THE KHAKI BOYS OVER THE TOP OR Doing and Daring for Uncle Sam
CAPT. GORDON BATES
Author of "The Khaki Boys at Camp Sterling" "The Khaki Boys on the Way," "The Khaki Boys at the Front," etc.
THE KHAKI BOYS SERIES
By CAPT. GORDON BATES
THE KHAKI BOYS AT CAMP STERLING or Training for the Big Fight in France
THE KHAKI BOYS ON THE WAY or Doing Their Bit on Land and Sea
THE KHAKI BOYS AT THE FRONT or Shoulder to Shoulder in the Trenches
THE KHAKI BOYS OVER THE TOP or Doing and Daring for Uncle Sam
THE KHAKI BOYS FIGHTING TO WIN or Smashing the German Lines
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, New York
* * * * *
THE KHAKI BOYS OVER THE TOP
I BLOWN BACK 1
II TO THE RESCUE 11
III SENT TO THE REAR 19
IV A DOUBLE LOSS 28
V WHAT'S TO BE DONE 38
VI GOOD NEWS 44
VII UNDER FIERCE FIRE 52
VIII THE OLD MILL 61
IX TRAPPED 70
X FALLING WALLS 78
XI A STRANGE RESCUE 88
XII MUCH WONDERING 98
XIII A PERILOUS JOURNEY 105
XIV THE SENTRY 113
XV IN THE BATTLE AGAIN 122
XVI HELD UP 133
XVII A BATTLE OF THE AIR 139
XVIII CAPTURED 146
XIX THREE PRISONERS 156
XX THE CAPTAIN AGAIN 163
XXI BACK WITH FRIENDS 176
XXII FIERCE FIGHTING 185
XXIII THE LONELY HUT 192
XXIV A GLORIOUS VICTORY 199
'INTO THE MIDST OF THE']
THE KHAKI BOYS OVER THE TOP
"What's that, Schnitz?"
"That noise. Sounds like a party coming along the communication trench!"
The talk was in tense whispers, and the listening was now of the same tenseness. Two khaki-clad Sammies stood on the alert in the muddy ditch, dignified by the title, "trench," and tried to pierce the darkness that was like a pall of black velvet over everything.
"Hear it?" inquired he who had first spoken.
"I somedings hears, too," spoke a guttural voice, with a foreign accent. "Might not it perhaps be—"
"Cut that talk, Iggy!" sharply commanded the first speaker. "Do you want the lieutenant dropping in on us!" And Corporal Robert Dalton cautiously moved nearer his fellow non-com., Sergeant Franz Schnitzel.
"Yes, not so loud," advised Schnitzel, who, in spite of his Teutonic name, was a thorough American, speaking with no trace of German accent. "Don't forget that the Boches may have listening parties out right in front of this trench, even though they may have information that we're going to rush 'em just before dawn."
"But what is that noise?" went on Bob. "It sounds like the relief coming, and yet we can't be going to be relieved so near the zero hour. It's impossible."
"Him one big word is," sighed Iggy, trying to adjust his Polish tongue to the strange language called English. "But thinks me nothing is like him in dis war!"
"Nothing is like what?" asked Schnitzel, the talk now being reduced to whispers on the part of all three.
"Him wot you said—repossible," said the Polish lad.
"Hush!" quickly exclaimed Bob, or Dal, as he was variously called by his comrades. "There is some one coming along the trench. If it's the Boches—"
This was enough to cause all three to grip their rifles more tightly. The sound of advancing footsteps, cautious as they were, was now more audible. Then came a whispered, but sharp:
"Halt! Who goes there!"
"Our lieut's on the job!" commented Bob.
Tensely the three who stood shoulder to shoulder in the darkness of the foremost trench, waiting, listened for the answer. It came, also in a whisper, but it carried to their ears.
"Sergeant Blaise and Sergeant Barlow, ordered to report here to you, sir."
"Oh golly! It's Blazes und Ruddy!" gasped Iggy.
"Cheese it!" cautioned Dal, for the Polish lad, in his enthusiasm, had spoken above a whisper, and even slight sounds carried far on this dark, still night.
"Advance, Sergeant Blaise to be recognized," came the order from the sentry, evidently acting on advice from the lieutenant in command of this part of the American trench.
There was a period of silent waiting on the part of the three who stood so close together, and then they heard their immediate commanding officer say:
"Pass on. You'll find your friends just beyond here."
A moment later the two newcomers were grasping hands in the dark with the three waiting ones.
"The five Brothers are united again," said Roger Barlow in a low voice.
"Sooner than I expected," commented Jimmy Blaise. "Now we can go over the top together."
"Over the top, may we all go together, in the wind and the rain or in damp, foggy weather," was Bob Dalton's contribution. He sometimes "perpetrated verse," as he dubbed it—a reminder of his cub reporter days.
"But say, Jimmy, how did you manage to get here?" asked Franz.
"Walked," was Jimmy Blaise's laconic answer. "They haven't had to carry me on a stretcher—at least not lately."
"Oh, you know what I mean," said Franz. "I mean, did you ask to be transferred from your station to this trench?"
"No, and that's the funny part of it," said Roger Barlow. "You know after we wrote our letters to-night—or, rather last night, for it's past twelve now—Blazes and I went back to our station."
"Yes, and we came here to wait for the zero signal," interpolated Dal.
"Well, we hadn't been out in our trench very long before we were relieved, and told to report to Lieutenant Dobson here," resumed Jimmy. "And when we remembered that this was where you three were stationed, say, maybe we weren't glad!"
"We are of a gladness also much!" whispered the Polish lad, and there was rather a pathetic note in his voice. "It is a goodness gracious to have you here!"
"Say, you can do more things to the English language than the Boches can on an air raid," chuckled Jimmy.
"Oh, well, it is of a much hardness to speak," sighed Iggy.
"Well, there's no fault to be found with your fighting, that's sure!" declared Roger. "Put her there, old pal!" and he clasped hands with his foreign "Brother."
"How's everything here?" asked Jimmy, when the five had taken such easy positions as were available in the narrow trench.
"We're all ready for the zero hour," replied Bob. "Everybody's on their tiptoes. I wish it was over—I mean here. This waiting is worse than fighting."
"It sure is," commented Franz. "But it won't be long now."
"What time do you make it?" asked Bob.
"Must be quite some after three," said Jimmy in a low voice. "It was nearly three when we got our orders to come here."
Roger took out a tiny pocket flash lamp, and, placing one finger over the bulb so that no rays would escape, held the dim glow over his wrist-watch.
"Quarter to four," he announced.
"Fifteen minutes more," sighed Dal.
"They'll seem like fifteen years, though, Bob," commented Jimmy.
A reaction, in the shape of silence, came upon the Khaki Boys—"five Brothers" as they called themselves, for they had become that since their participation in the World War. Tensely and quietly they waited in the trench for the hands of time to move to the hour of four. This was the "zero" period, when in a wave of men and steel, or lead and high explosives, the Americans would go over the top, in an endeavor to dislodge the Germans from a strong position.
Only a few hours before, after each had written a letter home, the missives having been sent back of the lines to be posted, the five lads had solemnly shaken hands at parting. The two sergeants—James Blaise and Roger Barlow—went to a distant part of the intricate trench system, while the two corporals, Robert Dalton and Ignace Pulinski and Sergeant Franz Schnitzel were together in a ditch near the middle of the barbed wire entanglements. And now, by a strange turn of fate, they were all together again, waiting for the final word that might send then all into eternity, or cause them to live horribly misshapen.
Something of this seemed to be felt by the five Khaki Boys as they stood in the mud and darkness waiting. For it had rained and the trench was slimy on the bottom in spite of the "duck boards."
"I wonder where we'll be this time to-morrow," mused Bob in a low voice.
"Oh, cut out the 'sob sister' stuff!" said Jimmy, a bit sharply. "Isn't it gloomy enough here without that?"
They talked in the lowest whispers, and there were the murmurs of whispers on either side of them, for their comrades up and down the trenches felt the same strain, and relieved it by talking cautiously.
"I think we'll all be together again," said Roger, trying to speak cheerfully. "Somehow I've got a feeling that we'll come out of this all right."
"Me, I hat a dream," slowly remarked Iggy. "Of my dream I now know only one cling—und dot is my face was all bloody!"
"Oh, for the love of Mike! Don't croak!" exclaimed Jimmy.
"Silence down there!" came a sharp command. Jimmy had spoken too loudly, and the listening lieutenant had heard him.
Slowly the minutes dragged. Once again Roger carefully looked at his watch.
"What time is it?" whispered Franz.
"Five minutes of."
"Great Scott! Is it only ten minutes since you looked before! It seems like a lifetime. Whew! I'm all in a sweat!"
And yet the night was cool.
It was now as silent as death in the trench, and all about it. Earlier in the night there had been distant shelling, but this had ceased some time since.
Roger, unable to stand the strain longer, was about to flash his little pocket electric torch again when suddenly the stillness of the night was broken by a loud, shrill whistle.
"The signal!" cried Jimmy.
"The zero hour at last!" shrilled Roger in his tense excitement.
"Over the top!" yelled Bob. "Over the top!"
And just as the first streaks of the gray light of dawn began to pierce the blackness, the five Brothers, and their comrades up and down the trenches, leaped from their places of waiting with savage yells, and started for the German lines.
"I am glad! I am glad!" sang Iggy. "Now I can of the fight have a piece!"
He and Franz sprang out of the trench together. Side by side they raced over the rough ground, through the gaps cut in the barbed wire. A little in advance were Jimmy, Roger and Bob.
And now the big guns began their chorus. With boom and roar, roar and boom they sang their anthem of death. The rattle of rifles came in as a response, and all this was punctured by fiendish yells.
Then, too, from the German lines, came the answering song of the big guns. Though the attack had taken them by surprise, they were not slow in responding. With all that we think of the Boches we must give them credit for being savage, if unfair, fighters. They seldom declined a challenge, at least on the front lines.
"Come on! Come on!" yelled Jimmy.
"Up and at 'em! Up and at 'em!" snapped Roger.
"Wow! This is going to be some fight!" exulted Bob.
It was fast growing light, and the disappearing darkness was further illuminated by the flashes from hundreds of guns. Lines of khaki-clad Sammies were pouring from the American trenches now, in a mad rush for the Hun positions.
"Well, we're together yet, anyhow," mused Jimmy, as, looking back, he saw Bob, the Polish lad, and Franz coming on with a rush.
"Yes, we're together—yet," added Roger. They both had been firing madly at the distant gray lines of German soldiers in front of them. They had to yell into each other's ears to be heard above the din.
Suddenly the very earth seemed to drop away from under their feet. They felt the shock of rushing air. A big, high-explosive shell had dropped near them.
"That's bad!" shouted Jimmy, as the concussion died away. He looked behind him and saw, with horror, Iggy, the Polish Brother, literally being blown back through the air. Whether this was the effect of the big shell that had exploded, or whether it was caused by a smaller one going off a moment later, Jimmy could not tell. But he saw Iggy hurtling through the air, and the face of the Polish lad was covered with blood, as he himself had said it had been in his dream.
TO THE RESCUE
"Go on! Don't stop! Slam at 'em!"
It was the sharp command of the lieutenant in immediate charge of the detachment including Jimmy Blaise and his comrades.
"Forward! Forward!" was yelled on every side.
The din continued—increased. It seemed as though there could be nothing left whole on earth again; in all that riot of noise and blood—as though everything must be rent to pieces.
"Are you all right!" cried Jimmy in the ear of Roger.
"Yes. Not scratched yet. How about—"
A loud explosion to one side cut off his words in a blast, but Jimmy knew what his chum wanted to say. When there was a momentary lull he answered:
"Yes. I had a glimpse of him being blown back—his face was all red—bloody."
Roger could not repress a shudder. But there was no time for any thoughts like these. He had a glimpse of Bob Dalton and Franz Schnitzel stumbling toward him and Jimmy. Then came a sharp command:
"Down! Down on your faces! Everyone! They're turning loose the machine-guns!"
The four remaining Khaki Boys fell flat, and only just in time. Over them swept a veritable hail of machine gun bullets.
"Dig in! Dig in!" commanded the lieutenant.
Frantically with their picks and shovels the Sammies began to make shallow ditches in which to lie. The upraised earth would offer some protection against the forward sweeping lead, though not very much against shrapnel which explodes in the air above and is driven downward.
And as the four Brothers were making shallow trenches they wondered, with sorrow in their hearts, if there was a chance that Iggy had been left alive.
"If we stay here long enough, I'll see if I can't get permission to go back and find out," mused Jimmy, as he frantically scraped the earth into a sort of long mound in front of his head. They were under a hot fire now. The American advance had been momentarily checked.
And while there is this period in the fighting may I not take advantage of it to make my new readers acquainted with the main characters of this story, and also tell something of the previous books in this series?
The initial volume is called "The Khaki Boys at Camp Sterling," and in the pages of that you meet, for the first time, Jimmy, Roger, Bob and Iggy. To introduce them more formally I will say that Jimmy's correct name was James Sumner Blaise, and that he was the son of wealthy parents. He was about nineteen years old, and this was the average age of his comrades.
Roger Barlow was an orphan, and had been working in a munition factory when he decided to enlist. Robert Dalton had been a "cub" reporter on a newspaper, and, like Roger, was an orphan. Though Ignace was no orphan, possessing both father and mother and a number of sisters and brothers, his home life was not happy, and he was really glad to join the army.
These four lads soon became "bunkies" at Camp Sterling, where they had their training. Later they took into their friendship one Franz Schnitzel, who, though possessed of a German name, was, nevertheless, a loyal "United Stateser," as Iggy called it. Franz had a hard time, at first, convincing people of his loyalty, and once he was accused of a black crime, but later he was proved innocent.
After having been trained at the camp, and cementing their friendship in many ways, the "five Brothers" as they called themselves, were sent across. In the second book of the series, "The Khaki Boys On the Way," we find our youthful heroes sailing for France after a series of adventures, one a startling one, at Camp Marvin. This adventure had to do with the blowing up of a bridge, and Jimmy Blaise had a fight with a spy—a fight that came near being Jimmy's last.
In this second book will also be found an account of the trip of the Khaki Boys to the coast, where they boarded a transport for France. If they expected to get across safely, as many thousands did, they were disappointed, for they were attacked by a U-Boat. Many on board the transport Columbia perished, but the five Brothers were saved, and, after a time spent in a rest camp in England, they crossed the channel to France.
The third volume, called "The Khaki Boys at the Front," tells in detail some of their exciting experiences. The quintette were given leave to go from their camp to Paris, and in that beautiful city they met some other friends, the Twinkle Twins, otherwise John and Gerald Twinkleton, who had joined the aviation branch of the service. This was natural, since their cousin, Emile Voissard, was one of the most daring of the airmen, meriting the name "Flying Terror of France."
In that book, too, you may read of how Franz Schnitzel, by his knowledge of the German tongue, was able to give advance notice of a raid he overheard the Huns planning. The raid was a failure from the German standpoint, but during it some of our Khaki Boys were wounded.
Adventure followed adventure, but in one "grand" one, as a Frenchman would call it, Jimmy, on guard when Voissard's aeroplane was on the ground, temporarily disabled, stood off an attack of Germans and among others he killed Adolph von Kreitzen, known as the "tiger man." On his head the French government had set a price of five thousand francs, or about a thousand dollars, and of course Jimmy won this.
So now, in the opening of this present story, we find our five Khaki Boys still together after many strenuous happenings. They had been wounded but were now recovered and they had fought valiantly.
In the last chapter of the book immediately preceding this, if you recall, the lads had written letters home—letters which might be their last, they thought, for they had orders to take their places in the front line trenches to await the zero hour. Two of the Brothers had been separated from their chums, but all were reunited as we have seen.
Then had come the command to go over the top, and there had followed the fierce rush in the gray dawn of the morning—a rush punctuated by fire, smoke and death.
"Dig in! Dig in!" commanded the lieutenant in command of the particular squad of the 509th infantry to which our friends were attached. "This is only a temporary check. We're laying down a curtain of fire, and we'll go forward again in a moment!"
He had to yell to be heard above the din, but all near him understood what he meant. The American gunners were sending over a barrage fire—a veritable rain of bullets that would keep the Germans from advancing, and which would also cause them to abandon their machine-guns. It was the machine-gun fire that was, temporarily, holding up the advance of Jimmy and his chums.
It did not take the Sammies long, working feverishly as they did, to raise a protecting mound of earth between them and the Huns. And then, for some reason or other, the savage fire of the Germans slacked at the particular section of the line where our heroes were stationed.
"Are you all right, Rodge?" called Jimmy to the chum on his left.
"So far, yes. How about you?"
"Oh, I was nicked in one ear—just a scratch. It's hardly bleeding. Can you see Bob?"
"Yes, he's got a swell place—in a shell hole, and Franz is with him. See anything of Iggy?"
"No," answered Jimmy. "I'm afraid he's done for. If I get a chance, I'm going back to see. Looks as if Fritz had had enough at this sector."
"Aren't we going forward?" some one called to the lieutenant in charge. "Come on! Lead us to the Boches!"
"Have to wait for orders," was the grim answer. "We were told to halt here. Can't go on without orders!"
There were murmurs of disapproval at this, but the discipline was strict.
"Anybody badly wounded?" asked the lieutenant. "If there is, now's your chance to get some first-aid treatment. Later you can't, perhaps."
There were one or two who were suffering badly, and these took advantage of the lull in the fighting to apply bandages to their hurts.
"Poor Iggy!" mused Jimmy, and then, as the lieutenant crawled near him—for no one was standing upright—the sergeant asked:
"May I crawl back, sir, and see what happened to Corporal Pulinski?"
"Did you see anything happen to him?"
"Yes, sir. I saw him blown backward when the big shell exploded, and he seemed to be falling toward some sort of shell crater. If we're going to be held here long, I'd like to go to his rescue—to see if he's still alive."
"Very well," assented the young commanding officer. "Ill take a chance and let you." He knew of the pact of friendship existing among the five Brothers. "Take some one with you. But crawl—don't try to walk."
"I won't, sir. May Sergeant Barlow come along?"
"Yes. But come back if we get the order to advance again."
"I will, yes, sir!"
Swinging around on his stomach, and calling to Roger, telling him of the permission received, Jimmy Blaise started toward the rear to rescue, if possible, the Polish lad.
"But I'm afraid we'll find him done for," confided Jimmy to Roger. "The shell must have landed right in front of him. It made a hole as big as a house."
"Poor Iggy!" murmured Roger.
SENT TO THE REAR
Roger Barlow, who was slightly behind his comrade in their queer progress back toward the shell hole near which the Polish lad had been seen to fall, observed his fellow sergeant come to a halt.
"What's the matter—hit?" cried Roger anxiously. And this well might have been the case, since, though there was a lull in the fighting immediately in front of Company E, there were plenty of stray bullets, not to mention pieces of shrapnel and bits of high explosive shells, that might have reached the crawling lad.
"Hit? No, not yet," answered Jimmy. "I'm going to try, if it's safe, to make a little better progress than this, though. This is too slow. Poor Iggy may be dead before we get to him."
"Probably is," commented Roger.
"Oh, can the gloomy stuff!" snapped Jimmy. Afterward he admitted that his nerves were pretty well strained. In fact that was the condition of all of them. "You're almost as bad as Franz," went on Jimmy.
"Well, I don't want to be too hopeful," returned Roger. "But what are you going to do, anyhow?"
"This," answered his chum. He drew his rifle up close beside him, took off his tin hat, stuck it on the end of his bayonet, and cautiously raised it well above the ground. It received no bullets, as might have been expected.
"Come on, we can run for it!" cried Jimmy.
"What makes you think so?" asked his chum. "Didn't the lieutenant tell us to lie on our faces?"
"Yes, but that was before the fighting ceased in front of us. Fritz is having all he can attend to on either wing of our advance, and, for the time being we're not being molested. If the Huns were in any strength directly ahead of us, or to our rear as we are now, that tin helmet would look like a sieve by this time. It's safe enough to get up and run for it. And we've got to hustle if we want to save Iggy."
"All right, just as you say!" murmured Roger, as he began to rise. It was not without a natural feeling of timidity that he cautiously elevated himself first to his knees and then to his feet. As for Jimmy, he had impulsively stood upright.
"Come on!" he yelled above the din of battle. "Come on!"
He started on a run over the shell-torn ground, with what remained of the barbed wire entanglements here and there.
"I'm coming!" answered Roger.
He expected any moment to receive a bullet, or to be utterly blasted from the earth by some terrible shell explosion. And Jimmy confessed, later, that he felt the same fear. But these fears did not hold back the Khaki Boys from continuing on to the rescue of their comrade—if he was in a condition to be rescued.
"Where's the place?" cried Roger to his chum, when they had covered several yards in a hasty rush toward the rear.
"Must be somewhere around here," answered Jimmy, looking about him. That part of No Man's Land where they then were, seemingly was deserted by all save the dead. If there had been any injured they had been taken well back behind the lines by stretcher bearers.
For a time Roger and Jimmy feared they might be considered deserters, coming toward the rear as they were doing, and away from the fighting, and aside from mere scratches neither of them showing any wounds. Though if they had been hurt that would have been an excuse for making a retreat.
But no one observed the two—there was no one to observe them, in fact. They were some distance from their own trenches, and immediately back of them—toward the German lines—there had been a division in the fighting, so that the battle waged on either wing, as it were.
"Look in all the shell holes!" directed Jimmy. "The shell burst right in front, or to one side of poor Iggy. He was blown into a shell hole, of that I'm pretty sure."
"There's a hole—a big one, too," said Roger. "But there's no one in it—only dead!" and he turned away, for some of those dead were comrades who, the night before, had been in the trenches with him and his chums.
But the Khaki Boys were hardened to scenes like this now. Too many times had they seen the dead and dying. There was no time to nurse one's feelings.
"Come on! Come on!" cried Jimmy feverishly. "We've got to be quick! Iggy may bleed to death if he's hurt anything like I think he is."
"Yes, and this place may be a regular lead hail storm, soon," added Roger. "I can't see why our company was held up! Why couldn't we keep on giving the Huns what they deserve?"
"Orders are orders, my boy, we learned that long ago. And when the lieut. wouldn't let us go on, there must be some reason for it. I'm just as anxious to give Fritz his medicine as anyone. Hello, there! Did you hear that queer noise!"
"Yes. Sounded like a groan. Listen!"
The tide of battle was away from them now, and they were able, above the distant roar, to hear ordinary sounds, which had not been the case when the attack started. The sun was well up now, and the day gave promise of being a fine one—hot, too. And on such a scene the sun shone! Death and devastation brought on by human beasts!
"There it is again!" cried Roger, "It sure was a groan."
"Somebody around here is alive, at any rate," said Jimmy.
There were a number of terribly mangled bodies near them, and it was hardly believable that the groan came from any of those poor forms of what had once been living men.
"Over here!" cried Roger suddenly. "The sound came from down in that shell hole!"
He pointed to one, on the sides of which was fresh earth, showing that the explosive had recently fallen.
"There's no one down in that hole," declared Roger, taking a look.
"Yes there is!" asserted Jimmy. "See that shoe sticking out!"
He pointed to what seemed but a mound of dirt and stones in the very bottom of the shell crater. And Roger observed that the dirt did not altogether cover a leg and foot. An army shoe was sticking out.
"Come on!" cried Jimmy, and the next moment he was sliding down the side of the shell hole. Roger followed, and the two began to roll aside the larger stones that had fallen on the body. The Khaki Boys leaned their rifles against the side of the crater, and took off their gas masks, from where they lining ready for use, in order to work more freely.
"The wind isn't right for a gas attack," murmured Roger, as he temporarily deprived himself of this necessary protection.
As the boys feverishly worked to uncover the form they heard another loud groan coming from beneath the dirt.
"It doesn't seem possible anyone can be alive—like this," panted Roger as he labored at a heavy stone.
"Don't talk—work!" snapped Jimmy. "If he's alive, whoever it is, he needs help quick."
"Wonder if it's Iggy?" went on Roger.
Jimmy's hands flew as do the legs of a dog when he is digging out a buried bone, nor was Roger behind his comrade. They labored at that part of the pile of earth and stones which covered the face and head of the unfortunate soldier.
"There—he can breathe if he's alive still!" gasped Jimmy as he straightened up after having lifted aside a board that had fallen over the face of the Sammie they were trying to rescue. And it was this board that undoubtedly saved the unfortunate from dying by suffocation.
For the piece of plank had fallen in such a way, being supported on either end by resting on two stones on either side of the man's head, that it kept the dirt and stones away from the face.
And that it was a face which they had uncovered, was not at all certain to Roger and Jimmy at first. For so covered with blood, streaks of dirt and powder stains was the countenance that it resembled nothing human.
"He's alive—whoever he is!" declared Jimmy, for the unfortunate was observed to breathe—and breathe deeply as the air came in more abundantly to the parted lips.
Roger began digging in the dirt again, working down to the man's hands. And when he had brushed aside the dirt and stones he lifted up a limp wrist. One look at the identification tag chained around it, and he cried:
"It's Iggy! We've found him all right!"
"Sure enough—it is Iggy!" cried Jimmy, as he, too, looked at the metal disk.
"Ach! Yes! Water!" faintly moaned the Polish lad. His voice was a moan, but it was his voice. He opened his eyes, looked almost uncomprehendingly at his two chums and smiled faintly.
"So, come you haf!" he murmured. "Think I did dat you would!"
His head, which he had raised, sank back limply.
"Here!" cried Jimmy, opening his canteen. "Drink this!"
Poor Iggy did, gratefully enough. Some of the water trickled over his face, and when Roger wiped it away some of the blood and dirt went with it.
"Why he isn't hurt much—not up here, anyhow!" cried Jimmy. "I thought sure his whole head was blown off the way he looked."
"Well, let's get him out of here and look at him afterward," counseled Roger, and they resumed their work until the Polish lad's body was all exposed. Then he was lifted out, and in a little while it was ascertained that he was not seriously injured—at least outwardly. His arms and legs were whole, and there was no big wound, though he was terribly scratched and bruised.
"But why stand up can not I!" asked Iggy, for Roger and Jimmy were supporting him with their arms around him down in the shell hole.
"I guess he means why can't he stand up," translated Roger, for sometimes their foreign Brother misplaced his English words considerably.
"Sure! Why can't not I stand?" went on Iggy. "My legs—they is got no business to 'em. Like paper legs they is!"
Roger and Jimmy looked apprehensively at one another. This loss of feeling and muscular power in Iggy's legs might indicate that his spine was injured—that his whole lower body was paralyzed!
"We've got to get him to the rear—to a hospital," said Roger in a low voice, as the Polish lad's head drooped weakly on his shoulder.
"Yes," assented Jimmy. "But can we carry him?"
They looked about for some means of getting Iggy to the top of the shell hole. That would be the most difficult part of the rescue. Then, to their surprise, the two who had come back to seek their friend, heard a hail on the rim of the crater above them.
"What's the matter down there?" came the cry. "Do you want help!"
"You said it!" voiced Jimmy, vigorously.
"All right. Wait a minute. We'll be right down!"
It was two stretcher-bearers who had hailed, and, a little later, Ignace Pulinski was being carried to the rear. He had fainted when brought to the top of the shell hole.
A DOUBLE LOSS
After waiting a moment on the ground at the top of the shell crater, to see their comrade being carried to a first-aid dressing station at the rear, Jimmy and Roger started back to join their two friends who were still, it was to be hoped, waiting for orders to advance.
"S'pose he's much hurt?" asked Roger, something like a dry sob choking him as he thought of poor Iggy.
"I'm afraid so—yes," answered Jimmy. "That business of his legs feeling numb is a bad sign. It's a wonder he lived as long as he did, after what happened to him."
"I'll say so!" agreed Roger. "Tough luck all right!"
"Why," went on his chum as they started back toward their former places, "it looked as if his whole face was blown in. I can't understand it"
"Well, they'll do the best they can for him back there," and Roger nodded toward the dressing stations. "Maybe we'll get a chance to go to see him after this battle."
His words were drowned in a new roar of artillery and machine-gun fire. The heavy booming and the short, sharp, rattling explosions of the smaller guns seemed very close at hand.
"Something's doing!" cried Jimmy.
"Come on!" shouted his chum, and, with their rifles and gas masks, which they had brought up out of the shell hole, they rushed forward. And as they advanced they became aware of shrill, whistling sounds in the air about them.
"Duck! Duck!" yelled Roger. "They're firing over our sector now! We've got to crawl back!"
Jimmy realized this as well as did his chum, and, in another moment, the two were making their way back to their line as they had left it, by alternately moving on their hands and knees and again by working themselves forward on their elbows and stomach. It was the only safe way. The horizontal storm of missiles was, fortunately, about three feet above them, but that distance precluded walking upright.
"Come on, boys! Fall in! Fall in!" cried their lieutenant as Roger and Jimmy got back "We're going to advance. You're just in time!"
"Did you find him?" asked Bob, as he leaped to his feet in readiness for a dash toward the German lines.
"Yes. In a shell hole!" yelled Jimmy, for the firing was heavy on both sides of them now, making a vicious din.
"Alive!" Franz wanted to know.
"Yes, alive, but how long he'll be that way it's hard to say," answered Roger. "He was under a pile of dirt and—"
"Come on! Come on!" cried the lieutenant. "We're going to finish the job!"
He was leading his men, not driving them on as do the Germans, and nobly the four Brothers and their fellows followed the gallant lieutenant.
On they rushed—ever onward. About them swept the leaden hail of death. Shoulder to shoulder, firing from the hip, rushed the four Khaki Boys. And even in that terrible din of battle they spared a thought for the gallant comrade who would have been with him if he could.
With wild yells the Sammies swept over the first line of German trenches. The Boches had deserted them in the face of a withering rifle and machine-gun fire.
"Come on! Come on!" yelled the lieutenant again and again. "They're laying down a perfect barrage for us! The Huns can't get through to attack us!"
This was true, to a certain extent. Supported by the big guns in the rear, the 509th Infantry was rushing onward. Before them, and ever moving forward, was a never-ending curtain of fire—a hail of lead and steel.
As this curtain advanced, caused by the continual but slow elevation of the muzzles of the big guns, the infantry followed. And this fire kept the German support from coming to save the lines that were under attack.
"Wipe 'em out! Wipe out the Hun nests!" cried the lieutenant.
"It's our turn now!" grimly shouted Roger in Jimmy's ear.
Forward swept the company to which our heroes were assigned. For a time, during which the two chums had had a chance to get Iggy from the shell hole, there had been no advance. Now it came with a vengeance.
But the Germans were not idle. If their infantry was held back from making a counter-attack, their heavy guns, and here and there, machine-guns, were not idle. And these weapons tore big holes in the ranks of the Sammies. But ever the holes were closed up—comparatively closed up, that is, for the fighting of the Americans was not in close order, such as that in which the Germans so often advanced to their deaths.
At times the four Brothers would be close to one another, converging to get out of the line of some trench or avoid a shell hole. Again they would be yards apart But they kept in "contact," as it is called.
And ever as they advanced they fired their rifles into the German lines. True they could only now and then catch a glimpse of the foe, but they made those chances tell.
"Come on now, boys—a little farther and we'll have our objective! Just a few yards more!" cried the lieutenant who was leading our heroes. "Once we're at that barn, we can rest. Only a few feet more—only a few—"
His yelling voice suddenly ceased, and Jimmy, who was nearest, saw the gallant soldier crumple up, with a bullet through his head. And as he fell his men behind him, leaped over his body with wild yells of rage.
"Come on! Come on!" screamed Jimmy, inflamed to the point of madness. He was in command at this point now, following the death of the lieutenant. "Come on! Make 'em pay for that!" He choked back his sobs, for the lieutenant was well beloved.
On they rushed, on and on. The man on Jimmy's left was killed, and the comrade on his right fell with a shattered leg.
"I'm out of it!" suddenly shouted Franz, and he tried to hop on one foot, falling, a moment later, in a shallow hole.
On the others rushed, and finally, with wild yells, they drove the Germans from their last stand. The stone barn held a machine gun nest, and many of the Sammies were killed or wounded before the crew of Huns were scattered or captured—and there were very few of this last class, so desperate was their resistance.
From somewhere came the signal to cease firing, and, a little later, a captain came along and took charge.
"Who's in command?" he asked, seeing no commissioned officer in the group which had for a nucleus Jimmy, Roger and Bob.
"I am, sir," answered the former, saluting. "The lieutenant was killed."
A twitch of the face, and a hardening of the muscles about the captain's mouth were the only signs of emotion he showed, but his heart was torn—the boys knew that. The lieutenant was his only brother.
"Hold this place at all costs!" was the grim order. "I'll send an officer to take charge shortly. But hold the place!"
"Yes, sir." and Jimmy saluted again.
Quickly they took measures to do this—to make the stone barn, once the part of a French farm homestead, a position of defense. The German machine-gun, for which there was considerable ammunition left, was turned to point at the Hun line. But the Boches had withdrawn some distance. The Sammies had gained their objective, and the battle, for the time being, was over. Now there might come a counter-attack, and for this Jimmy, temporarily in command, prepared with his chums.
"Bob," called Jimmy to the former reporter, "you and Roger go back and see if you can pick up Franz, or any other of our lads who are alive. See what they need, and, if it's possible, get first-aid to them."
This was a welcome order to these two Khaki Boys and they started back over the ground won at such terrible cost. Already, though, gallant stretcher-bearers were searching among the dead to succor the living. And then, to their unutterable delight, Roger and Bob saw Franz limping toward them, using his rifle as a crutch.
"Thought you were done for, like poor Iggy," cried Roger.
"I thought so, too," answered Schnitz. "I felt sure my foot was lopped off, but it was only bruised on the ankle by a stone that some piece of shell must have kicked up. It's only badly bruised. I don't have to go to the rear!" and he said this joyously.
But there were many poor lads who did have to go to the rear, for they were torn and mangled. And there were some who had made their last fight. But it was a good fight. Oh, it was a good and noble fight! Be sure of that!
Assisting Franz, Roger and Bob got back to the barn, and there they took off their comrade's shoe. As he had said, his ankle was only bruised. He was able to limp along.
The Hun fighters had received more than they wanted. They had not only withdrawn to a good distance, but they did not even have nerve enough to launch a counter-attack. The American advance had been so well prepared that it won the battle.
"Well, now we have time to breathe and eat," commented Jimmy, who had been relieved in command.
"Say, a lot of things have happened since the zero hour this morning," remarked Roger.
"You said it!" declared Bob fervently. "If I was only on the paper now I could write a front page story, instead of a miserable little 'stick' about a runaway horse. Oh, but this was some fight!"
It was toward evening, and the tired doughboys were wondering what the night would hold for them, when Jimmy remarked:
"I'm going to see if I can find Sergeant Maxwell."
"What's the matter with him?" asked Roger.
"Nothing, I hope. But I gave him those five thousand francs to keep for me—you know, the reward money—our money," explained Jimmy, for it was that, as you shall see. "I want to get it back, now that the battle is over. We won't go into action very soon again, I'm thinking. I just gave him the notes to keep for me until this scrap was over. Now I think I'll get 'em back again, and divide 'em up."
"Are you going to persist in your generous notion?" asked Bob.
"I sure am!" was the somewhat indignant answer. "What do you think I am, anyhow, an Injun giver? I said we five Brothers would share and share alike in that reward, and I'm going to insist on it. If Iggy—if he's killed—his share goes to his folks. Why, you fellows helped as much in putting that dog Von Kreitzen out of the way as I did."
"Nonsense!" declared Roger. "You did it all alone!"
"Well, I'm not going to spend the reward all alone, and that's settled!" snapped Jimmy. "It's going to be whacked up, just as I promised. Now I'm going to find Maxwell and get the dough. Why, of course, I'm going to divide it. And I'll be glad to get my share right now. We haven't had any pay in some time, and goodness knows when I'll hear from home."
"Or Buffalo," added Bob, with a laugh.
"Yes, or Buffalo," agreed Jimmy. He had admitted that his "girl" lived there—a girl to whom he often referred as "Margaret," but beyond this he had said little of her. "So I'm going out to find Maxwell. I'll be back soon," he promised.
He received the necessary permission and was soon scouting about, back of the German trench lines, which had been taken over by the victorious Americans.
"Seen Maxwell?" asked Jimmy of a fellow non-commissioned officer who, he knew, was in Maxwell's mess.
"Maxwell? No, I haven't seen him lately. Didn't you hear about him?"
"Hear what about him? What do you mean?" asked Jimmy, and he was conscious of a strange foreboding.
"Why, Sergeant Maxwell has been missing since just about the time we got word to go over the top at the zero hour," stated Corporal Blake, to whom Jimmy had applied. "I thought you knew that."
"No, I didn't," said Jimmy quietly. Then he whistled.
"What's the matter?" asked Blake.
"If Maxwell is missing then it's a double loss," was the answer.
"A double loss? What do you mean?"
"I mean my five thousand francs are gone, too. Whew! Well, it can't be helped, I suppose. I'll go tell the boys!"
WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
"What's the matter. Blazes?" cried Bob, as he saw his friend coming back.
"You look as if we'd lost the war!"
"Well, I've lost part of something I won in it, anyhow," declared Jimmy.
"Is Iggy dead?" Franz wanted to know. "Did you hear any word from him?"
"No, but we must make some inquiries. This is about something else. Fellows, I guess I'll have to wait until I get a remittance from home before I give you your shares of the thousand dollars reward."
"Wait for a remittance!" exclaimed Roger. "Not that I'm altogether sure I'm going to take what you call my 'share' of that; but why do you have to wait?"
"Because the money's gone," said Jimmy, tragically. In France, three thousand miles away from home, with their army pay uncertain, ready cash meant much to our doughboys.
"Gone! Did you lose it?" asked Bob, with a reportorial instinct.
"No, but Maxwell is gone and the money's gone with him. He's missing," Jimmy hastened to explain. "Been missing since just before we went into action."
"Where was the sergeant stationed?" asked Roger.
"In that big concrete dugout we captured from the Germans in the scrap just before this," Jimmy explained. "He was in command of a hand grenade squad there, and just before the fight, or at least soon after the signal to advance was given, that was the last seen of Sergeant Maxwell and my money," added the owner of it ruefully.
His companions received the news in silence. Then Franz spoke up and asked:
"What's to be done? I don't so much mean about the money," he added quickly, as he saw the others look curiously at him. "That doesn't matter, though, of course, I'll be glad of my share, and it's mighty generous of you, Blazes, to offer to whack up. But I mean what's to be done about Sergeant Maxwell? Do you suppose he—"
He did not finish, but his meaning was obvious.
"If you mean, do I think he went away with it, I most certainly do not," declared Jimmy, positively. "A thousand dollars isn't enough to make a man skip out."
"A thousand dollars is a lot to some people—I know it is to me," said Bob. "I worked hard on the Chronicle, and it never brought me a thousand dollars—at least not all at once."
"Me either—when I was slaving in the munition plant, and running a chance of being blown up every minute," declared Roger. "But I think Schnitz is right—what's to be done! Maybe Maxwell was robbed, and he started after the thief and—"
"'Maybe' won't get us anywhere," said Jimmy. "Of course, I'd rather lose the five thousand francs ten times over than have anything happen to Maxwell. And I'd like to know where he is for his own sake. At the same time I'd like to get that money back, as much for my own sake as for you fellows," he added. "I can very nicely use a bit of spare cash."
"So can I," chimed in Franz. "Maybe we'll have a chance to hunt for the serg. after this place quiets down a bit."
"I hope so," sighed Jimmy. Really he was more affected than he liked to admit, and it was not altogether over the loss of the money, either. He had been firm friends with the missing man—not as close a chum as with his four Brothers, but enough so that there was a genuine loss in his disappearance.
"Well, we'll see what we can do," decided Bob. "We've got to look after Iggy, too—that is, if he's alive. But we can't do anything along either line to-night."
"No, I guess not," agreed Jimmy. "Some of us'll have to do sentry go, I expect, or take a listening post."
And he was right in his surmise. He and Bob were detailed to take a trick at a listening post—to be on the alert for any possible advance of the temporarily defeated Germans. Franz, because of his bruised ankle, was not put on duty. Indeed, he came near being sent to the rear for treatment when an officer discovered his hurt.
"It'll be all right in the morning," declared the youth of German blood, who, nevertheless, was such an ardent hater of the Kaiser and his "Potsdam gang," as a certain preacher has called the Hun ruler's associates. "I'm simply not going to the hospital! Captain, there'll be fighting in the morning; won't there, sir?"
"Very likely," was the grim answer.
"Then I'm going to stay, sir!" declared Franz, forgetting that he was speaking to his superior officer. "I'll be able to walk in the morning, and I want to get some more of the beasts!" and he fairly snarled the word. No true-blooded American hated the Huns as did Franz Schnitzel, of German parentage.
"Very well," assented the captain. "You may stay until morning, at least."
"Thank you, sir," replied Franz, saluting. He knew in his heart that he would never give in, no matter how his ankle hurt, and the pain was not inconsiderable, either.
There came a reaction after the fierce fighting of the morning and early afternoon, and when night came, and the lads, with only a short period of rest, had to go out on sentry or other duty, there was a weariness of body, and a queer feeling of the mind, that did not make the occasion one of pleasure.
But duty was duty and it had to be done.
Jimmy and Bob had an advanced listening post, and they took their positions about ten o 'clock that night. It was dark and a drizzling rain was falling.
"I'd much rather go to bed in a dugout," declared Jimmy, stifling a yawn.
"Same here," agreed Bob. "Say, what do you s'pose happened to Maxwell, anyhow!"
"Can't imagine, unless he's been killed or captured. If he was within our lines some one would have heard of it. Or perhaps they wouldn't either, in all this excitement. It may take two or three days to locate him, if he's alive."
"And if he isn't—or is a prisoner?" suggested Bob.
"Then good-bye to our thousand dollars," sighed Jimmy.
"I'm thinking of poor Iggy, too," said Bob, after a pause. "Do you think he has any chance!"
"Well, he didn't appear to be badly wounded. But if his spine is broken he'll never fight again, and may not live very long. That's a fierce state of affairs. How he escaped being killed outright is a wonder to me. You ought to have seen him after Roger and I dug him out," and in a whisper, for loud talking was forbidden, he related the scene in the shell hole.
He had scarcely finished his narration when Bob peered out from their improvised shelter and seemed to be looking at something intently—that is, as intently as he could in the rainy darkness.
"What is it?" asked Jimmy cautiously.
"I don't know," was the answer. "But someone, or something, is crawling this way. Look right straight ahead. See it moving?"
For a moment Jimmy could see nothing. Possibly this was because he strained his eyes too much, but of course he was looking out into a darkness so black that it seemed to swallow up everything. And there was rain, too, a misty, drizzling rain, which alone would have hampered vision. Then Jimmy closed his strained orbs, and when he opened them again his vision was nearer normal.
"Do you see it yet?" whispered Bob. "Squint along my finger."
Jimmy did so.
"You have pretty good eyes to see anything in this blackness," he was saying when he suddenly became aware of something moving out there among the holes caused by the American shells.
It was more, he said afterward, as though part of the darkness itself moved rather than that he actually saw something. But it was enough to direct his attention to what Bob pointed out.
"It is something," was Jimmy's cautious declaration. "And coming this way!"
There was a movement on the part of Bob, and his chum knew he was getting his rifle in readiness. Jimmy followed this example. They were on the alert.
"Don't fire until you challenge," cautioned Jimmy. "It might be one of our fellows, you know."
"One of our fellows—out there? How could it be!"
"Might have advanced too far, been wounded and have waited for darkness to crawl back to our lines. Wait a second more until we see what he's up to."
"It's a man, sure!" Bob whispered, "and he's crawling toward us on his stomach."
"Let's do the same ourselves and crawl out to meet him," suggested Jimmy. "If he has a grenade, or a bomb, and tries to throw it, we may forestall him."
"Our orders were to stay here," decided Bob, and he was a great stickler for obeying orders to the letter. Perhaps even his small newspaper experience was responsible for this.
Suddenly the silence of the darkness was broken by an unmistakable sneeze. True, the sneezer, if I may use such a term, tried to stifle the explosion, but he was not altogether successful. It was a sneeze, and nothing could disguise it.
"Did you hear—" began Bob.
And then, to the greater surprise of the two listeners, there came a muttered exclamation in German.
"For the love of gas masks!" breathed Jimmy. "Take aim, Bob!"
And in another moment the fire of two rifles would have been concentrated on that moving splotch of blackness, whence had come the sneeze, except that the guttural German expletive was followed by a tense whisper. And the words came in good English.
"Don't shoot, boys! I'm Schnitz!"
Bob said, afterward, that the reaction was so great that he actually had a fit of nervous shivering, and Jimmy admitted the same. They fully expected a rush of the Huns, but they had made up their minds that first they would "get" the advance guard in the shape of the man who had sneezed. And then to hear the unmistakable voice of their comrade in arms!
It was almost unbelievable, and, for a moment, both listening lads had a doubt. This might be some trick of the Germans, and "Schnitz" was a sufficiently common Teutonic name, shortened as it was. But a moment later the voice from the darkness went on in the same cautious whisper:
"Don't fire, Bob—Jimmy! If you do, you'll spoil a little surprise-party."
"Say, what does this mean!" asked Jimmy, a bit sternly, for he was suffering from a reaction.
"You're supposed to be in the dugout, or somewhere back there," said Bob, when Franz had crawled to them and had arisen to stand beside them. "What brought you out? Were you sent?"
"I sent myself," was the laconic answer. "I couldn't stand it being cooped up back there. My ankle felt a lot better, and I took French leave, as it were. I sneaked out and I crawled over toward the Hun trenches. And say, I've got some information that the K.O. will give his eye teeth to have. They're raising a little party to come over and try to get back some of the land we took from 'em this morning. The Huns are going to raid our position in half an hour."
"Are you sure?" demanded Bob, and yet he knew that Franz would not say it if it were not so.
"Well, I'm as sure as one can be of anything in this war," was the answer in a whisper, all the talk being of that calibre. "I crawled over until I could hear the sentries talking. Then I located a dugout. The door was open and more talk floated out. I heard enough to tell me that the raid is going to be made just before daylight and on this position."
"You mean where we are?" asked Bob.
"As nearly as I can tell," answered Franz, whose knowledge of the German language had again done him and his friends such good service.
"Whew!" softly whistled Jimmy. "We'd better get word to the K.O. in a jiffy. You'll get blue streaks, though, Schnitz, for disobeying orders."
"Oh, I guess not," was the easy answer. "It'll all be forgotten in the excitement. I just had to go out. I heard where you fellows were stationed on listening post and I started out with the intention of crawling back to your position. Hit it, too; didn't I?"
"That sneeze came near causing you to be hit, and with something harder than a rubber ball," said Jimmy grimly. "Bob? you'd better go back with him and let him tell his yarn to the captain. He doesn't know the password, and I'll have to stay here on duty. But hurry back and let me know what the word is."
"Right-O!" assented Bob, and a moment later he and Franz were stumbling back over the rough ground, and through the rain and darkness, toward the dugout where the officer in charge of that particular sector was on duty. A captured German dugout had been taken over, and such comforts as it afforded were utilized.
Just as Franz had surmised, the import of the news he brought in wiped out his offense against orders. He told in detail what he had overheard, and quick, sharp commands were at once sent out over the telephone, for the engineers had hastily strung wires when the advanced posts had been taken by the onrushing American doughboys.
And the information Franz had secured by his bold act proved correct in every detail. The Germans, smarting under their defeat, were determined on revenge. The raiding party came over—but they found the Americans ready.
It was not a large raid, not as large as Franz, in his enthusiasm, had intimated. And it was evidently undertaken to get back the commanding position occupied by that part of the 509th to which the five Brothers were assigned.
But with the advent of the foe the Americans opened such a fire from rifles, hand grenades and light artillery, while the scene was illuminated by flaring lights, that the Huns were almost completely wiped out. A number of prisoners were taken, for the Boches, once they found the tide of battle going against them, threw down their guns and cried: "Kamerad!"
Sharp as was the fighting, it was only a slight incident in the great war. Such skirmishes, or trench raids, were occurring all along the Western front every night. But slight as it was it took the lives of several gallant American lads, and a number were wounded. Roger Barlow received a slight flesh wound, but he refused to go back to the dressing station, insisting on getting back into the fight when his hurt had received first-aid treatment.
"The only trouble was, though," Roger said later, "that the scrap was all over when I got back from the first-aid post. Pity you fellows couldn't have kept it going until I could join you."
"Better to have it over with sharp and sudden than drag along," replied Jimmy. "They killed poor Baker right in front of me," he added, naming a "bunkie" of whom he and the five Brothers were very fond. "I might just as well have received that bullet."
"Yes. It's a queer world," mused Bob. "If it hadn't been that Franz went out against orders and got information, we might all be dead now."
And this was true.
Once more silence settled down over the trenches, but it was now almost morning, and with the breaking of dawn the rain that had been a drizzle all night settled into a steady downpour.
"Not much fighting to-day," decided Roger, when the four Brothers were at breakfast together—and a cold breakfast at that, for there was no fuel to heat the coffee, though word went around that the traveling kitchens were on their way toward the trenches.
Roger was right. Each side consolidated its positions, and each seemed waiting for what the other might do. This state of affairs continued for three days, during which the rain lasted. Save for an occasional artillery duel at night, precipitated often by some nervous sentry firing his rifle, there was no actual battle.
At the first chance, when he was off duty, Jimmy secured permission to go back to their former headquarters.
"I want to find out about Iggy if I can," he said, "and also make inquiries about Sergeant Maxwell and that money I owe you fellows."
"You don't owe it to us!" declared Roger.
"I sure do!" was the answer. "Just as much as if I'd borrowed it from you!" declared Jimmy. "And I'm going to pay up, too!"
He returned from his little trip much sooner than his comrades had expected. There was a joyous light in his face as he greeted them, and cried:
"Good news, fellows! Good news!"
UNDER FIERCE FIRE
There were so many sorts of good news possible for Jimmy to have brought back from the former headquarters at the rear that, for a moment, his three chums did not know what question to put next.
The war might be over, though until the Germans were worse whipped than they then were there would be poor satisfaction in that, reflected Roger.
It was Bob, however, who blurted out:
"Is Iggy all right?"
"You said it!" cried Jimmy, dancing around "like a venerable ostrich," as Bob said afterward. "He isn't all right, exactly, for he's pretty badly mussed up. But he's not going West, and if that isn't good news I don't know what is!"
"That's the best news you've given us since you said the soup kitchens were on their way the day after the big fight," declared Schnitz. "How much is he hurt?"
"Well, really not any at all, except for some bad bruises, and he says they'll be better in a day or so. No internal injuries that the doctors can find, and outside of the bruises and scratches—and he has them in plenty—he's as good as any of us."
"But how in the world did it happen?" asked Bob. "Didn't you see him with his head all caved in and his spine broken?"
"Well, I thought I did," admitted Jimmy. "But the fact is that the blood on his face, as I guess I told you before, came from a man who was killed by a shell, right in front of Iggy. And that numb feeling of his legs was because they were both 'asleep'. You know, when you lie too long on your arm, or keep your leg in a cramped position. He got all over that after he'd been in bed a few hours.
"You see the stuff that caved in on him, after the shell exploded, formed a sort of arch over his head, and took the weight off his face. He'd have been dead except for that. But he's practically all right, and will be back with us soon. He's crazy to see you fellows. I thought he'd kiss me, the way some of the Frenchies do when they get excited."
"Well, we'll go to see him as soon as we get leave," decided Bob.
"Don't think I'm asking this because of the money involved," said Schnitz, a little later, "though we all agree that it's fine and generous of you to have offered to whack up. But did you hear anything of Sergeant Maxwell?"
"Not a word," declared Jimmy, "nor the missing five thousand francs, either. Both have mysteriously disappeared."
"What's the official report on the serg.?" asked Roger.
"Just missing—that's all," said Jimmy, simply. "I made inquiries about him as soon as I had located Iggy in a hospital. Sergeant Maxwell is down as missing. Of course, there's no report about my money. In fact, we five, and the serg. himself, are the only ones who know about it."
"Missing," mused Bob. "Does it say without official leave, or anything like that?"
"No, it doesn't," went on the owner of the five thousand francs. "He isn't classed as a deserter—yet."
"Do you think he will be?" Franz wanted to know, impressed by something in Jimmy's voice.
The latter did not reply for a moment. And then he felt that he must not only be generous but just. So he said:
"No, I don't! Sergeant Maxwell has proved himself too many times to be as straight as a die, to go wrong now. I don't really believe he went away purposely with my money. He may be wounded, and have wandered into the German lines. If he did, with that cash on him—good-night little old five thousand francs!" and Jimmy pretended to kiss them adieu. "And, fellows, we mustn't forget that he may be lying dead in some rain-filled shell hole," he went on softly. "We'll just suspend judgment, that's all. Forget the bad news about Maxwell and remember the good news about Iggy. And we'll all go to see Ig as soon as we can."
"You said it!" declared Bob. "I won't forget how it seemed like a bit of home and heaven to me, Jimmy, when you came to the hospital where I was. We sure will go cheer up Iggy!"
"He wants to write to his mother the worst way," went on Jimmy. "And he insists on writing in English. You know how his letters read, but he simply won't stick to Polish which he can handle all right. It's got to be English or nothing."
"Did he write?" asked Roger.
"Not while I was there. His wrist is still too sore. But he made me promise to bring paper, a pen, and everything, when I came again, and, if he can't write, one of us is to do it for him—but in English, mind!"
"Well do it!" declared Bob.
It was three days later when they all received permission to go to the rear and call on Iggy who was still in the hospital, though likely to be discharged as cured inside of a week. There was still a lull in the fighting about the sector where our five Brothers, or, rather, four, were stationed. But there was an indefinite something in the air that told of fierce battles to come. The Huns had too much at stake to wait long.
"Ach! So glad it is I am to see you!" voiced Iggy, when the four were admitted to him. "Dit you paper and pen pring!" he asked Jimmy, eagerly. "I myself can write to mother now. See, shmine wrist she is all so K.O. now."
"K.O.?" cried Roger. "What's the commanding officer got to do with your wrist, Iggy?" For, of course, you know that the commanding officer in an army is designated as "K.O."
"He means O.K." declared Jimmy. "Got his letters twisted; that's all. He means his wrist is all right."
"His wrist is all right and his letter will be all write," punned Roger.
"That will be about all from you!" commented Bob, sternly.
"Yes, Iggy, I've got all the makings for a first-class screed," went on Jimmy with a smile. "Do you want to write yourself, or shall I?"
"Myself will I do it," said Iggy, simply. And when, after considerable labor, mental and physical, he handed the scribbled paper to Jimmy, he said: "Read her and see much how better as I do him in English now. Read him," and he indicated the letter he had written to his mother. And, to please him, and because there was nothing very personal in the epistle, Jimmy read it. His chums, at Iggy's request, read it also. And this is what Iggy's four Brothers saw:
"Deer Mother. In bed am i and a pritty lady she bring to me all i can eats good, i was not shooted like is some of thee soljiers, but on me fell rocks and stoanes so i was moastly mushed but Roger and jimmee thay gat me oaut. i tell you of loav for yon i have mauch. soon i go fightting agen wich is batter than in hoarse-pottle bein. i got bumps an kuts but noat mooch alse. jimee he is to give me soam moaney what he gat for killing a bad germans and wen i gats my share to you i it sand will yet. good-bye deer Mother from your loafing soan Iggy."
"That's a dandy letter!" declared Jimmy when he had finished reading it. "I'll get it right off for you, Iggy."
"Better writing I am doing yes, is it not?" anxiously inquired the Polish lad.
"You bet!" declared Bob, and his eyes, as well as those of his chums, were moist, for there was a pathetic note in the missive, in spite of its queerness.
"He knew enough to use a capital now and then, which is more than he did at Camp Sterling," declared Bob, when they had left the hospital, to go back to their stations.
"You didn't tell him that his share of the five thousand francs, as well as yours and ours, was missing; did you?" inquired Franz.
"What was the use?" asked Jimmy. "Poor Iggy has troubles enough as it is. But he'll get his share all right to send home."
"Just like Jimmy Blazes," declared Roger to Bob, afterward.
It was three or four days after this that Iggy was able to leave the hospital, and take his place with his chums.
"The five Brothers are together again!" cried Jimmy, when the reunion took place. "Now let the Huns tremble!"
"By golly yes!" declared the Polish lad. "I fight can now like three soldiers, so much did they give me eats in the hoarspottle. A fine place she is—tha hoarspottle.
"But the longer we can keep out of such places as hospitals the better," remarked Jimmy. "Now then, Iggy, what is it you want most?"
"Well, Blazes, if you excuse me—but you did say you would the reward moany crack among us. No, it was not crack; he was a word—"
"Split!" suggested Bob.
"Yas. Him it was. You say you split him—that moany, Jimmy, and if I could to my mothar send what you say you give me—maybe she of need have for him now."
Jimmy looked queerly at his chums. Truth to tell he had scarcely any cash at present, and to give Iggy his share of the five thousand francs—about two hundred dollars—was out of the question.
Bob took the financial bull by the horns.
"Look here, Iggy," he said. "Jimmy has played hard luck. He had that money but—"
"Doan't tell me he is loss!" cried Iggy. "Oh, doan't tell me he is loss! I so much think of that two hundred dollars—mine fader or mine mothar never so much have at once see in all their lives. Two hundred dollar—Oh if he is loss—"
"It's only lost for a while—temporarily," said Jimmy. "I wasn't going to tell you, but Bob spilled the beans, I left the cash with Sergeant Maxwell to keep for me, and the sergeant is missing with the dough. But as soon as I get my money from home you'll get your share—the two hundred bucks, Iggy, and so will the others."
"Nonsense! Forget it!" cried Roger. "Do you think—"
But he had a chance for no more, for at that moment came the signal that the Huns had launched a gas attack. Instantly the five Brothers, and all up and down the line the other Americans, donned their gas masks. This was but the preliminary to what turned out to be some of the fiercest fighting of that particular series of battles. The Germans followed up the gas attack with a fierce deluge of shells and shrapnel, and half an hour later our heroes were under heavy fire.
"It's an attack in force!" cried a lieutenant as he hurried along the trench where the Khaki Boys were stationed. "And the word is, stand where you are! Don't give back an inch!"
His words were drowned in the roar of big guns.
THE OLD MILL
Silently the five Brothers, again united and ready to fight to the death, gazed at one another as they lined up in the trench. That is they were silent as regards conversation, for they could not talk with their gas masks on, and the warning given by the lieutenant—the warning and the admonition to stand fast—had been the last words he uttered before he, too, donned the protecting device. And no sooner had the five Brothers and those about them begun to breathe through the chemicals that destroyed the terrible chlorine, than over it came rolling in a deadly, yellowish cloud.
And yet it was far from silent in that hideous storm, for the very ground shook and trembled with the intensity of the gun-fire—the gun-fire not only of the Germans but the Allies as well.
It was an attack in force, and the fire was of the fiercest. Protected somewhat by the trench, in which they were, nevertheless the members of the company to which our heroes belonged sustained several casualties.
At one place a high explosive shell struck on the very edge of the trench, caving it in, and burying beneath tons of earth and stone the unfortunate Sammies stationed there. And the worst of it was that no adequate revenge could be taken just then—at least no revenge that was visible to the enraged comrades of the killed and wounded.
For the orders were to stay in the trenches and repel the attack at first. Later the counter-attack on the part of the Americans would take place, and then it might be that the Huns would be made to pay dearly for their work.
Jimmy looked through the grotesque goggles of his gas mask at his chums. If appearances went for anything they were on the alert and ready to jump over the top at the signal and fight to the death. But the word was delayed, for what, doubtless, were good military reasons. There was little that could be accomplished in firing one's rifle over the top of the trench. This was all right in the case of sniping, but for a general attack the work had to be done by the artillery, big and little. Later would come the rush in the open, or the standing fast to repel the attack of the gray hordes. And then the rifle fire of the infantry would tell.
It was hard waiting—to be stuck down in what was, literally, a "mud hole," and stay there while, over one's head, shrilled and screamed the big shells, that must create untold havoc, damage and death in the rear.
Fortunately, however, as was learned later, the Germans did not have the range accurately. They wasted much of their fire on unoccupied ground in the immediate rear of the American position, and it was only an occasional shell that landed near the trenches. So the position of our heroes was not as bad as at first they imagined.
But it seemed bad enough, and the firing from the Hun positions was intense, and as long as Jimmy, Bob and the others did not know that the Boches did not have them under accurate fire, they suffered nearly as much mentally, as though the knowledge had been positive.
For an hour or two the terrific artillery duel kept up, the Germans hoping to blast away all trenches, barbed wire entanglements and sweep away any opposing forces so that the ground wrested away might be gained back. And during this time the forces of the defenders of liberty were, in the main, inactive. There was little to be gained in rushing the enemy just yet. That time would come later.
And so under a deluge of high explosives, of shrapnel, of trench bombs and the deadly gas the five Khaki Boys and their comrades in arms suffered—physically and mentally. For a gas mask is both physical and mental torture. It is safe, and that is about the best that can be said for it. Merely to sit quietly with one on is a torture, and to work or fight in one is about the limit of human endurance.
Still the orders were to keep them on, and they were kept. But more than once Roger, Franz or Iggy would look around as though for a sight of some one in authority who would tell them to remove the hideous head-pieces.
But the Huns still kept sending over the poisonous gas from shells and from the big cylinders of it they had brought up to the front lines. And the wind was in their favor, blowing straight toward the American lines, so that the deadly yellow fumes came over in rolling clouds.
And then, somehow, word came back to the officers in charge of the big American guns that their shells were having an effect on the Hun artillery. Piece after piece of the Boche batteries were silenced, and at last the Sammies began to obtain mastery of the artillery situation.
And then it was that a barrage could be laid down, and an advance attack made. But it had to be made under somewhat adverse conditions, for gas masks must be worn. And to leap from the trench, and stumble over No Man's Land, under heavy fire, and discharge one's own rifle, all the while wearing one of the canvas and rubber contraptions, was not real fighting—at least so Jimmy said afterward.
But such it had to be, and at the signal the five Brothers leaped up with their comrades and went over the top again—over the top of the trenches that had either been dug when the new position was taken and held, or over the top of some of the trenches wrested previously from the Germans.
There was no shouting and yelling, such as often and ordinarily preceded an attack over the top. One can not shout in a gas mask. But there was shouting in the hearts of the Sammies as they rushed forward to do their share in destroying the beast from the earth.
Upward and onward they rushed and then they were in the midst of the battle. And yet not exactly in the midst, for the actual conflict was rather of longer distance than that. Hand-to-hand fighting had not yet occurred. But they advanced, firing as they rushed on, not in close formation, for that offered too good a target, but separated. They would fire, rush on, drop to earth, rise again, fire and rush on. And so it went.
And then, after an hour or two, there came a sudden shift in the wind. It was presaged by a calm, so that the deadly chlorine gas rose straight up instead of being blown over the American lines. And then, with a suddenness that must have been disconcerting to the Huns, the gas was blown back in their very faces.
Without doubt such fiends as devised that form of fighting were, in a way, prepared for this, and had their gas masks ready. There were times, in the early stages of the gas war, when often whole companies of Germans would be wiped out by a sudden change in the wind, when gas was being sent over. But the Boches learned from experience.
However, whether or not the return of their own gas worked any havoc among the Germans it did one good thing; it enabled Jimmy and his chums, as well as their comrades, to remove their own oppressive head-coverings, after a certain time had elapsed.
Once they took them off, they sniffed cautiously of the air. There was none of the choking taint of the chlorine—a gas which seems to dissolve the lung tissues—the air was sweet and pure—that is, comparatively so, though it was odorous with powder fumes. But these were a perfume compared to chlorine.
"Oh, this is better!" cried Jimmy, as he breathed deep and filled his lungs naturally, for though there is everything to be said in favor of the gas mask when an attack is on, one can not breathe naturally in it.
"I should say so!" agreed Bob.
"Well, where do we go from here?" chanted Roger.
Their particular fighting contingent had been halted in a grain field. All about them, that is up and down such a line as had been formed, the fighting was going on.
And on either side of them, and in front and behind, there was the rumble and roar and thunder of heavy guns. In the ranks of the comrades of the five Brothers there were bloody gaps. They had won their way thus far at no small sacrifice of life and limb. But, so far, our friends had escaped scatheless, though they all bore wounds, as you know.
It was a pleasant, sunny day—that is, it would have been pleasant had it not been for the war. That spoiled the pleasantness, but nothing could stop the sunshine. To the great orb that had seen the earth formed, this fighting, momentous as it was destined to be, was only an incident in the rolling on of the ages of time.
"Wonder why we're being held up?" ventured Franz. "I haven't had half enough of fighting yet."
"Nor of me, neither," declared Iggy, who seemed to have recovered all his spunk and spirit. "It is of a betterness to shoot lots when of a gas mast you are delivered, yes?"
"Right, old top!" shouted Jimmy. "Hello!" he went on, as he saw the major of the battalion approaching. "I guess here's where we get orders!"
And they got them—orders to advance. And this time they went forward with yells, for it was said that the gas attack was over—the kindly wind had done its work well.
"There they are! There are the Huns!" cried Roger.
His chums looked, and saw dimly through the smoke, a gray line, like some great worm, that would oppose their progress.
"Come on! Come on! Eat 'em up!" shouted Jimmy.
The others needed no urging. At the Huns they went—firing and being fired at.
For a time it was a battle of rifles—the artillery and machine-guns seemed to have been silenced temporarily. On rushed the Sammies, in their own peculiar but comparatively safe, open formation. Rushing, dropping, firing, up again, now down, but ever going onward, led by their officers.
The Huns received the fire, and that it was deadly was evidenced by the gaps torn in the gray ranks. Then they would close up, fire as though by platoons, and come on slowly.
Suddenly the comparative slowness of the rifle fire was broken by the staccato explosions of a machine-gun. It opened on the left of the position taken up by Jimmy and his chums, and in an instant had mowed down several doughboys.
"Take what cover you can!" shouted a lieutenant. "Where's that gun? Did any one notice?" "Over in that red mill!" some one shouted. Afterward it developed that this was Franz, who was an expert shot and quick in judgment.
Dropping flat in the low-growing grain, many eyes of the Sammies turned in the direction of the red mill. It was a French one, of picturesque construction. And as Jimmy and his chums looked they saw a little wisp of smoke come from one of the windows. Then came another staccato discharge, but this time with less deadly effect.
"We've got to get that gun!" cried the lieutenant. "Volunteers wanted to rush the red mill! Who'll come with me?"
Characteristic it was of the lieutenant to ask who would come with him. American officers do that. A German would have said "Go!" The American said "Come!"
And characteristic it was of the Sammies that everyone within the sound of the young officer's voice answered, as one:
"Keep your heads down! You may get them knocked off soon enough when the rush comes," went on the lieutenant, for in their eagerness to answer and be selected for the dangerous mission, some had partly raised themselves from their prone positions.
"There's no question but that's a German machine-gun in that old mill; is there?" asked the lieutenant.
"Here's one of the bullets, sir," replied Roger, tossing over one that had penetrated the earth near where he was lying, and come out after striking a stone. "That's a bit of Hun lead all right."
He tossed it over to the officer, who was stretched out in the young, green grain near by.
"Yes, that's German all right," was the answer. "It's larger than ours. I thought perhaps some of our men might have gone in there to pepper the Huns. Well, we've got to get it—that's all."
"And soon, too," murmured Jimmy. "Whew! This is fierce!"
A hail of lead from the weapon in the old red mill drew this exclamation from him. Fortunately the men were low enough to escape the worst of the firing, but some were wounded and one killed.
"There's two guns in that mill, sir!" called Franz, who was lying near Bob. "They're both firing together."
"You're right," was the lieutenant's comment. "Well, so much the more work for us to do. How many of us are here?"
It developed, by an improvised roll call, that there were fifteen, including our five Brothers. With the lieutenant who was in immediate command, there were sixteen.
"We'll all go!" was the officer's decision. "Fill your magazines, get your hand grenades where you can reach 'em and be ready for the rush. It's got to be a rush, and I hope it lasts long enough for some of us to get there," he added soberly. "Boys, it's a desperate chance we're taking, but a machine-gun nest there may hold up the advance. Maybe it is holding it up. We've got to clean out the red mill!"
"We're with you!" cried Jimmy and the others.
And, as he spoke and the others cheered their assents, there came another burst of fierce fire from the machine-guns hidden in the old red mill. But there was too much elevation and the bullets, this time, flew harmlessly over the backs of the Yanks.
"Now for it!" cried the lieutenant. "They may have to put in a fresh belt of cartridges, or the guns may have heated or jammed. We'll take a chance. We'll make three lines of five each. I'll lead one, and there'll be six in that. Blaise, you take four men, and Simpson, you take four. We'll spread out—fan shape—and don't stand upright—run crouching. Now, Blaise and Simpson, pick your men, and give me the word when you're ready."
Of course Jimmy picked his four Brothers, and they crawled up behind him, ready for the word. Sergeant Simpson, a brave but somewhat reckless lad, had four of his own choosing, and there were five who crawled over to line up behind the lieutenant.
"All ready?" asked the officer. "Ready," answered Jimmy, and the other leader gave a like reply.
"Then come on, and may we all live to get there!" cried the gallant officer.
He arose to a crouching position and started to run toward the red mill, followed by Jimmy and his four, and Simpson and his quartette. And, as they rushed on, the automatic guns cut loose again.
The dust in the grain field rose in little spurts as the bullets struck, and the rattle of the spiteful machine-gun made a chorus with the snapping and popping of the American rifles. For Jimmy and the others fired from the hip as they ran.
They could not hope to do much execution on the German gunners, protected as the latter were by the old mill. But some chance bullet, entering through crack or crevice, might end the activity of one or more of the Hun crews. It was the only thing to do, however, until they could come to hand grips—to cold steel—with the hidden Boches.
"Come on! Come on!" cried the lieutenant.
"Come on! Come on!" echoed Jimmy and Simpson.
They were nearing the red mill now. They could see no one in it, but the sight of two windows, on either side of the big, open door, seemed to give evidence of the location of the machine-guns. Smokeless powder was being used, but there was a thin film of smoke, for all of that, and this smoke floated from the two windows.
"There they are!" cried the lieutenant. "Come on, boys, we have 'em now!"
But the glory of it was not to be—for him. Hardly had the words left his mouth than he crumpled up, rolled completely over and lay still. Afterward a dozen bullets were found in his body.
But the others halted not. The man immediately behind the fallen lieutenant leaped over his lifeless body and led the advance, as Jimmy and Simpson were doing.
They were close to the mill now. They could see the flashes of fire coming from the guns which were shooting through the windows. And the fire was deadly. Jimmy heard a yell from Franz, who was directly in his rear. He did not dare stop or turn around but he shouted:
"Done for, Schnitz?"
"Only one finger nipped," was the grim answer. "Go on! We're with you!"
One machine-gun concentrated on Simpson and his four gallant lads, and, in less time than it takes for you to read these words, the five lives were snuffed out.
"Come on! Come on!" yelled Jimmy. He was so mad with rage he hardly knew what he was saying or doing. He saw a German face at one of the windows. Quickly he fired. The face turned crimson with blood and disappeared.
Mason, who was leading the other four, since the death of the lieutenant, stumbled and fell twenty feet away from the red mill. One of his companions assumed the lead of the three who were left, and Jimmy and his four chums now converged with these four in a rush toward the open portal.
They were now out of range of the guns, which could not be turned at such an angle as to rake them. But hard fighting was yet to come.
"Wait!" shouted Jimmy, as he reached the threshold of the door, and saw, to his left, a group of Huns about a gun that seemed to have jammed. And not all the Huns were alive, either, showing that the fire of the attacking party had done part of its work.
With a quick motion Jimmy threw a hand grenade into the midst of the German crew, at the same time falling back himself behind the door post, and pushing Bob, who was now next him, into the same safe position.
There was a roar as the grenade burst, and smoke, for the moment, obscured the scene. When it was blown away, drifting through the doors and windows, there was no longer a German machine-gun crew, and all that remained of the gun was torn and twisted metal.
Jimmy's quick action with the hand grenade had saved fierce fighting for possession of the weapon. But the other remained—the second on the other side of the main door of the mill. To this some of the gallant lads gave their attention. With wild yells they rushed at the German crew, and to their credit—if credit it be—let it be said that these Huns did not cry "Kamerad!" They were ready for a fight and they got it. It was a case of cold steel, and there were no better exponents of that mode of fighting than the American lads.
There was a short and bloody conflict and then it was over. But at sad cost to the attacking party. Of the sixteen that had started to wipe out the machine-gun nest in the old red mill, the five Brothers alone were left alive, and, save for slight flesh wounds, which all of them had, they were not seriously injured. No, I am not quite correct in saying that only these five were left alive. There was one other, a lad named Blakeley from New Jersey. But he was so badly wounded, by a bayonet thrust from a German, that his death was only a question of minutes.
He managed, before he passed away, to whisper a message to his loved ones at home, and this Jimmy Blaise undertook to send by letter.
"And now, let's see what's next to do," murmured Roger, when the dead lad had been reverently laid with the other Americans killed in the mill.
"I don't believe we're going to have much choice," said Jimmy, grimly, as he pointed through the window.
"Why?" asked Roger.
"The Germans have surrounded the place," was the answer. "We're trapped—that's why!"
For a moment Jimmy's companions did not quite understand him. Was he perpetrating some grim joke, or had he received an injury on the head that made him irresponsible?
Suddenly the concussion of a heavy gun shook the mill, making the old walls rattle and sending up little clouds of grain dust from nooks and crannies where it had gathered for many peaceful years.
"The Germans have surrounded us?" cried Roger. "Do you mean that?"
"Look for yourself," said Jimmy, and his very calmness as he pointed from the window seemed to indicate that he was master of himself.
His four companions looked as he indicated. Rolling down from the hills, which surrounded the little valley in which the mill was located, were ranks of gray-clad men; Huns beyond a doubt. And they were coming in force.
"Do you suppose they are after us?" asked Bob, and he was quite surprised when his four chums burst into laughter. No, I am wrong. Only three of them laughed—Roger, Jimmy and Franz. Iggy looked on almost as uncomprehendingly as did Bob, but Iggy was staring at a dead German on the floor of the mill—a German he had killed by a bayonet thrust from behind, when that same German was about to fire his revolver, pointblank, at Roger. Iggy was filled with many emotions as he looked at his work—work undertaken and carried out for Liberty.
"What's the matter?" asked Bob, a bit nettled. "Doesn't it look as though they were after us?"
"I don't know why I laughed," confessed Jimmy. "Sort of nervous, I guess. But the idea of a German army, or at least several divisions, coming to capture us five struck me as funny."
"Well, you said we were being surrounded!" protested Bob.
"Well, I meant it, too. But in a general way," went on Jimmy. "I don't suppose the Huns know we are here. Of course they may realize it after they find out we've silenced the machine guns. But for the present this seems to be a big advance. I guess there's going to be some fierce fighting. They've brought up some of their reserves to stop our progress, and by the fortunes of war, we're caught in a back current."
"You mean none of our fellows are here?" asked Roger.
"None that you can see," went on Jimmy. "I guess we sort of over-ran our objective. There must have been a withdrawal and we didn't know it.
"We were too intent on capturing this mill. And we did, though it wasn't easy. And now the Germans are coming on, and—well, if we can stay here long enough, and keep hidden, we may get out of it yet. But—"
He shrugged his shoulders. It was too much of a question for him to solve.
"But I don't see that we are completely surrounded," declared Franz, hopefully, as he gazed from the window.
"Sure not!" broke in Iggy, who now began to comprehend, in a measure, what was in the wind. "We may out run by der back door yet."
"Not a chance," declared Jimmy. "Look over there!"
He pointed in the direction where their own lines were supposed to be located—where they probably were, for it was from there that the lads had come in the rush during the gas attack. But now the way over which they had hastened, amid fire and smoke and death and wounds, was occupied by a line of gray. The Germans had slipped down from the left flank and had cut off the retreat of the five Brothers in the mill. And as the advancing army was coming on in the shape of a huge semi-circle toward the mill it can easily be seen that if the boys were not exactly surrounded it was so near that perilous situation as to be what is called a distinction without a difference.
For a moment, after they had comprehended the situation to which Jimmy had called their attention, they were all silent. Then Iggy caused another laugh by remarking.
"Well, I eat me now. I haf some of my rations and I hear where is water running yet. Always in our countries where is a mill is water. Of a dryness I am, and water is good for of a dryness."
"That's the truest thing you've said in a long while!" cried Jimmy, clapping his chum on the back. "Fellows, we'd better eat and drink while we can. We have our emergency rations, and, as Iggy says, there must be water where there's a mill. It isn't a wind one and there's no steam or electricity here yet. Let's get ready for a siege."
"Do you really think they know we're here?" asked Bob, and he pointed out toward the advancing German army.
"To be perfectly frank, I don't," said Jimmy. "I think the situation is just this—but let's go get washed up a bit, and then we can eat and talk. I'm as dry as a bone, and this—well this place isn't just the most inviting," and he could not repress a shudder as he looked at the death and devastation all about them. The bodies of the killed Germans were sprawled in all positions, some even resting on the guns. Then, too, there were bodies of the companions of the five Brothers. As Jimmy said, it was no place to eat and talk.
They found where the mill stream came down the flume to turn the wheel, and there they washed and drank, and then, finding a room where the miller had evidently lived, they sat down to make what meal they could. And as they ate the Germans advanced down the hills to occupy the valley in which was located the old red mill.
"Now let's hear your opinion, Blazes," called Bob.
They all seemed instinctively to turn to Jimmy as a leader now. Nor was this the first time.
"Well, I think we've seen the last of some Germans and the first of others," he began.
"Sounds like a puzzle," commented Bob.
"It may turn out to be before we get through with it," was Jimmy's grim reply. "But here's the situation as I see it. You know we started, some days ago, to drive back the Huns. To a certain extent we succeeded. Then came a lull, and that ended when they launched an attack to-day—an attack with the gas as a preface.
"We did our best then, and I guess we must have rolled back part of a wing of one of the German divisions. But our particular sector was halted, and we seem to have gone on too far, or else the others got orders to retreat, and we didn't, and here we are.
"Now I think the two German machine-gun crews that were in this mill were probably what was left of the force our boys succeeded in wiping out. They had orders to stay as long as possible to delay our advance, and they stayed—got to give 'em that credit.
"But we just had to wipe 'em out, and we did. That's to our credit. This seems to be the last of some not very large German force that started the game this morning. And now comes a much larger force," and he indicated the Hun hordes rolling down the slopes. "It was probably the knowledge of the advance of this big body of troops that caused the retreat, or halt, of our main force. We're probably waiting for reserves, or we may be playing a deeper game—to get the Huns in this valley and clean 'em up.
"That, of course, is up to the General Staff. But that doesn't change our position. We're here, but I don't believe those Huns know it. The army, or division, or whatever it is, that's coming on now may not even know that this mill, for a time, was held by some of their own men. Though, of course, later, when orders and instructions are interchanged, this fact will come out.
"But before then I hope we'll either be out of here, or in a position to give a better account of ourselves," went on Jimmy, who was sitting on a box, munching part of his rations, and drinking from an old tin cup he had found.
"What's that mean?" asked Franz.
"Well, either we can escape, or our boys will drive these Huns back, and in that case we'll be all right. I admit it's going to be a ticklish proposition to escape from here though," and Jimmy went to an upper window and took another observation.
"Are they closing in?" asked Bob.
"They seem to have halted," replied Jimmy. "At least the center has. The two wings are coming on like a pair of pliers getting ready to nip us between the jaws."
"Ach! Den will dey squeeze us?" asked Iggy.
"If they know we are here I suppose they'll try it," declared Jimmy. "But maybe we can inflict a few bites before they crush us! Fellows, we'd better look to the defense. How much ammunition have we?"
"Mighty little!" declared Roger, gloomily. "I fired about all I had coming on in the rush."
"Same here," admitted Bob.
"Maybe a machine-gun yet we could shoot," suggested Iggy. "One only was bust by your grenade, Jimmy. Maybe one iss—"
"By Jove! He's right!" cried Jimmy. "I never thought of that. If worst comes to worst we may, for a short time, turn the German's own gun on 'em. Come on and we'll take a look."
To the delight of the Khaki Boys the second machine-gun was in good order, and there was considerable ammunition left.
"But can we work it?" asked Bob.
"Let me take a look," suggested Franz. "I saw something of 'em when they had me a prisoner."
"Something good may come of that, after all," cried Jimmy. "Here you go, Schnitz, take a look."
This Franz did, and presently reported that there was no reason why they should not work the German gun. Accordingly it was freed from the dead Huns about it, and the ammunition was overhauled. There was also some ammunition for the German rifles that had fallen from the dead hands of their owners, and this, together with the guns, was collected.
In addition to this the lads had a few rounds left for their own rifles, though, as Roger had said there was very little available. They had fired fast and fiercely in the rush on the old mill.
"Let's look around and see if the Huns had any food they didn't gobble," suggested Roger. "That ration of mine was only a sample."
A look from the mill windows showed that the advancing German army had no present intentions, as far as could be judged, of attacking the red mill. They did not seem to be paying any attention to it.