“He gave me five minutes, so I’ll give him the same. Has ony o’ ye a watch?”
A timekeeper stepped forward out of the little knot of spectators that crowded the trench, and Macalister requested him to notify them when only one minute of the five was left.
“My manny here was good enough,” said Macalister, “to tell me he wouldna’ bandage my eyes, because he wanted me to look down the muzzle of his pistol; so now,” turning to the prisoner, “you can watch my finger pulling the trigger.”
As the four minutes ebbed, the German’s courage ran out with them. The jokes and laughter about him had ceased. Macalister’s face was set and savage, and there was a cold, hard look in his eye, a stern ferocity on his mud and bloodstained face that convinced the German the end of the five minutes would also surely see his end.
“One minute to go,” said the timekeeper. A sigh of indrawn breaths ran round the circle, and then tense silence. Outside the trench they were in the roar of the guns boomed unceasingly, the shells whooped and screwed overhead, and from oat in front came the crackle and roar of rifle-fire; and yet, despite the noise, the trench appeared still and silent. Macalister noted that, as he had noted it over there in the German trench.
“Time’s up,” said the man with the watch. The German, looking straight at the pistol muzzle and the cold eye behind the sights, gasped and closed his eyes. The silence held, and after a dragging minute the German opened his eyes, to find the pistol lowered but still pointing at him.
“To make it right and fair,” said Macalister, “his hands should be loose, because I had managed to loose mine. Will one o’ ye ... thank ye. It’s no easy,” continued Macalister, “to just fit the rest o’ the program in, seeing that it was here a bomb fell in the trench, an’ his men bein’ weel occupied gettin’ oot o’ its way, I threw him ower the parapet and dragged him across to oor lines. Maybe ye’d like to try and throw me out the same way.”
The German was perhaps a brave enough man, but the ordeal of those last five minutes especially had brought his nerve to near its breaking strain. His lips twitched and quivered, his jaw hung slack, and at Macalister’s invitation he tittered hysterically. There was a stir and a movement at the back of the spectators that by now thronged the trench, and an officer pushed his way through.
“What’s this?” he said. “Oh, yes! the prisoner. Well, you fellows might have more sense than heap yourselves up in a crowd like this. One solitary Krupp dropping in here, and we’d have a pretty-looking mess. Open out along the trench there, and keep low down. You can be ready to move in a few minutes now; we are being relieved here and are going further back. Now what about this prisoner? Who is looking after him?”
“I am, sir,” said Macalister. “The Captain said I was to take him back.”
“Right,” said the subaltern. “You can take him with you when you go. They’ve got some more prisoners up the line, and you can join them.”