The Khaki Boys over the Top Part 23

"We're captured!" said Roger. "Keep still! Don't give any information no matter what they do! Keep still!"

"I will!" said Bob grimly.

One of the Germans dragging him along cried out an insulting epithet and struck Bob across the mouth.

And then the captives were dragged away in the darkness.

CHAPTER XIX

THREE PRISONERS

The two Khaki Boys who had been on listening post duty were at once disarmed by the Huns, and fairly dragged along in the darkness over rough ground and among strands of barbed wire that scratched them, and over stones that bruised them.

Bob had received a cut on the forehead, either from a blow or from a glancing bullet, and the blood, running down into his eyes, blinded him temporarily.

"Are you here, Roger?" he managed to gasp, as two burly Germans pulled him along.

"Yes, old man, I'm here! Say, but this is tough luck!"

Again he was struck and ordered to keep silent.

Back they were hurried toward the German lines, whence had issued the raiding party that had had such luck as to defeat a small and very much surprised body of Americans. Perhaps it is not to their credit to say they were surprised, but the truth must be told. Some one was negligent, and failed to give the alarm in time.

Mackson and Jones, privates, who had been in the listening post next to the one where Roger and Bob were stationed, had escaped in the confusion. Amid the attack and counter-attack, and while the firing and throwing of hand grenades was hottest, they ran back to the trenches, calling out word of what had happened.

Jimmy was just coming on duty when the attack of the Germans took place, and, hearing what Mackson gasped out, cried to him:

"Did you see anything of Bob and Roger?"

"Yes, they're gone!" was the answer.

"Gone? You mean killed?" and Jimmy felt as though his heart would stop beating.

"No. They put up a good fight, but the Huns were too many for 'em.

Roger and Bob were taken off by the Boches!"

"Captured! Prisoners!" cried Jimmy. For an instant he hardly knew what to do. The confusion was at its height, and there seemed to be some demoralization among the Americans at this particular post. But order was gradually coming out of it. A captain and two lieutenants hurried up and took charge of matters. A brisk artillery fire was ordered to sweep the German lines, to prevent, if possible, any further advance in force. At the same time up and down the trenches and from dugouts the gallant doughboys poured, ready to take revenge for the attack of the Huns.

"Come on! Come on!" cried the captain, and with wild cheers and yells his men followed him. Jimmy had a sudden thought. Rushing up to the captain, who was listening to a report from a corporal who had been wounded, and who had escaped after being captured, Jimmy cried:

"Two of my friends have been caught--Sergeant Barlow and Corporal Dalton. May I take a relief party out, sir, and rescue them?"

"Yes, Sergeant Blaise! Take six men with you, and good luck! Keep in touch with us, though. We don't want to be separated at a time like this!"

"Yes, sir!" cried Jimmy, his heart now on fire with a desperate resolve. He wished Franz and Iggy could be of the rescue party, but they were already out of the trench, under the leadership of one of the lieutenants, making a fierce counter-attack.

Quickly Jimmy picked out six privates, and rapidly explained what he wanted. They ran forward in the darkness. Sh.e.l.ls were exploding overhead, there were flashes of rifle fire on every side, and a more continuous stream of wicked spurts from machine guns. Rockets were being sent up from the German lines, together with star-sh.e.l.ls, and these made the scene of the fight brilliantly light with, now and then, recurrent periods of intense blackness.

"Barlow and Dalton captured?" cried one of the privates whom Jimmy had selected. "That's tough!"

"We'll bring 'em back, or go over with 'em!" added another.

"Come on!" cried Jimmy, and he led the way.

He had only a vague notion of where to look for Bob and Roger. But he and his companions in arms saw immediately ahead of them a dark ma.s.s of fighting men. And they judged this to be the attacking party of Germans, taking away prisoners, and fighting off the attacks of those Americans who had hurried to the rescue.

"Come on! Let's get in on that!" cried Jimmy. "Forward!"

"Forward she is!" came the grim answer from one of the lads he was leading.

There came a fierce burst of machine-gun fire from the German line to the left of that fighting, struggling bunch of forms. It was followed by yells of rage, mingled with pain, and then deep groans.

"Anyone here hit?" asked Jimmy.

"I think Jepson has gone out," some one answered. Jimmy hesitated. He was between two duties--that toward one of his immediate force, and the desire to rescue his chums. But he knew his duty as an officer required him to look after his command first. He ran back to where two of the privates were bending over Jepson. A look and a touch convinced Jimmy that the man was past all aid.

"We'll carry him back later," he said. Then, stifling his own feelings he cried: "Come on!"

Grimly his men followed.

On in the darkness they stumbled, now scarcely seeing where they were going, and again blinded by fierce lights. Their ears were deafened by the rattle and bang and roar of big and little guns.

"Why don't you call out?" suggested one of the remaining men in Jimmy's small command. "Maybe Bob and Roger could hear you and answer.

Then you'd know where they are."

"Good idea! I will!" shouted Jimmy. He had to yell just then, for a burst of artillery fire from the German lines, answering the guns of the Americans, drowned all ordinary talk.

Then, when it was comparatively quiet again, Jimmy cried:

"Bob! Roger! Where are you? We're coming to the rescue!"

"Americans over this way!" was shouted in answer. "Over to your right!"

Whether or not this was either Bob or Roger, Jimmy could not tell. But the words were English, though immediately afterward could be heard guttural German voices.

"That's funny!" said one of Jimmy's men. "I thought the main fighting was over to our left. Now they tell us to go to our right."

"Well, we'll take a chance," said Jimmy.

He turned and was about to lead his small command in that direction when they were subjected to a fierce burst of fire. There was no time to drop and escape it, though Jimmy called to the men to lie flat as soon as he realized that a machine gun was aimed in their direction.

For two of his men there was never any more need of orders. They were instantly killed, and one was so wounded that he could not move.

This only left Jimmy and two men. But the sergeant had no thought of turning back.

"Will you stick?" he asked, when the sudden spurt of machine bullets was over.

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