Stunned by the concussion, half choked by the clouds of dust and smoke, terribly jarred when they had been felled by the force of the explosion just outside the mill, our five heroes lay, for several seconds, totally unable to stir. Had there been a rush of Huns on them at that moment, or had some following explosion endangered the mill, they would not have been able to move to save themselves.
But, for a time, there was no further explosion, so that the Khaki Boys had a chance to recover their breath, and, what was more important in their perilous situation, gather their no less scattered wits.
“What—what in the name of the great Attila himself was that?” gasped Roger.
“I think it was yet a gun what went off,” mildly said Iggy.
“A gun? Say, it must have been the grandfather of all the cannon the Huns ever made,” declared Jimmy. “Are any of you alive?”
“Guess we’re all alive,” answered Bob, as he slowly arose and shook some of the dust from him. For the dust was thick all over, in clouds and scattered about. Some of it was flour dust and other was the lime and mortar that had held together the front wall which had collapsed and slid outward. The whole front of the mill was open.
There was no doubt about their all being alive, but, for a time, even this had been in doubt. They were still stunned, but they managed to gather in a knot about Jimmy. They were hardly able to breathe, partly because of the shock and partly because of the choking dust.
“There goes our defense,” said Bob, gloomily, pointing to where the machine-gun stood—the one they had decided to use against their enemies. It had been crushed by the falling wall.
“Lucky we had the rations in the back room,” commented Roger, “Else we’d go hungry.”
“We may yet,” returned Jimmy, grimly.
“What do you mean!” asked Bob, anxiously.
“Well, I don’t believe that was a chance shot,” went on the young sergeant. “If they see the mill still standing they may try another, and that may take off the roof. And then——”
“Whoa! Hold on a minute! A little at a time!” protested Bob. “This is enough. Don’t give us any more.”
“We’ve got to know where we’re at!” declared Jimmy, and there was a new quality to his voice. “If this mill is within range of the German guns, and, unquestionably, it is, we’ve got to get out.”
“Or go down cellar,” added Roger.
“I don’t believe any cellar, unless it was double bomb proof, would be safe if another shell like that came over,” said Franz.
“Was it a German shell or one of ours?” asked Bob. “That would be interesting to know. I don’t suppose, though,” he went on, “that it really makes much difference, after you’re dead, whether you’re killed by an enemy shell, or by one fired in mistake by one of your friends. At the same time if the American guns have come up it may mean that the Germans will have to retreat and we’ll be safe.”