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Action Front Boyd Cable

In Enemy Hands

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But now, above the thunder of the artillery and of the bursting shells, they could hear the sound of rising rifle-fire. The officer must have glimpsed the hope in Macalister's face, and, with an oath, he brought the pistol up level again.

"Do not cheat yourself," he said. "You cannot escape. If a charge comes I shall shoot you first."

With a sinking heart Macalister saw that his last slender hope was gone. He could only pray that for the moment no attack was to be launched; but then, just when it seemed that the tide of hope was at its lowest ebb, the fates flung him another chance--a chance that for the moment looked like no chance; looked, indeed, like a certainty of sudden death. A soft, whistling hiss sounded in the air above them, a note different from the shrill whine and buzz of bullets, the harsh rush and shriek of the shells. The next instant a dark object fell with a swoosh and thump in the bottom of the trench, rolled a little and lay still, spitting a jet of fizzing sparks and wreathing smoke.

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When a live bomb falls in a narrow trench it is almost certain that everyone in that immediate section will at the worst die suddenly, at the best be badly wounded. Sometimes a bomb may be picked up and thrown clear before it can burst, but the man who picks it up is throwing away such chance as he has of being only wounded for the smaller chance of having time to pitch the bomb clear. The first instinct of every man is to remove himself from that particular traverse; the teaching of experience ought to make him throw himself flat on the ground, since by far the greater part of the force and fragments from the explosion clear the ground by a foot or two. Of the Germans in this particular section of trench some followed one plan, some the other. Of the two men guarding the prisoner the one who was near the corner of the traverse leapt round it, the other whirled himself round behind Macalister and crouched sheltering behind his body. Two men near the corner of the other traverse disappeared round it, two more flung themselves violently on their faces, and another leapt into the opening of the communication trench. The officer, without hesitation, dropped on his face, his head pressed close behind the sandbag on which he had been sitting.

The whole of these movements happened, of course, in the twinkling of an eye. Macalister's thoughts had been so full of his plans for the destruction of the officer that the advent of the bomb merely switched these plans in a new direction. His first realized thought was of the man crouching beside and clinging to him, the quick following instinct to free himself of this check to his movements. He was still on his knees, with the man on his left side; without attempting to rise he twisted round and backwards, and drove his fist full force in the other's face; the man's head crashed back against the trench wall, and his limp body collapsed and rolled sideways. His mind still running in the groove of his set purpose, before his captor's relaxed fingers had well loosed their grip, Macalister hurled himself across the trench and fastened his ferocious grip on the body of the officer. He rose to his feet, lifting the man with a jerking wrench, and swung him round. The swift idea had come to him that by hurling the officer's body on top of the bomb, and holding him there, he would at least make sure of his vengeance, might even escape himself the fragments and full force of the shock. Even in the midst of the swing he checked, glanced once at the spitting fuse, and with a stoop and a heave flung the officer out over the front parapet, leaped on the firing step, and hurled himself over after him.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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