“This must be what you have been expecting, Major,” shouted Ribaut over the racket. “A barrage!”
Down the line ran the noise of bombardment, the thing becoming more furious every instant. Then some shells landed in first-line trenches nearby.
“Take shelter!” shouted Captain Ribaut. “Now! At once!”
French soldiers were scurrying to dug-out shelters. Ribaut led the officer party to a dugout reached by eight descending steps cut in the earth. The apartment in which they found themselves led out some fifteen feet under the barbed wire defenses.
“How long is this likely to last?” demanded Major Wells, eyeing the Frenchman keenly by the light of the one slim candle that burned in the dug-out.
“Perhaps fifteen minutes; maybe until after daylight,” Ribaut replied, with a shrug.
“What is the object?”
“Who can say? But a barrage fire is being laid down between our first and second lines. That means that no reinforcements can reach us from the support trenches. And our own trench is being shelled furiously, to drive all into shelters. My friends, it is likely that the Germans, enraged by the capture of Colonel Pernim, who must be missed by now, are paying us back with a raid.”
“More of your strenuous doings then, Dick,” laughed Greg.
“At least a raid will be highly interesting,” Dick retorted. “So far we haven’t been in one, and we’re here for experience, you know.”
“And you really hope that this turns out to be a German raid?” asked Captain Ribaut.
“Yes; don’t you, Captain?” challenged Major Wells.
“An, but we French have seen so many of these raids, and they are dull, ugly affairs, sometimes with much killing. After you have seen many you will not hunger for more.”
It was not long before conversation was drowned out wholly by the racket of exploding shells in and around the fire trenches. Occasionally one of these drove a jet of sand down the stairs of the dug-out, but this room was too far underground for the dug-out roof to be driven in on them.
Half an hour later the shell-fire against the front-line trenches abated, though the barrage fire still continued to fall between the first and second lines.
Greg whistled softly, unable to hear a note that he emitted. Noll Terry occasionally fingered one of the two gas-masks with which he had been provided before entering the trenches. Major Wells’s attitude suggested that he had his ears set to note every difference in sound that came from outside.
A French soldier shouted down the steps in his own tongue:
“Stand by! The Huns are coming!”
At a single bound Captain Ribaut gained the steps and darted up, followed promptly by the American officers.
In the section in which they found themselves four French soldiers, rifles resting over the parapet, stood awaiting the onslaught.