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   Chapter 15 OUT IN NO MAN'S LAND

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 10055

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


If there was a disgusted person present it was Captain Greg Holmes. That angry young man spat out a mouthful of dirt, and then tried to rid himself of more.

Major Wells felt more like standing on his head. A fragment of shell had torn away the top of his tunic in back, without scratching his skin, and at the same time had thrown a shower of sand down inside his O.D. woolen shirt. Terry had been knocked over by the concussion, but had sustained no wound and was quickly on his feet, unhurt.

As for Prescott, he had turned, for an astounded second, then, much disturbed over what he believed to have been his fault, he had stepped down from the fire step.

Captain Ribaut and Lieutenant De Verne, neither of whom had been touched, looked on and smiled.

As Prescott stepped down to the duck-boards he saw Private Berger come back into the trench from the adjoining traverse, the latter a jog in the trench line intended to prevent the enemy from raking any great length of trench during an attack.

"I hadn't an idea that just raising my head over the parapet would bring cannon fire so promptly," Dick murmured to Ribaut.

"Nor did that act of yours bring cannon fire," rejoined Captain

Ribaut.

"Then what did?"

"It must have been that it just happened," replied the Frenchman.

Private Berger stood leaning with his right hand on top of the sand-bag parapet.

"Shall I get back on the fire step for another look?" Dick inquired.

"Why not?" inquired Captain Ribaut, shrugging his shoulders.

"Why not, indeed, if there is anything you wish to see?"

Waiting for no more Dick again mounted to the fire step, raising his head over the top, this time with greater caution.

"There it is again!" he cried, in a voice scarcely above a whisper, his words causing his friends astonishment.

A moment later there came another sharp report, followed by the same whining sound. This time a shell struck just behind the parados. There was an avalanche of shell fragments, but none flew into the trench, the parados preventing.

"Captain Ribaut, a word with you," Dick urged, stepping down and laying a hand on the French officer's arm. They stepped further along the trench.

"Captain," Prescott whispered earnestly, "I do not want to arouse any unfair suspicions, but I have something to tell you. When I first looked over the parapet I noticed on the ground in front three small but distinct glows. Then came the report and the shell. Private Berger had stepped into the traverse at his right. Immediately after the shell burst he came back into this trench. When I looked over the top a second time I saw the same three tiny glows of light on the ground ahead. Then came the second shell. Each time, before the shell was started this way Berger stood with his right hand resting above his head on the parapet. Each time he stepped down and into the traverse. Each time, after the shell burst, he stepped back into this trench. I may be wrong to feel any suspicions, but is it possible---"

"Wait!" interposed Captain Ribaut quickly, and stepped into the

traverse at the left. He came back with two French soldiers.

These started down the trench, pouncing upon Private Berger.

With them was Captain Ribaut.

"Oh, you scoundrel, Berger!" suddenly hissed the French captain. He hurled the fellow to the ground, then held up a slim object, some six inches in length.

"See!" he muttered to the others. "It is a tiny electric light, supplied by a very small special battery. The scoundrel, Berger, had it concealed up his right sleeve. Twice he rested his right hand on the parapet. He flashed the lamp thrice each time, for Captain Prescott saw it. Then the scoundrel stepped into the traverse, where he would be safe from the shell he had invoked from the enemy. We have known that there was a spy or a traitor in this regiment, but we were unable to identify him. Gentlemen, step into the traverses on either side and I will test my belief."

After the others had filed into the traverses Captain Ribaut rested his right hand on the parapet, causing the little pencil of electric light to glow three times in quick succession. Then he sprang back into the nearer traverse.

Bang! A shell landed in the vacated length of trench, tearing up the duck-boards and gouging the walls of the trench.

"Go for your corporal and tell him to send two men to take this spy to the rear," Ribaut ordered one of the soldiers who stood guarding Berger. "Captain Prescott, this regiment owes you a debt that it will never be able to repay. Berger, your hours of life will be short, but the story of your infamy will be everlasting!"

"And, Corporal," ordered Lieutenant De Verne, after Berger had been started rearward under guard, "see to it that only the most necessary sentries are posted along here for tonight. Keep the rest of your men in shelters, for the Huns may feel disposed to continue shelling this part of the line."

"Come, my American comrades," urged Captain Ribaut, "

there is much more to be seen at other points along this line."

Until within an hour of daylight the French captain and lieutenant and their American pupils continued along the first line trench. Save for occasional shell fire it proved to be a rather quiet night. Leaving the front a sufficient time before dawn Major Wells and his subordinates went back to the fifth line trench. After breakfasting, they retired to bunks that had been bedded in advance of their coming, and slept until late in the afternoon.

"There is one thing I like about the French trenches," declared Greg Holmes, with enthusiasm, as soldiers entered with the beginnings of a meal.

"And what is that?" inquired Captain Ribaut eagerly.

"The smell of the coffee when it comes in," grinned Greg.

"To-day's sleep, and the meals, I have found to be of the best," said Captain Dick quietly, as he sat down to eat. "I am still more interested in the hope that to-night in the fire trenches will be more exciting than last night."

"Perhaps it will be," suggested Captain Ribaut, "for I have received word that patrols will be sent out into No Man's Land to-night, and it has been suggested to me that one American officer should go with the patrol. Which one of you shall it be?"

"I know that Captain Prescott wants to go," said Major Wells, as he noted Dick's start of pleasure. "Therefore, Captain Ribaut, suppose you send him with the patrol."

"Thank you, sir," came Dick's quick assent. "Nothing could please me more. It will make to-night a time surely worth while to me."

Before the meal had been finished the German artillerymen began the late afternoon "strafing," as a bombardment is called.

When the shell-fire had ceased Ribaut led his guests down to the front or fire trench. Lieutenant De Verne had not been with them since breakfast time in the morning.

"May I relieve one of your sentries, Captain, and take his post until there is something else for me to do?" Dick asked.

"Yes, certainly," agreed Ribaut. "I will send for the corporal, who will instruct you as the other sentries are instructed."

So Dick took the bayoneted rifle of a soldier who was much delighted at having a brief opportunity for sleep thus thrust upon him. Dick listened to the corporal's orders, then, for the next two hours stood gazing patiently out over No Man's Land. At the end of that time the sentries were changed and Dick stood down gladly enough, for his task had become somewhat dull and irksome.

Half an hour after being relieved Prescott heard a sentry challenging in low tones. Then Lieutenant De Verne came into the fire trench with a sergeant and six men.

"This is the patrol," announced the younger Frenchman. "All my men for to-night are veterans at the game. Captain Prescott, do you wish to try your hand as a bomber tonight?"

"I am more expert, Lieutenant, with an automatic pistol."

"Very good, then; you may stick to that weapon," agreed the lieutenant. "The sergeant and three men will carry their rifles; the other three men will serve as bombers. You observe that our faces and hands are blackened, as white faces betray one in No Man's Land. We will now help you to black up."

There followed some quick instructions, to all of which Dick listened attentively, for to him it was a new game.

"We have little gates cut through our own barbed wire," De Verne whispered in explanation. "Do not be in a hurry, Captain, when you leave the trench. Especially, take pains that you do not catch your clothing on any of the barbed wire as we crawl through."

A few more whispered directions. While listening Dick studied the faces of the waiting French soldiers, their bearing and their equipment. Only the sergeant remained standing; the privates disposed of themselves on the fire step for a seat. Two of them even dozed, so far were they from any feeling of excitement.

"Ready, now, Sergeant," nodded the lieutenant.

"We are ready, Lieutenant," reported the sergeant.

"Proceed."

First of all the sergeant went up over the top of the trench, crawling noiselessly to the ground beyond. After him, one at a time, went the French soldiers.

"You next, Captain, if you please," urged Lieutenant De Verne. "And do not forget that any betraying sound causes the night to be lighted with German flares and that the Huns are always ready to turn their machine guns loose."

Dick's hands were instantly on the rungs of the ladder. Up he went, cat-like. By the time that he had crawled over the parapet and had reached the first fence of tangled barbed wire be found a French soldier, prostrate on the ground, waiting, and holding open a gate that had been ingeniously cut through the mantrap. Then the soldier crawled on to the next line of wire defence, repeating the service, as also at a third line.

The last wire had now been passed. Still lying nearly flat, Captain Prescott raised his head, staring ahead into the nearly complete blackness of the night. He was in No Man's Land!

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