All around the plane, the air was full of the white puffs of bursting shrapnel, but the dainty man-bird flirted through them unscathed. The eager Australians, all staring skywards, saw her bank steeply, and at the same time a long white streak shot downwards from her, like a ribbon unrolling in mid air. Then she had turned and was going seawards again at a terrific speed.
‘Now look out!’ cried Ken, and almost as the words left his lips the battleships outside let loose.
A score of 6-inch guns spoke out at once with a ringing clamour which absolutely drowned all other sounds, and their great 100-pound shells came hurtling inland with a series of long-drawn shrieks.
‘Look! Look!’ cried Ken again, as great fountains of earth and gravel spurted from the side of a hill a mile and a half away to the left. That’s plastering them. Now we’re getting a little of our own back.’
There was no doubt about it. The German guns shut up like a knife, but whether they were actually hit or merely silenced, it was, of course, impossible to say.
For twenty solid minutes the grim battleships and cruisers poured forth their storm of shells, until the whole hill-side where the German guns had been posted gaped with brown craters. Then they ceased, and the saucy aeroplane came buzzing inland again to observe and report upon the damage done.
What its extent was the Colonials could not, of course, know, but at any rate the enfilading guns remained silent and the worst danger was at an end.
‘That’s saved our bacon,’ said Ken, with a sigh of relief. ’We’ll get a little rest now, perhaps.’
‘Maybe ye will, and maybe ye won’t,’ said Sergeant O’Brien, who came past at that moment and overheard Ken’s words. ’But if ye want forty winks, bhoys, now’s your time to snatch ’em. There’ll be mighty little slape this night for any of us.’
‘Why so, sergeant?’ asked Dave.
[Illustration: ‘"Hurrah, a plane at last!” said Ken.’]
’Because so soon as ever it’s dark we’ll have the Turks buzzing round us like bees. And the ships can’t help us then, remember,’ he added significantly.
‘Lizzie’ lets loose
Sergeant O’Brien was soon proved a true prophet. Darkness had hardly fallen before the scrub in front was alive with Turks, who came on with a rush, intent on driving the Colonials out of their position.
‘Steady, boys!’ cried the sergeant. ’Don’t fire till ye can see them. Let every cartridge tell.’
Every officer and every non-com. down the long length of the trench was giving the same advice, and the Turks were allowed to approach until their squat forms loomed clear in the starlight.
’Now let ’em have it. Pump it into ’em, lads!’ came O’Brien’s voice again.
With one crash every rifle spoke at once, and at the same time the maxims turned loose their hose-pipe streams of lead. The Turks seemed to melt and vanish under the concentrated storm of fire. Not one reached the trench.