“Take my word for it—you’re alive so far, though how long you’ll be that way—or me, either—I can’t say,” said Jimmy. “What happened, anyhow?”
To Iggy’s relief Jimmy managed to scramble out of the pile of dirt and stones that half buried him. And then, from another corner of what seemed to be the cellar, a third voice said:
“They sent over a proper shell, that time.” It was Franz.
“A proper shell? Most improper, I call it!” came from Roger. “It blew the mill to pieces!”
“And us along with it,” added Bob. “Are we in the cellar?”
“Sub-cellar, basement—anything you like to call it!” put in Jimmy. “But is it possible that none of us is seriously hurt?”
He walked over a pile of masonry and beams. He saw Bob crawling out of a hole and Franz swinging himself down from what appeared to be a ledge. Roger picked himself up from a corner. Only Iggy seemed to be seriously hurt, but it was demonstrated, a few moments later, that he was not. For he scrambled out, scattering the dust in a cloud, and stood with his chums.
They were a sorry sight—covered with dust and streaks of blood, for the wounds they had bound up had opened again, and they had many fresh scratches and cuts.
“It’s very evident what happened,” declared Jimmy. “They must have dropped a shell on the roof, and it blew the mill right down into the ground, and us with it. We’re in the cellar—or what was once the cellar.”
“And the next question is, how to get out,” added Bob.
“Hark!” exclaimed Jimmy, holding up a warning hand.
There was silence, broken by a faint, crackling noise.
“Do you think you hear the German guns, or ours!” cried Bob.
“Neither one,” said Jimmy, and there was a curious note in his voice. “What I hear—and what you’ll all hear, soon—is the crackling of flames. The old mill—or what’s left of it, boys—is on fire!”
“Then let’s get out!” yelled Roger.
Jimmy looked about him, without moving. Above them there seemed to be a solid mass of torn beams and jumbled masonry. On either side there were stone walls—cracked walls, it is true, but, nevertheless, too solid to admit the passage of the Khaki Boys. And only on one side was there an opening, but this was so choked with debris as to make it seemingly impossible to make egress that way. And, as the young soldiers stood there, trapped under the collapsed mill, the sound of the crackling flames became more plain. They could smell, now, the smoke of burning wood.
“We’ve got to get out! We’ve got to get out!” yelled Bob.
He rushed to a place where, through a crisscross of beams and planks, he could see daylight. Yet, though there were openings, none of them was large enough to permit the passage of the smallest of the five Brothers. And the wooden beams and planks were all of extraordinary thickness.