Whether he got through, or whether the burst of rifle fire reached the listening ears at the guns, nobody knew; but just as ’Enery did his ear-embracing shoulder-shrug the first shells screamed over, burst and leaped down along the German parapet. After that there was no complaint about the guns. They scourged the parapet from end to end, up and down, and up again; they shook it with the blast of high explosive, ripped and flayed it with, driving blasts of shrapnel, smothered it with a tempest of fire and lead, blotted it out behind a veil of writhing smoke.
At the sound of the first shot the gunner captain had leaped back to the trench. “Is he in? Is he arrived?” he shouted in the ear of the B Company captain who leaned anxiously over the parapet. The captain drew back and down. “He’s in—bless him—I mean dash his impudent hide!”
The Frenchman turned and called to his signaler, and the next moment the guns ceased. But the captain waited, watching with narrowed eyes the German parapet. The storm of his shells had obliterated the rifle fire, but after a few minutes it opened up again in straggling shots.
The captain snapped back a few orders, and prompt to his word the shells leaped and struck down again on the parapet. A dozen rounds and they ceased, and again the captain waited and watched. The rifles were silent now, and presently the captain relaxed his scowling glare and his tightened lips. “Vermin!” he said. He used just the tone a man gives to a ferocious dog he has beaten and cowed to a sullen submission.
But he caught sight of ’Enery making his way along the trench past his laughing and chaffing mates, and leaped down and ran to him. “Bravo!” he beamed, and threw his arms round the astonished soldier, and before he could dodge, as the disgusted ’Enery said afterwards, “planted two quick-fire kisses, smack, smack,” on his two cheeks.
“Mon brave!” he said, stepping back and regarding ’Enery with shining eyes, “Mon brave, mon beau Anglais, mon——”
But ’Enery’s own captain arrived here and interrupted the flow of admiration, cursing the grinning and sheepish private for a this, that, and the other crazy, play-acting idiot, and winding up abruptly by shaking hands with him and saying gruffly, “Good work, though. B Company’s proud of you, and so’m I.”
“An’ I admit I felt easier after that rough-tonguin’,” ’Enery told B Company that night over a mess-tin of tea. “It was sort of natural-like, an’ what a man looks for, and it broke up about as unpleasant a sit-u-ation as I’ve seen staged. I could see you all grinnin’, and I don’t wonder at it. That slobberin’ an’ kissin’ business, an’ the Mong Brav Conkerin’ ’Ero may be all right for a lot o’ bloomin’ Frenchies that don’t know better—”
He took a long swig of tea.
“Though, mind you,” he resumed, “I haven’t a bad word to fit to a Frenchman. They’re real good fighting stuff, an’ they ain’t arf the light-’earted an’ light-’eaded grinnin’ giddy goats I used to take ’em for.”