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

Chapter 18. Trench Life

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Blake was the first to scramble to his feet, rolling out from beneath a pile of dirt and stones that had been tossed on him as the shell heaved up a miniature geyser and covered him with the debris. Then, after a shake, such as a dog gives himself when he emerges from the water, and finding himself, as far as he could tell, uninjured, he looked to his companions.

Private Drew was staggering about, holding his right hand to his head, and on his face was a look of grim pain. But it passed in an instant as he cried to Blake:

"Hurt Buddy?"

"I don't seem to be," was the answer, given during a lull in the bombardment and firing. "But I'm afraid----"

He did not finish the sentence, but looked apprehensively at his prostrate chums. Both Joe and Charlie lay motionless, half covered with dirt. One camera had been upset and the tripod was broken. The other, which Blake had been operating, seemed intact.

"Maybe they're only knocked out. That happens lots of times," said Drew. "We'll have a look."

"But you're hurt yourself!" exclaimed Blake, looking at a bloody hand the soldier removed from his head.

"Only a scratch, Buddy! A piece of the shell grazed me. First I thought it had taken me for fair, but it's only a scratch. If I don't get any worse than that I'm lucky. Now to have a look at your bunkies."

Charles Anderson seemed to need little looking after, for he arose to his feet, appearing somewhat dazed, but not hurt, as far as was evidenced.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Just a little bit of a compliment from our friend Fritz," answered Drew. "That was a real shell--no dud--but it exploded far enough away from us not to do an awful lot of damage. That is, unless your other bunkie is worse hurt."

"I'm afraid he is," observed Blake, for Joe had not yet moved, and dirt covered him thickly.

The center of the fighting seemed to have passed beyond the group of moving picture boys by this time. Blake, Charlie and Drew turned to where Joe lay and began scraping the dirt from him.

He stirred uneasily while they were doing this, and murmured:

"It's all right. Put in another reel."

"Touched on the head," said the soldier. "We'd better get him back of the lines where he can see a doctor. Your machine got a touch of it, too."

Anderson hurried over to the overturned camera. A quick examination showed him that it had suffered no more damage than the broken support.

"It's all right," he announced. "Not even light-struck, I guess. I'll take this and the boxes of film," and he shouldered his burden.

"Well, I'll take your bunkie--guess I can manage to carry him better than you, for we've had practice in that--and you can shoulder the other picture machine," said Drew, as he moved over to Joe. "We won't wait for the stretcher-men. They won't be along for some time if this keeps up. Come on now."

"But can you manage, hurt as you are?" asked Blake.

"Oh, sure! Mine's only a scratch. Wait, I'll give myself a little first aid and then I'll be all right."

With the help of Blake the soldier disinfected his wound with a liquid he took from his field kit, and then, having bound a bandage around his head, he picked up the still unconscious Joe and started back with him to the rear trenches.

They had to make a detour to avoid some of the German fire, which was still hot in sections, but finally managed to get to a place of comparative safety. Here they were met by a party of ambulance men, and Joe was placed on a stretcher and taken to a first dressing station.

Meanwhile, Anderson put the cameras with their valuable reels of film in a bomb-proof structure.

"Is he badly hurt?" asked Blake anxiously of the surgeon.

"I hope not. In fact, I think not," was the reassuring answer of the American army surgeon. "He has been shocked, and there is a bad bruise on one side, where he seems to have been struck by a stone thrown by the exploding shell. But a few days' rest will bring him around all right. Pretty close call, was it?"

"Oh, it might have been worse," answered Drew, whose wound had also been attended to. "It was just a chance shot."

"Well, I don't know that it makes an awful lot of difference whether it's a chance shot or one that is aimed at you, as long as it hits," said the surgeon. "However, you are luckily out of it. How does it seem, to be under fire?" he asked Blake.

"Well, I can't say I fancy it as a steady diet, and yet it wasn't quite as bad as I expected. And we got the pictures all right."

"That's good!" the surgeon said. "Well, your friend will be all right. He's coming around nicely now," for Joe was coming out of the stupor caused by the blow on the head from a clod of earth.

At first he was a bit confused--"groggy," Private Drew called it--but he soon came around, and though he could not walk because of the injury to his side, he was soon made comparatively comfortable and taken to a hospital just behind the lines.

As this was near the house where Charlie and Blake were quartered, they could easily visit their chum each day, which they did for the week that he was kept in bed.

As Charles had surmised, the films in the cameras were not damaged, and were removed to be sent back for development. The broken tripod was repaired sufficiently to be usable again, and then the boys began to prepare for their next experience.

The engagement in which Joe had been hurt was a comparatively small one, but it netted a slight advance for the French and American troops, and enabled a little straightening of their trench line to be made, a number of German dug-outs having been demolished and their machine guns captured. This, for a time at least, removed a serious annoyance to those who had to occupy the front line trenches.

Though Joe improved rapidly in the hospital, for some time his side was very sore. He had to turn his camera over to Charlie, and it was fortunate the lanky helper had been brought along, for the work would have proved too much for Blake alone.

Following that memorable, because it was the first, going "over the top," there was a period of comparative quiet. Of course there was sniping day and night, and not a few casualties from this form of warfare, but it was to be expected and "all in the day's work," as Private Drew called it.

Blake, Joe and Charlie were complimented by Captain Black for their bravery in going so close to the front line in getting the pictures; then he added:

"You can have it a little easier for a while. What we want now are some scenes of trench life as it exists before an engagement. So get ready for that."

This Blake and Charlie did, while Joe sat in the sun and tried to learn French from a little boy, the son of the couple in whose house the moving picture boys were quartered.

Though the American and French soldiers, with here and there a Canadian or English regiment, lived so near the deadly front line, there were periods, some lengthy, of quiet and even amusement. Of course, the deaths lay heavy on all the soldiers when they allowed themselves to think of their comrades who had perished. And more than one gazed with wet eyes at the simple wooden crosses marking the graves "somewhere in France."

But officers and men alike knew how fatal to spirit it was to dwell on the sad side of war. So, as much as possible, there was in evidence a sense of lightness and a feeling that all was for the best--that it must be for the best.

Now and then there were night raids, and occasionally parties of German prisoners were brought in. Blake and Charlie made moving pictures of these as they were taken back to the cages. Most of the Germans seemed glad to be captured, which meant that they were now definitely out of the terrible scenes of the war. They would be held in safety until after the conflict, and they seemed to know this, for they laughed and joked as they were filmed. They appeared to like it, and shouted various words of joking import in their guttural voices to the boys.

A week after coming out of the hospital Joe was able to take up light work, and did his share of making pictures of trench life. He had a big bruise on one side, a discolored patch that had an unpleasant look, but which soon ceased to give much pain except after a period of exertion.

"Well, you're a veteran now--been wounded," said Blake to his chum.

"Yes, I suppose you can call it that. I don't care for any more, though."

The plan in operation at this particular section of the front where the moving picture boys were quartered and on duty was for the soldiers to spend five or six days in the trenches, taking turns of duty near No Man's Land, and then going back to rest in the dug-outs. After that they would have a day or so of real rest back of the lines, out of reach of the big guns.

And there the real fun of soldiering, if fun it can be called amid the grim business of war, was to be had. The officers and men vied with one another in trying to forget the terrible scenes through which they had gone, and little entertainments were gotten up, the moving picture boys doing their share.

Thus they obtained views of trench life both grave and gay, though it must be admitted that the more serious predominated. There were many wounded, many killed, and, occasionally, one of the parties going out on patrol or listening-duty at night would never come back, or, at most, one or two wounded men would come in to tell of a terrific struggle with a party of Huns.

Sometimes, though, the tale would be the other way around, and the Americans would come in with a number of captives who showed the effects of severe fighting. _

Read next: Chapter 19. Gassed

Read previous: Chapter 17. Bowled Over

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