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Title: Fighting with French - A Tale of the New Army
Author: Strang, Herbert
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.

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[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: A FOUL BLOW (_See p_. 52.)]



                                FIGHTING
                              WITH FRENCH

                        _A TALE OF THE NEW ARMY_


                                   BY
                             HERBERT STRANG



             _WITH ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR BY CYRUS CUNEO_

                                 LONDON
                              HENRY FROWDE
                          HODDER AND STOUGHTON



                       _First published in_ 1915



                                PREFACE


In these days one would rather fight than write; and those of us whom
inexorable Time has superannuated can but envy and admire.

Seven years ago the father of two boys at Rugby asked me to write a
story on the German peril, and the necessity of closing our ranks
against a possible invasion.  After some hesitation I decided to decline
the suggestion, anxious not to insinuate in young minds a suspicion of
Germany which might prove to be ill-founded.  Two years later, when the
subject was again pressed upon me, I felt bound to attempt some little
service in the cause of national defence; but again I avoided any direct
implication of Germany, imagining an invasion of Australia by an
aggressive China.  In two or three books I had poked a little fun at
German foibles, how harmlessly and inoffensively may be known by the
fact that one of these books was translated into German.  The course of
events, the horrors of the present war, show how needless were my
scruples.  Germany has come out in her true colours, and the mildest of
pacifists feels a stirring of the blood.

In _A Hero of Liége_ I wove a little romance upon the early events of
the war, when we were still under the shock of surprise and information
was scanty.  The present story has been written under more favourable
conditions.  A good deal of it springs from personal knowledge of the
training of the New Army.  The "Rutland Light Infantry" exists, under
another name, and one or two of the characters may perhaps be recognised
by their friends.  But I should point out that a story is not a history.
The history of this great struggle must be sought elsewhere.  The
romancer is satisfied if he is reasonably true to facts and
probabilities, and more than happy if his fictions, while amusing an
idle hour, have also anything of stimulus and encouragement.

HERBERT STRANG.



                                CONTENTS

CHAP.

I  A CHANCE MEETING
II  SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE
III  STONEWAY ENLISTS
IV  THREE ROUNDS
V  THE BACK OF THE FRONT
VI  BAGGING A SNIPER
VII  IN THE ENEMY’S LINES
VIII  SKY HIGH
IX  D.C.M.
X  HOT WORK
XI  THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GINGER
XII  DOGGED
XIII  THE FIGHT FOR THE VILLAGE
XIV  THE HIKIOTOSHI
XV  THE OBSERVATION POST
XVI  EXCHANGE NO ROBBERY
XVII  STRATEGY
XVIII  USES OF A TRANSPORT LORRY
XIX  SUSPICIONS
XX  MONSIEUR OBERNAI’S ATTIC
XXI  MARKED DOWN
XXII  ’RECOMMENDED’



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

A FOUL BLOW . . . . . . _Frontispiece_ (_see page_ 52)

"HANDS UP!"

A LONG WAY BACK

THE INTRUDER IN KHAKI



                               CHAPTER I

                            A CHANCE MEETING


Mr. Kishimaru smiled, and rubbed his long lean hands gently the one over
the other.

"Yes, Mr. Amory, you make great progress," he said, in low smooth tones,
and with the careful enunciation of one speaking a foreign tongue.  "You
will be an artist. Yes, I assure you: jujutsu is a fine art; more than
that, it is an application of pure science.  I say that, and I know.
Compare it with boxing, that which your grandfathers called the noble
art.  Rapidity of movement, yes; quickness of eye and judgment, yes; but
delicacy of touch--ah! jujutsu has it, boxing no.  There is nothing
brutal about jujutsu."

Kenneth Amory smiled back at the enthusiastic little Japanese, and
rubbed his left shoulder.

"Nothing brutal, I agree," he said.  "But it has been a dry summer, Mr.
Kishimaru."

"A dry summer?" the Japanese repeated, still smiling, but with an air of
puzzlement.

"Yes; the turf’s uncommonly hard, and I came down a pretty good whack
that last time."

"I am sorry.  You have not quite recovered your strength yet, or you
would not have fallen so heavily.  But you do well; it is good exercise,
for body and mind too. A little rest, and we will try another throw."

Kenneth Amory was seated on a bench on the lawn where, in summer, Mr.
Kishimaru instructed his pupils in the fine art of jujutsu.  He wore a
loose white belted tunic and shorts: head and legs were bare. Mr.
Kishimaru, a wiry little Japanese of about thirty-five, similarly clad,
walked up and down, expounding the principles of his art.

A bell rang in the house.  The garden door opened, and a tall young
fellow of some twenty years came with quick step on to the lawn.

"Hullo, Kishimaru!" he cried.  "How do?  Have you got a minute?"  He
glanced towards the figure on the bench, but did not wait for an answer.
"Just back from Canada--to enlist.  Got to smash the Germans, you know.
But look here; just spare a minute to show me the Koshinage, will you?
I was in a lumber camp, you know, out west; lumbering’s hard work; no
cricket or anything else; had to do something; taught ’em jujutsu, odd
times, you know. But the Koshinage--I fairly came to grief over that:
tried it on a big chap, and came a regular cropper.  Made me look pretty
small; I’d been explaining that I’d throw any fellow, no matter how big.
Somehow it didn’t come off: must have forgotten something, I suppose.
I’ve only got a few minutes; have to catch the 4.30 at St. Pancras; just
put me through it once or twice, there’s a good chap."

Mr. Kishimaru rubbed his hands all through this impetuous address.  He
was always pleased to see an old pupil, and Harry Randall, voluble,
always in a hurry, had been one of his best pupils a year or two before.

"I am delighted to see you, Mr. Randall," he said.  "If you will
change----"

"No time for that.  I’ll strip to my shirt, be ready in a winking."

He threw off coat and waistcoat, wrenched off his collar, with some
peril to the stud, and knotting his braces about his waist, stood ready.
Meanwhile Mr. Kishimaru had stepped to the bench.

"The Koshinage is the exercise we have been practising, Mr. Amory," he
said. "Perhaps you will be good enough to go through it with Mr.
Randall, an old pupil.  I will watch, and criticise if necessary."

Amory sprang up.  In the newcomer he had at once recognised a
schoolfellow--Randy, they used to call him; a fellow everybody liked;
impulsive, generous, easy-going, always in scrapes, always ready to
argue with boys or masters.  They had left school at the same time, and
had not seen each other since.

Mr. Kishimaru explained to Randall that his pupil would practise the
exercise with him, and was about to introduce the two formally.  But
Randall anticipated him.

"Hullo, Amory!" he cried.  "It’s you. Didn’t recognise you.  Come on; no
time to spare."

Without more ado they took up position for the exercise, holding each
other as though they were going to waltz.  Then they made one or two
rapid steps, Mr. Kishimaru skipping round them, intently watching their
movements.  With a sudden turning on his toes and bending of the knees,
Amory dragged Randall from behind on to his right hip.  A jerk of the
left arm and the straightening of the knees lifted Randall’s feet from
the ground, and in another moment he was hoisted over Amory’s hip to his
left front and deposited on his back.

"Excellent!  Excellent!" cried Mr. Kishimaru.

"Just what I tried to do with big Heneky, and came bash to the ground
with him on top of me," said Randall.  "But it’s knack, not strength.
I’m heavier than Amory. Show me the trick."

Mr. Kishimaru placed them again in position, showed Randall how to get
advantage in the preliminary grip, and left them. In a few seconds Amory
was thrown.

"You have it, Mr. Randall," said the Japanese, rubbing his hands with
pleasure. "It is like a problem in chess: white to play and mate in
three moves.  It is inevitable, given the position; it is mathematics,
mechanics, applied to the muscular human frame..."

"That’s all right, old chap," interrupted Randall.  "Knack, I call it.
Once more, Amory, then I must be off."

But at the third attempt he failed, and he would not be satisfied until
he had performed the feat three times in succession.  Then, looking at
his watch, he found that he was too late for his train.

"Can’t be helped," he said.  "I’ll go down to-morrow.  Come along to my
hotel, Amory: haven’t said how-de-do yet.  We’ll have some grub and a
talk.  But you’ve got to change.  Can’t wait.  I’ll do some shopping and
wire home to the governor; you’ll find me at the Arundel.  Dinner seven
sharp: don’t be late."

"The same old Randy!" thought Amory, smiling as he went into the house
to change.

At seven o’clock he found Randall walking restlessly up and down in
front of the hotel.

"Here you are.  I’ve bagged a table. It’s jolly to see you again
after--how long is it?  Remember Shovel?  He’s got a commission in the
Fusiliers.  Give me your hat. Want a wash?  I landed yesterday; come
6000 miles, by Jove!"

And so, darting from one subject to another, he led the way to the
coffee-room. Before the soup arrived he started again.

"Heard the news right away in the backwoods.  Lot of Germans and
Austrians in the camp.  They began to crow.  I slipped away; had to
tramp ten days to the rail. Gave a hint to the police, and hope all
those aliens are now in gaol.  Extraordinary enthusiasm in Canada, old
chap.  They wanted me to join their contingent, but I’d already applied
for a commission at home.  People here seem to take things very coolly.
It’ll be a bigger thing than they realise.  And this rot in the papers
about the Germans’ funk--running away, crying their eyes out! Stupid
nonsense, believe me.  Had a letter in New York from my governor.  Jolly
exciting voyage, I can tell you.  All lights out; wireless going
constantly; alarm one night: German cruiser fifty miles away. We all
crowded on deck.  By and by lookout signalled a vessel.  We held our
breath: turned out to be a British cruiser.  Captain gave our skipper
instructions for the course. We took ten days instead of five.  What’ll
you drink?"

Amory having intimated his modest choice Randall went on:

"Things’ll have to wake up here.  My governor’s men are a lot of
rotters.  Wrote me that out of five hundred or so only about a dozen had
’listed.  Disgraceful, I call it. I’d sack ’em, but I know the governor
won’t; he’s against compulsion.  I’m going down to-morrow to stir ’em
up.  Haven’t come 6000 miles for nothing.  By the way, what are you
doing?  You were a sergeant in the O.T.C.  Of course you’d get a
commission right away.  I shall never forget your cheek.  Nearly died of
laughing when you went up to the O.C. and asked him to make you a
corporal.  ’What for?’ says he.  ’I’ve been a private long enough, sir,’
says you, as cool as you please.  But I say, what are you doing?"

"I’ve been rather seedy," said Amory, amused at his friend’s chatter,
but not yet disposed to tell him that he had already seen service in
Belgium.

"But you’re fit now, eh?  You’ll apply?"

"Yes, I suppose I shall."

"Why, hang it all, man, why suppose? They’re awfully slow at the War
Office.  I applied at once; passed the doctor and all that.  I shan’t
wait much longer.  There’s a Public School Corps forming; I shall join
that.  I daresay they’ll give me a platoon. I say, why not join too?
We’re sure to find a lot of our old fellows in it; we might make up a
company.  I hate waiting about. What do you say?"

"I’ll think it over."

"Oh, I say, man, what rot!  I tell you I’ve come 6000 miles to join.
You used to be keen enough."  A cloud of disappointment, almost of
affront, hovered upon his face.  Then suddenly he flashed a look of
mingled horror and disgust at his friend. "You don’t tell me you’re a
professional footballer?" he muttered.

"No, no," replied Amory with a laugh. "Don’t be alarmed, Randy; I shan’t
sit at home and read the papers."

"That’s all right, then.  But do make up your mind, there’s a good chap.
I tell you what, what’s your address?  I’ll wire you to-morrow when I’ve
had a go at the governor’s men.  Twelve out of five hundred!--no wonder
the poor old governor is biffy. It’s a disgrace.  Well, I’ll wire you;
let you know how I get on as a recruiting officer. Then we’ll meet
somewhere.  Find out the headquarters of the Public School Corps, will
you? and make up your mind to join that with me.  It won’t spoil your
chance of a commission--perhaps hurry it up. Anyway, it will be jolly to
be together.... Waiter, bring me some more of that soufflé. You don’t
get things like that in the backwoods, Amory."



                               CHAPTER II

                         SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE


Kenneth on his way home looked in at the doctor’s.  An attack of
influenza after his return from Belgium had pulled him down, and he had
put off joining the army until assured of his complete recovery.  As he
put it to the doctor: "A crock would be no use to K. of K."

"You’ll do," said the doctor after thoroughly overhauling him.  "All you
want is a little hardening up.  I’ll give you a prescription.  The
open-air life of the army will do you good.  And I wish you luck."

Thus fortified, as soon as he got home he posted an application for a
commission in the Flying Corps.

Next day, soon after lunch, he received a telegram from Randall.

"No go.  Slackers.  Mules.  Governor mad. Come and lend a hand."

He handed the telegram to his mother.

"What does it mean?" she asked. "Your friend must be rather a curious
person."

"Oh, it’s just Randy," said Kenneth, who had told his mother of his
meeting with Randall on the previous day.  "At school he always wanted
to lug everybody with him. I don’t see what I can do.  I’ll wire him."

He wrote on the reply-paid form:

"Sorry.  Not my line."

Within a couple of hours came a second telegram.

"Rotter.  Writing."

Next morning’s post brought the letter.

"You simply must come.  What do you mean, not your line?  How do you
know till you try? Here I’ve come 6000 miles--but I told you that
before.  This is the situation.  The governor is raving: never saw him
so biffy.  He got a spouter down from London, who lectured the men in
the dinner-hour, waved a flag and all that.  The men only jeered.
Governor says I’ll only make them worse if I try; calls me a
scatter-brain; I assure you he’s in a deuce of a wax.  Used to be as
meek as Moses; wouldn’t hear of compulsion; he’s turned completely over,
talks of sacking the men, closing the works, conscription, and so on and
so forth. Something must be done.  You were always a cool hand; come and
let’s talk things over, at any rate: smooth the governor down; he won’t
listen to a word from me, and in my opinion goes the wrong way to work.
I told him I was inviting you; best pal at school, cock of the House,
going to join with me: so on and so forth.  He’ll be glad to see you."

"A very strange person," remarked Mrs. Amory when she had read the
letter.

"Perhaps I had better go," said Kenneth. "Of course I can’t do any good
with the men, but it will please Randy, and my being on the spot may
prevent him and his father from coming to loggerheads.  They’re both
peppery, evidently."

Accordingly, Kenneth travelled by the 10.30 from St. Pancras, and
reached the small midland town in time for lunch.  He saw at once that
Mr. Randall himself was at any rate partly responsible for this trouble.
A prosperous manufacturer, he was inclined to be dictatorial and was
certainly no diplomatist.  Full of patriotic zeal himself, deploring the
fact that he was too old for active service, a special constable, an
energetic member of the local home defence corps, he had expected all
his able-bodied men to rush to the colours, promised to keep their
places for them, and to make up their pay for the sake of their
dependents.  The paltry response filled him with fury. Without taking
the trouble to discover the cause of the general reluctance he poured
scorn upon the skulkers, talked of the white feather, tried to dragoon
them into volunteering, threatened to sack them or close the works, with
the result that the men stiffened their backs and defied him.  Clearly
he did not know how to handle men in an emergency like the present.

At lunch Kenneth tactfully listened to his host’s outpourings, without
offering any criticism or suggestion.

"Good man!" said Randall, when he and Kenneth were alone.  "Let him blow
off! That’s the way."

"What have you done?" asked Kenneth.

"Not much.  I wanted to make a speech to the men, but the governor
wouldn’t let me.  Now, am I a scatter-brain?  D’you think that’s fair?
Anyway, I’m his son! But I spoke to old Griggs, our foreman; asked him
why the men won’t enlist.  ’’Cos they’re Englishmen,’ says he.  ’What’s
the meaning of that?’ says I.  ’Won’t be druv,’ says he.  ’Rather be led
by the nose,’ says he."

"What did he mean?"

"Well, it appears that the fellows take their cue from two ringleaders.
One of them’s a man named Stoneway, only been here about six months: I
don’t know him. But I know the other chap--a carrot-headed fellow named
Murgatroyd; Yorkshire, I suppose: the men call him Ginger.  He’s been
with us years: came as a boy.  A rough customer, I can tell you: a jolly
good workman, but a regular demon for mischief. All the same, you can’t
help liking him. He’s a sportsman, too: good at boxing, a first-class
forward, just the fellow you’d expect to be the first to go.  Griggs
told me he didn’t expect to see him back after his week’s holiday in
August: but he turned up a day or two late, and backed up Stoneway
against the governor.  He’ll be sacked at the end of the week, sure as a
gun."

"Those two are the men you must tackle, then," said Kenneth.  "Bring
them round, and the rest will follow like sheep--or donkeys, ’led by the
nose,’ as your Griggs says."

"By the way, he told me the men are having a meeting in the yard at
tea-time to discuss the governor’s threats.  Shall we slip down and hear
what they have to say?"

"Our appearance might shut them up."

"Not if I know our men--free and independent, don’t care a rap for
anyone: you know the sort.  They’d take a huge delight in letting us
hear a few things about ourselves--idle rich, bloated capitalists and so
on: which reminds me that I’ve got about twopence halfpenny.  We’ll hear
them spout, and tackle Stoneway and Ginger quietly afterwards."

Shortly after four o’clock the two friends strolled into the works yard.
Several hundreds of hands were there assembled, from engine boys and
apprentices to grey seasoned veterans.  The most of them had tea cans,
some were smoking.  At one end of the yard, standing on a tub, a stoutly
built man of about thirty, with close cropped hair and thick brown beard
and moustache, was haranguing the mob.

Randall was recognised by some of the men, whose grins of greeting he
acknowledged with nods.  A whisper ran round: "The young governor!"  It
caught the ears of the man on the tub, who broke off his speech for a
moment and glanced sharply at the two tall figures on the outskirts of
the crowd.  Then he resumed what was evidently a studied peroration.

"Is this a free country, or is it not, mates?" he cried, with a sweeping
arm.  "If a man wants to fight, let him; I won’t say a word against it.
But when it comes to forcing him, then I say he’s a slave, and all the
talk about Britons never will be slaves is blankety rot, and I say that
when an employer threatens to sack us or close the works because we
don’t feel called on to turn ourselves into gun-fodder, I say he’s a
nigger-driver and a tyrant.  And what’s it for?  Are we invaded?  I’d
defend my own home with any man.  But what do we pay the navy for?
That’s their job.  What I say is, let the French and the Russians do
their own fighting.  It’s no business of ours."

"What about Belgium?" cried one of the boys.

"’What about Belgium?’ says the nipper. What has Belgium done for us?
Perhaps the nipper will tell us.  Speak up....  Not a word, and why?
Because Belgium has done nothing for us.  Then I ask you in the name of
common sense why on earth we should do anything for Belgium?  Belgium
has only herself to thank.  The Germans have promised to leave Belgium
as soon as they have settled with the French, and even if they
don’t----"

"Way there!" shouted Randall, elbowing his way through the crowd.  Cries
of "Way for the young governor!" drowned the speaker’s voice.  "Time’s
up, Stoneway!" sang out the boy who had questioned him. Kenneth followed
his friend, hoping that he would be discreet.

Stoneway descended from the tub, Randall mounted in his place.

"Look here, men," he cried, "I came to listen, to get at your ideas, not
to speak, but I can’t keep quiet when I hear such stuff. We’re free men:
that’s all right; but we’re men of our word.  An Englishman’s word: you
know what people say about that. We’ve given our word to Belgium: if we
break it we’re mean skunks, we’re disgraced for ever.  Besides, every
decent chap loathes a bully, and Germany’s just a great hulking bully.
If you see a big chap hurting a little ’un, you want to knock him down.
My father tells me that only about a dozen of you have enlisted.  What’s
the reason of it? You’d feel jolly well insulted if I called you
cowards.  Are all you hundreds going to skulk at home while your mates
do the fighting for you?  What’ll you feel like in ten years’ time?  You
won’t be able to look ’em in the face.  Here I’ve come 6000 miles to do
my bit; buck up and show what you’re made of."

Randall’s words tumbled out in a boiling flood.  There was some
cheering, mingled with cries of "Ginger!" which grew in volume until the
din was deafening. Presently there edged his way through the crowd a
thin lank fellow with lean clean-shaven cheeks, deeply furrowed, and a
touzled mop of reddish hair.  A red scarf was knotted about his neck.
He slouched forward, hands in pockets, murmured "Afternoon, Mr. Harry,"
as he passed Randall, mounted the tub, hitched up his breeches, drew the
back of his hand across his mouth, and looked round, with a grin, upon
his shouting fellow-workmen.  The noise subsided, and the crowd gazed
expectantly up into their favourite’s face.

"We’re all glad to see the young governor, mates," he said, in the broad
accents of a north-countryman.  There was a volley of cheers.  "But we
don’t hold with him--and no offence.  I hold with Stoneway--every word
of it."  He thumped the air. "Who made this war?  Not us: we wasn’t
consulted.  No: it was the nobs done it. Are we going to let ’em force
us into it?"  (Shouts of "No!")  "We won’t be druv. It’s all very well
for the officers: they get a comfortable billet and good pay.  Tommy
gets the kicks and Percy gets the ha’pence."  ("Go it, Ginger!")  "Now,
Mr. Harry, you’ve come 6000 miles--what for, sir? an officer’s job, I
take my oath."

"That’s true," said Randall.  "I’ve applied.  But----"

"Hold on, sir.  There you are!  Just what I thought.  Well, I ain’t got
no personal objection to having a smack at the Germans; never seen a
German yet but what I’d give him one on the boko, and if Lord
Kitchener’d make me a lootenant or a capting in the Coldstream Guards,
with a sword and eppylets and ten bob a day--well, I don’t say I
wouldn’t consider it."  ("Bravo, Ginger!")  "But as it is, to be a
private on one bob a day, and dock threepence or more, they tell me, for
the missus and kids--I’m not having any."

When the cheers that hailed his assertion had fallen away, Kenneth said
quietly:

"You forget that thousands of men have thrown up good jobs and
sacrificed big incomes to join the ranks."

"Not in these parts, governor.  Down here they give their subscriptions
to this, that, and the other, and reduce their men’s wages, if they
don’t sack ’em.  And if it comes to that, what have _you_ done?"

A breathless silence settled upon the crowd. All eyes were fixed on the
young governor’s friend, awaiting his reply to this poser. Kenneth had
an inspiration.

"It doesn’t matter what I’ve done," he said, quietly, but in a tone that
carried his words to the corners of the yard.  "But I’ll tell you what
I’ll do, and if I know my friend Mr. Randall, he’ll do the same.  If you
men will enlist, we’ll enlist with you, and share and share alike."

The man was taken aback.  He looked from Kenneth to Randall: his mates
watched him curiously.  "One for you, Ginger!" cried the irrepressible
boy.

"D’you mean that, sir?" asked the man.

"Certainly," said Kenneth.

"It’s a firm offer, Ginger," added Randall.

"Privates--no kid?"

"A bob a day," said Kenneth.

For a half-minute or so Ginger had the air of one who is caught out.  He
looked round among his mates, grinning awkwardly, avoiding their eyes.
They were silent, watching him.  All at once he burst into a guffaw,
wiped his mouth, and with frank good-humour cried:

"Well, hanged if you ain’t good sports. Come on, mates.  Who’s for
Kitchener’s army and a smack at the Germans?  I’m number one."

The crowd was captured by the sporting spirit.  Striking while the iron
was hot, Randall and Kenneth headed a procession to the recruiting
office.  Mr. Randall, called to his window by the tramp of many feet and
the strains of "It’s a long long way to Tipperary," was amazed to see
hundreds of his young workmen marching with linked arms behind the two
young fellows.  He rang for Griggs.

"What does this mean, Griggs?" he asked.

"Gone to enlist, sir.  We shall be very short-handed."



                              CHAPTER III

                            STONEWAY ENLISTS


Mr. Randall pulled a wry face when he heard of Kenneth’s impulsive
action.  At the dinner-table he spoke his mind.

"This won’t do, you know.  You are both certain to obtain commissions.
I don’t object to your serving as Tommies for a week or two, for the
sake of example, you know; but I’m not going to allow you to let
yourself down permanently, Harry.  Your friend, of course, can do as he
pleases."

"I’ve promised, Father," said Harry.

"Promised what, may I ask?"

"To share and share alike with the men."

"Fiddlesticks!  It won’t do.  Good gracious, what are we coming to?  The
whole social order will be destroyed.  You’ll succeed me at the head of
this business, when you’ve settled down and are a trifle less
scatter-brained than you are now.  How in the world do you expect to
maintain the proper relation between employer and employed if you put
yourself on a level with the hands?  Look at it logically.  Take it that
I myself had been idiot enough to do as you’ve done, and put myself in
the position to be ordered about by some factory hand who happened to be
a sergeant, or some young whipper-snapper fresh from school who happened
to have got a commission: what would become of my authority, I should
like to know?  How could I maintain control over my workmen?  Do look at
it reasonably.  It’s preposterous."

The idea of portly Mr. Randall as a Tommy was almost too much for the
boys’ gravity. But Harry answered meekly:

"Well, we’ve enlisted over a hundred men, and there’ll be more
to-morrow.  That’s what you wanted, Dad, isn’t it?  You won’t have to
close down now."

"But I didn’t want my son to consort with a lot of roughs--socialists,
too, to a man, by gad!  You can’t associate with such fellows without
getting coarsened, and besides, as I said before, it’s the principle of
the thing--the principle of social order, caste, call it what you like.
Destroy caste, and you ruin old England.  Come now, I’ll see the
colonel, and he’ll arrange to get you gazetted to the regiment.  You’ll
then be in a natural position of authority over my men, and I’ll be
proud to think that my works has furnished a contingent to the New Army,
with my own son as one of the officers."

"You ought to have lived in the middle ages, Dad," said Harry,
admiringly.  "What a jolly old feudal chief you’d have been! But it
can’t be done.  Amory and I have thrown in our lot with the men, and
we’ll stick it: we can’t go back on our word."

"I’ll see that you have proper under-clothing, my dear," said Mrs.
Randall. "I’m told that some of the poor men have only one shirt."

"Shirts!" cried Mr. Randall.  "Oh, I’m out of all patience with you.  Do
as you please, do as you please.  I wash my hands of it.  Don’t expect
any sympathy from me if you are disgusted, horrified, in a week."

As Harry had said, more than a hundred of the men had already given in
their names. Next day a still larger number volunteered, and when the
medical tests had been applied, it was found that the recruits from the
Randall works were enough to form a company.  This accordingly was
scheduled as No. 3 Company in the 17th Service Battalion of a regiment
which, for reasons which will appear in the course of this narrative, we
shall know as the Rutland Light Infantry.

Colonel Appleton, the officer commanding, sent for Harry and Kenneth in
the course of the day.

"Look here, young fellows," he said, "you’re both O.T.C. men, aren’t
you?"

They confessed that they were.

"Well, I’m short of officers.  They’ve sent me several boys without any
experience at all, who’ll want a thundering lot of licking into shape.
I’ll put you both down, glad to have somebody who knows something about
company drill."

"Thank you, sir," said Harry, "but we only got the men to enlist by
promising to go in with them."

"That’s all very well, but nobody can object to promotion.  The men will
think it the most natural thing in the world for you to officer them."

The boys, however, persisted in their refusal.

"Nonsense," said the colonel.  "I’ll give you twenty-four hours’ leave
to think it over.  There’ll be nothing doing for a day or two.  It’s
chaos at present: no uniforms, no boots, no earthly thing.  Come and see
me this time to-morrow, and tell me you’ve changed your mind."

As they left, they saw Ginger and two or three other men on the opposite
side of the street, evidently on the watch for them. Ginger took his
hands out of his pockets, wiped his mouth, and came across the road.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said to Harry, "but we only want to know where we
are. The question is, have we got to salute you, or ain’t we?"

"Of course not.  That’s a silly question. We’re all Tommies together."

"There you are, now, what did I say?" Ginger called to his mates.
"Unbelieving Jews they are," he added, addressing Harry. "Said it was
all kid, and you’d come out majors or lootenants or something.  I knowed
better."

"Make your minds easy on that score, Ginger.  We’ve given our word."

"That’s a bob lost to Stoneway."

"By the way, Stoneway hasn’t enlisted, of course."

"Not him!  He bet you’d get yourselves turned into officers as soon as
you’d raked us in.  That’s a day’s pay extra for me."

"That fellow Stoneway is a bit of a riddle," said Kenneth as they passed
on. "Judging by his speech the other day, he’s better educated than
most--a Scot perhaps; there’s a sort of burr in his accent."

"I daresay," replied his friend.  "A fellow who likes the sound of his
own voice, I fancy.  Cantankerous: always agin the Government; you know
the sort."

"Well, old chap, as we’ve got twenty-four hours’ leave I’ll run up to
town and explain things to the mater, make a few business arrangements
and so on.  I’ll be back to lunch to-morrow."

"All right.  I suppose they’ll put us in billets for the present, so
I’ll arrange to have you billeted on the governor.  He’ll get seven bob
a day for the two of us; rather a rag, eh?"

Kenneth was early at the station on his return journey next morning.
The platform was crowded, a good sprinkling of men in khaki mingling
with the civilian passengers always to be seen before the departure of a
north-going express.

Standing at the bookstall, deliberating on a choice of something to
read, Kenneth heard behind him the accents of a voice which he had heard
so recently as to recognise it at once, though the few words he caught
were French.  He glanced over his shoulder and was not surprised to see
Stoneway, the orator of Mr. Randall’s yard.  The man was walking up the
platform beside a companion somewhat older than himself, upon whose arm
he rested his hand as he spoke earnestly to him.

"A French Socialist, I suppose," thought Kenneth.  "One of the anti-war
people. Well, war is horrible, and I don’t know I wouldn’t agree with
them if they had the power to put a stop to it altogether.  But they
haven’t, and that French fellow had better realise that we’ve got to
lick the Germans first.  I was evidently right about Stoneway: he’s
better educated than most working men."

He bought a magazine, and thought no more of the matter, seeing nothing
further of the two men.  As he stepped into a first-class compartment he
smiled at the thought that it was probably the last time for many a long
day.  Henceforth he was to be a "Tommy."

Harry met him at the station.

"Billets no go, old chap," was his greeting. "We’re quartered in an old
factory--beastly hole.  But I’ve told the colonel we’re going to stick
it.  Come along.  They’re going to serve out uniforms this afternoon; no
fitting required!  You’ll be rather difficult: average chest but extra
long arms. I suppose we might buy our own, but we’d better make shift
with the rest.  And I say, who do you think we’ve got for one of our
officers?"

"Who?"

"You remember that squirt, Dick Kennedy?"

"You don’t say so!"

"That’s just what I do say.  I was loafing about the barracks when he
came up to me, fresh as paint in his new uniform. ’What O, Randall!’
says he.  ’You here, too?  Ordered your kit, I suppose?’  ’I believe
it’s on order,’ said I, and I saluted, just for the fun of the thing.
’Oh, I say, we don’t do that to each other,’ says he; ’we don’t salute
anyone under a major, do we?’  ’I don’t want a dose of clink--already,’
said I.  ’What on earth do you mean?’ says he.  Then I told him, and you
should have seen his face!  He wouldn’t believe me at first, and went as
red as a turkey-cock when I said I wouldn’t mind earning half-a-crown
extra a week as his servant."

"I always thought him a bit of an ass at school," said Kenneth, "but a
genial ass, you know.  He wasn’t in the O.T.C., and I expect we shall
have some sport with him."

They went on to the large disused factory which had been turned into
barracks for the occasion.  The quartermaster was superintending the
allocation of uniforms, and they were in due course fitted more or less
with khaki and boots.  As yet there were no belts, bandoliers or rifles.

The basement of the factory consisted of two large halls with bare brick
walls and concrete floors.  One of them, to be used as a drill hall, was
empty.  The other was fitted up with wooden frames to serve as sleeping
bunks.  At one end was a platform on which stood a piano, and one of the
recruits was laboriously thumping out a rag-time.  Another was playing a
different tune on a penny whistle.  At one corner four men were absorbed
in halfpenny nap; elsewhere groups were amusing themselves in various
ways.

Kenneth and his friend joined one of these.  There was a little
stiffness at first. The workmen, ranging in years from nineteen to
thirty-five or so, were a little shy and subdued in the company of the
"young governor."  But the ice was broken when Ginger came up, his
square mouth broadened in a grin.  He was about to touch his cap to
Harry, but altered his mind when he remembered the situation, and wiped
his lips instead.

"Bet you don’t never guess," he said.

"What’s up, Ginger?" asked his mates in chorus.

"Why, Stoneway--he’s been and gone and done it."

"What’s he been and gone and done? Not done himself in?"

"Course not!  Think he’s broke his heart ’cause of losing us, then?  No
fear!  He’s ’listed, that’s what he’s done."

"Garn!"

"True as I’m standing here.  He’s ’listed right enough.  He’s got a
chest on him too; forty inches, doctor said.  He’s been and got shaved;
he’ll be along here presently.  His beard, that is.  We can let our
moustaches grow now, if we like."  He rubbed his upper lip.
"Hair-brush, that’s what it is.  Bet a penny it’s as good as Stoneway’s
under six weeks."

"But what’s he ’listed for, after all his jaw?" asked one of the men.

"Converted, that’s what he is," Ginger replied.  "Seen the error of his
ways, or else he’s so sweet on me he couldn’t bear the parting.  ’You
made me love you, I didn’t want to do it,’" he hummed.  "This here khaki
looks all right, mates, don’t it? Matches my hair.  Here, old
cockalorum," he shouted to the man at the piano, "we’ve had enough of
that there funeral march. Play more cheerful, or we’ll all be swimming
in our tears."

Ginger’s high spirits were infectious, and the group of which Kenneth
and Harry formed a part chatted and laughed away the afternoon.

Just before ten o’clock they were arranging their simple beds on the
frames when a chorus of yells, cat-calls, whistles, and other discordant
noises caused them to look around the hall.  Stoneway had just made his
appearance.  It was a different Stoneway. The brown beard was gone, the
long and flourishing moustache had been clipped to bristly stiffness,
revealing heavy lips and a full round chin.  The man bore his uproarious
greeting with a defiant glare, and only looked annoyed when Ginger
shouted:

"Smart, ain’t he?  Doesn’t look so much like a blinky German, does he?"

The bugle sounded the Last Post, the electric light was switched off,
and the five hundred men of the 17th Rutland Light Infantry clambered
into their bunks and sought repose.



                               CHAPTER IV

                              THREE ROUNDS


At six o’clock next morning sergeant-majors and corporals went round the
hall stirring up the sleepers.  There were groans and grumbles, but the
men turned out, and there was a general dash for the washing basins--one
among twenty men--and a free fight for the razors.  Our two friends had
brought their own safeties and pocket mirrors, and when they had
finished operating upon their downy cheeks there was a competition among
their new messmates for the loan of those indispensable articles.

"Your bristles will ruin a blade in no time, Ginger," said Harry, as he
handed over the razor, somewhat ruefully.

"Perseverance, that’s all you want," replied Ginger, through the lather.
"Yours ’ll be as hard as mine in time."

At half-past six each man seized a mug and rushed off to the cook-house
across the yard for cocoa.  They sat about the hall, swilling the
morning beverage, grumbling at the blankets, asking one another who’d be
a soldier; then they rubbed up their boots and made their beds, and were
ready for the seven o’clock parade.

Dressed only in their shirts and slacks they formed up in the
drill-hall.  There was a good deal of disorder, and the N.C.O.’s, in
early-morning temper, roared above the din.  It happened that Dick
Kennedy was orderly officer for the week.  When the men were at last
ranged in ranks, dressed, and numbered by the sergeants, he posted
himself in front and, with a nervous twitching of the lips, said
gently--

"Battalion, ’shun!"

"Louder, louder!" whispered a fellow-officer who had come up behind him.
"This isn’t a mothers’ meeting."

The second lieutenant tried again.

"Battalion, ’shun!  Advance in fours from the right.  Form fours!"

Some of the men knew what to do, but many of the new recruits looked
about them blankly.

"You don’t know the movements?" said the lieutenant.  "Well, when I say
’form fours,’ even numbers take one pace to the left with the left foot
and one pace to the right with the right.  Now, form fours!"

The result was disorder--jostling in the ranks, cries of "Who’re you
a-shoving of!"

"Sorry!  My mistake!" said Kennedy, with a smile.  "We’ll try again.  I
should have said, ’one pace to the rear with the left foot.’  Now then,
form fours!"

His cheerfulness won the men’s sympathy, and the order being now
correctly carried out, one or two of them cheered.

"Silence in the ranks!" roared Kennedy. "Right!  Quick march!" and the
battalion marched off.

The day’s work began with a run for three-quarters of an hour, to the
bank of a river some two miles away.  A "run" so called, for it
consisted of slow and quick march and doubling in turn.  At eight
o’clock they were back in the hall for breakfast: tea, bread and bacon,
sausage or cheese. The provisions were good, the men had healthy
appetites, and at 9.15, when the battalion orders of the day were read,
they were contented and cheerful.

Marching out to the parade ground, a field in the neighbourhood, they
spent an hour in physical drill under experienced N.C.O. instructors,
and then a couple of hours in company drill.  Dismissed at 12.15, they
met again for dinner at 1, a plentiful meal of meat pie and vegetables.
Then came a route march and extended order drill, tea at 4.30, with jam
and tinned fruits, and at 5.30 company lectures.

"It’ll be rummy to hear Kennedy lecture," said Harry, sitting beside
Kenneth on the form.  "I wonder what he’ll spout about."

"Poor chap!" said Kenneth.  "I’m beginning to think the Tommies haven’t
the worst of it.  Keep a straight face whatever he says."

Somewhat to his surprise, when Kennedy appeared the men were at once
silent.  The habit of discipline was strong in those who had already
served in the Regulars or the Territorials; the recruits were interested
in the novel circumstances, and subdued by the indefinable influence of
constituted authority.

"Now, men," began Kennedy, unfolding his notes and studiously avoiding
the eyes of his old school-fellows, "I’m going to say a few words to you
on Feet."

"My poor tootsies!" murmured one of the men.

"We have all got feet," Kennedy went on, "but do we all know how to use
them?"

"Give us a ball and we’ll show you, sir," cried a voice.

"Well, I hope we’ll have some footer by and by, but that’s not the
present question. We have just done a ten-mile walk.  Two or three of
you fell out, two or three were limping before we got back.  Why was
that?"

"’Cos we ain’t used to it, sir," said one of the unlucky ones.

"Ate too much pie and ’taters, sir," cried another.

"Got a corn inside o’ my toe," said a third.

"Well, we’ll leave out greediness for the present: that’s a moral defect
which perhaps one of the senior officers will deal with. We’ll confine
our attention to the proper care of the feet."

And he went on to give some simple and practical advice as to bathing,
greasing, methods of hardening, until six o’clock struck, and the men
were dismissed until first post at 9.30.

"Call that a lecture!" scoffed Stoneway, when the officer had gone.
"Does he take us for an infant school?  Giving us pap like that!"

"You shut your face!" said Ginger. "The young feller spoke downright
good common sense, much better ’n you’d expect from a chap as went to
one of them there public schools.  He said a thing or two I didn’t know,
nor you either, Stoneway. ’Course he didn’t go to the root of it;
dursn’t cry stinking fish.  What’s the root?  Why, boots.  These ’ere
things they’ve gi’en us, they’re no good.  They’re made to raise
blisters, they are, and they’ll just mash when we get the rain."

"They’re only temporary, I believe," said Kenneth, "till the factories
can turn out army boots in sufficient quantities."

"That’s the English Government all over," said Stoneway, with a sneer.
"Nothing ready: no boots, no rifles----"

"Oh, stow it!" cried Ginger.  "What did you ’list for if you’re going to
grouse all the time?  The worst of it is, you can’t resign: we shall
have to put up with you, I s’pose, unless you mutiny, or strike your
superior officer, or do something else to get dismissed the army.  Come
on, boys; let’s go and see the pictures.  We’ll be back in time to draw
some soup from the cook-house, 8.30 to 9."

That is a fair sample of the day’s work during the next two or three
months.  It was monotonous, but, during the dry autumn, healthy.  When
the rainy weather set in, hardship began to be felt.  The men often got
drenched to the skin; their temporary boots, as Ginger had foretold,
became pulp.  The factory was bleak and draughty, in spite of its gas
stoves.  There was a certain amount of sickness, and an increase in the
number of offenders to be dealt with every morning by the colonel. But
the men were well fed, and cheered by presents of tobacco and cigarettes
from kindly townsfolk; and many wet, dull evenings were enlivened by
concerts and entertainments got up by friends of the officers.

Kenneth and Harry steadfastly declined offers of promotion as N.C.O.’s,
but owing to their knowledge of drill they were made right and left
guides of their platoon.  They bought a football, and got up
inter-company matches in which No. 3 Company distinguished itself.
Indeed, both in work and play No. 3 Company became the crack company of
the battalion.  The captain, an old army man who had been retired some
years and was some little time picking up the details of the new drill,
was a good sportsman and a hard worker, and by the end of January the
company was thoroughly efficient and knit together by that esprit de
corps which is the soul of fighting men.

Then came vaccination and inoculation. Stoneway was the ringleader of a
little group that declined the doctor’s attentions, to the disgust of
Ginger and the majority.

"You’re a traitor, that’s what you are," said Ginger to Stoneway when
the latter flatly declined to be poisoned, as he put it. "You’ll go and
catch some rotten disease or other and give it to us."

"This is a free country," retorted Stoneway.  "And as to you, you’re a
turncoat. Weren’t you always spouting against the war?  Didn’t I back
you up?  Who caved in as meek as a lamb?"

"Well, you followed along with the other sheep, didn’t you?  What you
joined for goodness only knows.  You’re always grousing about something
or other.  Bacon’s too fat, then it’s too lean; cheese is dry, then it’s
damp; you pick out little bits of lead out of the pear gravy, and spread
’em round your plate and put on a face like a holy martyr.  You sit at
lecture with a snigger on your ugly mug; the pianner’s out of tune;
nobody can sing for nuts; _you_ take jolly good care you don’t do
nothing to amuse the company.  Nothing’s right; you always know better
’n anyone else; lummy, I believe you think you ought to be capting, if
not commander-in-chief.  What did you join for, that’s what I want to
know.  I tell you straight, we’ve had enough of your grousing.  Why
don’t you take your grumbles to the officers?  ’Any complaints?’ says
they when they come round inspecting; why don’t you speak up like a man?
No fear; you ain’t got a word to say.  All you can do is to growl when
they ain’t by, and try to make yourself big before all the dirty swipes
of the regiment.  Why, look at the other night, when they gave the
alarm, and we was all confined to barricks: what did you do then?  When
all those nice young ladies came with their fiddles and things and sang
and played to us proper, gave us fags all round, too, you must get up in
a corner with your dirty lot and make such a deuce of a row we couldn’t
hear a word of ’Dolly Grey’--my favourite song, too!  If I’d been
colonel I’d have given you a good dose of clink straight away, and so
now you know it."

Ginger had fairly let himself go, and the applause that followed his
speech showed that he voiced the opinion of the majority. Stoneway made
no reply, but gradually edged away.

This was the culmination of an estrangement which had been developing
between the two men ever since the company was formed.  Whatever had
brought them together previously, their enlistment had sundered them
completely.  Ginger, whose backing Stoneway had been wont to count on in
any attack on authority, was now the most orderly as well as the
cheeriest man in the company.  He passed off with a jest every hardship
of that trying winter. "Think of those poor chaps in the trenches," he
would say, if someone complained of the cold or a wetting.  Stoneway
clearly resented his change of spirit, though it was a puzzle to the
better disposed among the men why he could have expected a display of
insubordination from these enthusiastic recruits in the New Army.

It must be admitted that Ginger took no pains to conciliate his old
companion.  He did not launch out again into invective, but assumed the
still more irritating airs of a humorous observer.  From time to time he
let fall a jesting word that had a sting, and took a delight in chaffing
Stoneway in the presence of other men.  And since Stoneway himself
turned out to be no match for Ginger in these little bouts of wordy war,
and Ginger always managed to keep his temper, Stoneway became more and
more furious, and fell to meditating reprisals.

One Saturday afternoon, after a more than usually smart exchange of
banter on the one hand and abuse on the other, Ginger was sent by the
quartermaster to a farm some two miles away to fetch the balance of a
quantity of butter which had not been completely delivered.

"Just my luck!" said Ginger, in the hearing of a group that included
Kenneth and Harry.  "It won’t break my back, but I’d rather carry it two
yards than two miles. However!"

"I’m off duty presently," said Kenneth, "and I’ll come part of the way
to meet you and lend you a hand."

"You’re a white man," said Ginger. "Well, so long."

Some little while afterwards Kenneth and Harry started together by a
footpath across fields to the farmhouse.  They had not gone far when
they caught sight of a figure in khaki about half a mile ahead, going in
the same direction as themselves.  It was soon lost to sight behind a
hedge.

The path led over a hill that descended steeply on the farther side.  On
reaching the top they saw two men in khaki at the foot of the slope
below them.  One of them was Ginger, who had dropped his wicker basket
on the grass and stood with arms akimbo facing the other man, now
recognisable by his burly frame as Stoneway. Ginger, slim and wiry,
looked insignificant by comparison.

Just as Kenneth and Harry caught sight of the men, Stoneway lifted his
fist and with a sudden swift blow that took Ginger unawares sent him
head over heels.  Ginger was up in an instant, and after skipping about
on his short legs for a few moments, made a rush at his opponent.
Stoneway staggered, but recovered himself immediately, clinched, and
profiting by his superior height and weight threw Ginger heavily, and
not being able to disengage himself, fell with him. The two men heaved
and twisted in a fierce struggle on the ground.  Then Stoneway dragged
himself away, rose, and Kenneth, now running down the hill, saw him
deliberately kick the prostrate body of his apparently senseless
comrade.

"You cad!" shouted Kenneth, with Harry hard on his heels; "what do you
mean by that foul play?"

Stoneway, too much preoccupied to be aware of the approach of observers,
growled something under his breath, and was making off sullenly.

"No you don’t!" cried Kenneth, seizing him.  "Just have a look at
Ginger," he added to Harry.

Ginger, pale and shaken, sat up and smiled feebly.

"Time?" he said.  "I’ll have another round."

"Not a bit of it," said Harry.  "He kicked you on the ground.  Didn’t
you know? It was foul play.  What was it all about?"

"I didn’t kick him," muttered Stoneway.

"That’s a lie.  I saw you do it," said Kenneth.  "What’s the row,
Ginger?"

"Well, what you may call a bit of a shindy," Ginger replied.  "Just
between ourselves, like.  I’m ready for another go."

"No.  Come, out with it, man."

"Well, I was traipsing along with that there basket on my head when up
he comes and starts rounding on me for chipping him. ’I’m not having any
truck with grousers,’ says I.  Then we had a few words, and he got me
one afore I was ready, that I own.  But I can’t hardly believe he kicked
me when I was down, and a bit dazed like."

"He did.  You take a rest and recover: we’ll settle with him."

"What are you talking about?" Stoneway blustered.

"Giving you a hiding.  Off with your coat," said Kenneth.  "You’ll see
fair play, Harry."

"I say, this is my job," said Harry. "You’ve been on the sick list."

"I’m all right."

"No, really."

"Well, don’t let’s waste time.  I’ll toss you for it."

And while Stoneway looked on in amazement, Kenneth spun a coin, won,
stripped off his tunic and rolled up his shirt sleeves.

"Two to one against the big ’un," cried Ginger, with a grin of delight.

Seeing there was no help for it, Stoneway slowly took off his tunic.

"And mind you fight fair," Harry warned him, "or I promise you I’ll take
a hand myself."

The two men faced each other.  They presented a striking contrast.
Stoneway was slightly the taller and much the heavier; his big chest
bulged under his shirt, and his biceps were thick.  But Harry, scanning
him keenly, noting his fleshiness, decided that his muscles were rather
flabby than hard; and observing Kenneth’s slighter but well-knit frame,
and remembering his promise as a boxer at school, felt pretty confident
of the result.

After the first few exchanges he was more doubtful.  Stoneway had a
longer reach, and was clearly accustomed to the use of his fists.  At
the start he forced the fighting, trying to get a knock-out blow, and
Kenneth needed all his skill to meet his bull-like rushes and
sledge-hammer strokes.  He managed to land one punishing body-blow that
would have shaken up a smaller man, but Stoneway recovered himself
quickly, and the first round ended with little damage on either side
except that Stoneway found himself somewhat winded.

The combatants had now taken each other’s measure.  In the second round
Kenneth in his turn adopted forcing tactics, bewildering his opponent by
the whirlwind rapidity of his attack and his elusiveness in defence.
Stoneway began to realise that he had met more than his match.  He
breathed heavily; his fat cheeks took on a yellowish tinge; and the end
of the round found him with a bigger nose and a bump over his right eye,
and greatly distressed in wind.

"Next round finishes him," whispered Harry, as he wiped Kenneth’s face.

The third round was in fact conclusive. Stoneway made a desperate rush,
stopped by a neat upper cut, and before he could recover he was hurled
to the ground by a blow above the heart that might have finished a
professional pugilist.

"Now you’ll apologise to Ginger," said Kenneth, as Stoneway slowly
picked himself up.

But Stoneway scowled out of his damaged brows, put on his tunic in
silence, and walked away without uttering a word.

It was much to Ginger’s credit that not a man in the battalion ever
discovered how Stoneway had come by his bruises.  There was an end alike
to his grumbling and to Ginger’s rough banter.  But there was an end,
too, to all show of friendliness between them.  They never spoke to each
other, and Stoneway was always careful to keep out of Kenneth’s way.



                               CHAPTER V

                         THE BACK OF THE FRONT


The slow wet winter dragged itself out. The training went on, fair
weather or foul. The 17th Rutland Light Infantry got their service boots
in due time, but other details of their equipment were slow to arrive.
Presently they received enough rifles and entrenching tools for half the
battalion, and the ordinary drill and physical exercises, which Kennedy
had privately confided to Amory "bored him stiff," was varied with
musketry practice and digging trenches. There were long marches,
semaphore practice, sham fights, night operations; day by day the men
gained new knowledge of their trade.  More rifles came, this time with
bayonets; bayonet exercise and practice in attack gave further variety
to their work. At last, towards the end of February, the whole battalion
was fully equipped, and the men grew excited at the prospect of going to
the front.

It was a great moment when the colonel gave them a few hours’ notice of
entrainment. Lusty cheers broke from a thousand throats; the longed-for
day had come at last.  Crowds of townsfolk assembled at the station to
see them off, but they were quiet, serious crowds, the women’s faces
tense with anxiety, the children unwontedly subdued. It was no picnic
for which these sturdy Englishmen were setting out.  Everybody was now
aware of the greatness of the struggle, the bravery and tenacity of the
enemy, the scientific skill and terrible thoroughness with which the
Germans had prepared through many years for this attempt to seize the
mastery of the world. Hearts were full as the men stepped blithely into
the long train; how many of them would return, and of these, how many
would be sound and strong?

Their immediate destination was known to none except the commanding
officer. When, after a tiring journey, with much shunting and
side-tracking, the men were finally detrained at a small station in the
south of England, with no sign of sea or transports, there was a general
feeling of surprise and disappointment.  They were marched to a wide
barren plain, peppered with tents and huts, and here, it became known by
and by, they were to spend a month or more in further training.

Even Ginger for once became a grouser.

"I’ve had about enough of this," he growled.  "What’s the good of it
all?"

"Discipline, Ginger," said Kenneth.

"Discipline!  That’s obedience, ain’t it? Well, I ask you, don’t we do
as we’re told like a lot of school kids?  I’m sure I’m as meek as Moses.
Never thought I could be so tame.  I’ve quite lost my character, and if
ever I get back to the works I’ll have to go a regular buster, or else
I’ll be one of the downtrodden slaves of the capitalist."

"I don’t think so badly of you," said Kenneth, with a smile.  "But
discipline is more than obedience.  Between you and me, I think this
extra training is as much for the officers’ sake as ours.  The British
officer leads, you see.  He knows we’ll obey orders; he has to make sure
that he gives the right orders.  If he didn’t there’d be an unholy mess:
we should lose confidence in him, and the game would be up.  We’ve got
to work together like a football team, every man trusting every other;
and that’s what all this drilling and training is for."

"I daresay you’re in the right," said Ginger.  "I wasn’t thinking of
them young officers!  They’re a good lot, though, ain’t they?  I don’t
know what it is, but there’s something about ’em--why, Mr. Kennedy now,
he’s ten years younger than me, and yet somehow or other he manages me
like as if I was a baby.  And no bounce about it either; I wouldn’t
stand bounce from any man, officer or not.  But he don’t bounce; he
speaks as quiet as a district visitor; but somehow--well, you feel
you’ve just _got_ to do what he says, and you’d be a skunk if you
didn’t.  I don’t understand it, I tell you straight."

Kenneth did not speak the thought that arose in his mind, but he warmed
to this testimonial from the British working-man to the British
public-school boy.

There came a day, about the middle of March, when the battalion was once
more entrained.  This time the men took it more quietly: the first
disappointment forbade them to set their hopes too high.  It was dark
when the train reached its destination; the lights on the platform were
dim; but one of the men shouted, "A ship, boys!" as he got out of his
compartment, and a thrill of excitement ran through the crowd.

They were in fact at the dock station at Southampton, and a big
transport vessel lay alongside.  Many of the men had never been on the
sea before.  Ginger looked a little careworn, and confessed to Kenneth
that he felt certain he was going to be sick. The night was nearly gone
when all the men were aboard.  Some lay down in their overcoats; others
remained on deck, irked by the impossibility of satisfying their
curiosity about the vessel.

At daybreak the ship cast off and steamed slowly through the fairway of
Southampton Water towards the open sea.  It was a bright calm morning,
and the men watched with fascinated eyes the ripples glistening in the
sunlight, the various shipping, the shores receding behind them.  And
presently, when they had rounded the north-east corner of the Isle of
Wight, and the course was headed southward across the Channel, they
burst into cheers when they caught sight of the low lean shapes of
destroyers on either side of them.

"What price submarines to-day!" cried one of the men.

"Ain’t got an earthly," remarked another.

"Don’t believe there are none," said a third.  "Our men in blue have
sunk ’em all long ago."

"How are you getting on, Ginger?" asked Kenneth.

Ginger was half lying on his back, gripping a stanchion, and looking
straight ahead with nervous anticipation.

"Is it much farther?" he asked.

"Nothing to speak of.  The Channel’s as calm as a millpond."

"It may be, but the ship ain’t.  She’s very lively.  All of a shake, she
is.  Takes a lurch for’ard, then backs a bit, seemingly, then another
lurch.  It ain’t what I’m used to.  It worries the inside of me.  I want
to say ’Whoa, steady!’ like I do to the donkeys at fair time.  And it
gives me the needle to see that there Stoneway sticking hisself out as
if he was driving the bally ship.  It don’t seem fair, a big chap like
him taking it so easy when he’s got twice as much as me to lose."

"Well, you won’t lose much if you keep still," said Harry, laughing at
the man’s woe-begone face.  "It’s quite certain you couldn’t have a
calmer crossing."

Ginger’s alarms were needless.  When the cliffs of France hove in sight
he got up and leant over the rail, eagerly watching the advancing
coast-line.

"That’s France, is it?" he remarked. "I don’t see much difference.  I
can’t understand why the folks over there don’t speak English, when they
live so close.  I reckon we’ll learn ’em afore we get back."

The red and blue roofs of Boulogne became distinct.  Presently the
vessel rounded the breakwater and manoeuvred herself alongside the quay.
There was scarcely anything to show that the men had actually arrived in
France.  Khaki predominated on the quay; an English voice hailed the
skipper through a megaphone; a blue-grey motor omnibus with the windows
boarded up and the words "Kaiser’s coffin" chalked on the sides stood on
the road.

No time was lost in disembarkation.  The men were marched across the
railway lines to a train in waiting.  Ginger, with Kenneth, Harry, and
half a dozen more, got into a compartment labelled "Défense de fumer,"
and started lighting up at once.

"We’ll defend it all right," said Ginger, "but the rest is spelt wrong."

"It means you mustn’t smoke," said Kenneth.

"Well, that’s a good ’un!  What do they take us for?  Any gentleman
object?"

"No!" yelled in chorus.

"I didn’t half think so."

The train rumbled away eastward, and the men scanned the bare country
from the windows, remarking on its dreary character, scarcely relieved
by the pollard willows that raised their naked boughs against the grey
sky.  By and by they got out at a small station, and marched along a
straight road between rows of trees to a country village. They kept to
the right side; the other was busy with empty supply wagons, lorries of
familiar appearance, now and then a mud-caked motor car.

Some officers had gone on ahead to arrange billets.  Arriving at the
village, the majority of the men were accommodated in the barn and
outbuildings of a large farm, a few in separate cottages.  Kenneth, with
Harry and Ginger and other men of their platoon found themselves
allotted to a labourer’s cottage, where shake-downs of clean straw had
been laid on the floors of a couple of rooms.  A road divided their
billet from the garden of a good-sized house, in which quarters had been
found for two or three of the officers.

Apart from the traffic on the road there was as yet no sign of war.  No
sound of guns broke the stillness of the spring afternoon. But it had
become known that the firing line was only a few miles ahead, and the
men were all agog with expectation of an early call to the trenches.

It soon appeared, however, that they were not yet to enter upon the real
work of war. Rumour had it that Sir John French was waiting for further
reinforcements before pursuing the forward movement recently started at
Neuve Chapelle.  Day after day passed in exercising, marching,
practising operations in the field.  Word came of other regiments
pouring across the Channel and occupying other villages and towns behind
the firing line.  All day long they heard the distant bark of guns, and
saw too frequently the swift passage of motor ambulances conveying their
sad burdens to the coast. When off duty they strolled about the village,
making friends of the hospitable villagers, romping with the children,
playing football, cheerful, light-hearted, scarcely alive to the
actualities of the desperate work in which they were so eager to engage.

One day a trifling incident occupied Kenneth’s attention for a moment.
He happened to have gone into a little shop to buy cakes for the
children of the good people upon whom he was billeted.  Several of the
men were there making purchases, and one of them was vainly trying to
explain his wants to the shopkeeper.  Stoneway was standing by.  Kenneth
translated for his baffled comrade; then, suddenly remembering what he
had overheard on the platform at St. Pancras station, he said to him:

"Why didn’t you ask Stoneway to help you?  He speaks French."

Stoneway looked astonished and startled, but said at once:

"Me!  I know a word or two, but you can’t call it speaking French.  I
couldn’t do it."

Kenneth said no more, though his recollection of the energetic
conversation at the station was very clear, and he wondered why the man
had denied his accomplishment.

There was only one opinion of the kindness and hospitality of the
villagers, and the men were particularly enthusiastic about the owner of
the house across the road.  Far from limiting himself to the sumptuous
entertainment of the officers billeted on him, he went out of his way to
lavish attentions on the soldiers, making them presents of cigarettes,
and treating them to the wine of the country.  The village had not
suffered from the ravages of war, though the Germans had occupied it for
a few days during their rush towards Calais; but it harboured many
refugees from towns and villages farther eastward, and these were
supported by the benevolent owner of the large house, who maintained a
sort of soup kitchen where the homeless people could obtain free
rations.

One evening, when Kenneth and his comrades were at supper in their
host’s capacious kitchen, the talk turned on Monsieur Obernai, "the
mounseer over the way," as Ginger called him, "one of the best."  Jean
Bonnard, the cottager, and his wife took their meals with their guests,
and chatted freely to Kenneth and Harry, the only men who knew enough
French to understand them. Kenneth repeated in French what Ginger had
said.

"Ah yes, monsieur," said Bonnard. "Monsieur Obernai is a good man.  You
see, he is from Alsace, and has reason to hate the Germans."

"All the same, I don’t like him," said his wife, pressing her lips
together.

"That is a point on which we don’t agree," said Bonnard, with a smile.
"Just like a woman!  She doesn’t like him, but she can’t say why."

"You hear him!" said madame.  "Just like a woman!  As if a woman was not
always right!"

"But you have a reason, madame?" said Harry.

"Bah!  I leave reasons to men; I have my feelings."

Bonnard shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, mon amie," he said, "I can put my reasons into words, see you.
Monsieur Obernai came here from Alsace five or six years ago.  He could
not stand the Germans, so he sold his property and came and settled
here, and he has been a good friend to the village, that you cannot
deny.  A very quiet man, too; he lives all alone with an old housekeeper
and a couple of servants, and makes himself very pleasant.  When our two
boys went off to the war, didn’t he give them warm vests and stuff their
haversacks with cigarettes?"

"Yes, he was good to our poor boys," admitted the good woman grudgingly,
"but I don’t like him all the same.  I don’t like his voice; it makes me
shrivel."

"A man speaks with the voice God gave him," said her husband.  "As for
me, I look at what a man does, and don’t trouble myself about his voice.
And after all, it is not a bad voice."

"Smooth as butter," rejoined the woman. "But there, we shall never
agree, mon ami. Get on with your soup."

After supper, some of the men settled down to write home.  The postal
regulations annoyed Ginger.

"I’m a poor hand at writing," he said, "and I don’t see why I shouldn’t
send my love to my wife and kids on one of these here postcards.  It
ain’t enough for a letter; yet if I put it on the postcard they’d
destroy it, they say.  What for, I’d like to know?"

"It does seem hard lines," said Kenneth, "but I suppose it’s to ease the
censors’ work. They’ve an enormous number of cards to look over, and
they’d never get done if they had to read a lot of stuff."

"’Love’ ’s a little word; that wouldn’t hurt ’em.  Still, rules is
rules, no doubt."

He proceeded to cross out several sentences on the official postcard
provided, leaving only "I am quite well" and adding his signature and
the date.

Presently the post corporal came to collect the letters and cards.

"Captain wants you, Murgatroyd," he said.

"Going to give you your stripe at last, Ginger," said Harry.

"I shouldn’t wonder," said Ginger, grinning as he went out.

When he returned, twenty minutes later, the expression on his face
checked the congratulations that rose to his comrades’ lips. His
features were grimly set, and he went to his place by the fire without
uttering a word.

"No luck, Ginger?" said one of the men indiscreetly.

"Shut up!" growled Ginger, lighting his pipe.

Nothing would induce him to explain why he had been sent for, or the
reason of his annoyance.  He was one of the best-behaved men in the
company, and it seemed unlikely that he had got into trouble without the
knowledge of the others.  Wisely, they did not press him with questions,
expecting that he would tell them all in good time.

Ginger’s interview with Captain Adams had been a surprising one.

"You know the post regulations, Murgatroyd?" said the captain.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, look at this postcard.  Is that your signature?"

"D. Murgatroyd; that’s me, sir," said Ginger, after a glance at the
pencilled name.

"What do you mean by writing the name of the place in invisible ink?"

"Never did such a thing, sir.  Don’t know anything about invisible ink."

"Well, how do you explain it, then?  This card had the name written in
invisible ink. It was discovered by the Post Office in London, and
they’ve returned it for inquiries.  What have you to say?"

"What I said before, sir: I didn’t do it."

"You write to Henry Smith, 563 Pentonville Road?"

"Never heard of him, sir."

"What’s the game, then?  Go and fetch the post corporal," he said to his
servant.

The man came in with a bundle of recently collected cards in his hand.

"Look at this," said the captain, showing him the card in question.
"Did you get that from Murgatroyd?"

"I couldn’t say, sir; I get such a lot."

"But you know his signature?"

"I can’t say I do, sir; but he has just written a card; perhaps you
would like to have a look at it."

He searched his bundle, found the card and handed it to the captain, who
compared the two signatures.

"This is very odd," he said.  "They are very much alike, but there’s a
slight difference in the shape of the y.  It looks as though some one
were imitating your fist, Murgatroyd."

"Yes, sir," said Ginger, stiffly.  "I’d like to punch his head, sir," he
added, as the baseness of the trick struck him.

"Well, we must find out who it is.  Keep this to yourselves, men; he may
try it again and give us a chance to catch him. Not a word to anyone,
mind."

Ginger saluted and returned to his billet, his indignation growing at
every step.

The incident was discussed at the officers’ mess that night.

"Murgatroyd is straight enough," said Kennedy.  "He’s one of the best
men in my platoon.  It’s rather a mean trick."

"And a senseless one," said the captain. "I’m inclined to think one of
the men must owe him a grudge, and want to get him into trouble."

"What about the addressee?" asked another officer.  "Who is Henry Smith,
of 563 Pentonville Road?"

"The London people will keep him under observation, no doubt," said the
captain. "I told the post corporal to examine every batch carefully, and
see if there are any more addressed to the same person."

Three days passed.  No letters or cards addressed to Henry Smith were
discovered. On the third day a telegram from London was delivered to the
colonel.

"Henry Smith gone, leaving no address.  Report result of enquiry."

After consulting Captain Adams the colonel telegraphed in reply that
Murgatroyd’s signature appeared to have been forged, probably with the
intention of getting him into trouble, and that he was keeping a careful
watch on the correspondence.  Ginger meanwhile had recovered his
spirits.  He had been made a lance-corporal, and sewed the stripe on his
sleeve with ingenuous satisfaction.  At the back of his mind was a
suspicion that Stoneway might have sought a mean revenge for his
thrashing by this use of invisible ink; but since the scheme had failed,
he resolved not to trouble his head about it.



                               CHAPTER VI

                            BAGGING A SNIPER


The village being within easy range of the German guns, its immunity
from bombardment struck the officers of the battalion as rather strange.
For a few days, it is true, the enemy might have been unaware that
British troops were in occupation; but a German aeroplane, a dove-winged
Taube, had been observed to fly over the place, and it could hardly be
doubted that information of their presence had been carried to
headquarters.  All that the soldiers knew of warfare for two or three
weeks was the dull boom of distant guns, the passage of ambulances
occasionally and of supply wagons frequently, and the passing of railway
trains conveying new howitzers and field guns along the line a mile or
two away.

The call to action came unexpectedly. One evening, just after supper,
the men were ordered to parade in full marching kit.  They overflowed
from the little market square into the adjacent streets, and there they
were inspected by the colonel, who passed up and down the ranks with an
orderly carrying a lantern.

When the inspection was finished, the colonel posted himself on a tub in
the middle of the square.  It was a dark night, and the flickering light
of the lantern illuminated only the lower part of the colonel’s body,
leaving his face in shade.

"Now, men," he said, "we are going to take a spell in the trenches.  We
have several miles to march; there must be no straggling, or you’ll
pitch into Jack Johnson holes in the road.  No talking, no smoking. I
know you’ll give a good account of yourselves.  We’re a new battalion;
we’ve got to make our name; and by George, we’ll do it!"

The platoon commanders stifled an incipient cheer, and the battalion
marched off into the night.

Along the dark straight road they tramped, between lines of tall poplars
that raised their skeleton shapes against the sky.  For a mile or two
nothing impeded their progress; then the advance guard came upon a deep
cavity extending half across the road, and two men were told off to warn
the succeeding ranks of the danger.  Presently they passed through a
hamlet which had been shattered by the German artillery. The sides of
the road were heaped with bricks and blackened rafters, behind which
were the jagged walls of roofless cottages.

A little beyond this they were met by a staff officer, come to guide
them to the trenches.  Then they had to ease off to one side to allow
the passage of the weary men they were relieving.  At length they came
to a small clump of woodland, and learnt that the trenches were on the
further side of it.  Section by section they passed into the shelter of
the trees, stepping across trunks felled and split by shells, and slid
noiselessly into the narrow zig-zag ditches where they were to eat and
sleep and spend weary days and nights.

Kennedy and his platoon, among whom were Kenneth, Harry, Ginger, and
their pals, found themselves in a narrow passage about 4 ft. 6 in. deep,
with a loopholed parapet facing eastward, and here and there little
cabins dug out in the banks, boarded, strewn with straw, warm and
stuffy.  In the darkness it was impossible to take complete stock of
their surroundings, but learning that in a dug-out it was safe to strike
a light, Kenneth lit a candle-end, and was amused to see that his
predecessor in the little cabin to which he had come had chalked up
"Ritz Hotel" on the boarding.

The men were too much excited to think of sleeping.  They had learnt on
the way up that the position they were to hold was rather a hot place.
The Germans in their front, only a few hundred yards away, were very
active and full of tricks.  They watched the British trenches with lynx
eyes, and so sure as the top of a cap showed above the parapet it became
the mark for a dozen rifles. There were night snipers, too, somewhere in
the neighbourhood, constantly dropping bullets on their invisible
target.  The men who had just left the trenches had been much worried by
these snipers, whom they had failed to locate; but they had reason to
believe that the pestilent marksmen were hidden somewhere behind the
lines.

"You’re safe enough so long as you keep your heads down," said the
officer who directed Kennedy to his position.  "Except for the snipers
we have had little trouble lately; and I hope you’ll have a good time."

Kennedy told off his men to keep watch in turn through the night.  While
off duty they sat in the dug-outs chatting quietly, listening for sounds
from the enemy’s trenches, wondering what was in store for them when
daylight came.  Fortunately the wet weather had ceased; the bottom of
the trench was still sticky, but the March winds were rapidly drying the
ground.  The night was cold, but there was a brazier in each dug-out,
and the men, crouching over these in their great-coats, contrived to
keep warm and comfortable.

They watched eagerly for daylight.  At the first peep of dawn some of
the men were told off to the loopholes.  About thirty yards in front
there stretched a wire entanglement, with small cans dangling from it
here and there.  Two or three hundred yards beyond this they saw the
similar entanglement of the Germans.  For about a hundred yards of the
line this wire was more remote, and the men learnt afterwards that a
pond of that breadth filled a declivity in the ground. Here and there,
all round the position at varying distances, stood isolated farmhouses,
trees, and patches of woodland.  All was peaceful; no sound of war broke
the stillness of the fair March morning.

They had their breakfast of cocoa and bread and jam.  Towards noon two
men from each section were told off to go back to a farm house behind
the lines for the day’s rations.  They hurried along the trench in a
crouching posture, struck into a communicating trench leading to the
rear, and emerged on the outskirts of the wood. There was instantly the
crack of a rifle.  A sniper had begun his day’s work.  The men waited
uneasily, clutching their rifles, wondering if any of their comrades had
been hit.  Kennedy posted his men a yard apart along the trench, ready
to fire at the first sign of movement among the enemy.  The zig-zag
formation of the trench prevented any man from seeing more than the men
of his own section, and there came upon them a feeling of loneliness and
almost individual responsibility.

In about an hour’s time Kenneth and his comrades were relieved to see
their food-carriers returning with steaming pails. These contained a
sort of hash mixed with beans and potatoes.  The men poured this into
their billies, warmed them at the braziers, and acknowledged that their
dinner of Irish stew à la Française wasn’t half bad. After that food was
carried up only at night.

The day passed uneventfully.  A rifle-shot was heard now and then; from
a distant part of the line came the continual rumble of artillery-fire;
once they caught sight of a British aeroplane far away to the
north-east, with little patches of white smoke following it, hugging it.
There was nothing to do except to keep a continual look-out.

But at dusk the reality of their danger was brought home to them.
Cramped with the fatigue of maintaining a bending-posture one of the men
got up to stretch himself. "Keep down!" shouted Kennedy, but it was too
late.  There was a slight whizz; the man fell headlong.  Kenneth ran to
him, as the crack of the rifle was heard.  Nothing could be done.  The
bullet had pierced the man’s brain.

When it was dark Kenneth and Ginger carried their dead comrade through
the trenches to the wood, and buried him there among the trees.  They
returned in silence to their post.

"You’ll write to his mother," said Ginger, as they got back.  "She’ll
like to know as how poor Dick has been put away decent."

"Yes, I’ll write," said Kenneth.  "He felt no pain."

"War’s a cursed thing," Ginger broke out.  "What call have these Kaisers
and people to murder young chaps like Dick, all for their own
selfishness?--that’s what it comes to.  It didn’t ought to be, and ’pon
my soul, it beats me why us millions of working men don’t put a stop to
it.  We’re in it now; I’ll do my bit; but seems to me the world would be
all the better if they’d just string up a few of the emperors and such,
them as thinks war’s such a mighty fine thing."

Their first loss threw a cloud upon the spirits of the men.  But it did
not lessen their resolution.  Direct knowledge, slight though it was at
present, of the grim realities of war braced their courage.  Already
they had a comrade’s death to avenge.  To the more thoughtful of them
the dead man represented a blow struck at their country, and they saw
more clearly than before that it was their country’s service that had
called them here.

Their spell in the trenches was to last two days.  They were days of
inaction, discomfort, tedium.  Apart from intermittent sniping the
Germans made no movement.  The Rutlands kept incessant watch on them,
with no relaxation until the fall of night.  Even then they were not at
ease. Sniping was kept up fitfully through the night, and they learnt
that even in the darkness there was peril is rising to stretch their
cramped limbs.  At dusk on the first day a man was slightly wounded.
These sneaking tactics, as they considered them, on the part of an
unseen enemy worried and irritated the men.  Whenever a shot was heard,
they tried to estimate its direction, but their guesses were so
contradictory that no definite opinion could be arrived at.  On one
occasion Kenneth tried to calculate the distance of the marksman by
noting the interval that elapsed between the whistling sound of the
bullet and the subsequent report of the rifle; but neither his data nor
his watch were sufficiently accurate to give him much satisfaction.  The
one thing that seemed certain was that the night sniping was done
somewhere behind the lines.

When the battalion was relieved, and returned to billets for a couple of
days’ rest, officers and men talked of little but the sniping.  They
thought that nothing could be more demoralising, having as yet had no
experience of heavy gun-fire.  The officers discussed the possibility of
getting hold of the snipers, and determined to take serious steps to
that end on their next turn of duty at the trenches.

An opportunity seemed to offer itself on their second day back.  There
had been a good deal of sniping overnight, and in the morning Kenneth
happened to notice what appeared to be a bullet-hole on the inner side
of the parapet.  He at once called Captain Adams’ attention to it.

"That’s proof positive," said the captain. "The sniper is behind us."

"It seems odd that he should fire on the mere chance of hitting
somebody, for of course he can’t take aim in the dark," said Kenneth.

"He’s got our range, of course, knows we’ve no rear parapet yet, and
guesses that we move about more freely after dark.  But we ought to be
able to locate him now. Stick your bayonet carefully into the hole,
Amory; we’ll get a hint of the direction of the bullet’s flight."

The bullet had penetrated some little distance into the earth.  Kenneth
probed the hole with his bayonet, and it seemed pretty certain that the
shot had been fired from the left rear, and, judging by the angle of
incidence, from a considerable distance, probably not less than a mile.

Captain Adams scanned the ground in that direction through his field
glasses. About a mile to the left rear stood a small copse.  Slanting a
rifle towards it, and comparing the angle with that of the hole made by
the bullet, the captain decided that the copse was too far to the right,
and swept his glasses towards the left.  The only other likely spot was
the ruins of a farm, but that seemed too far to the left.  Between farm
and copse ran a low railway embankment, which appeared almost exactly to
meet the conditions.

"The sniper is there or thereabouts," said the captain.  "Are you game
to do a little scouting to-night, Amory?"

"Anything you like, sir," Kenneth replied.

"Well, creep out to-night and see if you can make anything of it.  It
would be safer to go alone, perhaps, but on the other hand a little
support may be useful, so you had better take another man--Murgatroyd,
say: he’s an active man, and not too tall.  You must have your wits
about you."

Ginger was delighted at the chance of doing something.  The other men
envied him, and Harry looked a trifle sulky.

"Cheer up, old man," said Kenneth. "Your turn will come some day."

At dusk Kenneth and Ginger, the former carrying a revolver supplied by
the captain, the latter armed only with his bayonet, made their way
through the communication trenches to the second line of entrenchments
and thence to the road leading to the village. They waited until
complete darkness had fallen before stepping openly on to the road. The
Germans had the range of it, and knowing that it was used after dark by
British troops moving to and from the trenches, they might start
shelling at any moment.

"We’ll leave the road as soon as possible," said Kenneth, as they set
off, "and bear away to the left."

"The right, you mean," said Ginger.

"No, the left, and work our way round. We’ll take a leaf out of the
Germans’ book; they prefer flank attacks to front.  We’ve plenty of
time."

It was very dark.  They struck off to the left across fields, and picked
their way as well as they could, stumbling now and then into holes and
over broken relics of former engagements.  They could only guess
distance.  Kenneth took the time by his luminous watch, and allowing for
the detour, when they had walked for twenty minutes he bore to the
right, crossed the deserted road, and peered through the darkness for
the ruined farm and the railway embankment. No trains had run beyond the
village for a considerable time, and it was known that the permanent way
had been cut up by German shells.

Moving purely by guesswork they failed to find the farm, but after a
time came suddenly upon the embankment, and halted.

"Right or left?" whispered Kenneth.

"The farm?" returned Ginger.

"Yes."

"Right, I should say."

At this moment a shell burst in the air some distance to their right,
whether from a British or a German gun they could not tell.  It lit up
the country momentarily like a flash of lightning, and as the two men
instinctively flung themselves down, they caught sight of the ruins some
distance on their right hand.  The illumination was over in a second,
leaving the sky blacker than before.

They waited a little, wondering whether the shell was herald of a night
attack.  But the shot was not repeated.  The country was silent.

"Just to let us know they ain’t gone home yet," Ginger whispered.

"We’ll make for the farm," said Kenneth in equally low tones.  "The
sniper hasn’t begun work yet; I haven’t heard any rifle shots about
here.  We’ll separate when we get to the place, and approach it from
opposite sides."

Very cautiously they groped their way across the open field towards the
farm house, and when they caught sight of it, bent down under cover of a
hedge, and crept on almost by inches.  Then, leaving Ginger near the
broken gate of the farmyard, Kenneth stole away to make a complete
circuit of the place.

In ten minutes he returned.

"It’s a mere shell," he whispered.  "The roof is gone, except in one
corner; there are heaps of rubble everywhere, rafters lying at all
angles, and furniture smashed to splinters."

"Did you go inside?"

"No, but I think we might risk it.  Look out you don’t get a sprained
ankle."

They crept through the yard, over the rubbish, and into what had been
the house. Kenneth had an electric torch, but dared not use it.  They
halted frequently to peer and listen, then went on again, doing their
utmost to avoid any disturbance of the broken masonry and woodwork.
Before they had completed their examination of the premises, the crack
of a rifle at no great distance away caused them to abandon the search
and hurry into the open again.

Outside, they waited for a repetition of the shot to give them a clue.
It was some time before it came.  At length there was a dull rumble of
distant artillery, and in the midst of it a sound like a muffled
rifle-shot from the direction of the railway.

"He’s a clever chap," whispered Kenneth. "I hadn’t noticed it before,
but I think he waits for the sound of firing elsewhere before he fires
himself--a precaution against being spotted.  Let us wait for the next."

Presently there was the rattle of musketry from the trenches far to the
left.  Before it had died away, a single rifle cracked much nearer at
hand.

"From the railway, sure enough," said Ginger.  "We’ll cop him."

They hurried across the field to the embankment, crawled up it, and when
their eyes reached the level of the track, they peered up and down the
line.  They could see only a few yards, so dark was the night. There was
no glint even from the rails, which were rusty from disuse.  After
listening a while, they crept up on to the track, and waited for another
shot to guide them.

It was long in coming.  To move before knowing the direction would be
useless and might be dangerous, so, curbing their impatience, they lay
on the slope of the embankment.

At last they heard the whirr of an aeroplane.  Having learnt to expect a
shot from the sniper when it was masked by some other sound, they sprang
up.  The humming drew nearer; then came the single sharp rifle crack.

"Behind us!" whispered Kenneth.

With great caution the two men moved along the track, stepping over
sleepers and rails torn up, and skirting deep holes made by shells.
Every now and again they stopped to listen.  Presently they were brought
to a sudden halt by the sound of a rifle-shot apparently almost beneath
them.  Dropping to the ground, they peeped over the embankment.  At this
spot there had been a landslip, evidently caused by a heavy shell. At
the foot of the embankment lay a pool of water, extending for some
twenty yards. Except for these nothing was to be seen.

They felt rather uncomfortable.  On this bare embankment, rising from an
equally bare plain, there seemed to be no cover of any kind.  Yet it was
certain that a sniper was within a few yards of them, perhaps within a
few feet.  They lay perfectly still, watching, waiting for another shot.
It did not come.  Kenneth began to wonder whether the sniper had seen or
heard them, and stolen away.  Or perhaps he was stalking them.  At this
thought Kenneth gripped his revolver.

What was to be done?  To prowl about in the darkness on the chance of
discovering the marksman would be mere foolhardiness. He hoped on for
another shot, not daring even to whisper to Ginger.  The minutes
lengthened into hours; the two men were cramped with cold; but as if by
mutual consent they lay where they were.  Neither was willing to go back
and report failure. Now and again they caught slight sounds which they
were unable to identify or locate. They nibbled some biscuits they had
brought with them, determined at least to await the dawn.  Conscious of
discomfort, they had no sense of fatigue or sleepiness.  And when at
length the darkness began to yield, they fancied they saw shadowy
enemies on the misty plain.

When it was light enough to see clearly, they looked to right and left,
to the front and the rear, and discovered no sign of life within a mile
of them.  The air began to fill with the roll of artillery and the
rattle of rifle-shots.  Here and there in the distance they saw columns
of black smoke.  Two aeroplanes passed overhead towards the German
lines, and shrapnel shells strewed white puffs around and below them.
But on the embankment all was quiet.

"He must have got away in the darkness," Kenneth ventured to whisper at
last.

"Can’t make it out," murmured Ginger in return.

How the sniper could have escaped unseen was a mystery.  Daylight
revealed the bareness of the plain.  Only a few low hedges divided the
fields.  One such, bordered by a narrow ditch, ran northward from the
railway within a few yards of them.  But this could be of no use to a
sniper, for it was on the wrong side of the embankment, towards the
north.

After a murmured consultation they rose to examine the embankment more
closely, in the hope of finding tracks of the sniper. As they did so, a
number of bullets whistled around them; their figures had been seen on
the skyline by the Germans.  Dropping instantly to the ground, they
crawled along, skirting the hole made by the shell, and taking care not
to slide down in the loose earth that had been displaced.  They covered
thus a hundred yards or so in each direction, up and down the line,
without discovering anything.

"We must give it up," said Kenneth at last.  "I don’t like to, but I see
nothing else for it."

"Our chaps are in billets to-day," said Ginger.  "I’m game to stay till
to-night if you are."

"All right.  We’ve got our emergency rations.  We may as well lie up in
the farm, and take turns to sleep."

They crawled across the track to the British side of the embankment,
slid down the slope, and being now safe from German shots began to walk
erect along the bottom, following a slight curve in the direction of the
farm.  The less of open field they had to cross, the better.

They had taken only a few steps along the base of the embankment when
Ginger, a little in advance of Kenneth, stopped suddenly, and stooped.
Then he turned his head quickly, putting his finger to his lips. Kenneth
hurried up.  Ginger pointed to a slight track in the grass, leading
round the low hedge before mentioned.  Without hesitation they began to
follow it up, moving with infinite precaution, and bending under cover
of the hedge.

Running straight for some distance, the track at last made a sharp bend
to the right, then skirting another hedge parallel with the embankment.
The two men were on the point of turning with it when Kenneth, in the
rear, happening to look behind him over the hedge, caught sight of a man
about half a mile away, coming apparently from the direction of the
village where the Rutlands were billeted.  Ginger came back at a low
call from his companion, and they stood together at the hedge, watching
the stranger, careful to keep out of sight themselves.

The man drew nearer.  He was old and shabbily dressed.  A small basket
was slung on his back.  Every now and again he looked behind as if
fearful of being followed. They watched him eagerly, surprised, full of
curiosity and suspicion.  His path ran along the hedge parallel with the
railway, and he was screened by it from the British lines.

He came on until he had almost reached the hedge behind which the two
Englishmen were posted.  At this point there was a wide gap in the hedge
that covered him, and he turned off sharply at right angles towards the
railway.  Kenneth instantly guessed that he had done this to avoid
observation through the gap, that he would pass round the end of the
hedge near the embankment, and follow the track by which Ginger and he
had recently come.

As the man turned, Ginger caught Kenneth by the sleeve.  His eyes were
bright with excitement.  He seemed about to speak, but Kenneth hastily
clapped a hand over his mouth.  Watching the man until he was on the
point of turning the corner, Kenneth drew Ginger through a small gap in
the hedge parallel with the railway, and they waited there until the
stranger came up to it on the track they had just left, and began to
walk towards another hedge at right angles to it, which led back to the
embankment almost at the spot where they had watched through the night.

They followed him quietly.  He was on the inner side of the hedge, they
on the outer. They saw that he was wading along the ditch towards the
railway.  At the end of the hedge they stooped and peeped through a gap,
to see what was going on within a few feet of them.  They heard a low
whistle, and were just in time to catch sight of the man disappearing
into a culvert that carried the ditch under the embankment.

Allowing him time to get through, they crawled through the hedge, up the
embankment, over the line, and approaching the culvert from above,
established themselves on top of the brickwork at the entrance. They
heard voices from below, within the culvert.  Kenneth held his revolver
ready, Ginger gripped his bayonet.  And there they waited for one or
other of the men inside to come out.

They had not long to wait.  The mumble of voices came nearer.  Kenneth
listened intently, but could not distinguish the words until, just
beneath him, he heard "Auf Wiedersehen!"  Immediately afterwards the man
they had followed waded out through the shallow water at the bottom of
the culvert, bending almost double to avoid the arch.  His basket was
gone.  Just as he was about to straighten himself, Kenneth called
sternly, "Hands up!"  The man swung round, saw a revolver pointed at his
head, and instantly threw up his hands, at the same time glancing right
and left as if seeking some way of escape.

[Illustration: "HANDS UP!"]

What were they to do with him?  Within a few feet of them, in the
culvert, was the sniper, a man of courage and daring, or he would not
have elected or been chosen for this particular means of serving his
country. Luckily Kenneth was a man of quick decision.

"Collar that fellow while I keep an eye below," he said.  "Take care you
don’t show against the opening."

Ginger sprang down the embankment, and approached the captive, whom
Kenneth covered with his revolver, at the same time keeping an eye on
the arch below.  In a few seconds Ginger had made the man pull off his
coat and waistcoat, and unfasten his braces, and with these he tied him
hand and foot.

"You’ll be safe there for a bit," he said, laying the man at the foot of
the embankment.  Then he rejoined his companion.

Meanwhile Kenneth had been considering how to get the sniper out.  There
had been no sound from the culvert, but the German must be well aware of
what had happened. That he had not attempted to escape by the other end
was probably explained by his ignorance of the number of men he had to
do with.  Armed with his rifle, he might have thought himself pretty
safe in the narrow culvert, where he could take heavy toll of any
assailants who should attempt a direct attack.

"We’ll have to smoke him out," whispered Kenneth, as Ginger joined him.
"There’s some straw in the farmhouse; cut back quickly and bring as much
as you can carry."

In ten minutes Ginger returned with two large bundles which he had
himself trussed. He kindled one of the trusses, and placed it at the
rear end of the culvert, the quarter from which a slight breeze was
blowing. Kenneth meanwhile kept watch above the brick arch at the other
end.

The straw was somewhat damp, and made as much smoke as they could have
wished. Carried by the breeze through the culvert, it floated out
beneath Kenneth, tickling his throat and causing his eyes to smart.
Every moment he expected the sniper to make a rush from his unendurable
position. When a minute or two had passed without any sign of the man he
was surprised: was insensibility to smoke one of the German
superiorities?

"Any more straw, Ginger?" he asked.

"Another bundle," Ginger replied, and returned to the farther end to
light it.

He had only just disappeared over the edge of the embankment when
Kenneth, who had been straining his ears for sounds of movements below,
heard a slight displacement of ballast on the line above him. Glancing
up, he found himself looking straight at the barrel of a rifle, behind
which was a head surmounted by a German helmet.

For half a second he was paralysed with astonishment.  Then a click
galvanised him into activity.  Realising that the rifle had missed fire,
forgetting--like an idiot, as he afterwards confessed--that he had a
revolver, he made a spring and with his left hand seized the muzzle a
few feet above him.  The German held fast; there was a momentary tug of
war; then the German lost his footing on the slippery earth, fell
suddenly to a sitting posture, and slid down the embankment helplessly,
driving Kenneth under him into the shallow pool of water at the foot.

Kenneth was a thought quicker than the German in recovering his wits.
Wriggling sideways, he flung his arm over the man, spluttering out a
mouthful of muddy water, and grappled him.  For a few seconds they
heaved and writhed like grampuses.  Then Ginger, drawn by the splash,
came running across the line, saw the struggling figures, sprang down
the embankment, and dashed his fist in the German’s face.  In another
moment he had dragged the man out of the water and a foot or two up the
embankment, and held him down until Kenneth had shaken himself and come
to his side.

"This beats cockfighting," he said. "Where did the beggar come from?"

"Don’t know," said Kenneth.  "We’ll see presently.  I’m nearly choked
with mud. We’ll have to use his braces too."

When they had tied the man securely, they got up to investigate.  What
they discovered was a proof of the ingenuity which the Germans exhibit
in all their undertakings.  The landslide, a little to the right of the
culvert, formed a sort of boss on the embankment.  At the farther
extremity of this, out of sight from the spot where Kenneth had stood,
the German had forced his way up from a small chamber excavated in the
base of the embankment, where he had a folding chair, a rug, a tin plate
and mug, a supply of ammunition, and the basket which the visitor had
carried.  It was full of food.  There were two or three inconspicuous
openings for the admission of air, and, towards the British trenches, a
small tube, and an arrangement by which the rifle could be clamped.
Evidently the sniper took his sights in the daytime, and set the rifle
in such a position in the tube that he could fire directly on the
trenches with the certainty of having the correct aim.

"Up to snuff, ain’t they, not half," said Ginger, with unwilling
admiration.  "But how did you come to be wallowing in that there
puddle?"

Kenneth explained.

"My word! a lucky missfire," said Ginger.

"Lucky indeed!" replied Kenneth. "And we can’t discover the cause of it;
the rifle’s in the mud."

"Never mind about the cause of it. We’ve bagged our first prisoners;
that’s one to us and the Rutlands."

But Kenneth was never satisfied to leave a problem unsolved.  Thinking
over the matter constantly during the next few days, unwilling to
ascribe to luck something that must have a sufficient cause, he came to
the conclusion that the breech of the rifle had become clogged with
earth as the sniper forced his way up through the landslide.

They marched their prisoners back to headquarters in the village,
keeping the embankment between them and the enemy as long as possible.

"I’ve often seen this old rascal about the village," said Ginger,
referring to the civilian.  "He’s a spy, that’s what he is. They’ll
shoot him, won’t they?"

"The colonel will hold an enquiry, no doubt.  By George!  I shall be
glad to get back and dry my things and have a good feed."

They received an enthusiastic welcome from their comrades, and Colonel
Appleton commended them for their successful work. The sniper was sent
to the rear as a prisoner of war.  An investigation was held.  It came
out that the civilian who supplied him with food was a supposed refugee,
and one of the pensioners of Monsieur Obernai.  That gentleman was
summoned to the court of inquiry, and was overcome with horror on
learning that one of the men whom he had assisted was a spy.

"It is heart-breaking," he said.  "It is enough to make one hard.
Besides, it might throw suspicion on me.  Still, it would not be just to
abandon my humble efforts to alleviate distress because one man has
deceived me.  But in future I shall make the most careful inquiries
before I assist a stranger."

The spy was shot, and thereafter there was no more trouble from night
snipers at that part of the lines.



                              CHAPTER VII

                          IN THE ENEMY’S LINES


It was during their next spell in the trenches that the Rutlands had
their first taste of artillery fire.  They were not systematically
bombarded: there was no indication of infantry attack; but at irregular
intervals shells from field guns burst over or behind the trenches,
doing very little damage, but making the men nervous and irritable.
When the ominous tearing sound was heard as a shell flew through the
air, the men winced and cowered, and at the explosion they looked
fearfully around, sometimes through a shower of earth, wondering to find
themselves still alive.

"You’ll get used to it by and by," said Captain Adams to the men of his
company. "The bark is worse than the bite at present. It’s really very
kind of the Bosches to let you get accustomed to them gradually."

After a day or two the bombardment became heavier and more persistent.
Two or three batteries were located, either by officers in observation
posts or by British airmen, and the British gunners replied to them, not
without success.  But presently the trenches were shelled at night by
heavier guns which it seemed impossible to place. The position of the
guns appeared to vary. Sometimes the reports came from the south-east,
sometimes from the east, sometimes from the north-east; and in general
they were louder than those of the guns which had been definitely
located, though this fact, in the opinion of some of the men, was due to
the stillness of the night air.  They began to suspect that the Germans
were bringing up more guns to various parts of their line, with the idea
of discouraging any attempt to break through at this point.

All this made the Rutlands eager to come to grips with the enemy, and
the prolonged inaction tried them sorely.  To amuse them during the long
weary evenings in the trenches the colonel sent for a number of mouth
organs, and some of the officers read to them in the dug-outs by candle
light. One evening the men of Kennedy’s platoon pricked up their ears
when they heard the plaintive notes of a flute from a short distance on
their left.

"Who’s playing?" they asked.

Word was passed along the trench that it was Stoneway, who had bought a
flute in the village.

"There’s a chap for you!" said Ginger. "All the months we were training
the beggar never did a thing, playing or singing. Seems to me he can
play, too.  But he didn’t ought to play ’Home, sweet Home.’  Gives you a
lump in your throat.  Pass the word along for ’Dolly Grey,’ will you,
mates?"

Stoneway’s unsuspected musical accomplishments raised him in the
estimation of his comrades.  Every night there were calls for him.  He
knew a great number of their favourite tunes, and was always ready to
play them.  He would usually begin by running up and down the scale, and
practising tuneless exercises; and sometimes, when these preliminary
flourishes were rather prolonged, the men called to him to "cut it" and
come to the real thing.

As time went on, the shelling became more frequent.  It soon became
clear that the Germans were working from definite knowledge of what was
going on behind the British lines.  The bombardment often took place
when parties were relieving one another in the trenches, though this was
always done in darkness.  And one day, when the general commanding the
division came to the village to inspect the battalion, a particularly
brisk shelling caused a stampede of the people, who had come to regard
themselves as safe. Several cottages were damaged, several civilians as
well as soldiers were killed or wounded, and a heavy shell excavated a
deep hole in the garden of Monsieur Obernai’s house.

One morning the trenches were subjected for the first time to the fire
of a heavy howitzer.  A peculiar low drone, rapidly increasing in
loudness, was heard.

"’Ware Jack Johnson!" cried Captain Adams, and the men crouched in the
trenches, holding their breath.

The first shell fell some distance behind the lines.  They heard a
terrific crash, and saw a column of thick smoke.  The second shell,
about a minute after the first, fell far too short, plunging into the
ground just in front of the German trenches, and bespattering them with
earth.  The third exploded in the pond between the lines, and sent a
wave into the German trench at the side.  During the next half hour the
ground in front of the pond between the opposing forces was pitted with
holes made by the heavy shells.

"There’s something wrong with the range-finding or the charges,"
remarked Harry.

"Lucky for us," said Kenneth, brushing from his coat some dust cast up
by one of the shells.  "The smell is bad enough."

After half an hour the shelling ceased, and the men wondered what
purpose the Germans could have had in such an apparently motiveless
bombardment.  Captain Adams suspected that something was going on in the
German lines, and remembering the success of Kenneth and Ginger in
discovering the sniper, he decided to send them out that night as a
listening patrol.  Harry begged to be allowed to go with them.

"Very well," said the captain.  "If you’re successful we’ll try a whole
section another time.  It’s a ticklish job, you understand.  You’ll
crawl over to the German trenches, and listen.  You know German, Amory,
I believe.  You’ll do the listening, then; you others keep on the watch.
Don’t lose your way.  I’ll take care that the men here don’t fire on you
as you come back; but if you stray too far to right or left you may find
yourselves in hot water."

"You’ve no special instructions, sir?" asked Kenneth.

"No: you must work out the details yourselves.  You’re not puppets on
the end of a string."

"Nor yet monkeys on a stick," Ginger murmured when the captain had gone.
"What did Capting mean by that?"

"He meant that we’re not machine made, as the Germans are, by all
accounts," replied Harry.  "I say, I’m jolly glad he let me go too: I’m
getting quite fat with doing nothing."

They talked over their plans together. Obviously the safest direction in
which to approach the enemy was towards the large pond.  This was an
irregular oval in shape, and the Germans had not closely followed its
curve in cutting their trenches, for, if they had done so, it would have
exposed them to enfilading fire from the British.  They had carried
their advanced trench close up to the border of the pond on each side,
then run communicating trenches at right angles from front to rear, and
there dug a straight trench along the breadth of the pond, about a
hundred yards in the rear of their first alignment.  The wire
entanglements in front of the pond, facing the British, were not so
elaborate as on the rest of their line, from which the inference was
that the water was too deep to be waded.

Just before midnight the three men crept stealthily out of their trench,
armed only with their bayonets, crawled under the barbed wire, and
wriggled forward towards the pond.  It was slow and tiring work, for the
ground was much cut up by shell fire, and littered with fragments of
shells, empty tins, and other rubbish.  There was a certain advantage in
the unevenness, in that it gave cover; but it also contained an element
of danger, because there was a risk of their displacing something as
they proceeded, and they knew that the slightest noise would provoke a
fusillade from the enemy.

The moon was not up, but the sky was spangled with stars, by whose
feeble light they were able to distinguish objects on the ground within
ten or a dozen paces.  They heard the Germans talking and laughing in
their trenches, and here and there a slight radiance marked the places
where they had candles or lamps.  Foot by foot they crawled on, Kenneth
leading the way towards the angle of the trenches on the left.

At last he came to a stop within a few feet of the parapet.  The three
men lay flat on the ground.  For some moments Kenneth was not able to
distinguish anything from the general murmur, but presently he realised
that one man was reading aloud to the rest from a German newspaper.
"The blockade of England.  Great German success in the North Sea.  An
English merchantman of 245 tons laden with bricks was torpedoed in the
North Sea yesterday, and seriously damaged.  The starvation of England
proceeds satisfactorily."

"What, do the English eat bricks?" asked one simple soul.

There was a laugh.

"They have good teeth!  Look at this picture," said another.

"If the English bricks are harder than our war bread I pity them," said
a third.  "We needn’t cry ’God punish England’ any more."

"Is there any news of sinking a grain ship?" asked a voice.

"No," replied the reader.  "Grain comes in big vessels; I expect the
Americans won’t let their ships sail.  We shall have America on our side
soon."

"Anything to shorten the war," said a man. "I’m tired of it.  I want to
get home to Anna and the children.  The General said it would be all
over by Christmas."

"So it will, by next Christmas.  I want to get back to the Savoy: I made
£10 there the Christmas before last."

"You won’t make it again.  The English won’t have any money after this."

Signing to the others to remain where they were, Kenneth crept still
farther forward until he came below the parapet. From the direction of
the voices he guessed that the trench was unoccupied at the angle; the
men who should be there were gathered around the man who had the paper.
Cautiously raising himself, he peeped first through a loophole, then
over the crown of the parapet.  Here he was able to look along both the
main trench and the communicating trench at right angles to it.  In the
former, about a dozen yards away, he saw a group of men at the entrance
of a dug-out, from which a glow shone forth.  It was here, evidently,
that the man was reading.  He discovered the reason why, apart from the
attraction of the newspaper, this part of the trench was empty.  The
stars were reflected in water that lay along the bottom.  There was
evidently a considerable leakage from the pond.  On the right hand the
communication trench was quite dark.  Apparently it was not manned at
all.

Kenneth dropped down again, and remained for a short time listening.
The conversation had changed: instead of discussing the war, the Germans
were talking of domestic matters; the ex-waiter of the Savoy Hotel
described his little house and garden at Peckham, and told how he had
happened to meet in London a girl from his own village in Wurtemburg,
who was now his wife. Luckily he had saved enough money to keep her and
his children for a year or two.

Finding that he was not likely to gain any important information,
Kenneth crawled back to his companions, and they made their wriggling
way to their trench without being discovered.  Captain Adams was a
little disappointed at the meagre result of their reconnaissance.  The
only valuable piece of news was that the communication trench was empty
and the angle flooded.

Shortly after their return the mysterious gun again opened fire.
Several men were wounded by splinters of shells, one so seriously that,
in spite of the risk, he had to be carried at once to the rear.

Next day Kenneth said to Harry:

"Look here, last night’s business has whetted my appetite.  Why
shouldn’t we get behind the German lines and see if we can locate that
gun?  Every day we lose a man or two without being able to retaliate,
and it’s quite time to put a stop to it."

"Will the captain let us?"

"Adams wouldn’t object, I think; but I’m afraid we should have to get
the colonel’s leave for this.  I’ll take the first opportunity of
speaking to the captain.  It would be a pity not to make some use of the
little information we were able to pick up."

Captain Adams, when the proposal was put to him, at once said, as
Kenneth had expected, that he must ask the colonel’s permission.

"It’s a good deal more dangerous than last night’s affair, you see.
You’ll be shot out of hand if you’re caught."

"But it’s worth trying, sir, if we can find that gun.  Apart from our
losses, it’s making the men jumpy."

"That’s all very well, but I don’t want to lose two useful men.  Still,
I’ll see what the colonel says."

Later in the day he sent for them.

"I’ve seen the colonel," he said.  "He was at first dead against it, but
I did my best for you.  He agrees, provided you come back at once if you
find things too unhealthy: that is to say, you are not to go on if you
come up against any considerable body of the enemy.  And keep the matter
to yourselves. You’ll be supposed to be going out again as a listening
patrol.  I shall tell only Mr. Kennedy and your sergeant.  No one else
is to know what has become of you, and they will be on the look-out for
your return."

He gave them a large-scale map of the district behind the German lines,
and recommended them to study it carefully during the day.  The railway
seemed likely to be their best landmark.  It ran almost due north-east.
About four miles away it passed over a canal running north and south.
With these two fixed lines and a pocket luminous compass they should not
wander far afield in ignorance of their general position.  Much nearer
to the British trenches, and almost directly in their front, was a
ruined church, the spire of which, used by the Germans as an observation
post, had been shot away some time before the Rutlands arrived at the
front.

Their diligence in conning the map aroused the curiosity of their
comrades, but they laughed off enquiries, and gave the map back to the
captain.

They decided to start, carrying revolvers, soon after dark, at the time
when the Germans might be supposed to be taking their evening meal.
With some difficulty they managed to slip away unnoticed by the other
men. Moving with even more caution than on the previous night, they
crawled over the ground until they reached the angle of the trenches
abutting on the pond.  It was quite dark; the moon, in its third
quarter, was, as they had learnt from the almanac, not due to rise for
some hours.

Peering down into the firing trench, they neither saw nor heard any sign
of occupants in the space immediately below them; but they heard voices
from a traverse a few yards away.  Then Harry caught sight of three or
four men coming down the communication trench, and from their gait
concluded that they were bringing food.  The two dropped down below the
parapet and lay motionless: it was clear that they had started a little
too early.

They waited until they heard the men pass back along the communication
trench; then, after a short interval, rose to carry out the plan
previously agreed upon for descending into the trench.  The principal
danger was a fall of loose earth from the parapet or a splash in the
water at the bottom.  Kenneth cautiously clambered up the earthwork, lay
flat on top of the parapet, then backed until his legs hung over inside.
To avoid slipping he held Harry’s hands, and so lowered himself until he
stood on the banquette, which was an inch or two under water.  Pressing
himself close against the earthen wall, he steadied Harry in his
descent: both stood in the trench.  They were panting with excitement.

From their left came the sounds of conversation; the speakers were
invisible. They were just about to start down the communication trench
when they heard footsteps approaching from the farther end. Flattening
themselves into the angle they waited breathlessly.  The corner was so
dark that they hoped to escape detection; but their hearts leapt to
their mouths when they saw the flash of an electric torch some distance
away in the communication trench. Escape was impossible.  If the light
was shown as the men approached the corner discovery was certain.

"Don’t waste the light," Kenneth heard one of the men say.  "We are
running short of batteries.  You can see the turn by looking up.  Watch
the stars."

The light was switched off.  Holding their breath the Englishmen waited.
Two Germans drew nearer, splashed through the water, and turned into the
firing trench. As soon as they had disappeared, Kenneth and Harry
started to go down the communication trench, stepping very slowly
through the water, and halting every now and again to listen.  Presently
they were startled by hearing voices behind them.  The Germans
apparently were returning.  To retreat now was impossible.  Whatever
danger might lie ahead, they must go on.

By this time they had quitted the water. Seemingly they had passed
beyond the pond. But the bottom of the trench was sticky with mud;
walking was difficult.  And the men behind were gaining on them.
Suddenly they came to a trench at right angles--no doubt the trench at
the rear of the pond. Scarcely daring to look along it, they went
straight on.

"Anything doing?" asked a voice close by.

"All’s quiet," replied Kenneth in German.

Another hundred yards brought them to a third trench.  It appeared to be
unoccupied. After listening intently for a few moments they decided to
trust their luck down this trench rather than continue along the
communication trench, in which they could still hear the footsteps and
voices of the men following them.  Others might be coming towards them.
Striking to the left, they went along the trench for a few yards; then,
coming upon another communication trench at right angles, they stopped
to consult in murmurs.  They decided that the trenches were more
dangerous than the open ground.  Retracing their steps for some little
distance, they waited a moment or two.  All was silent.  Cautiously they
clambered up and lay, breathing hard, upon the grass.

A little ahead of them was the ruined church standing black and gaunt in
the starlight.

"We go past that," whispered Kenneth, "then strike off to the
north-east.  We’ll try that direction first, at any rate.  Most of the
shots appear to come from there."

"About how far away?"

"Two or three miles, I think."

"I say----"

"Well?"

"Oh nothing!--only I feel sort of empty inside."



                              CHAPTER VIII

                                SKY HIGH


Harry’s feeling of emptiness simply meant that he was only now beginning
to realise the difficulty of the task undertaken so lightheartedly by
himself and his friend. They had come only about a fourth of the
distance they expected to cover, and it was the easiest portion, for
after all there was much less chance of meeting enemies in the quiet
communication trenches than behind the lines, where movement was
unconstrained, and a German might lurk behind every tree.

They lay for a few minutes, peering into the darkness, listening,
thinking out their course.  Somewhere to the left they heard the rumble
of carts, the clatter of motor cars, the voices of men.  Similar sounds,
but fainter, came from the right.  On either hand there was a road to
avoid.  No doubt there was a path running from the church to one or
other of these roads.  Their best plan seemed to be to creep along by
the churchyard wall and strike across the fields, taking what cover the
hedges, ditches, and isolated trees afforded.  There was no definite
clue to their direction.  The gun they had come to seek had not yet
begun its nightly work.

Assuring themselves that there were no sounds in their immediate
neighbourhood, they got up and stole towards the tree-lined wall of the
churchyard.  The wall was broken in many places; trees had been split
and felled and tombstones shattered by gunfire.  They moved very
cautiously along the wall towards the open fields. Suddenly they both
halted and crouched. High up in the ruined tower a light had flashed for
a moment.  From the same place came faint sounds which they soon
recognised as the murmur of voices.  The light again shone forth, and
again disappeared. It came and went at intervals, now long, now short,
and in a few minutes they realised that the men in the tower were
signalling.

The light showed in the direction of the trenches.  They had never
noticed it in their night watches there; presumably the signallers were
at work for the first time, or perhaps the direct rays were masked, and
the light was visible only at a higher elevation.  Beyond doubt the
signallers were Germans; no British soldiers, or natives in collusion
with them, would have chosen a spot within the German lines, and so near
the trenches--a spot where the glow of the lamp could be so clearly
distinguished.

But it was puzzling.  Why should the Germans signal towards their own
trenches? Was it possible that they were communicating with somebody
behind the British lines?

The two Englishmen crouched below the wall.

"Shall we take a look-in at the tower?" asked Harry in a whisper.

"It’s not our present job," returned Kenneth.  "We’re out to find the
gun. Perhaps afterwards--at any rate we’ll report it.  The men up there
have got a good view over the fields; we shall be lucky to get away
without being discovered."

Bent double, they hurried along the wall, and when it came to an end,
crept on under cover of a hedge across a field.  Descending into a
shallow hollow, they sprang across a brook, and made for a small clump
of trees on rising ground in front of them.  The ground was rough and
stubbly; walking was difficult and fatiguing.  They passed through the
skirt of the wood, crossed more fields, taking to the ditches where the
ground rose, and quickening their pace through the depressions.  Kenneth
frequently consulted his compass and watch, the dials of which were
faintly luminous.

At length he announced that they must have come about three miles from
the trenches.

"It’s no good going farther at present," he said.  "All we can do is to
wait until we hear the discharge of the gun, perhaps see its flash.  And
it will be just our luck if they don’t fire it to-night."

"How long shall we wait?"

"That’s the problem!  If we wait too long we shan’t get back to-night,
and that means hiding up all to-morrow.  We can’t possibly return in
daylight.  But it’s no good talking.  Let’s make ourselves as
comfortable as we can in the shade of this hedge.  And for goodness’
sake don’t let me fall asleep."

"Not much chance of that if you feel like me.  I couldn’t sleep a wink,
though I’m tired enough."

They sat down, took some chocolate from their tins, and prepared for
their vigil.  All was silent around them.  There were no longer sounds
of traffic; the roads had apparently diverged.  The whole countryside
lay peaceful under the silent stars.

Time went on.  The air was cold.  Now and then they got up and tramped
to and fro to stir their chilled blood.  Ten o’clock: eleven: no sound.
Kenneth looked at his watch at ever shorter intervals.  He was becoming
restless.  Had they adventured on a vain quest?  The moon crept above
the horizon, dimly illuminating the landscape, showing here a dark
rounded mass that must be a wooded hill, there the white walls of a
solitary farmhouse.

"There’s no getting back to-night," thought Kenneth, as the light
increased.

It was just past midnight.  They were sitting side by side, silent,
disappointed, depressed.

"Hark!" said Harry suddenly.

There was a low continuous rumble in the distance.  It grew louder.
They rose to their feet, and looked across the fields eastward.  The
ground stretched away in undulations, alternate dark and light bands in
the moonshine.  They could see nothing to explain the sound.  It came
from their right, increasing in volume as it approached, then
diminishing as it passed away to the left, finally ceasing.

"Sounded like a railway truck," said Harry.

"There’s no line there," replied Kenneth. "The only line shown on the
map is the one running through the village almost due east; it turns to
the north-east after cutting the German lines.  It must be a good three
or four miles from here.  That sound went right across our front, from
south to north, and couldn’t have been more than half a mile away."

"Well, it’s stopped now.  We needn’t bother about it.  Quite certainly
it wasn’t made by the guns, and that’s the only riddle we’re called on
to solve.  I’m fed up with this, Ken."

"So am I.  The idea of a whole day here is sickening.  Still, it can’t
be helped."

They sat down again, each thinking his own thoughts.

Suddenly there was a momentary flash, instantly followed by a terrific
roar.

"The gun!" exclaimed Kenneth, springing up.

"And jolly close, too," said Harry, looking across the fields.  "Which
side of us?"

"I don’t know.  We must wait for the next.  This is getting exciting."

Within a minute or two they saw the flash again, lighting up the sky
behind a low ridge on their left front.  The noise of the discharge
reverberated and died away.

"Come on!" whispered Kenneth.

They crept along the hedge in the direction of the ridge.  A third
report rent the air; then, after a minute’s silence, they were surprised
to hear a renewed rumbling, which passed across their front nearer than
they had heard it before, and receded towards the south.

"’Pon my word, it seems to have some connection with the gun after all,"
murmured Kenneth.

They went on, as fast as they could with caution.  Crawling up the
ridge, they peered over.  Nothing was to be seen in either direction.
They crawled down the other slope, and came to what appeared to be a
sunken grass road.  It was shadowed by the ridge.  Looking to right and
left, and discovering nothing, they got up and began to walk across the
road.  Suddenly Harry stumbled, and uttered a low exclamation.

"A whack on the toe," he murmured.

"By George!" whispered Kenneth behind him.  He had stooped to look at
the obstruction.

Harry turned.  The obstacle was a rail. There was no glint from it;
apparently it was rusty.  But it was sticky to the touch. Kenneth held
his fingers to his nose.  They smelt of tar.

Beside the rail there was a layer of loose grass, twigs, rubbish of all
sorts, and beyond this, five feet away, a parallel rail.

"We have come on a single-track railway," said Kenneth.  "It’s not
marked on the map; must have been recently laid.  Let us go on a little,
and examine it."

In a few minutes their discovery was confirmed.  The seeming grass road
was a roughly laid track.  But the rails had been painted over with tar,
and the sleepers and permanent way were hidden under low heaps of
litter.

"They’re clever beasts," said Kenneth. "D’you see the trick?  No airman
would ever guess this to be a railway.  The rails are quite dark."

"But what’s it for?"

At this moment came the report of the gun, some distance to the south.

"That’s what we are going to find out," said Kenneth.

They made their way stealthily along the track between the rails in the
direction of the sound.  Presently, at a gentle curve, they came to a
white post with a small square platform in front of it, abutting on the
railway.  Wondering what it was for, they went on, and in a few moments
heard the rumble of an approaching train.  They scrambled up the ridge
on their right, threw themselves flat on the ground and watched.

In a few minutes an engine and two trucks glided into view, making
extraordinarily little noise.  They passed slowly below the watchers.
There was no smoke from the engine; perhaps it was electric. The first
truck carried a heavy gun; the other, containing men, was like an
ordinary railway wagon, but apparently better sprung, for it moved with
only the low rumble which the watchers had already heard.  The effect of
the train gliding past, dark, almost without sound, was mysteriously
strange.

When the train had passed, they hastened after it, walking just below
the crest of the ridge.  They had scarcely started when they heard a low
screeching of brakes. Stealing on a few steps, and peering over, they
saw that the train had stopped opposite the small platform.  The men had
got out of their truck, and were moving noiselessly but quickly about
the truck containing the gun.  Orders were given in a low voice. There
was a slight grating of machinery and creaking of timber.  The recoil
cradle of the gun, which still remained on the truck, was being placed
on the platform; the gun itself was being loaded.  Its muzzle pointed
over the railway line towards the trenches.

Stuffing up their ears, Kenneth and Harry waited.  The gun was fired.
They heard the heavy projectile whizz over their heads. Three times the
gun spoke; then it was swung round on the truck, and the train moved on
to the north-east.

Dazed and deafened by the tremendous noise, the watchers followed it
along the line.  Here was a discovery indeed.  It was no wonder that the
gun had never been located.  But what they had already learnt made them
eager to learn more.  Where was the gun kept when not in use?  Where was
the headquarters of the men?  If they could find out this, they would
have information of real value to carry back with them.

They went cautiously along the line, on the look-out for sentries.  But
the line was not guarded.  Its existence was probably known only to the
German staff, and it was evidently used only for the gun train.

About half a mile beyond the platform, the train came to rest at
another.  Again the gun was fired: then the train rumbled back.  The two
men hid until it had passed, then continued along the line in the
opposite direction.  During its absence they would seize the opportunity
to survey this part of the line.

Some ten minutes after the train had passed they caught sight of low
buildings ahead on the east side of the track, and a dim light.  In case
there might be Germans on the spot, they left the rails, walked across a
field under cover of the hedge, and approached the buildings from the
east. These, they found, were three low wooden sheds, near the opening
of a large quarry, which Kenneth remembered having seen marked on the
map.  The sheds were in ill repair: there were many chinks and gaps in
their boarded walls.  Apparently the quarry and its appurtenances had
been for some time disused.  The light which they had seen from the
railway line proceeded from one of the sheds, from the interior of which
they now heard guttural voices. Peeping through a chink in its wall,
they saw four Germans smoking, drinking, and playing cards by the light
of oil lamps.  There were narrow beds ranged along the opposite wall,
some of which were occupied.  Helmets and tunics hung from pegs.  In one
corner rifles were piled.  In another stood a cooking stove, its iron
chimney passing out through the roof.  It was evident that the shed was
continuously occupied.  At the end nearest the line the door was open,
and a sentry paced to and fro.

While the Englishmen were taking stock of all this, they heard the drone
of an aeroplane approaching.  The four men at the table sprang up,
turned down the lamps, seized their rifles and ran to the door. Kenneth
stole a few yards along the wall until he came within earshot of them.
He was on the shaded side of the shed; there was nothing but
miscellaneous litter on the ground, so that it seemed unlikely that the
Germans would come in this direction.

"Is it one of ours?" asked one of the men, as the drone grew louder.

"I can’t see," replied another.  "It sounds like an English machine."

"Well, they won’t spot us.  They haven’t done it by daylight, so they
won’t now."

"They’re flying rather low.  We could easily hit them."

"But that would be to give ourselves away.  They have gone past.  It’s
all right."

The aeroplane disappeared.  But the men had no sooner re-entered the
shed than its drone was heard again.  They hastened out.

"It’s coming round in a circle," said a voice.  "The cursed Englishmen
seem suspicious."

"They’re hunting for the gun, of course. But it has been quiet lately.
The captain heard the sound in time.  And there’s nothing bright about
the gun.  The English are dished."

"They’re no good, the stupid English. They’ve no chance against German
brains."

The aeroplane finally vanished, and the men returned to their cards,
turning up the lamps again.  Some ten minutes later the report of the
gun was heard.  It was fired at intervals for an hour, at varying
distances; then the low rumble of the train approached. The watchers
heard the door of the second shed creak.  In a few minutes the train
glided up, and entered the shed, into which, it being the middle one of
the three, the Englishmen could not see from their present position.
After a while the door was closed, and the gun crew joined their
comrades. They were not accompanied by their officer, who had no doubt
gone to more select and comfortable quarters elsewhere.  After
exchanging a few words with the cardplayers, the newcomers threw off
their clothes and got into bed.

"I should like to have a look into the other sheds," whispered Harry.
"But the moon lights up the other side; and the----"

"Don’t talk here," said Kenneth.  "Come round to the back."

Taking care not to displace loose stones, they crept along the wall and
some distance into the quarry.

"They can’t hear us here," said Kenneth, still, however, speaking in
whispers.  "I think we’ve found out enough.  The place is marked on the
map.  Our gunners can shell it by map measurement."

"Yes, but let’s have a look at the other sheds before we go.  It won’t
be safe to go into the moonlight, perhaps; but couldn’t we take a peep
from the rear?"

"The sheds are built right against the quarry wall.  But we’ll go and
see."

They stole across the litter until they came to the back of the sheds.
There they found that there was some chance of achieving their purpose.
The wall of the quarry was very uneven, just as it had been hewn out.
Consequently the back walls of the sheds did not fit flush against it;
there was a space of varying width, but at its narrowest part wide
enough to admit a man.  Into this they crept.

They discovered that this end of the sheds was in worse repair than the
side they had already seen.  Protected from the weather by the wall of
the quarry, the timber had not been renewed.  There were many gaps, and
when they touched the wood, its crumbling gave signs of dry rot.  But
the interiors of the second and third sheds were quite dark: it was
impossible to distinguish anything within.

Harry broke off several fragments of the dry wood without making any
sound.

"We can get in," he whispered.

Kenneth hesitated.  They had learnt enough for their purpose; it would
be a pity to risk the failure of the whole enterprise.  But youth is
adventurous and confident.  The voices of the men in the first shed
would smother any slight sounds they might make; the sentry was at least
a hundred and fifty feet away.

"All right," he murmured.

With their clasp knives they cautiously attacked the boards in the wall
of the third shed, stopping every now and again to listen.  After a
while they were able to remove two of the boards, leaving an opening
large enough to admit them.  Very carefully they climbed in.  Dark as
the interior had appeared from the outside, they found when they were
inside that there was just light enough, filtering through cracks in the
wall, to reveal the contents of the shed. The whole interior, except for
narrow gangways, was packed with shells and cases of high explosives.
Near the door there were shells for field guns and howitzers, and a
certain quantity of small arms ammunition. It was clear that the shed
was an ammunition depot.

Creeping carefully back, they replaced the boards, and went to the
middle shed, which they managed to enter in the same way, after the
exercise of greater patience, owing to the more constricted space
between the shed and the wall of the quarry.  Here they found the gun
train, and a number of petrol tins: evidently the engine was petrol
driven. While Kenneth examined the engine as well as he could in the
still dimmer light, wishing he dared to use his electric torch, Harry
stole to the front of the shed, and watched the sentry through a crack
in the badly fitting folding doors.  Kenneth followed him.

"Let me know when the sentry’s back is turned," he whispered.  "I’ll use
my torch then."

Harry gave the sign by a scarcely audible hiss.  Kenneth made the best
use of the few seconds afforded him at intervals.  His experience of
motor engines had taught him exactly what to look for.  And he was
prompted, not by mere curiosity, but by a sudden idea which had occurred
to him, but which he had not yet mentioned to his companion.  The engine
was still warm. He knew that it ran very smoothly; it was provided with
a very efficient silencer, or he would not have mistaken it for an
electric engine.  With their customary thoroughness, the Germans had
ensured that the movements of their gun train should lack nothing in
secrecy.

The mechanism was simple, similar to that of an ordinary touring car,
except that there were only two speeds and reverse.

"Well," he thought, "why not run off with the train, gun and all?"

The train had backed into the shed trucks first.  They were still
coupled to the engine.  The load was very heavy; the question was
whether he could get up speed in time to escape.  Some of the Germans
were awake: the sentry was at the door; the feat seemed impossible, and
Kenneth dismissed the idea, feeling glad that he had not suggested it to
Harry.  But before leaving the engine he looked into the tank, and saw
that it was half full of petrol.

A hiss called him to the door.  The sentry was being changed.  The new
man was grumbling at having had to leave his bed.  The voices in the
further shed had ceased.

"All gone to bed?" asked the sentry who was being relieved.

"Yes," replied the other, yawning.

"Schneider won five marks of me this afternoon.  He said he’d give me my
revenge.  Well, I’ll beat him to-morrow."

He went into the shed: there was a rustling for a few moments: then all
was silent, except for the heavy tramp of the sentry as he paced slowly
up and down.

The two Englishmen went back to the quarry wall, and were replacing the
boards.

"I say!" whispered Harry.

"What is it?"

"It’s mad, perhaps; but I wondered if we couldn’t run off with the
train."

"Absurd!" replied Kenneth.

"But----"

"Hush! we’ll talk presently."

They returned to their former position across the quarry.

"I daresay you are right," said Harry, "but I wish we could collar that
gun."

"It’s impossible," said Kenneth, arguing against his own inclination.
"We couldn’t open the door without being seen."

"But it’s so ramshackle that it would burst at a touch."

"Then we’d make a row starting the engine, and before we had any speed
on they’d be at us."

"I don’t know.  They’ve got to wake up, and dress----"

"Why waste time dressing?"

"Well, is a German a soldier without his uniform?  Anyhow, they would be
too sleepy for a few seconds to understand what was going on.  It might
just give us time to get off."

"I don’t mind telling you that the idea occurred to me, but I gave it
up."

"Oh, do let us try it.  It’s a sporting chance.  They feel perfectly
secure; that’s so much in our favour.  They’ll be struck all of a heap,
and you know what confusion there is when fellows are taken by
surprise."

"You’ve the tongue of the old Serpent, Harry.  With a little luck--ah!
while we’re about it, oughtn’t we to blow up the ammunition?"

"That means blowing up the men too."

"Well?  We can’t take ’em prisoners. And when you remember that every
shell in the shed may kill or maim a lot more Englishmen or Frenchmen
than there are Germans in the shed, you’ll see that it’s our duty.
War’s war, more’s the pity. There are some fuses near the door."

"Come on, then."

They stole back.  Kenneth crept into the ammunition shed, and started a
time fuse while Harry removed the boards from the wall of the engine
shed.  Just as Kenneth, returning, had almost reached the opening, in
his haste he displaced a shell that was standing insecurely.  It toppled
over with a heavy thud.  He sprang through the gap.

"Touch and go now!" he panted.  "We haven’t a second to lose."

There was no time to replace the boards. They slipped into the engine
shed, hearing the sentry call to his comrades and run towards the
ammunition shed.  In a few moments he would discover the gap in the
wall, and the Germans would be scouring the place.

The Englishmen ran to the engine.

"Jump in!" gasped Kenneth.

He stooped down to find the starting handle, in the agitation of the
moment forgetting that, when examining the engine, he had noticed the
push that indicated a self-starter.  There was no crank, but only the
shaft on which it should fit.  For the moment his brain ceased to work;
he was conscious only of the noise of shouts and hurrying footsteps
dinning in his ears.  Then recollection came in a flash.  He raised
himself, sprang into the cab of the engine, and simultaneously released
the brake and pressed the button of the starting mechanism.  Beneath his
feet there was a welcome whirr; he threw the engine into gear, and the
heavy machine, with the heavier trucks behind, lurched forward.

The folding door was only eight or nine feet away--little enough space
to allow for momentum.  It was neck or nothing.  At the first movement
Kenneth threw out the clutch, racing the engine; then he let it in, and
the train jerked itself forward in a way that alarmed him for the
couplings.  The manoeuvre succeeded.  The engine crashed into the crazy
door; it was shattered and partly wrenched off the hinges; and the train
glided out, rounded the curve, and ran with increasing speed into the
straight towards the south.

All this had occupied only a few moments. Meanwhile, what of the
Germans?  At the thud of the falling shell the sentry was at the farther
end of his beat.  He hastened towards the ammunition shed, calling to
his comrades as he passed their door.  Some sprang up, others only
turned in their beds. The former, as Harry had foretold, began to throw
on their uniforms.  There was no sound from outside to alarm them.  But
a second cry from the sentry caused them to seize their rifles and rush
out as they were. They followed him into the ammunition shed, where he
showed them, by the light of an electric torch, the hole in the wall.
They poked their heads through, and seeing nothing, were beginning to
ask each other what they had better do when they heard through the shed
wall the whirr of the starting engine.  Shouting, they hurried back,
overturning shells and bruising their toes, heard the crash of the door,
and reached the entrance in time to see the train lumbering round the
curve to their left.

One or two rifle shots rang out.  Kenneth and Harry heard for a minute
or two, above the purring of the engine, shouts as if the Germans were
pursuing them on foot.  And then there was a terrific roar; the sky was
lit up by a flash that blinded the pale moon, and fragments of metal
fell in a thick shower upon the train, inflicting sharp blows upon the
Englishmen, of which their hands and faces bore signs for several days.

"What double asses we were!" gasped Kenneth.  "The row will bring the
Bosches swarming about us."

"They’ll make for the sheds.  By George! what a blaze!  Lucky we’re
running in a hollow.  Where does the line lead to?"

"Don’t know.  Be ready to jump.  We’re going nearly thirty miles an hour
now; I’ll slow down in a minute or two.  We must get away from the line
and hide up."

In a few minutes he slackened speed to about five miles.

"Drop off!" he said.

Harry leapt out.  Kenneth opened the throttle to the utmost, put the
engine into top, and jumped clear as it gathered way. By the time he had
picked himself up the train had disappeared.  Clambering up the western
bank, the two men, bending low, raced as fast as they could towards a
small clump of trees that stood up dark in the moonlight.  They were but
halfway across the field when there was a tremendous crash somewhere to
their left rear, a sound of tearing and rending, then silence.

"It’s run off the line or something," Kenneth panted.  "Hope the old gun
is smashed."

It was weeks before they knew what had happened.  Then, passing over the
ground in the course of a general advance of the British forces, they
saw the debris of the train, engine, gun, and trucks, lying amid
shattered masonry in and beside a shallow brook.  The engine had failed
to take a sharp curve and dashed into and through the parapet of the
bridge.



                               CHAPTER IX

                                 D.C.M.


The two men had almost reached the clump of trees when they heard the
thud of horses’ hoofs approaching them from the front.  They instantly
dropped flat into one of the furrows of the stubble field.  Two horsemen
galloped round the corner of the clump, and rode down towards the
railway, passing within twenty yards of the fugitives.

Waiting breathlessly until the horsemen had gone out of hearing, the two
got up, and, still bending low, hurried over the few yards between them
and the clump and plunged among the trees.

"We shall have to get back to-night, by hook or crook," whispered
Kenneth. "They’ll track us down as soon as it is light....  Listen!"

From beyond the clump came the steady tramp of a considerable body of
men.  Was it possible that the Germans were on their track already?  For
a few moments they were unable to decide in what direction the men were
going.  The sounds became gradually fainter, receding towards the
railway. Apparently a detachment had been dispatched towards the scene
of the conflagration.

They stole towards the western side of the clump, and, standing within
the shadow of the trees, looked out across the country. The moon was
still up, obscured at moments by drifting clouds.  Far ahead, a little
to their left, they could just distinguish the tower of the ruined
church.  Still farther to the left the moonbeams revealed the roofs of
the small village which the church served, and in which, no doubt,
German soldiers were billeted.  Lying on the eastern slope of a low
hill, it was invisible from the British lines, but Kenneth remembered
having seen its position marked on the map.

"It’s past two o’clock," said Kenneth, glancing at his watch.  "The moon
won’t go down for hours, and it will be light by six. We simply must get
back before sunrise.  All we can do is to creep along the shady side of
the hedges and take our chance."

After a good look round, they left the trees and hurried to the shelter
of the nearest hedge.  Being now on lower ground, they could no longer
see the church: but they judged their general direction by the compass,
and made their best speed.  Once they found themselves in a field
completely surrounded by a hedge.  Forcing their way through at the cost
of many scratches, they fell some five feet into a ditch that the hedge
concealed, and sank over their ankles in slimy mud.  They scrambled up
the other side, the brambles tearing their skin and clothes, and tramped
on again.

It was nearly an hour before they came once more in sight of the church,
farther to the left than they had expected.  Their best course seemed to
be to try to find the communication trench by which they had come.
Keeping always on the shady side of the hedges, they paused only to
glance towards the tower, to see if the light was still showing, then
turned their backs on it and hurried on.

They came to a stretch of open ground on which there was no cover of any
kind, and knew that they were now near the trenches. The most
nerve-racking portion of their journey was before them.  They dared not
go erect, in the moonlight.  If they should stumble unawares upon an
occupied trench it was all up with them.  Throwing themselves on the
ground, they crawled forward by painful inches, stopping every few
seconds to listen.  Once the scurry of some wild creature across their
front tightened their hearts and sent a cold thrill along their spines.
Presently they heard the murmur of voices on their right, and instantly
edged to the left, only to be brought to a check after a few minutes by
voices in that direction also.  Had the rearmost trenches been manned
during their absence?

Aching in every limb, they crawled still more slowly over the ground.
At last they encountered a ridge of broken earth, and stopped, holding
their breath.  There was no sound near them; faint murmurs came from a
distance.  Harry cautiously raised his head, crept forward a few inches,
and whispered--

"A trench!"

They peered over.  The trench was empty. Sliding into it, they ran along
to the left, and presently struck a trench at right angles.  This too
was empty.  They halted at the corner to listen, then hurried along
until they had almost reached the second trench.  A man, by his figure
an officer, turned from it into the communication trench, and walked
rapidly towards the firing line.  They pressed themselves against the
wall.

"Making his rounds," whispered Kenneth. "Our best chance is to follow
him."

"We’ve come right," said Harry. "There’s the water."

A bank of cloud veiled the moon.  They hoped it would not pass for the
few minutes during which darkness would be so precious a boon.  They
heard the officer splashing through the water at the further end of the
trench, and crept after him as rapidly as they dared.  He turned into
the firing trench.  Voices were heard.  There was great risk in crossing
the trench, and it occurred to Harry that it would be less dangerous to
clamber over the embankment on their left and wade through a few yards
of the pond, which could not be very deep thereabout.  If the moon
remained in cloud, they would not be seen from the trench behind the
pond.  Accordingly, two or three yards from the angle of the trenches,
they swarmed up the bank, and began to let themselves down on the other
side, clinging to the earth so that they should not drop heavily.

Then fortune deserted them.  The earth crumbled in Kenneth’s grasp, and
he fell into the water with a great splash.  Harry at once flung himself
face downwards, and the two crawled through several inches of water
towards the dry land.  The light was increasing as the thinner end of
the cloud moved slowly across the moon.  Crushing their inclination to
jump to their feet and sprint over the ground towards their trench, they
scampered along on all fours.  And then the unveiled moon flooded the
scene with light.

Shouts came from behind them.  Shots rang out, and pattered around them.
A bullet carried off the heel of Harry’s boot. Still they wriggled on.
They were conscious of sounds in front.  The trench was alive. A hand
grenade fell just behind them, bespattering them with earth.  Yard by
yard they dragged themselves over the ground; here was the wire
entanglement. As they drew themselves under it, a bullet struck one of
the tin cans suspended from the top.  There were only a few yards now.
From right and left a hail of bullets flew from the British trench.
They reached the parapet.

[Illustration: A LONG WAY BACK]

"Steady!" whispered Kennedy.  "Keep flat for a moment."

But the caution was vain.  After coming a hundred yards under fire they
thought of nothing but the safety of the trench.  They crawled on, over
into friendly arms.  Bullets sang around them.

"Pipped!" exclaimed Kenneth, as something stung his shoulder.

But next moment they were safe, dropping exhausted on to the banquette.
And then the air was rent by a storm of cheers hurled defiantly at the
Germans.

"Good men!" said Kennedy, as he helped Kenneth to pull off his coat.
"You’re a lucky fellow, by George!  It’s little more than a graze.  I
didn’t expect to see you back.  Ah! here’s the captain."

Captain Adams came up.

"Amory hurt?  A mere scratch, I see. It was a tight moment.  You seemed
an age crawling up.  But come now, have you anything to report?"

"Ammunition depot blown up, sir."

"That was the row we heard, then," the captain interrupted.  "We thought
it must have been an accident, as no firing was going on at the time."

"And to the best of our knowledge and belief, the gun is done for."

"You don’t say so!  Talk, man; a round unvarnished tale deliver.  Oh,
but this is good!"

The captain was evidently excited. Kenneth and Harry between them
related the whole sequence of their adventures, to an audience of the
captain, two lieutenants, and as many men of the platoon as could come
within earshot.  When the story was finished, another roar of cheers
burst forth, which was taken up along the trench far on both sides,
though the most of the shouting men could not have known as yet what
they were cheering for.

"A dashed fine piece of work," said the captain, warmly.  "It’s a
feather in the cap of No. 3 Company, and certain promotion for you two
men.  You’ll have to see the colonel to-morrow, when we get back to
billets.  Go into the Savoy and sleep; you deserve a day’s rest, and you
shall have it."

When they reappeared among their comrades next day a broad grin welcomed
them.

"You do look uncommon pretty," said Ginger.  "I never see anyone like
you except once, and that was when a chap I knew got drunk at the fair,
had a fight with another chap, tumbled into a blackberry bush on the way
home, and was found by a copper in the ditch after it had been raining
all night.  Your best gals would fair scream at the sight of you.  ’Oh
George, dear, where did you get them scratches?  You’ve been a-fighting,
you horrid creature, you!’  ’No, Sally, I’ve had a little bit of
misfortune.’  ’Rats! You won’t get over me. I’d be ashamed to be seen
along of you, with a face like that.  I’ll walk out with Bill next
Sunday, so there!’  And off she goes, and on Monday morning you get hold
of Bill and spoil his beauty for him, and then there’s a pair of you."

Everybody laughed, and the two dirty and disfigured objects concerned
understood that that was Ginger’s way of paying a compliment.

On returning to the village at the close of the day, they had only just
washed and got rid of some of the mud from their clothes when the
colonel sent for them.  They had to repeat their story.

"I don’t happen to have any Iron Crosses," said the colonel, "but I’m
going to recommend you for commissions.  Officers are badly wanted
still, and you’ve got over that nonsense of a few months back?"

"Not at all, sir," said Kenneth.  "We’re bound by our promise."

"Ridiculous!  I don’t mean that you are ridiculous to keep your word,
but to give such a promise was a piece of confounded stupidity.  Why,
goodness alive! after what you’ve done the men would follow you
anywhere."

"It’s very good of you, sir," Kenneth replied, "but really we must stick
to what we said."

"Not that I want to lose you from my regiment.  Well, I shall have to
get Captain Adams to give you your stripes.  You won’t object to that?"

"I’m afraid we must, sir.  You see, anything that gave us a lift over
the other men would be a breach of the understanding."

"Well, you’re a couple of young jackasses. I hope I’m a man of my word,
but----  Oh well, have it your own way!  Virtue shall be its own reward.
You’ve relieved the whole battalion of a great worry and danger, and I’m
uncommonly obliged to you."

It was not until some weeks later that the two friends learnt that their
names had appeared in the _Gazette_ among a list of men recommended for
the distinguished conduct medal.  Their refusal of promotion had become
known to their comrades, and it was observed that Ginger and some of his
friends often had their heads together, and appeared to be conducting
delicate negotiations with the men of the other platoons.



                               CHAPTER X

                                HOT WORK


Kenneth had not omitted to report the signalling from the church tower.
The light had not been seen from the trenches of his own battalion, and
it was guessed that the receiver of the messages was at some other point
behind the long British front.  But on the first night of their return
to billets it occurred to Harry that the light might possibly be visible
from some post of equal height with the tower in which it shone, and he
suggested to Kenneth that they should go up into the belfry of the
church in their village.  In order to give no excuse for a German
bombardment the colonel had refrained from making use of this as an
observation post, which some of his officers regarded as an excess of
scrupulousness.  It would be necessary to get permission now before
Harry’s suggestion could be acted upon.

Harry put the question to Captain Adams. He saw the colonel, who in view
of the fact that the Germans were certainly using a church tower a few
miles away gave his consent.  Finding, therefore, the sacristan, Harry
and Kenneth got him to take them up the belfry at about the same hour as
they had seen the Germans’ lamp.

Furnished with Captain Adams’ field-glasses, they scanned the country in
turns. For a long time they had no reward, and they were indeed on the
point of quitting the spot when Kenneth caught sight of a twinkle far
away to the south-east.  It vanished and reappeared at irregular
intervals, just as the light from the tower had done.

"We are not getting the full rays here," said Kenneth, after Harry had
taken a look.  "But it is clear that they are signalling to someone in
this direction, more or less."

"Let us go half way down the tower, and see if the light is visible
there," suggested Harry.

But they found that only at the foot of the belfry itself could they
catch sight of the twinkling light.

"It’s very cleverly arranged," Harry remarked.  "They are not signalling
to this village, that’s clear.  There’s certainly no observer but
ourselves here, and no other place is high enough to catch the rays."

"Except Obernai’s house," said Kenneth, looking round over the village.
Most of the roofs were considerably lower than the spot on which they
stood.  Only the attics of the Alsatian philanthropist’s house rose
above that level.  That large building in its extensive grounds was
about sixty yards to their left.  There was a light in one of the lower
rooms, where Captain Adams and several other officers were billeted: the
rest was dark.

"It’s not very likely, after that spy business, that any of Obernai’s
servants is in German pay," Kenneth continued.  "Still I’ll tell the
captain what we have seen."

He made his report to Captain Adams next morning.  Later in the day the
captain said to him:

"There’s nothing in that matter, Amory. I asked Monsieur Obernai whether
his servants were trustworthy, and he assured me that he had had them
for years, and could answer for them all.  I didn’t tell him why I had
made the enquiry; it’s best to keep these things as quiet as possible;
we don’t want to make people uneasy.  I’ve no doubt the signals are
directed to some place farther away on our left, and the colonel is
sending word along the front, asking them to keep a look-out."

Nothing more was heard of the signalling for a long time.

When they returned to the trenches, their position was somewhat altered.
The Rutlands were moved a little to the right, and Kennedy’s platoon
occupied a portion of the trench which had formerly been held by another
platoon.

Kenneth was making himself comfortable in a dug-out with Harry and
Ginger when he picked up, among the various articles left by its former
occupants, a piece of ruled music paper dotted with notes.

"A relic of your friend Stoneway, Ginger," he said with a laugh.  "He’s
the only musician in the company."

"Is he, by George!" cried Harry.  "You forget I was in the school choir,
old chap."

"So you were!  I remember how the mothers used to admire your pretty
little cherub face when you let off your songs on the platform.  ’Isn’t
he sweet, mother?’ I heard a girl say once.  You remember how we rotted
you."

"Yes, confound it!  I was jolly glad when my voice broke, and I got out
of all that.  I haven’t sung a note since; if I try, my voice is like a
nutmeg grater."

"You’ve lost your cherubic mug too, old man.  But look here; whistle
over this tune; let’s hear what it is."

Harry took the paper, scanned it for a moment or two, then said:

"It’s no tune at all.  The notes go up and down all anyhow."

He whistled a few notes.

"Oh, for any sake stop it!" implored Ginger.  "It’s Stoneway’s
exercises, by the sound of it.  Call that music!  It’s enough to make a
cat ill."

"I’ll give it back to Stoneway next time I see him," said Harry.

"Tear it up," said Ginger.  "If he hasn’t got it, perhaps he can’t----"

A shout interrupted him.

"Stand to!  Here they come!"

They seized their rifles and rushed out into the trench, Harry stuffing
the paper into his pocket.  The men were posting themselves a yard apart
on the banquette, looking excitedly through the loopholes. Across the
open ground in front the Germans were advancing in a serried mass.  It
was a surprise attack, not heralded, in the customary way, by a
bombardment.  The testing moment had come for the Rutlands at last.

They stood at their posts, tense, quiet with excitement.  Ginger’s
features twitched; Harry’s lips were parted.  With their fingers at the
triggers they awaited breathlessly the order to fire.  On came the dense
grey lines. The Germans did not fire; with fixed bayonets they swarmed
forward rapidly.  They came to the wire entanglement; with clock-work
precision every man in the first rank plied his nippers, and then, in
the trench, Kennedy cried in a hoarse whisper:

"Three rounds, rapid!"

All along the line sounded the crackle of rifles.  On the right a
machine-gun rattled; on the left another.  Three times the rifles spoke.
Men were shouting, they knew not what.  Other sounds mingled with the
din: yells, groans, guttural orders from the German officers; and at the
wire entanglement lay a long swathe of fallen men.

But behind them another multitude was dashing on.  They leapt over their
stricken comrades, only to drop in their turn before the withering
volley from their unseen enemy in the trench.  Through the gaps poured
an unending torrent; the grey-clad men were drawing nearer to the
trench.  The rifle-fire was now continuous, but it was of no avail to
repel this close-packed horde.  There was no longer question of taking
cover.  The Rutlands leapt up to meet the charge.  They fired as fast as
they could, until their rifles were hot.  In spite of their losses the
Germans pressed on until sheer weight of numbers carried them to the
edge of the trench.

It is not for us to describe the scene of carnage there--the hideous
work of the bayonets, the cries of the wounded, the hoarse shouts of
defenders and assailants. The Germans fell back.  Kennedy’s clear voice
shouted the order for volley-firing. And now came a fierce reply from
the German ranks.  Then they fell on their knees and crawled forward
again.  Again they were driven back.  They began to retreat. And then
Kennedy leapt on the parapet and gave the command to charge.  The men
responded with alacrity.  Up they scrambled, over the fallen men, and
dashed forward with exultant shouts.  There was a whizz and boom
overhead.  The British artillery behind was coming into play.  From the
front came deafening crashes; columns of earth and smoke rose into the
air.  The Rutlands lay on the ground until the guns had ceased fire;
then dashed on.  They plunged into the reek about the German trench;
they sprang over the parapet and drove the Germans out; and a storm of
cheers acclaimed their victory.

They were preparing to hold the ground they had won when word was
brought that strong reinforcements were hurrying up to the Germans from
the east.  They had no reserve strong enough to hold the new line in
face of a superior force.  The colonel ordered them to evacuate the
trench, after doing as much damage as was possible in the short time
available.

The men set to work with their own trenching tools and with those
abandoned by the Germans to hack down the walls of the trench.  Kenneth
caught up a pick, and remembering the pond at the right of the
communicating trench, he began to cut a hole through the three or four
feet of intervening earth.  Ginger joined him.  In a few minutes the
water burst through in spate, flooding the trenches, and driving the
Englishmen out pell-mell.

Laughing, singing, throwing jokes one to another, they returned to their
own trenches. They picked up swords, rifles, helmets, and other articles
of equipment that were scattered over the ground, threaded their way
among the fallen men, stopping here and there to assist wounded
comrades. Meanwhile the British artillery was pounding the German lines
to discourage a renewed attack, and the Red Cross men moved swiftly and
silently over the field.

Kenneth had not seen Harry for some time, and was anxious about him.
But the friends met at the edge of their trench. Each ran his eyes
rapidly over the other; their set faces cleared when they recognised
that neither was hurt.

Settled down once more in their dug-out, the three men talked over their
experiences.

"I felt my blood run cold," said Harry, "but I hadn’t time to be afraid.
I feel worse now.  Look at my hand shaking."

Ginger, very pale, was mechanically cleaning his rifle.  He flung it
down with a curse.

"What have they done to me?" he cried. "What have they done to me?  I
killed an officer, a nice young chap as might have been your brother.
What for?  What about his mother?  And all those poor chaps yonder: why
can’t them as make wars let us alone? Men ain’t made to kill each other.
What’s the good of it all?  When the war’s over, millions dead, millions
crippled, millions miserable.  It didn’t ought to be."

"We’re serving our country, Ginger," said Kenneth.  "It’s not a question
of just the present moment.  We’ve got to think of the future.  What
would life be worth to our people at home if the Germans had their way?
You can get nothing good without paying the price, and it will be good
if we can teach the Germans and the world that force isn’t everything,
that people have a right to live their own lives without being bullied.
For every man that dies, whether English or German, perhaps thousands
may have a better time in days to come.  That’s worth fighting for, and
dying for, if need be.  We’ve all got our little part to play. It’s not
a thing you can argue about: you feel it.  Look at what Sir Edward Grey
said: he’d rather cut the old country altogether than be obliged to give
up our good English ways and to put up with German tyranny.  Don’t you
feel like that too?  Well, that’s why we are fighting; we’re fighting to
call our souls our own, and, please God, we’ll win."



                               CHAPTER XI

                      THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GINGER


It was when the battalion next returned to billets that the meaning of
Ginger’s confabulations with the men of other platoons came out.

One evening after supper Kenneth and Harry were smoking in the Bonnards’
kitchen.  They were alone.  Ginger and the other members of their billet
had left them some little while before, and the men’s faces had worn the
sly, conscious look of those who are meditating a secret design.

"If I didn’t know Ginger, I should think they were up to some mischief,"
Harry had said.

Presently the door opened, and Ginger reappeared, at the head of eight
or ten men from other platoons of No. 3 Company. They all looked a
little sheepish and uncomfortable as they filed into the room.  Some
hung back and were pushed forward by their mates.  Ginger moved to the
rear, and was instantly seized by several hands and expostulated with in
fierce whispers.

"Keep your wool on; I’m only going to shut the door," said Ginger.

"What’s in the wind, you fellows?" said Kenneth.  "Why are you hanging
about the door?  Come round the fire and light up: we’ll have a smoking
concert or something."

There were mutterings among the group. Some words reached the ears of
the two men at the fire-place.

"It’s your job: you’re a sergeant."

"No fear; you don’t catch me..."

"Ginger’s the man..."

"Spouts like a M.P...."

At last Ginger was pushed through to the front.  He grinned, half turned
to protest, was swung round again; then he drew his hand across his
mouth.

"Mr. Harry, and Mr. Amory," he began.

"Oh, come now, no misters here," Harry broke in.

"Not in the ordinary way, of course," said Ginger, "but this ain’t an
ordinary occasion. The fact is, we’re a deputation, that’s what we are;
a deputation from No. 3 Company, and the other chaps have made me
foreman of the jury.  Not as I want to push myself; not me.  I consider
it’s a job for a three-stripe man; but Sergeant Colpus here is a very
bashful and retiring man, though you’d never think it to look at him."

"Dry up!" growled the sergeant, turning fiery red as the other men
sniggered.

"Well, you _would_ put it on to me," Ginger went on, "and I must do it
my own way, always respecting my superior officer, of course.  Being
foreman of the jury, I speak for ’em all, got to give the verdict, as
you may say.  The fact of it is, we men of No. 3 Company, what you may
call the Randall Company, ain’t easy in our minds at the idea of being
dogs in the manger like.  We know as the colonel wants to make you
officers, and we think it ain’t fair to you or the army to keep you in
the ranks ’cause of us.  A promise is all right, and we take it very
kind that you’ve stuck to your guns, in a manner of putting it, all
these months.  Speaking for myself, I didn’t expect nothing else.  But
we think it ’ud be a dirty shame if we held you to your promise now,
specially when every man of us knows you ought to be officers, and
there’s not a man of us but would be proud to follow your lead anywhere.
And so we’ve come to say that the promise is off, and we don’t stand in
the way of your getting your rights."

There was a chorus of approval as Ginger wiped his mouth again and
stepped back among his comrades.

"It’s very good of you, Ginger," said Harry, "but I’m sure neither Amory
nor myself want to leave the ranks."

"Not at all," said Kenneth: "thanks all the same."

"But it ain’t right," said Ginger, coming forward again.  "We’ve learnt
a thing or two since we started being soldiers, and we’ve lost a lot of
the bally nonsense that used to fill our heads, about all men being
equal and such like.  Mind you, I’m a Socialist, as strong as ever I
was.  I say now, as I’ve said afore, that there’s no call for a man to
stick himself up and think himself mighty superior ’cos he’s got a quid
for every penny I’ve got. And I don’t say but what, if we’d had your
eddication and chances and all that, we wouldn’t be as good as you.  But
that ain’t the point.  We’ve got to look at things as they are, and be
honest about it, and what I say is that you’ve had the training that
makes officers and we haven’t; and besides, you were born one way and we
were born another, and it’s no good trying to make out that chalk’s as
good as cheese.  And there’s another thing.  When we’ve got a tough job
afore us like licking the Germans we’re bound to consider what’s best
for the company and the regiment, and if a man is cut out for an officer
it’s simply silly to keep him a private: he ain’t in his right place,
doing his right job.  So we think it’s only right for us and the army
that you should do what the colonel wants, and that’s the size of it."

"Is that what you all think?" asked Kenneth.

"Well, I can’t say that; all but one or two, and they’re a disgrace to
the company. There’s----"

"I don’t want to know who they are," said Kenneth, interrupting.  "We’re
both immensely obliged to you for your good-will, but we enlisted on
certain terms, and I feel for my part that we can’t break our contract
without the unanimous consent of the company."

"I agree," said Harry.  "The men enlisted on the faith of our promise,
and it wouldn’t be fair to break it without the consent of all.  So
we’ll drop it, Ginger, and go on as before."

"It’s for you to say, sir," said Ginger. "There!  ’Sir,’ says I.  A slip
of the tongue, mates; you can’t get out of bad habits all of a sudden.
Well, I’ll say for No. 3 Company that we’d be sorry to lose such good
pals, and as there’s no chance that St---- that the pigheaded members of
the jury will come round to the opinion of the sensible ones, we may
reckon it as certain that the defendants will be condemned to serve as
Tommies for three years or the duration of the war."

"And now we’ll discharge the jury," said Kenneth, "and have a sing-song
until ’lights out.’  Come on, Ginger; start off with ’Dolly Grey.’"

Next afternoon Kenneth was summoned to the captain.

"I’ve a little job for you, Amory.  You know how to drive a motor; do
you know anything about the mechanism?"

"Not much; but Ginger--that is, Murgatroyd, sir--is a bit of a mechanic.
Of course I’ll have a shot at whatever is required."

"Add Randall, and we have the Three Musketeers complete.  You didn’t
know that’s our name for you, I suppose?  Well, it’s this.  A motor
cyclist came in just now with a despatch for the colonel, and reported
that on the way he had passed a man who’d had an accident of some sort
with a motor lorry, and wanted help.  Just go and see what you can do,
the three of you.  I don’t know whether the load is for us; if it is, so
much the better.  Take my map; the breakdown is thereabouts"--he pointed
to a spot some three miles away--"and be as quick as you can."

The three men set out, Ginger carrying a bag of tools he had borrowed
from the village smith.  The place where the accident had happened was
apparently on a by-road about halfway between the village and the
headquarters of the next regiment on the left of the Rutlands.  They
followed footpaths across the fields, some of which had been sown by the
inhabitants.  The air was very misty, and but for the map they could
hardly have found their way.  But presently they caught sight of a man
in khaki sitting on the grass at the corner of the main road and
by-road.  The man bore the badge of the Army Service Corps on his
sleeve.

"What’s wrong?" asked Kenneth, going up to him.

"Are you the Wessex?" said the man.

"No, the Rutlands.  You’ve had a spill by the look of you."

"You’re right," said the driver with an oath.  "And I owe that there
parson one. It’s his fault.  Did that cyclist send you along?"

"No, but the capting did," said Ginger. "Where’s your lorry?  We’ll have
a go at it."

"Well, if you two chaps ’ll be a pair of crutches I’ll take you to it.
I’m bruised all over, and my ankle’s got a twist so that I can’t hardly
walk.  It’s about a mile away."

Supported by Kenneth on one side and Harry on the other, the man led
them slowly along the by-road.

"I only came out a week ago, a Carter Paterson man I am," he said.  "I
was driving up a load of grub for the Wessexes, and somehow took the
wrong turning away back there.  I’d drive over London blindfold, but I’m
new to this job, see.  It came over misty, and I got a sort of notion I
was on the wrong road, and there was nobody about to ask the way of,
even supposing I could have made ’em understand me. However, at last I
happened to catch sight of a fat parson in a long cloak just ahead of
me.  I pulled up, and pointed to the name of the village on my map, for
twist my tongue to it I couldn’t.  ’All right, my man,’ says he,
speaking English like a countryman. ’You take the first turning on the
right’: that’s this road we’re on now.  That seemed about the right
direction.  ’Good road?’ says I: ’not too soft for a heavy load?’
’Capital road,’ says he.  ’Go as fast as you like, straight through to
the road you’ve left.’

"Well, it seemed all right.  Wasn’t a bad road for a bit, and I put on
speed to make up for lost time.  Then, just as I was going through an
avenue of trees, and what with the mist and the shade couldn’t see more
than a few yards ahead, the road took a sharp dip, and I throttled down
and screwed on the brakes; but the road made a sudden bend, and before I
knew where I was, I was chucked in the ditch by the roadside.  I was
dazed for a bit, and when I come to, there was the lorry in the field.
I crawled to it; it was stuck fast, and even it if hadn’t been I
couldn’t have driven it in the mashed state I was in.  A pretty fix to
be in, in a strange country, with no garage handy.  I didn’t know what
to do.  When I’d recovered a bit, I crawled back to see if I could find
that parson.  It was all his fault, not warning me, and he ought to get
me out of the mess. But I couldn’t find him, so all I could do was to
crawl to the main road, on the chance of seeing some of our chaps.  It
was hours before any one came along; just my luck; another time the road
would very likely have been crowded.  But presently that cyclist came up
at forty miles an hour.  He would have gone past if I hadn’t bellowed
like a bull.  He wouldn’t get off his machine to take a look at the
lorry, but he said he’d send help if he could.  And all I want is to get
hold of that parson; I’d know him again in a minute by his size and the
wart on his nose.  Why, a German couldn’t have served me a dirtier
trick; and he said he knew the road....  There’s the lorry; I doubt
whether you’ll get it up; and the Wessexes howling for their grub, I
expect."

The lorry was tilted over to one side, with the near front wheel
embedded nearly up to the axle in the soft earth of the field.

"Got a jack?" asked Ginger.

"You’ll find it under the seat."

Ginger fetched it, and with his companions tried to jack the wheel up;
but the tool sank into the earth.

"Let’s unload and then see," suggested Kenneth.

It took them half an hour to unload the car, working so hard that they
were all bathed in perspiration.  Again they plied the jack, but in
vain.

"The only chance is to get something solid to put under it," said
Ginger.  "There’s nothing handy hereabouts.  Any houses about here?" he
asked the driver.

"Hanged if I know.  It was too misty to see when I came along.  The
parson lives somewhere, I suppose."

"I’ll run up the hill and take a look round," said Harry.

"Take your rifle, man," Kenneth called, as Harry was starting without
it.

"All right; but we’re miles away from the German front.  You might have
a look at the engine while I’m gone."

All this time there had been sounds of firing in the distance eastward,
with reports of British guns at intervals nearer at hand. But they were
now so familiar with such sounds that they scarcely heeded them. Guns
and gunners were alike out of sight. There were few signs of war
immediately around them; but for the absence of human activity on the
fields the country might have been at peace.

Harry went up the hill and for some distance along the road before he
discovered anything that promised assistance.  A slight breeze was
dispersing the mist; but the sun was already far down in the western
sky; in an hour or two it would be dark. At length, on his right he
noticed a rough cart track leading to a small farm building half hidden
in a hollow about half a mile away.  He hurried towards it across the
fields, soon regretting that he had not gone by the beaten track, for
the soil was soft and heavy.

Approaching the building at an angle, he saw a man pottering about in
the yard. While he was still at some distance the man happened to glance
towards him, then went into the house.  Harry quickened his pace, and
entering the yard, was met at the house door by a burly individual who
gave a somewhat surly response to his salutation. In his best French
Harry explained the circumstances, and asked for the loan of a stout
board.

"You’ll find one in the shed yonder," said the man.  "You’ll bring it
back?"

"Oh yes," Harry replied, thinking that the farmer might at least have
offered to help.  "By the way, could you lend us a horse to pull the
lorry on to the roadway when we get it up?"

"I haven’t got one; all my horses are requisitioned."

"That’s hard luck.  I hope we’ll soon clear the country, and there’ll be
better times.  Many thanks: I’ll return the board presently."

Reflecting on the hardships war inflicted on honest country people,
Harry trudged back with the plank, this time taking the cart track.

"Good man!" said Kenneth.  "Where did you get it?"

"At a small farm.  The farmer’s rather a bear, but I suppose the war has
pretty well ruined him.  Now, Ginger, let’s see what we can do."

Placing the plank by the embedded wheel, they set the jack on it and
screwed up the axle until they finally succeeded in releasing the wheel.

"The lorry isn’t damaged, luckily," said Kenneth.  "We’ll get the wheel
on to the plank, then I’ll start the engine and we’ll back on to the
road.  You fellows shove."

In a few more minutes the lorry stood on the road, facing towards its
original destination.

"Now for loading up," said Harry.  "This is back-aching work; I
shouldn’t care to be a docker."

The three men started to carry the boxes and baskets from the field to
the lorry, the driver sitting on the grass by the roadside. They were
about halfway through the work when they heard the hum of an aeroplane.
Like the reports of artillery it was so common a sound that they paid
little attention to it. But Kenneth, glancing up as the sound grew
louder, exclaimed:

"It’s a Taube, about 5000 feet up.  I fancy.  There’ll be a pretty chase
presently. By Jove! it’s dropping.  Something must have gone wrong with
the engine.  I’ll try a pot shot at it if you fellows will go on
loading."

Seizing his rifle, he stood watching the aeroplane as it circled above
them, gradually coming lower.

"Look out!" he cried suddenly.

Almost as soon as he had spoken there was a terrific crash on the road
about thirty yards away, and a shower of earth and stones bespattered
the lorry and the men. Kenneth fired as the Taube made another sweep
round, still lower.

"Here’s another!" he called.  "Down with you."

They all threw themselves flat on their faces.  The second bomb exploded
farther away than the first, doing no damage. They sprang to their feet,
and all three fired at the aeroplane, which was now making a vol plané,
and would come to earth apparently about half a mile away.

"We’ll nab them," cried Ginger.  "Come on."

They ran up the hill.  The aeroplane was descending on the far side of
the farm, near a clump of trees.  They rushed across the fields, and
were just in time to see a man leap from the aeroplane and dive into the
copse.  The farmer joined them as they ran past.  They came to the
aeroplane.  The pilot was _in extremis_.  After the shot had struck him
he had managed to control the machine until it reached earth; he would
never fly again.

"We must catch the other fellow," said Kenneth.

All three ran into the copse, the farmer following them.  Separating,
they scoured the plantation in all directions without finding the
fugitive.  After about half an hour Kenneth called the others together.

"He seems to have got away," he said. "We must give it up.  It’ll soon
be dark, and we’ve got to get the lorry home.  Ginger, will you mount
guard over the aeroplane? Our fellows are sure to have seen it, and will
no doubt be coming up shortly.  We’ll motor back if we can borrow a
car."

"Right you are," said Ginger.  "I’ll wait for you, in any case."

The others left him, returned to the lorry, and lifting the driver on to
it, drove off rapidly towards its destination.  There they told their
story, and the colonel at once sent off a motor omnibus with a number of
men to secure the aeroplane.  When they approached the spot where they
had left it the machine was gone.

"Somebody must have fetched it already," said Kenneth.  "It’s a pity you
fellows are too late."

They drew up at the rear of the farm. Kenneth and Harry sprang out,
surprised that Ginger was not awaiting them.

"He’s inside, perhaps," said Harry.  "He makes friends of most people;
perhaps he has got over the farmer’s surliness."

They went through the yard to the house door.  The farmer met them on
the threshold.

"Ah, messieurs," he said, "this is lamentable."

"What do you mean?" asked Harry.

"Your comrade, messieurs, he is gone.  I fear he is a prisoner.  He made
signs that he was thirsty, and I left him there at the aeroplane while I
returned here to fetch him some little refreshment.  Ma foi!  I was just
uncorking the bottle when I heard a whirr. I rushed out with the bottle
in one hand and the corkscrew in the other, and voila! there was the
aeroplane already in the air."

"But how?--what..."

"I do not know," said the farmer, with a shrug.  "I only guess.  The man
who ran away must have hidden until your backs were turned, then come
back and overpowered your comrade and flown away with him."

"That’s very rummy," said Kenneth to Harry.  "Ginger isn’t a man to be
caught napping easily.  What do you make of it, sir?" he asked the
lieutenant in charge of the omnibus party, who had followed them.

Kenneth repeated the farmer’s story.

"Very curious," said the officer quietly. "The man wasn’t himself a
flier, I suppose?"

"No."

"Well, I think we’ll run your farmer back to headquarters.  It looks
rather fishy: there are spies all over the place.  You speak French?  I
don’t, more’s the pity.  Just tell this fellow he’s to come with me."

The farmer protested volubly, but the officer was inexorable.  The
omnibus party returned with their prisoner, and Kenneth and Harry
tramped back in the twilight to their village.



                              CHAPTER XII

                                 DOGGED


There was great indignation among the men of No. 3 Company when Ginger’s
capture was reported.  Latterly the German airmen had rarely appeared
behind the British lines; their experiences had usually been
unfortunate.  "Like their cheek!" grumbled one of the men.  "And to
carry off Ginger, too, after a lucky shot had brought ’em down.  That
farmer chap must have been a spy, and I hope they’ll give him what he
deserves over yonder."

The loss of the most popular man in the battalion was a blow to the
Rutlands.  And to be a prisoner they counted the worst of luck.  Death
they were ready for; to be wounded was all in the day’s work; there was
not a man of them but preferred death or wounds to captivity, to be the
mock and sport of a misguided populace, and the victim of brutal and
barbarous guards.

"And we can’t do nothing," growled a sergeant.  "Lor bless you, when I
think of the stories I read as a nipper in the boys’ papers, daring
rescues, hairbreadth escapes and all that--what a peck of rubbish I used
to swallow!  And believe it all too, mind you. It all looked so easy.
There was the prison, and the jailer’s pretty daughter, perhaps a file
to cut away the bars, or a knife to dig a tunnel underground, or a note
carried to a wonderful clever pal outside, or the prisoner dressing up
in the gal’s clothes: gummy, how excited I used to get.  Them chaps that
write the blood-curdlers don’t know nothing about the real thing, that’s
certain."

Kenneth laughed.

"The real thing tops anything ever invented, after all," he said.
"You’ve heard of how Latude escaped from the Bastille; and how Lord
Nithsdale escaped from the Tower; and how an English prisoner--I forget
his name--a hundred years ago made a most wonderful escape from the
French fortress of St. Malo; and only the other day, a German prisoner
in Dorchester had himself screwed into a box and nearly got away."

"Nearly ain’t quite, though.  But I never heard of those other Johnnies;
you might tell us about them--if they’re true, that is; I don’t want no
fairy tales."

And Kenneth beguiled an evening or two by relating all the historical
escapes he could remember.

Ginger’s case, they agreed, was hopeless. The papers, it was true, had
recorded the escape of Major Vandeleur from Crefeld, without giving any
of the particulars which the men were hungry for.  That a British
lance-corporal could ever escape from a German concentration camp was
beyond the bounds of possibility, and they had to resign themselves to
the hope of one day, when the war was over, seeing Ginger again, perhaps
half-starved, ill, wretched, a speaking monument of German "culture."

The Rutlands were sent into the trenches again, where they again endured
the tedium of watchful inactivity.

One evening, Captain Adams sent Kenneth to the village with a message.
The telephone between the village and the trenches had suddenly failed.
Kenneth found the place busier than he had ever known it.  A new
regiment had arrived.  Officers of all ranks were present; despatch
riders were coming in.  He was asked to wait for a return message to the
firing line.  While waiting he became aware of a considerable movement
some distance in the rear of the British lines.  There were sounds of
heavy vehicles in motion in several directions. Something was clearly in
the air.

It was about three hours before he was sent for and received a written
message from a staff-officer.

"What’s your name?" he was asked.

"Amory, sir."

"Oh!  You had a hand in destroying that German gun the other day?"

"Yes, sir," replied Kenneth, rather taken aback to find that his name
had become known.

"A capital bit of work!  Get on with this despatch as quickly as you
can.  It’s important.  And if you have heard anything out there"--he
pointed to the rear--"you needn’t say anything about it.  There are
spies everywhere.  The telephone wire has been repaired, by the way; it
was cut near the village; but we’ve a reason for not using it just at
present.  Tell Colonel Appleton that, will you?"

The night was very dark, but by this time Kenneth knew every inch of the
road to the trenches.  There was desultory firing, both artillery and
rifle, for a considerable distance along the lines ahead.  As he left
the village the sounds from the rear grew fainter, drowned by the firing
and by a moderate wind blowing from the direction of the enemy’s lines.

The road was quite deserted.  All coming and going between the trenches
and the billets had ceased for the night.  But when he had walked for
about a quarter of a mile he was conscious of that strange, often
unaccountable feeling that sometimes steals upon a solitary pedestrian
on a lonely road at night--the feeling that he was not alone. He had
heard neither footfall nor whisper; the wind sighed through the still
almost bare branches of the trees.  His feeling, he thought, was
probably due to mere nervousness caused by the knowledge that he was
carrying an important despatch.  But it became so strong that he sat
down by the roadside and slipped off his boots, slinging them round his
neck, and walked on heedfully in his stockings, keeping a look-out for
holes in the road, and stretching his ears for the slightest unusual
sound.

In a moment or two he came to the end of the avenue of poplars; those
which had formerly lined the rest of the road had been felled, partly to
provide wood for the trenches, partly for the sake of the gunners. On
the left, a few yards from the road, was a small plantation.  It had
been sadly damaged by German shells, but many trees still remained.
Just as he came opposite to the plantation his ears caught a sound
which, though indistinguishable in the wind, was different from the
rustling of branches or foliage.  It appeared to come from behind him.
He slipped from the road towards the clump of trees; then, as it
suddenly occurred to him that some other person might be making for the
same place, he reached for a branch just above his head, and swung
himself up with the "upstart" of the gymnasium.  It was a frail support,
but he sat astride the branch near the trunk, and there, among the
burgeoning twigs, he waited.

His senses had not deceived him.  Three vague shapes moved out of the
blackness, and passed almost beneath him.  His ears scarcely caught the
sound of their movements; yet sound there was, a dull muffled tread as
though their feet were blanketed. Who were these nocturnal prowlers?
What were they about?  Kenneth wished there were no despatch buttoned up
in his pocket, so that he were free to follow these stealthy figures.
He had not been able to determine whether they wore uniforms.  If they
were villagers, they had no right to be hereabouts at night.

Peering through the foliage, he was just able to discern that the three
men had halted at the edge of the plantation.  For a moment or two there
was complete silence. He guessed they had stopped to listen. Then they
spoke in whispers.  A few words were carried on the wind to Kenneth’s
attentive ears: "Soeben gehört ... ganz nahe ... ja."

"They’re after me!" thought Kenneth. He had no doubt that it was he whom
they had referred to as "just heard ... quite near."  Spies were
everywhere, as the staff-officer had said.  These men must have learnt
in the village that he was carrying a despatch.  He wished that he could
stalk the stalkers, but he dared do nothing that would endanger his
errand.  One man he might have tackled; with three the odds were too
heavy against him.  And while he was still debating the matter with
himself the three dark shapes had disappeared as silently as they had
come.

He waited a minute or two.  They had apparently gone along the road
which he himself was to follow.  They might suspect that they had
outstripped him, and ambush him before he reached the trenches.  He must
dodge them by making a detour. Dropping lightly to the ground he skirted
the northern side of the plantation and struck across the ploughed land
at what seemed a safe distance from the road.  The soil was sticky; his
progress was slow; and he stopped every now and again to listen. For
some time he heard nothing but the wind and the crack of distant rifles
or the boom of guns.  Presently, as he drew nearer to the trenches,
there fell faintly on his ear the customary sounds of conversation,
laughter, singing.  At one moment he believed he heard the tootle of
Stoneway’s flute.  As these sounds increased in loudness, he despaired
of recognising the stealthy movements of the spies.  He unslung his
rifle, resolving, if he caught sight of them, to fire.  The shot, even
if it failed to dispose of any of them, would probably bring men from
the trenches in sufficient numbers to deal with them.

He had to guess his course across the fields, pushing here through a
hedge, there descending into a slimy ditch and crawling up the further
side.  At last he caught sight of a landmark: a ruined shed which stood
about two hundred yards in rear of the trenches. To reach the trench in
which Colonel Appleton had his quarters he must strike across to the
right, and pass between the shed and the road.

There was no sign of the three spies.  The fields were quite bare; the
shed was the only thing that afforded cover.  Instinctively he gave it a
wide berth, and was leaving it some paces on his left when he heard a
sudden guttural exclamation, and two figures rushed from the shed
towards him.  There was no time to fire.  Uttering a shout he thrust his
bayonet towards the assailants.  The stock of his rifle was seized from
behind.  And now, at this critical moment, the years of training on the
football field, in the gymnasium, on Mr. Kishimaru’s practice lawn, bore
fruit in instantaneous decision and rapid action.  Releasing his rifle
suddenly, the man behind him fell backward to the ground.  At the same
moment Kenneth stooped, tackled the nearest of the other men, and
brought him down.  The second man toppled over them.  Freeing himself
instantly, Kenneth sprang up and sprinted towards the road, hearing in a
moment the thud of heavy footsteps behind him.

But there were sounds also in front.  His shout had been heard in the
trenches, and some of the Rutlands were running to meet him.  A word
from him sent them at a rush towards the shed.  Leaving them to hunt for
the spies, he hurried on and delivered his despatch to the colonel, to
whom he related his adventure.

It was some time before the men returned.

"They got away," said one of them.  "It was no good hunting any longer
in the dark. But we’ve brought these."

He handed over Kenneth’s rifle and a cap bearing the badge of a
Territorial regiment. It was clear that the spies had disguised
themselves in British uniforms.  The colonel telephoned particulars to
the village, asking that a thorough search should be made; but other
matters were then engaging attention.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                       THE FIGHT FOR THE VILLAGE


In the darkest hours before the dawn the trenches were buzzing with
excitement. Word had been passed along that next morning the Rutlands
were to attack.  The long, trying period of inaction was over.  Sir John
French had ordered the capture of the village within the German lines.
The hill on which it stood commanded a wide stretch of open country, and
its possession was an essential preliminary to the general advance which
would take place when the weather improved and the reserves of
ammunition were completed.

During these last hours of the night sleepy men trudged along the road
and across the sodden fields towards the firing line. Fresh troops, some
of whom had never been under continuous fire, crowded into the trenches.
Some of the men tried to prepare breakfast in the constricted space; the
most of them were too much excited to feel any inclination to eat.  The
bustle which Kenneth had noticed in the village was explained. Batteries
of heavy artillery had been brought up and placed all along the rear of
the British lines.  The men listened eagerly for the boom that would
announce the great doings of the day, and they gazed up into the inky
sky, longing for the dawn.

Sitting, sprawling, packed tight in the trenches, they waited.  Would
morning never come?  The darkness thinned; the blackness gradually was
transformed into ashen grey, streaked here and there with silvery light.
A gun boomed miles in the rear. The men stifled a cheer.  Rifle fire
burst from the German trenches.  Bullets pinged across the breastworks,
and some of the newcomers involuntarily ducked.  Captain Adams passed
along the simple orders of the day.  "The battalion will advance in line
of platoons at 7 o’clock."  Another hour to wait!

The men took off their equipment and stowed their coats in their packs.
Some munched sticks of chocolate, others lighted cigarettes but forgot
to smoke them.  Boom, boom!  The British guns were in full play. The
German guns were answering.  Shells screamed across the trenches in both
directions.  The din increased moment by moment.  The air quivered with
the thunderous crashes, and sang with the perpetual _phwit, phwit_ of
bullets.  Not a man dared to lift his head.  Clouds of earth rose into
the air before and behind, showering pellets upon the waiting soldiers.

Boom and roar and crash!  Presently the stream of shells from the
Germans diminished.  It almost ceased.

"Platoons, get ready!"

"Fix bayonets!"

The men began to swarm up the parapet. There was no enemy to be seen.
The wire stretched across their front had been battered down in many
places.

All at once there was a great stillness.  The artillery had finished its
work.

"Now, men!" shouted Kennedy, commander of the leading platoon.

With a cheer the men rushed forward, Kenneth on the right, Harry on the
left. On either side other regiments had already deployed and were
advancing.  They came to the first of the German trenches--empty, except
for prone and huddled forms in grey, and a litter of rifles, helmets,
water-bottles, mess-tins, equipment of all kinds.  Kenneth sprang into
the communication trench beside the pond, and splashed through the water
at the bottom, the rest of the platoon after him. Where were the
Germans?

They came to the second line of trenches, floundered through what seemed
an endless series of mysterious zigzag passages, waded through two or
three feet of greenish water, scrambled up the embankment beyond, and
raced across the open field, as fast as men could race with packs on
their backs, full haversacks, and rifle and bayonet, over ground pitted
with holes, heaped with earth and stones, scattered with the bodies of
men, strands of barbed wire, fragments of shells and all the dreadful
apparatus of warfare. Still there were no Germans to be seen, but
bullets spat and sang among the advancing men; here a man fell with a
groan, there one tumbled upon his face without even a murmur, scarcely
noticed by his comrades pressing on and on with shouts and cheers.

Kennedy’s platoon reached the ruined church which Kenneth and Harry had
passed on their memorable night expedition.  With shaking limbs and
panting lungs they flung themselves down behind the wall of the
churchyard for a brief rest.  The next rush towards the village would be
across two hundred and fifty yards of open ground, bare of cover until
they came to the gardens at the back of the cottages.

The modern battle makes greater demands on individual effort and
resource than the old-time battles on less extensive fields, where all
the operations were conducted under the eye of the commander-in-chief.
Kennedy’s men knew nothing of what was going on on their left and right.
They heard the insistent crackle of rifles, the rapid clack-clack of
machine guns, the whistling of shrapnel. They saw the white and yellow
puffs, with now and then a burst of inky blackness, in the sky.  Boom
and crash, rattle and crack; pale flashes of fire; the ground trembling
as with an earthquake; all the work of deadly destructive machines,
operated by some unseen agency.  And in a momentary lull there came
raining down from somewhere in the blue the liquid notes of a lark’s
song.

"Now, men," cried Kennedy, "the last rush.  No good stopping or lying
down.  On to the village.  Stick it, Rutlands!"

The men sprang through the gaps in the wall, rushed across the
churchyard and into the open fields.  From the houses a little above
them on the hillside broke a withering fire.  They pressed on doggedly,
stumbling in holes and shell pits, scrambling up and moving on again,
bullets spattering and whistling among them, their ears deafened by the
merciless scream and boom.  On, ever on, the gaps in their extended
order widening as the fatal missiles found their mark.  There was no
faltering.  A mist seemed to hide the houses from view, but they were
drawing nearer moment by moment.  Suddenly there was a tremendous
detonation in their front; a vast column of smoke, earth and brick dust
rose in the air, and where cottages had been there were now only heaps
of ruins.  "I hope our own gunners won’t shell us," thought Kenneth on
the extreme right, as he dashed towards the side street in which the
explosion had taken place.

And now at last the enemy were seen, some on the ground, some fleeing
helter skelter from the ravaged spot.  The Rutlands yelled.  From the
further end of the village came answering British cheers.  Working round
the shoulder of the hill another company had forced the defences, and
the village was won.

With scarcely a moment’s delay the men set to work to prepare for the
inevitable counter-attack.  Lieutenant Kennedy was not to be seen.
Sergeant Colpus took command of his platoon, diminished by nearly a
half.  Kenneth and Harry, bearing no marks of the fight except dirt, had
time for only a word of mutual congratulation before they rushed off to
place machine guns at the salient angles of the village.  Others threw
up new entrenchments and barricades, utilising the debris of houses and
furniture. And meanwhile, on the shell-scarred field behind, the
ambulances and Red Cross men were busy.

The village consisted of one principal street, with a few streets
springing from it on either side; crooked and irregular, following the
contour of the hill.  For a couple of hours the men toiled to strengthen
the position they had carried; then warning of the impending attack was
given by a shell from a German battery miles away to the east.  It burst
some fifty yards in front of the village.  A minute or two later four
shells plunged among the houses almost at the same instant.  The warning
had given the Rutlands just time enough to evacuate the houses and take
what shelter was possible. An aeroplane soared high over the position
towards the German lines.  Shrapnel burst around it, but it sailed on
unperturbed for several minutes, then swept round and returned.  No
visible signal had been observed, but almost immediately shells began to
scream over the village: the British artillery had been given the range
and had opened fire.  For half an hour the German bombardment continued,
gradually slackening as gun after gun was put out of action by the
British shells from far away.  Finally the German batteries were
silenced, but the enemy had not relinquished his design of a
counter-attack. In the distance, over a wide front, column after column
of grey-clad infantry was seen advancing in the dense formation that had
cost countless lives in the early months of the war, but which had
succeeded many times in crushing the defence, even though temporarily,
by sheer weight of numbers.

The Rutlands manned the houses, the ruins, the garden fences, the
breastworks hastily thrown up.  Other battalions occupied the German
reserve trenches running close beside the church in the rear.  The
advancing Germans were met with rapid fire from rifles and machine guns.
Great gaps were cut in their ranks, but they were instantly filled up.
Time after time they were brought to a halt and showed signs of
wavering; but in a few minutes their lines were steadied and they came
on again with indomitable courage.  It was soon apparent that the German
commander was hurling immense masses forward with the intention of
recapturing the village at all costs.  As they approached they spread
out to right and left, attacking the village on three sides. The
Rutlands and the one company from another regiment which held it could
look for no support, for the men in the trenches also were hard beset
and unable to leave their positions because of the enfilading fire of
the numerous German machine guns.

Kenneth and Harry, with the other survivors of their platoon, occupied
two or three small houses on the southern slope of the hill.  A dozen
men held a detached cottage some forty yards beyond.  It was on this
cottage that the huge German wave first broke.  Two or three times it
was swept back; then Captain Adams, recognising the hopelessness of
attempting to retain this isolated outpost, ran into one of the nearest
houses and called for a volunteer to carry the order for its evacuation.
Harry sprang forward among the group that instantly responded.

"Good, Randall!" said the captain. "Bring them back at once.  Look out
for cover."

Harry left the house, ran along for a few yards sheltered by a brick
wall, then with lowered head sprinted along the open road towards the
cottage.  He entered it from the back.  Of the dozen men who held it,
only four or five were now in action.  Two were dead; the rest, among
whom was Stoneway, were wounded.  On receiving the captain’s order, the
men who were unhurt carried out those of their comrades who were
incapable of movement, and began to withdraw.  The moment they left
their loopholes the Germans they had held at bay swarmed up the slope.
Laden as they were, they could hardly escape without assistance.

"Come on, boys!" shouted Kenneth.

Followed by several of his companions he dashed out of the house.  At
the wall they stopped to fire one volley, then with a ringing cheer
charged with the bayonet.  At the sight of cold steel the Germans
recoiled, and their pause, short as it was, gave Harry time to bring the
retiring men under cover of the wall.  Then the Germans came on again in
such numbers that Kenneth and his party had to fall back, firing as they
went, and rejoin the men in the house.

For ten minutes more they held their position, hurling the grey mass
back by the rapidity of their fire.  Their rifles were hot to the touch.
Still the Germans pressed forward, some of them flinging hand grenades,
which set fire to the houses.  To remain longer was to court certain
destruction. Dashing out at the back, the men rushed from garden to
garden towards the main street, only to find that the enemy had already
forced their way into that, and were pressing hard upon the remnants of
two platoons that were falling back, disputing every yard.

Kenneth glanced round among the men who had accompanied him from the
houses. Neither Sergeant Colpus nor any other non-commissioned officer
was with them.

"We’ll give them a charge, boys," he cried.

Several files of Germans had already passed the end of the lane that ran
along the rear of the gardens into the main street. Forming his little
party in fours, Kenneth led them along the lane.  They swept upon the
flank of the enemy, their sudden onset cutting the column in two.  The
eastern portion recoiled: the western, caught between these new
assailants and the Rutlands stubbornly retreating up the street, were
cut to pieces.

"Well done!" cried Captain Adams, rushing up at the head of the men upon
whom the pressure had been relieved, "Dash down those walls there."

He pointed to a house that was already tottering through the effects of
the bombardment.  Taking advantage of the enemy’s confusion, the
Rutlands completed the demolition of the walls, hurling bricks, plaster,
rafters, furniture across the street, and hastily raising a barricade.
When the Germans returned to the charge, they found themselves faced by
a formidable breastwork, from behind which the Rutlands met their rush
with rifles and machine guns. They were thrown back again and again, and
during every interval the defenders ripped up the pave and worked
energetically at sinking a trench across the whole breadth of the
street.

"They are checked for the moment," said the captain.  "But they’ll bring
up field guns, and splinter the barricade.  We’ll hold the houses on
each side.  I’ve already sent word to the colonel; if we can manage to
hold our ground for the rest of the day we shall get support to-morrow."

It was clear that the attack had been checked all along the line.  The
Germans immediately in front of the village established themselves at
the foot of the hill facing the street, no doubt with the intention of
renewing the attack after another bombardment. During the day the
Rutlands were not further molested.  Early next morning the village was
heavily shelled by the German batteries, but British artillery had been
moved up in anticipation of this onslaught, and after a hot duel that
lasted for nearly an hour the Germans were again silenced.  Their
infantry was observed to be entrenching themselves in the fields half a
mile away, and a certain amount of spasmodic rifle fire and sniping went
on between the two forces.

The Rutlands were worn out with fatigue and hunger.  It had been
impossible to bring up supplies, and they had only their emergency
rations and what food they could find in the village.  But in the
evening two fresh battalions came up to relieve them, and they were
ordered back to their original billets.  There the brigadier himself
complimented them on their success, and promised them a well-earned
rest.

When the roll was called, it was found that the success had been won at
a heavy cost.  Half the officers and thirty per cent. of the men were
killed or wounded.  Colonel Appleton was slightly injured by a splinter,
Lieutenant Kennedy had narrowly escaped death: a bullet had shattered
the wire-nippers in his breast pocket, causing lacerations of the flesh.
Stoneway’s wound turned out to be very slight; and some of the men who
had been with him in the cottage were rather aggrieved that he had
withdrawn from the firing line though not incapacitated. Captain Adams,
Kenneth and Harry were among those who had come through unscathed.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                             THE HIKIOTOSHI


The village appeared to be full of wounded. Some were being attended to
by doctors on the spot, others were sent to the rear in motor ambulances
as fast as these could be brought up.  The Rutlands learnt that their
attack on the village had been only one incident in operations that had
extended for several miles along the front, and which had resulted in a
certain gain of ground. The German trenches had been stormed, and the
enemy thrown back for a considerable distance.

During the morning a motor despatch rider came in with a message from
the general of division.  An immediate answer was required, which
Colonel Appleton at once proceeded to write, while Captain Adams
questioned the cyclist on what he had seen in the course of his ride.
The divisional headquarters was at a village some fifteen miles to the
north-east as the crow flies, but the route taken by the cyclist, well
behind the British lines, was almost twice that distance.  He had been
instructed to return the same way.  It occurred to Captain Adams,
however, that much time would be saved if a more direct route were
followed, and he suggested that the colonel should take advantage of the
change in position resulting from the forward movement and the confusion
in the German lines, to send his message along a road that ran from the
captured village in the rear of what had been the enemy’s trenches.

"That’s all very well," said the colonel, "but in the first place this
man is ordered to go back the same way, and in the next we have no other
cycles or cyclists."

"We have a couple of cycles," said the captain.  "Don’t you remember,
sir, we sent a requisition to the base for a couple of new machine guns
and by some blunder or other they sent us two motor cycles instead?"

"And we still have them?"

"Oh yes!  We shall have to keep them until someone discovers that they
are missing and ultimately finds out their whereabouts. And I’ve no
doubt we’ve several men who can ride."

"There’s a further consideration.  The road you mention is now between
our firing line and the enemy’s.  It will be decidedly unhealthy."

"A little risky, no doubt; but by all accounts the Germans have been
thrown back some distance, and they’ll be too busy consolidating their
new position to be very dangerous to-day.  I daresay there’ll be snipers
here and there, but they’re not very successful at running targets.  I’d
suggest that you triplicate your despatch: send one copy by this man the
long way, and two at short intervals by the direct road.  You’d make
sure of it thus."

"Well, I’ll ’phone to the front and discover how the land lies.  In the
meantime see if you can find riders.  If it appears reasonably safe I’ll
adopt your suggestion: it will save half an hour or more."

The captain at once hurried to the Bonnards’ cottage.  "Amory’s a likely
man," he thought.

The upshot was that when the official despatch rider was returning to
headquarters by the long way round, Kenneth and Harry were speeding
along the road north-eastward.  Harry was the first to start; Kenneth
followed at a minute’s interval, just keeping his friend in sight. Their
orders were to let nothing interfere with or delay the delivery of the
despatch. If any accident happened, if either of them was hit by a
sniper’s bullet, there must be no question of helping the other.

Before starting they had attentively studied a large-scale map of the
district. The colonel’s information had shown the impossibility of
attempting to reach headquarters without leaving the direct road. This
lay, for about half the distance, between the new fronts of the opposing
forces, but it then crossed the new position which the Germans were
believed to be entrenching, and ran for several miles behind it.  There
was, however, a by-road forking to the left just before the halfway
point was reached, and this opened into a bridle track leading in the
right direction.  By making this slight detour they would lose a mile or
two, but they might hope to incur no more danger than they were bound to
risk in the early part of the journey.

"Barring accidents, we shall save a good deal more time than the colonel
thinks," said Kenneth, as he folded the map.  "The way the other fellow
has gone is sure to be congested with traffic: this will be clear."

"I hope so," replied Harry, "but don’t forget there’s been an action.
The road is probably half pits.  Well, I go first then; if I come a
cropper, take warning and scoot."

At the outset the road was not so bad as he had expected, and he was
able to run the machine at a pace of nearly forty miles an hour without
much risk.  There were few marks of gun fire, no doubt because the road
followed the bottom of an indentation over which the shells had passed.
But after a time it rose, and the ground fell away on each side, and
Harry was warned of the necessity of reducing speed by a sudden jolt
that made him bite his tongue.  From that moment he had to watch every
yard of the road.  Sometimes on the left, sometimes in the centre,
sometimes on the right, yawned a shell pit deep enough to bury a wagon.
Presently he had to pick his way through a litter of broken rifles,
helmets, haversacks, all sorts of articles of equipment, evidently
dropped or thrown aside by the Germans in their disordered flight the
day before.  Time was so important that, even now, he rode at a speed
that would have seemed lunacy to a motorist with a proper respect for
springs and bearings, avoiding only dangerous holes, and riding over
most of the obstacles. His progress was a succession of jolts and jerks
that threatened to dislocate the machine, and he afterwards wondered
that it had not broken down under the strain.

He came into the by-road.  This, being at a lower level than the road he
had left, had not suffered so much from shells; on the other hand, it
was scored with ruts and soft with mud, into which the wheels now and
then sank several inches.  He was beset now by a constant fear of
skidding, and annoyed by splashes of mud on his face.

"It might be worse," he thought.  "Lucky they are not bullets."

So far, it was clear, he had not been seen by the snipers whom Captain
Adams had mentioned as the greatest risk of the journey. The ground on
either side rolled away in gentle undulations.  There was neither house
nor living creature in sight.  Guns were booming in the far distance,
but though he knew that there were thousands of invisible soldiers on
each side of him, nothing on the face of the country indicated a state
of war.

Topping a rise, he came to a ruined hamlet in which not a single cottage
was whole. Beyond this branched the bridle track that led to his
destination.  It was a lane no more than four feet wide, between hedges,
and thick with slimy mud.  It wound and twisted in an erratic and
seemingly purposeless manner, and but for the evidence of the map he had
conned Harry would have had no confidence in its general direction.

Suddenly he heard the characteristic scream of a shell not far ahead.
Immediately afterwards the deep boom of a heavy gun came from his right.
The German gunners had started work.  In a few seconds there was rolling
thunder on each side of him; it was evident that a violent artillery
duel was in progress.  The hedges prevented him from seeing anything;
but reflecting that the gunners were aiming at each other’s positions he
was not disturbed about his own safety.

He had just turned an awkward corner, narrowly avoiding a sideslip, and
was congratulating himself on a few yards of straight track and a
widening that gave hope of reaching an open road, when, amid the sound
of guns, he caught another sound, which at first he mistook for the
whirr of an aeroplane.  In a moment, however, he recognised his error.
It was the purring of a motor bicycle, and in front, approaching him.
Almost as soon as he knew this, the machine came in sight at the far
corner, perhaps a hundred yards away, running at no great speed.  At the
first glance he saw that the rider was a German; at the second that the
German was not unprepared to meet him. He realised afterwards that, the
wind being with him, the noise of his own swiftly running engine must
have been heard first.

Each had only a few moments to decide what to do.  The German, the
instant he recognised the approaching rider as a British soldier,
screwed on his brakes, turned the bicycle across the lane, sprang off
and drew a revolver, no doubt expecting that the Englishman would swerve
at the obstacle, be forced into the hedge, and present an easy target.
His reasoning, if such it was, would have been sound enough had it not
proceeded from a faulty estimate of the English mind--an error into
which the Germans have been betrayed many times since the Kaiser made
his initial blunder in the same kind.  The German is a master of the
obvious, and imagines that what he would do is the best thing to be
done, and that an Englishman will do it badly.

Harry, however, was not committed by training or habit to either of the
obvious courses: to allow himself to be forced into the hedge, or to
stop dead and fight the German on foot.  It seemed to him, in those few
seconds that he had for deciding, better to clear the way for Kenneth,
who, no doubt, was not far behind.  A spill would at any rate not hurt
his feelings, as it might a German’s.  Accordingly, instead of applying
the brakes, he opened the throttle, and bracing himself for the shock,
drove his machine at ever-increasing speed straight for the enemy.

This, of course, from the German point of view, was English madness.
Still, it was unexpected, and when the German fired, at the distance of
twenty paces, his aim was flurried by his natural surprise, and by the
sudden realisation that his machine would certainly be smashed.
Dropping his revolver, and shouting something that was far from
complimentary, he tried to pull his bicycle clear; but his action was
not only too late; like so many well-meant efforts to prevent mischief,
it furthered it.  His movement of a few inches caused Harry’s bicycle to
strike the hub of the driving wheel instead of the middle of the
machine, for which he was steering.  Harry was flung over the
handle-bars into the hedge, a few feet in advance of the bicycles, which
lay mangled together, and not quite so far from the German, who had very
luckily escaped being crushed beneath them.

The two men staggered to their feet almost at the same moment, bruised
and shaken, but equally unconscious of their hurts.  The German, with
his cultivated instinct, fumbled for his revolver, remembered it was on
the ground out of reach, and was drawing his sword-bayonet when Harry,
in the British way, flung himself upon him.  And when Kenneth, half a
minute later, drawn up at speed by the sound of the crash, came upon the
scene, he beheld with mingled amazement and concern two military
figures, begrimed with mud, struggling on the ground.  The figure in
grey was undermost.

"Go on!" shouted Harry.  "I’ve got the Hikiotoshi on him."

Kenneth had slowed down, but remembering the captain’s injunction, and
seeing that his friend was well able to take care of himself, he opened
out and in a few seconds was pushing along at as high a speed as the
greasy lane permitted.  He could not help smiling at the recollection of
his own bewilderment and naïve indignation when, in one of his early
lessons in jujutsu from Mr. Kishimaru, he had found both legs suddenly
swept from under him, and heard the Japanese, beaming down upon him,
gently remark:

"That, my dear sir, is the Hikiotoshi."

Kenneth’s experiences along the road had been identical with Harry’s.
But a few seconds after he had left the scene of the collision he had
reason to wonder, for the first time, whether he would ever reach his
destination.  The bridle track opened into a road that intersected a
stretch of plain. It had suffered hardly at all from shells; being on a
higher level than the bridle track it was fairly dry and gave a better
surface for riding; but it was fully exposed on either hand, without
protection of hedge or dyke; and anyone passing along it must be in full
view for a considerable distance left and right.  And Kenneth found that
he had run into the very centre of the artillery duel the sounds of
which he had heard for some minutes.  Shells whizzed over his head in
both directions.  Bang to the left of him, boom to the right of him, and
above him shriek and moan in various tones.  And in the midst of the
broken sounds came the continuous hum of an aeroplane somewhere in the
neighbourhood.

Neither the German nor the British batteries were visible.  Kenneth
indeed did not look round for their flashes or the smoke from the
bursting shells.  Bending forward over the handle-bars he raced on,
congratulating himself that, his course being probably midway between
the distant batteries, the gunners on each side were too intent on
searching the hostile position to concern themselves about a solitary
cyclist careering across their front at a shorter range.  But he knew
that between him and the guns infantry were watching in their trenches,
perhaps awaiting the order to advance, and at any moment he might find
himself caught between two fires.

He was not long left in doubt whether he had been seen.  From the right
a bullet sang across the road.  It was a single shot, from the rifle of
some sniper concealed somewhere in advance of the German lines.  At a
speed of fifty miles an hour he must be a difficult target even for the
most expert of marksmen, and he hoped that speed would save him.
Another shot whistled by his ear; that was a narrow escape, he thought;
but there had been no volley from the German trenches: apparently he had
not been seen except by the sniper, and it was only a stream of shot
from rifles or machine guns that he had to fear.

Presently, however, he was startled by a loud explosion near at hand on
his left; glancing round, he saw a column of earth and smoke rise from
the ground.  "That’s a shell from a field-gun," he thought.  "The
Germans have spotted me, and are trying their hand."  Another shell
burst on his right, close enough to bespatter him with earth.  A few
seconds afterwards there was a shattering explosion on the same side, of
such force that the concussion of the air alone was sufficient to hurl
his machine sideways.  Uncontrollably it mounted a low bank on the left,
jumped a ditch, tore a furrow through the heavy soil, then stopped
slowly and turned over.

Kenneth picked himself up, covered with dirt but unharmed.  He looked at
the fallen machine.  Both wheels were buckled; from one the tyre had
been ripped off; the bicycle was damaged beyond repair.  A shell
bursting within a hundred yards sent him scrambling into a ditch, where
he rested for a few moments to collect himself.  The German gunners were
apparently satisfied; the firing ceased.

"Scuppered, and with only a few miles to go," he thought.  "Both of us!
The long way will prove to be the shortest after all."

After a little consideration he came to the conclusion that there was
still a chance of arriving first at headquarters by making his way along
the ditch parallel with the road.  In any case he must attempt it, for
the third rider might have met with an accident: his clear duty was to
go on and deliver the despatch.  He was farther from his destination
than he supposed, and it would probably have taken him an hour to reach
it on foot.  But he set off along the bottom of the ditch, sinking
sometimes over his ankles in slime and water.

Some twenty minutes afterwards he was surprised to hear another series
of explosions on the road behind him.  A little later the wind carried
towards him the purr of a motor bicycle.  It was rapidly approaching;
the crash of bursting shells came nearer and nearer.  Was the rider a
friend or an enemy?  It could not be either Harry or the German he had
met, for he had seen at a glance as he passed by that their machines
were crippled.  He was bound to be discovered; the ditch, while deep
enough to conceal him from the gunners in the distance, would not hide
him from anyone passing along the road, even if he lay flat in the
filthy ooze.  He drew the revolver which Captain Adams had lent him,
resolving to get his shot in first.

Only a few seconds elapsed between his hearing the sound and the
appearance of the bicycle round a curve in the road behind.  The rider
was in khaki; he was flat over the handle-bars; the machine seemed to
leap along the road.  It flashed by, and Kenneth, crouching over the
ditch, was amazed to see that the rider was Harry. Whether his friend
had recognised him he could not tell.  Quite oblivious of the shells
that were still bursting on and near the road, he watched the bicycle’s
breakneck career until it passed under a bank that protected it from the
German guns, turned a corner, and disappeared.  Next moment there was a
crash behind him; he was conscious for the fraction of a second of sharp
blows on every part of his body; then he knew no more.



                               CHAPTER XV

                          THE OBSERVATION POST


Harry reached the divisional headquarters without further mishap, and
delivered his despatch.  The rider who had come by the long way had not
arrived.  It was more than half an hour later when he at last rode in,
and explained that he had been delayed at several points by congestion
of traffic.

Meanwhile Harry had obtained leave to ride back and bring in his
companion, whom he expected to meet within a mile or two. Evening was
coming on; heavy clouds were heaping themselves in the western sky,
hastening the dark.  Harry had only the vaguest idea of the locality of
the spot where he had caught a momentary glimpse of Kenneth, and after
riding for some distance, untroubled by attentions from the German
gunners, without meeting him, he began to feel uneasy.  The sight of the
abandoned motor bicycle increased his misgiving. Turning at the bridle
path he rode back very slowly, closely scanning both sides of the road.
At length he descried, in the failing light, a body lying half in, half
out of the ditch.  He jumped off his machine and hastened to the
prostrate form, dreading to find that his friend was killed.  But a
moment’s examination sufficed to reassure him.  The heart was still
beating.  A few drops from his flask revived Kenneth, who sat up, a
deplorable object, caked with mud from head to foot.

"How do you feel, old man?" asked Harry anxiously.

"Ugh!" grunted Kenneth.  "Is my collar-bone broken?"

"Not a bit of it, or you couldn’t move your neck like that.  Can you get
up?"

"Give me a hand."

He rose slowly to his feet.

"Is my skull cracked?" he asked. "Where’s my cap?"

Harry picked it up, and put it on his head after feeling all over the
skull.

"Just pinch me up and down the legs, will you?" said Kenneth.

"I don’t think there’s anything wrong," said Harry after pressing all
the joints and muscles.

"Then I’ve cost the Germans a good few pounds for nothing.  I’m horribly
dizzy; feel as if a whole rugger team had been over me.  You got through
to headquarters?"

"Yes.  But look here, I’ll tell you about it presently.  D’you think you
could stick on the carrier?  The sooner we get out of this the better."

"Let me walk a little first.  I’m rather top-heavy at present.  You got
there first?"

"Yes."

"Good man!  ’Fraid we’d both muff it....  Is my face as dirty as my
hands?"

"My dear child, your face is all right. If you talk like that I shall be
certain you are cracked."

"All right, old man; only I was thinking of your face, you know.  I
don’t mind so long as we are both pretty much alike."

"Well now, hop on, and I’ll go fairly slowly.  If you feel inclined to
tumble off, sing out and I’ll catch you before you fall."

Kenneth, however, managed to maintain his seat on the carrier, and the
two rode into headquarters just before absolute dark.  They were given a
billet for the night, and told to return to their regiment as best they
could next day.  Luckily able to get a bath, they were then provided
with supper, and Harry had an opportunity of telling at his ease how he
had managed to save the situation.

"You see, after I had put him down with the Hikiotoshi----"

"I nearly rolled off with laughing when you sang that out," Kenneth
interrupted. "How delighted old Kishimaru would be! I must write and
tell him about it.  Go on."

"Well, I had to lay him out, which wasn’t very difficult, and for
safety’s sake I tied him up in his own straps.  Then I had a look at my
machine.  The front wheel was hopelessly buckled.  What about the
German’s, I thought.  I found that the engine was mere scrap iron; it
had got the full force of the collision.  But the back wheel wasn’t hurt
a bit.  By good luck it was exactly the same size as mine, and as the
tool bag was there all complete, I set about exchanging the wheels--and
also more or less pleasant remarks with the German, who showed a
wonderful command of English bargee idiom when he recovered his senses.
I had pulled my old Rover to pieces so often at home that I had no
trouble, though it took me a long time.  When I had finished, I wondered
whether I could bring in the German as a prisoner, but I couldn’t very
well fix him on the carrier without help. And besides, the front forks
had been so strained and twisted that I was afraid the whole concern
might come to grief.  So I went over and bade him a polite good-bye,
eased his lashings so that he could wriggle free with a little exertion,
and then set off at full speed.  By the way, I had taken the liberty of
examining his pockets, left him a photograph and a few trifles, and took
a letter and a despatch which I handed to the general.  On the whole I
think we’ve done a good day’s work."

"I rather think we have.  Pity you didn’t leave the German tied up: we
might have got him to-morrow on our way back."

"No thank you!  Once running the gauntlet of German shells is enough for
me. We’ll go back the long way.  And as we shall have only the one
machine between us I’ll take it to the repairing shop and have it looked
over.  There’s not much wrong with it, and we’ll take turn and turn
about on the carrier."

They set off in a fine spring dawn, taking their midday meal with them.
It was slow going on this outer circle.  The road, lying well behind the
British lines, was encumbered with military traffic.  The pave was for
long stretches occupied by motor omnibuses and lorries, carrying men,
provisions, and ammunition.  Here was a lorry loaded with bacon, there
one packed with loaves of bread from the baking ovens, there another
heaped with parcels sent out from home, another with new uniforms, boots
and equipment.  Time after time the cyclists had to hop off, leave the
pave for the muddy unpaved border of the road, and stand ankle deep in
mud until the heavy vehicles had passed, exchanging pleasantries with
the cheerful drivers.

"I say, this is a nuisance," said Harry, at one of these stoppages.  "If
I’m not mistaken, the map showed a cross-road about halfway, leading
into the road we travelled yesterday.  It comes out by that hamlet we
passed.  I vote we take that and chance it. There’s no firing at
present, and the road is less exposed at that end.  Of course there’s no
hurry, but this constant hopping off and on is too monotonous for
anything."

"We’ll have a look at the cross-road when we come to it.  It may be too
bad for riding."

On reaching the cross-road, they found that there was no traffic on it,
though there were marks of the recent passage of heavy vehicles.  It
looked fairly easy, so they struck into it, and bowled along for a mile
or two without interruption.  In spite of bruises due to their spills on
the previous day they felt very fit, and the rapid movement through the
fresh morning air had its usual exhilarating effect.

"This is better than the trenches--heaps better than hanging about in
billets," said Kenneth.  "I’d rather like despatch riding."

"So would I," replied Harry.  "But I don’t regret anything.  All I’m
sorry for is that poor old Ginger is collared.  I’m afraid he’s having a
rotten time of it."

The road was winding and hilly, running through country for the most
part bare, but dotted with clumps of woodland.  Presently they passed a
train of artillery transport. Shortly afterwards they came in sight of a
low hill from the further side of which they expected to see the ruined
hamlet. As they rode up the hill they suddenly noticed, just below the
crown on their left, a battery of British field-guns getting into
position.  The gunners were masking it from aerial observation by means
of branches of trees and shrubs on which the foliage was well advanced.
Then a bend of the road brought them in sight of a battalion of
infantry, evidently in support of the guns.

"Halt there!" cried a man, coming towards them.

They slipped off, left the bicycle by the side of the road, and
accompanied the man to the colonel.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

Kenneth mentioned the name of their village.

"You can’t go this way," said the colonel. "The enemy isn’t far on the
other side of the road this leads to, and I don’t want anything to
attract his attention to this quarter.  Ride back, and go along the main
road."

"We can’t get along very well for the traffic, sir," said Kenneth.  "We
rode the other way yesterday, and know it quite well.  It’s much
shorter, and a good deal of it is in a hollow, so that we are not very
likely to be seen.  Besides, sir, we might possibly do a little scouting
on the way."

"You’re not in a signal company?"

"Not officially, sir, though we carried an emergency despatch
yesterday."

"Well, I’ll let you through on condition that you come back at once if
you see anything worth reporting.  You’re a public school man, aren’t
you?"

"Yes, sir.  Haileybury."

"O.T.C.?"

"Yes, sir."

"Couldn’t wait for a commission, I suppose?  Well, remember your work on
field days.  I can trust you to use your intelligence."

"Thank you, sir."

"By the way, I must tell you that a field telephone has gone ahead.
Look alive; the gunners are in a hurry."

They remounted and rode on, passing a screen of scouts lying over a wide
front below the crest of the hill.  As they were nearing the foot of the
farther slope they saw the telephone wagon coming towards them.  On
meeting it they stopped and asked the driver what was going on.

"Nothing yet.  We’ve laid the wire to a cottage you’ll see in the
distance when you get beyond those trees.  There’s a lieutenant and four
men in charge.  You’d better hurry up."

"What, are there any Germans in sight?" asked Harry.

"No; but there’s been a bit of sniping. I don’t think they could have
seen us going into the cottage, but they must have caught sight of us on
the road.  I heard the smack of a bullet on the back of the wagon, and
was thankful when I got under the trees."

They went on.  Beyond the trees the road ran straight up a long gradual
incline. To the left, on the crest, stood a small cottage, enclosed,
with its garden, within a brick wall.  They had ridden only a few yards
up the ascent when they heard the crackle of rifle fire ahead.

"The Germans must have seen or guessed that the men went to the
cottage," said Kenneth.  "We had better leave the machine and go up
across the field.  The cottage and garden wall will give us cover.  It
will be just as well to learn what’s going on."

They left the road and ran up the grassy hill towards the cottage.  On
nearing the crest they became aware that the firing they had heard was
being directed from the front of the cottage.  There was no answering
fire, but it was clear that the little party in the cottage was
expecting an attack. Being an observation party, to whose success
secrecy was essential, it was equally clear that they would not have
fired except from urgent necessity.

"Ride back and tell the colonel," said Kenneth.  "I’ll go on and lend a
hand."

At another moment it would have been Harry’s way to dispute his friend’s
right to the dangerous part, and to settle the matter by the spin of a
coin.  It might have occurred to him, too, that the call for support
would reach the colonel by telephone more quickly than he could convey
it on the bicycle.  But guessing that the position was critical, he
turned his back at once, ran down the hill, mounted the machine, and
rode back at his utmost speed.  Kenneth meanwhile had vaulted the garden
wall, and dashed into the cottage through the open door at the back.

During the next ten or fifteen minutes events crowded one upon another
more rapidly than can be related, and we must pause for a little to make
the position clear. The cottage stood on a spur projecting slightly
eastward from the general line of the ridge.  Below it the ground sloped
gently down to the road which Kenneth and Harry had travelled on the
previous day.  Beyond that the country undulated for several miles.
About a mile away was a young plantation.  The road ran right and left,
with considerable windings, and a mile and a half away, on the right,
was the ruined hamlet through which the motor riders had passed.  A
little below the cottage a stone wall of no great height stretched
across the ground, ultimately meeting the road.  On the eastern side of
it--that is, in the direction of the German lines--was a ditch, shallow
and empty.  During the night a full regiment of Germans, reorganised
after their recent repulse, had occupied the wood and the hamlet, the
advance guard of a large body whose purpose was to carry their line
forward just as the British on their side were doing.  The British
engineer party had not completed the installation of the telephone in
the cottage when the lieutenant saw the Germans debouching from the wood
towards the hamlet, and considerable movement in the hamlet itself.
Ordering his men to cut loopholes in the wall of the front room on the
upper storey, and to fire if the enemy appeared to be advancing on the
cottage, he worked at the telephone, and had almost finished when the
German scouts were seen creeping up the hill about half a mile away.
Below them was a company in extended order; below them again a second
company in support.  They were coming straight towards the cottage, and
the men, in obedience to their officer’s orders, had fired.

Kenneth dashed into the cottage.  The lower floor was empty.  He rushed
up the stairs into the only room above.  Four men were posted at the
loopholes; the lieutenant was screwing on the receiver of the telephone.
He looked up as Kenneth entered.

"Are they coming on already?" he asked.

"No; but a pal of mine has ridden back to tell the colonel."

"That’s good.  It will be a minute or two before this wretched thing is
in working order."

Just then there was a burst of rifle fire from the enemy.  The windows
were shattered.  One of the men dropped his rifle and shouted.

"Get out and back to our lines," called the officer, seeing that he was
_hors de combat_. "Take his rifle, will you?" he added to Kenneth.  "For
goodness’ sake don’t go near the window."

Kenneth picked up the rifle and hurried to a loophole.  From the volume
of the enemy’s fire it was clear that the assailants were a very
numerous body, and it struck him as madness for five men to attempt to
hold the place.  He ventured to say so.

"Done at last!" said the lieutenant. "What was that you said? ... All
right" (he spoke through the telephone).  "Infantry advancing.  No sign
of battery.... Hold it!  Of course we must.  If they get here they can
see our battery from the roof.  Besides, if we can hold them off until
the battalion comes up we couldn’t have a better defensive position than
the wall and ditch in front....  Gad! that’s bad."

A shell had burst on the slope between the cottage and the road, clear
of the infantry advancing farther to the right.

"Take my glasses," continued the lieutenant, "go well to the left, and
see if you can spot the direction when the next shell comes."  In low
distinct tones he spoke into the bell of the receiver: "Enemy firing
line about 700 yards below crest, range say 5200."

Another shell burst about a hundred yards to the left of the cottage.

"See the flash?" asked the officer, with the receiver at his ear.

"No."

"They’re firing at long range....  Yes: all right....  They’ve had to
change their position--our battery, I mean.  Want another five minutes."
He looked at his wrist watch.  "By that time the Germans will be upon
us, even if a lucky shot from one of their big guns don’t tumble the
place about our ears.  However!"

Kenneth admired the young officer’s coolness as, laying down the
receiver, he took up a rifle and posted himself at a loophole. The
Germans had stopped firing: bending low they were creeping up yard by
yard towards the wall.

"Are you a good shot?" asked the officer.

"Fair," replied Kenneth.

"Then pick off the men on the flank.  If they get across that dyke
they’ll work round to our rear and have cover until they are close upon
us."

Kenneth, sighting for 500 yards, took aim at the man highest up on the
enemy’s extreme left flank.  The man dropped.  Then he fired at the next
man, and missed.  A second shot found its mark.  Meanwhile the officer
and his three men methodically fired, each through his own loophole.
And for four crowded minutes they poured their bullets into the line of
scouts, which thinned away until not one was visible on the hillside.

But the company behind was pushing steadily on, and now opened fire.  A
hail of bullets struck the walls of the cottage and whistled through the
broken windows. The officer, creeping across the floor to the telephone
receiver, was smothered with splinters of wood.  One of the men uttered
an oath and drew his hand across his cheek.

"A free shave, Tom," said the next man with a grin.  "Whiskers won’t
grow there no more."

Meanwhile, every twenty or thirty seconds a shell burst in the
neighbourhood of the cottage, every time nearer.  The noise was
terrific.

"Long time getting the range," said the lieutenant, holding the receiver
to his ear. "Our boys are just going to start.... Yes; still coming on;
range 5000: 400 less will smash _me_, so be careful." ...

Almost immediately afterwards a British shell burst in front of the
cottage.

"Where did it fall?" asked the officer.

"Behind their supports, sir," replied one of the men.

"Make it 4800," said the lieutenant through the telephone.

The words had scarcely left his lips when there was a terrific crash.
For a few seconds Kenneth was so dazed as almost to be unconscious.
When he regained his wits he found himself lying in darkness on the
floor.  An acrid smell teased his nostrils. Wondering where he was, and
why he was alive, he tried to rise, and knocking his head, discovered
that he was under a bed. He crawled out, over a heap of rubbish, and
wriggled to a gap in the back wall, and into the garden.  And there,
emerging from the framework of what had been a window, was the
lieutenant, his face streaming with blood.  But he still held the
telephone receiver, which, by one of the freaks of such explosions, had
remained undamaged.

"Cottage bashed to bits," he reported coolly through the telephone....
"No answer.  The line’s broken somewhere. Wonder whether it was a German
shell or one of ours.  Hunt about for a rifle.  By their howls they’re
coming on.  We’ll creep round into the ditch.  I’ve got my revolver:
come after me if you can find a rifle."

But Kenneth was diverted from his search for a rifle by groans from
beneath a heap of debris.  Removing it as quickly as possible, he
released one of the privates, whose face was cut and bruised and his arm
broken. He was wondering whether to look for the other men or for a
rifle when he saw a khaki figure running along by the garden wall
towards the ditch.  Another followed, then another, then groups, all
hastening quietly in the direction of the firing.  The battalion had
come up at last.  Kenneth continued his search for the men.  One was
dead; the third badly wounded.

Meanwhile the British soldiers, puffing hard with the run up the hill,
were filing into the ditch, opening fire on the Germans the moment they
arrived.  The enemy’s artillery was silent, no doubt for fear of hitting
their own men.  But British shells were falling almost incessantly on
the German columns down the hill.  Still the enemy advanced, losing more
and more heavily as the ditch filled up.  And presently, unable to
endure the terrible fire from the British vantage position above them,
they recoiled and were soon in full retreat, with still heavier losses,
for by the time they reached the road the whole of the British battalion
was extended along the firing line.

The British at once set to work to deepen the ditch for a regular
trench.  Before long the German artillery again began to play, the fire
becoming more and more accurate as the gunners found the range.  The Red
Cross men were kept busy in tending the wounded under cover of the
ruined cottage. In a short time the British position on the ridge was
consolidated, and preparations were made for a line of trenches,
somewhat farther back and less exposed, which would become the permanent
trenches if the Germans were in sufficient force to return to the
attack.

By force of circumstances Kenneth had taken no part in the fight after
the collapse of the cottage.  But the engineer lieutenant, who had
retired from the firing line as soon as the ditch was manned, and
imperturbably rummaged among the ruins for the broken wire, thanked him
for his help.

Kenneth wondered why Harry had not returned.  As soon as he had an
opportunity he enquired about him, and learnt that the colonel had sent
him to the village with a message.  The road by which Kenneth had
intended to return being closed, he could only regain his billet by
tramping back until he reached the main road.  But Harry on the bicycle
met him halfway, and they reached their quarters in time for dinner. And
there they learnt that a portion of the village which they had captured
two days before had been won back by the Germans.



                              CHAPTER XVI

                          EXCHANGE NO ROBBERY


In a small room in one of the houses at the foot of the hill village,
bending over a table spread with papers, sat Lieutenant Axel von
Schwank, an officer of a crack Prussian regiment, and a scion of an
ancient and exalted family.

He had had an excellent dinner, without sparing the wine: what need was
there to do so when so many cases had been obtained gratis in Champagne?
He would have liked to remain with his brother officers, convivially
employed in the room on the other side of the passage; but his colonel
had given him some work to do. That was the penalty of being a musician.

For Lieutenant Axel von Schwank was accomplished in music.  His
rendering of the Waldstein sonata was wonderful for an amateur and a
Prussian; he sang "The Two Grenadiers" with _éclat_, as his friends used
to say before the authorities ordered the French language to be
abolished; and he was renowned for his ability to read the most
difficult score at sight.  With all that he was full of martial spirit:
his cheeks were seamed with no fewer than three scars, proud memorials
of his student days.

But it was for his musical skill that the colonel had selected him for
the piece of work on which he was now engaged.  It was very elementary
work for a man who could play the Waldstein sonata and read a score by
Strauss; any school girl could have done it; but even the greatest
philosopher has at times to perform the simple operation of washing his
face, and the lieutenant need not have felt that he was demeaning
himself by a task so much below his powers.  For what Lieutenant Axel
von Schwank was doing was simply to transcribe into musical notation, on
a sheet of ruled music paper, the two lines of German with which the
colonel had supplied him.

Surely that is difficult, you say?  He has only seven letters, A to G,
to employ, representing the seven notes of the scale, and the German
alphabet has twenty-six.  What about the v’s, and w’s, and z’s in which
the German language is so much superior to the French?  But in the first
place, remember that the German musician calls H the note which the less
accomplished Englishman calls B, and in the second place that the range
of most instruments, including the German flute, extends beyond a single
octave.

So that if the lieutenant writes this

[Illustration: [musical note]]

for A, there is nothing to prevent him writing

[Illustration: [musical note]]

for I, and by means of the sharps and flats he can even arrive at Z,
without exceeding the compass of that dulcet instrument.

He was busy with his transcription when he heard a scuffling of feet and
the clank of swords in the opposite room.  His fellow officers were
hurrying to the street door. The colonel put his head in.

"We are called to the trenches," he said. "Go on with that, and follow
us when you have done."

The lieutenant had sprung up, turned round and saluted.  When his
superior was gone, he sat down and set to work again. After all, he
probably reflected, music has charms: it would preserve him for a few
minutes more from the bullets of those hateful pigs the English.

The house was in silence.

A little while after the officers had departed, a strange, unshaven,
unkempt face peered round the edge of the door, which the colonel had
left open.  It was a lined and somewhat careworn face; the eyes were
bright and wild; the hair, very rough and tangled, was red.  The face
moved slowly forward; inch by inch a dirty, tattered khaki uniform
showed itself; and the rays of the lamp on the table glinted on the
blade of a long carving knife, held in the man’s right hand.  He wore no
boots, and his stockings made no sound as he tiptoed across the room.

[Illustration: THE INTRUDER IN KHAKI]

Lieutenant Axel, bending over the table with his back to the door, was
absorbed in his occupation.  But just as the intruder reached his chair
he seemed to become aware that he was not alone.  He turned suddenly,
his right hand holding the fountain pen, his left, by some instinct,
crushing the papers into his pocket, and found a determined face glaring
at him, and a carving knife pointed at his breast.  Before he could
collect himself a sinewy hand clutched him by the throat, and a voice
said in a hoarse whisper:

"Make a sound and you’re a dead ’un."

Whether a knowledge of English was one of Lieutenant Axel’s
accomplishments or not, there was no mistaking the hand, the knife, the
purport of the words.  He turned pale; his eyes searched the room for a
chance of escape; he was discreetly silent; and at a significant
movement of the offensive blade he raised his hands above his head.  A
drop of ink fell on his nose.

The captor, in whose expression there was eagerness, anxiety, an air of
listening, loosed his grip on the officer’s throat.

"Take off your uniform and ’coutrements," he said, with a jerk of the
knife.

Lieutenant Axel hesitated for a moment only.  The Englishman’s face was
not pleasant.  Hurriedly he stripped off tunic, trousers, belt and
boots.

"That’ll do," said Ginger, in whose eyes the look which the German had
mistaken for fury really indicated that he was at his wits’ end to know
how to effect the change of clothes without putting down the knife and
giving his captive an opportunity to dash for the door.

An idea flashed upon him.  Still pointing the knife at the officer, he
took up the lamp with his left hand, placed it on the chimney piece
close by, and stripped the cloth from the table.

"Put it over your head," he whispered fiercely.

Again a movement of the knife abridged the lieutenant’s hesitation.  The
shrouding table-cloth eclipsed the concentrated fury of his eyes.
Ginger wasted not a second. He shoved the officer into a corner of the
room, pulled a sofa across to bar him in, cut a bell-pull with the
knife, and drawing the cord over his head, began to tighten it. The
German began to struggle; for the first time he spoke.

"You shtrangle me!" came the muffled words.

"Shut up!" growled Ginger, with a premonitory dig of the knife.  "I
won’t graze your skin if you don’t make a fuss.  But----"

Lieutenant Axel may have wondered: this hateful pig was certainly not
expert in frightfulness; he was very soft, like all the English.  But
the struggles ceased; the officer was quiet while Ginger knotted the
cord about his neck.  And he stood there in the corner, a statue in
table-cloth and pants, as Ginger, with a quickness learnt on raw
mornings in the barracks at home, endued himself with the well-tailored
habiliments of a Prussian officer.  The boots were a trifle large for
him.

He listened.  All was quiet.  He threw a dubious look at the rigid
officer.

"Not safe," he muttered.

Hastening to the German, he loosed the cord, pulled off the table-cloth,
and looking into the hot face said:

"You’ve got to be tied up.  Make a row and you know what.  Join your
hands behind you."

While Ginger was tying his hands, and his feet to a leg of the sofa,
Lieutenant Axel von Schwank cursed him in undertones in both English and
German.  Ginger made no reply.  But as soon as this part of his work was
finished, he caught up some papers from the mantelpiece--they were
copies of the Hymn of Hate--twisted them together, and with a sudden
movement thrust them into the German’s mouth.

"There!  Bite them," he muttered. "Such shocking language!"

He once more threw the table-cloth over the helpless man’s head, put the
pickel-haube on his own, and quietly left the room. Passing the open
door opposite he hesitated for the fraction of a second, then went in,
gulped a glass of wine, caught up the frame of a chicken from the table,
and digging his teeth into it ravenously, hurried back, along the
passage, down a dark flight of steps, and out through the back door into
the garden. He drew quick breaths as he leant against the wall, gnawing
the carcase.  From somewhere on his right came low sounds he had learnt
to recognise as signs of Germans in their trenches.  On the left there
was silence. In the distance guns boomed.  After a few minutes he threw
the chicken bones upon a neglected garden plot, sighed, drew his hand
across his lips, and murmured:

"Blowed if I know!"

The village was a mile or more from his old trench; he knew that.  It
was, he supposed, wholly in possession of the Germans.  He would have to
go through it up the hill, or round it, and pass the enemy’s trenches
before he could reach his regiment.  And at any moment the German
officer might be discovered!

"I must skip," he said to himself.

The assuagement of his terrible hunger had seemed a necessity beyond all
others. Now he realised his peril.  Choosing the direction that was
silent, he stole from garden to garden, scaling the fences, and
presently found himself in a lane.  It was uphill to the right: that was
his way.  The lane ended in a street.  There he turned to the left, but
had taken only a few steps when the tread of feet and the sound of
guttural voices coming towards him sent him back hastily in the opposite
direction. To his dismay, in a few seconds he heard other men
approaching.  There was no escape.  On one side he was blocked by a high
wall, on the other a house dimly lighted.  The night was dark; he wore a
German uniform; unless accosted by a real officer he might pass safely.
With shrinking heart but an assured gait he walked boldly on, close to
the wall.

Dark though it was, the soldiers returning from the trenches recognised
the officer’s uniform and went by stiffly at the salute. Ginger was
bringing his hand up smartly when he remembered that he was an officer,
eased the movement, and dropped his hand again, quaking lest some
terrible blunder in the mode of his return salute should have betrayed
him.  But in the darkness it passed muster. No doubt the men were tired.
They went on.  Ginger, perspiring and limp, leant against the wall for a
moment or two.

"Oh crumbs!" he murmured as he braced himself and set off again.

A few steps brought him to a lane that broke the line of houses on his
left.  It was quiet.  He turned into it.  The ground rose somewhat
steeply.

"Must be going right," he thought.

Soon the houses were left behind.  The lane became a track across even
ground, with a few trees at the borders.  Suddenly the silence was
broken by the sharp crackle of rifle fire from the upper part of the
hill. Ginger threw himself down and crouched behind a stout trunk.
There was no reply from the German trenches, which must be somewhere
below him, he thought.  He waited patiently until the firing died away,
then rose and crept forward.

His heart sank into his boots when he came unawares upon a trench and
heard the murmur of guttural voices.  Before he had time to retreat, a
sentinel addressed him in German.

"Sssh!" Ginger hissed, sliding into the trench a few feet from the dark
figure. Further down the trench there were dim lights.  It was neck or
nothing now. Stepping on to the banquette he began to clamber up to the
parapet.  The sentry, no doubt believing that the officer was engaged on
some special scouting duty, came towards him, whispering, "Erlauben Sie,
Herr Leutnant," and gave him a leg-up.

Ginger scrambled over, fell on hands and knees, and crawled over the
ground.  How far ahead were the British trenches he knew not; the night
was too dark for him to be seen, but at the least noise he would
certainly be taken for a German and become the invisible target for a
dozen rifles.

While he was slowly wriggling forward he heard a commotion far in his
rear--shouts, the sound of many men on the move. Probably the muffled
lieutenant had been discovered; the men in the trenches would be advised
of the outrage, and the no man’s land between the hostile forces might
be swept by a fusillade.  Crushing himself flat he dragged himself on.

Now there were sounds in front of him. He stopped, panting, listening.
Yes, they were British voices; were they those of his own comrades?
What should he do?  If he called, he might be riddled with shot. So many
Germans could speak English. The Rutlands would know his voice, but what
if the men in the trenches were not the Rutlands?

For a few moments he lay inert with hopelessness.  Then an idea occurred
to him.  On again, inch by inch, feeling out for barbed wire.  There was
none; the position must have been hurriedly occupied. The voices were
more distinct; his straining cars caught individual words.

"English, I surrender!" he called in a low tone.

The voices were hushed.

"Who goes there?" said a voice.

"Murgatroyd, of the Rutlands," he replied.

"Keep still."

There was a momentary flash of light.

"Don’t fire!" called Ginger, instantly realising that his uniform must
have been seen.  "I surrender."

"Hands up and come on."

Ginger was just rising when bullets sang over his head from behind.  He
dropped down again; his last chance was gone; they would believe he was
tricking them.  But he heard an officer give an order.  There was no
answering fire from the trench in front, no repetition of the volley
from the rear. He crawled on, dimly seeing the parapet a few yards away.

"I surrender," he repeated, and crawled on, over the sandbags, was
seized by rough hands, hauled headlong into the trench, and held firmly
by the neck.

"Got him, sir," said a voice.



                              CHAPTER XVII

                                STRATEGY


"Don’t throttle me," Ginger murmured, scarcely able to speak from
physical exhaustion and the reaction from mental strain.  "Are you the
Rutlands?"

"No, we ain’t.  Got a special fancy for the Rutlands, ’eemingly."

"I’m Murgatroyd, No. 939, 17th battalion, 3rd company, 1st platoon,"
said Ginger feebly.

"Oh, we know all about that.  You German blighters all speak English,
but you don’t come it over us."

"Silence, Barnet; bring him along," said the officer.

"Yes, sir.  Says he’s a Rutland, sir."

Ginger was taken along the dark trench to a dug-out lit by a
candle-lamp.  The lieutenant looked at him.  The uniform was German,
from helmet to boots: the Iron Cross was on his breast; but the dirty,
lined, unshaven face was not that of a German officer.

"Who do you say you are?" said the lieutenant, puzzled.

"Murgatroyd, lance-corporal in the 17th Rutlands, sir: called Ginger,
sir: look at my hair."

He removed the helmet.  The lieutenant laughed.

"The name suits you," he said.  "But what have you been up to?"

"Taking French leave and German toggery, sir," said Ginger.  "Beg
pardon; could you give me a drink?  My mouth’s that parched.  I’m all of
a shake."

Refreshed by a cup of tea, Ginger told his story.

"A regular romance," said the lieutenant. "You’re as plucky as you are
lucky.  By George!  I should like to have seen the German taking off his
uniform.  He must have been very mad."

"He had a very swanky shirt, sir, but I couldn’t stop to take that.  Can
I get back to my billet, sir?"

"Certainly.  I’ll send a man with you out of the trenches.  You go round
by the church, you know."

"I’ll find my way, sir, never fear.  If you’d give me a cigarette or
two...."

"But you’ll never get through in that uniform.  I can’t give you a
change.  Stay, I’ll write you a note; don’t wear the helmet."

"No, sir: I’ll send it home to the kids, along with the Iron Cross."

"You’ve deserved that, at any rate. Well, good luck to you.  I wish you
were one of my men."

"Thank you, sir."


Somewhere about midnight, Ginger, after certain amusing adventures with
the sentries, knocked at the door of Bonnard’s cottage. There was some
delay: then Bonnard opened the door, lifting a lighted candle.

"Bong swar, m’sew," said Ginger.  "What O!"

"Ma foi!" ejaculated the Frenchman, throwing up his hands.  "C’est
Monsieur Ginjaire!"

"Ah, wee, wee!  Large as life!  Give me some grub, m’sew: la soupe; more
so; anything; haven’t had a good feed since I saw your jolly face last."

"Oll raight!  Mais c’est merveilleux, épatant!  Entrez donc, m’sieur
Ginjaire; ’ow d’you do!  Shake ’and!"

"Got the Iron Cross, m’sew," said Ginger with a grin, flicking the
decoration with his finger-nail.

"Par exemple!" cried Bonnard.  "Ah! vous avez fait un prisonnier; vous
avez pris un officier prussien, n’est-ce pas?  Bravo! ’ip, ’ip, ’ooray!"

There were growls through the closed door of the bedroom adjoining.

"Messieurs, messieurs," shouted the Frenchman excitedly, "c’est que
m’sieur Ginjaire est revenu, avec la croix de fer. Eveillez-vous,
messieurs, pour le voir."

"Shut up; taisez-vous!" called Harry, sleepily.

"Let ’em wait till morning," said Ginger. "Give me some grub.  Don’t
want nothing else in all this wide world.  I’ve got a fang, as you call
it.  J’ai fang, comprenny?"

"Ah oui!  Vous allez manger tout votre soûl."

"Cheese’ll do for me ... What O!"

The door had opened, and Harry appeared, blinking.

"What’s all this? ... Great Scot!  Where on earth ... I say, Ken, it’s
Ginger!"

"Shut up and go to sleep."

"It’s Ginger, I tell you.  Wake up, man. In a German uniform!"

"Ginger, did you say?" cried Kenneth, joining him.  "Well, I’m
jiggered!"

Ginger, a spoon in one hand, a hunk of bread in the other, grinned as
they rushed to him, clapped him on the back, shook each an arm.

"Don’t choke me, mates," he spluttered. "Let me finish this soup, and
I’ll tell you a story as beats cock-fighting."

"Tuck in.  They starved you, I suppose--the brutes!" said Harry.  "Let’s
get our coats, Ken: it’s chilly.  Bonnard will make up the fire."

Presently, sitting around the fire, they listened to Ginger’s story.

"I was sitting on the wing of that aeroplane, thinking of the missus and
kids, when all of a sudden I was knocked head over tip from behind.
When I came to myself, there was I strapped in the aeroplane, going
through the sky like an express train.  We came down in the village over
yonder, and they lugged me to a colonel, and he asked me a heap of
questions, and of course I wouldn’t answer, and then they hauled me to a
room, took away my belt and bay’net and boots, and locked me in.  Here’s
the end of my milingtary career, thinks I, and only a lance-corporal!

"They gave me some black bread, like gingerbread without the ginger, and
some slops they called coffee; I called it dishwater.  I wondered how
long I’d last on fare like that.  But just before morning I was woke by
a touch on my face, thought it was a mouse, slapped my hand up, and
heard a little voice say ’Oh!’  If I could only speak French like you!
It was the woman of the house.  She let me out and took me down to the
cellar, and said something which I took to mean she’d give me the tip
when to get away, but it might have been something else for all I know.
Anyway, she didn’t come back."

"A very unsafe place, I should think, with Germans," said Kenneth.

"There you’re wrong.  For why?  ’Cos there was no wine there.  The
cellar was empty.  Hadn’t been used for an age, I should think.  It was
almost pitch dark; just a little air through some holes at the top of
the wall.  Well, there I was.  The woman had given me some pang and
fromarge, and a so of o--rummy lingo the French, ain’t it?--and for I
don’t know how long I waited, thinking she’d come back and tell me the
coast was clear.  But she didn’t, and knowing the Germans were all over
the village I didn’t dare to stir of my own accord.  Besides, when
you’re expecting something, you don’t trouble for a time.  I was so sure
the woman would come when she could.

"Down there in the dark, of course, I’d no notion of how time was going.
I heard guns booming every now and again, and sounds in the house above,
and being pretty easy in my mind, as I say, I dropped off to sleep.
When I woke I finished off my grub, waiting as patient as a monument for
the word to clear.  Whether it was night or day I couldn’t tell: there
seemed to be someone moving about the house all the time.  At last I got
hungry and mortal sick of being alone in the dark, and began to wonder
what I’d do if she didn’t come back.  Thought I’d try and have a look
round.  I felt my way to the door, and came to the bottom of the
staircase.  It was light up above, and I heard the Germans talking
overhead, and didn’t dare go up.  I decided to wait till night and try
again.  I went to that staircase a dozen times, I should think, before
night; the day seemed extra long; and even when night came I was dished,
for a lamp was burning, and there were more voices than ever, and I
heard someone playing a flute.  I guessed they’d sacked the woman for
letting me go, and smiled to myself at their hunting like mad for me all
over the place.

"But it was no smiling matter there, I can tell you.  I didn’t sleep a
wink that night, but kept on going to the staircase on the chance they
were napping above.  Not they!  And I was getting hungrier and hungrier,
and thirsty!--I never knew before what thirst was.  I felt seedy, and a
banging in my head, and couldn’t keep still, going round and round that
cellar till I was nearly mad."

"Why didn’t you break out when we stormed the village?" asked Kenneth.

"How was I to know about that?"

"There must have been a terrific row," said Harry.  "Close by, too."

"If I’d known I’d have been out like a shot, you bet.  But I guess how
it was.  I must have got fair worn out with traipsing round and round,
and fallen asleep at last, and when you go to sleep like that, nothing
on earth ’ud wake you.  ’Specially being used to the sound of guns in
the trenches. Anyway, when I woke up, I was so mad for food that I said
to myself I’d get out somehow and chance it.  I went to the staircase;
there was a light above, so I knew it was night, and I began to crawl
up.  But there was a footstep on the passage, and down I went again, but
not into the cellar; that gave me the horrors.  I sat in the dark at the
foot of the staircase, in the hope there’d be quiet above in time.

"Well, I waited hours, it seemed.  I heard laughing and talking, and
knives and forks going, and that made me mad.  I was just going to make
a dash for it when I heard the Germans going along to the door.  I
didn’t hardly dare to hope they’d all clear out, but I waited a bit, and
all was quite still, and I crawled up on hands and knees so the stairs
shouldn’t creak.  What I was afraid was that the servants were in the
kitchen, but there wasn’t a sound; and I crept along the passage.

"There was two doors, one on each side, open.  On the right was the room
where the officers had been dining.  The sight of that table was too
much for me, famished as I was.  I must eat if I died for it.  I was
just a-going to begin when a little sound almost made me jump out of my
skin.  I snatched up a carving knife and whipped round, and there,
across the passage, in the room opposite, was an officer writing at a
table, with his back to me.  Quick as lightning I thought if I could
only get into his uniform I’d have a chance of getting through their
lines in the dark.  I listened: the house was quiet as a graveyard: and
with the carving knife in my hand I stole across the passage."

He described his brief operations with the German lieutenant and his
subsequent proceedings.

"And all I want now," he concluded, "is a photo of that Frenchwoman to
send to the missus, and I hope she’ve come to no harm."

"You’re a trump, Ginger," cried Harry, clapping him on the back.
"You’ve certainly won that Iron Cross."

"It’ll do for the kids to play with," remarked Ginger.  "Myself, I
wouldn’t wear the thing the Kaiser gives away by the ton. Ah!  I said I
only wanted one thing, but there’s another."

"What’s that?"

"Why, to find that farmer that helped the German chap to strap me to the
aeroplane.  And he pretended to help us hunt for him.  He’s a spy,
that’s what he is."

"He was taken into our lines.  I don’t know what became of him," said
Kenneth. "You must tell the captain to-morrow all about it, and he’ll
make enquiries.  You must be fagged; get to bed.  Our men will be jolly
glad to have you back again."

Ginger’s feat made him the hero of the battalion.  The colonel promoted
him full corporal, and sent a messenger at once to the Wessex regiment
to enquire what had become of the farmer.  The reply was that the French
authorities had nothing against the man, who had lived in the
neighbourhood for years, and he had been allowed to return to his farm.
Colonel Appleton at once resolved to arrest him.

"We had better do everything in order," he said, to Captain Adams.
"We’re in France, and the authorities might feel hurt if we dispensed
with them.  I’ll get the police commissaire of the district to take the
matter up as there are no French military officers within thirty miles:
it will save time.  Tell the Three Musketeers to be ready to go with him
to identify the man."

Later in the day the summons came. The three men found Captain Adams in
the company of a stout little spectacled functionary, resplendent in a
tri-colour sash, and two red-trousered gendarmes.  The police commissary
not being on the spot, the maire of the neighbouring town had undertaken
the task.  He had been a sergeant in the army of 1870, and was full of
zeal.  A motor-car was in waiting.  Into this the party crowded.
Ginger, clad in a new uniform with the double stripe on his sleeve,
fraternised with the gendarmes at once, and conversed with them on the
back seat in a wonderful jargon.  Kenneth and Harry, as more
accomplished in French, sat with the maire in front.

He was a fussy little man, proud of his antiquated military experience.
Inclined to dilate on the details of his service under Mac Mahon, he was
adroitly led by Kenneth to the business in hand.  Then he was full of
tactics and strategy.

"We must proceed by surprise, messieurs," he said.  "That is a sound
principle.  I know the place well.  We will stop at some distance from
the farm house, and advance through the wood in skirmishing order,
myself in the centre, the gendarmes supporting me, and you English
gentlemen on the flanks.  Thus we will converge upon the rear of the
farm house, taking care to arrive simultaneously, and carry the place by
a coup de main."

It occurred to Kenneth that there were defects in this plan, and that
their object was to arrest a spy, not to carry a fortress. But he deemed
it best to say nothing.  The maire evidently liked the sound of his own
voice, and was bursting with elation at having the conduct, after forty
years, of what he regarded as a military operation.

"By this means," he went on, "we shall cut off the enemy from his line
of retreat, which would afford him good cover if he could reach it.
That I take to be sound tactics, messieurs."

About a mile from the farm house, on a hillside above the wood behind
it, they came upon a shepherd tending two or three sheep.  He looked up
as the car ran up the hill, called out, "Bon soir, monsieur le maire!"
and watched the car as it descended on the other side.  It stopped at
the foot, the six men got out, and set off across the field towards the
wood.  The shepherd, a big man with a wart on his nose, instantly took
to his heels, and running downhill on the near slope, out of sight of
the maire’s party, made at full speed for the wood, about a quarter of a
mile from the spot where the maire would enter it.

Meanwhile the maire had halted, and was impressively declaring his final
instructions.

"You will advance cautiously through the wood, with the silence of
foxes.  Take cover, but preserve a good line: that is a sound principle.
When you hear my whistle, advance at the double, converging on the
centre--that is myself.  It is well understood?"

Kenneth explained all this to Ginger, who rubbed his mouth and said:

"He don’t happen to be General Joffre, I suppose!  I reckon we three ’ud
do better without him."

"We’re under orders," replied Kenneth. "We must look out for our chance.
Of course he ought to have sent some of us to the other side."

"He ought to have stayed at home to mind the baby," growled Ginger.
"However!"

They extended, crept through the wood, and at the given signal dashed
out upon the farm house.  The maire was left far behind. The doors were
open, back and front. Ginger was first in at the front, Harry at the
back.  The house was deserted.  In the kitchen the table was laid for a
meal; there was hot coffee in a pot: one of the cups was half full.  The
occupants had evidently left in haste: the surprise had failed.

The Englishmen rushed out, and Ginger collided with the maire, who was
puffing and blowing, partly from haste, partly from fury at having been
outstripped.

"My fault, m’sew," said Ginger, picking him up.  "They’ve bunked."

Kenneth translated, soothingly.

"They must have escaped by the front while we approached from the rear,"
he said.

"My plan was sound.  It would have succeeded if they had waited," said
the maire.  "And we gave them no warning: it is incomprehensible."

Meanwhile Harry, Ginger, and the gendarmes were scanning the
neighbourhood, hastening to various points of vantage. Suddenly Ginger
gave a shout.  Far to the right, along the road by which the motor lorry
had been driven, three cyclists were pedalling at full speed away from
the farm. The rearmost was a big man, like the shepherd whom the party
had passed on the hill. As soon as Harry saw them, he squared his elbows
and ran towards the motor-car, nearly a mile away, shouting to Ginger to
inform the others.  By the time he drove back in the car, the maire had
decided on pursuit, and was making calculations of speed.  In a few
moments the car was flashing along the road.  But the cyclists had had
eight or nine minutes’ start.  There was no sign of them.  They had
evidently quitted the road and made off by one or other of the by-paths
on each side, along which, even had their tracks been discovered, the
car could not follow them.

"We’re done, all through him!" growled Ginger, in high indignation, with
a jerk of his head towards the maire.

That little man was explaining to Kenneth that the soundest principles
sometimes fail in practice through unforeseen contingencies.

"But they will not dare to return to the farm house," he said, "so that
we have accomplished something."

They returned to the village.  Kenneth gave the colonel a faithful
report of the expedition.  Colonel Appleton let out a hot word or two.

"Next time we have an arrest to make we’ll do it first and consult the
police afterwards," he said.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                       USES OF A TRANSPORT LORRY


The Rutlands had a somewhat longer spell in billets than usual.  They
were awaiting a draft from the base to make good their losses.  The
officers and kind friends at home had provided books and games as a
relief from the constant mental strain to which modern warfare subjects
a man, and with these and impromptu smoking concerts they beguiled the
tedium of inaction.

Monsieur Obernai was very active in effort on their behalf.  Speaking
English with only a trace of foreign accent, he went freely about among
the men, conversing with them about their experiences, retailing
reminiscences of Alsace, making liberal presents of cigarettes.  He was
very affable with the officers billeted in his house, and sometimes
joined them in their mess-room. On one of these occasions he remarked
with a smile that but for the incessant booming of the guns he would
hardly have known that war was going on, so little did they talk about
it.

"Anything but that, monsieur," replied Captain Adams.  "’Deeds, not
words,’ is our motto.  The whole thing is so frightful that we try to
forget all about it at off times."

"It is so different in our army," said Monsieur Obernai.  "Our officers
are not capable of such detachment."

"’A still tongue makes a wise head,’ monsieur," said the captain.

Monsieur Obernai looked puzzled, but smiled amiably.  He had a pleasant
smile.

One day the battalion was suddenly paraded.  A few minutes afterwards a
motor car drove up, and the men recognised with a thrill that the
commander-in-chief had come to inspect them.  Sir John French passed up
and down the lines, addressing a man here and there, then made a little
speech to the battalion as a whole, complimenting them on the work they
had done and promising them stiff work in the future and ultimate
victory.  After visiting a few slightly injured men who remained in the
village, the field-marshal drove away amid ringing cheers.

The battalion had only just been dismissed when the whirr of an
aeroplane was heard, and a few seconds later a Taube flew over the
place.

"Look out!" cried somebody.

Some of the men scuttled for cover, others looked up nonchalantly into
the sky.  The aeroplane was out of range.  Suddenly there was a terrific
explosion.  A column of earth and smoke shot up from a field a few
hundred yards west of the village.  The Taube was seen flying back,
chased by a couple of English aeroplanes.

"It almost looks as if they knew the chief was to be here," remarked
Colonel Appleton, watching the chase among his officers.

"And we only knew it ourselves twenty minutes before he arrived," said
Captain Adams.

"Well, I knew it last night, but I kept it to myself.  Got word by
telephone.  They may have tapped the wire.  The spies aren’t all
scotched yet, Adams."

"The deuce!" exclaimed the captain. "I’d like to catch some of them."

"The Germans have very little for their money, though.  Look! our
fellows have brought the Taube down."

Behind the German lines the aeroplane was whirling in precipitous
descent from an immense height.

"Two more good men lost!" said the colonel.  "And the spies will go on
spying."

Next night the Rutlands were ordered back to the hill village.  The
enemy was to be turned out at all costs.  Regiments were coming up in
support, and as soon as a sufficient reserve was collected the attack
was to be driven home.  The men were fired with grim resolution.  News
had just come in of the employment of poisonous gas at Ypres, miles away
to the north, and as they cleaned their bayonets they vowed to avenge
their fallen comrades from Canada.

The upper part of the hill had been held against repeated assaults by
the Germans. The opposing lines crossed the main street, about ninety
yards apart.  Between them the houses had been demolished by one side or
the other.  The houses above the British trenches, and those below the
German, were occupied by snipers.  The British snipers had an advantage
in being above the enemy; on the other hand they were more exposed to
artillery fire, and their positions had been a good deal knocked about.
To protect themselves from the fire of these snipers the Germans had
made the parapets of their trenches unusually high.  This handicapped
them to some extent in replying to rifle fire; but they had compensated
themselves by installing a large number of machine guns, which were
certain to take a heavy toll of the attackers when they charged down the
hill.

Soon after the Rutlands reached their position at the top of the hill,
in the dusk, a lorry came up from the rear with supplies for the next
day.  Owing to the rearward slope the vehicle could be brought to within
a few yards of the trenches without being seen by the enemy, and since
horses were employed as less noisy than a motor engine, supplies had
been regularly brought up in this way without the knowledge of the
Germans.

Kenneth and Ginger, with other men, were unloading the lorry when a
second lorry appeared near the foot of the hill on the British side.  It
was heavily laden, and the slope proved to be too much for the two
horses drawing it.

"Old cab horses, they are," said the driver of the lorry that was being
unloaded. "Not fit for this job.  I’ll have to go down and lend a hand."

Placing a brick under one of the wheels, he unharnessed his horses and
led them down the hill.  Kenneth and Ginger were carrying a box between
them to the communication trench running downwards from the crest when a
shell came whizzing over from the German side and exploded near the
lorry they had just left, bespattering them with earth, felling one or
two of their comrades, and sending the rest scampering into the trench.
The shock of the explosion caused Kenneth to drop his end of the box:
both he and Ginger were dazed for a few seconds. When they looked round,
they were aghast to see the lorry moving backward down the hill.  Only
half its load had been removed, and though its motion was at present
slow, it would gather speed and, unless it could be checked, would crash
into the second lorry to which the driver was now yoking his horses.
For a moment they were paralysed by realisation of the frightful danger.
Men, horses, stores would all be hurled and crushed in hideous wreck.
The heavy vehicle was already rolling on more quickly when with mutual
decision they left the box and sprinted after it.  The case was
desperate.  Neither of them had any idea how the catastrophe could be
averted.  It would scarcely be possible to loose the skid and throw it
into position while the lorry was running, faster every moment.

More fleet of foot than Ginger, Kenneth rushed ahead, overtook the
lorry, and, a thought striking him, seized the pole, and exerting all
the force of which he was capable while running at speed, twisted it to
the left.  The lorry swerved, appeared to hesitate, then ran into a
shallow ditch at the side of the road and turned over.  The pole,
striking against a tree, snapped off, flinging Kenneth to the ground.

"Whew!" gasped Ginger, running down. "That was a near thing."

"Twenty yards," said Kenneth, rising and rubbing his elbow.

"George! that was a near ’un!" panted the driver, who had hastened up.
His face was very pale.  "I owe you one, mate. Nothing else would have
saved us.  Hope you ain’t hurt."

"Nothing to speak of.  The lorry has come off the worst."

"George! you’re right!  It’s what you may call snookered.  Done for,
that’s what it is.  We’ll have to shove it out of the way before I can
bring my horses up, and leave it.  What you say, Bill?"

"Can’t do nothing with it," said the driver of the second lorry.

"Take my tip, and put the skid on when you get yourn up, mate.  George!
it give me a fright and no mistake."

They drove the second lorry to the summit, leaving Kenneth and Ginger to
carry up the spilled load.

"The lorry isn’t so badly damaged as he thinks," said Kenneth.  "The
brake is bent, and a good deal of wood is chipped off, but the thing
will run all right."

He so informed the driver when he met him.

"All the same, you don’t catch me driving it back to-night," said the
man.  "It’s nearly dark, the road’s bad enough when you’re too complay,
as the Frenchies say. I’ll leave it to the morning at any rate."

It was dark when Kenneth and Ginger had finished their task.  They took
their places with their platoon in the firing trench.

"Think they’ll have any gas for us to-morrow?" said Ginger.

"It’s not very likely," said Kenneth. "The gas the Germans have been
using lies low; it would be more useful to us."

"Well, why shouldn’t we use it too? What’s the odds whether you’re
killed with gas or shrapnel?  Gas don’t hurt, I expect, and it’s a deal
cleaner."

"Upon my word I don’t know," Kenneth replied.  "There’s no logic in it.
But somehow it goes against the grain.  You poison dogs with gas, not
men."

"Besides, it’s taking an unfair advantage," said Harry.  "It depends on
the wind--and there’s no crossing over at half-time."

The notes of a flute came along the trench from the left.

"Stoneway’s at it again," said Ginger.

"The fellow can play," remarked Harry. "Good stuff, too.  He doesn’t
confine himself to the trumpery tunes of the musical comedies.  That’s a
bit of Mozart."

"I’ve heard that tune somewhere," said Ginger reflectively.  "I haven’t
got much of an ear for music, but I know them twiddles.  Why, hang me, I
heard ’em when I was in that cellar.  Somebody was playing ’em
upstairs."

"It’s a concerto every flautist knows," said Harry.  "The Germans
certainly lick us in music."

"A pity they’re not satisfied with that," said Kenneth.

They listened in silence till the conclusion of the piece, and joined in
the general applause.  After a short interval the performer began again,
now, however, playing detached notes that had neither time nor tune.

"Those exercises, again!" said Ginger. "That’s the worst of music.  My
little Sally is learning the pianner, and she makes me mad sometimes
with what she calls the five-finger exercises.  ’For mercy’s sake play
us a tune,’ says I.  ’I’ve got to practise this, Dad,’ says she.
’What’s the good of it?’ says I.  ’Teacher says it’s to get my fingers
in order,’ says she.  Anybody’d think her fingers weren’t the same as
other people’s; they’re all right; a very pretty hand she’s got....
He’s stopped, thank goodness! Pass up the word for ’Dolly Grey,’ mates."

Silence presently reigned.  The men reclined, dozing.

"I say, Harry," said Kenneth.

"What is it?" replied Harry sleepily.

"I’ve been thinking.  We might make good use of that lorry."

"How?"

"Let it loose on the Germans."

"Send it down-hill, you mean?"

"Yes."

"What’s the good?  They’d hear it coming and clear out of the way.  It
might break their wire and a bit of the parapet--hardly enough damage to
be worth the fag."

Kenneth was silent for a little.  Then he roused Harry again.  There
ensued a long conversation between them, at the conclusion of which
Kenneth crept along the trench to find Captain Adams.  It was some time
before he returned.

"The colonel agrees," he said in some excitement.  "There’s no time to
lose.  We’ve got to attack at four o’clock.  Wake up, Ginger."

Ginger having been informed of what was intended, he and Kenneth stole
from the trench, up the communication trench, and set off at a trot
towards their billets.  Two hours later they returned in a motor car,
which halted at the eastern foot of the hill. They carried up a large
rectangular object, and at a second journey a number of bolts and a
heavy hammer.  Soon the men in the trenches heard the clank of
hammering, and Harry suggested that the lorry was being repaired.

His comrades were in fact at work on the lorry.  The object which they
had brought up consisted of several sheets of corrugated zinc which
Ginger, a skilled mechanic, had bolted together in the village.  This he
was now fixing upright over the rear axle of the lorry, so that it
overlapped the body of the vehicle on each side.  With the assistance of
Kenneth and the driver of the car he was turning the lorry into an
armoured car, of unusual form, it is true, but likely, they thought, to
serve its purpose.  When the zinc was in position, they filled up the
space between the sheets with sand, and so completed a bullet-proof
screen about nine feet wide.  Then, going into one of the half-ruined
houses, they brought out a number of planks and carried them to the
centre of the firing trench.  There, over a space of about ten feet, the
parapet was quickly demolished, and the planks were laid across side by
side, forming a bridge.  The men of the platoon had meanwhile been taken
into their confidence, and when Captain Adams called for volunteers to
cut the wire immediately in front, several men crawled out and did the
work without being detected.

These preparations having been completed, half a dozen men quickly
pushed the lorry over the crest of the hill to within a few yards of the
trench.  Favoured by pitch darkness, and moving with the utmost
quietness, they had everything in readiness by three o’clock, without
the knowledge of the Germans, and even of the more distant platoons of
their own battalion.

The orders of the day were already known along the British line.  They
were to attack just before dawn.  The hill was to be cleared of Germans.
It was a task for rifles, bayonets, and hand grenades.  They could
expect no help from artillery, so narrow was the space dividing the
lines.

At the appointed moment, twenty men of the 1st platoon formed up in file
behind the lorry, each carrying a hand grenade in addition to his rifle.
The word was given. They pushed the lorry off; on each side the other
men scrambled out of the trenches; some crawled forward and cut the wire
on either side.  Then, without uttering a sound, they charged down the
hill.

The lorry rumbled slowly over the plank bridge, on to the road, and
gathered way as it bumped and jolted down towards the German trenches,
the twenty men running behind it.  When it had covered a dozen yards it
was greeted with rapid rifle fire from the German sentries.  There were
shouts from below, but before the enemy realised the manoeuvre, a shower
of hand grenades fell among them, the lorry crashed through the wire
entanglement, broke through the parapet, and turned a somersault over
the trench.

Then a yell burst from the throats of the Rutlands, and the air was rent
by the crackle of rifles all along the line except at the spot where the
lorry had fallen.  There Kenneth and his companions sprang into the
trench, and pushing along to right and left, cleared it with the
bayonet, the panic-stricken Germans fleeing before them or flinging up
their hands in token of surrender. Confusion spread along the whole
line.  The British arrangements had been thoroughly made.  While the
Rutlands charged down the main street, other regiments were sweeping
through the streets and alleys on either side, raking them with fire
from machine guns, flinging bombs into the occupied houses, chasing the
Germans at the point of the bayonet.  Here and there were furious hand
to hand encounters; at one point a mass of the enemy’s reserves surged
forward and gained ground, only to be borne back in turn by the
irresistible dash of British supports.  In half an hour the streets were
cleared, and while some of the British blocked up the captured trenches
against counter-attack, others rushed the houses to which the enemy
still clung, and stormed them one after another.

All this had happened in the grey chill dawn.  By the time the sun’s rim
appeared over the distant horizon the position was completely won, at
comparatively slight cost.  More than two hundred prisoners remained in
British hands, and among them Ginger, who had escaped with a few
bruises, recognised the lieutenant to whom he had been indebted for a
uniform.

When the roll was called, it was found that of the twenty men who had
followed the lorry only one had been wounded.

"A capital idea of yours, Amory," said Captain Adams.  "It’s a pity we
can’t always be going down-hill behind screens. There’s a fortune
awaiting the man who invents a bullet-proof protection for infantry in
the field."

"Wouldn’t that result in stale-mate, sir?"

"Well, if it put an end to warfare by machinery it would give us a
chance for our fists!  Men will fight, I suppose, to the crack of doom.
It would be much healthier if we could fight out our quarrels without
killing one another."



                              CHAPTER XIX

                               SUSPICIONS


Next day fresh regiments were moved up, and the Rutlands, who had twice
borne the brunt of the struggle for the hill, were sent into reserve and
promised a long rest.  They went back to their old quarters, now a good
deal farther behind the firing line.

One night, when Kenneth was returning alone to his billet, he heard the
thin squeak of a bat, and glanced up, though it was so dark that he
could scarcely expect to see the animal.  To his surprise, he caught a
momentary glimpse of it as it flew across the lane.  It was as though a
moonbeam had flashed upon the wings for the fraction of a second.  But
the moon was not up. The sky was clouded; only one or two stars were
visible; and the rays of a star were too feeble to light up the
flittering wings.

Kenneth was puzzled.  He stood still, looking up, waiting for the bat to
reappear. It was circling somewhere above him; he could still hear it
faintly squeaking; but it did not again come within view, and after a
while the sound ceased.

"Extraordinary!" thought Kenneth.

He was about to move on when he heard the grating of a key in a lock, so
slight that it might have passed unnoticed had he not been listening
intently for the bat.  In this quiet lane, with trees on one side and a
garden wall on the other, the sound challenged curiosity.  The villagers
were forbidden to leave their cottages after dark; Kenneth himself had
only chosen this route as a short cut to his billet; he could not help
suspecting that one of the inhabitants was breaking rules and entering
his house by a back way to avoid detection.

It was no part of his duty to play the policeman, and he would have gone
on his way if he had not at this moment heard a light, hasty footfall,
as of one walking quickly but cautiously.  Instinctively he remained
still, keeping close to a tree trunk. A man passed him, moving very
quietly, almost touching him.  He appeared to be in uniform.  A second
later he heard the key again.  Then all was silent.

He was now interested, suspicious.  The man was going in the direction
from which he had come.  Who was he?  What was he doing at this late
hour?  For a moment he thought of following him; but he was averse to
getting a man into trouble for what was perhaps a harmless escapade, and
he decided to proceed.

A few steps brought him to a door in the wall.  The man must have been
silently let out, and must have left without a word, the door being then
as quietly closed and locked behind him.  The wall, as Kenneth knew,
bounded the gardens of two or three of the larger houses.  It might
perhaps be worth while to find out from which house this nocturnal
visitor had departed so stealthily. It was too dark to see; Last Post
would be sounded in a few minutes; all that he could do was to put a
mark upon the door which he could identify next day.  He scratched a
cross with his pocket-knife on the right side of the door, on a level
with the keyhole, which was on the left, and went on, treading lightly
by instinct.

So soon as he could get off next day, he returned to the lane.  The door
he had scratched was one of three.  Two were close together.  The wall
was too high for him to look over; he could only discover the house to
which his door belonged by going to the end of the lane, and round to
the front of the houses.  The gardens were large; it meant a walk of
some considerable distance.  His most certain course was to number his
paces along the lane, and take an equal number along the street which
the houses faced.  He went along with even stride, and in the lane
counted 239 steps. In the street the 237th pace brought him to the front
gate of Monsieur Obernai.  This must be the house.  His paces had
probably differed a little, or the street and the lane were not quite
parallel.

"It’s all right," he thought.  "The man was one of the officers’
servants, perhaps, sent out on some late errand."

But as he went away, this explanation did not appear quite convincing.
A servant sent on an errand by one of the officers quartered in Monsieur
Obernai’s house would not have been let out stealthily, and locked out.
Furtiveness implied an uneasy conscience.  Upon this thought came a
sudden recollection of Madame Bonnard’s dislike of the Alsatian.  He had
seldom himself come into contact with the village philanthropist; it
seemed to him now that he had even avoided him.  "It never struck me
before," he thought, "but I haven’t felt the least inclination to meet
him.  Yet some of the men are quite keen on him."

On the previous night he had not mentioned the incident to his comrades.
It was not in Kenneth’s nature to be expansive. He had told them about
the sudden appearance and disappearance of the bat, which, however,
they, not having seen it, had not regarded as extraordinary.  But now, a
little uneasy, he decided to tell them everything.  He felt the need of
talking it over.

"Capting wants you," said Ginger, meeting him at the door of Bonnard’s
cottage.

"What’s it about?" he asked.

"That uniform I borrowed; they found some papers in the pockets, in
German, seemingly, and Capting wants you to read ’em."

Kenneth went back to Monsieur Obernai’s house, was admitted, and found
Captain Adams with other officers in the mess-room.

"Ah, Amory, we want you," said the captain.  "You know German.  What do
you make of that?"

He handed him a scrap of paper, straightened out after having been
crumpled, on which were written two lines in German.

"Tell our friend it is now due east," Kenneth translated.

"That’s what I told you, Adams," said one of the lieutenants.  "There’s
nothing in it."

"Well, look at these, Amory."

He handed to him the contents of Lieutenant Axel von Schwank’s
pocket-book. Kenneth looked them over: a copy of the Hymn of Hate, a
cutting from the _Cologne Gazette_ announcing the blowing up of Woolwich
Arsenal, some letters from members of the Schwank family, one or two
memoranda of no importance.  He translated them aloud one by one.

"Nothing of any value to us," said the captain.  "I think we might give
the letters back to the prisoner.  His people idolise him, evidently.
Well, the only thing left is this."  He took up a crumpled piece of
music paper.  "Schwank seems to write music in his spare time--a setting
of the Hymn of Hate perhaps.  Our find is no use.  Very good, Amory,
that’s all."

But Kenneth, rendered suspicious of everything by his recent
discoveries, remembered that he had found a similar piece of music paper
in the trench some weeks before.

"Before you tear that up, sir," he said, "I think I’d let Randall have a
look at it. We found a paper like it in our trench."

"You think there may be something in it?"

"I’m rather suspicious, sir, but I’d rather say no more until Randall
has seen it."

The captain sent a man to find Harry. When he arrived, Kenneth asked him
whether he still had the piece of music paper he had found.  After
rummaging in his pocket Harry drew the paper out.  The two pieces were
laid side by side.

"Well?" said the captain, when Harry had examined them for a few
moments. The other officers crowded round in an interested group.

"They are not alike except in one particular," said Harry: "that neither
is a recognisable tune."

He whistled the notes.

"Very ugly, certainly," said the captain. "Any further suggestion,
Amory?"

"What do you call that note in music?" Kenneth asked Harry, pointing to
the first note on Stoneway’s paper.

"B flat," said Harry.

"And the next?"

"E, then D, then E again; the next is A sharp above the stave."

"What are you driving at, Amory?" asked the captain.

"I was wondering if I could make a word out of it, but _bedea_ doesn’t
begin any word either in English or German that I know of. Try the other
paper."

"F sharp, A, G, E," said Harry.

"It’s the sharps and flats that bother me," said Kenneth.  "Do they ever
call them anything else?"

"No ... Wait a bit.  The Germans call B flat B, and B natural H.  I
remember toiling away at a fugue on the name BACH years ago.  I say,
give me a minute.  I’ve got a notion."

He sat down at the table, took out pencil and began to write the names
of the notes on the lines and spaces, beginning with A on the second
leger line below the stave.  Having written H on the third line, instead
of writing A on the second space he wrote I, and on the third space J.
Then he paused, looking reflectively at the notes originally written.
Except in the case of B flat, all the accidentals were sharps.

"We’ll try this," he said.

On the third space he wrote C sharp, and called it K, and so proceeding,
completed the alphabet by writing two notes, the second sharpened, on
each line and space.  Z fell on the third space above the stave.

"Now try again," he said to Kenneth.

Kenneth took up von Schwank’s paper, and read off the names of the notes
in this new notation.  The first four letters were _Sage_.

"That’s good German," he said.

"Go on," said the captain.  "This is very interesting."

Kenneth wrote down the letters as he read them.

"By George!" he cried.  "In English it reads: ’Tell our friend it is now
due east.’"

"What’s due east?" Captain Adams exclaimed.  "Try the other paper."

"The first word is _bedeutend_, ’considerable,’" said Kenneth, writing.
"The English of it all is, ’Considerable movement in the rear.’"

The officers glanced at one another.

"We’ve had a spy among us, then," said the captain quietly.  "Where did
you get this, Randall?"

Harry explained, without however naming the man whom, in common with
Kenneth, he now suspected.  But his reticence was unnecessary.

"It’s that fellow Stoneway, without a doubt," said one of the
lieutenants.  "He makes the most weird sounds on his flute. You’ll
arrest him, Adams?"

"Wait a little.  There’s a deep-laid scheme here.  There’s more than one
man involved.  Who is ’our friend’?"

"I must tell you what I saw last night, sir," said Kenneth.

He described the stealthy exit from the gate in the lane, and the
discovery that it led from Monsieur Obernai’s garden--behind the house
in which they were then assembled. Captain Adams whistled under his
breath.

"Rather serious for our polite Alsatian host," he said.  "We must get to
the bottom of this.  It won’t do to act too hastily.  We must catch the
fellow at it."

"But hang it all, we can’t stop here under the roof of a spy," said a
lieutenant.

"If I may suggest, sir," said Kenneth, "do nothing yet.  Nobody knows
about this except ourselves.  If you leave the house or show any sign of
suspicion, those who are involved will smell a rat, and we shall perhaps
fail to learn all there is to be learnt.  Wouldn’t it be better if you
go on as usual, and let Randall and me, and perhaps Murgatroyd, keep a
watch on the lane?"

"But Obernai won’t appear in the lane," said the captain.

"Very likely not, sir.  I believe his work is done in the house.  You
remember the lamp signalling we saw in the church tower."

"That’s in our hands now."

"Yes, and the light now comes from due east."

"You think that’s it?  Have you seen a light?"

"No, sir; but last night I caught a sudden glimpse of a bat flying above
my head in the lane; it was for only the tenth of a second, just as if
the bat had crossed a pencil of light.  But I was puzzled, because there
was no light visible.  I can’t help thinking that it has some connection
with this discovery, and if you’ll give us leave to keep a look-out at
night, we may make sure of it and give you positive grounds for taking
action."

"What about Stoneway?  Hadn’t we better keep him under observation?"

"Leave him to us, sir.  I’d give him plenty of rope."

"And keep enough to hang him afterwards," said the lieutenant of his
platoon.

"Very well, Amory," said the captain. "You’ll of course say nothing to
any one else.  We’ll do our best to keep up appearances before Obernai,
though upon my word it will tax our histrionic powers.  If you make any
discovery, don’t come to the house; report to me elsewhere."

"If we can collar the men, sir?"

"Oh, in that case do so, and put them under lock and key.  But don’t
attempt too much: it’s of great importance to get hold of the whole
gang, for I imagine that we’ve been unawares in a wasps’ nest all this
time. We must scotch them all."

"One thing, sir, before we go: will you tell us the arrangement of the
house?"

"So far as I know it.  Our billets are all in the front.  Obernai and
his servants live at the back.  On this floor there’s a long passage
between us.  Upstairs there’s no communication between back and front:
the doors are blocked up, to secure our privacy, Obernai said."

"There’s a back staircase, then?"

"No doubt."

"How many servants are there, sir?"

"Two men, whom Obernai brought with him from Alsace, he says.  I’ve
caught a glimpse of an old woman, too, but she rarely leaves the back
premises."

With this information Kenneth and Harry left the house, and returned to
their billet to consult Ginger.



                               CHAPTER XX

                        MONSIEUR OBERNAI’s ATTIC


"I can’t hardly believe it," said Ginger, when Kenneth recounted the
facts and his inferences.  "Never thought Stoneway had the pluck."

"A man without pluck is no good as a spy," Harry remarked.

"True.  He must have had an awful time of it, always wondering if he’d
be found out, or copped by a German bullet."

"What strikes me most forcibly is the thoroughness of the German
organisation," said Kenneth.  "You’ll always find individuals ready to
take their lives in their hands, for patriotism or pay; but you won’t
always find things so perfectly organised.  If we’re right, Stoneway
must have been employed first as an anti-recruiting agent, with orders
to enlist and act as spy within our ranks if that seemed feasible."

"I see through that post-card business now," said Ginger.  "He gave our
address to some pal in London so that the Germans should know where he
was, and make use of him.  And then to put it on to me!--a dirty trick.
But what can you expect when the Kaiser lets his men do dirty tricks and
gives ’em Iron Crosses for it?  Whatever he is, Bill is no gentleman."

"Stoneway is a German, I suppose?" said Harry.

"Steinweg--not an uncommon German name," replied Kenneth.  "But now, how
are we going to set about our job?"

"What was that you said about a bat?" said Harry.  "I didn’t pay much
heed."

Kenneth again described the curious phenomenon, adding:

"That’s why I want to do something more than watch the lane.  If the man
I saw was Stoneway, we might catch him again, but give time for Obernai
to clear away anything suspicious.  It seems to me that what we have to
do is to get into the house, and have a look at the back premises."

"That means we should have to get in at the back secretly?"

"Yes; if we went to the front openly we shouldn’t get farther than the
lobby."

"Suppose it turns out that we are quite wrong, wouldn’t it be rather a
serious matter to break into a French house?  Obernai is popular: it
might not be easy to persuade the French authorities that we were not
burglars."

"Let’s chance that," said Ginger.  "For any sake don’t let the police
know beforehand, or the whole thing will be messed up like it was with
that maire.  Besides, if it comes to that, we’ve got the capting behind
us."

"I quite agree," said Kenneth.  "We’ll risk it.  Well now, judging by
the length of the side garden wall, the house is about sixty yards from
the lane.  With these mysterious comings and goings the back gate will
very likely be watched; at any rate there’ll be somebody about to let
visitors in and out.  I vote we get into the next garden, and clamber
over the wall into Obernai’s.  We shall have to wait until the people in
the next house are asleep--say eleven o’clock to-night."

About half-past ten, when the village was dark and silent, the three men
left their billet and, to avoid detection, took a round-about route to
the lane.  The air was rather chill, and a light mist hung low over the
ground.  Each of the three carried a revolver, and they had agreed not
to speak except in case of necessity, and then only in whispers.

Creeping along softly under cover of the trees that lined one side of
the lane, they passed Obernai’s door, and halted opposite the door of
the next house, a few yards beyond.  Here they waited, listening.  All
was silent.  Then Kenneth tiptoed across the lane and quietly tried the
door of Obernai’s garden.  It was bolted.  The next door opened to his
touch.  Joined by his companions, he entered and found himself in a
garden much overgrown with weeds. They stole along by the side wall, and
halted under it about fifty feet from the house.

"Give me a leg-up," Kenneth whispered.

In a few seconds he was down again.  The top of the wall was spiked with
glass. Stripping off his overcoat, he mounted again, laid the coat over
the glass, and dropped lightly to the ground, after listening awhile to
make sure that nobody was about.  The others followed him in turn.

The back of the house was quite dark. There was no sound within or
without. Through the mist they could just distinguish the path leading
to the back door.  Kenneth crossed the grass to it, stole along, and
cautiously turned the door handle.  The door resisted his slight
pressure: it was locked or bolted.  He looked up the wall. The windows
were out of reach.  It seemed that the house could only be entered
forcibly.

He was returning to consult his companions when he suddenly heard behind
him a sound like the ringing of a muffled electric bell inside the
house.  Hurrying on, he crouched with the other two at the foot of the
wall and waited.  In a few moments they heard a bolt drawn.  They could
see nothing, but apparently the door was being opened.  Then from the
doorway came a low whisper: "Geben Sie Acht," followed, as by an
instantaneous after-thought, by the French words, "Prenez garde."  There
was no reply, but a slight rustle approached, and the three watchers,
peering over the bushes, saw a woman passing in almost absolute silence
down the path to the back wall.

Had she left the door open?  Kenneth was thinking of stealing up to it
to find out when it occurred to him that the woman had perhaps gone to
let in a visitor.  It would be well to wait a little.  Very soon he was
justified.  The figure of the woman, scarcely distinguishable in the
gloom, reappeared. At her heels was a man.  They passed along the path
within twenty feet of the lurking watchers; neither spoke a word.
Presently came the sound of a bolt gently shot, then all was silent
again.

It was pretty clear that the bell had been rung from an electric push in
the garden door.  Kenneth had seen none; it was probably concealed.

"Shall I find it, and get the door opened?" he whispered to his
companions.

"That would give the whole show away," said Harry.  "We don’t want to
raise an alarm."

"Then I don’t see that we can do anything. The only thing is to tell the
captain to-morrow, and he’ll arrest the lot."

"Why not?" said Ginger.  "If they’re innocent, they won’t mind--not
much."

"But we shan’t catch them at it.  You may be sure there’s nothing
suspicious to be found in the daytime.  We’ve got very artful men to
deal with."

They were still discussing their course of action when they heard the
bolt drawn again.  Next moment there was a perpendicular streak of dim
light, which widened rapidly.  The door was open; the room or lobby
behind was now lit by a small oil lamp, turned very low.  Through the
illuminated rectangle of the doorway came a man and a woman.  The man
was in a British uniform.  They stepped down to the path.

"Stoneway!" whispered Ginger.

Pressing themselves almost flat on the ground they watched the two
figures walking down the path, the end of which, towards the garden
wall, was scarcely reached by the feeble rays from the doorway.

"Now!" murmured Kenneth.

Bending double, they hastened across the grass, and slipped in through
the doorway. They were in a lobby.  At the further end of it was a
closed door.  There were doors on both sides, one of them slightly open.
In the corner on the right was the staircase leading to the upper floor,
and on the square-topped newel-post stood the small oil lamp.

Taking in all this at a glance, Kenneth peered through the open door on
the left. The room was dark and untenanted.  He beckoned to his
companions.  They followed him into the room.  In less than a minute the
woman returned from the garden, closed and bolted the door, and was
moving along the lobby when the stairs creaked slightly, and an old man
came tottering down.

"Bier, noch Bier," he said in low tones to the woman.

The woman muttered something, took the lamp from its place, and
accompanied by the old man went into one of the rooms off the lobby on
the opposite side from the three watchers.  They were heard clumping
down wooden steps, no doubt leading to the cellars.

"Now’s our chance," Kenneth whispered.

The three stole out of the room into the dark lobby, and crept on hands
and knees up the staircase.  The landing above was equally dark, except
in the far corner on the right, where light came through a door slightly
ajar.  The three men tiptoed to it. Kenneth peeped in.  The room was
apparently Obernai’s bedroom.  No one was in it; the bed had not been
disturbed.  A candle was burning on the dressing-table.  Pieces of heavy
French furniture afforded means of concealment.

"You stay here," whispered Kenneth. "I’ll go on."

He slipped off his boots, blew out the candle, and crept out.  There was
no sound from below.  On the opposite side of the landing was a narrow
staircase, leading, he presumed, to the attics.  Up this he groped his
way.  At the top there was a passage, at the end of which, on the right,
was a streak of light on the floor.  Feeling his way along, he felt two
other doors, the handles of which he turned in succession, hoping to
slip into a dark room as he had done below.  Both doors were locked.  At
this moment, hearing the footsteps of the old man coming slowly up the
bottom flight of stairs, he slipped back to the dark end of the passage
and stood watching there.

The old man mounted the upper flight. A can clinked against the post as
he turned to the right towards the door beneath which the light shone.
He tapped on the door; it was opened; the man passed in.  Kenneth heard
a guttural voice say: "Zwei Batterien heute morgen----"  The remainder
of the sentence was cut off by the closing of the door.  In a few
moments it opened again; the old man came out, closed it behind him, and
sat down on a stool at the end of the passage, either as sentry, or to
be at hand if more beer was required.

Kenneth scarcely dared to breathe.  What was going on in that room?
What could he do?  After several uncomfortable minutes the door suddenly
opened--too wide for his comfort--and a voice said:

"Frisch auf!  Die Lampe ist beinahe erlöscht."

The door was shut.  The old man rose wearily and hobbled downstairs, no
doubt to fetch oil or whatever was used for the lamp.

Kenneth felt that the time had come for action.  The mention of the lamp
left no doubt in his mind of the work on which the occupants of the room
were engaged.  Waiting until the old man had reached the foot of the
lower staircase, he stole down to the room where he had left his
companions and told them in a few whispered words what he had
discovered.  They removed their boots and stood behind the door,
prepared to follow the man when he came up again.

In a few minutes he returned.  They waited until he had ascended the
upper staircase, then followed him noiselessly, saw him enter the room,
and crept along to the door, drawing their revolvers.  From within the
room came the smell of acetylene gas. Standing back against the wall,
they waited for the reopening of the door.  As soon as the old man
reappeared, they started forward, pointing their revolvers at him,
pushed him before them and entered the room.

There was an exclamation, a moment of confusion.

"Hands up, or I fire!" cried Kenneth in German.

There were four men in the room, three seated at a table drinking beer,
the fourth occupied with a steel lever operating a disc that worked from
side to side in front of a bright bull’s-eye lamp.  Kenneth’s warning
had checked a movement on the part of two of the seated men towards
their coat pockets. The man at the lamp, who had faced round at the
sudden intrusion, was quicker than his companions, and drew his revolver
at the moment of turning.  But as he was raising his hand Harry fired.
His revolver fell to the floor with a crash, and with a curse he clasped
his broken wrist with the other hand.

The three others had fallen back into their chairs.  A stream of beer
from an overturned mug trickled from the table to the floor, for one
tense moment the only sound in the room.  The men’s faces were pale and
contorted with fear.  They sat, limp, with no spirit for resistance,
recognizing that the game was up.

Kenneth and Harry glowed with a quiet satisfaction.  Ginger was more
demonstrative.

"Blest if I haven’t got him at last!" he exclaimed, smiling triumphantly
at one of the prisoners.  "It’s the chap that downed me when I was
sitting on that aeroplane."

"Monsieur Obernai is unfortunate in his friends," said Kenneth.

Obernai glared at him; it was not the expression of a bland
philanthropist.  One of his companions, a big man with a wart on his
nose, did not wear the look of pious resignation that might have been
expected from a man dressed in a cure’s soutane.  The features of the
fourth man seemed familiar to Kenneth, though at the moment he could not
recall the time or place of his seeing him before.

"We’ll just hand these men over to the captain," said Kenneth.  "Then
we’ll deal with Stoneway."

After ordering the men to empty their pockets, they marched them
downstairs, and through the door connecting the back part of the house
with the officers’ billets. Captain Adams, like the others, had gone to
bed.  He came to the door of his room in his pyjamas.

"We’ve caught Obernai and three others signalling with a lamp, sir,"
said Kenneth.

"You don’t say so!  What have you done with them?"

"They are below, sir."

"Take them off to the provost-marshal: I don’t want to see them."

"Stoneway is in it, sir, I am sorry to say."

"Arrest him, as quickly as you can. Then come back and tell me all about
it."

The spies were marched off to prison. Then Ginger with a corporal’s
guard went to the cottage where Stoneway was billeted. Stoneway was not
there.  Enquiry and search were alike fruitless.  It was not until an
hour later that Ginger hit on a possible explanation of his absence.

"By jinks!" he exclaimed, with a gesture of vexation.  "I forgot the old
woman."

He hastened back to Obernai’s house. The old woman had disappeared.

On returning to the house some time before, Kenneth and Harry found the
officers, all in their night attire, examining the signalling apparatus
in the upper room.

"They are all safely locked up, sir," Kenneth reported.

"That’s well.  How did you catch them?"

Kenneth gave an account of the night’s work.

"You did very well, Amory," said the captain.  "The battalion is lucky
in having the Three Musketeers.  And the whole brigade is indebted to
you.  This is a fiendishly ingenious arrangement."

He explained the working of the apparatus. The acetylene lamp faced one
end of a long tube, which pierced the outer wall of the house.  By means
of a delicate mechanism the position of the tube could be altered by
millimetres.  The length of the tube prevented the rays from converging
like the rays of a searchlight, so that the light, directed eastward,
was not likely to be seen except by a person at an equal height.

"I have no doubt at all," said the captain, "that some miles away in the
German lines there is an operator with a similar lamp, at the same
height and in the same straight line with this.  We have kept a look-out
but seen nothing; no doubt the cessation of the flashing gave them
warning.  To them the light would appear like a star on the horizon, and
the alternate exposure and dousing of it by means of the disc made the
signals.  No wonder we’ve got it unexpectedly hot sometimes."

Here Ginger came in.

"Stoneway’s got away, sir," he reported. "I guess the old woman gave him
the tip."

"Poor wretch!  He can’t get far.  I’ll circulate the news at once and
he’ll be hunted down.  Now get to your billets, men; I shall want your
evidence in the morning."

As they were returning through the silent streets, talking over the
exciting incidents of the night, Kenneth suddenly exclaimed:

"By George!  I remember now.  That fellow was the man I saw talking
French to Stoneway at St. Pancras station."



                              CHAPTER XXI

                              MARKED DOWN


About four o’clock on the following afternoon, an old French peasant was
walking along a road some fifteen miles to the west of the village in
and around which the Rutlands were billeted.  His lean form was bent,
wisps of white hair straggled from beneath his broad soft hat, his legs
dragged themselves along.  There was no one else upon the road, which
was remote from the main highways that had been for nine months streams
of traffic; but the old man glanced continually right and left, before
and behind, as if searching for something with his shrewd bright eyes.

He came to a wood abutting on the road, and, after another look round,
disappeared among the trees.  A few minutes later he halted, then took a
few slow careful steps forward, and stopped again, looking down with a
curious eagerness.  There, stretched on the fresh springing grass of a
glade spangled with bright spots of sunlight, lay a man asleep.  He was
clad in the uniform of a British soldier, without a belt.  His cap had
fallen off, his arms were thrown out, his face was half turned to the
ground. Perhaps the Frenchman noticed that the regimental badge was
missing from his cap, the regimental letters from his shoulders.

After standing for a few moments contemplating the prostrate form, he
bent down and touched the man’s shoulder. The soldier started up
instantly; the expression of his eyes might have betokened anxiety or
fear; but it changed when he saw that his disturber was just a simple
old Frenchman, with mildness written all over his brown ruddy face,
withered like an apple long laid by.

"Bon soir, monsieur," said the Frenchman. "It is a hot sun, to be sure,
but monsieur l’Anglais will catch a chill if he remains here asleep."

"Ah yes, I must be going," said the soldier, in French surprisingly good
for an English private.  "I have lost my regiment.  I fell lame and
dropped behind. Can you get me anything to eat?"

"Why yes, if you will be content with simple fare.  These are hard
times, monsieur.  But who would not suffer for France? Come to my
cottage hard by; I can at least give you a crust and a mouthful of wine.
We French and you English are comrades, to be sure."

"Is your cottage far?"

"A few steps only; it is quite by itself. You would get better food in
the village, but that is two miles away."

"I’ll get a good meal when I rejoin my regiment.  All I want now is a
little to help me on my way."

"Yes, yes, I understand.  Come then; it is only a few steps."

He set off through the wood, the soldier limping by his side, crossed
the road, and came within a few minutes to a little timber cabin.  There
the soldier, sitting on a low stool, ate ravenously the bread and strong
cheese given him, and drank deep draughts of the thin red wine.  The old
man watched him benignantly, thinking perhaps that he ate as though
seeing no near prospect of a full meal.

"You haven’t seen my regiment, I suppose?" said the soldier.

"How can I tell?" replied the Frenchman, lifting his hands.  "I have
seen many regiments; whether yours was among them I do not know."

The soldier noticed a glance towards his shoulders.

"I gave my badges away to the French girls," he said lightly.  "They
clamoured for souvenirs....  There’s no chance of my running into the
Germans?"

"God forbid!" said the old man.  "They are a little nearer, it is said;
they are using poisonous gas against our brave men.  But we do not lose
heart.  They will never beat us, never.  When I look at the mists on
yonder hills every evening----"

"Mists, are there?"

"Why yes: they creep over the hills at sunset; one can hardly see a
dozen metres ahead.  They say the Germans crept up a night or two ago in
the mist, and took an English trench."

"Ah! well now, my regiment was marching to Violaines; you can put me in
the way?  I must find them before night."

"To be sure."

He went with him to the door, and pointed out the direction.  The
soldier offered to pay for his food, but the old man, with many
gestures, refused to accept a sou.  He bade his guest good-bye, returned
to his cabin and shut the door.  In his eyes was a look of satisfaction
mingled with a strange eagerness. He hurried to the little window facing
the road, and looked out from behind the curtain.  The soldier was
limping along in the direction his host had indicated.  But presently he
stopped and threw a furtive glance backward towards the cabin, another
up and down the road, then walked on again.  His lameness had been
suddenly cured; his gait was even and agile.  And instead of continuing
in the way shown him, he turned off abruptly and re-entered the wood.
Beyond it lay those hills which night clothed with mist.

The old man waited a little, then issued from his cabin, trotted to the
road, and, he also, re-entered the wood.  In a few minutes he was back
again, and set off at the best speed of his aged legs for the village
two miles away.  Arriving there, he went straight to the mairie, and
peered through the wire frame on the door, within which a notice in
large handwriting was posted.  It was headed in big letters,

                            SOLDAT ANGLAIS,

and beneath was a methodical description, in numbered sentences, of the
deserter for whose discovery a reward was offered.  The old man ticked
off the details one by one; then, his bright little eyes gleaming, he
knocked at the door.

It was a small and unimportant village. The maire was of scarcely higher
social standing than his visitor.  He had no gendarmes at his disposal:
all the able-bodied men were in the ranks.

"He is a big man, Jacquou?" he said.

"He!  Big, brawny, a regular beef-eater."

"Then we will telegraph.  The English must arrest him.  For us it would
be dangerous. But what if they delay, and he escapes? There would go
that fine reward, Jacquou, like the maid’s chickens."

"Ah!  Trust me for that, monsieur le maire, trust me for that," said the
old man as he hobbled away.

Something less than two hours later the soldier emerged from his
hiding-place in the wood, at a point at some little distance from the
road.  He came out slowly, nervously, glancing around and behind him.
There was in his eyes that look of anxiety and fear which had appeared
in them at the moment of his being roused by the old man. It was like
the look of a hunted animal. He gazed towards the hills.  Their ridges
were sharp and clear against the sky.  He looked up, and behind.  Shafts
of sunlight were still piercing the foliage.  He glanced at the watch on
his wrist, appeared to make a mental comparison between the time
indicated and the position of the sun, made restless movements, then
went a few steps back among the trees.  From his pocket he took a map,
and spreading it on a trunk, in a sunbeam, he studied it anxiously.

Just as he was folding it up, he heard a low throbbing hum far away to
the south. Hurriedly replacing the map in his pocket, he went to the
edge of the wood, and peered into the southern sky.  The sound was
faint; no speck dotted the cloudless blue. But the hum was drawing
nearer.  He dropped his eyes, and scanned as much of the road as he
could see.  Nothing was in sight.  His mouth worked; a furrow between
his eyes deepened; he rubbed his hand across his brow, and shuddered to
see how damp it was.  Again he looked along the road.  That humming made
him impatient: was it really growing louder, or were his nerves
redoubling the sound in his ears?

At length, with the suddenness of one tired of waiting, he turned his
back on the sound, and plunged into the depths of the wood northward.
He had gone but a hundred yards when he stopped with a start, chilled to
the marrow.  Somebody was there, close by.  He stared; his breath came
and went in pants; but after a moment he went on with a smothered laugh
that was like a groan.  It was only a peasant boy whittling a stick.
The boy looked up as he passed, idly, vacantly.  The solitary British
soldier apparently did not interest him.  He dropped his eyes again,
fell again to his whittling, and softly hummed the air of "Au clair de
la lune."

The soldier went on among the trees.  He was not startled when he caught
sight of another boy collecting twigs blown down by the gales of early
spring.  He had even so far recovered as to throw a pleasant "Bon soir!"
to the boy as he passed.  The boy looked up; he gave no response, not so
much as a smile.  Were the boys hereabouts deaf, or silly, or what?  The
man looked back; the boy, on one knee, an arm stretched out as with
arrested movement, was watching him.

On again.  Insensibly his pace was quickening. At the sight of a third
boy away to his left, apparently doing nothing, he felt unreasonably
angry.  Was the wood full of boys?  Why had he not seen them before? Why
were they so quiet?  Himmel!  Was he being watched?  He would soon stop
that.  He turned about, glowering, to scare away these disturbers of his
peace of mind. They had vanished.  Relieved, almost amused at his
nervousness, he strode on, glancing up at the waning sunlight through
the trees to make sure of his direction.

Suddenly, a little ahead on his right, he saw the flicker of a boy’s
white blouse amid the undergrowth.  With a muttered execration he
slanted towards it, but was checked by a slight rustle on his left.
Swinging round, he caught a glimpse of a small figure flitting among the
trees.  He stopped.  His limbs were shaking; streams of perspiration
trickled down his face.  Now at last he knew the meaning of these
stealthy movements, this sinister silence.  The boys had been set to dog
him.  The certainty appeared to paralyse him.  He stood swaying on his
feet, glancing around for a means of escape from the toils that he felt
closing about him.  Mechanically he raised his hand and dashed from his
face the rolling beads.

The spell was broken by the sound of a motor cycle and shouts behind.
As though galvanised, he made a sudden break at full speed ahead, in a
line between the two boys he had last seen.  Looking neither to right
nor to left he pounded on until he was breathless.  Then he paused to
listen.  Had he shaken off the trackers?  The whirr had ceased, the
shouts were fainter; he was beginning to think that he had gained a few
minutes when a small figure scurried through the undergrowth in front of
him.  He started again, bearing to the left.  A glint of white amid the
green intensified his terror.  He lost command of himself.  No longer
did he take the dying sunlight as his guide. Blindly, desperately he
struggled on, every moment changing his course.  The sounds had ceased;
there was not even a rustle to warn him.

Presently he stopped, aghast.  Before him was the patch of grass which
his weight had flattened.  He had been moving in a circle. Then a gleam
of hope lit the darkness of his despair.  He was now near the road;
perhaps his pursuers had penetrated far into the wood.  He pushed on,
staggering, came to a sunken track, and, supporting himself against a
tree trunk, looked fearfully around. There, to the left, at the side of
the track, were two motor bicycles.  The old Frenchman was keeping
guard.  No one else was in sight.  Gathering his strength, he rushed
headlong towards his last hope.

The old man heard his footsteps, looked up, and raised his feeble voice
in a quavering shout.  There was no time for a second. The soldier
hurled himself upon the aged peasant, felled him with one blow, sprang
to one of the bicycles, started the engine, ran the machine a few yards
and leapt into the saddle.  With every jolt as the bicycle gained speed
on the rough track his heart grew more elate.  Whither the track led he
neither knew nor cared; his whole soul was in the present.

Right and left of him were the trees.  He had ridden perhaps thirty
yards when, from the right, a khaki-clad figure dashed into the track
just ahead.  The fugitive increased his speed and rode straight on.  If
the man stood in his way, so much the worse for him. Then, in a moment,
Atropos cut the thread. As the bicycle was whizzing by, the man flung
himself bodily upon it.  There was a crash, a thud, then silence.

A few minutes later, Kenneth and Harry came hurrying to the scene.

"Is he killed?" asked the latter, as Kenneth stooped over the body lying
on the machine.

"No, he’s alive," replied Kenneth, after thrusting his hand into the
man’s tunic.

He unscrewed the stopper of his flask, and poured weak spirit into the
unconscious man’s mouth.  Not until Ginger had recovered consciousness
did they turn their attention to the other man, whose case, indeed, they
had recognised at the first glance as hopeless.  When he was hurled from
the machine, his head had struck a tree trunk on the opposite side of
the track. Stoneway was dead.

Yet he had survived his partners.  Perhaps half-an-hour before, Obernai
and the rest of the gang, after a drumhead court-martial, had paid the
last penalty.  Spying, at the best, is ignoble work; and when it is
accompanied, as in Obernai’s case, with the treacherous abuse of
hospitality and the betrayal of trusting folk, the spy’s doom awakens no
sympathy.



                              CHAPTER XXII

                             "RECOMMENDED"


"A fig for reasons!" exclaimed Madame Bonnard.  "We women can do without
them.  Monsieur Amory will bear me witness; I said that wretch Obernai
was a villain."

"Pardon, mon amie," said her good man, mildly: "you said you did not
like his voice."

"Well, was not that enough?  I did not like his voice: therefore he was
a villain. It is plain."

"The Kaiser is said to have a very pleasant voice," remarked Kenneth,
slily.

He was sitting in the Bonnards’ kitchen, awaiting the return of his
comrades for supper.

"I should like to ask his wife what she thinks of it," said Madame
Bonnard.  "Poor woman! what a terrible thing it will be for her when she
goes with him into banishment, and she has to listen to him all day
long!"

"Think you they will banish him, monsieur?" asked Bonnard.

"Who can tell?" Kenneth replied.  "We have got to catch him first."

"Ah!" sighed Madame.  "It is terrible. The end is so far off.  Every day
I dread to hear bad news of my poor boys.  And to think that there are
millions of poor women whose hearts are bleeding through that wicked
man!  What punishment is great enough for him?  I should like to think
of him worn and hungry, roaming the world like the Wandering Jew, with
no rest for his feet, always seeing with his mind’s eye the burning
cottages, the maimed children, the weeping mothers, the poor lads he has
massacred."

"Is it fair to put it all down to the Kaiser?" said Kenneth.

"Yes, it is fair," cried the good woman, vehemently.  "Poor people copy
their betters.  His soldiers do what they know will please him.  Has he
said one word of blame for all the dreadful things they have done?  Like
master, like man."

"I say, old man, here’s the post," shouted Harry, bursting in at the
door.  "Two letters and a thumping parcel for you; nothing but a
newspaper for me....  Good heavens!"

"What is it?"

"The curs have sunk the Lusitania.... Oh! this is too awful.  That gas
they are using--the poor fellows die in agony.  It is sheer murder."

Kenneth read the paragraphs Harry indicated. The Bonnards had left the
room.

"We must just stick it," said Kenneth, handing the paper back.  "Nothing
but a thorough thrashing will bring them to their senses.  And there are
silly stay-at-home people who talk of not humiliating them! The Germans
are doing their best to show that the world would gain if the whole race
were wiped out."

"Are there no decent people among them at all?"

"Of course there are, and they’ll be horrified when they learn the
truth.  There’s my partner, Finkelstein, as good-hearted a man as ever
breathed.  He’d never believe the brutes capable of the crimes they are
committing.  But the people are being fed with lies.  I can’t but think
a lot of them will sicken with disgust by and by."

"I only wish we could hurry it up.... Hullo, here’s Ginger!  I didn’t
expect to see you, old man."

"I’m going home, boys!" cried Ginger, with a smiling face.  His arm was
in a sling.  "Doctor says I’ll be no good for three months.  Shoulder
dislocated!  My word! he did give me beans when he jerked it into place.
But I’m going home, home!  Fancy how the missus and kids will jump!  Not
but what I’m sorry to leave you."

"I don’t grudge you a rest, old chap," said Harry, "but we shall want
you back again.  Listen to this."

He read parts of the newspaper paragraphs. Ginger swore.

"I tell you what," he cried.  "I’m not going home to do nothing.  I’m
going recruiting.  That’s what I am.  I’ve spouted a lot of rot in my
time; they’ll hear some hard sense now.  By George! and if I don’t have
at least a score of recruities to my name, call me a Dutchman.  But I’ve
got some news for you--better than those horrible things in the paper."

"What’s that?" asked Kenneth.

"Well, you see, Colonel sent for me, and we had a talk, man to man;
Colonel’s a white man, that’s what he is.  As a matter of fact, I’ve
done a bit of spouting this evening.  But the chaps didn’t want much
talking to; they’re all right.  Verdict unanimous this time.  To cut it
short, that promise of yours is off.  The chaps say they’re quite
satisfied with their job.  Not one of ’em wants to go back to the works
until they’ve seen the Kaiser get his deserts. And Colonel is writing
home to say he wants commissions for you in the Rutlands."

"You mean it, Ginger?"

"That’s just what I do mean.  When I come back, you’ll be officers.
There’s just one thing.  If I should happen at first to forget to
salute----"

"Oh, rot, man!" cried Harry.  "You’re a good sort."

"You’ll thank them all for us?" said Kenneth.  "I’m afraid we shan’t be
allowed to stay with the Rutlands, though.  Army rules are against it.
But we’ll see.  Now, come and have some supper.  Bonnard will give us
something to celebrate the occasion."

"Can’t," said Ginger.  "I’m under orders to start in half an hour.
Going back with a batch of crocks.  It’s good-bye.  But I hope I’ll see
you again."

He shook hands with them warmly.  They were all moved.  Each felt that
in the chances of war they might never meet again. But, in the British
way, they hid their feelings.  Only as Ginger went out he turned in the
doorway and said:

"Mind you keep your heads down in the trenches."

Kenneth and Harry were silent for a while as they ate their supper.

"Well, old boy?" said Harry presently.

"Yes.  It’s good, isn’t it?"

"The governor will be happy....  I say, Ken!"

"Well!"

"I can’t make you out.  You remember when I met you at Kishimaru’s.
Well, you seemed jolly casual--not a bit keen.  Yet it was you who set
the ball rolling at the works, and you’ve been keen enough since."

"Oh well!" was Kenneth’s indefinite response.

"Really, I couldn’t help thinking you were hanging back.  It was because
you’d been seedy, I suppose."

"Perhaps."

"What was wrong with you?  German measles?"

"Not so unpatriotic, my son.  A trifle run down, that’s all."

"Wanted a holiday, I suppose.  The war scrapped holidays for most
people."

"I daresay."

"Hang it all!  What’s the mystery? What do you mean by ’daresay’ and
’perhaps’ and so on and so forth?  What had you been doing?"

"You’re a persistent wretch, Randy. Well, I don’t mind telling you now.
I was in Cologne when war was declared, and I had a pretty strenuous
time for a fortnight."

And he proceeded to outline the adventures which the present writer has
related elsewhere.

"Well I’m jiggered!" exclaimed Harry. "Why on earth didn’t you tell me?"

"Well, you see, you as good as told me I was slacking."

"What’s that to do with it?  All the more reason to open up."

"Give me a cigarette, old chap; it’s all right now."

A bugle called them to their feet.  They flung on their equipment and
hurried out. The battalion was assembling in the market place.

"The trenches again?" asked Kenneth of a sergeant.

"No.  We’re ordered north."

"Advancing at last?"

"Let’s hope so.  Fall in!"



                                THE END



                      PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
                     RICHARD CLAY & SONS, LIMITED,
                   BRUNSWICK ST., STAMFORD ST., S.E.,
                          AND BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



                      HERBERT STRANG’S WAR STORIES


A HERO OF LIÉGE: A STORY OF THE GREAT WAR.

SULTAN JIM: A STORY OF GERMAN AGGRESSION.

THE AIR SCOUT: A STORY OF HOME DEFENCE.

THE AIR PATROL: A STORY OF THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER.

ROB THE RANGER: A STORY OF THE GREAT FIGHT FOR CANADA.

ONE OF CLIVE’S HEROES: A STORY OF THE GREAT FIGHT FOR INDIA.

BARCLAY OF THE GUIDES: A STORY OF THE INDIAN MUTINY.

THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY ROCHESTER: A STORY OF MARLBOROUGH’S CAMPAIGNS.

BOYS OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE: A STORY OF THE PENINSULAR WAR.

KOBO: A STORY OF THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR.

BROWN OF MOUKDEN: A STORY OF THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR.





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