“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 English?”
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 German patrol.