Selwyn was thrown against the fence, and almost buried beneath a shower of bricks and earth. With the roar of a rushing waterfall in his ears, and blood streaming from a wound in his forehead, he sank to his knees and for a moment lost consciousness; but mastering his weakness, he staggered to his feet and looked wildly about. On the other side of the street, where there had been a house, there was a smoking chaos. A little crowd had appeared seemingly from the bowels of the earth, and a woman was shrieking horribly.
Selwyn wiped his forehead with his hand and gazed stupidly at the blood which covered it. The roar of the guns was louder than it had yet been, and from a few streets away came the crunch of another bomb, shaking the earth with the explosion which followed. Selwyn leaned impotently against a post, and a quivering uncanny laugh broke from his lips. It was all so grotesque, so absurd. Human beings didn’t do such things. It was a joke—a mad jest. He held his sides and laughed with uncontrollable mirth.
Then his whole form became rigid in a moment. A man had shouted something. There had been a wail from the crowd. Was it true? Some one buried alive—a little girl?
With a blasphemous curse Selwyn staggered across the road, and roughly elbowing his way through the crowd, found a solitary policeman, hindered by willing undirected hands, digging in the wreckage as best he could, while a couple of women sobbed hysterically and wrung their hands.
Those who watched hardly knew what had happened, but they saw a hatless, bleeding figure appear, and, with the incision of snapping hawsers, question the policeman and the weeping women. They heard his quick commands to the men, and saw him jump into the centre of the debris. With the instantaneous recognition of leadership his helpers threw themselves to the work with a frenzy of determination. Lifting, digging, pulling with torn hands and arms that ached with strain, they struggled furiously towards the spot where it was known the girl was buried. They were like starving wolves tearing at the carcass of an animal. They yelled encouragement and fought through the chaos—and still the stranger whipped them into madness with his cries.
There in the smoke and the choking dust Austin Selwyn shook in the grip of the greatest emotion he had ever known. A girl was buried—a fraction of a minute might mean her life. With hot breath and pulses on fire, he led his unknown men through the choking ruins to where one small, insignificant life was imprisoned.
An ambulance sounded its gong, and drew up by the crowd; the storm of the guns continued to rage, but no one thought of anything but the fight of those men for one little unknown life.
At last. They had uncovered a great iron beam which had struck on a stone foundation and left a zone of safety beneath. Eager hands gripped it, dragging it aside, and there was hardly a sound as the stranger lowered himself into the chasm. A minute later he reappeared, and a shout broke from the on-lookers. He was carrying a little form in his arms.