It was awkward enough already. The Red Cross men were kept busy, staggering away downhill with stretchers laden with the wounded. There was no possibility of returning the enemy’s fire, and in the darkness the ships could not help. All the Colonials could do was to crouch as low as possible, flattening themselves against the landward wall of the trench.
‘Those snipers are the very deuce, sergeant.’
The voice was that of Colonel Conway, who was making his way down the trench, to see how his men were faring.
‘They are that, sorr,’ replied O’Brien. ’’Tis them over on the bluff to the left as is doing the damage. I’m thinking they’ve got the ranges beforehand.
As he spoke a man went down within five yards of where he stood. He was shot clean through the head.
‘It’s Standish,’ said Ken. And then, on the spur of the moment,—
‘Sergeant, couldn’t some of us go and clear them out?’
There was a moment’s pause broken only by the intermittent crackle of firing from above.
‘Who was that spoke?’ demanded Colonel Conway.
‘I, sir,’ answered Ken, saluting. ‘Carrington.’
‘Aren’t you the man who knows this country?’
‘I have been in the Peninsula before, sir.’
‘Hm, and do you think you could find those snipers?’
‘I do, sir.’ Ken spoke very quietly, but inwardly he was trembling with eagerness. Was it possible that his impulsive remark was going to be taken up in earnest?
The colonel spoke in a whisper to O’Brien, and the sergeant answered. Then he turned to Ken.
’You may pick three men and try it. You’ll have to stalk them, of course. If you can’t reach them come back. No one will think any the worse of you if you fail.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ said Ken, his heart almost bursting with gratitude. His chance had come, and he meant to make the most of it.
A RUSE OF WAR
‘Dave, will you come?’ said Ken.
‘Will a terrier hunt rats?’ was Dave’s answer.
‘And I want Roy Horan, sergeant, if he’s alive. He’s a New Zealander.’
‘Pass the word for Horan,’ said the sergeant, and the whisper went rapidly down the long trench.
‘Who’ll be the fourth?’ Ken asked of Dave.
’Take Dick Norton. He’s a Queensland ex-trooper. He’s been in with the black trackers, and moves like a dingo.’
‘The very man,’ said Ken. ‘Where is he?’
Norton, as it happened, was only a few yards away. He came up eagerly, a slim, dark man with keen gray eyes and a nose like a hawk’s beak.
A moment later, and Roy Horan’s giant form came slipping rapidly up to the little group, and Ken at once explained what was wanted.
‘Carrington, you’re an angel in khaki,’ said Horan rejoicingly. ’I’m your debtor for life.’