By now the Colonel was completely bewildered, and he began to wonder whether he or his battalion were hopelessly mad. It was extraordinary enough that the men should have dug so willingly and well, and without a grumble being heard or a complaint made.
It was still more extraordinary that more or less severely wounded men should not be ardently desirous of the safety and comfort and feeding of the hospitals; and on the top of all was this mysterious message of a sap apparently being made by his men voluntarily and without any sanction, much less the usual required pressure.
A message came from Captain Conroy, in the forward trench, to say that Riley was coming up to headquarters and would explain matters.
Riley and the explanation duly arrived. “Ould Prickles,” inclined at first to be mightily wroth at the unauthorized digging of the sap, caught a twinkle in the Padre’s eye; and a modest hint from the Little Lad reminding him of the speed and excellence of the new trenches, construction turned the scale. He burst into a roar of laughter, and the Padre joined him heartily, while the Little Lad stood beaming and chuckling complacently.
“I must tell the Brigadier this,” gasped the O.C. at last. “He might have had a cross word or two to say about a sap being dug without orders, but, thank heaven, he’s an Irishman, and a poorer joke would excuse a worse crime with him. But I’m wondering what’s going to happen when they reach their General and find no francs, and no watch, and not even a General; and mind you, Riley, the sap must be stopped at once. I can’t be having good men casualtied on an unofficial job. Will you see to that right away?”
The Little Lad’s chuckling rose to open giggling.
“It’s stopped now, sir,” he said—“just before I came up here. And what’s more, the General won’t need explaining; the German gunners spied our sap, and, trying to drop a heavy shell on it—well, they dropped one on to the General. So now there isn’t a General, only a hole in the ground where he was.”
Ould Prickles’ and the Padre’s laughter bellowed again.
“I must tell that to the Brigadier, too,” said the O.C.; “that finish to the joke will completely satisfy him.”
“And I must go,” said the Padre, rising, “and tell McRory, though I’m not just sure whether it will be after satisfying him quite so completely.”
“WHEN WE BEGIN TO PUSH”
“Here we are,” said the Colonel, halting his horse. “Fine view one gets from here.”