no next

  ― (428) ―


Fortune? O, most true; she is a strumpet.


AFTER another tour in the trenches, their rest billets were changed, and they moved to huts in Bus wood. A court-martial reduced the regimental sergeant-major to the rank of a sergeant, and he was sent to A Company under Sergeant-major Tozer. He took it very well, but became rather unapproachable, though Bourne sometimes succeeded in drawing him out of himself. Tozer handled him tactfully, never consulting him, and yet taking his opinion, when he offered it, very much as though they were of equal rank. He knew how to nurse a sorry man. The men, too, no longer bore him any ill-will, his punishment wiped out any score they may have had against him; but his manner did not change perceptibly; even though his conduct became more circumspect, he still faced matters in his own rather arrogant and scornful way.

Bourne himself had become rather melancholy and unsociable. Chance threw him fairly often in the way of Morgan, the bombing sergeant, and they would go out together from time to time, to a house in Bus where they could get rum and

  ― (429) ―
coffee, and talk in quiet. Morgan drank very little, and was seldom seen in an estaminet. He was a keen, dapper, confident little man. Sometimes a tall man with a gipsy face, one of the bombers, would join them. Bourne had first seen him at Reclinghem, when they had been billeted together; and, as he never seemed to get any letters or parcels, Bourne had asked him to share in his occasionally. They had become more or less friendly, and one day Bourne asked him what he had done in civil life.

“I was at school,” he said, after a moment's hesitation.

Bourne looked at him in amazement, as he was at least thirty years old, and Whitfield explained quite simply, that he had been serving a sentence in gaol. Apparently he was a burglar, but he made no attempt to justify his choice of a profession which was both hazardous and ill-paid; and Bourne, recovering from a momentary bewilderment, accepted his statement as confidential, and kept the matter to himself. He liked Whitfield, who after all, as a bomber, was labouring in his vocation; but though he kept the man's secret, he once turned to Sergeant Morgan and asked him what Whitfield had done before the war.

“ 'e kept a bicycle-repair shop,” said Morgan. “ 'e's a bloody good man, you know; one of the best men I've got. I've recommended 'im for

  ― (430) ―
a stripe once or twice, but they don't seem to take no notice. 'e doesn't mind, but I'll keep on recommending 'im. You ought to come out with me some night, when we're up in the tronshay. A lot o' the men don't see it, but it's a good game really. You're free to do very much as you please. O' course you get your orders, an' they make up some kind of a plan; but that's all eye-wash. You've got to forget all that as soon as you start, an' make your own arrangements as you go on. I've taken out quite a lot o' officers now, an' they're all the same, pretty decent chaps as a rule. They draw up a plan, an' then they just come to me an' ask me to take a glance at it, an' see if it's all right. It's all right, sir, I always say to 'em; you just bung it in at th' orderly-room, an' we'll do what's possible. On'y one officer ever gave me any trouble, a chap attached to us, no names no pack-drill; but 'e were a bastard, 'e were. Military Cross, an' bar; reg'lar pot-'unter; an' we lost one o' the best corporals we've ever 'ad through that bloody man. Wouldn't be told, 'e wouldn't.”

Bourne knew something of the story, but he was not paying much attention. Very slowly, and less as a possibility than as a kind of dream, there woke in him a desire to see and explore a little of the Hun trenches again. The desire grew, fascinating him; and then faded again, as

  ― (431) ―
a dream might, for he knew the reality too well. They finished their rum and coffee, and walked back together to the huts.

“Where've you been?” said Sergeant-major Tozer. “I don't seem to get much time these days, but I was lookin' for you to-night. Thought we might go out an' see what was doin' in this bloody 'ole.”

“Sergeant-major,” said Bourne, “we won't go out. I'll try and scrounge a bottle of whiskey, and we'll have a spree to-morrow night in the company office, with Sergeant Hope and Corporal Jakes. Never mind how I'll get it. You're not supposed to know that: it's not in Infantry Training.”

All the talk in the camp on the following morning was about Miller the deserter, who had been arrested near Calais, and had been brought back under escort.

“Wish they'd shot the bugger, an' saved us the trouble,” was all Sergeant-major Tozer said.

“He gave you the slip all right, Sergeant-major,” said Sergeant Hope, with a laugh that sounded a little supercilious.

“He gave me the slip all right,” admitted Tozer; “but then he wasn't a prisoner.”

A new regimental sergeant-major had come to them from another battalion some days earlier. Hope knew him a little, and said he was a pukka soldier, reserved and strict, but very reasonable.

  ― (432) ―
He came into A Company's hut, and asked for Bourne, at half-past five that afternoon; and when Bourne came to him at the double, he was told to make himself look smart, as he was to go before the commanding-officer at six o'clock, about his commission. For the moment Bourne felt an almost uncontrollable desire to draw back, if possible; then he accepted the situation, and went to brush up and wash. While he was rolling on his puttees again, Sergeant Hope came to him.

“D'you mind asking the regimental to come along to-night, too?” he asked.

“You ask him, Sergeant,” said Bourne characteristically.

“No bloody fear,” said Hope. “I don't mind letting him know what's in the wind. He's a jolly good sport, is old Traill, though he does stand a bit on his dignity; it will be all right if you tell him it's just a kind of farewell drink together; but it wouldn't do for us to ask him. He would think we had put you up to getting it; but after you've seen the Colonel you could ask him.”

A little reluctantly Bourne agreed; but he felt awkward about it, because after all he did not know the regimental, and the whole business was, to say the least, irregular. As soon as he was dressed, the regimental looked him over.

  ― (433) ―

“As you are ready,” he said, “we may as well walk down. I want to have a talk to you.”

They set off together, walking slowly, and even stopping; and he had his talk. He knew as much about Bourne as anybody in the battalion knew, evidently; and his remarks were very much to the point. Discipline was discipline, he said; though one allowed a certain latitude to the reasonable man.

“You're quite right to be friendly with everyone, so long as you behave yourself, and don't try to take advantage. All the same, you know, some of the men with whom you're friendly may be all right in their place, but you don't want to judge the whole army by them. You will have to forget a lot, and begin again; that is, you will have to take a different view. You know the men. But when you're an officer you won't know your men. You'll be lucky if you know your N.C.O.s, and you'll have to leave a lot of it to them. You'll have to keep them up to the mark; but you'll have to trust them, and let them know it.”

He went into the orderly-room, and presently returned to take in Bourne. The Colonel was sitting at his table, which was covered by the invariable blanket, and apparently Bourne's business was only one of many matters engaging his attention. He seemed thoughtful and preoccupied, rather than tired, and he looked at

  ― (434) ―
Bourne with his inflexible blue-gray eyes, while he questioned him about himself and his life. His manner seemed to grow a little kindlier, without ceasing to be detached, as he proceeded. Then, without asking any more questions, he gave Bourne some advice which did not differ substantially from the regimental's.

“I shall make you a lance-corporal,” he said in conclusion. “It may be some weeks before the matter goes through; and you will have to go before the Brigadier-General for his approval. I think they're very lucky to get you, as I feel sure you will make a good officer.”

Bourne thanked him, saluted, and left. Outside, he waited for the regimental in a curious state of pleasurable excitement. The Colonel's praise and encouragement filled him with gratitude, but something warred against his elation; he felt through all his excitement some intractable regret, and could only say to himself what he had said through all the past months: One is bound to try, one is not bound to succeed. Then the regimental came out to him.

“Sir,” said Bourne, “as I may be going away at any time now, I asked Sergeant-major Tozer, and Sergeant Hope, and Corporal Jakes to have a drink with me to-night; and I should be very glad of your company too. I have got a bottle of Scotch whiskey.”

The regimental wondered how he had got it,

  ― (435) ―
and noticing Bourne's anxiety, he concealed a smile with a hand stroking his moustache.

“I suppose it's an exceptional occasion,” he said, quietly. “I'll come along at eight. After all, a bottle of whiskey will do less harm to five men than to four.

He walked into the dusk, and Bourne went to his hut.

“How did you get on with the C.O.?” said Sergeant Hope. “There's a letter there for you.”

Bourne picked up the letter with a shock of surprise. It was a cheap, shiny envelope with a thin black edge to it, addressed in a woman's handwriting, which was old-fashioned, precise, and easily recognized. He saw the post-mark, Squelesby.

“Oh, all right,” he said absently.

“Is the regimental coming in to-night?” Hope asked him.

“Yes,” he answered, even forgetting to add the customary “sergeant.”

Hope looked at him curiously, and said nothing more. Bourne, getting closer to the candle, opened the letter and read it. It was from Mrs. Martlow.

HE returned it to its envelope and buttoned it into his breast-pocket. Martlow had told his mother all about him, even that he would miss

  ― (436) ―
him when he went “to be made an officer”; and Bourne found himself remembering the walk back to Reclinghem from Vincly, and the old priest, hatless in the twilight, and the reproach in the boy's voice as he asked him whether what Sergeant-major Robinson had said were true. Presently he got up, and walked out between the trees for a little while. He felt restless. The extraordinary reserve and courage in this woman's letter, the painful way in which she reached out for Bourne, piecing him together out of her son's letters, as though he kept something of him which she had lost, that, too, seemed a reproach to him. He had heard nothing of Shem. Shem was in a hospital somewhere, recovering from his wound; but he had vanished completely, so completely that Bourne did not even expect to hear from him again. Men passed out of sight like that, and seemed to leave very little trace. Their term had been completed. Martlow, for some reason he could not grasp, persisted in his memory, seemed to be only out of sight, behind the hut, as it were, or even just on the point of coming through the doorway. Bourne went back and sat with Hope.

“You haven't had any bad news, have you?” Hope asked him.

“No, Sergeant. Oh, you mean the letter. No, it was only an answer.”

They went off together to the hut used as a

  ― (437) ―
company-office and store; and found Corporal Jakes there with Sergeant-major Tozer. Presently the regimental arrived; and, taking out his jack-knife, Bourne drew the cork slowly and softly, Jakes mimicking the sound of it with his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and immediately looking as though he had made a breach of good manners. Bourne paid more attention to the regimental and to Corporal Jakes than to the other two; because apparently the R.S.M. found it a little difficult to throw off a certain presidential air, and Jakes, feeling some constraint, looked rather as though his clothes were too tight. That awkwardness wore off. Some kind of warmth and excitement came into Bourne's blood as they laughed at his stories.

“You seem in a pretty good skin to-night,” said Sergeant-major Tozer. “Well, I suppose you'll 'ave a lance stripe up to-morrow; an' then it'll be good-bye in no time. Funny thing, life. We just sit 'ere an' talk as though we'd sit 'ere for ever, an' when one or two ol' friends drop out, an' one or two new uns come along, it don't seem no different some'ow. All the same, I expect we'll remember you longer'n you'll remember us.”

“Damn it,” said the regimental, very reasonably, “you can't forget a man who finds a bottle o' Scotch in a place like this.”

“Have some more, sir? Corporal?”

  ― (438) ―

“Just a spot more. Merci blow-through,” said the corporal.

“I mean we'll be still 'ere,” explained Tozer; “an' you'll be out of it. It won't seem real to you any longer.”

“You don't want to think about things,” said Corporal Jakes.

They all started talking in a desultory way about the war. The regimental was confident, but had no illusions. It could only end when Germany had been beaten; but the end seemed a long way off yet.

“I lost my elder boy,” he said quietly.

Bourne looked at him, at once. Here was a man with a personal feeling against the Hun; and it was curious how seldom one thought of men except as soldiers. One forgot that they were husbands, or fathers, or sons; they were just a lot of anonymous men.

They talked and drank together quietly while the whiskey lasted. It was a break; they became easy, comfortable, friendly with each other, and then they went their several ways to sleep.

Bourne was in orders for a stripe next day, and went to the tailors to get it sewn on his sleeve at once. He gave the tailors some money to wet it.

“I suppose you'll be goin' out on a bit of a spree wi' the S.M. an' Sergeant 'ope to-night,” said Snobby Hines, approvingly.

  ― (439) ―

“No. I'm going to kip,” said Bourne. “Sergeant Hope's on guard to-night.”

In the morning Miller, the deserter, had assumed heroic proportions. He was a prisoner in the police tent, right at the edge of a quarry, with three of the police sleeping there and a sentry outside. In the night he had crawled out under the skirt of the tent, and climbed down the quarry in the dark; then he had crept back into the camp and stolen one of the orderlies' bicycles.

“That bugger deserves to get off,” said Sergeant-major Tozer; but the unlucky Sergeant Hope, who was the person responsible, shoved a revolver into his pocket, took another bicycle, and scoured the country like a desperate man. Even when he returned, empty-handed, he could not say all he felt. In the afternoon they moved up to the front-line trenches.

BRIGADE had ordered them to make a raid to secure identifications, and the various companies were asked to provide volunteers. Weeper Smart, who had been down to the headquarters' dug-out to get something, had brought back the message. With Lance-corporal Eames and a man called Jackson, he had been attached to A Company as signaller for that tour in the trenches. He handed the message to Sergeant-major Tozer, who gave it to Captain Marsden;

  ― (440) ―
and they discussed the matter in a low tone of voice. The Hun had become a little troublesome in no-man's land, and it was a mistake to let him have too much of his own way.

“Mr. Cross will be in charge, with Sergeant Morgan and ten men.”

Bourne had been out with a fatigue party, draining a low-lying bit of trench which needed the pump daily. The trenches were rotten with wet, and when the frost gave the sides tended to collapse. He had brought his men back to the dug-out by the time Captain Marsden and Sergeant-major Tozer had digested the message, and Captain Marsden looked up and saw him, muddy up to the thighs.

“Lance-corporal, we're to make a raid tonight. I believe you know something about the lie of the land up here. Do you wish to make one of the party? We're asking for volunteers.”

“Lance-corporal Bourne is down for a commission, sir,” interposed Sergeant-major Tozer, “and per'aps …”

“I know all that,” said Captain Marsden, shortly. “What do you say, Lance-corporal?”

Bourne felt something in him dilate enormously, and then contract to nothing again.

“If you wish it, sir,” he said, indifferently.

“It's not a question of my wishes,” said Captain Marsden, coldly. “We are asking for

  ― (441) ―
volunteers. I think the experience may be useful to you.”

“I am quite ready, sir,” said Bourne, with equal coldness.

There was silence for a couple of seconds; and suddenly Weeper stood up, the telephone receiver still on his head, and his eyes almost starting from their sockets.

“If tha go'st, a'm goin',” he said, solemnly.

Captain Marsden looked at him with a supercilious amazement.

“I don't know whether your duties will allow of you going,” he said. “I shall put your name down provisionally.

A young man called Gaymer volunteered; no one else. They got some food, and sat in silence, smoking. After some time, Bourne, Smart, and Gaymer were told to report themselves outside H.Q. dug-out at once. The trenches by day were as forlorn and desolate as by night, but without the enveloping mystery. Everything was stark, bare, and cold; one crept within the skeleton ribs of earth. The party gradually came together, and the adjutant climbed out of the dug-out, and spoke to each man individually. He seemed a little perplexed as to what he should say. He looked at Bourne rather doubtfully.

“Feel you ought to go, Bourne?” he inquired, and passed on without waiting for a reply.

  ― (442) ―

Sergeant Morgan smiled at Bourne.

“It'll be all right,” he whispered. “We'll just take a peek at 'em, give 'em a bit of a surprise and come back.”

Bourne saw Whitfield there, and felt as though he would like to hunt in couples with him. Otherwise he felt quiet, almost indifferent, except for the sense of adventure that thrilled in him occasionally; and then, with that perversity of mind characteristic of him, he laughed at himself for a fool, and, when that phase passed, found himself thinking of Captain Marsden with an obscure resentment. Anyway, he argued, probably none of our actions are quite voluntary; if compulsion is not explicit, it is perhaps always implied; and then he found himself wondering whether the determination, which became stronger and stronger in him, was not after all his real self, which only needed the pressure of circumstances to elicit it. They moved off into an empty stretch of trench, and there the officer explained to them what they had to do, Sergeant Morgan intervening occasionally. They were shown a sketch plan of the enemy trenches, the point where it was proposed to enter, the post which, if occupied, they intended to attack; and then men were told off for their several jobs. Bourne found himself paired off with Weeper, with orders to hold the trench at a point where it made a junction with a communication

  ― (443) ―
trench running back to the support line, and give warning of the approach of any hostile party moving along the trench. They were told also that there might be a machine-gun post in their neighbourhood, but this was not clear. Their duty, in short, was to cover a flank and give protection to the raiders. If they were obliged to use their bombs, they were to retire immediately on the rest of the party, without ceasing to give what protection might be possible: if a signal were given by whistle, they were to go straight for the lane in the wire, and if unable to rejoin the others, they were to make their way back to their own trenches as best they could. They were cautioned as to the danger from their own sentries, and warned as to the necessity of answering a challenge promptly.

Mr. Cross, when he was satisfied that the men understood the plan as a whole, as well as their individual parts in it, turned to the sergeant, and asked him if he had forgotten anything. The sergeant seemed to be quite certain that he had not, but thought it as well to go over the whole plan again himself. He was less insistent than the officer on the value of team-work, and seemed more inclined to stress the fact what while the whole affair was a single action, in which their separate parts were co-ordinated, each man was expected to rely on himself and use his own judgment.

  ― (444) ―

“You want to get the ball out into the loose, an' keep it movin',” he said by way of metaphor; and they seemed to relish it, even if they didn't quite understand how it applied.

Then they went back to their several companies, with orders to assemble at nine o'clock by the junction of Delaunay and Monk trenches. Weeper and Bourne were alone together after a few paces.

“What 'opes 'ave us poor buggers got!” exclaimed Weeper.

“Why did you come, Smart? I thought it awfully decent of you,” said Bourne.

“When a seed that fuckin' slave-driver look at 'ee, a said to mysen, A'm comin'. A'll always say this for thee, tha'lt share all th'ast got wi' us'ns, and tha' don't call a man by any foolish nicknames. A'm comin'. 't won't be the first bloody raid a've been out on, lad. An' 't won't be t' last. Th'ast no cause to worry. A can look after mysen, aye, an' thee too, lad. You leave it to me.”

He was always the same; determination only made him more desperate. Bourne thought for a moment, and then, lifting his head, turned to his companion.

“I don't suppose Captain Marsden meant to put things that way, you know, Smart. It's just his manner. He would always do what he thought right.”

  ― (445) ―

Weeper turned on him a fierce but pitying glance.

“Th'art a bloody fool,” was all he said.

It was enough. Bourne laughed softly to himself. He had always felt some instinctive antipathy against his company-commander.

“I'll show the bastard,” he said to himself in his own mind; “if I get a chance.”

Chance. They were all balanced, equally, on a dangerous chance. One was not free, and therefore there would be very little merit in anything they might do. He followed Weeper down into the dug-out.

Sergeant-major Tozer was at the foot of the stairs, with Corporal Jakes.

“You want to look after yourself, see?” Tozer said, seriously. “Captain 'ad no right sendin' you like that.”

“ 'e's no bloody bottle, anyway,” said Jakes.

“You don't want to talk like that,” said the sergeant-major, and then, turning to Bourne: “There's a drop of 'ot tea there, wi' a tot o' rum in it, you can 'ave if you like.”

“No, thanks, Sergeant-major,” said Bourne; “but keep my ration for when I get back. And don't worry about me. I'm all right. I want to go.”

He knew that he did, then, very definitely. It was a part of his road, to whatever place it might lead; and he went to sit down by Weeper

  ― (446) ―
Smart. They talked together a little, not very much. They did not talk to anyone else; but, from time to time, one of the other men would look at them in a kind of disinterested speculation.

THE mist was luminous in the moonlight, but very variable, clouding and clearing, hurrying away on the wind, which was not strong enough to dissipate it entirely. One question was, would it last long enough? They had daubed their faces with mud. Starting at a walk, they dropped after a little while, and crawled slowly and cautiously forward. The mud had become moderately firm under the frost, which was not hard enough to coat the puddles with ice to crack under their weight with the sound of splintering glass. There were a few pauses, when Sergeant Morgan whispered to the officer; and once again Bourne felt inclined to laugh, for some of the men breathed heavily, like oxen, in the night. At last there was a definite pause; and Whitfield wriggled forward with another man. They waited, listening intently. It was very silent now. Suddenly a machine-gun started to chatter, but it was only an admonition. Once they heard the vibration of a wire, and a rattle, and, listening intently, they ceased to breathe. Bourne and Weeper were next to a man with a mace, some of the men called it a kosher-stick, and Bourne looked at it curiously. He felt very

  ― (447) ―
cool; but it seemed a long time to wait there. At last Whitfield came back. Then he led the way forward again, the sergeant following immediately afterwards, then came Mr. Cross, and the men with maces, and the rest of the party. Bourne found himself crawling over a mat of wire, rusty in the mud, loose strands of it tore his trousers to tatters, and it was slow work getting through; he was mortally afraid of setting some of the strands singing along the line. Every sound he made seemed extraordinarily magnified. Every sense seemed to be stretched to an exquisite apprehension. He was through. He saw Whitfield and the other man slip into the trench, and out the other side. Sergeant Morgan gave him the direction with his hand. Weeper passed him, and he followed, trying to memorize the direction, so that he would be able to find his way back to the gap in the wire. They crossed almost together, Weeper taking his hand and pulling him up the other side without apparent effort. The man was as strong as an ape. Then they wormed their way forward again, until they found their position, where the communication trench formed a rather sharp angle with the fire-trench. The fire-trench itself still showed the effects of their bombardment; after passing the communication trench it changed its direction in a rather pronounced way, running forward as though to converge

  ― (448) ―
more closely on the British line. They were now in a shell-hole, or rather two shell-holes which had formed one: Weeper looking down the communication-trench, and Bourne along the fire-trench. The mist was very light now, it looked as though it might almost clear. Bourne shifted his position slightly, to get more comfortable. He already had a bomb ready, with his finger in the ring of the safety-pin. As he moved, he saw, not ten yards away, a faint gleam of yellowish light, that had none of the spectral pallor of moonlight. He kicked Weeper, and pointed silently. The gleam came again. It came from a large shell-hole curtained over, probably by a camouflaged tarpaulin; and something moving inside pressed against the slit by which men entered, displacing it almost imperceptibly, so that there came from it, every now and then, a winking gleam of light. He heard Weeper mutter something no louder than a sigh. Farther, much farther, away, a star-shell shot up into the sky. Suddenly they heard a shout, a scream, faint sounds of struggle, and some muffled explosions from underground. Almost immediately the machine-gun in front of them broke into stuttering barks; they could see the quick spurting flashes in front of it; and Bourne threw his bomb, which went straight for the crack in the curtain. Ducking, he had another ready and threw that, but Weeper had

  ― (449) ―
already thrown. The three explosions followed in rapid succession. They heard a whistle. The machine-gun was out of action, but Weeper, leaping towards its wreckage, gave them another, and rushed Bourne into the trench. They saw through the mist their own party already by the gap, and Weeper's parting bomb exploded.

THE PARTY under Mr. Cross had made a slight encircling movement, and then, after creeping forward until within striking distance, rushed the trench. As the sentry turned, one of the maces crashed into his temple, and another man finished him with a bayonet. There were two other Huns in the same bay, and one had his arm broken with a mace, and screamed. Simultaneously the dug-out was bombed, and a couple of men hurled themselves on the third Hun, a Prussian sergeant, who put up a fight, but was overmastered, and lifted, booted, hustled out of the trench. They killed any survivors in the dug-out, and another Prussian had been killed in the next bay. While they were forcing the sergeant and the man with the broken arm towards the wire, they heard Weeper and Bourne bombing the machine-gun post, and Mr. Cross blow his whistle. Almost immediately a star-shell went up, and there was some blind desultory rifle fire. They had got their men through the wire. Suddenly the Hun sergeant, with a

  ― (450) ―
desperate effort, wrenched himself free, and faced them with lifted hand:

Halte!” he shouted, and flung himself on Sergeant Morgan. They went down together. Mr. Cross fired, and fortunately killed the Prussian.

“I hope you'll never do that again, sir!” said Sergeant Morgan, rising.

“Get his helmet off.”

The chain was tight in the thick fat under the chin. Taking his bayonet, the sergeant tried to prise it off, and cut through all the soft part of the neck so that the head fell back. The helmet came away in the end, and they pushed on, with their other moaning prisoner.

WEEPER was ahead when he and Bourne reached the gap in the wire. Starshell after starshell was going up now, and the whole line had woken up. Machine-guns were talking; but there was one that would not talk. The rattle of musketry continued, but the mist was kindly to them, and had thickened again. As they got beyond the trammelling, clutching wire, Bourne saw Weeper a couple of paces ahead of him, and what he thought was the last of their party disappearing into the mist about twenty yards away. He was glad to be clear of the wire. Another star-shell went up, and they both froze into stillness under its glare. Then they moved again, hurrying for all they were worth. Bourne felt

  ― (451) ―
a sense of triumph and escape thrill in him. Anyway the Hun couldn't see them now. Something kicked him in the upper part of the chest, rending its way through him, and his agonized cry was scarcely audible in the rush of blood from his mouth, as he collapsed and fell.

Weeper turned his head over his shoulder, listened, stopped, and went back. He found Bourne trying to lift himself; and Bourne spoke, gasping, suffocating.

“Go on. I'm scuppered.”

“A'll not leave thee,” said Weeper.

He stooped and lifted the other in his huge, ungainly arms, carrying him as tenderly as though he were a child. Bourne struggled wearily to speak, and the blood, filling his mouth, prevented him. Sometimes his head fell on Weeper's shoulder. At last, barely articulate, a few words came.

“I'm finished. Le' me in peace, for God's sake. You can't …”

“A'll not leave thee,” said Weeper in an infuriate rage.

He felt Bourne stretch himself in a convulsive shudder, and relax, becoming suddenly heavier in his arms. He struggled on, stumbling over the shell-ploughed ground through that fantastic mist, which moved like an army of wraiths, hurrying away from him. Then he stopped, and, taking the body by the waist with his left arm, flung it over his shoulder, steadying it with

  ― (452) ―
his right. He could see their wire now, and presently he was challenged, and replied. He found the way through the wire, and staggered into the trench with his burden. Then he turned down the short stretch of Delaunay to Monk Trench, and came on the rest of the party outside A Company's dug-out.

“A've brought 'im back,” he cried desperately, and collapsed with the body on the duck-boards. Picking himself up again, he told his story incoherently, mixed with raving curses.

“What are you gibbering about?” said Sergeant Morgan. “'aven't you ever seen a dead man before?”

Sergeant-major Tozer, who was standing outside the dug-out, looked at Morgan with a dangerous eye. Then he put a hand on Weeper's shoulder.

“Go down an' get some 'ot tea and rum, ol' man. That'll do you good. I'd like to 'ave a talk with you when you're feelin' better.”

“We had better move on, Sergeant,” said Mr. Cross, quietly.

“Very good, sir.”

The party moved off, and for a moment Sergeant-major Tozer was alone in the trench with Sergeant Morgan.

“I saw him this side of their wire, Sergeant-major, and thought everything would be all right. 'pon my word, I would 'ave gone back for 'im myself, if I'd known.”

  ― (453) ―

“It was hard luck,” said Sergeant-major Tozer with a quiet fatalism.

Sergeant Morgan left him; and the sergeant-major looked at the dead body propped against the side of the trench. He would have to have it moved; it wasn't a pleasant sight, and he bared his teeth in the pitiful repulsion with which it filled him. Bourne was sitting: his head back, his face plastered with mud, and blood drying thickly about his mouth and chin, while the glazed eyes stared up at the moon. Tozer moved away, with a quiet acceptance of the fact. It was finished. He was sorry about Bourne, he thought, more sorry than he could say. He was a queer chap, he said to himself, as he felt for the dug-out steps. There was a bit of a mystery about him; but then, when you come to think of it, there's a bit of a mystery about all of us. He pushed aside the blanket screening the entrance, and in the murky light he saw all the men lift their faces, and look at him with patient, almost animal eyes.

Then they all bowed over their own thoughts again, listening to the shells bumping heavily outside, as Fritz began to send a lot of stuff over in retaliation for the raid. They sat there silently: each man keeping his own secret.

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