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- The Boy Allies with Haig in Flanders - 2/33 -
strength to the south. He will not fire until my French troops open on the enemy."
Hal returned and reported to Captain O'Neill.
It was plain that the American officer didn't understand the situation fully. However, he simply shrugged his shoulders.
"General Dupres is in command," he said. "I guess he knows what he's doing or he wouldn't be here."
Captain O'Neill gave the necessary commands. The American troops moved from the trenches in silence. There was a suppressed air of excitement, however, for each man was eager for the coming of he knew not what.
At the point decided upon for the American troops to take their stand was a collection of shell holes. In order that the attack upon the Germans might have all the elements of surprise when it came, Captain O'Neill ordered his men into these holes to guard against any possibility of surprise.
Now, it is an undoubted fact that when a man curls himself up with two or three preliminary twists, after the fashion of a dog going to bed, in a perfectly circular shell hole on a night as black as this, he is extremely likely to lose his sense of direction.
That is what happened to Private Briggs, of the American forces.
The Americans lay in silence, awaiting the moment of the surprise. Suddenly it came. From the position held by the French broke out a fusillade. The Germans had approached closer.
Captain O'Neill and his followers got to their feet and dashed upon the enemy -- all but Private Briggs.
Besides his rifle, each man was armed with hand grenades - bombs -- which he carried in his pockets.
When Private Briggs sprang to his feet, it took him so long to untangle himself that the others had gone on ahead of him.
He could see no one.
However, want of courage was not one of his failings. He determined upon a plan of his own. While the other combatants were locked in a death grapple, he would advance by himself to the German trenches and hurl his grenade.
To think with Private Briggs was to act. He advanced at a run.
Suddenly a parapet loomed up before him. In this same parapet, low down, Briggs beheld a black and gaping aperture -- plainly a loophole of some kind. Without a moment's hesitation, Briggs hurled a Mills grenade straight through the loophole, and, forgetting for the moment that others of his troop were not with him, uttered a wild screech!
"Come on, boys!"
He leaped to the top of the trench by himself, and jumped from the parapet -- into his own trenches. Having lost his sense of direction, he had charged the wrong way.
As the bomb exploded in the French trenches, men rushed toward him. Still grasping several bombs, Briggs stared at them in wide-eyed surprise. An officer rushed up to him.
Briggs explained the situation. Fortunately, no one had been wounded by the bomb.
"You Americans! You Americans!" exclaimed the French officer. "But go!" he commanded. "Your men are out there," pointing; "do you not hear the sounds of conflict? If you charge there with the courage with which you have charged here, you may be of some use after all."
Briggs wasted no time. With a flush on his face, he again leaped to the parapet, and, a moment later, disappeared in the darkness, running as swiftly as he could to where firing indicated that the battle raged.
Meanwhile, what of Hal and Chester, and the American troops?
As the Americans poured from their shell holes after the first outburst of firing, they dashed toward where they could make out the forms of German infantry close at hand.
From beyond, the French, who had taken up a position as the French commander had outlined to Hal, poured a withering fire into the foe. The German officer in command immediately halted his advance, wheeled his men, and gave battle to the French.
At almost the same moment the Americans dashed upon his men from the rear. One volley the Americans poured into the Germans, then their arms drew back and an avalanche of hand grenades sped on their mission of death. The execution was terrific.
In vain the German officers attempted to hold their men to the work in hand. Teuton ranks lost formation, and, as the Americans advanced with the bayonet, the enemy broke and fled.
The German surprise had failed; it had been on the other hand.
As the Germans retreated, the Americans pursued. A body of troops, led by Hal, came, upon an isolated group of the enemy.
"Surrender!" cried Hal.
The Germans needed no second offer. Their guns went to the ground at the lad's words, and they raised their hands in the air. They were made prisoners and sent to the rear. There was one officer among them -- a captain.
At the command from the French general, pursuit of the enemy was abandoned, much to the disgust of the American troops, who were for pursuing the Germans clear to their trenches, and beyond, if possible. Hal and Chester, however, realized the wisdom of the French commander's order, for there was a possibility, should the French and Americans advance too close, of their being set upon by overwhelming numbers from the German trenches, or of their being caught by batteries of rapid-firers, which most likely would have meant extermination.
As the French and Americans moved back toward their trenches -- the engagement had consumed only it few minutes -- Hal and Chester saw a man come flying toward them. This, although the lads did not know it at the time, was Briggs.
Straight past the American troops Briggs sped, and disappeared in the darkness beyond.
"Hello!" said Hal, "that man is an American. Wonder where he's going?"
"It's Briggs, sir," said a man in the ranks. "He has queer spells some times. Can we go after him, sir?"
Hal put the question up to Captain O'Neill. The captain hesitated.
"My friend and I will go," said Hal. "We've been in this fighting game too long to take unnecessary chances, sir, but I don't like to see the man get into trouble when we can save him."
'Very well," said the captain; "you have my permission, but don't go too close."
"I'd like another man, sir."
"Take your choice."
Hal glanced at the men, and called:
A soldier stepped forward. This man, at one time, had been a top sergeant in the British army. He had served through the Boer war in South Africa. Hal had met him at the Fort Niagara training camp a few months before, and, while the man had failed to obtain a commission there, Hal had been able to have him enlisted in the regular army.
"Will you go with us, McKenzie?" asked the lad. McKenzie saluted.
"Glad to, sir," he replied.
"Good! Then come on," said Hal. "We are wasting time here."
Hal led the way at a rapid trot. He feared that Briggs had already approached too close to the German trenches, and the distance was so short that there was little likelihood of overtaking the man before he reached the trenches. The only salvation was, so far as Hal could see, that Briggs might have stopped before he reached the trenches.
As the three pushed forward, there came a sudden explosion ahead, followed closely by a second blast. The three redoubled their speed, and, a moment later, came in sight of the German trenches.
A strange sight met their eyes.
There, upon the top of the German parapet, stood Briggs. His right arm was raised and in it the lads could see a bomb. Apparently the explosions a moment before had come from the same source.
As the three looked on, Briggs sent another bomb hurling down into the German lines. There was a third blast.
"Great Scott!" cried Chester. "How can he get away with that? Why don't they shoot him?"
"They're trying," said Hal. "You can hear the bullets. They are flying over his head!" The lad raised his voice in a shout: "Briggs! Come down here!"
Briggs glanced down. Hal, Chester, and McKenzie had approached close now, and Briggs made out their features as he gazed down.
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