When a shell from a mammoth Nazi coastal gun screams across the Channel and strikes the nurses’ residence at the Parkstone Convalescent Home, three officer patients and a free-lance warrior of the old school tie, already irked by enforced inactivity, decide to act.
They are: MAJOR BRIDIE, ex Libya; CAPTAIN MANCHON, staunch De Gaullist tank officer; FLIGHT LIEUT. STANISLAUS, a fighting Pole; and THE COLONEL—grizzled commander of the local Home Guard, who fortunately has access to the motor launch “Kittiwake,” bullet-scarred survivor of the Dunkirk affair.
With grim vigor they form a plan to invade the French coast and spike the German long-range gun, which they refer to as Big Hermann.
Due to their flagrant disregarding of all established military procedure or authority, arrangements are of necessity strictly hush-hush—the “acquiring” of food, clothing, petrol, Mills bombs, a Lewis gun, small arms and ammo. One other knows of the scheme, a nurse called by them BEA LILLIE, a rather special friend whom Major Bridie considers trustworthy.
Plans are complete; the moon is right, and the four gather in the boathouse. Face and white mustache blacked-out with shoe polish, his trusty 12-bore shotgun beside him, the Colonel starts the engine, grips the Kittiwake’s wheel and trumpets fiercely:
“Action, you blighters! Action at last!”
Action is not long arriving. British shore defense batteries spot the unauthorized expedition and cut loose. The Kittiwake gains a fog bank and escapes, only to blunder into the path of a convoy.
New excitement grows when the Colonel blasts both barrels of his 12-bore at an attacking Heinkel. The enemy aircraft goes into the sea (a victory reluctantly shared by the Colonel with a night-fighting British Havoc) but not before it has disabled the Kittiwake. She sinks, but they manage to get ashore on the French Coast before dawn.
Captain Manchon leaves on a reconnoitring tour, planning to return after dark that evening. Holed up in a small crevice under a cliff, the others have a bad moment when they see a German patrol—which passes on. But later in the day a lone soldier blunders directly into their hiding place.
The Colonel and Stanislaus are asleep; Major Bridie is on his own. Realizing that one warning shout from the German will blitz their whole plan, he gets set.
(Third of Four Parts)
THE YOUNG German meanwhile had stepped over the little barrier of stones that they had erected and was right upon them. He raised his eyes suddenly and stared.
At that moment he was probably the most astonished young Nazi in Northern France. His hand went down to the revolver that was at his waist; but simultaneously Major Bridie’s left arm fitted itself around his neck and his right hand descended over his mouth.
It was the noise that the German’s heavy field boots made as they pounded madly on the stones that woke the sleepers. Flight Lieut. Stanislaus was the first to come into action. He sprang forward onto his feet and drew out his knife. He balanced it in front of the young man’s tunic. Then, just as he drew back his arm for the plunge, the Colonel stopped him.
“No,” he said. “Not that. Gag him.”
The young man had ceased struggling. He was still too much surprised to show himself at his best. At one moment he had been preparing to have a quiet cigarette and at the next he had been set on by a gang of ruffians. He therefore stood quite meekly with Major Bridie’s left arm throttling him while the Colonel wrapped up a stone in his handkerchief and thrust it into his mouth. When the knot had been tied behind his head and his hands were securely fastened behind his back the others breathed more easily.
Only Flight Lieut. Stanislaus appeared unconvinced.
“But why did you stop me?” he asked. “He’s a German, isn’t he?”
The Colonel coughed.
“Reminded me rather of my own boy,” he said in a husky voice.
Flight Lieut. Stanislaus shrugged his shoulders.
“He is like my young brother, too,” he answered in a different tone of voice. “Just like the one the Germans shot.”
He had put his knife back into its sheath and now sat looking at the trussed-up figure in front of him with an expression of incredulity on his face that any German should be so near to him and still be alive.
It was Major Bridie who addressed him.
“Better be careful,” he said. “They may miss him. That would be very unpleasant. We shall have to be prepared.”
But the young man was apparently no one of importance. He remained where he was without any kind of search party being sent after him. He merely sat there, with his legs strapped together, glaring at his captors with a particularly lively kind of hatred in his eyes. They were, as a matter of fact, the first Englanders that he had ever seen, and their blackened faces did nothing to commend them to him.
His presence, however, was an embarrassment of another kind as well. If the crevice had been a tight fit for the three of them before, it was now absolutely impossible for all four to take refuge there. Major Bridie was compelled to shield himself as best he could behind the little barricade that he had erected, and he kept telling himself that if any other German passed that way the game was up for the lot of them. In the result, he sat there glancing from the beach to his watch and back at the beach again. It was now late afternoon and in all his life he had never known dusk come slower.
But it came. Darkness settled down on the Straits and the four of them were still there—the three invaders and their prisoner. Major Bridie issued the last round of rations, consisting of the two malted tablets and a left-over square of chocolate apiece, and continued to study his watch. The luminous hands showed up by now.
“We’ll give Captain Manchon till nine o’clock,” he said at last. “And if he isn’t back by that time we’ll go and have a slap at whatever there is up there.”
It was only after he had said it that he realized he had spoken aloud.
When nine o’clock came, they were ready. Flight Lieut. Stanislaus had been stretching himself outside, going through the gymnastics of a man practicing throwing hand grenades. And the Colonel had been doing a kind of Swedish drill as though doubtful that his arms and legs were still movable. Only Major Bridie had not moved until this moment. He had remained sitting where he was because he was not too sure of some of the knots he had improvised.
When he was satisfied, he got up now and joined his companions. The tin of blacking was still in his pocket and he dutifully resmeared his face before handing the tin round to the others. Then he checked over his revolver, felt the pin of Mills bomb to make sure it not too stiff and groped for the handle of the knife he was carrying. Now that the moment had actually come he felt somehow less well armed than he had done earlier.
THE ROUTE they had decided on was up the beach in the direction from which the patrols had approached. It was all guesswork but it seemed that they were more likely to come up against something important that way. They rather gloomily admitted, however, that for all they knew it might have been precisely the opposite direction they should have taken.
They had not gone more than a few hundred yards before they heard something that made them first stand still and then throw themselves down flat. It was the sound, the unmistakable sound, of a boat grounding on shingle. The sound came from the darkness uncomfortably near at hand. And while they waited there was the equally unmistakable sound of someone stepping out of a grounded boat into a few inches of water. Major Bridie drew his knife and wriggled a few inches ahead of the others.
What made it still more tantalizing in the darkness was that the man from the boat was apparently being as cautious as they were. He was stepping delicately like a cat, as though not to disturb the pebbles. And he was coming straight at them.
Major Bridie felt his blood inside pounding with a kind of excitement that was actually akin to pleasure. It seemed as if it was for this very moment that he had come. Flattening himself out like a slug he began to wriggle still further forward. But the figure in the darkness came faster than he had anticipated. At one moment he was still simply something invisible that stumbled cautiously in the darkness in front, and at the next he was on top of them.
Major Bridie braced himself ready to spring at him; but as he did so he felt a foot planted in his back and the Colonel attacked first. There was a sudden rattle of stones and the Colonel and the stranger were rolling over and over each other in the darkness. To Major Bridie’s ears the noise was positively disgraceful, and he went forward to put an end to it in person.
There was after all nothing very heroic or valiant about it. They outnumbered their man by three to one and between them they got him pinned down with his arms out as though he had been crucified. Then as they bent over him they heard him address them in good expressive French. Major Bridie and the Colonel were not particularly good French scholars and it was Flight Lieut. Stanislaus who told them afterward what the words really meant. They were able to make out enough, however, to realize that it was Captain Manchon whom they were holding down.
It was, however, a strangely different Captain Manchon. He had changed his own clothes for the jersey and waterproofs of a coastal fisherman; and, as though to complete the disguise there was a strong odor of stale fish about him. In place of the steel helmet in which he had started out, he now had a large sou’wester drawn down over his ears.
He explained his possession of this complete change of clothing, when he had recovered his breath and sorted himself out again, by saying that he had spent the night in the cottage of an elderly widow of pronounced anti-collaborationist tendencies. Her two sons, it seemed, were both prisoners in Germany—and she had forced the garments on him. Indeed, from the way she had entertained him at the peril of her life, she might have taken Captain Manchon for a kind of one-man Second Front.
It had, however, been entirely Captain Manchon’s own idea to steal the boat belonging to the German coast guard who was billeted on her. And Captain Manchon’s revelations were by no means confined to the noncollaborationist widow. They concerned the gun station on the cliff. There was undeniably a big gun up there.
And, just as undeniably, the village into which Captain Manchon had wandered was the village of La Courcelle. There was just something in Captain Manchon’s voice that seemed to suggest that he was irritated rather than pleased by the fact that Major Bridie’s rough-and-ready seamanship should actually have got them there.
It was at the mention of La Courcelle that the Colonel came to life again. For some time he had been rather quiet. He was still a little hurt by the way every suggestion that he had made since they had landed had been turned down out of hand by the others. But he now thrust himself irresistibly to the front of the party. He insisted on leading. With the repeated assurance that he knew La Courcelle like the back of his hand the Colonel led them along the beach almost at the double.
And to the astonishment of everyone he was right. He had assured them that in a few minutes they ought to come to a steep flight of stone steps leading up the cliff face, and he allowed himself to become reminiscent about them. It seemed that they were fixed for ever in his memory because of the number of times he had gone down them to recover golf balls he had lost when playing on top of the cliff, and also because of a certain red-haired lady named Henrietta, whose hand he had once held while sitting on the bottom step. And then, no sooner had he mentioned it, than he gave an exclamation. He had almost stumbled over the bottom step.
At the novel experience of having been proved right, the Colonel’s caution suddenly left him and he began congratulating himself loudly. Too loudly, as it turned out. The four of them had scarcely got their foot upon the bottom step before they were challenged. From in front of them sounded threateningly:
“Halt, wer da?”
If it had not been for Captain Manchon they would probably have been shot as they stood there. But with something coming close to genius he contrived to occupy the sentry in a querulous and apparently unending conversation. He had papers, he said, if only he could find them, which would prove that he had the right to use the stairs. And it was not the first time either, he claimed, that he had availed himself of the privilege.
And all the time the Captain was talking Flight Lieut. Stanislaus was edging quietly up the side of the stone parapet toward the sentry. It was as the sentry at last ordered the argumentative Frenchman to advance so that he could inspect this magical paper of his, that Flight Lieut. Stanislaus did what he had been longing for so long to do. He came to grips with a living German.
There was a silent and terrifying efficiency about the whole procedure. In his rubber-soled shoes he had got up the stairs two steps above the sentry and leaped on to the man’s shoulders. It was a big leap—bigger than the Colonel’s when he had landed on the unsuspecting Captain Manchon’s shoulders—but, unlike the Colonel’s, it was quite soundless. It was simply that the others were aware of a shape, darker even than the darkness, passing through the air; and the next moment the sentry was rolling at their feet.
Flight Lieut. Stanislaus was on top of him. Like an enormous leech he was fastened there. The sentry had still not uttered a single cry but his legs were thrashing out as he writhed. Major Bridie instinctively did the proper thing. He threw himself across the man and hugged his legs to him in a horrible embrace. As he did so, the night became silent again, except for the heavy sound of Flight Lieut. Stanislaus’s breathing. Then, after what might have been a couple of minutes, Flight Lieut. Stanislaus sat back and there was a harsh gurgling sound rather like that of an ordinary peacetime bath-waste. But it was not a peacetime sound. It was the sound of the air coming from the young lungs of the i dead sentry. From the moment Flight Lieut. Stanislaus had taken hold of him he had not let go.
"Violinists have strong fingers,” he said as he rolled the body over with his foot.
Major Bridie did not reply. Until that moment he had never thought of violinists as fulfilling any useful function in society. But as he watched the other going methodically through the dead man’s pockets for anything that was worth saving, it occurred to him that violinists must have strong nerves as well.
When Flight Lieut. Stanislaus had finished he had equipped himself with a long-handled grenade, a tommy-gun and a trench knife. Then he dragged the body to one side.
With the sentry out of the way the stairs stretched invitingly upward in the darkness. They could see the treads of the first two steps glimmering in front of them. The rest were dim and only just discernible.
“There’s probably another sentry at the top,” Captain Manchon whispered to Major Bridie.
It was only a whisper but Flight Lieut. Stanislaus overheard it. He seemed to interpret it as some kind of challenge.
“I will go up first,” he insisted. “The Colonel has said that there are sixty steps. If you have heard nothing after two minutes you may follow. If I meet anyone I shall defend myself.”
He went so quietly it seemed that he disappeared rather than moved away from them. At one moment he was there and, at the next, they were staring at the place in the gloom where he had just been. Major Bridie shaded his luminous watch face in his hand, wondering if he could calculate two minutes accurately. Mentally he registered a resolve that if ever he got back to his watchmaker’s in Duncannon Street again he would ask why the man hadn’t fitted a luminous second hand as well and done the job properly.
But there could be no doubt now that the two minutes had passed, and they couldn’t afford to wait any longer. Major Bridie assembled his small army ready for the ascent.
“Twenty full paces in between us,” he said. “I’ll go first. Then the Colonel. And you can fill in the rear, Manchon.”
With the Colonel safely sandwiched in between them, some of the peril seemed already to have disappeared from the venture.
The sixty-two steps stretched up into the darkness apparently endlessly, and even under their rubber shoes little pebbles were scattered with the noise of small avalanches. In consequence they walked delicately, like men stepping on glass. There was still no sign from above and they continued. One by one as they arrived at the top they threw themselves down and lay there waiting.
IT WAS Captain Manchon in the rear who caught things rather fine. He arrived, in fact, almost simultaneously with a German patrol. And there was no way of warning him. Major Bridie drew his revolver and prepared himself for anything that might happen. But the patrol was on other business. It was made up of a sergeant and three men. They simply appeared out of the darkness, loomed threateningly for a moment and then passed on.
Major Bridie rose slowly to his feet and whispered to the others to get moving. If the patrol found the dead body of the sentry, the fun would be due to begin at almost any moment now.
The Colonel, of course, was completely in his element again. He claimed to recognize everything, and insisted on going in front with Major Bridie. They were, it seemed, on the seventh fairway, where the Colonel had once made a miraculous shot with a favorite iron that had dropped the ball within six inches of the pin.
Major Bridie told him to stop talking.
But the Colonel was too excited to obey. He kept whispering into Major Bridie’s ear that if the photograph in the illustrated paper was reliable, they ought now to be within two or three hundred yards of the actual gun site.
He was still asserting this when they came up against something which he explained apologetically had not been there in his day. It was a solid wall of wire that stretched unbroken into the darkness on either side.
At the end of twenty minutes they were still crawling round the perimeter like a company of badgers sniffing along the roots of a hedge.
“Can’t understand it,” the Colonel grunted. “There may be miles of this.”
“I know,” Major Bridie answered. “That’s why we’ve got to go on.”
He paused and glanced down at his watch. It was exactly midnight. Actually he was rather relieved by the lateness, as it excused the sinking feeling that kept coming into the pit of his stomach. The last square meal he had eaten had been consumed more than twenty-four hours earlier.
A hand descended on his shoulder and he found that Captain Manchon had crept up to him.
“What are we waiting for?” he whispered. “It’ll be light by seven.”
Major Bridie acknowledged the justness of the rebuke and the long crawl was resumed. In his own mind he kept telling himself that the garrison inside must have some means of connection with the outside world and that it was his job to find the gap in this wire forest. To attempt anything in the way of a break-through elsewhere was clearly impossible. The pair of innocent garden snips that he had brought with him might have been good for one or two strands but probably not more.
It took them another hour, however, before they found the gap. And by then the Colonel had grown very excited again.
“We’re right up by the first hole now,” he said, under his breath. “I believe the swine are using the clubhouse.”
Major Bridie hurriedly motioned him into silence. His ears had caught the faint sound for which he had been listening. It was the noise that a rifle butt makes when it scrapes on gravel. Major Bridie told himself that where there was a rifle butt there would also be a sentry, and that where there was a sentry there would be something that was worth guarding. A way in, for instance.
And almost immediately they had proof of it. There was the crunch of footsteps, calm, confident footsteps. It was the patrol that they had met earlier, returning to its base. Dimly in the darkness they saw the outlines of figures and heard the sentry’s challenge:
“Halt, wer da?”
Major Bridie heaved a sigh and prayed that the Colonel, whom he could no longer see, was not contemplating anything foolish.
And there was every temptation. The patrol had passed in by now and it looked as if the sentry had been waiting for this very moment. In his little sandbag shelter he evidently felt safe from observation. He lit the last inch of a cigarette stub that he removed from a tin in his pocket, and as he did so they could see the blunt features of the man in his square helmet. The light was a tinder held cautiously in the hollow of cupped hands, but against the surrounding blackness it shone out like a beacon.
The Colonel allowed himself a few moments on German military morale, and went on to describe what would have happened to any man in his regiment who had been found smoking on duty, until Captain Manchon stopped him. He did so by the simple expedient of putting his muffler round the Colonel’s mouth and knotting it behind.
When he had done so he came over to Major Bridie again.
“I suggest that the moment has come,” he said.
“But we don’t know where the gun is,” Major Bridie answered. “He’s the only one who knows.”
As he spoke, he jerked a thumb in the Colonel’s direction.
“It is safer that he should remain here,” Captain Manchon answered. “He is not a very wise man.”
But Flight Lieut. Stanislaus appeared already to have decided which of them should go. He handed Major Bridie his revolver and, armed only with his knife, he began to move forward. Because he was on his hands and knees he carried his knife clenched murderously between his teeth.
THERE was, however, some sort of commotion inside the camp which restrained him. It began with the noise of orders being shouted, and a moment later there broke out a ponderous, grinding mechanical sound like tanks going into action. After the silence on the bleak cliff-top —even the wind had now dropped— it was as though a factory had suddenly started up under their very feet.
The sound grew greater till the whole night seemed full of the grinding of enormous wheels. And, though it might be only that they imagined it, a huge shape seemed to pass across the arena below them. And it was not merely one shape, it was several. It was like looking down into a railway shunting yard as a darkened train draws out.
The moon, the thin crescent moon, had now penetrated the haze overhead, and they could see the line that the cliff made where it cut across the surface of the sea. It was a hard black line drawn across something silver. And, as they watched, the smooth expanse of the line was shattered. Something like the contour of a factory chimney now broke it. And the angle of the furnace chimney was changing every moment. It was being raised, as though by invisible cranes. The four watchers held their breath. They knew that it was Big Hermann they were looking at.
There was, nevertheless, something about the size of the thing that was discouraging. Major Bridie felt like a man armed only with a fret saw, seeking to destroy the Eiffel Tower. And there was something else that filled Major Bridie with dismay—the number of German soldiers in front of him. The under cliff was now crowded. They had emerged from nowhere like rabbits from their burrows.
Then silence fell on the soldiers for a moment. They might have become frozen. The silence was broken by one short, clipped word and immediately there was a roar that left Major Bridie stunned and paralyzed. He was outside the area of shelter, he had no ear-stops, and the concussion had nearly split his head. He was aware only dimly that a great shaft of flame had shot out of the muzzle of the gun and had lit the surrounding landscape like a lightning flash. Major Bridie kept swallowing desperately because his eardrums felt as though they were bursting.
Big Hermann fired five rounds in all. The air around the gun rocked and the earth trembled. And each time there was that scorching funnel of flame that went fanning out from the muzzle. It was, as such bombardments go, a short one; and none of the other guns in the battery was brought into play. But, as Major Bridie was aware, the firing of very large guns is never a quick or simple operation. Big forces are brought into play and they have to be treated respectfully. Between each round the gun crew needed a full half-hour for the barrel to cool off again and for the corrosion to be cleaned away.
By the time the last round had been fired it was nearly three o’clock, and the four men on the outside of the wire were numbed through with the cold. Major Bridie had to keep on rubbing his hands to make sure he could use them when he had to. More than once in between the rounds he had caught himself dropping off to sleep. In the end he and Captain Manchon came to a private arrangement that every five minutes they would each check to see that the other was awake.
But there was something else that served to keep them awake, and that was waiting to hear Big Hermann fire again. At first after each round there was relief, a general slackening of all muscles. But that phase passed quickly enough and it was succeeded by an agonizing tension, a tautening of the nerves as they waited for the explosion that was being prepared for them in the gun pit below. As the moment arrived—and they could never be sure that they were right to the minute—they were all four hunched up with their hands over their ears waiting for it.
And this time it did not come. They waited for it, telling themselves that they had miscalculated. And they went on waiting. The relief they had looked forward to never came.
Major Bridie raised himself and consulted his watch.
“That looks like the end of it for tonight,” he said at last. “We’ll give them exactly half an hour and then we’ll go in.”
The half-hour dragged by at a pace unknown in the whole history of recording time. Every ten seconds or so Major Bridie pressed his ear down to his watch because he was afraid it had stopped altogether. And then he began to experience an entirely new fear; he became convinced that the works were still ticking away just as a well-ordered watch should, but that the mechanism that moved the hands had somehow or other become disconnected. The fact that the minute hand had now shifted a whole perceptible five minutes barely sufficed to convince him.
When the watch at last miraculously showed that twenty minutes had passed, Major Bridie called his final field conference. It was a sketchy, disjointed affair conducted in the least audible of whispers.
“Got to get past the sentry first; that’s the main thing,” Major Bridie began. “Stanislaus will go in front. Better use a knife—no shooting till we’re inside. Then we’ll fan out. Got to make ’em think there are a lot of us. Keep the grenades till we’re near the gun, then chuck ’em into the pit. All together, if possible. I’ll blow my whistle; that’ll be the signal.”
He broke off and stared incredulously down at his shaded watch once more. “If this ruddy thing’s right,” he finished lamely, “we’ve only got about another three minutes to go.”
When he turned again, it was to touch Flight Lieut. Stanislaus on the shoulder and tell him that the moment had come. But there was no need for the reminder. Flight Lieut. Stanislaus was already on his hands and knees again, and the knife was between his teeth.
He moved away so silently into the darkness that none of the three men who had been watching him could be quite sure when he was no longer really visible and when they only knew that he was somewhere there. There was something sinister and uncanny about it. He simply vanished like a small spot of ink being absorbed by an illimitable sheet of black blotting paper.
THE SILENCE that followed was even more unbearable than what had gone before. Major Bridie did not attempt to rely on his watch this time. Instead, he counted up to sixty. And then up to sixty again. And then up to sixty again . . .
It had been arranged that if after five minutes they had heard nothing, the others should go forward. As it turned out they did not have to wait so long. Major Bridie had just reached thirty-two in the fourth minute when there was a sound in front of them that was both unpleasantly loud and unpleasantly near. It was also unpleasant in itself.
It was the kind of sound that a workman makes when he clears his throat of dust. And it was an entirely isolated sound. There was nothing either before it or afterward. But that, of course, was not very surprising as nearly twelve inches of very sharp and very solid Sheffield steel had been driven right up to the hilt in the sentry’s back.
The sound seemed to have gone undetected. Evidently it was only to them that it had seemed so loud, and there was not a movement anywhere in the whole camp. When they went forward there was nothing to stop them. They came up against the barbed wire fence, fingered their way along it and, almost before they were aware of it, they were up against the two-foot gap in the defenses with Flight Lieut. Stanislaus showing them the way in like a doorkeeper at the gate of a country cricket match.
Flight Lieut. Stanislaus put his mouth up close against Major Bridie’s ear and whispered something. Major Bridie paused for a moment, considering, and then told the others to wait. Down on his knees Flight Lieut. Stanislaus was stripping the corpse that lay at his feet and hurriedly putting on the clothes. In two minutes Flight Lieut. Stanislaus was ready. He marched ahead of them in all the dignity of his new uniform.
There was only one slight hitch, and that was because the Colonel kept agitatedly trying to point at something. Looking back, Major Bridie could faintly see his gesticulating form behind them. He went back to find out what was the matter.
“That’s the building. The small one,” the Colonel was saying. “Hasn’t altered a bit. Used to be the Pro’s hut. Know it like my own drawing-room.”
Major Bridie was brief with him; very brief. He merely prodded him in the back with his revolver and told him what would happen if he said another word.
They were now marching in single file. Flight Lieut. Stanislaus led the way, his German rifle boldly shouldered to allay suspicion. Captain Manchon came next. He was silent and unobtrusive; in some ways he was the best soldier of the lot of them. Next came the Colonel, glancing apprehensively over his shoulder every now and then to make sure that it really was Major Bridie whose revolver was digging into his ribs. He was still grasping his twelve bore as though at any moment he expected to flush a snipe or a woodcock. And last of all came Major Bridie. He was walking on his toes like a boxer entering the ring against an unknown opponent, and he was whistling noiselessly between his teeth.
They had crossed nearly a hundred yards of ground—it was approximately half way toward the gun pit, as Major Bridie reckoned it—before they encountered even the least opposition. But when they encountered it, it proved to be the real thing. There was the sound of boots in front of them and before they could throw themselves on the ground they were brought face to face with a guard of three that was just setting out.
It was Flight Lieut. Stanislaus whom they met first, and they passed him without even turning their heads. Even the small, shapeless figure of Captain Manchon did not seem to excite anything but the mildest curiosity. But the Colonel was too much for them. Finding himself at last in the presence of his long-awaited enemy, his fighting spirit overcame him. Completely ignoring the point of the revolver which had not budged from his ribs he suddenly swung round on the last of the Germans and made as if to brain him with his shotgun.
Even then it might have been all right if he had not stumbled. But in swinging round he unfortunately gave Captain Manchon a sharp and vicious crack over the head with the butt of his weapon.
Captain Manchon threw up his hands and fell forward. The butt of the gun had been hard and he was temporarily stunned. He simply lay there, unmoving and useless.
It says a good deal for Major Bridie’s Hibernian self-control that he didn’t execute the Colonel on the spot in accordance with field justice. His finger round the revolver trigger was itching. But there was no time for justice at the moment. The guard had rounded on them and the game was up. Somewhere a dozen paces in front, Flight Lieut. Stanislaus was striding on ahead in the darkness.
Major Bridie had long since forgotten all the German he had ever known, but the meaning of what was being said to him was plain enough. He did the only thing that a soldier could do. He fired.
To Be Concluded