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Action Front Boyd Cable

The Signalers

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"Sounds healthy, don't it?" said the sergeant reflectively. The signaler nodded gloomily and listened apprehensively to the growing sounds of battle. Now that his mind was free from first thoughts of telephonic worries, he had time to consider outside matters. For nearly ten minutes the two men listened, and talked in short sentences, and listened again. The rattle of rifle fire was sustained and unbroken, and punctuated liberally at short intervals by the boom of exploding grenades and bombs. Decidedly the whole action was heavier--or coming back closer to them.

The sergeant was moving across the door to open it and listen when a shell struck the house above them. The building shook violently, down to the very flags of the stone floor; from overhead, after the first crash, there came a rumble of falling masonry, the splintering cracks of breaking wood-work, the clatter and rattle of cascading bricks and tiles. A shower of plaster grit fell from the cellar roof and settled thick upon the papers littered over the table. The sergeant halted abruptly with his hand on the cellar door, three or four of the sleepers stirred restlessly, one woke for a minute sufficiently to grumble curses and ask "what the blank was that"; the rest slept on serene and undisturbed. The sergeant stood there until the last sounds of falling rubbish had ceased. "A shell," he said, and drew a deep breath. "Plunk into upstairs somewhere."

The signaler made no answer. He was quite busy at the moment rearranging his disturbed papers and blowing the dust and grit off them.

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A telephonist at another table commenced to take and write down a message. It came from the forward trench on the left, and merely said briefly that the attack on the center was spreading to them and that they were holding it with some difficulty. The message was sent up to the O.C. "Whoever the O.C. may be," as the sergeant said softly. "If the Colonel was upstairs when that shell hit, there's another O.C. now, most like." But the Colonel had escaped that shell and sent a message back to the left trench to hang on, and that he had asked for reenforcements.

"He did ask," said the sergeant grimly, "but when he's going to get 'em is a different pair o' shoes. It'll take those messengers most of an hour to get there, even if they dodge all the lead on the way."

As the minutes passed, it became more and more plain that the need for reenforcements was growing more and more urgent. The sergeant was standing now at the open door of the cellar, and the noise of the conflict swept down and clamored and beat about them.

"Think I'll just slip up and have a look round," said the sergeant. "I shan't be long."

When he had gone, the signaler rose and closed the door; it was cold enough, as he very sensibly argued, and his being able to hear the fighting better would do nothing to affect its issue. Just after came another call on his instrument, and the repair party told him they had crossed the neutral ground, had one man wounded in the arm, that he was going on with them, and they were still following up the wire. The message ceased, and the telephonist, leaning his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands, was almost asleep before he realized it. He wakened with a jerk, lit another cigarette, and stamped up and down the room trying to warm his numbed feet.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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