Forward swept the company to which our heroes were a.s.signed. For a time, during which the two chums had had a chance to get Iggy from the sh.e.l.l hole, there had been no advance. Now it came with a vengeance.
But the Germans were not idle. If their infantry was held back from making a counter-attack, their heavy guns, and here and there, machine-guns, were not idle. And these weapons tore big holes in the ranks of the Sammies. But ever the holes were closed up--comparatively closed up, that is, for the fighting of the Americans was not in close order, such as that in which the Germans so often advanced to their deaths.
At times the four Brothers would be close to one another, converging to get out of the line of some trench or avoid a sh.e.l.l hole. Again they would be yards apart But they kept in "contact," as it is called.
And ever as they advanced they fired their rifles into the German lines. True they could only now and then catch a glimpse of the foe, but they made those chances tell.
"Come on now, boys--a little farther and we'll have our objective!
Just a few yards more!" cried the lieutenant who was leading our heroes. "Once we're at that barn, we can rest. Only a few feet more--only a few--"
His yelling voice suddenly ceased, and Jimmy, who was nearest, saw the gallant soldier crumple up, with a bullet through his head. And as he fell his men behind him, leaped over his body with wild yells of rage.
"Come on! Come on!" screamed Jimmy, inflamed to the point of madness.
He was in command at this point now, following the death of the lieutenant. "Come on! Make 'em pay for that!" He choked back his sobs, for the lieutenant was well beloved.
On they rushed, on and on. The man on Jimmy's left was killed, and the comrade on his right fell with a shattered leg.
"I'm out of it!" suddenly shouted Franz, and he tried to hop on one foot, falling, a moment later, in a shallow hole.
On the others rushed, and finally, with wild yells, they drove the Germans from their last stand. The stone barn held a machine gun nest, and many of the Sammies were killed or wounded before the crew of Huns were scattered or captured--and there were very few of this last cla.s.s, so desperate was their resistance.
From somewhere came the signal to cease firing, and, a little later, a captain came along and took charge.
"Who's in command?" he asked, seeing no commissioned officer in the group which had for a nucleus Jimmy, Roger and Bob.
"I am, sir," answered the former, saluting. "The lieutenant was killed."
A twitch of the face, and a hardening of the muscles about the captain's mouth were the only signs of emotion he showed, but his heart was torn--the boys knew that. The lieutenant was his only brother.
"Hold this place at all costs!" was the grim order. "I'll send an officer to take charge shortly. But hold the place!"
"Yes, sir." and Jimmy saluted again.
Quickly they took measures to do this--to make the stone barn, once the part of a French farm homestead, a position of defense. The German machine-gun, for which there was considerable ammunition left, was turned to point at the Hun line. But the Boches had withdrawn some distance. The Sammies had gained their objective, and the battle, for the time being, was over. Now there might come a counter-attack, and for this Jimmy, temporarily in command, prepared with his chums.
"Bob," called Jimmy to the former reporter, "you and Roger go back and see if you can pick up Franz, or any other of our lads who are alive.
See what they need, and, if it's possible, get first-aid to them."
This was a welcome order to these two Khaki Boys and they started back over the ground won at such terrible cost. Already, though, gallant stretcher-bearers were searching among the dead to succor the living.
And then, to their unutterable delight, Roger and Bob saw Franz limping toward them, using his rifle as a crutch.
"Thought you were done for, like poor Iggy," cried Roger.
"I thought so, too," answered Schnitz. "I felt sure my foot was lopped off, but it was only bruised on the ankle by a stone that some piece of sh.e.l.l must have kicked up. It's only badly bruised. I don't have to go to the rear!" and he said this joyously.
But there were many poor lads who did have to go to the rear, for they were torn and mangled. And there were some who had made their last fight. But it was a good fight. Oh, it was a good and n.o.ble fight! Be sure of that!
a.s.sisting Franz, Roger and Bob got back to the barn, and there they took off their comrade's shoe. As he had said, his ankle was only bruised. He was able to limp along.
The Hun fighters had received more than they wanted. They had not only withdrawn to a good distance, but they did not even have nerve enough to launch a counter-attack. The American advance had been so well prepared that it won the battle.
"Well, now we have time to breathe and eat," commented Jimmy, who had been relieved in command.
"Say, a lot of things have happened since the zero hour this morning,"
"You said it!" declared Bob fervently. "If I was only on the paper now I could write a front page story, instead of a miserable little 'stick' about a runaway horse. Oh, but this was some fight!"
It was toward evening, and the tired doughboys were wondering what the night would hold for them, when Jimmy remarked:
"I'm going to see if I can find Sergeant Maxwell."
"What's the matter with him?" asked Roger.
"Nothing, I hope. But I gave him those five thousand francs to keep for me--you know, the reward money--_our_ money," explained Jimmy, for it was that, as you shall see. "I want to get it back, now that the battle is over. We won't go into action very soon again, I'm thinking.
I just gave him the notes to keep for me until this sc.r.a.p was over.
Now I think I'll get 'em back again, and divide 'em up."
"Are you going to persist in your generous notion?" asked Bob.
"I sure am!" was the somewhat indignant answer. "What do you think I am, anyhow, an Injun giver? I said we five Brothers would share and share alike in that reward, and I'm going to insist on it. If Iggy--if he's killed--his share goes to his folks. Why, you fellows helped as much in putting that dog Von Kreitzen out of the way as I did."
"Nonsense!" declared Roger. "You did it all alone!"
"Well, I'm not going to spend the reward all alone, and that's settled!" snapped Jimmy. "It's going to be whacked up, just as I promised. Now I'm going to find Maxwell and get the dough. Why, of course, I'm going to divide it. And I'll be glad to get my share right now. We haven't had any pay in some time, and goodness knows when I'll hear from home."
"Or Buffalo," added Bob, with a laugh.
"Yes, or Buffalo," agreed Jimmy. He had admitted that his "girl" lived there--a girl to whom he often referred as "Margaret," but beyond this he had said little of her. "So I'm going out to find Maxwell. I'll be back soon," he promised.
He received the necessary permission and was soon scouting about, back of the German trench lines, which had been taken over by the victorious Americans.
"Seen Maxwell?" asked Jimmy of a fellow non-commissioned officer who, he knew, was in Maxwell's mess.
"Maxwell? No, I haven't seen him lately. Didn't you hear about him?"
"Hear what about him? What do you mean?" asked Jimmy, and he was conscious of a strange foreboding.
"Why, Sergeant Maxwell has been missing since just about the time we got word to go over the top at the zero hour," stated Corporal Blake, to whom Jimmy had applied. "I thought you knew that."
"No, I didn't," said Jimmy quietly. Then he whistled.
"What's the matter?" asked Blake.
"If Maxwell is missing then it's a double loss," was the answer.
"A double loss? What do you mean?"
"I mean my five thousand francs are gone, too. Whew! Well, it can't be helped, I suppose. I'll go tell the boys!"
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