Kan Wong dragged up an uninjured machine gun the crew of which lay about it. Fitting the bands of cartridges as he had seen the gunners do, he turned the crank and swung it round on its revolving tripod. Before its vicious rain he saw the grey figures fall, and a great joy welled up in his breast. He signalled for other belts and worked the gun faster. Round him the coolies rallied; others beyond the sound of his voice joined in from pure instinct. The grey figures wavered, hesitated, melted back into the smoke, and then strove to work around the fire of the death-spitting group. But the Dragon’s blood was up, the voice of the Dragon’s son cheered and directed the snarling, roused whelps to whom war was an old, old trade, forgotten, and now remembered in this strange, wild land. The joy of slaughter came savagely upon them. The death that they had received they now gave back. In the place the white men had fled, the yellow men now stood, descendants of the Tai-pings, as fierce and wild as their once Hairy brothers.
Meanwhile, behind them the retreating line halted, stiffened by hurried reinforcements. The officers rallied their men, paused and looked back through the smoke. The line had given way and they must meet the oncoming wave. Quickly reforming, they picked their ground for a stand and waited. The moments passed, but no sign of the victors.
“What the hell is up?” snarled one of the reinforcing officers. “I thought the line had given way.”
“It has,” replied the panting, battle-torn commander. “My men are all back here; there’s no one in front but the enemy!”
“What’s that ahead, then?” The sharp bark of rifles, the rat-a-tat of machine guns, the boom of bursting grenades, and the yells, groans, screams and shouts of the hand-to-hand conflict came through the curtaining smoke in a mad jumble of savage sound.
“Damned if I know! We’d better find out!” They began moving their now rallied men back into it.
Suddenly they came upon it—a writhing mass of jeans-clad coolies, wild-eyed, their teeth bared in devilish, savage grins, their hands busy with the implements of death, standing doggedly at bay before grey waves that broke upon them as a sullen sea breaks and recedes before a jutting point of land ...
With the reinforcements the tide turned, ebbing back in a struggling, writhing fury, and soon the ground was clear again of all save the wreck that such a wave leaves behind it. Once the line was re-established and the soldiers holding it steadily, the coolies, once more the wielders of pick and shovel, returned to the work of trench repairing, leaving the fighting to those to whom it belonged.
The officers were puzzled. What had started them? What had injected that mad fighting spirit into their yellow hides? What had caused them to make that swift, wild, wonderful stand?
“Hey, you, John!” The commanding officer addressed one of them when a lull came and they were busy again at the tumbled earth. “What you fight for, hey?”