“I got kids—somewheres, I expect,” rejoined the Second with a flourish of pride and self-assertion.
“Oh, a donah’s enough for me!” returned the First.
“You’ll come to the other when you don’t look for it neither,” declared his friend in a voice of fatality.
“You ain’t the only fool in the world, mate, of course. But ’struth, I like this business better. You’ve got a good taste in your mouth in the morning ’ere.”
“Well, I’ll meet you on ’Ampstead ’Eath when the war is over, son,” challenged the Second.
“I ain’t ‘opin’ and I ain’t prophesyin’ none this heat,” was the quiet reply. “We’ve got a bit o’ hell in front of us yet. I’ll talk to you when we’re in Lordkop.”
“I’ll talk to your girl in Camden Town, if you ’appen to don’t,” was the railing reply.
“She couldn’t stand it not but the once,” was the retort; and then they struck each other with their fists in rough play, and laughed, and said good-night in the vernacular.
UNDER THE GUN
They had left him for dead in a dreadful circle of mangled gunners who had fallen back to cover in a donga, from a fire so stark that it seemed the hillside itself was discharging myriad bolts of death, as a waterwheel throws off its spray. No enemy had been visible, but far away in front—that front which must be taken—there hung over the ridge of the hills veils of smoke like lace. Hideous sounds tortured the air—crackling, snapping, spitting sounds like the laughter of animals with steel throats. Never was ill work better done than when, on that radiant veld, the sky one vast turquoise vault, beneath which quivered a shimmer of quicksilver light, the pom-poms, the maulers, and the shrapnel of Kruger’s men mowed down Stafford and his battery, showered them, drowned them in a storm of lead.
“Alamachtig,” said a Rustenburg dopper who, at the end of the day, fell into the hands of the English, “it was like cutting alfalfa with a sickle! Down they tumbled, horses and men, mashed like mealies in the millstones. A damn lot of good horses was killed this time. The lead-grinders can’t pick the men and leave the horses. It was a verdomde waste of good horses. The Rooinek eats from a bloody basin this day.”
At the moment Ian Stafford fell the battle was well launched. The air was shrieking with the misery of mutilated men and horses and the ghoulish laughter of pom-poms. When he went down it seemed to him that human anger had reached its fullest expression. Officers and men alike were in a fury of determination and vengeance. He had seen no fear, no apprehension anywhere, only a defiant anger which acted swiftly, coolly. An officer stepped over the lacerated, shattered body of a comrade of his mess with the abstracted impassiveness of one who finds his way over a puddle