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

Chapter 19. Gassed

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"Well, there's one thing about it," remarked Joe to Blake one day, as they sat in the shade beside the French cottage waiting for orders. "This isn't as nervous work as traveling on a ship, waiting for a submarine."

It was three weeks after the first and only engagement they had taken part in, and, meanwhile, they had filmed many more peaceful scenes of army life on the front.

"Especially when you know there's a traitor in the cabin across the hall that may signal any minute for you to be blown up," Blake responded to his friend's remark. "You're right there, Joe. But how's the side?"

"Coming on all right. Hurts hardly at all now. I wonder what became of those two fellows?"

"Which two?"

"Secor and Labenstein."

"Oh, I thought you meant those two German officers who tried to hire us to send some word back to their folks about them."

This had been the case: In a batch of prisoners brought in after a raid which was most successful on the part of the Americans, two captured German officers of high rank who spoke English well had offered Blake and Joe a large sum if they would send word of their fate and where they were held prisoners to an address in Berlin.

But the boys would do nothing of the sort, and reported the matter to Captain Black. The result was that the officers were searched and some valuable papers, containing some future plans of the enemy, were discovered. The officers were sent to England under a strong guard, as it was felt they were particularly dangerous.

"I suppose Secor and Labenstein are somewhere, plotting to do their worst," went on Blake. "Having gone as far as they did, they wouldn't give up easily, I imagine. I can understand Labenstein's acting as he did, but that Secor, a Frenchman, if he really is one, should plot to injure his own country--that gets me!"

"Same here! I wonder if we'll ever see him again--either of them, for that matter."

"I hope not I don't like--snakes!" exclaimed Blake.

"Yes, that's what they are--snakes in the grass," agreed Joe. "But I wonder what our next assignment will be."

"It's hard to say. Here comes an orderly now. Maybe he has some instructions."

This proved to be the case, the messenger bearing a note from Captain Black, requesting the moving picture boys to get some scenes around the camp when the soldiers were served with their daily rations.

Some German propaganda was being circulated in the United States, Captain Black explained, to the effect that the soldiers in France were being underfed and were most unhappy. It was said that large losses had taken place in their ranks through starvation.

"We want to nail that lie to the mast!" said the captain; "and I can't imagine a better way than by making some films showing the boys at their meals."

"And they are some meals, too!" exclaimed Blake, as he and his chum made ready for the task set them. "If every soldier in this war had as good grub as our boys, they'd want to keep on fighting."

Though Blake and Joe were resting at that particular time, it must not be assumed that they did much of that sort of thing. Of course they were not always on duty. Moreover, unlike the soldiers, they could do nothing after dark, during which period many raids were made on both sides. The moving picture business of taking films depended on daylight for its success. But when they were not filming peaceful scenes in and about the trenches the boys were getting views of tanks, of men drilling, of their games and sports, and now they were to get some pictures of the meals.

As Blake and Joe had remarked, they had neither heard nor seen anything of Secor or Labenstein since they came from England. The men might have been arrested, but this was hardly likely.

"Even if they were we wouldn't hear of it," said Blake. "But I hope, if they are under arrest, they'll hold them until we can tell what we know of them."

"Same here," agreed Joe. "But I guess we'll never see them again."

Before long, however, his words were recalled to him in a strange manner and under grim circumstances.

"Well, Buddy, coming to get yours?" called Private Drew, as Blake and Joe, their cameras over their shoulders, walked toward the cook wagons from which came fragrant odors.

"Haven't heard any invitations yet," returned Blake, grinning.

"Come in with us!"

"Over this way!"

"Here you are for the big feed!"

The cries came from a number of different groups of Uncle Sam's soldiers who were fighting in France. For Blake, Joe and Charlie were generally liked, and though they were not supposed to mess with the soldiers, they did so frequently, and had many a good meal in consequence.

"We're going to get records of your appetites to show the folks back home," observed Blake, as he and Joe set up the machines. "There's a report that you're gradually wasting away from lack of pie and cake."

"Watch me waste!" cried a vigorous specimen of American manhood. "Just watch me waste!" And he held aloft a big plate heaped high with good and substantial food, while, laughing, Blake and Joe made ready to get the views.

There was much fun and merriment, even though a few miles away there was war in its grimmest aspect But if one thought of that all the while, as Captain Black said, none would have the nerve and mental poise to face the guns and finally overcome the Huns.

Following the taking of the scenes around the mess hall, others were made showing the boys in khaki at bayonet practice, at the throwing of hand grenades, and other forms of war exercises.

"I guess these will do for peaceful scenes," said Captain Black, when Joe and Blake reported to him what they had accomplished. "And now do you feel equal to a little more strenuous work?"

"Yes, sir. In what way?" returned Blake.

"On the firing line again. I know you'll keep it to yourselves, but we are going to have a big engagement in a day or so. We are all primed for it and it will be on a big scale. The Government wants some films of it, if you can get them, films not so much to be shown in public as to be official records of the War Department. Do you boys feel equal to the task?"

"That's what we're here for!" exclaimed Blake.

"How about you, Duncan?" asked the captain of Joe. "Is your side all right?"

"Oh, yes! I'd never know I'd been hurt. I'm game, all right!"

"Well, it will be in a day or so. None of us knows exactly when, as those higher up don't let us into all of their secrets. Too many leaks, you know. We want to surprise Fritz if we can."

This gave the moving picture boys something further to think about and to plan for, and when they had taken the reels of exposed film, showing the dinner scenes, from their cameras, they made the machines ready for more strenuous work.

"I think I'll put an extra covering of thin sheet steel on the film boxes," said Charlie, talking the matter over with his two chums. "A stray bit of shrapnel might go through them now and make a whole reel light-struck."

"I suppose it would be a good idea," agreed Blake. "Go to it, Mac, and we'll be ready when you are."

Four days of anxious waiting followed, with the men keyed up to concert pitch, so to speak, and eager for the word to come that would send them out of the trenches and against the ranks of the Germans.

But for a long time no word came from the higher command to prepare for the assault, though many knew it was pending. Perhaps the Germans knew it, too, and that was what caused the delay. None could say.

Blake, Joe and Charlie were in readiness. They had their cameras adjusted, had plenty of fresh film, and but awaited the word that would send them from their comparatively comfortable house with the French family into the deadly trenches.

Finally the word came. Once more in the gray dawn the boys took their places with their cameras in the communicating trench, while ahead of them crouched the soldiers eager to be unleashed at the Germans.

And then they went through it all over again. There was the curtain of fire, the artillery opening up along a five-mile front with a din the boys had never heard equalled.

Waiting for the light to improve a little, the boys set up their cameras in a little grove of trees where they would be somewhat protected and began to make the pictures.

The battle was one of the worst of the war. There were many killed and wounded, and through it all--through the storm of firing--the moving picture boys took reel after reel of film.

"Some fight!" cried Blake, as a screaming shell burst over their heads, some scattering fragments falling uncomfortably close to them.

"I should say yes!" agreed Joe. "But look, here comes Drew on the run. I wonder what's happened."

They saw their friend the private rushing toward them, and waving his hands. He was shouting, but what he said they could not hear.

And then, so suddenly that it was like a burst of fire, Blake, Joe and Charles experienced a strange feeling! Some powerful odor overpowered them! Gasping and choking, they fell to the ground, dimly hearing Drew shouting:

"Gassed! Gassed! Put on your masks!" _

Read next: Chapter 20. "Gone!"

Read previous: Chapter 18. Trench Life

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