Part 4 out of 4
dashing from shell hole to shell hole; other troops lingered in dugouts
underground. The French batteries played all over those fields,
spraying down shrapnel, detonating the frightful charges of high
explosives. But at an hour before the appointed time -- at 9 o'clock
-- the French batteries would remit their fire for ten minutes upon the
square where the biplane should fall. Hal looked at the clock fastened
before him. It was two minutes to 9; he could see, directly below, the
crimson splash of the great French shells; a little way to the side
showed the flashes of the German heavy batteries making reply.
Now, as though smothered by the German fire, the French batteries
ceased. It was 9 o'clock, and Hal circled above the German batteries,
which were firing, and Chester released the first bomb. Before it
struck and burst, he let go another. He laid a third "egg" close
beside a German battery -- so close that the battery ceased to fire;
but before the fourth dropped the anti-aircraft guns were going.
Chester could hear, above the racket of the motor and the air- screw,
the "pop, pop" of smashing shrapnel. They ran through the floating
smoke of a shell, the acrid ether-smelling stuff stinging their
nostrils. The beams of searchlights swept into the air. Hal circled
more carefully and deliberately dropped lower; Chester let two more
bombs drop near the batteries; he cleared the frames of the last pair
of "eggs," and, leaning forward, struck Hal's shoulder to tell him so.
The phosphorus-painted face of the altimeter showed the pointer
registering less than 2,000 feet; before the breaking German shells
should do, in fact, what it was to be pretended they had done, Chester
reached up and ignited the preparation smeared over the top plane.
Yellow flames flared up, and, to keep them above and behind, Hal
pointed the nose of the biplane far down and let her fall.
He turned, as he let the machine dive, back toward the French lines.
Then, as the German antiaircraft gunners saw their target flashing
clear in flames and they strewed their shrapnel closer before it, the
biplane fluttered and fell, no longer diving under guidance, but out of
Chester jerked about to Hal; over the forms strapped between them, he
saw Hal's face in the light of the flame. Hal was not hit; he had
merely let go of the controls. It was part of the plan to let the
machine fall out of control. But, for a moment, it was too much as if
Hal had been hit.
The biplane side-slipped, "went off the wing," sickeningly, dropping
down spinning. Then, suddenly, with a catch of a well-made,
well-balanced plane, the inherent stability asserted itself, and the
planes caught; the big "bus" fluttered like a falling leaf, "flattened
out," and rested; now, it side-slipped again and fell, and Hal did not
touch the controls.
Chester, looking down, saw that the flashes of the guns off to the side
had come halfway to him; if the falling plane caught itself again after
the same amount of drop, side-slipping, it would hover not too far from
the ground before going "off the wing" again. That is, it might.
Anyway, the flames which had caught the wing fabric and were blazing
the breadth of the wings above and jumping back now to the rudder and
the tail were kept above; and to anyone on the ground the illusion of a
machine shot down, burning and out of control, must have become
Chester held on, not breathing. The momentary flutter and hover of the
machine was over. It was dropping down again in a wild, sliding swoop
-- yet Hal made no move to stop it even when it half turned over.
Soon, however, he made a move, and, before the slide had gone too far,
he caught it as before it had caught itself; it fluttered, hovered, the
flames streaking up straight above it; the ground now just below. Then
it went "off the wing" again and crashed.
Chester, leaping clear at the instant of the impact, stumbled and fell
on his face and rolled down a shell hole. He caught himself, half
stunned and dizzy, and tried to crawl back toward the burning plane.
But Hal blundered against him and carried him back.
"All right," Hal whispered. "Are you?"
"All right," said Chester. "Great landing. I've fixed things back
there. Time to be moving. Got your grenades?"
"All right. Good luck."
Their orders were to part now. Chester crawled one way, Hal the
other. The biplane was burning with a great deal of smoke, which
smothered the glow on the side they had leaped. And no German was
near; they could be very sure of that. The gasoline now was ignited,
and the wreck was blazing beautifully. The machine was known, of
course, to be a bombing machine, shot down during operations. No one
would know how many bombs had come down with it; no one would come
close until after the flames had burned down. Then the Germans would
find the "pilot" and the "bomber," the two still forms the lads had
strapped to the machine before leaving their own lines. Everyone would
be accounted for; no search for more would be made.
Both boys now were ready for their desperate work.
Chester, having crept a hundred yards, hugged down into another hole
and waited. The Germans who had been about now approached the glowing
heap of the biplane. What they found seemed to satisfy them. At least
they raised no alarm. The shells from the far-off trench guns, which
had been breaking in the fields both to right and to left, began
searching about here now and scattered them. Chester moved forward
toward the lines. And, as he moved, the shells which had been bursting
in that direction, ceased.
The feel of the far-off hand of Captain O'Neill and of his superiors --
the men who had planned this desperate venture -- thrilled through
him. Until five minutes to 10 o'clock he would be cared for, Captain
O'Neill had promised. The French artillery, opening a path through its
fire, would throw its shield around him. Simultaneously, it would be
opening another path to Hal, advancing off to the right. Where all the
Germans, who held that ground, burrowed below in dugouts or crept and
ran through the deep defiles of communication trenches, Hal and he
could go at will over the ground and so far as the shells from the
French batteries were concerned, be perfectly safe.
Chester stole on through the blackness. Shells were breaking a hundred
yards before him, behind him, off to both sides, but no shell came
closer. Now, if he remembered rightly, the shells would cease in the
square ahead and to the left; he moved that way -- and they stopped.
Over the ground which he had crossed, shells were bursting again now.
When he halted once more, the frightful hurricane of high explosives
swept before him, on both sides and behind -- but not close to him. So
for many minutes he advanced.
It was strange, when used to dodging shells behind his own lines and
when accustomed to twist and turn and dive and tumble in the air to
avoid the burst of anti-aircraft shrapnel, to feel shells falling like
a bulwark about him. That was what they were. For the present, at
least, the shells gained for him and gave to him the sole use of the
surface of the earth there behind the German lines.
Troops were all about, of course; but all were hiding. They could not
imagine anyone purposely advancing through the open there; they could
not imagine anyone surviving if he tried it. They noticed,
undoubtedly, that the fall of the French shells intermitted for a
moment in this direction and that; but when any of them went out the
shells burst upon them again and annihilated detachments. The cease
and the start again of the French fire seemed merely capricious, to
tempt them out to destruction. Not having the pattern of the pass by
which the two boys advanced, they could not suspect any pattern about
And now Chester no longer could trust his own memory of that pattern.
He went to the bottom of a deep shell crater, and, lying upon his
stomach, he took a scrap of map from under his shirt and spread it
below him. He took a tiny electric torch from his pocket and illumined
the sheet dimly. A series of squares, into which that sector was
divided, marked his path for the front -- each square of the series
numbered in ink and designated by a time, such as 32, 24, 19, 16, 10
and so, forth. They told the moment before 10 o'clock, at which, upon
the square marked, the French fire would cease, not to start again
until the fire ceased, at the next lowest minute, upon the next
square. Down to five minutes to 10 o'clock they showed the safe path,
after that friend and foe alike on this side of the German lines must
shift for themselves.
Chester's mind caught the pattern of the next numbered square; he
repeated to himself the time intervals. He climbed up out of the shell
hole and swiftly passed the next square as the shells began falling
behind him. Had Hal, off there to the right four squares away, now, as
good luck as he? Or, was the French fire opening a path for no one
By the ceasing of the shells on this square it was 24 minutes to 10
o'clock -- the hour when the French forces would stream over the top.
And for ten minutes, upon the square, the French fire would cease.
That was because it was upon this square that Hal and Chester -- if
both survived to reach it -- would meet. It was under the ground in
this numbered ten minutes to 10 o'clock -- that the French were hidden,
of whom Jean Brosseau had told. And as Brosseau had expected and
hoped, Chester and Hal - or whichever of them survived to this square
-- were ordered to employ those people.
Chester crept forward, searching for the ruins of the house to mark the
spot. There was a communication-trench some yards away to the left of
it, he remembered. He could hear them working upon it now, calling to
each other as the shells had given them a few minutes respite. He
crept by them and came upon stones -- the square stones of the walls of
a house demolished and scattered. Only one house had been at that
point, and, crawling carefully, he dropped into the pit of the cellar.
There, in that cellar, Hal and he were to meet, if Hal yet lived.
Hal was not there; he had not been there. The heap of old charred
beams and rubbish, which covered the opening of the tunnel to the
French hiding in the old cellar deeper and beyond, was undisturbed; he
heard no sound except that of the shells and the scraping and voices of
the Germans at work thirty yards away.
Chester flattened down upon the rubbish of the cellar; he raised a
black beam a little and thrust himself under. Feeling ahead, he found
more rubbish, which he cleared; and then, beyond, his hand found
emptiness and the smell of earth -- and the odor of people and the
closeness of foul air. But there was no sound ahead.
He crawled his length and then spoke quietly in French:
"I come for the redeeming of France," words which he had been ordered
to use upon his arrival.
He got no reply. from the silence ahead; so he said again:
"I am not Jean Brosseau; he sent me. I come to ask your aid."
"Aid?" a voice repeated; "aid?"
Chester lighted his little torch again, and men's faces showed before
"Quick!" one of the men said. "Get away. It's a trap!"
"The Germans have taken us," said a second voice. "We --"
His voice stopped and choked. It was stilled forever, Chester knew.
He could not see -- he had extinguished his light.
A revolver was fired in his face, but the bullet went over him. He
pressed to one side of the tunnel as he pushed back, and the next
bullet went into the sand where he had been. He was back under the
beams; and the Germans, choking, fired no more.
Someone pulled at his leg. Someone jerked him out and pulled him up --
it was Hal.
"The people in there were taken," said Chester quietly. "They -"
"You've still got your grenades," said Hal. "I've got mine. We can do
it alone, with luck!"
The Germans, working on the tunnel off to the left, yelled at each
other to jump for cover, for the French shells were coming again. They
burst all about -- except now, just ahead, where Hal and Chester were
running. Two minutes they had to run and crawl and run again across
the square, three minutes for the next one. Then, again, they parted.
Two squares to the left, two minutes for one, three for the next -- Hal
was to go; two squares to the right -- for three minutes and two the
French fire was to be remitted -- Chester must travel. There were two
other small squares to be spared for five minutes to provide for help
which might have been gained from the refugees' dugout.
Those squares were being spared now, anyway.
But the minutes of respite for all were finishing fast.
It was five minutes to 10 o'clock and Chester, running bent over,
stumbled and fell; the frightful concussion of great high explosive
shells, bursting close to him, shook and battered him. He hugged down
into a hole, and from about his neck, he drew a flat bag, which held a
gas mask; he adjusted it quickly. Shells were striking about him,
which did not break; but from the butts of these fumes were floating.
The Germans, showing in the light of the star-shells, had become
snouted creatures in their gas helmets.
They appeared only for an instant, as, jumping up from one trench,
where the shells were falling, they rushed to another deep defile.
Half a score, who had shown themselves in one group, vanished; and
Chester was buffeted again by the shock of high explosives.
Gas and still more gas followed high explosives again.
Chester, creeping now, got, even through his mask, smarting, searing
twinges of the gas. He was among bodies and wounded men. Their masks,
when, they fell, had become torn or broken. The gas had got them.
Five minutes to 10 o'clock had passed.
It was three minutes to the attack or less, and the hurricane fire of
the French artillery swept cyclonic over the German lines.
A thousand yards away, more or less, as the ground gave advantage, the
French front-line trenches were filled with men awaiting the hour of 10
-- two minutes off now -- to go over the top.
The German batteries, behind, knew that the time was near; but just
when it would be, in two minutes, or in ten or in an hour-they did not
know. When the fire of the French guns lifted, they did not know
whether it would be to let the poilus assault, or whether it would be
only to trick the German infantry and machine-gun men out of their
tunnels and dugouts to meet the frightful fall of the French hurricane
But the German guns doubled their response now when the French trebled
One minute to 10 o'clock!
Chester, lying in a shell hole with, his bag, of grenades open before
him, felt a shock on his back. A bit of shell or shrapnel had struck
him, but he moved his arms and, except for the stinking pain, he was
all right . He choked -- and instantly held his breath. A bit of
metal, flying from somewhere, had pierced his gas mask. The tear was
right before his mouth. He thrust the fabric into his mouth and bit
it, holding it tight between his lips. That patched the hole; there
was no other. He breathed again without choking.
From over the German front-line trenches, a half mile or more forward,
the storm of the French artillery fire had lifted -- lifted to add to
the cyclone of shells sweeping the reserve lines. The German
star-shells, rising and floating and glaring constellations, spread
their garish light over the front, and showed the French charging
forward in the open.
They rushed onward, few falling, almost unopposed. For the Germans in
the front-line trenches -- those who had not been withdrawn under that
hurricane of shells-were dead or crouched down, stunned, and in
The French took the advanced trenches, the second supporting, and came
Now, from the "pill-boxes" -- the few scattered points for machine-gun
support which the artillery had not found -- resistance came. The
French, though fewer, came on.
Before Chester, lying with his bag of grenades open at the edge of a
shell crater, the ground suddenly opened and, a great causeway gaped
down into the earth. Where solid ground had seemed to be, men were
rushing forth -- German infantrymen with rifles and bayonets fixed to
Off to the right twenty yards another such gap yawned in the ground.
And Chester, rising, hurled a missile from the bag he had carried.
It burst among the emerging men; he hurled another. A leap of blue
flame, which flared high and blinding, followed its detonation. He
hurled at the other causeway, first halting by a bomb the out rush of
men; and thus he marked the mouth of this second causeway the next
instant by a sheet of blue game.
Off to the side, 200 yards, blue flames shot up and glared. Hal was
alive, that meant -- at least, he had been alive a moment ago, calling
shells upon himself from the French batteries, as well as attack from
the Germans coming from the ground.
For the shells already were arriving; one burst just beside the great
causeway and blocked it.
The shell annihilated the men rushing at Chester. He rolled over, deaf
and unseeing. Shells were coming true and straight. An aeroplane
appeared overhead so close down that Chester could see it plainly in
the light of the star-shells when his sight came back. Aeroplanes were
guiding the guns and dropping aerial torpedoes.
One landed in the mouth of that other causeway and blew it out of
shape, and this was the last thing which, for a long time, Chester
When Chester opened his eyes, he lay on a bed with the whitest of
sheets. For a moment he could remember nothing, then the details of
the great battle carve back to him.
His first thought, naturally, was of Hal. He sat up in bed. There, in
another bed in the center of what Chester now recognized as a hospital
tent, lay Hal, his head swathed in bandages.
"He's safe, anyhow," said Chester to himself.
The lad passed a hand across his head, and ascertained that his head
also was wrapped tightly, and that there were more bandages around his
"Wonder what's the matter with me?" he muttered. "I don't remember
being hit, and here I am all wrapped up like a baby doll. I must be in
pretty bad shape."
Nevertheless, now that his mind had been eased regarding Hal's safety,
Chester soon closed his eyes, again and slept.
It was late the following day that the lad was aroused by the sound of
voices at his bedside. One voice he recognized as Hal's, the other
came to him later. It was the voice of Stubbs.
Chester opened his eyes, and gazed at the little war correspondent.
The latter spoke first.
"The sleeper awakes," he said to Hal. "See, Chester thinks it's time
to get up, and I'm not a bit sure he isn't right. He's been in bed for
four days now. That's longer than I ever slept"
"I'm not so weak I can't get out of here and pull, your nose," declared
Chester, sitting up.
Anthony Stubbs grinned.
"I feel pretty safe right here," he said.
"What's the matter with me, anyway?" demanded Chester. "Hello there,
Hal. What's the trouble with you? You seem to be pretty well bunged
"Guess neither of us is going to die," said Hal with a smile. "The
doctor tells me that we both have holes in our heads, and that we have
a few pieces of shell in our legs and bodies. He says we are about the
luckiest pair he ever saw."
"How long does he figure we must stay in bed;"' Chester wanted to
"He said something about thirty days," said Stubbs, with another grin.
"Then he's barking up the wrong tree," Chester declared. "I don't feel
exactly lovely, but I know I'm not going to stay here a month. Any
broken bones, Hal?"
"No; and neither have you, according to the doctor. He said that we
should be able to get about in a week or two."
"Well, that's a little better," Chester grumbled. "What do you mean by
telling me a month, Stubbs?"
"I didn't say he said a month," Stubbs protested. "I said the doctor
said something about thirty days, and so he did. He said that most men
would have to lie in bed thirty days with your wounds, but that he felt
you would be able to leave the hospital sooner because of a pair of
remarkably fine constitutions."
"I think you were trying to have a little fun with me, Stubbs," Chester
"You know I wouldn't joke with a sick boy," said Stubbs.
"No, I don't know it, either, Stubbs; and when I get out of here, I
shall make it a point to get even with you."
"To get even?" Stubbs exploded. "You listen to me. You're even and a
long ways ahead right now. In fact, you're so far ahead that I
couldn't get even with you in a life time. However, when you get well,
I'm going to have a try."
"You'd better not fool with me, Stubbs," said Chester. "I'm liable to
get out of here right now and have a little bout with you."
"Well," said Stubbs, "I can lick you now."
"Guess you're right," he said. "Maybe I had better postpone it. By
the way, did the attack succeed?"
"Did it?" exclaimed Stubbs enthusiastically. "I rather think it did.
The French have advanced from four to five miles into the enemy's
lines; and I overheard a man say if it had not been for your work in
bottling up the enemy underground the French would have been surprised
and hurled back."
"Well, I'm glad we helped," said Hal simply.
"And I'll be glad when we can help some more," declared Chester. "It
won't be long before we are up and doing again."
"I should think you had had enough," said Stubbs.
"We haven't, though," said Hal. "Now, run away, Mr. Stubbs, and come
back later. I want to take a little snooze."
"Same here," said Chester.
Both made themselves as comfortable as possible under the
circumstances. And while they are taking a much-needed rest, we will
bid them a brief adieu, only to meet them later on in a succeeding
volume, entitled: "THE BOY ALLIES WITH PERSHING IN FRANCE; OR, OVER THE
TOP WITH UNCLE SAM'S WARRIORS."