots from one spot of the German parapet, confused
shouting, the upward soaring of half a dozen blazing flares.

And then before the two dragging the stretcher could move in a last
desperate rush for safety, before they could rise from their prone
position, they heard the rattle of fire increase swiftly to a trembling
staccato roar. But, miraculously, no bullets came near them, no
whistling was about their ears, no ping and smack of impacting lead
hailed about them--except, yes, just the fire of one rifle or two that
sent aimed bullet after bullet hissing over them. They could not
understand it, but without waiting to understand they half rose, thrust
and hauled at the stretcher, dragged it under the wires, heaved it over
to where eager hands tore down the sandbags to gap a passage for them.
A handful of bullets whipped and rapped about them as they tumbled
over, and the stretcher was hoisted in, but nothing worth mention,
nothing certainly of that volume of fire that drammed and rolled out
over there. They did not understand; but the others in the trench
understood, and laughed a little and swore a deal, then shut their
teeth and set themselves to pump bullets in a covering fire upon the
German parapet.

The stretcher party drew little or no fire, simply and solely because
just one second after those first shots and loud shouts had declared
the game up, a figure sprang from the grass fifty yards along the
trench and twice as far out in the open, sprang up and ran out, and
stood in the glare of light, the baggy scarlet breeches and gray shirt
making a flaring mark that no eye, called suddenly to see, could miss,
that no rifle brought sliding through the loophole and searching for a
target could fail to mark. The bullets began to patter about 'Enery
Irving's feet, to whine and whimper and buzz about his ears. And
'Enery--this was where the trench, despite themselves, laughed--'Enery
placed his hand on his heart, swept off his cap in a magnificent arm's
length gesture, and bowed low; then swiftly he rose upright, struck an
attitude that would have graced the hero of the highest class Adelphi
drama, and in a shrill voice that rang clear above the hammering tumult
of the rifles, screamed "Veev la France! A baa la Bosh!" The rifles by
this time were pelting a storm of lead at him, and now that the haste
and flurry of the urgent call had passed and the shooters had steadied
to their task, the storm was perilously close. 'Enery stayed a moment
even then to spread his hands and raise his shoulders ear-high in a
magnificent stage shrug; but a bullet snatched the cap from his head,
and 'Enery ducked hastily, turned, and ran his hardest, with the
bullets snapping at his heels.

Back in the trench a frantic French captain was raving at the
telephone, whirling the handle round, screaming for "Fire, fire, fire!"

Private Flannigan looked over his shoulder at him, "Mong capitaine," he
said, "you ought, you reely ought, to ring up your telephone; turn the
handle round an' say something."

"Drop two pennies in," mocked another as the captain birr-r-red the
handle and yelled again.

Whether he got through, or whether the burst of rifle fire reached the
listening ears at the guns, nobody knew; but just as 'Enery did his
ear-embracing shoulder-shrug the first shells screamed over, burst and
leaped down along the German parapet. After that there was no complaint
about the guns. They scourged the parapet from end to end, up and down,
and up again; they shook it with the blast of high explosive, ripped
and flayed it with, driving blasts of shrapnel, smothered it with a
tempest of fire and lead, blotted it out behind a veil of writhing
smoke.

At the sound of the first shot the gunner captain had leaped back to
the trench. "Is he in? Is he arrived?" he shouted in the ear of the B
Company captain who leaned anxiously over the parapet. The captain drew
back and down. "He's in--bless him--I mean dash his impudent hide!"

The Frenchman turned and called to his signaler, and the next moment
the guns ceased. But the captain waited, watching with narrowed eyes
the German parapet. The storm of his shells had obliterated the rifle
fire, but after a few minutes it opened up again in straggling shots.

The captain snapped back a few orders, and prompt to his word the
shells leaped and struck down again on the parapet. A dozen rounds and
they ceased, and again the captain waited and watched. The rifles were
silent now, and presently the captain relaxed his scowling glare and
his tightened lips. "Vermin!" he said. He used just the tone a man
gives to a ferocious dog he has beaten and cowed to a sullen
submission.

But he caught sight of 'Enery making his way along the trench past his
laughing and chaffing mates, and leaped down and ran to him. "Bravo!"
he beamed, and threw his arms round the astonished soldier, and before
he could dodge, as the disgusted 'Enery said afterwards, "planted two
quick-fire kisses, smack, smack," on his two cheeks.

"_Mon brave_!" he said, stepping back and regarding 'Enery with shining
eyes, "_Mon brave, mon beau Anglais, mon_----"

But 'Enery's own captain arrived here and interrupted the flow of
admiration, cursing the grinning and sheepish private for a this, that,
and the other crazy, play-acting idiot, and winding up abruptly by
shaking hands with him and saying gruffly, "Good work, though. B
Company's proud of you, and so'm I."

"An' I admit I felt easier after that rough-tonguin'," 'Enery told B
Company that night over a mess-tin of tea. "It was sort of
natural-like, an' what a man looks for, and it broke up about as
unpleasant a sit-u-ation as I've seen staged. I could see you all
grinnin', and I don't wonder at it. That slobberin' an' kissin'
business, an' the Mong Brav Conkerin' 'Ero may be all right for a lot
o' bloomin' Frenchies that don't know better--"

He took a long swig of tea.

"Though, mind you," he resumed, "I haven't a bad word to fit to a
Frenchman. They're real good fighting stuff, an' they ain't arf the
light-'earted an' light-'eaded grinnin' giddy goats I used to take 'em
for."

"There wasn't much o' the light 'eart look about the Mong Cappytaine
to-night," said Robinson. "'Is eyes was snappin' like two ends o' a
live wire, and 'e 'andled them guns as business-like as a butcher
cutting chops."

"That's it," said 'Enery, "business-like is the word for 'em. I noticed
them 'airy-faces shootin' to-day. They did it like they was sent there
to kill somebody, and they meant doin' their job thorough an'
competent. Afore I come this trip on the Continong I used to think a
Frenchman was good for nothing but fiddlin' an' dancin' an' makin'
love. But since I've seen 'em settin' to Bosh partners an' dancin'
across the neutral ground an' love-makin' wi' Rosalie,[Footnote:
_Rosalie_--the French nickname for the bayonet.] I've learned better.
'Ere's luck to 'im," and he drained the mess-tin.

And the French, if one might judge from the story _mon capitaine_ had
to tell his major, had also revised some ancient opinions of their
Allies.

"Cold!" he said scornfully; "never again tell me these English are
cold. Children--perhaps. Foolish--but yes, a little. They try to kill a
man between jests; they laugh if a bullet wounds a comrade so that he
grimaces with pain--it is true; I saw it." It _was_ true, and had
reference to a sight scrape of a bullet across the tip of the nose of a
Towers private, and the ribald jests and laughter thereat. "They make
jokes, and say a man 'stopped one,' meaning a shell had been stopped in
its flight by exploding on him--this the interpreter has explained to
me. But cold--no, no, no! If you had seen this man--ah, sublime,
magnificent! With the whistling balls all round him he stands, so
brave, so noble, so fine, stands--so! '_Vive la France_!' he cried
aloud, with a tongue of trumpets; '_Vive la France! A bas les
Boches_!'"

The captain, as he declaimed "with a tongue of trumpets," leaped to his
feet and struck an attitude that was really quite a good imitation of
'Enery's own mock-tragedian one. But the officers listening breathed
awe and admiration; they did not, as the Towers did, laugh, because
here, unlike the Towers, they saw nothing to laugh at.

The captain dropped to his chair amid a murmur of applause. "Sublime!"
he said. "That posture, that cry! Indeed, it was worthy of a Frenchman.
But certainly we must recommend him for a Cross of France, eh, my
major?"

'Enery Irving got the Cross of the Legion of Honor. But I doubt if it
ever gave him such pure and legitimate joy as did a notice stuck up in
the German trench next day. Certainly it insulted the English by
stating that their workers stayed at home and went on strike while
Frenchmen fought and died. _But_ it was headed "Frenchman!" _and it was
written in French._



THE FEAR OF FEAR


_"At ---- we recaptured the portion of front line trench lost by us
some days ago."_--EXTRACT FROM DISPATCH.

"In a charge," said the Sergeant, "the 'Hotwater Guards' don't think
about going back till there's none of them left to go back; and you can
always remember this: if you go forward you _may_ die, if you go back
you _will_ die."

The memory of that phrase came back to Private Everton, tramping down
the dark road to the firing-line. Just because he had no knowledge of
how he himself would behave in this his baptism of fire, just because
he was in deadly fear that he would feel fear, or, still worse, show
it, he strove to fix that phrase firmly in front of his mind. "If I can
remember that," he thought, "it will stop me going back, anyway," and
he repeated: "If you go back you _will_ die, if you go back you _will_
die," over and over.

It is true that, for all his repetition, when a field battery, hidden
close by the side of the road on which they marched, roared in a sudden
and ear-splitting salvo of six guns, for the instant he thought he was
under fire and that a huge shell had burst somewhere desperately close
to them. He had jumped, his comrades assured him afterwards, a clear
foot and a half off the ground, and he himself remembered that his
first involuntary glance and thought flashed to the deep ditch that ran
alongside the road.

When he came to the trenches, at last, and filed down the narrow
communication-trench and into his Company's appointed position in the
deep ditch with a narrow platform along its front that was the forward
fire-trench, he remembered with unpleasant clearness that instinctive
start and thought of taking cover. By that time he had actually been
under fire, had heard the shells rush over him and the shattering noise
of their burst; had heard the bullets piping and humming and hissing
over the communication- and firing-trenches. He took a little comfort
from the fact that he had not felt any great fear then, but he had to
temper that by the admission that there was little to be afraid of
there in the shelter of the deep trench. It was what he would do and
feel when he climbed out of cover on to the exposed and bullet-swept
flat before the trench that he was in doubt about; for the Hotwaters
had been told that at nine o'clock there was to be a brief but intense
bombardment on a section of trench in front of them which had been
captured from us the day before, and which, after several
counter-attacks had failed, was to be taken that morning by this
battalion of Hotwaters.

At half-past eight, nobody entering their trench would have dreamed
that the Hotwaters were going into a serious action in half an hour.
The men were lounging about, squatting on the firing-step, chaffing and
talking--laughing even--quite easily and naturally; some were smoking,
and others had produced biscuits and bully beef from their haversacks
and were calmly eating their breakfast.

Everton felt a glow of pride as he looked at them. These men were his
friends, his fellows, his comrades: they were of the Hotwater
Guards--his regiment, and his battalion. He had heard often enough that
the Guards Brigades were the finest brigades in the Army, that this
particular brigade was the best of all the Guards, that his battalion
was the best of the Brigade. Hitherto he had rather deprecated these
remarks as savoring of pride and self-conceit, but now he began to
believe that they must be true; and so believing, if he had but known
it, he had taken another long step on the way to becoming the perfect
soldier, who firmly believes his regiment the finest in the world and
is ready to die in proof of the belief.

"Dusty Miller," the next file on his left, who was eating bread and
cheese, spoke to him.

"Why don't you eat some grab, Toffee?" he mumbled cheerfully, with his
mouth full. "In a game like this you never know when you'll get the
next chance of a bite."

"Don't feel particularly hungry," answered Toffee with an attempt to
appear as off-handed and casual and at ease as his questioner. "So I
think I'd better save my ration until I'm hungry."

Dusty Miller sliced off a wedge of bread with the knife edge against
his thumb, popped it in his mouth, and followed it with a corner of
cheese.

"A-ah!" he said profoundly, and still munching; "there's no sense in
saving rations when you're going into action. I'd a chum once that
always did that; said he got more satisfaction out of a meal when the
job was over and he was real hungry, and had a chance to eat in
comfort--more or less comfort. And one day we was for it he saved a tin
o' sardines and a big chunk of cake and a bottle of pickled onions that
had just come to him from home the day before; said he was looking
forward to a good feed that night after the show was over. And--and he
was killed that day!"

Dusty Miller halted there with the inborn artistry that left his climax
to speak for itself.

"Hard luck!" said Toffee sympathetically. "So his feed was wasted!"

"Not to say wasted exactly," said Dusty, resuming bread and cheese.
"Because I remembers to this day how good them onions was. Still it was
wasted, far as he was concerned--and he was particular fond o' pickled
onions."

But even the prospect of wasting his rations did nothing to induce
Toffee to eat a meal. The man on Toffee's right was crouched back on
the firing-step apparently asleep or near it. Dusty Miller had turned
and opened a low-toned conversation with the next man, the frequent
repetition of "I says" and "she says" affording some clew to the thread
of his story and inclining Toffee to believe it not meant for him to
hear. He felt he must speak to some one, and it was with relief that he
saw Halliday, the man on his other side, rouse himself and look up.
Something about Toffee's face caught his attention.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, leaning forward and speaking quietly.
"This is your first charge, isn't it!"

"Yes," said Toffee, "I'm all right. I--I think I'm all right."

The other moved slightly on the firing-step, leaving a little room, and
Toffee took this as an invitation to sit down. Halliday continued to
speak in low tones that were not likely to pass beyond his listener's
ear.

"Don't you get scared," he said. "You've nothing much to be scared
about."

He threw a little emphasis, and Toffee fancied a little envy, into the
"you."

"I'm not scared exactly," said Toffee. "I'm sort of wondering what it
will be like."

"I know," said Halliday, "I know; and who should, if I didn't? But I
can tell you this--you don't need to be afraid of shells, you don't
need to be afraid of bullets, and least of all is there any need to be
afraid of the cold iron when the Hotwaters get into the trench. You
don't need to be afraid of being wounded, because that only means home
and a hospital and a warm dry bed; you don't need to be afraid of
dying, because you've got to die some day, anyhow. There's only one
thing in this game to be afraid of, and there isn't many finds that in
their first engagement. It's the ones like me that get it."

Toffee glanced at him curiously and in some amazement. Now that he
looked closely, he could see that, despite his easy loungeful attitude
and steady voice, and apparently indifferent look, there was something
odd and unexplainable about Halliday: some faintest twitching of his
lips, a shade of pallor on his cheek, a hunted look deep at the back of
his eyes. Everton tried to speak lightly.

"And what is it, then, that the likes o' you get?"

Halliday's voice sank to little more than a whisper. "It's the fear o'
fear," he said steadily. "Maybe, you think you know what that is, that
you feel it yourself. You know what I mean, I suppose?"

Toffee nodded. "I think so," he said. "What I fear myself is that I'll
be afraid and show that I'm afraid, that I'll do something rotten when
we get out up there."

He jerked his head up and back towards the open where the rifles
sputtered and the bullets whistled querulously.

"There's plenty fear that," admitted Halliday, "before their first
action; but mostly it passes the second they leave cover and can't
protect themselves and have to trust to whatever there is outside,
themselves to bring them through. You don't know the beginning of how
bad the fear o' fear can be till you have seen dozens of your mates
killed, till you've had death no more than touch you scores of times,
like I have."

"But you don't mean to tell me," said Toffee incredulously, "that you
are afraid of yourself, that you can't trust yourself now? Why, I've
heard said often that you're one of the coolest under fire, and that
you don't know what fear is!"

"It's a good reputation to have if you can keep it," said Halliday.
"But it makes it worse if you can't."

"I wish," said Toffee enviously, "I was as sure of keeping it as you
are to-day."

Halliday pulled his hand from his pocket and held it beside him where
only Toffee could see it. It was quivering like a flag-halliard in a
stiff breeze. He thrust it back in his pocket.

"Doesn't look too sure, does it?" he said grimly. "And my heart is
shaking a sight worse than my hand."

He was interrupted by the arrival of a group of German shells on and
about the section of trench they were in. One burst on the rear lip of
the trench, spattering earth and bullets about them and leaving a
choking reek swirling and eddying along the trench. There was silence
for an instant, and then an officer's voice called from the near
traverse. "Is anybody hit there!" A sergeant shouted back "No, sir,"
and was immediately remonstrated with by an indignant private busily
engaged in scraping the remains of a mud clod from his eye.

"You might wait a minute, Sergeant," he said, "afore you reports no
casualties, just to give us time to look round and count if all our
limbs is left on. And I've serious doubts at this minute whether my eye
is in its right place or bulging out the back o' my head; anyway, it
feels as if an eight-inch Krupp had bumped fair into it."

When the explosion came, Toffee Everton had instinctively ducked and
crouched, but he noticed that Halliday never moved or gave a sign of
the nearness of any danger. Toffee remarked this to him.

"And I don't see," he confessed, "where that fits in with this
hand- and heart-shaking o' yours."

Halliday looked at him curiously.

"If that was the worst," he said, "I could stand it. It isn't. It isn't
the beginning of the least of the worst. If it had fell in the trench,
now, and mucked up half a dozen men, there'd have been something to
squeal about. That's the sort o' thing that breaks a man up--your own
mates that was talking to you a minute afore, ripped to bits and torn
to ribbons. I've seen nothing left of a whole live man but a pair o'
burnt boots. I've seen--" He stopped abruptly and shivered a little.
"I'm not going to talk about it," he said. "I think about it and see it
too often in my dreams as it is. And, besides," he went on, "I didn't
duck that time, because I've learnt enough to know it's too late to
duck when the shell bursts a dozen yards from you. I'm not so much
afraid of dying, either. I've got to die, I've little doubt, before
this war is out; I don't think there's a dozen men in this battalion
that came out with it in the beginning and haven't been home sick or
wounded since. I've seen one-half the battalion wiped out in one
engagement and built up with drafts, and the other half wiped out in
the next scrap. We've lost fifty and sixty and seventy per cent. of our
strength at different times, and I've come through it all without a
scratch. Do you suppose I don't know it's against reason for me to last
out much longer? But I'm not afraid o' that. I'm not afraid of the
worst death I've seen a man die--and that's something pretty bad,
believe me. What I'm afraid of is myself, of my nerve cracking, of my
doing something that will disgrace the Regiment."

The man's nerves were working now; there was a quiver of excitement in
his voice, a grayer shade on his cheek, a narrowing and a restless
movement of his eyes, a stronger twitching of his lips. More shells
crashed sharply; a little along the line a gust of rifle-bullets swept
over and into the parapet; a Maxim rap-rap-rapped and its bullets spat
hailing along the parapet above their heads.

Halliday caught his breath and shivered again.

"That," he said--"that is one of the devils we've got to face
presently." His eyes glanced furtively about him. "God!" he muttered,
"if I could only get out of this! 'Tisn't fair, I tell ye, it isn't
fair to ask a man that's been through what I have to take it on again,
knowing that if I do come through, 'twill be the same thing to go
through over and over until they get me; or until my own sergeant
shoots me for refusing to face it."

Everton had listened in amazed silence--an understanding utterly beyond
him. He knew the name that Halliday bore in the regiment, knew that he
was seeing and hearing more than Halliday perhaps had ever shown or
told to anyone. Shamefacedly and self-consciously, he tried to say
something to console and hearten the other man, but Halliday
interrupted him roughly.

"That's it!" he said bitterly. "Go on! Pat me on the back and tell me
to be a good boy and not to be frightened. I'm coming to it at last:
old Bob Halliday that's been through it from the beginning, one o' the
Old Contemptibles, come down to be mothered and hushaby-baby'd by a
blanky recruit, with the first polish hardly off his new buttons."

He broke off and into bitter cursing, reviling the Germans, the war,
himself and Everton, his sergeant and platoon commander, the O.C., and
at last the regiment itself. But at that the torrent of his oaths broke
off, and he sat silent and shaking for a minute. He glanced sideways at
last at the embarrassed Everton.

"Don't take no notice o' me, chum," he said. "I wasn't speaking too
loud, was I? The others haven't noticed, do you think? I don't want to
look round for a minute."

Everton assured him that he had not spoken too loud, that nobody
appeared to have noticed anything, and that none were looking their
way. He added a feeble question as to whether Halliday, if he felt so
bad, could not report himself as sick or something and escape having to
leave the trench.

Halliday's lips twisted in a bitter grin.

"That would be a pretty tale," he said. "No, boy, I'll try and pull
through once more, and if my heart fails me--look here, I've often
thought o' this, and some day, maybe, it will come to it."

He lifted his rifle and put the butt down in the trench bottom, slipped
his bayonet out, and holding the rifle near the muzzle with one hand,
with the other placed the point of the bayonet to the trigger of the
rifle. He removed it instantly and returned it to its place.

"There's always that," he said. "It can be done in a second, and no
matter how a man's hand shakes, he can steady the point of the bayonet
against the trigger-guard, push it down till the point pushes the
trigger home."

"Do you mean," stammered Everton in amazement--"do you mean--shoot
yourself?"

"Ssh! not so loud," cautioned Halliday. "Yes, it's better than being
shot by my own officer, isn't it?"

Everton's mind was floundering hopelessly round this strange problem.
He could understand a man being afraid; he was not sure that he wasn't
afraid himself; but that a man afraid that he could not face death
could yet contemplate certain death by his own hand, was completely
beyond him.

Halliday drew his breath in a deep sigh.

"We'll say no more about it," he said. "I feel better now; it's
something to know I always have that to fall back on at the worst. I'll
be all right now--until it comes the minute to climb over the parapet."

It was nearly nine o'clock, and word was passed down the line for every
man to get down as low as he could in the bottom of the trench. The
trench they were about to attack was only forty or fifty yards away,
and since the Heavies as well as the Field guns were to bombard, there
was quite a large possibility of splinters and fragments being thrown
by the lyddite back as far as the British trench. At nine, sharp to the
tick of the clock, the _rush, rush, rush_ of a field battery's shells
passed overhead. Because the target was so close, the passing shells
seemed desperately near to the British parapet, as indeed they actually
were. The rush of shells and the crash of their explosion sounded in
the forward trench before the boom of the guns which fired them
traveled to the British trench. Before the first round of this opening
battery had finished, another and another joined in, and then, in a
deluge of noise, the intense bombardment commenced.

Crouching low in the bottom of the trench, half deafened by the uproar,
the men waited for the word to move. The concentrated fire on this
portion of front indicated clearly to the Germans that an attack was
coming, and where it was to be expected. The obviously correct
procedure for the gunners was of course to have bombarded many sections
of front so that no certain clew would be given as to the point of the
coming attack. But this was in the days when shells were very, very
precious things, and gunners had to grit their teeth helplessly, doling
out round by round, while the German gun- and rifle-fire did its worst.
The Germans, then, could see now where the attack was concentrated, and
promptly proceeded to break it up before it was launched. Shells began
to sweep the trench where the Hotwater Guards lay, to batter at their
parapet, and to prepare a curtain of fire along their front.

Everton lay and listened to the appalling clamor; but when the word was
passed round to get ready, he rose to his feet and climbed to the
firing-step without any overpowering sense of fear. A sentence from the
man on his left had done a good deal to hearten him.

"Gostrewth! 'ark at our guns!" he said. "They ain't 'arf pitchin' it
in. W'y, this ain't goin' to be no charge; it's going to be a sort of
merry picnic, a game of ''Ere we go gatherin' nuts in May.' There won't
be any Germans left in them trenches, and we'll 'ave nothin' to do but
collect the 'elmets and sooveneers and make ourselves at 'ome."

"Did you hear that!" Everton asked Halliday. "Is it anyways true, do
you think?"

"A good bit," said Halliday. "I've never seen a bit of German front
smothered up by our guns the way this seems to be now, though I've
often enough seen it the other way. The trench in front should be
smashed past any shape for stopping our charge if the gunners are
making any straight shooting at all."

It was evident that the whole trench shared his opinion, and
expressions of amazed delight ran up and down the length of the
Hotwaters. When the order came to leave the trench, the men were up and
out of it with a bound.

Everton was too busy with his own scramble put to pay much heed to
Halliday; but as they worked out through their own barbed wire, he was
relieved to find him at his side. He caught Everton's look, and
although his teeth were gripped tight, he nodded cheerfully. Presently,
when they were forming into line again beyond the wire, Halliday spoke.

"Not too bad," he said. "The guns has done it for us this time. Come
on, now, and keep your wits when you get across."

In the ensuing rush across the open, Everton was conscious of no
sensation of fear. The guns had lifted their fire farther back as the
Hotwaters emerged from their trench, and the rush and rumble of their
shells was still passing overhead as the line advanced. The German
artillery hardly dared drop their range to sweep the advance, because
of its proximity to their own trench. A fairly heavy rifle-fire was
coming from the flanks, but to a certain extent that was kept down by
some of our batteries spreading their fire over those portions of the
German trench which were not being attacked, and by a heavy rifle- and
machine-gun fire which was pelted across from the opposite parts of the
British line.

From the immediate front, which was the Hotwaters' objective, there was
practically no attempt at resistance until the advance was half-way
across the short distance between the trenches, and even then it was no
more than a spasmodic attempt and the feeble resistance of a few rifles
and a machine-gun. The Hotwaters reached the trench with comparatively
slight loss, pushed into it, and over it, and pressed on to the next
line, the object being to threaten the continuance of the attack, to
take the next trench if the resistance was not too severe, and so to
give time for the reorganization of the first captured trench to resist
the German counter-attack.

Everton was one of the first to reach the forward trench. It had been
roughly handled by the artillery fire, and the men in it made little
show of resistance. The Hotwaters swarmed into the broken ditch,
shooting and stabbing the few who fought back, disarming the prisoners
who had surrendered with hands over their heads and quavering cries of
"Kamerad." Everton rushed one man who appeared to be in two minds
whether to surrender or not, fingering and half lifting his rifle and
lowering it again, looking round over his shoulder, once more raising
his rifle muzzle. Everton killed him with the bayonet. Afterwards he
climbed out and ran on, after the line had pushed forward to the next
trench. There was an awe, and a thrill of satisfaction in his heart as
he looked at his stained bayonet, but, as he suddenly recognized with a
tremendous joy, not the faintest sensation of being afraid. He looked
round grinning to the man next him, and was on the point of shouting
some jest to him, when he saw the man stumble and pitch heavily on his
face. It flashed into Everton's mind that he had tripped over a hidden
wire, and he was about to shout some chaffing remark, when he saw the
back of the man's head as he lay face down. But even that unpleasant
sight brought no fear to him.

There was a stout barricade of wire in front of the next trench, and an
order was shouted along to halt and lie down in front of it. The line
dropped, and while some lay prone and fired as fast as they could at
any loophole or bobbing head they could see, others lit bombs and
tossed them into the trench. This trench also had been badly mauled by
the shells, and the fire from it was feeble. Everton lay firing for a
few minutes, casting side glances on an officer close in front of him,
and on two or three men along the line who were coolly cutting through
the barbed wire with heavy nippers. Everton saw the officer spin round
and drop to his knees, his left hand nursing his hanging right arm.
Everton jumped up and went over to him.

"Let me go on with it, sir," he said eagerly, and without waiting for
any consent stooped and picked up the fallen wire-cutters and set to
work. He and the others, standing erect and working on the wire,
naturally drew a heavy proportion of the aimed fire; but Everton was
only conscious of an uplifting exhilaration, a delight that he should
have had the chance at such a prominent position. Many bullets came
very close to him, but none touched him, and he went on cutting wire
after wire, quickly and methodically, grasping the strand well in the
jaws of the nippers, gripping till the wire parted and the severed ends
sprang loose, calmly fitting the nippers to the next strand.

Even when he had cut a clear path through, he went on working, widening
the breach, cutting more wires, dragging the trailing ends clear. Then
he ran back to the line and to the officer who had lain watching him.

"Your wire-nippers, sir," he said. "Shall I put them in your case for
you?"

"Stick them in your pocket, Everton," said the youngster; "you've done
good work with them. Now lie down here."

All this was a matter of no more than three or four minutes' work. When
the other gaps were completed--the men in them being less fortunate
than Everton and having several wounded during the task--the line rose,
rushed streaming through the gaps and down into the trench. If
anything, the damage done by the shells was greater there than in the
first line, mainly perhaps because the heavier guns had not hesitated
to fire on the second line where the closeness of the first line to the
British would have made risky shooting. There were a good many dead and
wounded Germans in this second trench, and of the remainder many were
hidden away in their dug-outs, their nerves shaken beyond the
sticking-point of courage by the artillery fire first, and later by the
close-quarter bombing and the rush of the cold steel.

The Hotwaters held that trench for some fifteen minutes. Then a weak
counter-attack attempted to emerge from another line of trenches a good
two hundred yards back, but was instantly fallen upon by our artillery
and scourged by the accurate fire of the Hotwaters. The attack broke
before it was well under way, and scrambled back under cover.

Shortly afterwards the first captured trench having been put into some
shape for defense, the advance line of the Hotwaters retired. A small
covering party stayed and kept up a rapid fire till most of the others
had gone, and then climbed through the trench and doubled back after
them.

The officer, whose wire-cutters Everton had used, had been hit rather
badly in the arm. He had made light of the wound, and remained in the
trench with the covering party; but when he came to retire, he found
that the pain and loss of blood had left him shaky and dizzy. Everton
helped him to climb from the trench; but as they ran back he saw from
the corner of his eye that the officer had slowed to a walk. He turned
back and, ignoring the officer's advice to push on, urged him to lean
on him. It ended up by Everton and the officer being the last men in,
Everton half supporting, half carrying the other. Once more he felt a
childish pleasure at this opportunity to distinguish himself. He was
half intoxicated with the heady wine of excitement and success, he
asked only for other and greater and riskier opportunities. "Risk," he
thought contemptuously, "is only a pleasant excitement, danger the
spice to the risk." He asked his sergeant to be allowed to go out and
help the stretcher-bearers who were clearing the wounded from the
ground over which the first advance had been made.

"No," said the Sergeant shortly. "The stretcher-bearers have their job,
and they've got to do it. Your job is here, and you can stop and do
that. You've done enough for one day." Then, conscious perhaps that he
had spoken with unnecessary sharpness, he added a word. "You've made a
good beginning, lad, and done good work for your first show; don't
spoil it with rank gallery play."

But now that the German gunners knew the British line had advanced and
held the captured trench, they pelted it, the open ground behind it,
and the trench that had been the British front line, with a storm of
shell-fire. The rifle-fire was hotter, too, and the rallied defense was
pouring in whistling stream of bullets. But the captured trench, which
it will be remembered was a recaptured British one, ran back and joined
up with the British lines. It was possible therefore to bring up plenty
of ammunition, sandbags, and reinforcements, and by now the defense had
been sufficiently made good to have every prospect of resisting any
counter-attack and of withstanding the bombardment to which it was
being subjected. But the heavy fire drove the stretcher-bearers off the
open ground, while there still remained some dead and wounded to be
brought in.

Everton had missed Halliday, and his anxious inquiries failed to find
him or any word of him, until at last one man said he believed Halliday
had been dropped in the rush on the first trench. Everton stood up and
peered back over the ground behind them. Thirty yards away he saw a man
lying prone and busily at work with his trenching-tool, endeavoring to
build up a scanty cover. Everton shouted at the pitch of his voice,
"Halliday!" The digging figure paused, lifted the trenching-tool and
waved it, and then fell to work again. Everton pressed along the
crowded trench to the sergeant.

"Sergeant," he said breathlessly, "Halliday's lying out there wounded,
he's a good pal o' mine and I'd like to fetch him in."

The Sergeant was rather doubtful. He made Everton point out the digging
figure, and was calculating the distance from the nearest point of the
trench, and the bullets that drummed between.

"It's almost a cert you get hit," he said, "even if you crawl out. He's
got a bit of cover and he's making more, fast. I think--"

A voice behind interrupted, and Everton and the Sergeant turned to find
the Captain looking up at them.

"What's this?" he repeated, and the Sergeant explained the position.

"Go ahead!" said the Captain. "Get him in if you can, and good luck to
you."

Everton wanted no more. Two minutes later he was out of the trench and
racing back across the open.

"Come on, Halliday," he said. "I'll give you a hoist in. Where are you
hit?"

"Leg and arm," said Halliday briefly; and then, rather ungraciously,
"You're a fool to be out here; but I suppose now you're here, you might
as well give me a hand in."

But he spoke differently after Everton had given him a hand, had lifted
him and carried him, and so brought him back to the trench and lowered
him into waiting hands. His wounds were bandaged and, before he was
carried off, he spoke to Everton.

"Good-by, Toffee," he said and held out his left hand, "I owe you a
heap. And look here---" He hesitated a moment and then spoke in tones
so low that Everton had to bend over the stretcher to hear him. "My
leg's smashed bad, and I'm done for the Front and the old Hotwaters. I
wouldn't like it to get about--I don't want the others to think--to
know about me feeling--well, like I told you back there before the
charge."

Toffee grabbed the uninjured-hand hard. "You old frost!" he said gayly,
"there's no need to keep it up any longer now; but I don't mind telling
you, old man, you fairly hoaxed me that time, and actually I believed
what you were saying. 'Course, I know better now; but I'll punch the
head off any man that ever whispers a word against you."

Halliday looked at him queerly. "Good-by, Toffee," he said again, "and
thank ye."



ANTI-AIRCRAFT


"_Enemy airmen appearing over our lines have been turned hack or driven
off by shell fire."_--EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH.


Gardening is a hobby which does not exist under very favorable
conditions at the front, its greatest drawback being that when the
gardener's unit is moved from one place to another his garden cannot
accompany him. Its devotees appear to derive a certain amount of
satisfaction from the mere making of a garden, the laying-out and
digging and planting; but it can be imagined that the most enthusiastic
gardener would in time become discouraged by a long series of
beginnings without any endings to his labors, to a frequent sowing and
an entire absence of reaping.

There are, however, some units which, from the nature of their
business, are stationary in one place for months on end, and here the
gardener as a rule has an opportunity for the indulgence of his
pursuit. In clearing-hospitals, ammunition-parks, and Army Service
Corps supply points, there are, I believe, many such fixed abodes; but
the manners and customs of the inhabitants of such happy resting-places
are practically unknown to the men who live month in month out in a
narrow territory, bounded on the east by the forward firing line and on
the west by the line of the battery positions, or at farthest the
villages of the reserve billets. In any case these places are rather
outside the scope of tales dealing with what may be called the "Under
Fire Front," and it was this front which I had in mind when I said that
gardening did not receive much encouragement at the front. But during
the first spring of the War I know of at least one enthusiast who did
his utmost, metaphorically speaking, to beat his sword into a
plowshare, and to turn aside at every opportunity from the duty of
killing Germans to the pleasures of growing potatoes. He was a gunner
in the detachment of the Blue Marines, which ran a couple of armored
motor-cars carrying anti-aircraft guns.

It is one of the advantages of this branch of the air-war that when a
suitable position is fixed on for defense of any other position, the
detachment may stay there for some considerable time. There are other
advantages which will unfold themselves to those initiated in the ways
of the trench zone, although those outside of it may miss them; but
everyone will see that prolonged stays in the one position give the
gardener his opportunity. In this particular unit of the Blue Marines
was a gunner who intensely loved the potting and planting, the turning
over of yielding earth, the bedding-out and transplanting, the watering
and weeding and tending of a garden, possibly because the greater part
of his life had been lived at sea in touch with nothing more yielding
than a steel plate or a hard plank.

The gunner was known throughout the unit by no other name than Mary,
fittingly taken from the nursery rhyme which inquires, "Mary, Mary,
quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" The similarity between Mary
of the Blue Marines and Mary of the nursery rhyme ends, however, with
the first line, since Blue Marine Mary made no attempt to rear "silver
bells and cockle shells" (whatever they may be) all in a row. His whole
energies were devoted to the raising of much more practical things,
like lettuces, radishes, carrots, spring onions, and any other
vegetable which has the commendable reputation of arriving reasonably
early at maturity.

Twice that spring Mary's labors had been wasted because the section had
moved before the time was ripe from a gardener's point of view, and
although Mary strove to transplant his garden by uprooting the
vegetables, packing them away in a box in the motor, and planting them
out in the new position, the vegetables failed to survive the breaking
of their home ties, and languished and died in spite of Mary's tender
care. After the first failure he tried to lay out a portable garden,
enlisting the aid of "Chips" the carpenter in the manufacture of a
number of boxes, in which he placed earth and his new seedlings. This
attempt, however, failed even more disastrously than the first, the
O.C. having made a most unpleasant fuss on the discovery of two large
boxes of mustard and cress "cluttering up," as he called it, the
gun-mountings on one of the armored cars, and, when the section moved
suddenly in the dead of night, refusing point-blank to allow any
available space to be loaded up with Mary's budding garden. Mary's
plaintive inquiry as to what he was to do with the boxes was met by the
brutal order to "chuck the lot overboard," and the counter-inquiry as
to whether he thought this show was a perambulating botanical gardens.

So Mary lost his second garden complete, even unto the box of spring
onions which were the apple of his gardening eye. But he brisked up
when the new position was established and he learned through the
officer's servant that the selected spot was considered an excellent
one, and offered every prospect of being held by the section for a
considerable time. He selected a favorable spot and proceeded once more
to lay out a garden and to plant out a new lot of vegetables.

The section's new position was only some fifteen hundred yards from the
forward trench; but, being at the bottom of a gently sloping ridge
which ran between the position and the German lines, it was covered
from all except air observation. The two armored cars, containing guns,
were hidden away amongst the shattered ruins of a little hamlet; their
armor-plated bodies, already rendered as inconspicuous as possible by
erratic daubs of bright colors laid on after the most approved Futurist
style, were further hidden by untidy wisps of straw, a few casual
beams, and any other of the broken rubbish which had once been a
village. The men had their quarters in the cellars of one of the broken
houses, and the two officers inhabited the corner of a house with a
more or less remaining roof.

Mary's garden was in a sunny corner of what had been in happier days
the back garden of one of the cottages. The selection, as it turned
out, was not altogether a happy one, because the garden, when abandoned
by its former owner, had run to seed most liberally, and the whole of
its area appeared to be impregnated with a variety of those seeds which
give the most trouble to the new possessor of an old garden. Anyone
with the real gardening instinct appears to have no difficulty in
distinguishing between weeds and otherwise, even on their first
appearance in shape of a microscopic green shoot; but flowers are not
weeds, and Mary had a good deal of trouble to distinguish between the
self-planted growths of nasturtiums, foxgloves, marigolds,
forget-me-nots, and other flowers, and the more prosaic but useful
carrots and spring onions which Mary had introduced. Probably a good
many onions suffered the penalty of bad company, and were sacrificed in
the belief that they were flowers; but on the whole the new garden did
well, and began to show the trim rows of green shoots which afford such
joy to the gardening soul. The shoots grew rapidly, and as time passed
uneventfully and the section remained unmoved, the garden flourished
and the vegetables drew near to the day when they would be fit for
consumption.

Mary gloated over that garden; he went to a world of trouble with it,
he bent over it and weeded it for hours on end; he watered it
religiously every night, he even erected miniature forcing frames over
some of the vegetable rows, ransacking the remains of the broken-down
hamlet for squares of glass or for any pieces large enough for his
purpose. He built these cunningly with frameworks of wood and untwisted
strands of barbed wire, and there is no doubt they helped the growth of
his garden immensely.

Although they have not been torched upon, it must not be supposed that
Mary had no other duties. Despite our frequently announced "Supremacy
of the Air," the anti-aircraft guns were in action rather frequently.
The German aeroplanes in this part of the line appeared to ignore the
repeated assurances in our Press that the German 'plane invariably
makes off on the appearance of a British one; and although it is true
that in almost every case the German was "turned back," he very
frequently postponed the turning until he had sailed up and down the
line a few times and seen, it may be supposed, all that there was to
see.

At such times--and they happened as a rule at least once a day and
occasionally two, three, or four times a day--Mary had to run from his
gardening and help man the guns.

In the course of a month the section shot away many thousands of
shells, and, it is to be hoped, severely frightened many German pilots,
although at that time they could only claim to have brought down one
'plane, and that in a descent so far behind the German lines that its
fate was uncertain.

It must be admitted that the gunners on the whole made excellent
shooting, and if they did not destroy their target, or even make him
turn back, they fulfilled the almost equally useful object of making
him keep so high that he could do little useful observing. But the
short periods of time spent by the section in shooting were no more
than enough to add a pleasant flavor of sport to life, and on the
whole, since the weather was good and the German gunnery was not--or at
least not good enough to be troublesome to the section--life during
that month moved very pleasantly.

But at last there came a day when it looked as if some of the
inconveniences of war were due to arrive. The German aeroplane appeared
as usual one morning just after the section had completed breakfast.
The methodical regularity of hours kept by the German pilots added
considerably to the comfort and convenience of the section by allowing
them to time their hours of sleep, their meals, or an afternoon run by
the O.C. on the motor into the near-by town, so as to fit in nicely
with the duty of anti-aircraft guns.

On this morning at the usual hour the aeroplane appeared, and the
gunners, who were waiting in handy proximity to the cars, jumped to
their stations. The muzzles of the two-pounder pom-poms moved slowly
after their target, and when the range-indicator told that it was
within reach of their shells the first gun opened with a trial beltful.
"Bang--bang--bang--bang!" it shouted, a string of shells singing
and sighing on their way into silence. In a few seconds,
"Puff--puff--puff--puff!" four pretty little white balls broke out and
floated solid against the sky. They appeared well below their target,
and both the muzzles tilted a little and barked off another flight of
shells. This time they appeared to burst in beautiful proximity to the
racing aeroplane, and immediately the two-pounders opened a steady and
accurate bombardment. The shells were evidently dangerously close to
the 'plane, for it tilted sharply and commenced to climb steadily; but
it still held on its way over the British lines, and the course it was
taking it was evident would bring it almost directly over the Blue
Marines and their guns. The pom-poms continued their steady yap-yap,
jerking and springing between each, round, like eager terriers jumping
the length of their chain, recoiling and jumping, and yelping at every
jump. But although the shells were dead in line the range was too
great, and the guns slowed down their rate of fire, merely rapping off
an occasional few rounds to keep the observer at a respectful distance,
without an unnecessary waste of ammunition.

Arrived above them, the aeroplane banked steeply and swung round in a
complete circle.

"Dash his impudence," growled the captain. "Slap at him again, just for
luck." The only effect the resulting slap at him had, however, was to
show the 'plane pilot that he was well out of range and to bring him
spiraling steeply down a good thousand feet. This brought him within
reach of the shells again, and both guns opened rapidly, dotting the
sky thickly with beautiful white puffs of smoke, through which the
enemy sailed swiftly. Then suddenly another shape and color of smoke
appeared beneath him, and a red light burst from it flaring and
floating slowly downwards. Another followed, and then another, and the
'plane straightened out its course, swerved, and flashed swiftly off
down-wind, pursued to the limit of their range by the raving pom-poms.
"Which it seems to me," said the Blue Marine sergeant reflectively,
"that our Tauby had us spotted and was signaling his guns to call and
leave a card on us."

That afternoon showed some proof of the correctness of the sergeant's
supposition; a heavy shell soared over and dropped with a crash in an
open field some two hundred yards beyond the outermost house of the
hamlet. In five minutes another followed, and in the same field blew
out a hole about twenty yards from the first. A third made another hole
another twenty yards off, and a fourth again at the same interval.

When the performance ceased, the captain and his lieutenant held a
conference over the matter. "It looks as if we'd have to shift," said
the captain. "That fellow has got us marked down right enough."

"If he doesn't come any nearer," said the lieutenant, "we're all right.
We won't need to take cover when the shelling starts, and even if the
guns are shooting when the German is shelling, the armor-plate will
easily stand off splinters from that distance."

"Yes," said the captain. "But do you suppose our friend the Flighty Hun
won't have a peep at us to-morrow morning to see where those shells
landed? If he does, or if he takes a photograph, those holes will show
up like a chalk-mark on a blackboard; then he has only to tell his gun
to step this way a couple of hundred yards and we get it in the neck.
I'm inclined to think we'd better up anchor and away."

"We're pretty comfortable here, you know," urged the lieutenant, "and
it's a pity to get out. It might be that those shots were blind chance.
I vote for waiting another day, anyhow, and seeing what happens. At the
worst we can pack up and stand by with steam up; then if the shells
pitch too near we can slip the cable and run for it"

"Right-oh!" said the captain.

Next morning the enemy aeroplane appeared again at its appointed hour
and sailed overhead, leaving behind it a long wake of smoke-puffs; and
at the same hour in the afternoon as the previous shelling the German
gun opened fire, dropping its first shell neatly fifty yards further
from the shell-holes of the day before. The aeroplane, of course, had
reported, or its photograph had shown, the previous day's shells to
have dropped apparently fifty yards to the left of the hamlet. The gun
accordingly corrected its aim and opened fire on a spot fifty yards
more to the right. For hours it bombarded that suffering field
energetically, and at the end of that time, when they were satisfied
the shelling was over, the Blue Marines climbed from their cellar. Next
morning the aeroplane appeared again, and the Blue Marines allowed it
this time to approach unattacked. Convinced probably by this and the
appearance of the numerous shell-pits scattered round the gun position,
the aeroplane swooped lower to verify its observations. Unfortunately
another anti-aircraft gun a mile further along the line thought this
too good an opportunity to miss, and opened rapid fire. The 'plane
leaped upward and away, and the Blue Marines sped on its way with a
stream of following shells.

"If the Huns' minds work on the fixed and appointed path, one would
expect the same old field will get a strafing this afternoon," said the
captain afterwards. "The airman will have seen the village knocked
about, and if he knew that those last shells came from here he'll just
conclude that yesterday's shooting missed us, and the gunners will have
another whale at us this afternoon."

He was right; the gun had "another whale" at them, and again dug many
holes in the old field.

But next morning the Germans played a new and disconcerting game. The
aeroplane hovered high above and dropped a light, and a minute later
the Blue Marines heard a shrill whistle, that grew and changed to a
whoop, and ended with the same old crash in the same old field.

"Now," said the captain. "Stand by for trouble. That brute is spotting
for his gun."

The aeroplane dropped a light, turned, and circled round to the left.
Five minutes later another shell screamed over, and this time fell
crashing into the hamlet. The hit was palpable and unmistakable; a huge
dense cloud of smoke and mortar-, lime-, and red brick-dust leapt and
billowed and hung heavily over the village.

"This," said the captain rapidly, "is where we do the rabbit act. Get
to cover, all of you, and lie low."

They did the rabbit act, scuttling amongst the broken houses to the
shelter of their cellar and diving hastily into it. Another shell
arrived, shrieking wrathfully, smashed into another broken house, and
scattered its ruins in a whirlwind of flying fragments.

Now Mary, of course, was in the cellar with the rest, and Mary's garden
was in full view from the cellar entrance, and twenty or twenty-five
yards from it. The rest of the party were surprised to see Mary, as the
loud clatter of falling stones subsided, leap for the cellar steps, run
up them, and disappear out into the open. He was back in a couple of
minutes. "I just wondered," he said breathlessly, "if those blighters
had done any damage to my vegetables." When another shell came he
popped up again for another look, and this time he dodged back and said
many unprintable things until the next shell landed. He looked a little
relieved when he came back this time. "This one was farther away," he
said, "but that one afore dropped somebody's hearth-stone inside a
dozen paces from my onion bed." For the next half-hour the big shells
pounded the village, tearing the ruins apart, battering down the walls,
blasting huge holes in the road and between the houses, re-destroying
all that had already been destroyed, and completing the destruction of
some of the few parts that had hitherto escaped.

Between rounds Mary ran up and looked out. Once he rushed across to his
garden and came back cursing impotently, to report a shell fallen close
to the garden, his carefully erected forcing frames shattered to
splinters by the shock, and a hail of small stones and the ruins of an
iron stove dropped obliteratingly across his carrots.

"If only they'd left this crazy shooting for another week," said Mary,
"a whole lot of those things would have been ready for pulling up. The
onions is pretty near big enough to eat now, and I've half a mind to
pull some o' them before that cock-eyed Hun lands a shell in me garden
and blows it to glory."

Later he ran out, pulled an onion, a carrot, and a lettuce, brought
them back to the cellar, proudly passed them round, and anxiously
demanded an opinion as to whether they were ready for pulling, and
counsel as to whether he ought to strip his garden.

"Now look here!" said the sergeant at last; "you let your bloomin'
garden alone; I'm not going to have you running out there plucking
carrot and onion nosegays under fire. If a shell blows your garden
half-way through to Australia, I can't help it, and neither can you.
I'll be quite happy to split a dish of spuds with you if so be your
garden offers them up; but I'm not going to have you casualtied
rescuing your perishing radishes under fire. Nothing'll be said to me
if your garden is strafed off the earth; but there's a whole lot going
to be said if you are strafed along with it, and I have to report that
you had disobeyed orders and not kept under cover, and that I had
looked on while you broke ship and was blown to blazes with a boo-kay
of onions in your hand. So just you anchor down there till the owner
pipes to carry on."

Mary had no choice but to obey, and when at last the shelling was over
he rushed to the garden and examined it with anxious care. He was in a
more cheerful mood when he rejoined the others. "It ain't so bad," he
said. "Total casualties, half the carrots killed, the radish-bed
severely wounded (half a chimney-pot did that), and some o' the onions
slightly wounded by bits of gravel. But what do you reckon the owner's
going to do now? Has he given any orders yet?"

No orders had been given, but the betting amongst the Blue Marines was
about ninety-seven to one in favor of their moving. Sure enough, orders
were given to pack up and prepare to move as soon as it was dark, and
the captain went off with a working party to reconnoiter a new position
and prepare places for the cars. Mary was sent off in "the shore boat"
(otherwise the light runabout which carried them on duty or pleasure to
and from the ten-mile-distant town) with orders to draw the day's
rations, collect the day's mail, buy the day's papers, and return to
the village, being back not later than five o'clock.

It was made known that the position to which the captain contemplated
moving was one in a clump of trees within half a mile of the position
they were leaving. Mary was hugely satisfied. "That ain't half bad," he
said when he heard. "I can walk over and water the garden at night, and
pop across any time between the Tauby's usual promenade hours and do a
bit o' weeding, and just keep an eye on things generally. And inside a
week we're going to have carrots for dinner every day, _and_ spring
onions. Hey, my lads! what about bread and cheese and spring onions,
wot?"

He climbed aboard the run-about, drove out of the yard, and rattled off
down the road. He executed his commissions, and was sailing happily
back to the village, when about a mile short of it a sitting figure
rose from the roadside, stepped forward, and waved an arresting hand.
To his surprise, Mary saw that it was one of the Blue Marines.

"What's up?" he said, as the Marine came round to the side and
proceeded to step on board.

"Orders," said the Marine briefly. "I was looking out for you. Change
course and direction and steer for the new anchorage."

"The idea being wot!" asked Mary.

"We've been in action again," said the Marine gloomily. "Only two
shells this time, but they did more damage than all the rest put
together this morning."

"More damage?" gasped Mary. "Wot--wot have they damaged?"

The Marine ticked off the damages on his fingers one by one.

"Car hit, badly damaged, and down by the stern; gun out of
action--mounting smashed; the sergeant hit, piece of his starboard leg
carried away; and five men slightly wounded."

He dropped his hands, which Mary took as a sign that the tally was
finished. "Is that all?" he said, and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Strewth! I thought you was going to tell me that my garden had been
gott-straffed."



A FRAGMENT


This is not a story, it is rather a fragment, beginning where usually a
battle story ends, with a man being "casualtied," showing the principal
character only in a passive part--a very passive part--and ending, I am
afraid, with a lot of unsatisfactory loose ends ungathered up. I only
tell it because I fancy that at the back of it you may find some hint
of the spirit that has helped the British Army in many a tight corner.

Private Wally Ruthven was knocked out by the bursting of a couple of
bombs in his battalion's charge on the front line German trenches. Any
account of the charge need not be given here, except that it failed,
and the battalion making it, or what was left of them, beaten back.
Private Wally knew nothing of this, knew nothing of the renewed British
bombardment, the renewed British attack half a dozen hours later, and
again its renewed failure. All this time he was lying where the force
of the bomb's explosion had thrown him, in a hole blasted out of the
ground by a bursting shell. During all that time he was unconscious of
anything except pain, although certainly he had enough of that to keep
his mind very fully occupied. He was brought back to an agonizing
consciousness by the hurried grip of strong hands and a wrenching lift
that poured liquid flames of pain through every nerve in his mangled
body. To say that he was badly wounded hardly describes the case; an
R.A.M.C. orderly afterwards described his appearance with painful
picturesqueness as "raw meat on a butcher's block," and indeed it is
doubtful if the stretcher-bearers who lifted him from the shell-hole
would not rather have left him lying there and given their brief time
and badly needed services to a casualty more promising of recovery, if
they had seen at first Private Ruthven's serious condition. As it was,
one stretcher-bearer thought and said the man was dead, and was for
tipping him off the stretcher again. Ruthven heard that and opened his
eyes to look at the speaker, although at the moment it would not have
troubled him much if he had been tipped off again. But the other
stretcher-bearer said there was still life in him; and partly because
the ground about them was pattering with bullets, and the air about
them clamant and reverberating with the rush and roar of passing and
exploding shells and bombs, and that particular spot, therefore, no
place or time for argument; partly because stretcher-bearers have a
stubborn conviction and fundamental belief--which, by the way, has
saved many a life even against their own momentary judgment--that while
there is life there is hope, that a man "isn't dead till he's buried,"
and finally that a stretcher must always be brought in with a load, a
live one if possible, and the nearest thing to alive if not, they
brought him in.

The stretcher-bearers carried their burden into the front trench and
there attempted to set about the first bandaging of their casualty. The
job, however, was quite beyond them, but one of them succeeded in
finding a doctor, who in all the uproar of a desperate battle was
playing Mahomet to the mountain of such cases as could not come to him
in the field dressing station. The orderly requested the doctor to come
to the casualty, who was so badly wounded that "he near came to bits
when we lifted him." The doctor, who had several urgent cases within
arm's length of him as he worked at the moment, said that he would come
as soon as he could, and told the orderly in the meantime to go and
bandage any minor wounds his casualty might have. The bearer replied
that there were no minor wounds, that the man was "just nothing but one
big wound all over"; and as for bandaging, that he "might as well try
to do first aid on a pound of meat that had run through a mincing
machine." The doctor at last, hobbling painfully and leaning on the
stretcher-bearer--for he himself had been twice wounded, once in the
foot by a piece of shrapnel, and once through the tip of the shoulder
by a rifle bullet--came to Private Ruthven. He spent a good deal of
time and innumerable yards of bandages on him, so that when the
stretcher-bearers brought him into the dressing station there was
little but bandages to be seen of him. The stretcher-bearer delivered a
message from the doctor that there was very little hope, so that
Ruthven for the time being was merely given an injection of morphia and
put aside.

The approaches to the dressing station and the station itself were
under so severe a fire for some hours afterwards that it was impossible
for any ambulance to be brought near it. Such casualties as could walk
back walked, others were carried slowly and painfully to a point which
the ambulances had a fair sporting chance of reaching intact. One way
and another a good many hours passed before Ruthven's turn came to be
removed. The doctor who had bandaged him in the firing-line had by then
returned to the dressing station, mainly because his foot had become
too painful to allow him to use it at all. Merely as an aside, and
although it has nothing to do with Private Ruthven's case, it may be
worth mentioning that the same doctor, having cleaned, sterilized, and
bandaged his wounds, remained in the dressing station for another
twelve hours, doing such work as could be accomplished sitting in a
chair and with one sound and one unsound arm. He saw Private Ruthven
for a moment as he was being started on his journey to the ambulance;
he remembered the case, as indeed everyone who handled or saw that case
remembered it for many days, and, moved by professional interest and
some amazement that the man was still alive, he hobbled from his chair
to look at him. He found Private Ruthven returning his look; for the
passing of time and the excess of pain had by now overcome the effects
of the morphia injection. There was a hauntingly appealing look in the
eyes that looked up at him, and the doctor tried to answer the question
he imagined those eyes would have conveyed.

"I don't know, my boy," he said, "whether you'll pull through, but
we'll do the best we can for you. And now we have you here we'll have
you back in hospital in no time, and there you'll get every chance
there is."

He imagined the question remained in those eyes still unsatisfied, and
that Ruthven gave just the suggestion of a slow head-shake.

"Don't give up, my boy," he said briskly. "We might save you yet. Now
I'm going to take away the pain for you," and he called an orderly to
bring a hypodermic injection. While he was finding a place among the
bandages to make the injection, the orderly who was waiting spoke: "I
believe, sir, he's trying to ask something or say something."

It has to be told here that Private Ruthven could say nothing in the
terms of ordinary speech, and would never be able to do so again.
Without going into details it will be enough to say that the whole
lower part of--well, his face--was tightly bound about with bandages,
leaving little more than his nostrils, part of his cheeks, and his eyes
clear. He was frowning now and again, just shaking his head to denote a
negative, and his left hand, bound to the bigness of a football in
bandages, moved slowly in an endeavor to push aside the doctor's hands.

"It's all right, my lad," the doctor said soothingly. "I'm not going to
hurt you."

The frown cleared for an instant and the eloquent eyes appeared to
smile, as indeed the lad might well have smiled at the thought that
anyone could "hurt" such a bundle of pain. But although it appeared
quite evident that Ruthven did not want morphia, the doctor in his
wisdom decreed otherwise, and the jolting journey down the rough
shell-torn road, and the longer but smoother journey in the
sweetly-sprung motor ambulance, were accomplished in sleep.

When he wakened again to consciousness he lay for some time looking
about him, moving only his eyes and very slowly his head. He took in
the canvas walls and roof of the big hospital marquee, the
scarlet-blanketed beds, the flitting figures of a couple of
silent-footed Sisters, the screens about two of the beds; the little
clump of figures, doctor, orderlies, and Sister, stooped over another
bed. Presently he caught the eye of a Sister as she passed swiftly the
foot of his bed, and she, seeing the appealing look, the barely
perceptible upward twitch of his head that was all he could do to
beckon, stopped and turned, and moved quickly to his side. She smoothed
the pillow about his head and the sheets across his shoulders, and
spoke softly.

"I wonder if there is anything you want?" she said. "You can't tell me,
can you? just close your eyes a minute if there is anything I can do.
Shut them for yes--keep them open for no."

The eyes closed instantly, opened, and stared upward at her.

"Is it the pain?" she said. "Is it very dreadful?"

The eyes held steady and unflickering upon hers. She knew well that
there they did not speak truth, and that the pain must indeed be very
dreadful.

"We can stop the pain, you know," she said "Is that what you want?"

The steady unwinking eyes answered "No" again, and to add emphasis to
it the bandaged head shook slowly from side to side on the pillow.

The Sister was puzzled; she could find out what he wanted, of course,
she was confident of that; but it might take some time and many
questions, and time just then was something that she or no one else in
the big clearing hospital could find enough of for the work in their
hands. Even then urgent work was calling her; so she left him,
promising to come again as soon as she could.

She spoke to the doctor, and presently he came back with her to the
bedside. "It's marvelous," he said in a low tone to the Sister, "that
he has held on to life so long."

Private Ruthven's wounds had been dressed there on arrival, before he
woke out of the morphia sleep, and the doctor had seen and knew.

"There is nothing we can do for him," he said, "except morphia again,
to ease him out of his pain."

But again the boy, his brow wrinkling with the effort, attempted with
his bandaged hand to stay the needle in the doctor's fingers.

"I'm sure," said the Sister, "he doesn't want the morphia; he told me
so, didn't you?" appealing to the boy.

The eyes shut and gripped tight in an emphatic answer, and the Sister
explained their code.

"Listen!" she said gently. "The doctor will only give you enough to
make you sleep for two or three hours, and then I shall have time to
come and talk to you. Will that do!"

The unmoving eyes answered "No" again, and the doctor stood up.

"If he can bear it, Sister," he said, "we may as well leave him. I
can't understand it, though. I know how those wounds must hurt."

They left him then, and he lay for another couple of hours, his eyes
set on the canvas roof above his head, dropped for an instant to any
passing figure, lifting again to their fixed position. The eyes and the
mute appeal in them haunted the Sister, and half a dozen times, as she
moved about the beds, she flitted over to him, just to drop a word that
she had not forgotten and she was coming presently.

"You want me to talk to you, don't you?" she said. "There is something
you want me to find out?"

"Yes--yes--yes," said the quickly flickering eyelids.

The Sister read the label that was tied to him when he was brought in.
She asked questions round the ward of those who were able to answer
them, and sent an orderly to make inquiries in the other tents. He came
back presently and reported the finding of another man who belonged to
Ruthven's regiment and who knew him. So presently, when she was
relieved from duty--the first relief for thirty-six solid hours of
physical stress and heart-tearing strain--she went straight to the
other tent and questioned the man who knew Private Ruthven. He had a
hopelessly shattered arm, but appeared mightily content and amazingly
cheerful. He knew Wally, he said, was in the same platoon with him;
didn't know much about him except that he was a very decent sort; no,
knew nothing about his people or his home, although he remembered--yes,
there was a girl. Wally had shown him her photograph once, "and a real
ripper she is too." Didn't know if Wally was engaged to her, or
anything more about her, and certainly not her name.

The Sister went back to Wally. His wrinkled brow cleared at the sight
of her, but she could see that the eyes were sunk more deeply in his
head, that they were dulled, no doubt with his suffering.

"I'm going to ask you a lot of questions," she said, "and you'll just
close your eyes again if I speak of what you want to tell me. You do
want to tell me something, don't you?"

To her surprise, the "Yes" was not signaled back to her. She was
puzzled a moment. "You want to ask me something?" she said.

"Yes," the eyelids flicked back.

"Is it about a girl?" she asked. ("No.")

"Is it about money of any sort?" ("No.")

"Is it about your mother, or your people, or your home? Is it about
yourself?"

She had paused after each question and went on to the next, but seeing
no sign of answering "Yes" she was baffled for a moment. But she felt
that she could not go to her own bed to which she had been dismissed,
could not go to the sleep she so badly needed, until she had found and
answered the question in those pitiful eyes. She tried again.

"Is it about your regiment?" she asked, and the eyes snapped "Yes," and
"Yes," and "Yes" again. She puzzled over that, and then went back to
the doctor in charge of the other ward and brought back with her the
man who "knew Wally." Mentally she clapped her hands at the light that
leaped to the boy's eyes. She had told the man that it was something
about the regiment he wanted to know; told him, too, his method of
answering "Yes" and "No," and to put his questions in such, a form that
they could be so answered.

The friend advanced to the bedside with clumsy caution.

"Hello, Wally!" he said cheerfully. "They've pretty well chewed you up
and spit you out again, 'aven't they? But you're all right, old son,
you're going to pull through, 'cause the O.C. o' the Linseed
Lancers[Footnote: Medical Service.] here told me so. But Sister here
tells me you want to ask something about someone in the old crush." He
hesitated a moment. "I can't think who it would be," he confessed. "It
can't be his own chum, 'cause he 'stopped one,' and Wally saw it and
knew he was dead hours before. But look 'ere," he said determinedly,
"I'll go through the whole bloomin' regiment, from the O.C. down to the
cook, by name and one at a time, and you'll tip me a wink and stop me
at the right one. I'll start off with our own platoon first; that ought
to do it," he said to the Sister.

"Perhaps," she said quickly, "he wants to ask about one of his
officers. Is that it?" And she turned to him.

The eyes looked at her long and steadily, and then closed flutteringly
and hesitatingly.

"We're coming near it," she said, "although he didn't seem sure about
that 'Yes.'"

"Look 'ere," said the other, with a sudden inspiration, "there's no
good o' this 'Yes' and 'No' guessin' game; Wally and me was both in the
flag-wagging class, and we knows enough to--there you are." He broke
off in triumph and nodded to Wally's flickering eyelids, that danced
rapidly in the long and short of the Morse code.

"Y-e-s. Ac-ac-ac."[Footnote: Ac-ac-ac: three A's, denoting a full stop.
In "Signalese" similar-sounding letters are given names to avoid
confusion. A is Ac; T, Toe; D, Don; P, Pip; M, Emma, etc.]

"Yes," he said. "If you'll get a bit of paper, Sister, you can write
down the message while I spells it off. That's what you want, ain't it,
chum?"

The Sister took paper and pencil and wrote the letters one by one as
the code ticked them off and the reader called them to her.

"Ready. Begins!" Go on, Miss, write it down," as she hesitated.
"Don-I-Don--Did; W-E--we; Toc-ac-K-E--take; Toc-H-E--the;
Toc-R-E-N-C-H--trench; ac-ac-ac. Did we take the trench?"

The signaler being a very unimaginative man, possibly it might never
have occurred to him to lie, to have told anything but the blunt truth
that they did not take the trench; that the regiment had been cut to
pieces in the attempt to take it; that the further attempt of another
regiment on the same trench had been beaten back with horrible loss;
that the lines on both sides, when he was sent to the rear late at
night, were held exactly as they had been held before the attack; that
the whole result of the action was _nil_--except for the casualty list.
But he caught just in time the softly sighing whispered "Yes" from the
unmoving lips of the Sister, and he lied promptly and swiftly,
efficiently and at full length.

"Yes," he said. "We took it. I thought you knew that, and that you was
wounded the other side of it; we took it all right. Got a hammering of
course, but what was left of us cleared it with the bayonet. You should
'ave 'eard 'em squeal when the bayonet took 'em. There was one big
brute----"

He was proceeding with a cheerful imagination, colored by past
experiences, when the Sister stopped him. Wally's eyes were closed.

"I think," she said quietly, "that's all that Wally wants to know.
Isn't it, Wally?"

The lids lifted slowly and the Sister could have cried at the glory and
satisfaction that shone in them. They closed once softly, lifted
slowly, and closed again tiredly and gently. That is all. Wally died an
hour afterwards.



AN OPEN TOWN


_"Yesterday hostile artillery shelled the town of_ ---- _some miles
behind our lines, without military result. Several civilians were
killed_."--EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH.


Two officers were cashing checks in the Bank of France and chatting
with the cashier, who was telling them about a bombardment of the town
the day before. The bank had removed itself and its business to the
underground vaults, and the large room on the ground floor, with its
polished mahogany counters, brass grills and desks, loomed dim and
indistinct in the light which filtered past the sandbags piled outside.
The walls bore notices with a black hand pointing downwards to the
cellar steps, and the big room echoed eerily to the footsteps of
customers, who tramped across the tiled floor and disappeared
downstairs to the vaults.

"One shell," the cashier was saying, "fell close outside there," waving
a hand up the cellar steps. "_Bang! crash!_ we feel the building
shake--so." His hands left their task of counting notes, seized an
imaginary person by the lapels of an imaginary coat and shook him
violently.

"The noise, the great c-r-rash, the shoutings, the little squeals, and
then the peoples running, the glasses breaking--tinkle--tinkle--you
have seen the smoke, thick black smoke, and smelling--pah!"

He wrinkled his nose with disgust. "At first--for one second--I think
the bank is hit; but no, it is the street outside. Little stones--yes,
and splinters, through the windows; they come and hit all round,
inside--rap, rap, rap!" His darting hand played the splinters' part,
indicating with little pointing stabs the ceiling and the walls.
"Mademoiselle there, you see? yes! one little piece of shell," and he
held finger and thumb to illustrate an inch-long fragment.

The two officers looked at Mademoiselle, an exceedingly pretty young
girl, sitting composedly at a typewriter. There was a strip of plaster
marring the smooth cheek, and at the cashier's words she looked round
at the young officers, flashed them a cheerful smile, and returned to
her hammering on the key-board.

"My word, Mademoiselle," said one of the officers. "Near thing, eh? I
wonder you are not scared to carry on."

The girl turned a slightly puzzled glance on them.

"Monsieur means," explained the cashier friendlily to her, "is it that
you have no fear--_peur_, to continue the affairs?"

Mademoiselle smiled brightly and shook her head. "But no," she said
cheerfully, "it is nossings," and went back to her work.

"Jolly plucky girl, I think," said the officer. "Nearly as plucky as
she is pretty. I say, old man, my French isn't up to handling a
compliment like that; see if you can--"

He did not finish the sentence, for at that moment there was a faint
far-off _bang_, and they sensed rather than felt a faint quiver in the
solid earth beneath their feet. The cashier held up one hand and stood
with head turned sideways in an attitude of listening.

"You hear?" he said, arching his eyebrows.

"What was it?" said the officer. "Sounded like a door banging
upstairs."

"No, no," said the cashier. "They have commenced again. It is the same
hour as last time, and the time before."

Mademoiselle had stopped typing, and the ledger clerk at the desk
behind her had also ceased work and sat listening; but after a moment
Mademoiselle threw a little smile towards them--a half-pleased,
half-deprecating little smile, as of one who shows a visitor something
interesting, something one is glad to show, and then resumed her
clicking on the typewriter. The ledger clerk, too, went back to work,
and the cashier said off-handedly: "It is not near--the station
perhaps--yes!" as if the station were a few hundred miles off, instead
of a few hundred yards. He finished rapidly counting his bundle of
notes and handed them to the officer.

When the two emerged from the bank they found the street a good deal
quieter than when they had entered it. They walked along towards the
main square, noticing that some of the shopkeepers were calmly putting
up their shutters, while others quietly continued serving the few
customers who were hurriedly completing their purchases. As the two
walked along the narrow street they heard the thin savage whistle of an
approaching shell and a moment later a tremendous _bang_! They and
everybody else near them stopped and looked round, up and down the
street, and up over the roofs of the houses. They could see nothing,
and had turned to walk on when something crashed sharply on a roof
above them, bounced off, and fell with a rap on the cobble-stones in
the street. A child, an eager-faced youngster, ran from an arched
gateway and pounced on the little object, rose, and held up a piece of
stone, with intense annoyance and disgust plainly written on his face,
threw it from him with an exclamation of disappointment.

The two walked on chuckling. "Little bounder!" said one. "Thought he'd
got a souvenir; rather a sell for him--what?"

In the main square, they found a number of market women packing up
their little stalls and moving off, others debating volubly and looking
up at the sky, pointing in the direction of the last sound, and clearly
arguing with each other as to whether they should stay or move. A
couple of Army Transport wagons clattered across the square. One
driver, with the reins bunched up in his hand and the whip under his
arm, was busily engaged striking matches and trying to light a
cigarette; the other, allowing his horses to follow the first wagon,
and with his mouth open, gazed up into the sky as if he expected to see
the next shell coming. A few civilians scattered about the square were
walking briskly; a woman, clutching the arm of a little boy, ran,
dragging him, with his little legs going at a rapid trot. More
civilians, a few men in khaki, and some in French uniform, were
standing in archways or in shop-doors.

There was another long whistle, louder and harsher this time, and
followed by a splintering crash and rattle. The groups in the doorways
flicked out of sight; the people in the open half halted and turned to
hurry on, or in some cases, without looking round, ran hurriedly to
cover. Stones and little fragments of débris clacked down one by one,
and then in a little pattering shower on the stones of the square. The
last of the market women, hesitating no longer, hurriedly bundled up
their belongings and hastened off. The two officers turned into a café
with a wide front window, seated themselves near this at a little
marble table, and ordered beer. There were about a score of officers in
the room, talking or reading the English papers. All of them had very
clean and very close-shaven faces, and very dirty and weather-stained,
mud-marked clothes. For the most part they seemed a great deal more
interested in each other, in their conversations, and in their papers,
than in any notice of the bombardment. The two who were seated near the
window had a good view from it, and extracted plenty of interest from
watching the people outside.

Another shell whistled and roared down, burst with a deep angry bellow,
a clattering and rending and splintering sound of breaking stone and
wood. This time bigger fragments of stone, a shower of broken tiles and
slates rattled down into the square; a thick cloud of dirty black
smoke, gray and red tinged with mortar and brick-dust, appeared up
above the roofs on the other side of the square, spread slowly and
thickly, and hung long, dissolving very gradually and thinning off in
trailing wisps.

In the café there was silence for a moment, and many remarks about
"coming rather close" and "getting a bit unhealthy," and a jesting
inquiry of the proprietor as to the shelter available in the cellar
with the beer barrels. A few rose and moved over to the window; one or
two opened the door, to stand there and look round.

"Look at that old girl in the doorway across there," said one. "You
would think she was frightened she was going to get her best bonnet
wet."

The woman's motions had, in fact, a curious resemblance to those of one
who hesitated about venturing out in a heavy rainstorm. She stood in
the doorway and looked round, drew back and spoke to someone inside,
picked up a heavy basket, set it down, stepped into the door, glanced
carefully and calculatingly up at the sky and across the square in the
direction she meant to take, moved back again and picked up her basket,
set it firmly on her arm, stepped out and commenced to hobble at an
ungainly cumbersome trot across the square. She was no more than
half-way across when the shriek of another shell was heard approaching.
She stopped and cast a terrified glance about her, dumped the basket
down on the cobbles, and resumed the shambling trot at increased speed.
A soldier in khaki crossing the square also commenced to run for cover
as his ear caught the sound of the shell; passing near the woman's
basket, he stooped and grabbed it and doubled on with it after its
panting owner.

A group of soldiers standing in the archway shouted laughter and
encouragement, pretending they were watching a race, urging on the
runners.

"Go on, Khaki! go on!--two to one on the fat girl; two to one--I lay
the fie-ald." Their cries and clapping shut off, and they disappeared
like diving ducks as the shell roared down, struck with a horrible
crash one of the buildings in a side-street just off the square, burst
it open, and flung upward and outward a flash of blinding light, a
spurt of smoke, a torrent of flying bricks and broken stones. Through
the rattle and clatter of falling masonry and flying rubbish there
came, piercing and shrill, the sound of a woman's screams. They choked
off suddenly, and for some seconds there were no sounds but those of
falling fragments, jarring and hailing on the cobble-stones, of broken
glass crashing and tinkling from dozens of windows round the square.

As the noises of the explosion died away, figures crowded out anxiously
into the doorways again, and stood there and about the pavements,
looking round, pointing and gesticulating, and plainly prepared to run
back under cover at the first sign of warning. The half-dozen men who
had cheered the race across the square emerged from the archway, looked
around, and then set off running, keeping close under the shelter of
the houses, and disappearing into the thick smoke and dust that still
hung a thick and writhing curtain about the street-end in the corner of
the square.

The two officers who had sat at the café window looked at one another.

"You heard that squeal?" said one.

"Yes," said the other; "I think we might trot over. You knowing a
little bit about surgery might be useful."

"Oh, I dunno," said the first. "But, anyhow, let's go."

They paid their bill and went out, and as they crossed the square they
met a couple of the soldiers who had disappeared into the smoke. They
were moving at the double, but at a word from the officers they halted.
Both wore the Red Cross badge of the Army Medical Corps on their arms,
and one explained hurriedly that they were going for an ambulance, that
there was a woman killed, one man and a woman and two children badly
wounded. They ran on, and the two officers moved hastily towards the
shell-struck house. The smoke was clearing now, and it was possible to
see something of the damage that had been done.

The shell apparently had struck the roof, had ripped and torn it off,
burst downwards and outwards, blowing out the whole face of the upper
story, the connecting-wall and corner of the houses next to it, part of
the top-floor, and a jagged gap in the face of the lower story. The
street was piled with broken bricks and tiles, with splinters of stone,
with uprooted cobbles, with fragments and beams, bits of furniture,
ragged-edged planks, fragments of smoldering cloth. As the two walked,
their feet crunched on a layer of splintered glass and broken crockery.
The air they breathed reeked with a sharp chemical odor and the stench
of burning rags.

The R.A.M.C. men had collected the casualties, and were doing what they
could for them, and the officer who was "a bit of a surgeon" gave them
what help he could. The casualties were mangled cruelly, and one of
them, a child, died before the ambulance came.

The shells began to come fast now. One after another they poured in,
the last noise of their approach before they struck sounding like the
rush and roar of an express train passing through a tunnel. No more
fell near the square; but the two officers, returning across it, with
the terrifying rush of its projectiles in their ears, moved hastily and
puffed sighs of relief as they reached the door of the café again.

"I just about want a drink," said the one who was "a bit of a surgeon."
"Thank Heaven I didn't decide to go into the Medical. The more I see of
that job the less I like it."

The other shuddered. "How these surgeons do it at all," he said, "beats
me. I had to go outside when you started to handle that kiddie. Sorry I
couldn't stay to help you."

"It didn't matter," said the first. "Those Medical fellows did all I
wanted, and anyhow you were better employed giving a hand to stop that
building catching light."

The two had their drink and prepared to move again.

"Time we were off, I suppose," said the first. "Our lot must be getting
ready to take the road presently, and we ought to be there."

So they moved and dodged through the quiet streets, with the shells
still whooping overhead and bursting noisily in different parts of the
town. On their way they entered a shop to buy some slabs of chocolate.
The shop was empty when they entered, but a few stout raps on the
counter brought a woman, pale-faced but volubly chattering, up a ladder
and through a trapdoor in the shop-floor. She served them while the
shells still moaned overhead, talking rapidly, apologizing for keeping
them waiting, and explaining that for the children's sake she always
went down into the cellar when the shelling commenced, wishing them, as
they gathered up their parcels and left, "bonne chance," and making for
the trap-door and the ladder as they closed the shop-door.

About the main streets there were few signs of the shells' work, except
here and there a litter of fragments tossed over the roofs and sprayed
across the road. But, passing through a small side square, the two
officers saw something more of the effect of "direct hits." In the
square was parked a number of ambulance wagons, and over a building at
the side floated a huge Red Cross flag. Eight or nine shells had been
dropped in and around the square. Where they had fallen were huge round
holes, each with a scattered fringe of earth and cobble-stones and
broken pavement. The trees lining the square showed big white patches
on their trunks where the bark had been sliced by flying fragments,
branches broken, hanging and dangling, or holding out jagged white
stumps. Leaves and twigs and branches were littered about the square
and heaped thick under the trees. The brick walls of many of the houses
round were pitted and pocked and scarred by the shell fragments. The
face of one house was marked by a huge splash, with solid center and a
ragged-edged outline of radiating jerky rays, reminding one immediately
of a famous ink-maker's advertisement. The bricks had taken the
impression of the explosion's splash exactly as paper would take the
ink's. Practically every window in the square had been broken, and in
the case of the splash-marked house, blown in, sash and frame complete.
One ambulance wagon lay a torn and splintered wreck, and pieces of it
were flung wide to the four corners of the square. Another was
overturned, with broken wheels collapsed under it, and in the Red Cross
canvas tilts of others gaped huge tears and rents.

At one spot a pool of blood spread wide across the pavement, and still
dripping and running sluggishly and thickly into and along the stone
gutter, showed where at least one shell had caught more than brick and
stone and tree, although now the square was deserted and empty of life.

And even as the two hurriedly skirted the place another shell hurtled
over, tripped on the top edge of a roof across the square and exploded
with an appalling clatter and burst of noise. The roof vanished in a
whirlwind of smoke and dust, and the officers jumped from the doorway
where they had flung themselves crouching, and finished their passage
of the square at a run.

"Hottish corner," said one, as they slowed to a walk some distance
away.

"Silly fools," growled the other. "What do they want to hoist that huge
Red Cross flag up there for, where any airman can see it? Fairly asking
for it, I call it."

When they came to the outskirts of the town they found rather more
signs of life. People were hanging about their doorways and the shops,
fewer windows were shuttered, fewer faces peeped from the tiny grated
windows of the cellars. And up the center of the road, with lordly
calm, marched three Highlanders. The smooth swing of their kilts, their
even, unhurried step, the shoulders well back, and the elbows a shade
outturned, the bonnets cocked to a precisely same angle on the upheld
heads, all bespoke either an amazing ignorance of, or a bland
indifference to, the bombardment. Their march was stopped by a sentry,
who shouted to them and moved out from the pavement. Some sort of
argument was going on as the officers approached, and in passing they
heard the finish of it.

"You were pit there tae warn folk," a Highlander was saying. "Weel,
ye've dune that, so we'll awa on oor road. We're nae fonder o' shells
than y'are yersel. But we'd look bonnie, wouldn't we, t' be tellin' the
Cameron lads we promised to meet, that we were feared for a bit
shellin'...."

And after they had passed, the officers looked back and saw the three
Scots swinging their kilts and swaggering imperturbably on to the town,
and their meeting with the "Cameron lads."

There were no more shells, but that afternoon a Taube paid another of
its frequent visits and vigorously bombed the railway station again,
driving the inhabitants back once more to the inadequate shelter of
their cellars and basements. And yet, as the same two officers marched
with their battalion through the town towards the firing-line that
evening, they found the streets quite normally bustling and astir, and
there seemed to be no lack of light in the shops and houses and about
the streets. Here and there as they passed, children stood stiffly to
attention and gravely saluted the battalion, young women and old turned
to call a cheery "Bonne Chance" to the soldiers, to smile bravely and
wave farewells to them.

"Plucky bloomin' lot, ain't they, Bill?" said one man, and blew a kiss
to three girls waving from a window.

"I takes off my 'at to them," said his mate. "What wi' Jack Johnsons
and airyplane bombs, you might expec' the population to have emigrated
in a bunch. The Frenchmen is a plucky enough crowd, but the women--My
Lord."

"Airyplanes every other day," said the first man. "But I don't notice
any darkened streets and white-painted kerbs; and we don't 'ear the
inhabitants shrieking about protection from air raids, or 'Where's the
anti-aircraft guns?' or 'Who's responsible for air defense?' or 'A baa
the Government that don't a baa the air raids!' 'say la gerr,' says
they, and shrugs their shoulders, and leaves it go at that."

They were in a darker side-street now, and the glare of the burning
house shone red in the sky over the roof tops. "Somebody's 'appy 'ome
gone west," remarked one man, and a mouth-organ in the ranks answered,
with cheerful sarcasm, "Keep the Home Fires Burning!"



THE SIGNALERS


_"It is reported that_ ... "--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


The "it" and the "that" which were reported, and which the despatch
related in another three or four lines, concerned the position of a
forward line of battle, but have really nothing to do with this
account, which aims only at relating something of the method by which
"it was reported" and the men whose particular work was concerned only
with the report as a report, a string of words, a jumble of letters, a
huddle of Morse dots and dashes.

The Signaling Company in the forward lines was situated in a very damp
and very cold cellar of a half-destroyed house. In it were two or three
tables commandeered from upstairs or from some houses around. That one
was a rough deal kitchen table, and that another was of polished wood,
with beautiful inlaid work and artistic curved and carven legs, the
spoils of some drawing-room apparently, was a matter without the
faintest interest to the signalers who used them. To them a table was a
table, no more and no less, a thing to hold a litter of papers, message
forms, telephone gear, and a candle stuck in a bottle. If they had
stopped to consider the matter, and had been asked, they would probably
have given a dozen of the delicate inlaid tables for one of the rough
strong kitchen ones. There were three or four chairs about the place,
just as miscellaneous in their appearance as the tables. But beyond the
tables and chairs there was no furniture whatever, unless a scanty heap
of wet straw in one corner counts as furniture, which indeed it might
well do since it counted as a bed.

There were fully a dozen men in the room, most of them orderlies for
the carrying of messages to and from the telephonists. These men came
and went continually. Outside it had been raining hard for the greater
part of the day, and now, getting on towards midnight, the drizzle
still held and the trenches and fields about the signalers' quarters
were running wet, churned into a mass of gluey chalk-and-clay mud. The
orderlies coming in with messages were daubed thick with the wet mud
from boot-soles to shoulders, often with their puttees and knees and
thighs dripping and running water as if they had just waded through a
stream. Those who by the carrying of a message had just completed a
turn of duty, reported themselves, handed over a message perhaps,
slouched wearily over to the wall farthest from the door, dropped on
the stone floor, bundled up a pack or a haversack, or anything else
convenient for a pillow, lay down and spread a wet mackintosh over
them, wriggled and composed their bodies into the most comfortable, or
rather the least uncomfortable possible position, and in a few minutes
were dead asleep.

It was nothing to them that every now and again the house above them
shook and quivered to the shock of a heavy shell exploding somewhere on
the ground round the house, that the rattle of rifle fire dwindled away
at times to separate and scattered shots, brisked up again and rose to
a long roll, the devil's tattoo of the machine guns rattling through it
with exactly the sound a boy makes running a stick rapidly along a
railing. The bursting shells and scourging rifle fire, sweeping machine
guns, banging grenades and bombs were all affairs with which the
Signaling Company in the cellar had no connection. For the time being
the men in a row along the wall were as unconcerned in the progress of
the battle as if they were safely and comfortably asleep in London.
Presently any or all of them might be waked and sent out into the
flying death and dangers of the battlefield, but in the meantime their
immediate and only interest was in getting what sleep they could. Every
once in a while the signalers' sergeant would shout for a man, go
across to the line and rouse one of the sleepers; then the awakened man
would sit up and blink, rise and listen to his instructions, nod and
say, "Yes, Sergeant! All right, Sergeant!" when these were completed,
pouch his message, hitch his damp mackintosh about him and button it
close, drag heavily across the stone floor and vanish into the darkness
of the stone-staired passage.

His journey might be a long or a short one, he might only have to find
a company commander in the trenches one or two hundred yards away, he
might on the other hand have a several hours' long trudge ahead of him,
a bewildering way to pick through the darkness across a maze of fields
and a net-work of trenches, over and between the rubble heaps that
represented the remains of a village, along roads pitted with all sorts
of blind traps in the way of shell holes, strings of barbed wire,
overturned carts, broken branches of trees, flung stones and beams; and
always, whether his journey was a short one or a long, he would move in
an atmosphere of risk, with sudden death or searing pain passing him by
at every step, and waiting for him, as he well knew, at the next step
and the next and every other one to his journey's end.

Each man who took his instructions and pocketed his message and walked
up the cellar steps knew that he might never walk down them again, that
he might not take a dozen paces from them before the bullet found him.
He knew that its finding might come in black dark and in the middle of
an open field, that it might drop him there and leave him for the
stretcher-bearers to find some time, or for the burying party to lift
any time. Each man who carried out a message was aware that he might
never deliver it, that when some other hand did so, and the message was
being read, he might be past all messages, lying stark and cold in the
mud and filth with the rain beating on his gray unheeding face; or, on
the other hand, that he might be lying warm and comfortable in the
soothing ease of a bed in the hospital train, swaying gently and lulled
by the song of the flying wheels, the rock and roll of the long
compartment, swinging at top speed down the line to the base and the
hospital ship and home. An infinity of possibilities lay between the
two extremes. They were undoubtedly the two extremes: the death that
each man hoped to evade, the wound whose painful prospect held no
slightest terror but only rather the deep satisfaction of a task
performed, of an escape from death at the cheap price of a few days' or
weeks' pain, or even a crippled limb or a broken body.

A man forgot all these things when he came down the cellar steps and
crept to a corner to snatch what sleep he could, but remembered them
again only when he was wakened and sent out into their midst, and into
all the toils and terrors the others had passed, or were to go into or
even then were meeting.

The signalers at the instruments, the sergeants who gathered them in
and sent them forth, gave little or no thought to the orderlies. These
men were hardly more than shadows, things which brought them long
screeds to be translated to the tapping keys, hands which would stretch
into the candle-light and lift the messages that had just "buzzed" in
over their wires. The sergeant thought of them mostly as a list of
names to be ticked off one by one in a careful roster as each man did
his turn of duty, went out, or came back and reported in. And the man
who sent messages these men bore may never have given a thought to the
hands that would carry them, unless perhaps to wonder vaguely whether
the message could get through from so and so to such and such, from
this map square to that, and if the chance of the messages getting
through--the message you will note, not the messenger--seemed extra
doubtful, orders might be given to send it in duplicate or triplicate,
to double or treble the chances of its arriving.

The night wore on, the orderlies slept and woke, stumbled in and out;
the telephonists droned out in monotonous voices to the telephone, or
"buzzed" even more monotonous strings of longs and shorts on the
"buzzer." And in the open about them, and all unheeded by them, men
fought, and suffered wounds and died, or fought on in the scarce lesser
suffering of cold and wet and hunger.

In the signalers' room all the fluctuations of the fight were
translated from the pulsing fever, the human living tragedies and
heroisms, the violent hopes and fears and anxieties of the battle line,
to curt cold words, to scribbled letters on a message form. At times
these messages were almost meaningless to them, or at least their red
tragedy was unheeded. Their first thought when a message was handed in
for transmission, usually their first question when the signaler at the
other end called to take a message, was whether the message was a long
one or a short one. One telephonist was handed an urgent message to
send off, saying that bombs were running short in the forward line and
that further supplies were required at the earliest possible moment,
that the line was being severely bombed and unless they had the means
to reply must be driven out or destroyed. The signaler took that
message and sent it through; but his instrument was not working very
clearly, and he was a good deal more concerned and his mind was much
more fully taken up with the exasperating difficulty of making the
signaler at the other end catch word or letter correctly, than it was
with all the close packed volume of meaning it contained. It was not
that he did not understand the meaning; he himself had known a line
bombed out before now, the trenches rent and torn apart, the shattered
limbs and broken bodies of the defenders, the horrible ripping crash of
the bombs, the blinding flame, the numbing shock, the smoke and reek
and noise of the explosions; but though all these things were known to
him, the words "bombed out" meant no more now than nine letters of the
alphabet and the maddening stupidity of the man at the other end, who
would misunderstand the sound and meaning of "bombed" and had to have
it in time-consuming letter-by-letter spelling.

When he had sent that message, he took off and wrote down one or two
others from the signaling station he was in touch with. His own
station, it will be remembered, was close up to the forward firing
line, a new firing line which marked the limits of the advance made
that morning. The station he was connected with was back in rear of
what, previous to the attack, had been the British forward line.
Between the two the thin insignificant thread of the telephone wire ran
twisting across the jumble of the trenches of our old firing line, the
neutral ground that had lain between the trenches, and the other maze
of trench, dug-out, and bomb-proof shelter pits that had been captured
from the enemy. Then in the middle of sending a message, the wire went
dead, gave no answer to repeated calls on the "buzzer." The sergeant,
called to consultation, helped to overlook and examine the instrument.
Nothing could be found wrong with it, but to make quite sure the fault
was not there, a spare instrument was coupled on to a short length of
wire between it and the old one. They carried the message perfectly, so
with curses of angry disgust the wire was pronounced disconnected, or
"disc," as the signaler called it.

This meant that a man or men had to be sent out along the line to find
and repair the break, and that until this was done, no telephone
message could pass between that portion of the forward line and the
headquarters in the rear. The situation was the more serious, inasmuch
as this was the only connecting line for a considerable distance along
the new front. A corporal and two men took a spare instrument and a
coil of wire, and set out on their dangerous journey.

The break of course had been reported to the O.C., and after that there
was nothing more for the signaler at the dead instrument to do, except
to listen for the buzz that would come back from the repair party as
they progressed along the line, tapping in occasionally to make sure
that they still had connection with the forward station, their getting
no reply at the same time from the rear station being of course
sufficient proof that they had not passed the break.

Twice the signaler got a message, the second one being from the forward
side of the old neutral ground in what had been the German front line
trench; the report said also that fairly heavy fire was being
maintained on the open ground. After that there was silence.

When the signaler had time to look about him, to light a cigarette and
to listen to the uproar of battle that filtered down the cellar steps
and through the closed door, he spoke to the sergeant about the noise,
and the sergeant agreed with him that it was getting louder, which
meant either that the fight was getting hotter or coming closer. The
answer to their doubts came swiftly to their hands in the shape of a
note from the O.C., with a message borne by the orderly that it was to
be sent through anyhow or somehow, but at once.

Now the O.C., be it noted, had already had a report that the telephone
wire was cut; but he still scribbled his note, sent his message, and
thereafter put the matter out of his mind. He did not know how or in
what fashion the message would be sent; but he did know the Signaling
Company, and that was sufficient for him.

In this he was doing nothing out of the usual. There are many
commanders who do the same thing, and this, if you read it aright, is a
compliment to the signaling companies beyond all the praise of General
Orders or the sweet flattery of the G.O.C. despatch--the men who sent
the messages put them out of their mind as soon as they were written
and handed to an orderly with a curt order, "Signaling company to send
that."

You at home who slip a letter into the pillar box, consider it,
allowing due time for its journey, as good as delivered at the other
end; by so doing you pay an unconscious compliment to all manners and
grades of men, from high salaried managers down to humble porters and
postmen. But the somewhat similar compliment that is paid by the men
who send messages across the battlefield is paid in the bulk to one
little select circle; to the animal brawn and blood, the spiritual
courage and devotion, the bodies and brains, the pluck and
perseverance, the endurance, the grit and the determination of the
signaling companies.

When the sergeant took his message and glanced through it, he pursed
his lips in a low whistle and asked the signaler to copy while he went
and roused three messengers. His quick glance through the note had told
him, even without the O.C.'s message, that it was to the last degree
urgent that the message should go back and be delivered at once and
without fail; therefore he sent three messengers, simply because three
men trebled the chances of the message getting through without delay.
If one man dropped, there were two to go on; if two fell, the third
would still carry on; if he fell--well, after that the matter was
beyond the sergeant's handling; he must leave it to the messenger to
find another man or means to carry on the message.

The telephonist had scribbled a copy of the note to keep by him in case
the wire was mended and the message could be sent through after the
messengers started and before they reached the other end. The three
received their instructions, drew their wet coats about their shivering
shoulders, relieved their feelings in a few growled sentences about the
dog's life a man led in that company, and departed into the wet night.

The sergeant came back, re-read the message and discussed it with the
signaler. It said: "Heavy attack is developing and being pressed
strongly on our center a-a-a.[Footnote: Three a's indicate a full
stop.] Our losses have been heavy and line is considerably weakened
a-a-a. Will hold on here to the last but urgently request that strong
reinforcements be sent up if the line is to be maintained a-a-a.
Additional artillery support would be useful a-a-a."

"Sounds healthy, don't it?" said the sergeant reflectively. The
signaler nodded gloomily and listened apprehensively to the growing
sounds of battle. Now that his mind was free from first thoughts of
telephonic worries, he had time to consider outside matters. For nearly
ten minutes the two men listened, and talked in short sentences, and
listened again. The rattle of rifle fire was sustained and unbroken,
and punctuated liberally at short intervals by the boom of exploding
grenades and bombs. Decidedly the whole action was heavier--or coming
back closer to them.

The sergeant was moving across the door to open it and listen when a
shell struck the house above them. The building shook violently, down
to the very flags of the stone floor; from overhead, after the first
crash, there came a rumble of falling masonry, the splintering cracks
of breaking wood-work, the clatter and rattle of cascading bricks and
tiles. A shower of plaster grit fell from the cellar roof and settled
thick upon the papers littered over the table. The sergeant halted
abruptly with his hand on the cellar door, three or four of the
sleepers stirred restlessly, one woke for a minute sufficiently to
grumble curses and ask "what the blank was that"; the rest slept on
serene and undisturbed. The sergeant stood there until the last sounds
of falling rubbish had ceased. "A shell," he said, and drew a deep
breath. "Plunk into upstairs somewhere."

The signaler made no answer. He was quite busy at the moment
rearranging his disturbed papers and blowing the dust and grit off
them.

A telephonist at another table commenced to take and write down a
message. It came from the forward trench on the left, and merely said
briefly that the attack on the center was spreading to them and that
they were holding it with some difficulty. The message was sent up to
the O.C. "Whoever the O.C. may be," as the sergeant said softly. "If
the Colonel was upstairs when that shell hit, there's another O.C. now,
most like." But the Colonel had escaped that shell and sent a message
back to the left trench to hang on, and that he had asked for
reënforcements.

"He did ask," said the sergeant grimly, "but when he's going to get 'em
is a different pair o' shoes. It'll take those messengers most of an
hour to get there, even if they dodge all the lead on the way."

As the minutes passed, it became more and more plain that the need for
reënforcements was growing more and more urgent. The sergeant was
standing now at the open door of the cellar, and the noise of the
conflict swept down and clamored and beat about them.

"Think I'll just slip up and have a look round," said the sergeant. "I
shan't be long."

When he had gone, the signaler rose and closed the door; it was cold
enough, as he very sensibly argued, and his being able to hear the
fighting better would do nothing to affect its issue. Just after came
another call on his instrument, and the repair party told him they had
crossed the neutral ground, had one man wounded in the arm, that he was
going on with them, and they were still following up the wire. The
message ceased, and the telephonist, leaning his elbows on the table
and his chin on his hands, was almost asleep before he realized it. He
wakened with a jerk, lit another cigarette, and stamped up and down the
room trying to warm his numbed feet.

First one orderly and then another brought in messages to be sent to
the other trenches, and the signaler held them a minute and gathered
some more particulars as to how the fight was progressing up there. The
particulars were not encouraging. We must have lost a lot of men, since
the whole place was clotted up with casualties that kept coming in
quicker than the stretcher-bearers could move them. The rifle-fire was
hot, the bombing was still hotter, and the shelling was perhaps the
hottest and most horrible of all. Of the last the signaler hardly
required an account; the growling thumps of heavy shells exploding,
kept sending little shivers down the cellar walls, the shiver being,
oddly enough, more emphatic when the wail of the falling shell ended in
a muffled thump that proclaimed the missile "blind" or "a dud." Another
hurried messenger plunged down the steps with a note written by the
adjutant to say the colonel was severely wounded and had sent for the
second in command to take over. Ten more dragging minutes passed, and
now the separate little shivers and thrills that shook the cellar walls
had merged and run together. The rolling crash of the falling shells
and the bursting of bombs came close and fast one upon another, and at
intervals the terrific detonation of an aerial torpedo dwarfed for the
moment all the other sounds.

By now the noise was so great that even the sleepers began to stir, and
one or two of them to wake. One sat up and asked the telephonist,
sitting idle over his instrument, what was happening. He was told
briefly, and told also that the line was "disc." He expressed
considerable annoyance at this, grumbling that he knew what it
meant--more trips in the mud and under fire to take the messages the
wire should have carried.

"Do you think there's any chance of them pushing in the line and
rushing this house?" he asked. The telephonist didn't know. "Well,"
said the man and lay down again. "It's none o' my dashed business if
they do anyway. I only hope we're tipped the wink in time to shunt out
o' here; I've no particular fancy for sitting in a cellar with the
Boche cock-shying their bombs down the steps at me." Then he shut his
eyes and went to sleep again.

The morsed key signal for his own company buzzed rapidly on the
signaler's telephone and he caught the voice of the corporal who had
taken out the repair party. They had found the break, the corporal
said, and were mending it. He should be through--he was through--could
he hear the other end? The signaler could hear the other end calling
him and he promptly tapped off the answering signal and spoke into his
instrument. He could hear the morse signals on the buzzer plain enough,
but the voice was faint and indistinct. The signaler caught the
corporal before he withdrew his tap-in and implored him to search along
and find the leakage.

"It's bad enough," he said, "to get all these messages through by
voice. I haven't a dog's chance of doing it if I have to buzz each
one."

The rear station spoke again and informed him that he had several
urgent messages waiting. The forward signaler replied that he also had
several messages, and one in particular was urgent above all others.

"The blanky line is being pushed in," he said. "No, it isn't pushed in
yet--I didn't say it--I said being pushed in--being--being, looks like
it will be pushed in--got that? The O.C. has' stopped one' and the
second has taken command. This message I want you to take is shrieking
for reënforcements--what? I can't hear--no I didn't say anything about
horses--I did _not_. Reënforcements I said; anyhow, take this message
and get it through quick."

He was interrupted by another terrific crash, a fresh and louder
outburst of the din outside; running footsteps clattered and leaped
down the stairs, the door flung open and the sergeant rushed in
slamming the door violently behind him. He ran straight across to the
recumbent figures and began violently to shake and kick them into
wakefulness.

"Up with ye!" he said, "every man. If you don't wake quick now, you'll
maybe not have the chance to wake at all."

The men rolled over and sat and stood up blinking stupidly at him and
listening in amazement to the noise outside.

"Rouse yourselves," he cried. "Get a move on. The Germans are almost on
top of us. The front line's falling back. They'll stand here." He
seized one or two of them and pushed them towards the door. "You," he
said, "and you and you, get outside and round the back there. See if
you can get a pickaxe, a trenching tool, anything, and break down that
grating and knock a bigger hole in the window. We may have to crawl out
there presently. The rest o' ye come with me an' help block up the
door."

Through the din that followed, the telephonist fought to get his
message through; he had to give up an attempt to speak it while a
hatchet, a crowbar, and a pickaxe were noisily at work breaking out a
fresh exit from the back of the cellar, and even after that work had
been completed, it was difficult to make himself heard. He completed
the urgent message for reënforcements at last, listened to some
confused and confusing comments upon it, and then made ready to take
some messages from the other end.

"You'll have to shout," he said, "no, shout--speak loud, because I
can't 'ardly 'ear myself think--no, 'ear myself think. Oh, all sorts,
but the shelling is the worst, and one o' them beastly airyale
torpedoes. All right, go ahead."

The earpiece receiver strapped tightly over one ear, left his right
hand free to use a pencil, and as he took the spoken message word by
word, he wrote it on the pad of message forms under his hand. Under the
circumstances it is hardly surprising that the message took a good deal
longer than a normal time to send through, and while he was taking it,
the signaler's mind was altogether too occupied to pay any attention to
the progress of events above and around him. But now the sergeant came
back and warned him that he had better get his things ready and put
together as far as he could, in case they had to make a quick and
sudden move.

"The game's up, I'm afraid," he said gloomily, and took a note that was
brought down by another orderly. "I thought so," he commented, as he
read it hastily and passed it to the other signaler. "It's a message
warning the right and left flanks that we can't hold the center any
longer, and that they are to commence falling back to conform to our
retirement at 3.20 _ac emma_, which is ten minutes from now."

Over their heads the signalers could hear tramping scurrying feet, the
hammering out of loopholes, the dragging thump and flinging down of
obstacles piled up as an additional defense to the rickety walls. Then
there were more hurrying footsteps, and presently the jarring
_rap-rap-rap_ of a machine gun immediately over their heads.

"That's done it!" said the sergeant. "We've got no orders to move, but
I'm going to chance it and establish an alternative signaling station
in one of the trenches somewhere behind here. This cellar roof is too
thin to stop an ordinary Fizzbang, much less a good solid Crump, and
that machine gun upstairs is a certain invitation to sudden death and
the German gunners to down and out us."

He moved towards the new opening that had been made in the wall of the
cellar, scrambled up it and disappeared. All the signalers lifted their
attention from their instruments at the same moment and sat listening
to the fresh note that ran through the renewed and louder clamor and
racket. The signaler who was in touch with the rear station called them
and began to tell them what was happening.

"We're about all in, I b'lieve," he said. "Five minutes ago we passed
word to the flanks to fall back in ten minutes. What? Yes, it's thick.
I don't know how many men we've lost hanging on, and I suppose we'll
lose as many again taking back the trench we're to give up. What's
that? No. I don't see how reënforcements could be here yet. How long
ago you say you passed orders for them to move up? An hour ago! That's
wrong, because the messengers can't have been back--telephone message?
That's a lot less than an hour ago. I sent it myself no more than half
an hour since. Oo-oo! did you get that bump? Dunno, couple o' big
shells or something dropped just outside. I can 'ardly 'ear you.
There's a most almighty row going on all round. They must be charging,
I think, or our front line's fallen back, because the rifles is going
nineteen to the dozen, a-a-ah! They're getting stronger too, and it
sounds like a lot more bombs going; hold on, there's that blighting
maxim again."

He stopped speaking while upstairs the maxim clattered off belt after
belt of cartridges. The other signalers were shuffling their feet
anxiously and looking about them.

"Are we going to stick it here?" said one. "Didn't the sergeant say
something about 'opping it?"

"If he did," said the other, "he hasn't given any orders that I've
heard. I suppose he'll come back and do that, and we've just got to
carry on till then."

The men had to shout now to make themselves heard to each other above
the constant clatter of the maxim and the roar of rifle fire. By now
they could hear, too, shouts and cries and the trampling rush of many
footsteps. The signaler spoke into his instrument again.

"I think the line's fallen back," he said. "I can hear a heap o' men
running about there outside, and now I suppose us here is about due to
get it in the neck."

There was a scuffle, a rush, and a plunge, and the sergeant shot down
through the rear opening and out into the cellar.

"The flank trenches!" he shouted. "Quick! Get on to them--right and
left flank--tell them they're to stand fast. Quick, now, give them that
first. Stand fast; do not retire."

The signalers leaped to their instruments, buzzed off the call, and
getting through, rattled their messages off.

"Ask them," said the sergeant anxiously. "Had they commenced to
retire." He breathed a sigh of relief when the answers came. "No," that
the message had just stopped them in time.

"Then," he said, "you can go ahead now and tell them the order to
retire is cancelled, that the reënforcements have arrived, that they're
up in our forward line, and we can hold it good--oh!"

He paused and wiped his wet forehead; "you," he said, turning to the
other signaler, "tell them behind there the same thing."

"How in thunder did they manage it, sergeant?" said the perplexed
signaler. "They haven't had time since they got my message through."

"No," said the sergeant, "but they've just had time since they got
mine."

"Got yours?" said the bewildered signaler.

"Yes, didn't I tell you?" said the sergeant. "When I went out for a
look round that time, I found an artillery signaler laying out a new
line, and I got him to let me tap in and send a message through his
battery to headquarters."

"You might have told me," said the aggrieved signaler. "It would have
saved me a heap of sweat getting that message through." After he had
finished his message to the rear station he spoke reflectively: "Lucky
thing you did get through," he said. "'Twas a pretty close shave. The
O.C. should have a 'thank you' for you over it."

"I don't suppose," answered the sergeant, "the O.C. will ever know or
ever trouble about it; he sent a message to the signaling company to
send through--and it was sent through. There's the beginning and the
end of it."

And as he said, so it was; or rather the end of it was in those three
words that appeared later in the despatch: "It is reported."



CONSCRIPT COURAGE


You must know plenty of people--if you yourself are not one of
them--who hold out stoutly against any military compulsion or
conscription in the belief that the "fetched" man can never be the
equal in valor and fighting instinct of the volunteer, can only be a
source of weakness in any platoon, company and regiment. This tale may
throw a new light on that argument.

Gerald Bunthrop was not a conscript in the strict sense of the word,
because when he enlisted no legal form of conscription existed in the
United Kingdom; but he was, as many more have been, a moral conscript,
a man utterly averse to any form of soldiering, much less fighting,
very reluctantly driven into the Army by force of circumstance and
pressure from without himself. Before the War the Army and its ways
were to him a sealed book. Of war he had the haziest ideas compounded
of novels he had read and dimly remembered and mental pictures in a
confused jumble of Charles O'Malley dragoons on spirited charges,
half-forgotten illustrations in the papers of pith-helmeted infantry in
the Boer War, faint boyhood recollections of Magersfontein and the
glumness of the "Black Week"--a much more realistic and vivid
impression of Waterloo as described by Brigadier Gerard--and odd
figures of black Soudanese, of Light Brigade troopers, of Peninsula
red-coats, of Sepoys and bonneted Highlanders in the Mutiny period, and
of Life Guard sentries at Whitehall, lines of fixed bayonets on City
procession routes, and khaki-clad Terriers seen about railway stations
and on bus-tops with incongruous rifles on Saturday afternoons.
Actually, it is not correct to include these living figures in his
vague idea of war. They had to him no connection with anything outside
normal peaceful life, stirred his thoughts to war no more than seeing a
gasbracket would wake him to imaginings of a coalmine or a pit
explosion. His slight conceptions of war, then, were a mere matter of
print and books and pictures, and the first months of this present war
were exactly the same, no more and no less--newspaper paragraphs and
photos and drawings in the weeklies hanging on the bookstalls. He read
about the Retreat and the Advance, skimmed the prophets' forecasts,
gulped the communiques with interest a good deal fainter than he read
the accounts of the football matches or a boxing bout. He expected "our
side" to win of course, and was quite patriotic; was in fact a
"supporter" of the British Army in exactly the sense of being a
"supporter" or "follower" of Tottenham Hotspurs or Kent County. Any
thoughts that he might shoulder a rifle and fight Germans would at that
time, if it had entered his head, have seemed just as ridiculous as a
thought that he should play in the Final at the Crystal Palace or step
into the ring to fight Carpentier. It took a long time to move him from
this attitude of aloofness. Recruiting posters failed utterly to touch
him. He looked at them, criticized them, even discussed their
"goodness" or drawing power on recruits with complete detachment and
without the vaguest idea that they were addressed to him. He bought
Allies' flag-buttons, and subscribed with his fellow-employees to a Red
Cross Fund, and joined them again in sending some sixpences to a
newspaper Smokes Gift Fund; he always most scrupulously stood up and
uncovered to "God Save the King," and clapped and encored vociferously
any patriotic songs or sentiments from the stage. He thought he was
doing his full duty as a loyal Briton, and even--this was when he
promised a regular sixpence a week to the Smokes Fund--going perhaps a
little beyond it. First hints and suggestions that he should enlist he
treated as an excellent jest, and when at last they became too frequent
and pointed for that, and began to come from complete strangers, he
became justly indignant at such "impudence" and "interference," and
began long explainings to people he knew, that he wasn't the one to be
bullied into anything, that fighting wasn't "his line," that he "had no
liking for soldiering," that he would have gone like a shot, but had
his own good and adequate reasons for not doing so.

There is no need to tell of the stages by which he arrived at the
conclusion that he must enlist: from the first dawning wonder at such a
possibility, through qualms of doubt and fear and spasms of hope
and--almost--courage, to a dull apathy of resignation. No need to tell
either the particular circumstances that "conscripted" him at last,
because although his name is not real the man himself is, and one has
no wish to bring shame on him or his people. I have only described him
so closely to make it very clear that he was driven to enlistment, that
a less promising recruit never joined up, that he was a conscript in
every real sense of the word. We can pass over all his training, his
introduction to the life of the trenches, his feelings of terror under
conditions as little dangerous as the trenches could be. He managed,
more or less, to hide this terror, as many a worse and many a better
man has done before him, until one day----

The Germans had made a fierce attack, had overborne a section of the
defense and taken a good deal of trenched ground, had been
counter-attacked and partly driven back, had scourged the lost parts
with a fresh tempest of artillery fire and driven in again to close
quarters, to hot bomb and bayonet work; were again checked and for the
moment held.

Private Gerald Bunthrop's battalion had been hurried up to support the
broken and breaking line, was thrust into a badly wrecked trench with
crumbling sides and broken traverses, with many dead and wounded
cumbering the feet of the few defenders, with a reek of high-explosive
fumes catching their throats and nostrils. The open ground beyond the
trench was scattered thick with great heaps of German dead, a few more
sprawled on the broken parapet, another and lesser few were huddled in
the trench itself amongst the many khaki forms. The battalion holding
the trench had been almost annihilated in the task, had in fact at
first been driven out from part of the line and had only reoccupied it
with heavy losses. Bunthrop had with his battalion passed along some
smashed communication trenches and over the open ground this fighting
had covered, and the sights they saw in passing might easily have
shaken the stoutest hearts and nerves. They made the approach, too,
under a destructive fire with high-explosive shells screaming and
crashing over, around, and amongst them, with bullets whistling and
hissing about them and striking the ground with the sound of constantly
exploding Chinese crackers.

Bunthrop himself, to state the fact baldly, was in an agony of fear. He
might have been tempted to bolt, but was restrained by a complete lack
of any idea where to bolt to, by a lingering remnant of self-respect,
and by a firm conviction that he would be dealt with mercilessly if he
openly ran. But when he reached the comparative shelter of the broken
trench all these safeguards of his decent behavior vanished. He flung
himself into the trench, cowered in its deepest part, made not the
slightest attempt to look over the parapet, much less to use his rifle.
There is this much of excuse for him, that on the very instant that
they reached the cover of the trench a bursting high-explosive had
caught the four men next in line to him. The excuse may be insufficient
for those who have never witnessed at very close hand the instant and
terrible destruction of four companions with whom they have eaten and
slept and talked and moved and had their intimate being for many
months; but those who have known such happenings will understand.
Bunthrop's sergeant understood, and because he was a good sergeant and
had the instinct for the right handling of men--it must have been an
instinct, because, up to a year before, he had been ledger clerk in a
City office and had handled nothing more alive than columns of figures
in a book--he issued exactly the order that appealed exactly to
Bunthrop's terror and roused him from a shivering embodiment of fear to
a live thinking and order-obeying private. "Get up and sling some of
those sandbags back on the parapet, Bunthrop!" he said, "and see if you
can't make some decent cover for yourself. You've nothing there that
would stop a half-crippled Hun jumping in on top of you." When he came
back along the trench five minutes later he found Bunthrop feverishly
busy re-piling sandbags and strengthening the parapet, ducking hastily
and crouching low when a shell roared past overhead, but hurriedly
resuming work the instant it had passed. Then came the fresh German
attack, preceded by five minutes' intense artillery fire, concentrated
on the half-wrecked trench. The inferno of noise, the rush and roar of
the approaching shells, the crash and earth-shaking thunder of their
explosions, the ear-splitting cracks overhead of high-explosive
shrapnel, the drone and whirr and thump of their flying fragments--the
whole racking, roaring, deafening, sense-destroying tempest of noise
was too much for Bunthrop's nerve. He flung down and flattened himself
to the trench bottom again, squeezing himself close to the earth,
submerged and drowned in a sweeping wave of panic fear. He gave no heed
to the orders of his platoon commander, the shouting of his sergeant,
the stir that ran along the trench, the flat spitting reports of the
rifles that began to crack rapidly in a swiftly increasing volume of
fire. A huge fragment of shell came down and struck the trench bottom
with a suggestively violent thud a foot from his head. Half sick with
the instant thought, "If it had been a foot this way!..." half crazed
with the sense of openness to such a missile, Bunthrop rose to his
knees, pressing close to the forward parapet, and looking wildly about
him. His sergeant saw him. "You, Bunthrop," he shouted, "are you hit?
Get up, you fool, and shoot! If we can't stop 'em before they reach
here we're done in." Bunthrop hardly heeded him. Along the trench the
men were shooting at top speed over the parapet; a dozen paces away two
of the battalion machine-guns were clattering and racketing in rapid
gusts of fire; a little farther along a third one had jambed and was
being jerked and hammered at by a couple of sweating men and a wildly
cursing boy officer. So much Bunthrop saw, and then with a hideous
screeching roar a high explosive fell and burst in a shattering crash,
a spouting hurricane of noise and smoke and flung earth and fragments.
Bunthrop found himself half buried in a landslide of crumbling trench,
struggled desperately clear, gasping and choking in the black cloud of
smoke and fumes, saw presently, as the smoke thinned and dissolved, a
chaos of broken earth and sandbags where the machine-guns had stood;
saw one man and an officer dragging their gun from the débris, setting
it up again on the broken edge of the trench. Another man staggered up
the crumbling earth bank to help, and presently amongst them they got
the gun into action again. The officer left it and ran to where he saw
the other gun half buried in loose earth. He dragged it clear, found it
undamaged, looked round, shouted at Bunthrop crouching flat against the
trench wall; shouted again, came down the earth bank to him with a
rush. "Come and help!" he yelled, grabbing at Bunthrop's arm. Bunthrop
mumbled stupidly in reply. "What?" shouted the officer. "Come and help,
will you? Never mind if you are hurt," as he noticed a smear of blood
on the private's face. "You'll be hurt worse if they get into this
trench with the bayonet. Come on and help!" Bunthrop, hardly
understanding, obeyed the stronger will and followed him back to the
gun. "Can you load?" demanded the officer. "Can you fill the cartridges
into these drums while I shoot?" Bunthrop had had in a remote period of
his training some machine-gun instruction. He nodded and mumbled again.
"God!" said the officer. "Look at 'em! There's enough to eat us if they
get to bayonet distance! We _must_ stop 'em with the bullet. Hurry up,
man; hurry, if you don't want to be skewered like a stuck pig!" He
rattled off burst after burst of fire, clamoring at Bunthrop to hurry,
hurry, hurry. A wounded machine-gunner joined them, and then some
others, and the gun began to spit a steady string of bullets again. By
this time the full meaning of the officer's words--the meaning, too, of
remarks between the wounded helpers--had soaked into Bunthrop's brain.
Their only hope, his only hope of life, lay in stopping the attack
before it reached the trench; and the machine-guns were a main factor
in the stopping. He lost interest in everything except cramming the
cartridges into their place. When the officer was hit and rolled
backwards and lay groaning and swearing, Bunthrop's chief and agonizing
thought was that they--he--had lost the assistance and protection of
the gun. When one of the wounded gunners took the officer's place and
reopened fire, Bunthrop's only concern again was to keep pace with the
loading. The thoughts were repeated exactly when that gunner was hit
and collapsed and his place was taken by another man. And by now the
urgent need of keeping the gun going was so impressed on Bunthrop that
when the next gunner was struck down and the gun stood idle and
deserted it was Bunthrop who turned wildly urging the other loaders to
get up and keep the gun going; babbled excitedly about the only hope
being to stop the Germans before they "got in" with the bayonet,
repeated again and again at them the officer's phrase about "skewered
like stuck pigs." The others hung back. They had seen man after man
struck down at the gun, they could hear the _hiss_ and _whitt_ of the
bullets over their heads, the constant cracker-like smacks of others
that hit the parapet, and--they hung back. "Why th' 'ell don't you do
it yerself?" demanded one of them, angered by Bunthrop's goading and in
some degree, no doubt, by the disagreeable knowledge that they were
flinching from a duty.

And then Bunthrop, the "conscript," the man who had held back from war
to the last possible minute, who hated soldiering and shrank from
violence and all fighting, who was known to his fellows as "a funk,"
the source of much uneasiness to company and platoon commanders and
sergeants as "a weak spot," Bunthrop did what these others, these
average good men who had "joined up" freely, who had longed for the end
of home training and the transfer "out Front," dared not do. Bunthrop
scrambled up the broken bank, seized the gun, swung the sights full to
the broad gray target, and opened fire. He kept it going steadily, too,
with a sleet of bullets whistling and whipping past him, kept on after
a bullet snatched the cap from his head, and others in quick succession
cut away a shoulder strap, scored a red weal across his neck, stabbed
through the point of his shoulder. And when a shell-fragment smashed
the gun under his hands, he left it only to plunge hastily to the other
gun abandoned by all but dead and dying; pulled off a dead man who
sprawled across it and recommenced shooting. He stopped firing only
when his last cartridge was gone; squatted a moment longer staring over
the sights, and then raised his head and peered out into the trailing
film of smoke clouds from the bursting shells. Although it took him a
minute to be sure of it he saw plainly at last that the attack was
broken. Dimly he could see the heaped clusters of dead that lay out in
the open, the crawling and limping figures of the wounded who sought
safety back in the cover of their own trench, and more than that he
could see men running with their heads stooped and their gray coats
flapping about their ankles. It was this last that roused him again to
action. He scrambled hurriedly back down the broken parapet into the
trench. "Come on, you fellows," he shouted to two or three nearby men
who continued to fire their rifles over the parapet. "It's no use
waitin' here any longer." A heavy shell whooped roaring over them and
crashed thunderously close behind the parapet. Bunthrop paid no
slightest heed to it. His wide, staring eyes and white face, and blood
smeared from the trickling wound in his neck, his capless head and
tumbled hair, his clay and mud-caked and blood-stained uniform all gave
him a look of wildness, of desperation, of abandonment. His sergeant,
the man who had seen his fear and set him to pile the sandbags, caught
sight of him again now, heard some word of his shoutings, and pushed
hastily along the trench to where he fidgeted and called angrily to the
others to "chuck that silly shooting--I'm goin' anyhow ... what's the
use...."

The sergeant interrupted sharply.

"Here, you shut up, Bunthrop," he shouted. "Keep down in the trench.
You're wounded, aren't you? Well, you'll get back presently."

"That be damn," said Bunthrop. "You don't understand. They're runnin'
away, but we can't go out after 'em if these silly blighters here keep
shootin'. Come on now, or they'll all be gone." And Private Bunthrop,
the despised "conscript," slung his bayoneted rifle over his wounded
shoulder and commenced to scramble up out over the front of the broken
parapet. And what is more he was really and genuinely annoyed when the
sergeant catching him by the heel dragged him down again and ordered
him to stay there.

"Don't you understand?" he stuttered excitedly, and gesticulating
fiercely towards the front. "They're runnin', I tell you; the blighters
are runnin' away. Why can't we get out after 'em?"



SMASHING THE COUNTER-ATTACK


" ... _a violent counter-attack was delivered but was successfully
repulsed at every point with heavy losses to the enemy_."--EXTRACT FROM
OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


There appears to be some doubt as to who rightly claims to have been
the first to notice and report signs of the massing of heavy forces of
Germans for the counter-attack on our positions. The infantry say that
a scouting patrol fumbling about in the darkness in front of the
forward fire trench heard suspicious sounds--little clickings of
equipment and accouterments, stealthy rustlings, distant tramping--and
reported on their return to the trench. An artillery observing officer
is said to have seen flitting shadows of figures in the gray light of
the dawn mists, and, later, an odd glimpse of cautious movement amongst
the trees of a wood some little distance behind the German lines, and
an unbroken passing of gray-covered heads behind a portion of a
communication trench parapet. He also reported, and he may have been
responsible for the dozen or so of shrapnel that were flung tentatively
into and over the wood. An airman droning high over the lines, with
fleecy white puffs of shrapnel smoke breaking about him, also saw and
reported clearly "large force of Germans massing Map Square So-and-so."

But whoever was responsible for the first report matters little. The
great point is that the movement was detected in good time, apparently
before the preparations for attack were complete, so that the final
arraying and disposal of the force for the launching of the attack was
hampered and checked, and made perforce under a demoralizing artillery
fire.

What the results might have been if the full weight of the massed
attack could have been prepared without detection and flung on our
lines without warning is hard to say; but there is every chance that
our first line at least might have been broken into and swamped by the
sheer weight of numbers. That, clearly, is what the Germans had
intended, and from the number of men employed it is evident that they
meant to push to the full any chance our breaking line gave them to
reoccupy and hold fast a considerable portion of the ground they had
lost. It is said that three to four full divisions were used. If that
is correct, it is certain that the German army was minus three to four
effective divisions when the attack withdrew, that a good half of the
men in them would never fight again. The attack lost its first great
advantage in losing the element of surprise. The bulk of the troops
would have been moved into position in the hours of darkness. That
wood, in all probability, was filled with men by night. The only
daylight movement attempted would have been the cautious filling of the
trenches, the pouring in of the long gray-coated lines along the
communication trenches, all keeping well down and under cover. Under
the elaborate system of deep trenches, fire-, and support-,
communication- and approach-trenches running back for miles to emerge
only behind houses or hill or wood, it is surprising how large a mass
of men can be pushed into the forward trenches without any disclosure
of movement to the enemy. Scores of thousands of men may be packed away
waiting motionless for the word, more thousands may be pouring slowly
up the communication ways, and still more thousands standing ready a
mile or two behind the lines; and yet to any eye looking from the
enemy's side the country is empty and still, and bare of life as a
swept barn. Even the all-seeing airmen can be cheated, and see nothing
but the usual quiet countryside, the tangled crisscross of trenches,
looking from above like so many wriggling lines of thin white braid
with a black cord-center, the neat dolls' toy-houses and streets of the
villages, the straight, broad ribbon of the Route Nationale, all still
and lifeless, except for an odd cart or two on the high road, a few
dotted figures in the village streets. Below the flying-men the packed
thousands are crouched still to earth. At the sound of the engine's
drone, at sight of the wheeling shape, square miles of country stiffen
to immobility, men scurry under cover of wall or bush, the long, moving
lines in the trenches halt and sink down and hang their heads (next to
movement the light dots of upturned, staring faces are the quickest and
surest betrayal of the earth-men to the air-men), the open roads are
emptied of men into the ditches and under the trees. For civilized man,
in his latest art of war, has gone back to be taught one more simple
lesson by the beasts of the field and birds of the air; the armed hosts
are hushed and stilled by the passing air-machine, exactly as the
finches and field-mice of hedgerow and ditch and field are frozen to
stillness by the shadow of a hovering hawk, the beat of its passing
wing.

But this time some movement in the trenches, some delay in halting a
regiment, some neglect to keep men under cover, some transport too
suspiciously close-spaced on the roads, betrayed the movement. His
suspicions aroused, the airman would have risked the anti-aircraft guns
and dropped a few hundred feet and narrowly searched each hillside and
wood for the telltale gray against the green. Then the wireless would
commence to talk, or the 'plane swoop round and drive headlong for home
to report.

And then, picture the bustle at the different headquarters, the stir
amongst the signalers, the frantic pipings of the telephone "buzzers,"
the sharp calls. "Take a message. Ready? Brigade H.Q. to O.C.
Such-and-such Battery," or "to O.C. So-and-So Regiment"; imagine the
furtive scurry in the trenches to man the parapets, and prepare bombs,
and lay out more ammunition; the rush at the batteries, the quick
consulting of squared maps, the bellowed string of orders in a jargon
of angles of sight, correctors, ranges, figures and measures of degrees
and yards, the first scramble about the guns dropping to the smooth
work of ordered movement, the peering gun muzzles jerking and twitching
to their ordained angles, the click and slam of the closing
breech-blocks, the tense stillness as each gun reports "Ready!" and
waits the word to fire.

And all the while imagine the Germans out there, creeping through the
trees, crowding along the trenches, sifting out and settling down into
the old favorite formation, making all ready for one more desperate
trial of it, stacking the cards for yet another deep gambling plunge on
the great German game--the massed attack in solid lines at close
interval. The plan no doubt was the same old plan--a quick and
overwhelming torrent of shell fire, a sudden hurricane of high
explosive on the forward trench, and then, before the supports could be
hurried up and brought in any weight through the reeking, shaking
inferno of the shell-smitten communication trenches, the surge forward
of line upon line, wave upon wave, of close-locked infantry.

But the density of mass, the solid breadth, the depth, bulk, and weight
of men so irresistible at close-quarter work, is an invitation to utter
destruction if it is caught by the guns before it can move. And so this
time it was caught. Given their target, given the word "Go," the guns
wasted no moment. The first battery ready burst a quick couple of
ranging shots over the wood. A spray of torn leaves whirling from the
tree tops, the toss of a broken branch, showed the range correct; and
before the first rounds' solid white cotton-wooly balls of smoke had
thinned and disappeared, puff-puff-puff the shrapnel commenced to burst
in clouds over the wood. That was the beginning. Gun after gun, battery
after battery, picked up the range and poured shells over and into the
wood, went searching every hollow and hole, rending and destroying
trench and dug-out, parapet and parados. The trenches, clean white
streaks and zig-zags of chalk on a green slope, made perfect targets on
which the guns made perfect shooting; the wood was a mark that no gun
could miss, and surely no gun missed. What the scene in that wood must
have been is beyond imagining and beyond telling. It was quickly
shrouded in a pall of drifting smoke, and dimly through this the
observing officers directing the fire of their guns could see clouds of
leaves and twigs whirling and leaping under the lashing shrapnel, could
see branches and smashed tree-trunks and great clods of earth and stone
flying upward and outward from the blast of the lyddite shells. The
wood was slashed to ribbons, rent and riddled to tatters, deluged from
above with tearing blizzards of shrapnel bullets, scorched and riven
with high-explosive shells. In the trenches our men cowered at first,
listening in awe to the rushing whirlwinds of the shells' passage over
their heads, the roar of the cannonade behind them, the crash and boom
of the bursting shells in front, the shriek and whirr of flying
splinters, the splintering crash of the shattering trees.

The German artillery strove to pick up the plan of the attack, to beat
down the torrent of our batteries' fire, to smash in the forward
trenches, shake the defense, open the way for the massed attack. But
the contest was too unequal, the devastation amongst the crowded mass
of German infantry too awful to be allowed to continue. Plainly the
attack, ready or not ready, had to be launched at speed, or perish
where it stood.

And so it was that our New Armies had a glimpse of what the old
"Contemptible Little Army" has seen and faced so often, the huge gray
bulk looming through the drifting smoke, the packed mass of the old
German infantry attack. There were some of these "Old Contemptibles,"
as they proudly style themselves now, who said when it was all over,
and they had time to think of anything but loading and firing a red-hot
rifle, that this attack did not compare favorably with the German
attacks of the Mons-Marne days, that it lacked something of the
steadiness, the rolling majesty of power, the swinging stride of the
old attacks; that it did not come so far or so fast, that beaten back
it took longer to rally and come again, that coming again it was easier
than ever to bring to a stand. But against that these "Old
Contemptibles" admit that they never in the old days fought under such
favorable conditions, that here in this fight they were in better
constructed and deeper trenches, that they were far better provided
with machine-guns, and, above all, that they had never, never, never
had such a magnificent backing from our guns, such a tremendous stream
of shells helping to smash the attack.

And smashed, hopelessly and horribly smashed, the attack assuredly was.
The woods in and behind which the German hordes were massed lay from
three to four hundred yards from the muzzles of our rifles. Imagine it,
you men who were not there, you men of the New Armies still training at
home, you riflemen practicing and striving to work up the number of
aimed rounds fired in "the mad minute," you machine-gunners riddling
holes in a target or a row of posts. Imagine it, oh you Artillery,
imagine the target lavishly displayed in solid blocks in the open, with
a good four hundred yards of ground to go under your streaming
gun-muzzles. The gunners who were there that day will tell you how they
used that target, will tell you how they stretched themselves to the
call for "gun-fire" (which is an order for each gun to act
independently, to fire and keep on firing as fast as it can be served),
how the guns grew hotter and hotter, till the paint bubbled and
blistered and flaked off them in patches, till the breech burned the
incautious hand laid on it, till spurts of oil had to be sluiced into
the breech from a can between rounds and sizzled and boiled like fat in
a frying-pan as it fell on the hot steel, how the whole gun smoked and
reeked with heated oil, and how the gun-detachments were half-deaf for
days after.

It was such a target as gunners in their fondest dreams dare hardly
hope for; and such a target as war may never see again, for surely the
fate of such massed attacks will be a warning to all infantry
commanders for all time.

The guns took their toll, and where death from above missed, death from
the level came in an unbroken torrent of bullets sleeting across the
open from rifles and machine-guns. On our trenches shells were still
bursting, maxim and rifle bullets were still pelting from somewhere in
half enfilade at long range. But our men had no time to pay heed to
these. They hitched themselves well up on the parapet to get the fuller
view of their mark; their officers for the most part had no need to
bother about directing or controlling the fire--what need, indeed, to
direct with such a target bulking big before the sights? What need to
control when the only speed limit was a man's capacity to aim and fire?
So the officers, for the most part, took rifle themselves and helped
pelt lead into the slaughter-pit.

There are few, if any, who can give details of how or when the attack
perished. A thick haze of smoke from the bursting shells blurred the
picture. To the eyes of the defenders there was only a picture of that
smoke-fog, with a gray wall of men looming through it, moving, walking,
running towards them, falling and rolling, and looming up again and
coming on, melting away into tangled heaps that disappeared again
behind advancing men, who in turn became more falling and fallen piles.
It was like watching those chariot races in a theater where the horses
gallop on a stage revolving under their feet, and for all their fury of
motion always remain in the same place. So it was with the German
line--it was pressing furiously forward, but always appeared to remain
stationary or to advance so slowly that it gave no impression of
advancing, but merely of growing bigger. Once, or perhaps twice, the
advancing line disappeared altogether, melted away behind the drifting
smoke, leaving only the mass of dark blotches sprawled on the grass. At
these times the fire died away along a part of our front, and the men
paused to gulp a drink from a water-bottle, to look round and tilt
their caps back and wipe the sweat from their brows, to gasp joyful
remarks to one another about "gettin' a bit of our own back," and "this
pays for the ninth o' May," and then listen to the full, deep roar of
rifle-fire that rolled out from further down the line, and try to peer
through the shifting smoke to see how "the lot next door" was faring.
But these respites were short. A call and a crackle of fire at their
elbows brought them back to business, to the grim business of
purposeful and methodical killing, of wiping out that moving wall that
was coming steadily at them again through the smoke and flame of the
bursting shells. The great bulk of the line came no nearer than a
hundred yards from our line; part pressed in another twenty or thirty
yards, and odd bunches of the dead were found still closer. But none
came to grips--none, indeed, were found within forty yards of our
rifles' wall of fire. A scattered remnant of the attackers ran back,
some whole and some hurt, thousands crawled away wounded, to reach the
safe shelter of their support trenches, some to be struck down by the
shells that still kept pounding down upon the death-swept field. The
counter-attack was smashed--hopelessly and horribly smashed.



A GENERAL ACTION


"_At some points our lines have been slightly advanced and their
position improved_."--EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH


It has to be admitted by all who know him that the average British
soldier has a deep-rooted and emphatic objection to "fatigues," all
trench-digging and pick-and-shovel work being included under that
title. This applies to the New Armies as well as the Old, and when one
remembers the safety conferred by a good deep trench and the fact that
few men are anxious to be killed sooner than is strictly necessary, the
objection is regrettable and very surprising. Still there it is, and
any officer will tell you that his men look on trench-digging with
distaste, have to be constantly persuaded and chivvied into doing
anything like their best at it, and on the whole would apparently much
rather take their chance in a shallow or poorly-constructed trench than
be at the labor of making it deep and safe.

But one piece of trench-digging performed by the Tearaway Rifles must
come pretty near a record for speed.

When the Rifles moved in for their regular spell in the forward line,
their O.C. was instructed that his battalion had to construct a section
of new trench in ground in front of the forward trench.

It was particularly unfortunate that just about this time the winter
issue of a regular rum ration had ceased, and that, immediately before
they moved in, a number of the Tearaways had been put under stoppages
of pay for an escapade with which this story need have no concern.

Without pay the men, of course, were cut off from even the sour and
watery delights of the beer sold in the local estaminets, which abound
in the villages where the troops are billeted in reserve some miles
behind the firing line. As Sergeant Clancy feelingly remarked:

"They stopped the pay, and that stops the beer; and then they stopped
the rum. It's no pleasure in life they leave us at all, at all. They'll
be afther stopping the fighting next."

Of that last, however, there was comparatively little fear at the
moment. A brisk action had opened some days before the Tearaways were
brought up from the reserve, and the forward line which they were now
sent in to occupy had been a German trench less than a week before.

The main fighting had died down, but because the British were
suspicious of counter-attacks, and the Germans afraid of a continued
British movement, the opposing lines were very fully on the alert; the
artillery on both sides were indulging in constant dueling, and the
infantry were doing everything possible to prevent any sudden advantage
being snatched by the other side.

As soon as the Tearaways were established in the new position, the O.C.
and the adjutant made a tour of their lines, carefully reconnoitering
through their periscopes the open ground which had been pointed out to
them on the map as the line of the new trench which they were to
commence digging. At this point the forward trench was curved sharply
inward, and the new trench was designed to run across and outwards from
the ends of the curve, meeting in a wide angle at a point where a hole
had been dug and a listening-post established.

It was only possible to reach this listening-post by night, and the
half-dozen men in it had to remain there throughout the day, since it
was impossible to move across the open between the post and the
trenches by daylight. The right-hand portion of the new trench running
from the listening-post back to the forward trench had already been
sketched out with entrenching tools, but it formed no cover because it
was enfiladed by a portion of the German trench.

It was the day when the Tearaways moved into the new position, and the
O.C. had been instructed that he was expected to commence digging
operations as soon as it was dark that night, the method and manner of
digging being left entirely in his own hand. The Major, the Adjutant,
and a couple of Captains conferred gloomily over the prospective task.
That reputation of a dislike for digging stood in the way of a quick
job being made. The stoppage of the rum ration prevented even an
inducement in the shape of an "extra tot" being promised for extra good
work, and it was well known to all the officers that the stoppage of
pay had put the men in a sulky humor, which made them a little hard to
handle, and harder to drive than the proverbial pigs. It was decided
that nothing should be said to the men of the task ahead of them until
it was time to tell off the fatigue party and start them on the work.

"It's no good," said the Captain, "leaving them all the afternoon to
chew it over. They'd only be talking themselves into a state that is
first cousin to insubordination."

"I wish," said the other Captain, "they had asked us to go across and
take another slice of the German trench. The men would do it a lot
quicker and surer, and a lot more willing, than they'd dig a new one."

"The men," said the Colonel tartly, "are not going to be asked what
they'd like any more than I've been. I want you each to go down quietly
and have a look over at the new ground, tell the company commanders
what the job is, and have a talk with me after as to what you think is
the best way of setting about it."

That afternoon Lieutenant Riley and Lieutenant Brock took turns in
peering through a periscope at the line of the new trench, and
discussed the problem presented.

"It's all very fine," grumbled Riley, "for the O.C. to say the men must
dig because he says so. You can take a horse to the water where you
can't make it drink, and by the same token you can put a spade in a
man's hand where you can't make him dig, or if he does dig he'll only
do it as slow and gingerly as if it were his own grave and he was to be
buried in it as soon as it was ready."

"Don't talk about burying," retorted Brock. "It isn't a pleasant
subject with so many candidates for a funeral scattered around the
front door."

He sniffed the air, and made an exclamation of disgust:

"They haven't even been chloride-of-limed," he said. "A lot of lazy,
untidy brutes that battalion must have been we have just relieved."

Riley stared again into the periscope: "It's German the most of them
are, anyway," he said, "that's one consolation, although it's small
comfort to a sense of smell. I say, have a look at that man lying over
there, out to the left of the listening-post. His head is towards us,
and his hair is white as driven snow. They must be getting hard up for
men to be using up the grandfathers of that age."

Brock examined the white head carefully. "He's a pretty old stager," he
said, "unless he's a young 'un whose hair has turned white in a night
like they do in novels; or, maybe he's a General."

"A General!" said Riley, and stopped abruptly. "Man, now, wait a
minute. A General!" he continued musingly, and then suddenly burst into
chuckles, and nudged Brock in the ribs. "I have a great notion," he
said, "gr-r-reat notion, Brockie. What'll you bet I don't get the men
coming to us before night with a petition to be allowed to do some
digging?"

Brock stared at him. "You're out of your senses," he said. "I'd as soon
expect them to come with a petition to be allowed to sign the pledge."

"Well, now listen," said Riley, "and we'll try it, anyway."

He explained swiftly, while over Brock's face a gentle smile beamed and
widened into subdued chucklings.

"Here's Sergeant Clancy coming along the trench," said Riley. "You have
the notion now, so play up to me, and make sure Clancy hears every word
you say."

"I want to see that General of theirs the Bosche prisoner spoke about,"
said Riley, as Clancy came well within earshot. "An old man, the Bosche
said he was, with a head of hair as white and shining as a gull's
wing."

"I'm not so interested in his shining head," said Brock, "as I am in
the shining gold he carries on him. Doesn't it seem sinful waste for
all that good money to be lying out there?"

Out of the tail of his eye Riley saw the sergeant halt and stiffen into
an attitude of listening. He turned round.

"Was it me you wanted to see, Clancy?" he said.

"No, sorr--yes, sorr," said Clancy hurriedly, and then more slowly, in
neat adoption of the remarks he had just heard: "Leastways, sorr, I was
just afther wondering if you had heard anything of this tale of a
German Gineral lying out there on the ground beyanst."

"You mean the one that was shot last week?" said Riley.

"Him with the five thousand francs in his breeches pocket, and the
diamond-studded gold watch on his wrist?" said Brock.

"The same, sorr, the same!" said Clancy eagerly, and with his eyes
glistening. "And have you made out which of them he is, sorr?"

"No," said Riley shortly. "And remember, Sergeant, there are to be no
men going over the parapet this night without orders. The last
battalion in here lost a big handful of men trying to get hold of that
General, but the Germans were watching too close, and they've got a
machine-gun trained to cover him. See to it, Clancy! That's all now."

Sergeant Clancy moved off, but he went reluctantly.

"Why didn't you give him a bit more?" asked Brock.

"Because I know Clancy," said Riley, whispering. "If we had said more
now, he might have suspected a plant. As it is, he's got enough to
tickle his curiosity, and you can be sure it won't be long before a
gentle pumping performance is in operation."

Sergeant Clancy came in sight round the traverse again, moving briskly,
but obviously slowing down as he passed them, and very obviously
straining to hear anything they were saying. But they both kept silent,
and when he had disappeared round the next traverse, Riley grinned and
winked at his companion.

"He's hooked, Brockie," he said exultantly.

"Now you wait and--" He stopped as a rifle-man moved round the corner
and took up a position on the firing step near them.

"I'll bet," said Riley delightedly, "Clancy has put him there to listen
to anything he can catch us saying."

He turned to the man, who was clipping a tiny mirror on to his bayonet
and hoisting it to use as a periscope.

"Are you on the look-out?" he asked. "And who posted you there?"

"It was Sergeant Clancy, sir," answered the man. "He said I could hear
better--I mean, see better," he corrected himself, "from here."

Riley abruptly turned to their own periscope and apparently resumed the
conversation.

"I'm almost sure that's him with the white head," said Riley. "Out
there, about forty or fifty yards from the German parapet, and about a
hundred yards ten o'clock from our listening-post. Have a look."

He handed the periscope over to Brock, and at the same time noticed how
eagerly the sentry was also having a look into his own periscope.

"I've got him," said Brock. "Yes, I believe that's the man."

"What makes it more certain," said Riley, "is that hen's scratch of a
trench the other battalion started to dig out to the listening-post.
They couldn't crawl out in the open to get to the General, and it's my
belief they meant to drive a sap out to the listening-post, and then
out to the General, and yank him in, so they could go through his
pockets."

"It's a good bit of work to get at a dead man," said Brock
reflectively.

"It is," said Riley, "but it isn't often you can drive a sap with five
thousand francs at the end of it."

"To say nothing of a diamond-studded gold watch," said Brock.

"Well, well," said Riley, "I suppose the Germans won't be leaving him
lying out there much longer. I hear the last battalion bagged quite a
bunch that tried to creep out at night to get him in; but I suppose our
fellows, not knowing about it, won't watch him so carefully."

They turned the conversation to other and more casual things, and
shortly afterwards moved off.

The first-fruits of their sowing showed within the hour, when some of
the officers were having tea together in a corner of a ruined cottage,
which had been converted into a keep.

The servant who was preparing tea had placed a battered pot on the half
of a broken door, which served for a mess table; had laid out a loaf of
bread, tin pots of jam, a cake, and a flattened box of flattened
chocolates, and these offices having been fully performed he should
have retired. Instead, however, he fidgeted to and fro, offered to pour
the tea from the dented coffee-pot, asked if anything more was wanted,
pushed the loaf over to the Captain, apologizing at length for the
impossibility of getting a scrape of butter these days; hovered round
the table, and generally made it plain that he had something he wished
to say, or that he supposed they had something to say he wished to
hear.

"What are you dodging about there for, man?" the Captain asked
irritably at last. "Is it anything you want?"

"Nothing, sorr," said the man, "only I was just wondering if you had
heard annything of a Gineral with fifty thousand francs in his pocket,
lying out there beyond the trench."

"Five thousand francs," corrected Riley gently.

"'Twas fifty thousand I heard, sorr," said the man eagerly; "but ye
have heard, then, sorr?"

"What's this about a General?" demanded the Captain.

"Yes!" said Riley quickly. "What is it? We have heard nothing of the
General."

"Ah!" said the messman, eyeing him thoughtfully, "I thought maybe ye
had heard."

"We have heard nothing," said Riley. "What is it you are talking
about?"

"About them fifty thousand francs, sorr," said the messman, cunningly,
"or five thousand, was it?"

"What's this?" said the Captain, and the others making no attempt to
answer his question, left the messman to tell a voluble tale of a
German General ("though 'twas a Field-Marshal some said it was, and
others went the length of Von Kluck himself") who had been killed some
days before, and lay out in the open with five thousand, or fifty
thousand, francs in his breeches pocket, a diamond-studded gold watch
on his wrist, diamond rings on his fingers, and his breast covered with
Iron Crosses and jeweled Orders.

That both Riley and Brock, as well as the Captain, professed their
profound ignorance of the tale only served, as they well knew, to
strengthen the Tearaways Rifles' belief in it, and after the man had
gone they imparted their plan with huge delight and joyful anticipation
to the Captain.

When they had finished tea and left the keep to return to their own
posts, they were met by Sergeant Clancy.

"I just wanted to speak wid you a moment, sorr," he said. "I have been
looking at that listening-post, and thinking to myself wouldn't it be
as well if we ran a sap out to it; it would save the crawling out
across the open at night, and keeping the men--and some wounded among
them maybe--cooped up the whole day."

"There's something in that," said the Captain, pretending to reflect.
"And I see the last battalion had made something of a beginning to dig
a trench out to the post."

"And they must have been thinking with their boots when they dug it
there," said Riley. "A trench on that side is open to enfilade fire. It
should have been dug out from the left corner of that curve instead of
the right."

"If you would speak to the O.C. about it, sorr," said Clancy, "he might
be willing to let us dig it. The men is fresh, too, and won't harm for
a bit of exercise."

"Very well," said the Captain carelessly, "we'll see about it
to-morrow."

"Begging your pardon, sorr," said Clancy, "I was thinking it would be a
good night tonight, seein' there's a strong wind blowing that would
deaden the sound of the digging."

"That's true enough," the Captain said slowly. "I think it's an
excellent idea, Clancy, and I'll speak to the O.C., and tell him you
suggested it."

A few minutes after, an orderly brought a message that the O.C. was
coming round the trenches to see the company commanders. The company
commanders found him with rather a sharp edge to his temper, and
Captain Conroy, to whom Riley and Brock had confided the secret of
their plans, concluded the moment was not a happy one for explaining
the ruse to the O.C. He, therefore, merely took his instructions for
the detailing of a working party from his company, and the hour at
which they were to commence.

"And remember," said the O.C. sharply, "you will stand no nonsense over
this work. If you think any man is loafing or not doing his full share,
make him a prisoner, or do anything else you think fit. I'll back you
in it, whatever it is."

Conroy murmured a "Very good, sir," and left it at that. When he
returned to his company he made arrangements for the working party,
implying subtly to Sergeant Clancy that the trench was to be started as
the result of his, the sergeant's, arguments.

Clancy went back to the men in high feather:

"I suppose now," he said complacently, "there's some would be like to
laugh if they were told that a blessed sergeant could be saying where
and when he'd be having this trench or that trench dug or not dug; but
there's more ways of killing a cat than choking it with butter, and
Ould Prickles can take a hint as good as the next man when it's put to
him right."

"Prickles," be it noted, being the fitting, if somewhat disrespectful,
name which the O.C. carried in the Rifles.

"It's yourself has the tongue on ye," admitted Rifleman McRory
admiringly, "though I'm wonnering how'll you be schamin' to get another
trench dug from the listening-post out to the Gineral."

"'Twill take some scheming," agreed another rifleman, "but maybe we can
get round the officer that's in the listening-post to-night to let us
drive a sap out."

"It's not him ye'll be getting round," said McRory, "for it's the
Little Lad himself that's in it. But sure the Little Lad will be that
glad to see me offer to take a pick in my hand that I believe he'd be
willing to let me dig up his own grandfather's grave."

"We'll find some way when the time comes, never fear," said Sergeant
Clancy, and the men willingly agreed to leave the matter in his capable
hands.

Immediately after dark, the Little Lad, otherwise Lieutenant Riley, led
his party at a careful crawl and in wide-spaced single file out to the
listening-post, while Brock and the Captain crawled out with a couple
of men, a white tape, and a handful of pegs apiece to mark out the line
of the new trenches converging from the outside ends of the curved main
trench to the listening-post.

When they returned and reported their job complete, the working parties
crawled cautiously out. There were plenty of flares being thrown up
from the German lines and a more or less erratic rifle fire was
crackling up and down the trenches on both sides, the Tearaways taking
care to keep their bullets clear of the working party, to fire no more
than enough to allay any German suspicions of a job being in hand, and
not to provoke any extra hostility.

The working party crept out one by one, carrying their rifles and their
trenching tools, dropping flat and still in the long grass every time a
light flared, rising and crawling rapidly forward in the intervals of
darkness. When at last they were strung out at distances of less than a
man's length, they stealthily commenced operations. A line of filled
sandbags was handed out from the main trench and passed along the chain
of men until each had been provided with one.

Making the sand-bag a foundation for head cover, the men began
cautiously to cut and scoop the soft ground and pile it up in front of
them. The grass was long and rank, and in the shifting light the work
went on unobserved for over an hour. The men, cramped and
uncomfortable, with every muscle aching from head to foot, worked
doggedly, knowing each five minutes' work, each handful of earth
scooped out and thrown up, meant an extra point off the odds on a
bullet reaching them when the Germans discovered their operations and
opened fire on the working party.

They still worked only in the dark intervals between the flares, and,
of course, in as deep a silence as they possibly could. Brock and the
Captain crawled at intervals up and down the line with a word of praise
or a reproach dropped here and there as it was needed. At the end of
one trip, Brock crept into the listening-post and conversed in whispers
with Riley, his fellow-conspirator.

"They're working like beavers," he said, "and, if the Boche doesn't
twig the game for another half-hour, we'll have enough cover scooped
out to go on without losing too many men from their fire."

Riley chuckled. "It's working fine," he said. "I'm only hoping that
some ruffian doesn't spoil the game by crawling out and finding our
General is no more than a false alarm."

"That would queer the pitch," agreed Brock, "but I don't fancy any one
will try it. They all know the working party is liable to be discovered
at any minute, and any one out in the open when that comes off, is
going to be in a tight corner."

"There's a good many here," said Riley, "that would chance a few tight
corners if they knew five thousand francs was at the other side of it;
but I took the precaution to hint gently to Clancy that our machine gun
was going to keep on spraying lead round the General all night, to
discourage any private enterprise."

"Anyhow," said Brock, "I suppose the whole regiment's in it, and
flatter themselves this trifle of digging is for the special benefit of
their pockets. But what are those fellows of ours supposed to be
digging at in the corner there!"

"That," whispered the Little Lad, grinning, "is merely an improving of
the amenities of the listening-post and the beginning of a dugout
shelter from bombs; at least, that's Clancy's suggestion, though I have
a suspicion there will be no hurry to roof-in the dug-out and that its
back-door will travel an unusual length out."

"Well, so long," said Brock; "I must sneak along again and have a look
at the digging."

It was when he was half-way back to the main trench that it became
apparent the German suspicions were aroused, and that something--a
movement after a light flared, perhaps, or the line of a parapet
beginning to show above the grass--had drawn their attention to the
work.

Light after light commenced to toss in an unbroken stream from their
parapet in the direction of the working party, and a score of bullets,
obviously aimed at them, hissed close overhead.

"Glory be!" said Rifleman McRory, flattening himself to the ground.
"It's a good foot and a half I have of head-cover, and I'm thinking
it's soon we will be needing it, and all the rest we can get."

The flaring lights ceased again for a moment, and the men plied their
tools in feverish haste to strengthen their scanty shelter against the
storm they knew must soon fall upon them.

It came within a couple of minutes; again the lights streamed upward,
and flares burst and floated down in dazzling balls of fierce white
light, while the rifle-fire from the German parapet grew heavier and
heavier. Concealment was no longer possible, and the word was passed to
get along with the work in light or dark; and so, still lying flat upon
their faces, and with the bullets hissing and whistling above them,
slapping into the low parapet and into the bare ground beside them, the
working party scooped and buried and scraped, knowing that every inch
they could sink themselves or heighten their parapet added to their
chance of life.

The work they had done gave them a certain amount of cover, at least
for the vital parts of head and shoulders, but in the next half-hour
there were many casualties, and man after man worked on with blood
oozing through the hastily-applied bandage of a first field-dressing or
crawled in under the scanty parapet and crouched there helplessly.

It was little use at that stage trying to bring in the wounded. To do
so only meant exposing them to almost a certainty of another wound and
of further casualties amongst the stretcher-bearers. One or two men
were killed.

Lieutenant Riley, dragging himself along the line, found Rifleman
McRory hard at work behind the shelter of a body rolled up on top of
his parapet.

"It's killed he is," said McRory in answer to a question--"killed to
the bone. He won't be feeling any more bullets that hit him, and it's
himself would be the one to have said to use him this way."

Riley admitted the force of the argument and crept on. Work moved
faster now that there was no need to wait for the periods between the
lights; but the German fire also grew faster, and a machine gun began
to pelt its bullets up and down the length of the growing parapet.

By now, fortunately, the separate chain of pits dug by each man were
practically all connected up into a long, twisting, shallow trench.
Down this trench the wounded were passed, and a fresh working party
relieved the cramped and tired batch who had commenced the work.

In the main trench men had been hard at work filling sand-bags, and now
these were passed out, dragged along from man to man, and piled up on
the parapet, doubling the security of the workers and allowing them the
greater freedom of rising to their knees to dig.

The rifles and maxims of the Tearaways had from the main trench kept up
a steady volume of fire on the German parapet, in an endeavor to keep
down its fire. They shot from the main trench in comparative safety,
because the German fire was directed almost exclusively on the new
trench.

Now that the new parapet had been heightened and strengthened, the
casualties behind it had almost ceased, and the Tearaways were quite
reasonably flattering themselves on the worst of the work being done
and the worst of the dangers over. It appeared to them that the trench
now provided quite sufficient shelter to fulfill both its ostensible
object of allowing relief parties to move to and from the
listening-post, and also their own private undertaking of attaining the
dead General; but the O.C. and company commanders did not look on it in
that light.

The order was to construct a firing trench, and that meant a good deal
more work than had been done, so reliefs were kept going and the work
progressed steadily all night, a good deal of impetus being given to it
by some light German field-guns which commenced to scatter
high-explosive shrapnel over the open ground.

The shooting, fortunately, was not very accurate, no doubt because, by
the light of the flares, it was difficult for the German observers to
direct their fire. But the hint was enough for the Tearaways, and they
knew that daybreak would bring more accurate and more constant
artillery fire upon the new position.

The British gunners had been warned not to open fire unless called
upon, because a working party was in the open; but now the batteries
were telephoned to with a request for shrapnel on the German parapets
to keep down some of the heavy rifle fire.

Since the gunners had already registered the target of the German
trench, their fire was just as accurate by night as it would be by day,
and shell after shell burst over the German parapet, sweeping their
trench with showers of shrapnel.

While all this was going on the men at the listening-post had tackled
the job of driving their sap out to the German General. This work was
done in a different fashion from the digging of the new trench.

The listening-post was merely a pit in the ground, originally a large
shell crater, and deepened and widened until it was sufficiently large
to hold half-a-dozen men. At one side of the pit the men commenced with
pick and spade to hack out an opening like a very narrow doorway.

As the earth was broken down and shoveled back, the doorway gradually
grew to be a passage. In this two men at a time worked in turn, the one
on the right-hand side making a narrow cut that barely gave him
shoulder-play, the second man on the left working a few paces in the
rear and widening the passage.

Necessarily it was slow work, because only these two men could reach
the face of the cut, and because it had to be of sufficient depth to
allow a man to work upright without his head showing above the ground.
But because they worked in short reliefs and put every ounce of energy
into their task, they made surprising and unusual progress.

Lieutenant Riley, who was in command of the listening-post for that
night, left the workers to themselves, both because it was necessary
for him to keep a sharp look-out in order to give warning of any
attempt to rush the working party, and because officially he was not
supposed to know anything of any sap to an officially unrecognized dead
German General.

When he was relieved after daybreak, Riley told the joke and explained
the position to the subaltern who took over from him, and that
subaltern in turn looked with a merely unofficial eye on the work of
the sapping party. As the day and the work went on, it was quite
obvious that a good many more men were working on the new trench than
had been told off to it.

In the sap several fresh men were constantly awaiting their turn at the
face with pick and shovel. The diggers did no more than five minutes'
work, hacking and spading at top speed, yielding their tools to the
next comer and retiring, panting and blowing and mopping their
streaming brows.

A fairly constant fire was maintained by the artillery on both sides,
the shells splashing and crashing on the open ground about the new
trench and the German parapet. There was little wind, and as a result
the smoke of the shell-bursts hung heavily and trailed slowly over the
open space between the trenches, veiling to some extent the sapping
operations and the new trench. On the latter a tendency was quickly
displayed to slacken work and to treat the job as being sufficiently
complete, but when it came to Lieutenant Riley's turn to take charge of
a fresh relief of workers on the new trench, he very quickly succeeded
in brisking up operations.

Arrived at the listening-post, he found Sergeant Clancy and spoke a few
words to him.

"Clancy," he said gently, "the work along that new trench is going a
great deal too slow."

"'Tis hard work, sorr," replied Clancy excusingly, "and you'll be
remembering the boys have been at it all night."

"Quite so, Clancy," said Riley smoothly, "and since it has to be dug a
good six foot deep, I am just thinking the best thing to do will be to
take this other party off the sap and turn 'em along to help on the
trench. I'm not denying, Clancy, that I've a notion what the sap is
for, although I'm supposed to know nothing of it; but I don't care if
the sap is made, and I do care that the trench is. Now do you think I
had better stop them on the sap, or can the party in the trench put a
bit more ginger into it?"

"I'll just step along the trench again, sorr," said Clancy anxiously,
"and I don't think you'll be having need to grumble again."

He stepped along the trench, and he left an extraordinary increase of
energy behind him as he went.

"And what use might it be to make it any deeper?" grumbled McRory.
"Sure it's deep enough for all we need it."

"May be," said Sergeant Clancy, with bitter sarcasm, "it's yourself
that'll just be stepping up to the Colonel and saying friendly like to
him: 'Prickles, me lad, it's deep enough we've dug to lave us get out
to our German Gineral. 'Tisn't for you we're digging this trench,'
you'll be saying, ''tis for our own pleasure entirely.' You might just
let me know what the Colonel says to that."

"There's some talk," he said, a little further down the line, "of our
being relieved from here to-morrow afternoon. I've told you what the
Little Lad was saying about turning the sap party in to help here. It's
pretty you'd look clearing out to-morrow and leaving another battalion
to come in to take over your new trench and your new sap and your
German Gineral and the gold in his britches pocket together." And with
that parting shaft he moved on.

For the rest of that day and all that night work moved at speed, and
when the O.C. made his tour of inspection the following morning he was
as delighted as he was amazed at the work done--and that, as he told
the Adjutant, was saying something. Up to now he had known nothing of
the sap, merely expressing satisfaction--again mingled with
amazement--when he saw the entrance to the sap, lightly roofed in with
boards for a couple of yards and shut off beyond that by a curtain of
sacking, and was told that the men were amusing themselves making a
bomb-proof dug-out.

But on this last morning, when the sap had approached to within twenty
or thirty feet of the white head which was its objective, the Colonel's
attention was directed to the matter somewhat forcibly. He heard the
roar of exploding heavy shells, and as the "_crump, crump,_" continued
steadily, he telephoned from the headquarters dug-out in rear of the
support line to ask the forward trenches what was happening.

While he waited an answer, a message came from the Brigade saying that
the artillery had reported heavy German shelling on a sap-head, and
demanding to know what, where, and why was the sap-head referred to.
While the Colonel was puzzling over this mysterious message and vainly
trying to recall any sap-head within his sector of line, the regimental
Padre came into the dug-out.

"I've just come from the dressing station," he said, "and there's a boy
there, McRory, that has me fair bewildered with his ravings. He's
wounded in the head with a shrapnel splinter, and, although he seems
sane and sensible enough in other ways, he's been begging me and the
doctor not to send him back to the hospital. Did ever ye hear the like,
and him with a lump as big as the palm of my hand cut from his head to
the bare bone, and bleeding like a stuck pig in an apoplexy?"

The Colonel looked at him vacantly, his mind between this and the other
problem of the Brigade's message.

"And that's not all that's in it," went on the Padre. "The doctor was
telling me that there's been a round dozen of the past two days'
casualties begging that same thing--not to be sent away till we come
out of the trenches. And to beat all, McRory, when he was told he was
going just the minute the ambulance came, had a confab with the
stretcher bearers, and I heard him arguing with them about 'his share,'
and 'when they got the Gineral,' and 'my bit o' the fifty thousand
francs.' It has me beat completely."

By now the Colonel was completely bewildered, and he began to wonder
whether he or his battalion were hopelessly mad. It was extraordinary
enough that the men should have dug so willingly and well, and without
a grumble being heard or a complaint made.

It was still more extraordinary that more or less severely wounded men
should not be ardently desirous of the safety and comfort and feeding
of the hospitals; and on the top of all was this mysterious message of
a sap apparently being made by his men voluntarily and without any
sanction, much less the usual required pressure.

A message came from Captain Conroy, in the forward trench, to say that
Riley was coming up to headquarters and would explain matters.

Riley and the explanation duly arrived. "Ould Prickles," inclined at
first to be mightily wroth at the unauthorized digging of the sap,
caught a twinkle in the Padre's eye; and a modest hint from the Little
Lad reminding him of the speed and excellence of the new trenches,
construction turned the scale. He burst into a roar of laughter, and
the Padre joined him heartily, while the Little Lad stood beaming and
chuckling complacently.

"I must tell the Brigadier this," gasped the O.C. at last. "He might
have had a cross word or two to say about a sap being dug without
orders, but, thank heaven, he's an Irishman, and a poorer joke would
excuse a worse crime with him. But I'm wondering what's going to happen
when they reach their General and find no francs, and no watch, and not
even a General; and mind you, Riley, the sap must be stopped at once. I
can't be having good men casualtied on an unofficial job. Will you see
to that right away?"

The Little Lad's chuckling rose to open giggling.

"It's stopped now, sir," he said--"just before I came up here. And
what's more, the General won't need explaining; the German gunners
spied our sap, and, trying to drop a heavy shell on it--well, they
dropped one on to the General. So now there isn't a General, only a
hole in the ground where he was."

Ould Prickles' and the Padre's laughter bellowed again.

"I must tell that to the Brigadier, too," said the O.C.; "that finish
to the joke will completely satisfy him."

"And I must go," said the Padre, rising, "and tell McRory, though I'm
not just sure whether it will be after satisfying him quite so
completely."



AT LAST


"WHEN WE BEGIN TO PUSH"

"Here we are," said the Colonel, halting his horse. "Fine view one gets
from here."

"Rather a treat to be able to see over a bit of country again, after so
many months of the flat," said, the Adjutant, reining up beside the
other. They were halted on the top of a hill, or, father, the corner of
an edge on a wide plateau. On two sides of them the ground fell away
abruptly, the road they were on dipping sharply over the edge and
sweeping round and downward in a well-graded slope along the face of
the hill to the wide flats below. Over these flats they could see for
many miles, miles of cultivated fields, of little woods, of gentle
slopes. They could count the buildings of many farms, the roofs of half
a dozen villages, the spires of twice as many churches, the tall
chimneys and gaunt frame towers of scattered pit-heads. It had been
raining all day, but now in the late afternoon the clouds had broken
and the light of the low sun was tinging the landscape with a mellow
golden glow.

"There's going to be a beautiful sunset presently," said the Colonel,
"with all those heavy broken clouds about. Let's dismount and wait for
a bit."

Both dismounted and handed their reins to the orderly, who, riding
behind them, had halted when they did, but now at a sign came forward.

"We'll just stroll to that rise on the left," the Colonel said. "The
best view should be from there."

The Adjutant lingered a moment. "Take their bits out, Trumpeter," he
said, "and let them pick a mouthful of grass along the roadside."

A rough country track ran to the left off the main road, and the two
walked along it a couple of hundred yards to where it plunged over the
crest and ran steeply down the hillside. Another main road ran along
the flat parallel with the hill foot, and along this crawled a long
khaki column.

"Look at the light on those hills over there," said the Colonel. "Fine,
isn't it?"

The Adjutant was busily engaged with the field-glasses he had taken
from the case slung over his shoulder and was focusing them on the road
below.

"I say," he remarked suddenly, "those are the Canadians. I didn't know
the ----th Division was so far south. Moving up front, too." The
Colonel dropped his gaze to the road a moment and then swept it slowly
over the country-side. "Yes," he said, "and this area is pretty well
crowded with troops when you look closely."

The light on the distant hills was growing more golden and beautiful,
the clouds were beginning to catch the first tints of the sunset, but
neither men for the moment noticed these things, searching with their
gaze the landscape below, sifting it over and picking out a battery of
artillery camped in a big chalk-pit by the roadside, the slow-rising
and drifting columns of blue smoke that curled up from a distant wood
and told of the regiment encamped there, the long strings of horses
converging on a big mine building for the afternoon watering, the lines
of transport wagons parked on the outskirts of a village, the shifting
khaki figures that stirred about every farm building in sight, the row
of gray-painted motor-omnibuses, drawn up in a long line on a side
road. The countryside that under a first look slept peacefully in the
afternoon sunlight, that drowsed calmly in the easy quiet of an
uneventful field and farm existence, proved under the closer searching
look to be a teeming hive of activity, a close-packed camp of
well-armed fighting men, a widespread net and chain of men and guns and
horses. The peaceful countryside was overflowing with men and bristling
with bayonets; every village was a crammed-full military cantonment,
every barn stuffed with soldiers like an overfilled barracks.

The Adjutant whistled softly. "This," he said, and nodded again and
again to the plain below, "this looks like business--at last."

"Yes," said the Colonel, "at last. It's going to be a very different
story this time, when we begin to push things."

"Hark at the guns," said the Adjutant, and both stood silent a moment
listening to the long, deep, rolling thunder that boomed steady and
unbroken as surf on a distant beach. "And they're our guns too,
mostly," went on the Adjutant. "I suppose we're firing more shells in
an ordinary trench-war-routine day now than we dared fire in a month
this time last year. Last year we were short of shells, the year before
we were short of guns and shells and men. Now hear the guns and look
down there at a few of the men."

Through the still air rose from below them the shrill crow of a
farmyard rooster, the placid mooing of a cow, the calls and laughter of
some romping children.

But the two on the hillside had no ear for these sounds of peace. They
heard only that distant sullen boom of the rumbling guns, the throbbing
foot-beats of the marching battalions below them, the plop-plopping
hoofs and rattling wheels of wagons passing on their way up to the
firing line with food for the guns.

"Our turn coming," said the Adjutant--"at last."

"Yes," the Colonel said, and repeated grimly--"at last."





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