Greenmantle HTML version

22. The Guns of the North
But no more shells fell.
The night grew dark and showed a field of glittering stars, for the air was sharpening
again towards frost. We waited for an hour, crouching just behind the far parapets, but
never came that ominous familiar whistle.
Then Sandy rose and stretched himself. 'I'm hungry,' he said. 'Let's have out the food,
Hussin. We've eaten nothing since before daybreak. I wonder what is the meaning of
this respite?'
I fancied I knew.
'It's Stumm's way,' I said. 'He wants to torture us. He'll keep us hours on tenterhooks,
while he sits over yonder exulting in what he thinks we're enduring. He has just enough
imagination for that ... He would rush us if he had the men. As it is, he's going to blow us
to pieces, but do it slowly and smack his lips over it.'
Sandy yawned. 'We'll disappoint him, for we won't be worried, old man. We three are
beyond that kind of fear.'
'Meanwhile we're going to do the best we can,' I said. 'He's got the exact range for his
whizz-bangs. We've got to find a hole somewhere just outside the _castrol_, and some
sort of head-cover. We're bound to get damaged whatever happens, but we'll stick it out
to the end. When they think they have finished with us and rush the place, there may be
one of us alive to put a bullet through old Stumm. What do you say?'
They agreed, and after our meal Sandy and I crawled out to prospect, leaving the others
on guard in case there should be an attack. We found a hollow in the glacis a little south
of the _castrol_, and, working very quietly, managed to enlarge it and cut a kind of
shallow cave in the hill. It would be no use against a direct hit, but it would give some
cover from flying fragments. As I read the situation, Stumm could land as many shells
as he pleased in the _castrol_ and wouldn't bother to attend to the flanks. When the bad
shelling began there would be shelter for one or two in the cave.
Our enemies were watchful. The riflemen on the east burnt Very flares at intervals, and
Stumm's lot sent up a great star-rocket. I remember that just before midnight hell broke
loose round Fort Palantuken. No more Russian shells came into our hollow, but all the
road to the east was under fire, and at the Fort itself there was a shattering explosion
and a queer scarlet glow which looked as if a magazine had been hit. For about two
hours the firing was intense, and then it died down. But it was towards the north that I
kept turning my head. There seemed to be something different in the sound there,
something sharper in the report of the guns, as if shells were dropping in a narrow