The water dripped almost hypnotically through the gap in the sagging boards above him but ultimately had little or no adverse effect upon the sodden mould ridden mattress upon which he lay. He wondered whether he could afford himself further comfort by moving to the bunk below, which Williams had arisen from this morning but would not be returning to, but knew that he would not be making the effort to do so.
Instead Andrew stared at his boots, boots that he had not removed for several days now, knowing that if he even succeeded in taking them off he would never again be able to put them back on. The trenchfoot had gradually worsened, as it had for all of them. The applications of whale grease, whilst it lasted, had done little or nothing to ease the condition. The last time he was examined he had not recognised his own feet, almost hadn't recognised them as feet at all, so swollen and blue were they, the fungal rot which would lead inevitably to gangrene already setting in.
"Why on Earth don't we get the papers?" the Londoner Fitzsimmons exclaimed from where he was seated at the small table, swilling around and around the cold remnants of tea in his little tin cup, "how can we fight a war when we don't know what's going on in the world?"
"Need to know basis, Fitz me old son," Holdstock's West Country drawl emanated from the bunk at angles to Andrew's own, "and we don't need to."
"Well, at least I could read the bloody sports page!"
The only newspapers that ever reached them instantly became the property of Captain Judd and were normally at least three weeks out of date. The last one had recently been converted into jack-o-lanterns to bedeck the officer's quarters during the festive period, but already most of them had reverted to mulch amongst the muck of the floorboards.
Anyway, he had no wish to know what was going on elsewhere - didn't want to think about a real world that was still going about its business. For him, this was the world and it physically hurt him to imagine any other. The continuing nightmare actuality that consisted of mud and muck and fear and death encompassed his existence and to his mind there was little or no hope of any other kind. The last thing he wanted to see was pictures of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly all lit up and full of revellers and carollers.
He thought that his heart had at last ceased its fluttering and that his limbs were no longer shaking, even though it had been several hours since his return from Trench No. 4.
It had fallen to Taffy Williams to dart across the open space between trenches at the point where rock had unexpectedly made digging impossible and where explosives had failed. His task: to forward the latest orders down the line. Their random fire had not, unfortunately, distracted the German snipers and Williams had been shot in the head halfway across the narrow divide. They had waited forty five minutes before Andrew had followed in his footsteps.
He had half ran, half crawled through the mud, barely halting to scoop up the sealed orders from Williams' open palm, sparing hardly a glance for the shocked expression upon his face.