Crawling down between friendly and hostile lines, the sergeant made for this shell-hole. When still several feet away he held up a hand, whereupon Lieutenant De Verne gripped Prescott’s leg. Leaving the others behind the noncommissioned officer moved silently forward. It was his task to make sure that an enemy party had not been first to reach the crater.
Only eyes trained to see in that darkness could make out the fact that the sergeant had held up a hand once more. This was the signal to advance. Now, as the men moved forward, the formation was not kept. Each for himself reached the crater in his own way and time. Down in this basin men could crouch without fear of being seen should the night become lighted up.
When the others had entered, Prescott, being further from the rim, signed to the French lieutenant to precede him. De Verne had just gained the hole when—–Click! Not far away something was shot up into the air; then it broke, throwing down a beam of light. Other clicks could be heard, until the land within two hundred feet of the crater became at least half as bright as daylight would have made it.
Dick Prescott was outside the crater! At the instant of hearing the first click he found himself in a shallow furrow in the dirt. To have sprung into the crater would have been to betray the presence of the party to the enemy. While German machine-gun fire could not reach the French men below him Dick knew that a shell could reach them readily enough.
So he flattened himself in the furrow, his heart beating faster than usual. There followed moments of tight suspense. Would this flattened figure be espied by any enemy observer?
Even when the flares died down Dick did not move. He knew that more flares might be sent up instantly.
A quarter of a mile down the line he could hear a machine gun rouse itself into sudden fury, though none of the missiles came his way.
“I’ve a chance yet,” Dick thought grimly. Yet when blackness came down over the scene again he did not move. No matter what happened to himself he did not intend that harm should come to his French comrades through any act of his.
As Dick still lay there a pebble touched the dirt lightly just before his face. Raising his head a couple of inches he saw a hand, dimly outlined at the edge of the crater, beckoning.
“That means that I’m to go ahead,” Dick told himself. “I’ll follow instructions.”
He took considerable time about it, moving an inch or two at a time. This, however, soon brought him to the edge of the basin-like depression. In going down the inside he moved a bit more rapidly, but did not rise until he found himself among the others. Then he rose to his knees in the middle of the group.
“You are wonderful!” whispered the French lieutenant, placing his lips at Prescott’s ear. “You Americans must have learned your stealth from your own Indians. We are clumsy when we try to equal you in moving without noise.”