"Keep down in the trench. You're wounded, aren't you? Well, you'll get back presently." "That be damn," said Bunthrop. "You don't understand. They're runnin' away, but we can't go out after 'em if these silly blighters here keep shootin'. Come on now, or they'll all be gone."
So much Bunthrop saw, and then with a hideous screeching roar a high explosive fell and burst in a shattering crash, a spouting hurricane of noise and smoke and flung earth and fragments.
"Come and help!" he yelled, grabbing at Bunthrop's arm. Bunthrop mumbled stupidly in reply. "What?" shouted the officer. "Come and help, will you? Never mind if you are hurt," as he noticed a smear of blood on the private's face. "You'll be hurt worse if they get into this trench with the bayonet. Come on and help!"
And by now the urgent need of keeping the gun going was so impressed on Bunthrop that when the next gunner was struck down and the gun stood idle and deserted it was Bunthrop who turned wildly urging the other loaders to get up and keep the gun going; babbled excitedly about the only hope being to stop the Germans before they "got in" with the bayonet, repeated again and again at them the officer's phrase about "skewered like stuck pigs."
Bunthrop, hardly understanding, obeyed the stronger will and followed him back to the gun. "Can you load?" demanded the officer. "Can you fill the cartridges into these drums while I shoot?" Bunthrop had had in a remote period of his training some machine-gun instruction. He nodded and mumbled again. "God!" said the officer. "Look at 'em! There's enough to eat us if they get to bayonet distance!
And then Bunthrop, the "conscript," the man who had held back from war to the last possible minute, who hated soldiering and shrank from violence and all fighting, who was known to his fellows as "a funk," the source of much uneasiness to company and platoon commanders and sergeants as "a weak spot," Bunthrop did what these others, these average good men who had "joined up" freely, who had longed for the end of home training and the transfer "out Front," dared not do.
When he came back along the trench five minutes later he found Bunthrop feverishly busy re-piling sandbags and strengthening the parapet, ducking hastily and crouching low when a shell roared past overhead, but hurriedly resuming work the instant it had passed. Then came the fresh German attack, preceded by five minutes' intense artillery fire, concentrated on the half-wrecked trench.
His sergeant, the man who had seen his fear and set him to pile the sandbags, caught sight of him again now, heard some word of his shoutings, and pushed hastily along the trench to where he fidgeted and called angrily to the others to "chuck that silly shooting I'm goin' anyhow ... what's the use...." The sergeant interrupted sharply. "Here, you shut up, Bunthrop," he shouted.
"Get up and sling some of those sandbags back on the parapet, Bunthrop!" he said, "and see if you can't make some decent cover for yourself. You've nothing there that would stop a half-crippled Hun jumping in on top of you."
A huge fragment of shell came down and struck the trench bottom with a suggestively violent thud a foot from his head. Half sick with the instant thought, "If it had been a foot this way!..." half crazed with the sense of openness to such a missile, Bunthrop rose to his knees, pressing close to the forward parapet, and looking wildly about him. His sergeant saw him.