They crawled back a score or so of yards that brought them to the elbow-turn of the depression. The bank of the turn was practically the last cover they could count upon, because here the ditch shallowed and widened and was, in addition, more or less open to enfilading fire from the German side.
Ainsley halted the men and whispered to them that as soon as they cleared the ditch they were to crawl out into open order, starting as soon as darkness fell after the next light. Next moment they commenced to move, and as they did so Ainsley fancied he heard a stealthy rustling in the grass immediately in front of him. It occurred to him that their long delay might have led to the sending out of a search party, and he was on the point of whispering an order back to the men to halt, while he investigated, when a couple of pistol lights flared upwards, lighting the ground immediately about them. To his surprise—surprise was his only feeling for the moment—he found himself staring into a bearded face not six feet from his own, and above the face was the little round flat cap that marked the man a German.
Both he and the German saw each other at the same instant; but because the same imminent peril was over each, each instinctively dropped flat to the wet ground. Ainsley had just time to glimpse the movement of other three or four gray-coated figures as they also fell flat. Next instant, he heard his sergeant’s voice, hurried and sharp with warning, but still low toned.
“Look out, sir! There’s a big Boche just in front of you.”
Ainsley “sh-sh-shed” him to silence, and at the same time was a little amused and a great deal relieved to hear the German in front of him similarly hush down the few low exclamations of his party. The flare was still burning, and Ainsley, twisting his head, was able to look across the muddy grass at the German eyes staring anxiously into his own.
“Do not move!” said Ainsley, wondering to himself if the man understood English, and fumbling in vain in his mind for the German phrase that would express his meaning.
“Kamarade—eh?” grunted the German, with a note of interrogation that left no doubt as to his meaning.
“Nein, nein!” answered Ainsley. “You kamarade—sie kamarade.”
The other, in somewhat voluble gutturals, insisted that Ainsley must “kamarade,” otherwise surrender. He spoke too fast for Ainsley’s very limited knowledge of German to follow, but at least, to Ainsley’s relief, there was for the moment no motion towards hostilities on either side. The Germans recognized, no doubt as he did, that the first sign of a shot, the first wink of a rifle flash out there in the open, would bring upon them a blaze of light and a storm of rifle and maxim bullets. Even although his party had slightly the advantage of position in the scanty cover of the ditch, he was not at all inclined to bring about another burst of firing, particularly as he was not sure that some excitable individuals in his own trench would not forget about his party being in the open and hail indiscriminate bullets in the direction of a rifle flash, or even the sound of indiscreetly loud talking.