E-text prepared by Al Haines
The Big War Series
FIGHTING IN FRANCE
Author of "The Search for the Spy," "With Joffre on the Battle Line," "The Go Ahead Boys and the Treasure Cave," "The Go Ahead Boys on Smuggler's Island," "The Go Ahead Boys in the Island Camp," etc., etc.
Illustrated by Charles L. Wrenn
[Frontispiece: "Forward!" shouted the captain in a loud, clear voice.]
New York Barse & Hopkins Publishers Copyright, 1916, by Barse & Hopkins
Fighting in France
When the greatest war in the history of mankind rages in Europe it is not only natural but right that every one should be interested. History is being made every day and heroism is displayed, unrivalled in any previous conflict. In this book the author has striven to chronicle some of the valorous deeds and to relate some of the incidents and events that are part of the everyday life of the soldier who is fighting in France. It has been his aim to present the story devoid of sensationalism and to weave nothing of the impossible into the tale. Most of the episodes are founded on fact and while the book is not historical it has its inspiration from actual happenings.
I A DUEL IN THE AIR II PREPARATIONS III THE ATTACK IV UNDERGROUND V HAND TO HAND VI UNDER FIRE VII IN THE DITCH VIII A MIDNIGHT SALLY IX A CAPTURED TRENCH X A BALL OF TWINE XI RELIEVED XII IN REVIEW XIII A VOLUNTEER XIV IN THE CHATEAU XV THE FIGHT FOR THE TOWER XVI THE DUG-OUT XVII LIPPEN BREAKS XVIII AN ASSIGNMENT XIX OVER THE TRENCHES XX AT FLAMBEAU XXI DISABLED XXII IN THE CLEARING XXIII IN THE DARK XXIV THE RETURN XXV BACK AGAIN XXVI THE BIG WAR XXVII CONCLUSION
"Forward!" shouted the captain in a loud, clear voice . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
Leon whirled swiftly in time to see a big-helmeted German with the butt end of his rifle upraised preparing to strike
The air was filled with smoke and dust from the crumbling plaster
"Let 'em have it!" cried Leon and the three automatic guns spoke almost as if they were one piece
FIGHTING IN FRANCE
A DUEL IN THE AIR
"Well, Leon, it looks as if there was going to be a fight around here pretty soon."
"Right you are, Earl. That suits me all right though and from the way the rest of the men are acting it seems to suit them too."
Earl and Leon Platt, two American boys in the army of the French Republic, were seated outside their quarters behind the fighting line. The scene was in Champagne, one of the provinces of France that already had witnessed some of the heaviest fighting of the Big War.
At the outbreak of the great European struggle these twin brothers had been traveling in Europe. Earl was in England with friends and Leon was visiting his aunt and uncle in a suburb just outside of Paris. At the earliest possible moment Leon had enlisted in the French army. Assigned to the aviation corps he had taken part in the great retreat from Belgium to the gates of the French capital. Slightly wounded at Charleroi, he had been in one of the hospitals for a few days.
When his wound had healed he had made his way south, arriving in time to take part in the battle of the Marne which rolled back the tide of German invasion and saved France. Through all these varying experiences and hardships Jacques Dineau, a young Frenchman, had been his inseparable companion. These two boys, for they were nothing more than that, had more than once distinguished themselves for bravery and daring until they had become the favorites of their regiment. Now they were stationed in Champagne, in the trenches, where for weeks and months both sides had been deadlocked, neither able to push the other back.
With the declaration of war Leon's parents had naturally been anxious as to his safety and not hearing from him had instructed Earl to find his missing brother at all hazards. This Earl had endeavored to do and after many kinds of adventures had finally been successful. The lure of further adventure however had attracted him and he too had enlisted. Now all three boys were in the same company of the same regiment.
"Yes, sir," exclaimed Jacques, who spoke English with only the slightest suspicion of an accent, "there will certainly be some real fighting soon. It will seem good after all these months of quiet."
"I shouldn't describe them as especially quiet," laughed Earl grimly.
"I mean," explained Jacques, "that we have been in the trenches all the time. Now we will have a chance to get out of them; perhaps for good."
"If we can break the German lines," suggested Leon.
"We will give them an awful bump anyway," laughed Jacques.
"And we'll lose half our men," added Leon soberly.
"We do not think of that," exclaimed Jacques proudly. "We are assigned to the front line, the post of honor. We will lead the charge and I think we are very lucky."
"The other regiments are jealous of us anyway," said Earl. "When does the attack start?"
"To-morrow morning at nine-fifteen sharp."
"And we'll move into the first line trenches tonight I suppose."
"That's it," exclaimed Leon. "Pierre Garemont told me not thirty minutes ago that he had just been talking with Captain Le Blanc and that was the information he received."
"I suppose everything is arranged," said Earl.
"You may be sure of that," said Jacques heartily. "Our officers are not the kind to send us into a battle without doing everything that is possible."
"Think of the artillery support we'll have," cried Leon enthusiastically. "I don't see how they can stop us."
"How much will we have?" demanded Earl.
"Our guns will drop four shells every minute in every yard of German trenches. Think of that."
"You mean," exclaimed Earl, "that in every space three feet long a shell will explode every fifteen seconds?"
"I certainly do."
"It seems incredible," muttered Earl. "Why, there'll be nothing left of them."
"That is just what we want," cried Jacques. "When we smash their trenches to pieces then we can drive them out of our country and France will be free once more."
"I suppose our batteries will all have the exact range," said Earl.
"You need not worry about that," smiled Jacques. "The exact location of every German trench is marked to the inch on our officers' maps. What do you think our aviators are for? Don't you know that they take pictures of the enemy's fortifications from their machines and that all the pictures are developed and enlarged? Oh, they'll have the range all right. You'll see."
"Look!" cried Leon suddenly. "Here comes one of our aerial scouts now."
Far away in the eastern sky a tiny speck appeared. It approached rapidly and increased in size as it came nearer. At least four thousand feet above the trenches the great mechanical bird flew and the three young soldiers watched it in silent admiration.
Suddenly a puff of white smoke appeared below the aeroplane.
"The Germans are firing at it," cried Earl.
"And there goes one of their machines up after it," exclaimed Jacques as another speck appeared against the horizon. It was lower than the French machine but rose in great circles with amazing speed until it had reached a point above its enemy. At this point it headed west and sped in pursuit of the French aeroplane.
"One of those new fokkers," remarked Jacques quickly.
"The German machine, you mean?" queried Leon.
"Yes. They are very fast too."
"He'll never come over our line though," said Earl. "He'll turn back soon."
"There goes another of our machines up to help," exclaimed Leon.
From the aviation field in the rear of their quarters came a great clatter and noise. A moment later a big monoplane came into view and rising rapidly higher and higher set out to the aid of its companion.
Meanwhile the first aviator, pursued by the German fokker, had evidently determined to give battle. He dipped suddenly and shot downward at incredible speed. All about him the bombs from the high-angle guns of the enemy were exploding and it did not seem possible that he could escape. The cheering of their comrades in the trenches came faintly to the ears of the three watching boys.
"He'll be hit," cried Leon tensely.
"Wait," cautioned Jacques.
The aeroplane still raced towards the earth. Suddenly it began to rise and up, up, it soared. Higher and higher it went, describing huge circles in its flight. The little white clouds all about told with what zeal its destruction was sought, but still it kept on. Now it had reached a level as high as the giant fokker. Meanwhile the other French machine raced to its aid.
"You'll see the German turn back now," predicted Jacques.
"Why shouldn't he?" demanded Earl. "It's two to one."
"His only hope is to disable the first machine before the other comes up," said Jacques. "Otherwise he'll have to run for it."
"How high do you suppose they are now?" asked Earl.
"Five thousand feet," said Leon. "Is that about right, Jacques?"
"I should think so; just about," replied the young Frenchman.
Almost every soldier in the great camp was standing, gazing skyward at the combat going on among the clouds over their heads. These duels in the air were not infrequent but they never lost their power to thrill. To see two huge mechanical birds each maneuvering for a chance to strike a death blow to its rival was a sight to stir the blood of any man, no matter how often he had seen its duplicate before.
"What did I tell you?" demanded Jacques suddenly.
The fokker turned at the approach of its second enemy and in full retreat made for the German lines. The two French machines did not attempt a pursuit, but after one or two triumphant circles were headed for home. A few moments later they passed directly over the spot where the three young soldiers were seated, on their way to their respective hangars.
"Why didn't they chase that fellow?" exclaimed Leon. "They were two to one and it seems to me they had a great chance to bring him down."
"You must remember this," Jacques reminded him. "He had a good start on them and, if anything, had a faster machine than theirs. Then that scout of ours may have very important news for headquarters as a result of his observations. He probably wants to report as soon as he can."
"That's true," said Leon. "I had almost forgotten this attack to-morrow I got so excited watching the aeroplanes."
"You started to tell what Captain Le Blanc said," Earl reminded his brother. "Go ahead and finish what you heard."
"Well," said Leon, "he said that everything was ready. He even knew the number of German batteries that will be opposed to us; he also knew just what regiments hold the line opposite. He said that along the whole length of our front line steps had been cut in the trenches so that we can climb out easily. The barbed-wire entanglements have had little lanes cut through them every few feet so we can get through without any trouble."
"Whew," whistled Earl. "It looks as if we meant business all right."
"We surely do," agreed Leon. "We're to carry along bridging to form pathways across the German trenches so we can bring up our guns and supplies quickly. All shoes and extra clothes and blankets are to be turned into the quartermaster; every man is to put on clean underclothes so that if he is wounded he won't be infected. You're to have your gas-masks ready and every one will receive one hundred and thirty extra rounds, making two hundred and fifty in all."
"When do we move into the trenches?" asked Jacques.
"Ten o'clock to-night."
"And final inspection is when?"
"One hour before that."
"We'd better get ready," exclaimed Jacques. "It's almost supper-time now and we've got lots to do."
Every man who passed their tent seemed, to be unusually business-like. No one seemed nervous or worried, but perhaps a little more serious than usual. But there was not a man among all those thousands who was not glad that on the morrow he was to come up out of his hole in the ground and meet his enemy face to face. An air of quiet confidence pervaded the camp; the air was full of it and one glance at these grim-visaged warriors of France was enough to convince any observer that they were eager for the battle to come.
At nine o'clock that evening all arrangements had been completed and the final inspection held. The last letters were deposited at the regimental post-office, a most solemn ceremony. Many a long thought passed through the minds of the soldiers as they mailed what might be their final messages to their loved ones.
"I don't like this business of hanging around," whispered Jacques in Leon's ear. "I'd like to get started."
"So should I," agreed Leon. "It seems sort of weird standing here in the darkness with thousands of men all about you, all waiting for the same order that we are."
The night was clear and the stars were unusually brilliant. Not a cloud appeared and the long lines of troops resting on their arms looked like misshapen hedgerows in the faint light. The roar of the French artillery came distinctly to the ears of these men who stood and waited. Every man knew why it was that its activity was so greatly increased that night. Their guns were playing a stream of metal death on every yard and foot and inch of the opposing trenches. Not a spot in the German lines but was being searched by these great mechanical monsters.
"Listen!" warned Earl suddenly.
Nearby some man had started to sing the Marseillaise. Soon others joined in and the chorus swelled as man after man lent his voice to that stirring anthem. In a few moments every soldier present was singing and even the roar of the great guns became faint and indistinct as the thousands of throats chanted the great hymn of victory.
A thrill ran up and down Leon's spine. He used to regard the Marseillaise as the national anthem and had often heard it sung without any particular feeling. Since the war had started, however, it had seemed different to him. As the soldiers sang it, biting out each word sharp and short, it had become a battle-cry. He realized how terribly in earnest these Frenchmen were who stood there in the darkness and hurled defiance at their German foes.
At length the order came to move. Slowly the column moved out of the camp and turning to the right marched down the road leading to the trenches. On both the right and left could be seen other columns moving in parallel lines and in the same direction.
"Who are they?" whispered Earl.
"I can't tell," replied Jacques in answer to his comrade's query. "Both regiments are attached to our division though, I think."
Slowly and at the same pace the three columns advanced. The men were unusually quiet and none of the customary bantering was present. Perhaps every man was busied with the thought of what was going to happen to him at quarter past nine the next day.
"This seems like a funeral march," exclaimed Leon in a low voice.
"And I don't like it, either," added Earl.
"Wait," cautioned Jacques. "Everyone's spirits will revive in a few minutes. The strain will wear off soon."
His prediction proved to be correct. A short time later the pace was quickened and the murmur of low-voiced conversations could be heard. The men even began to tease one another and tell jokes. It seemed almost incredible that men preparing to face what they were to meet-on the morrow could be so light-hearted.
"Here we come to the trenches," exclaimed Jacques. "What time is it?"
"Just eleven o'clock," said Earl, consulting his watch.
"An hour so far," murmured Jacques.
One by one the soldiers filed into the trench. All talking ceased and mile after mile they moved forward. In single-file the men marched through the communicating trench. Every little while a lateral trench appeared and as they came closer to the front these trenches increased in number. The roar of the giant guns steadily became louder and louder.
Soon the lateral trenches became very numerous. Every one was filled with soldiers, their arms resting on the ground. They eyed the regiment filing past them enviously and were apparently curious to know why it had been selected to lead the charge in preference to themselves.
"Who are you?" demanded one man.
"La douzieme," said Jacques.
"Ah," said the man. "I see."
It was a famous regiment to which these three boys belonged and its record for daring and bravery was known by all the army. No wonder it had been chosen to lead the advance. If anyone could get through, la douzieme was that one. A feeling of confidence pervaded the regiment and the knowledge that the army shared that feeling was a source of satisfaction to every member.
"Look!" exclaimed Leon suddenly. "What place is this?"
"There's not much left of it whatever it is," replied Jacques grimly.
The regiment had suddenly emerged from the trench into the street of a village. At least it had once been a village, but only its ghost now remained. Every house had been bombarded and battered until now there was standing only bare walls, when indeed they had been spared.
"There's the moon," whispered Earl suddenly. "I saw it over my right shoulder. That means good luck."
"We'll need it," said Leon grimly.
Down the ruined village street the march continued and then another trench swallowed them up. Straight ahead they went and then turned sharply to the right. A short distance and they swung to the left. Finally the advance ceased and the men came to rest.
"We're in the first line trench," whispered Jacques.
"You don't have to tell me that," exclaimed Leon.
"Look here," cried Earl who was peering cautiously through one of the holes made for the rifles.
Following his instructions Jacques and Leon could see the French shells exploding in the opposing trenches. Big and little they were, and had somewhat the appearance of a great display of fireworks. The noise was beyond description. So fast did the shells burst that they seemed all to be part of one continuous explosion. The German return fire only added to the din.
"They say," shouted Jacques after a consultation with the man next to him, "that only the German long range guns are doing any damage."
"I hope they don't find us here," said Leon grimly. "I want to live long enough to get into this fight to-morrow anyway."
"How big are those long-range cannon of the Germans?" asked Earl.
"Ten-inch," said Leon. "They're good ones too."
"Can't they use the 42-centimeter guns out here?"
"No, they're for smashing forts. They're mortars, you know."
"None of them compare with our 75's," exclaimed Jacques proudly.
"That is, for field work, you mean," said Leon.
"Yes. And no gunners can compare with the French, either."
"That's been proved to every one's satisfaction, I guess," Leon agreed.
It seemed remarkable that these three boys could stand in the front line trenches of the greatest battlefield the world has ever known and calmly discuss the merits of the rival artillery. Such is the effect of war, however. It seems as if a man can become accustomed to almost anything, and after weeks and months on the battle-line the artillery duels and the ever-present death become matters of unconcern to the ordinary soldier.
"We ought to get some sleep," Jacques announced finally.
"Can any one sleep here?" demanded Earl.
"I think I can," said Jacques. "I'm healthy and I'm tired."
"We can lie right down here in the trench," suggested Leon. "We can use our knapsacks for pillows and maybe get a little sleep."
"This is no place for a man who's nervous," laughed Jacques as a German shell whistled over their heads and exploded with a roar a short distance behind their position.
"I should think not," exclaimed Earl. "Still I don't suppose it will do us any good to keep thinking about it. I suppose we might as well try to get a little rest as Jacques advises."
"Jacques won't be able to lie down," laughed Leon. "He's too tall."
"Not at all," protested the young Frenchman quickly, taking this remark literally. "I am but six feet two; you and Earl are at least six feet."
"Not quite," said Leon. "At any rate I was only fooling."
"I see," said Jacques soberly. He did not always catch the drift of some of the sallies his young American friends made.
"How about sleep?" exclaimed Earl. "We can get some little rest anyway."
The three young soldiers followed the example of most of their companions in the trench and lay down, with their knapsacks under their heads. Still the artillery roared. Incessant explosions shattered the night air, predicting the struggle to take place on the morrow.
"The cannonade is worse than it was last night."
"I think you're right, Leon," Jacques agreed. "That is quite natural though."
"As a final effort I suppose," said Leon.
"Here's breakfast," shouted Earl, trying to make himself heard above the roar of the artillery. "That coffee looks good."
Hot coffee was furnished to every man and a meal was made of bread, sardines and cheese.
"What's the time?" asked Jacques.
"Eight-thirty," replied Earl.
"Three quarters of an hour more," sighed Jacques. "I wish it was time to start."
"Look here," cried Leon beckoning to his two companions. He was peering out from one of the low places in the parapet and Jacques and Earl quickly took their places beside him.
"You can see the German barbed wire in front of their trenches," said Leon excitedly. "Do you suppose we'll ever reach that?"
"We'll go right on over it," said Jacques confidently. "Don't you worry about that."
The scene was fascinating to the three boys. So it was also to their comrades in the regiment. As far as one could see in either direction along the trench men were lined up, waiting for the word to advance and now and then stealing a glance, out across the field that stretched between them and their goal.
"We are to keep in line with those two big trees on the hill yonder," said Jacques, pointing to a spot behind the German positions. "As long as we keep headed for them we will be all right."
"That ought to be easy enough," exclaimed Leon.
Suddenly the command was passed down the line for every man to be ready. Leon glanced at his watch; it was just nine o'clock. Every knapsack was hoisted to its owner's back and guns in hand the men began to file along the trench.
Thicker and ever faster the shells rained down. The French guns roared continuously, doing their utmost to clear the way for the infantry which was to sally forth so soon.
All at once a whistle sounded. The long line halted abruptly. A sharp command followed and with a rattle the bayonets were fixed to the rifles. Once again the whistle sounded; this time twice. Every man made the final adjustment of his equipment and glanced at his neighbor's to see if it too was in order.
"Good luck," said Jacques and he extended his right hand to Leon and Earl in turn. They shook hands solemnly and the twin brothers standing side by side gripped each other's hand without a word.
Leon looked along the line. Many of the men were grinning. Most of them were white and their faces were drawn. The young American felt queer; somehow he did not feel real. Everything about him seemed to be taking place as in a dream. He could not realize it all.
"What are we waiting for?" he asked of Jacques and his voice sounded faint and far away.
Before he could receive an answer a German shell suddenly burst close at hand. A whisper ran along the line that a corporal and four men were hit. Another shell burst close to the same spot. Evidently the Germans had found the range.
"What are we waiting for?" Leon repeated anxiously. He glanced over Earl's shoulder at his watch. It was exactly quarter past nine.
Two blasts on the whistle sounded. That was the signal. Every man clenched his jaws and dashed at the trench wall in an effort to be the first one to climb out. A moment later and all were out. The gaps in the barbed wire that had been prepared now came into view and the men wormed their way through.
Once past this and the line was formed again. Still together, Jacques, Leon, and Earl took their places. The command was quickly given and at double-quick the troops moved straight towards the German lines.
"Forward!" shouted the captain in a loud, clear voice that could be heard even above the din of the cannonade. "Vive la France!"
With a shout the troops swept forward. From the German trenches came the sharp rattle of the rapid-fire guns and the noise of the rifles. Shells were bursting on every side. The air was full of dirt and dust thrown up by the explosives. All along the line gaps in the advancing line appeared, only to be closed up quickly and automatically.
The enemy's trenches were outlined by a long row of bursting shells. From them arose a thick pall of smoke, obscuring the German positions. At the bottom appeared red and green flames, but above all was darkness. Out of the cloud came a ceaseless rain of metal, rifles, dirt, cartridges, and even human flesh. The whole world seemed to have been suddenly transformed into a roaring, flaming cauldron.
Leon gazed about him. Many of his comrades were down; he could scarcely recognize Earl and Jacques, their faces were so blackened by smoke and dirt. Holes appeared in the line on both sides of him. Not for long, however; almost instantly the spaces filled up and the advance was continued. He looked at the captain who was leading the charge. Not one word of orders could be heard in that terrible uproar and the officers had to make signs to their men.
Sometimes the captain lay down; his men immediately did the same. If he pointed to the right the troops veered to the right. If he pointed to the left they swung to the left. Blindly they followed on. Closer and closer they came to the spot where their own shells were falling. It seemed as if the leaders must be struck down by their own artillery.
Suddenly the curtain of fire lifted and moved forward to the next line of trenches. The German trench that had been the object of the furious bombardment appeared. In many cases it had been simply blown to pieces and no trace of it could be discovered.
Leon, Earl, and Jacques had been appointed "trench-cleaners." That is, they were among those who had been detailed to clear the enemy out of all the captured trenches so that there would be no danger of the troops being attacked from the rear.
Into the battered trench the three young soldiers sprang. With them were a dozen more of their men. With bayonets affixed they made their way along. The trench seemed to have numerous spurs and it branched out in many directions. On the bottom lay many dead Germans. Protruding from one side was the leg of some luckless infantryman who had been buried alive by the explosion of a giant projectile.
"This way," urged Jacques as he turned from the main trench and darted down a long passage-way.
"Careful, Jacques," warned Leon. "Don't go too fast."
"They're all dead in here," cried the young Frenchman exultantly. He was taking an active part in ridding his country of the invaders and like anyone in those circumstances he reveled in the task.
"Don't be so sure they're all dead," cried Earl. "You never can tell."
Scarcely had he spoken when they came face to face with three Germans. With rifle grasped tightly in his hands Jacques was preparing to run the first of them through when all three of them suddenly threw up their hands. "Kameraden! Kameraden!" they cried eagerly.
"Don't touch them, Jacques," shouted Leon. "They're surrendering."
It was but the work of a moment to disarm the three Germans and they were turned over to one of the French soldiers who was directed to lead them back to his lines.
"That was easy enough," exclaimed Jacques triumphantly.
"Those fellows were dazed," cried Leon. "They didn't know what they were doing."
"Who would?" demanded Earl. "If you'd been under that bombardment for the last twenty-four hours the way they have been I guess you'd be dazed yourself."
"Well, I hope they'll all be that way," said Jacques. "It won't take us long in here if they are."
"How big is this place anyway?" said Earl. "We must be careful going around corners and places like that. We can't see what is waiting for us."
The three boys were by themselves now. They were many yards underground and it was difficult for them to see their way distinctly. They had just emerged into an underground room which was furnished with a bedstead, washstand, table and chairs. The light was dim and the three young soldiers could not make out their surroundings clearly. Suddenly they heard a hoarse cry and the sound of a heavy blow. Jacques, who was in the lead, fell to the ground with a groan.
"Look out, Leon!" cried Earl sharply. "Look out for that fellow."
Leon whirled swiftly in time to see a big-helmeted German with the butt end of his rifle upraised preparing to strike. He ducked almost without thinking and the blow fell harmlessly on the back of one of the chairs in the little room. Before the gun could be raised again Earl sprang upon their foe and grappled with him.
He had his bayonet in his hands but somehow it did not occur to him to use it. Like most Americans he preferred to fight with his fists, and unconsciously he had discarded his rifle. With one hand he seized the German by the throat and with the other he rained blow after blow upon his great broad face.
The German however was a powerful man. He outweighed the young American by at least thirty pounds and far outmatched him in strength. With an oath he turned upon the plucky boy and a moment later held him by the throat with both hands. Earl's breath was shut off short and everything began to turn black before his eyes. He felt himself being shaken as a terrier shakes a rat and consciousness began to slip away from him. He decided that it was all over.
Suddenly the terrible strangle hold on his throat relaxed and with a supreme effort he wrenched himself free and rose to his feet. There stood Leon gazing down at the German lying on the floor of the little subterranean apartment. One glance was enough to show Earl what had taken place.
"You saved my life, Leon," he muttered weakly.
"Huh," snorted Leon. "I hated to stab him like that but it was the only thing to do."
"He wouldn't have hesitated to fix us I guess," exclaimed Earl. "Where's Jacques?"
"On the floor there."
"Is he dead?"
"I don't know. I haven't had a chance to look at him."
As they advanced towards their companion he moved slightly and tried to get up.
"How do you feel, Jacques? Where did he hit you?" demanded Leon.
"He just grazed my head," murmured the young Frenchman weakly.
"Lucky for you," muttered Earl. "If he'd ever caught you squarely you'd be dead now, sure enough."
"Let me see where you're hurt," exclaimed Leon bending over his friend.
"It's not much of a wound," said Jacques. "He just stunned me; I'll be all right in a minute."
"Bring some water and a towel from that washstand over there, Earl," Leon directed his brother.
This was quickly done and the wound was bathed. The skin had been broken and the blood flowed freely, but it was nothing serious. The cold compress soon revived Jacques and a few moments later he was apparently as well as ever.
"Feel all right, Jacques?" asked Earl.
"You'd better lie down here on this bed for a little while."
"I should say not," exclaimed Jacques warmly. "We were sent in here to rout out the enemy and that's what we must do. There are surely more of them than we have seen."
"Next time we must be more careful going into rooms like this," advised Leon. "It doesn't pay just to go ahead blindly."
"Come," urged Jacques, and he led the way out of the little room down the narrow passageway leading they knew not where.
Cautiously they slunk along, their eyes strained to see through the dim light of the underground passage. The noise of the great cannonade above came to their ears but faintly here. A hoarse rumbling and a trembling of the earth was the sole evidence that over their heads the opposing armies were hurling tons of metal at each other.
"There's a turn just ahead," whispered Jacques cautiously. "Be ready."
Every sense alert the three young soldiers proceeded slowly. Soon they came to the spot where the passage led off to the left. Jacques peered cautiously around the corner and quickly drew back his head.
"Come," he whispered, beckoning to his two companions. "Have your grenades ready."
All three boys took hand grenades in their right hands and prepared for instant action.
"Lean your rifles against the wall here," Jacques directed.
This done, they crept stealthily forward, the grenades in their right hands and their automatic revolvers in their left. Making almost no sounds, they walked gingerly around the corner of the passage and there before their eyes they saw what had caused Jacques to draw back so speedily a few moments before. Standing in the center of a little room similar to the one they had just left were six Germans.
Their plan had been to steal upon their foes, taking them by surprise and forcing them to surrender. This plan was unexpectedly thrown awry however. One of the rifles leaned against the wall of the passage slipped; it fell to the ground carrying the others with it and a loud clatter was the result.
"Hein!" exclaimed one of the Germans wheeling quickly in the direction whence the noise came. Seeing three French soldiers stealing towards him he instantly whipped out his revolver and fired.
Leon, Jacques and Earl ducked quickly and instinctively.
"Let 'em have it!" shouted Leon and he let fly his hand grenade.
Straight down the passageway it sped and a tremendous explosion instantly occurred. The little room was filled with smoke and the three young soldiers could not see what was taking place in front of them. Earl too hurled his deadly handbomb into the chamber and a second explosion instantly took place.
"That's the way!" shouted Jacques. "That'll fix them I guess!"
All of the Germans had not been disposed of however. A moment later the sharp crack of a revolver sounded from behind the wall of smoke and a bullet winging its way through the half-light tore Jacque's hat from his head. Another and still another shot followed the first.
"That's enough of that," muttered the young Frenchman grimly and his hand-grenade took the same course that the two others had followed. A deafening concussion ensued and then all was still.
"Keep back against the wall," warned Leon. "Have your pistols ready."
Crouching low and keeping as far away from the center of the passage as possible the three boys awaited developments. Every boy grasped his revolver firmly in his right hand and peered eagerly in the direction of their enemies. Not a sound came from the room where the Germans had been assembled.
"They're all dead I guess," whispered Earl at length.
"Don't be so sure," cautioned Leon. "Wait a minute longer."
With muscles tense and every nerve alert the three young soldiers waited. It seemed as if the smoke from the three explosions would never lift and the three boys felt as if hours had elapsed before they could catch a glimpse of the room. Finally however the atmosphere cleared away and they saw the results of their work.
"Let's go in there," exclaimed Jacques.
"Go slow," warned Leon. "It may be a trap."
"We'll be ready for them," said Jacques. "Come along."
Prepared for instant action, the three boys cautiously approached the tiny room. They were fearful of a surprise attack but their fears proved to be groundless. On the floor lay the bodies of six dead Germans. The hand-grenades had done their work well.
"A man doesn't stand much chance against these grenades, does he?" exclaimed Leon. "They're certainly deadly."
"Lucky for us they are," said Jacques shortly. "Now for a souvenir."
He drew his knife and bending low he quickly cut the buttons from the jacket of one of the dead soldiers at his feet.
"What are you going to do with them?" demanded Earl curiously.
"Make rings," said Jacques calmly slipping the buttons into his pocket. "These men belonged to the Imperial Guard."
"How do you know?"
"Look at the eagle on the buttons here; that proves it," and, as he spoke, Jacques drew forth one of his trophies to show his comrades.
"We'd better move on," exclaimed Leon a moment later. "Go pick up your hat, Jacques, and we'll get the rifles."
"My poor hat," laughed Jacques. "It will have a window in it now."
"You'd better be glad it isn't your head that has the window," said Leon grimly. "I don't see that you have anything to complain about."
"I'm not complaining," smiled Jacques. "I agree that I am fortunate."
"Come along," urged Leon. "We may run into some more of the Boches any minute."
"Boches" was what the French soldiers always called the Germans.
"I'm ready," exclaimed Jacques, and they returned to the spot where their guns had been left. The young Frenchman rescued his hat which had a hole cut cleanly through the crown. "It will give good ventilation," he remarked laughingly.
They picked up their guns and were preparing to move on when Earl suddenly held up his hand. "Listen," he whispered tensely. "I hear someone coming."
HAND TO HAND
Instantly the three boys were all attention. They shrank back into the shadow of the passage and with guns raised to their shoulders and their fingers on the triggers they waited. Undoubtedly some one was approaching. There was more than one, for low-voiced words could be heard. Were they friends or foes?
Immovable the young soldiers waited. Closer and closer came the sound of those who were coming in their direction. All at once they appeared.
"Halt," cried Leon sharply.
"Ah, is it you, my friend Leon?"
"Who's that?" demanded Leon greatly surprised to hear his name spoken.
"It is I; Pierre Garemont," replied a pleasant voice.
The three young soldiers immediately lowered their rifles. Pierre was an old friend of theirs, one of their company, and with him there was Jean Luqueur, another one of their comrades.
"Where have you been, Pierre?" demanded Leon eagerly.
"Searching for the Boches," he answered. "But alas I have had but poor luck; I have found nothing but dead ones."
"Where are you going now?" asked Jacques.
"Back to the battlefield to rejoin our men."
"Is the work all done down here?"
"I see no more to be done. Let us go."
"You two were making a lot of noise coming through that passage," remarked Jacques severely. "It would have been easy for anyone to ambush you."
"Ha, ha," laughed Pierre loudly. "The Boches, they are too stunned by our bombardment to do anything."
"Don't you believe it!" cried Leon seriously. "If we go with you you'll have to be quiet, that's sure."
"Very well," Pierre agreed glibly. He was in excellent spirits however for he felt that his country was on the threshold of a great victory over its hated enemy and he was happy.
"Do you know the way out?" inquired Earl.
"We are not sure," said Jean. "We were looking for it when you so rudely pointed your guns at our heads."
"We won't do it again," promised Jacques. "You lead the way, Pierre, and we'll follow."
They proceeded in silence now. The story the three boys told of their two encounters with the Germans had a quieting effect upon Pierre and Jean. They realized that perhaps all the enemy had not been cleared from this great labyrinth after all.
Twisting and turning in their course they tramped along. Numberless passages led off in all directions but the five soldiers kept to the one in which they had started. It seemed larger than the others and they decided it must be the principal one. Consequently they thought it would eventually lead them out of the bewildering underground maze.
Suddenly a patch of light appeared far ahead of them. It was sunlight and they quickened their pace, eager to join in the battle once more. That they were approaching an exit was proved by the fact that the roar of the guns increased as they proceeded. The artillery had not ceased its activity in the slightest.
A shadow crossed the patch of sunlight ahead and Pierre held up his hand. Immediately the little company halted.
A moment later a tall Prussian stepped into the trench and peered cautiously all about him. The five French soldiers shrank back into the shadow and watched. Evidently the German saw nothing, for a moment later he turned and beckoned and straightway four more helmeted Germans appeared. They stood together in the little spot of light, evidently debating what to do next.
They did not stand that way long however. Pierre quickly raised his rifle and fired at the little group. His shot went wild however. Like a flash the Germans turned and after one hasty glance in the direction of the shot, they darted down some adjoining passage and disappeared.
"After them!" cried Pierre. He dashed off in mad pursuit, closely followed by the four other members of the squad. At top speed they rushed along the passageway. Soon they came to the spot where the patch of sunlight showed.
"This way," shouted Pierre, and he turned sharply to the left and sped along after the fleeing Germans.
"Don't run into a trap," shouted Jacques, but Pierre gave no heed to him. His one idea was to come up with his foes and he forgot everything else. He led the others by at least five yards, followed by Jacques, Earl, Jean, and Leon in the order named.
Thus far they had seen no fresh signs of the Germans but there had been no branches to this passage as yet, and consequently they were convinced that they were upon the right track.
Suddenly a man stepped out of a niche in the wall directly in front of Pierre. He held his rifle out in front of him and before the racing Frenchman could check himself he had run full upon the long keen bayonet. Clear through him it went and down went Pierre.
Close behind him, however, was Jacques, and before the German could do any more execution he gave him the same treatment that Pierre had received. Without a sound he sank to the ground and lay limply stretched out upon the prostrate body of Pierre.
"Is Pierre dead?" gasped Earl.
"He is," said Jacques simply.
"Too bad," murmured Earl.
"That's part of the game," said Jacques in a matter-of-fact tone. "We can do no more for him. Let's move on."
France had lost a brave soldier in this simple peasant. He had given his life for his country and no man, peasant or king, can do more than that. He loved France and he died for her gladly. He did not like war and he had had no quarrel with anyone. When his country was in peril, however, he had but one thought and that was to do all he could for her. He had done his best and served her well. There were thousands more just like him and it was impossible to mourn over any one of them long. Consequently his four comrades soon left him to attend to the business in hand.
"The fellow that killed him won't do any damage again anyway," remarked Earl. "You fixed him all right, Jacques."
"Come," urged Jacques shortly.
"Go slowly from now on," urged Leon. This advice was followed and the little squad moved forward again. They had no desire that Pierre's fate should overtake them.
A few moments later they came to a spot where several passages all seemed to meet. It was like the hub of a wheel, only there were not so many passages as there are spokes in most wheels.
"Now what?" exclaimed Earl when they had reached this spot.
"Where did they go?" demanded Leon. "We'd better not stand here any longer though. Some one will take a shot at us if we're not careful."
"Right you are," agreed Jacques heartily. "Let's follow this passage and see where it leads us." He plunged into one of the dimly lighted aisles and proceeded cautiously along it, closely followed by his three companions.
They had gone but a short distance when the passage suddenly opened up into the main trench and the four soldiers found themselves in the daylight again. Over their heads the bullets whistled and the projectiles screamed but none of them fell in that particular trench. The French charge had carried far beyond this spot and the Germans were interested in that, while the French guns were still busy hammering the opposing trenches to pieces.
"Look," cried Earl. "There are the Germans we were chasing."
A squad of French soldiers passed with five German prisoners, one of them easily recognizable as the tall Prussian they had seen only a short time before. The man in charge of the squad halted the little band and a most interesting event took place.
All the buttons were cut off the prisoners' trousers; suspenders and belts were cut in two and the laces were slashed from their shoes. A moment later the five Germans slopped away, their hands in their pockets to keep their trousers from falling off and shuffling their feet to keep their shoes on. One Frenchman accompanied them to direct rather than guard them. They were harmless enough now.
"That's certainly a funny sight," laughed Leon. "Those Germans couldn't run away or do any damage now to save their lives."
"A great way to send prisoners back to the lines," said Jacques.
The three boys and Jean now joined the other men in the squad and together the eleven soldiers started across the battlefield. All of them were of the same regiment but from different companies. Far ahead they could see the curtain of fire and behind it the advancing line of French troops.
"That's where we belong," cried Jacques eagerly.
"Here come reinforcements!" shouted Earl, and from their own lines they could see a fresh battalion of infantry pouring out of the trenches and starting across that field of death.
Corpses lay on every side, French and German together. The ground was covered with the dead and wounded, some of the latter desperately in need of attention. They had to be left for the Red Cross, however. The soldiers had their orders and they were to advance.
"Shall we wait and go forward with the reinforcements?" asked one of the men in the squad which the four soldiers had encountered.
"I should say not," cried Jacques. "Our regiment is ahead there and that's where we ought to be."
With a shout he dashed forward and close at his heels followed his ten comrades all eager to be in the fray once more.
Ahead of them was a small wooded ridge and towards this they made their way. The field was littered with corpses and it was necessary to exercise great care to prevent stepping on the dead bodies.
A few moments later the eleven soldiers reached the ridge and there came up with their battalion; at least what was left of it, for it had suffered heavily during the charge. The three boys were very glad indeed to rejoin their company and were soon in their accustomed places.
"We're pretty well protected here," remarked Earl when they were in the abandoned German trench under the shelter of the ridge.
"Yes," agreed Jacques. "Those scrubby little pine trees hide us from the sight of the German observation posts. Their artillery won't bother us much here."
"We don't want it to," said Leon grimly. "It has done enough of that already."
"And it will do a whole lot more," added Jacques.
As he finished speaking the order to advance came and once more the troops moved on. They followed the zig-zag course of the German trench they occupied. It was filled with dead soldiers for it was through this trench that the Germans had tried to rush reinforcements when the attack started. The French guns, however, had had the range and inflicted cruel losses on their opponents.
"This trench leads right over the top of the ridge," remarked Jacques. "Wait until we get there and we'll catch it."
"Not if we stay in the trench," objected Leon.
"But I don't think we will."
"Do you know for sure?"
"No, I don't, but I imagine we'll have a chance in the open again."
His guess proved to be correct. Arriving at the summit of the hill the battalion halted. The men were formed in sections about fifty yards apart.
"What's the idea?" asked Earl.
"When we leave the trench each section will charge in Indian file," answered Jacques. "Instead of being abreast we'll be one behind another. In that way we'll offer a much smaller target."
"True enough," exclaimed Earl. "That's a great scheme."
A moment later the order came. The soldiers debouched from the trench and in long lines advanced down the hill. From the German positions the French formation gave more or less the impression of one man every fifty yards charging at them.
Almost immediately, however, their appearance was greeted by a storm of shot and shell. Guns of all caliber belched their deadly missiles at the charging French. The attackers quickened their pace and breaking into a run, raced down the hill.
At the bottom of the incline were numberless great pits blasted out of the ground by the prodigious explosions. Into these the attackers dove pell-mell and a halt was called for a few moments' rest.
Leon, Jacques and Earl found themselves in one of these, along with five other men of their company.
"Look at those two big howitzers," exclaimed Leon pointing to two big German guns lying half-imbedded in the earth.
"Where are the men to attend to them?" queried Earl.
"Ask our gunners," advised Jacques grimly. "Perhaps they can tell you."
"What do you mean?" demanded Earl somewhat puzzled by this remark.
"Simply this," said the young Frenchman. "One or two of our big shells made direct hits on this battery and the gunners are not in existence anymore."
"I see," said Earl simply.
As these eight soldiers sat in the pit and waited, their spirits began to rise and they seemed to forget the horrors they had been through and their present danger. They even began to make jokes and laugh over certain incidents of the fight. The thing that amused them most was the recollection of the German prisoners shuffling off with their hands in their pockets to keep up their trousers. One of the men had even had time to pick one German's pocket of a package of cigarettes.
He passed them around with great glee and soon every one was smoking except Earl, Leon and Jacques. They had never acquired the habit and knowing that they were better off without it had no desire to start. Their main desire was to keep themselves in perfect physical trim.
As they sat there talking the shells flew over their heads in a steady stream. In the great crater, however, they were comparatively safe unless some stray shell should chance to land directly in the hollow where they were seated.
"And if one ever does," exclaimed Jacques, "it's good-by to us."
"Why so?" demanded Earl. "In a hole as large as this we might get nothing worse than a spattering of dirt."
"Yes," said Jacques, "but don't you know that there are probably several thousand rounds of ammunition buried under here? If there should happen to be an explosion, what do you think would happen to us?"
"Well there wouldn't be enough to make much of a fuss over, I guess," remarked Leon with a grim smile.
A man suddenly appeared on the rim of the pit and slid over the edge.
"Ho, Coudert," one of the soldiers greeted him.
"Got orders?" asked another.
"Yes," said Coudert who acted as order-bearer in the battalion.
The men crowded about him, eager to learn what their next move was to be. Coudert spoke rapidly in French and Jacques translated his message to Earl and Leon. The two young Americans spoke that language fairly well but when it came to a question of orders they always had Jacques interpret them if possible, so that there should be no mistake.
"We are to leave here," said Jacques, "and go on down to the bottom of the hill where we are to dig shelters for ourselves. We cannot go forward until our artillery has had a chance to do a little more execution."
"Then we'll probably have to stay out all night," remarked Leon.
"I should not be surprised," said Jacques simply.
"That'll be nice," exclaimed Leon with a wry smile.
"Coudert says," continued Jacques, "that that trench we just left back there on the hill is half full of reinforcements for us."
"We can use them," said Earl shortly.
"Ready," came the order, and with a final adjustment of his equipment every man prepared himself for the dash that was to come.
The men scrambled up the sides of the giant crater. From the pits on both sides of them the other sections were doing the same thing.
"Spread out," was the order. "Advance in open formation."
With several feet between them the French dashed down the hill. The German machine-guns barked at them angrily and the spiteful crack of the rifles could be heard now and then above the din of the cannonade. Two hundred yards from the enemy's positions they flung themselves down upon the ground and began digging furiously. Every man had a shovel in his equipment and he made the dirt fly.
In an incredibly short time a parapet a little over a foot high was thrown up and every man's knapsack was placed to keep the dirt in position so that they were fairly safe against infantry and machine-gun fire. This done, every soldier then began to dig a little individual ditch for himself. Three feet deep and two feet wide and long enough to lie down in they furnished excellent protection against anything but a direct hit by one of the enemy's shells.
"Hello, Jacques," called Leon. "How do you feel?"
"Fine. Do you know our section didn't lose a man on the way down the hill?"
"That so? Good for us."
"The other side of you, I think. Yell at him."
"Hey, Earl," called Jacques.
"Hello," came the answer. "What do you want?"
"I just wanted to know if you were all right."
"Surely. I don't see the point in these piles of dirt in between the ditches though. It seems to me that the dirt would do more good in front."
"We've got enough in front," said Jacques. "You'll see the use in that dirt in between us if a shell should ever land squarely in one of the ditches."
Scarcely had he spoken when a 105-millimeter shell dropped directly into the ditch next to Earl's. It was occupied by a man named Dumont and he, poor fellow, was blown to atoms. Earl, however, thanks to the "dirt" he despised so much was untouched.
"Their fire is slackening," remarked Jacques.
"Yes," agreed Leon. "There seems to be only one battery firing at us now."
"That shows how good our artillery is," said Jacques proudly. "That one battery that's left would have been silenced long ago too if it hadn't been hidden pretty well."
"How do you know it's hidden?"
"Because they'd have located it before this time if it wasn't."
The French aeroplanes which had been soaring overhead for a long time now began to swoop lower. Evidently the aviators were searching for the battery in question. A swift biplane swept past, barely two hundred and fifty yards above the trenches. Amid a perfect storm of shot it returned safely to its lines.
"Dig the trenches deeper," came the order.
"Hear that?" demanded Jacques. "That means we stay out here all night, I guess."
IN THE DITCH
The time passed slowly. The cannonade slackened in intensity and at times almost ceased entirely. The men spent their time in improving their positions and enlarging the ditches in which they were lying.
"What are you doing, Jacques?" demanded Leon suddenly.
"Watch me," was the young Frenchman's only reply.
He placed his steel helmet on the end of his bayonet and raised it cautiously above the edge of the parapet. Almost immediately a storm of German bullets struck all around the spot.
"You're crazy, Jacques," exclaimed Leon. "Stop that."
"Not at all," chuckled Jacques. "I love to fool them."
"You'll get fooled yourself if you're not careful."
"No, I won't either."
He repeated the move and again the bullets rained all about him. He soon tired of the game, however, and for a time lapsed into silence.
"How big is your ditch, Leon?" called Jacques.
"I don't know; it's pretty good size."
"Large enough for two?"
"It might hold two I guess."
"All right then," exclaimed Jacques. "I'm coming over to see you."
With two quick jumps he was out of his ditch and alongside Leon. Little spurts of earth flew up from the parapet in front as he took his place.
"You were too slow that time, my friends," chuckled Jacques addressing his remarks to the Germans.
"That was a risky thing to do," exclaimed Leon reprovingly.
"I know it," admitted Jacques. "All war is risky."
"Just for that reason there is no use in taking unnecessary chances."
"That was not unnecessary," grinned Jacques. "I understand that you have some bread and cheese still left and I am hungry."
"That's true," admitted Leon and from his knapsack he produced both articles in question. Lying side by side in that shallow ditch the two young soldiers ate their luncheon.
"I wonder what some of my friends would say if they could see me now," mused Leon. "I guess they'd be surprised."
"Because you are fighting here?" asked Jacques.
"Yes. They probably couldn't understand why I should want to enlist in some other country's army and go to war for strangers."
"But you are fighting for liberty," exclaimed Jacques. "America stands for liberty, does it not?"
"It certainly does," cried Leon. "Still some people would probably wonder why I should want to fight for another country's liberty."
"But," protested Jacques, "did not France aid your country in your struggle for independence in the war of the Revolution? Why then is it strange that Americans should help France when she is fighting for her very existence and life?"
"I don't think it's strange," said Leon. "I think it's only right. What I said was, that some of my friends might not understand it."
"America and France both stand for liberty," said Jacques. "They both had to fight hard to get it and now they should help each other keep what they have won so dearly."
"The two nations have always been good friends," said Leon.
"Yes," agreed Jacques simply, "and I hope they always will be."
The young Frenchman rolled over on his side and suddenly jumped almost to his feet. He clasped both hands to his face and tried to rise but could not. His head seemed to weigh tons and he simply could not get up.
"Jacques! Jacques!" cried Leon in alarm, kneeling beside his companion. "What is the matter?"
Blood was oozing between the fingers of the young Frenchman.
"Let me see," begged Leon. "Take your hands away from your face."
Jacques made no answer but continued his vain efforts to rise.
With difficulty Leon forced his hands from his face. Jacques was now bespattered with blood which spurted from a long gash running from his left eye to the corner of his mouth.
"Lie down, Jacques," begged Leon anxiously.
Without a word the wounded boy stretched himself out upon his back in the ditch. Leon reached for his emergency dressing and began to do what he could for the young Frenchman.
"A steel splinter hit me, I guess," murmured Jacques.
"I should say it did," agreed Leon soberly. "It's a lucky thing it didn't hit your eye. How do you feel?"
"All right. Pretty weak though."
"A doctor ought to dress that wound," said Leon. "You can't leave this place before dark though; it would be sure death to try."
"Oh, I'm all right enough," said Jacques. "This is only a scratch."
"A pretty deep scratch I should say," replied Leon grimly. "It'll leave a scar as long as you live."
"What of it?"
"It won't help your looks any."
"What do I care? That scar will always remind me that I did something for France. I shall be proud of it."
"Do you feel any better?" asked Leon.
"A little. I'd like my canteen though."
Leon reached for the article in question which was lying on the edge of the little ditch. As he turned he felt a blow in the shoulder.
"What's the matter?" demanded Jacques as he saw his companion sink back.
"I'm hit," said Leon simply.
"Where is it?"
"In the shoulder."
"Unbutton your coat and shirt and look at it."
Leon quickly complied and a moment later picked a rifle-ball out of his shoulder. It had barely broken the skin and the wound bled but little.
"That's funny," mused Leon. "How do you suppose its force became spent so soon?"
"It must have struck something else first."
Leon looked about him. "I should say it did," he exclaimed. "Look here."
He picked up Jacques' gun which was lying on the parapet. The bullet had struck the magazine of the rifle, knocked out one cartridge and torn a hole through the wooden stock.
"Pretty lucky for you," said Jacques. "If it hadn't been for that gun you'd have been done for now."
The afternoon dragged slowly along and the bombardment began to increase in severity once more. Evidently the way was being prepared for a further advance of the infantry that night.
"I'd better leave you now I guess," remarked Leon as dusk began to creep over the battlefield. "You stay here and I'll go back to your ditch."
"Be careful," warned Jacques. "Keep low."
With a quick jump Leon sprang out of the ditch and over into the one Jacques had formerly occupied. His appearance was greeted by a volley of bullets from one of the German machine-guns but the aim was too high and he reached his goal in safety.
As night fell half the section remained on the alert while the other half slept. The cannonade was now furious but the men managed to get some rest. At midnight Leon was relieved from his watch and prepared himself for sleep. One of the men furnished him with two overcoats stripped from dead Germans and with these he made a fairly comfortable bed.
In spite of the terrific din made by the guns he at last dozed off to sleep. How long he slept he did not know, but suddenly he awoke to find himself in complete darkness. He felt suffocated. He tried to rise but was unable to move. Something seemed to be holding him down and choking him at the same time. There was no air to breathe.
He set himself for a strong muscular effort. He drew in his breath and his mouth filled with dirt. Suddenly the awful truth flashed through his mind. He was buried alive.
A MIDNIGHT SALLY
"To die like this!" thought Leon. "What a terrible end."
He had always planned that if he should be stricken in this war it would be with his gun in his hand and his face set toward the enemy. To perish, buried under a heap of earth, was not a soldier's death.
He worked the dirt out of his mouth with the tip of his tongue and set himself for a supreme effort. A quick breath and more dirt filled his mouth. He could not move a muscle in his body. He tried to shout and more earth entered his mouth. It gritted its way down his throat.
So this was the end. The young soldier grew calm and waited for it to come. After all it was not so bad. He had done his best and now it was all over. That was the chance a soldier was compelled to take. The pain left him and the whole world turned black.
"Ouch," cried somebody suddenly. "He bit my finger."
"Never mind that," said another voice. "Get the dirt out of his mouth."
Leon felt a finger enter his throat and he coughed. Some one was working his arms up and down and his wounded shoulder pained him. He struggled up but sank back to his knees and began coughing up dirt.
"Spit that dirt out on your parapet," said a voice which Leon recognized as belonging to Dubois, one of his mates. "You'll need it all there."
Dubois was the joker of the regiment and everybody laughed. Even Leon smiled. He was feeling much better now and all the men except Earl returned to their holes. Jacques had been taken to the rear by the Red Cross to have his wound dressed.
"What hit me, Earl?" asked Leon.
"Dirt hit you," said Earl. "A shell exploded just the other side of you."
"It must have been a big one."
"It was; 250-millimeter."
"That's a ten-inch, isn't it? Did it do much damage?"
"Well we've got two men less in our company than we had a few minutes ago."
"I guess I was lucky," exclaimed Leon soberly.
"You certainly were," agreed Earl. "That shell tore a hole in the ground about six feet deep and spilled about ten cubic yards of dirt on top of you."
At this moment two stretcher-bearers arrived on the spot to take Leon back to the rear, but he refused to go.
"I'm all right," he exclaimed. "I only had a lot of dirt piled on me and that didn't do me any harm. Besides there is too much going on and I don't want to miss any of it."
The bearers withdrew and Leon went back to his ditch. He was rapidly recovering his strength and began to dig his two German overcoats out from under the pile of dirt. He bedded them down in the crater made by the shell and made himself quite comfortable.
"Come over here, Earl," he shouted a moment later. "This crater is much larger and safer than your ditch and lightning never strikes twice in the same place you know."
Earl soon joined his brother and with him came Dubois the man who had helped to dig out Leon. There was plenty of room for all three and for a time they felt quite secure. Soon however the shells began to fall thicker and faster all about them.
"What did you say about lightning?" demanded Dubois at length.
"The shells are getting pretty close, aren't they?" said Leon anxiously.
"Yes," said Dubois, "and to my mind it's only a question of time before one lands on us. This isn't old-fashioned lightning you know."
"They certainly seem to be getting the range all right," exclaimed Earl. "I don't see what we can do though. We can't leave our post."
"No," agreed Leon. "We certainly can't go back."
"We can go ahead though," said Dubois.
"What do you mean?" demanded Leon puzzled by his comrade's remark.
"Do you remember that little German trench about forty yards ahead of us out here?"
"Well why can't we go out and take possession of that?"
"Just the three of us?" demanded Earl.
"Why, yes," replied Dubois. "You will remember that there has been no firing from that spot all day. It is probably empty."
"Do you think we can reach it?" exclaimed Leon eagerly.
"Why not? It is very close and yet we'll not be fired upon by the Boches. If we remain here it is but a question of time before we are entirely wiped out. What do you say?"
"I say to go," replied Leon at once.
"And I too," echoed Earl.
"Come then," urged Dubois and without waiting another moment he crawled up out of the crater and started across the space intervening between them and the German trench. One on each side, Leon and Earl accompanied him.
These two boys were typical twins in every respect. Strangers could hardly ever tell them apart and even their intimate friends became confused at times. They looked alike, their voices were alike, and they even seemed to think alike. The only distinguishing mark was a small mole under Earl's right eye.
"Don't let any German clip that mole off, Earl," warned Dubois. "If that should happen I don't know how we could ever tell which was which."
"It's impossible to see anything to-night anyway," said Leon. "I have never seen such blackness."
Crawling three abreast they proceeded across the shell-swept battlefield. The cannonade made an infernal noise now and it seemed as if bedlam had been let loose. Closer and closer they came to their goal. Indistinctly outlined against the night they could see the pile of earth thrown up in front of the German trench.
A few moments later they came to it. Dubois did not try to enter here however but, still followed by Earl and Leon, he crawled around the end of it. Then he continued until he came to the center of the trench so that it was between them and the French lines.
Suddenly a wild yell split the darkness.
"Die Franzosen! Die Franzosen!" (The French! The French!)
It was impossible to distinguish one object from another. There might have been a regiment of Germans in the trench for all that Dubois and his two comrades could tell. For that matter the Germans might easily have imagined they were beset by a regiment of French. The night was inky black.
It was a great surprise to the three adventurers to hear this yell of fear coming out of a trench they had supposed to be vacant, but they were undaunted. Dubois immediately jumped down into the trench, closely followed by Leon and Earl.
"Haende hoch!" (Hands up) shrieked Dubois, calling upon the small amount of German with which he was familiar.
"Haende hoch!" he shouted again and Leon and Earl added their voices.
It was a tense moment. Probably they were far outnumbered by the Germans and should this fact be discovered it would go hard with them. It was a strange sensation for two American boys to experience. There they were standing in a deep trench somewhere in France, in the middle of the night, with they did not know how many Germans who would have liked nothing better than to kill them then and there.
"Haende hoch!" repeated Dubois threateningly and the three comrades held their breath in suspense.
"Kameraden! Kameraden!" came the familiar reply and Dubois chuckled audibly. He and two companions had forced the occupants of a German trench to surrender, solely through bluff.
In his broken German the intrepid Frenchman ordered their prisoners to leave the trench and with their hands held high above their heads to march towards the French lines. One by one they stepped out and as the three friends saw them outlined indistinctly against the sky they counted six Germans. Three of them had taken double their number of the enemy prisoners.
"You and Earl take them back," said Dubois to Leon. "I'll stay here in this trench and you'd better tell the rest of the fellows in our section to move up here. It's much safer."
"All right," said Leon readily, and with his revolver in his hand to guard against any attempts to escape he and Earl set out to conduct their captives back to the French lines.
A CAPTURED TRENCH
A short time later the two young Americans entered the French trenches and turned their prisoners over to the guard. Congratulations and praise for their exploit were heaped upon them and it was in vain that they protested that Dubois should receive all the credit. Leon, especially, for he had been in the regiment longer than Earl, had performed too many daring feats to be able to shift the praise to some one else. All his comrades were aware of his worth.
"Too bad Jacques could not be with you," said one of the men. "He will be furious when he hears what he missed."
"He doesn't miss many things in that line," laughed Leon. "It's a good thing for him to get some rest."
"Was he wounded badly?" inquired another soldier.
"No," said Leon. "A cut across his face merely."
"He will be back here to-morrow then," laughed the man. "You cannot keep that dare-devil away from the front for long."
At this moment Captain Le Blanc approached and stepping up to the two brothers shook each heartily by the hand. The informality and comradeship among the French troops is one thing that makes the army of France so wonderful. They are all working together for one common cause, and officers and men both have the same object. The men never take advantage of their superiors however and discipline is not interfered with.
"Fine work, boys," said Captain Le Blanc cordially. "That was a splendid and nervy thing you did."
The two boys muttered their thanks, too much embarrassed to say anything.
"I shall see to it that you are mentioned in the dispatches," continued the captain.
"And Dubois," exclaimed Leon quickly.
"Yes," laughed the captain. "And Dubois."
Captain Le Blanc passed on, leaving two very happy boys behind him. It was a great honor to be mentioned in the official dispatches and naturally the two brothers were proud.
"Jacques will be jealous of you," remarked the soldier who had been talking about the young Frenchman a few moments before.
"Jacques is jealous of nobody," exclaimed Leon warmly. "He never has been and he never will be. He is too fine a fellow and has too much sense."
"That's right," agreed another soldier nearby. "He is not the sort ever to begrudge another man an honor."
"Dubois is still out in that trench, Leon," Earl reminded his brother. "I think we'd better go out to him, don't you?"
"I certainly do," exclaimed Leon readily. "All you men are coming too, aren't you?"
The little gathering thus addressed were very eager to go, and soon the process of shifting their position was under way. One by one the men crept forward to the captured trench and before many moments had elapsed Leon, Earl and Dubois were esconsed in their position with nine more of their companions.
"This is the safest place I've struck yet," exclaimed Dubois. "All the German shells go over our heads here. We're just as safe here as we would be ten miles behind the firing line."
"Yon wouldn't be absolutely safe that far away," said Earl.
"Well pretty nearly so anyway," said Dubois.
"How about Dunkirk?" demanded Earl. "See what they did there."
"What did they do?" asked one of the men.
"They dropped a shell in the town from a distance of twenty-two miles. What good would ten miles do you against a gun like that?"
"The Germans certainly have some wonderful guns all right," said Dubois. "They won't touch us here though I guess."
"We're sort of between the fires, aren't we?" remarked Leon.
"Yes," said one of the men, "and I'm afraid it is going to be tiresome here after awhile."
"Tiresome!" exclaimed Earl. "It seems to me there is enough going on around here to suit anybody."
"Not for me," said the man, Armande by name. "I think I'll go out and take a look around."
"You're crazy," exclaimed Dubois. "What's the use in doing a thing like that? You'll only get killed and what good will it do?"
"I won't be killed," laughed Armande. "Those Boches, they cannot shoot."
"Don't you fool yourself," said Dubois seriously. "Of course they can shoot and shoot well too. You are foolish, Armande."
"Perhaps," Armande admitted with a shrug. "At any rate I shall now crawl over and have a look at the German trenches while it is yet dark. I shall be back before long."
"I hope so," muttered Dubois soberly.
Armande crept out of the trench and disappeared into the night. It is one of the remarkable things about war that men soon seem to lose all fear of death. The noise of the big guns and the shell fire terrifies them at first, but they rapidly become accustomed to it and it makes but small impression on them. Life in the trenches becomes very dull and the men do all kinds of foolhardy things just to experience a thrill. They laugh at death and even play with it.
Such a man was Armande and though Dubois had tried to prevent his leaving the trench, the fact that he insisted upon going did not make much impression upon him. Many others had done things equally foolish.
"He may get back," remarked Leon.
"Oh, yes," said Dubois lightly. "The night is dark and he may not be seen."
"How far is it to the German trenches from here?" asked Earl.
"A hundred yards I guess," said Dubois. "I'm not quite sure though."
"About that," said Leon. "What's he going to do?"
"He said he was going to go over and take a look at the German trenches," said Earl. "I suppose that's where he's gone."
Many moments passed and Armande did not return. The roar of the cannonade seemed to be slackening as time went on but it was still violent. No orders had come to the men as to what they were expected to do and consequently they surmised that they were not to attack again that morning. Before a charge the soldiers were usually notified so that they could have full opportunity for preparation.
"What's that?" demanded Earl suddenly, during a slight lull in the artillery duel. Armande had been gone about an hour.
"What's what?" asked Leon.
"I thought I heard a bell ring."
"A bell! What kind of a bell?"
"It sounded like a cow-bell to me."
"How could that be? What would a cow-bell be doing out here on the battlefield? I suppose the Germans are grazing their cattle out there."
"Don't be silly, Leon," exclaimed Earl.
Suddenly the bell sounded again; there was no mistaking it this time and all the men heard it. It was immediately followed by a burst of violent machine-gun fire from the German trenches.
"What do you suppose it is?" demanded Leon excitedly.
"It's a bell," said Earl. "I told you that before."
"It's very strange," muttered Dubois. "I cannot understand it."
The men were all alert now, however, and on the watch for any trick that the Germans might try to play on them. Every one was mystified and at a complete loss to understand the strange occurrence. A half-hour passed and the performance was not repeated.
"Where can Armande be I wonder," said Earl.
"It certainly seems as if he ought to be back by this time, doesn't it?" exclaimed Leon anxiously.
"He's dead," said Dubois shortly.
"What makes you think so?" asked Earl.
"Well he hasn't come back yet, has he?"
"Then he must be dead and I believe that bell ringing had something to do with it too."
"In what way?" asked Leon.
"I don't know," said Dubois. "That's what I think though."
Armande was not dead however. A moment later Dubois heard his name called and the missing soldier slid over the parapet and into the trench once more. "Slid," expresses what he did exactly, for he shot forward head-first and fell in a heap on the bottom of the trench. He lay there moaning.
"Armande," cried Dubois bending over him. "What happened?"
"They got me," said the wounded soldier simply.
"In the leg. A machine-gun bullet."
"Where have you been?"
"Over to the German trenches. They shot me about half an hour ago and it has taken me all this time to get back here."
"Send word to the Red Cross," said Dubois to one of the men. "I wish I could do something for you," he added to his wounded comrade. "It is so dark here I cannot see a thing. Are you badly hurt?"
"No; just above the knee. It is painful and it was hard to walk but I doubt if it is serious."
"I hope not," exclaimed Leon heartily. "How did they happen to see you?"
"Did you hear a bell?" asked Armande.
"We certainly did," exclaimed Leon. "What was it?"
"It was my finish," said Armande. "It was a clever ruse on the part of the Boches however and I must give them credit for it."
"What was it?" asked Earl eagerly. "Can you tell us about it?"
"It was like this," said Armande. "I crawled out of the trench here and began to creep over towards the German positions. It was so very dark that I could see practically nothing, but I knew the general direction and so kept on. I traveled very slowly and no incident of importance took place for some time.
"Finally I could see the German barbed wire flickering faintly just ahead of me. I crept closer. I did not make a sound, and unnoticed I came directly up to the wire entanglements. I was so near I could hear the Boches talking to one another in their trenches."
He paused and uttered a low groan.
"What is it?" cried Dubois anxiously. "Can't I help you, Armande?"
"Will you tie something around my leg? It throbs badly."
"Perhaps you'd better not try to talk," suggested Leon.
"It is not that," exclaimed Armande. "It is just my leg. Ah, that is better," he sighed as Dubois wrapped the wound tightly with a long bandage produced by one of the men.
"Well, as I was saying or was about to say," he continued after a moment, "I could hear them talking. I crouched there and listened for a few moments trying to make out what they were saying. I know but little German however and I could only catch a word here and there and as they made no sense I quickly became tired of listening.
"It struck me as a fine chance to give the Boches a good scare however. I determined to wake them up with a hand-grenade. I took one in my hand and prepared to hurl it. I raised myself slightly from the ground and took hold of a strand of the barked wire to steady my aim. No sooner had I touched the wire than a bell rang."
"I heard it," cried Earl eagerly.
"I had touched the wire but lightly," continued Armande, "and the bell did not ring loudly. It startled me however and I drew back quickly. I also noticed that the Germans immediately ceased talking. It did not occur to me that my touching the wire had made the bell ring however. I thought it a mere coincidence.
"For some moments I lay there quietly and presently the Boches began to talk again. I waited what seemed to me a long time. Then once more I took the hand-grenade in my right hand and raised myself on one elbow. I determined to act quickly this time. Again I seized the wire with my left hand and hurled the grenade.
"Squarely into the trench it landed and I have the satisfaction of knowing that it did good work. I had not caught them napping however. I had seized the wire much more firmly the second time and at the same instant when I threw my missile the bell rang violently; much more so than formerly.
"It was probably hanging on the wire," exclaimed Earl.
"Exactly," agreed Armande. "As soon as anyone touched the wire the bell would ring. It warned the Germans and I must admit it was a clever trick."
"It surely was," agreed Leon. "What happened then?"
"I jumped to my feet and started to run," exclaimed Armande. "I had gone but a few steps however when they cut loose with their rapid-firers. A second later I was down, shot through the leg. I guess the Boches thought a whole regiment was making a surprise attack on them. They certainly used enough ammunition to wipe out two regiments."
"Funny no more bullets struck you, Armande," said Dubois. "How do you account for that? Was their aim poor?"
"When I fell I rolled into a shell-hole," said the wounded man. "That afforded me good protection from their bullets. After awhile, when they discovered that they were not being attacked, they ceased firing and I crawled back here. It was hard going I can tell you."
"I should think it might be," exclaimed Leon grimly. "I hope your wound won't prove to be serious, Armande."
At this moment two of the Red Cross men arrived with a stretcher and carried the wounded soldier away.
"Well," said Earl when they had gone, "I should say that Armande ought to be pretty glad that he got nothing worse than a bullet in his leg. I think he's lucky to be alive."
"I think so too," agreed Leon. "That was a great stunt for the Germans to hang that bell on the wire like that, wasn't it?"
"It was indeed," said Dubois. "I know what we can do to them though."
A BALL OF TWINE