Behind the boys roared out the big guns that were laying down a protecting barrage—a veritable curtain of fire behind which they might advance and without which they would have been swept back into their trenches broken and bruised and killed. The artillery duel had been under way some little time now, and it had evidently taken the Germans by surprise, for they were longer than usual in replying.
“Smash ’em up! Smash ’em up!” yelled the lieutenant in charge of that particular part of the advance in which Jimmy Blaise and his chums were included. “Smash ’em up, boys!”
“Wow! We’re with you!” howled Franz. “Smash ’em up!”
Forward they surged, the gallant American lads, who a short time before were peaceful clerks, factory and farm hands and happy college lads, and some boys who instinctively shrank from the mere thought of killing. But now their spirits were on fire with the sacred wine of liberty, and they were daring as they had never dared before. Their daring was imbued with right, and other than this nothing will stand.
The gray mists of morning swirled this way and that, blown not so much by nature’s wind as by the bursts from the flaming mouths of great guns. And through this mist rushed the Americans, some to horrible death or agony, and some to escape scatheless—to inflict just punishment on a mass of men who had lost all sense of right and wrong—men who had reverted to beasts.
“Are we all here?” yelled Jimmy, above the horrid din of battle, as he tried to see if Bob, Roger and the others were near him.
“I guess we’re here—yet,” snapped back Franz, grimly. “No telling how long we shall be, though!”
“Come on now—sharp’s the word!” yelled the commanding officer. “Separate there, you!” he cried to Jimmy and the other four, for they were too close together. “Spread out! You’re too good a target for a machine-gun as you stand!”
They knew the advice was good, and they took it. But they did not separate too far, for they wanted to be together as they went into this fight. It might be the last for all or any one of them.
The din was terrific. It seemed as if all the guns of the world were letting go together, and as Jimmy rushed forward, firing at a foe he could not see, he reflected that this same terrific havoc and riot of sound was taking place for miles along the front held by the Americans, and also along the sectors where the gallant French and British were disputing with the Huns the right to rule the world.
“Forward! Forward! No lagging!” cried the young lieutenant, leading his men. It was getting lighter now, as the sun arose, but the orb itself could not be seen because of the smoke and mist.
But he need not have concerned himself about the laggards. There were none in the 509th Infantry. Too often had they had their mettle proved.
A shell rushed screechingly over Jimmy’s head seemingly within a few feet of him, and instinctively he ducked. Then he almost laughed at himself, for he realized that if he heard the noise he was safe.