“I takes off my ‘at to them,” said his mate. “What wi’ Jack Johnsons and airyplane bombs, you might expec’ the population to have emigrated in a bunch. The Frenchmen is a plucky enough crowd, but the women—My Lord.”
“Airyplanes every other day,” said the first man. “But I don’t notice any darkened streets and white-painted kerbs; and we don’t ’ear the inhabitants shrieking about protection from air raids, or ’Where’s the anti-aircraft guns?’ or ‘Who’s responsible for air defense?’ or ’A baa the Government that don’t a baa the air raids!’ ‘say la gerr,’ says they, and shrugs their shoulders, and leaves it go at that.”
They were in a darker side-street now, and the glare of the burning house shone red in the sky over the roof tops. “Somebody’s ’appy ’ome gone west,” remarked one man, and a mouth-organ in the ranks answered, with cheerful sarcasm, “Keep the Home Fires Burning!”
"It is reported that ... “—EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.
The “it” and the “that” which were reported, and which the despatch related in another three or four lines, concerned the position of a forward line of battle, but have really nothing to do with this account, which aims only at relating something of the method by which “it was reported” and the men whose particular work was concerned only with the report as a report, a string of words, a jumble of letters, a huddle of Morse dots and dashes.
The Signaling Company in the forward lines was situated in a very damp and very cold cellar of a half-destroyed house. In it were two or three tables commandeered from upstairs or from some houses around. That one was a rough deal kitchen table, and that another was of polished wood, with beautiful inlaid work and artistic curved and carven legs, the spoils of some drawing-room apparently, was a matter without the faintest interest to the signalers who used them. To them a table was a table, no more and no less, a thing to hold a litter of papers, message forms, telephone gear, and a candle stuck in a bottle. If they had stopped to consider the matter, and had been asked, they would probably have given a dozen of the delicate inlaid tables for one of the rough strong kitchen ones. There were three or four chairs about the place, just as miscellaneous in their appearance as the tables. But beyond the tables and chairs there was no furniture whatever, unless a scanty heap of wet straw in one corner counts as furniture, which indeed it might well do since it counted as a bed.
There were fully a dozen men in the room, most of them orderlies for the carrying of messages to and from the telephonists. These men came and went continually. Outside it had been raining hard for the greater part of the day, and now, getting on towards midnight, the drizzle still held and the trenches and fields about the signalers’ quarters were running wet, churned into a mass of gluey chalk-and-clay