It was his first look down into a German trench! Not that there was much to be seen. On the contrary there was nothing to be seen save the trench itself. Dick had heard that often the German first-line trenches are deserted during parts of quiet nights on the front.
A slight sense of motion caused Prescott to look around. He was in time to see the French private wriggling backward. The sergeant withdrew his head to a point below the outer edge of the parapet, seeing which the American captain followed suit.
Minutes passed before the departed soldier returned with Lieutenant De Verne and the remainder of the patrol. Only a glance did the French lieutenant take down into the trench. Next he quietly let himself down into the enemy ditch, followed by the others.
Moving softly the patrol examined that length of trench, also the traverses at either end. Still no German had been encountered.
“We will go further,” announced Lieutenant De Verne. “Sergeant, you will take three men and go west until you come in contact with the enemy. Then return with your report. The rest of us will go east.”
Carrying a bomb in his right hand, a pistol in his left the young French officer led the way. Just behind him was one of his own infantrymen, Prescott coming third and carrying his automatic pistol ready for instant use.
Counting the number of trench sections and traverses through which they passed Dick estimated that they moved east fully two hundred yards. In all that distance they did not encounter a German soldier.
“The Huns who sent up the flares,” De Verne paused to whisper to Dick, “must have been the last of the enemy in these trenches. It made them appear to be on guard, and vigilantly so, and right after sending up the flares they withdrew to lines at the rear. It is, I suspect, an old trick of theirs when they wish to leave the front to rest or feed. I shall so report it.”
At last the lieutenant halted his men. He had penetrated as far as he deemed necessary.
“We will go back and pick up the sergeant,” he said. “But first I shall send a man down one of the communication trenches to learn if the enemy are numerous in the second-line trenches.”
“How long will that take?” Dick whispered.
“At least ten minutes.”
“Then may I try to penetrate a little further east along this line?”
“I will try to be back soon,” Dick promised. Even in the darkness these Allied officers exchanged salutes smartly. Then, gripping his automatic tightly, and realizing that he was now “on his own,” as the British Tommies put it, he disappeared into the nearest traverse.
Prescott did not hurry. He had nothing to expect from his own little prowl, and his purpose in going alone had been to develop his knowledge of this new kind of soldier’s work.
Sixty or seventy yards Dick had progressed when, in a traverse, he thought he heard low voices ahead.