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The Last War H. G. [Herbert George] Wells

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After a day or so of digging and scheming, Barnet found himself in the forefront of a battle. He had made his section of rifle pits chiefly along a line of deep dry ditch that gave a means of inter-communication, he had had the earth scattered over the adjacent field, and he had masked his preparations with tussocks of corn and poppy. The hostile advance came blindly and unsuspiciously across the fields below and would have been very cruelly handled indeed, if some one away to the right had not opened fire too soon.

'It was a queer thrill when these fellows came into sight,' he confesses; 'and not a bit like manoeuvres. They halted for a time on the edge of the wood and then came forward in an open line. They kept walking nearer to us and not looking at us, but away to the right of us. Even when they began to be hit, and their officers' whistles woke them up, they didn't seem to see us. One or two halted to fire, and then they all went back towards the wood again. They went slowly at first, looking round at us, then the shelter of the wood seemed to draw them, and they trotted. I fired rather mechanically and missed, then I fired again, and then I became earnest to hit something, made sure of my sighting, and aimed very carefully at a blue back that was dodging about in the corn. At first I couldn't satisfy myself and didn't shoot, his movements were so spasmodic and uncertain; then I think he came to a ditch or some such obstacle and halted for a moment. "GOT you," I whispered, and pulled the trigger.

'I had the strangest sensations about that man. In the first instance, when I felt that I had hit him I was irradiated with joy and pride....

'I sent him spinning. He jumped and threw up his arms....

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'Then I saw the corn tops waving and had glimpses of him flapping about. Suddenly I felt sick. I hadn't killed him....

'In some way he was disabled and smashed up and yet able to struggle about. I began to think....

'For nearly two hours that Prussian was agonising in the corn. Either he was calling out or some one was shouting to him....

'Then he jumped up--he seemed to try to get up upon his feet with one last effort; and then he fell like a sack and lay quite still and never moved again.

'He had been unendurable, and I believe some one had shot him dead. I had been wanting to do so for some time....'

The enemy began sniping the rifle pits from shelters they made for themselves in the woods below. A man was hit in the pit next to Barnet, and began cursing and crying out in a violent rage. Barnet crawled along the ditch to him and found him in great pain, covered with blood, frantic with indignation, and with the half of his right hand smashed to a pulp. 'Look at this,' he kept repeating, hugging it and then extending it. 'Damned foolery! Damned foolery! My right hand, sir! My right hand!'

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The World Set Free
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells

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