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Action Front Boyd Cable

Conscript Courage

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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. Bunthrop scrambled up the broken bank, seized the gun, swung the sights full to the broad gray target, and opened fire. He kept it going steadily, too, with a sleet of bullets whistling and whipping past him, kept on after a bullet snatched the cap from his head, and others in quick succession cut away a shoulder strap, scored a red weal across his neck, stabbed through the point of his shoulder. And when a shell-fragment smashed the gun under his hands, he left it only to plunge hastily to the other gun abandoned by all but dead and dying; pulled off a dead man who sprawled across it and recommenced shooting. He stopped firing only when his last cartridge was gone; squatted a moment longer staring over the sights, and then raised his head and peered out into the trailing film of smoke clouds from the bursting shells. Although it took him a minute to be sure of it he saw plainly at last that the attack was broken. Dimly he could see the heaped clusters of dead that lay out in the open, the crawling and limping figures of the wounded who sought safety back in the cover of their own trench, and more than that he could see men running with their heads stooped and their gray coats flapping about their ankles. It was this last that roused him again to action. He scrambled hurriedly back down the broken parapet into the trench. "Come on, you fellows," he shouted to two or three nearby men who continued to fire their rifles over the parapet. "It's no use waitin' here any longer." A heavy shell whooped roaring over them and crashed thunderously close behind the parapet. Bunthrop paid no slightest heed to it. His wide, staring eyes and white face, and blood smeared from the trickling wound in his neck, his capless head and tumbled hair, his clay and mud-caked and blood-stained uniform all gave him a look of wildness, of desperation, of abandonment. 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...."

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The sergeant interrupted sharply.

"Here, you shut up, Bunthrop," he shouted. "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." And Private Bunthrop, the despised "conscript," slung his bayoneted rifle over his wounded shoulder and commenced to scramble up out over the front of the broken parapet. And what is more he was really and genuinely annoyed when the sergeant catching him by the heel dragged him down again and ordered him to stay there.

"Don't you understand?" he stuttered excitedly, and gesticulating fiercely towards the front. "They're runnin', I tell you; the blighters are runnin' away. Why can't we get out after 'em?"

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Action Front
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