Now Mary, of course, was in the cellar with the rest, and Mary’s garden was in full view from the cellar entrance, and twenty or twenty-five yards from it. The rest of the party were surprised to see Mary, as the loud clatter of falling stones subsided, leap for the cellar steps, run up them, and disappear out into the open. He was back in a couple of minutes. “I just wondered,” he said breathlessly, “if those blighters had done any damage to my vegetables.” When another shell came he popped up again for another look, and this time he dodged back and said many unprintable things until the next shell landed. He looked a little relieved when he came back this time. “This one was farther away,” he said, “but that one afore dropped somebody’s hearth-stone inside a dozen paces from my onion bed.” For the next half-hour the big shells pounded the village, tearing the ruins apart, battering down the walls, blasting huge holes in the road and between the houses, re-destroying all that had already been destroyed, and completing the destruction of some of the few parts that had hitherto escaped.
Between rounds Mary ran up and looked out. Once he rushed across to his garden and came back cursing impotently, to report a shell fallen close to the garden, his carefully erected forcing frames shattered to splinters by the shock, and a hail of small stones and the ruins of an iron stove dropped obliteratingly across his carrots.
“If only they’d left this crazy shooting for another week,” said Mary, “a whole lot of those things would have been ready for pulling up. The onions is pretty near big enough to eat now, and I’ve half a mind to pull some o’ them before that cock-eyed Hun lands a shell in me garden and blows it to glory.”
Later he ran out, pulled an onion, a carrot, and a lettuce, brought them back to the cellar, proudly passed them round, and anxiously demanded an opinion as to whether they were ready for pulling, and counsel as to whether he ought to strip his garden.
“Now look here!” said the sergeant at last; “you let your bloomin’ garden alone; I’m not going to have you running out there plucking carrot and onion nosegays under fire. If a shell blows your garden half-way through to Australia, I can’t help it, and neither can you. I’ll be quite happy to split a dish of spuds with you if so be your garden offers them up; but I’m not going to have you casualtied rescuing your perishing radishes under fire. Nothing’ll be said to me if your garden is strafed off the earth; but there’s a whole lot going to be said if you are strafed along with it, and I have to report that you had disobeyed orders and not kept under cover, and that I had looked on while you broke ship and was blown to blazes with a boo-kay of onions in your hand. So just you anchor down there till the owner pipes to carry on.”
Mary had no choice but to obey, and when at last the shelling was over he rushed to the garden and examined it with anxious care. He was in a more cheerful mood when he rejoined the others. “It ain’t so bad,” he said. “Total casualties, half the carrots killed, the radish-bed severely wounded (half a chimney-pot did that), and some o’ the onions slightly wounded by bits of gravel. But what do you reckon the owner’s going to do now? Has he given any orders yet?”