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Action Front Boyd Cable

The Fear Of Fear

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"There's always that," he said. "It can be done in a second, and no matter how a man's hand shakes, he can steady the point of the bayonet against the trigger-guard, push it down till the point pushes the trigger home."

"Do you mean," stammered Everton in amazement--"do you mean--shoot yourself?"

"Ssh! not so loud," cautioned Halliday. "Yes, it's better than being shot by my own officer, isn't it?"

Everton's mind was floundering hopelessly round this strange problem. He could understand a man being afraid; he was not sure that he wasn't afraid himself; but that a man afraid that he could not face death could yet contemplate certain death by his own hand, was completely beyond him.

Halliday drew his breath in a deep sigh.

"We'll say no more about it," he said. "I feel better now; it's something to know I always have that to fall back on at the worst. I'll be all right now--until it comes the minute to climb over the parapet."

It was nearly nine o'clock, and word was passed down the line for every man to get down as low as he could in the bottom of the trench. The trench they were about to attack was only forty or fifty yards away, and since the Heavies as well as the Field guns were to bombard, there was quite a large possibility of splinters and fragments being thrown by the lyddite back as far as the British trench. At nine, sharp to the tick of the clock, the rush, rush, rush of a field battery's shells passed overhead. Because the target was so close, the passing shells seemed desperately near to the British parapet, as indeed they actually were. The rush of shells and the crash of their explosion sounded in the forward trench before the boom of the guns which fired them traveled to the British trench. Before the first round of this opening battery had finished, another and another joined in, and then, in a deluge of noise, the intense bombardment commenced.

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Crouching low in the bottom of the trench, half deafened by the uproar, the men waited for the word to move. The concentrated fire on this portion of front indicated clearly to the Germans that an attack was coming, and where it was to be expected. The obviously correct procedure for the gunners was of course to have bombarded many sections of front so that no certain clew would be given as to the point of the coming attack. But this was in the days when shells were very, very precious things, and gunners had to grit their teeth helplessly, doling out round by round, while the German gun- and rifle-fire did its worst. The Germans, then, could see now where the attack was concentrated, and promptly proceeded to break it up before it was launched. Shells began to sweep the trench where the Hotwater Guards lay, to batter at their parapet, and to prepare a curtain of fire along their front.

Everton lay and listened to the appalling clamor; but when the word was passed round to get ready, he rose to his feet and climbed to the firing-step without any overpowering sense of fear. A sentence from the man on his left had done a good deal to hearten him.

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Action Front
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