(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Spring arrived late in 1916 in the trenches near Mametz. Sherston had made up his mind to die; under the circumstances, there seemed to be little else to do. The battle of the Somme had exhausted him. Colonel Kinjack could see that Sherston was looking for trouble. To forestall any unpleasantness, he sent Sherston to the Fourth Army School at Flixecourt for a month’s training.

The beds at the school were clean and comfortable, and the routine was not too onerous. Sherston settled back to forget the war. He attended a big-game hunter’s lectures on sniping and practiced with a bayonet. He felt that it was incongruous to listen to advice from civilians and army men who had never been close to real war. All the instructors concentrated on open warfare; they were sure that the trenches would soon be abandoned.

One hot Saturday afternoon, he went back to his outfit, where the talk was all of an impending raid. There seemed to be some jealousy involved, for a Canadian raid a short time before had been a great success.

Sherston was sure he would accompany the raiders and wrote a farewell letter to his Aunt Evelyn, a letter in which he slyly assumed the attitude of the “happy warrior.” Entering a dugout, he was a little surprised to see the raiders putting burnt cork on their faces. Their appearance reminded him ridiculously of a minstrel show. Requested to take the raiders up to headquarters, he jumped at the opportunity to present his plea to the commanding officer.

To his disappointment, Colonel Kinjack brusquely told him he had to stay behind to count the raiders when they returned. Therefore, he was condemned to stand in the trench and wait.

As soon as the raiders were well over the parapet, the explosions began. The men struggled back defeated when the second belt of German wire proved invulnerable. They had all tossed their bombs and retired. Sherston began to go out into No Man’s Land to bring in the casualties. A gray-haired lance corporal was glad of his wound, for he had been waiting eighteen months for a chance to go home. O’Brien, the major, was killed, and Sherston had to drag him out of a shell crater. Luckily the Germans, perhaps out of pity, stopped firing.

The result of the raid was two men killed and ten wounded. In the newspapers, the account was somewhat changed. Aunt Evelyn read that the party entered the German trenches without difficulty, displayed admirable morale, and withdrew after twenty-five minutes of hand-to-hand fighting.

The big push, the summer offensive, was in the air. Before Sherston really had time to think much about impending events, he was given a leave. At first, it was strange to be back in England, where everyone seemed to know about the projected onslaught. Out of deference to one who would take part in it, however, they seldom mentioned it....

(The entire section is 1174 words.)