The American took off his helmet and wiped his brow.
‘Jumping Jehosophat!’ he exclaimed ruefully, ’do I have to marathon ten miles and back? They sure are generous with exercise in the army. Say, you guys—if you’re on the level about being stragglers, and want a real honest-to-God showdown scrap, you hike over that bridge. Do you see that big tree over in the bush? Can you make it out? Well, when you get across the river, just line your lamps on that tree, and after half a mile or so you’ll come to a sunken road. Report to Major Van Derwater, and tell him you’re the only army M’Goorty—that’s me—has found so far. And tell him I’ll discover the French admiral who is supposed to be bringing up reinforcements, if I have to search this whole one-horse country for him. You’d better get a move on before the light comes up, for, believe me, Lizzie, those Boches can shoot, and if ever they see you coming across that bridge you may as well kiss yourselves good-bye.’
Having delivered himself of this expressive monologue, the corporal replaced the revolver in its holster and took a seaman’s hitch in his breeches. Again the machine-guns spat out, the sound seeming to be borne on the wind as the bullets traversed the air.
‘Gosh!’ said the corporal, ’but I’d give a year’s tips to see that scrap out. They had the bulge on us by about three to one, and we had to back up to keep the line straight, but now we’re holding them great. Say—we’ve got a bunch of bowhunks there who could shoot the wart off a snail. Some scrap, believe me. Well, so long.’
He had just started off at a run, when he stopped and turned round. ’If you ever come to New York, look me up at the Belmont. I’m a waiter there, and I can put you wise to a lot of things. Chin, Chin!’
‘Cheerio,’ answered Dick, as the energetic corporal disappeared.
‘I’m gettin’ ‘ard o’ ‘earin’,’ said the old groom. ’Leastways I ain’t sure I ’eerd ’im correct. Wot did ‘e say?’
’Mathews!’—Dick turned to his servant, and his voice shook with excitement—’there’s a battle going on the other side of the river, and we’re to report to Major Van Derwater. By heavens, Mathews! I feel half-mad with joy. They didn’t get us after all, did they? We sha’n’t be shot like curs, at any rate. Think of it, old man—we’ve won out! They can’t stop us now’—— His words stopped suddenly. ‘Mathews,’ he said, ’you must not come. Stay here, and join the reinforcements when they turn up. You have to consider your wife and little Wellington.’
For answer the groom started along the path towards the bridge, and Durwent was forced to break into a run before he could head him off.
‘Mathews,’ he said sternly.
‘Mas’r Dick,’ replied the groom, snorting violently, ’you shouldn’t go for to insult me. Beggin’ your pardon and meanin’ no disrespeck, this here war is as much mine as yourn. Orders or no orders, I’m agoin’ to have a howd’ee with them sausage-eaters, and, as that there free-spoke young gen’l’man observed, the bridge ain’t exactly a chancery in the daylight. Come along, sir; argifyin’ don’t get nowhere.’