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Action Front Boyd Cable

A Night Patrol

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It was now well after midnight, and the firing on both sides had slackened considerably, although there was still an irregular rattle of rifle fire, the distant boom of a gun and the scream of its shell passing overhead. A good deal emboldened by his freedom from discovery and by the misty rain, Ainsley slid backwards, moved round the crater, crept back to the barbed wire and under it, ran across the opening on the other side and dropped into the hole where he had left his men. He found them waiting patiently, stretched full length in the wet discomfort of the soaking ground, but enduring it philosophically and concerned, apparently, only for his welfare.

His sergeant puffed a huge sigh of relief at his return. "I was just about beginning to think you had 'gone west,' sir," he said, "and wondering whether I oughtn't to come and 'ave a look for you."

Ainsley explained what had happened and what he had seen. "I'm going back, and I want you all to come with me," he said. "I'm going to shove every bomb we've got down that mine shaft. If we meet with any luck, we should wreck it up pretty well."

"I suppose, sir," said the sergeant, "if we can plant a bomb or two in the right spot, it will bottle up any Germans working inside?"

"Sure to!" said Ainsley. "It will cave in the entrance completely; and then as soon as we get back, we'll give the gunners the tip, and leave them to keep on lobbing some shells in and breaking up any attempt to reopen the shaft and dig out the mining party."

"Billy!" said one of the men, in an audible aside, "don't you wish you was a merry little German down that blinkin' tunnel, to-night!"

"Imphim," answered Billy, "I don't think!"

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Ainsley explained his plan of campaign, saw that everything was in readiness, and led his party out. The misty rain was still falling, and, counting on this to hide them sufficiently from observation if they lay still while any lights were burning, they crawled rapidly across the open, wriggled underneath the wires, cut one or two of them--especially any which were low enough to interfere with free movement under them--and crawled along to the crater.

Ainsley left the party sprawling flat at the foot of the rim, while he crept up to locate the position over the mine shaft. Each man had brought about a dozen small bombs and one large one packed with high explosive. Before leaving the ditch, on Ainsley's directions, each man tied his own lot in one bundle, bringing the ends of the fuses together and tying them securely with their ends as nearly as possible level, so that they could be lit at the same time. Each man had with him one of those tinder pipe-lighters which are ignited by the sparks of a little twirled wheel. When Ainsley had placed the men on the edge of the crater, he gave the word, and each man lit his tinder, holding it so as to be sheltered from sight from the German trench, behind the flap of his mackintosh. Then each took a separate piece of fuse about a foot long, and, at a whispered word from Ainsley, pressed the end into the glowing tinder. Almost at the same instant the four fuses began to burn, throwing out a fizzing jet of sparks. Each man knew that, shelter them as they would from observation, the sparks were almost certain to betray them; but although some rifles began at once to crack spasmodically and the bullets to whistle overhead, each man went on with the allotted program steadily, without haste and without fluster, devoting all their attention to the proper igniting of the bomb-fuses, and leaving what might follow to take care of itself. As his length of fuse caught, each man said "Ready" in a low tone; Ainsley immediately said "Light!" and each instantly directed the jet of sparks as from a tiny hose into the tied bundle of the bomb-fuses' ends. The instant each man saw his own bundle well ignited, he reported "Lit!" and thrust the fuse ends well into the soft mud. Being so waterproofed as to burn if necessary completely under water, this made no difference to the fuses, except that it smothered the sparks and showed only a curling smoke-wreath. But the first sparks had evidently been seen, for the bomb party heard shoutings and a rapidly increasing fire from the German lines. A light flamed upward near the mine-crater. Ainsley said, "Now!--, and take good aim." The men scrambled to their knees and, leaning well over until they could see the black entrance of the mine shaft, tossed their bundles of bombs as nearly as they could into and around it. In the pit below, Ainsley had a momentary glimpse of half a dozen faces, gleaming white in the strong light, upturned, and staring at him; from somewhere down there a pistol snapped twice, and the bullets hissed past over their heads. The party ducked back below the ridge of earth, and as a rattle of rifle fire commenced to break out along the whole length of the German line, they lit from their tinder the fuses of a couple of bombs specially reserved for the purpose, and tossed them as nearly as they could into the German trench, a score of paces away. Their fuses being cut much shorter than the others, the bombs exploded almost instantly, and Ainsley and his party leapt down to the level ground and raced across to the wire.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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