Gunner Donovan leaned across to Mick and shouted loudly.
But his remark was so apparently irrelevant that Mick failed to understand. A sudden skidding swerve as the team wheeled nearly jerked him off his seat, the crackling bursts of half a dozen light shells over the plain behind him distracted his attention for a moment further. Then he leaned in towards Donovan, “What was that?” he yelled. “What didjer say?”
Donovan repeated his remark. “Gawd—bless—old ‘Cut-the-Time.’”
The battery plunged in amongst the trees, and into safety.
“During the night, only patrol and reconnoitering engagements of small consequence are reported."—EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH.
“Straff the Germans and all their works, particularly their mine works!” said Lieutenant Ainsley disgustedly.
“Seeing that’s exactly what you’re told off to do,” said the other occupant of the dug-out, “why grouse about it?”
Lieutenant Ainsley laughed. “That’s true enough,” he admitted; “although I fancy going out on patrol in this weather and on this part of the line would be enough to make Mark Tapley himself grouse. However, it’s all in the course of a lifetime, I suppose.”
He completed the fastening of his mackintosh, felt that the revolver on his belt moved freely from its holster, and that the wire nippers were in place, pulled his soft cap well down on his head, grunted a “Good-night,” and dropped on his hands and knees to crawl out of the dug-out.
He made his way along the forward firing trench to where his little patrol party awaited his coming, and having seen that they were properly equipped and fully laden with bombs, and securing a number of these for his own use, he issued careful instructions to the men to crawl over the parapet one at a time, being cautious to do so only in the intervals of darkness between the flaring lights.
He was a little ahead of the appointed time; and because the trench generally had been warned not to fire at anyone moving out in front at a certain hour, it was necessary to wait until then exactly. He told the men to wait, and spent the interval in smoking a cigarette. As he lit it the thought came to him that perhaps it was the last cigarette he would ever smoke. He tried to dismiss the thought, but it persisted uncomfortably. He argued with himself and told himself that he mustn’t get jumpy, that the surest way to get shot was to be nervous about being shot, that the job was bad enough but was only made worse by worrying about it. As a relief and distraction to his own thoughts, he listened to catch the low remarks that were passing between the men of his party.
“When I get home after this job’s done,” one of them was saying, “I’m going to look for a billet as stoker in the gas works, or sign on in one o’ them factories that roll red-hot steel plates and you ’ave to wear an asbestos sack to keep yourself from firing. After this I want something as hot and as dry as I can find it.”