But this time some movement in the trenches, some delay in halting a regiment, some neglect to keep men under cover, some transport too suspiciously close-spaced on the roads, betrayed the movement. His suspicions aroused, the airman would have risked the anti-aircraft guns and dropped a few hundred feet and narrowly searched each hillside and wood for the telltale gray against the green. Then the wireless would commence to talk, or the ’plane swoop round and drive headlong for home to report.
And then, picture the bustle at the different headquarters, the stir amongst the signalers, the frantic pipings of the telephone “buzzers,” the sharp calls. “Take a message. Ready? Brigade H.Q. to O.C. Such-and-such Battery,” or “to O.C. So-and-So Regiment”; imagine the furtive scurry in the trenches to man the parapets, and prepare bombs, and lay out more ammunition; the rush at the batteries, the quick consulting of squared maps, the bellowed string of orders in a jargon of angles of sight, correctors, ranges, figures and measures of degrees and yards, the first scramble about the guns dropping to the smooth work of ordered movement, the peering gun muzzles jerking and twitching to their ordained angles, the click and slam of the closing breech-blocks, the tense stillness as each gun reports “Ready!” and waits the word to fire.
And all the while imagine the Germans out there, creeping through the trees, crowding along the trenches, sifting out and settling down into the old favorite formation, making all ready for one more desperate trial of it, stacking the cards for yet another deep gambling plunge on the great German game—the massed attack in solid lines at close interval. The plan no doubt was the same old plan—a quick and overwhelming torrent of shell fire, a sudden hurricane of high explosive on the forward trench, and then, before the supports could be hurried up and brought in any weight through the reeking, shaking inferno of the shell-smitten communication trenches, the surge forward of line upon line, wave upon wave, of close-locked infantry.
But the density of mass, the solid breadth, the depth, bulk, and weight of men so irresistible at close-quarter work, is an invitation to utter destruction if it is caught by the guns before it can move. And so this time it was caught. Given their target, given the word “Go,” the guns wasted no moment. The first battery ready burst a quick couple of ranging shots over the wood. A spray of torn leaves whirling from the tree tops, the toss of a broken branch, showed the range correct; and before the first rounds’ solid white cotton-wooly balls of smoke had thinned and disappeared, puff-puff-puff the shrapnel commenced to burst in clouds over the wood. That was the beginning. Gun after gun, battery after battery, picked up the range and poured shells over and into the wood, went searching every hollow and hole, rending and destroying trench and dug-out, parapet and parados. The trenches, clean