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The Moving Picture Boys on the War Front, a novel by Victor Appleton

Chapter 17. Bowled Over

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Not a man of the American and French forces that were to attack the Germans had yet left the protecting trench. The object of the artillery fire, which always preceded an attack unless it was a surprise one with tanks, was to blow away the barbed-wire entanglements, and, if possible, dispose of some of the enemy guns as well as the fighting men.

The barrage was really a "curtain of fire" moving ahead of the attacking troops to protect them. This curtain actually advanced, for the guns belching out the rain of steel and lead were slowly elevated, and with the elevation a longer range was obtained.

Waiting in a trench slightly behind the troops that were soon to go into action, Blake Stewart and his chums talked, taking no care to keep down their voices. Indeed, they had to yell to be heard.

"Well, we're here at last," said Blake.

"Yes; and it looks as if there'd be plenty of action," added Joe.

"If it only gets lighter and the smoke doesn't hang down so," added Charlie. "We won't get very good films if it doesn't get lighter. It's fierce now."

"Well, if the fighting lasts long enough the sun will soon be higher and the light better," responded Blake. "And it sounds as if this was going to be a big fight."

By this time the German guns seemed to have awakened, and were replying to the fire from the American and French artillery. The shells flew screaming over the heads of those in the trenches, and instinctively Blake and his companions ducked.

Then they realized how futile this was. As a matter of fact, the shells were passing high over them and exploding even back of the line of cannon. For the Germans did not yet have the range, some of the Allies' guns having been moved up during the night.

Suddenly, though how the signal was given the moving picture boys did not learn until afterward, there was activity in the trenches before them. With yells that sounded only faintly above the roar of the big guns, the American and French soldiers went "over the top," and rushed toward the German trenches.

"Come on!" cried Blake. "This is our chance!"

"It isn't light enough!" complained Charlie, as he ran along the communicating trench with the other two lads to the front line ditch. "We can't get good pictures now."

"It's getting lighter!" cried Blake. "Come on!"

He and Joe were to work the cameras, with Charles Anderson to stand by with spare reels of film, and to lend a helping hand if need be.

Along the narrow trench they rushed, carrying their machines which, it was hoped, would catch on the sensitive celluloid the scenes, or some of them, that were taking place in front. Mad scenes they were, too--scenes of bursting shells, of geysers of rock and earth being tossed high by some explosion, of men rushing forward to take part in the deadly combat.

As Blake had said, the scene was lighting up now. The sun rose above the mists and above the smoke of the guns, for though some smokeless powder was used, there was enough of the other variety to produce great clouds of vapor.

Behind the line of rushing soldiers, who were all firing their rifles rapidly, rushed the moving picture boys. They were looking for a spot on which to set their machines to get good views of the engagement.

"This'll do!" yelled Blake, as they came to a little hill, caused by the upheaval of dirt in some previous shell explosion. "We can stand here!"

"All right!" agreed Joe. "I'll go a little to one side so we won't duplicate."

The barrage fire had lifted, biting deeper into the ranks and trenches of the Germans. But they, on their part, had found the range more accurately, and were pouring an answering bombardment into the artillery stations of the French and Americans.

And then, as the sun came out clear, the boys had a wonderful view of what was going on. Before them the French and Uncle Sam's boys were fighting with the Germans, who had been driven from their trenches. On all sides were rifles belching fire and sending out the leaden messengers of death.

And there, in the midst of the fighting but off to one side and out of the line of direct fire, stood Blake, Joe and Charlie, the two former turning the handles of the cameras and taking pictures even as they had stood in the midst of the volcanoes and earthquakes, or in the perils of the deep, making views.

The fighting became a mad riot of sound--the sound of big guns and little--the sound of bursting shells from either side--the yells of the men--the shouting of the officers and the shrill cries of the wounded.

It took all the nerve of the three lads to stand at their posts and see men killed and maimed before their eyes, but they were under orders, and did not waver. For these scenes, terrible and horrible though they were, were to serve the good purpose of stimulating those at home, in safety across the sea, to a realization of the perils of war and the menace of the Huns.

The fighting was now at its fiercest. The Germans had an accurate idea of the location of the American and French cannon by this time, and the artillery duel was taking place, while between that double line of fire the infantry were at body-grips.

Hand grenades were being tossed to and fro. Men were emptying the magazines of their rifles or small arms fairly into the faces of each other.

When a soldier's ammunition gave out, or his gun choked from the hot fire, he swung the rifle as a club or used the bayonet. And then came dreadful scenes--scenes that the moving picture boys did not like to think about afterward. But war is a grim and terrible affair, and they were in the very thick of it.

Suddenly, as Blake and Joe were grinding away at their cameras, now and then shifting them to get a different view, something that made shrill whistling sounds, passed over their heads.

"What's that?" asked Charlie, who stood ready with a reel of spare film for Blake's machine.

"Bullets, I reckon," answered Joe. "They seem to be coming our way, too."

"Maybe we'd better get out of here," suggested Blake. "We've got a lot of views, and----"

"Don't run yet, Buddies!" called a voice, and along came Private Drew. "You'll never hear the bullet that hits you. And they're firing high, the Fritzes are! Don't run yet. How're you making it?"

"All right so far, but it's--fierce!" cried Blake, as he stopped for a moment to let a smoke cloud blow away.

"Yes, it's a hot little party, all right," replied the soldier, with a grin. "I haven't had all my share yet. Had to go back with an order. Hi, here comes one!" and instinctively he dodged, as did the others, though a moment later it was borne to them that it was of little use to dodge on the battlefield.

Something flew screaming and whining over their heads, and fell a short distance away.

"It's a shell!" cried Joe, as he saw it half bury itself in the earth. "Look out!"

Private Drew gave one look at the place where the German missile had fallen, not ten feet away, and then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he cried:

"It's only a dud!"

"What's that?" asked Joe.

"Shell that didn't explode," answered the soldier. "The Fritzes have fired a lot of them lately. Guess their ammunition must be going back on them. It's only a dud!"

He was about to pass on, and the moving picture boys were going to resume their making of films, when another scream and whine like the first came, but seemingly nearer.

Instinctively all four looked up, and saw something flashing over their heads. They could feel the wind of the shell, for that is what it was, and then the chance shot from the German gun fell about fifty feet behind the group.

The next instant there was a tremendous explosion, and Blake and the others felt themselves being tossed about and knocked down as by a mighty wind. _

Read next: Chapter 18. Trench Life

Read previous: Chapter 16. The Firing Line

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