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Title: A Lively Bit of the Front - A Tale of the New Zealand Rifles on the Western Front
Author: Westerman, Percy F. (Percy Francis), 1876-1959
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Lively Bit of the Front - A Tale of the New Zealand Rifles on the Western Front" ***

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A LIVELY
BIT OF THE FRONT


BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
50 Old Bailey, LONDON
17 Stanhope Street, GLASGOW

BLACKIE & SON (INDIA) LIMITED
Warwick House, Fort Street, BOMBAY

BLACKIE & SON (CANADA) LIMITED
TORONTO

[Frontispiece: HE HAD BLUNDERED RIGHT INTO A PARTY OF HUNS]


A LIVELY
BIT OF THE FRONT

A Tale of the New Zealand Rifles
on the Western Front

BY
PERCY F. WESTERMAN

Illustrated by Wal Paget

BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
LONDON AND GLASGOW


By Percy F. Westerman

  Captain Fosdyke's Gold.
  In Defiance of the Ban.
  Captain Sang.
  The Senior Cadet.
  The Amir's Ruby.
  The Secret of the Plateau.
  Leslie Dexter, Cadet.
  All Hands to the Boats.
  A Mystery of the Broads.
  Rivals of the Reef.
  A Shanghai Adventure.
  Pat Stobart in the "Golden Dawn".
  The Junior Cadet.
  Captain Starlight.
  The Sea-Girt Fortress.
  On the Wings of the Wind.
  Captured at Tripoli.
  Captain Blundell's Treasure.
  The Third Officer.
  Unconquered Wings.
  The Riddle of the Air.
  Chums of the "Golden Vanity".
  Clipped Wings.
  The Luck of the "Golden Dawn ".
  The Salving of the "Fusi Yama".
  Winning his Wings.
  A Lively Bit of the Front.
  A Cadet of the Mercantile Marine.
  The Good Ship "Golden Effort".
  East in the "Golden Gain"
  The Quest of the "Golden Hope".
  Sea Scouts Abroad.
  Sea Scouts Up-Channel.
  The Wireless Officer.
  A Lad of Grit.
  The Submarine Hunters.
  Sea Scouts All.
  The Thick of the Fray.
  A Sub and a Submarine.
  Under the White Ensign.
  The Fight for Constantinople.
  With Beatty off Jutland.
  The Dispatch Riders.

Printed in Great Britain by Blackie & Son, Ltd., Glasgow


  Contents
  CHAP.
      I. MALCOLM CARR'S DECISION
     II. No. 99,109, R/M CARR
    III. THE FIRST TREK
     IV. THE INTERRUPTED CONCERT
      V. BROKEN DOWN IN MID-OCEAN
     VI. MAN OVERBOARD
    VII. QUITS!
   VIII. LEFT BEHIND
     IX. IN THE RING
      X. VOLUNTEERS FOR THE STOKEHOLD
     XI. CORNERED
    XII. RUNNING THE GAUNTLET
   XIII. NEWS OF PETER
    XIV. THE ANZACS' HOAX
     XV. THE EVE OF MESSINES
    XVI. KONRAD VON FELDOFFER
   XVII. OVER THE TOP
  XVIII. THE CAPTURED TRENCH
    XIX. TRAPPED IN A DUG-OUT
     XX. THE WAY OUT
    XXI. OUT OF TOUCH
   XXII. A PRISONER OF WAR
  XXIII. AT DÜREN CAMP
   XXIV. ESCAPE
    XXV. ON THE BARGE
   XXVI. AT THE FRONTIER
  XXVII. THE END OF A SPY
 XXVIII. IN THE FIRING-LINE AGAIN
   XXIX. THE BATTLE IN THE MUD
    XXX. THE LAST STAND

Illustrations

  HE HAD BLUNDERED RIGHT INTO A PARTY OF HUNS (Frontispiece)
  "BY GUM, THAT'S A MIGHTY QUEER CHUNK OF COAL!"
  "WING HIM!" EXCLAIMED MALCOLM
  "IT'S SPUD MURPHY AND JOE JENNINGS!"


A LIVELY
BIT OF THE FRONT



CHAPTER I

Malcolm Carr's Decision


"Post in yet, Dick?" enquired Malcolm Carr, as he stood in the open
doorway of a "tin" hut that formed part of the Wairakato Camp.

"Give the man a chance, Malcolm," was the reply. "You'll get your
letters before we start. Expecting anything important?"

Malcolm Carr was a typical specimen of the youthful New Zealander.
Although only seventeen years of age, he was a full inch over six
feet in height, and, although broad across the shoulders, was
sparely built yet supple of frame. His features were clear-cut and
slightly elongated. A massive chin betokened force of character. His
deep-set, grey eyes gave promise of an alertness and keenness of
vision that are the attributes of a healthy, open-air life.

He was dressed in a soft flannel shirt open at the neck, buckskin
riding-breeches, leggings, and strong laced boots, the latter
provided with spurs. On his left wrist he wore a watch in a leather
case that bore signs of hard usage and exposure to the weather.
Attached to his belt was a sheath-knife, while in contrast to his
up-country appearance he carried in the breast-pocket of his shirt a
canvas-covered notebook, a couple of pencils, and a fountain-pen.

His companion, Dick Selwyn, differed little from him in appearance
and attire. He was barely half an inch shorter than Malcolm--they
raise tall youths in New Zealand--of greater girth, and slightly
heavier. His large, muscular hands, however, were a marked contrast
to the slim, supple, well-kept pair on which young Carr prided
himself.

Both lads were pupils under the State Railways Department of the
Dominion. Their college course completed, they were assisting in the
survey of the Wairakato valley, where a projected line was about to
be commenced to link up the east and west coasts of South Island.

It was an ideal existence, under perfect climatic conditions. The
month was November--late spring. For three weeks no rain had fallen,
yet on the breezy uplands the ground was green with verdure. Away to
the west could be discerned the lofty ridges of the Southern Alps,
some of the loftier peaks still retaining their garb of snow. To the
eastward the ground sloped irregularly until the hilly country
merged into the fertile plains that terminated upon the shores of
Pegasus Bay.

Beyond the small collection of corrugated-iron huts and tents there
were no signs of other human habitation. Farmsteads were few and far
between in the Wairakato valley. Thirty miles of indifferent road
separated the camp from the nearest village, while another forty
miles had to be covered before the town of Christchurch--Malcolm's
home--was reached.

"Hope the post will arrive before we start," remarked Carr as he
turned to enter the hut, from which wafted the appetizing odour of
frying eggs and bacon, the fumes of cheap kerosene notwithstanding.
"Tell Kaitiu to take the large theodolite down to No. 4, and to be a
jolly sight more careful than he was yesterday. Any signs of the
Boss yet?"

Receiving a negative reply, Malcolm set to work to lay the table for
breakfast--the two lads shared the same hut and meals. The interior
of the hut was plainly yet substantially furnished. Table and chairs
occupied a considerable portion of the floor space. Against the
walls were cupboards and lockers, the latter mostly filled with
plans and drawings. At one end was an oil stove, with a meagre
supply of crockery and ironware above. Immediately opposite was a
door leading into the sleeping-room. In one corner were a couple of
sporting rifles and some fishing-rods, against which was leaning one
of those ubiquitous objects of modern civilization--a motor tyre.

It was mainly on account of that motor tyre that Malcolm was anxious
for the arrival of the camp postman. A new inner tube was
wanted--badly. Without it there were long odds against juggernaut
making the seventy-odd-mile run into Christchurch on the coming
Saturday.

Juggernaut, minus one tyre, stood without, sheltering under a
rick-cloth that did duty for a garage. A car of ancient and
composite design--partly Daimler, partly Darracq, and with a
suspicion of half a dozen makers' parts in the _tout ensemble_--the
wondrous, once-discarded vehicle had been given to Peter and Malcolm
Carr by a cousin of theirs. Being of a mechanical turn of mind, the
two brothers soon reduced the motor to a state of servile
tractability, although there was hardly a thoroughfare in
Christchurch whose buildings did not bear a more or less permanent
record of Juggernaut's frailties.

Peter Carr--big, easy-going, generous Peter--had gone two years
previously. Enlisting in the first contingent, he had taken part in
the repulse of the first Turkish invasion of Egypt and the heroic
yet ill-starred Gallipoli campaign without receiving as much as a
scratch, and having hardly spent a day in hospital. From Gallipoli
Peter went to France, and up to the present his luck still held. But
before going on active service Peter had disposed of his share of
juggernaut to his young brother, thus, in a manner, helping to
mitigate Malcolm's regret that he was not at least two years older,
and thus able to share with his brother the honour, glory, and
vicissitudes of fighting the Boche.

"Grub!" announced Malcolm laconically.

"Right-o!" was the muffled response as Dick "barracked" into the
hut, still scrubbing his face vigorously with a towel. "Kaitiu's
taken the gear down to No. 4, and the Boss wants to see you in his
office at nine."

Breakfast over, and the empty cups and plates subjected to a
thorough washing and drying, Malcolm prepared for his day's work.

"Post!" shouted Dick, as a dust-smothered vehicle known as a
buggy, driven by an equally dusty man, appeared in sight down the
dusty road.

Malcolm Carr knew his man. A large pannikin of tea awaited the
postman, for the jaded animal a bucketful of water. While the
representative of the Dominion State Post was refreshing, the lad
could obtain his mails without having to go down to the works
office.

"Now we're all right, Dick," remarked Malcolm as the postman handed
him a parcel containing the anxiously-awaited inner tube. "I'll be
able to give you a lift down to Springfield on Saturday. What! More
of them? A regular budget, Mike!"

Mike the postman grinned approvingly as he handed over four
newspaper packets and half a dozen letters, while Dick's consignment
showed that that worthy was by no means forgotten.

The first letter Malcolm opened was from his brother
Peter--"Somewhere in France".

  "DEAR MALCOLM (it ran),

  "U-boats and other noxious German insects permitting, I hope this
  will reach you. I cannot say much beyond that we are very busy on
  our sector of the Front. I'm afraid you'll be too late to join me
  out here, unless the war goes on for another two or three years.
  Our chaps are of the opinion that it won't. We are having a
  thundering good time, with plenty of excitement. I have a Hun
  helmet for you. I gained it properly, after a tough scrap in a
  mine gallery, but cannot give details. It's no more risky out here
  than it is driving juggernaut through the market-square on a
  Saturday night. By the by, how goes the old chariot? Must knock
  off now, as I have to write to the guv'nor. It is now a quarter to
  five, and we parade at half-past for (_words deleted with blue
  pencil_).
                          "Your loving brother,
                                     "PETER S. CARR."

The next letter was from Malcolm's father, above referred to as the
"guv'nor".

  "DEAR MALCOLM,

  "Just received a cablegram: 'No. 04452, Sergeant P. Carr, reported
  wounded and missing.' There are no further details, but as several
  of our Christchurch friends have received similar news, it is
  evident that the Nth reinforcements have been in the thick of it.
  Just what Peter wanted, dear lad! Cannot write more, as I can
  hardly realize the import of the cablegram. Hope to see you on
  Saturday.
                          "Your loving father,
                                     "FRANK CARR."

Malcolm deliberately folded the letter and replaced it in its
envelope. The rest of the correspondence remained unopened. "Wounded
and missing"--he knew pretty well what that meant. The odds were
greatly against the chance of seeing Peter again. Somewhere in the
mud of Flanders--what a mockery that bright sunlit morning in New
Zealand seemed--somewhere in that hideous No-Man's-Land his brother
had fallen. A raid in the hostile trenches; Peter wounded and left
behind unnoticed by his comrades. A man in that predicament stood
less than a dog's chance. He must have been too badly hit to be able
to crawl in--and the boys back from the front told grim tales of Hun
brutality to the wounded who were unfortunate enough to fall into
the enemy's hands. So far the Carrs had been lucky. Peter was the
only member of the family of military age. Several of their intimate
friends and scores of mere acquaintances had made the great
sacrifice, but for the first time Malcolm realized the closeness of
the Great War. Its ravages had touched him through his elder
brother----

"By Jove!" exclaimed Dick Selwyn, deep in a newspaper, "there are
two of my cousins, Jim and Laurence Selwyn--you know, they had a
farm just out of Ashburton--done in; and Tom Selwyn of Oamaru
dangerously wounded. That looks as if----Hallo! What's up, old man?"

"Peter's wounded and missing," replied Malcolm briefly.

For some minutes silence fell upon the pair. The postman, gulping
his tea outside the hut, was shouting unheeded witticisms to the
lads within.

Presently Malcolm glanced at the clock.

"Ten to eight," he remarked calmly. "I'll fix up that tyre. There's
plenty of time before I see the Boss. I'm going to chuck my hand in
and join up."



CHAPTER II

No. 99,109, R/M Carr


"You can't," said Dick. "For one thing, you are tied to your job;
for another, you are not old enough."

"I'll have a jolly good shot at it anyhow," declared Malcolm
resolutely. "Plenty of chaps have gone to the front at sixteen or
seventeen. Ted Mostyn, for example; he's only eighteen, and he's
back with two buckshees (wounds) already."

"_Kia ora_, then, old chap," exclaimed Selwyn. "I hope you'll pull
it off."

Both lads set to work to fit the new inner tube and replace
juggernaut's front off-side wheel. This task completed, Malcolm
washed the dirt and grease from his hands, saddled his horse, and
set off for the office of Mr. Hughes, the Head of the Wairakato
Survey.

"Morning, Malcolm!" was that worthy's genial greeting. "Where's
Selwyn? Coming along, is he? That's good. I wanted to see you about
that section of pipe-line that has been giving trouble. Did you
bring your rough book?"

Not until the matter of the survey had been gone thoroughly into did
young Carr tackle his principal.

"I want to know," he began, straight to the point, "I if you could
release me at noon."

"Certainly!" was the ready response. "The work is well in hand, and
I believe you haven't had leave for some months."

"For the duration of the war, I mean," continued Malcolm.

"For the duration of the what?" exclaimed the astonished Hughes.
"Dash it all, what's the war to do with you? They haven't put you in
the ballot by mistake?"

"No," replied the lad. "It's like this. But perhaps I'd better show
you the governor's letter."

Mr. Hughes read the proffered document.

"I see," he said gravely. "And you wish to avenge your brother?"

"Not avenge--it's duty," corrected Malcolm. "I can't exactly
explain---- Now Peter's gone----"

"You have no positive information on that point, Malcolm."

"Wounded and missing--that means that there is no longer a member of
our family in the firing-line. I'm seventeen, I'm a sergeant in the
cadet corps, physically fit, and all that sort of thing. And I don't
suppose they'll be too particular as to my age if I forget to say
that I was born somewhere about the year 1900."

The Boss considered for some moments.

"I won't stand in your way, my boy," he said kindly. "After all, the
actual work here won't start until after the war. The preliminary
surveys can still go on. All right, Malcolm! jolly good luck and all
that sort of thing, you know. Come and lunch with me before you
start."

The morning passed ever so slowly. Contrary to his usual manner,
Malcolm found his thoughts wandering from his work. The desire to be
up and doing, to push on with his share in the great adventure,
gripped his mind to the exclusion of all other topics. In the ranks
of the Dominion lads there was one of many gaps waiting specially
for him to fill, and he meant to fill it worthily.

On his way back to the hut, after having lunched with Mr. Hughes,
Malcolm encountered a sturdy Maori.

"Hallo, Te Paheka!" he exclaimed. "You're just the man I want to
see. You want another motor-car? All right, come with me to
Christchurch, and you can have my blessed car. That's a bargain."

Te Paheka was a typical specimen of a twentieth-century Maori. He
was a tall, heavily-built, muscular man of about forty-five years of
age, and lived at a _whare_ about three miles from the camp. In his
youth he had been given a thoroughly sound college education, and
had gone to England in order to graduate. As a scholar he shone; as
a business man he was a failure, owing to the fatal and all too
common trait amongst Maoris of the educated class of pleasure in the
spending of money, and, oddly enough, to an inherent tendency to
relapse, if only temporarily, to an aboriginal existence.

Te Paheka owned a considerable amount of land. Frequently he sold
tracts of ground to settlers, displaying much shrewdness in the
various transactions. He never went back on his word. To those who
dealt fairly and squarely with him he was a stanch friend, but it
was his boast that no white man would have the opportunity of
letting him down a second time.

With the proceeds of the sales Te Paheka would come into the nearest
large town, and have a right royal time while funds lasted. Usually
his weakness in that direction was a motor-car. He had been known to
go to the largest dealers in Christ-church and purchase the swiftest
car procurable, drive it at breakneck speed until he collided with
something, and then sell the remains and retire to his _pah_ until
he found an opportunity for another exuberance of pecuniary
extravagance. But of late Te Paheka had fallen on hard times. The
war had hit him badly. With the heavy drain upon New Zealand's man
power and the sudden and marked diminution in the stream of
immigrants, the opportunities to sell land vanished, and with them
the prospects of buying another motor-car.

Malcolm knew this. He also had found the Maori ready to do him a
good turn. On one occasion Te Paheka had extricated the lad from a
dangerous position during a landslide on the Wairakato Ridge; and
now the chance had arrived to repay the courteous native by making
him a present of the ancient but still active Juggernaut.

"Would I not?" was Te Paheka's reply to the lad's offer. "Yes, I'll
take great care of her for your sake, Mr. Malcolm. What can I knock
out of her--a good fifty?"

"Hardly," replied Malcolm, laughing. The idea of juggernaut ambling
along at nearly a modest mile a minute was too funny. "Come along. I
am starting for home at three o'clock."

"I suppose you'll let me drive?" enquired Te Paheka.

Mental visions of seeing juggernaut toppling over the edge of
Horseshoe Bend, and crashing upon the rock four or five hundred feet
below, prompted Malcolm to a discreet reply.

"It's my last chance of driving a car for a very long time, Te
Paheka," he said diplomatically. "You'll be able to do what you like
with her after I get home."

"You lucky bounder!" was Dick Selwyn's greeting when the chums met
at the hut. "The Boss is a decent sort. He might very well have put
the tin hat on your suggestion. Shall I lend a hand with your gear?"

"Packed already," announced Malcolm. "All except my .303 rifle and
the greenheart rod. Thought they might come in useful for you, and I
don't suppose I'll need them in a hurry."

With hardly anyone to see him off, excepting a couple of Maori lads
who were employed as messengers, Malcolm, accompanied by Te Paheka,
set off on the momentous journey that was to end--where? Perhaps in
France, perhaps on the high seas. He found himself counting the
chances of getting back to New Zealand. Would it be as a wounded,
perhaps crippled man, or as a hale and hearty veteran after that
still remote day when peace is to be declared, and German militarism
crushed once and for all time?

Without incident the lad brought the car to a standstill in the
market-place of Christchurch. Te Paheka, torn between the desire to
run away with his new gift and to wish his white friend farewell and
_kia ora_ in a manner worthy of a dignified and old-standing Maori
gentleman, looked like prolonging the leave-taking ceremony
indefinitely, until he leave-taking happened to see the tail-end of
a Napier racing car disappearing round the corner.

"There's Tom Kaiwarawara with his new motor, Malcolm!" he exclaimed,
making a dash for juggernaut's steering-wheel. "Golly, I'll catch
him up or bust. _Kia ora_, Malcolm."

And the last the lad saw of juggernaut was the car cutting round a
sharp corner at a good twenty-five miles an hour, whilst pedestrians
scattered right and left to avoid being run down.

"I'll see Te Paheka's name in the papers before a week's up," mused
juggernaut's late owner. "Either in the police-court intelligence or
in the inquest reports."

"I am not at all surprised at your decision, Malcolm," said his
father, when the lad had reported the progress of his quick yet
carefully considered project. "I can see that you are resolved, and
on that account I won't stand in your way. After all's said and
done, you are likely to make a far more efficient soldier than some
men I know who have had to go. And the old adage 'a volunteer is
worth two pressed men' still holds good. Unless a man has his heart
in his work he's not likely to shine at his job."

Two hours later Malcolm Carr duly enlisted, and for many a day his
official designation was to be No. 99,109, Rifleman Carr, N.Z. Rifle
Brigade.



CHAPTER III

The First Trek


"Cheer-oh, Malcolm!"

Carr gave an involuntary gasp of astonishment; then, recovering
himself, grasped Dick Selwyn's outstretched hand.

"Bless my soul, Dick, what brings you here?"

"Same job as yours," replied Selwyn. "Do you think I am going to let
you have _all_ the fun? You _impshied_ without even asking me to
chip in. Enough to make a fellow cut up rough with his joining chum.
So I rode down, and now I'm up."

"And Hughes?"

"He's great--absolutely! Never even murmured when he had two fellows
chucking their hands in on the same day. Told me he could get along
very well without us. I doubt it though. Smithers is an ass with the
theodolite, and Hedger's 'trig' is rotten. By the by, on my way down
last night I passed Te Paheka."

"Going strong?"

"Very," replied Selwyn, grinning. "He was sitting on a pine-trunk
half-way up the Horseshoe. There were a few disintegrated remains of
Juggernaut on the track, the bulk of the wreckage was down the
valley."

Early in the afternoon a batch of recruits, amongst them Malcolm and
Dick, left Christchurch for Port Lyttelton to embark for Wellington,
and thence to Featherston Camp.

With a very few exceptions the men, although still in civilian
clothes, bore themselves erect, and marched in a way that would have
evoked praise from an English drill sergeant. The exceptions were
those men who for some reason had not undergone military training
while at school. Now they had cause to regret the omission. They
were mere beginners at the great game of war, while others, younger
in years, were already their seniors in the profession of arms.

At Featherston Malcolm worked harder than ever he did before, but it
was interesting work. Drills and parades, from early morn till late
in the afternoon, soon brought the detachment up to a state
bordering upon perfection, and the word went round that the
Thirty-somethingth reinforcements would be sent to France some weeks
earlier than the usual time, thanks to the efficiency of all ranks.

There was one man, however, who proved a sort of
stumbling-block--Rifleman Dowit. It was soon a standing joke that
Dowit never could "do it" properly, except to grouse. Yet he was
justified in his boast that he had put the Brigade Staff to
ignominious flight.

It was on the bombing-instruction ground. The preliminary course
with dummy bombs had been completed, and now came the exciting part
of this particular branch of training--hurling live Mills' bombs.

A squad, including Carr and Selwyn, had been marched down to the
bombing-trench, where each man had to throw three bombs over the
parapet at a target twenty yards away. It was a bright moonlit
night, which perhaps accounted for the good attendance on the part
of the Brigade Staff to witness the operations.

"I wonder how Dowit will manage," remarked Dick to his chum. "The
man can't throw straight, or anything like it. He'll be hitting the
top of the parapet, and letting the bombs tumble back into the
trench. I vote we _impshie_ round a traverse when he starts."

"It wouldn't be a bad move to warn the sergeant," rejoined Malcolm.

The order to commence was given. Most of the men acquitted
themselves well, including Carr and Selwyn. Then came Rifleman
Dowit's turn.

"Here you are, Dowit," said the sergeant, handing him the three
dangerous missiles. "Do you want me to say it _all_ over again?
'Hold the bomb firmly in the right hand, at the same time gripping
the lever. Withdraw the safety-pin, and----' Here, you idiot, what
_are_ you doing?"

Rifleman Dowit had removed the safety-pin, and was whirling the
missile round and round at arm's length. At every complete circle
the head of the bomb missed the edge of the parapet by a
hair-breadth. If the wielder had omitted to grip the lever, then in
four seconds----!

Already, in anticipation of the rifleman's awkwardness, the rest of
the squad were either flat on their faces or else disappearing round
the traverse into the adjoining bays. The sergeant alone stood his
ground.

Describing a magnificent parabola, the released bomb hurtled through
the air; but instead of towards the target it was whizzing in the
opposite direction--straight for the group of officers standing a
dozen yards from the rear of the trench. They promptly and
precipitately scattered, some taking to their heels, others throwing
themselves flat upon their faces in momentary expectation of a
terrific explosion. A subaltern, however, did his best to avert the
threatened catastrophe. Picking up a conveniently-placed sandbag, he
hurled it at the now motionless bomb, missed it, but caught the
recumbent form of a portly major squarely between the shoulders.

Pluckily the subaltern did the next best thing. At imminent danger
he placed his foot upon the latent missile of destruction and
waited.

"It's all right, sir," exclaimed the sergeant, who had clambered
over the parados and run to the extended group of officers. "It's
only a dummy. I had my doubts about Rifleman Dowit, and a thundering
good job I did," he added grimly.

"Bring the man here," ordered the major breathlessly, for the blow
from the sandbag had shaken him considerably.

Thereupon Rifleman Dowit was given a good dressing down and promptly
transferred to the bearer section. For the time being he passes out
of this story, but we shall hear of him again.

Malcolm and Dick found bayonet exercise exciting work--thrusting at
suspended sacks stuffed with straw called for strength and strenuous
activity--while at the ranges both lads gained a high percentage of
bulls, and in a very short while the "crossed rifles ", denoting
marksmanship, ornamented the sleeves of their uniforms.

Before the training course at Featherston was completed, Malcolm won
his sergeant's stripes, while Dick was made full corporal. Both the
lads knew that it was but a temporary step, all non-coms. reverting
to riflemen on arrival in England, before proceeding across to
France. Nevertheless the rank conferred certain privileges upon the
holders, besides giving them valuable experience in the duties of
non-commissioned officers.

During their leisure hours there was plenty to amuse the men in
camp. A battalion picture-theatre, billiard rooms, voluntary
swimming parades, boxing, and a variety of other indoor and outdoor
games contributed to the men's enjoyment; and, although discipline
was well enforced, there was a total absence of irritating petty
restrictions that form a constant source of annoyance to the men of
the New Armies of the Motherland.

At last came the welcome news of a parade at midnight in full
marching order. Every man of the Thirty-somethingth reinforcements
knew what that meant: a move to Trentham--the final camp before
embarkation. It was a point of honour that no man should fall out
during the arduous fourteen-hours' march over The Summit. Malcolm
would never forget that midnight trek. It was a perfectly still
evening. The Southern Cross was blazing in the sky. The air was warm
but bracing.

Out of the lines of tin huts the two thousand five hundred men
comprising the draft poured forth like bees. They made plenty of
noise, "barracking" each other like boys out of school. The utmost
enthusiasm prevailed, yet despite the turmoil the sense of
discipline made itself felt.

In full marching order the men set out briskly to the strains of the
band that was to play them for the first few miles of the route.
Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, crowds of civilian friends
of the departing troops accompanied them--in motor-cars, horsed
vehicles, mounted, and on foot. New Zealand knew how to bid her sons
a fitting farewell.

Once clear of the camp (the band having carried out its part of the
business) the men burst into song. It was an unwritten law that each
draft should attempt to sing all the way to The Summit, and the
Thirty-somethingth was not going to be outdone.

Mile after mile of the steep ascent the men toiled gamely. Backs
began to ache under the drag of the packs; entrenching tools began
to make their presence aggressively known as they chafed the men's
legs; rifles were being constantly shifted from shoulder to shoulder
or carried at the trail, as the weapons seemingly increased in
weight at each step. Yet not a man fell out, nor did the singing
cease until the order was given to halt at The Summit.

"A smart bit of work. The boys are in fine fettle," remarked
Platoon-sergeant Fortescue to Malcolm. "I had my doubts about Tosher
Phillips. He is the weak link in the chain, so to speak."

"As a matter of fact," rejoined Malcolm, "the man has galls on his
heels to the size of half-crowns, and one boot is almost full of
blood. He wouldn't take advantage of a lift in one of the
wagons--said he'd rather stick it."

"By Jove!" ejaculated Fortescue. "Is that so? Then I think I must
call back all I said concerning Tosher. All the same, I'll speak to
the Company Officer and get him to order the man to fall out. The
boy's shown his grit; that's the main thing."

Sergeant Fortescue was a man of about thirty years of age, and a
seasoned veteran. English born and bred, he had gained a degree at
Cambridge, and, failing to turn it to any good account, had been
sent to New Zealand by his disappointed father.

In the Dominion he found that he was "up against something" in which
an ornate classical education did not count. Down on his luck, he
tried for a clerical post in a Wellington lawyer's office.

"Any qualifications?" enquired the lawyer.

"Er--well, I'm considered good at Greek Iambics and Latin Prose,
don't you know."

"'Fraid you've come to the wrong shop," rejoined the man of law
bluntly. "This is a live country, not a dead one. Good morning!"

So Fortescue drifted up-country and found employment on a farm. It
was hard work. The polished 'Varsity man, who hardly knew how to use
a saw or to drive a nail in straight, found it particularly so. He
had grit. He got on well with his fellow farm hands, who promptly
dubbed him "Fortyscrews", a name that was eventually cut down to
"Screws". He accepted the nickname cheerfully, stuck to his job, and
in five years saved enough to start sheep-farming on his own
account.

Then came the war. Fortescue promptly "sold out" and enlisted. At
Gallipoli he acquitted himself manfully, was mentioned for gallantry
in an affair at Quinn's Post, and was brought back to Alexandria in
a hospital ship, with a wound sufficiently dangerous to smash many a
man up completely.

Given the chance of being sent either to England or to New Zealand,
he chose the latter alternative. In six months he was himself again.
Re-enlisting, he was offered a staff job at Featherston, but
declined it, preferring to see more fun at the Front. For the second
time Trevor Fortescue had marched over The Summit on the long trail
that ended within sight and sound of hostile guns.

Dusty, tired, footsore, but in high spirits, the Thirty-somethingth
marched into camp at Trentham. Their stay was but a short one, for
three days later the reinforcement embarked at Wellington on
Transport 99 for England--and France.



CHAPTER IV

The Interrupted Concert


Transport 99, otherwise the S.S. _Awarua_, was a single-screw vessel
of 8000 tons. Originally a combined passenger and cargo boat, she
had been ruthlessly converted into a troop-conveying ship, and the
internal rearrangements were not by any means suitable for her new
rôle. Nevertheless, after the first few days, when many of the men
were prostrate with sea-sickness, the troops soon accustomed
themselves to their new conditions, and settled down with the fixed
determination to make the voyage a sort of maritime picnic.

"Say, Quarter," began Fortescue, addressing the
Quartermaster-sergeant, "how about a sing-song on the mess deck this
evening? Most of the boys have found their sea-legs, and there's no
lack of talent."

"Good idea!" replied the Q.M.S. "We'll form ourselves into an
entertainment committee. Let me see: there's Sergeant Thomson, he's
a bit of a vocalist."

"Unfortunately he shot his false teeth over the side last night,"
reported Malcolm. "He was so jolly bad that he never realized his
loss till this morning. He's out of it, I fancy."

"We'll put him down anyway," declared Fortescue. "There's M'Kie and
Macdonald: they'll open with a duet on the bagpipes."

Other names were submitted and approved, not-withstanding the fact
that their owners were not consulted on the matter.

"How about the officers?" enquired Selwyn. "They are to be invited,
I suppose?"

"Rather," replied Fortescue. "By the way, what has Lieutenant
Nicholson been doing to get his left optic in a sling? He wasn't
looking skywards out of one of the ports when Thomson jettisoned his
ivories?"

"Dunno," replied the M. S. "He was all right when he went the rounds
last night."

"I know," chipped in another N.C.O. "It was the Padre."

"The Padre!" exclaimed half a dozen voices. "Our Padre been
scrapping?"

"Hardly!" was the reply. "He shares a two-bunk berth with the
Lieutenant. Padre has, or had, the upper bunk, and he tops the scale
at sixteen stone. I don't insinuate, mind you, that any of the
fellows tampered with the ironwork, but all the same the bunk
collapsed, and our Padre subsided heavily upon poor little
Nicholson."

"We'll get the company poet to write up a special stanza and recite
it at the concert," declared Fortescue. "Sort of object lesson on
the way our Padre tackles sin."

The men, remembering that the Lieutenant's initials were S.I.N.,
laughed uproariously. These impromptu concerts gave them poetic
licence to joke at the expense of their officers. The latter, too,
were quite used to that sort of thing. In fact they enjoyed it. Even
the popular Padre found these entertainments a welcome antidote to
the dull business of censoring letters.

The concert--as far as it went--was a huge success. According to
_The Deep Sea Roll_, the Thirty-somethingth's magazine, the opening
items and the honorary reporter's notes were as follows:--

"A duet by the brothers Mac. I thought they would never finish, due
mainly to Macdonald, who had his Scotch blood up and his bagpipes in
good wind."

"Sergeant Thomson next stepped into the ring and gave 'Thora' a slap
up. It was a pity he lost his teeth, but, thank goodness, he has not
lost his voice."

"Tiny Anderson's voice was like his size--tremendous. 'Asleep in the
Deep' was his song. I thought he _was_ asleep at one part of it."

There was no lack of enthusiasm on the part of the audience. The
men, packed like sardines in a barrel, filled the mess-deck almost
to suffocation, their boisterous applause increasing in volume as
item succeeded item in quick succession.

"Item seven--Cornet Competition," announced Sergeant Fortescue.
"Sisters Howard and O'Dowd have kindly consented to act as judges."

Prolonged sounds of cheering greeted the two Red Cross nurses as
they stepped upon the platform with marked timidity. They would
perhaps--and did--unhesitatingly and calmly assist the medical
officers in their work of mercy and within range of hostile shells,
but their present task was an ordeal.

Four strapping young fellows, each armed with a highly-polished
cornet, appeared and stood facing their critical audience, receiving
their caustic comments with a studied indifference.

"Rifleman Gilway."

Rifleman Gilway advanced two paces, lifted the instrument to his
lips, and distended his cheeks. Beyond an eerie gurgle ("the last
gasp of a dying flounder", according to the above-quoted honorary
reporter) not a sound came from the cornet. The audience, rocking
with laughter, threw shouts of encouragement and advice to the
would-be musician, but all in vain. Rifleman Gilway's eyes were
riveted upon the half of a cut, juicy lemon displayed within six
inches of his face by a waggish subaltern. The sight of the acid
fruit effectually prevented the man getting a single note out of the
instrument. He puffed and blew like a grampus, the tears ran down
his distended cheeks, and the perspiration oozed from his forehead,
till in disgust he retired from the contest.

Cornet No. 2 shared the same fate, after a gallant struggle. By this
time the audience was almost silent. The men could laugh no longer.
They were almost on the verge of hysterical tears of excessive
merriment.

The third competitor withdrew without an effort, but the fourth was
something of a strategist. He used his music-card as a screen to
shut out the sight of the tantalizing lemon. By so doing he had to
lean forward slightly. His cheeks were bulging, but again
silence--mysterious silence.

Compared with Rifleman Gilway's efforts those Of Corporal Jephson
were simply terrific. His whole frame shook under the tremendous
force of lung power. The doctor began to shift uneasily in his
chair, anticipating a case of apoplexy. Jephson's face gradually
changed in colour fro light bronze to a deep purple. Something had
to go----

Something did! From the interior of the instrument a wad of paper
was ejected with the velocity of a stone from a catapult. In its
wake followed, a compact mass of viscous substance. Both struck the
waggish subaltern full in the face, and then the nature of the "main
charge" became apparent. It was treacle. A practical joker had
primed Jephson's cornet with the sticky stuff, plugging it with a
wad. Amidst renewed outbursts of cheering the subaltern retired for
repairs and renewals, while the lady judges were fortunately spared
the task of bestowing the palm upon the cornet champion of the
Thirty-somethingths.

More songs followed, then a series of recitations bearing upon
incidents and characters on board Transport No. 99. Many of the
references were pointedly personal; the victims enjoyed them as much
as anyone, for it is difficult to raise a New Zealander's "dander"
by means of a practical joke. And when the reciter commenced a
string of verses portraying the catastrophe in the cabin shared by
Lieutenant Nicholson and the Padre, the former's "Hear, hear!" and
the latter's deep bass laugh were heard above the roars of hilarity.

The composer of the verses had turned the accident into a work of
intent on the Padre's part, representing the latter combating the
evil influence of sin. The reciter began with slight hesitation;
then, finding that he was receiving unstinted approval, he warmed up
to his task.

  "Sin turned in, and soon was heard the music of his snore,
  And then the Padre set to work as none had worked before.
  He got a large belaying-pin, he got the vessel's lead,
  And everything that weighed at all he piled upon the bed.
  He took the screws out, one by one, that held the fixing frail,
  Till all that stood 'twixt him and Sin was but a single nail.
  Then with a fierce look in his eye, as one who thirsts for blood,
  He hurled his weight upon the bunk--there came a sickening thud----"

Crash!

The old _Awarua_ shook under the terrific impact of an unseen force,
listed to starboard, and then slowly recovered, to heel to port.
Simultaneously every electric light on the ship was extinguished,
while above the noise of escaping steam arose the babel of hundreds
of voices as the swarm of humanity slithered in a struggling mass
along the sloping floor of the mess deck.

"Torpedoed, by Jupiter!" shouted a voice. The ominous words were
taken up by others, and in the darkness an ugly rush was made for
the upper deck.



CHAPTER V

Broken down in Mid-ocean


"It's all right, boys!" came a deep voice. "It's only the Padre
fallen out of his bunk again."

The men recognized the voice.

"Good old Padre!" they shouted, and then silence fell upon the
crowd. Someone struck a match, and held it so that the feeble
glimmer shone upon his face. It was the C.O.

"File out in an orderly manner, lads," he ordered. "Fall in on the
upper deck. I'll _follow_ you out. We are not going over the top
this time; when we do I'll take good care to _lead_ you."

On the upper deck a bugle rang out shrilly. The seamen, assisted by
some troops, who, detailed for duty, had not attended the sing-song,
were "standing by" ready to lower away the boats.

Rapidly yet without confusion the mess deck was cleared. The first
signs of panic nipped in the bud, the men were now as cool as
cucumbers.

"How far is it to the nearest land?" enquired one as he ascended the
ladder.

"Less'n half a mile underneath your feet," was the grim answer.

True to his word, the Colonel was the last to leave the mess deck.
As he emerged into the open air he remarked to the Chaplain: "My
word, Padre, heaven forgive you for that lie, but you saved the
situation."

Like most of his comrades, Malcolm Carr was under the impression
that he would soon have to swim for it, unless he was one of the
lucky ones to get told off to the boats. If anyone had suggested
that he was afraid, he would have stoutly repudiated the statement;
but he was conscious of a peculiar sinking sensation in the pit of
his stomach. To a man not a sailor by profession the knowledge that
only a comparatively thin steel plate, and fractured at that, is
between him and death by drowning is apt to be decidedly
disconcerting. He had voluntarily contracted to risk his life by
fighting the Boche, but to be "downed" without the chance of seeing
a shot fired in earnest was hardly playing the game.

"Hallo, Malcolm!"

Carr turned his head and peered into the face of his right-hand man.
It was Dick Selwyn.

"Hallo, Dick! I didn't recognize your voice. How goes it?"

"So, so!" replied Dick. "Look here, I vote we stick together. Why
aren't they lowering the boats? They don't seem in any sort of a
hurry."

"Perhaps it is as well. You know----"

Again a bugle rang out. The ranks stiffened.

"Boys!" exclaimed the Colonel; "the Captain has just sent word that
there is no immediate danger. There has been a slight explosion in a
bunker. One compartment--the for'ard stokehold--is flooded. For the
present the men will remain on deck. The cooks will issue a hot
ration. Stand at ease!"

Out came pipes and cigarettes. The men began chatting and yarning,
discussing the possibilities and chances of the catastrophe. The
explosion had been an internal one, sufficient to cripple the
vessel's engines. The question naturally arose as to whether it was
the work of a Hun agent.

"I'd like to know who the idiot was who yelled out something about
being torpedoed," remarked a rifleman.

"I did," owned up the man in question. "What about it?"

"If you were in C Company they'd give you poison," declared the
first speaker contemptuously.

"And," retorted the other, "if I were in C Company I'd take it. As
for----"

"Stop that!" ordered Sergeant Fortescue; then, turning to Malcolm,
he added: "It shows the boys are settling down again. Sort of
psychologic phenomenon; I've noticed it before. While there's danger
they are as well-behaved as kids in a drawing-room; directly it's
over they let themselves go and start treading on each other's
corns. Well, here we are, midway between New Zealand and Cape Horn,
with our engines broken down. A fine old jamboree!"

"We've wirelessed for assistance, I've been told," observed Malcolm.

"Aye," agreed Fortescue, "and received a reply. No. 101, which left
Wellington two days after we did, sends a reassuring message. She's
a faster boat, you know. But I might add," he said, lowering his
voice, "that we've been warned that the _See Adler_ is somewhere
knocking around, and we have to take due precaution. Ah! There you
are. They're serving out small-arms and ammunition to C Company."

The situation was a grave one. Lying helpless on the water was
Transport 99, unescorted and with no other friendly vessel within
ten hours' steaming of her. She was armed with two 4.7 guns both
mounted aft. These were of little use against a swift hostile craft
should the latter approach on a bearing three degrees on either side
of the _Awarua's_ bows. On the other hand there were half a dozen
Maxims and nearly two thousand rifles on board, although these would
be of little use if the raider kept beyond 200 yards' range.

Against an armed and mobile vessel the _See Adler_ would stand but
little chance. She was a sailing craft provided with a powerful
motor installation. Earlier in the year she had caused a certain
amount of sensation by her depredations in the Atlantic, until
British cruisers made that locality too hot for her. She vanished
mysteriously. There were vague rumours that she had been sent to the
bottom by one of the Allied warships. It was now evident that she
had rounded the Horn, making use of her sails only and keeping her
motors for cases of emergency, and at the present was within a few
miles of the transport _Awarua_.

Throughout the rest of the night the transport's crew manned the two
stern-chasers. The Maxims, protected by coal-sacks and mealie-bags,
were kept ready for instant action, while each company took duty in
turn to man the side, ready to supplement the machine- and
quick-firing guns with a fusillade of small arms.

Daybreak came, but with it no signs of the expected raider. Viewed
from the deck, the _Awarua_ showed no trace of the explosion beyond
a slight list to starboard. The steam had been raised from the
auxiliary engines, and the pumps were continuously ejecting water
that made its way from the flooded stokehold to the adjoining
compartments. The ship's artificers were busily engaged in repairing
the fractured main steam-pipe. It was just possible that the vessel
might be able to proceed under her own steam, either back to
Wellington or else to Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands.
Meanwhile there was no line of churned water extending from under
the vessel's quarter as far as the eye could reach, no dull
reverberations of the "screw". The _Awarua_, lying helpless, rolled
sullenly in the swell at the mercy of wind and ocean current.

Meanwhile the troops were kept fully occupied. Ennui was at all
costs to be banished, and the best antidote for that was plenty of
hard work. Parades, boat drill, physical exercises, almost filled
the bill; but even then there were plenty of enthusiasts to take
part in strenuous games on deck, in which the C.O. and most of the
officers took a personal interest and prominent part.

Just before sunset a blurr of smoke was detected on the horizon.
Transport 101 was arriving upon the scene. Two hours later, in the
starry night, the new arrival came within hailing distance, and
preparations were made to take the _Awarua_ in tow.

By midnight Transport 99 was moving slowly through the water in the
wake of the towing vessel, three hearty cheers from the boys showing
their relief at the thought that the tedious period of immobility
was at an end. The repairs to the steam-pipe were almost completed,
and with reasonable luck the _Awarua_ might be able to proceed under
her own steam before daybreak.

At réveillé Malcolm Carr heard the welcome thud of the propeller.
Going on deck, he found that Transport 101 was hull down to the
west'ard, while a couple of cable-lengths on the _Awarua's_
star-board quarter was a long grey cruiser flying the White Ensign.

Just then one of the crew came aft. Malcolm knew him by sight. He
was a loquacious Welsh-man, always "in the know", and one of the
recognized media between the ship's officers and the rank and file.

"Hallo, Sergeant!" he exclaimed, jerking his thumb in the direction
of the cruiser. "How's that, eh? Sorter objec' lesson on the great
silent navy I'll allow. She's our escort as far as the Falklands."

"She's turned up at just the right moment," remarked Malcolm.

"She's what?" enquired the seaman. "My eye, you don't know nuffink,
Sergeant. She's been hoppin' about us for the last three days. I
'eard our Old Man tell the First Officer so. Got our wireless, but
wouldn't reply."

"Why not?" asked Carr curiously.

"'Cause she was waitin' to mop up that _See Adler_. Kept out of
sight, hoping, in a manner o' speaking, that the Dutchy would have a
smack at us, and then she'd butt in. Howsomever, they say as a jap
cruiser 'as got the hang of the 'Un, an' you chaps 'ave been done
out of a visit to Davy Jones this time."



CHAPTER VI

Man Overboard


"Party, fall in! Sergeant, march the men aft report to the Second
Mate for boat drill. Until you are dismissed you will take your
orders from him."

Sergeant Carr saluted, and then devoted his attention to the squad
fallen in on the upper deck. They were a set of stalwarts, but
without exception were up-country farmers and sheep-shearers before
they left New Zealand for the still distant Front. Until they joined
the S.S. _Awarua_ at Wellington, very few of them had ever seen a
ship's boat.

Transport 99 was forging ahead at a modest 10 or 11 knots. The
21-knot cruiser, although steaming under natural draught, was
cutting rings round her charge, as if reproaching her for her
tardiness. The wind was abeam and fairly fresh, making the old
_Awarua_ roll heavily.

Aft on the port side of the poop stood the Second Mate, a short,
bull-necked, burly man, whose attitude, suggested a bored interest
in the work in hand. He had the old salt's pitying contempt for
"flat-footed landlubbers". Very many times since the outbreak of war
had he been called upon to instruct troops in boat drill, and never
had he seen any practical result of his labours. The monotony of
imparting boat knowledge into the heads of men who possessed not the
slightest inclination towards things nautical irritated him.
Forgetting that his instruction classes were composed of men who
were not seamen, he was apt to give orders without explaining the
precise nature of the various terms he employed, and failure on the
part of his audience to follow his deep-sea phrases reduced him to a
state of profanity.

The boat selected for the drill was a "double-ender" life-boat
hanging in the old-fashioned style of davits. The davits were swung
inboard, the boat resting on "chocks" or hinged pieces of wood
shaped to fit the lower strakes of the boat.

"Now then," began the Second Officer. "In the event of this craft
being torpedoed, you men will form the crew of this boat. At a
prolonged blast on the syren all hands will come to attention and
await orders. At the bugle-call you will throw off coats and boots,
put on life-belts--suppose you know by this time _how_ to put 'em
on?--and fall in by numbers, facing outboard. We'll take the
life-belts for granted."

The men received this part of the instruction without emotion. They
had heard it many times before.

"You are bow, and you are stroke," continued the Second Mate,
addressing two of the men.

"Stroke the bow-wow, Tommy," whispered a wag in an audible aside.
"Now we are getting on. We'll finish up with a bloomin' menagerie."

"Silence, there!" snapped the instructor. "Bow and stroke will jump
into the boat, see that the plug is inserted, and hook the
falls--four hands to man each of the falls. You," addressing the
would-be humorist, "will attend to the gripes----"

"Should have thought that was a job for the doctor," remarked the
man _sotto voce_, at which several of the men within hearing began
to laugh.

"This is no laughing matter, you pack of jackanapes," bawled the now
infuriated ship's officer. "You'd feel a bit sick if you found
yourselves in the ditch through not knowing how to lower away. Now,
then, together."

Out swung the davits, the task rendered difficult by the roll of the
ship, until the boat was ready for lowering.

The Second Mate looked at the surging water, and considered the
erratic rolling motion of the lofty hull. To lower away with a
practised crew manning the falls would entail a certain amount of
risk should the boat surge against the ship's side; with a crowd of
raw amateurs the danger was magnified threefold.

"Good enough!" he ordered. "We'll suppose the lowering and hoisting
part is done. I'll put you through that another day when there's
less sea. Now, stand by."

A shrill rasping of chain and an involuntary cry of mingled surprise
and apprehension from the two in the boat interrupted the Second
Officer's explanation. Accidentally the "stroke" had released the
after disengaging-gear. The next instant the boat was hanging
vertically, held only by the for'ard tackle.

The bowman, making a frantic grab at the upper block of the davit,
hung on like grim death until his feet found a hold on the edge of
the foremost thwart. The boat, swinging like a gigantic pendulum,
was doing her best to stave in her quarter against the ship's side.

The "stroke" was not so fortunate. With the release of the gear the
lower block dealt him a numbing blow on the shoulder. Unable to
grasp any object that might afford security, he fell with
considerable force into the sea.

"Man overboard!" shouted the Second Officer, and picking up a
life-belt he hurled it close to the spot where the luckless fellow
had disappeared. Almost at the same time the sentry let fall the
patent life-buoy.

For some minutes the rest of the squad were too taken aback by the
suddenness of the catastrophe to grasp the situation. The bowman,
more scared than hurt, although considerably shaken, clambered out
of the boat and gained the deck.

"Good heavens," ejaculated Malcolm, "the man overboard can't swim a
stroke!" Heedless of the fact that of all the party he was the only
one who had not removed his boots, Malcolm ran aft. With a bound he
cleared the rail and dived overboard.

Fortunately for him, the _Awarua_ was moving at a comparatively low
speed. As it was, in spite of the momentum of his leap, he struck
the water obliquely, and with a thud that temporarily winded him.

Coming to the surface, he took in a deep breath of salt-laden air,
rubbed the water from his eyes, and looked for the missing man.

On the crest of a roller he espied the rifleman's head and shoulders
and outstretched arms. In the interval that had elapsed between the
accident and Malcolm's dive the ship had travelled a good hundred
yards. Midway between the would-be rescuer and the object of his
attentions floated the life-buoy, its position clearly indicated by
a cloud of calcium smoke. He could see no sign of the life-belt.

Using a powerful trudgeon stroke, Malcolm started and swam towards
the spot where he had caught a momentary glimpse of the man. In less
than two dozen strokes he found that his saturated sleeves hampered
his arms. His boots, too, were acting as a drag, yet there was no
time to tread water and kick them off.

On the crest of the third roller Malcolm again caught sight of the
man. He had ceased to struggle and was floating without any apparent
motion, his head and shoulders clear of the water.

Changing to breast stroke, Carr slid down the slope of the long
roller. Then, as he rose on the succeeding crest, he found that he
was within ten yards of the man.

"Hang it all!" thought Malcolm as he approached. "I might have saved
myself a job. He's better off than I am. The bounder's wearing a
life-saving waistcoat."

"Hallo, Sergeant!" gurgled the rifleman. "Did that rotten boat sling
you out too? When are they going to pick us up? The water's none too
warm. I'm feeling nipped already."

"Oh, it's you, Macready!" exclaimed Malcolm, recognizing a
Canterbury farmer, a fellow of magnificent physique. "When are they
going to pick us up, you ask? Can't say. I rather fancy they'll have
to reverse engines and stop before they lower a boat. That will take
some time."

He waited until he found himself on the crest of a long roller, and
then looked in the direction of the _Awarua_. The transport was now
nearly two miles away. Whether she had slowed down or was still
steaming ahead he could not determine. As far as he could see there
were no signs of a boat being lowered.

Macready was certainly right about the low temperature of the sea.
Already Carr felt the numbing effect of the water. His fingers as he
fumbled with the laces of his boots were practically devoid of
feeling.

"I have one of those air waistcoats," explained the man. "It's only
partly filled. Much as I could manage to do, that. I guess there's a
tidy drop of water got in while I was blowing. If we can get more
wind into the thing it'll support two; at least I hope so. The
fellow at the stores said it would."

"Don't trouble on my account," said Malcolm. "I'll swim to the
life-buoy and bring it back."

The patent life-saving device was still emitting dense clouds of
calcium smoke. Provided the expected rescuing-boat made for that
there was a good chance of Malcolm and the rifleman being picked up,
unless in the meanwhile they were overcome by the acute coldness of
the water.

"Any signs of a boat, Sergeant?" asked the man, as Malcolm,
evidently exhausted by his exertions, pushed the life-buoy before
him to within arm's length of his companion in peril.

Malcolm was reluctantly obliged to admit that the probability of
rescue from that direction was of a diminishing nature. The _Awarua_
was still holding on her course.

"Suppose they think that as we were a pair of fools to be slung
overboard we aren't worth picking up," continued Macready.

Malcolm did not reply. He did not attempt to enlighten the man as to
the reason why there were two "in the ditch" instead of one. He was
also at a loss to explain the apparent callousness of the
responsible officer of Transport 99 in not promptly lowering a boat
and effecting a speedy rescue.

The two men were too intent upon the disappearing _Awarua_ to notice
the approach of the escorting cruiser. The latter was circling round
the transport, and was on the point of turning at a distance of a
mile astern, when the alert officer of the watch noticed the
accident to the boat.

Bringing his telescope to bear upon the _Awarua_, he could see quite
clearly the life-boat hanging by the bow tackle only. As he looked
he was a distant witness of Sergeant Carr's leap into the sea.

Instinctively he grasped the situation and took prompt measures. At
his orders a signalman on the fore bridge set the arms of the
semaphore at "Attention". When the transport acknowledged the
preparatory signal the semaphore began to spell out its message:

"Carry on; we'll pick up your man."

"Away sea-boat's crew," was the next order, and quickly the falls
were manned, and the boat, containing her full complement, lowered
until the keel was within a few feet of the water. Meanwhile the
cruiser's engines had been reversed until her speed diminished five
knots.

"Lower away!" was the next order.

With a resounding "smack" the boat "landed" on the crest of a wave.
Dexterously the patent releasing-gear was operated, and, carried
onward with the momentum imparted by the still-moving cruiser, the
sea-boat shot away from the side of her parent.

The order, "Give way, lads, for all you're worth!" given by the
midshipman in charge, was somewhat unnecessary. At the prospect of
saving life every man was pulling his hardest. The sharp bows of the
boat literally cleft the water.

"Way 'nough. In bow," ordered the midshipman, a youth of sixteen or
seventeen with the assurance of a successful barrister.

As neatly as if he were bringing a picket-boat alongside the
flagship under the super-critical eye of the admiral, the midshipman
steered the boat close to the wellnigh exhausted men. Ready hands
lifted Malcolm and Macready into the stern-sheets, and within seven
minutes of the first order for the sea-boat to be manned, the two
New Zealanders were standing upon the quarter-deck of H.M.S.
_Gosport_.



CHAPTER VII

Quits!


"Take these men to the sick-bay," ordered the officer of the watch;
"they both look pretty well knocked up. Semaphore the convoy and
report that the men have been picked up. We'll see what's to be done
with them later on."

After divisions the Commander reported the circumstances to the
Captain. The latter, being a chartered humorist, signalled No. 99 to
the effect that when boat-lowering practice was again resorted to it
would be advisable to provide ring-bolts and securing lashings to
prevent the soldiers falling overboard; meanwhile he would make sure
of the two he _had_ picked up by keeping them on board the _Gosport_
until her arrival at Port Stanley with the transport under her
charge.

Thus Sergeant Malcolm Carr found himself an honorary member of the
C.P.O.'s mess on board the _Gosport_, one of the earlier type of
"town" cruisers detailed for convoying duties in the South Pacific.

Malcolm thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of being on board a war-ship.
What struck him most was the good order and discipline that
prevailed; everything was "carried out at the double", yet there was
a total absence of unnecessary noise. Compared with the somewhat
boisterous conditions obtaining on board Transport 99, the _Gosport_
was a floating model of smartness and efficiency.

"Do you know anything about a kangaroo, Sergeant?" enquired a burly
armourer's mate.

It was Thursday--"make and mend" afternoon. The ship's company was
allowed a period of comparative relaxation. Being fine weather, most
of the "I watch below" were on deck, sunning themselves upon the
raised fo'c'sle.

"A kangaroo?" repeated Malcolm cautiously, half suspecting that the
man was trying to "pull his leg".

"Yes," replied the other, a proper kangaroo. "You ought to know a
lot about them, since they come from down your way."

"I'm afraid you are mistaken," said Carr. "I have seen kangaroos in
New Zealand, but they were looked upon as animal curiosities. Why do
you ask?"

"We've got a kangaroo for a ship's mascot. Had it given us when we
were coaling ship at Sydney. The brute is pining. He won't tackle
ship's beef or condensed milk. His hay ration's expended, but the
cook's keeping him going on biscuit mashed in 'bubbly'. Some of the
men suggested cocoa as a change of diet. We thought perhaps, seeing
that you were an Anzac, that you Could tell us what's the correct
grub for the brute."

"It's want of exercise that's put Panjie off 'is feed, Bill,"
interposed a leading signalman. "That's what's done it."

"Maybe you're right," was the armourer's mate's grudging concession.

"And if," continued the "bunting-tosser", carried away by his
brilliant brain-wave, "Panjie was to fall in with the
physical-exercise party, an' skip round the ship 'arf a dozen times
afore breakfast, I'll allow he'd scoff his 'ard tack without a
murmur."

In the course of the afternoon a request was forwarded to the
Commander that the kangaroo should be allowed on deck for exercise.
The paper, marked "Approved, provided due precautions are taken",
was returned to the members of the "Mascot Committee".

Without further delay preparations were made for the kangaroo's
course of physical exercise. A space between two of the casemate
guns of the starboard side was barricaded off, the officers'
practice nets having been loaned for the event.

Practically all the ship's company crowded round to witness the
show. Every coign of vantage was packed with interested lower-deck
humanity, while from both the fore and after bridges the officers
forgathered to watch the performance.

Panjie's cage, carried by half a dozen lusty blue-jackets, was
deposited in close proximity to the only opening left in the
extensive corral. Not since the eventful day when the _Gosport's_
barbers close-clipped Bingo, the monkey, had such interest been
shown in any unofficial incident. Bingo was Panjie's predecessor, a
large Madagascar ape. Curiosity concerning a barrel of coal-tar led
to Bingo's undoing. Cropping, and afterwards washing the animal with
grease and paraffin, were the only remedies, and but temporary; for,
shorn of its warm fur, the monkey caught pneumonia and succumbed.

Heralded by the chief keeper, a corporal of Red Marines, the
kangaroo leapt lightly into the arena in an attitude reminiscent of
a light-weight boxer. It was a half-grown animal of about four feet
six inches in height. Apparently indifferent to the grant of limited
freedom, it ambled to a recess formed by the side of the casemate
and the raised coaming of a closed ammunition-hoist.

"Put a pair of boxing-gloves on him, Paddy," shouted one of the
Corporal's shipmates. "Take him on for half a dozen rounds under the
Marquis of Queensberry's rules."

"Enter him for the high jump," vociferated another.

"Take 'im on 'catch as catch can'," suggested a third.

To all these suggestions the marine turned a deaf ear. He had his
own idea of the correct method of exercising the animal and at the
same time contributing to his comrades' enjoyment.

"Now then, you concertina boys, give us a two-step," he called out.
"Come on, my lady, let's see if I can span your slender waist."

Either the kangaroo objected to the marine's mistake in the matter
of gender or else he was disinclined to be forced to perform, for,
as the Corporal grasped the animal's short fore paws, Panjie let rip
with one of his powerful hind legs. The kangaroo might have been off
his feed, but his muscular powers seemed in no way impaired. The
sharp claws, missing the man's face by a mere inch, sliced his
forage jacket and trousers from shoulder to knee.

At the possibility of a scrap the ship's company cheered, some
yelling encouragement to the kangaroo, others backing the
representative of His Majesty's jollies.

The outburst of sound terrified the animal. With a stupendous bound
Panjie leapt at the netting, ripping his way through as easily as a
pantomime clown jumps through a paper hoop. Over the heads and
shoulders of a tightly-packed throng of bluejackets the brute
vaulted; then, viewing a comparatively clear space, it bounded
towards the sacred precincts of the quarter-deck.

Here the Fleet-paymaster and the Engineer-commander, who were
keeping aloof from the revels, were engaged in a strictly official
conversation. Like a dart Panjie dived betwixt the bowed legs of the
accountant officer, and, in blind desperation, butted the senior
officer of the engineering branch full in the chest. Then with a
terrific leap the kangaroo cleared the rail and disappeared
overboard.

There was a rush to the side. Some of the men hastened to man the
sea-boat, but the upheld hand of the Commander indicated that they
were to "stand fast".

The sea was like glass. The usual Pacific roll was entirely absent.
A quarter of a mile on the starboard quarter the _Awarua_ was
resolutely plugging along at 10 knots.

Bobbing in the wake of the cruiser was a darkbrown object. It was
Panjie. The animal had escaped the suction of the propellers, but
the fall from a vessel pelting along at 20 knots had evidently
stunned it. At all events it made no effort to swim.

No order was given for the _Gosport_ to reverse engines or even to
slow down. She merely "carried on" describing a vast circle round
the slow-moving Transport 99.

"By Jove, sir!" exclaimed the Commander, addressing the Captain.
"The _Awarua's_ starboarding helm."

"She is," admitted the Skipper grimly. "We've played into her hands
this time, I fancy."

The "owner's" surmise was correct. Lining the side of the transport
were hundreds of troops. Some of them, and several of the _Awarua's_
crew, had provided themselves with running bowlines, and as the
unfortunate Panjie drifted close to the ship he was saluted with a
shower of lassos.

"They've hooked him, sir!" reported the Commander as the kangaroo's
limp body, firmly encircled with three or four bowlines, was
unceremoniously hauled on board the transport.

"By the powers they have," agreed the Skipper bitterly, and
straightway he left the bridge and went below.

Five minutes later the _Awarua's_ semaphore began working rapidly.
On the _Gosport's_ bridge a barefooted signalman wrote down the
message on a pad. He was unable to conceal a broad grin as he handed
the signal to the Commander.

No need for the latter to read the writing. He, in common with
nearly all the officers and crew, had read the semaphore verbatim.

With the utmost temerity the skipper of the _Awarua_ had sent the
following report:--

"One of your crew has been picked up by Transport 99. In view of the
heavy sea now running" (_it was a flat calm a regular "Paddy's
hurricane"_) "I propose retaining the said member, in order to avoid
a repetition of the accident. Do you concur?"

The message was sent to the captain of the cruiser. Sportsmanlike
the skipper accepted the sarcastic signal with a good grace.

Back came the answer: "Now we are quits! Congratulations!"



CHAPTER VIII

Left Behind


Seven days behind scheduled time the _Awarua_ crawled into Port
Stanley harbour. Here Sergeant Malcolm Carr and Rifleman Macready
were received in exchange for Panjie, who, thanks to the store of
fodder on board the transport, had been fed into a state of
adiposity.

Meanwhile a reserve transport had been sent across from Simon's Bay,
and orders were given to tranship the troops, stores, and baggage
from No. 99 to No. 109. Within three days the task was accomplished,
and, five other troopships having arrived from Australia, the convoy
left for Table Bay, still under the care of H.M.S. _Gosport_.

Although the transports were still a considerable distance from the
U-boat danger zone, every revolution of their propellers was
bringing them nearer to that part of the South Atlantic where
vessels had been known-to have been destroyed by mines.

On the evening of the third day Malcolm had to accompany Lieutenant
Nicholson on the rounds. After visiting the various mess decks the
upper deck had to be inspected. It was a pitch-dark night. The stars
were obscured. Beyond the long undulations the sea was calm.

Transport 109, otherwise the S.S. _Pintail_, was leading vessel of
the starboard column, the formation being that known as "double
column ahead". The _Gosport_ was two miles distant on the starboard
bow, her position indicated solely by a feeble stern lantern. The
vessels forming the convoy were steaming with all navigation-lamps
screened, keeping station merely by means of the phosphorescent wake
of the vessel next ahead.

"Hallo, what's the move?" exclaimed Mr. Nicholson as the six
transports altered helm, swung round until they formed double column
line abreast. "We're at right angles to our former course. What's
the _Gosport_ doing?"

The Lieutenant walked to the rail. Malcolm and the rest of the party
halted and watched a masthead signalling-lamp that was blinking
rapidly on the cruiser.

Suddenly the beams of two powerful search-lights from the
_Gosport's_ bridge pierced the darkness. The giant rays were
directed full upon the hull of a large vessel steaming about five
cable-lengths from, and on a parallel course to, that of the
cruiser.

The stranger had been showing no steaminglights. She was a
two-masted, double-funnelled craft of about four thousand tons. On
her side, clearly shown up in the rays of the search-light, were
painted the Dutch national colours, and the words _Waeszyl_, Holland
in letters six feet in height.

Again the _Gosport's_ flashing-lamp began signalling; but while the
message, whatever it might mean, was still in progress, two tongues
of flame leapt from the cruiser's side, and the simultaneous roar of
a double report crashed through the night.

An instant later a stupendous blaze of light, followed by a
detonation the volume of which completely drowned all other sounds,
dazzled the eyes and burst upon the ears of the spectators. A pall
of black smoke, tinted silvery in the rays of the search-lights,
marked the spot where the so-called _Waeszyl_ had been. For some
seconds objects of varying sizes, hurled high in the air, dropped
into the sea, some of them in perilous proximity to the convoy.
After that--silence.

From the troop-decks of the transports crowds of men poured through
the hatchways. It was an impossible task to try to keep the New
Zealanders below. They simply had to see what there was to be seen;
which, according to the general verdict, was precious little.

Presently boats were lowered from the cruiser, and a search was made
over and around the spot where the mysterious vessel had
disappeared. In less than half an hour the boats returned, the
searchlights were switched off, and the cruiser and her charges
resumed their interrupted course.

There was very little sleep that night for the men of the
Thirty-somethingth reinforcements. The men sat up discussing the
appalling incident, and forming ingenious theories as to the cause
of the _Gosport's_ speedy destruction of the supposed Dutchman. They
had reckoned on entering the danger zone when they came within the
normal radius of action of hostile U-boats. Already they had
practical proof that at almost every knot of the
twelve-thousand-miles voyage they were open to attack--Providence
and the armed unit of Britain's fleet permitting.

Just before noon on the following day the _Pintail_ passed close to
a water-logged ship's boat. Kept under observation by means of
telescopes and binoculars, the derelict told its own tale. There
were evidences that it had been hastily lowered. A gaping hole on
one side and a shattered gun-wale on the other, together with traces
of fire, showed that the boat had been shelled. There were distinct
signs that the perpetrators of the outrage had sought to obliterate
all traces of their dastardly work: the name of the ship had been
scraped off the boat's bows, her air-tight tanks had been stove in,
yet in spite of this precaution the boat still remained awash. For
once, at least, the policy of _Spurlos versenkt_ had failed.
Cold-blooded murder had undoubtedly been committed on the high seas.
The _Gosport_ was not in time to prevent this particular crime--but
she had avenged it.

Slowly, but no less surely, the details of the previous night's
engagement leaked out. It had not been, as Malcolm had surmised, a
one-sided engagement. A commerce-raider and mine-layer disguised as
a Dutch cargo boat had sighted the _Gosport_, and, mistaking her in
the darkness for a merchantman, turned and shaped a parallel course
to that of the cruiser.

Detected by the war-ship's look-out, the suspicious vessel was
promptly challenged by flashing signals. The raider's reply was a
grim one. A torpedo fired from a submerged tube tore towards the
_Gosport_, passing within a few feet of her stern. The
phosphorescent swirl of the under-water missile told its own tale.
The cruiser put two shells into the raider's quarter, in the hope
that her steering-gear would be blown away and the vessel rendered
unmanageable. Unfortunately for Hans, one of the projectiles burst
in a compartment where a number of mines were stored--result, utter
and swift annihilation!

As the transport approached the Cape, justifiable anxiety consumed
those responsible for the navigation of the convoy. The _Pintail's_
skipper never left the bridge for thirty-six hours. Two merchant-men
had recently been sunk by mines in these waters. Although the vessel
that had laid these sinister instruments of death and destruction
had been destroyed, the results of her previous activities remained.

At last the convoy dropped anchor in Table Bay. The second stage of
the long sea voyage was accomplished. The _Gosport_ coaled and left
for the Pacific, Until it was definitely established that German
raiders no longer infested the route between Wellington and the Horn
the presence of a few light cruisers was necessary, otherwise armed
merchant-cruisers could effectually perform convoying duties, and
release the "pukka" warships for other duties in home waters.

"Now I think of it," remarked Dick Selwyn, "I have a second cousin
living at Muizenberg; I'll look him up. There's leave till six
o'clock. Coming?"

"Looking up" even distant relations is a characteristic of the New
Zealander. Wounded Anzacs, on receiving the ten-days' leave in
England before rejoining their units, frequently make railway
journeys running into hundreds of miles simply for the Purpose of
"looking up" a remote blood relation in the Old Country, In Selwyn's
case his relation lived at a small town on the shores of False Bay,
a distance of about twenty miles from Cape Town.

"I'm on," replied Malcolm. "It will give us a chance of seeing
something of South Africa. How about Fortescue?"

Sergeant Fortescue, when appealed to, promptly decided to accompany
them; and as soon as leave was granted the three non-coms. hurried
ashore.

The railway journey accomplished, Selwyn made the disappointing
discovery that his cousin no longer lived at Muizenberg. He had
moved to a farm near Slang Kop, a distance of about five miles
across the peninsula that terminates in the world-renowned Cape of
Good Hope.

"Game to foot it, you chaps?" asked Selwyn. "I don't like to be
done."

The others agreed without enthusiasm, although loyalty to their chum
left no plausible alternative; so at a steady pace they set out
along an upland track that led to the farm.

Selwyn's cousin "did his visitors right down properly", to quote
Malcolm's description of the reception. So much so that before
either of the three realized the fact it was a question of whether
they could return to Muizenberg station in time for the train. A
springless Cape cart drove them at the maximum pace obtainable by
the wiry horse and the vociferous exhortations of the native "boy".
In spite of every effort the trio reached the outskirts of
Muizenberg just in time to see the train steam out of the station.

Since Muizenberg is a popular seaside resort for the business folk
at Cape Town, there is a fairly frequent train service. Enquiries of
the railway officials elicited the information that a train would
leave at 7.15 p.m.

Malcolm and his companions accepted the situation calmly. Mutual
recriminations were absent, although they knew that it was a serious
matter to overstay shore leave.

"It isn't as if the transport were lying alongside a wharf,"
remarked Selwyn. "Our best chance is to hire a boat and trust to
luck to get on board without being observed by the officers. The
corporal on the gangway wouldn't give the show away."

"The main point is to get on board," said Fortescue. "If there is an
enquiry we must simply state plain facts and face the music. There's
an officer's boat at nine-thirty."

"I'm afraid there isn't," corrected Malcolm. "I saw the announcement
cancelled on the notice-board outside the orderly room."

"By gum, that looks fishy!" exclaimed Fortescue. "Supposing the
_Pintail_ sails to-night. That yarn about the convoy getting under
way on Thursday night may be a blind. They say Cape Town swarms with
pro-Germans."

When at length the train crawled out of Muizenberg station the three
"Diggers" (as New Zealand infantrymen are commonly dubbed amongst
themselves) had for company a sympathetic fellow-passenger, who on
hearing of their plight was quick to suggest a plan.

"I know your boat," he remarked. "No. 109 is lying nearest in-shore
off Woodstock--that's a suburb of Cape Town, you know. I'm a
transport officer, so I know a bit about it. Hop off the train at
Woodstock and enquire for Van Hoek's boathouse. It's at the mouth of
Salt River. Old Van will row you off for a matter of ten shillings."

The passenger seemed of a very communicative disposition. He evinced
considerable interest in various incidents of the New Zealanders'
voyage. Without much questioning he led the three Anzacs to give a
fairly detailed account of what had happened.

"It's all news to me," he remarked. "Even in the Transport Office we
hear but very little. Of course the heads know a lot, but the minor
officials, such as myself, are not taken into their confidence."

The train slowing down as it approached Woodstock station terminated
the conversation. With many thanks for the information, Malcolm and
his chums left the carriage, and, in giving up their tickets,
enquired of the Dutch ticket-collector the way to Van Hoek's
establishment.

The official had never heard of the place; nor had three or four
others to whom the enquiry was put.

"At any rate," said Fortescue in desperation, "I suppose there is
such a show as Salt River?"

"Oh yes, we know where that is," was the chorused reply.

Declining offers to be shown the way, the three chums set out, and
presently arrived at the low shore of the estuary. The opposite bank
was invisible, as at the spot the mud-flats were covered at high
tide. To all appearance it was open water right out to Table Bay.

The shore was deserted. The few buildings were evidently untenanted.
On the beach half a dozen boats were hauled up above high-water
mark. Farther out were others riding easily to moorings.

The night was calm. The brilliant starlight made it an easy matter
to discern the double line of transports.

"By Jove," ejaculated Fortescue, "they're raising steam! They are
sailing to-night after all!"

"No good cooling our heels here," said Selwyn. "Let's borrow a boat,
since we can't find an owner. The wind's dead on shore, what there
is of it; we can cast her adrift after we get on board."

"And put five shillings on one of the thwarts," added Malcolm. "The
fellow who finds it will be repaid for his trouble."

Of the six boats all were without gear save one. In vain they
attempted to launch it down the beach; their united efforts were
unavailing. Nor was Fortescue's suggestion to transfer the gear to a
lighter craft productive of better results.

"These boats are as heavy as lead," declared Malcolm, wiping his
heated brow. "I believe they're bolted and riveted to the ground.
How about it? Suppose we swim out to the nearest of those boats?"

This proposition was adopted. The three men stripped, secured their
clothing on top of their heads by means of their belts, and, two of
them taking an oar in case the moored craft was destitute If means
of propulsion, they slipped boldly into the water.

Malcolm was the first to reach the moored boat. Holding on to the
gunwale with one hand, he unbuckled his bundle and tossed it into
the boat; then, clambering over the stern, proceeded to dress while
his companions "got aboard". There were oars already, as well as
mast, sails, and other gear.

On the strength of having stroked his college boat Fortescue took
command. Under his directions the rudder was shipped, and an attempt
made to raise the anchor. The three men heaving together very nearly
put the boat's bows under, but the refractory mooring refused to
come home. Did they but know it, they were vainly trying to raise an
iron chain attached to a mass of stone weighing nearly half a ton.

"We're going the wrong way about the trick," declared Selwyn. "See
that rope with a chunk of wood on the end of it? That's fastened to
the chain, so if we chuck the lot overboard we'll be able to make a
start."

The mooring dropped with a resounding splash. Fortescue and Malcolm
manned the oars and gave way with a will.

"Jolly hard graft," muttered Malcolm breathlessly after a quarter of
an hour's strenuous work. "Do you think we're getting any nearer? I
don't."

Fortescue glanced over his shoulder.

"No, I don't," he admitted bluntly. "What's more, the transports are
'on the move. That's put the kybosh on the whole contraption."



CHAPTER IX

In the Ring


For a full minute silence reigned. The chums had light-heartedly
discussed the possibility of the convoy sailing; but now, when the
supposition merged into hard fact, they could hardly realize the
gravity of the situation.

Mitigating circumstances or otherwise, reduced to rock-bottom level,
the three non-coms, had overstayed their leave, and were actually
deserters, from a military point of view. It was just possible that
they might be sent back under arrest to New Zealand. The thought
that they would be done Out of "having a slap at Fritz" almost
stunned them.

"Let's get back," said Fortescue, as the grey-hulled vessels grew
more and more indistinct in the starlit night. "We'll make for the
transport office and report ourselves. If we hadn't taken that
fellow's advice and wasted precious time looking for Van
what's-his-name we might have caught the tender."

"I wonder whether that fellow in the train was all above board?"
said Malcolm. "Now I come to think over the matter it looks rather
fishy. And we told him a jolly lot, too. He might be a Boche."

"If he is a Boche, and I run across him, I'll bash him," said Selwyn
vehemently.

"Set to, you Diggers!" ordered Fortescue. "Selwyn, you take an oar
and relieve Carr. Now, then, you pull while I back."

Under the reverse action of the oars the boat turned towards the
shore, then both men pulled their hardest.

"We don't seem to be moving," remarked Malcolm after five minutes
had elapsed. "I've been watching those two lights, and they have
been in line ever since we turned."

"Perhaps we're aground," suggested Fortescue, and thrusting his oar
vertically into the water he sounded. The thirteen-foot oar failed
to touch bottom.

"Plenty of water," he reported. "Carr, you must be making a mistake.
Now, Selwyn, put your back into it. I've never had such a heavy old
tub to pull in all my previous experience."

"We're not gaining an inch," reported Malcolm.

"Current out of the river, most likely," was Selwyn's theory.

For once Fortescue lost his temper.

"Currents, you young jackal!" he exclaimed. "Do you think this is a
Bath-bun shop? We are a crowd of jackasses. We never unmoored the
boat properly."

The craft was fitted with a short bowsprit, from the end of which a
wire shroud or "bobstay" led to a shackle-plate in the stem. When
the mooring-buoy had been thrown overboard, the rope had caught
between the bobstay and the stem, with the result that for the last
hour the three raw amateurs in salt-water seamanship had been simply
keeping their craft straining at the end of the buoy-rope.

The tension was broken in a double sense. The mooring-rope was this
time properly cast adrift, while the mercurial spirits of the three
absentees rose to the occasion.

"We've been a crowd of mugs," declared Selwyn, laughing. "Swotting
for an hour or more and fancying we were on the move. Now what's to
be done?"

"I suggest that we sleep on board until daybreak," said Fortescue.
"No good purpose is served by jogging into Cape Town at this hour of
the night. I suppose neither of you thought to bring along any
tommy?"

The others had to admit that they were unprovided with food.

"Then tighten your belts, boys," continued Fortescue. "We've been
feeding like turkey-cocks; a few hours' fast won't do much harm."

With the first streaks of dawn they ran the boat ashore, secured her
with a rope, and set off towards the town. When the transport office
opened the three absentees reported themselves, and, after having
had a stiff "dressing down" were placed under open arrest.

"One advantage of being a non-com.," remarked Fortescue. "We are
lucky not to be in the 'clink'."

"That Tommy officer seems a good sort," declared Malcolm. "As you
say, he might have made things hot for us. So we have to cool our
heels here until we can proceed with the next draft."

Two days later the three chums received instructions to report on
board the _Pomfret Castle_, which was due to sail with a mixed
contingent on the following afternoon. The vessel was a Union Castle
liner commandeered by the Government. Capable of doing twenty-two
knots, compared with the _Pintail's_ seventeen, it was more than
likely, U-boats and mines excepted, that the _Pomfret Castle_ would
arrive at Plymouth days ahead of the convoy with the New Zealand
reinforcements.

Taking no chances this time, Malcolm and his companions went on
board a couple of hours before the authorized time. Baggage was
still being stowed, while the decks teemed with troops of various
nationalities. The bulk consisted of South Africans, mostly veterans
of middle age, with a sprinkling of youths; detachments transferred
from Mesopotamia to France; and Imperial troops from German
South-East Africa. A draft of Maoris, and about twenty Australians
who had overstayed their leave at Cape Town, completed the muster.

Instructed by the embarkation officer, the New Zealanders went below
to their mess.

"Hallo, here are three Diggers!" exclaimed a strapping Queenslander.
"Make them at home, you chaps. Now our mess is quite filled up. By
Gum, I don't quite cotton on to those Dutchmen. I'm a believer in
Australia for the Australians, and You fellows stand in with that
crush."

The speaker introduced himself as Jack Kennedy,
quartermaster-sergeant by rank, and sheep-farmer in civilian life.
His left hand was in a sling, a strip of surgical plaster
embellished his cheek. During his stay at Cape Town he had been
forced into a squabble with a crowd of disloyal Cape Dutch. Words
led to blows, with the result that three of his opponents were
picked up insensible, while Kennedy was taken to the military
hospital with a broken wrist and a nasty contusion of the forehead,
caused by the nail-shod boot of an eighteen-stone antagonist.

"No kits?" continued Kennedy. "Your chaps went on and left you
behind? We were much in the same sort of hole, only Buck-up Miller
here knows the ropes. We'll soon see that you are comfortable. How
about a pannikin of tea?"

Under the attentions of their new chums Malcolm and his companions
soon adapted themselves to present conditions, and before the
_Pomfret Castle_ cleared Table Bay the Anzacs felt as if they had
known each other for years.

Although the troops on board were going to fight a common foe--a foe
that victorious would speedily prove more than a menace to
Australia, to United South Africa, and to civilization in
general--there was a certain amount of misunderstanding between the
Afrikanders and their brothers-in-arms. In spite of the utmost
endurance on the part of the Imperial officers, petty squabbles were
frequent. The Boers, for instance, were prone to treat the Maoris in
a similar manner to the Kaffir "boys". They could not understand how
a white man could treat a Maori as an equal, being ignorant of the
high moral and physical standard of the latter, that has justly
earned the appreciation and admiration of the New Zealand colonists.
For their part the Maoris accepted the Afrikanders' remarks with
courteous equanimity, but there were others on board who championed
them--with no uncertain voice.

Big Kennedy 'was as good as his word, and before nightfall each of
the New Zealanders had a full kit, although they wisely refrained
from asking questions as to the origin of the source of supplies.
Already they were well advanced in the ways of the old campaigner.
If they kept rigidly to the codes of civil life they would soon have
found themselves very much out in the cold as far as personal
comforts were concerned, although on board, in camp, and on active
service, it was noticeable that personal property was rightly
considered as inviolate.

One of the morning parades had Just ended, and Malcolm was hurrying
down the accommodation-ladder to the mess deck when he was brought
up sharply by a huge fist tapping him on the centre of his chest.
Coming out of the brilliant sunshine to the comparative gloom 'tween
decks, young Carr could not at first discern the features of the man
who barred his progress.

It was a Maori. The man was grinning broadly, yet he did not say a
single word.

"Te Paheka!" exclaimed Malcolm in astonishment. "You here?"

A few months previously, when Malcolm saw Te Paheka vanishing round
a corner as he drove juggernaut at a furious rate, the lad had come
to the conclusion that he had seen the last of his Maori friend for
many a long day. And now, by one of the vagaries of fate, Te Paheka
was on board the _Pomfret Castle_, rigged out in khaki, and bound
for the goal of freedom--the Western Front.

"Yes, I came along," explained Te Paheka. "Since you added a few
years to your age I thought I would make a corresponding reduction
in mine. Things were a bit dull. You heard about the car? Selwyn
told you, then? I've cleared out. Sold every acre of land that I
could legally dispose of. The rest the paternal Government prevents
me getting rid of; but it's let, so I think I'm good for about four
hundred a year. By the time I return--if I ever do see Wairakato
again--I'll have enough to buy the out-and-out top-hole racing car
in New Zealand."

Just then four men hurried along the alley-way. By the letters
S.A.H.A. on their shoulder-straps, Malcolm knew that they belonged
to the South African Heavy Artillery. As the foremost passed by he
deliberately lurched against Te Paheka.

"Out of my way, Zwartnek!" he shouted, adding something in _Taal_
which, fortunately for him, neither Malcolm nor the Maori
understood.

As the last of the four men passed, Malcolm, seething with
indignation, caught a glimpse of his features.

"Dash it all!" he soliloquized. "Where have I seen that fellow
before?"

Te Paheka took no notice of the insult.

"I would have told that fellow to _impshie_ pretty sharp if I'd been
you, Te Paheka," observed the lad.

The Maori shrugged his broad shoulders.

"Manners, Malcolm, or the lack of them," he remarked. "This evening
I hope to teach him a lesson. There's a boxing-match fixed up, and I
hear that this fellow is the champion of his battery. I'll do my
best to take him down a peg."

The two men separated, Te Paheka going to his mess, while Malcolm
made his way to his quarters, where he informed Selwyn of his chance
meeting with the Maori.

"And," he added, "although I'm not absolutely sure about it, I have
an idea that the blighter who let us down on the train from
Muizenberg is on board."

"A transport officer?" enquired Fortescue.

"No; in khaki--an Afrikander artilleryman."

Fortescue whistled softly.

"Sure?" he asked.

"No, I said I wasn't," declared Malcolm. "I only caught sight of him
as he passed. The blighter looked a bit sheepish, and didn't want to
catch my eye."

"Golly!" ejaculated Selwyn. "That's fishy! We'll keep a look-out for
him. Wonder if he'll put in an appearance at the boxing-match?"

"We will, in any case," observed Kennedy. "All our boys will be
there to give your Maori chum a buck up. I'll pass the word to some
of the Tommy soldiers. They're good sports, and will shout with the
rest of us."

With the laudable intention of keeping the men's minds fully
occupied during the hours of leisure, the officers had arranged for
the boxing-tournament at an early stage of the voyage. The contests
were to take place on the promenade deck, a space having been roped
off and seats provided for the officers. Every other available part
of the deck which would command a view of the "ring" was packed. Men
were clustered like flies in the boats on the boat deck, others
swarmed up the shrouds, to the choleric but ineffectual protests of
the ship's officers.

Several pairs of sparring-men having displayed their prowess and
received indiscriminate praise and rebuffs from their respective
supporters, the event of the evening was announced.

Gunner Jan van Eindhovengen was open to engage upon a ten-round
contest with any non-commissioned officer or man amongst the troops
on board.

Amidst the vociferous shouts of "Oom Jan" from his compatriots, the
Afrikander stepped into the ring. Stripped to the waist, his huge
bulk, bull neck, and massive limbs showed to their fullest
advantage. Across his chest and back the muscles stood out like
knots on a gnarled oak. His arms were as thick as the thigh of an
ordinary man, while his seconds had considerable difficulty in
placing the gloves on his enormous hands. With a supercilious and
self-confident smile he folded his arms across his chest and
surveyed the dense crowd of spectators.

Having summed up the formidable champion, Malcolm directed his
attention towards the group of men from which van Eindhovengen had
just emerged. From the other side of the ring the lad scanned the
faces of the Afrikander's comrades, but Without the desired result.
In vain he looked for the man who, he felt confident, was the
selfsame individual they had met on the Muizenberg train.

"A freak of the imagination, I suppose," decided the lad, whereupon
he devoted his attention to the events in the ring.

A counter-blast of cheering announced the appearance of a
challenger--Sergeant Smithers, of the 2nd Battalion West
Othershires. The Sergeant was the best boxer of his regiment, but he
had forgotten that a protracted sojourn in the reputed site of the
Garden of Eden--where a boundless expanse of glaring sand, a total
absence of verdure, millions of tormenting flies, and a meagre menu
consisting chiefly of bully beef and tepid water, are the
outstanding characteristics--is apt to undermine one's physical
condition.

Severely punished, Sergeant Smithers held out for five rounds, while
the gigantic Jan, disdaining the services of his seconds, grimly
eyed the circle of spectators in the hope of meeting another
antagonist.

Softly, then gradually increasing in volume until it rose to a
tremendous roar, the Maori war-song greeted the appearance of Te
Paheka. In wonderment, for, with few exceptions, none of the other
troops had heard the chant-like chorus before, the white men
relapsed into silence. For the moment all attention was shifted from
van Eindhovengen to the new challenger.

Although middle-aged, Te Paheka displayed the figure of an athlete.
His well-developed muscles rippled under his olivine skin. They
lacked the gnarled appearance of those of his antagonist, but their
easy, rhythmic undulations contrasted favourably with the jerky,
bombastic movements of the Afrikander's muscles and sinews. In
height van Eindhovengen exceeded him by two inches, and was a good
two stone heavier. Standing alone, Te Paheka would have been
regarded as a huge man. Confronting the artilleryman, he looked no
more than of medium height and build.

Clad in a pair of shorts of a vivid orange hue--for Te Paheka shared
with the rest of the Maoris a love of brilliant colour--and with a
silk red ensign emblazoned with the New Zealand stars round his
waist, Te Paheka grinned amicably at the Afrikander. The Maori's
bare chest and back were covered with elaborate tattooing, but,
according to modern custom, his face was unmarked.

"Allemachte!" exclaimed one of van Eindhovengen's supporters. "He is
not nearly so big as Oom Jan. Oom Jan will wipe the floor with him."

"The presumptuous nigger!" said another. "He does not know Oom Jan!"

Even Malcolm felt doubtful concerning Te Paheka's chances. He knew
the Maori to be a good boxer, as most natives are, but age, if only
ten or fifteen years, together with inferior reach and weight, must
assuredly handicap Te Paheka considerably. The two men advanced and
shook hands, van Eindhovengen with obvious disdain, Te Paheka as
naturally as the gentleman he was.

"Take your corners, men!"

Round No. 1 commenced. The Afrikander, confident of knocking out his
opponent quickly and completely, led off with a tremendous blow with
his left. Had the glove hit its mark Te Paheka would have been shot
over the ropes like a stone from a catapult. Stepping smartly back a
couple Of paces, he allowed the blow to fall on empty air.

"Jehoshaphat!" ejaculated Kennedy. "Why didn't the Maori take
advantage of it? The Dutchy nearly overbalanced himself with the
force of his blow."

Malcolm, to whom the remark was addressed, made no reply beyond a
confident nod. Already he was tumbling to Te Paheka's tactics. The
Maori was fighting a rear-guard action hoping that his staying
powers and agility were greater than those of his ponderous
opponent.

Round and round the ring the two men went, until the South Africans
yelled to their man to hurry up and the Anzacs began to mutter
impatiently.

Thud! Te Paheka had got one home on the face of the Afrikander.
Outwardly it had little or no effect upon Jan's rugged figurehead.

The Maoris yelled with delight, but the next instant their hopes
were dashed to the ground as Te Paheka, incautiously attempting to
follow up his advantage, laid himself open to a terrific blow from
the Afrikander's right. With a dull crash he landed heavily on the
sanded floor.

Over him stood van Eindhovengen, ready to strike him down should he
attempt to rise. The cool, deliberate voice of the timekeeper
calling off the fateful ten seconds silenced all other sounds of
approbation or encouragement to the fallen man. In the intervals
between the numbers one could have heard a pin drop. For the first
time since the tournament started could be heard the plash of the
waves against the ship's sides and the gentle moan of the wind
through the rigging.

Seven--eight--nine!

The Afrikander struck--but struck emptiness--where Te Paheka had
been a fraction of a second before. With an agility so rapid that
the spectators had not time to grasp its significance, the Maori
regained his feet, dealt a numbing blow upon the biceps of his
antagonist, and was off to the opposite corner of the ring.

Before the boxers could engage again "Time" sounded.

Te Paheka was glad of the respite. It was also remarked that Jan did
not scorn the attentions of his second. A dull mark on the upper
part of his brawny right arm promised trouble to him in the near
future.

During the second round the Maori kept strictly on the defensive,
while van Eindhovengen tired himself considerably in making blind
and ineffectual rushes at his nimble opponent. His supporters no
longer yelled to him to "hurry up and knock the black out", while
the Maoris sung their choruses again and again every time Jan failed
to drive Te Paheka over the ropes.

The third round was a slow one. The Afrikander, realizing that he
was fatiguing himself with futile efforts, adopted semi-defensive
tactics, in the hope that the Maori would close. It was not until
the close of time that the latter succeeded in getting home a "body
punch", which did not improve Jan's temper.

"Do something this time, you chaps!" shouted a Tommy as the men
faced each other for the fourth round. "You're supposed to be
sparring, not going in for a waltzing race."

"By Jove, he's cornered!" exclaimed Fortescue, as Te Paheka,
stepping back to avoid a left-hander, came in contact with the
ropes.

The Afrikander's glove rasped the Maori's ribs. So violent was the
effort that again Jan was on the point of overbalancing. This time
Te Paheka followed up the advantage. An upper cut caught van
Eindhovengen full on the point of his chin, while almost
simultaneously the Maori drove home a resounding blow on the
Afrikander's solar plexus.

Down like a felled ox the huge South African dropped. In silence the
spectators heard the fateful ten seconds called, then a vociferous
cheer from Afrikanders, Anzacs, and Maoris alike greeted the victor.
For that instant the sporting instincts of the men triumphed over
racial prejudices, and for the rest of the voyage--and after--the
Maoris and Afrikanders "hit it off" splendidly.

[Illustration: "BY GUM, THAT'S A MIGHTY QUEER CHUNK OF COAL!"]



CHAPTER X

Volunteers for the Stokehold


Day after day passed, and although the _Pomfret Castle_ was pelting
along at full speed there were no signs of the convoy of which the
_Pintail_ formed part. If the liner were in wireless touch with the
transports the fact was never communicated to the troops on board.
As far as they were concerned the South Atlantic was a desert, for
not another vessel had been sighted since leaving Cape Town.

At Sierra Leone the _Pomfret Castle_ found two more liners awaiting
her. Having coaled, the three vessels, under the escort of a light
cruiser, left for Plymouth.

The troops were now approaching the U-boat danger-zone. For four
days a course due west was maintained, until the vessels ported helm
and Stood north, it being the rule that no two convoys should shape
the same course through the North Atlantic.

"You've been torpedoed already, have you?" enquired an Australian,
addressing Jack Kennedy. "What did you do?"

"Do?" replied the Queenslander, with a laugh. "Why, simply put on my
life-belt and made tracks for the boat. We only had ten minutes
before the old hooker sank. The boys had a high old time. They
actually put the ship up for auction as she was foundering. It was a
calm----"

"Periscope on the starboard bow!" shouted a stentorian voice.

Already the 4.7-inch guns were manned. The Maxims began hurling
nickel at the rate of 450 shots a minute, with the idea of either
disabling the periscope or churning up the water in its vicinity, in
order to make it impossible for the U-boat to discharge a torpedo
with any degree of accuracy. Simultaneously the helm was
starboarded, and the _Pomfret Castle_ steered straight for the patch
where the machine-gun bullets were ricochetting from the water.

The escorting cruiser, then two miles to wind'ard, also altered
course, but, owing to the _Pomfret Castle_ being in her line of
fire, could not take an active part in the proceedings.

The "Cease fire" sounded as the liner approached the spot where the
periscope had been observed.

Some of the troops began to cheer at the thought that a U-boat had
been sent to the bed of the Atlantic, but their jubilation was
quickly nipped in the bud.

In the centre of the patch, and torn by machinegun fire almost to a
state of unrecognizability, was a bird known as a diver. The
_Pomfret Castle_ look-out had mistaken the unfortunate fowl for the
periscope of a hostile submarine, at the cost of the bird's life and
an extravagant waste of ammunition.

Although the three New Zealanders were keenly on the alert to renew
the acquaintance with their supposed transport official, the man, if
he were on board, had not come under their observation. At every
available opportunity Malcolm and his chums were on deck when the
South Africans paraded, but without satisfactory results.

"I am forced to come to the conclusion that you are the victim of an
unaccountable hallucination, my lad," observed Fortescue to Malcolm,
shortly after the diver incident. "I The fellow, if he is on board,
couldn't lie doggo all this time. This morning I found an excuse to
have a look round the sick quarters, and our Muizenberg pal isn't
there."

"I am certain I spotted him when I first met Te Paheka on board,"
insisted Malcolm.

"Pardon me, laddie," said Fortescue firmly, "but you weren't at all
sure about it at the time. An impression grows until you are certain
of something that never occurred. I've known a fellow pitch an
altogether impossible yarn before to-day. He also was aware of the
fact, but in time he became firmly convinced that his statement was
gospel truth."

That afternoon the course of the convoy was abruptly changed to due
west again, in obedience to a signal from the escorting cruiser. It
was quite a simple matter that resulted in the alteration of course.
The cruiser found that she was in the track of an unknown vessel
that, although invisible, left a tell-tale track by throwing
overboard ashes and other debris. A keen-witted _kapitan-leutnant_
of a U-boat would not fail to take advantage of these it "signs and
portents", hence the advisability of giving the steamer's track a
wide berth.

The vessels comprising the convoy were also cautioned when in the
danger-zone to avoid "starting" ashes from the stokehold, and
throwing garbage and refuse overboard, except at specified times, in
order to baffle the hostile submarines' quest. Day and night a guard
of riflemen stood to arms on deck, Maxims were ready for instant
action, and the crews of the quick-firers slept at the guns. Hourly
the game of U-boat dodging became more exciting.

The troops, however, were quite composed, beyond indulging in
friendly bets as to their chances of arriving at Plymouth without
being torpedoed. They ate heartily, and for the most part slept
soundly.

"You were hard and fast in the land of dreams last night, Malcolm,"
remarked Dick Selwyn in the morning.

"Why do you mention the fact? I plead guilty to the indictment,"
rejoined his chum.

"There was a bit of a flutter in the night," explained Selwyn. "The
cruiser reported that there was a light flashing through one of the
scuttles. Our skipper sent for the C.O., and he turned out the
guard. Every part of the ship was visited, but without success, for
the dead-lights were in position over every scuttle. Then, almost as
soon as the rounds were over, the cruiser complained about the same
thing again. Twice a corporal's guard was in here, and yet you slept
through it all."

Selwyn had not erred on the side of exaggeration. On the contrary,
he had not attached the fullest importance to the incident. Not only
was a light showing from the _Pomfret Castle_; it was blinking,
sending a message in Morse, although the signalman of the cruiser
was unable to decipher the code.

"Boys," exclaimed Kennedy, "there's a call for volunteers for the
stokeholds! How about it?"

"Firemen on strike?" enquired an Australian, as he tumbled out of a
comfortable attitude on a locker, and stretched his arms and gave a
prodigious yawn.

"No, chum," replied Kennedy. "The convoy has to increase
speed--we're about to cross the intensive zone--and the old tub
requires a lot of whacking up."

"Then I'm on," said his questioner with alacrity.

Fortescue, Selwyn, and Carr were also amongst the volunteers, and
after breakfast twenty men paraded in dungarees to take their
"trick" below.

"Hanged if I'd like to do this for a living," remarked Malcolm, as
the men gingerly made their way down the greasy and polished
perpendicular ladder, one of many that gave access to No. 2
stokehold. "It's all right for the novelty of the thing. What with
this pitching and rolling it reminds me of Point Elizabeth Colliery
in an earthquake."

"If a blessed torpedo should----" began one of the Anzacs, but
Kennedy promptly shut him up.

"Less chin-wag going; you'll want all your energy for elbow grease,"
he exclaimed. "Now then, chum, give the word and we'll do our best."

The last sentence was addressed to one of the regular hands, who,
stripped to the waist like the rest of the _Pomfret Castle's_
firemen and greasers, was responsible for this particular stokehold.

"Just you wait till we've got shot of this crush," said the man,
indicating a number of South Africans who had just completed their
two-hours' voluntary task. "They've stuck it jolly well. If you
chaps do as good we'll make the old boat hop it like billy-oh."

A crowd of Afrikanders, black with coal dust and running with
perspiration, filed along the narrow passage between the huge
boilers. Amongst them was Jan van Eindhovengen, proud as a peacock
at having broken all records in shovelling coal from the bunkers.

When the twenty South Africans had left the stokehold the relieving
gang was set to work. Malcolm's task was to remove coal from a
cavernous recess, the fuel being handled by Fortescue and Selwyn,
who had to transport it to one of the furnaces. At other bunkers a
similar operation was performed by their comrades, the "trimmers"
being specially instructed to remove the coal in a methodical
manner, so that there was slight possibility of the remaining
contents being thrown out by the roll of the vessel. Others, armed
with long-handled shovels, fed the capacious furnaces so frequently
that the place reverberated to the clanging of the red-hot metal
doors at the ends of the multi-tube boilers. At intervals the
ash-hoists had to be supplied with still-smouldering embers, for so
quickly did the heaps of ashes accumulate, that, unless removed
constantly, they would seriously hamper the fireman at work in the
already-congested space.

Before Malcolm had been twenty minutes at his task he began to
realize the necessity for careful removal of the lumps of coal. In
spite of every precaution, masses of black, shiny fuel would clatter
down from the steadily-diminishing heap. Since he was wearing a pair
of canvas shoes and no socks, he had to display considerable agility
in avoiding the miniature avalanches.

Presently he came to a tight "pack". The lumps were so closely
wedged that the only way to attack the sloping wall of coal was by
means of a long "fireman's rake".

Just as Malcolm was releasing the top tier, the vessel gave a
heavier roll than usual, and a regular cataract of coal shot towards
the mouth of the bunker. Back sprang the lad, crouching the while to
prevent bringing his head in contact with a low girder. Even then he
was too late. A huge lump, fully eighteen inches in diameter,
trundled over his left foot and brought up against the sill of the
bunker.

Fully expecting to find his foot crushed, Malcolm was agreeably
surprised, and at the same time astonished, that nothing of the sort
occurred. Beyond a few slight grazes, he was uninjured. Desisting
from his labours, he regarded the mass of coal with studied
interest.

"Buck up, laddie!" exclaimed Fortescue. "Keep the pot boiling! Don't
go to sleep!"

Disregarding the admonition, Malcolm stooped and grasped the huge
mass. He could lift it with the utmost ease. At the very outside it
weighed less than five pounds.

"What do you make of this?" he bawled, tossing the lump to
Fortescue. The latter, prepared to receive a weighty object, was
quite as surprised as Carr had been.

"By gum," he remarked, "that's a mighty queer chunk of coal!"

"Found a nugget?" enquired Selwyn, glad of an opportunity of a
respite.

"It's hollow, and it's been filled with water," continued Fortescue.
"The thing, whatever it is, is still leaking. Chuck it aside, and
let's get on with the job. We'll examine it later."

"What's all this jawing about?" asked the leading hand. "Chauvin'
yer fat won't empty this 'ere bunker."

"I agree," rejoined Fortescue complaisantly. "But cast your optics
on this, my festive shoveller."

"Ain't you seen a lump of coal afore?" demanded the man.

"Not like this one," said Fortescue. "Handle it."

The man took the proffered object; then, muttering an unintelligible
ejaculation, simply bolted with it to the nearest ladder.

"Hallo, here's another find!" exclaimed Selwyn. "This yours,
Malcolm?"

He held up a small pocket-book, black with coal dust.

"Not mine," replied Carr. "Must have belonged to one of those
fellows we relieved."

"Possibly," agreed Selwyn, throwing the book into the pocket of his
overalls. "We'll soon find out if it is."

The interrupted task was resumed, but in less than ten minutes the
leading hand returned, accompanied by three of the regular firemen.

"You three," he announced, indicating Carr and his chums, "are to
knock off and report to the Quartermaster."

Going on deck they duly reported themselves, and were conducted to a
cabin on the lower bridge, their protests about having to appear in
a coal-grimed state being ignored.

Within were the Captain and the Chief Engineer of the ship, while in
two pieces on the table lay the lump of "coal".

"Which of you found this?" enquired the "Old Man" brusquely,
indicating Malcolm's find.

"I did, sir," replied the lad. "I It rolled on my foot, and, finding
it was remarkably light, I examined it."

"A thundering good job you did," rejoined the Captain. "Look here,
this is in confidence--you must not mention the affair to
anyone--had that thing been thrown into the furnace, the chances are
that the ship would have been blown up. No. 7 bunker---- Let me see,
Jephson," he continued, addressing the engineer; "that was
replenished at Sierra Leone, wasn't it?"

The officer addressed consulted a memorandum.

"No, sir," he replied; "7 and 8 of No. 2 stoke-hold were bunkered at
Cape Town. They hadn't been touched when we arrived at Sierra
Leone."

The infernal machine--for such it was--was an
ingeniously-constructed piece of work. The hollow shell of
papier-mâché was made to resemble a lump of coal. Within was a slab
of wet gun-cotton, while to make up the deficiency of weight the
hollow was filled with water. Fortunately the bomb must have been
cracked in contact with lumps of genuine coal, for the water had
escaped. The contrivance would have been thrown into the furnace,
with disastrous results; but Malcolm's astuteness had saved the
situation.

"Mind, not a word!" cautioned the Skipper again as the three New
Zealanders were dismissed. "In due course your conduct will be
reported to the proper authorities, and no doubt you will hear
favourably on the matter."



CHAPTER XI

Cornered


"How about that notebook?" enquired Malcolm. The three chums were
lounging in camp-chairs on the upper deck after their strenuous but
interrupted "trick below". In consideration for their voluntary
labours all men who had been in the stokehold were excused drills
and parades for the rest of the day.

"Clean forgot all about it," replied Selwyn. "I left it in the
pocket of my boiler suit. By this time I guess some other fellow is
wearing the overalls. After all, the notebook may find its way to
the rightful owner."

The three sat in silence for some minutes. Fortescue was puffing at
his pipe, deep in thought; Selwyn was idly contemplating the
unbroken expanse of horizon; while Malcolm devoted his attention to
the examination of half a dozen large blisters on his hands.
Already soldiering had hardened his hands considerably, but stoking,
he decided, had proved to be far more strenuous than bayonet
exercise, if an aching back, stiff muscles, and galls as big as
half-crowns were any criterion.

Thus engaged, the chums hardly noticed the appearance of a
corporal's guard--an N.C.O. and two privates with side-arms.
Consequently they were surprised when the Corporal halted his men
and asked abruptly:

"Are you Diggers the chaps what were doing stoking just now in No. 2
stokehold? You are? Well, you're bloomin' well under arrest."

"Under arrest--what for?" demanded Fortescue. For a moment he
suspected a practical joke, but the fact that the men wore side-arms
knocked that idea on the head.

"Dunno," replied the man shortly. "Fall in!"

Along the crowded troop deck the prisoners and their escort made
their way, their presence occasioning little interest on the part of
the spectators. Defaulters were common objects amongst the different
Colonial troops who comprised the _Pomfret Castle's_ passengers.

Outside the large cabin known as the orderly-room were a dozen
Australians, also under guard. Presently their numbers were
augmented by five more. Every man of the coaling squad in No. 2
stokehold had been arrested.

"What's this rotten farce all about?" demanded Kennedy, appealing to
the New Zealanders.

Malcolm shook his head. His own impression was that it had something
to do with the discovery of the explosive in the bunker.

"Silence!" ordered a sergeant-major, who was now in charge of the
batch of prisoners.

The door was thrown open, and the Anzacs with their escort paced
into the orderly-room. At one end was a green-baize-covered table,
at which were seated four "Tommy" officers--a major, two captains,
and a lieutenant of a British line regiment. In front of them were
sheets of foolscap, a book on military law, and a small object
wrapped in brown paper.

"You men," began the Major without any preliminaries, "volunteered
for work in No. 2 stoke-hold. Twenty all told, I see. Were there any
other men of the party, or do you comprise the whole squad? Very
well, then. Now I mean to find out who is the owner of this article.
It was found in one of the boiler suits supplied to the squad; it
was not there when the suits were issued, consequently the article
in question must belong to one of you men. The owner of this will
step forward two paces."

The Major, unwrapping the paper coverings, held up for inspection
the notebook that Selwyn had picked up in his bunker.

"Is this your property?" demanded the Major as Selwyn stepped
forward.

"No, sir."

"Then why the deuce----" exclaimed the officer, raising his voice.
"Here, remove the other prisoners."

For twenty minutes the ejected men cooled their heels in the
alley-way until again summoned to the orderly room.

"You are released from arrest," declared the Major curtly; then, as
an afterthought, he added: "It would be advisable that you maintain
discretion over the matter."

"What happened, old man?" enquired Fortescue, as the three New
Zealanders gained a secluded part of the mess deck.

"The pocket-book contained a secret code," explained Selwyn. "It has
been partly deciphered, and is proved to be a means of communication
between someone on board the ship and the U-boats. I explained how I
found it, and offered to produce you chaps as witnesses, but the
Major was awfully decent about it. He means to find the owner, and
if necessary is going to interrogate every man who went into that
stokehold. Hallo, they've rounded up our immediate predecessors
already."

As he spoke twenty Afrikanders, headed by the gigantic Jan van
Eindhovengen, marched along the mess deck under escort.

"By Golly!" exclaimed Fortescue. "That's the man!"

"Who--the boxer?" enquired Selwyn.

"No, the last but one. Our pal in the Muizenberg train."

"So it is," agreed Malcolm. "Don't let him twig us."

The Diggers waited until the batch of suspects vanished.

"Ought we to report what we know concerning that chap?" asked
Malcolm.

"And possibly get choked off if we do," objected Fortescue. "Let's
wait and see what happens. If the fellow is bowled out, there's no
need for us to butt in. He'll face a firing-party without our
assistance. Taken for granted that he is a spy, what was his object
in bamboozling us?"

"Give it up," replied Selwyn. "Getting three men to miss their
proper transport wouldn't affect the progress of the war
sufficiently to warrant his action."

"We told him a lot--more than we ought to have done," remarked
Malcolm. "Of course we didn't know."

"And then I suppose," added Fortescue, "he thought we might report
the matter, and so he switched us off on a branch line, so to speak.
We'll let it go at that, but it wouldn't be a bad move to wait
outside the orderly-room after those fellows have gone in and play
the eavesdropper. If our Muizenberg pal is marched off under escort,
then we needn't trouble further in the matter. If he gets off, then
we'll tackle him and ask him for an explanation."

Acting upon this suggestion, the three chums made their way along
the alley-way until they came to the orderly-room door. The
Afrikanders were already within. Outside stood a "Tommy" sergeant as
part of the escort.

"Want to go through the hoop again, you chaps?" enquired the N.C.O.,
with a grin.

"Not much--only curious," replied Fortescue, who had met the
non-com. before on several occasions. "We'll _impshie_--hook it, you
know--when they clear the court."

Listening, the three chums could hear the stern tones of the Major
and the bass voice of the interpreter, for several of the South
Africans spoke nothing but Taal--a dialect comprised largely of
Dutch, with a sprinkling of Zulu and Kaffir words.

"That's our man," whispered Malcolm.

"The blighter's yapping in Dutch," announced Fortescue, "and he can
speak English perfectly. Hallo!"

A torrent of words, plainly indicating indignant denials, wafted
through the closed door. Several of the Afrikanders were speaking at
once. A revolver-shot rang out, a sharp exclamation of pain, and
then a tremendous scuffling.

"Come on, boys!" ordered the Sergeant, addressing the men of the
escort waiting without.

The door was thrown open. The Tommies rushed in, while at their
heels came Fortescue, Selwyn, and Carr. Their resolution to remain
passive and unseen witnesses had vanished into thin air.

Within all was confusion. The Major lay with his head and shoulders
resting upon the table. Two of the other officers were endeavouring
to stanch the blood that flowed from his forehead. In one corner of
the room a crowd of Afrikanders swayed in a compact mass, as if
eager to wreak their vengeance on someone, while held like a rat in
the jaws of a terrier was the man from Muizenberg, his captor being
Jan van Eindhovengen.

"Give him to us, Jan!" shouted a dozen angry voices. "We know what
to do with the rogue."

With difficulty the furious Afrikanders were calmed. The spy, his
features pale with terror, was removed under a strong guard, while
the wounded officer was carried to the sick quarters.

It was not until the afternoon that Oom Jan told Fortescue of what
had occurred. Already strange rumours of varying degrees of accuracy
had floated round the ship, but it was unanimously agreed that van
Eindhovengen was the hero of the hour.

The spy had contrived to join the draft at Cape Town under the name
of Pieter Waas. The real Pieter Waas happened to be a stranger to
the rest of the Afrikanders, and, induced to desert by spy, had
considerately transferred his name to his doubtful benefactor.

At the court of enquiry the pseudo Waas denied all knowledge of the
pocket-book, although van Eindhovengen had seen the man with it in
his possession without knowing its sinister import. It was not until
it was explained to the Afrikanders that the ownerless book was a
means by which they might be sent to the bottom of the sea by a
hostile submarine that Oom Jan "rounded" on the spy. At first the
fellow strenuously contradicted van Eindhovengen's accusation, but
the big Afrikander would not be gainsaid. Suddenly the suspect
whipped out a small automatic pistol. Whether it was with the
intention of taking his own life or that of his accuser he himself
only knew.

Like a flash van Eindhovengen's hand shot out. His powerful fingers
gripped the spy's wrist as in a vice. As the pistol dropped from the
fellow's limp hand the weapon went off, a bullet grazing the head of
the president of the court of enquiry, and rendering him insensible.

"And now," concluded Oom Jan, "the spy is under lock and key. He is
a slim _smous_ = rascal (Cape Dutch), but, Allemachte, it is all
over with him. Presently, after he has set foot on dry land, a dozen
bullets will bid him _Hambla gachle_. It is a too fitting end to a
spy."

"But he hasn't been tried and sentenced yet," remarked Fortescue.

The Afrikander's face fell.

"Surely he is guilty," he said. "Why then waste time over him?"

"It is the Englishman's proud boast that every prisoner shall be
given a fair trial," explained Fortescue. "It will be general court
martial, no doubt. Thank goodness we New Zealanders are not mixed up
in the business. By the by, Malcolm, have you any idea when we
arrive at Plymouth? It seems to me that we've been dodging across
the Atlantic half a dozen times."

"This is the twenty-eighth day of the voyage," observed Malcolm. "I
heard that when the _Pomfret Castle_ was on the ordinary mail
service she did the trip in fourteen as regular as clockwork."

"There's one thing, the boys will be snugly in camp by this time and
waiting for us," added Selwyn. "We've missed the rotten 'shaking
down' process. I wonder what sort of a show Codford is like?"

"You'll find out in due course," replied Fortescue grimly. "I've had
some; enough of Salisbury Plain for me, thank you."

"We're not there yet," Malcolm reminded him.

Fortescue looked fixedly at the expanse of sea over which the
twilight was spreading. Already the grey outline of the convoying
cruiser was blending into invisibility against the gathering mantle
of night.

"'That's so," he agreed solemnly.



CHAPTER XII

Running the Gauntlet


"Land in sight!"

The welcome announcement resulted in a rush on deck on the part of
the motley throng of Anzacs, South Africans, English troops, and
Maoris. Some men eager for a glimpse of the country of their birth,
which they had not seen for many a long-drawn month of campaigning
in the inhospitable waste of Mesopotamia; others for the first sight
of the Mother Country; others out of mere curiosity; while the
Maoris peered through the dim light to feast upon the prospects of
speedily setting foot on dry land.

It was not much to look at, judged from a strictly optical point of
view. Merely a slender lighthouse, rearing itself itself out of the
sea, while miles beyond it, and just visible against the pale rosy
tints of dawn, was a line of dark-grey cliffs, backed by higher
ground that was totally destitute of trees.

The _Pomfret Castle_ and the rest of the convoy had slowed down in
the vicinity of the Wolf Rock Lighthouse. The attendant cruiser was
circling round at top speed, as if to shepherd her flock before
entrusting them to the care of another. Against the line of cliffs
could be discerned a haze of smoke, Out of which appeared a number
of indistinct dots that quickly resolved themselves into a flotilla
of destroyers.

In double-column line ahead the greyhounds of the sea tore to meet
the approaching troopships, then, at a signal from the senior
officer, the destroyers "broke line", tearing hither and thither
seemingly without order or reason--zigzagging, pirouetting, and
crossing each others' bows as if participating in an intricate
maritime dance.

"Putting the wind up any blessed U-boat that might be wanting to
butt in," exclaimed Kennedy. "Hallo! There's our cruiser off. She's
done with us."

The transports dipped ensigns; the cruiser returned the compliment
in a similar manner as she swung round and retraced her course. Her
mission accomplished, she set off on particular service to escort
another convoy from somewhere to somewhere else, while the
destroyers closed round the _Pomfret Castle_ and her consorts as if
to welcome them into port.

For the most part the men ignored the call to breakfast. They had a
different feast on hand--to feast their eyes upon the varying
outlines of the rugged Cornish coast; for as the distance decreased
the monotonous aspect gave place to one of intense interest.

"There's Rame Head," exclaimed a delighted Tommy. "Many a time I've
stood on top of it. I was born an' bred at Cawsand," he added,
gratuitously. "Just round the corner you'll see Plymouth."

"I've seen it three times before," remarked another--the inevitable
grouser of the company; "and, every time it's been raining cats and
dogs. Proper wet 'ole, I calls it."

"Let it, and a jolly good job too," rejoined the first speaker.
"After Mesopotamia you won't hear men grumbling about rain--not
'arf. It can rain every day in the year, an' good luck to it."

"Just you wait till you gets ter France," chipped in another. "Up to
yer neck in mud an' slush. You'll jolly soon wish yourself grilling
again."

"You've turned your back on Mesopotamia, boys," exclaimed the
licensed jester of the company. "Now you've the Mess-up-at-homia,
an' so make the best of it. Blimy, wot's this comin'; a bloomin'
Zeppelin!"

"Where?" exclaimed a dozen voices.

Following the direction of the speaker's outstretched hand Malcolm
had his first view of an airship. It was not a large craft as
airships go. Underneath its silver-grey envelope hung a small car
like the fuselage of an aeroplane. As it approached, the whirring
circle of a single, two-bladed propeller could be discerned. It was
a "Blimp", or dirigible observation balloon.

The airship was flying rapidly "down wind" at an altitude of about
two hundred feet. As it passed almost overhead the fuselage appeared
to scrape the _Pomfret Castle's_ main truck by inches. Presently the
Blimp swung round and faced the wind, keeping on a course slightly
diverging from that of the convoy. Plugging away dead in the eye of
the wind its progress was not more than twenty miles an hour "over
the ground", which in reality was a portion of the English Channel.

Suddenly the _Pomfret Castle_ starboarded helm and broke out of
line. The alteration of course had the effect of causing the huge
vessel to list outwards. As she did so a long trail of foam almost
parallel to the starboard side of the ship shot ahead until it was
lost to sight in the distance.

For some moments not a single man moved. Attention had been shifted
from the Blimp to the milk-white track in the water--the wake of the
torpedo.

Only by prompt use of her helm had the _Pomfret Castle_ escaped
destruction. Even in home waters she had to run the gauntlet,
despite the encircling line of destroyers.

With the utmost audacity a U-boat had lain submerged across the
track of the convoy, trusting to be able to launch her bolt and
disappear before even the swift destroyers could take her bearings,
and close upon the spot where the tips of her periscopes had
appeared when the torpedo had been discharged.

She had seen the escorting vessels and had taken the risk, but she
had reckoned without the far-seeing eyes of the Blimp.

Already the airship had spotted a dark elongated shape beneath the
waves. Invisible when viewed at a narrow angle to the surface, the
submarine stood out clearly against the grey waste of waters when
seen from above.

Something, glittering in the dull light, shot from beneath the
fuselage of the alert Blimp. With a mighty splash the missile struck
the surface of the sea and disappeared.

For five long-drawn seconds nothing appeared to happen. Unseen by
the watchers on the troop-ship, a deadly aerial torpedo was worming
its way through the water until it reached a depth of sixty feet.

Before the spray cast up by the impact of the missile had subsided,
another and far greater column of water leapt a hundred feet or more
into the air. A cloud of smoke hid the Blimp from view, while, out
of the breaking spout of upheaved water, appeared a solid, dark-grey
substance--the after part of a U-boat!

For a brief instant the wreckage was revealed to view. Even the
horizontal and vertical rudders and the twin propellers were
visible. Then, as if reluctant to sink into obscurity, the strafed
U-boat disappeared from mortal ken for all time.

No need for the destroyers to tear at full speed across the
ever-widening circle of oil; no need for explosive grapnels to trail
over the downward path of the vertically-descending pirate craft.
The diabolical _Spurlos versenkt_ policy had recoiled with a
vengeance upon yet another of the Kaiser's _Unterseebooten_.

A hoarse roar of cheering broke from the throats of the men.
Tommies, Anzacs, South Africans, and Maoris vied with each other as
to who could produce the greatest and most prolonged volume Of
sound. Other vessels of the convoy took up the hearty "Hip, hip,
hurrah!" until the watchers on the distant Cornish cliffs must have
heard the strenuous demonstrations of exultation.

Meanwhile the destroyers, their crews grimly silent, merely "carried
on". The men whose lives they were guarding might well let
themselves go, but these units of the great silent navy meant
business. Time for shouting when the German navy ceased to exist as
a fighting force--and "The Day" was yet to come.

The Blimp, also scorning to display any indications of its
triumphant success, turned and flew serenely over the convoy,
outwardly indifferent to the work of destruction it had
accomplished. Not until the last of the convoy passed the western
end of the breakwater, and gained the security of Plymouth Sound,
did the modern counterpart of the

  "Little cherub that sits up aloft,
  To keep guard o'er the life of poor Jack"

relinquish its task. Then, amid a farewell outburst of cheering, the
Blimp flew eastwards, to disappear from view behind the lofty
Staddon Heights.



CHAPTER XIII

News of Peter


Malcolm's first impressions on landing in Old England were far from
agreeable. A drizzling rain was falling. It was yet early, and
beyond a few dock hands Millbay Pier was deserted. No crowds of
enthusiastic spectators waited to welcome the men who had made a
perilous voyage of thousands of miles to take part in the fight for
freedom. In almost complete silence the securing-ropes were made
fast and the gangways run out by apathetic workmen, while with the
utmost dispatch the disembarkation of men and stores began.

Wearing grey Balaclava helmets instead of their smart uniform hats,
and without their accoutrements, the three New Zealanders found
themselves drawn up in the rear of their Australian comrades.

"Who are these men?" enquired an embarkation Officer of the Anzac
major who accompanied him.

"Three New Zealanders who missed their transport at Cape Town, sir,"
replied the latter.

"What regiment?"

The Australian turned to Fortescue and repeated the question.

The embarkation officer consulted a document.

"Thirty-somethingth reinforcements, eh? Dash it all, you men! You've
arrived before they have. I don't know what to do with them, Major."

He spoke wearily. Dealing with absentees and men who had "got
adrift" had occupied a good part of his time during the last two
years. It was getting decidedly monotonous.

"Let them entrain with our boys, sir," suggested the kindly Anzac
major. "I'll be responsible for them as far as Salisbury. They're
for Codford, I suppose?"

"Very well," acceded the embarkation officer, glad to find an easy
solution to the difficulty. "You are the senior non-com., I
suppose," he asked, addressing Fortescue. "Here, take this, and when
you arrive in camp report yourselves."

He handed Fortescue a yellow paper, and hurried off to find shelter
from the downpour. The entrainment was a slow process. The men were
hungry. They wished in vain for the breakfast that the majority had
forgone when the _Pomfret Castle_ sighted land. There were rumours
that tea and coffee were to be served out at a way-side station, but
promises, Fortescue observed, do not fill an empty stomach.

In vain Malcolm looked for Te Paheka. Already the Maori contingent
had been spirited away--to what immediate destination he knew not.

Handcuffed and under a strong escort, the spy arrested under the
name of Pieter Waas was hurried along the slippery quay--the bent,
dejected figure of a man who, although uncondemned, knows that his
life is forfeit. Who and what he was yet remained to be proved,
unless, like many a nameless spy, he went to his death preferring
that the mystery that surrounded his life should accompany him to
the Great Beyond.

Packed like sardines in a tin, the Anzacs filled the long train to
overflowing. Again under cover, their mercurial spirits rose, and
when at length the rain ceased, and the train rumbled betwixt the
red-earthed, verdant coombes of Devon, bathed in brilliant sunshine,
the Anzacs unanimously voted that there were worse places on earth
than the Old Country.

It was late in the afternoon when Malcolm and his two chums alighted
at Codford station, and, making their way by a roundabout route
along the main street of the village, where old-time cottages and
hideous wooden shanties stood cheek by jowl, arrived at the vast
array of tin huts that comprised the camp.

Things turned out better than either of the three chums had
expected. They were reprimanded, but for the time being they were
not deprived of their stripes. Until the arrival of the
Thirty-somethingth reinforcements they were given light duties and a
generous amount of leisure time.

"Malcolm Carr, by all that's blue and pink!"

This was the greeting hurled at Malcolm a few hours after his
arrival in camp. At that time there were comparatively few troops at
Codford. Heavy drafts had just been sent to Sling Camp, preparatory
to proceeding to France, while the expected reinforcements had not
yet put in an appearance. Yet one of the first men young Carr met
that evening was a Christchurch acquaintance who lived but a few
doors away from Malcolm's parents.

"By Jove, this is great, Tommy!" exclaimed Malcolm. "Never thought
I'd run against you here. You know Selwyn, of course? This is
Fortescue, one of the boys--and one of the best. An old Christchurch
chum, Tommy Travers."

"When did you blow in?" enquired Travers, as the four made their way
along a narrow plank gangway between the lines of huts--the only
means of preventing men sinking above their ankles in mud.

"Arrived at Plymouth this morning," replied Malcolm. "And you? Been
across yet?"

Travers touched his coat-sleeve, on which was a faded gold stripe.

"Yes," he answered; "five months of it. I got this buckshie in that
scrap in Delville Wood, when our brigade captured Flers. Shrap," he
added laconically. "It was hell let loose, and our boys copped it.
Six weeks in hospital, and then I came here. Managed to get dropped
when the last draft went to Sling, so I suppose I'll be off with the
next crush. Any news Christchurch way?"

"Did you hear that my brother Peter is wounded and missing?" asked
Malcolm, after a flow of conversation on strictly personal subjects.

"Yes," replied Travers. "He was sergeant of my platoon. I think I
was one of the last of our chaps to see him. It was like this: our
battalion cleared the southern portion of Delville Wood in grand
style. We fairly put the wind up Fritz. Bombs and bayonets all the
time. We had a lot of casualties, though. When we rushed our
objective your brother Peter was senior non-com. There were two
subalterns left, but they weren't fit for much. Both hit, but too
plucky to chuck their hands in. Well, we began digging ourselves in
on the edge of the wood when the Boches started to pump in
high-explosive, shrap, and gas shells. There was precious little
left of the wood. Not a leaf to be seen, and at most a crowd of
charred tree-trunks, many of 'em still blazing."

"Why Fritz treated us to an extra special dose goodness only knows.
The battalion lying on our right barely copped it at all, and the
Tommy regiment on our left came off lightly until the Huns had
finished with us. We had little or no cover. The ground was
chock-full of big roots, and we hadn't time to remove them. The
trees were flying in big and little chunks all over the show, and
all the cover we could get were a few shell-holes."

"Although it was night, the place was lit up as brightly as
anything; a continuous slap-up of bursting shells and streams of
liquid fire. I heard afterwards that our battalion was given orders
to fall back and adjust the line, but certain it was that we never
had any commands to retire."

"Then I got it properly. Shrap in the left arm and both legs. Went
down like a felled ox, and lay there until my puttees--which I
started to unroll but didn't finish--began smouldering. Things were
looking and feeling bit warmer than usual when your brother nipped
up. Remember, none of the boys were firing. There was nothing to let
rip at. The Boche guns simply let us have it, and their
counter-attack hadn't developed. If they were about to
counter-attack we couldn't see them. The smoke was too thick for
that, although, as I said before, we could see everything within
twenty yards or so. Our only indication of the Huns trying to rush
us was when their guns lifted and put up a barrage behind us.".

"Peter never said a word. For one thing, there was such a terrific
din going on that you'd have had to shout close to a fellow's ear to
make him understand; for another, your brother had got it in the
jaw. Nothing much, I should say, as buckshies go nowadays, but still
it was enough to look unpleasant."

"He finished unwinding my puttees and threw them away. I can smell
them now, smouldering under my nose. Then he began hauling me
towards a shell-hole, when down he went, all of a heap, shot through
the ankle."

"After a bit he raised himself and pointed towards the crater we
were making for, and we both started to crawl for it. By Jingo,
didn't that journey give me gee-up while it lasted! Then, just as we
were close to the shell-hole, a 'crump' burst somewhere close, and I
remembered nothing more until I found myself in the advance
dressing-station. Two men of C Company, Pat O'Connor and Sandy
Anderson--both from Taranaki--brought me in, I was told afterwards,
and I met them while I was in hospital at Brockenhurst. They were
certain they never saw Sergeant Peter Carr."

"The Germans drove us in with their counter-attack, didn't they?"
asked Fortescue.

"Aye, but we ousted them next morning," replied Travers, "and out of
Flers as well. That's when Pat O'Connor copped it; but he swears
that none of our fellows were left alive during the retirement in
the woods."

"Then you think that Peter was killed?" asked Malcolm.

Travers squared his shoulders.

"Speaking as man to man," he replied, "I don't think there can be
the faintest doubt about it. And Peter Carr was a downright good
sort. . . . How about it, you fellows? Good for a game of a 'hundred
up'?"



CHAPTER XIV

The Anzacs' Hoax


For the next few weeks events moved rapidly. With the belated
arrival of the Thirty-somethingth reinforcement, Malcolm Carr and
Dick Selwyn found themselves reverted to the ranks. Fortescue, by
virtue of having seen active service, still retained his stripes.
Rumours of something great in the nature of a stunt about to take
place gained credence from the fact that the men were put through
their final training as quickly as possible. The "Diggers" accepted
the "speeding up" with alacrity. They realized that the sooner they
completed their arduous "field exercises" the sooner they would
attain their ambition to "put it across Fritz".

The spring gave place to early summer, a spell of beautifully fine
weather, so much so that the mud of Salisbury Plain vanished, and
the green grass of the rolling downs turned russet for lack of rain.
Yet, in spite of the heat, bayonet practice, bombing instruction,
and long route marches kept the men lean, active, and in the very
pink of condition.

"_Ehoa!_ It's Sling."

The announcement ran like wildfire along the line of huts. It meant
that the transfer of the brigade to Sling Camp was another milestone
in the long trek to the Front.

It is futile to attempt to find Sling on the pre-war maps of
Salisbury Plain. A large town of mushroom growth, it had been one of
the places inseparably associated with New Zealand's part in the
Great War. To the man who had yet to undergo his baptism of fire,
Sling meant proficiency for the firing-line. To the wounded New
Zealander recovering from wounds, being ordered to Sling meant that
he was considered fit to "I get one back on Fritz". In brief, Sling
Camp was a piece of New Zealand soil planted in England, where the
pick of the manhood of the Southern Dominion forgathered for the
final polishing touches of the noble profession of arms.

Before June was far advanced word went round that the brigade was to
cross the Channel and go into camp at "Etaps"--as Étaples is almost
uniformly designated by the khaki lads. Again rumour spoke
truthfully, for at four o'clock the next afternoon the "Diggers"
were ordered to entrain for Southampton.

"Wonder if there's any chance of looking round Southampton?" asked
Selwyn. "I've a second cousin there."

Fortescue smiled grimly.

"No, you don't, my dinky lad," he replied. "After Muizenberg we
steer clear of your relations. As a matter of fact, they'll push us
straight on board a transport, and she'll sail as soon as it gets
dark."

The train, upon arrival at the place of embarkation, ran straight
into the docks, and brought up close to one of the many transports
that were berthed there with banked fires ready to sail at any hour
of the day or night.

In full marching order the men trooped up the gangways, divested
themselves of their packs, and made themselves as comfortable as
possible for their twelve or fourteen hours' voyage. Within the
space of two hours twelve hundred troops, both Australians and New
Zealanders, were embarked.

"Good-bye, Blighty!" shouted an Anzac. "Shan't see you again for
many a long day."

"Stow your jaw and get your life-belt," ordered a non-com. "You'll
be in the soup if the platoon commander finds you without it."

The wire hawsers were cast off. A couple of tugs began straining at
their huge charge, and slowly the transport drew away from the side
of the dock. Then, gathering speed, she slipped down the land-locked
expanse of Southampton Water, through the fort-guarded Spithead, and
gained the English Channel.

"We'll be airing our French by this time tomorrow," declared
Malcolm.

"For the preservation of the Entente we would be wise to keep our
mouths shut," said Selwyn. "From what I remember, Malcolm, you were
last but one in French at the Coll."

"And you?"

"Absolutely the last," admitted Selwyn.

"Talking of French," began Fortescue, "reminds me of something that
happened to me at Plug Street. Hallo, what's the move now?"

Fortescue's narrative, or rather attempted narrative, of what
occurred at Plug Street was somewhat remarkable. On three previous
occasions Malcolm and Selwyn had heard him commencing the tale, and
each time something had occurred to "switch him off."

It was no ordinary interruption on this occasion. The transport had
altered helm and was turning to starboard, with her bows pointing
towards the Foreland end of The Wight. Still porting helm, she swung
round until she reversed her former direction, then, standing on her
course, began to make for Spithead once more.

"What's up now?" was the enquiry on the lips of hundreds of men.

"One of the brass hats' has dropped his toothbrush overboard and
we're going back to look for it," declared a South Australian.
"Corker, my boy, you were too sharp on your bead when you chortled,
'Good-bye, Blighty!'"

Presently it transpired that the transport had received a wireless
message ordering her to return to Southampton, as four German
submarines had been reported lying in wait at a distance of ten
Miles south of the Nab Lightship. Since the night was pitch dark,
the escorting ships could not carry out their protective duties with
the same degree of efficiency as usual. In the circumstances
prudence directed the temporary abandonment of the cross-channel
voyage.

It was one o'clock in the morning when the transport berthed in the
Empress Dock. Orders were given for the troops to disembark and
proceed to the large rest camp on the outskirts of Southampton.
Disappointed though they were, the men maintained their
cheerfulness, and before the long column was clear of the dock gates
they were cheering, laughing, and shouting frantically, despite all
attempts on the part of their officers to enforce silence.

Up the long High Street the khaki-clad troops marched boisterously.
The inhabitants, roused from their sleep by the unusual clamour,
flocked to the windows. Many a time had they seen troops fully
equipped proceeding _towards_ the docks; never since the outbreak of
hostilities had they seen soldiers in heavy marching order tramping
in column of fours away from the place of embarkation.

"What's up?" was the oft-repeated enquiry from the invisible heights
of many a darkened window in the High Street.

"Haven't you heard?" shouted a bull-voiced Anzac. "Peace is
declared, and we're the first troops home from the Front."

At the prospect of a gigantic hoax others took up the mendacious
parable, and long before the men reached their destination for the
night the startling news had spread far and wide. It was not until
the arrival of the morning papers that the good folk of Southampton
realized that they had been "properly had".

The enforced detention at Southampton, was, however, not without
certain compensations. The men were allowed out of camp during the
following afternoon, a boon they thoroughly appreciated.

Selwyn had seized upon the opportunity to visit his relations, but
when fie again invited Malcolm and Fortescue to accompany him they
begged to be excused, and wandered round the town instead.

Old Southampton was both a surprise and a revelation to Malcolm
Carr. Coming from a country where a fifty-year-old building is
considered to be old, the sight of the fourteenth-century walls and
fortified gates filled him with enthusiasm, while Fortescue was able
to explain the nature of the various architectural features.

Wandering down a narrow and far from clean street they came face to
face with an ancient stone building flung athwart the road. On the
side of the archway a notice board announced it to be the old
Westgate, through which the armies of Edward III and Henry V marched
to embark upon the expedition that ended respectively in the
victories of Crécy and Agincourt.

"One can imagine the throng of mailed knights leathern-jerkined
archers pouring under the double portcullis," remarked Fortescue.
"Those armies left this place as enemies of France; to-day ours also
leave Southampton, but with a different purpose, to rid French soil
of the Hun and all his works."

"And it shows," added Malcolm, "in another way how times change.
Unless I'm mistaken, Henry V's army consisted of thirty thousand
troops--not a third of the number of men raised in New Zealand
alone."

"To carry the comparison still further," continued his companion,
"our quota is roughly a fiftieth of the fighting forces of the
Empire. For every man who levelled lance or drew bow at Agincourt
against the French, one hundred and fifty are to-day fighting side
by side with their former enemies. Those chaps--'island carrions,
desperate of their bones', as Will Shakespeare aptly puts it--are
our ancestors, Malcolm, whether we are New Zealanders, Australians,
or Canadians, and although we are up against a big thing I haven't
the faintest doubt that blood will tell, as it did in those days.
But, by Jove, it's close on four o'clock. We'll have to get back as
sharp as we can, or we may have the Muizenberg business all over
again."

That evening the troops re-embarked. By this time the lurking
U-boats had been dealt with in a most effective way. Their shattered
hulls lay on the bed of the English Channel. The route was now
clear, and the transport's voyage was practically devoid of
incident.

Without the loss of a single man, thanks to the mysterious yet
effective means of protection afforded by the British navy, the
Thirty-somethingth reinforcement had completed yet another stage of
their Odyssey. At last they were upon the soil of La Belle France,
and within sound of the hostile guns.



CHAPTER XV

The Eve of Messines


"Now then, you chaps, if you aren't hungry your pals are. Look
slippy and get those rations up. You'll tumble across the wagons at
La Tuille Farm."

"Right oh, Sergeant!" responded a youthful corporal. "Come along,
chapses! Best foot forward!"

The Sergeant, having seen that a start was about to be made, backed
out of the dug-out, dropped the tapestried curtain--it was a ragged
and soiled ground-sheet--over the entrance, and disappeared along the
narrow trench.

Crowded into the small dug-out were seven New Zealand riflemen.
Three of them are old acquaintances: Carr, Selwyn, and Macready, all
looking lean, dirty, and unkempt, while their uniforms were caked in
dried mud and frayed with hard usage. The final touches at Staples
were a thing of the past. For four long days the men had been in the
first-line trenches facing the formidable Messines Ridge.

The dug-out was comparatively dry. For one thing, the weather had
been propitious, and the loathsome mud had almost disappeared. The
roof was composed of untrimmed tree trunks on which were piled
sand-bags sufficiently thick to stop shells of medium calibre. The
walls were likewise timbered, while along three sides ran a narrow
shelf on which were bundles of straw to serve as beds. Hanging from
nails driven into the rough-and-ready wainscot were the men's
haversacks and other equipment, while ranged alongside the door were
their rifles. Those were the only objects upon which any great care
had been bestowed. In spite of rain, mud, discolouring fumes of
shells, hard usage, and a dozen other difficulties, the rifles were
kept well-oiled and in perfect condition.

In the centre of the dug-out stood a cylindrical piece of perforated
iron in which a fire was burning dully. The fumes filled the
confined space to such an extent that it was difficult for any of
the occupants to distinguish their companions' features, but that
was a detail to be endured with equanimity in the trenches. As it
was the month of June, and warm, the men were lucky to be able to
have a fire, considering the scarcity of fuel and the difficulty of
conveying wood and charcoal up to the firing-line.

During the day Fritz had been actively engaged in "watering" the
line with high-explosive shells. Not only did the advance and
support trenches get it hot, but for miles behind the lines hostile
shells were dropping promiscuously, on the chance of blowing up one
or more of the numerous dumps and otherwise hampering the supply
columns. But as night fell the "strafe" became desultory, and under
cover of darkness the fatigue and foraging parties were able to set
to work with a reasonable chance of getting through without being
"done in".

"Come along, boys," exclaimed the young corporal--Billy Preston from
Timaru--a veteran of Egypt and Gallipoli notwithstanding the fact
that he was within a month of his twenty-first birthday. "The sooner
we get the job done the better."

The men were dog-tired. A couple of hostile raids had kept them on
the qui vive the previous night, while throughout the day they had
had but few opportunities for sleep. And now, just as they were
preparing to snatch a few hours' rest, they had been told off to
bring up the rations.

"We've got to assemble at two, haven't we?" enquired Rifleman
Joliffe--commonly known as Grouser Joliffe. "They say our chaps are
to attempt to take Messines Ridge. Attempt, I say, mind you, and our
guns haven't hardly touched the job. There's uncut wire, you can see
that for Yourselves, and machine-guns every yard of the way.
'Struth! I'm for swinging the lead. You don't catch me hurrying when
the whistle goes."

His remarks fell on unheeding ears. The men were used to Grouser
Joliffe's complaints by this time, They knew that when the critical
moment arrived Joliffe would be amongst the first to mount the
fire-step and clamber over the parapet. Yet there were grounds for
belief in what the rifleman had said. The formidable ridge was to be
attempted. The British knew it; the Huns knew it. With its
labyrinths of wire and nests of skilfully-hidden machine-guns
Messines Ridge was far more difficult to assault than in the earlier
stages of the war, when French won and lost the important position.

Meanwhile Malcolm had rolled out of his narrow uncomfortable perch
and was stretching his cramped limbs. Selwyn was fumbling with his
puttees.

"Hang it," he exclaimed. "A rat has been gnawing at them. Anyone got
a piece of string?"

The deficiency remedied, and the scanty toilet operations performed
(the inhabitants of the dug-out had turned in "all standing", even
to their boots), the men put on their shrapnel helmets, seized their
rifles, and sallied forth into the night.

For some moments Malcolm could see nothing. The transition from the
smoky, ill-lighted dug-out to the darkness of the open air confused
his sight. All he could do was to keep in touch with the man
preceding him until he grew accustomed to the change of venue.

Fresh air--is there such a thing anywhere within miles of No Man's
Land? Malcolm doubted it. The atmosphere reeked of numerous and
distinct odours. Traces of poison gas lurked in the traverses,
pungent fumes from bursting shells wafted over parapet and parados,
while the report, passed on from various successive occupants of
this section of the line, that a dozen dead Huns had been buried
under the floor of the support trench--the old first-line trench of
a Prussian regiment--seemed to find definite confirmation.

A low whine and a terrific _wump_ as a high-explosive shell arrived
and burst fifty yards in the rear of the trench showed that Fritz
was still strafing. A fortnight previously Malcolm's heart would
have been in his boots. Now he scarcely heeded the messenger of
death and destruction, although showers of dust and calcined wood
flew over the parados amongst the ration party. Familiarity with
missiles of that description had quickly bred contempt.

At frequent intervals lurid star-shells lit up the sky. The Huns
were getting decidedly jumpy of late. Expecting a strong attack, yet
not knowing the actual time, they were massing their men on the
ridge under the protection of their artillery. Away to the left
machine-guns were delivering a _staccato obbligato_.

"Our heavies are quiet to-night," remarked Selwyn, who was trudging
along the duck-boards literally on Malcolm's heels. "Why to blazes
don't they give Fritz half a dozen for every one he throws over?
Hanged if I can make things out."

Malcolm pulled tip suddenly, to avoid charging into the back of the
man immediately preceding him. Those behind bunched up and halted,
while from the front of the single file came a very strong
exclamation of pain and anger.

"What's wrong?" enquired the Corporal "Someone buckshied?"

"Yes," replied the voice of Grouser Joliffe. "Copped it in my
blessed arm."

"Then foot it to the dressing-station," ordered Corporal Preston.

"Me?" enquired the rifleman. "Me? Not much. Wait till we've brought
in the grub, and then--you don't catch me going over the top
tonight."

For another hundred and fifty yards the party proceeded before the
men turned into the zigzag communication-trench. This ran backwards
for nearly a mile. In places it was eight feet deep, with sand-bags
on either side in addition, In others, in marshy spots, where the
high-explosive shells had spitefully disturbed the tranquillity of
meandering streams and carried the sluggish water to overflow and
swamp the surrounding ground, the "trench" was above normal
ground-level, with a lofty and broad wall of sand-bags to right and
left. Here and there the trench was roofed in, where, from
experience, men had learnt it was unhealthy owing to being exposed
to machine-gun fire. The Huns had got to know the weak spots. Aerial
observation during daylight had enabled them to train machine-guns
upon certain points of the communication-trenches. The lethal
weapons would be ominously silent until after dark; then, on the
off-chance of receiving a good bag, they would let loose a hail of
bullets.

The men hastened across the more-exposed sections generally on their
hands and knees. Even the bravest heaved a sigh of relief when the
danger-spot was safely crossed. Going over the top they would
unhesitatingly rush a machine-gun emplacement, but crawling away
from the enemy, never knowing when a hail of bullets would sweep the
ground, was enough to try the nerves of the case-hardened
campaigner.

Presently the communication-trench ended, and the ration-party
stumbled across a double line of narrow-gauge rails, part of the
intricate system behind the lines. The track ran diagonally to the
direction of the trench. To the left it led to and beyond the Army
Service Corps dump at La Tuille. In the opposite direction it
disappeared in the bowels of the earth, while a network of branch
lines complicated the system. All through the hours of darkness, for
several months past, heavily-laden trucks carefully covered with
camouflaged canvas rumbled away from the lines to return empty ere
dawn. Latterly the reverse conditions prevailed. Full trucks, each
propelled singly by manual labour and with long intervals between
the vehicles, proceeded towards the trenches but never reached them.

Subterranean works of an extensive nature were on the point of being
completed. Every load of excavation was carefully taken miles to the
rear in the dead of night, in order to baffle the enemy's aerial
observers. So well guarded were these operations that even the men
in the trenches were unaware of their nature, although many shrewd
conjectures were not far out.

"Hallo, chums!" called out one of the ration-party as a truck hauled
by three sappers rattled along. "How's your Channel Tunnel scheme
getting along?"

"Fine!" was the reply. "Are you taking up any shares in the concern?
There'll be a sharp rise very shortly, you know."

Another fifty yards and a word of command from Corporal Preston
brought the squad to a halt. Out of the darkness came the sound of a
hundred marching feet; then, almost invisible in their khaki
uniform, a battalion of Australian infantry passed. It was
significant that the men were in light marching order.

"By Gum! There's something up," whispered Selwyn. "Crowds of bombers
and a whole crush of Lewis guns. Hallo! Here's more of them."

The progress of the ration-party was slow. A constant stream of
infantry, swarms of transport of all conditions, clearly denoted
that operations of more than minor importance were impending.

"There's enough to swamp our trenches," declared Malcolm. "Where on
earth are they going to assemble?"

"That Sapper fellow evidently knew something when he talked about a
sharp rise," said Selwyn. "And look! Tanks--crowds of them!"

Ambling along by the side of the tramway came a long line of
armoured mastodons. The ground shook under the relentless pressure
of the tractor bands, the air reeked with petrol fumes. Viewed in
broad daylight the Tanks looked formidable enough; in the darkness,
their weird outlines distorted by the misty atmosphere, they
appeared like huge, grotesque monsters from another world.

"If I were Fritz I'd think twice before standing up to one of those
brutes," soliloquized Malcolm. "Twenty-two of them. This will be a
big stunt, and no mistake."

At length, after many delays, the ration-party arrived at the
farm--or, rather, the pile of rubble that was known as La Tuille
Farm before a nest of German machine-guns had attracted the notice
of an observant battery-commander. That was three months ago.
Already nettles and briers were covering the blackened debris, as if
Nature were doing her best to disguise the destructive handiwork of
Man.

At the rear of the mound was the A.S.C. advanced depot. Piles of
bully-beef tins, tiers of barrels and cases, small mountains of
loaves covered with tarpaulins, were diminishing rapidly under the
heavy calls made upon them by deputations from the men in the
trenches. Although within range of hostile guns, the "dump" had so
far escaped serious damage, To bring the supplies nearer the lines
by mechanical transfer would be to court disaster, so every ounce of
food had to be carried by squads detailed for that purpose. Every
scrap of provisions the men in the trenches received had to be
brought at the risk of life and limb. The task was a hazardous one,
but there was never any lack of men willing and eager to run the
risk of being strafed for the sake of feeding their comrades in the
firing-line.

Corporal Preston went off to find the non-com. who had to issue the
rations to his section, leaving his men to stand easy until he
returned.

Someone touched Malcolm on the shoulder.

"Bear a hand, chum, and help me turn off the tap," said a husky
voice.

Malcolm turned, and found that the speaker was Grouser Joliffe.

"Turn off what tap?" he asked.

"S--sh! Not so loud!" continued the rifleman. "It's my arm, I mean.
Bleeding like anything. Help me off with my coat and clap a
first-aid dressing on it, and I'll be all right. No dressing-station
for me, I'll miss this stunt. Think we'll be back in time?" he added
anxiously. "Corporal's a long time about it."

The two men withdrew a few paces, and Carr helped Joliffe to remove
his coat. Already the sleeve was moist and clammy. On the left arm,
just below the shoulder, was a nasty gash, caused by a fragment of a
shell.

"It's good enough for Blighty, old lad!" exclaimed Malcolm.

"No dinkum Blighty for me!" expostulated Joliffe vehemently. "Never
had a chance to fire a round yet--nor to use my blinkin' bay'net.
But I mean to," he added. "If the boys go over the top without me
there'll be trouble!" Malcolm bound up the wound, adjusting the
bandages tightly. Although the dressing operation was a painful one,
Grouser Joliffe never uttered a sound, although Malcolm could see
beads of perspiration glistening on the rifleman's wrinkled
forehead.

"How's that?" he asked.

Joliffe lifted his left arm with an effort.

"Feels a bit stiff," he admitted. "Maybe you've tied those bandages
a bit too tight. Still, 'tisn't your fault. When we get back I'll
have a few swings with my rifle and bay'net; then if the dressing
wants altering you'll bear a hand?"

"Certainly!" said Malcolm, as he helped the man on with his coat.

"You'll be lucky if you don't fall out before we get back," he
soliloquized.

Having drawn the stores, the ration-party set out on the return
journey. Until they reached the commencement of the
communication-trench they were able to make use of a couple of empty
trucks which were lying on a siding close to the dump.

The vehicles each had four flanged wheels. The bodies were made of
wood, originally painted grey, but little of the paint was left.
Caked mud still stuck to the bottom of the trucks, but men in the
firing-line cannot be fastidious. Loaves, bags of sugar, tea, and
tins of bully beef were thrown in indiscriminately. The
water-carriers lifted their heavy burdens--every drop of water had
to be taken into the trenches, for, although there are springs and
water-holes in abundance close to the firing-line, the risk of
contamination had to be carefully guarded against--and the
"homeward" trek began.

Beyond a few desultory shells the British artillery was practically
inactive. Fritz had already been used to a furious bombardment as a
preliminary of a "big stunt". For change, he was not being warned in
this fashion, and, consequently, although expecting an attack within
the next few days, the absence of a downright strafe put him off his
guard. Nevertheless, the German guns on the spur of Messines Ridge,
and miles beyond the heights, were persistently "watering" the
ground behind the British lines.

Stumbling over the sleepers, the ration-party kept their groaning
vehicles rumbling along the hastily-laid track. Grouser Joliffe was
silent now, but Malcolm noticed that, although he used only one hand
to help propel the truck, he was not lacking in energy.

"He won't last out at that rate," thought the lad; but when he
offered to take the place of the wounded man, Joliffe turned upon
him almost savagely.

"I'm all right," he persisted. "You keep your mouth shut and let me
alone, or the other fellows will tumble to it. I was a blamed fool
to holler when I copped it!"

A shrieking, tearing sound had the effect of making every man throw
himself upon the ground. With a terrific crash an 8-inch shell
exploded within fifty yards of the track, sending showers of dirt
over the trucks and upon the prostrate party.

"All right there?" enquired the Corporal, as the men regained their
feet. "Good! Carry on."

A short distance farther on the party came to an abrupt halt. The
rails had vanished. Across the track was a crater twenty feet in
diameter, from which acrid fumes were still slowly emanating from
the pulverized earth. Already a fatigue-party was at work diverting
the lines round the edge of the yawning pit. At all costs
communication must be maintained, in order to leave no hitch in the
arrangements for the morning's attack.

"You'll have to unload, mate," said the sergeant in charge of the
Engineers. "Thank your lucky stars you weren't here twenty minutes
ago. The Jocks copped it. They've carted fifteen of 'em off. There's
been two of 'em already to-night, so look out for a third for luck."

The Diggers set to work to negotiate the obstacle. The idea of
unloading did not appeal to them in the slightest. Leaving a man in
charge of one truck--experience had taught them the necessity for
that, where unguarded stores are anyone's property--all hands lifted
the second vehicle clear of the rails.

The flanged wheels sank deeply into the soft ground, but by sheer
hard work the truck was propelled round the crater to the spot where
the lines resumed their-sphere of usefulness.

On the way back to the other track Malcolm glanced at the luminous
face of his wristlet watch. It was nearly midnight.

Suddenly a blinding flash appeared to leap from the g round at the
lad's feet. With a tremendous roar ringing in his ears, Malcolm
found himself being hurtled through the air, and amidst a shower of
debris he fell, a limp mass, into the smoking crater.



CHAPTER XVI

Konrad von Feldoffer


Slowly Malcolm raised himself into a sitting position. Breathless
from the violent shock, blinded by the shower of dust, deafened by
the terrific concussion, and with his sense of smell deadened to
everything but the acrid fumes of the burst shell, he was at a loss
to know what had happened.

"Am I still No. 99,109, Rifleman Carr, or have I gone west?" he
asked himself aloud. Beyond a faint hollow rumble, he failed to
detect the sound of his own voice. Almost afraid to make the
experiment, he flexed his limbs. Nothing much wrong there, anyway.

He was beginning to see, despite the darkness and the nauseating,
pungent fumes. He looked at his watch. The glass had vanished. The
hands told him that it was three minutes past twelve. Unless the
watch had stopped, only five or six minutes had elapsed since the
catastrophe took place. He held the timepiece close to his ear, but
could hear nothing. Anxiously he watched the big hand, until after a
seemingly interminable interval he had conclusive evidence that the
watch was still going.

Satisfied on that point, Malcolm took stock of his surroundings. The
outlook was limited to the sloping walls of the crater and the vault
of black night overhead. Except for a direct hit, he was in a place
of comparative safety. Enough for to-night; he would stay where he
was until dawn, and then----

"I'm all right," he thought, "but what of my chums?"

Filled with new-born resolution, Malcolm regained his feet and
commenced to climb the steep, yielding side of the shell crater. At
the third step the soft soil gave way, and he fell on his face. As
he did so he heard a loud popping sound, as if his ear-drums were
bursting, and the next instant he could hear the distant rumble of
the guns and the voices of men in his proximity.

"I'm from Timaru, but I'm not timorous," shouted a voice. "Buck up,
lads!"

"That's the Corporal," decided Malcolm. "At all events we haven't
all been done in."

"Hallo there!" exclaimed Corporal Preston, as Malcolm gained the lip
of the crater. "Who are you?"

"Carr."

"Shouldn't have recognized you," continued the non-com., for Malcolm
was hatless, his coat was partly torn away, while his face was black
with grime. "Got a buckshie? No--good!"

"Cheer-o, Malcolm!"

This from Selwyn, who was engaged in binding a first-aid dressing
round the ribs of the prophetic sergeant of engineers. Four other
men lay on the ground, killed outright. Two of them belonged to the
ration-party, and the others were Tommies who had been engaged in
relaying the uptorn line.

"No use waiting here," declared Preston. "Bring that other truck
along."

The first truck lay on its side, the woodwork shattered, and the
rations scattered in all directions. The two men on the side nearest
the exploding shell had been instantly killed, but the others,
sheltered to a certain extent by the vehicle, had got off at the
expense of a severe shaking. Nevertheless, all available hands set
to work to retrieve the rations, and to set the second truck upon
the uninterrupted stretch of rails.

High-explosives were still bursting at varying distances as the
ration-party continued their perilous way across the open. It was
with feelings of relief that Malcolm heard the Corporal give the
word to unload once more. The men had reached the beginning of the
communication-trench.

From this point progress was slow. The ramification of trenches was
chock-a-block with troops under arms--Australians and New
Zealanders, making ready for the task of going over the top.

"You've been a precious long time about it," was the Sergeant's
ungracious comment when the ration-party found their own section of
trench. "Set to, lads; here's your grub."

Eagerly the men of the platoon threw themselves upon the
dearly-bought food. So hungry were they that they made no complaint
about the gritty state of the loaves. Perhaps it was as well that
they asked no questions. After all, they were able to feed, and in a
short space of time pannikins of tea were boiling over the
biscuit-tin stoves in the dug-out.

Having fed, Malcolm turned in on his straw bed. He was not sleepy,
only stiff, and since it wanted less than an hour to the time fixed
for the New Zealanders to turn out under arms, he employed the
interval in writing. The other occupants of the dug-out were
similarly engaged, knowing that, confronted by the problem of an
impending battle, there was a possibility that this might be their
last opportunity to communicate with their relatives and friends.

"This is the rottenest part of the whole business," remarked Selwyn.
"It gives a fellow time to think about going over, and the prospect
isn't a cheerful one."

"You're right," assented a Digger who had taken part in four big
engagements. "I quite understand; but mark my words, you'll forget
you ever had cold feet the moment the whistle goes."

"It's that plaguey uncut wire and those machineguns I don't like,"
grumbled Joliffe. "What the brass-hats are thinking about to send
the boys against that lot beats me. Why, back in Delville Wood----"

"Rifleman Carr here?" enquired a voice.

The ground-sheet hanging over the entrance to the dug-out was thrust
aside, and Sergeant Fortescue, his head partly hidden in his steel
helmet, appeared in view.

"Thought I'd drop in for a little chin-wagging," continued
Fortescue. "I've some news that might interest you--and Selwyn too."

He pulled a creased and folded newspaper from his pocket, and,
holding it up to the guttering light, pointed a shapely yet begrimed
forefinger at a certain paragraph.

"Our Muizenberg pal has dodged the firing-party," continued
Fortescue. "The blighter is a bit of a wily fox, and judging by his
history he's badly wanted."

The paragraph was to the effect that Konrad von Feldoffer, a German
convicted of espionage by a general court martial, had made a daring
and successful attempt to escape. How, the report did not say, but
the fact remained that a dangerous spy was still at large. It went
on to say that Konrad von Feldoffer was known to be a German naval
officer. Upon the outbreak of hostilities he was in Canada. After
various attempts, successful and otherwise, to cripple the internal
communications of the Dominion, he fled across the border to the
United States. Too late he was traced to Australia, where he
enlisted in a Victoria regiment, deserting when the Anzacs were
under fire in Gallipoli. Shortly afterwards he turned up in India,
joined a volunteer regiment under orders for Mesopotamia, and
mysteriously vanished during the retreat from Ctesiphon. Proceeding
to England, and posing as a mercantile marine officer, forged
documents and an engaging manner procured him an introduction to
Whitehall, with the result that he was given a commission in the
Royal Naval Reserve and appointed to an armed merchant cruiser. One
of his first exploits in that capacity was to board a supposed
Norwegian tramp, whose decks were piled high with timber. The vessel
was allowed to proceed--a wolf in sheep's clothing, as a dozen or
more Allied ships learned to their cost. Three weeks after
commissioning, the merchant-cruiser was torpedoed and sunk in broad
daylight by a U-boat. While the crew were taking to the boats, the
submarine appeared on the surface. To the surprise of the British
officer and crew, the hitherto unsuspected spy swam across to the
hostile craft. Having picked him up, the U-boat submerged and
disappeared from the scene. Too late it was discovered that the
renegade was one and the same with the now notorious Konrad von
Feldoffer. For several months nothing was heard of the spy's
activities. As a matter of fact, the cosmopolitan rogue was
particularly busy in South Africa, drifting thence into German
South-West Africa, where he played a conspicuous part in a daring
gun-running expedition under the nose of a British cruiser.

On the principle that it is advisable to desert a sinking ship in
time, von Feldoffer drifted via Johannesburg to Cape Town, where his
efforts to get into communication with German mine-layers operating
off the Cape met with slight success. He was now anxious to return
to the Fatherland. Accordingly he joined an Afrikander regiment of
heavy artillery under the name of Pieter Waas, only to be
apprehended on board the transport at Selwyn's instigation.

From the date of the paper--it was ten days old already--Malcolm
gathered that the spy had been at liberty for nearly a month. Unless
he were already recaptured it was pretty certain to conclude that
von Feldoffer was clear of the British Isles. Would his experiences
and narrow escape deter him from further enterprises or merely whet
his appetite for other surprising adventures?

"One thing is pretty clear," declared Fortescue; "he won't risk
showing up with the New Zealand boys. But, by Jove, it's close on
two o'clock. Our fellows have to assemble at that hour. S'long,
chums; I'll look out for you when we fall in. We may as well keep
together in this stunt."

Fortescue was barely gone when the Platoon Sergeant entered the
dug-out.

"Turn out, boys," he ordered. "Don't forget your gas-masks. Fritz
will be letting loose a few gallons of stink, I reckon."

"What time do we go over, Sergeant?" enquired one of the riflemen.

"When the whistles go, sonny," replied the non-com., with a
prodigious wink, "and not before."

"Can we go over after?" persisted the questioner.

The Sergeant eyed the man with mock severity.

"Take my tip and hop it sharp," he replied darkly. "The men who
remain in the trenches fifteen seconds after the order to advance
will be sorry for themselves. If there are any slight casualties,
Corporal," he added, addressing Billy Preston, "turn 'em out. It
won't be healthy for them to stop in the dug-out."

"Wonder why?" asked several of the men after the Sergeant had
departed to give similar instructions to the occupants of the
adjoining "desirable villas".

The question remained unanswered. In silence Malcolm and his
comrades took their rifles and filed out into the already-crowded
communication-trench.

"Let's find Fortescue," said Malcolm, addressing Selwyn in a low
voice that hardly sounded like his own. "He'll be in the next bay or
the one beyond."

"Lead on, then," prompted his chum.

Slinging their rifles, the twain made their way along the narrow,
winding trench, stumbling over the recumbent forms of resting men
and squeezing past the fully-accoutred troops packed into the narrow
place.

"He was here a minute ago," declared one, after several fruitless
enquiries had been made of the denizens of the two adjoining
sectors. "Guess he's in the firing-trench. They're fixing the
storming-ladders."

The firing-trench was comparatively clear. A dozen men were sitting
on the fire-step, listlessly fumbling with their equipment in a vain
effort to kill time before the supreme moment arrived to go out into
the open. Others were placing in Position the rough wooden ladders
by which the stormers would be able to scale the breast-high
parapet, each ladder being carefully tested lest an insecure
structure should impede the operation of going over the top. A few
non-coms., detailed to lay off the distance-tapes, were comparing
notes as coolly as if they were arranging for the regimental sports.

"Dashed if I can see him," whispered Malcolm. Although there was no
need for speaking in an undertone, the scene of preparation
instinctively Compelled him to lower his voice. "Seen anything of
Sergeant Fortescue?" enquired Selwyn, addressing a rifleman who had
just completed the fixing of one ladder and was thoroughly surveying
his work.

The man turned sharply, gave a grunt of Surprise, and before the lad
could realize what had happened, he swarmed up the ladder, paused
irresolutely for a brief instant on the sandbagged parapet, and
leapt into the darkness of No Man's Land. It was the spy, von
Feldoffer.



CHAPTER XVII

Over the Top


"Wing him!" exclaimed Malcolm, unslinging his rifle, opening the
cut-off, and springing upon the fire-step. Selwyn followed his
example, and with levelled rifles the two chums awaited the first
sound that might betray the progress of the spy.

"What are you fellows up to?" enquired a sergeant. "Don't you know
the order? No individual firing until further orders."

"A man has just leapt over the parapet. He's a spy," said Malcolm.

"In a N.Z. rifleman's uniform," added Selwyn.

The Sergeant snorted incredulously.

"You've been seeing things," he remarked, but to satisfy his
curiosity he raised his head above the parapet and peered into the
gloom just then a star-shell burst overhead, its glare throwing
every object on the immediate front into strong relief. The
crater-pitted No Man's Land showed no sign If any movement. A score
or more silent forms in field-grey uniform lay upon the ground--they
had been there for the last three days. Not a trace Of a man in
khaki was to be discovered.

"Come out of it, you chaps," continued the Sergeant. "You've made a
mistake. Hop it!"

Malcolm and Selwyn obeyed promptly, and alighting upon the floor of
the trench the latter cannoned into a passing soldier.

"Here, what the deuce do you think you're doing?" asked a well-known
voice, despite its tone of plaintive asperity.

"By gum, Fortescue," ejaculated Selwyn, "this is lucky! We've been
looking for you."

"And so your search is rewarded," rejoined Fortescue. "What's the
idea?"

"We thought we'd hang together when the stunt comes off," explained
Malcolm. "But there's another thing. Our Muizenburg pal was here a
few minutes ago."

"What?" exclaimed Fortescue incredulously.

"Fact!" confirmed his informant. "We asked if you were anywhere
about, and the fellow we addressed happened to be Konrad von
What's-his-name. He recognized us, for he _impshied_ like a wild
colt. I was----"

"Sergeant Fortescue here?"

"Yes, sir," replied Fortescue, standing to attention and saluting as
he recognized Captain Nicholson the S.I.N. of the old _Awarua_ days
and his lieutenancy a thing of the past.

"You've warned the men to nip over smartly?" asked the Captain.

"Yes, sir, I've seen to that. There is another matter on which I
should like to speak."

Briefly Fortescue related the incident of the spy's flight as told
him by his two comrades. Captain Nicholson's face lengthened.

"By Jove, this is a serious matter! What was the fellow doing?"

"Assisting in fixing ladders, sir."

"Then pass the word for the sergeant in charge of his party."

The non-com. was soon on the spot. He was the sergeant who had
doubted the veracity of Malcolm's statement, and still had the same
opinion on the matter as before.

But when the roll-call was taken one of the men was
missing--Rifleman Scrooch.

"Know anything about him, Sergeant?" enquired Captain Nicholson.

"Not much, sir," was the reply, "except that he came in with the
last draft from Etaps."

Captain Nicholson consulted his watch.

"He won't get far," he remarked grimly. "In another fifteen
minutes----"

"Let's get back," suggested Fortescue as his officer disappeared.
"The bombers will be falling in here in half a tick. We're in the
first supports. Fritz is pretty sleepy to-night; I wonder if he
knows what's in store for him."

The bomb-throwers, heavily laden with canvas bags filled with their
death-dealing missiles, filed into the front trench, together with
their supporting riflemen. A sharp, decisive order was passed from
one officer to another, and the sinister clicking sound of bayonets
being fixed to rifles rippled along the line of trenches as the very
pick of New Zealand's manhood prepared for the coming ordeal.

Every man of the brigade knew what was to be expected of him.
Messines Ridge was to be carried at the point of the bayonet, and
the knowledge that the hostile wire was practically uncut and that
the heights bristled with machine-guns was common property.
Stupendous though the task was, not a man flinched, although several
groused at the lack of consideration on the part of the Staff to
send them against a prepared position in a practically-unbroken
state; which showed that the troops were generally ignorant of the
measures taken to safeguard them.

"Five minutes more!"

The officers bunched together to compare watches. They had done so a
dozen times that evening, but perhaps it was excusable. Everything
depended upon the operations being carried out with the precision of
reliable clockwork. A second or two out either way would mean
throwing away scores, perhaps hundreds, of valuable lives, for
Fritz, although fairly quiet, was on the alert.

The British artillery was now almost silent. In previous stunts the
position to be attacked was subjected to hours of terrific
bombardment, but now hardly a shell fell upon the Hun defences. As
for the protecting "barrage", the waiting troops looked for it in
vain.

"Keep together!" whispered Malcolm tersely, as he nervously felt the
tip of his quivering bayonet.

"Right, old man!" replied Selwyn in a low-pitched, unnatural voice.

It was useless to disguise the fact. Both had "the wind up" very
badly. Malcolm could hear his heart thumping violently under his
tunic; he was fully conscious of an empty, nauseating sensation in
the pit of his stomach. He doubted whether he could stir up courage
at the critical moment to leap over the parapet into the impending
tornado of machine-gun bullets and pulverizing, bursting shells.

[Illustration: "WING HIM!" EXCLAIMED MALCOLM]

Others had done the same. Why not he? Vainly he tried to argue with
himself that he was differently constituted from other men. He was
too young to die. He had not drunk deeply of the joys of manhood.
Why had he been such a fool as to underrate his age when he joined
up? If----

The shrill blast of a whistle pierced the strained silence. With a
loud yell the men leapt upon the scaling-ladders. His fears thrown
to the wind, and the exhilarating sensation of unfettered action
surging through his veins, Malcolm found himself scrambling over
sand-bags and leaping into the pitted No Man's Land.

Even as he took the leap a seven-fold lurid flash burst from the
dominating ridge of Messines. The ground trembled and swayed beneath
his feet. Sand-bags and tons of earth subsided into the trenches so
recently vacated by the troops, while a deafening, dumbfounding roar
beat upon the lad's ears.

Almost mechanically Malcolm broke into a run. In front and on either
side other men were surging onwards, their bayonet-tips describing
erratic curves as they lurched over the still-trembling ground.
Showers of dust beat upon their faces. Farther ahead masses of solid
rock and earth were falling with a succession of thuds, while, where
Messines Ridge had been, was a riven mound of disintegrated Soil,
over which a dense cloud of black smoke rolled sullenly in the
sultry night air.

One of the greatest engineering feats of the Great War--in fact, the
greatest mining operation in the history of the world's battles--had
been successfully carried out, a task compared with which the great
mine of Beaumont Hamel paled into insignificance. With a
concentrated roar, the concussion of which was distinctly felt over
the greater part of south-eastern England, the explosive contents of
a series of mine-chambers were fired simultaneously.

In the fraction of a second the whole of Messines Ridge underwent a
startling change. German dug-outs, trenches, machine-gun
emplacements, and an unknown but vast number of troops went up in
the terrific blast.

Months of diligent and stupendous labour had not been spent in vain.
At one stroke the culminating moment had done more than hours of
intensive bombardment. With little risk the British troops were able
to sweep the position that for two years had defied their efforts.

Yet the New Zealanders were not to have a "walk over". From the
heavy guns, well behind the pulverized ridge, shells were bursting
in front and behind the trenches. Hostile machine-guns that had
almost inexplicably escaped the general carnage were spitting
venomously, while in the front German trenches, which were on
comparatively level ground to the east of the Messines Ridge, a hot
but erratic rifle-fire was directed upon the khaki-clad stormers.

On and on Malcolm ran, his face turned towards the two lines of
sand-bags beyond which the Huns were still putting up a fight.
Whether Fortescue and Selwyn were with him he knew not. The
resolution he had made to keep with his chums was gone. His sole
desire was to reach the hostile trenches and battle with the
field-grey enemy.

Men were running in front of him. Swift of foot though he was, there
were others who surpassed in the maddening rush. More than once he
had to leap over the writhing bodies of gallant Anzacs who had gone
down in the charge. He was dimly conscious of khaki-clad forms
crashing heavily to the ground on either side, of a whizz of flying
metal that sent his steel helmet spinning, of a sharp, burning pain
in his left wrist, and of a dozen other mental and physical
sensations.

In the midst of a regular mob of panting, yelling, and shouting men,
and preceded by a terrific fusillade of Mills's bombs, Malcolm found
himself struggling through masses of partly-severed barbed wire and
up on the hostile parapet.

The ruddy glare from the exploding missiles revealed a line of
cowed, terrified men, some with "pill-box" caps, others with the
typical "Dolly Varden" steel helmets. With uplifted hands and
tremulous cries of "Kamerad!" they bowed to the inevitable, and
almost contemptuously were sent through the crowd of New Zealanders
to the British lines.

Other Huns were made of sterner stuff, and offered a stubborn
resistance. With rifle-shots, bayonets, clubbed weapons, and bombs
they contested their ground. Machine-gunners used their deadly
weapons with desperate energy, until they were stretched out by the
sides of their now silent charges. The air was heavy with
suffocating smoke; fragments of shell were flying with complete
impartiality; shouts, oaths, and curses punctuated the crash of
steel and the rattle of musketry, as men in their blind ferocity
clutched at each other's throats and rolled in mortal combat upon
the ground.

Presently Rifleman Malcolm Carr found himself confronted by a tall,
bearded Prussian, whose head-dress consisted of a steel helmet, with
a visor completely covering the upper part of his face as far as his
mouth. Even in the heat of combat Malcolm could not help noticing
the incongruity of the bristling whiskers flowing beyond the
fellow's face-armour. It was one of those transitory yet
indelibly-stamped impressions that are frequently formed in times of
imminent danger.

The Prussian lunged with his bayonet. Malcolm promptly turned it
aside and countered. His bayonet, darting above the other's belated
guard, caught the Hun fairly in the lower part of his chest.

With a disconcerting jar that wellnigh dislocated his wrist, and
sent a numbing pain through his right arm, the lad realized that he
was up against great odds. The Prussian was wearing a steel
breastplate underneath his tunic. Malcolm could imagine the grin of
supercilious triumph under the Hun's mask. He shortened his grasp
and thrust again, this time at the Fritz's shoulder. The man,
despite the handicap of wearing heavy steel plates, ducked agilely,
and, reversing his rifle, prodded the New Zealander with the butt of
his weapon. Stepping backwards to avoid the blow, Malcolm tripped
over some obstacle and fell heavily into a still-intact emplacement.

For some seconds he lay still. A few inches above his head came the
deafening tick-tock of a German machine-gun. He had fallen in front
of the weapon, and was pressed down by a heavy weight that still had
the power of movement.

Groping, his fingers came in contact with human hair--the beard of
his antagonist. The Prussian was lying face downwards upon the New
Zealander's body.

"My festive," mentally ejaculated Rifleman Carr, "you didn't play
the game with your body-armour; I'll do the reprisal dodge."

Fiercely he tugged at the Prussian's beard. With a yell of pain the
fellow bent his knees and reared his body, only to fall inertly upon
the half-suffocated Digger. In rising he had intercepted a dozen or
more bullets from the machine-gun. So close was the muzzle, that his
clothes smouldered in the blast of the weapon. Not that it mattered
very much to him, for he was stone dead.

With a frantic effort Malcolm rolled himself clear of the body of
his late foe; then, resisting the temptation to regain his feet, he
crouched in a corner of the emplacement and took stock of his
immediate front.

He could easily have touched the cooling-jacket of the weapon as the
machine-gun continued its death-dealing work. He could discern the
sullen, determined features of the two men who alone remained of the
machine-gun's crew.

Vainly Malcolm groped for his rifle. The violent impact had sent the
weapon yards away. Nor could he find the rifle of his late
adversary. The man had been a bomber; perhaps some of his stock of
hand-propelled missiles yet remained?

Very cautiously the New Zealander felt for the canvas pockets
suspended from the Hun's neck. Every one was empty.

"Rough luck!" he soliloquized. "Don't know so much about it, though;
if he had had any left when we scrapped he might have chucked one at
my head."

The machine-gun ceased firing. For a moment Malcolm was seized with
the haunting fear that the gunners had spotted him. Out of the
corner of his eye he saw that they were fitting another belt of
ammunition.

Presently Rifleman Carr's hand came in contact with a hard substance
protruding from the Prussian's pocket. By the feel of it he was
assured that he had found a revolver. Stealthily he withdrew the
weapon and examined it. The pistol was evidently smaller than those
used in the opposing armies. Belgian made, it had probably been
obtained from a looted shop. Although officially unsanctioned,
raiding parties, British, French, and German, frequently carried
small revolvers when engaged in paying uninvited and unwelcome
visits to the hostile lines.

The weapon was loaded in five chambers. Whether it was sufficiently
powerful for the work Malcolm proposed to do the lad could not
definitely form an opinion. It was like riding an untried steed.
Failure on the part of the cheap mechanism meant death;
nevertheless, for the sake of his comrades who were exposed to the
brisk fire of the machine-gun, he was determined to take the risk.

A gentle pressure on the trigger revealed the pleasing fact that the
revolver was of a self-acting type. So far so good. The next
question was--are the cartridges reliable?

Deliberately Malcolm, steadying the barrel on the neck of the dead
Hun, aimed between the eyes of the fellow holding the firing-handle
of the machine-gun.

Two shots rang out in quick succession. Giving a yelp of mingled
pain and surprise, Fritz doubled up across the gun, his feet beating
a tattoo against an ammunition-box. His companion, partly deafened
by the double report almost under his nose, and taken aback by the
collapse of the gunner, crouched irresolute. Before he could decide
whether to snatch up his rifle or to raise his hands and shout
"Kamerad" a bullet from Malcolm's revolver struck him fairly in the
centre of his low forehead.

Wriggling from underneath the dead Prussian, Rifleman Carr regained
his feet. The wave of New Zealanders forming the first
storming-party had swept beyond the now silent machine-gun. The
supports were doubling up, their numbers no longer lessened by the
rain of bullets from the hitherto overlooked emplacement. Between
the two lines of attackers khaki-clad figures littered the ground,
while numbers of wounded, both New Zealanders and Huns, trickled
towards the British trenches.

"My capture!" exclaimed Malcolm. "I'll put a tally on the beauty."

Searching, he found his rifle and bayonet. Unfixing the latter, he
scratched upon the field-grey paint of the machine-gun the words:
"99,109, Carr, No. 3 Platoon, C Company".

"If I go under, the boys will know I've done something towards my
bit," he muttered. "I wonder where my pals are?"



CHAPTER XVIII

The Captured Trench


"Hallo, Malcolm!"

Above the rattle of musketry and the crash of bombs, Rifleman Carr
heard his name shouted in cheery stentorian tones. Looking in the
direction from which the shout came, the lad saw two
stretcher-bearers jogging along with a heavy burden over the uneven
ground. One of the men was Mike Dowit, the hero of the bombing
exercise at far-off Featherstone Camp. It was not he who called, for
his jaw was swathed in a bandage. The other man was unknown to
Malcolm.

Right at the heels of the stormers the regimental stretcher-bearers
had gone over the top, defenceless, and, as such, running even more
risks than the infantry. Already Dowit and his companion had made
three journeys to the advance dressing-station, notwithstanding the
fact that the former had received a nasty wound in his chin from a
fragment of shell.

"Hallo, Malcolm!" was the repeated hail, as the man in the stretcher
waved his shrapnel helmet to attract attention still further.

It was Sergeant Fortescue,

"Proper buckshie this time," he declared, as the bearers, through
sheer weariness, halted and set their burden on the ground.
"Machine-gun copped me fairly. Three if not four bullets through my
left leg, close to knee. 'Fraid I won't see you for another three
months."

"Seen Selwyn?" asked Malcolm anxiously.

"Up there clearing out the dug-outs," replied Fortescue. "He's all
right; so's Joliffe, M'Kane, and M'Turk. Poor little Billy Preston's
done in, though. Shot through the head. I saw him. A fearful mess."

"You're a liar, Sergeant!" muttered a hollow voice, as the subject
of the conversation strolled in a leisurely manner up to the
stationary stretcher.

Corporal Preston's appearance did not belie Fortescue's statement
that it was a fearful mess. Almost as the last German was cleared
out of the captured trench, a piece of shrapnel struck the Corporal
just below his right ear, and ploughed through his skin from the
cheek-bone to the corner of his mouth. He dropped like a stone, and
Fortescue had come to the erroneous conclusion that Billy Preston
had made the great sacrifice.

Despite his injuries, Corporal Preston was grinning broadly on the
uninjured side of his face. A lighted cigarette was between his
lips. A saturated field-bandage held to his wound partly concealed
the slight but ugly gash.

"Feel as dinky as anything, by gum!" he mumbled, without removing
the consoling "fag". "This'll mean a trip to Blighty. I can do with
it nicely, but I'm jolly glad I got there. Five blessed Fritzes to
my certain knowledge, by gum! I'm from Timaru, but I'm not
timorous--not I."

And, waving his disengaged hand, Corporal Billy Preston resumed his
long trek of pain that was to end somewhere in England under the
kindly care of nurses from far-off New Zealand.

"By Jove, he has!" agreed Fortescue. "I saw him polish off a couple
of Huns with his bayonet, and knock out another with the butt of his
rifle. Well, s'long, Malcolm, and _kia ora_."

The bearers lifted the stretcher and continued on their way, while
Rifleman Carr, slinging his rifle over his shoulder, hurried towards
the German second-line trenches, where, judging by the deep
detonations of exploding bombs and the sharp crack of rifle-shots,
there was still work to be done.

German shells were "watering" the captured ground. Malcolm hardly
noticed them. He had acquired the hardened campaigner's indifference
to Fritz's "hate" that confidence in the knowledge of being on the
winning side cannot fail to give. Overhead, British shells screeched
on their way, as with mathematical precision they fell in the place
appointed, to form a "barrage" through which neither German supports
could advance nor defeated Huns retire without risk of being
pulverized by the high-explosive missiles.

The second-line German trenches formed the nearmost limit of ground
practically unaffected by the explosion of the great mine. Beyond
lay the tortured slopes of Messines Ridge, from the fissures of
which escaping smoke trailed upwards in the wan morning light.

Already the first line of storming troops was engaged in
consolidating the captured position, while the supports were
assembling and concentrating prior to advancing upon the farthermost
of their objectives--the village of Messines. Every Hun remaining
above ground had been accounted for. Hundreds were lying in
grotesque attitudes, never to move again, while dejected and dazed
prisoners were being marshalled in droves under escort for the
advance cages. But in the tottering dug-outs the Prussian die-hards
were still offering resistance; and it was the clearing of their
sub-terranean strongholds that was occupying the attention of the
victorious New Zealanders.

"Look out, chum!" shouted a voice as Malcolm approached a knot of
Diggers gathered in a shellhole in what was formerly the parados of
the trench. "Duck!"

Malcolm obeyed promptly. He was used to taking imperative hints with
the utmost smartness. Even then he was only just in time to escape a
bullet. For the second time that morning his steel helmet was sent
flying, strap notwithstanding.

"Come and bear a hand and get your own back," continued the man who
had warned him.

Recovering his head-gear, Rifleman Carr joined the group by a
discreet and circuitous route, to find Grouser Joliffe and half a
dozen men of his platoon engaged upon the task--up to now
unsuccessful--of clearing out a dug-out. Joliffe had discarded his
rifle. His wounded arm had given out, and he had the limb supported
in a sling made from a puttee. A dozen bombs hung from his neck. He
held another in his uninjured hand.

"Take that, you skulking Hun!" he shouted, hurling a bomb into the
mouth of the dug-out. "That's the fifth I've given 'em," he added,
addressing Malcolm as if to apologize for the fact that the
occupants of the den were still in a state of aggressive activity.
"One of our chaps has gone for some smoke-bombs. He ought to be here
by now if he isn't knocked out on the way. That'll settle their
hash."

Rifleman Joliffe was the only member of the party who remained
standing. Partly sheltered by a break in the traverse, he proposed
to throw another missile, while his companions, taking cover behind
a few hastily-piled sand-bags, waited with levelled rifles the
expected rush from the dug-out.

Deftly the bomber lobbed another grenade fairly into the yawning
cavity. With a muffled crash the bomb exploded. Acrid fumes drifted
from the sloping tunnel, while a succession of dismal groans gave
credence to Joliffe's belief that he'd "done the blighter in this
time".

"Hold hard!" cautioned the corporal of the section as the daring
rifleman prepared for a closer inspection of his handiwork.

"What for?" expostulated Joliffe. "I know that copped him right
enough."

"Then it's your bloomin' funeral," rejoined the non-com. "Don't say
I didn't warn you."

Confident in the result of his prowess, the bomber strode boldly
towards the mouth of the dug-out. Before he had taken three steps
the still eddying smoke was pierced by the flash of a rifle. With a
look of pained surprise upon his face Rifleman Joliffe half-turned
and stood stock-still for quite five seconds. Then his knees bent
and down he went; his legs and arms quivered convulsively for a few
seconds.

"What are you men doing?" enquired Captain Nicholson, who, unawares,
had made his way along the trench until stopped by the knot of prone
riflemen. "Dug-out giving trouble, eh? All right; follow me and
we'll rush it."

"Better not, sir," said the Corporal. "We've chucked in a couple of
dozen bombs, but still we haven't knocked 'em out."

Although the non-com.'s report was an exaggerated one as to the
number of missiles thrown into the mouth of the tunnel, the fact
that the defenders were still able to offer resistance was a
perplexing problem. According to the rules of the game the bombs
ought to have blown the Huns to pieces.

"We've sent for some smoke-bombs," continued the Corporal. "Then,
sir, when we've tried these, we'll follow you. Hallo, here they are,
the beauties!"

"Four--all I could get," announced the newcomer's well-known voice.
It was Dick Selwyn--ragged and begrimed, but unharmed.

Handing over the missiles, Selwyn threw himself down by the side of
his chum. Not a word passed between the two, although they were
longing to exchange confidences. All attention was centred upon the
sinister hole in front of which the body of Rifleman Joliffe lay--a
silent warning of the danger that lurked within.

"You're a left-handed thrower, M'Turk," said Captain Nicholson, who
knew the physical capabilities and peculiarities of each individual
of his platoon. "Try your hand with one of these."

Being able to throw left-handed gave the Digger a considerable pull
over his companions for the work of smoking out the Huns. Without
exposing any part of his body, which a right-handed man would have
had to do owing to the position of the dug-out, M'Turk could lob the
bombs fairly into the mouth of the tunnel.

With unerring accuracy the "stink-bomb" vanished into the dark
recess. The New Zealanders could hear it rolling down the steps.
Smoke began to issue from the dug-out, thinly at first, then rapidly
increasing in volume and density.

Suddenly a startling apparition dashed through the thick cloud of
smoke--a man whose head and body were completely encased in steel.
With arms outstretched the Hun staggered towards the Diggers,
coughing violently the while under the irritating influence of the
smoke-bomb.

"Collar him!" ordered Captain Nicholson.

A dozen hands seized him. His head-dress was removed, disclosing the
features of a pale, insignificant, and spectacled German.

"What a cheek!" exclaimed M'Turk. "Fancy a worm like that holding us
up!"

"Science against brute force, chum," remarked the Corporal, pointing
to an anti-gas apparatus that dangled from the man's neck. "If it
hadn't been that the gadget was smashed we might have gone on
bombing till the end of the war."

The prisoner's armour was certainly proof against fragments of
bombs, even at close range, as the splayed marks upon the steel
testified. With the anti-gas apparatus he had been able to withstand
the choking fumes, until a chance splinter of metal had perforated
the flexible pipe between the Hun's mouth and the oxygen-container
hidden under his back-plate. Although his arms and legs were
unprotected, the man had practically escaped injury from the bombs,
since the fragments of the exploded missile flew upwards. A gash on
the knuckle of his right hand and a few slight scratches on the
calves of his legs were the total result of the Anzacs' efforts
until the smoke-bomb came into play.

"A chirpy little sausage-eater!" exclaimed Captain Nicholson, who,
like his men, was not backward in acknowledging bravery even in an
enemy. "See that he is sent back, Corporal. Now, lads, why was he so
determined? There's more in this dug-out than meets the eye, I
believe. I mean to find out. Who'll back me up?"



CHAPTER XIX

Trapped in a Dug-out


"I will, sir!" said Malcolm promptly.

"And I," added Selwyn.

"Me too," chorused M'Turk and M'Kane.

"And, by gum, how about me?" enquired a lusty voice, as Riflemen
Joliffe, bleeding profusely from the head, sat up and vainly
attempted to regain his feet.

The other New Zealanders had forgotten Grouser Joliffe, or rather
they had put him out of their minds until the clearing-up job was
completed. One and all had taken it for granted that the rifleman
had paid the penalty for his rashness, and had been shot dead on the
spot. Had they known that he was only wounded they would have rushed
to his aid, but, thinking otherwise, they had no intention of
attending to the dead until the wounded were cared for and the
position properly consolidated.

It was Joliffe's steel helmet that had saved him. The German's
bullet, fired at a range of ten yards, had struck the upper part of
the rim and deflected upwards, completely penetrating the
head-dress, while the wearer escaped with a scalp wound, rendering
him unconscious for a quarter of an hour.

"Another day, Joliffe!" sang out Captain Nicholson. "See to him, you
fellows. Now then, Carr, keep close behind me. M'Turk, M'Kane, and
Selwyn at three paces interval."

With a revolver in his right hand, and an electric torch in his
left, the Captain, bending low, began the descent of the steep
flight of steps leading to the dug-out. By this time the noxious
vapours had exhausted themselves, although there was still
sufficient smoke to dim the rays of the torch.

Rifle and bayonet at the ready, Malcolm followed his officer, his
ears on the alert to catch the first sound that might denote the
presence of other Hun cave-dwellers.

As he descended, Malcolm found that the smoke was dispersing under
the influence of a steady draught of warm air. The tunnel was
heavily timbered--top, sides, and floor. Along one side ran a couple
of insulated wires, one of which belonged to an electric alarm-bell.
The other was for internal lighting, but every incandescent bulb had
been shattered under the terrific concussion of the great Messines
mine. In places the massive planks were bulging ominously; so much
so that Captain Nicholson hesitated more than once.

"What do you make of it, Carr?" he asked, pausing at a particularly
bad spot.

"I hardly know, sir," replied Malcolm. "Since the shorings didn't
collapse when the mine went up, they ought to stand for a bit
longer."

"Suppose so," agreed the youthful officer as he resumed his tour of
discovery. "Sort of 'creaking door hangs longest'. Let's hope so in
this case."

At the ninety-eighth step--Malcolm counted them carefully--the
descent ended. The daring five found themselves in a long room,
measuring about eighty feet by ten. On one side were recesses that
formed, as they afterwards discovered, the lower part of the
lift-tunnel communicating with the open air. At one time the lift
had been used for bringing up machine-guns that were stored deep
underground in anticipation of a heavy bombardment of the British
guns. Each recess was piled high with rubble, the result of the
stupendous concussion, while a dozen intact machine-guns had been
prevented from being brought into action against the attacking
infantry.

In the opposite wall were other recesses, panelled and furnished
with rich curtains and hangings. Each recess contained a wire
mattress and bedding, while articles of a personal nature showed
that the former occupants were officers, and not of the rank and
file.

"I believe we've struck the brigade headquarters," said Captain
Nicholson, flashing his torch into a large recess in which stood a
table littered with book and papers. "We'll attend to those
documents later. No use doing so until we've made sure of our
ground. I wonder where the gilded occupants are?"

"From what I know of the blighters, sir," remarked M'Turk, "they
didn't show their mugs above ground while we were tumbling over the
top."

"Perhaps there's another way out--a sort of bolt-hole," suggested
Selwyn. "Hope they haven't ruined the show?"

"No likely," replied Captain Nicholson briskly, "As for your idea of
a bolt-hole, there's something in that. It would account for that
fellow in that sardine-can suit holding out so long, just to give
them time to get clear. Ssh! Ssh! What's that?"

The men stood on the alert for some moments.

A muffled cough broke the silence. Then came the dull thud of a pick
being driven into soft earth.

"This way," ordered the Captain, striding towards the end of the
room. "Get a bomb ready."

"Not a blessed one between the lot of us, sir," reported M'Kane.
"Thought we'd finished with Mills's pills for a bit. I'll nip back
and get a few."

Captain Nicholson hesitated.

"No need," he decided. "The fellows, whoever they are, are trapped.
They'll give in when they find that the game's up."

In the panelled wall, so skilfully fashioned that it almost escaped
attention, was a door. The New Zealanders stopped and listened.
Voices were heard talking excitedly, to the accompaniment of the
tearing of paper.

Thrusting his torch into his breast pocket, the Captain, holding his
revolver ready for instant action, threw open the door.

Another long room showed beyond the doorway. At the farther end a
table extended almost from side to side. On the floor were several
lighted candles that cast an unaccustomed glare upon the faces of a
dozen German officers. Some of them were engaged in burning
documents, others in tearing up books and plans. Right at the far
end two men were attacking a fall of debris by means of pick and
shovel.

This much Malcolm took in at a glance, as with levelled rifle he
supported his captain.

"Surrender!" shouted Captain Nicholson sternly.

"Not so fast," replied a Prussian, speaking in English, and with
hardly a trace of a foreign accent. "Let us discuss the situation."

"By all means," agreed Captain Nicholson, confident that he held the
winning cards.

The Hun who had spoken was carefully noting the strength of the
intruders. He had a particular object in gaining time.

"You are too premature, Herr Kapitan von Anzaken," he continued
slowly. The boot is on the other leg. You are our prisoners.
_Nein_--do not get excited--consider: you are but a handful. We are
fourteen, all armed. In there"--he indicated a doorway on his
left--"are fifty tons of explosives, so I would not have you throw a
bomb, for our sakes and yours. Again, I have but to touch this
button and the tunnel to the dug-out by which you made your approach
will be blown in. We have particular need of you, since your friends
will hesitate twice before attempting to smoke us out with you here.
Now, to avoid further unpleasantness, you will throw down your arms
and make surrender."

"I'll see you to blazes first!" retorted Nicholson. "Hands up,
or----"

Like a flash a dozen hands went up--but each hand held an automatic
pistol! The New Zealand officer made no attempt to back. Outwardly
calm, he stood erect on the threshold, with his four men close
behind him.

Confronting him were the obviously excited Huns. Even the slight
pressure of a trembling finger upon the trigger of one of the
automatic weapons would mean death to the imperturbable Nicholson.

"I give you ten seconds to surrender!" he exclaimed.

"And I give you five to throw down your arms!" retorted the Prussian
major. "One--two--three----"

Crash!

A blinding flash seemed to leap up from the floor, and, with a
deafening roar bursting upon his ears, Malcolm was dimly conscious
of being hurled backwards by a terrific blast, then everything
became a blank.

He regained his senses to find himself in utter darkness. He was
lying on the floor with his shoulders and head leaning against
something aggressively hard. Acrid fumes assailed his nostrils. He
tried to move, to find a heavy, inert body lying across his legs.

Groping to find out the nature of his surroundings, his hand came in
contact with his uncomfortable pillow. It was a pair of hobnailed
boots. As he thrust them aside the wearer stirred.

"What's up, Sergeant? Another stunt?"

It was M'Turk, wandering in his mind. Evidently he was under the
hallucination that the Platoon sergeant was rousing him at an
unearthly hour of the morning.

"Where are we, M'Turk?" asked Malcolm.

The Digger grunted.

"Ask me another, chum," he replied, coughing after every word. "By
gum! I remember--those swine of Huns and fifty tons of explosives.
Well, we're still alive and kicking, so to speak. Where are the
others? The Captain?"

"Someone lying across my legs," replied Malcolm. "Our captain, I
fancy. Have you a match?"

"Have I a match?" repeated M'Turk mirthlessly. "A dozen boxes in my
dug-out. Came with me last parcel--but ne'er a one on me. Where's
that torch?"

Sitting up, Malcolm bent forward and searched the man who was
pinning him down. He was wrong in his surmise. It was not Captain
Nicholson, but one of the riflemen. In one of his pockets Carr found
a squashed box containing three or four precious matches.

The first match fizzled and went out.

"Damp, like everything else except my throat!" muttered M'Turk. "I
could drink half a gallon at one go. Try again, chum."

At the second attempt the flickering light struggled bravely for the
mastery, then out it went.

"Two more," announced Malcolm.

"Hold on," ejaculated his companion. "I've a paper. I'll tear off a
piece, and you can set it alight--if your matches aren't all duds!"

This time the attempt was successful. In the glare of the burning
newspaper Malcolm made the astonishing discovery that Grouser
Joliffe was lying across his legs, while nearer the room in which
the German staff officers had been was Dick Selwyn, leaning against
the wainscot and breathing stertorously. The faces of both men were
black with smoke and dirt. There were no signs of Captain Nicholson
or M'Kane.

"Old Grouser, by gum!" exclaimed M'Turk. "How in the name of
everything did he get there?"

"Give it up!" replied Malcolm, as he made his way to Selwyn's side.
"There are a lot of things that want explaining in this hole."

"Say what?" prompted his companion, tearing a fresh strip from the
newspaper and rolling it into a rough-and-ready torch.

"Where are Fritz & Co.? Where is our officer? How is it that I was
next to him, and now Selwyn is nearer the door; while Joliffe, who
is supposed to be on the way to the dressing-station, is here? And
what about the fifty tons of explosives?"

M'Turk staggered to his feet and made his way to the entrance to the
inner room. The door had been wrenched from its hinges; from the
root ferro-concrete girders had fallen, bringing with them a pile of
debris that completely covered the table. Of the Huns, all were
buried beneath the mound of earth, unless they had been blown to
pieces by the explosion.

"Not so much as a Hun's button left as a souvenir!" reported M'Turk.
"Hope our mates haven't been kyboshed. Yet it seems to me that if
fifty ton of stuff did go up we wouldn't be here now--except in
little bits."

"That's what puzzles me," admitted Rifleman Carr. "Perhaps only a
portion of the explosives went off. Again, who propped you and
Selwyn up against the wall?"

M'Turk made another roll of crumpled paper.

"Won't last out much longer at that rate!" he remarked ruefully.
"Hallo! What's that?"

A couple of dull concussions were distinctly felt. In the inner
portion of the spacious dug-out more rubble slid noisily from the
caving-in roof.

"Fritz getting to work again," said Malcolm. "They are shelling the
captured position."

"And following it up with a counter-attack," added M'Turk. "Strikes
me our chaps won't have any time to attend to us for a bit."

"I did the job properly that time--a bit too properly?" exclaimed
Grouser Joliffe, who had recovered consciousness and was taking a
lively interest in the conversation.

"You did what?" enquired M'Turk.

"I wasn't going to be done out of the fun," said Joliffe doggedly.
"Didn't I draw that little tinpot's fire, and give you a chance to
butt in?"

"You did, like a blooming idiot!" agreed M'Turk.

"So when you fellows _impshied_ down the tunnel I slipped in after
you. You wanted looking afters just fancy, nosing around a dug-out
and not taking any bombs. I kept out of sight while the Captain was
taking stock, knowing he'd send me back if he twigged me. Then, when
the Boches tried to hold you up, I nipped behind and slung a bomb at
'em. By gum! It was a beauty, though for the life of me I don't know
how we got blown out here. It wasn't my bomb that played a dirty
trick like that, and it wasn't fifty tons of high explosives. So
what was it? Anyone got a drink? My throat's like blotting-paper."

"The last of the paper," announced M'Turk. "Any of you fellows got
some more? No; well, I'll nip round to see if I can find any. I'd as
soon set the show on fire as stick here in the dark."

"There's someone coming," declared Malcolm.

"Where?" enquired M'Turk and the bomber simultaneously.

The sound of footsteps grew nearer and nearer, the rays of a torch
flashed on the ground, and Captain Nicholson's voice was heard
exclaiming:

"It's no go that way, M'Kane. We'll have to make the best of things;
but it's no use denying the fact that we're trapped."



CHAPTER XX

The Way Out


"So, you cat with nine lives, we've to thank you for this beautiful
fix!" remarked Captain Nicholson after he had greeted his companions
in misfortune.

"Don't know about that, sir," replied the bomber. "If I hadn't been
nippy, those Huns would have plugged the lot of you, and more'n
likely they would have got away. What were those coves doing with
the pick and shovel, sir, if they didn't know there was a chance of
getting out that way?"

"That passage is closed, at any rate," decided Captain Nicholson,
glancing in the direction of the mound of debris and the displaced
girders. "M'Kane and I have explored the entrance, There's been a
big fall. The supplementary shoots are also choked. We followed a
level working for nearly a hundred yards. It leads nowhere. Fritz
never had time to finish it. Look here, this torch won't hold out
for ever. The battery's running down. How's Selwyn?"

"Only suffering from shock, sir," replied Malcolm.

"All right; you can do nothing more so far as he is concerned,"
decided the officer. "We'll make a thorough search of these
sleeping-quarters, and see if we can find any candles. Knowing the
systematic thoroughness of Fritz, I guess he's taken precautions in
the event of the electric light going out. By Jove," he added, as
the dug-out trembled violently, "there's some strafing going on
outside!"

A search resulted in the discovery of several oillamps and packets
of candles. There was also food in considerable quantities and wine
in bottles.

"I'd swop all that fizz for a pannikin of tea," declared Joliffe.

"You're never satisfied, chum," remarked M'Turk, deftly knocking off
the neck of a bottle and taking a draught.

"If you had what I've got you'd be satisfied," retorted the bomber.
"I don't mind telling you now. Captain can't order me back out of
it, can you, sir?"

"Well, what have you got?" enquired Nicholson.

"Splinter of shell in me shoulder--copped that last night along with
the ration-party, sir; then this crack on the skull from that
tin-pot Boche; and now I've copped it in both legs--and still I'm
not knocked out."

The men sat down to make a meal. Selwyn, under the reviving effect
of a drink of wine, had opened his eyes. Although considerably
shaken, he was otherwise unhurt.

Captain Nicholson's story of what had occurred threw little light
upon the mystery. He remembered the explosion; he was conscious of
being hurled high in the air and of falling on top of the prostrate
body of one of his men. The first to recover, he waited until M'Kane
regained consciousness, and, having placed M'Turk and Selwyn in a
reclining position, set off to find an egress and bring assistance.

At the thirtieth step they were stopped by a solid mass of rubble
that was only prevented from falling upon them by the fact that two
massive timbers had dropped across the tunnel. To tamper with them
meant certain disaster. Retracing their way to the main dug-out,
they found a hitherto overlooked passage running at right angles to
the longer walls. As the Captain had previously reported, it was a
blind alley.

"Although I believe that the Hun's yarn about fifty tons of stuff is
all moonshine," continued Nicholson, "I can't see how one bomb would
raise Cain like this. It's just possible that there was a small
quantity of explosives in the place--sufficient to bring the roof
down and to give us a pretty shaking up."

The imprisoned men ate, drank, and talked--all except Selwyn, who
complained of a violent headache and dizziness. Captain Nicholson
let them carry on at their leisure. As long as they kept their
spirits up there was little cause for anxiety. The great thing was
to guard against depression.

"Now then, boys!" he exclaimed at length. "Heaven helps those who
help themselves--how about it? Are we going to sit here until we are
dug out or are we going to extricate ourselves?"

"Win off our own bat, sir," replied M'Turk.

"That's the sort," rejoined his officer. "Now, look here. Do any of
you fellows remember if there were other dug-outs close to this?"

"There was an entrance about twenty yards to the left of this one,
sir," said Malcolm. "I noticed that it was clear, for when I came up
our fellows were hauling out a batch of Huns."

"That's our direction," decided Captain Nicholson. "It's not much
use trying to open up the tunnel at which the Boches were working
when we surprised them. It leads towards Messines Ridge, and I guess
there's not much tunnelling left there. I should imagine they were
ignorant of the actual results of the mine, or they would have given
it up as a bad job."

Armed with mattocks and picks, Malcolm, M'Turk, and M'Kane attacked
the side of the entrance-tunnel at a spot a few yards beneath the
choke. The ground was clayey and easy to work, but in the absence of
shoring material there was a grave risk of the new tunnel caving in.
At the end of an hour's strenuous activity a tunnel about twelve
feet long, and sufficiently large to enable a man to crawl along,
had been excavated.

"Any luck?" enquired Captain Nicholson for the twentieth time during
that hour.

"No, sir," replied Malcolm, who was working at the head of the sap
and cautiously dislodging soil, which, in turn, was picked up by
M'Turk and passed out so as not to obstruct the portion of the
tunnel already dug.

The ground vibrated under the impact of a heavy shell thirty or
forty feet overhead. Although the bombardment had decreased in
violence the Huns were still sending heavy stuff across at irregular
intervals.

"Hanged if I like this job," soliloquized Malcolm. "I thought the
whole show would collapse that time. By Jove, something's going!"

Making a vain attempt to back out of the confined space, Carr felt
the ground giving way beneath his bent legs.

"What's up, Digger?" enquired M'Turk, hearing his companion's
exclamation.

Without waiting for an answer M'Turk crawled to within arm's length
of the lad and grasped him by the arm. As he did so the subsidence
increased, and, amidst a shower of soil, the two riflemen found
themselves falling through the air.

Both uttered an exclamation of horrified surprise, not knowing at
that stage if they were hurtling into a deep abyss to be dashed to
pieces at the bottom. Anticipating the worst, they were agreeably
relieved to find that they had dropped only ten or twelve feet, and
had alighted upon a pile of soft material that proved to be a stack
of folded blankets.

"It's all right, sir," shouted Malcolm.

"Where are you?" enquired Captain Nicholson, crawling cautiously
along the newly-excavated gallery.

"That's more than I can say, sir," replied Carr. "We're in the dark
absolutely."

Having tested the ground at the edge of the hole, Captain Nicholson
flashed his torch into the dug-out into which the two riflemen had
fallen.

"By Jove," he exclaimed, "you've found a way out! I won't join you
just yet. Stand by while I drop some candles and matches; then have
a look round and report. See if there's a ladder available."

The torch was switched off and the two riflemen waited in utter
darkness.

"I'm beginning to fancy I'm a blessed mole!" remarked M'Turk. "Twice
I've been buried in our own dug-out. First time wasn't much to speak
of; but Plug Street--ugh! For five mortal hours I was pinned down,
the Huns strafing all the time, and the water rising up through the
dirt that covered me up to my chin. And, as if I hadn't had enough,
one of the boys who were digging me out must needs drive a pick
through my calf. After all," he added, "it was worth it. I got six
months in Blighty, and haven't had the same luck since. I'd give
five pounds for old Fortyscrew's buckshie. Guess he's having a fair
holiday by now."

"Fortescue was hit only quite recently," said Malcolm. "I met him on
my way up."

"D'ye know we've been nearly fifteen hours in this warren?" asked
M'Turk. "I thought not! And with reasonable luck a man can be hit
and find himself in Blighty within twelve hours. Hallo, here's the
Captain!"

The torch was flashed upon the two men and a cloth in which were two
candles and a box of matches dropped into the circle of light.

"Look alive!" was the officer's exhortation. "It's quite time we
broke through. Does the air seem pure? No petrol fumes hanging
around, for instance?"

"Now you come to mention it, sir," replied M'Turk, "it does hum a
bit, although it's not petrol. Since I've been out here I've become
a Sort of authority on stinks."

"It's the fumes of high-explosive," declared Malcolm.

"Right you are," rejoined his companion, as he struck a match and
lit the candles. "By gum, this dug-out's copped it."

In the dim light the place looked a regular shambles. The dug-out
was larger than the one in which they had been trapped, but the
fittings were of a plainer and more substantial nature. Evidently it
had been the underground quarters of some of the Prussian rank and
file, for three sides of the place consisted of four tiers of
bed-boxes. The fourth, except for a doorway, was taken up with a
large arms-rack capable of holding a couple of hundred rifles and
bayonets. Most of the floor space was occupied by long trestle
tables, while in one corner was the large stack of blankets and
bedding upon which Malcolm and M'Turk had fallen.

Although there was no shattered woodwork, everything pointed to a
violent disturbance in the enclosed space. Tables and stools had
been overthrown; the floor in front of the arms-rack was covered
with weapons hurled from their stands. Broken bottles, plates, and
earthenware littered the lime-trodden floor.

Against the doorway were four huge Prussians, leaning apathetically
against the timbered supports of the arms-rack. Two of them, their
eyes fixed upon the New Zealanders, had their arms folded on their
broad chests. The others were steadying themselves by their rifles,
to which the bayonets were fixed.

Without any weapons, either of offence or defence, for they had left
their rifles in the other dug-out, Malcolm and M'Turk were at a
decided disadvantage; but the odds did not deter them.

"Bomb 'em out of it!" shouted M'Turk, swinging a purely imaginary
missile. "Hands up, Fritz!"

The Huns stirred not a muscle.

"What's the fuss?" sang out Captain Nicholson.

"Four Boches, sir," replied Malcolm.

In a trice the Captain dropped from the tunnel into the dug-out.
With his revolver ready for instant action he rejoined his two men,
while M'Kane, preceded by his rifle, followed his superior officer's
example.

"Hands up!" ordered Captain Nicholson, levelling his revolver at the
head of one of the Huns at a range of less than ten yards. The
Boche's eyes stared unblinkingly at the muzzle of the weapon, while
his companions showed no signs of shaking off their apathy.

"By gum, sir," exclaimed M'Turk, "I believe they've been done in!"

Holding the candle above his head, the rifleman strode over the
littered floor and gripped one of the Prussians by the shoulder.
Like a log the heavy body toppled forward and fell on its face.

"Stone dead, sir," replied M'Turk. "Every man jack of 'em. And there
are more of them over there."

Curiosity prompted Captain Nicholson to examine the corpses. Not one
bore the trace of a wound. In addition to the four by the doorway
sixteen lay partly hidden by the overturned tables and chairs.
Without a mark to show how they had been killed, all the men were
dead. Some had been struck down in the act of writing. One man still
held a pencil firmly clenched in his hand. Others were eating when
death overtook them suddenly and painlessly.

"Killed by concussion when the mine went up," suggested M'Kane.

"More likely by one of our heavy shells," declared Captain
Nicholson. "If your theory is correct, how do you account for the
fact that those staff officers in the next dug-out came off
scot-free until Joliffe thought fit to bring trouble on them and us?
No, stay where you are, Joliffe!" he exclaimed, as the bomber's
voice was heard shouting his intention of "barracking in". "We'll
come back and fetch the pair of you when we've found a way out. Now,
boys, let's see how the land lies."

Passing through the doorway and ascending a flight of steps the
party reached a wrecked dug-out that bore unmistakable testimony to
the tremendous powers of devastation of a British 14-inch shell. The
missile had penetrated twenty feet of earth and concrete, closing
the entrance to the open air, and half-filling the place with
debris. A funnel-like shaft, through which the sky was visible, was
now the only means of communication with the open.

"We're not out of the wood yet, boys," remarked Captain Nicholson,
surveying the scene of destruction, "but we're getting on."

As he spoke, the orifice was darkened, and a gruff voice from above
exclaimed, to the accompaniment of a string of highly
uncomplimentary ejaculations:

"Now then, you, up you come or I'll blow you to blazes!"

"Please don't stand there calling us names," expostulated Captain
Nicholson affably. "Rather skip off and bring a rope."



CHAPTER XXI

Out of Touch


After a wait of nearly ten minutes a rope was procured, while other
willing helpers brought a number of short ladders to the mouth of
the crater. These, lashed together, were lowered into the hole and
allowed to rest upon the steeply sloping sides.

Down swarmed several men, not New Zealanders, but belonging to an
Australian regiment. Foremost amongst them was Malcolm's Queensland
chum on board the _Pomfret Castle_--big Jack Kennedy.

"Hallo, Digger!" exclaimed that worthy, recognizing Rifleman Carr in
the candlelight. "What have you been doing? Cleaning out a chimney?
You're as black as an aborigine."

"I hardly thought to run across you again," remarked Malcolm.

"The world is small," rejoined Kennedy. "We were on your right when
the attack started. Your fellows have rushed Messines village and
are holding all the captured positions. Who are your pals? Beg
pardon, sir, I didn't know you were an officer!" (This to Captain
Nicholson, who, owing to the dirt and grime in which he was
smothered, was hardly distinguishable from the others.) "We'll give
you a leg up."

"Hold on," protested Captain Nicholson. "There are two of our men
who have to be brought along. They're rather shaken up. You'll want
a ladder--Carr."

"Yes, sir," replied Malcolm.

"Will you show these men the way into the other dug-out?"

Saluting, Malcolm turned and made his way over the wrecked woodwork,
three Australians following in his footsteps. Two of the latter
carried a short ladder.

"Fortescue with you?" enquired Kennedy, as the men planted the
ladder on the pile of earth that had fallen from the newly-excavated
tunnel.

"No," replied Carr. "He got a buckshie in his advance, but Selwyn's
there. Do you remember Pieter Waas on the old _Pomfret Castle_?"

"Do I not, the larrikin!" replied Kennedy. "I suppose you know that
he got away soon after he was landed at Plymouth?"

"Yes, and more," added Malcolm. "He was in our trenches last night,
and slipped over the top to the German lines."

The Australian smiled incredulously.

"Fact!" persisted his informant. "I spotted him and he spotted me.
Before he could be winged he was off in the darkness."

"Then let's hope he went up in the great bust," said Kennedy. "A bit
of a sell that, to bunk from the security of our trenches right on
top of a million pounds of aminol. This the way up? Golly, this
tunnel wasn't made for a man of my size!"

The rescuers found Grouser Joliffe indulging in a particularly
strong burst of grumbling--not at his adventures in the dug-out, not
at the hardships he had undergone, nor at the wounds he had
received. He had just made the disconcerting discovery that he had
lost a packet of five cigarettes, and, being a frugal man, the loss
irritated him exceedingly.

Dick Selwyn, although stiff and exhausted, was able to walk with
assistance, although Malcolm foresaw difficulties when his chum came
to the narrow tunnel and the swaying ladder leading to the other
dug-out.

"Which of the boys left his coat behind?" enquired Selwyn,
indicating a neatly folded bundle on the ground at a few feet from
him.

"None," replied Malcolm emphatically.

"Then what's this?"

Malcolm examined the clothing. Not only was there a coat, but a New
Zealander's complete kit.

"By Jove," he exclaimed, "I have it! That's the uniform the spy
fellow was wearing. He must have come here, knowing that this
dug-out was the Hun brigade head-quarters, and changed into a Boche
rig-out. Ten to one he was amongst that lot of staff officers."

"If so, he's properly done in," added Selwyn.

The two chums were only partly correct in their surmise. Konrad von
Feldoffer, on realizing that he had been recognized by a couple of
men who, he thought, belonged to another battalion, had rather
prematurely bolted for the German lines. In the guise of a New
Zealander he had been hoping to gather useful and definite
information concerning the forthcoming advance. Since most of the
Diggers were in ignorance of the mining operations under Messines
Ridge, von Feldoffer gained very little information on that point.

By means of a pre-arranged signal the spy arrived at the German
trenches without being fired on by his compatriots, despite his
khaki uniform and British-pattern shrapnel-helmet. Taken to the
head-quarters' dug-out, he made his report to the Hun authorities,
changed into German uniform, and left immediately afterwards for a
new sphere of activity. So, once more, by the matter of a few hours,
Konrad von Feldoffer escaped a well-merited death; while, through
ignorance of the terrific preparations made for the blowing up of
Messines Ridge, he had unwittingly done the Allies a good turn; for
instead of withdrawing the troops the Hun commander had concentrated
a thousand on the mined ridge in order to repel an infantry attack
that threatened only in the minds of the German staff.

"What are you fellows doing?" enquired Malcolm of the Australian.
"Demolishing dug-outs?"

"Not much," replied Kennedy. "We are not raiding this time. We're
here to hold what we've got, not to do as much damage as we can and
return to our own lines. Already our heavies are well up. A battery
of 14-inch guns is in a position just behind the original first-line
Boche trench. The air is positively stiff with aeroplanes--all
British. The Hun airmen take jolly good care to give us a miss. They
absolutely funk it."

"Don't blame 'em!" added another Anzac. "We're top dog in the air
just now."

Taking the discarded uniform for identification purposes, Malcolm
proceeded to lead the rescue party on their return journey. The two
injured men gave considerable trouble. Joliffe, whose wounds were
giving him excruciating pain, showed a decided tendency to become
light-headed, while Selwyn was so badly bruised and shaken that he
could hardly crawl.

Yet, in spite of their difficulties, the Australians succeeded in
bringing both men to the foot of the shaft communicating with the
open air.

Placed on a stretcher, that was raised by means of a rope running
through a block at the end of a hastily constructed derrick, the
injured men were taken up the funnel-like shaft, while the others
ascended by means of ladders, Captain Nicholson being the last to
quit the dug-out that might have proved to be his grave.

After receiving medical attention, Selwyn and Joliffe were sent to
the base hospital, while Captain Nicholson and Riflemen Carr,
M'Turk, and M'Kane set out to rejoin their battalions at Messines
village.

A steady trickle of Anzac wounded--mostly walking cases--making
their way to the advance dressing-stations, gave indications that
the Diggers were still hotly engaged. Although the British guns
already in position were pounding away as hard as they could, there
was a heavy fire from the hostile artillery, of which a formidable
number had been placed in prepared positions behind the shattered
ridge. With typical Teutonic thoroughness the Huns had prepared for
the possibility of having Messines wrenched from their hands, and,
having lost the ground, they were ready to swamp it with
high-explosive shells before launching a counter-attack on a large
scale.

Judging by the cheerfulness of the wounded, the New Zealanders were
confident of being able to hold the captured village. To Captain
Nicholson's question every man expressed his opinion that Fritz was
badly beaten. Some of the pick of the Prussian and Bavarian
regiments had already attempted to retrieve the lost ground, but had
gone down against the brave lads of the Antipodes.

Malcolm found the bulk of his company entrenched on the right of the
shell-racked village. A line of captured trenches had been
reorganized and placed in a state of defence against its former
masters. Since the threatened counter-attack had not yet
materialized, most of the New Zealanders were resting in the
dug-outs obligingly constructed by Fritz, who little thought that he
would have to abandon his painstaking work except upon the
conclusion of a victorious German peace.

Apart from an alarm in the early hours of the morning, when a very
half-hearted attack was easily repulsed, the New Zealanders spent an
undisturbed and comparatively restful night.

With morning came most reassuring and gratifying reports from the
whole of the Messines Front. English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish,
Canadian, and Anzac troops had gained their respective objectives
with comparatively few losses, taking into consideration the
important results. Once more the prestige of the German army had
suffered a severe blow, while, in prisoners alone, the Huns lost
more than the total casualties of the successors to the
"contemptible little army".

It was not to be supposed that the High Command of the Hun armies
would suffer the loss of an important position without making
desperate and determined efforts to turn the scale of victory. Fresh
divisions were hurried up to relieve the wornout and demoralized
troops, whose _moral_ had, been badly shaken by the stupendous
explosion under Messines Ridge, and the fierce infantry attacks that
succeeded it.

Across the shell-pitted ground dense masses of field-grey-clad Huns
were hurled, supported by a terrific covering fire from the German
guns.

In the hastily-constructed trenches beyond the ruined village the
New Zealanders awaited the assault with a quiet confidence. To
Malcolm Carr the experience was a novel one. During his
comparatively brief service in the trenches he had been called upon
to repel isolated raids, both by day and night; he had taken part in
several successful excursions over the top to harry the German
trenches; he had participated in one of the greatest actions on the
Western Front; but, for the first time, he was helping to man a
captured position against a massive hostile counter-attack.

This was something very different from anything he had previously
experienced. The rousing cheer, the surging mass of khaki-clad
figures over the top, and the mad excitement of the headlong rush
were absent. In silence the riflemen manned the firesteps and
awaited the assault of Germany's crack "shock troops ".

Overhead, far above the bursting shells, aeroplanes were swooping
hither and thither. Whether they were friend or foe the Diggers
hardly troubled to ascertain. As a matter of fact they were both,
and high in the air fierce combats were in progress as the Hun
airmen sought in vain to drive off the almost too daring British
fliers.

One thousand yards--nine hundred--eight hundred.

Not a shot was fired from the Anzac trenches--although dozens of
Maxims, Lewis guns, and rifles were ready to receive Fritz in the
strictly conventional way--until the foremost of the serried
grey-clad masses drew within seven hundred yards. Then, like the
outpouring of a dozen concentrated thunderstorms, British guns that
hitherto had been silent set up a barrage--so heavy that the German
fire, furious though it was, seemed negligible in comparison.

In front and in the rear of the advancing German infantry the hail
of shells descended like a giant twin portcullis, while the
intervening space was thick with shrapnel. The dense masses
desisted, recoiled, and attempted to flee through the barrage, while
death and wounds took heavy toll.

A whistle sounded; others took up the call. Whether the order to
advance was premeditated, or given on the spur of the moment, few of
the New Zealanders knew. At any rate, now was the opportunity to
secure another few hundred yards of ground.

"Up and over, boys!"

A line of khaki topped the parapet, leapt into the open, and broke
into a steady double.

Malcolm, with bayonet fixed and magazine charged, found himself
right-hand man of C Company as the Diggers surged onwards in
extended order.

A few scared and demoralized Huns, who had contrived to dodge the
barrage, came towards them slowly, as if uncertain of their
reception. With hands upraised and cries of "Kamerad" on their lips
the surrendering men passed between the advancing troops, who
saluted them with ironical advice to "Cut it out, and not so much of
your Kamerad stunt!"

Presently the battalion slowed down. The men were treading on the
heels of their own barrage. So perfectly were the shells falling
that there was little fear of one falling short and playing havoc
with the khaki boys. With a feeling of complete confidence, akin to
that of a child for its mother, the New Zealanders literally clung
to the skirts of the barrage, at the same time adjuring the distant
artillerymen to "Push it along and let's get on!"

In response to a signal from an observing aeroplane the barrage
suddenly parted, some of the guns surging round to the right, others
lifting and pounding away at a mass of German reserves. Immediately
in front of C Company was a gap that would bring men to hand-grips
with the foe.

Nothing could have kept the Anzacs back. In vain a daring German
aeroplane swooped down and brought a machine-gun to play with
absolute impartiality upon the combatants, finally to "crash" upon
the corpse-covered ground. With no visible result did the Huns send
up their so-called S.O.S. signals for aid. The retirement became a
rout, while the New Zealanders pressed hard at the heels of the
opponents.

"Enough of that, boys!" ordered Captain Nicholson, who of all the
company officers was the senior one unwounded. "Dig yourselves in
and stand fast."

Already the haunting suspicion that C Company had pushed on in
advance of the rest of the line assailed the young officer. Times
without number he had been impressed, and had impressed others, with
the need of keeping in touch with the flanking companies. How the
line ran, whether the Australian troops of the right were in advance
or to the rear of the New Zealanders, he knew not. Dense clouds of
low-lying smoke hid everything. The Huns were releasing prodigious
quantities of poison gas. Away to the left an advance
ammunition-dump went up with a terrific explosion.

In a slight depression, littered with coils of severed barbed wire
and displaced sand-bags, Captain Nicholson got his men in hand. The
defeated Prussians were being swallowed up in the haze of battle,
but dense masses of grey-clad troops were advancing under cover of
the liberated gas.

There was no doubt about it, C Company had lost touch. Every man
realized the fact, although none remarked it to his comrade. The
heat of battle over, they set to work to consolidate and hold the
position they had carried at such a cost. Rifle and machine-gun
bullets were beginning to spray the ground anew.

Captain Nicholson scribbled a few lines in his pocket-book, tore out
the leaf, and beckoned to Malcolm, who was engaged in collecting
sand-bags.

"Cut it out, Carr!" he shouted. The order, puzzling to a Tommy, was
plain to the rifleman addressed. Desisting from his task, he
approached his officer and saluted.

"Find the C.O.," ordered Captain Nicholson. "Give him this--at all
costs."

Malcolm took the folded paper and thrust it in his pocket, unfixed
his bayonet and returned it to the scabbard, slung his rifle, and
started off at a run in the direction of the invisible Messines
village. According to the ethics of the Great War a dispatch-bearer
must walk while under shell-fire, but when exposed to rifle-fire he
may run without loss of dignity or prestige. And, since the matter
was urgent, Malcolm felt glad that he was not to traverse a
shell-watered zone.

Wounded men, both friend and foe, called imploringly as he passed.
Beyond a few cheering words to his helpless comrades he could do
nothing to aid them. His errand was too pressing. There were dead,
too, in ghastly heaps, some with their fingers still clutching the
throats of their opponents, others in a naturally recumbent position
that gave the appearance of having fallen easily to sleep.

All the while bullets were whizzing overhead, thudding against the
debris that littered the ground, or ricochetting from the hard
earth. In his imagination Malcolm felt that he was the target for a
whole Prussian division. No wonder, then, that his heart was in his
mouth as, bending low, he darted from shell-hole to shell-hole and
took advantage of the slightest shelter afforded by a rise in the
terrain.

A feeling of utter loneliness assailed him. It was different from
advancing with tried and trusted comrades around him and the
inspiring dash that accompanied the rush of men confident of
victory. Save for the slain and wounded he was alone in the open,
not facing bullets, but followed and overlooked by a regular hail
coming from an unseen source.

"I've got the wind up this time," he muttered. "Hope I'm on the
right track. I don't remember passing this----"

His foot tripped on a strand of wire, the lowermost and only intact
part of an entanglement. Down he crashed heavily, his
shrapnel-helmet rolling down a declivity for a distance of nearly
ten yards.

"Buckshie for me this time," he exclaimed, without making an effort
to rise. "Wonder where I've got it?"

Gradually he made the discovery that beyond a grazed instep, for one
of the barbs had penetrated his boot, he was unwounded. His ankle
was throbbing painfully. In his fall he had sprained it. With an
effort he regained his feet, clenched his teeth as a sharp twinge
shot through his frame, and again pushed onwards. Although at a
deminished pace he still ran--not from inclination but from a sense
of duty.

A bang and a cloud of white smoke high above his head told Malcolm
that the guns were renewing their activity.

"Shrap., and I've lost my helmet!" he exclaimed. "I'll lose my head
next, if I haven't done so already. By gum, I'm out of my tracks!"

He stopped and surveyed his surroundings. He was now quite alone.
Even the dead and wounded were no longer in evidence. Smoke limited
his range of vision to a distance of less than a hundred yards.
Beyond, a few gaunt stumps of trees loomed through the pungent
vapour like distorted shadows. With the sun completely obscured, he
had no means of ascertaining his direction. For all he knew he might
have followed a semicircular course. The sound of the guns helped
him not at all. Which were the hostile and which the British
artillery was a question he was unable to answer.

A whiff of nauseating gas drifted across his path. His right hand
sought his anti-gas mask. It had vanished. Only a portion of one of
the straps remained; it had been completely severed by a bullet.

And now another difficulty arose. The deadly gas used by the Huns,
having a density greater than air, has a tendency to fill the
hollows and leave the high ground comparatively clear. On Malcolm's
front the ground rose gradually to a height of about twenty feet.
While it might afford protection from the noxious vapour, the ridge
was certainly open to rifle-fire. Nor could Carr understand why, in
a temporarily-deserted expanse, there should be such a persistent
hail of machine-gun fire.

"Better to risk a bullet than a dose of gas," decided the rifleman,
and with this intention he breasted the slope as rapidly as his
sprained ankle would allow.

"Might get a sight of the village, too," he soliloquized as he
neared the summit of the ridge.

Something struck him sharply on the hip. Mechanically he glanced
down. The butt of his slung rifle was splintered, the brass
heel-plate curiously twisted. A piece of shell, which otherwise
would have inflicted a dangerous if not mortal wound, had been
intercepted by the rifle.

"A miss is as good as a mile," he remarked to himself.

The sensation akin to panic had passed. A kind of blind fatalism
gripped him.

"If I'm booked to be plugged it's no use getting flurried over it,"
he continued, talking aloud. His voice seemed strange and distant,
but for want of someone with whom to converse it afforded him a
slight sense of companionship--an audible indication that he was
still alive. "On the other hand, if my number isn't up, why worry?
All the same, I should like to know how far I'm away from Messines."

Fifty yards ahead was a zigzag trench, its direction only
discernible by interrupted sections of sand-bags and badly-shattered
wire. Subjected earlier in the day to a terrible artillery pounding,
it had been abandoned, but whether by Briton or Hun there was no
indication except by closer examination. Evidently it was the
rearmost of an intricate system of field-fortifications, for Malcolm
was on the parados side while beyond, merging into smoke and haze,
were other ramifications of the maze of trenches, all silent and
deserted.

"They are bound to lead somewhere," was Malcolm's surmise. "To the
Messines salient most likely. I'll risk it. It's certainly safer
than in the open, so here goes."

Choosing a gap in the parados, Rifleman Carr cautiously slid on to
the floor of the trench. The effort gave his ankle a wrench that
sent a pain through his leg like the searing of a hot iron.

"I'll get there if I have to crawl for it," he muttered. "There's
one thing certain, I won't be able to go back."

The trench was dry and the floor made good going, except in places
where the sand-bags had slipped and formed awkward obstacles. There
were no indications as to who were the owners of the place.
Discarded British and German rifles, clips of cartridges, and other
articles were impartially strewn about.

Just as Malcolm was approaching the fourth or fifth bay a heavy
shell landed about twenty yards from the parapet. With a concussion
that sent sand-bags flying and hurled tons of dirt high in air the
missile exploded.

Bending to avoid the flying fragments that were descending like
rain, Malcolm, regardless of his sprained foot, bolted round the
traverse, and before he was fully aware of the fact he had blundered
right into a party of Huns.



CHAPTER XXII

A Prisoner of War


It would be difficult to say who were the most taken aback: the
Boches at the sight of a khaki-clad man who might or might not be
the foremost of a party of trench raiders, or Malcolm on finding
himself confronted by a score of fully-armed Germans.

The New Zealander's first impulse was to unsling his rifle. By use
of his magazine he might drive the Huns into the next bay, and,
profiting by the diversion, effect a smart retirement. The weapon
was useless; the piece of shell that had smashed the butt had jammed
the bolt action. The rifle was little better than a broken reed.

Malcolm turned and ran, but he had forgotten his sprained ankle.
Before he had taken a couple of strides his legs gave way under him,
and like a felled ox he collapsed upon the duck-boards.

Even as he lay prostrate his wits did not desert him. At all costs
the note entrusted to him by his captain must be destroyed. Although
ignorant of its contents, Malcolm felt assured that it was of great
importance, otherwise Captain Nicholson would not have sent anyone
across the open under a hail of bullets. With a deft movement the
trapped rifleman removed the paper from his pocket and conveyed it
to his mouth, and before the approaching Huns were upon him he had
swallowed the paper.

Ten seconds later he was in the grip of three hulking Saxons, who
promptly bound his wrists behind his back and propped him up against
the fire-step of the trench. The others, having satisfied themselves
that the prisoner was an isolated straggler, crowded round and
regarded him with undisguised interest.

Unable to understand a word Of German, Malcolm was at a loss to
follow their excited conversation. He managed to glean that there
was a discussion as to what the Huns would do with their prisoner.
One particularly villainous-looking Boche was apparently advising
that he should be shot outright, fingering the trigger of his rifle
as if in joyous anticipation of playing the joint rôle of judge and
executioner.

This amiable proposal was overruled by the others, and, after the
prisoner had been searched and his belongings confiscated, Malcolm
was marched along the trench, preceded and followed by men with
loaded rifles.

Almost every yard of the way was occupied by troops. The men
regarded the passing of the prisoner with slight interest. Their
attention was principally directed upon some distant object, as if
they were momentarily expecting an attack.

By one of those freaks of misfortune Rifleman Carr had completely
lost his bearings, and in his wanderings had made his way towards
the German trenches instead of towards the village of Messines. The
shells and bullets that had given him such a warm time had come from
his own lines, and in endeavouring to seek cover he had stumbled
upon a temporarily-unoccupied section of the original enemy
support-trenches. Even then he had no warning of his expensive
mistake until he literally walked into a trap, the bay being filled
with Saxons of the 209th Reserve Regiment.

Conducted into a deep and spacious dug-out, the prisoner was brought
before two German officers. One, a major, was short and corpulent.
Bald-headed, of florid complexion, and with abnormally-puffed
eyelids, magnified still more by a pair of heavy convex glasses, the
Saxon had Landsturmer written all over him. His companion was a
tall, cadaverous lieutenant of about twenty-five, narrow-chested,
and with protruding shoulder-blades. His hawkish features, upturned
moustache, and colourless skin gave him a truly Machiavellian
aspect. He wanted only a pointed beard and a ruff to complete the
living representation of a sixteenth-century portrait of one of the
ruffianly Margraves of the Palatinate.

"It's the long chap who will cause trouble," mentally decided
Malcolm. "The big-paunched fellow won't count. They're going to
question me, that's evident. If I try to bamboozle them there will
be trouble. By Jove! I'll give them a few choice New Zealand
catch-phrases, and see what happens."

At a sign from the Lieutenant the sergeant in charge of the escort
deftly removed the prisoner's identity disc and handed it to his
superior officer for inspection. The cadaverous one jotted down
something in a pocket-book, and exchanged a few words with his
confrere.

"Now listen," began the Lieutenant in broken English; "der truth we
must haf. If lies you tell it useless is. We vill haf you shot at
vonce. Tell me where you come from?"

"Ask me?" replied Malcolm promptly.

The Lieutenant frowned.

"I haf asked," he rejoined. "Where you come from--what position?"

"Cut it out!" ejaculated the lad.

His questioner bent over a map spread out on the table in front of
him. With a puzzled expression on his face he addressed the Major.
Malcolm distinctly heard the words "Cut it out" mentioned more than
once.

The lad smiled inwardly. The sight of the two Germans poring over a
map to find this non-existent locality of "Cut it out" tickled his
sense of humour.

Foiled in that direction, and attributing his discomfiture to the
fact that the military map was quite inadequate to present needs,
the Lieutenant wrote in his notebook again.

"How you arrive at our lines?" continued the inquisitor.

Malcolm thought fit to reply in a totally irrelevant string of Maori
phrases, concluding with "_Haeremai te kai_" (come to dinner) and a
decisive shake of his head.

By the time he had finished the Hun lieutenant's face was a study in
angry astonishment.

"It is evident," he remarked in German to his companion, "that the
prisoner is one of the Englander's mercenaries--from Portugal,
perhaps, or even from one of those outlandish and unheard-of nations
that have presumptuously declared war against us. The fact that his
identity disc proclaims him to be a New Zealander proves nothing,
except that the English are liars. I was always under the impression
that New Zealanders were black, tattooed savages. Since the prisoner
is worthless to us I would suggest that he be shot forthwith."

The Major shook his head.

"Do not be too hasty, von Rügen. Shooting prisoners would be all
very well if we were not in a vile plight ourselves. What would
happen to you and me if those Englanders repeated the success they
had over the 46th Westphalians? By some means the enemy found out
that von Tondhoven had executed the two sergeants who were caught
just beyond our entanglements--and what was the result? Not a single
officer of the 46th Regiment was given quarter. Here we are cut off
from our supplies. At any moment that infernal barrage might start,
and then the khakis would be swarming on top of us. No, no, von
Rügen, I am not at all satisfied with your suggestion, nor am I at
the prisoner's replies."

To Malcolm's mortification the Major held up a packet of documents
taken from the prisoner--his pay-book, a few letters and post cards
from far-off New Zealand, and a few snapshots of incidents on board
the transport _Awarua_.

Scribbling on a piece of paper, the Major handed the slip to the
prisoner. On it was written:

"How is you not understand English, since we haf writing on you
discovered?"

Malcolm studied the writing with feigned interest, puckering his
brow and frowning in assumed perplexity. By a pantomime display he
obtained a pencil from the Sergeant, and wrote rapidly and
distinctly "'Nuff sed" in reply.

A reference to two different Anglo-German dictionaries followed,
accompanied by many guttural ejaculations from the baffled Teutons.
"I will have the prisoner sent back to-night," decided the Major.
"We have evidently captured one of a new type. He will interest the
Intelligence officers---- Himmel! Is that the cursed barrage
commencing?"

A heavy shell landing in close proximity to the dug-out set the
concrete girders shaking. With a hurried gesture the Major dismissed
the prisoner, and, accompanied by the saturnine lieutenant, bolted
to a flight of steps leading to a still deeper refuge.

At a guttural order, the purport of which there was no mistaking,
Malcolm turned, and, surrounded by his guards, hurried out into the
trench.

There was good cause for haste. With the exception of a few
sentries, stationed in concreted, sand-bagged shelters, the trench
was deserted. The Saxon infantry had bolted to their dug-outs like
startled rabbits, as shell after shell screeched overhead and burst
amongst the labyrinth of trenches in the rear.

Speedily Rifleman Carr, now a prisoner of war, found himself in a
dug-out with half a dozen Huns for companionship.

For two reasons the Boches were favourably disposed towards their
captive. One was that they were Saxons, who, hating the Prussian and
all his works, were less imbued with the doctrine of hate towards
the enemies of the Fatherland. The other was the knowledge that, in
the event of a successful British infantry attack, the presence of a
well-treated prisoner would tend considerably to mitigate their
treatment when the tables were turned. Over and over again instances
have come to light of whole companies of Huns surrendering to their
late prisoners when the lads in khaki were swarming with fixed
bayonets over the parapets and into the enemy trenches.

Malcolm acted warily. Suspecting a trap, he refrained from verbal
conversation, although several of the Saxons could speak a few words
of English. He thanked them by signs when they provided him with a
portion of their own meagre fare and showed him their treasures in
the form of photographs of relatives and places in the Fatherland.

Meanwhile the bombardment continued without intermission. Although
the expected barrage had not put in an appearance, the British
"heavies" were lavishly showering shells upon the German position.
The ground was trembling continually, acrid-smelling smoke found its
way into the deepest dug-outs. Wherever a direct hit occurred it was
all U P with the luckless inmates of the crowded underground
shelters. Twenty or thirty feet of earth, reinforced with concrete
and sand-bags, was not proof against the terribly destructive
missiles.

From time to time, as shells landed unpleasantly near, the faces of
the Germans grew long. Malcolm, too, felt far from comfortable. The
possibility of being blown into infinitesimal fragments by British
shells was not what he had bargained for. He was quite willing, for
five shillings a day, to take his chance of being knocked out by the
Boches, but----

The lugubrious faces of the Huns had the effect of making the
rifleman pull himself together. At any rate, Fritz was not going to
see that he had cold feet. Moistening his lips, Malcolm began to
whistle.

In ordinary circumstances he could whistle well. Often while in
billets or standing by in a dug-out his chum would ask him to oblige
with a whistling solo; but now he was forced to confess that the
result was not exactly melody.

"Nicht mehr!" exclaimed a corporal peremptorily.

Although he did not know what the Saxon said, the accent and the
emphatic gesture were sufficient.

"He means 'shut up'," soliloquized Malcolm. "That's a nasty one. I
suppose it gets on his nerves. Well, I'm not surprised. I fancy I
was a trifle flat and wobbly."

A few seconds later the dug-out shook violently. Some of the men who
were standing upright were thrown forward, gear was hurled from the
racks and shelves, while the concrete walls cracked from top to
bottom, bulging ominously under the pressure of earth behind them.

"A near one!" decided Malcolm. "Another five yards this way and it
would have been all up."

A hoarse voice shouted through the tunnel that formed the entrance.
Without showing any tendency to bestir themselves the men looked at
each Other enquiringly. Evidently they were wanted outside, but were
debating as to who should make the first move. The carrying out of
orders promptly--generally the German soldiers' chief concern--was
noticeably absent. It was not until the command had been given three
times that the men reluctantly left their shelter.

Left to himself, Malcolm discussed the situation. Now was his
opportunity to slip out at the heels of the Hun and trust to luck in
the open. If he escaped being blown up, he might be able to go over
the parapet unobserved and make his way towards the British lines.
While the bombardment was in progress there was little chance of the
Huns manning the trenches. On the other hand, prudence counselled
him to stay where he was. Should the infantry attack develop and be
successful his rescue would be merely a question of time. Then again
came the maddening thought that if the British troops did not
capture the position he would remain a prisoner in the hands of the
enemy.

"I'll chance it and go outside," he decided.

Without, the air was thick with smoke. At the most, Malcolm could
see but twenty to twenty-five paces to right and left. In front was
the parados, the ground covered with a yellowish dust from the
high-explosive shells. At the entrance to the dugout into which he
had been taken to be questioned, a dozen men were vigorously plying
pick and shovel, the while urged to still greater efforts by a
gigantic sergeant.

A 12-inch shell had fallen on top of the shelter. Concrete earth and
sand-bags were not proof against the terrific impact, despite the
fact that thirty feet of solid material formed the roof of the
subterranean retreat.

"They might just as well save themselves the job," thought Malcolm.
"Mephistopheles and the Fat Boy won't be worth troubling about, I
guess. It was a jolly good thing that they didn't invite me to stay
and have dinner with them. Now for it!"

Making for a gap in the parapet the lad began to crawl up the steps
of disentangled sand-bags and trench-props. The British guns were
evidently lifting. Although the air was "stiff" with screeching
shells, the missiles were flying high overhead and bursting far
behind the German first-line trench. Machine-gun and rifle-firing
had ceased. Beyond the few men engaged in digging out their
unfortunate officers the normally lightly-held front trench was
practically deserted.

"I'll win through yet!" exclaimed the lad, voicing his thoughts
aloud.

The next instant a lurid flash leapt up from the ground almost in
front of him. Hurled violently backward by a terrific blast again,
Malcolm had a fleeting vision of the ground rising up to meet him,
and then everything became a blank.



CHAPTER XXIII

At Düren Camp


When he recovered consciousness Malcolm Carr found himself lying on
a bundle of straw in an advance dressing-station. He was puzzled
greatly. He could not imagine how he came there, or why he should be
there at all. He had no recollection of being lifted by the blast of
a shell. Somehow things didn't seem quite right.

Gradually the chain of events during the last few hours connected
itself. He remembered the stand of C Company; being sent off by the
platoon-commander with an urgent message; blundering into the
hostile lines; being made prisoner and attempting to escape.

"And now I've got a buckshie," he decided. "Wonder where I am?"

He raised his head and looked around. The effort sent a throbbing
pain from the base of his neck to his spine. He felt bruised all
over, while his left arm was tightly bandaged from elbow to wrist. A
strange, almost uncanny silence seemed everywhere, and yet the place
was teeming with activity.

The dressing-station was in the open. The ground was crowded with
bundles of straw and stretchers, each occupied by a helpless human
being. More stretchers were constantly arriving with their ghastly
burdens. Men slightly wounded were staggering in, covered with dust,
and looking utterly dejected. Not one had a smile upon his face.

Malcolm had seen an advance dressing-station more than once, where
casualties were arriving after a stiff engagement. Then he had been
struck by the cheerfulness shown by most of the men. Even the badly
wounded were elated, for the day had gone well, and they were happy
in the knowledge that the stiff task imposed upon them had been
brilliantly accomplished. But things seemed different here.

In front of a partly demolished barn, over which was flying a Geneva
Cross flag, covered ambulance motors were being filled up with
wounded, who, their injuries attended to, were being dispatched to
the base hospital. To Malcolm's bewilderment, the powerful motors
started in absolute silence, while the heavy wheels made no sound as
they jolted over the _pavé_.

Gradually the sensation of dizziness diminished, and it dawned upon
Malcolm that he was still a prisoner. Everywhere the field-grey
uniforms were conspicuous, but even that discovery did not explain
the deep silence.

Making another effort, the rifleman sat up. The blanket that covered
him had slipped off. From the waist upwards he was destitute of
clothing. His skin was as yellow as that of a Chinese.

On the straw to his right was a Hun whose right leg had been badly
injured. The man was trying to attract Malcolm's attention, but
although his lips were moving no words fell upon the lad's ears.

In vain the New Zealander tried to reply. If he spoke he was unaware
of it. The sound of his own voice was absent. He was deaf and dumb.

When Malcolm was thrown by the concussion of the bursting shell, he
alighted in the trench he had left, unconscious, his uniform partly
torn off, and his face and body dyed with the yellow fumes. In this
state he lay insensible for several hours. When the bombardment
cleared, the threatened infantry assault did not materialize. It was
not intended that it should, the object of the artillery activity
being to keep the Germans pinned to that section of their defences
while other operations were being carried out in another part of the
line. So, when the guns died down to a desultory shelling, the Huns
set to work to clear up the badly-damaged trenches.

While the wounded were being removed, a couple of Prussian Poles,
who were employed as ambulance-men, placed Malcolm on a stretcher,
and threw a discarded greatcoat over his legs, not realizing that he
was an enemy, since the remnants of his khaki uniform were
indistinguishable from the field-grey after they had been "chromed"
by the fumes of bursting shells. Otherwise it is doubtful whether
the stretcher-bearers would have removed a wounded enemy. Without
the discovery being made, the New Zealander was taken to the German
advance dressing-station, and his injuries dressed, and thus he
found himself wounded and a prisoner.

It was later in the evening when Malcolm was taken by
motor-ambulance to a railway station twenty miles behind the lines.
With him were about twenty Prussians, Saxons, and Würtemburgers,
whose demeanour was one of extreme dejection. Their wounds, although
serious, were not of a nature to debar them from further military
service. They realized that they were going to be patched up in
order to be again sent to the front, more than likely to the
terrible Ypres district. Now that they were wounded they bemoaned
the fact that their injuries were not greater, and envied those of
their comrades who were permanently disabled and unfit for further
service in the field.

"Wonder what Fortescue would say if he saw me in these togs?"
thought Malcolm as he surveyed the German greatcoat and trousers
with which he was provided on arriving at the station. "And Selwyn?
'Not too much of that, Digger'--that's what he'd chuck at me. I
shouldn't be surprised if the Huns take me for one of themselves."

Which was exactly what they were doing.

For two hours the ever-increasing throng of wounded waited in the
station. Momentarily men dropped, to be left to the rough-and-ready
attentions of their comrades. The few doctors and their assistants,
utterly fatigued by reason of the long and continual strain, were
almost useless as far as their duties were concerned. Once again the
German machine of thoroughness and precision had broken down.

At last a hospital train drew up just outside the station. To
Malcolm's surprise the Red Cross carriages disgorged a battalion of
fully-equipped troops. Fearing attacks from British airmen, the
German High Command had given orders that, as far as possible,
troops were to be moved toward the Front in hospital trains, while,
to bring up additional machine-guns with the least danger and delay,
the motor-ambulances, still displaying the symbol that all
unkultured nations respect, were employed to their utmost capacity.

The train then ran into the station, and the entrainment of the
wounded commenced. Beyond the red cross on the sides and tops of the
carriages there was nothing to distinguish the train from any other.
Marshalled in military formation, the "walking cases" boarded the
carriages, which were similar to the fourth-class compartments of
the German State Railways--hard wooden seats not excepted.

Of the next twelve hours Malcolm had no clear recollection. Frequent
stoppages were the only respite to the otherwise incessant jolting.
At one station very inferior bread and watery soup were served out.
Beyond that the wretched "cannon-fodder" went hungry until the train
drew up at a large town that Malcolm afterwards knew to be
Frankfort.

Here the conditions in hospital were passable, although food was
poor and meagre; but Rifleman Carr made progress, and in less than a
week he had recovered from the effect of his wounds except for his
speech and hearing.

Several times doctors and nurses wrote questions for him to answer,
but, not understanding German, he could only shake his head. Taken
for a Saxon suffering from shell-shock, he was afterwards left
severely alone as far as conversation was concerned.

One morning an orderly went round the ward distributing postcards to
enable the patients to write to their relations and friends.

"Wonder if I can get a letter through to New Zealand?" thought
Malcolm. "I'll have a cut at it anyhow."

Greatly to the curiosity of an observant nurse, the lad obtained a
postcard, and wrote to his father, signing himself "R/m 99,109,
Malcolm Carr, N.Z.R.B., prisoner of war."

The nurse, puzzled that the patient could write and yet be unable to
read, called a doctor's attention to the fact, and Malcolm's
postcard was kept back for examination.

Within five minutes the hospital ward was in a state of uproar, for
the discovery had been made that an enemy was enjoying the same
treatment and attention as a good German. After being subjected to a
searching and protracted examination, the questions being written in
English, Malcolm was summarily "fired out" to an unknown
destination.

Escorted by two Landsturmers, and garbed in very motley attire, the
New Zealander was marched through the streets to the railway
station, and after a six-hour journey the train stopped at a small
station that, from the name on the _Fahrkartenausgabe_, was called
Düren. In what part of Germany Düren was situated Malcolm had not
the faintest idea. He had yet to learn that it was a small town in
Rhenish Prussia roughly midway between Aix-la-Chapelle and Cologne.

The prisoner kept his eyes open during his progress through the
narrow streets. Everywhere were signs of industrial activity. The
workshops were disgorging their occupants--old men, women, and
children, whose emaciated features contrasted vividly with those of
the prosperous munition-workers in Great Britain. At the outskirts
of the town was a large, newly-erected factory, from which Gotha
machines, their wings folded for transit, were being taken away in
large motor-lorries, while sandwiched between the building and the
outskirts of the town proper was a large barbed-wire compound within
which were rows of wooden huts.

This was Malcolm's prison camp. So great was the Huns' fear of air
raids over the industrial towns of the Rhine valley that several of
the larger places of detention for prisoners of war had been broken
up, and the men sent to numerous small camps in close proximity to
towns within the radius of hostile airmen.

"This will be a tight hole to squeeze through," soliloquized the new
arrival, as he noted the elaborate precautions taken against any
attempt on the part of the prisoners to escape. The double gateway
was strongly guarded by armed troops, assisted by a particularly
ferocious-looking type of dog. Between the outer and inner
rectangular fences, a distance of fifty feet, more guards kept
vigilant watch; while at frequent intervals tall look-out boxes had
been erected to enable the sentries to keep the whole of the camp
under observation. Both fences were made of barbed wire, supported
by massive posts, and so Criss-crossed that even a cat would have
had considerable difficulty in creeping through without injury from
the sharp spikes.

Having handed over their charge, the two Landsturmers were given a
receipt for the delivery of the prisoner, and then dismissed.

Malcolm's latest jailers were four stolid-looking Prussians, who,
badly wounded in Flanders, had been retained as guards at the camp.
By them the New Zealander was conducted to a building just within
the second or inner gate. Here he was registered and given a number,
and afterwards subjected to perfunctory examination by a doctor,
who, finding that the prisoner exhibited no trace of infection or
contagious disease, passed him as a fit inmate of the camp. In an
adjoining room he was given a large sack and a filthy horse-cloth.
The former, when filled with straw, was to serve as a bed; the
latter was his one and only blanket. A printed list, in English, of
the numerous rules and regulations was then handed to him, and the
initiation ceremony of the new member of the Düren Prison Camp was
completed.

Escorted by an armed orderly, Malcolm was taken down the broad
central road. A few prisoners in khaki rigs were standing
disconsolately at the doors of the huts. Most of them shouted a
rough but well-meaning greeting to the new arrival, to which
Malcolm, understanding the purport of the unheard words, replied by
a wave of his hand. In vain Rifleman Carr looked for a New Zealand
uniform: these were mostly Tommies and Jocks, a sprinkling of
Canadians, and two West Indians; Anzacs seemed to be unrepresented
in the motley throng of captives.

Presently Malcolm's escort halted, pointed to one of the numbers on
the prisoner's card, and then to a corresponding number on the door
of a hut. It was an intimation to the effect that, during the
pleasure of the All Highest, Rifleman Carr was to be his guest in
hut No. 7 of the Düren Detention Camp.

"What's the latest, chum?" enquired a Tommy as Malcolm entered.
"Blow me if 'e ain't barmy!"

"Rot!" ejaculated another. "He's deaf. What's his regiment, I
wonder? Come on, chaps, let's make the poor beggar comfortable."

"A jolly hard thing to do in this rotten hole," added a third.
"Who's got a pencil?"

A stump was presently forthcoming, and, writing upon a piece of
brown paper, the last speaker, a sergeant of an English line
regiment, contrived to get in touch with the new arrival.

"He's a New Zealander," he announced to his companions. "Isn't there
one of their chaps in No. 4? I'll give him the tip."

So saying, the good-natured non-com. left the hut, to return with a
tall, bearded man, whose uniform was sufficiently intact to indicate
that he belonged to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Even his hat was
tolerably well preserved, even to the encircling red cord.

For a few minutes the two men from "Down Under" stood facing each
other, astonishment and incredulity written in their faces. Then,
with a loud bang, something seemed to give way in Malcolm's ears.
With a vehemence that surprised himself, Malcolm Carr almost shouted
the name of "Peter!"

The next instant the brothers were shaking hands and rapping out
questions, to the surprise of the other occupants of the hut, who
had suspicions that they were the victims of a practical joke.

"I don't know that it's so very remarkable after all," declared the
Sergeant. "Plenty of fellows, deaf and dumb through concussion, have
recovered speech and hearing by a shock of some sort. My word, those
Diggers can talk!"

He crossed the room to where the brothers were exchanging
experiences.

"Look here," he said. "I'm in charge of this hut, and my pal Jeffson
is responsible for No. 4. After roll-call I'll arrange for you
(indicating Malcolm) to doss in No. 4, and get another man from
there to take your place here. Only, if you don't want to get me
into a regular row with the camp commandant, take care to slip back
before morning roll-call."

Peter Carr's greatest concern was the fact that he had never
received a letter or parcel from New Zealand. He had written several
times, but Malcolm was able to inform him that, up to a
comparatively recent date, their father had not heard anything about
Peter beyond the official statement that he was wounded and missing.

"I say," remarked the elder Carr in the course of the evening,
"we'll have to make a change--a shift round. I've a Canuk for my
linked man."

"Linked man?" echoed Malcolm. "What's that?"

"We're expecting and hoping for a raid," explained Peter. "Only
three nights ago we heard bombs dropping on Julich, which is but a
few miles away. So if some of our airmen do make a stunt, we'll take
our chances of being blown up and make a dash for liberty. Since it
would be madness for the whole crush to keep together, we've
arranged to separate, if we do get clear, and work in pairs.
Everything's all cut and dry, and we are told off in twos; but I'll
push the Canadian on to the previous odd man out, and we'll stick
together."

It was long after midnight when the reunited brothers ended their
conversation. Nor did sleep follow quickly as far as Malcolm was
concerned. It was not the constant clatter of machinery and the
rasping of dozens of circular saws in the adjoining factories that
kept him awake, but the excitement of the day, culminating in the
discovery of his elder brother, whom he had regarded as dead for
months past.

Early next morning the prisoners were served with a meagre and
ill-nourishing meal, consisting of turnip soup and a dirty-coloured
liquid that was supposed to be coffee. This was supplemented by food
sent from home, the men putting the edible contents of all their
parcels into a common stock. At six they were told off in gangs for
work either on the roads or in the fields. The Huns had tried hard
to compel them to labour in the mines, but such was the indomitable
spirit of the luckless sons of the British Empire that the attempt
ended in failure.

Malcolm was fairly fortunate in being in the same party as his
brother, their work being to construct new roads in the vicinity of
the large aircraft factory. The prisoners were too well guarded to
have the faintest chance of escape. Even those in the open fields
were careful to keep together; any man straying more than twenty
yards from the rest of the party being liable to be shot by the
numerous armed guards.

"All in good time, Malcolm," remarked his brother, when discussing
the subject of escape. "It's not much use having a few minutes'
liberty and then being done in. Two of the boys tried the game a
short time ago; both were back within half an hour. One had to be
carried in with a gunshot wound in both legs and a bullet through
his neck. The other lost a couple of fingers, and was badly bitten
by the watch-dogs. That sort of thing cools a fellow down a bit; but
when we get a fair chance----!"

Days ran into weeks, weeks into months, but the expected agent of
deliverance was not forthcoming. The men had made their plans. Food
of a nature that would not deteriorate by keeping had been laid by
at the cost of great self-sacrifice. A map, cut from a pre-war
Baedeker, had been passed from hand to hand, in order to give the
men a fair idea of their whereabouts.

One night the men were for the most part asleep on their straw
mattresses, dog-tired with their labours, when the hitherto constant
whirr of machinery stopped. Accustomed to the clang and clatter, the
sleepers were aroused by the unusual silence. The hut was in
darkness, for lights were luxuries denied the prisoners.

"What's up?" enquired one of the men, as a steam whistle began to
send out a succession of high and low blasts.

"Time you were, chum!" replied Peter. "Out of it, boys, and get your
gear! Now's our chance!"



CHAPTER XXIV

Escape


Deftly and quickly the men dressed in the darkness. Much practice
enabled them to don their scanty clothing and badly-worn foot-gear.

"Fritz has got the wind up properly this time," declared the
Sergeant, as the sound of scurrying feet and cries and shouts of
alarm rose on the still air. "Work's knocked off for the rest of the
night, I reckon, even if our airmen don't pay Düren a visit."

He went to the door and peered cautiously down the roadway. Between
the wire fences the watchdogs were barking furiously, adding to the
din as the workers poured from the factories and rushed to their
homes.

"The Boches are still on guard," he reported, "an' the dogs; but
ain't they in a funk. I can see their bayonets shaking."

"The dawgs', Sargint?" asked a man facetiously.

"But no sign of our airmen," continued the non-com., ignoring the
chartered funny man's question. "Hope they won't give the show a
miss after all. All ready, you chaps?"

In the town the uproar was subsiding. The siren had ceased its
two-pitched wail. The last of the powerful engines had stopped its
belated purr. Even the watch-dogs were quieting down.

The night was dark but clear; overhead the stars shone resplendent;
a soft north-easterly breeze rustled the leaves. In the distance the
rumble of heavily-laden trains could be heard, but still no sound of
approaching British aircraft.

A quarter of an hour passed in almost utter silence. The prisoners,
assailed alternately by hopes and fears, strained their ears to
catch the first faint purr of the aerial machines.

"By Jove, they're at it!" exclaimed one as a couple of vivid
flashes, followed after a short interval by three in quick
succession, lit up the south-western horizon.

"Shut up!" snapped the Sergeant, the while counting his pulse-beats
between the first flash and the first report.

"Boom, boom--boom, boom, boom!"

The hollow, reverberating sound of five reports fell upon the
listeners' ears.

"Ten miles off," declared the non-com., as calmly as if giving the
range of a howitzer. "Good!"

Another flash, followed at a shorter interval by the crash of the
exploding bomb told unmistakably that the raiders were approaching.
The men felt like cheering. Even the prospect of being strafed by a
British bomb did not cause them the slightest concern. In their
blind faith they regarded a bomb as the key to unlock their prison
doors.

Very faintly at first, then steadily increasing in volume, came the
hum of many British aircraft.

"No Gothas this time!" exclaimed Peter, who, like the rest of the
men, could distinguish with unfailing certainty the different
"pitch" of the British and Hun machines.

"Here they are!" almost shouted Malcolm, pointing into the night.

He was not mistaken. Flying in perfect V-shaped formation, and at a
low altitude that made the airmen more certain of hitting their
objectives, were eleven biplanes standing out sharply against the
star-lit sky.

"Crash! crash!! crash!!!"

Away on the left a battery of antis., the guns mounted on
motor-lorries, opened a furious fire upon the rapidly-moving airmen.
The air was thick with bursting shells, the flashes of which threw a
lurid light upon the ground. The gunners were only a hundred yards
or so from the barbed-wire enclosures.

"We'll have the shrapnel on our heads when they shorten the range,"
observed one man.

"No fear," replied Peter. "They'll be afraid of the stuff falling on
their own thick skulls. Now, Malcolm, stand by. Hurrah, there go the
white-livered Landsturmers!"

Which was a fact. Panic-stricken, the grey-bearded and bald-headed
guards deserted their posts and bolted precipitately, as if by
running they could outstrip a squadron of biplanes moving at a
hundred miles an hour. The dogs, too, had changed their
tune--instead of barking they were whining dolefully.

Right overhead the leading aircraft of the V formation seemed to
swoop. The Huns, as Peter Carr had predicted, had ceased fire, and
were tearing away to take up a fresh position whence they could
serve their guns without fear of the earth-returning shrapnel
peppering their gunners.

An ear-splitting roar announced that the strafing of Düren had
commenced. A powerful bomb had landed fairly in the centre of the
principal factory, blowing out the walls and sending showers of
bricks, stones, tiles, and timber far and wide.

It was the first of several. The very ground seemed to emit fire,
the earth trembled under the terrific concussions, dense clouds of
smoke were rising up from the disintegrated buildings, while the din
was indescribably awful.

"Now's our time!" roared the Sergeant. "No. 2 hut's empty. Good
luck, chaps!"

Into the open the men ran, not away from the adjoining and
badly-shattered factory but towards it. As they expected, some of
the bombs had fallen wide of the building and had blown gaps in the
double fence.

"Keep together, Malcolm," shouted Peter.

"You bet," replied his brother.

Unmolested, the crowd of prisoners slid boldly into the deep crater
formed by the explosion of one of the missiles and scrambled up the
other side. Almost before they were aware of it they had passed what
had been lines of unclimbable fence. They were free men--but for how
long?

Across the deserted main road and into the open country beyond, the
fugitives ran, none to say them nay. Then, according to previous
plans, they separated, each couple taking a different direction,
until the two brothers found themselves alone.

Behind them the bombs were still falling. The raiders were circling
over their objectives. Since they had flown such a long distance
they were determined to do the job thoroughly. "Tip-and-run tactics"
had no supporters in the British Air Service. "Make sure of your
target, even if you have to sit on it," was one of the maxims of the
daring pilots belonging to a breed that produces the best airmen in
the world, bar none.

Alternately running and walking briskly, the two Carrs covered a
distance of about three miles without any attempt at caution. They
were confident that no Hun was abroad that night within miles of the
scene of the raid, with the exception of the anti-aircraft gunners.
These, intent upon their work, and perforce kept to the highways,
were not likely to give trouble. Right and left, within hailing
distance, were other fugitives, but for all the sound they made they
might be a league or more away.

Once Peter stopped to wrench up a couple of young saplings.

"Take this," he said, handing one to his brother. "It may come in
handy."

Beyond that, no words were exchanged for the best part of an hour.
Moving more cautiously, the twain set their faces resolutely towards
the west and liberty.

Both brothers had had plenty of experience of night journeys in
far-off New Zealand, but, in place of the Southern Cross, they now
had the less-familiar Great Bear and the North Star to guide them.

Frequently they had to make detours in order to avoid isolated
farm-houses. Once a considerable distance had to be traversed in
order to pass a large village. The place was so shrouded in darkness
that the fugitives were within a hundred yards of the nearmost house
before they discovered the fact; for, although the sky was clear, a
light ground-mist of ever-varying density made observation a matter
of difficulty.

"It will be dawn in half an hour," remarked Malcolm.

"Yes, worse luck!" rejoined his brother. "We'll have to find
somewhere to hide. That's the worst of these short nights. I wanted
to cover a good thirty miles before daybreak, but it's doubtful
whether we've done twenty. The question is, where can we hide?"

"Those trees," suggested Malcolm, pointing to a cluster of
heavily-foliaged oaks.

"Not much. The Boches will make a mark on every tree within fifty
miles of Düren. They'll take it for granted that every man of us
will make for a tree-top. Long grass--_bonsor_ if we can avoid
treading it too much. Farm buildings--very doubtful. We'll carry on
for another ten minutes, and keep one eye skinned for a suitable
show."

Before they had covered another hundred yards the two men found that
further progress was impeded by a broad canal. To the right the
waterway was clear and uninterrupted, as far as the now-thickening
mist permitted. To the left was a string of barges; beyond, looming
faintly through the air, the outlines of a house and the uprights of
a swing bridge.

"Lock-keeper's cottage," declared Peter. "There's a light burning.
Friend Hans is evidently entertaining the bargees and ignores Kaiser
Bill's lighting restrictions. We'll scout round and then take the
liberty of crossing the lock bridge."

"One moment," remonstrated his brother. "Cover's what we are looking
for. We aren't out to run up against a Boche lock-keeper. Can't we
hide in one of these boats?"

Peter glanced doubtfully at the idle barges. There were four in a
string, their bows pointing westwards. When the journey was resumed
the coaly flotilla would be proceeding nearer the German-Dutch
frontier--perhaps to Holland itself, as almost every ton of coal
imported into that country, since the tightening of the blockade,
came from the Westphalian pits and was exchanged for badly-wanted
foodstuffs.

"Sit tight a minute," he said. "I'll have a look round."

Cautiously the elder Carr stepped from the bank upon the deck of the
foremost barge. Even then his boots grated loudly upon the thick
deposit of coal dust upon the grimy planks.

For some seconds he stood still, his ears strained to detect the
first sounds of a disturbed sleeper. Reassured, Peter crept aft,
where a slightly raised deck formed the roof of a small cuddy or
cabin. The sliding hatch was closed, and secured on the outside by a
padlock.

"It's pretty evident that the place is deserted," he decided,
"unless Hans has locked Gretchen up inside while he clears out to
see his pals. I wonder if there's a cuddy-hole in the other end of
the boat, where the crew keep ropes and spare gear?"

Making his way for'ard, Peter discovered that there was a forepeak,
but the cover was securely padlocked. No place of refuge there! He
paused and surveyed the mound of coal glistening in the misty
starlight. "I wonder--yes there was an old barrel on the bank; that
will do."

Seized by an inspiration, Peter joined his brother.

"Look slippy!" he exclaimed. "We'll hide under the coal. We'll have
to throw some of it overboard first, and get this old barrel to form
our trench props."

Silently the two men boarded the barge. At the after end of the
cargo space, the roaming of the raised deck projected slightly. Here
they set to work to remove a portion of the coal. Unless the stuff
was unloaded there was little chance of discovery, since the bargee
could not see the spot from where he stood to steer.

Working quietly and silently the New Zealanders removed a sufficient
number of lumps of coal, and dropped them into the water without
making a splash. In a very short time a hollow six or seven feet in
length and three in breadth was excavated. The barrel staves, set
slantwise between the sloping bank of coal and the after bulkhead,
served as a roof, while, to camouflage their place of concealment,
coal was piled on the boards until the new level was about the same
as the original one.

By the time they had completed their task dawn was breaking. The
vivid crimson shafts of light and the rosy tints just above the
horizon betokened the approach of bad weather.

"Spotted, by Jove!" ejaculated Malcolm, pointing towards the tall
reeds that fringed the landward side of the tow-path.

Peter followed the direction of his brother's outstretched hand.
Less than fifty feet away the reeds had been parted, disclosing the
heads and shoulders of two men.

"Swim for it!" he exclaimed; but, as the Carrs ran to the side of
the barge, with the intention of taking a header into the canal, a
voice was heard calling:

"Not so much of a blinkin' 'urry, Diggers!"

[Illustration: "IT'S SPUD MURPHY AND JOE JENNINGS!"]



CHAPTER XXV

On the Barge


Pulling himself up just in time, Malcolm turned and looked again at
the gap in the rushes as the two men emerged cautiously and crept
towards the barge.

"It's Spud Murphy and Joe Jennings!" he exclaimed.

"Right you are, chum," replied the latter. "Thought as 'ow we were
the farthest west of our little crush. You've been mighty nippy,
mates. What's your move?"

"We've constructed a dug-out," replied Peter, pointing to the
concealed lair, of which only the narrow entrance was visible.

"An' good luck to ye," rejoined the Irishman. "Faith we'll not be
for keepin' ye company for long. Sure, a bargain's a bargain; but
we'll jist be havin'a few wurrds wid yez before we carry on."

"You can try your luck with us," said Peter.

"Och, no!" replied Murphy. "Four's jist two too many. Will you have
seen any of the bhoys?"

"Not a sign after we separated," answered the elder Carr. "Have
you?"

"Only the Sargint, just about an hour ago," replied Private
Jennings. "He'd lost touch with his chum an' was limpin' along. It's
my belief he copped it from a splinter of a bomb. Anyway 'e wouldn't
own up to it, and choked us off when we offered to give 'im a 'and.
'Ow much farther to the blinkin' frontier, Digger? It can't be much
more, can it?"

Neither of the New Zealanders could give a definite reply, but, to
cheer the men up, Peter expressed his opinion that another thirty
miles would see them in Dutch territory.

"An' then it won't be long afore I'm in Blighty again," continued
Jennings hopefully. "Three long measly years since I saw an English
girl. Honest, I'll go down on me blinkin' knees an' kiss the shoe of
the first girl I meet in Blighty, even if she's got a face like a
muddy duck-board."

"You're speaking metaphorically, I take it," remarked Peter.

"I met a who?" enquired Private Jennings. "Lumme, I don't want to
meet nobody while I'm on blinkin' German soil. Come on, Spud, let's
be shiftin'. S'long, chums, an' good luck!"

As a matter of fact, the two fugitives, when they arrived at the
canal bank, intended to hide themselves in a similar manner to that
decided upon by Peter and Malcolm Carr. Finding themselves
forestalled, their simple yet steadfast code of honour would not
permit them to remain. The decision made at Düren Camp, that the
escaping men should separate in pairs, was to be rigidly adhered to.

The New Zealanders realized the fact, and that it would be useless
to renew their offer that the four should seek a common
hiding-place.

"_Kia ora_, boys!" exclaimed Peter.

"And may we meet across the frontier!" added Malcolm.

Noiselessly the two Tommies lowered themselves into the water and
swam with long steady strokes to the opposite bank. Creeping on
all-fours across the tow-path, they vanished in the tall grass
beyond.

"Jolly good sorts," declared Peter. "Come on, Malcolm; it's time we
went to roost."

It was indeed. The daylight was rapidly increasing in strength. The
mist was rolling away under the influence of a faint easterly
breeze. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of the lock-keeper's cottage
cocks were crowing lustily.

Malcolm backed into the coal-screened lean-to shelter; his brother
followed, and, having deposited his bulky carcass in the hollow,
began to pile lumps of coal over the entrance.

"Thank goodness they didn't whitewash the coal!" he remarked.

"Why whitewash?" asked his brother curiously.

"To stop thefts," was the reply. "I wondered what the idea was when
I saw whitewashed stacks of coal in various railway sidings in
England, so I enquired. A thief couldn't disturb the heap without
leaving a tell-tale black gap in the whitened level of the stack.
How about grub? I'm feeling hungry."

"And so am I," admitted Malcolm. "We're rationed on a four-days
basis, aren't we?" The meal consisted of a Plasmon biscuit, a small
bar of chocolate, and a slice of potato bread. The brothers ate in
silence, their ears strained to catch the first sound of the
returning bargees.

"We ought to have provided ourselves with water," whispered Peter.
"We never bargained for being cooped up here, otherwise I would have
brought a tin."

"I'm not thirsty," said Malcolm, "but isn't it cold?"

"Rather!" admitted Peter with conviction. "It's early morning yet,
and the coal has lost its heat by radiation. Before midday we'll be
hot enough, I fancy, with the sun pouring down upon our black roof.
Hist! Footsteps!"

The sounds of heavily-shod feet crunching on the dew-soddened gravel
drew nearer and nearer. Then voices could be distinguished. "Women!"
whispered Malcolm.

The New Zealanders listened intently. The sound of footsteps ceased,
although the voluble conversation continued. Then the thudding
foot-falls drew nearer, while the unmistakable sound of a coil of
rope being thrown upon the deck of one of the other barges was
heard.

The clamour drew closer. Supposedly the string of barges was
"manned" by women, the diminishing group halting at each barge to
prolong the conversation before the crews boarded their respective
boats, until, by the clatter almost overhead, the fugitives knew
that the last barge had received its complement--two, perhaps three,
buxom and stolid German women.

Malcolm could hear the padlock to the cabin hatch being unlocked.
Pails clattered, water sluiced along the diminutive after deck.
Despite the dirty nature of the cargo, the crew were making
determined efforts to keep the deck and Cuddy clean. Wood crackled
in the cabin stove, smoke wafted for'ard, wisps eddying into the
fugitives' hiding-place. Then came the appetizing odour of frying
sausages.

An hour passed; still no indication that the barges were starting on
their daily journey. Two boats, however, passed, proceeding in the
opposite direction, each drawn by a horse. Malcolm could hear the
lap of the water against the bows. That was a fairly sure
indication, taking into consideration the direction of the wind,
that the barges were going eastwards. With a following wind the
ripples would be absent, or, at least, hardly perceptible.

As each barge passed there was a lively exchange of greetings
between their crews and those of the stationary boats; but, in spite
of the fact that the Carrs had picked up several German words during
their period of captivity, the hidden listeners were unable to
understand the conversation, beyond the knowledge that it referred
largely to the air raid of the previous night.

Then a steam-propelled craft came up, fussily and noisily. Abreast
of the foremost barge she reversed engines and manoeuvred until a
heavy bump, followed by the groaning of rope fenders between the two
craft, announced that the tug--for such was her rôle--as alongside.

"I hope they won't want to take in coal," thought Malcolm.

Moments of suspense followed, but there was no attempt on the part
of the men comprising the tug's crew to remove any portion of the
barge's cargo. Judging by the sounds, they were preparing to take
the string of barges in tow, for Malcolm could hear a heavy hawser
being dragged along the barge's waterways and made fast to the
towing-bitts a few feet from the bows.

The engine-room telegraph-bell clanged. With the water hissing under
her stern the tug forged ahead. Then, with a jerk, as the hawser
took up the strain, the barge began to glide through the water. Then
another jerk announced that barge No. 2 had started; another and
another, until the cumbersome flotilla was in motion.

Already, cramped in their close quarters, the New Zealanders were
beginning to feel the effects of the heat, as Peter had predicted.
Overhead the hot sun poured pitilessly down upon the absorbent coal.
The air in the confined space was hot and stuffy. Their throats
burned with a torturing thirst--and the day was not more than seven
hours old.

At irregular intervals the barges had to be passed through locks,
and since the locks admitted only two boats at a time, and the
hawser had to be cast off before the gate opened and secured again
when the lower level was reached, progress was tediously slow.

Bridges, too, caused delays, for, in spite of vigorous blasts of the
tug's fog-horn, the persons in charge displayed no great activity in
manning the winches by which the obstructions were swung.

Early in the afternoon the flotilla approached a large town. The hum
of industrialism was plainly audible to the two fugitives. The
barges were constantly bumping into craft either tied up to the
quays or proceeding in the opposite direction. There were swarms of
mischievous boys on the banks, whose sole amusement seemed to be
throwing stones at the irate bargees, until one of the women grew so
furious that she leapt upon the coal that screened the New
Zealanders' retreat, and picking up fragments hurled them at her
tormentors.

It was another period of great anxiety. The barrel-staves creaked
under the weight of the bulky German woman. Some of the lumps began
to shift, while particles of coal dust, filtering through the
interstices, floated in the already-stifling air, causing intense
irritation to the fugitives' eyes and throats.

With feelings of profound relief the New Zealanders heard the woman
striding back to her place beside the long tiller, while the next
moment the already-gloomy dug-out was plunged into profound
darkness.

The barge was entering a tunnel--one of several by which the canal
was led underneath the town. Malcolm welcomed this new phase of the
voyage in inland waters. The air was comparatively cool, a pleasing
relief from the hot sunshine in the open; but before long the
disadvantages of the tunnel made themselves apparent.

The din was terrific. The sound of the grunting and groaning of the
tug's noisy engine was magnified tenfold, echoing and re-echoing
along the domed expanse, while clouds of sulphurous smoke permeated
everything. Yet, the while, there was the comforting thought that,
unless the general direction of the canal had changed, every
revolution of the tug's propellers was bearing the fugitives nearer
the frontier and freedom.

On emerging from the tunnel the string of barges stopped alongside a
wharf. The tug, its mission accomplished, cast off and steamed away.

Malcolm felt anxious. Was this basin in the heart of a populous town
to be the journey's end for the flotilla? If so, the brothers were
in a very tight corner indeed.

Peter, too, was sharing in Malcolm's unspoken thoughts. More so when
an unmistakably military command was issued at a few feet distant.

Peering through a gap in the barrier of lumps of coal the New
Zealanders saw a corporal and three men armed with rifles standing
on the wharf, with a crowd of interested spectators lounging in the
background. Did it mean that the Huns had a suspicion that some of
the escaped prisoners from Düren Camp had found a refuge on one of
the barges?

Another order, and the soldiers stepped on board. The metal butts of
the rifles clattered on the planks, and a spirited conversation
ensued between the corporal--occasionally aided by his men--and the
three women comprising the barge's crew.

During the conversation a lean and decrepit horse, led by a boy of
about ten or eleven years of age, arrived at the wharf. In a
leisurely manner one of the crew went forward and threw a rope, the
end of which was fastened to the animal's traces. Most of this the
New Zealanders could not see; while presently they heard the
wretched beast's hoofs slipping on the cobbles as the barge slowly
gathered way.

Although the soldiers remained on board, the Carrs' fears were not
fully confirmed. The barge was about to enter another tunnel that
happened to pass directly under a large and important munitions
factory. With characteristic caution and forethought the Huns left
nothing undone to safeguard their proceedings; hence, in the case of
barges using the subterranean waterway, a corporal's guard was
placed upon each during the journey through the tunnel.

Contrary to the New Zealanders' expectations, the barge, beyond
stopping to land the guard, did not tie up for the night within the
limits of the town; but, maintaining a two-miles-an-hour pace, held
on until the lengthening shadows announced the close of another day.

Having made all secure, the women bargees left the boat. The sound
of the led horse's hoofs grew fainter and fainter, until silence
reigned supreme.

"How about it?" whispered Malcolm. "My throat is like a chunk of hot
lava. If I don't get a drink of water I'll go dilly!"

"Wait till it's dark," suggested the cautious Peter. "If we remove
the coal from the mouth of our hiding-place, and someone drifts
past, there'll be trouble."

Peering through a narrow gap between the large lumps of coal, Peter
made the discovery that the tow-path against which the barge lay was
clear, and apparently right out in the country and free from the
presence of buildings. The fact puzzled him. Why on two consecutive
nights the barge should choose a berth far from a town or village
required a lot of explanation. He could only suggest that the women
manning the boat took care to avoid Populous districts, so that they
could go ashore without exposing the cargo to the predatory
activities of the war-tried inhabitants.

"Time!" whispered Peter at length.

Deftly the brothers set to work to remove the barrier, although once
a large mass of coal slid noisily against the wooden bulkhead. When
the opening was sufficiently enlarged, Malcolm crept cautiously out
into the open, only to throw himself flat on his face.

The canal bank visible from the New Zealanders' shelter was
deserted, but on the opposite side of the waterway was a large
three-storied, red-tiled house. At one of the open windows sat two
men smoking long, bent-stemmed pipes. From their elevated situation
they could command the whole of the exposed surface of the barge's
cargo. The wonder was that the sight of Malcolm's head and shoulders
emerging from the hole had escaped their notice.

Quick to perceive that something was amiss, Peter forbore to
question his brother. In deep suspense Malcolm lay with his face
flattened against the coal, scarce daring to move a muscle, and
fervently expressing a wish that the night would speedily grow
darker than it was.

A quarter of an hour passed. Judging by the persistence with which
the two smokers stuck to their seats by the open window, Malcolm
felt certain that they had a special interest in the barge and its
contents.

Presently Malcolm felt himself in a cold sweat, for the sound of
approaching footsteps came from the tow-path. Although the
new-comers trod stealthily, the stillness of the air and the
conducting properties of the calm water carried the sound of their
footfalls with disconcerting clearness.

Opposite the boat the footsteps ceased. The people, whoever they
were, were intent upon something on the barge. Then, leaping lightly
upon the waterways, the men, as they proved to be, crept softly aft
towards the place where Malcolm lay in the starlight.



CHAPTER XXVI

At the Frontier


A prey to the wildest apprehensions, Malcolm Carr flattened himself
on his hard, uneven bed. Rapidly he debated as to his course of
action; whether to regain his feet and throw himself upon the two
men before they had time to recover from their surprise, or to keep
perfectly still in the hope that he would be unnoticed. He could
hear Peter shifting his position, ready to join in the imminent
struggle.

"Wer da?" shouted a guttural voice from the window of the house
across the canal. Immediately after came the "pluff" of an air-gun
being discharged, and a pellet thudded against a post on the
tow-path.

With muttered exclamations the two men took to their heels, while
the watchers, leaving their post at the window, ran downstairs,
presently to reappear accompanied by a large dog.

For a moment or two they stood looking across the canal at the
barge; then, calling the animal to heel, they walked rapidly in the
direction of a bridge about a quarter of a mile away.

"This is too hot a show for us, Malcolm," whispered Peter, as he
emerged from his hiding-place. "That dog will be our undoing. Those
fellows are evidently crossing the canal to inspect the barge in
case the thieves have had time to take anything."

Clearly it was too risky to land and run across the fields; the dog
would track the fugitives with the greatest ease. The question was
how they were to put the animal off the scent in the brief time that
remained before the watchmen, or whoever they might be, arrived upon
the scene.

"You said you were thirsty," continued Peter grimly. "Now's your
chance. Overboard and hang to the rudder."

Silently the fugitives lowered themselves into the water, and,
swimming cautiously, gained the slight protection afforded by the
bluff overhang of the boat's quarter and long, projecting rudder.
Hanging on to a chain, and keeping in the shadow, the brothers
awaited developments, knowing that if the now open entrance to their
dug-out were spotted, suspicion would be diverted from the marauders
to them. Since the news of the escape of a numerous body of
prisoners from Düren must have been sent far and wide, the inference
that the barge had been a hiding-place for some of their number was
obvious.

Up came the two watchmen, breathing stentorously, for they were
middle-aged and corpulent. They were in uniform; each was armed with
an air-rifle and a short sword.

Malcolm could hear them walking along the barge, testing the locks
of the fore and after cuddies, and examining the metal fittings of
the winch and the tiller-head. One of the men even flashed an
electric torch over the side, but it was a purely perfunctory
action. Meanwhile the dog was sniffing on the track of the would-be
thieves, and made no attempt to go farther than the spot where the
men had been brought up by the canal official's hail.

Finally, after a considerable amount of argument, the watchmen
whistled the dog, regained the tow-path, and walked briskly in the
direction the marauders had gone.

"Peter," whispered his brother, "I'm a silly ass!"

"Eh?"

"I forgot about my ration when I went overboard. It's sopping wet."

"So's mine," added Peter. "I took mine deliberately. It couldn't be
helped. If we'd left the stuff on the barge that dog would have
discovered it. A packet with the word 'London' printed on it would
give the show away absolutely. For one thing, the stuff's been
soaking in fresh water."

"And so have I," rejoined Malcolm. "At any rate, my thirst is
quenched, and we have to spend the rest of the night in wet
clothes."

"I'm going to try my hand at house robbery," announced Peter.
"Although I couldn't understand all the conversation between those
two fellows, I managed to learn that they decided to go to the
nearest village and get the police to make enquiries of the
whereabouts of a certain Karl Hoeffer--evidently one of the two men
who gave us an unpleasant five minutes. You're not to come; this is
a one-man job. Make your way back to our hiding-place, wring out
your wet clothes--over the coal, mind--and wait till I come back."

Malcolm knew that his elder brother's word was law in such matters.
It was useless to expostulate. As he regained the barge he could
just discern Peter's figure creeping up the opposite bank of the
canal.

In ten minutes Peter was back again with the best part of a rye
loaf, a large sausage, and a piece of cheese, all wrapped up in a
couple of blankets.

"'Nuff said!" he remarked. "Wrap yourself up and eat. I'll tell you
about it later."

The blankets were dry and comforting, the food really appetizing,
and, having made a satisfying meal, the brothers slept soundly after
forty hours of unceasing vigilance.

As Peter had expected, he experienced no serious difficulty on his
foraging expedition. The house was deserted, but by means of a
stack-pipe he entered by the open window at which the watchmen had
been sitting. Having raided the pantry, the New Zealander removed a
blanket from each of two separate beds, taking care that outwardly
the beds appeared undisturbed. To cross the canal without wetting
the food and blankets he swam back with the spoils held over his
head. By the time the things were missed, the barge, with ordinary
luck, ought to be miles away.

With the first streak of dawn the sleepers awoke, feeling greatly
refreshed. Malcolm had taken the precaution to fill a tin with water
from the canal. The liquid was fresh to a certain degree, and men
who have served in the trenches are not fastidious.

The main point was that the fugitives would be able to quench their
thirst during the heat of the day. Their wet clothes were spread out
against the wall of their retreat, so that the heat of the sun's
rays, penetrating the absorbent coal, would dry them sufficiently
for the men before nightfall.

Shortly after sunrise the remaining barges of the flotilla, which
had been tied up for the night at some distance along the canal,
came up and passed the solitary craft. Before her crew returned with
the horse, the previously leading barge became the last of the
group.

The second day passed much like the first, except that the heat was
not so trying, and that the men in hiding did not suffer from
thirst.

About four o'clock in the afternoon of the next day a longer halt
than usual occurred. Making use of their observation-holes the
stowaways saw that the craft had tied up alongside another barge
which was fast to a long quay. Beyond was a row of tall,
quaintly-built houses with picturesque red-tiled roofs and fronted
by a line of closely-trimmed trees. Nearly fifty people were
lounging about, regarding the new arrival with curious interest,
while on the adjoining barge stood about a dozen men in grimy
overalls, with planks, barrows, and spades, in readiness to commence
work.

Like ants the coal-heavers swarmed over the heaped-up cargo,
shovelling the coal into barrows and trundling them along the planks
on to the quay, whence they disappeared into a large shed about a
hundred yards away.

With feelings of satisfaction the New Zealanders saw that the
for'ard portion of the cargo was the first to be dealt with, and
that, before the man with the first load returned with his empty
barrow, five others were on the way, leaving six on board.

"No use waiting to be dug out," whispered Peter. "Now's our chance,
if at all."

With a mighty heave of his shoulders Peter sent the barrel staves
and their superimposed covering of coal flying. Before the
coal-heavers could grasp what was happening, the two men leapt
across the intervening barge and gained the quay.

With lowered heads they charged straight for the nearmost of the
waterside idlers.

Right and left scattered the dumbfounded spectators, and without any
attempt at obstruction the fugitives gained the open and
unfrequented part of the quay.

Not until they had put fifty yards between them and the barge did
the onlookers grasp the situation, then, joined by the coal-heavers,
who had abandoned their task, the whole crowd started in pursuit,
yelling loudly in an unintelligible manner.

At the end of the quay the main street bore off to the left, and
from that point there were houses on both sides. Those on the right
had gardens of gradually-increasing length running down to the
canal, which was here a considerably wide waterway. Everywhere along
the canal wharves were barges, often double- and triple-tiered, but
alongside the waterside edges of the gardens were several small
pleasure-craft. Every house seemed to possess one. Another thing
Peter noticed was that the nearmost of the houses on the canal side
of the street was separated from the quay by a supplementary
waterway that burrowed under the road.

Along the cobbled street the two men ran, Passers-by stood
stock-still in amazement. A grey-coated policeman drew his sabre and
attempted to bar the way, shouting peremptorily in a manner that
clearly indicated "Stop!"

"In here!" exclaimed Peter, and literally bundled his brother into
an open doorway, then slammed and bolted the door.

"We've five minutes fresh start at least," he said hurriedly. "Come
along through. There's a boat at the end of the garden."

Even as they made their way through a spotlessly-clean kitchen, to
the consternation of a portly woman-servant, Malcolm could not help
noticing the resplendant copper vessels on the shelves. Evidently
the owner of the house had not conformed to the Imperial German
Government's order to surrender all metal suitable for the
manufacture of munitions.

At the farther part of the garden two men were sitting at a table.
One was a rotund pleasant-faced man of about fifty who was puffing
sedately at a long-stemmed, huge-bowled pipe. The other, holding a
large cigar in his hand, was certainly not far off sixty years of
age, clean-shaven, 'and dressed in a manner more like an Englishman
than a German. Before the smokers could rise from their seats the
two fugitives were past and dropping over the low wall into a boat.

"Push off, Malcolm!" shouted Peter, as he gripped the oars.

"What's your hurry, you fellows?" asked a deliberately cool voice
from above. "Can't you behave yourselves in a neutral country?
What's the trouble?"

Leaning on the wall, his grey eyes twinkling with suppressed mirth,
was the elder of the two men who had been sitting in the garden. At
his elbow was the other, gesticulating and protesting volubly at the
bull-in-a-chinashop tactics of the intruders.

"Neutral country?" repeated the astounded Peter. "What do you mean?
Where are we?"

"In Holland. To be more precise, in the town of Roermonde," was the
surprising information. "You've done a bunk from Germany, I presume?
I thought so. It's all right, Mynheer van Enkhuizen," he continued
in English, addressing the Dutchman; "these are some of my
compatriots who have escaped from Germany."

"In that case it does matter not at all," replied the owner of the
house in the slow hesitating manner of foreign-spoken English. "It
is of no consequence that your friends have trampled through my
dwelling and over my garden. Excuse me. I will inform the noisy
crowd also that it is not of any consequence, and then I will
instruct Katje to provide food for your military friends."

"Come into the house," exclaimed the Englishman. "I'll hear your
story presently, although I presume you are two of the men who got
away from Düren. Eight of them have crossed the frontier up to the
present, and I shouldn't be surprised if others do the same in the
course of the next few days. My name? Oh, just Brown--of London!
Yes, that will be all right. Von Enkhuizen, although his manner may
seem a bit erratic according to British notions, is a genuinely
sympathetic fellow. You've fallen on your feet, both of you."

For three days the two refugees enjoyed the Dutchman's hospitality.
Then the Carrs were furnished with money and a ticket to enable them
to travel via the Hook of Holland to England; and, with many earnest
expressions of gratitude to their benefactors, Peter and Malcolm set
out on their roundabout journey back to the firing-line in Flanders.



CHAPTER XXVII

The End of a Spy


"By gum, Peter, we'll have to make ourselves precious scarce while
this trip's on." exclaimed Malcolm as he rejoined his brother in the
steerage of the S.S. _Koning der Zee_ after a tour of inspection.

"Eh? What's wrong now?" enquired Peter, busily engaged in
overhauling the contents of a small kit provided by his friends at
Roermonde.

"Nothing wrong," said his brother. "On the contrary, it's a bit of
quite all right. I've just seen a delightful old pal, Konrad
What's-his-Tally, otherwise Pieter Waas of Muizenburg fame. You
remember I told you about him just before we said good-bye to Düren:
how he diddled Fortescue, Selwyn, and me at the Cape and was
collared on board the _Pomfret Castle_, and afterwards managed to
join the N. Z. Rifle Brigade."

"I remember, but I thought he went sky-high when the great mine went
off at Messines," remarked the elder Carr.

"There was a doubt about it," admitted Malcolm, "but the fact
remains that he's on board this vessel. Except that he has bleached
his hair, he has made no attempt to disguise himself. Suppose he
imagined that it wouldn't be safe to trust to a false beard, or
anything like that. The landing authorities would spot it. So we
must keep well out of his way until we go ashore at Harwich."

"Why both of us?" asked Peter. "I've never met him, and he's never
run across me as far as I know. I'm in mufti, and so are you. I
don't suppose he'd spot you in that rig-out."

"I'm not going to give him the chance," declared Malcolm. "In spite
of the fact that he's travelling first class and we're mere dirt in
the steerage, I mean to keep below, out of sight."

The _Koning der Zee_ was still berthed alongside the wharf at The
Hook. "Blue Peter" was hoisted at the fore, while the Dutch national
ensign floated from her ensign staff. Her sides were painted in red,
white, and blue horizontal stripes, while amidships her name was
displayed in letters six feet in height--in conformity with an
arbitrary regulation made by an unscrupulous nation whose U-boats
did not hesitate to torpedo at sight, despite the distinguishing
marks of neutral craft.

The mail-boat's passenger-list was a light one. There were about a
dozen repatriated Britons from Ruhleben, a score of Dutch merchants,
the two New Zealanders, and the spy, Konrad von Feldoffer.

The latter, posing as a Gelderland potato-merchant, was on a highly
important mission on behalf of his Imperial master in connection
with the landing of United States troops in England. At first
scorning the idea that Uncle Sam could render personal aid, the Huns
were beginning to realize that the Americans were doing something
great, and not merely "talking big". Von Feldoffer was, therefore,
one of the first of a small army of spies entrusted with the risky
task of sowing the seeds of discontent and enmity amongst the men
from "across the Herring Pond".

The German authorities knew full well the beneficial effect to their
armies once they could provoke unhealthy rivalry and bitter
dissension between the American and British troops, but they forgot
the force of the trite quotation of an American admiral: "Blood is
thicker than water".

Konrad von Feldoffer was firmly convinced that, with a carefully
prepared forged passport in his possession, he would be able to land
without difficulty. He had never previously landed at Harwich, and
with the slight disguise he adopted--bleaching his hair--he stood
the remotest chance of being recognized.

He had reckoned without Rifleman Malcolm Carr. The latter was
watching the people on the jetty when he saw von Feldoffer, preceded
by a couple of porters, elbowing his way through the crowd of
onlookers to board the vessel.

The late-comer was typically Dutch as far as his clothes and
appearance went, but his face was that of Malcolm's acquaintance on
the Muizenburg train.

A second glance confirmed the New Zealander's suspicions. Promptly
Malcolm turned and bolted down the companion, rejoining Peter in the
steerage.

"Bother the fellow!" exclaimed Peter. "He's done me out of the salt
sea breezes. All right, I'll keep below; but really I don't see the
use of doing so. It's not likely that a first-class passenger would
invade the quarters of the steerage passengers."

Assisted by a funny but powerful little tug, the _Koning der Zee_
drew clear of the wharf, and, slipping between the piers, gained the
choppy waters of the North Sea.

Beyond territorial waters danger unseen lurked. All on board
realized the fact--it was Germany's version of the freedom of the
seas. Serving out the life-belts was in itself a significance. Yet
undeterred, the captain of the _Koning der Zee_ had sailed regularly
since the memorable 4th of August, 1914, risking U-boats and
floating mines to uphold the flag of Holland on waters that were
hers by equal right with other nations of the world.

Less than thirty miles from the Dutch coast the _Koning der Zee_ met
her doom. Travelling at twenty-two knots, her bows struck the
flexible wire bridle connecting a pair of mines. Like porpoises, the
deadly cylinders swung towards the ship under the strain on the
span. One struck the hull just below the water-line on the starboard
side, nearly abaft the foremost funnel; the second bumped heavily
under her port quarter. Practically simultaneously the deadly
mechanical mines exploded. Calculated to blow a hole in the bottom
of the most strongly constructed war-ship afloat, the mines simply
pulverized the thin steel plating of the luckless Dutch vessel.
Amidst the rush of escaping steam the _Koning der Zee_ began to
settle rapidly.

Well it was that the passenger list was a light one. Notwithstanding
the fact that three boats had been blown to fragments by the
explosions, the rest were practically intact. Promptly the
undismayed crew bundled the passengers into them and lowered
away--an easy task, since the vessel was sinking on a comparatively
even keel.

The captain and the wireless operator were the last to leave, the
latter striving in vain to get the damaged transmitter into working
order until peremptory orders from his superior obliged him to
desist.

Within eight minutes the _Koning der Zee_ had disappeared beneath
the element which in name she professed to rule, leaving five boats
tossing upon the choppy seas.

"You've got plenty of sea breezes now, Peter," remarked his brother
as they sat on the stern grating of one of the life-boats. "And salt
spray thrown in. I wonder what the next move is to be?"

"I don't mind very much, provided we are not picked up by a German
ship," replied Peter. "Where's your pal the spy?"

"In there," said Malcolm, indicating one of the boats lying at about
a hundred yards distance. "He was mighty sharp in nipping in."

The boats closed, their officers conferring with the captain as to
what course to pursue. Since the conversation was in Dutch the New
Zealanders understood not a word, but from the gestures of the
skipper they concluded that the boats were to attempt to row back to
the cost of Holland--a thirty-mile pull dead to windward, and in the
teeth of a steadily-rising wind--unless picked up by another vessel
in the meantime.

"It's a bit of a game," continued Malcolm, "when the spy is mined by
his own people. I wonder what he thinks about it."

As a matter of fact, von Feldoffer was thinking furiously. He had
been given to understand by the German Admiralty that instructions
would be issued to U-boat commanders concerned that the _Koning der
Zee_ was not to be molested on the day arranged for the spy to cross
the North Sea. On the strength of this assurance von Feldoffer
started for England; but, although the U-boats carried out
instructions, the floating mines, once launched, did not conform to
the mandate of the Berlin Admiralty.

"Hallo, what's up now?" enquired Peter, observing that the attention
of the Dutch sailors was directed to something on the northern
horizon.

He was not left long in doubt. Rapidly the "something" resolved
itself into a long, lean, grey destroyer, from the mast of which two
flags streamed in the breeze--and those flags were not the Black
Cross of Germany, but the glorious White Ensign of Britain.

"We heard the racket, so we came up to investigate," shouted the
alert Lieutenant-Commander of H.M. destroyer _Angiboo_. "Come
alongside as sharp as you can."

"No, thanks!" replied the Dutch skipper in English. "I'm making for
The Hook. If you'll receive some English passengers I will be
obliged."

"Think twice about it," replied the naval officer cheerfully. "The
glass is tumbling down, and the Dutch coast is dead to windward.
You'll never fetch there, unless I'm greatly mistaken."

"Very well, then, I accept," decided the skipper of the lost
mail-boat.

With her quick-firers manned, in case a U-boat lurked in the
vicinity, the _Angiboo_ stopped until the last of the passengers and
crew of the _Koning der Zee_ gained her deck; then, quickly
increasing speed to twenty-five knots, the destroyer shaped a
south-westerly course to rejoin the rest of the flotilla.

Presently Malcolm made his way for'ard until he reached the foot of
the ladder reaching to the destroyer's bridge.

"I'd like a few words with your captain," he said, addressing an
able seaman.

The man eyed the erratically-clad New Zealander with tolerant
amusement.

"A word with the owner, eh? Wot's wrong now, chum? Has your raggie
pinched your dress-suit case?"

"Cut it out, my man," said Malcolm authoritatively. "In your lingo,
'stow it'. Request your captain to see Mr. Carr, of the New Zealand
Rifle Brigade."

That did it. The intentionally-misleading use of the word 'mister'
led the bluejacket to believe that Malcolm was a junior officer of
one of the overseas contingent. For the first time in his life the
young New Zealander received a Royal Navy salute.

"Very good, sir," said the bluejacket. "I axes your pardon, sir; no
offence meant."

It was not long before Malcolm found himself in the presence of
Lieutenant-Commander Sefton in the chart-room. Briefly he stated his
case against the spy, Konrad von Feldoffer.

"You are absolutely certain?" asked the Lieutenant-Commander. "There
would be a most unholy rumpus if I ran the fellow in and he turned
out to be a neutral of unimpeachable character."

"I'll stake anything on what I say, sir," replied Malcolm. "If you
will let me confront him----"

"No, no!" interrupted the skipper of the _Angiboo_. "We don't want
the dramatic touch on board this craft. I'll send for the master of
the _Koning der Zee_, and get him to% bring Herr von Feldoffer to
me. We'll do the job as politely as possible."

Just at that moment the rest of the destroyer flotilla was sighted,
bearing south-south-west. Until the _Angiboo_ resumed station her
lieutenant-commander dared not leave the bridge.

"Now," he resumed, "you make your way aft, and keep out of sight
until I call you. I'll interview friend Feldoffer on the
quarter-deck. Messenger, pass the word for the master of the
Dutchman to see me in the ward-room."

Malcolm followed the bluejacket down the ladder. Then, with every
precaution, he made his way aft as far as the after funnel. From
this position he was within hailing distance of the diminutive
quarter-deck.

Presently the messenger returned to the bridge and made his report.
Lieutenant-Commander Sefton descended and proceeded to the officers'
quarters aft.

While the Dutch skipper was searching for the passenger, von
Feldoffer was anxiously keeping an eye on the bridge, fearful lest
any of the officers were shipmates with him on the armed
merchant-cruiser. He saw Malcolm ascend the bridge, but, the latter
being in mufti and having his back turned towards him, von Feldoffer
did not recognize the New Zealander. But when Malcolm came down the
ladder the astute Hun made the discovery that he was in a very tight
corner.

Deliberating with himself, the spy decided to "mark time" until
events shaped themselves. It was a pure coincidence that the New
Zealander and he were on the same boat; it might be that the
latter's visit to the bridge was utterly unconnected with him. He
hoped so; but still, things looked black.

A hand tapped him on the shoulder. Von Feldoffer started violently,
and, turning, found the master of the _Koning der Zee_ confronting
him.

"I startled you, Mynheer van Gheel," remarked the Dutch skipper,
addressing the spy by the name he had assumed before leaving
Holland. "The English captain wishes to see you in his cabin."

"For what purpose, Mynheer?" enquired von Feldoffer uneasily.

"_'t Spijt me!_" ejaculated the Dutchman. "How can I tell, unless it
be that your signature is required to the written report upon the
destruction of my unfortunate ship? It is purely a matter of form, I
should imagine."

Konrad von Feldoffer bowed, and, falling into step with the
Dutchman, walked aft.

"Look out, Malcolm!" whispered Peter, who had joined his brother by
the after funnel. "The fellow's coming this way."

Taken aback, Malcolm turned and faced the spy. The latter, betraying
no sign of recognition, walked past him; then, before his companion
or any of the bluejackets on deck could prevent him, he cleared the
stanchion-rails and leapt headlong into the sea.

"Man overboard!"

Promptly a couple of life-buoys were hurled over the side. A petty
officer proposed to dive after the suicide, but was instantly told
to "Hold fast!" by one of the officers. A semaphore message was sent
to the destroyer next astern to keep a look-out for the drowning
man, but he was not seen again. Either his back had been broken on
impact with the water, for the destroyer was making a good
twenty-five knots, or else he had been caught by the blades of one
of the two starboard propellers.

"Perhaps it's for the best," commented Lieutenant-Commander Sefton
when the circumstances of the tragedy were told him. "It has saved
the nation the cost of a trial and a dozen rounds of ball
ammunition."



CHAPTER XXVIII

In the Firing-line Again


Ten days later Peter and Malcolm Carr found themselves told off to a
draft that was about to leave Sling Camp for the Front. During that
time Malcolm had been notified that the sum of one hundred pounds
had been awarded him in recognition of his services in discovering
the infernal machine in the coal-bunker of the transport _Pomfret
Castle_. Other awards had been made to Sergeant Fortescue and
Rifleman Selwyn.

"A jolly useful sum!" remarked Peter. "What are you going to do with
it?"

"Cable it to New Zealand," replied Malcolm. "I don't want to touch
it here if it can be avoided."

"Think twice, old man," said his brother. "Bank it in a British
bank, and then if you do want to draw it in a hurry it's there. You
never know your luck. If anything should happen to you out
there--one has to consider such a thing--the money can then be
cabled to the governor."

The draft from Sling was a large one. Report had it that another big
"stunt" was imminent, and that New Zealand was to have the honour of
being well represented in the impending operations.

Almost without incident the draft crossed the Channel, and once more
Malcolm found himself on the soil of France. It was now late
September. Normandy looked its best, the leaves displaying their
autumn tints, and the apple trees bending under the weight of fruit.

And yet, only a few miles away, was the war-tortured belt of
terrain, a mass of ruined buildings, even now being rebuilt, where
Briton and Gaul were slowly yet surely wresting French soil from the
Hun.

Most of the New Zealanders around Étaples were now under canvas, the
weather being fine, but with a sharp fall in temperature during the
night. Upon the arrival of the new draft the men were told off to
various companies, and once more the two Carrs were separated.

Malcolm took the matter philosophically, knowing that in war-time a
soldier cannot pick and choose his mates; but to his astonishment
and delight he found that Fortescue and Selwyn were in the same
lines.

"Yes, I'm back again," remarked the former, after Malcolm had
related his adventures. "I had a good time in Blighty, and when I
was passed out by the medical board I was offered a staff job at
Hornchurch."

"And like a jay he turned it down," added Selwyn. "He might have had
a soft time in Blighty; instead, he puts in for France--and just as
winter's coming on, too."

"One would imagine that you were a lead-swinger, Selwyn," exclaimed
Fortescue.

"Not so much of that, Digger," protested the latter. "Of course I
couldn't hang behind when I've to look after big helpless Sergeant
Fortescue."

"What happened after you got your buckshie at Messines?" asked
Malcolm.

"A regular holiday--it was _bonsor_," replied Selwyn. "Nine hours
after I got hit I was at Tin Town, Brockenhurst. Three weeks there
and they pushed me on to Home Mead. Take my tip, Malcolm; if you get
a buckshie try and work it to be sent there. Had the time of my
life. The other boys will tell you the same. It is some hospital.
Then back to Codford, where I had my leave."

"Where did you go?" asked Malcolm.

"The usual round; Edinburgh and Glasgow. Gorgeous time there, too;
people were awfully kind."

When the young rifleman described his Scottish journey as the usual
round, he was referring to the somewhat curious fact that a large
percentage of New Zealanders go to Edinburgh when granted leave
after being discharged from hospital. It is a sort of solemn rite,
and few men from "down under" go back to New Zealand without seizing
the opportunity of paying a flying visit to the "Land of Burns".

"So you saw a bit of Blighty, then?" remarked Malcolm.

"Yes, rather!" was the reply; "and now I'm going to see a bit of
France, or is it Belgium this time?"

"Ask me another," replied Sergeant Fortescue. "All I know is that
the division moves up to the front on the 3rd of next month, so it
looks as if we're going to shake Fritz by the scruff of his neck."

"Hallo, there's Mike Dowit!" exclaimed Malcolm, as the
stretcher-bearer passed by. "How goes it, chum?"

Stretcher-bearer Dowit stopped, crossed the road, and grasped the
rifleman's hand. Being a man of very few words, he excelled himself
by saying nothing.

"Ask him," prompted Fortescue, "when he's going to have another bath
at the Estaminet Moulin Gris."

The stretcher-bearer flushed and shuffled his feet awkwardly.

"Mike's as shy as a _wahine_," continued the Sergeant. "I'll tell
you the yarn. We were billeted at an estaminet that had copped it
pretty thick. Roof practically off, and the outbuildings nothing but
a pile of bricks; you know the sort of thing. Well, Mike discovered
a tub full of water, as he thought, and early one morning he slipped
out to have a bath. He had only just started his ablutions when
Madame's face appeared at the only window left in the inn.
'Arrêtez!' she shouted; 'arrêtez! You no use soap. Soap na poo. You
spoil ze beer--compree?'"

"I've only got her word that it was beer," declared Dowit stolidly.

"It's a great joke with the boys," continued Fortescue, after the
stretcher-bearer had gone. "They chip him frightfully about it; ask
if that's why he's got the D.C. M. I suppose you didn't know that it
was awarded him, for gallantry at Messines--rescuing wounded under
heavy fire? My word! Mike was hot stuff that day. It was a
thundering good job when he slung that dud bomb at Featherstone
Camp, or I mightn't be here now."

In the dead of night of the 3rd of October the New Zealand Division,
in heavy marching order, silently relieved a Tommy division on the
Flanders Front.

"Where are we, Sergeant?" enquired Rifleman M'Kane. "This spot
doesn't seem familiar."

"It will be before morning," replied Fortescue grimly. "We're
opposite Gravenstafel, and those are the Heights of Abraham. If we
are not firmly planted upon them by to-morrow afternoon I'm a
Dutchman."

The new position was certainly a novel one as far as Malcolm was
concerned. The seemingly endless lines of zigzag trenches were no
longer in evidence. Shelter was provided by the simple expedient of
linking up suitable shell-craters, with which the soft ground was
liberally besprinkled.

Hardly were the New Zealanders settled when the Huns began a furious
bombardment. It was not a spasmodic burst of shell-fire, but a
concentrated and deliberate fire upon the series of field-works
fronting the village of Gravenstafel. Every man knew what it meant;
the Germans were about to attack in force, while a similar operation
was impending on the part of the British. The question was, which
side would get away quickest? Would the serried wave of infantry
meet in the open?

Gamely the New Zealanders endured their gruelling; until the guns
lifted and put up a barrage behind them.

Sheltering in a dug-out were Sergeant Fortescue, Corporal Billy
Preston, Riflemen Carr, Dick Selwyn, M'Kane, M'Turk, and two
others--youngsters for the first time under shell-fire, who were the
objects of undisguised solicitude on the part of the non-coms. Up to
the present their attention was thrown away; neither Henderson nor
Stewart showed the faintest indication of "jumpiness".

The dug-out trembled under the terrific impact of shells bursting
within an unpleasant distance. Even the more seasoned men were
inwardly perturbed. Save for a few disjointed
sentences--conversation was far from being a success--the occupants
of the shelter remained silent.

"They're lifting, thank goodness!" exclaimed Fortescue. "Wonder if
Fritz will attempt a raid on a big scale? If so, he'll have the
shock of his life."

"What time do we assemble, Sergeant?" asked Henderson, who was
hesitating over the opening sentences of a letter he was about to
commence. "At five, my festive," replied Fortescue. "It will----"

The sound of heavy footsteps descending the steps leading to the
dug-out interrupted his words. Then a voice enquired: "All right,
down there?"

"All seats taken; house full," replied M'Turk. "Sorry; but try your
luck somewhere else."

The ground-sheet hung up over the entrance was pulled aside, and the
voice continued:

"That's all right, boys; hope you'll have a full house after the
stunt."

The men sprang to their feet and stood at attention. It was well
that the roof of the dug-out was a fairly lofty one. Sergeant
Fortescue saluted.

"Beg pardon, sir!" he exclaimed, for standing in the doorway,
cloaked and wearing his shrapnel-helmet, was the Brigadier.

"Glad to see you so chirpy, boys," remarked the Brigadier. "Good
night, and good luck!"

The next instant he was gone, to continue his flying visits to the
men. It had been an anxious time, especially to the commanding
officers, and, in order to satisfy themselves that the boys were
still in a position to carry out the attack, the brigadiers made
personal tours along the firing-line.

"He's some sport," declared Selwyn. "What's it like outside, I
wonder? I'll go and have a look round."

Malcolm accompanied his chum. In the open air the cold, contrasted
with the warmth of the dug-out, was intense. The wind blew chilly
upon their faces. Overhead the sky was darkened with drifting
clouds, between the rifts of which the light of the full moon shone
upon the ghostly expanse of shell-craters.

The German guns were still firing hotly, directing their missiles a
good four hundred yards behind the New Zealand lines. The British
artillery was replying, but lacking the intensity of the enemy's
fire.

"Hanged if I'd like to be with the ration-parties to-night,"
remarked Selwyn. "There'll be a few of the boys knocked out behind
our lines, I fancy."

"Let's get back out of it," suggested Malcolm. "It's too jolly cold
to stand here. What's the time?"

He consulted the luminous dial of his wristlet watch.

"By gum--a quarter to five!" he exclaimed. "The boys will start
assembling in another fifteen minutes."

"What's it doing?" enquired Fortescue when the chums returned to the
dug-out.

"Fine so far, but threatening," replied Selwyn. "It'll be our usual
luck--raining in torrents, I'm afraid."

"Anyone know our objectives?" enquired M'Kane as he slowly adjusted
the straps of two empty canvas bags that later on were to be crammed
full with Mills's bombs.

"Eighteen hundred yards on a two-thousand-yards front, and not an
inch beyond," replied Fortescue. "That'll bring us on to the hill,
which is what we want. Dry ground during the winter, you know."

At last Fortescue gave the word. The men, grasping their rifles,
filed out, to find the fortified craters filling up with silent
khaki-clad Diggers.

"Keep together," whispered Malcolm to Selwyn.

"Rather!" replied his chum. "Dash it all, I wish we were off. I
always loathe this hanging-about business."

Just then the German barrage redoubled in violence. As it did so the
long-threatening rain began to fall--a cold drizzle.

The New Zealanders could not understand why the Huns were putting up
such a persistent barrage. They could only put it down to the fact
that Fritz had a good inkling of the impending stunt and was getting
"jumpy". As a matter of fact, it was owing to another reason.

For an hour a handful of New Zealanders clung to the crater defences
in the front line. These men had orders not to go forward in the
advance, the attacking infantry being in the second and third line
of trenches. Quite under the impression that the nearmost German
pill-boxes were lightly held, the New Zealanders in the advance
posts were afterwards surprised to learn that they had been within a
few yards of hundreds of picked German troops. The Huns intended
attacking at about the same time as the New Zealanders, and the
hitherto deserted block-houses had been reoccupied during the night
by swarms of German infantry.

At six o'clock the British guns opened a barrage, compared with
which the German fire paled into insignificance. Eighteen-pounders
and 4.5-inch howitzers, supported by the giant 12- and 14-inch
long-range guns farther back, threw tons of metal upon the enemy
lines, the heavier projectiles hurtling overhead with a roar like
that of an express train. The earth trembled, and the sky was lurid
with the flashes of bursting shells, as rapidly the strongly
constructed pill-boxes were beaten into fragments of riven concrete.

So intense was the fire that the German artillery now replied but
feebly and inaccurately, while, a sure sign that Fritz was "done"
red and green rockets sent their distress signals from the enemy
position for aid that was not forthcoming.

"Fix bayonets!"

The order passed along the line. So deafening was the roar of the
guns that the click of the bayonets as they were fixed was
inaudible. Here and there men gave a final adjustment to their steel
helmets or fumbled with their equipment, but for the most part the
New Zealanders stood motionless, with firm, set faces, awaiting the
command to unleash.

The British barrage lifted, the whistles blew, and out of their
lines the khaki-clad troops surged.



CHAPTER XXIX

The Battle in the Mud


It was as unlike a charge as could possibly be imagined. With rifles
at the slope, the New Zealanders sauntered forward towards their
objective, keeping almost at the heels of the barrage, save here and
there where a "pill-box", presumably deserted, was found to be
chock-a-block with Huns. Almost before he was aware of it, Malcolm
found himself confronted by a practically intact concrete
block-house, which was so near the New Zealand outposts that it had
escaped damage during the bombardment. Looming ominously through the
misty, drizzling dawn, the pill-box might have accounted for scores
of gallant New Zealanders, for it was crammed with Huns, and well
provided with machine-guns. Yet not a shot came from that isolated
fortress. Unaware that it was tenanted, a dozen men of C Company
strolled past the grinning loopholes.

"Kamerad! Kamerad!"

The words, just audible above the clamour, caused several Diggers to
stop.

"By Jove," exclaimed Fortescue, "the place is full of Boches! Out
'em, boys!"

With levelled bayonets Malcolm, Selwyn, and half a dozen riflemen
advanced towards the door in the rear of the pill-box, while M'Turk
and M'Kane, each brandishing a bomb, ran close to the wall
immediately by the side of the machine-gun aperture. Here, secure
from bullets from the inside, they had the garrison at their mercy
should the Huns show any signs of treachery.

"Out you come, Fritz!" shouted Fortescue. "We won't hurt you."

Furtively a German poked his steel helmeted head through the
doorway. With arms upheld he stumbled out, terror written on his
face. Behind him, after a brief interval, came another; then more,
close at each other's heels, until fifty-three Huns, without firing
a shot, were prisoners in the hands of the New Zealanders.

"Who'll take them back?" asked Fortescue.

No one seemed at all anxious for the job. Every man whom the
Sergeant looked at enquiringly shook his head. With the prospect of
a scrap ahead, none would accept the task of escorting fifty
demoralized Huns.

"Send 'em back on their own, Sergeant," suggested M'Turk. "They'll
go quietly, you bet. We want to get on. Look where our barrage is."

Already the line of bursting shells was a couple of hundred yards
away. The advancing infantry-men were almost invisible in the
drifting smoke and rain.

"Off you go!" ordered Fortescue, pointing in the direction of the
New Zealand advance posts.

Like a flock of sheep the Huns, with hands still upraised, shuffled
on the first of their long trek to captivity--to some delectable
spot in England, where, far from the sound of the guns, there is
food in plenty for Hun prisoners of war, German U-boats
notwithstanding.

At the double the New Zealanders hastened to overtake the rest of C
Company. Away on the left sharp rifle and machine-gun fire,
punctuated by the crash of exploding bombs, showed that there were
other block-houses where a strenuous resistance was being
maintained. Men, too, were already returning wounded, cheerful in
spite of pain; others, lying in the mud, would never rise again, for
machine-guns were busy beyond the Hannebeke stream.

Ordinarily a quiet, well-conducted brook, the Hannebeke stream had
been rudely disturbed by the terrific bombardment of the British
heavies. Where a shell had fallen in the bed of the stream the lip
of the upheaved crater had formed a dam--and there was not one but
many such. Over the low-lying banks the water had flowed, until for
nearly a hundred yards in width there was water everywhere, hiding
the tenacious mud, and acting as a camouflage to thousands of deep
craters.

Into the morass the New Zealanders plunged boldly, only to find that
they were quickly up to their belts in mud and water. When a man
stumbled into a shell-hole, he simply disappeared, until, rising to
the surface, he managed to scramble out with the aid of a more
fortunate chum. Here and there huge spurts of mud and water leapt
towards the rainy sky as German shells burst indiscriminately in the
swollen stream; while everywhere the slowly-flowing water was
flecked with little spurts of spray as the machine-gun bullets
ricochetted from the surface. When a man was hit when crossing that
forbidding morass it generally meant death to him--death by
suffocation in the pestilent mud of Flanders.

Looking like muddy replicas of Lot's wife, Malcolm and Selwyn at
last emerged from the morass, Fortescue was ahead, Corporal Preston
too, while M'Turk, with his chum M'Kane hanging on to his back, was
just extricating himself from a deep crater.

"Thanks!" he exclaimed, as Malcolm gave him a hand. He was too
breathless to say more. Setting his burden down in the shelter of a
ruined pill-box, M'Turk bound up his chum's wound--a machine-gun
bullet through the calf of his right leg.

"Now you stop there till I come back," he admonished the "buckshied"
M'Kane, "unless the bearers pick you up. Just the silly thing you
would do, to try and crawl through that muck. S'long. See you
presently."

He overtook Malcolm, swinging along with prodigious strides despite
the tenacious slime. "There are the swine who knocked my pal over,"
he shouted, pointing to an insignificant heap of stones about eighty
yards to his right front.

"There's a blessed tic-tac in there. I'll blow 'em to blazes."

The fragments of concrete marked the former position of a pill-box
which had been built over a deep dug-out. The German machine-gunners
had lain low when the first wave of New Zealanders had swept
overhead; then, hauling up their deadly weapon, they had trained it
on the khaki lads still struggling through the Hannebeke stream.

Grasping a bomb, M'Turk edged cautiously towards the flank of the
machine-gun emplacement; but before he had gone ten yards he stopped
and stood upright with his left hand raised to the rim of his
shrapnel-helmet. For quite five seconds he remained thus, then his
knees gave way under him, slowly and reluctantly, it seemed, he fell
in a huddled heap face downwards in the mud.

"M'Turk's down, by Heaven!" ejaculated Malcolm.

He threw himself on his hands and knees and crawled towards the
luckless bomber, Selwyn following. With an effort they dragged the
man on his back. He was beyond mortal aid. A rifle bullet had struck
him fairly on the left temple, causing instantaneous death.

Slinging his rifle, Malcolm possessed himself of three of M'Turk's
bombs. He would attempt to carry out the task the bomber had essayed
when a chance bullet struck him down: to wipe out the viper's nest
and to silence the deadly machine-gun that was loosing a fresh bolt
of ammunition upon the floundering men making their way across the
swollen stream.

He advanced rapidly. Time was the first consideration, caution
second. Every instant instant meant death to his comrades in the
mud.

Suddenly one of the machine-gunners caught sight of the approaching
danger. With a yell he sprang to his feet and raised his hands. The
machine-gun began to spit fire once more, and that decided it. The
Hun who offered to surrender was a negligible quantity.

With splendid precision the Mills's bomb flew straight at the group
of grey-coated men. One missile was enough. Malcolm turned and
doubled after his comrades, and, again under shelter of the
slowly-creeping barrage, was once more in comparative safety.

On and on pressed the now-exultant Diggers, until the steady advance
was checked. Somewhere through the mist and smoke came a hail of
machine-gun bullets. Men were dropping right and left.

"Take cover!" shouted an officer.

It was easier said than done. The muddy ground afforded little
shelter, while the shell-craters were filled with water. The barrage
had passed on and was "squatting" at about two hundred yards
distance.

The obstacle was then revealed. Away to the left front of C Company
was a concrete redoubt built around a heap of rubbish that marked
the site of Van Meulen Farm. Bravely a number of New Zealanders
rushed forward with bomb and bayonet, only to drop in the mud under
the hellish machine-gun fire.

How fared the rest of the advance the men on this particular sector
knew not. They were most unpleasantly aware that a formidable
barrier lay athwart their course, and that it must be rushed before
the troops could storm the heights. Not only was Van Meulen Redoubt
strongly constructed and well armed; it was stubbornly held by some
of the pick of the German army--men resolved to fight to the last
cartridge rather than surrender.

"Why don't they send along the Tanks?" asked little Henderson, as he
thrust a fresh charge into his magazine.

"Never mind about the Tanks, sonny," replied Sergeant Fortescue.
"We've got to do our own dirty work."

For nearly twenty minutes the men maintained a hot fire,
concentrating their aim upon the narrow apertures through which the
machine-guns were delivering their death-dealing bullets. It was a
thankless task. A machine-gun would be silenced for a few seconds
and then resume its fire; for each weapon, in addition to the
protection afforded by the massive concrete walls, was equipped with
a steel shield through which a narrow sighting-aperture afforded the
only vulnerable spot.

At last one of the battalions forming the reserve stormers came up,
eager for the fray. If courage and sheer weight of numbers could win
the day Van Meulen Farm was doomed.

"Come on, boys!" shouted a young officer. "I'll lead you. Rout the
beggars out of it."

With a cheer the men leapt from their scanty cover. Bombers, Lewis
gunners, and riflemen surged forward, heedless of the gaps in their
ranks. The intervening ground was all but covered when the gallant
young officer fell. His death, far from disheartening the men, added
fuel to their burning ardour.

Into the machine-gun slits bombs were tossed in dozens, until the
confined space within the redoubt was filled with noxious smoke from
the loud-sounding missiles of destruction. Still the Huns held out.
When one machine-gun was disabled another was brought up; but by
this time the deadly weapon had lost much of the sting.

The entrance to the blockhouse was forbidding enough. A flight of
narrow and steep stone steps gave access to a low doorway. On the
metal-cased woodwork the Diggers rained blows with the butt-ends of
their rifles; others, placing the muzzles of the weapons close to
the stout fastenings, strove to blow them away. It was not until a
dozen men, bearing a massive beam, appeared upon the scene that the
difficulty was overcome. The battering-ram simply pulverized the
already-weakening barrier. With a cheer, and preceded by a shower
of grenades, the riflemen poured in to complete the work with cold
steel.

Within was a terrible scene. In hot blood civilized men went back to
primeval instincts and fought like wild beasts, clawing, tearing and
gouging when it was too close work for the bayonet. The smoke-laden
air was rent with shouts, oaths, shrieks, and groans, punctuated by
the clash of steel and the whip-like cracks of automatic pistols.
Like rats in a trap the Huns fought and died, while the survivors of
the storming-party staggered out of the shambles and threw
themselves on the ground in sheer bodily exhaustion.

Rifleman Carr had come off lightly. One of the first to force his
way through the shattered entrance, he presented a sorry appearance.
His right sleeve was torn away at the elbow, the left was ripped
almost to ribbons. His Webb equipment was twisted and cut; he was
plastered in mud and filth from head to foot, while his steel helmet
bore the splayed marks of the impact of two pistol-bullets fired at
close range. Nevertheless, with the exception of a slight cut across
the cheek, and the mark of a Hun's teeth showing angrily above his
left wrist, he was uninjured.

A burning thirst gripped his throat. He felt for his water-bottle.
It was no longer there. Unconcernedly he reached out his hand and
secured one belonging to a dead comrade. The bottle was full. The
liquid put new life into him.

"Hallo, Henderson!" he exclaimed, catching sight of the man, who was
vainly struggling to unfix the remains of his bayonet. "Seen
Selwyn?"

"Half a tick ago," was the reply. "He's all right. Seen anything of
Stewart?"

"Chuck it!" ejaculated Sergeant Fortescue. "What's the use of
worrying about your pals when the job's not finished? Come along; if
you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl. We can't have C
Company out of the last lap."

He spoke imperiously--savagely. A greater contrast to the
mild-spoken, 'Varsity-educated greenhorn, who, a few years
previously, was down on his luck in New Zealand, could hardly be
imagined. A great responsibility had been thrown upon his shoulders.
With the lust of battle gripping him, he found himself a leader of
men.

C Company was widely scattered. Many had fallen; others had gone
forward with other companies; platoons and units were mingled
indiscriminately. After the fall of Van Meulen Farm Redoubt
Fortescue discovered that he was senior non-com. of the remnants of
C Company, while not a single commissioned officer was left
standing.

The men resumed their advance. Scores of prisoners, making their way
in the opposite direction, were visible and comforting signs that
the day was still going well; while wounded New Zealanders,
painfully making for the dressing-stations, were able to augment the
news by the announcement that the Diggers were up and over the
Abraham Heights. Beyond that there were no indications of how the
battle fared--whether the Tommies on the left or the "Aussies" on
the right were maintaining equal progress. Mist and smoke and the
deafening clamour of thousands of guns limited both range of vision
and hearing.

The ground was better going now. On the slope, the mud, though still
ankle-deep, was a hardly-noticeable impediment. Stolidly the handful
of men comprising the remains of C Company held onwards, eager to
renew a closer acquaintance with Fritz.

"Cheer-o, Malcolm!" exclaimed a voice. "Didn't recognize you."

Rifleman Carr glance indifferently over his shoulder. Dick Selwyn,
his jaw enveloped in a bandage, had just overtaken him.

"Buckshie?" enquired Malcolm laconically.

"Nothing--just a mere scratch," was the reply. "I thought you were
done in back there. In fact, I was looking for what was left of
you."

"I might have been," rejoined Malcolm. He found himself wondering at
his apathy in the matter. In the heat of combat the grim figure of
Death stalking up and down amid his comrades hardly concerned him.
The horror of it all would be apparent after the battle--if he lived
to see it.

"Young Stewart's gone," continued Selwyn. "A shell copped him.
Corporal Preston, too, and goodness only knows who else. They've
played the very deuce with the boys."

"It'll be worse before it's finished," added Malcolm. "But I
wouldn't miss it for anything."

Over the already-won ground, pitted with shell-holes and thickly
strewn with khaki and field-grey forms, the men of C Company
continued their advance, until they fell in with a swarm of Diggers
preparing to rush another formidable obstacle to the achievement of
the objective.



CHAPTER XXX

The Last Stand


"Who says we won't be in Berlin before Christmas?" shouted a man
staggering past under the weight of a Stokes's gun, his burden
increased by reason of the quagmire. "Not 'arf, you Diggers!"

The riflemen within hearing expressed their approval of the idea,
for the obstacle that was holding up a section of the advance was a
row of concrete pill-boxes surrounding the entrance to a deep and
extensive cave--a formidable stronghold known as "Berlin". Beyond
was a large wood, which, when carried, would be the final objective
for the day's operations.

The New Zealanders settled Berlin redoubt most effectively, and in
far less time than had been taken in reducing Van Meulen, Otto, and
other concreted strongholds. Thirty rounds from the Stokes's mortars
in the short space of two minutes played havoc with the garrisons.
Then, with loud yells of triumph, the stormers rushed the position
on three sides simultaneously, bombarded the pill-boxes with grenade
and smoke-bombs, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing the scanty
remnant of a once numerous garrison come forth in fear and terror,
accepting their conquerors' assurances that their lives would be
spared.

"See that the job's done properly, Sergeant," ordered a major of
another company, addressing Fortescue, who was assembling the
handful of his platoon.

Fortescue saluted, and, calling Malcolm and another man to follow,
made his way into the redoubt. The three did not tarry long. It was
a veritable slaughter-house. The floor was literally paved with
hideously-mutilated bodies of Germans who had fallen victims to the
deadly Stokes's bombs. No need to investigate lest a living Fritz
was lying doggo with the dead. The survivors had only been too eager
to seize the chance of leaving the place alive.

The operations at Berlin Farm had delayed a section of the line.
Before the men could be sent forward a pioneer battalion, composed
mostly of Maoris, whose skill at rapid digging-in had won the
admiration of the High Command, came surging up to assist in the
consolidation of the captured position. That, again, was a
distinctly satisfactory sign. New Zealand meant to hold what she had
gained.

As C Company, or rather what was left of it, were re-forming,
Malcolm encountered Grouser Joliffe. The man, ragged and
battle-worn, was grousing no longer. A supremely-satisfied smile
overspread his face.

"Boys," he whispered, "I've been in luck. Copped a dozen of the
dirty 'Uns back there, and not one of them had the courage to put up
a fight--an' me single-handed. I sent 'em back, and then had a look
round their dug-out. It was some show--not 'arf. Cigars, fags, and
drinks no end. Some of the boys strolled in and helped me refresh;
but I haven't forgot my pals. Thought I'd tumble across some of 'em
still left. Here, take this."

He handed Malcolm a bottle of soda-water, and bestowed a similar
gift upon Selwyn and Sergeant Fortescue, for two canvas bags, meant
to carry a stock of bombs, were crammed with filled bottles of
mineral water from the captured dug-out.

"Joliffe, you are a proper white man!" declared Fortescue, deftly
knocking off the head of the bottle and draining the contents at a
gulp. "But what have you been up to?"

"Mud-larkin', Sergeant," replied the man, with a solemn wink. He
touched the tip of his bayonet. "Like spearing eels in the Waikato,
it was."

The men went forward once more. Ahead, dimmed by the rain and
drifting smoke, could be discerned the rearmost edge of Berlin Wood.
It was quite unlike anything of the nature of a wood for the shells
had searched it so thoroughly that hardly a tree-trunk stood more
than ten feet in height, while every vestige of leaves and branches
had vanished. The blackened and badly-scored trunks looked more like
the columns of a long-buried temple than trees, while in many places
the charred wood was smouldering, despite the water-logged condition
of the ground.

Notwithstanding the terrific pounding of the British heavies, the
wood was still strongly held by the enemy. Fallen tree-trunks lay
athwart pill-boxes that were still intact, shell craters afforded
shelter for dozens of deadly machine-guns. Trip wires and other
fiendish contrivances abounded, while in several places _fougasses_
had been constructed, powerful enough to blow a whole platoon in the
air.

In cold blood even the bravest man would hesitate before entering
the forbidding wood of death; but the New Zealanders never faltered.
Into the gloomy sulphurous maze they plunged, with yells and shouts
of encouragement.

So intricate was the going that, although several bodies of troops
had passed well ahead, there were pill-boxes and other fortified
posts left undetected in their rear. Fritz, lying _perdu_, while the
crowd of Anzacs poured onward, would resurrect his tic-tocs and
direct a withering machine-gun fire into the backs of the luckless
men.

"Look out! On your left!" shouted Fortescue, whose ready eye had
detected a sinister movement behind a prostrate tree-trunk.

Half a dozen men of C Company dashed towards the spot with levelled
bayonets. For some reason not a bomb was hurled, nor was a shot
fired either by the Diggers or the Huns.

In a skilfully-concealed emplacement were two machine-guns, with a
crew consisting of an officer and twelve stalwart Prussians.

"Hands up!" roared Fortescue.

The German officer set the example, his men quickly imitating him,
as with arms upraised he awaited the approach of the New Zealanders.
He was a tall, bald-headed man with a prominent double-chin. His
beady eyes were furtively taking stock of the scanty number who
opposed him.

"Fritz looks greasy," mentally commented Malcolm, as he fingered the
trigger of his rifle.

The German officer rapped out an order. Hands were dropped and
rifles seized.

"Do 'em in!" shouted Fortescue. "The treacherous swine."

Although outnumbered, the Diggers did the work Diggers smartly and
effectually. As the Prussian officer raised his revolver to fire
point-blank at Sergeant Fortescue, Malcolm plunged his bayonet into
the Hun's side, while Fortescue reciprocated the service by shooting
a German who was about to deal Rifleman Carr a smashing blow with
the butt of his rifle before the latter could disengage his blade.

"Now what's to be done, Sergeant?" enquired Joliffe, as he surveyed
the scene of the struggle. Of the seven New Zealanders who had
rushed the position only four were left standing--Fortescue,
Malcolm, Joliffe, and Henderson. Dick Selwyn was lying with his back
propped against a tree-trunk and a gunshot wound in his left arm.
The bullet, fired at close range, had been almost as destructive as
a dum-dum. The other man was dead.

"Got it this time, Malcolm!" murmured Dick faintly, as his chum
knelt beside him, and with a queer smile on his face Selwyn passed
into unconsciousness.

While Rifleman Carr was busy with first-aid dressings, Sergeant
Fortescue was pondering over the situation. He had lost touch with
the advance. It was a vain sacrifice to attempt to push on with a
mere handful of men. He decided to sit tight and await developments.
Reserves would be speedily coming up; of that he felt certain.

"Can we get him out of this, Fortescue?" enquired Malcolm,
indicating his unconscious chum. Fortescue shook his head.

"No," he replied. "'Gainst orders. Sorry!"

It cost the man an effort to refuse, but the sense of discipline had
the upper hand. He, too, knew that once a wounded man was left in
the depths of the battle-swept wood there was little chance of his
being removed before it was too late. Yet if the rule were broken,
and every unwounded man took upon himself to succour his disabled
chum, the advance would be jeopardized.

Out of the smoke stumbled a wounded man, hesitatingly, as if not
certain of his bearings. His shrapnel-helmet had fallen off,
revealing an unbandaged bullet wound extending over both eyebrows.
From his waist downwards he was literally caked with plastic mud.

"This way, chum!" shouted Fortescue, seeing that the man was partly
blinded by the flow of blood, and as likely as not dazed by the
nature of his wound.

"Look out!" exclaimed the wounded Digger, as Joliffe and Henderson
assisted him into the emplacement. "We've copped it properly up
there. The boys floundered into a bog, and were shot down like
rabbits. And the Boches are counter-attacking. They'll be along here
in half a shake."

It was bad news. The main attack had inclined away to the right,
while the thinly-held line between the New Zealand division and the
English regiments on the left had been stopped, not by the Huns, but
by the impossible condition of the marshy ground. Into the gap a
strong body of German troops, who, having previously held the wood,
knew how to avoid the treacherous swamp, came hurriedly, with the
intention of driving a wedge between the assaulting troops. It was
one of those minor operations which, if successful, might turn the
fortunes of the day.

"By gum!" ejaculated Fortescue. "We're up against something. Any of
you fellows know how to handle these?"

He indicated the two captured machine-guns, in one of which a fresh
belt of ammunition had just been placed when the Diggers upset
Fritz's preparations.

"Guess I'll have a cut at it," remarked Malcolm. Joliffe also
signified his belief that he would be able to "work the gadget".

"All right, then," continued Fortescue. "Henderson, you and I will
do a bit of bombing. How about you, chum? Can you bear a hand?" The
wounded man who had brought the news of impending danger seized a
couple of discarded rifles.

"I'm good for a few rounds rapid," he replied, as he examined the
magazines of the weapons. "If I do a few of 'em in I don't mind
overmuch. One of my mates told me he saw them shooting every wounded
man of our crush they came across, so it's stick it to the last."

There was one alternative: to abandon the position. It meant leaving
Dick Selwyn to the mercies of the Huns, for retirement through the
mud would be impossible if hampered by a wounded man. Fortescue
promptly dismissed the thought.

"Yes," he exclaimed, "we'll stick it out to the last! If I go under,
Rifleman Carr takes command, then Joliffe. Now, stand by! Here they
come!"

The foremost of the advancing Germans appeared in sight at a
distance of about eighty yards from the devoted New
Zealanders--bombers and riflemen in a compact mass--the advance
guard of the formidable counter-attack.

They approached cautiously, almost furtively. Although assured by
their officers that this part of the wood was not held, they
appeared to have their doubts as to the success of their desperate
measure.

Both machine-guns got off the mark almost at the same time. At that
short range it was impossible to miss. Where men had been standing a
second or so before was a struggling heap of writhing figures,
while, to add to the slaughter, several of the bombs carried by the
enemy exploded in their midst with devastating effect.

Back pressed the survivors, the wounded crawling slowly to the
shelter of the fallen trees. Grouser Joliffe cheered. So far the
Diggers had scored heavily.

Bullets whistling past their ears told them the unpleasant news that
the Huns were developing an encircling movement. While the main body
kept well back, skilled riflemen, taking advantage of abundant
cover, were converging upon the little band of New Zealanders.
Bombs, too, were hurled, but the distance was too great. They fell
and exploded harmlessly.

Except for the moral effect, the machine-guns were now of little
use. Better work could be performed by individual shooting, but the
diverging fire from five rifles was a feeble reply to the converging
volleys from ten times that number, while the emplacement,
constructed to meet an attack from the westward, was ill-designed to
ward off an assault from the opposite quarter.

For full five minutes the defenders lay low, replying cautiously to
the hostile fire, yet conserving their energies for the time when
the Huns would attempt to rush the scantily-held post.

Then came a catastrophe. A bullet, passing through an aperture in
the concrete, struck Fortescue in the chest. Almost at the same time
the already wounded Digger who had brought the news received a
second wound in the right shoulder.

Malcolm Carr was now in charge of a garrison of four effectives all
told.

With a weird attempt at cheering a number of Boches, mostly bombers,
emerged from behind the tree-trunks and rushed towards the defences.
Both guns quickly stopped the rush, but not before three men were
astride the concrete wall.

Hardly realizing what he was about, Malcolm abandoned the
machine-gun, seized a rifle, and dropped the foremost Hun. The
second promptly lunged with his bayonet, and, although Malcolm
parried, the blade transfixed his left arm just above the elbow. The
next instant Henderson dropped the fellow with a bullet at close
quarters, while Joliffe accounted for the third.

The three New Zealanders quickly slipped behind cover, just in time
to escape a hail of bullets from the Huns, who had witnessed their
comrades' deaths. Deftly Joliffe tied a strip of linen tightly above
Malcolm's wound, for there was no time to lose. Although unable to
use a rifle, Malcolm could still work the machine-gun, in spite of
the throbbing and burning pain that shot through his left arm and
down his side.

"We've settled a good many of the swine," exclaimed Joliffe. "When
the boys come up they'll see we've died game."

Beyond a few desultory shots the attack had quieted down. It was
ominous. The Huns, unable to rush the position, were bringing up a
trench-mortar.

Suddenly the lull in this part of the wood (elsewhere the noise of
combat was still intense) was broken by the rattle of rapid
independent rifle-firing and the well-known battle-cry of the New
Zealand boys. Bombs, too, were crashing in all directions, while
Lewis guns added to the din.

Then, as swarms of khaki-clad figures dashed from between the
shattered tree-trunks, Malcolm realized that aid was forthcoming in
the very nick of time. His work accomplished, he dropped inertly to
the ground between the bodies of his greatest chums, and everything
became a blank.

       *       *       *       *       *

Up the hill leading to No. 1 General Hospital, Brockenhurst--an
establishment known as Tin Town--two men in "hospital blues" were
slowly making their way. Both were wearing new, stiff-brimmed New
Zealand hats, adorned with scarlet puggarees. The "blues" might be
ill-fitting and sloppy, but it was a point of honour amongst the
"boys" that their head-gear should be smart.

One of the men had his left arm in a sling, the empty sleeve being
pinned to his coat; the other, in addition to wearing a bandage
round his forehead, walked with a pronounced limp and leant heavily
upon a rubber-shod walking-stick.

"Think you'll manage it, Malcolm?" enquired the man with the
crippled arm. "It's a stiffish pull."

"I guess I'll do it, Dick," replied Rifleman Carr. "We've tackled
some job for our first walk beyond the grounds; but Fortescue will
be disappointed if we don't fetch there. How much farther is it?"

"Foot a bit stiff?" enquired Selwyn as his companion paused and
rested one hand on Dick's shoulder.

"It gives me gip at times; suppose I'm a bit out of training, too,"
replied Malcolm. "What puzzles me is how did I get that buckshie?"

"What puzzles me," rejoined Dick, "is how any of us came out of it
alive. There's Fortescue, with a hole drilled completely through his
chest, alive and kicking. You came off lightly, my boy; but when
they carted me into the operating-room I thought it was good-bye to
my arm."

At length the chums reached the portals of Tin Town. Following an
asphalted path between well-kept lawns they arrived at the
corrugated-iron building in which Sergeant Fortescue was to be
found. Being a fine afternoon, and most of the cases convalescent,
the ward was almost deserted. The object of their search was soon
discovered.

"Glad to see you," exclaimed Fortescue when the preliminary
greetings had been exchanged. "I hear you're boarded for New
Zealand, Selwyn?"

"Yes, I'm off to Torquay on Thursday," replied Selwyn. "Suppose
it'll be six weeks more before I get a boat, and then cheer-o for
Christchurch."

"Lucky dog!" commented Fortescue. "By the way, Malcolm, I've news
for you. That boxing Maori pal of yours, Te Paheka's his name, I
fancy, is in the next ward. Do you know, he carried you right back
to the advance dressing-station, and that you were both bowled over
by a shell just the other side of Hannebeke stream? That's how you
got it in the foot, and Te Paheka had a chunk taken off his
shoulder. Yet he stuck to you and carried you in before he
collapsed."

"That's news," declared Malcolm. "How is he? I'll look him up when
we leave you. And now I'll tell you some news. I've been recommended
for a commission, and am to have a staff job in Blighty until I'm
fit to go out again."

"_Kia ora_, laddie," said Fortescue heartily. "C Company, or what's
left of the boys, seem to be dropping in for plums. They've even
given me the D.C.M. Goodness only knows what for," he added
modestly. "They say it was for holding a captured post. But what
else were we to do? It was a case of sticking it or going under. My
word, our fellows paid the price; but they are great."

"We had a lady visitor this afternoon," remarked Selwyn after more
blunt congratulations had been tendered and received. "She started
by remarking how magnificent it was of the boys to come all the way
from New Zealand to help smash Big and Little Willie; how loyal to
the Mother-land, and all that sort of talk. We managed to enlighten
her some; told her that we preferred to fight in Europe than to sit
still and run the risk of meeting Fritz down under--for that's what
it would be if Germany did get the upper hand. So we chuck in our
little lot to help others, and at the same time to help ourselves.
Well, so long, Fortescue, we'll look you up again to-morrow."

Te Paheka's olivine features were wreathed in smiles when Malcolm
entered his ward. The Maori's fighting days were over. Never again
would he use either bayonet or boxing-gloves, for his right arm was
totally incapacitated. He, too, was "boarded" for Aotea Roa[1]--the
Land of the Southern Cross.

"I am lucky, Malcolm," he said after Rifleman Carr had thanked him
for his act of devotion. "Lucky to be able to bring you in. Golly, I
can still drive a motor-car. When you come home, Malcolm, I'll be
waiting for you at Lyttelton with the most top-hole car going. And
you'll be there all right, with honours and distinctions. _Kia
ora_."

"Thanks, Te Paheka!" replied Malcolm. "I'll do my level best to
carry on, for the honour of New Zealand and the Anzac Brigade."

[1] Aotea Roa--"the white cloud"--is the Maori name for New Zealand.





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