The Khaki Boys Over the Top.
by Gordon Bates.
"What's that, Schnitz?"
"That noise. Sounds like a party coming along the communication trench!"
The talk was in tense whispers, and the listening was now of the same tenseness. Two khaki-clad Sammies stood on the alert in the muddy ditch, dignified by the t.i.tle, "trench," and tried to pierce the darkness that was like a pall of black velvet over everything.
"Hear it?" inquired he who had first spoken.
"I somedings hears, too," spoke a guttural voice, with a foreign accent. "Might not it perhaps be--"
"Cut that talk, Iggy!" sharply commanded the first speaker. "Do you want the lieutenant dropping in on us!" And Corporal Robert Dalton cautiously moved nearer his fellow non-com., Sergeant Franz Schnitzel.
"Yes, not so loud," advised Schnitzel, who, in spite of his Teutonic name, was a thorough American, speaking with no trace of German accent. "Don't forget that the Boches may have listening parties out right in front of this trench, even though they may have information that we're going to rush 'em just before dawn."
"But what is that noise?" went on Bob. "It sounds like the relief coming, and yet we can't be going to be relieved so near the zero hour. It's impossible."
"Him one big word is," sighed Iggy, trying to adjust his Polish tongue to the strange language called English. "But thinks me nothing is like him in dis war!"
"Nothing is like what?" asked Schnitzel, the talk now being reduced to whispers on the part of all three.
"Him wot you said--repossible," said the Polish lad.
"Hush!" quickly exclaimed Bob, or Dal, as he was variously called by his comrades. "There _is_ some one coming along the trench. If it's the Boches--"
This was enough to cause all three to grip their rifles more tightly.
The sound of advancing footsteps, cautious as they were, was now more audible. Then came a whispered, but sharp:
"Halt! Who goes there!"
"Our lieut's on the job!" commented Bob.
Tensely the three who stood shoulder to shoulder in the darkness of the foremost trench, waiting, listened for the answer. It came, also in a whisper, but it carried to their ears.
"Sergeant Blaise and Sergeant Barlow, ordered to report here to you, sir."
"Oh golly! It's Blazes und Ruddy!" gasped Iggy.
"Cheese it!" cautioned Dal, for the Polish lad, in his enthusiasm, had spoken above a whisper, and even slight sounds carried far on this dark, still night.
"Advance, Sergeant Blaise to be recognized," came the order from the sentry, evidently acting on advice from the lieutenant in command of this part of the American trench.
There was a period of silent waiting on the part of the three who stood so close together, and then they heard their immediate commanding officer say:
"Pa.s.s on. You'll find your friends just beyond here."
A moment later the two newcomers were grasping hands in the dark with the three waiting ones.
"The five Brothers are united again," said Roger Barlow in a low voice.
"Sooner than I expected," commented Jimmy Blaise. "Now we can go over the top together."
"Over the top, may we all go together, in the wind and the rain or in damp, foggy weather," was Bob Dalton's contribution. He sometimes "perpetrated verse," as he dubbed it--a reminder of his cub reporter days.
"But say, Jimmy, how did you manage to get here?" asked Franz.
"Walked," was Jimmy Blaise's laconic answer. "They haven't had to carry me on a stretcher--at least not lately."
"Oh, you know what I mean," said Franz. "I mean, did you ask to be transferred from your station to this trench?"
"No, and that's the funny part of it," said Roger Barlow. "You know after we wrote our letters to-night--or, rather last night, for it's past twelve now--Blazes and I went back to our station."
"Yes, and we came here to wait for the zero signal," interpolated Dal.
"Well, we hadn't been out in our trench very long before we were relieved, and told to report to Lieutenant Dobson here," resumed Jimmy. "And when we remembered that this was where you three were stationed, say, maybe we weren't glad!"
"We are of a gladness also much!" whispered the Polish lad, and there was rather a pathetic note in his voice. "It is a goodness gracious to have you here!"
"Say, you can do more things to the English language than the Boches can on an air raid," chuckled Jimmy.
"Oh, well, it is of a much hardness to speak," sighed Iggy.
"Well, there's no fault to be found with your _fighting_, that's sure!" declared Roger. "Put her there, old pal!" and he clasped hands with his foreign "Brother."
"How's everything here?" asked Jimmy, when the five had taken such easy positions as were available in the narrow trench.
"We're all ready for the zero hour," replied Bob. "Everybody's on their tiptoes. I wish it was over--I mean here. This waiting is worse than fighting."
"It sure is," commented Franz. "But it won't be long now."
"What time do you make it?" asked Bob.
"Must be quite some after three," said Jimmy in a low voice. "It was nearly three when we got our orders to come here."
Roger took out a tiny pocket flash lamp, and, placing one finger over the bulb so that no rays would escape, held the dim glow over his wrist-watch.
"Quarter to four," he announced.
"Fifteen minutes more," sighed Dal.
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