It was more, he said afterward, as though part of the darkness itself moved rather than that he actually saw something. But it was enough to direct his attention to what Bob pointed out.
“It is something,” was Jimmy’s cautious declaration. “And coming this way!”
There was a movement on the part of Bob, and his chum knew he was getting his rifle in readiness. Jimmy followed this example. They were on the alert.
“Don’t fire until you challenge,” cautioned Jimmy. “It might be one of our fellows, you know.”
“One of our fellows—out there? How could it be!”
“Might have advanced too far, been wounded and have waited for darkness to crawl back to our lines. Wait a second more until we see what he’s up to.”
“It’s a man, sure!” Bob whispered, “and he’s crawling toward us on his stomach.”
“Let’s do the same ourselves and crawl out to meet him,” suggested Jimmy. “If he has a grenade, or a bomb, and tries to throw it, we may forestall him.”
“Our orders were to stay here,” decided Bob, and he was a great stickler for obeying orders to the letter. Perhaps even his small newspaper experience was responsible for this.
Suddenly the silence of the darkness was broken by an unmistakable sneeze. True, the sneezer, if I may use such a term, tried to stifle the explosion, but he was not altogether successful. It was a sneeze, and nothing could disguise it.
“Did you hear—” began Bob.
And then, to the greater surprise of the two listeners, there came a muttered exclamation in German.
“For the love of gas masks!” breathed Jimmy. “Take aim, Bob!”
And in another moment the fire of two rifles would have been concentrated on that moving splotch of blackness, whence had come the sneeze, except that the guttural German expletive was followed by a tense whisper. And the words came in good English.
“Don’t shoot, boys! I’m Schnitz!”
Bob said, afterward, that the reaction was so great that he actually had a fit of nervous shivering, and Jimmy admitted the same. They fully expected a rush of the Huns, but they had made up their minds that first they would “get” the advance guard in the shape of the man who had sneezed. And then to hear the unmistakable voice of their comrade in arms!
It was almost unbelievable, and, for a moment, both listening lads had a doubt. This might be some trick of the Germans, and “Schnitz” was a sufficiently common Teutonic name, shortened as it was. But a moment later the voice from the darkness went on in the same cautious whisper:
“Don’t fire, Bob—Jimmy! If you do, you’ll spoil a little surprise-party.”
“Say, what does this mean!” asked Jimmy, a bit sternly, for he was suffering from a reaction.
“You’re supposed to be in the dugout, or somewhere back there,” said Bob, when Franz had crawled to them and had arisen to stand beside them. “What brought you out? Were you sent?”