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Action Front Boyd Cable

A Benevolent Neutral

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"Orright," he said angrily. "Orright, go on; laugh, dash yer. Fat lot t' laugh at, seein' a man's good cap pitched in the mud."

"No use you feelin' that 'ead o' yours," said his neighbor, grinning. "You can't even raise a sick 'eadache out o' that squeak. 'Arf an inch lower now an' you might 'ave 'ad a nice little trip 'ome in an 'orspital ship."

"You're wrong there, Jack," said another solemnly. "That splinter hit fair on top of his nut, an' glanced off. You don't think a pifflin' little Pip-Squeak shell could go through his head?" He stepped up on the firing-step as he spoke, and on the instant, with a rush and crash, another "Pip-Squeak" struck the parapet immediately in front of him, blowing the top edge off it, filling the air with a volcano of mud, dirt, smoke, and shrieking splinters, and, either from the shock of the explosion or in an attempt to escape it, throwing the man off his balance on the ledge of the firing-step to sprawl full length in the mud. In the swirl of noise and smoke and flying earth Rawbon just glimpsed the plunging fall of a man's body, and felt a curious sickly feeling at the pit of his stomach. He was relieved beyond words to see the figure rise to his knees and stagger to his feet, dripping mud and filth, and swearing at the pitch of his voice. He paid no attention to the stutter of laughter round him as he retrieved his mud-encrusted rifle, and looked about him for his cap. The laughter rose as he groped in the thin mud for it, still cursing wildly; and then the sergeant noticed that the man who had lost his cap a minute before had quietly snatched up the other one from the firing-step, clapped it on his own head and pretended to help the loser to search.

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"It was blame funny, I suppose," Rawbon told the lieutenant a few minutes after, as they moved from the spot. "Him chasin' round in the mud cussin' all blue about his 'blarsted cap'; and t'other fellow wi' the cap on his head and pretending to hunt for it, and callin' the rest to come help. I dessay I'll laugh some myself, if I remember it when I'm safe back about ten mile from here. Just at the moment my funny bone hasn't got goin' right after me expectin' to see that feller blowed to ribbons an' remnants. But them others--say, I've seen men sittin' comfortable in an armchair seat at a roof-garden vaudeville that couldn't raise as hearty a laugh at the prize antics of the thousand dollar star comedian, as them fellers riz on that cap episode."

"Well, it was rather funny, you know," said Courtenay, grinning a little himself.

"Mebbe, mebbe," said Rawbon. "But me--well, if you'll excuse it, I'll keep that laugh in pickle till I feel more like usin' it."

"You wanted to come, you know," said Courtenay. "But I won't blame you if you say you've had enough and head for home. As I told you before, this 'joy-riding' game is rather silly. It's bad enough us taking risks we have to, but----"

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Action Front
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