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- Army Boys on German Soil - 10/29 -
Frank? My finger's fairly itching to pull the trigger."
"Hold in a while, Tom," counseled Frank. "They have done that to vent their spite. We're safe enough behind these oaks, and we haven't any too much ammunition. If they show any signs of making a rush, we'll let them have a volley."
"That's just what they're going to do," remarked Bart. "They know they're four to one and they're going to take a chance."
"Five to one, really," answered Frank, "for Billy will have his hands full in guarding the prisoners."
Another volley came at that minute, and several bullets embedded themselves in the oaks. At the same moment, the Germans rushed forward a few yards, taking shelter behind what trees they could or throwing themselves behind hillocks of snow.
"They're in earnest," remarked Tom.
"All right," said Frank, and his fingers tightened on his rifle. "Let them rush us. They'll get all that's coming to them."
JUST IN TIME
"Those fellows are old campaigners," commented Bart. "You can tell that by the tactics they're using. It's the old system they tried at the Marne and in the Argonne, making a rush for a few yards, throwing themselves flat, and then repeating the process until they got near enough to rush us."
"A pretty good system, too," commented Tom, "but it didn't win then and it isn't going to win now. Just watch me wing one or two of these Huns and put a crimp into their tactics."
His chance came even while he was speaking, for one of the Germans thrust his rifle out from behind a tree and fired. At the same instant, Tom's rifle cracked, and the bullet ploughed its way through the man's right shoulder. He fell with a groan and rolled out from behind his shelter on to the snow. He was an easy mark as he lay there, but Tom refrained from firing again. The man was out of the fight and as good as dead as far as any further offensive was concerned. Besides, it was no part of the American idea of war to kill a wounded foe, although it was a matter of record that it had frequently been done by the Germans.
"Good shooting, old man," commented Frank. "You haven't got out of the way of potting them."
"One less to cause us trouble," remarked Billy. "Gee, if I didn't have these prisoners to watch! I'm getting cross-eyed, trying to keep one eye on them and the other on these fellows that are trying to rush us."
"Keep both eyes on the prisoners," directed Frank, "especially on that red-beard person. He's bad medicine. We'll handle these fellows. Ah, you will, will you?"
The last exclamation was prompted by one of the Germans who tried at that moment to glide from a small tree behind which he was sheltered to a larger one that seemed to promise better protection. He moved swiftly, but Frank's bullet was swifter, and the man went down with a bullet in his thigh.
"Talk about sniping," grinned Bart. "Those fellows will wake up after a while to the fact that they've tackled a hornet's nest. Even a thick German head can take in an idea sometimes."
"Especially if it's pushed in by a bullet," added Tom.
Just then a volley came from the besiegers, and a rain of bullets buried themselves in the trees behind which the boys were crouching.
Bart gave a sharp exclamation.
"Are you hurt, Bart?" asked Frank anxiously.
"Not much, I guess," replied Bart, putting his hand to his shoulder where the cloth had been torn away. "Just ridged the flesh. It doesn't amount to anything."
There was a little blood issuing from the shoulder, but Frank was relieved on examination to find that the bullet had just grazed the flesh, breaking the skin but doing no serious damage. He put a little ointment and lint on it and held the bandage firm with a bit of adhesive plaster, though Bart declared that it was not worth bothering about.
"Here they come!" cried Tom.
The besiegers had gathered themselves for a rush, and now they came in a body toward the trees, firing as they ran.
The rifles of the Army Boys spoke, and two of their assailants went down. The rest faltered for a moment, and in that moment another of their number fell.
This seemed to dash the spirit of the attackers. They had evidently counted upon the retreat of the defenders when they saw three times their number bearing down upon them. They faltered, then broke and ran, not this time to the nearest shelters, but straight back to the place from which they had first started. The accurate shooting had given them a wholesome respect for their opponents, and their only thought was to get out of the range of those deadly rifles.
The boys might have shot more of them as they ran, but that was not in Frank's plan. All he wanted was to get them out of his path so that he could get his prisoners to camp, and he wanted to do it with as little bloodshed as possible.
"Guess they've got enough of our game," remarked Tom, as he reloaded his rifle.
"Shouldn't wonder," replied Bart. "We called their bluff. They thought we'd have a case of nerves when we saw them come rushing towards us. But we've seen those fellows' backs too often to be afraid of their faces."
The Germans continued their retreat until they had gotten to a reasonably safe distance, and then they gathered together and seemed to be consulting as to their next move.
Frank watched them keenly. Suddenly he saw a commotion in their ranks, and looking in the direction to which their faces had turned, he saw a body of men larger than the first coming over the snow.
"Another bunch of disbanded soldiers," he muttered anxiously, as he saw that the newcomers were Germans and had now quickened their steps in answer to the shouts and gestures of their first assailants. "Now we're up against it for fair."
"We didn't figure on tackling the whole German army," growled Tom.
"Our ammunition is getting low, too," remarked Bart, ruefully, as he looked at his cartridge belt. "We'll have to make every shot tell from now on."
"If the bullets give out, we'll light into them with our bayonets and gun butts," gritted Frank between his teeth. "We've started to get these prisoners to camp, and we'll get them there or die trying."
"I know what the Germans would do if they were in our place," remarked Tom. "They'd stand the prisoners in front of them, so that the other fellows would have to kill their own comrades before they could get at them."
"I know they would," agreed Frank. "They did that in Belgium even with women and little children. But we're human beings, and we don't do that sort of thing."
By this time the two bodies of men had joined, and Frank estimated that altogether they numbered more than forty.
"Ten to one," he remarked when he had finished counting, "and most of those new arrivals have guns."
"We're in for another rush," said Bart, "and this time they won't cave in as easily as they did before. The Germans are plucky enough when they fight in numbers."
The Army Boys looked carefully to their rifles and loosened their knives in their sheaths. Then by a common impulse they shook hands all around. Nothing was said, but each knew what was in the hearts of the others. They felt that they were in for a fight to the death, and with the heavy odds against them it looked as though none of them would come out alive.
But the expected rush did not come.
"Can't be that they've given it up, do you think?" asked Tom, after five minutes had passed.
"Nothing like that," replied Frank. "They're holding a big pow-wow about something."
As he spoke, a figure detached itself from the crowd and came towards them, waving a white handkerchief attached to a stick.
"The white flag!" exclaimed Frank. "They're going to invite us to surrender."
"You know what Whittlesey told them in the Argonne when they tried the same thing on the lost battalion," remarked Bart.
"We'll tell them the same thing, only a little more politely," Frank assured him with a grin.
The man approached until he was about fifty feet distant, and then stood there, waving the flag and by gestures inviting the defenders to come out and meet him.
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