But a sharp glance from Mélanie checked him. "Such great news as we have receive'! Our son is bethroath'! to a good, dizcreet, beautiful French girl; which he foun', in a cellar at Rheims!" When a drum-fire of questions fell on him he grew reticent and answered quietly: "We have only that by firz' letter. Full particular' pretty soon, perchanze to-morrow."
He was lost in a deep, dreamless sleep. It was nearly noon when the tired youth awoke. He looked wonderingly about, and there was a haunting fear in his light eyes, like those of a stag that dreads the hunters. From the north there came the sound of drum-fire, a weird, almost tedious, rhythm of guns working at a feverish pace; and the near-by road was a mass of jumbled traffic.
Against it were brought 5 ironclads with 18 guns, backed up by over 200 guns in the rest of the fleet. After a storm of shot and shell for three successive days, rising at times to "drum-fire," the barrage was lifted at a signal and troops and sailors dashed forward from their positions on shore. Even after this preparation the capture cost 1000 men.
Then I went over to the Prep. to see if any more walking wounded had arrived, but there were none at all. I stood out in the open for a few minutes in order to breathe the fresh air. There was a roar and rumble of distant drum-fire. The trees behind the C.C.S. stood out blackly against the pallid flashes that lit up the entire horizon. The mortuary attendant came walking along the duckboards.
For four months our artillery expended an average of half a million shells a day. The increase in artillery last year may be judged from the fact that in the last six months of 1917 one million tons of shells were used by the British on the western front. By day the drum-fire of the guns beat on one's ears like a devil's tattoo until one felt that in another week reason would be unseated.
At dawn, at noon, when the sun was reddening in the west, just before the dusk, in pitch darkness, even, the steady, regular bombardment that had never ceased all through the days and nights would concentrate into the great tumult of sudden drum-fire, and presently waves of men English or Scottish or Irish, Australians or Canadians would be sweeping on to them and over them, rummaging down into the dugouts with bombs and bayonets, gathering up prisoners, quick to kill if men were not quick to surrender.
For a week the German troops Bavarians and Prussians had been crouching in their dugouts, listening to the ceaseless crashing of the British "drum-fire." In places like Beaumont Hamel, the men down in the deep tunnels some of them large enough to hold a battalion and a half were safe as long as they stayed there. But to get in or out was death.
Gas shells came over for exactly half an hour. Then the shrapnel broke loose; not the long, whizzing scream of solitary shells, but drum-fire, continuous and deafening. A hundred electrical storms seemed raging at once, in the air and on the ground. Balls of fire were rolling all over the place.
So his rehearsals had gone; it was the performance now! Another minute before the terrific racket of the drum-fire should become the curtain-fire, which would advance before them. He ran his eye down the trench. The man next him was licking his two first fingers, as if he might be going to bowl at cricket. Further down, a man was feeling his puttees. A voice said: "Wot price the orchestra nah!"
There were thirty-three men and grown boys in the fort; and as many women and children. Led by the white savage, the Indians charged the gate with battering-ram logs; the log-carriers fell, but a hundred warriors stormed the palisade and tore with their knives and tomahawks and fingers at the pickets. From the loop-holes the long rifles cracked in a steady drum-fire.