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XIII

He alone
Dealt on lieutenantry and no practice had
In the brave squares of war

Shakespeare

IN the morning, the whole camp seethed with hot and angry men, as was always the case when brass-hats, and general officers, disturbed the normal routine of their life. Preparations, for the rehearsal of the attack, were complicated by the issue of orders, that blankets were to be handed in, and the camp cleaned up, before the men paraded. They were to parade in full kit with pack complete, and a bread-and-cheese ration was issued to them. The unnecessary bad temper continued until they fell in on the road; and the Colonel came on parade, smiling slightly, as though he were well-satisfied, and looked forward to an amusing day. The high, clear voice, which always seemed to carry without much effort, rang out, and the battalion moved off in the direction of Bertrancourt.

After some miles, they turned off the road and continued over reaped fields, finally mounting a ridge and taking up a position with other battalions of their Brigade. There the men were allowed to fall out and eat. They could see at


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once, more clearly than they had realised from the instructions read out to them, the way they were to be disposed; and started a general discussion on the rival advantages and disadvantages of going over as the first or second wave; a discussion, which had no other effect, than that of confirming each individual disputant in the opinion with which he had originally started. It proved indirectly, however, that there was a considerable fund of obstinacy, combativeness, and tenacity of purpose among them, and these were clearly assets of military value.

The first excitement was provided by a hare. It was put up by some of the troops in front, who chivvied it about in all directions, until, doubling back, it came straight through their own H.Q. Company, almost running over Bourne's foot. He didn't move, pitying the poor hunted thing. They were in an angle of a field, along the boundaries of which ran a low fence of rabbit-wire, and as it was headed into the corner Martlow flung himself on it, caught it, and broke its neck scientifically with a blow from the edge of his hand.

“Why did you kill it?” exclaimed Bourne, as Martlow buttoned his tunic over the warm, quivering body. Bourne thought hares uncanny creatures.

“It'll go into t' pot,” said Martlow, surprised. Mr. Sothern came up, and offered him ten francs


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for it, and after some hesitation Martlow sold it to him.

Presently arrived magnificent people on horseback, glancing superciliously at the less fortunate members of their species whom necessity compelled to walk. Bourne, who loved horses, had seen nothing for months but mules, Rosinante, some sorry hacks ridden by their officers, and a few lusty percherons threshing corn on a kind of tread-mill outside a French farm. The sight of these daintily-stepping animals, with a sheen on their smooth hides, gave him a thrill of pleasure. He was less favourably impressed by some of the riders.

“That bugger will give his horse a sore back before the day is out,” he said, as one of the great men cantered by importantly.

“You're learnin' a lot o' bad words from us 'ns,” said Martlow, grinning.

“Oh, you all swear like so many Eton boys,” replied Bourne, indifferently. “Have you ever heard an Aussie swear?”

“No, 'n' I don't want,” said Martlow. “Them buggers 'ave too much spare cash to know what soldierin' means.”

They fell in, and there was another moment of suppressed bad temper. Most of the new signallers went with H.Q. runners, but Weeper Smart, though he was close to them, had to carry the flapper with H.Q. signallers. The flapper


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was a device by which it was intended to signal to aeroplanes. One could see by now that most of the men were keenly interested; they knew that the plan was intended to supply them with a kind of map, on the actual scale of the trenches they were to attack. Their interest did not fade out completely as they advanced; but they rapidly became aware of the unreality of it all. The files of men moved forward slowly, and, when they reached the tapes, followed the paths assigned to them with an admirable precision. Their formations were not broken up or depleted by any hostile barrage, the ground was not pitted by craters, their advance was not impeded by any uncut wire. Everything went according to plan. It was a triumph of Staff-work, and these patient, rather unimaginative men tried to fathom the meaning of it all, with an anxiety which only made them more perplexed. They felt there was something incomplete about it. What they really needed was a map of the strange country through which their minds would travel on the day, with fear darkening earth and filling it with slaughter.

Bourne, Shem, and Martlow, with the other orderlies, were following close behind the Colonel, when the superb individual, whose seat on a horse had seemed to Bourne to call for adverse comment, galloped up to them, and reined in his mount.




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“What are all these men?” he asked the Colonel, pointing almost at the embarrassed Bourne.

“These are my orderlies, sir,” answered the Colonel, and Bourne, from the angle at which he stood, saw his cheek-bone as he turned to the rider with an amiable smile.

“You seem to have a great many of them,” said god-like Agamemnon, with a supercilious coldness. They kept advancing slowly, and the horse was restive under his strange cargo.

“I don't think more than are usual, sir,” hazarded the Colonel with a bland diffidence.

Other important people on horseback, even the most important of them all, on a grey, arrived, and grouped themselves impressively, as though for a portrait. There followed some discussion, first apparently as to the number of the Colonel's runners, and then as to why they were not within the imaginary trenches as marked out by the tapes. The Colonel remained imperturbable, only saying, in a tone of mild protest, that they would be in the trenches on the day, though there were some advantages in separating them from the other men at the moment. They were all moving forward at a foot's pace, and apparently the Olympian masters of their fate were willing to admit the validity of the Colonel's argument, when there was a sudden diversion.




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They were passing a small cottage, little more than a hovel, where three cows were tethered to pasture on some rough grass; and the tapes passed diagonally across a square patch of sown clover, dark and green in comparison with the dryer herbage beside it. This was the track taken by a platoon of A Company under Mr. Sothern; and as the first few men were crossing the clover, the door of the hovel was flung open, and an infuriated woman appeared.

“Ces champs sont à moi!” she screamed, and this was the prelude to a withering fire of invective, which promised to be inexhaustible. It gave a slight tinge of reality, to operations which were degenerating into a series of co-ordinated drill movements. The men of destiny looked at her, and then at one another. It was a contingency which had not been foreseen by the Staff, whose intention had been to represent, under ideal conditions, an attack on the village of Serre, several miles away, where this particular lady did not live. They felt, therefore, that they had been justified in ignoring her existence. She was evidently of a different opinion. She was a very stubborn piece of reality, as she stood there with her black skirt and red petticoat kilted up to her knees, her grey stockings, and her ploughman's boots. She had a perfect genius for vituperation, which she directed against the men, the officers and the état-major, with a fine impartiality.


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The barrage was effective; and the men, with a thoroughly English respect for the rights of property, hesitated to commit any further trespass.

“Send someone to speak to that woman,” said the Divisional General to a Brigadier; and the Brigadier passed on the order to the Colonel, and the Colonel to the Adjutant, and the Adjutant to Mr. Sothern, who, remembering that Bourne had once interpreted his wishes to an old woman in Méaulte when he wanted a broom, now thrust him into the forefront of the battle. That is what is called, in the British Army, the chain of responsibility, which means, that all responsibility, for the errors of their superior officers, is borne eventually by private soldiers in the ranks.

For a moment she turned all her hostility on Bourne, prepared to defend her title at the cost of her life, if need should arise. He told her, that she would be paid in full for any damage done by the troops; but she replied, very reasonably for all her heat, that her clover was all the feed she had for her cows through the winter, and that mere payment for the clover would be inadequate compensation for the loss of her cows. Bourne knew her difficulties; it was difficult enough, through lack of transport, for these unfortunate peasants to bring up provisions for themselves. He suggested, desperately, to Mr. Sothern and


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the adjutant, that the men should leave the tapes and return to them on the other side of the clover. The adjutant was equal to the situation; and, as the rest of the men doubled round the patch to regain the tapes, and their correct position, on the other side, the General, with all his splendid satellites, moved discreetly away to another part of the field. One of the men shouted out something about “les Allemands” to the victorious lady, and she threw discretion to the winds.

“Les Allemands sont très bons!” she shrieked at him.

An aeroplane suddenly appeared in the sky, and, circling over them, signalled with a klaxon horn. The men moved slowly away from her beloved fields, and the tired woman went back into the hovel, and slammed the door on a monstrous world.

When Bourne rejoined the runners he saw the Colonel, in front of him, with shoulders still shaking, and they all proceeded, slowly and irresistibly, towards the capture of an imaginary Serre. When they had reached their final objective, there was a long pause; and the men, now thoroughly bored and disillusioned, leaned idly on their rifles, waiting. It was a victory for method. Presently there was another movement. Companies fell in on markers, the men seemed to wake out of a dream, and took a


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spontaneous interest in the proceedings, and the battalion moved off the field. The Colonel had a horse waiting for him on the road, and about dusk they came to Bus-les-Artois.

Bourne ran into Sergeant Tozer in Bus, and with Shem and Martlow they made a reconnaissance of the town, visiting the Y.M.C.A., and then an estaminet, where they fell in with Sergeant Morgan, the bombing sergeant. They talked for a little while on the events of the day, and the splendours of the Staff.

“Are them buggers coming over the top wi' us?” asked Martlow, innocently; and when the others laughed at him, he continued, indignantly. “Then what did they come out wi' us to-day for, swingin' their weight about? That bugger on the black 'orse spoke to the Colonel just as tho' 'e took 'im for a lance-jack. Wunner the Colonel stood it.”

He and Shem went off to the cinema; so Bourne, and the two sergeants, found a little place where they could get rum and coffee; after which they went off to bed.

They were signalling with flags in the morning when their work was interrupted, and with others in the field they were fallen in, in two ranks. The adjutant came up from the orderly-room, which was a small hut on the other side of the road. He was followed by two military policemen, between whom was Miller, cap-less, and no


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longer with a stripe on his arm. He was white and haggard, but his mouth was half-open in an idiotic grin, and the small furtive eyes wandered restlessly along the line of men drawn up in front of him. Bourne felt a strange emotion rising in him which was not pity, but a revulsion from this degradation of a man, who was now only an abject outcast. In a clear, anxious voice, rather like that of a schoolboy reading a lesson, the adjutant read out a statement that Lance-corporal Miller had been found guilty of deserting his commanding officer, and had been sentenced to be shot, the sentence being afterwards commuted to one of penal servitude for twenty years. The parade was dismissed again, and the miserable man was marched away to be exhibited to another company. Miller would not, of course, go at once to gaol, the execution of the sentence would be deferred, until the war ended. Men could not be allowed to choose gaol, as an alternative to military service. That was where the absurdity arose, as Bourne understood the matter; because one could foresee that, when peace was restored, a general amnesty would be granted which would cover all cases of this kind; and the tragedy, but for the act of unspeakable humiliation which they had just witnessed, became a farce.

“We're goin' up to take over trenches tomorrow,” said Corporal Hamley, “and this is


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just to encourage any other bugger who thinks o' desertin'.”

“It don't make no differ whether th'art shot be thy own folk or be Germans, if th'art shot,” said Weeper, pessimistically.

The corporal was right. The battalion paraded in fighting-order at ten o'clock next morning, and moved up the line to take over trenches. They marched by the Divisional Artillery H.Q. at Bertrancourt, to Courcelles-aux-Bois, a village the greater part of which was already derelict. From there a road ran up to Colincamps, at the corner of which stood a military policeman as control, beside a red board, the kind of wooden standard used by road-menders as a danger-signal, on which was painted in white letters: Gas alert on. The reverse side was painted with the words Gas alert off; but it seemed a matter of indifference to everyone which way the board was turned. After that point a wide interval was left between the various platoons. Almost as soon as they left Courcelles, the road, mounting the hill to Colincamps, was under direct observation of the enemy for about three hundred yards, so it had been camouflaged with netting, like fishing-nets, hung as a curtain between poles on the left side of the road. At the top of the hill was a bend, and, commanding the road, as well as another lesser road, was a more than usually substantial


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barn, a kind of bastion to the outskirts of Colincamps itself. Bourne thought what an ugly place it would be, if it were in the hands of Fritz.

They were moving in dead silence now, not that the Hun could overhear them; and the interval between the various platoons must have been about one hundred yards. It implied a lively sense of favours to come. Passing the barn, there was a sharp bend first to the right then to the left, and they entered the long straight street of Colincamps. Jerry had registered on the church-tower, which had a large hole in it, near the top, and the front of a house, on which still hung forlornly a sign, Café de la Jeunesse, had been stove in by another shell. There was not an undamaged house left, and some of the mud-built barns were collapsing, as an effect of repeated explosions in their neighbourhood. The street itself had suffered from heavy shelling, though some of the holes in the roadway had been filled in, when they did not allow of sufficient room for traffic to skirt them; the others had been converted into pools of very liquid mud. The same fine mud coated the whole surface of the roadway, and the mere pressure of one's foot was sufficient to set it oozing from the matrix, in which the metalling was, now somewhat loosely, imbedded.

The street ended, and the houses with it, on meeting a road linking it with Mailly-Maillet on


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the right, and on the left continuing to the sugar refinery, where it joined the main road from Mailly-Maillet to Serre. They turned left, downhill, the road curving into the valley, and there was another military control, with a dug-out under the road where he could shelter. From that point the road, so long as it was on the slope of the hill, would be visible from the enemy lines. Visibility was poor to-day, there was a fine ground mist which made the distance vague. Even in the daylight, there was something beautiful and mysterious in that landscape. A line of woods, well away from the road, but gradually converging on it, though of no great depth, and shattered by shelling, curtained their movements once they were down the hill. Leaving the road, and picking their way between gun-pits and dug-outs, they came again to Southern Avenue. The shell-crater was now half-full of water, but there was a new one about twenty yards away.

Thence, onward, they followed the route they had taken on working-parties, until they came to the big dug-out in Legend Trench, which was battalion headquarters. There were two entrances, and about thirty steps to the bottom. Part of it was screened off with blankets for the officers, and the rest was allotted to the men. There was a small recess near the stairs, in which the sergeant-major or quartermaster-sergeant


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sergeant could sit at a table improvised from a box, and where a few stores were kept. Four or five candles stuck on tins lit it, and the air was foul and smoky.

Shem, Bourne, and Martlow, were sitting close to the door, three minutes after they had taken possession, when the sergeant-major, after the adjutant had spoken to him, turned to them.

“ 'ere, you three men. You go back to Colincamps, an' in one of the first 'ouses you come to, there's a runner's relay-post; you'll find some Gordons there. You'll take over from them, see? Brigade messages will be 'anded to you, an' you'll bring 'em on 'ere; an' our runners will take you messages, which you'll carry on to Brigade at Courcelles. Got it? Well, get a move on.”

They got up, and as they were pulling in their belts, Weeper, who had been sitting next to Shem, looked up at Bourne with a snarling grin, and said something about a cushy job, and some people being always lucky. Bourne did not trouble to reply, thinking, after what he had seen of the road, that headquarter dug-out in the support trenches would have satisfied him. Martlow, however, had to say something.

“You 'ave a good sleep, ol' tear-gas, an' then you'll feel better.”

They climbed out of the dug-out, and set off back to Colincamps. They had a bread-and-cheese


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ration in their haversacks. One of them would have to draw their full rations later.

“I wonder why Smart has got a set on me,” said Bourne, reflectively.

“ 'cause you never take any notice of 'im when 'e starts grousin' at you,” said Martlow.

“I believe you're right,” said Shem; “but I'm a bit sorry for Weeper. He's always been an awfully good man up the line, at least they all say so in D Company. He hasn't got any friends; and he's so bloody miserable that he never will have any. You see, Bourne, you make friends with everybody, whether he's a cook, or a shoemaker, or a sergeant-major, or only Martlow and myself. Until you came along, well, I mucked in all right with the others, but I didn't have any particular chum, so I know what it feels——.”

Christ! Look out!” said Bourne, crouching, but his warning was unheard in the shrieking hiss and explosion which followed almost simultaneously. There was a huge eruption of mud, earth, and stones a few yards behind the trench. They waited, tense and white, spattered with mud.

“Let's get out o' this place,” said Martlow, in a shaken whisper, and, as he spoke, another came over. They held their breath as it exploded, further away than the first. Bourne was looking at Martlow, and saw that his underlip


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had fallen and was trembling a little. A third shell hissed for an appreciably longer time, and exploded nearer to the dump. They waited motionless.

“It's bloody lucky that first shell wasn't closer, or we should have been buried,” said Shem, with a rather lopsided grin, after an interval.

“Come on, kid,” said Bourne to Martlow. “You never hear the one that gets you.”

“I'm not worryin',” said Martlow, quietly.

“It must have been twenty yards off the trench,” said Bourne; “but I'm not getting out to see. I think it would be better to use Railway Avenue. Fritz seems to have got Southern pretty well taped-out; and I shouldn't like to be close to a big dixie like that in Sackville Street.”

“You can't tell,” said Shem, indifferently. “You've just got to chance it.”

They were moving along at a fair pace, and were soon clear of trenches. The mud, along the level by the dump, was greasy, and slowed them down a bit; but on reaching the road it was easier going. Bourne asked the control where the relay-post was; and they turned into the second yard on the right. There was not a sign of life there, and the houses, on that side of the street, had suffered more severely than on the other; little of them was left. Most of the


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buildings abutting on the street were byres and stables, at least at that end of the town. The houses stood farther back, just on the crest of the slope. Not seeing anyone, they shouted, and from a stable came a reply, and a great wooden door opened. They found three Gordons there, very far from gay. They were, however, very decent civil men, and they looked as though they had earned a rest. Their faces had forgotten, at least for the time being, how to smile. They looked at the colours sewn on their successors' haversacks and sleeves, which they knew meant business.

“We've come to take over from you,” said Bourne.

“Thought you weren't comin'. Saw some o' oor chaps gae by. …”

“Oh, the relief isn't complete yet,” said Bourne, cheerfully. “They took us up the trenches and then sent us back. If they can do anything backwards in the army, they will, you know. It's the tradition of the service. What's it like, here?”

“Oh, it's cushy enough,” answered the Gordon, in a resigned voice.

“I had a bet with myself, you would say that,” said Bourne.

They looked at him curiously, perplexed by his manner, as they completed the business of putting their equipment together, fastening on


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their water-bottles, haversacks, and entrenching-tools. Their packs they carried slung, that is, without fastening them to their cross-straps, a practice which is irregular. On active service, however, the authorities allowed the men to use a little intelligence with regard to minor details, except on great occasions. At last, taking up their rifles, they moved to the door.

“Gude day t' ye, an' gude luck, chums,” they said as they went out.

“Good luck,” answered their successors, in more matter-of-fact tones. Bourne looked after them a little wistfully. He didn't grudge them the relief. He wondered when they would all be turning their backs on this desolation.

“I'm goin' to 'ave a peek round the village,” said Martlow. “You won't want me, there'll be nothin' doin' yet awhile.”

“All right,” said Bourne; “don't go far away, and don't be long.”

He returned in about twenty minutes with all kinds of luxuries: tea mixed with sugar, four tins of bully-beef, a tin of Maconachie, and tins of pork and beans, the kind in which there was never any pork.

“I scrounged them from some R.E.'s,” he said, with a sober pride. “They're movin' out, an' 'ave a lot o' stuff they don't want to carry. I could 'ave got more if I'd wanted. They're


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that glad to be goin' they'd give you all they've got. So it don't matter if we don't get no rations till night.”

“Good lad,” said Bourne. “You are a champion scrounger, Martlow.”

He was thinking that the anxiety of the R.E.'s to get away did not indicate that it was a particularly cushy place. Shem had also been reconnoitring the position, and announced that there was a decent cellar, with most of a house in ruins on top of it, only about twenty yards away. Martlow then decorated the door with a paper on which he had printed with an indelible pencil RELAY POST in block letters.

“Well, we may as well have some tea an' bully,” said Shem.

It was after one o'clock, so they set to, and had a good comforting meal, and lounged about smoking until a little after two, when a message came from the trenches. One of the regular runners brought it, with Pacey. It was a regulation that two runners should take a message together, in case one might be wounded, but this was often disregarded owing to a shortage of runners: it was tacitly assumed that one of them would go at a time, so that in case of simultaneous messages both ways the post would not be without a man on duty. Shem and Martlow took the message to Brigade H.Q., just the other side of Courcelles, and Pacey and


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Hankin, the regular runner, sat and yarned with Bourne for a few minutes.

“You look all right 'ere, but Fritz 'as been bashin' the place about, 'asn't 'e?” said Pacey.

Part of the mud wall had come away, leaving only laths. After a cigarette, Pacey and Hankin set off back to the trenches. Bourne sat in a kind of reverie for about half an hour until Shem and Martlow returned, and idle talk continued for a time.

The whole air suddenly became alive, and crash after crash filled the town. They were stunned, and petrified, for a moment. More of the mud wall fell away, and there was a landslide of tiles. They cowered down, as though they wanted to shrink away to nothing. It was heavy stuff coming over. One shell struck the Café de la Jeunesse, and another corner of it went flying in all directions; loose tiles kept falling, and the walls rapidly became threadbare lath, merely from the effects of the concussion. Bourne felt himself shaking, but they couldn't stay there.

“Get into that cellar!” he shouted to them; and grabbing their rifles and water-bottles, which they had taken out, they moved out uncertainly. Bourne felt his breath coming heavily. Shells were bumping practically the whole length of the village. He didn't know what to


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do about the relay-post; and though he felt an awful fool, he decided.

“I'll be after you,” he shouted, and running, as a man runs into a rain-storm, he disappeared into the street. He turned the corner and continued downhill to the control's dug-out. On the hillside just beyond the control's dug-out a man lay dead. His tin-hat was blown some yards away, and the top of the head had been taken off, so that at a glance one saw some remnants of the scattered brains. Apparently the whole of Colincamps was going west, clouds of smoke and dust rose from it. Bourne fell down the steps of the dug-out. He couldn't say why he was there at first.

“There's a man dead outside, sergeant,” he said, dully.

“What the bloody hell are you doin' out in it? Are you sure 'e's dead?”

“Yes, sergeant; most of the head's gone. I'm at the relay-post, runners. I thought I had better tell you that we had left the stable, and gone into the cellar of the house.”

“I'm goin' out to see to that man.”

They doubled out to him, and finding that he was really dead, shifted him off the road; and went into the dug-out again.

“I'm going back now, sergeant.”

“You 'ad better wait a bit,” said the sergeant, in a kindlier voice. “You know it's against


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regulations for you chaps to go alone. There ought to be a pair of you.”

“I had better go back. I didn't know whether we ought to move, as I have not been on the job before. I'll go back to see how my chums are.”

“All right,” said the sergeant, in a curiously irritable way. “Write up on the door where you are.”

The shelling was still violent, but seemed to be worse at the corner in the direction of Courcelles, and to have extended on this side farther along the Mailly-Maillet road. As Bourne came out, he could see shells exploding by the dump, with some shrapnel bursting, woolly-bears they called them, overhead. He couldn't say whether it was with a prayer or a curse that he made for the corner of Colincamps, doubling up the short rise with difficulty. Collapsing houses had spilt their bricks half across the street. One wall, about sixty yards away from him, suddenly crumpled and fell. He wouldn't look at things. He found himself saying over and over again in soldiers' language: “I've been out of the bloody shit too long” : not uttering the words but thinking them with a curious intensity. His vision seemed narrowed to a point immediately in front of him. When he got to the stable they had left, he went straight to Martlow's notice, and drawing a rough arrow underneath the words “Relay Post,” wrote in rough blocks


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the words “In Cellar.” Then he went to it, noticing as he descended that the entrance was turned the wrong way. Shem and Martlow looked at him, but he could scarcely see their faces in the gloom.

“What's it like, now?” asked Martlow, with a very slight catch in his voice.

“Oh, it's cushy enough,” said Bourne, with desperate humour.

Suddenly he felt inexpressibly tired. He bowed his head and sat gazing into nothing, emptied of all effort. The shells bumped for some time longer, slackened, and then ceased. Bourne had the sensation that the earth was left steaming.

A DRIZZLE of rain began, and increasing by degrees filled the quiet with little trickling sounds. The cellar was comfortably furnished, as it had apparently been used as a funk-hole before, and by people of more importance than its present occupants. Its sole defect was that the entrance directly faced the Hun lines, and perhaps this inconvenience had prompted them to leave; but during their tenancy they had put in three beds, wooden frames standing about two feet off the floor, over which rabbit-netting had been stretched and nailed, as a substitute for spring-mattresses. Some rather thin Wilson canvas curtained the entrance. Bourne remembered


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that there was some thicker sacking, in the stable which they had left, and he proposed to get it, and nail it over the outside of the doorway. They went back, together, to their old quarters. Little of the stable was left except its frame, some laths, and a few tiles, still hanging precariously on the slats overhead, through which, now, the rain fell steadily. They wrenched some nails from the timbers, and Shem and Martlow fastened the extra sacking on the doorway of the cellar. Bourne wandered off by himself for a moment. He found that the premises included their own private latrine. He had been silent and preoccupied, since coming back from the control, and had said nothing about the man killed on the hillside. He didn't want to talk.

“Bourne's getting windy,” said Shem to Martlow.

“'e weren't windy goin' out in that lot,” said Martlow, repelling the suggestion.

“Yes, he was,” said Shem, chuckling; “that's just why he went.”

“If it comes to that, we're all windy,” grunted Martlow, loyally.

There was some truth in Shem's observation, all the same. Bourne came back in a few minutes, and having inspected the curtain, he lit a small piece of candle. Martlow was going out, and was told to report if any light were visible from outside.




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“There will be a message to take up the line, soon,” said Bourne, to Shem. “I might as well go by myself, I think. I want to try and scrounge a couple of candles from the quarter-bloke.”

“Then I'll take the midnight message to Brigade,” said Shem.

Martlow returned. The light did not show from outside, but it did, of course, when the curtains were twitched aside. They were too close together for them to hope that a man entering would lift first one and then the other. Bourne said they would have to cover or blow out the light, on entering or leaving. Then, as the candle was all they had, they blew it out and talked in the dark. Fritz sent three shells over, a regular interval between them. Our own guns had been completely silent during the strafe. Now, however, after an appreciable pause, a trench-mortar battery sent three back to the Hun; and then, after an interval to give emphasis and point to their reply, added another for luck. Bourne looked at his wrist-watch, and saw that it was a couple of minutes after six.

“That sounded like a regular stunt,” he said.

A few minutes later they heard a couple of men shouting above-ground, and Martlow, going halfway up the steps, called to them. Two runners from Brigade came in, and when the


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sacking curtain had been put in place, Bourne lit the candle.

“Thought you'd all gone west,” said one runner, “when I saw the bloody barn.”

“I left a notice on the door,” said Bourne, thoughtlessly.

“Well, I can't read it in the bloody dark, can I?” objected the runner. “'ere's the usual. We'll 'ave a fag, before we go back, chum. You chaps know 'ow to make yourselves comfortable.”

“It's the first duty of a good soldier,” said Bourne.

They talked about the strafe; now that it was over, none of them exaggerated its importance.

“Only a few shells came into Courcelles,” said the runner; “but we knew Colincamps and the dump were getting it.”

“I'm going now,” said Bourne. “Don't show any light.”

“You're getting wind-up,” said Shem, laughing.

“Wind-up! 'e's talkin' bloody sense,” said the runner. “You don't want to take any bloody chances up 'ere, I can tell you. It looks to me as though Jerry 'ad rumbled somethin' already.”

That was Bourne's notion, but he did not pursue the subject.

“D'you go alone?” they asked him.




  ― (323) ―

“Yes, we nearly always go alone,” answered Bourne. “Good-night.”

Martlow covered the light with a can, as Bourne moved out into the dark. It was very dark, and the rain was fine, searching and cold. He would keep to the road as far as the dump, it was no use trying a short cut, and the wet surface of the road was at least visible, lots of little pools gleaming in it. The control was not there. Some instinctive scruple moved Bourne to avoid the side of the road where he had found the dead man, and, looking to where they had carried the body, he saw that it had been removed.

The dump was empty. In another couple of hours it would be alive with men and transport. He had a kind of talent for moving about surefootedly in the dark. He did not mind the rain, and he loved the quiet. There were fewer star-shells to-night, and the rain made their expanding and contracting haloes even more mysterious than usual.

He handed in the message, and then spoke to Corporal Hamley, who was with Sergeant-major Corbet, about the strafe.

“Well, Captain Malet is out of it, now,” said the sergeant-major.

“What happened to Captain Malet, sergeant-major?” he asked, anxiously.

“Dug-out blown in; a beam fell on him, and


  ― (324) ―
broke both his legs. They were some time before they got him clear, they had to dig under the beam. They wanted to take a couple of rifles as splints for his legs, until they got him to the dressing-station; but he wouldn't have it. ‘You may want 'em more than I do,’ he said. ‘You get me a couple of miles away from here, and I'm laughing.’ When they were getting him out he smoked a cigarette, and didn't say a word, though they must have hurt him.”

“Anyone else hurt?” asked Bourne.

“A boy called Bates was killed, and two others wounded or hurt. I haven't heard all the details. B Company had a few casualties. We had a sentry over the dug-out wounded. Matheson. D'you know him? You came from A Company, didn't you? Thought so. Someone told me Captain Malet was going to get the Colonel to recommend you for a commission, wasn't he? What are you going to do about it, now?”

While the sergeant-major was speaking of Bates having been killed, Bourne tried to remember who Bates was; and, at the effort of memory to recover him, he seemed to hear a high, excited voice suddenly cry out, as though actually audible to the whole dug-out:

“What's 'e want to drag me into 't for?”

And it was as though Bates were bodily present there; the sergeant-major's voice seemed less


  ― (325) ―
real. In the light of the unsteady candles, each haloed in the fog of smoke, Bourne saw all the quiet men, some half asleep, some staring in front of them, thinking, and waiting. He felt as though he were under some extraordinary hallucination, but he answered the sergeant-major reasonably enough, said he would have a talk to him when they went out of trenches again, suggested speaking to Mr. Rhys; and all the time he heard his own voice saying things, which somehow did not seem to concern him, meaningless things which had to be taken very seriously. He knew no more of Bill Bates than that one phrase, passionately innocent:

“What's 'e want to drag me into 't for?”

“Could I get our rations now, sergeant-major?” he said, evenly. “I have brought a mess-tin, for our rum-ration; and I was going to ask if we could have some candles. We left the barn we were in, and moved into a cellar; and we need a bit of light.”

“Who told you to leave the barn an' go into a cellar?”

“Oh, Fritz did. And the barn came unstuck. After the tiles had fallen off, and the walls began to tumble down, I thought we ought to go to ground. I told the sergeant on control duty where we would be, and I left a notice on the door. We're in the same yard, but in the cellar of the house. As all that is left of the house is a


  ― (326) ―
couple of thousand bricks, piled up in a heap on top of the cellar, we ought to be fairly safe there; only the entrance faces the line, and we have to be careful to screen the light.”

“I can only let you have a couple of candles,” said the quartermaster-sergeant.

“Oh, make it three, sir,” said Bourne, in a tone of coaxing protest, and a little grudgingly the quarter-bloke dealt him out another, while Bourne talked to keep from thinking. “Just before I got to the control's dug-out, there was a man killed on the road. We lifted him to one side. He was a gunner, I think.… I can take the rum-ration in my mess-tin, sir.… It made us all a bit windy, I think. There's not quite so much of Colincamps left as when you last saw it, sergeant-major.”

“It's my belief Fritz has rumbled us,” said the sergeant-major in a whisper.

“What can you expect?” said Bourne, pointing to the bright yellow material sewn on his haversack. “We are decked out in all the colours of the rainbow, and then marched over the whole countryside in order to advertise the show. Anyone can see we are in war-paint. We are put into khaki, so as to be more or less invisible; and then rigged up in colours, so that we can be seen. It's genius.”

“That's so as the artillery can spot us,” said the sergeant-major soberly.




  ― (327) ―

“Whose, sergeant-major?”

“You're a sarky devil, you are.”

“There's your bag o' rations, and don't lose the bag, see?” said the quarter-bloke.

“All right, sir, thank you. I suppose I ought to be moving back. I am sorry about Captain Malet, but I suppose he's lucky. Do you think there's anything to go back, sir? I might save another man a walk.”

“Go and wait inside for a few minutes,” said the sergeant-major; they were all in the recess at the foot of the steps. “I shall be seeing the adjutant presently. It's all bloody rot having that relay post at Colincamps, in my opinion. The Brigade runners might easily come up here, and our runners go down to Courcelles. Wait a few minutes, and I'll see.”

Bourne went in and sat by Weeper, who neither moved nor spoke to him; and after a few minutes the sergeant-major came in.

“You may go back, Bourne; there probably won't be anything but the report at midnight. Good-night.”

“Good-night, sergeant-major,” he said, and, taking up his rifle, climbed up the stairs into the rain and darkness again.

When he got back to the cellar, he found that Martlow had brought in a stray terrier. The dog was obviously suffering from shell-shock, he was trembling in a piteous way, and Martlow


  ― (328) ―
said that when he had caught him, he had tried to bite. The only domestic animal which Bourne had met among these deserted ruins, had been a gaunt and savage cat, which, on seeing him, had cursed the whole human race, and fled precipitately. They had supper, and some hot tea with their rum, persuaded the dog to eat a little bully, and then lay smoking on their beds. They heard trains of limbers passing through the village. Bourne and Martlow curled up to sleep, and Shem waited for the night report to take it back to Courcelles.

In the morning at seven o'clock Fritz sent over his three shells, and the trench mortar battery barked out the same reply as on the previous night. Fritz's shells had fallen very close. Martlow went out first, and then put his head through the doorway to announce that the latrine had been blown up; where it had stood there was nothing but a large hole.

“Well, what do you want,” said Shem; “a bloody bathroom?”

The dog had another fit of shivering when the shells came over; but it recovered later; and Martlow took it outside for a short walk. Exploring the ruins a native instinct got the better of the dog's recently acquired caution, and it disappeared out of history in hot pursuit of a cat.

“ 'e were a good dog, that,” said Martlow, regretfully.

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