He did it because he understood that the Germans were coming. He had not seen them; but when the gun fell silent he heard whining sounds in the air, as if from a litter of elephantine puppies. Sometimes the twigs of trees fell on him, the dirt in front of him flew up into his face; and always, of course, everywhere about him was that roar of bursting shells which he had come to accept as a natural part of life. And suddenly another man went down, and another—there were only two left, and one of them signalled to Jimmie what to do, and Jimmie did not say a word, he just went to work and learned to run a machine-gun by the method favoured by modern educators—by doing.
Presently the man who was aiming the gun clapped his hand to his forehead and fell backwards. Jimmie was at his side, and the gun was shooting—so what more natural than for Jimmie to move into position and look along the sights? It was a fact that he had never aimed any sort of gun in his life before; but he was apt with machinery—and disposed to meddle into things, as we know.
Jimmie looked along the sights; and suddenly it seemed as if the line of distant woods leaped into life, the bushes vomiting grey figures which ran forward, and fell down, and then leaped up and ran and fell down again. “Eel vienn!” hissed the man at Jimmie’s side. So Jimmie moved the gun here and there, pointing it wherever he saw the grey figures.
Did he kill any Germans? He was never entirely sure in his own mind; always the idea pursued him that may be he had been making a fool of himself, shooting bullets into the ground or up into the air—and the poilus at his side thinking he must know all about it, because he was one of those wonderful Americans who had come across the seas to save la belle France! The Germans kept falling, but that proved nothing, for that was the method of their advance, anyway, and Jimmie had no time to count and see how many fell and how many got up again. All he knew was that they kept coming—more and more of them, and nearer and nearer, and the Frenchmen muttered curses, and the gun hammered and roared, until the barrel grew so hot that it burned. And then suddenly it stopped dead!
“Sockray!” cried the two Frenchmen, and began frantically working to take the gun to pieces; but before they had worked a minute one of them clapped his hand to his side and fell back with a cry, and a second later Jimmie felt a frightful blow on his left arm, and when he tried to lift it and see what was wrong, half of it hung loose, and blood ran out of his sleeve!