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The Hearing Ear
by [?]

They were getting close to the German barbed wire. The leader had swung around to the west, following what he judged to be the line of the front trench, perhaps forty yards away. He was determined to hear something before he went back. And he did!

Just as he had made up his mind to call up the other fellows for the final spreadout in fan formation, his groping right hand touched something round and smooth and hard. It seemed to be made fast to a string or wire, but he pulled it toward him and gave the “stop” signal to his followers.

The thing he had picked up was a telephone receiver. How it came to be there he did not know. Perhaps a German listening post had carried it out last night, in order to receive directions from the trench; perhaps the mining party–man killed, receiver dropped, wire connection not cut, or tangled up with other wires–who can tell? One thing is sure–here is the receiver, faintly buzzing. Phipps-Herrick joyfully puts it to his ear. He hears a voice and words, but it is all gibberish to him. With a look of desperation on his face he gives the “get together” signal.

Rosenlaube crawls up first and takes hold of the cylinder, puts it to his ear. He hears the sound, but it says absolutely nothing to him. It is like being at the door of the secret of the universe and unable to get over the threshold.

Then comes Mitchell, slowly, a little lame, and almost “all in.” Phipps-Herrick thrusts the receiver into his hand. As he listens a beatific expression spreads over his face. It lasts a long time, and then he lays down the cylinder with a sigh.

The three heads are close together, and Mitchell whispers under his breath:

“Got ’em–got the whole thing–line of mine changed–raiders coming out now–twelve men–rough on us, but if we can get back to our alley we’ve got ’em! Crawl home quick.”

They crawled together in a bunch, formation ignored. Presently steps sounded near them. A swift light swept the hole where they crouched, a volley of rifle-shots crashed into it. The Americans answered with their pistols, and saw three or four of the dark forms on the edge of the hole topple over. The rest disappeared. But Rosenlaube had a rifle-ball through his right hip and another through his shoulder. Mitchell and Phipps-Herrick started to carry him.

“Drop it,” he whispered. “I’m safe here till dawn–you get home, quick! Specially Phil. He’s the one that counts. Cut away, boys!”

Meantime the American trench had opened fire and the German trench answered. The still night broke into a tempest of noise. A bullet or a bit of shell caught Mitchell in the knee and crumpled him up. Phipps-Herrick lifted him on his back and stood up.

“Come on,” he said, “you little cuss. You’re the only one that has the stuff we went out after. I’m going to carry you in, ‘spite of hell.”

And he did it.

Mitchell told the full story of the change in the direction of the German mine and the plan of the next assault, as he had heard it through that lost receiver. The captain said it was information of the highest value. It counted up to a couple of hundred German prisoners and three machine-guns in the next two days.

Rosenlaube, still alive, was brought in just before daybreak by a volunteer rescue-party under the guidance of Phipps-Herrick. All three were cited in the despatches. Phipps-Herrick in due time received the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry on the field. But Mitchell had the surplus satisfaction of the hearing ear.

“Look here, old man,” Rosenlaube said to him as they lay side by side in the hospital, “‘member our talk in the dugout just before our big night? Well, I allow there was something in what you said. There are times when it is a good thing to know a bit of that barbarous German language. And you never can tell when one of those times may hit you.”