Only a few hours before, after each had written a letter home, the missives having been sent back of the lines to be posted, the five lads had solemnly shaken hands at parting. The two sergeants—James Blaise and Roger Barlow—went to a distant part of the intricate trench system, while the two corporals, Robert Dalton and Ignace Pulinski and Sergeant Franz Schnitzel were together in a ditch near the middle of the barbed wire entanglements. And now, by a strange turn of fate, they were all together again, waiting for the final word that might send then all into eternity, or cause them to live horribly misshapen.
Something of this seemed to be felt by the five Khaki Boys as they stood in the mud and darkness waiting. For it had rained and the trench was slimy on the bottom in spite of the “duck boards.”
“I wonder where we’ll be this time to-morrow,” mused Bob in a low voice.
“Oh, cut out the ‘sob sister’ stuff!” said Jimmy, a bit sharply. “Isn’t it gloomy enough here without that?”
They talked in the lowest whispers, and there were the murmurs of whispers on either side of them, for their comrades up and down the trenches felt the same strain, and relieved it by talking cautiously.
“I think we’ll all be together again,” said Roger, trying to speak cheerfully. “Somehow I’ve got a feeling that we’ll come out of this all right.”
“Me, I hat a dream,” slowly remarked Iggy. “Of my dream I now know only one cling—und dot is my face was all bloody!”
“Oh, for the love of Mike! Don’t croak!” exclaimed Jimmy.
“Silence down there!” came a sharp command. Jimmy had spoken too loudly, and the listening lieutenant had heard him.
Slowly the minutes dragged. Once again Roger carefully looked at his watch.
“What time is it?” whispered Franz.
“Five minutes of.”
“Great Scott! Is it only ten minutes since you looked before! It seems like a lifetime. Whew! I’m all in a sweat!”
And yet the night was cool.
It was now as silent as death in the trench, and all about it. Earlier in the night there had been distant shelling, but this had ceased some time since.
Roger, unable to stand the strain longer, was about to flash his little pocket electric torch again when suddenly the stillness of the night was broken by a loud, shrill whistle.
“The signal!” cried Jimmy.
“The zero hour at last!” shrilled Roger in his tense excitement.
“Over the top!” yelled Bob. “Over the top!”
And just as the first streaks of the gray light of dawn began to pierce the blackness, the five Brothers, and their comrades up and down the trenches, leaped from their places of waiting with savage yells, and started for the German lines.
“I am glad! I am glad!” sang Iggy. “Now I can of the fight have a piece!”
He and Franz sprang out of the trench together. Side by side they raced over the rough ground, through the gaps cut in the barbed wire. A little in advance were Jimmy, Roger and Bob.