Part 2 out of 4
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
Ainsley listened to the stammering English in an amazement that gave
way to overwhelming anger. "Here," he said angrily, "can you speak
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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 kepi, 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 kepi on the point of the bayonet, raised the kepi,
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
reestablish 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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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 Bassee 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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
'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
"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
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
"Don't you get scared," he said. "You've nothing much to be scared
He threw a little emphasis, and Toffee fancied a little envy, into the
"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
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
"Do you mean," stammered Everton in amazement--"do you mean--shoot
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"_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
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
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,