Buzzer Barling stopped. All had listened to his story with the deepest interest, especially Strangwise, who never took his eyes off the gunner's brown face. Some men are born story-tellers and there was a rugged picturesqueness about Barling's simple narrative which conjured up in the minds of his hearers the picture of the lonely signaller cowering in the abandoned trench among the freshly slain, waiting for the officer who never came back.
"It's not a nice thing to have to say about an orficer," the gunner presently continued, "and so help me God, gentlemen, I kep' my mouth shut about it until... until..."
He broke off and looked quickly at Desmond.
"Keep that until the end, Barling," said Desmond, "finish about the raid now!"
"Well, as I was sayin', gentlemen, I was up on a bit of hillock near Fritz's support line when I sees the Captain here. He was settin' all comfortable in a shell-hole, his glases in his hand, chattin' quite friendly like with two of the Gers. orficers, I reckoned they was, along o' the silver lace on their collars. One was wearin' one o' them coal-scuttle helmets, t'other a little flat cap with a shiny peak. And the Captain here was a-pointin' at our lines and a-wavin' his hand about like he was a-tellin' the two Fritzes all about it, and the chap in the coal-scuttle hat was a-writin' it all down in a book."
Barling paused. He was rather flushed and his eyes burned brightly in his weather-beaten face.
"Eighteen year I done in the Royal Regiment," he went on, and his voice trembled a little, "and me father a battery sergeant-major before me, and I never thought to see one of our orficers go over to the enemy. Fritz was beginnin' to come back to his front line: I could see their coal-scuttle hats a-bobbin' up and down the communication trenches, so I crawled back the way I come and made a bolt for our lines.
"I meant to go straight to the B.C. post and report wot I seen to the Major. But I hadn't the heart to, gentlemen, when I was up against it. It was an awful charge to bring against an orficer, d'you see? I told myself I didn't know but what the Captain hadn't been taken prisoner and was makin' the best of it, w'en I see him, stuffin' the Fritzes up with a lot o' lies. And so I jes' reported as how th' orficer 'ad crawled out of the trench and never come back. And then this here murder happened..."