"They've bin saying all summer that we're going," the fourth man said wearily. "Can't make up their bloody minds. But when did they ever know their arse from their elbow anyhow?"
"The twenty-first of March, loike clockwork," Snowy said quietly. "First day of spring, an' over we go. They must think Jerry doesn't have a calendar or something." He took in a deep, rasping breath, his eyes filled with tears. "What for? What's the point?" He stopped, his voice choking off.
The man next to him reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
"The question is, what are we going to do about it?" Morel looked from one to the other of them, his expression unreadable in the darkness, except for his mouth, an angry line in the glow of his cigarette. "Are you willing to be driven over the top to get slaughtered for no bloody reason? The French aren't, God help them."
There was a bark of laughter. "You reckon it's better to be tried and shot by your own? You're just as dead, and your family's got to live with the shame."
"It's show," Morel argued. "The French aren't going to shoot more than a dozen or two. But that isn't the point." He leaned forward, his body no more than a deeper shadow in the gloom. He spoke with intense earnestness. "Jerry's a hell of a lot better prepared for us than we thought."
"How d'you know that?" Geddes demanded. "What makes you God Almighty? Not that I've got any time for generals, or anybody else who thinks he's better than his neighbor 'cos he was born with a sil ver spoon in his mouth."
"Because I was questioning a prisoner a couple of days ago," Morel answered sharply. "The Germans know we're coming."
"I forgot you speak bloody kraut," Geddes said angrily. "Is that what you went to Cambridge for?"
A voice in the darkness told him to shut up.
"The point is, I do," Morel answered.
"The point is, did you tell anyone?" one of the others asked. "Like Penhaligon, for example."
"Of course I did!" Morel spat. "And he passed it on up. But they don't want to know. Most of us are going to die anyway," he went on urgently. "I'd rather go for a cause I believe in than be sent over the top because some damn fool general can't think of anything except the same futile slaughter, year after year, no matter what the intelligence tells him. We're no closer to winning than we were in 1914. I'm not sure that the Germans are our real enemies. Are you? You've fought opposite them for the last three years, captured some of them. I'm not the only one who's talked to them. Our sappers have been in tunnels so close under their lines they can hear them talking at night. What about? Killing us? No, they aren't! Ask any of the sappers, they'll tell you they talk about their homes, their families, what they want to do after the war, if they live through it. They talk about friends, who's been killed or wounded, how hungry they are, how cold, how damn wet! They make rotten jokes just like ours. And they sing, mostly sad songs."
Excerpted from At Some Disputed Barricade by Anne Perry Copyright © 2007 by Anne Perry. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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