The front of the farmhouse broke into a sheet of flame.
At almost the same moment, Captain Leroux on the floor below, and Chester in the basement, gave the command to fire and the first line of approaching Germans seemed to crumple up.
But the men behind came on.
Again and again effective volleys were fired from the farmhouse; but despite their heavy losses and urged on by commands of their officers, the Germans pressed forward until they were at the very side of the house.
As they approached they fired volley after volley at the windows behind which the defenders stood calmly; and the French had not gone unscathed.
In the basement, where Chester was in command, no German bullet had gone so far, but Hal had lost three men and Captain Leroux five. As quickly as these fell others took their places at the windows and continued to fire steadily into the German ranks.
Came a heavy battering at the front door. A force of Germans had reached this point in spite of the fire of the French and now were attempting to batter it down. Without exposing themselves too recklessly the French could not reach this party of Germans with rifle fire.
Captain Leroux quickly told off ten men to guard the entrance the moment the door should give beneath the kicks and blows of the enemy.
“Ten men should be as good as a hundred there,” he explained. “Pick them off as they rush through. Aim carefully and make every shot count.”
He turned back to the work of directing the fire from the windows.
The battering at the door continued. One of the defenders, thinking to dispose of a member of the enemy in such close proximity, stuck his head out and brought his rifle to bear upon the foe in the doorway; but before he could accomplish his object he fell back inside with a groan. A German bullet had done its work.
“No more of that!” ordered Captain Leroux, sharply. “I need every man I have. No need to expose yourselves uselessly.”
After that no French head appeared above the window sill farther than was necessary to aim and fire.
In the basement Chester and his men had had little to do so far. True, they had been able to pick off a German or two, but their position was such that they could be of little value at the moment. Their time was to come later.
On the top floor Hal, because of his position, was better able to command a view of the open field ahead than Captain Leroux in the room below. The fire of Hal’s men, therefore, was more effective than of the French on the ground floor.
Below there was a crash as the door splintered beneath the battering tactics brought into play by the Germans who had gained the shelter of the house and were able to continue work without molestation. The ten Frenchmen told off by Captain Leroux to defend the entrance held their rifles ready, waiting for the first German head to appear in the opening.