BLTC Press Titles

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Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Characters of Theophrastus


The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

No Man's Land

by Sapper


This is not a story; there is no plot; it is just


what happens every day somewhere or other in the land of glutinous, stinking mud, where the soles are pulled off a man's boots when he walks and horses go in up to their bellies; where one steers a precarious and slippery course on the narrow necks of earth that separate shell holes, and huddled things stare up at the sky with unseeing eyes. They went " over the top" themselves—ten days ago—in just such another local success. Nothing, my friend! Perhaps you're right; it's mainly a sense of proportion that is needed in war, as in other things. . . .

"Good morning, dear old soul." The machine-gun officer emerged from a watery hole of doubtful aspect, covered with a dented sheet of corrugated iron and a flattened-out biscuit tin—the hole that is, not the officer. "We have slept well, thank you; and the wife and family are flourishing. Moreover—you're late."

The Sapper regarded him pessimistically through the chilly mist of an October dawn. "Entirely owing to my new and expensive waders being plucked from my feet with a sucking noise. A section of haggard men are now engaged in salvage operations. Shall we process?"

"We shall—in one sweet moment, not before.

Sweet, brave heart, because "He put his head

round the corner. "Jones—the raspberry wine— toute suite. Just a hollow tooth full, and we will gambol like young lambs the whole long weary way."

"It is well," remarked the Sapper, returning the empty mug to the soldier servant. "Personally I like it burnt at night, with a noggin of port. You put it in a mug, add three spoonfuls of sugar, set light to it, and let it burn for seven minutes. Then add some port, and drink hot. Man, you can lead an army corps . . ." His voice died away as the two officers departed on their three-mile squelch to the front line, and the unshaven Jones gazed after them admiringly.

"A hartist!" he murmured admiringly, "a plurry hartist. Personally, the rasberry juice, any old 'ow for me." He disappeared from view, and further disclosures woukl be tactless. . . .

And so we lift the curtain on the dawn of the 21st. Doubtless the setting is frivolous, but it has served to introduce two of the supers who go to make up the final scene. In the portion of the front line for which they were bound there lay the battalion which was cast for the principal part, and it is the prerogative of stars to have their entrance led up to. . . 1

The mist hung thick over the shell-torn ground as the two officers walked on. In places stretches of half-demolished wire and blown-in trenches showed where the Germans had put up a fight. Stray graves, ours and theirs, were dotted about promiscuously, and little heaps of dirty and caked equipment showed that salvage work was in progress. Away to the left a few crumbling walls and shattered trees marked a one-time prosperous agricultural village, from which with great regularity there came the sighing drone of a German crump followed by a column of black smoke and a shower of bricks and ddbris. But the place was dead; its inhabitants gone — God knows where. And soldiers: well, soldiers have a rooted dislike to dead villages near the trenches.

A strange squat object loomed suddenly into sight —a well-known landmark to those who wandered daily behind the lines. Derelict, motionless, it lay on a sunken road, completely blocking it; and the sunken road was heavy with the stfcnch of death. It is not good for the Hun to take liberties with a tank, even if it is temporarily hors-de-combat.

A man limping wearily, his head bandaged, his face unshaved, his khaki coated with half-dry mud, plodded heavily towards them.

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