And then before the two dragging the stretcher could move in a last desperate rush for safety, before they could rise from their prone position, they heard the rattle of fire increase swiftly to a trembling staccato roar. But, miraculously, no bullets came near them, no whistling was about their ears, no ping and smack of impacting lead hailed about them—except, yes, just the fire of one rifle or two that sent aimed bullet after bullet hissing over them. They could not understand it, but without waiting to understand they half rose, thrust and hauled at the stretcher, dragged it under the wires, heaved it over to where eager hands tore down the sandbags to gap a passage for them. A handful of bullets whipped and rapped about them as they tumbled over, and the stretcher was hoisted in, but nothing worth mention, nothing certainly of that volume of fire that drammed and rolled out over there. They did not understand; but the others in the trench understood, and laughed a little and swore a deal, then shut their teeth and set themselves to pump bullets in a covering fire upon the German parapet.
The stretcher party drew little or no fire, simply and solely because just one second after those first shots and loud shouts had declared the game up, a figure sprang from the grass fifty yards along the trench and twice as far out in the open, sprang up and ran out, and stood in the glare of light, the baggy scarlet breeches and gray shirt making a flaring mark that no eye, called suddenly to see, could miss, that no rifle brought sliding through the loophole and searching for a target could fail to mark. The bullets began to patter about ’Enery Irving’s feet, to whine and whimper and buzz about his ears. And ’Enery—this was where the trench, despite themselves, laughed—’Enery placed his hand on his heart, swept off his cap in a magnificent arm’s length gesture, and bowed low; then swiftly he rose upright, struck an attitude that would have graced the hero of the highest class Adelphi drama, and in a shrill voice that rang clear above the hammering tumult of the rifles, screamed “Veev la France! A baa la Bosh!” The rifles by this time were pelting a storm of lead at him, and now that the haste and flurry of the urgent call had passed and the shooters had steadied to their task, the storm was perilously close. ’Enery stayed a moment even then to spread his hands and raise his shoulders ear-high in a magnificent stage shrug; but a bullet snatched the cap from his head, and ’Enery ducked hastily, turned, and ran his hardest, with the bullets snapping at his heels.
Back in the trench a frantic French captain was raving at the telephone, whirling the handle round, screaming for “Fire, fire, fire!”
Private Flannigan looked over his shoulder at him, “Mong capitaine,” he said, “you ought, you reely ought, to ring up your telephone; turn the handle round an’ say something.”
“Drop two pennies in,” mocked another as the captain birr-r-red the handle and yelled again.