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Action Front Boyd Cable

An Open Town

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Another shell whistled and roared down, burst with a deep angry bellow, a clattering and rending and splintering sound of breaking stone and wood. This time bigger fragments of stone, a shower of broken tiles and slates rattled down into the square; a thick cloud of dirty black smoke, gray and red tinged with mortar and brick-dust, appeared up above the roofs on the other side of the square, spread slowly and thickly, and hung long, dissolving very gradually and thinning off in trailing wisps.

In the cafe there was silence for a moment, and many remarks about "coming rather close" and "getting a bit unhealthy," and a jesting inquiry of the proprietor as to the shelter available in the cellar with the beer barrels. A few rose and moved over to the window; one or two opened the door, to stand there and look round.

"Look at that old girl in the doorway across there," said one. "You would think she was frightened she was going to get her best bonnet wet."

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The woman's motions had, in fact, a curious resemblance to those of one who hesitated about venturing out in a heavy rainstorm. She stood in the doorway and looked round, drew back and spoke to someone inside, picked up a heavy basket, set it down, stepped into the door, glanced carefully and calculatingly up at the sky and across the square in the direction she meant to take, moved back again and picked up her basket, set it firmly on her arm, stepped out and commenced to hobble at an ungainly cumbersome trot across the square. She was no more than half-way across when the shriek of another shell was heard approaching. She stopped and cast a terrified glance about her, dumped the basket down on the cobbles, and resumed the shambling trot at increased speed. A soldier in khaki crossing the square also commenced to run for cover as his ear caught the sound of the shell; passing near the woman's basket, he stooped and grabbed it and doubled on with it after its panting owner.

A group of soldiers standing in the archway shouted laughter and encouragement, pretending they were watching a race, urging on the runners.

"Go on, Khaki! go on!--two to one on the fat girl; two to one--I lay the fie-ald." Their cries and clapping shut off, and they disappeared like diving ducks as the shell roared down, struck with a horrible crash one of the buildings in a side-street just off the square, burst it open, and flung upward and outward a flash of blinding light, a spurt of smoke, a torrent of flying bricks and broken stones. Through the rattle and clatter of falling masonry and flying rubbish there came, piercing and shrill, the sound of a woman's screams. They choked off suddenly, and for some seconds there were no sounds but those of falling fragments, jarring and hailing on the cobble-stones, of broken glass crashing and tinkling from dozens of windows round the square.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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