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The Hearing Ear
by [?]

“Well, it’s this way,” continued Barker Bunn. “You know I had a bit of experience in listening post while I was with the Canadians down around ‘Wipers’; and I noticed that most of the troubles came from a bad method of procedure. Fellows went out any old way; followed each other in the dark, and then hunted for each other and came to grief; all those kind of silly fumbles. Now, what you need is formation–see? Must have some sort of formation for advance. Must keep in touch. For two men a tandem is right. For three men, what you want is a spike-team–middle man crawls ahead, other men follow on each side just near enough to touch his left heel with right hand and right heel with left hand–a triangle, see? Keep touching once every thirty seconds. If you miss it, leader crawls back, side men crawl in, sure to meet, nobody gets lost. Go as far as you can, then spread out like a fan, fold together when you can, come back if you can–that’s the way to cover the most possible ground on a listening post. Do you get me?”

“We get you,” they nodded. “It’s a wonderful scheme.” And Rosenlaube added in his most impressive literary manner: “Plato, it must be so, thou reasonest well.”

“But tell me,” said the lieutenant, “what were you fellows chattering about so loud when I came down?”

So they told him, and, according to the habit of college boys, they skirmished over the ground of debate again, and Barker Bunn vigorously supported the majority opinion, and Mitchell was left in a hopeless minority of one, clinging obstinately to his faith that there had been, and still might be, some use for the German language.

Midnight came, and with it the return of the lieutenant’s official manner. He saw the trio slide over the top, one by one, vanishing in the starless dark. “Good luck going and coming,” he whispered; and it sounded almost like an unofficial prayer.

In single file they crept through the prepared opening in the barbed-wire entanglement, and so out into No Man’s Land, where they took up their spike-team formation. Phipps-Herrick was the leader, the other men were the wheelers. They had agreed on a code of silent signals: One kick with the heel or one pinch with the hand meant “stop”; two meant “back”; three meant “get together.” They carried no rifles, because the rifle is an awkward tool for a noiseless crawler to lug. But each man had a big trench-knife and a pair of automatic pistols, with plenty of ammunition.

The space between the two front lines of barbed wire in this region was not more than four or five hundred yards. In the murk of that unstarred, drizzling night, where every inch must be felt out, it seemed like a vast, horrible territory. There was nothing monotonous about it but the blackness of darkness. To the touch it was a paysage accidente, a landscape full of surprises. Dead bodies were sprinkled over it. It was pockmarked with small shell-holes and pitted with large craters, many of them full of water, all slimy with mud. Phipps-Herrick nearly slipped into one of the deepest, but a lively kick warned his followers of the danger, and they pulled him back by the heels.

Now and then a star-shell looped across the spongy sky, casting a lurid illumination over the ghastly field. When the three
travellers caught the soft swish of its ascent, they “froze”–motionless as a shamming ‘possum–mimicking death among the dead.

It was a long, slow, silent, revolting crawl. Sounds which did not concern them were plenty–distant cannonade, shells exploding here and there, scattered rifle-shots. All these they unconsciously eliminated, listening for something else, ears pressed to the ground wherever they could find a comparatively dry spot. From their point of hearing the night was still as the grave–no subterranean tapping and scraping could they hear anywhere under the sea of mud.

Once Rosenlaube caught a faint metallic sound, and signalled through Phipps-Herrick’s left leg to Mitchell’s left arm, “Stop!” All three listened tensely. They crawled toward the faint noise. It was made by a loose end of wire swaying in the night-wind and tapping on a broken helmet.