“Very good, then; you may stick to that weapon,” agreed the lieutenant. “The sergeant and three men will carry their rifles; the other three men will serve as bombers. You observe that our faces and hands are blackened, as white faces betray one in No Man’s Land. We will now help you to black up.”
There followed some quick instructions, to all of which Dick listened attentively, for to him it was a new game.
“We have little gates cut through our own barbed wire,” De Verne whispered in explanation. “Do not be in a hurry, Captain, when you leave the trench. Especially, take pains that you do not catch your clothing on any of the barbed wire as we crawl through.”
A few more whispered directions. While listening Dick studied the faces of the waiting French soldiers, their bearing and their equipment. Only the sergeant remained standing; the privates disposed of themselves on the fire step for a seat. Two of them even dozed, so far were they from any feeling of excitement.
“Ready, now, Sergeant,” nodded the lieutenant.
“We are ready, Lieutenant,” reported the sergeant.
First of all the sergeant went up over the top of the trench, crawling noiselessly to the ground beyond. After him, one at a time, went the French soldiers.
“You next, Captain, if you please,” urged Lieutenant De Verne. “And do not forget that any betraying sound causes the night to be lighted with German flares and that the Huns are always ready to turn their machine guns loose.”
Dick’s hands were instantly on the rungs of the ladder. Up he went, cat-like. By the time that he had crawled over the parapet and had reached the first fence of tangled barbed wire be found a French soldier, prostrate on the ground, waiting, and holding open a gate that had been ingeniously cut through the mantrap. Then the soldier crawled on to the next line of wire defence, repeating the service, as also at a third line.
The last wire had now been passed. Still lying nearly flat, Captain Prescott raised his head, staring ahead into the nearly complete blackness of the night. He was in No Man’s Land!
THE TRIP THROUGH A GERMAN TRENCH
It was the sergeant who led the way. He and his detail moved, except at special times, in a fan-shaped formation with the noncommissioned officer ahead, three men on either side of him formed lines obliquely back.
In the center, within these oblique flanks were the French lieutenant and Captain Prescott.
It was a compact formation, useful in keeping all hands together and in instant touch, yet likely to prove highly dangerous should the enemy open on them with rifle or machine-gun fire.
In the center of No Man’s Land was a wide, deep shell crater, caused by the explosion at that point of one of the largest shells used by the Germans.