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Army Boys in the French Trenches by Homer Randall

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The next instant the sentry turned, and there was a whistle of surprise
from Billy. "By the great horn spoon!" he ejaculated. "It's Nick Rabig!"

"Set a Hun to watch a Hun," remarked Tom bitingly.

"Oh, come, Tom," remonstrated Frank, "that's going a little too far.
I've no reason to like the fellow, and we know he had to be dragged into
the army, but that doesn't say he's a Hun."

"All except the uniform," persisted Tom. "He'd rather be fighting for
the Kaiser this minute than for Uncle Sam."

"Shouldn't wonder if Tom's more than half right," assented Billy. "You
know the way he" used to talk in Camport."

"You notice that we've never seen him volunteering for any of the
raiding parties," said Billy.

"But that may only mean that Rabig has a yellow streak in him. It
doesn't say that he's a traitor," returned Frank.

"Well, maybe he isn't," conceded Tom. "But all the same it seems rather
queer that he should have been picked out to guard this Heinie. They
could talk together in German through that closed door and nobody be
wise to what they were saying."

"I don't suppose the officers know Rabig as well as the rest of us do,"
said Billy. "But say, fellows, look at that bit of white under the door
of the hut. What do you suppose it is?"

"Oh, just a scrap of paper," laughed Bart. "Just like the Belgian
treaty."

"Something the wind's blown up against the door, I guess," conjectured
Tom.

"Wind nothing!" exclaimed Frank, whose vision was keener than that of
any of the others. "It's under the door and it's getting bigger and
bigger all the time. I tell you what it is, fellows," he went on
excitedly, "it's a note that's being pushed out by the fellow inside."

"Let's get behind these trees and see what's going on," suggested Bart,
indicating a clump of trees near which they happened to be standing.

In a moment they were screened from observation. Then they watched with
the keenest interest what would follow.

That Rabig had caught sight of the paper was evident, for he stopped his
pacing and turned his eyes on the door. Then he looked stealthily about
him. The nearest sentry was some distance away, and the boys were well
hidden by the trees.

Then Rabig made a complete circuit of the little hut, as though to make
sure that no one was lurking about. Having apparently satisfied himself
on that point, he returned and resumed his pacing until he was directly
in front of the door.

Here he paused and drew out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. But
as he went to put it back, it dropped from his hand so that it lay close
by and almost upon the protruding piece of paper.

He was stooping to pick it up, when he caught sight of a sergeant coming
in his direction. Instantly he straightened up, and as he did so the
butt of his rifle knocked against the door.

The paper disappeared as though it had been drawn swiftly back from the
inside, just as the sergeant came up.

"Gee!" gasped Tom.

"Prisoner all right, Rabig?" inquired the sergeant.

"Yes, sir," replied Rabig. "He seems to be keeping pretty quiet. I
looked in a little while ago and he was lying asleep on the bench."

"Keep a close watch on him," counseled the sergeant. "What he tried to
do to Raymond yesterday shows that he's a desperate character. But I
guess that by this time to-morrow he won't need any one to watch him."

The sergeant passed on and the boys looked at each other with
speculation in their eyes.

"What do you think of it?" asked Frank thoughtfully.

"Think?" snorted Tom. "I think that Rabig is a bad egg. What else is
there for any one to think?"

"It certainly looks suspicious," said Bart with a little wrinkle of
anxiety creasing his brow.

"One thing is sure," declared Billy. "It was a note that was being
pushed outside that door. The fellow inside was trying to get into
communication with Rabig."

"True," assented Frank. "But that in itself doesn't prove anything. You
or I might be on sentry duty and a prisoner might try to do the same
thing to us."

"Yes," agreed Billy. "But we wouldn't act the way Rabig did. We'd have
picked up the note and given it to the sergeant of the guard."

"And we wouldn't have sneaked around the hut to see if any one was near
by," said Tom. "Why did he drop his handkerchief, except to have an
excuse for picking it up and copping the note at the same time?"

"And his rifle butt didn't hit the door by accident," put in Billy.
"That was a tip to the prisoner that some one was coming. Did you see
how quickly the note disappeared?"

"I hate to think that there's a single man in the regiment who's a
disgrace to his uniform," remarked Frank, "but it certainly looks bad.
That fellow Rabig will bear watching."

"I told you he was a Hun," declared Tom. "His body's in France, but his
heart's in Germany."

CHAPTER VIII

COLONEL PAVET REAPPEARS

The Army boys thought over the situation in some perplexity.

"What do you suppose we ought to do?" asked Bart.

"We ought to go hotfoot to the captain and tell him what we've seen,"
declared Tom with emphasis.

"I hardly like to do that," objected Billy. "At least not at this stage
of the game. After all, we haven't any positive proof against Nick. His
handkerchief might have dropped accidentally. And the knocking of the
butt of his gun against the door could have happened without his meaning
anything by it. He could explain his going around the hut by saying he
wanted to be especially vigilant in guarding the prisoner."

"Yes," agreed Frank, "we haven't proof enough against Rabig to hang a
yellow dog. And I wouldn't want to get him in bad with his officers on
mere suspicion."

"That note might be proof if we could only get hold of it," suggested
Tom.

"Swell chance!" returned Bart. "You can bet that note is chewed up and
swallowed by this time. The first thing the Hun thought of, when he was
tipped off that some one was coming, was to get rid of the evidence that
might queer his chance of escape."

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Frank. "We'll just go down and see
Rabig and ask him casually about the prisoner. That may make him think
that we're on to something, and if he's planning to do anything crooked
it may scare him off. It won't do any harm anyway, and we'll take a
chance."

They left the clump of trees and strolled down carelessly in the
direction of the hut.

Rabig saw them coming, and the surly look that was habitual with him
became more pronounced than usual. There was no love lost between him
and any of them. He had been thoroughly unpopular in Camport because of
his bullying nature even before the outbreak of the war, and his evident
leaning toward Germany had deepened this feeling.

Since he had been drafted, he had of course kept his pro-German views to
himself, for he valued his skin and had no desire to face a firing
squad. But his work had been done grudgingly, and his disposition to
shirk had more than once gained him short terms in the guardhouse.

Of all the group approaching him he most heartily disliked Frank. In the
first place, Frank had never permitted him to bully him when they were
with Moore & Thomas, and the two had been more than once on the brink of
a fight. And since the boxing bout in the camp, when he had tried foul
tactics and Frank had thrashed him thoroughly, his venom toward his
conqueror had been more bitter than ever.

The boys stopped when they reached the front of the hut.

"Hello, Rabig!" they greeted him.

"Hello!" responded Rabig, still keeping up his pacing.

"Right on the job, I see," remarked Bart, pleasantly enough.

"Your eyesight's mighty good," replied Nick sullenly.

"Yes," Bart came back at him, "I can see a bit of white paper from quite
a distance."

Rabig gave a sudden start.

"What do you mean by that?" he demanded.

"Nothing special," replied Bart carelessly. "What should I mean?"

"By the way," put in Tom, "you'd better tuck your handkerchief in a
little more tightly or you'll lose it. It looks as though it were almost
ready to drop out."

"What if it does?" snarled Rabig. "I could pick it up again, couldn't
I?"

"Of course you could," said Tom, "but you might pick up something else
with it. Dust, or a bit of paper, or something like that."

"Say, what's the matter with you guys anyway?" demanded Rabig, glowering
at them.

"That looks like quite a solid door," remarked Frank, inspecting it
critically.

"Oh, I don't know," responded Billy. "It's got dents in it. Here's one
that looks as though it were made by a rifle butt."

Rabig looked at them angrily, and yet furtively, evidently seeking to
find out how much their remarks meant.

"You fellows had better get along," he snapped. "You're interfering with
discipline by talking to a sentry on guard."

Rabig's newborn reverence for discipline amused the boys so that they
had hard work to repress a laugh.

"You're right," responded Frank. "We'll mosey along."

"Ta-ta, Rabig," said Bart. "Keep your eye peeled for any Hun trick. That
fellow nearly got me yesterday with his knife, and he might try to play
the same game on you."

"Don't you worry," growled Rabig. "I can take care of myself."

The chums passed on, laughing and talking about indifferent things,
until they were out of ear shot.

"We've got him guessing," remarked Billy with a grin.

"We managed to put a flea in his ear," agreed Tom.

"Did you see how red he got?" questioned Bart.

"He sure is wondering how much we know," summed up Frank. "Whether it
will make him go straight or not is another question. What we fellows
ought to do is to take turns keeping tab on him, so that he can't act
crooked even if he wants to." "It's a pity there should be any men in
the American army whom we have to watch," said Tom bitterly.

"Yes, but that's to be expected," returned Frank. "There's never been an
army in the history of the world that hasn't been infected with traitors
more or less."

"Look at Benedict Arnold," remarked Billy.

"To my mind, it's surprising that there aren't more," said Frank.
"That's what the Kaiser was counting on. He thought that the German
element in America was so strong that we wouldn't dare to go to war with
him. Do you remember what he told Gerard? That 'there were five hundred
thousand Germans in America who would revolt'?"

"Yes," grinned Billy, "and I remember how Gerard came back at him with
the 'five hundred thousand lamp-posts on which we'd hang them if they
did.'"

They were out on the main road by this time, and they stepped to one
side and saluted, as an officer in French uniform, accompanied by an
orderly, came galloping along.

The officer's eye swept the group as he returned the salute, and when it
rested on Frank he drew up his horse so suddenly that the beast sat back
on its haunches.

The officer threw himself from the horse's back, cast the reins to his
orderly, and came impetuously toward the astonished Army boys with his
hand extended to Frank.

"Monsieur Sheldon!" he exclaimed, his face beaming. "_Mon brave
Americain. Le sauveur de ma vie._"

"Colonel Pavet!" cried Frank with equal pleasure, as he took the
extended hand.

"Yes," replied the newcomer, "Colonel Pavet, alive and well, thanks to
you. Ah, I shall never forget the night when I lay wounded on the
battlefield and you climbed out of the trench and made your way through
a storm of bullets and shells to my side and carried me back to safety.
It was the deed of a hero, a modern d'Artagnan! How glad I am to see you
again!"

"And I to see you" responded Frank warmly. "You were so dreadfully
wounded that I feared you might not recover."

They were talking in French, which Frank spoke like a native, thanks to
his French mother, and the other boys saluted and passed on, leaving the
two together.

"If we had not met, I would have searched you out," went on the colonel,
"for I have some news for you. News that both you and your mother will
be glad to hear."

"My mother," repeated Frank, his eyes kindling and his heart responding,
as it never failed to do at the mention of that dear mother of his, who
in her lonely home across the sea was waiting and praying for him.

CHAPTER IX

THE ESCAPE

"Yes," replied Colonel Pavet, "your mother, Madame Sheldon,--it seems
strange for me to name her thus, for I never think of her except as
Lucie De Latour, as I knew her in her girlhood--has a very excellent
prospect of coming into the property that was willed to her."

"I'm very glad to hear that!" exclaimed Frank. "And I know that my
mother will be pleased too. I have told her in my letters about my
meeting with you, and I gave her the remembrances that you were kind
enough to send her. She was delighted to know that I had met one of her
old neighbors in Auvergne, and she asked me to thank you most heartily
for your kindness in promising to look after her interests."

The colonel smiled genially.

"She is too good," he responded. "The obligation is all on my side. My
humble services would have been at her disposal in any event simply for
the sake of old friendship. But how much more ought they to be wholly
hers, now that her son has saved my life."

"I am afraid you put too much value on what I did, Colonel," said Frank
deprecatingly.

"It was something that not one in ten thousand would have done," replied
the colonel warmly. "When I found myself helpless and wounded on that
field of death I thought my life was over, and I had commended my soul
to God."

"I'm glad that you have lived to strike another blow for France," said
Frank.

"Ah, for France!" repeated the colonel fervently, as he lifted his cap
reverently.

"As I started to say," he resumed after a moment, "your mother's
prospects for coming into her own are excellent. After my wound I was
sent home, and for some time it was doubtful whether I would live or
die. But God was good and I recovered. While I was gradually mending I
had ample time to look into that matter of the contested will. And,
fortunately, just at that time my brother André, who is one of the
leading lawyers of Paris, came to the chateau to see and cheer me up
while I was convalescing. I laid the whole matter before him, and he
went into it thoroughly. He has gone over all the proceedings in the
case, and he tells me that there is no doubt that your mother has the
law as well as right--unfortunately they are not always the same thing--
on her side. He says that the testimony of those who are contesting the
will smacks strongly of perjury. It is too bad that your mother cannot
be here, for then André thinks the whole thing could be straightened out
at once."

"It is too bad," agreed Frank; "but in the present state of things, and
the danger on the Atlantic from submarines, I would not want her to take
the risk. But what you say delights me, as I am sure it will her, and I
can't thank you enough for all the trouble you have taken."

"Not trouble, but pleasure," corrected the colonel. "And you can be
assured that the matter will not be allowed to lag now that André has
taken it up. When he starts a case he can be depended on to carry it
through to a finish. I will keep in close touch with him and will let
you know from time to time how the matter is progressing. But now tell
me about yourself."

"There's not much to tell," replied Frank. "I'm well and have been lucky
enough so far not to have stopped a bullet."

The colonel's eyes twinkled.

"Not much to tell," he repeated. "No, not if Monsieur Sheldon does the
telling. But there are others who speak more freely. Your captain, for
instance."

Frank flushed uncomfortably and Colonel Pavet laughed outright.

"Bravery and modesty usually go together," he went on. "How about that
machine gun episode yesterday, when an American soldier cut down its
crew, turned it on the enemy trench and compelled the men in it to
surrender? How about the raiding party where five men accounted for
fourteen of the Huns? You see, _mon ami_, that I have a good memory for
details. Ah, you are blushing. I wonder if you, too, could recall these
things if you tried."

"There were a lot of us in on them," parried Frank, "and one did as much
as another."

"Well," rejoined the colonel, "I'm proud that a French woman is your
mother. You have a glorious heritage in the traditions of two gallant
countries. And I rejoice to see the way you Americans are throwing
yourselves into the fighting. We were sorely pressed by the Hun hordes
and were fighting with our backs against the wall."

"And such fighting!" returned Frank enthusiastically. "The world has
never seen anything finer. The spirit of France is unconquerable."

"Yes," replied the colonel proudly. "As one of our great orators has
said: 'If the men are all killed the women will rise up; if the women
are killed the children will rise; if the children are killed the very
dead will rise and fight--fight for France."

"But I must go on," he continued, motioning to his orderly to bring up
his horse. "I have a long journey yet before I reach the headquarters of
my division. I am more delighted than I can tell that I met you as I
did. May we meet again soon."

"In Berlin, if not sooner," interjected Frank with a smile.

"Ah, that is it," said the colonel delightedly. "In Berlin! That is the
way to speak. It may be a long time, but sooner or later the Stars and
Stripes and the Tricolor will wave together _Unter den Linden_. May
Heaven speed the day!"

The French officer wrung Frank's hand warmly, sprang into the saddle,
and with Frank's "_bon voyage_" ringing in his ears, galloped rapidly
away.

Twilight was coming on as Frank set out to rejoin his comrades, who were
waiting for him at a little distance down the road. His heart was light,
for he had news to write his mother that he knew would bring her
pleasure.

"Some swell," chaffed Tom, as Frank came up to his friends. "Talking to
a colonel as though he were a pal. I wonder that you condescend to talk
to us common privates."

"It is a comedown," grinned Frank; "but I'll try to tolerate you for a
while longer. But say, fellows, that colonel is a brick! Not a bit of
side about him. And he's doing a lot for us in the matter of my mother's
property that I've told you about."

"That's bully!" exclaimed Bart heartily.

"I'll forgive him," conceded Tom magnanimously, "even if he does talk in
a lingo that I can't understand."

"Why, I thought you were a finished French scholar by this time,"
chaffed Bart.

"Do you remember the day Tom tried to ask for soup and got his tongue
twisted around 'bouillon'?" gibed Billy, with a broad grin.

"Well, I got the soup anyway, didn't I?" defended Tom.

"Sure you got it," agreed Billy. "I could hear you getting it."

Tom made a pass at him that Billy ducked.

"Talking about soup makes me hungry," remarked Bart. "If you fellows
stand talking here much longer we'll be late at chow."

"I'd like to have one more look at that hut Rabig's guarding," said
Frank a little uneasily.

"We might stroll down this way again after supper if you like,"
suggested Billy, "but just at present a little knife and fork exercise
seems the most pressing business I have to attend to."

Just then their talk was interrupted by a single shot, followed by a
volley of them, and looking back in the direction from which they had
come, they saw men running in the direction of the hut that Rabig had
been guarding.

They turned and ran at full speed and were soon in the midst of an
excited group gathered about the hut.

"What's up?" asked Frank of one of the soldiers.

"Prisoner escaped," replied the other briefly.

"What prisoner?"

"The fellow that Rabig was guarding. Some way or other he got out,
managed to strike Rabig down and skipped. Poor Rabig's pretty badly
messed up."

The boys looked at each other.

"_Poor_ Rabig," repeated Tom, and there was a world of meaning in his
tone.

CHAPTER X

A GHASTLY BURDEN

The sergeant of the guard came running up quickly, followed by two other
officers of higher rank, and a hurried inquiry took place on the spot.

Rabig had been lifted to his feet from where he had been lying, and
stood supported by two comrades. Blood was running down his face from a
wound in his head. He seemed weak and dazed, although a surgeon who had
been hastily summoned pronounced the wound not dangerous. He seemed to
have been dealt a glancing blow, and, as in the case of all scalp
wounds, the blood had flowed freely.

"Bring a seat for him," commanded the lieutenant in charge, and the
order was promptly obeyed.

"Now, Rabig," proceeded the officer, not unkindly, "tell me about this.
How did you come to lose your prisoner?"

Rabig looked about him in a helpless sort of way.

"I don't know," he mumbled. "My head is swimming so that I can't
remember."

"Try to think," said the officer patiently. Rabig seemed to make an
effort, but did not succeed and fell back in a swoon that put an end for
the present to the questioning.

"Who saw anything of this?" queried the lieutenant, looking about him.
"Does any one know in what direction the prisoner went?"

"If you please, sir," said one of the sentries who had been guarding an
adjacent hut, "I saw a man jump on a horse and go through the woods
there, but it was getting dark and I didn't know but what it might be
one of our own men. But I ran up here and found Rabig lying on the
ground, and the door of the hut was open. I sent a shot after the man on
horseback and so did some of the other men, but we couldn't take aim and
I don't know whether we hit him or not."

"Look alive there," commanded the officer. "Sergeant, take a squad of
men and beat up these woods. The fellow may be hiding there. Take him
dead or alive."

"Yes, sir," replied the sergeant, saluting.

The soldiers standing by were hastily sent into the woods and others
were summoned to join them. The prisoner had got a good start, but by
this time the field telephones were busy all along the line and his
chance of ultimate escape was by no means bright. But he was a powerful
and desperate man, and if he had any weapons at all he would probably
make his capture a costly one.

"He'll reason that he's a dead man if we get him and he might as well
die fighting," remarked Frank, as with his comrades he picked his way
through the woods.

"Righto," agreed Tom. "And even if he didn't have a weapon when he
escaped, there are lots of them lying around and he won't have any
trouble in picking one up."

"I wonder if he'll stick to the horse," mused Bart.

"I hardly think so," replied Billy. "He knows from the shots that were
sent after him that we know he used a horse in escaping and will be
looking for a man on horseback. So he'll try to deceive us by going on
foot."

"He'll probably hang about in the woods until it's pitch dark and then
try to get through the lines," said Frank. "He may be behind any tree or
bush, and we want to be mighty careful to examine each one as we go past
it."

"Maybe he'll climb a tree," suggested Tom, looking up to the branches of
one he happened to be under at the moment.

"Not a chance at this time of the year," objected Billy. "There aren't
any leaves to hide him, and even in the darkness we could probably see
his outline against the sky. Then, too, if he were seen he could be
potted too easily. No, he's not up a tree."

"Queer that he should have got away so soon after we'd been down to the
hut," remarked Frank.

"Queer!" snorted Tom. "It isn't queer at all to my way of thinking. The
whole thing was cut and dried."

"Then you think that Rabig was in cahoots with him?" asked Bart
dubiously.

"I'm sure of it," responded Tom. "Use your common sense, fellows. We see
half a dozen suspicious things that look as if Rabig and the prisoner
had some understanding. A little while after the prisoner escapes.
What's the answer?"

"The answer might be several things," replied Frank, who hated to
believe evil of even his worst enemy. "A lot of things are due to
coincidence. It may be perfectly true that Rabig was in sympathy with
the German, but that doesn't say that he'd go so far as to let him
actually escape. He was taking big chances with his own skin in doing
it."

"Besides, there's no doubt that Rabig was wounded," remarked Bart. "That
fellow seems to have given him an awful knock. He was bleeding like
fury."

"Oh, it was easy enough to arrange that," answered Tom, unconvinced. "It
would have been too raw to have Rabig let the fellow go and still be
safe and sound. How could he explain it? He'd be brought up for
court-martial. But a scalp wound could be easily made where it would
produce the most blood and do the least harm."

"But what object would Rabig have in taking such chances?" asked Billy.
"The fellow had been searched and couldn't have had any money with him."

"No, but he could have promised plenty," argued Tom. "Perhaps he's told
Rabig that the grateful Kaiser would make him rich. How do we know that
Rabig wouldn't fall for that? He's got an ivory dome anyway. If there
were more than two ideas in his head at one time they'd be arrested for
unlawful assemblage."

The boys laughed and Tom went on:

"Besides, how do we know but what Rabig is planning to desert and wants
to pave the way for a warm welcome on the other side? It would be easy
enough to slip across while the lines are so near each other."

"But Rabig seemed to be pretty badly hurt," said Billy. "You saw him
faint."

"Which only proves that he is a good actor," retorted Tom dryly. "Don't
think me hardhearted, fellows, because I'm not. I'm always ready to give
everybody his due. But I feel sure down in my heart that this thing was
all fixed up beforehand, and some day you'll find that I'm right."

For more than two hours they kept up the search without result, and the
fact that they had not had their supper was forced upon them with
growing insistency.

"Isn't there any time limit to this?" grumbled Bart. "I'll be hunting
for acorns instead of a prisoner before long."

"I've got a vacuum where my stomach ought to be," moaned Billy. "Gee,
wouldn't I like to be streaking it for the mess room."

"Cork up, you fellows," commanded Frank. "Listen! I thought I heard
something just then."

The talking ceased instantly, and all stood as rigid as statues.

"It's a horse coming this way," whispered Frank, after a moment of
strained attention. "Quick, fellows, get behind these bushes and have
your rifles ready!"

They crouched low and peered up a little glade that ran through the
forest.

But the noise ceased as suddenly as it had begun and they began to think
that their comrade had been mistaken.

"Guess Frank's been stringing us," chaffed Billy.

"He's the only one who seems to have heard anything," said Tom.

"Don't you worry about my hearing," said Frank. "I tell you I heard a
horse's hoofs. Perhaps the rider suspects something and is trying to get
a line on us, just as we're trying to get one on him."

"It may have been a horse all right," said Billy, "but that doesn't say
he had any rider. He may be rambling around all by his lonesome, and
perhaps he's stopped to graze somewhere."

"There he goes again!" exclaimed Frank, and this time every one of them
heard what was undeniably the thud of a horse's hoofs.

But there was a hesitation, an uncertainty about the animal's movements
that seemed unusual. It moved as though it had no purpose in view no
guiding hand on the reins. At times the canter seemed to subside into a
walk. There was something about this unseen steed, at large in the dim
forest, that gave the boys a most uncomfortable feeling.

Then suddenly a more resolute note in the sound and an increase in its
volume told the listening boys that the horse was coming straight toward
them.

The clatter of hoofs drew nearer, and they clutched their guns more
tightly.

Soon they were able to distinguish in the gloom the outline of a horse
and rider. The man's figure loomed up huge and threatening, and they
felt sure that it was the big German corporal for whom they were
searching.

The boys waited until the horse was almost upon them and then rushed out
into the road.

"Halt!" cried Frank. He seized the horse's rein while the others leveled
their rifles at the rider.

The horse reared in fright, but the rider made no answer nor did he
attempt to draw a weapon.

"Get down!" commanded Frank. "We've got you covered. Surrender."

Still the rider remained silent.

Frank having quieted the horse went alongside and put his hand on the
man's arm.

"Come----" he began, then stopped suddenly.

There was a moment of utter silence, and Frank for the first time in his
life could feel the hair rising on his head. Then he controlled himself.

"Put up your rifles boys," he commanded. "The man is dead!"

CHAPTER XI

WITH THE TANKS

"Dead!" exclaimed Frank's comrades in voices that shook with surprise
and horror.

"That's what I said," replied Frank. "Touch him and see for yourselves."

All did so and found that the body was rigid. How long the horse had
borne his lifeless burden they could not tell. The legs were set stiffly
in the stirrups and the hands had a death grip on the reins.

The boys had seen death in many forms. Scarcely a day had passed since
their arrival at the front without that sad experience. But it had never
seemed so ghastly or uncanny as at this moment. That silent, colossal
figure, seated bolt upright, worked fearfully on their imaginations and
seemed far more formidable than any living enemy would have seemed.

"One of those bullets that the sentries sent after him must have reached
him," said Bart in an awed voice.

"I suppose so," replied Frank. "But it doesn't matter now. Our search is
over."

"What are we going to do with the body?" asked Billy soberly.

"I guess we can't do anything just now," replied Frank. "I don't think
we could get those reins out of his hands anyway, and I for one don't
want to try. Besides, this is the proof for the officers that the
prisoner hasn't escaped. They're anxious, because they don't know what
information he might have been carrying back to the German lines. The
only thing to do is for one of us to lead the horse--with its rider--
back to camp."

This seemed to the others the solution of the problem, although the task
was a gruesome one and they would have gladly evaded it if they could.
It made chills run down the spine to trudge along leading the horse with
that huge figure towering behind them in the darkness, mocking at them
because he had escaped to the silent land from which they could never
bring him back.

But there was comfort in numbers, and what no one of them could perhaps
have done singly they finally accomplished by taking turns, keeping
close together all the while as the ghostly cavalcade wound its way
through the woods.

It was with a sigh of heartfelt relief that they finally drew up before
the friendly lights of the regimental headquarters that had never before
seemed so welcome.

Their coming caused a great sensation, and there was soon a dense crowd
around them, for the uncanny circumstances of their return spread
through the camp like wildfire. The reins were cut from the dead hands
and the body lifted to the ground. Then after making a full report the
boys went to their quarters. They were besieged with inquiries by
curious comrades, but they shook them off as soon as possible. Their
experience had been one that they were only too anxious to forget.

"I don't think I want any supper, after all," remarked Tom to his
friends.

"Same here," responded Bart. "I don't feel as though I'd ever be hungry
again."

"All I want to do is to get to sleep and forget it," said Billy. "That
is, if I _can_ get to sleep."

"You'll sleep all right," observed Frank, "but I wouldn't guarantee you
against nightmare."

But harrowed as their nerves had been, they were too young and healthy
to stand out against the sleep they needed, and when they woke the next
morning both their spirits and their appetites were as good as usual.
Life at the front was too full of work and rush for any one experience
to leave its imprint long.

Their first inquiry after breakfast was for Rabig.

"How's Rabig getting along?" Frank asked of Fred Anderson.

"Oh, he's all right, I guess," answered Fred carelessly. "When the
doctors came to examine him they found that the wound didn't amount to
much. Said he'd be all right in a day or two."

"Is he under arrest?" asked Tom.

"Why, yes, I suppose he is," answered Fred. "But I guess it's a mere
form. The fact that the prisoner didn't finally get away will count in
his favor. It's like baseball. An error is an error, but if the man who
ought to be out at first gets put out when he tries to steal second the
error is harmless. It's no credit to Rabig that a bullet got the man he
let escape, but it's lucky for him just the same."

It was evident that Anderson had no suspicion that Rabig had been guilty
of anything but carelessness, and the boys carefully refrained from
saying anything about what they had gathered from their observation the
day before. But when they were alone together they had no hesitation
about speaking their minds.

"Some fellows could commit murder and get away with it," grumbled Tom.

"Cheer up, you old grouch," chaffed Billy. "At any rate the prisoner
didn't escape, and so there's no harm done."

"And if Rabig is guilty he's got nothing from it but a sore head," put
in Bart.

"I don't feel dead sure that Rabig helped him," said Frank, "and yet the
more I think it over, the more I'm inclined to think that Tom is right
about it. Still, Rabig's entitled to the benefit of the doubt. I know
how the Scotch jury felt when they brought in the verdict: 'Not guilty,
but don't do it again.'"

"That's just what I'm afraid Rabig will do," said Tom. "This time
luckily it didn't matter. The prisoner didn't escape. But if Rabig is a
traitor, how do we know but what the next time he might do something
that might cause a defeat?"

"It does make one uneasy," agreed Bart. "Nick in the regiment is like a
splinter in the finger. It makes you sore. But we'll keep our eyes open
and the very next crooked move he makes it will be curtains for him."

"Or taps," added Billy.

The fighting now had lost the first intensity that had signalized the
day of the mine explosion. The Germans had been strongly reinforced, and
had held their third line, which had now become their first.

"And they've got plenty of other lines behind that one," commented Tom,
as he sat on a trench step cleaning and oiling his rifle.

"Slathers of them," assented Billy. "I suppose they stretch all the way
back to the Rhine."

"It will be some job to root them out of them if we have to storm each
one of them in turn," remarked Bart.

"We don't have to count on that," said Frank confidently. "The Allies
gained twenty-five miles at a clip when they drove Hindenburg back from
the Somme. The Huns may stand out a long while, but when the time comes
they may collapse all at once like the deacon's 'one-hoss shay.'"

The Americans in the meantime had thoroughly reorganized the captured
positions and had held them against a number of strong counter-attacks.
But these became fewer as they failed to produce results, and although
the artillery still kept on growling and barking, the wearied infantry
had a chance to get some of the rest they so sorely needed after their
herculean efforts.

"Nothing to do till to-morrow," yawned Billy, as after performing their
turn of trench duty they found themselves with an hour or two on their
hands.

"Let's take a little hike back of the lines and see what's doing,"
suggested Bart.

"I think there's something in the wind connected with the tanks,"
remarked Frank. "They say there's a bunch of them coming up from all
parts of the front and getting together just back of our division."

"They're hot playthings, all right," commented Tom. "They certainly keep
the Huns on the jump. If we only had enough of them we might roll right
into Berlin."

They passed some of the field batteries where the men, stripped to the
waist, were serving the guns, running the shells in and discharging
their weapons with marvelous smoothness, speed and precision.

"This is the life," chaffed Tom. "You fellows have a picnic here away
back of the lines, while we chaps in the front line do all the work and
stop all the bullets."

"G'wan, you doughboys," retorted a gunner good-naturedly. "If we're
alive here after eight days, the orders are to shoot us for loafing."

A little further on, they came upon a myriad of tanks of all
descriptions. There were "baby" tanks, "whippets," "male" and "female,"
all with different functions to perform during a battle. Just as in the
navy there are vessels of all sizes from a light scout to a
super-dreadnought, so already this arm of the service was developing
various grades, each to do some special work for which the others were
not so well adapted.

"See how they're hidden," said Frank, as he pointed to a very forest of
bushes and branches that extended above the array of tanks.

"That's to keep the Boche aviators guessing," observed Bart. "They'd
give their eyes if they could only spy out where these fellows are being
massed."

"I heard one of the fellows say that the tanks travel only at night so
that the Boches can't track them," said Tom.

"And see what a raft of them have been got together here," said Billy.
"I tell you, fellows, there's something big going to be pulled off
before long."

"Say, boys, see who's here!" exclaimed Frank, and they turned to see
Will Stone coming toward them with a broad smile of welcome on his
bronzed face.

CHAPTER XII

BREAKING THROUGH

There was a rush toward Will Stone, and in a moment the Army boys were
shaking hands with a vigor that showed the pleasure they felt at again
meeting their acquaintance, who belonged to the tank division.

"Say, fellows, have a heart," Will grinned. "I need these hands in my
business. But it sure does me good to see you again. And all of you
alive and kicking! I'll bet that's more than some of the Huns are that
you've run up against."

"Oh, we're still able to sit up and take nourishment," laughed Frank.
"But tell us about yourself, old man. You look like ready money."

"I see you have a marking different from what you had when we saw you
last," remarked Bart, looking at the insignia that proclaimed Will an
officer.

"And look at that war cross!" cried Tom. "I guess you've been some busy
little bee to get that. Shake again, old scout."

Stone flushed and looked a little embarrassed.

"Only a few little skirmishes here and there," he said deprecatingly.
"But the real big thing is yet to come. Look at this army of tanks.
We've never had so many in one place since the war began."

"Looks like a herd of elephants," commented Frank, as his eye ran along
the array that seemed to number hundreds. "They'll do more trampling
than any herd of elephants that ever trod the earth," remarked Stone
grimly. "But come along, fellows, and let me show you my own particular
pet. It's the biggest one of the bunch, and it's a peach! We call it
Jumbo, and it carries a crew of twenty men."

They followed him till they came to a monster tank on which Stone placed
his hand caressingly.

"Isn't it a beauty?" he asked, as he beamed upon them.

"I should call it a holy terror," grinned Frank.

"What the Huns will call it won't be fit for publication," laughed
Billy.

"I guess they've already exhausted the German vocabulary," chuckled
Stone. "But just wait until this beauty of mine goes climbing over their
trenches and smashing their pill boxes and tearing away their
entanglements. Then they'll know what they're up against."

"I only wish we could see you while you're doing it," remarked Tom.

"Likely enough you will," replied Stone. "From things I've picked up
here and there I think the infantry will be right alongside of us in the
next big jamboree. Don't you fellows make any mistake about it, there's
going to be one of the biggest stunts of the war pulled off in the
course of the next few days. Mithridates with his elephants won't be a
circumstance to us with our tanks. There sure is bound to be some lovely
fighting."

"Let it come!" exclaimed Tom.

"And come quickly," chimed in Frank.

"The only thing I'm sorry for is that you're in the Canadian
contingent," said Bart. "I want to see you leading the way in a U. S. A.
tank."

"You may yet," replied Stone. "Uncle Sam will soon be sending over his
tanks, and you bet when they do come they'll be lallapaloozers with all
the modern improvements, and then some! And the minute that happens I'm
going to apply to be transferred to the United States army. These
Canadians are among the finest men in the world and they're doing
magnificent fighting, but still I'll feel more natural when I'm fighting
under the Stars and Stripes."

"Well, that won't be long now," replied Frank. "Our men and our guns and
our tanks and everything else we need to lick the Kaiser will be coming
in droves pretty soon. And then watch our smoke."

"Right you are," agreed Stone enthusiastically.

Then as a trumpet rang out he added: "That's the signal for a rehearsal,
fellows, and I'll have to get on the job. We're going to put our
machines through their paces. I'm mighty glad to have seen you again,
and I wish you no end of luck."

"Come over to our line when you get a chance and see the way our boys
are shaping up," was Frank's invitation, which was echoed heartily by
the others.

"You bet I will," responded Stone, as with a wave of his hand he went to
his work, while the boys strolled back to their quarters.

"He's the real stuff," commented Frank. "All wool and a yard wide."

"He'd rather fight than eat," observed Tom.

"If the Canadians take him as a sample, no wonder they're glad to see
Uncle Sam mix in," remarked Billy.

Some days went by, days of steady rush and preparation. It was evident
that some big operation was near at hand. Troops were moved up from
other portions of the long line that stretched from Switzerland to the
sea. There were the bronzed Tommies in khaki, the snappy, dashing poilus
in their uniforms of corn-flower blue, veterans hardened in a score of
battles from Ypres to Verdun. And right alongside of them in closest
comradeship and gallant rivalry were the stalwart sons of the United
States of America, the very flower of her youth, who had already had
their baptism of fire and who had sworn to themselves that no flag
should be further in the van than Old Glory when it came to the stern
test of battle.

Nearer and nearer the tanks had crept to the front of the line and taken
up their places in front of great openings that had been made in the
wire entanglements and skilfully concealed from the enemy.

A certain number of them were assigned to lead each regiment, and the
Camport boys' delight was great when they saw that Jumbo, with a squad
of assisting tanks, had been told off to lead their regiment.

"Just what the doctor ordered," exulted Frank, when he saw Stone step
out of the door of the monster tank.

"We'll follow you, old man, till the cows come home," called Bart, as
the boys crowded around the young operator.

"We'll try to make a broad path for you," laughed Stone, as he returned
their greeting cordially.

"When is the show coming off?" asked Billy.

"Almost any time now, I guess," replied Stone. "About all we need is a
nice misty morning. It's up to the weather sharps to tip us off. Then
we'll amble over and give the Huns a little shaking up."

Several days passed with the weather exasperatingly clear. Usually the
soldiers would have welcomed the bright sunny mornings. But now, when
they were keyed up to a high pitch, the one thing they longed for was a
dull and lowering sky that would favor the great enterprise they had on
hand.

"You might think the boys were a lot of grangers after a dry spell, from
the way they're praying for rain," remarked Billy, as for the hundredth
time he scanned the sky.

"Remember how different it used to be when we had a baseball game on
hand?" laughed Frank. "Then a gleam of sunshine was like money from home
after you'd been broke for a week."

"That cloud a little while ago looked as though it might have had
thunder and lightning behind it," observed Bart, "but it was only a
false alarm."

"Nothing but wind, like a German bulletin," grinned Billy, stretching
himself.

"Or their U-boat prophecies," added Frank. "But cheer up, fellows, this
sunshine can't last forever."

There came at last just the kind of weather wanted. A soft drizzle set
in at nightfall, not enough to make the ground muddy, but enough to make
the steaming and saturated air lie heavy on the earth. Everything
indicated that there would be a fog at dawn.

"I guess to-morrow's the big day," remarked Frank, as he looked out at
the settling mists.

"High time," grumbled Tom. "I'd grow stale if we had to wait much
longer."

The regiments slept on their arms that night, and an hour before dawn
all were astir and in their places. There was no special artillery fire,
such as usually preceded big attacks. It was given to the tanks to level
the entanglements of the enemy and open up the gaps for the troops to
swarm through.

The hour dragged by until within ten minutes of the time appointed for
the assault. Then a monotonous hum filled the air as the motors of the
tanks tuned up. Down through the black lines of waiting soldiers the
gray monsters slowly made their way, passed through the gaps made in the
defences and led the way into the desolate stretch of No Man's Land.

Even to the friendly eyes that watched them there was something weird
and frightful in their aspect. It was as though the huge brutes of the
prehistoric world had taken form before them. Even those monsters had
never carried within them such death-dealing power.

As the sea closes in the wake of a ship, the troops fell in behind the
tanks, and the silent procession took up the march toward the German
lines.

Hardly a sound beyond the labored breathing of the tanks broke the
stillness. It might have been an army of ghosts.

On they went, and with every step the conviction grew that the surprise
would be complete. No thunder broke from the enemy guns. No fiery
barrage swept the dense ranks, exacting its toll of wounds and death.
For once the Hun was asleep.

Nearer and nearer. Then like so many thunderbolts at a hundred different
points they struck the German lines and the tanks went through!

CHAPTER XIII

CAUGHT NAPPING

Nothing could stand before the terrific impact of the war tanks.

There was a grinding, tearing, screeching sound, as wire entanglements
were uprooted. These had been strengthened in every way that German
cunning could invent, but they bent like straws beneath the onslaught of
the gray monsters. A cyclone could not have done the work more
thoroughly.

There was no need now for further secrecy, and with a wild yell the
Allied troops swarmed through the gaps, sending a deadly volley before
them, supplemented by thousands of grenades.

At the same instant, the Allied artillery opened up and laid a heavy
barrage fire over the heads of the onrushing troops.

The blow came down on the Germans with crushing force. The surprise was
complete. Every detail of the great drive had been mapped out with the
precision of clockwork, and so nicely had it been timed that on every
part of the long line the shock came like a thunderbolt.

A horde of Germans rushed up from the trenches and poured in a great
stream into the open. The earth seemed to disgorge itself. They came
shouting and yelling in wild consternation, their eyes heavy with sleep
and their faces pallid with fear.

Fear not so much of the Allied troops rushing upon them. These they had
faced in many battles, and though they knew the mettle of their foes,
they were still men who could be faced on even terms. But their courage
gave way when through the spectral mists they saw the wallowing monsters
bearing down on them like so many Juggernauts, crushing, tearing, mowing
them down as though they were insects in the path of giants.

The men fled helter-skelter in the wildest panic that had come upon them
since the outbreak of the war. In vain their officers shouted and cursed
at them. The iron bonds of discipline snapped like threads. Soldiers
rushed hither and thither like ants whose hill had been demolished by a
ruthless foot.

Many fled back toward their second line, pursued by a withering blast of
rifle fire that reaped a terrible harvest of wounds and death. Others
rushed back into their trenches, crowding and treading upon one another.
But even here they were not safe from the great tanks, which lumbered
down into the trenches and up on the other side, leaving devastation in
their wake, spitting out flame from the guns they carried, while they
themselves in their iron armor went on uninjured.

Not only were they frightful engines of offense, but they served as well
for defense of the troops that followed after them.

For the first few minutes the slaughter was awful, and it looked as
though the whole German line would be forced to give way without putting
up any resistance worthy of the name. Prisoners were rounded up by the
hundreds. There was no time then to send them to the rear. So they were
gathered together in the open spaces, their suspenders were cut so that
their trousers would slip down and entangle their legs if they tried to
escape in the confusion, a small guard was put over them, and the tanks
and the troops went thundering on toward the second line.

But here the resistance began to stiffen. The first paralysis of
surprise was past. The heavy guns of the enemy opened up, and from
scores of machine gun nests and pill boxes came a storm of bullets. The
German officers had got their troops under some semblance of control,
and heavy reinforcements were rushed up from the rear. From now on the
Allies had an awakened and powerful foe to reckon with.

But despite the sterner opposition, the tanks were not to be denied. On
they went, as resistless as fate. Their sides were reddened now, and the
wake they left behind them was fearful to look upon.

Through the second line entanglements they crashed as easily as through
the first, although this time they met with losses. Some had overturned
and others had been struck by heavy shells and put out of action. But
even though disabled, the guns on one side or the other were still able
to pour out their messengers of death and take savage toll of the enemy.

Jumbo was leading, and close behind followed the boys of the old
Thirty-seventh, with Frank and his chums in the van. They were fighting
like young Vikings, their rifles empty but their bayonets and hand
grenades doing deadly work. Their arms were tired by their terrific
efforts, but their hearts were on fire. They felt as though they were
treading on air, and the blood ran through their veins like quicksilver.
Bunker Hill and Gettysburg spoke through them. The traditions of a
hundred glorious battlefields on which Americans had fought was theirs.
Now again Americans were fighting, fighting to avenge the murdered women
and babies of the Lusitania, fighting to crush the most barbarous
tyranny the modern world has known, fighting the battle of freedom and
civilization.

So they fought on like demons, smashing a pill box here, routing out a
machine gun nest there, until the second line was carried. Then the
conquerors paused for breath.

On the whole German front in that region two lines deep the line had
been smashed. That crowded hour of stark fighting had cracked the
boasted invincible line of Hindenburg and sent the foe flying in
confusion toward their third and most formidable line. Thousands of
prisoners and scores of guns were among the spoils of victory.

And the most gratifying feature of the drive was the insignificant loss
to the Allied forces. The resistance at first had been only slight, and
even in the second phase of the battle it had been so quickly overcome
that few of the attacking troops had fallen. Seldom had so great an
advance been made at so small a price.

But modern warfare has its limits in the matter of time and speed. The
very swiftness with which they had advanced had in itself an element of
danger because it had brought them too far ahead of their supporting
guns. These had to be brought up from the rear, and the captured
positions had to be reorganized. The troops, too, had to be given a
breathing spell, for they had reached the limit of human endurance.

So a halt was called, and the wearied men took turns in resting and
refreshing themselves for the hard work that still lay ahead of them.

"A mighty good morning's work," panted Frank, as he threw himself down
at the roots of a giant tree which had been utterly stripped of branches
and even of bark by the tempest of fire that had raged around it.

"Ask a German and see if he'd agree with you," said Billy with a grin.

"We've got plenty to ask," said Tom, as his eyes roved over the throng
of prisoners. "We sure have taken a raft of them this morning. And
there's a still bigger bunch that will never answer roll call again."

There was food in plenty, but they did not have to avail themselves of
the rations they carried in their kits. There were the camp kitchens of
the enemy that in a twinkling were set to work, and soon the savory
odors of steaming stews and fragrant coffee filled the smoke-laden air
and brought joy to the hearts of the victors.

Frank, Bart, Billy and Tom were lucky enough to stumble on a meal that
had already been started for some German officers, and they were
surprised to find it so good and abundant.

"The Germans may be starving, but there's no sign of it here," remarked
Frank, as he threw himself down on the ground with a sigh of relief.

"Trust the Huns to look after their soldiers, even if the civilians
starve," replied Bart. "The people don't count in Germany. Only the
military are taken seriously. They take the middle of the sidewalk and
others are crowded to the wall."

"Well, I'm not quarreling with them just now on that account," grinned
Billy. "I'm just glad there's plenty of grub here this morning."

"I'm not very partial to German cooking as a rule," chuckled Tom, "but
this stew certainly smells good. How the Boche officers would grit their
teeth if they saw us wading into this."

But his rejoicing was premature, for just at this moment a cannon shot
from the German lines tore its way through the kettle and the scalding
broth was spattered all over the group that were lying about. Luckily it
did no other damage, but the chagrin of the boys was comical to see.

"I'd like to have hold of the gunner that fired that shot," sputtered
Tom wrathfully, as he wiped from his face some of the stew that had
fallen to his share.

"You ought to have knocked wood when you talked of the German officers
seeing us wading into their chow," growled Bart. "There's a perfectly
good stew gone to the dogs."

"Nothing personal in that, I hope," laughed Frank, "because most of it
came to us."

"I like mine inside," put in Billy, as he gingerly removed a piece of
meat from his ear. "As an outside decoration I'm dead against stew."

"Well, cheer up, fellows," remarked Frank. "The stew's past praying for,
but there's a lot of other things. And anyway we ought to be mighty
thankful that the shot didn't remove some of us from the landscape as
well as the kettle."

"What's the big noise about?" asked a cheery voice, and they looked up
to see Will Stone regarding them with a quizzical grin.

CHAPTER XIV

IN CLOSE QUARTERS

The four Camport boys greeted Stone joyfully and gladly made room for
him.

"It's another German atrocity," grinned Billy. "They were sore at us for
swiping their grub and they sent our kettle to smithereens."

"I'm glad they don't know about it anyway," said Tom. "I don't want any
Boche to have the laugh on me."

"I guess they're not doing much laughing this morning," remarked Will
Stone, as he dropped down on the ground beside them. "Or if they are,
it's on the wrong side of their mouths."

"We've certainly waxed them good and plenty," said Bart
enthusiastically.

"Jumbo was all to the good this morning," exulted Frank. "It did my
heart good to see the way he ploughed along. There was nothing to it
after he got started."

"He certainly scattered the Huns good and plenty," chortled Billy. "They
ran like hares."

"He does for 'em all right," agreed Stone, glad to have his pride in his
giant pet justified. "And the best of it is that, although the bullets
came against his hide like hail on a tin roof, he came through
practically without a scratch. He sure is a tough old fellow."

"The tanks are wonders," chimed in Tom. "They've won this fight. It was
scrumptious the way they tore those entanglements up by the roots.
Without 'em we'd have lost ten times as many men as we did."

"So far we've gotten off pretty easily," agreed Stone, "but the hardest
part of the fighting is coming. The Boches have got their second wind by
this time, and there can't be any more surprises. You fellows would
better fill up now, for you'll have to have plenty to stand up on."

"Trust us," laughed Billy. "We may be slow in some things, but when it
comes to filling up, we're some pumpkins. But I certainly do feel sore
about that stew."

"Billy'll never get over that," laughed Bart. "He had his mouth all
fixed for it. No other stew in all his life will ever taste so good to
him as this one that he didn't get."

"It's always the biggest fish that gets away," laughed Stone, as he fell
to with the rest.

While they were eating, there was a thunder of hoofs along the road.
This had been such an unusual occurrence up to date that they sprang to
their feet with eager interest.

Then the cavalry swept by.

Fine fellows the cavalrymen were on splendid mounts, which they bestrode
as though they had never done anything else in all their lives. For
months past they had chafed under restraint, for since the struggle had
settled down to trench warfare they had seldom seen service except on
foot. But now their turn had come, for with the broken line of the enemy
had come a call for the cavalry to pursue and complete the
demoralization of the foe.

"Some class to that bunch," remarked Tom, as he watched the flying
column with an appraising eye.

"A little faster than your tanks, old scout?" remarked Bart, giving
Stone a nudge in the ribs.

"They sure are," admitted Stone. "But don't forget that though we may be
slow we get there just the same."

After a brief resting spell the lines were reformed and the fighting was
resumed. The space between the second and the third lines was a wide
one, and the country was hilly, with numerous lanes and ravines. These
were being held in greater or less force by enemy troops posted in
advantageous positions supported by machine guns, while beyond them
their big guns kept up a heavy fire to prevent the Allied advance.

To clean these up and get ready for an attack upon the third line was a
work of hours, as every foot of advance was bitterly contested by the
Germans, who had now recovered from their surprise and fought
desperately to stem the tide that had overwhelmed their first position.

There were two or three villages in the fighting zone and one town of
considerable size. Not that it was a town now in any real sense of the
word. What had once been houses were now mere pitiful heaps of wood and
stone and mortar, and their inhabitants had long since been dispossessed
or slain. It stood gaunt and desolate and forbidding in its mute protest
against the pitiless storm of war to which it had fallen a victim.

In cleaning out a particularly obnoxious nest of machine gun positions
Frank and his friends had been kept busy until nearly noon. But at last
the guns were silenced and the crews wiped out or captured.

The boys started to regain their main force, but the country was
unfamiliar and they took a turning in the road which led toward the
German lines instead of toward their own.

"Gee!" remarked Tom as they trudged along, "maybe I'm not tired. My feet
feel as though they weighed a ton."

"Perhaps they do," gibed Billy unfeelingly. "Considering the size of
them, I should say a ton was just about right."

"I notice your hoofs are not so small," retorted Tom. "But how much
longer is this hike going to take?"

"Search me," responded Frank. "To tell the truth, I'm twisted up about
the direction. Seems to me we ought to strike some of our troops soon."

"It would be funny if we walked straight into the German lines,"
observed Billy.

"Funny!" snorted Tom. "Yes, as funny as a funeral. Some people have a
queer sense of humor."

They were passing a hedge that walled off an orchard from the road when
Frank, who was ahead, saw before him a great wave of gray uniforms
coming around a bend in the road.

"Quick, fellows," he whispered. "Over the hedge and down on the ground."

Like a flash the boys were out of sight, and not one instant too soon,
for a moment later they could see through the hedge what seemed to be an
endless line of gray uniforms going past at the double quick. They were
evidently hurrying forward to reinforce their hard-pressed comrades
farther down the road.

The boys lay still as death until the troops had passed, and then looked
at each other ruefully.

"We're cut off," ejaculated Frank. "Those fellows are between us and our
line."

"Looks pretty bad," said Bart.

"This is a pretty kettle of fish," grumbled Tom. "Let's cut across the
orchard and see if we can find some of our boys."

They acted on the suggestion, but found to their dismay that the Germans
were everywhere. In whatever direction they looked the only uniforms
they saw were the detested field gray. The Germans had rallied and the
boys had been caught in the swirl of the returning tide.

"We'll have to hide somewhere until our men drive back the Huns and get
as far as this orchard," said Billy.

"We're up against it for fair," growled Tom disconsolately.

"It's easy enough to talk of hiding, but where shall we hide?" asked
Bart. "If we stay here above ground we're bound to be spotted before
long."

"Let's make our way toward the town," suggested Frank. "There wasn't a
soul in sight there a few minutes ago. It seemed to be wholly deserted.
There must be plenty of hiding places in those heaps of stones, or
perhaps we can stow ourselves away in a cellar. Let's get a hustle on,
too, or we'll know sooner than we want to what a prison camp looks
like."

As quickly as they dared they crept along, using every bit of cover that
offered itself until they reached the outskirts of what had been the
town. As Frank had said, it appeared to be wholly deserted at the
moment. It was clear that all available forces had been summoned away to
stem the great drive.

Having satisfied themselves that there was no one about they moved
cautiously from one street to another seeking some place of refuge. The
prospect was not hopeful, for there was scarcely a room in a single
house that was not gaping wide open. Doors were gone and windows had
vanished. There was hardly a place where anything as large as a cat
could be free from detection.

"A mighty slim outlook," grumbled Tom, as they crouched close to a pile
of masonry near the corner of a street.

"Stop grouching," counseled Frank. "We may stumble across something at
any minute."

"Stumble is right," said Bart, as he rubbed a barked shin. "I've been
doing nothing else since we got in among these rock piles."

"That house over the way there seems in a little better condition than
the rest of these heaps," suggested Billy, pointing a little way down
the street.

"We'll try our luck there," said Frank, and again their cautious journey
was resumed.

They reached the place and squeezed themselves in through a narrow
opening on a side that had faced a tiny yard bordered by a wall about
eight feet in height.

There had been three rooms on the ground floor of the house, but all
three had been knocked into one by the visitation of shells. The boys
picked their way over the uneven masses of plaster, and Frank gave an
exclamation as he perceived an opening that seemed to lead down into a
cellar.

"This way, fellows," he said as he looked down into the darkness. "I
don't see any stairs here but we can take a chance and drop. It doesn't
seem very deep. One of you hold this gun of mine and I'll go first."

There was a chance of spraining an ankle if nothing worse, but luckily
he landed safely.

"All serene," he called up in a low tone. "Hand me down your guns and
then come along."

They did so, and the four found themselves in a cluttered cellar that by
feeling around with their hands they found to be about thirty feet long
by twenty in width. There was a furnace which had been broken into a
pile of junk and a little light filtering down showed where a pipe had
formerly gone through to the upper floor. There were a number of barrels
in one corner, but apart from these the cellar seemed to hold nothing
but rubbish.

"It's as dark as Egypt down here," grumbled Tom.

"So much the better," replied Bart. "There'll be that much less chance
of a Heinie seeing us if he takes the trouble to look down here."

"So this is where we've got to hang out until our boys get here,"
remarked Billy, grinning. "It reminds me of the Waldorf-Astoria--it's so
different."

"Never mind," said Frank cheerfully, "it's a thousand per cent. better
than a Hun prison camp, and don't you forget it!"

"You said a mouthful that time," replied the irrepressible Billy, with
more force than elegance.

CHAPTER XV

THE FOUR-FOOTED ENEMY

"The first thing to do is to make a barricade of these barrels," said
Frank, when the four privates had made an inventory of what the cellar
afforded in the way of defense.

"They will help us in putting up a fight if the Huns discover us here,"
agreed Bart.

"Let's see if there's anything in them," suggested Billy.

"Swell chance," commented Tom. "They smell as if they'd had wine or beer
in them, and you can trust the Heinies to have drained them to the last
drop. Not that I want any of the stuff, but if they were full they'd
stop a bullet better than if they were empty."

They tested the barrels by knocking against them with the butts of their
rifles and the hollow sound they gave back proved that Tom had
conjectured truly.

"Dry as the Desert of Sahara," pronounced Frank.

"And that reminds me," said Bart. "What are we going to do for water to
drink? We've got grub enough in our kits to last us a couple of days in
a pinch. But we can't hold out long without something to wash it down
with."

"We won't worry about that yet," said Frank. "I stepped into a puddle
over in one corner while we were going round here. I suppose that came
from the rain we had last night. It doesn't fit my idea of what drinking
water ought to be, but it's a mighty sight better than dying of thirst."

They got out their stock of food and decided that with careful rationing
they had enough for two days.

"And that will be plenty," prophesied Billy. "Our fellows will be here
before long. Perhaps this very night we'll be with the old bunch again."

"I wish I had your cheery disposition," growled Tom. "When any one hands
you a lemon----"

"I make lemonade out of it," came back Billy, and there was a general
laugh.

"That's the way to talk," said Frank. "The Huns haven't got us yet, and
even this hole is better than a German prison camp."

"You bet!" responded Billy. "From all I hear those places are something
fierce. A fellow had better die fighting than die of abuse or
starvation."

"That's what," agreed Bart. "And that's another thing that shows how low
the Huns have stooped in this war. Look at the way we treat them when we
take them prisoners. They live on the fat of the land. Of course the
Germans haven't as much food in their country as we have, and we don't
expect so much for our men in the matter of grub, although even at that
they don't get enough to keep body and soul together. But it's sickening
to hear of the way they torture them. One of their favorite sports is to
set dogs on 'em. If a man doesn't move quickly enough to suit 'em they
stick a bayonet into him. It's low beastly tyranny that puts them on a
level with the Turks. It's no wonder that Germany is coming to be hated
and despised by the whole world."

"Did you hear of the fire that happened in one of their camps?" queried
Tom. "There was a hut in one corner of the camp with five men in it. It
caught fire and the men, who couldn't get out of the door because it was
locked, tried to get out of the window. The sentry thrust his bayonet
into the first man, and threw him back into the flames. The poor fellow
made another attempt and again the sentry ran the bayonet into him. And
every one of the five men burned to death, though every one of them
could have been saved. What do you think of that, fellows? Isn't it the
limit?"

"They'll get theirs," said Frank bitterly. "They can't sow the wind
without reaping the whirlwind. They'll surely pay, soon or late, for
every bit of this brutality.

"I hope it will be soon," said Billy. "I'm getting impatient."

"It won't be long if we can keep up the pace we set this morning," said
Bart. "Gee, how our tanks went through those wires as though they were
rotten cord."

"And our guns are keeping it up," said Frank. "Just listen to that roar.
What a shame it is we can't be out there doing our bit. It makes me feel
like a slacker."

"It's the fortune of war," said Billy philosophically. "But it's might
hard luck just the same that we took the wrong direction after we
cleared up that machine gun nest so neatly. But let's have a hack at
that grub, fellows. Oh, boy, if we only had some of that stew we lost
this morning!"

"That stew still sticks in Billy's crop," laughed Frank.

"I only wish it did," mourned Billy. "But it never got that far."

"Well, just remember, fellows, that we're on rations now," warned Frank
as he doled out a little portion to each from the common stock they had
pooled together. "We've got to make this last as long as we can. If we
feel hungry when we get through we'll just have to tighten our belts and
let it go at that."

They ate sparingly, but, although they were all thirsty, especially
after the heat and excitement of the fighting, it was a long time before
they could bring themselves to drink from the pool in the corner of the
cellar. They finally had to come to it, however, though they tried to
make it less repugnant by filtering it through the only clean
handkerchief they could muster among them.

The time dragged on interminably in their narrow quarters. They tried to
sleep, but though they were very tired after their strenuous day, the
novelty and discomfort of their position kept them on edge.

The daylight finally vanished from the little opening in the floor above
and the darkness became absolute. They had matches in their kits, but
they feared to use them lest some prowling sentry might see the light
through some rift in the masonry.

The roar of the heavy artillery had died down, though the guns still
gave out an occasional challenge. The fighting for the day was evidently
at an end. But there had been no clash in the streets of the ruined town
to betoken the arrival of the Allied forces. However they might have
fared in other parts of the battlefield, the town itself had not been
wrested from the Germans. In all probability the boys were still in the
midst of their enemies.

"Another night as well as a day to stay in this shebang," remarked Tom
when the hope of immediate rescue had failed them.

"Oh, well, to-morrow's a new day," said Frank. "A lot may happen between
now and to-morrow night. Our grub will hold out till then anyway, and if
nothing better turns up we'll make a dash and try to reach our lines."

He had scarcely stopped speaking when there was a loud clattering in the
street as though a cavalry troop were passing through.

"Perhaps those are our men now!" exclaimed Billy jubilantly.

"Perhaps," assented Frank. "And they seem to be coming this way."

The pace of the horses died down as they neared the house, and they
finally stopped just before it. The boys could hear the troopers
dismount and a moment later they heard footsteps on the floor above.

They listened intently. Would the first words they heard be English or
German? If the first it would mean a boisterous shout to the men above
and a hasty and joyful scramble out of their prison. If the second, it
would mean that they were in imminent danger of capture or death.

A light filtered down through the hole where the stovepipe had been.
Somebody above had struck a match. But he had evidently burned his
fingers as he did so, for the light went out and there was an impatient
exclamation.

"_Donnerwetter_!"

Just one word, but it made the hearts of the listening boys go down into
their boots.

For it was a German who just then struck a second match and lighted a
candle, and it was a German cavalry troop whose horses stood before the
door.

But for what purpose had they entered the house? Were they in search of
the boys? Had any one seen them entering the house and given
information?

"Be ready, fellows," whispered Frank. "It looks as if we were in for a
scrap."

They clutched their rifles firmly to be ready for whatever might happen.

But it was not long before they realized that this sudden irruption had
nothing to do with them. What seemed to be a bench or a table was
dragged across the floor and one or more candles placed upon it. There
seemed to be half a dozen or more officers in the room, and they were
soon engaged in an earnest conversation.

"I never thought much of the German language," whispered Bart to Billy,
"but I'd give a farm to understand it now."

"If Frank only knew German as well as he does French," responded Billy,
"we might pick up something that our officers would give a lot to know."

For perhaps half an hour the raucous tones above continued. The debate
was at times an angry one and was punctuated by the sound of fists
brought heavily down on a table. Just after one of these, the stovepipe
hole was dimmed by something that shut off the light from the room
above. It floated down with a slight rustle and the boys could see that
it was a paper of some kind.

In an instant Frank had crept across and grabbed the paper, thrusting it
into the bosom of his shirt. Then he moved swiftly back to the shelter
of the barricade.

"That was taking a chance, old boy," whispered Bart, as his friend
resumed his place among them. "If you'd knocked against anything and the
Huns had heard you, they'd have been down here in a jiffy."

"I suppose it was a little risky," returned Frank, "but we've got to
take risks sometimes, and it struck me that there might be something in
that paper that our officers would like to know."

Just then Billy, in trying to get in a less cramped position, knocked
against one of the rifles that had been stood in a corner. It fell
against one of the barrels with a clatter that in the confined place and
the tense state of the boys' nerves sounded to them like thunder.

Frank grabbed it before it could fall on the cellar floor, but it seemed
as though the mischief must have been done, and their hearts were in
their mouths as they listened for anything that might indicate that the
sound had been heard on the floor above.

But the debate had reached a lively stage just at that moment, and the
incident attracted no attention, so that after two minutes more of
strained listening the boys were assured that they had come off scot
free from what might have been a disaster.

"This is sure no place for a man with heart disease," murmured Tom, and
his comrades unanimously agreed with him.

The conference in the room above had come to an end, as was shown by the
shuffling of feet as the men rose from the table. There was a sound as
of a sheaf of papers being hastily gathered together. But there was no
outcry to indicate that any one of them was missing, and the boys drew a
long breath and relaxed their grasp on their rifles. There would be no
search, and for the moment they were safe.

The lights above were extinguished and the party went out. The horses
clattered away, and once more the house and the town were as still as
the grave.

"So near and yet so far," murmured Frank, when he was sure that the last
of the unwelcome visitors had departed.

"That was what you might call too close for comfort," grinned Billy.

"They wouldn't have done a thing to us if they had nabbed us," declared
Bart. "We wouldn't have had a Chinaman's chance. No prison camp for
ours! They'd have shot us down like dogs! They'd have reasoned that we
had heard their military plans, and that would have been all the excuse
they wanted."

"Not that they would care whether they had the excuse or not," said
Billy. "The mere fact that a German wants to do anything makes it all
right to do it."

"How they'd froth at the mouth if they knew Frank had that paper,"
remarked Tom. "I wonder what it is."

"It has a seal on it and it feels as if it were heavy and official,"
replied Frank. "I don't want to strike a match now, but I'll take a
squint at it when daylight comes. Probably it's in German, and if it is
I can't read it. But they'll read it at headquarters all right, and it
may queer some of Heinie's plans."

They conversed in whispers a little while longer, and then made ready to
go to sleep. Their preparations were not extensive, and consisted
chiefly in finding a place where no sharp edge of stone bored into the
small of their backs. But they were too tired to be critical, and after
putting away the food in a corner and arranging to stand watch turn and
turn about they soon forgot their troubles in sleep.

When they awoke the light shining through the hole in the floor told
them that it was day.

"Time you fellows opened your eyes," remarked Tom, who had been standing
the last watch. "If you hadn't I'd have booted you awake anyway, for you
were snoring loud enough to bring the whole German army down on you."

"I'd hate to call you an out and out prevaricator, Tom," remarked Billy,
rubbing his eyes and running his hands through his tumbled hair, "so
I'll simply say that you use the truth with great economy. Suppose you
bring me my breakfast. I think I'll eat it in bed this morning."

He dodged the shoe that Tom threw at his head and rose laughingly to his
feet.

"Mighty bad manners the people have at this hotel," he remarked, "but
since you feel that way about it I'll take my grub any way I can get it.
Haul it out from that corner, Bart, and let's have a hack at it. I'm
hungry enough to eat nails this morning."

Bart needed no second request, for he was quite as hungry as his mates.
But when he picked up the canvas wrapper in which the food had been
stored he dropped it with a startled exclamation.

"What's the matter?" cried Frank.

"Matter enough," replied Bart. "The bag's empty. There isn't a blessed
thing in it."

The others rushed him under the light that came from above and examined
the wrapper with sinking hearts. What Bart had said was true. Not a
crumb was left.

There was no mystery about it. The gnawed and tattered holes in the bag
told their own story. It was summed up in the one word that came from
their lips simultaneously. "Rats!"

Their four-footed enemies had perhaps brought them nearer capture than
their human enemies had been able to do.

CHAPTER XVI

CHASED BY CAVALRY

The four Army boys looked at each other in dismay.

Nothing much worse than this could have befallen them. It brought them
close to the edge of tragedy. They would have to change their plans.
Instead of being free to choose their own time for their attempt to
escape, they were forced to act quickly no matter how much greater the
risk might be. For if they waited until they were weak from hunger they
would be in no condition to make a dash or put up a fight.

Frank as usual was the first to recover his self-possession.

"No use crying over spilt milk, fellows," he said, trying to infuse
cheerfulness into his tone. "We've got to try Billy's recipe and make
lemonade from the lemon that the rats have handed us."

"It's a mighty big lemon," said Tom, "and I don't see much sugar lying
around."

"How could the brutes have got at it without our hearing them, do you
suppose?" questioned Bart.

"That doesn't matter much," replied Billy. "And there's no use holding
post-mortems. The thing is, what are we going to do?"

"We're going to get out of here to-night without fail," said Frank
decidedly. "The moon won't come up till late and if the night is cloudy
it won't show up at all. At any rate we can't stay here. There isn't a
chance on earth of there being anything left in these houses, or we
might take a chance on foraging. The Huns have seen to that. The longer
we stay here the weaker we'll get. We've just got to make a break and
trust our wits and our luck to get back to the lines."

"I guess you're right, old man," agreed Bart. "We'll just move our belts
up a hole and pretend we're not hungry. Tom here's getting too fat
anyway, and it'll do him good to give his stomach a rest. And as for
Billy, he can take a nap and dream of that stew he didn't get."

"There's another thing, too," remarked Frank. "Those rats are likely to
come back to-night for more, and they may have spread the news and bring
a whole rat colony with them. No doubt they're famished since there's
nothing left in the town to eat, and if there are enough of them they
might go for us. Of course we could beat them off, but we'd be apt to
make a lot of noise in doing it, and that might bring the Huns down on
us. There's no use talking, we've got to skip."

They all agreed to this, and they passed the rest of that day as best
they could until the light faded from the hole in the floor and night
settled down in a pall of velvet. They clambered out of their temporary
prison, their hearts beating with high determination.

They ventured out at last into the darkness, slipping along from one
projection of the ruined houses to another, moving as lightly and
stealthily as cats.

To one thing they had made up their minds. There would be no going back
to their old hiding place. That meant either starvation or surrender.
Besides, if they turned back on being discovered, the Germans would know
that they were hiding somewhere in the ruined town and they would not
leave one stone on another until they found them. But if they made a
break for the open country they would have their chance of escaping in
the darkness. On they went like so many spectres, until, on reaching a
shattered doorway, they crept close together for a whispered parley.

"So far so good," murmured Frank.

"Luck's been with us," agreed Bert.

"We can stand a whole lot of luck in this business," whispered Tom.

"It's a long, long way yet to our own lines," said Billy. "We haven't
got more than a couple of blocks away from our old hangout, and there's
no telling how much further it is before we strike the open country."

Just then a stone toppled from a wall and fell with a crash only a few
feet away. In their tense state of alertness the unexpected sound made
them jump.

"Just as well we weren't under that," remarked Frank, with a sigh of
relief.

"Let's hope it won't bring some German sentry along to see what's making
the racket," responded Bart.

"Just what it is doing," whispered Tom, as he heard a step approaching.
"Quick, fellows, get further back and lie down flat."

They almost ceased to breathe as a dim form passed by so close that they
could almost have reached out and touched him. But the dust still rising
from the shattered stone convinced the visitor that nature and not man
was responsible for the disturbance, and, with a grunt of satisfaction
that it was nothing worse, the sentry returned to his former post.

But the promptness with which he had appeared warned the fugitives that
the town, desolate as it was, was still under guard, and they redoubled
their precautions. However dangerous it might be, they must go on. The
moon would rise before long, and they must make the most of the pitchy
darkness that still prevailed.

Listening with all their ears and straining their eyes until they ached,
they made their way through the littered streets until they realized
from their frequent encounters with bush and hedge that they were
getting into the open country.

Huddled close in a thicket, they consulted the radio compass that Frank
drew from his pocket. That gave them the general direction in which they
must go. They knew that in general their course led toward the west,
but, as they could not tell what changes had taken place in the position
of the armies as the result of the two days' fighting, they had no idea
of how long it might take them to reach the American lines.

They got their bearings due west and set off. They were making fair
progress when they were startled by hearing the clatter of hoofs a
little ahead of them.

"Listen!" hissed Bart.

"It's a cavalry troop," whispered Frank, as he flattened himself behind
a bush, an example that was promptly followed by the others.

"Troop!" growled Tom. "It sounds more like a brigade."

"Uhlans, probably," conjectured Billy.

They peered through the bushes at the broad road not more than twenty
feet away.

At that moment the moon showed a slender rim above the horizon and
threaded the darkness with a faint shimmer of light.

Along the road came a force of cavalry. The guttural voices of the
riders told the concealed watchers that they belonged to the enemy. In
the dim light they could see the steam that rose from the horses'
flanks.

Those days had been the first for a long time that cavalry could be used

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