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Army Boys in the French Trenches by Homer Randall

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on the western front. Trench fighting had put that arm of the service
almost wholly out of action. But the fact that the Allies had followed
up their tank attack with cavalry had brought forth a German response of
the same nature.

There was no sign of elation among the riders, and the boys drew
pleasure from that. A dejected air prevailed, as though the Uhlans had
had the worst of it.

"Guess they've had the hot end of the poker," whispered Bart.

"Looks like it," replied Frank.

Something just then frightened one of the horses, and he reared and
plunged into the bushes at the side of the road. The boys had all they
could do to scramble out of reach of the iron-shod hoofs. The rider was
almost unhorsed, but managed to retain his seat and quiet his trembling
mount.

By the time he had done this, the troopers had almost passed. The boys
were rejoicing at this, but their exultation changed to uneasiness when
the soldier who had had so much trouble rode up to an officer and began
to talk volubly, at the same time pointing toward the bushes.

"Here's where I see trouble coming," muttered Tom.

"He's on to us," agreed Bart.

"He must have seen us when we got out of his way," said Frank. "Let's
get out of here, quick."

But this was not to be done so easily, for even as he spoke the officer
rapped out a command and a group of twenty horsemen began to spread out
and surround the place where the Army boys were crouching.

To remain there would be fatal, for it was only a matter of a few
minutes before that ring would close upon them with a grip of iron. At
all hazards they must break through.

"Stick together, fellows," murmured Frank. "Get your rifles ready. We
can't miss at this distance. When I say the word, give them a volley and
make a break for the road. It's our only chance, for they'd surely round
us up in these bushes."

"We're with you, boy," replied Bart, and the little party crouched lower
with their fingers on trigger.

Frank waited until the nearest horsemen were not more than ten feet
away. Then he sprang to his feet with a shout.

"Fire!" he cried, and a stream of flame leaped from the bushes.

Two of the riders threw up their hands and pitched from their saddles. A
third seized with his left hand the rein that dropped from his right.
There was a moment of confusion, and Frank and his comrades took instant
advantage of it.

With a rush they reached the road and tore down it for dear life, while
behind them thundered the Uhlans in hot pursuit!

CHAPTER XVII

THE BROKEN BRIDGE

The Army boys had no idea where the road led to. It might be to the
American lines or to the German lines. But they knew that certain death
was behind them and possible life in front of them, and they ran as
though their feet had wings.

But swift as they were, the horses were of course swifter, and before
long they knew that their pursuers were gaining.

"Throw away your rifles," panted Frank. "We'll still have our knives and
grenades."

They threw the heavy rifles aside, and, relieved of their weight, they
bounded ahead with renewed speed.

For a short time their desperate efforts held their pursuers even, but
soon the gap again began to close.

At a turn of the road they halted, gasping for breath.

"Give them the grenades," ordered Frank, getting his own ready. "They
won't be expecting them and it may upset them. Throw yours at the same
time I do mine."

They waited until the horsemen were within fifty feet. Then four
stalwart arms hurled the grenades against the front ranks.

There was a tremendous explosion as the shells all seemed to go off at
the same instant, and the first rank of horsemen went down in a heap.

Those behind drew their beasts back on their haunches so as not to
override their fellows, and in that moment another volley came among
them with deadly effect.

Without waiting any longer, the boys renewed their flight. They knew
that the Germans would be mad with rage at their check by so small a
force, and they were not foolish enough to believe for a moment that the
chase would be abandoned.

But a new exultation was in their hearts as they ran. They might be
killed, but they would at least have sold their lives dearly. There
would be little that the Uhlans would have to boast of in their story of
that night's work.

Their breath came in short gasps and their laboring lungs felt as though
they were ready to burst. Frank, a little in the van, reached out a
warning hand and they slowed up.

"We'll make faster time if we give ourselves a minute's rest," he
panted. "When we start in again we'll have our second wind. They haven't
got out of that mix-up yet. Besides, they'll come on more cautiously
now. They won't know how many grenades we have left."

"I haven't any," gasped Tom.

Billy was too far gone to speak, but he drew his last grenade from his
sack. Bart and Frank also were down to their last one, for the work on
the previous day had almost used up the stock with which they had
started out. They had a chance for one last throw, and then if it came
to a hand to hand fight they had nothing to rely on but their knives.

They rested for a minute or two, and then again upon the wind came the
sound of hurrying hoofs.

Instinctively the boys reached out and grasped one another's hands.
There was no need for words. They knew what it meant. To some of them
this might prove the last lap of the last race they would ever run.

On came their pursuers, and the boys, summoning up every ounce of
strength they possessed, set out at the pace of hunted deer.

Not two minutes had elapsed before their feet struck the boards of a
bridge. Below they saw the gleam of the moon in the dark water that ran
beneath.

They took heart at the sight and put on a new burst of speed. Who knew
but what the American troops were camped on the further side?

Twenty feet further they stopped abruptly. The bridge was broken. The
boards had been torn up, though the shattered timbers of the sides
projected a few feet further over the current. But fully a hundred feet
of black water stretched between them and the farther shore.

They stopped, panting and perplexed. And just at that moment they heard
the hoofs of horses on the wood of the bridge.

They were trapped. To turn back was certain captivity or death. To
plunge into that black current might also mean death. Their choice was
made on the instant.

"Over we go, boys!" shouted Frank, throwing off his coat. "But we
mustn't waste those last grenades. Let them have them."

They turned and threw, and without waiting to see the result dived
headforemost into the stream. The roar of the explosion was in their
ears as they struck the water.

They were all good swimmers, and when they came to the surface they
found themselves within a few feet of each other.

"To the other bank, fellows!" exclaimed Frank, as he shook the water
from his eyes. "And keep as low in the water as you can. They'll send a
volley after us."

They struck out lustily for the farther shore while, as Frank had
predicted, bullets zipped around them. But in the darkness their foes
could take no aim and they reached the shore unscathed.

The bank was steep, with long reeds growing down to the water's edge.
The fugitives grasped these and rested before they attempted to climb
the bank.

"I'm all in," gasped Tom.

Frank reached out a supporting hand.

"I guess we all are," he replied. "It's lucky this river isn't wider.
But we're safe now."

"I don't know about that," said Bart. "Listen!"

There was a tramp of many feet upon the bank.

"They've heard the shooting," whispered Billy. "If it's our boys we're
all right. If it isn't----"

The sentence was never finished. Above the bank they saw a crowd of
helmeted figures. A light was flashed into their faces, nearly blinding
them, and a hoarse voice cried:

"_Wer da!_"

A score of hands reached down and grasped them. Unarmed, dripping,
utterly exhausted, they found themselves in the hands of the soldiers of
the Kaiser!

CHAPTER XVIII

RESCUE FROM THE SKY

With a file of soldiers on either side of them, the four boys were
marched off to a dugout near at hand. Here a German outpost had been
stationed to watch the river bank. It was not a large command, and the
lieutenant in charge, being unable to speak English and having no
interpreter at hand, after a few brusque attempts to question them gave
it up. Then, after having had them searched, he committed them to the
custody of a non-commissioned officer with directions that they were to
be fed and sent to headquarters in the morning. They ate ravenously,
and, not being permitted to talk to each other, found solace in sorely
needed sleep.

When taken before the German officers, the friends were forced to
undergo a strict and searching examination. Their questioners tried in
every way, with pleadings alternating with threats, to get them to
divulge information that might be useful to them, but in vain. The four
Americans were absolutely uncommunicative, and at last the German who
had been doing most of the questioning was forced to acknowledge defeat.

"_Donnerwetter!_" he growled. "Yankee pigs! It must be that they are so
stupid that they do not know anything to tell. What do you think, Herr
Lieutenant?" turning to one of his officers.

"I think it more likely that they are just obstinate, sir, like those
cursed English," replied the officer addressed. "But perhaps a few
months in a prison camp will incline them to answer more quickly when a
German speaks to them." This was accompanied by a cruel smile, whose
significance was hot lost on the Americans. The captain glared at them,
but as they did not seem to weaken perceptibly, even under his high
displeasure, he grumbled finally:

"Well, take them away, and we'll see how they act after a taste of
prison life." As their guards were about to take them from the room, he
continued, menacingly: "Remember, you Yankees, that the sooner you tell
me what I want to know, the easier it will be for you. And in the end
we'll make you talk. It is not well to oppose Germany's will too far."

But as the prisoners did not appear greatly frightened by these threats,
the commander at last ordered the sergeant in charge to take the
prisoners away, and turned again to his desk.

In spite of the critical situation in which they found themselves, Bart
could not resist a surreptitious wink at his companions as they passed
through the doorway, which was returned in kind by his graceless
companions. But, although they had had the satisfaction of balking the
German officers, they were not long in appreciating the discomforts of
their present situation. When they reached the temporary prison camp,
they were herded into a large tent, already overcrowded with French,
English, and a few American prisoners. Soon after their arrival food was
served out, although it hardly seemed worthy of the name. Watery soup,
made by boiling turnips in water, and a small chunk of some tasteless
substance supposed to be bread, constituted the meal. The boys, fresh
from the wholesome and abundant food furnished by Uncle Sam, found it
absolutely uneatable, and gave away their portions to some of the other
prisoners, who appeared glad to get it.

"Wait until you've been here a few days," said one lanky Englishman,
with a ghastly smile, "you'll get so thoroughly famished that you'll be
able to go even that stuff," and he made a wry face.

"Perhaps so, if we can't find some way to get out," said Frank.

"Not as easy as it sounds," said the Englishman. "Although it has been
done, of course. But a lot more have been shot trying it than have ever
got away."

"Might as well get shot as die of starvation," remarked Tom.

This opinion evidently appealed to Tom's comrades, who looked
significantly at him. From that look each knew that the others were
ready to risk everything to gain their freedom. The Englishman, however,
seemed unconvinced, and presently left them.

As night came on, they cast about for some place to sleep, but met with
little success. The only place to lie was on the ground, but by that
time the four friends were so tired that sleep, even under any hardship,
was desirable. They finally settled down in a corner that appeared a
little less crowded than the rest. However, before going to sleep they
tried to formulate some plan of escape, but with indifferent success.

"About all we can do," said Bart finally, "is to hold ourselves in
readiness to make use of the first chance of escape that comes along.
And if these Germans are all as stupid as the ones we've seen so far, it
oughtn't to be very difficult."

"Well, when the chance comes, we won't let any grass grow under our
feet, that's certain," said Frank. "But now, I'm dog-tired, and I'm
going to see if I can't get a little sleep. And what's more, I'd advise
you fellows to do the same."

"He who sleeps, dines," quoted Tom, with a somewhat rueful grin. "I hope
there's more in that old saying than there is in most of them."

"Right you are," said Bart, "but something seems to tell me I'm going to
be hungry in the morning, just the same."

Bart was right. After a restless night, the boys woke with ravenous
appetites, and managed to eat most of the unpalatable fare that was
passed around. Not long after this they saw the sergeant who had had
charge of them the previous day picking his way through the crowd,
evidently looking for some particular object. At last he caught sight of
the Americans, and immediately headed toward them.

"Come," he commanded, roughly, in his halting English. "Orders have come
for your removal."

"Where to?" inquired Frank. "Silence! Do as you are told, and ask no
questions!" commanded the German.

"For two cents I'd jump on him and choke the dog's life out of him!"
muttered Tom, but his friends laid restraining hands on him.

"Nothing doing, Tom," warned Billy. "We'd be playing against stacked
cards in a game like that. Take it easy now, and maybe our chance will
come later."

Meanwhile the sergeant had started off, and the friends had no choice
but to follow him. He led them out of the tent, where a squad of
soldiers was lined up. At a nod from the sergeant, these surrounded the
boys, and at a curt word of command they all started off.

They were soon outside the confines of the camp, and marching along what
had once been a perfect road, but was now badly broken up by the
combined effects of shellfire and heavy trucking. The soldiers talked
among themselves in low gutturals, and the boys, by piecing together
words that they caught here and there, gathered that they were being
taken to some higher official for further questioning.

"You see," said Billy, "they know we were inside their lines a
considerable time before they caught us, and so they are paying
particular attention to us. I guess they think we may know more than
we've told them so far." This with a wink at his friends.

"We sure have told them a lot," put in Bart, grinning. "And, just to be
perfectly fair, I suggest that we tell the next Boche who questions us
just as much as we told the last one."

"Fair enough," agreed Tom. "No favoritism has always been my motto."

"No talking among the prisoners," commanded the sergeant, threateningly,
and the four friends, having said about all they wanted to say, anyway,
relapsed into silence.

For several miles the little group plodded along, often meeting
detachments of German infantry, who scowled sullenly at the Americans as
they passed.

The boys were far from happy, in spite of the light-hearted attitude
they presented to their captors. They all knew that if they could not
effect an escape their chance for life was small, as, on account of
their having been inside the German lines so long before being captured,
the Huns would seize the opportunity of calling them spies, and mete out
the quick end that is accorded to such. They were walking along, each
one immersed in his own gloomy thoughts, when suddenly a sound from
above caused them to look quickly up toward the blue sky.

What they saw caused their hearts to beat faster and hope to spring up
again in their breasts. For, skilled as they were in such matters, they
recognized the airplane up above, whose roaring exhaust had first
attracted their attention, as one of the Allied type.

It was coming toward them at high speed, flying low, and as it rapidly
neared them the four friends, forgetting their German captors, waved
their hands wildly to the pilot, whom they could see, as the aeroplane
came closer, peering down over the side of the body. The Germans, on
their part, were so terrified by the approach of this huge enemy
machine, that they seemed to forget all about their prisoners, and in
fact about everything except their individual safety. With wild yells of
terror they scattered this way and that, all except the sergeant. He,
seeing his men running in every direction, snarled out a curse, and
whipped out his automatic pistol.

"I'll do for you Yankees, anyway, he hissed," and leveled the pistol at
them. But even as his finger trembled on the trigger, Frank's fist, with
the force of a sledgehammer, came with a crashing impact against the
point of the German's jaw, and the Hun went down, his pistol exploding
harmlessly toward the sky. Frank, with the light of battle in his eye,
seized the fallen man's weapon and looked around for the other Germans.
But by this time they had all gotten out of effective pistol range, and
after emptying the weapon in the direction of the fleeing figures, Frank
and the others turned their attention to the aeroplane, which by now was
manoeuvring for a landing.

The airship came down in great spirals, and finally took the ground with
hardly a jar, running along a hundred feet or so and then coming to a
halt.

As the boys started running toward it, Tom ejaculated: "Say, fellows, my
eyes may be playing me tricks, but if that isn't Dick Lever at the wheel
you can call me a German!"

"I think it is Dick, myself," agreed Frank. "And if this isn't a case of
the 'friend in need,' I miss my guess."

It was indeed as they thought. The pilot was an old friend of theirs,
but one whom they had not seen for some time. Now, as they raced toward
the airplane, he in turn recognized them, and raised a delirious shout
of joy.

"Tumble into this bus just as fast as you can, fellows," he cried,
"we've got to get out of this mighty quick. You can explain the mystery
of your being here after we get started."

"But can you carry the whole bunch of us?" asked Billy.

"Easily," replied one of the two observers, who had not spoken up to
now. "We've just dropped our load of bombs on a few German supply
depots, and now we're running back light."

"All right, then," said Billy, "in we go!" And, suiting the action to
the word, the four friends swarmed into the airplane, filling the
cramped passenger carrying space to overflowing. Meantime, the Germans,
having found cover, had opened up a brisk rifle fire against the
aeroplane, and bullets began to sing through the framework. One of the
observers leaped to the ground, gave the propeller a vigorous twist, and
as the motor began to roar clambered aboard as the big plane started
over the rough ground, bumping and jolting, but rapidly gaining speed.
The Germans broke from their shelter in pursuit, firing wildly as they
ran, but although some of their shots came close, none came near enough
to do any real damage. In a few seconds, in answer to a quick movement
from Dick Lever, the big bombing machine left the ground, and amid a
parting rain of bullets from the Germans, started to ascend in long,
sweeping spirals.

The friends were about to congratulate themselves on their safe escape,
when suddenly one of the observers, who had been scanning the horizon
closely, pointed behind them, and exclaimed:

"Just as I thought! Those two Boche planes that we saw getting ready to
come after us just after we dropped our last bomb are coming up fast.
Look!"

All twisted about, and saw that it was as the observer had said. High up
in the sky two swift, darting objects were coming in pursuit. The
American machine was built more for carrying capacity than for speed,
and in addition was heavily loaded. Every advantage was with the swift
German machines. Their pilots no doubt realized this, for now they
headed directly for the Americans, descending in a long slant that gave
them tremendous speed.

"All right," said Lever, coolly, "if they're going to come down, it may
be a good idea for us to go up," and, suiting the action to the word, he
elevated the nose of the big plane skyward, and they started to climb
steeply. The American machine was equipped with a tremendously powerful
motor, and this, combined with its great wing spread, enabled it to
climb with great rapidity, in spite of the heavy load it was carrying.
The Germans had not counted on this, and the result was that they
miscalculated their distances, passing beneath the American flyer
instead of above it, as they had intended. They both turned quickly and
started to climb, but by this time the American aviators had trained
their two machine guns on the Germans, and opened fire.

At first this seemed to have little effect, and the Germans ascended
rapidly, while their machine gun operators, although as yet unable to
use their deadly weapons, sent a hail of revolver bullets whistling
through the wings and rigging of the American machine. But now the
concentrated fire from the American machine was beginning to have
effect. One of the German planes hesitated, quivered, and suddenly its
right wing, with its wire stays severed by the machine gun bullets,
crumpled up. The crippled aeroplane staggered wildly, suddenly turned on
its right side, and pitched steeply downward.

The boys in the American airplane gazed at each other with white faces,
but they had little time to devote to thoughts of the fallen, for by now
the remaining German machine was on a level with them, and its machine
gunner opened fire. The Americans, crouching low to avoid the murderous
stream of bullets, returned the fire from both their machine guns, with
a deadliness of purpose and aim for which the German was no match.
Suddenly a tiny flame appeared in the body of the German machine, grew
with lightning rapidity, and in a few seconds one side of the machine
was enveloped in leaping yellow flames.

"Punctured the gas tank!" exulted Lever. "They're done for now."

And he was right. The machine gun fire from both fighting planes died
out, and the boys could see the Germans vainly trying to beat out the
hungry flames. Their efforts were useless, however, and in a few seconds
the German machine, a roaring mass of flame and black smoke, dropped
downward as swiftly as a stone. As it went, the boys saw two figures
hurl themselves out into space, and then everything was hidden in a haze
of billowy smoke.

"That's awful!" exclaimed Tom, drawing in his breath with a great sigh,
while all relaxed from the terrible tension they had been under.

"Awful, yes," said Dick Lever. "But it's only what they would have done
to us if they had been able. Instead of 'live and let live,' it's 'kill
or get killed' in this game."

Frank nodded his head gloomily, but none of the boys felt like talking
then, and sat silent as their pilot got his bearings and then
straightened out swiftly in the direction of the American lines.

With the roar of the motor in their ears and the rush of wind past their
faces, much of the horror of the deadly air battle was swept from their
minds, and they began to enjoy the exhilaration of their first flight.
The distant earth streamed rapidly by, like a swiftly flowing river, and
a wonderful panorama was spread out below them. It was an exceptionally
clear day, and they could see for many miles in every direction. Below
them, groups of gray clad figures, after a glance in the direction of
the soaring monster overhead, broke for cover, or, shaking impotent
fists, trudged stolidly onward, contemptuous of one more danger among
the many that daily surrounded them.

"No prison camp for us this time," exulted Frank, as he looked down at
his enemies.

"We wouldn't have been in a prison camp long," declared Tom. "Those
fellows had picked us out for a firing squad. They were going to get all
they could out of us, and then about six feet of earth would have been
our size."

"I'll bet that sergeant's jaw aches yet from the clip that Frank handed
him," chuckled Billy happily.

"I skinned my knuckles," said Frank, looking at them ruefully.

"Never mind," laughed Bart. "You never hurt them in a better cause."

"We can't be far from the lines now," shouted Frank, in Dick's ear.

"Pretty close," responded the aviator. "We ought to be down fifteen
minutes from now."

And his estimate proved very nearly correct. Soon the boys of the old
Thirty-seventh could recognize the familiar landmarks of their own
encampment, and, with one impulse, they gave three rousing cheers.

CHAPTER XIX

PUTTING ONE OVER

It was a beautiful landing that Dick Lever made at the aviation camp,
his great machine sailing down like a swan and landing so lightly that
it would scarcely have broken a pane of glass.

"Dick, you're a wonder!" exclaimed Frank, as he stepped out of the
machine.

"The way you put it all over the Boche planes shows that," chimed in
Bart with equal enthusiasm.

"I don't wonder they say you're an 'ace,'" added Billy.

"If all aviators had your class, the Hun flyers wouldn't have a chance
on earth--I mean in the sky," said Tom.

"Oh, it's all a matter of practice," said Dick modestly, although it was
plain to be seen that their heartfelt appreciation pleased him. "It's as
easy as running an automobile when you know how. Well, so long, fellows.
I've got to make my report," and with a gay wave of the hand he left
them and made his way to aviation headquarters.

"Say, how does it feel to be a free man once more?" cried Frank
jubilantly, as they sought out their regiment.

"I can't believe yet that it's anything but a dream." replied Bart with
deep feeling, as he looked around at the friendly faces and familiar
surroundings that he had feared for a time he would never see again.

"And look at that flag!" cried Billy as he saw Old Glory flying from one
of the officers' pavilions. Like a flash their hats came off and they
saluted the glorious flag that meant to them everything in life.

They passed the tanks, and Will Stone, who was "grooming his pet,"
looked at them for a moment as though he could not believe his eyes.
Then he rushed toward them and nearly shook their hands off.

"By all that is lucky!" he cried. "I was afraid I was never going to see
you fellows again. Where did you drop from?"

"From the sky," laughed Frank.

"Some little angels, you see," chuckled Billy. Then seeing Stone's
puzzled look he added: "The Huns had got their hooks on us when Dick
Lever came along in his plane, gave them a few little leaden missives,
picked us up and landed us here, right side up with care."

Stone's eyes kindled as he heard their story, and his enthusiasm over
Lever's feat was as great as their own.

"But how did we make out in the big drive?" asked Frank. "We kept hoping
all the time that you fellows would be along and nab us before the
Boches did."

"We've had a big victory," explained Stone. "We put the Hindenburg line
on the blink by that smash at his center, and he's had to draw in his
wings on both sides. It's one of the biggest things that's been done on
the western front, and the Heinies will have a hard time explaining it
in Berlin."

"That's bully!" exclaimed Frank.

"That town you fellows were hiding in didn't come into our general
plan," went on Stone, "and that's the reason you had to fight your way
out all by your lonesome."

"It was some little fight, all right," remarked Tom.

"And we certainly gave those Uhlans a run for their money," laughed
Billy.

"Lucky they didn't get hold of you," said Stone. "It would have been
curtains for the whole bunch. They must have been wild at the lacing you
handed them."

"I guess they were rather peeved," grinned Bart.

"I'm sorry I had to throw away my rifle, though," mourned Tom.

"Tom would find something to grouch about if he were in heaven," laughed
Frank.

They talked for a few minutes longer and then went on, as they were
eager to be once more with their comrades of the old Thirty-seventh.

And what a greeting they had when they walked into their old command!
They were pounded and mauled in wild enthusiasm, for they were prime
favorites in the regiment and had been sadly given up as dead or
captured.

They had to tell again and again the story of their adventures, and it
was only by main force that they tore themselves away from their
rejoicing mates long enough to report themselves to their officers as
present for duty.

Their captain was as delighted as his men at their safe return, although
his satisfaction was expressed in less boisterous fashion. He commended
warmly the gallant fight they had put up with the Uhlans, and he was
visibly startled as his eye glanced over the German report that had been
captured by Frank when it fluttered down into the cellar.

"This must go to headquarters at once!" he exclaimed. "It is a matter of
the utmost importance. You men have deserved the thanks of the army," he
continued, "and I am proud that you are members of my command."

They made their way back to their company with their leader's praise
ringing in their ears and warming their hearts. But they had scarcely
got out of the captain's presence before his chums pounced upon Frank
with the liveliest curiosity.

"How did you keep that paper when the Germans searched you?" asked Tom.

"Where did you hide it?" demanded Billy.

"I never knew you were a sleight of hand performer," added Bart.

"Easy there, fellows," laughed Frank, enjoying their mystification. "It
was the simplest thing in the world. While you fellows were sleeping in
the cellar I just loosened the sole of my shoe and slipped the paper in
between the sole and the upper and nailed the sole up again. The Heinies
didn't get next to it, and that's where I had luck. I'm mighty glad they
didn't, for the cap seems to think there's something in it that's worth
while."

"Foxy stunt," approved Tom.

"Some wise boy!" exclaimed Billy, giving his chum a slap on the shoulder
that made him wince.

"You're all there when it comes to the gray matter, old man," was Bart's
tribute.

A day later, part of their reward came in a week's furlough that was
granted them for "specially gallant conduct," as the order of the day
expressed it. The rest was welcome, for it was the first they had had
since they had landed on French soil, and they had been under a strain
of hard work and harder fighting that had taxed even their strong
vitality to the utmost.

And that week stood out forever in their memory like an oasis in a
desert. They spent it in a little French town miles away from the firing
line and even beyond the sound of the guns. They fished and swam and
loafed and slept as though there was no such thing as war in the world.
No reveille to wake them in the morning, no taps to send them to their
beds at night. For the first time in months they were their own masters,
and they enjoyed their brief liberty to the full.

Yet even here in this "little bit of heaven" as Tom expressed it, they
could not be wholly free from war's reminder.

They were sprawling one day outside their cottage when an officer came
along, gorgeous in epaulets and gold lace.

"See who's coming!" exclaimed Tom peevishly. "Now we'll have to get up
and salute."

"I suppose so," said Billy reluctantly.

"Can't we pretend, we don't see him?" yawned Bart sleepily, clutching at
a straw of hope.

"Not a chance in the world," declared Frank. "He's looking right at us."

They stood up as the officer approached and saluted respectfully. He
returned the salute snappishly and glared at them sternly.

"Get in line there," he commanded. "Smart now. Eyes ahead."

They resented his tone, but obeyed with military promptness.

"Present arms."

They hesitated and looked at each other.

"Present arms," I said.

"If you please, sir," said Bart, "we have no guns."

"I know it," snapped the officer. "Go through the motions."

So without a word they did as directed.

"Shoulder arms."

They did so.

"Forward! March!"

He set off in front with a military stride and they followed.

"I feel like a fool," whispered Bart to Frank.

"Same here," was the reply. "What does he mean by it?"

"Wants to show his authority, I reckon," muttered Bart.

Tom and Billy said nothing, but there were scowls on their faces that
spoke for them.

They had marched for perhaps half a mile, when at a cross roads two men
appeared who were evidently looking for some one. Their eyes lighted up
when they saw the officer and they came straight toward him. He saw them
coming, and throwing his dignity to the wind started to run, but they
were quicker than he and grasped him by the collar.

"Come back to the asylum," one of them growled. "We've had lots of
trouble to find you."

The boys stood rooted to the spot.

"You see," explained one of the men, touching his forehead
significantly, "he's a grocer that's got the military bug. He thinks
he's Napoleon. Come along, Napoleon."

And "Napoleon" meekly obeyed.

CHAPTER XX

SUSPICION

To paint the emotions that chased themselves over the features of the
four boys would have taxed the ability of an artist. For a moment no one
of them cared to look into the eyes of the others.

Tom was the first to act. He grabbed his cap in his hands, kneaded it
into a ball, threw it on the ground and jumped up and down on it.

The others looked at his scowling face and the sight was too much for
them. They threw themselves on the ground in convulsions of laughter.
They howled. They roared. They rolled over and over, until Tom himself
caught the contagion and joined in with the rest. It was a long time
before any one of them was able to speak.

"Stung!" choked Bart, while tears of merriment rolled down his cheeks.

"Forward! March!" gurgled Billy. "Pound me on the back, you fellows, or
I'll have a fit."

"A grocer! Napoleon!" roared Frank. "Shades of Austerlitz and Waterloo!"

"And we fell for it!" yelled Tom. "Think of it, fellows! By the great
horn spoon! We fell for it!"

They got themselves under control at last, though not without many
interruptions, for again and again one of them would start to speak and
go off into a peal of laughter.

"I'm as weak as a rag," gulped Billy. "I haven't laughed like this in
all my life."

"It would make a hit in vaudeville," chuckled Bart. "Think of us sillies
stalking along and going through shadow motions for a nut like that.
We're squirrel food, all right."

"Well, after all what could we do?" defended Frank. "We're not mind
readers."

"Not even of a scrambled mind like that," interposed Billy.

"And we couldn't tell that he wasn't an officer," went on Frank, not
heeding the interruption. "His uniform seemed to be all right, although
a bit gaudy."

"That gives us a way out," said Bart. "We can say that we followed the
uniform, not the man, and let it go at that. But, oh, boy! if the
fellows of our regiment had seen us trotting along behind that lunatic,
maybe they wouldn't make our life a burden."

"We'd never have heard the last of it," agreed Tom. "But what they don't
know won't hurt them, and it's a safe bet that none of us will ever let
out a squeak."

"It's lucky there wasn't any moving picture man handy," laughed Frank.
"He'd have had a film that would put all the rest out of business. But
now let's get back to the cottage after this unfortunate hike of ours."

"Say," put in Bart, as a new thought struck him, "do you think those
keepers could have caught on?"

"I don't think they tumbled," Billy reassured them. "They were too
intent on catching Napoleon to think of anything else."

"Poor Napoleon," chuckled Frank. "I suppose he's back on St. Helena by
this time."

"Well, there's one comfort, anyway," declared Tom. "He doesn't know that
he put anything over on us. If he hasn't forgotten us altogether he
thinks we're part of the Old Guard."

"They say a philosopher is one who can grin when the laugh is on
himself," laughed Billy. "If that's so we're dandy philosophers."

All too soon that pleasant week was over, and the boys, refreshed and
rested, went away, though with many a backward glance, to the stern work
where they had already won their spurs and made their mark.

They started in on their work again with renewed zest and with quickened
energy, for a battle was impending and they were anxious to take their
part in driving back the Hun.

They saw Rabig frequently, and though they all disliked him heartily, he
was still a soldier like themselves in the service of Uncle Sam, and
they strove to disguise their feeling for the good of the common cause.

"He's a bad egg, all right," declared Tom, who stuck obstinately to his
belief that Rabig had had some part in the escape of the German
corporal, "but as long as we can't prove it, we'll have to give him a
little more rope. But sooner or later he'll come to the end of that
rope, and don't you forget it!"

Nick had come out of the court-martial that investigated the escape, not
with flying colors, but with bedraggled feathers. The cut on his head
had proved so slight as to arouse suspicion that it might have been
self-inflicted. Still the motive for this did not seem adequate, and the
upshot of the inquiry was that Rabig was confined a few days in the
guardhouse and then restored to duty. But in the private books of the
officers there was a black mark against him, and all of them would have
been better pleased not to have had him in the regiment.

"Oh, well, don't let's talk about him," Frank summed up a discussion
about the bully. "The whole subject leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I
only hope he's the only rotten apple in the barrel."

"That's just the trouble'," replied Tom. "If that rotten apple isn't
taken out of the barrel a good many more may be spoiled in less than no
time."

"Sure enough," agreed Bart. "But I guess there isn't much danger in this
case. If Nick had lots of friends that he might influence it might be
different, but you notice that the fellows leave him to flock by
himself."

"He's about as popular as the hives in summertime for a fact," commented
Tom. "He'd be a mighty sight more at home if he were in the trenches on
the other side."

"Maybe so," admitted Frank.

"What are you fellows chinning about?" broke in a familiar voice, and
they turned to see Dick Lever regarding them with a friendly grin.

"Hello, Dick," came from them all at once in a roar of welcome, for it
was the first time they had seen him since he had rescued them from
their German captors, and their feelings toward him were of the warmest
nature.

"Where have you been keeping yourself?" asked Frank. "We've been looking
for you to drop in and see us for a long time past."

"As a matter of fact, I did get down this way about a week ago," replied
Dick, as he tried to shake hands with all four at once, "but the whole
bunch of you were off on furlough."

"Sorry we missed you," said Frank. "Yes, we did get a few days off, and
it didn't do us a bit of harm. We've all come back feeling the best
ever."

"Ready to take another crack at the Huns, eh?" grinned Dick. "Some
fellows never know when they have enough."

"You needn't talk," laughed Bart. "I'll bet you've been popping away at
them every day since we saw you last."

"Oh, they've kept me pretty busy," said Dick carelessly. "The Hun flyers
are getting pretty sassy just now, and we have to keep working hard to
drive them back."

"I've noticed more of them flying over our lines than usual in the last
day or two," remarked Billy.

"Say," broke in Tom, "this is sure our lucky day. Here comes Will
Stone."

"We sure are lucky when two of the best fellows in the world drop in on
us at the same time," said Frank, as he and his mates greeted the
bronzed tank operator. "I don't know whether you two fellows know each
other, but if you don't you've both lost something."

"Oh, we're not altogether strangers," smiled Stone, as he and Dick shook
hands heartily. "Many a time I've seen his plane flying overhead, and
it's made me feel rather comfortable to know that he was on the job, and
that no Boche flyer would have a chance to drop something that would put
Jumbo out of commission."

"It would have to be some bomb that would make junk of that big car of
yours," said Dick. "I was flying pretty low the day we smashed the Boche
lines and I saw the way Jumbo snapped those wires as though they were so
many threads. That tank's a wonder and no mistake."

They were having such a good time and the time flew so rapidly that they
were startled when the bugle blew and they were compelled to go to their
respective quarters.

A few nights after his return Frank was assigned to sentry duty on an
important post on the front trenches. His beat terminated at a point
where he could see a little shack that stood on the side of a hill.

Standing as it did in the battle zone; it had become little more than a
ruin. Most of the thatched roof had been shot away, one side had gone
altogether, and the other three sides leaned crazily toward each other.

It was a little after midnight when Frank thought he saw a gleam of
light either in the cabin or close by it. It was very faint, scarcely
more than the glimmer of a firefly, and it vanished instantly.

Still, it had been there. Cautiously, avoiding every twig with the
stealth of an Indian, Frank crept toward the hut.

CHAPTER XXI

A FAMILIAR VOICE

As Frank neared the cabin he redoubled his precautions, and it was here
that his scout training stood him in good stead.

When he was within twenty feet he went down flat on the earth and wormed
his way to one of the sides that had been left standing. He placed his
ear against a board and listened intently.

But not a sound rewarded him. The deepest silence reigned.

For a moment he was tempted to believe that his eyes had played a trick
on him. But they had seldom done this and he had learned to trust them.

The light could not have come from a firefly, for it was too late in the
season for them. What then had caused it?

He worked his way around to the shattered doorway and inch by inch
lifted his head until his eyes were on a level with the floor. Quickly
they swept the room, which was so small that the faint light that came
from the stars enabled him to see that it was empty.

When he was fully assured of this, he crept into the room and with his
fingers explored every inch of the floor. The apartment was so small
that this was not much of a task, and before long his hand came in
contact with a match. It had been lighted and the softness of the
charred end told him that this had been done recently.

This then was the "firefly"!

He continued his search with renewed caution and soon found a cartridge.
He knew from the feel of it that it was of the kind used in the rifles
with which the American troops were equipped. It was still warm, as
though it had been recently in a belt close to a man's body.

But what was a man doing in that lonely spot at that hour of the night?

Was he a prowling spy from the German camp who had made a daring
incursion into the American lines?

He must solve the mystery. With every faculty at its highest pitch, he
moved out into the open.

A slight rustling in the forest near by fell on his ears. It might have
been made by some woodland creature, but to his strained senses every
sound, however slight, suggested a possible clue.

He listened intently and heard it again, but this time it was a trifle
louder than before.

He rose to his feet and with catlike tread moved in the direction of the
sound. As he drew hearer he heard it more plainly. And now his patience
was rewarded, for he distinctly heard the low tone of a human voice.

And if it was a human voice it must of necessity be an enemy voice, for
no friend of his or of Uncle Sam's could be in that place at that hour
on a legitimate errand.

A moment later he detected another voice in a different key yet pitched
hardly above a whisper. So it was a conference! A conference of whom and
about what?

He crept still farther forward.

Right before him stretched a little glade full of small trees and
undergrowth with a scarcely visible path leading downward.

To press too far between the bushes would have inevitably betrayed him.
He halted with his rifle ready for action and listened.

The conversation seemed to be an earnest one and in their earnestness
the conferees at times forgot caution, for, as one of the men raised his
voice in expostulation, Frank could note that he was talking German. But
it was not that which made him start suddenly and clutch his rifle more
tightly.

He had heard that voice before.

Where and when?

He cudgeled his brain and then it came to him.

It was Nick Rabig's voice!

That is, he thought it was. But at that distance he could not be
perfectly sure. At any rate it was time to act.

With a bound he leaped forward.

"Halt!" he cried. "Halt or I fire."

There were startled exclamations from both men, and then a prodigious
scrambling in the bushes as they tried to escape.

Bang! went Frank's rifle, and there was a scream followed by a heavy
fall.

Frank rushed forward, but caught his foot in a tangled root and fell.
His gun flew from his hand and his head came in contact with a stump.
The jagged edges cut a gash in his forehead, and for a moment he was
utterly dazed.

He strove desperately to retain his senses and in a minute or two his
brain ceased to whirl. He staggered drunkenly to his rifle and picked it
up. And at this moment there was a sound of hurrying feet, and Wilson,
the corporal of the guard, came running up, accompanied by Fred Anderson
who had been on duty near by.

"What is it, Sheldon?" asked the corporal "What were you shooting at?"

Frank tried to speak, but his tongue was thick and the words would not
come."

"He's wounded!" exclaimed Anderson, as he saw with alarm the blood
flowing freely from Frank's forehead.

They deftly bound up his head, and by this time Frank had found his
voice.

"It's nothing," he managed to say. "I fell and cut my head. It's only a
scratch. I heard two men talking German here in the bushes and I started
in to get them. They wouldn't stop when I ordered them to, and I fired,
I don't know whether I got them or not."

"We'll see," said the corporal, and led the way into the bushes while
Frank and Fred followed close on his heels.

From one side to the other the corporal flashed his light, and before
long he uttered an exclamation.

"You got one of them anyway," he said, as the light fell on the dead
body of a German whose uniform showed that he belonged to the Eighth
Bavarian Regiment, which they knew was stationed opposite them at that
part of the line.

The corporal blew his whistle and other men of his squad came running in
answer to the call. He ordered them to carry the body into camp where it
could be searched for papers. Then he turned to Frank.

"You've done well, Sheldon," he said, "and I'm sorry that you were hurt.
You're relieved from duty for the rest of your watch. I'll put another
man in your place. You'd better see the surgeons and have them wash out
that cut of yours and bind it up again. Then tumble in and go to sleep.
I hope you'll be all right in the morning."

Frank did as he was directed, and after the surgeon had dressed his
wound and pronounced it not serious made his way to his bunk. He had to
pass Rabig's bunk in reaching his own and he stopped there for a moment.

The place was dark, but he could see that the bunk was occupied, and
from the snoring that arose from it the inmate seemed to be sleeping
soundly.

Had he been mistaken?

CHAPTER XXII

THE SHADOW OF TREASON

When the soldiers jumped from their bunks the next morning at the call
of the bugle Frank's comrades saw his bandaged head and they surrounded
him at once with expressions of solicitude and alarm.

"What's the matter, old man?" asked Bart anxiously.

"Don't say you're badly hurt!" exclaimed Tom.

"You look all in," said Billy. "You're as pale as a ghost."

"I'm a long way from being a ghost yet," smiled Frank, as he drew on his
clothes. "Wait till you see me tuck away the grub at breakfast. I butted
my head against a stump last night to find out which was the harder, and
the stump won."

"Stop your kidding and tell us about it," commanded Bart.

Frank told them the main features of his encounter of the night before,
but it was only after mess when he had them by themselves that he voiced
his suspicions of Rabig.

Tom gave a long whistle.

"That fellow will queer this whole outfit yet," he blurted out. "He's a
sneak and a traitor. If he had his deserts he'd be up against the firing
squad within twenty-four hours."

"Easy there, Tom," counseled Frank, looking around him, for in his
excitement Tom had raised his voice. "Remember I'm not dead sure. I
wouldn't swear to it in a court of law."

"Here comes Nick himself," remarked Bart.

"The Old Nick," growled Tom.

"Hello, Rabig," said Frank, as the former Camport bully came along.

Rabig grunted a surly "Hello" in reply, and was passing on when Billy
hailed him.

"Sleep well, last night, Rabig?" he asked carelessly.

Rabig's face flushed and a frightened look came into his eyes.

"Sure I did," he snapped. "Why shouldn't I?"

"No reason in the world," replied Billy.

"These cool nights are fine for sleeping," remarked Tom. "A little too
cool to be out in the woods, but just right for the trench."

Rabig seemed to be trying to think up a reply, but nothing came to him
and he simply stood still and glowered at them. He appeared to be
speculating. What significance was there in these apparently careless
questions? Why should they be asked at all? How much did these cordially
hated acquaintances of his really know?

"I hear that one of the Germans was killed close to our lines last
night," said Billy, shifting the attack.

"Right inside our lines," corrected Tom. "And here's the fellow who shot
him," pointing to Frank.

"Frank has nerve," drawled Billy.

Rabig shot a glare of hate that was not lost by the onlookers, who kept
their eyes steadily on his face.

"He nearly got another one, too," observed Bart. "And the funny thing
about it was that he thought he knew the fellow's voice."

This was coming too near for Rabig to pretend that he did not know what
they were driving at. He turned upon them in desperation.

"Look here," he snarled viciously. "What do you fellows mean? If you
mean that I'm mixed up in this thing you lie. Now don't you speak to me
again or I'll make you sorry for it."

Without waiting for a reply he hurried off, and the four Camport chums
looked after him with speculation in their eyes until he was lost to
view at a turn of the trench.

"He's guilty all right," declared Tom with conviction.

"If ever guilt looked out of a man's eyes they looked out of his,"
agreed Bart.

"It seems so," admitted Frank with reluctance, "and yet he was in his
bunk when I went through last night." "How do you know it was Rabig?"
Tom retorted. "Are you such a cute detective that you can tell one man's
snore from another?"

"Who else could it have been?" asked Frank. "If it was some one else,
that some one else must have been in cahoots with Rabig and agreed to
make him seem to be in his bunk. I'd hate to think that there was more
than one traitor in the regiment.

"One's more than enough," agreed Bart.

"What do you think we ought to do about it?" asked Billy.

"I don't know," replied Frank, with a worried look on his face. "It
would be a terrible thing to accuse a man wrongfully of such a thing as
treason. Rabig would simply deny it and put it up to us to prove it.
Then, too, every one knows that there's no love lost between us and
Nick, and they might think we were too ready to believe evil of him
without real proof."

"On the other hand," replied Tom, "if we let him go on, we may wake up
some time to find that Rabig has done the regiment more harm than a
German battery could do."

"We'll simply have to keep our eyes peeled," was Billy's solution of the
problem, "and watch that fellow like hawks. But if he makes one more bad
break I don't think we ought to keep silent any longer. Let's hope that
next time, if there is any next time, we'll have the goods on him so
that there can't be any denying it."

But pleasanter thoughts diverted their attention just then, for the camp
postman came into view and the boys rose with a whoop and pounced upon
their letters. And all their spare time that morning was spent in
reading and rereading the precious missives from their friends so many
thousand miles away.

Frank was poring over a letter from his mother for the tenth time when
he heard his name spoken and looked up to see Colonel Pavet, who was
passing along in the company of another officer.

He had only a moment to spare, but that moment was given to Frank, who
had risen and greeted him with a welcome as warm as his own.

"Ah, Monsieur Sheldon, letters from home, I see," he remarked. "I hope
your mother is well."

"Very well, thank you," responded Frank. "And very grateful to you,
Colonel Pavet, for the interest you have taken in her behalf and mine."

The colonel courteously waved the thanks aside.

He replied. "But you can tell Madame Sheldon that her affairs are
progressing finely, though not as rapidly as they would if it were not
for the distracted state of France. For instance, my brother André has
been trying to get a furlough for a man who was formerly a butler in the
De Latour family, and whose evidence he thinks will be most important in
establishing your mother's right. It is only with the greatest
difficulty that I have been able to bring this about, but I have
succeeded at last, and the man will go to Auvergne next week to give his
testimony. Let us hope that it will be as valuable as André thinks."

Again Frank expressed his thanks, and after a few more words they
parted.

_"Vive la France!"_ exclaimed Frank, as he saluted.

_"Vive l'Amerique!"_ returned the colonel.

CHAPTER XXIII

A HAIL OF LEAD

"It's coming," declared Tom a few days later, as the boys were getting
ready to go to mess.

"Listen to the oracle," mocked Bart.

"What's coming? Christmas?" inquired Billy.

"The big fight," replied Tom.

"Hear the general," gibed Bart.

"I've understood that Tom was General Pershing's right bower," put in
Billy.

"They say he doesn't do a thing without him," said Bart.

"It's a pity that Tom didn't live in Napoleon's time," laughed Frank.
"He'd have been a marshal sure."

"Napoleon," repeated Billy, with a faraway look in his eyes. "Where have
I heard that name before?"

The four friends laughed as the comical scene in the little French
village rose up before them.

But with all their jesting they felt as sure as Tom that a big battle
was impending. One did not have to be an officer to know that. The rank
and file could tell it just as unerringly as their superiors.

For many days past all arms of the service had been working at top
speed. Regiments and divisions had been reorganized and brought up to
their full strength. Reserves had been brought from distant portions of
the line and were massed heavily in the rear of the positions.

Raiding parties were active on both sides, as each was eager to get
prisoners and information, and scarcely a night passed without heavy
skirmishes between patrols that in former days would have risen to the
dignity of battles.

Overhead the sky was dotted with the planes of the rival forces and the
hum of the motors of the giant birds of prey was continuous. They fought
not only in single combat but in sauacfrons, and the sight of one or
more whirling down in flames was so common that it scarcely attracted
attention.

And most ominous of all, the medical service was organizing gigantic
units close to the front, in anticipation of the harvest of blood and
wounds that was so close at hand.

Yes, a battle was coming. The grim reaper was sharpening his scythe and
the watching world was waiting for the outcome in an agony of
expectation.

The forces as far as known were evenly balanced, though it was rumored
that the Germans were drawing large reserves temporarily from the
eastern front, and color was lent to this by the fact that the Swiss
frontier had been closed for a month to conceal the movement of troops.

It was not yet certain which side would make the first move. Each army
was drawn up in a strong natural position with ranges of hills behind in
the event of having to fall back.

"I hope we get in the first blow," remarked Frank, as he discussed the
question with his chums.

"So do I," agreed Bart. "You know then where you're going to strike.
This matter of fighting behind entanglements doesn't make a hit with me
at all."

"There's more of a swing and rush to it when you attack," commented
Billy. "Do you remember how it was, fellows, in that last big scrap when
we were sprinting over No Man's Land? You're so eager to get at the Huns
that you don't have time to think of danger."

But one foggy morning not long after, the German leaders settled the
matter for the Camport strategists and struck with tremendous force at
the Allied lines.

Two hours before dawn the German guns opened up with a roar that shook
the earth. The air was full of flying shells; tear shells to blind the
eyes of the Allied gunners so that they could not see to serve their
pieces; mustard shells that bit into the lungs like a consuming fire;
chlorine gas shells, with a deadly poison, to cause such agony that even
surgeons, hardened in the exercise of their profession, turned away
their faces from the writhings of the victims. Then, following these, a
storm of leaden hail, withering, searing, blasting, before which it
seemed no living thing could stand.

Crouched low in their trenches, massed line behind line, the Allied
forces bent their heads to the storm, and waited in grim fury for the
infantry attack that they knew would surely follow.

And it was not long in coming. The fog had risen by this time, and over
the fields, rank upon rank, marching at the double quick, came masses of
gray figures that seemed as endless as the waves of the sea.

The Allied artillery tore wide gaps in the dense masses, but they closed
up instantly and continued their advance. Machine guns poured thousands
of bullets into the living target, and the gunners served their pieces
again and again until they were so hot that they burned the hand.

But true to their theory of warfare, the German leaders fed their men
into the jaws of Moloch with cynical indifference. They had counted on
paying a certain price, and they were willing to pay it.

But flesh and blood has its limitations, and before that murderous fire
the ranks at last faltered.

Then from the trenches poured the Allied hosts in a fierce counter
attack, and before their resistless charge the enemy wavered and at last
broke. The gray lines melted away, and the ground, strewn with their
dead and dying, was held by the Allied forces, which swiftly organized
for the second attack, that they knew would not be long in coming.

CHAPTER XXIV

A DEED OF DARING

"We got them!" cried Bart, exultingly, as the boys worked feverishly at
the preparations to meet the new attack.

"Right between the eyes," cried Billy.

"We drew first blood, all right," agreed Frank, "but they'll come again
for more."

The prophecy was speedily realized, for again the enemy came forward,
with undiminished ardor, protected this time by a deadly barrage fire
behind which they marched with confidence. It was evident that this time
the enemy, having tested the Allied mettle and found it excellent, had
determined to place its chief reliance upon their big gun fire. And for
a time it seemed as though their confidence was justified. The barrage
fire swept the ground so completely that the Allies were forced to
abandon their hastily seized positions in the open and retreat once more
to the shelter of their trenches. But all the attacks of the German
hordes, repeated again and again, were not able to get possession of
those first line trenches, to which the Allies held with the fury of
desperation. They were manned chiefly by the American troops, although
certain units of French and English held either end of the line. Again
and again the storm broke, and again and again it was beaten back. The
Germans had massed at that portion of the line numbers many times
greater than those possessed by the defenders. By all the theories of
war they ought to have been successful, but, like the old guard at
Waterloo, the Americans might die, but would not surrender.

Yet after a while the very stubbornness of this resistance proved in
itself a danger. On the right and the left the line, though not broken,
was bent back. In this way the American position formed a salient in the
German line, and was subjected to attack not only in front, but on the
flanks. It became imperative that the line should draw back so that it
might be in keeping with the position now held by the wings.

So, after hours of sanguinary fighting, the orders came to fall back,
and the Americans, who had been standing like the army of Thomas at
Chickamauga, fifty years previous, reluctantly obeyed, and fell slowly
back to new positions, their faces always toward the foe.

"What kind of a fool stunt is this?" growled Tom, who, with his
comrades, had been in the thick of the fight. "We had it all over those
fellows, even if they were two or three times as many, and here we are
retreating, when we ought to go ahead and lick the tar out of them."
"Don't growl and complain, Tom," soothed Frank, whose left hand was
bleeding where a bullet had zipped its way across it. "They'll get the
licking all right when the time comes."

"It's good dope to give back a little sometimes," added Bart. "It's like
boxing. When a blow comes straight at your stomach you bend back and
that takes half the force away from the blow. Don't worry the least
little bit about this fight. We may be bending a little, but we're not
breaking, and before many hours we'll be standing the Heinies on their
heads."

But the promise was not fulfilled that day, and when, night came after
hours of tremendous struggle, the Allied forces had not regained their
lost ground.

As darkness fell the combat lessened, and finally ceased altogether, as
far as infantry attacks were concerned, although all through the night
the artillery kept up a fire of greater or less intensity.

The boys of the regiment to which the Camport boys belonged were in
rather a sober mood when they gathered around their field kitchens that
night and partook of the food that was served out to them. They had not
lost a gun, but they had yielded ground, and a great many of their
comrades would never again answer the roll call. But their fighting
spirit was at as high a pitch as ever, and they could scarcely wait till
the morrow to get their revenge.

Frank and his chums had come through the day unscathed, except for the
injury to Frank's hand and a mark across Billy's temple where a bullet
had ridged the skin. Perhaps it was due to the fortune that is said to
attend the brave, for they had borne themselves like heroes and had been
stationed at one of the most fiercely battered portions of the line.

"I suppose they're gloating over this in Berlin to-night," said Tom
gloomily, as they sat at the roots of a great tree whose bark and
branches had been stripped from it by a storm of shells.

"And groaning over it in New York," added Billy.

"He laughs best who laughs last," said Bart. "To-morrow's a new day.
Just watch our smoke."

"We'll eat 'em alive," prophesied Frank confidently, as he nursed his
wounded hand. "Like John Paul Jones, we've just begun to fight."

"Do you fellows remember what General Corse said one time when Sherman
asked him if he could hold out?" asked Bart.

"What was it?" asked Billy.

"He said: 'I've lost one eye and a piece of an ear, but I can lick a
brigade or two yet,'" answered Bart.

"Good old scout," approved Billy, while the boys laughed.

"Well, we're not as badly off as that yet," said Frank, "although this
hand of mine is smarting to beat the band."

"And my head is aching ready to split," added Billy. "One inch to the
left and it would have been all up with your uncle Billy."

The fighting was resumed at dawn, and again it was the Germans who
attacked. They had counted on their advantage of the day before to break
the morale of their enemies and hoped by pressure to turn the withdrawal
into a rout.

But like so many German calculations since the beginning of the war,
they had figured badly. The Allies, stung by their discomfiture of the
day before, fought like tigers. They beat the Germans back and took the
offensive in their own hands.

The Germans retreated, though staunchly contesting every foot of ground.
In the front of Frank's company the enemy had established a machine gun
nest that was particularly effective. Again and again the Americans
sought to clean them out, but were met with such a galling fire that
they lost heavily, and at last the captain decided that the guns were
not worth the price he was paying to get possession of them. Yet the
position would be of so much advantage, if captured, that he hesitated
at changing his course and choosing another line of advance.

In the litter and wreck of the field, Frank's keen eye had caught sight
of two big barrels filled with clothing for the troops. The barrels had
been dropped from a wrecked motor lorry of a supply train. Like a flash
an inspiration came to him.

He consulted a moment with Bart, whose eye lighted up as he nodded
assent. Then he stepped up to his captain and saluted.

CHAPTER XXV

STORMING THE RIDGE

"What is it, Sheldon?"

"I think I can silence those guns, sir," Frank said.

A light came into the captain's eyes.

"How?" he asked.

In a few brief words Frank described his plan.

"But it's suicide," protested the captain. "There isn't one chance in a
thousand that you'll come out alive."

"I know," said Frank. "But Raymond and I are willing to risk it if you
give the word."

The captain pondered for a moment. It was a forlorn hope, but forlorn
hopes sometimes won out.

"Go ahead," he said.

Frank nodded to Bart, and in a twinkling they had turned the big barrels
over on their sides.

Then each lay on the ground behind his barrel and began to push it
toward the enemy.

The men of their company had watched them wonderingly while they made
their preparations, and when they realized what the boys had in mind
they raised a thundering cheer that rose above the din of battle.

The crews of the two enemy machine guns looked with stupefaction at the
big barrels coming toward them. Then they woke from their trance and a
storm of bullets beat upon the barrels.

If they had been empty the bullets would have gone through and killed
the boys behind them. But they were filled with woolen clothing, which
while light enough to enable the boys to push the barrels with
comparative ease was just the thing to stop the bullets. The whizzing
missiles thudded into the clothing and there they stopped. It was on the
same basis as the sandbag which stops a cannon ball that would go
through an iron plate.

Steadily the boys kept on, pushing the barrels before them. They did not
go on hands and knees, for then they would be exposed to the enemy
bullets. It was a caterpillar motion, drawing their bodies along the
ground, and was a tremendous tax on their muscles, for they could get no
purchase.

One thing in their favor was that the ground sloped a trifle toward the
enemy position and this made the barrels roll more easily.

By this time the enemy was growing frantic at this novel method of
attack. They could not see their enemy, and they could not kill him. And
the sight of those barrels coming toward them, as inexorably as fate,
got on their nerves, already tense with the fury of the combat.

Nearer and nearer came the barrels to the guns until they were not more
than twenty feet away. Then they stopped.

The German gunners drew fresh hope from this. Had their bullets found
their mark in the bodies of their daring enemies?

But there were two very live boys behind those motionless barrels.

Frank and Bart had drawn a handful of grenades from their sacks. At a
given signal they drew back their arms and hurled them over the barrels
in quick succession.

They fell right in the midst of the machine guns. There was a tremendous
explosion that killed some of the gunners and threw the rest into wild
confusion.

"Now!" shouted Frank, and he and Bart leaped to their feet and rushed
toward the guns.

There was a wild mêlée for a moment, and then the surviving Germans
turned and ran in panic down the slope.

The boys slued the captured guns around and sent a stream of bullets
after their wildly fleeing enemies.

The rout was complete, and the next minute the whole company, that had
charged the instant the grenades were thrown, came tearing up, and there
was a scene of hilarity and enthusiasm that passed description.

"The finest thing I ever saw!" declared the captain. "You boys are the
stuff of which heroes are made."

But there was no time then to dwell on the exploit. The enemy was on the
run and they must keep him going.

And they did, so well and so thoroughly, that when the day was over they
had swept the whole ridge that had been their objective in the fight and
planted Old Glory on its highest crest. And their victory was shared by
the rest of the Allied line, who not only regained all the losses of the
day before, but swept the Germans out of their first and second lines on
a five-mile front, inflicting on them a defeat which they were long to
remember.

And how the lesson that the Germans learned that day was repeated later
on will be told in the next book of this series, entitled: "Army Boys on
the Firing Line; Or, Holding Back the German Drive."

Not but what the victory had cost the Americans dearly. Every regiment
engaged had its own long list of killed and wounded.

"Poor old Fred," said Frank, referring to Anderson. "His right arm was
badly shattered and I'm afraid he may lose it."

"Fred is playing in hard luck," returned Bart. "That's twice he's been
wounded. Remember the night down at the old mill when the bomb got his
leg?"

"He's having more than his share," agreed Billy.

"There's Wilson, too," said Bart. "He's been in the thick of it all day,
but he went down with a bullet in his shoulder just as we got to the top
of the ridge."

"The corp certainly fought like a tiger," said Tom. "But he's worth a
dozen dead men yet. A month in the hospital will fix him up all right, I
hope."

"There's one good thing anyway," pat in Billy. "The Huns haven't taken
many of our boys prisoners."

"And we've got more of their men than we know what to do with," exulted
Frank.

"I know what I'd do with them," said Tom. "I'd send them to America to
be imprisoned there and I'd put a bunch of them on every transport that
sailed to the other side."

"That wouldn't be a bad stunt," agreed Bart. "Then if a submarine sank
the ship it would carry a lot of their own people down to Davy Jones."

Among the missing was one whose loss did not greatly grieve the boys of
the old Thirty-seventh. Nick Rabig did not answer to his name when the
roll was called. They did not find his body on the field, nor was he
among the wounded that were brought in and tenderly cared for in the
hospitals.

"I see Nick is missing," remarked Frank to Bart later in the evening, as
they were resting and rejoicing over the victory.

"Missing but not missed," put in the implacable Tom.

"If the Huns have got him, he'll feel more at home than he ever felt
with us," remarked Bart.

"Maybe he was captured against his will," said Tom, "and then again
_maybe_--"

"What do you suppose they'll say in Camport when they hear of this day's
work, fellows?" asked Billy.

"Oh," answered Frank with a laugh, "they'll only say: 'It's nothing more
than we expected.'"

"They know us, don't they?"

"Of course they do," broke in Tom. "We came to France to do our duty as
American citizens, as well as soldiers."

"I wonder how long it will be before this war is over and we start for
home?" came from Frank.

"Not tired of the game yet, are you?" quizzed Billy, quickly.

"Do I look as if I was tired of it?" was the counter-question.

"We are all going to stay over here until the Huns are licked good and
proper!" burst cut Bart. "There is no use in stopping while the job is
only half finished."

"Just you wait until Uncle Sam has a lot of men over here," put in
Billy. "Then we'll show those Huns what's what and don't you forget it!
We'll wallop them so thoroughly they'll be getting down on their knees
yelling for mercy."

"Now you've said something!" came in a chorus from the others.

And here let us say good-bye to the Army Boys.

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