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Action Front Boyd Cable

An Open Town

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"I just about want a drink," said the one who was "a bit of a surgeon." "Thank Heaven I didn't decide to go into the Medical. The more I see of that job the less I like it."

The other shuddered. "How these surgeons do it at all," he said, "beats me. I had to go outside when you started to handle that kiddie. Sorry I couldn't stay to help you."

"It didn't matter," said the first. "Those Medical fellows did all I wanted, and anyhow you were better employed giving a hand to stop that building catching light."

The two had their drink and prepared to move again.

"Time we were off, I suppose," said the first. "Our lot must be getting ready to take the road presently, and we ought to be there."

So they moved and dodged through the quiet streets, with the shells still whooping overhead and bursting noisily in different parts of the town. On their way they entered a shop to buy some slabs of chocolate. The shop was empty when they entered, but a few stout raps on the counter brought a woman, pale-faced but volubly chattering, up a ladder and through a trapdoor in the shop-floor. She served them while the shells still moaned overhead, talking rapidly, apologizing for keeping them waiting, and explaining that for the children's sake she always went down into the cellar when the shelling commenced, wishing them, as they gathered up their parcels and left, "bonne chance," and making for the trap-door and the ladder as they closed the shop-door.

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About the main streets there were few signs of the shells' work, except here and there a litter of fragments tossed over the roofs and sprayed across the road. But, passing through a small side square, the two officers saw something more of the effect of "direct hits." In the square was parked a number of ambulance wagons, and over a building at the side floated a huge Red Cross flag. Eight or nine shells had been dropped in and around the square. Where they had fallen were huge round holes, each with a scattered fringe of earth and cobble-stones and broken pavement. The trees lining the square showed big white patches on their trunks where the bark had been sliced by flying fragments, branches broken, hanging and dangling, or holding out jagged white stumps. Leaves and twigs and branches were littered about the square and heaped thick under the trees. The brick walls of many of the houses round were pitted and pocked and scarred by the shell fragments. The face of one house was marked by a huge splash, with solid center and a ragged-edged outline of radiating jerky rays, reminding one immediately of a famous ink-maker's advertisement. The bricks had taken the impression of the explosion's splash exactly as paper would take the ink's. Practically every window in the square had been broken, and in the case of the splash-marked house, blown in, sash and frame complete. One ambulance wagon lay a torn and splintered wreck, and pieces of it were flung wide to the four corners of the square. Another was overturned, with broken wheels collapsed under it, and in the Red Cross canvas tilts of others gaped huge tears and rents.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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