CHAPTER X

A FINE DAY FOR MURDER

“Say, kid, want to go sniping?” called out a lank individual as he came over the bridge at “S-P-7” one morning in December, 1915.

The person addressed, a swarthy little boy wearing the uniform and stripe of a lance-corporal of the Twenty-first Canadian Machine Gun Section, took a long careful look around the sky, hastily swallowed a strip of bacon he had in his fingers and as he darted into a little “rabbit-burrow” sort of tunnel, flung back the words; “Hell, yes; this looks like a fine day for a murder.” In a few moments he reappeared with a water-bottle and a large chunk of bread. Hastily filling the former from a convenient petrol tin and cramming the latter into his pockets, he walked over to the older man and divested him of some of the paraphernalia with which he was festooned. He took a long case containing a telescope, another carrier holding the tripod, two bandoliers of ammunition and a large haversack.

“How we going in?”

“Straight across,” said the sniper.

“Ver-re-well, young-fella-me-lad, if you can stand it I can,” said the youngster, for he knew full well that to go from there to Sniper’s Barn in broad daylight meant to expose himself to observation from “Germany,” only about five hundred yards away, and with a fat chance of playing the part of “the sniper sniped.”

Without another word they departed. The sentry on guard at the crossing of the creek volunteered the cheerful hope that they’d get pinked before they got across the field, upon which the boy assured him that he would be drinking real beer in London when the pessimistic sentry was “pushing up the daisies” in Flanders. Crossing the open field to a hedge, they slipped into a shallow remnant of an old French trench, just in time to escape a snapping bullet which was aimed about one second too late. From here they crawled carefully along the hedge, bullets cutting intermittently through the bare branches above them and, at last, came to a small opening that gave entrance to a garden, about one hundred yards from a group of demolished farm buildings. Here they rested for a few minutes, while the bullets continued to “fan” the hedge up which they had come and which led to the buildings.

The boy–“Bou” the other called him–worked his way along the ground to an old cherry tree and was about to lift up a sort of trap-door at its roots when the other stopped him.

“Never mind the gun,” he said, “we’ll just wait here until they do their morning strafe and then go into the buildings. I want to try for a few of them over on Piccadilly to-day and you can’t use a machine gun for that. You’ll simply have to be the observer, that’s all.”

Bou came back, lit a cigarette which the other promptly extinguished and then subsided.

“What you think you’re going to do; shoot from the farm?” Bou couldn’t possibly keep quiet any longer.

“Sure, Mike; why not?”

“Oh, nothing; but do you think we can get away with it?”

“Well, you’ve been here as long as I have and if you have not figured out the way the boches do things around this place I’m afraid I can’t tell you; but I’ll try. Now, they saw us come over here, didn’t they? And they naturally think we are in the farm buildings. Just as soon as that fellow who was shooting at us can get word to their batteries they will proceed to shoot up the place. After about a dozen direct hits they will feel pretty well satisfied that they have either driven us out or ‘na-pooed’ us, so that will be our time to get inside and take a shot at this brilliant young Bavarian who will, without a doubt, be looking over the parapet in the hope that he may get a crack at us trying to ‘beat it.’ I’ve been wanting to get that guinea for a long time and have a hunch that this is our day. See?”

Before the boy could answer there came a swift “whit; whit; whit;” and three “bang; bang; bangs” in and above the main building of the farm. Followed several more salvos, finally crashing through the walls and throwing up fountains of brick-dust and earth. After waiting several minutes they worked their way carefully along the hedge and around behind the buildings. Entering the one nearest the road, which was a mere shell with the roof and two walls entirely gone, they crept cautiously across the floor, and dodging the carcass of a cow that lay with its head in an old fireplace, they finally found themselves in a back room. Many bales of tobacco lay piled up on the floor, covered with the litter and wreckage from the upper story. Here the older man uncovered an opening under the tobacco, through which they entered a small chamber, perhaps eight feet square, comparatively clean. At one side of this narrow space lay a figure covered with the well-known blue overcoat of the French soldier.

“Who’s your friend?” inquired the youngster.

“I don’t know; he was here when I first came; but I think he was the original sniper of Sniper’s Barn. Look at that pile of shells beside him.”

Near the dead soldier was his rifle and a great pile of empty cartridge cases.

“We’ll have to bury him some day: I think he earned it. He’s got a hole right through the heart. Must have been here a year: he’s all dried up, like a mummy.”

While delivering this discourse the sniper had been carefully removing straw and tobacco leaves from an irregular hole in the brick wall. Here he set up the telescope and settled himself to scrutinize that part of the German line which lay directly opposite. After a few minutes’ observation he began to clear away another and smaller opening, to the right of and below that where the telescope was set.

“He’s there, all right: look just about four o’clock in the ‘scope as it stands. See him, right beside that leaning tree? Keep your eye on him while I get my sight set.”

In a few seconds, everything ready for action, the tall man sprawled himself on the floor, sling adjusted, piece loaded and cocked, while Bou, now behind the telescope, whispered excitedly: “He’s still there and looking right at me. I can see his cap badge. He’s one of those damned Marines. Get him, Mac, for God’s sake, get him, quick.”

“I’ll get him, all right,” muttered the other as he gingerly poked the muzzle of his rifle through the few remaining straws. “Now watch and see if his hands come up and whether he falls forward or just drops;” with which he slowly pressed the trigger and the shot roared in the small chamber.

“You got him!” shrieked Bou; “I saw his hands come up to his face and he pitched right forward into the trench. Hooray! that’s another one for Charlie Wendt.”

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