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Action Front Boyd Cable

The Fear Of Fear

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The man's nerves were working now; there was a quiver of excitement in his voice, a grayer shade on his cheek, a narrowing and a restless movement of his eyes, a stronger twitching of his lips. More shells crashed sharply; a little along the line a gust of rifle-bullets swept over and into the parapet; a Maxim rap-rap-rapped and its bullets spat hailing along the parapet above their heads.

Halliday caught his breath and shivered again.

"That," he said--"that is one of the devils we've got to face presently." His eyes glanced furtively about him. "God!" he muttered, "if I could only get out of this! 'Tisn't fair, I tell ye, it isn't fair to ask a man that's been through what I have to take it on again, knowing that if I do come through, 'twill be the same thing to go through over and over until they get me; or until my own sergeant shoots me for refusing to face it."

Everton had listened in amazed silence--an understanding utterly beyond him. He knew the name that Halliday bore in the regiment, knew that he was seeing and hearing more than Halliday perhaps had ever shown or told to anyone. Shamefacedly and self-consciously, he tried to say something to console and hearten the other man, but Halliday interrupted him roughly.

"That's it!" he said bitterly. "Go on! Pat me on the back and tell me to be a good boy and not to be frightened. I'm coming to it at last: old Bob Halliday that's been through it from the beginning, one o' the Old Contemptibles, come down to be mothered and hushaby-baby'd by a blanky recruit, with the first polish hardly off his new buttons."

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He broke off and into bitter cursing, reviling the Germans, the war, himself and Everton, his sergeant and platoon commander, the O.C., and at last the regiment itself. But at that the torrent of his oaths broke off, and he sat silent and shaking for a minute. He glanced sideways at last at the embarrassed Everton.

"Don't take no notice o' me, chum," he said. "I wasn't speaking too loud, was I? The others haven't noticed, do you think? I don't want to look round for a minute."

Everton assured him that he had not spoken too loud, that nobody appeared to have noticed anything, and that none were looking their way. He added a feeble question as to whether Halliday, if he felt so bad, could not report himself as sick or something and escape having to leave the trench.

Halliday's lips twisted in a bitter grin.

"That would be a pretty tale," he said. "No, boy, I'll try and pull through once more, and if my heart fails me--look here, I've often thought o' this, and some day, maybe, it will come to it."

He lifted his rifle and put the butt down in the trench bottom, slipped his bayonet out, and holding the rifle near the muzzle with one hand, with the other placed the point of the bayonet to the trigger of the rifle. He removed it instantly and returned it to its place.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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