“Y-e-s. Ac-ac-ac."[Footnote: Ac-ac-ac: three A’s, denoting a full stop. In “Signalese” similar-sounding letters are given names to avoid confusion. A is Ac; T, Toe; D, Don; P, Pip; M, Emma, etc.]
“Yes,” he said. “If you’ll get a bit of paper, Sister, you can write down the message while I spells it off. That’s what you want, ain’t it, chum?”
The Sister took paper and pencil and wrote the letters one by one as the code ticked them off and the reader called them to her.
“Ready. Begins!” Go on, Miss, write it down,” as she hesitated. “Don-I-Don—Did; W-E—we; Toc-ac-K-E—take; Toc-H-E—the; Toc-R-E-N-C-H—trench; ac-ac-ac. Did we take the trench?”
The signaler being a very unimaginative man, possibly it might never have occurred to him to lie, to have told anything but the blunt truth that they did not take the trench; that the regiment had been cut to pieces in the attempt to take it; that the further attempt of another regiment on the same trench had been beaten back with horrible loss; that the lines on both sides, when he was sent to the rear late at night, were held exactly as they had been held before the attack; that the whole result of the action was nil—except for the casualty list. But he caught just in time the softly sighing whispered “Yes” from the unmoving lips of the Sister, and he lied promptly and swiftly, efficiently and at full length.
“Yes,” he said. “We took it. I thought you knew that, and that you was wounded the other side of it; we took it all right. Got a hammering of course, but what was left of us cleared it with the bayonet. You should ’ave ’eard ’em squeal when the bayonet took ’em. There was one big brute——”
He was proceeding with a cheerful imagination, colored by past experiences, when the Sister stopped him. Wally’s eyes were closed.
“I think,” she said quietly, “that’s all that Wally wants to know. Isn’t it, Wally?”
The lids lifted slowly and the Sister could have cried at the glory and satisfaction that shone in them. They closed once softly, lifted slowly, and closed again tiredly and gently. That is all. Wally died an hour afterwards.
AN OPEN TOWN
"Yesterday hostile artillery shelled the town of —— some miles behind our lines, without military result. Several civilians were killed.”—EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH.
Two officers were cashing checks in the Bank of France and chatting with the cashier, who was telling them about a bombardment of the town the day before. The bank had removed itself and its business to the underground vaults, and the large room on the ground floor, with its polished mahogany counters, brass grills and desks, loomed dim and indistinct in the light which filtered past the sandbags piled outside. The walls bore notices with a black hand pointing downwards to the cellar steps, and the big room echoed eerily to the footsteps of customers, who tramped across the tiled floor and disappeared downstairs to the vaults.