Jimmy looked through the grotesque goggles of his gas mask at his chums. If appearances went for anything they were on the alert and ready to jump over the top at the signal and fight to the death. But the word was delayed, for what, doubtless, were good military reasons. There was little that could be accomplished in firing one’s rifle over the top of the trench. This was all right in the case of sniping, but for a general attack the work had to be done by the artillery, big and little. Later would come the rush in the open, or the standing fast to repel the attack of the gray hordes. And then the rifle fire of the infantry would tell.
It was hard waiting—to be stuck down in what was, literally, a “mud hole,” and stay there while, over one’s head, shrilled and screamed the big shells, that must create untold havoc, damage and death in the rear.
Fortunately, however, as was learned later, the Germans did not have the range accurately. They wasted much of their fire on unoccupied ground in the immediate rear of the American position, and it was only an occasional shell that landed near the trenches. So the position of our heroes was not as bad as at first they imagined.
But it seemed bad enough, and the firing from the Hun positions was intense, and as long as Jimmy, Bob and the others did not know that the Boches did not have them under accurate fire, they suffered nearly as much mentally, as though the knowledge had been positive.
For an hour or two the terrific artillery duel kept up, the Germans hoping to blast away all trenches, barbed wire entanglements and sweep away any opposing forces so that the ground wrested away might be gained back. And during this time the forces of the defenders of liberty were, in the main, inactive. There was little to be gained in rushing the enemy just yet. That time would come later.
And so under a deluge of high explosives, of shrapnel, of trench bombs and the deadly gas the five Khaki Boys and their comrades in arms suffered—physically and mentally. For a gas mask is both physical and mental torture. It is safe, and that is about the best that can be said for it. Merely to sit quietly with one on is a torture, and to work or fight in one is about the limit of human endurance.
Still the orders were to keep them on, and they were kept. But more than once Roger, Franz or Iggy would look around as though for a sight of some one in authority who would tell them to remove the hideous head-pieces.
But the Huns still kept sending over the poisonous gas from shells and from the big cylinders of it they had brought up to the front lines. And the wind was in their favor, blowing straight toward the American lines, so that the deadly yellow fumes came over in rolling clouds.
And then, somehow, word came back to the officers in charge of the big American guns that their shells were having an effect on the Hun artillery. Piece after piece of the Boche batteries were silenced, and at last the Sammies began to obtain mastery of the artillery situation.