Two more men, equipped with hand bombs, stood awaiting the moment to begin casting.
All the while the curtain of shell-fire, the barrage laid down by the Germans between them and the second-line trenches, continued to fall. It effectually prevented French reinforcements from coming up to the first line.
His automatic pistol ready, Dick Prescott found elbow-room on the fire step. Cautiously he looked over the parapet.
For a moment he could see nothing, save that German shell-fire had blown the barbed wire defenses to pieces, clearing the way for the German invaders to reach them.
In the near distance Dick made out the shadowy figures of the men in the first wave of the German assault.
Rifle-fire began to roll out from the French soldiers. From somewhere at the rear, perhaps from emplacements in or near the French support trenches, the steady drumming of machine-gun fire began. The air was filled with death.
Dick Prescott’s blood thrilled with the realization that he was at earnest grip with the Boches!
A “GUEST” IN PRISON CAMP
In the terrific din of the barrage-fire the men of the first German wave came on like so many silent specters.
They did not run forward, but moved at a fast walk. It was necessary that they save their breath to use in the hand-to-hand struggle that must follow.
Suddenly a French bomb left the trench, striking the ground just in advance of the oncoming Germans. The pink flash of the explosion lighted the set faces of three or four men of the enemy, one of whom went to earth as a fragment from the bomb struck him.
Then bombs fell fast, all along the line. Prescott, singling out an enemy while the flash lasted, let drive at him with a shot from his automatic.
Though several of the Huns fell, the advancing line continued unhesitatingly. The last few steps, past what was left of the barbed wire, the Germans hurled themselves at greater speed.
Then invaders and defenders clashed. German bayonets thrust viciously down into the trench, while French bayonets reached up to dispute them.
Dick had backed away from the fire step. His back against the further wall he was using his automatic pistol to the best advantage.
The first German to leap into the trench landed almost at the feet of Captain Greg Holmes, who had crouched to receive him. Rising, in one of his best old-time football tackles, Greg threw the Hun backward with fearful force, then sat on his chest.
“You’re my prisoner!” Holmes shouted at the prostrate. “Try to rise if you dare!”
So hot had been the reception of the first wave that those of the Germans who did not manage to leap down into the trenches, recoiled in dismay.
Then the second wave of raiders came up, only to find that the French had recovered their second wind. Great as the odds were the French held their own, thrusting, shooting and clubbing with rifle butts.