“Yes, sir,” answered Dellarme.
“Well, was Lanstron right?”
“Wonderful man, Lanstron!”
“He knows just’ a little too much!” Stransky half growled.
THE MAKING OF A HERO
A digression, this, about pale, little Peterkin, the valet’s son, whom we left nibbling a biscuit in perfect security after his leap in mortal terror. When Fracasse’s men rose from their trench for the final charge and found that the enemy had gone, Peterkin, hearing their cheer and the thunderous tread of their feet, dared to look above the edge of the shell crater. Here was his company coming and he not in the ranks where he belonged. Of course he ought to have gone back with them when they went; whatever they did he ought to do. This was the only safe way for one of his incurable stupidity, as the drill sergeant had told him repeatedly.
He recognized the stocky butcher’s son and other familiar figures among his comrades. Their legs, unlike his, had not been paralyzed with fright; they had been able to run. He was in an absolute minority of one, which he knew, from the experience of his twenty years of life and his inheritance as a valet’s son, meant that he was utterly in the wrong. In a minute they would be sweeping down on him. They would be jeering him and calling him a rabbit or something worse for hiding in the ground.
Fright prompted him to a fresh impulse. Picking up his rifle, which he had not touched since his leap, he faced toward the now unoccupied crest of the knoll and commenced firing. Meanwhile, Fracasse’s men had reached the point where their first charge had broken, marked by a line of bodies, including that of the manufacturer’s son, who had thought that war would be beneficial as a deterrent to strikes and an impetus to industry, lying with his head on his arm, his neck twisted, and the whites of his eyes idled skyward. In a spasm of sickening realization of how impossible it was for those who had not run back to survive between two lines of fire, they heard a shot from the ground at their feet and beheld the runt of the company in the act of making war single-handed. It was a miracle! It was like the dead coming to life!
“With a whole skin!”
Probably it was a great mistake for him to have a whole skin, thought Peterkin. He scrambled to his feet and kept pace with the others, hoping that he would be overlooked in the ranks.
“I’m so glad! Dear little Peterkin!” said Hugo Mallin, who was at Peterkin’s side.
His knowledge of Hugo’s gentle nature convinced Peterkin that Hugo was trying to soften the forthcoming reprimand.