Two Degrees of Envy

It was night in the front line, and no moon, or the moon was hidden. There was a strafe going on: the Tok Emmas were angry. And the artillery on both sides were looking for the Tok Emmas.

Tok Emma, I may explain for the blessed dwellers in whatever far happy island there be that has not heard of these things, is the crude language of Mars. He has not time to speak of a trench mortar battery for he is always in a hurry, and so he calls them T.M.'s. But Bellona might not hear him saying T.M., for all the din that she makes: might think that he said D.N.: and so he calls it Tok Emma. Ak, Beer, C, Don: this is the alphabet of Mars.

And the huge minnies were throwing old limbs out of Noman's Land into the front-line trench, and shells were rasping down through the air, that seemed to resist them until it was torn to pieces: they burst and showers of mud came down from heaven. Aimlessly, as it seemed, shells were bursting now and then in the air, with a flash intensely red: the smell of them was drifting down the trenches. In the middle of all this Bert Butterworth was hit. "Only in the foot," his pals said. "Only!" said Bert. They put him on a stretcher and carried him down the trench. They passed Bill Britterling standing in the mud, an old friend of Bert's. Bert's face, twisted with pain, looked up to Bill for some sympathy.

"Lucky devil," said Bill.

Across the way on the other side of Noman's Land there was mud the same as on Bill's side: only the mud over there stank; it didn't seem to have been kept clean somehow. And the parapet was sliding in places, for working-parties had not had much of a chance. They had three Tok Emmas working in that battalion front line, and the British batteries did not quite know where they were, and there were eight of them looking.

Fritz Groedenschasser, standing in that unseemly mud, greatly yearned for them to find soon what they were looking for. Eight batteries searching for something they can't find, along a trench in which you have to be, leaves the elephant-hunter's most desperate tale a little dull and insipid. Not that Fritz Groedenschasser knew anything about elephant-hunting: he hated all things sporting and cordially approved of the execution of Nurse Cavell. And there was thermite too. Flammenwerfer was all very well -- a good German weapon: it could burn a man alive at twenty yards. But this accursed flaming English thermite could catch you at four miles. It wasn't fair.

The three German trench-mortars were all still firing. When would the English batteries find what they were looking for, and this awful thing stop? The night was cold and smelly.

Fritz shifted his feet in the foul mud, but no warmth came to him that way.

A gust of shells was coming along the trench. Still they had not found the minenwerfer! Fritz moved from his place altogether to see if he could find some place where the parapet was not broken. And as he moved along the sewer-like trench he came on a wooden cross that marked the grave of a man he once had known, now buried some days in the parapet -- old Ritz Handelscheiner.

"Lucky devil," said Fritz.