the novel Buttons

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Buttons StephenMorehouseAvery Speakingstrategically,thevillageofAngresisnotworththepowder,anditis doubtlessforthisreasonthatitisabletosmirkimpudentlyupatthebright Frenchsunwhenallofthesurroundingtownshavebeenbombardedtobits Angresdoesn’tnestlebeautifullyinanyhills Itpeeksrightupoutofamildly rollingcountryasthoughitsimmunitywastheresultofdivineprotectionrather thantheincidenceofitsboardoftrade Ithasprovedtheimportanceofbeing unimportant Mme Moignneawasentirelyunappreciativeofthetown’sgoodfortune,She declaredthatshepreferredbulletstobillets,andthatanoccasionalshellwas n’importecomparedtothedevastationofthoseBritishappetites Themadame hadabigandcomfortablehouse—shewasthegeneral’swife,youknow—soit wasbutnaturalthatherthirdfloorshouldbeabarracks,hersecondfloora quartersdeluxeforthoseunscrupuloussublieutenants,andherdownstairsune grandedining-room “Eatiswhattheydo,thoseTommeeAtkeens TheyeatandflirtwiththatEmilie ofmine,m’sieu,untilIamvereewild.”Itwastoomuchformadame ThatEmilieofherswasenoughtomakeanyone“vereewild.”Ofcourseher talentsinthisdirectionwereutilizedmoreuponmenthanmothers,butastothe “wild”partofit,therecanbenodoubtThemenweremadewilderthan madame ItwassaidthatEmilie’sprettyfacehadkepttheblazefromthegreat housewhentheHunssweptthroughontheirwaytothegatesofParis Infact,all throughthewearymonthsofSchrecklichheitinAngres,Emiliehaddevoted mostofhertimetosingingtoandflirtingwiththeofficerFritzies Ithadbeenworthwhile,however,becausethoseofficerFritziesgottolike Angresprettywell,andeverythingwasleftintactforthemostpartwhena FrenchflankmovementsqueezedtheGermansintotrenchesjusteastofthe village Thencamethegloriousoccupationofthepoilusandallwouldhavebeenlovely ifGottliebhadnotmadeoffwithherbuttons ButGottliebhadbecomeangry andtakenherbuttons,whichwasadastardlybitoffrightfulnessinEmilie’s eyes Yousee,itwasaverywonderfulcollectionofbuttons TherewereFrench buttons,Englishbuttons,Germanbuttons,evenRussianandItalianbuttons,and theyhadbeenterriblyhardtocollect,becausethoseofficerpeopledidnotliketo givethemup Emilie’senemiessaidthatshewouldofferakissforaregimental buttonwhichwasnotalreadyinhercollection “Itwasthisway,mamere,”saidEmilie “GottliebwasacaptainoftheBavarian Forty-Third,andIdidnothavetheirbutton Besides,hewantedtotakemebackforaFritziewife,andhewasthenicest officerFritzthatwaseverinthishouse.” “HeisaGerman,Emilie Youshouldbeashamed.” “ButIdidnotwantGottlieb—onlyhisbutton,whichheshouldhavegivenme gladly Instead,hesaid,mamere,thatImustkisshimtogetit ThisIsaidI woulddo,becauseIthoughthewasaniceFritz ButwhenIhadthebuttonIdid notwantthekissandpostponedit.” Madamebecamealittlewilderthanusual “Youareawickedgirl,Emilie,andyourgreatfatherwillbebrokenintheheart withyou Begone!Itisthetimeforyoutogotothehospital.” “Itisatragedy Iambrokenintheheartalready,becauseofmybuttons Before theretreatGottliebcameforhiskiss,buthismustachewaslonger,andIcould butrefuse Thenhedidswearvereemuch,andtookallmybuttonsawaywith him YourEmilieisdesolated.” “MyEmilieisinsaneandwicked.” TheFrenchoccupationwasquitebrief Emiliebusiedherselfwiththehospitalwork Shequicklyobtainedallthenew buttons,andshehadonlytwoproposalsfromthenewofficers Thenthepoilus wererelievedbyaregimentofBritish “TommeeAtkeens,”theBradfordFusiliers Thesecondfloorwasfilledwith unscrupuloussublieutenants,themostunscrupulousofwhomwasthat LieutenantVicCottingham Emiliehadtosiedugout,andwriggleoutinthedark.” “Thatiswhatwewant,sergeant.”Whenthelittletimepiecewhichlivedon Cottingham’swristassuredhimthatitwastwo-fifteen,heandthesergeantwent outsideandledthebombersthroughalittlestretchofadvancetrenchwhichthe Fusiliershadbeengraduallyworkingforward Thedangerwasminimizedbythe coal-tarblacknessofthenight,buttheyhadtomovewithcat-likequietnessor theFritziefireworkswouldshowthemup SergeantSandswasthedefacto commanderoftheexpedition,althoughthelieutenant,ashissuperior,was nominallyincharge “Allrightmen,”saidthesergeant,andtheyclamberedoutofthetrenchandstole awayintothedarkness Theenemy’strenchlinewasaboutfourhundredand fiftyyardsahead,andtheycouldadvanceuprightforabit TheBradfordbomberswereintheirelement Theextremeperilofthenight trenchraidhardlyoccurredtothem Theyhadbeenthroughitsomanytimesthat itrequiredaveryexceptionaltrenchraidtoeveninterestthem Therewouldbea scuffleforsure,anda‘ellofascrap,perhaps;buttheywouldcomeoutallright Itwasthespiritofthebombers—we’llcomeoutallright “Down,now!”camethesergeant’swhisperedhissofacommand,anddownthey wentontheirhandsandkneesonthewetground Thenbeganthetortuous,nerve-blasting,footbyfootadvancewhichisoneof themostsevere-testsofhumancouragethatcouldbeasked Thedeadly slownessofitwouldhavetakentheheartoutofgallantbutmoresensitivemen Thebomberisapeculiartype,nerveless,reckless,andabsolutelyfatalistic Cottingham’sboldnesswasofanothersort Itwasallhecoulddotorestrain himselffromjumpingupanddashingforward Therewasathrillto“goingover” inthelightofthesunandwithchapsshoutingallaboutoneandshellsbursting everywhere,butthis—cursedsneaking,he’dcallit,anditrattledafellow,you know Afteranageofstealthycrawlingtheraiderslayatthefootofthelittleknollat thetopofwhichwasthefortifiedbitoftrenchthatwastheirobjective They wereliterallyundertheenemy’sguns,andinthestillnesstheycouldhearthe nightwatchmovingabout OccasionallytheFritzies’voicescouldbeheard,and onceoneofthemlaughedout,andtheclearnessofhislaughterpiercedthe silenceaswouldthescreamofashell Onemighthaveheardthebreathingofthebombersbelowastheyrelaxedfrom therigidtensenesswhichthesuddensoundhadstruckintothem Wetthrough andthrough,andcoveredwithmud,theylaytherewaitingthesergeant’sword Theslightestsoundandthemachinegunsabovewouldhavesweptthelittle slopewithasheetoffirethroughwhichnolivingthingcouldhavepassed Thesergeantwastoooldatthisbusinesstokeephismenlongundersucha strain “Now,men!”hesaidinalowvoice,andatthewordthetwenty-nine raidersdashedforward Theymountedtheriseandflungthemselvesintothe blackpitwithasuddennessthatmusthavestupefiedthehandfulofdefenders Notgunshotwasfired Themuffledcursingandscuffleofthebriefhand-to-hand combat,andtheterriblethudsofheavyblowsdealtinthedark,andthen,almost atthesameinstant—silenceagain Butthereweretwoheavy-handedbombers waitingattheendofthetrenchsectiontowelcomeanyunluckyFritzwhomight happenalong,andthatunscrupulouslieutenanthadclimbedofftheHunwhohad beentherecipientofhispersonalattentionsandwaslookingfortheentranceofa certaindugoutinwhichthereweresuchthingsasGottliebsandbuttons Hewasnotlonginfindingit Justafewpacesdownthetrenchfromwherethe briefmeleehadoccurredandbehindahighpointwheretheparapetwas convenientlyhigh,Cottingham’sflashlightdiscoveredaheavylittlesheet-iron doorinthetrenchwall ThatFritzbacktheremusthavebeenveryhungry,indeed,tohavetoldthetruth inthisunusualfashion Buthehadnottoldthewholetruth Hehadsaidnothing aboutGottlieb’sbeinganightowl Yetherewaslightstreamingoutofatiny chinkatthebottomofthedoor,andmuchdidthattinypointoflightdisconcert theunscrupulouslieutenantwhohadexpectedtofindhishosttuckedinforthe night ItrequiredathoroughrecollectionofeverydetailofthatEmilie’slovelinessand fitnesstobecomeMrs Cottinghamtoconvincethelieutenantthatitwas necessarytoopenthatdoor Firsthegaveitabitofapush,butitwasn’tthatkindofadoor Ithadtobe dragged,andthefirstdragopeneditonlyaboutaninchandahalf,butthrough thatinchandahalfthelieutenanttookonepenetratingpeek AroundthelittletableinthecenteroftheroomsatthreeofficerFritziesplaying cards Overtheirheadshunganelectriclight,andoverinfrontofthemirrora fourthFritzbrushedhisbristleswitharealhairbrush Thereweretwoentrancing bunks,onelegitimatechair,severalframedphotographsonthewalls,and numerousmagazinesstrewnabout Theonlythingthatdugoutlackedwasperiod furniture Cottinghamturnedhisattentionagaintothecardplayers Hepresumedthey wereplayingskat,buthebegantodoubtthiswhenoneofthemshowedhishand andsaid,“DreiKoenigen Washabstdu?”Themanoppositesaid,“Alleblau.” AccordingtoCottingham’sfeebleGerman,oneplayerhadannouncedthree kingsandtheotherhadsaidthathiscardswereallblue Thissoundedverymuch likethegametheyhadtaughthimintheStates,whereinhisYankinstructorhad said,“allblue,”andonthestrengthofithaddemandedeightpounds Sillygame itwas,butthelieutenantdidnothavetimetoreflectaboutit,becausethe disgruntledloser,whofromEmilie’sdescriptionmusthavebeenGottlieb, pushedacrossthetablealittleheapof—buttons Thesightofthemwasenoughtobanishcaution Cottinghamjerkedopenthe doorandputhisautomaticinthefacesoftheastoundedofficerFritzies They weretoosurprisedtoevencurse,andtheystoodagainstthewallwiththeirhands ashighasthedugoutroofwouldpermitandwatchedhimashescoopedeach man’spileofbuttonsintothebigpocketofhisbomber’scoat “Yousee,myhandishigh,”helaughed,butbedidnotlaughlong Eighthandsis agoodmanyforonemantowatchwhilehegathersbuttons,andbeforeheknew itthatGottliebhadshothiminthehead Almostwiththeflashandthecrash Cottinghamdemolishedthelightglobewiththebarrelofhisrevolverand droppedunderneaththetable Inthepitchblackandthesilenceoftheroomnotamandaredmove The lieutenant’swoundwasevidentlynotserious Hehuddledthereinadaze,but listeningforasoundthatwouldtellhimthepositionoftheFritzies Hecould hearthescurryingoutsidewhichthereporthadcaused Itseemedasthoughthey waitedinthisbreathlessstillnessforhours Perhapsitwastwominutes Thensomeoneshoutedinthedoor:“Comeonout‘ere,Fritzie,orI’mdingin’ yerter‘ellThreeI’mgivin’yer—wan—two—” ButSergeantSandsnevergottothree Therewasatumultofyelpsinthat dugout,andthosefourofficerFritziesboltedthroughthelittledoorintothe waitingarmsoftheBradfordbomberswithsuchhastethattheundersizeddoor couldn’taccommodateasmanyaswantedtogetthroughatthesametime Cottinghamstaggeredafterthem “Havetheygotyer,Liftinint?”demandedthesergeant “Bitofaheadwound,”repliedCottingham “Areyourbombsplaced?” “Theyare,sir.” “Firethemandlet’sgo.” AnotherminuteandtheraiderswentbackovertheparapetwithtwomachinegunsandelevenFritzprisoners,includingfourofficerFritzies Theywereoutof dangerwhenthebombsexploded,wreckingtheconcreteemplacements AfterthatthewholeGermanlineforhalfamileburstintoasheetofrifleand machine-gunfirethatforcedthem,prisonersandall,flatontheirstomachs TheterrifyingandagonizinglyslowcrawlbacktotheBritishtrenchestothe blackesthourofthenightseemedmileslong Thesergeanthalfdraggedthe semiconsciousCottinghamwithhimastheymovedforward Fourofthemen wereseriouslywoundedbeforetheyfinallygainedtheshelterofthelittle advancetrenchfromwhichtheyhadstarted Butthatwasnothing “Another successfulraidbytheBradfordbombers,”thedispatcheswouldsay AndmadamewaswonderingandworryingagainaboutthatEmilie Neverhad shedelayedwhenhertimewasupatthehospitalbefore Probablyshewasflirtingwithoneofthedoctors—orperhaps,withoneofthose TommeeAtkeenswhowashurtinthatraidlastweek Thislastwasaveryshrewdconjecture,becausethatwasexactlywhatEmilie wasdoing ShewassittingontheedgeofthatunscrupulousCottingham’scotpretendingto beministeringtohisneedswheninrealityshewassubmittingtohismakingsof lovewithgreatjoy Onthewhitecoverlet,allarrangedinorder,wasagreatarray ofmilitarybuttons Theywereveryprecious,becausethisbelovedVeekhad beenallthewaytoBerleenafterthem Eachtimeshecountedthemandfound thecorrectnumberpresent,shewatchedherchanceandkissedthedefenseless lieutenantonthecheekornoseorthebandagedhead “Youknow,Emilie,”hesaid,“IbroughtbackyourGottliebaswellasyour buttons Thoughtyoumightwanthim,youknow.” “Butno,moncherVeek—Iamcontentwithonlythebuttonsand—you.” ... Yousee,itwasaverywonderfulcollectionof buttons TherewereFrench buttons, English buttons, German buttons, evenRussianandItalian buttons, and theyhadbeenterriblyhardtocollect,becausethoseofficerpeopledidnotliketo... ifGottliebhadnotmadeoffwithher buttons ButGottliebhadbecomeangry andtakenher buttons, whichwasadastardlybitoffrightfulnessinEmilie’s eyes Yousee,itwasaverywonderfulcollectionof buttons TherewereFrench... Iambrokenintheheartalready,becauseofmy buttons Before theretreatGottliebcameforhiskiss,buthismustachewaslonger,andIcould butrefuse Thenhedidswearvereemuch,andtookallmy buttons awaywith him
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