Part 2 out of 4
neither doubted that they were French.
But they were doomed to disappointment.
As the machine sped closer, Hal suddenly applied the brakes and uttered
an exclamation of dismay.
"What's the matter?" demanded Chester.
"Matter!" echoed Hal. "Why, we have run right into a nest of Germans!"
It was only too true. The troops whom they were now approaching were the
enemy, and both lads realized in an instant that they must be surrounded
by Germans on all sides. In the darkness they had penetrated through the
rear line, and now were in the very midst of their foes.
Hal thought quickly. So far they had not been perceived. Two men in
civilian clothes were approaching afoot, and as they came up to them Hal
crawled under the machine and began to tinker with it. The men came
closer and stopped to watch.
Suddenly Hal crawled from under the car, and, as the men cried out in
surprise at the sight of his British uniform, he covered both of them
with a pair of revolvers.
"Silence!" he cried, "or you are dead men." He spoke to Chester over
his shoulder. "We'll have to go straight though the line," he said,
"and we can't do it with these uniforms. We'll have to exchange with
In vain did their prisoners protest. Hal kept the two covered while
Chester stripped himself of his own garments and climbed into those one
of the prisoners passed to him. Then Chester covered the men while Hal
made a change and transferred the document given him by General French to
the pocket of his new coat. Then they bound and gagged the two men and
tumbled them into the ditch at the side of the road.
"So far so good," said Hal. "Now, if we simply act unconcerned, we
should have no difficulty in going through the lines. It's when we make
a dash for the other side that the trouble is likely to come; but we
must chance that."
"All right," said Chester, "let's move."
They started off slowly down the road and within the hour were in the
town of Caronne, held by the Germans, but a few miles from the northern
bank of the river Aisne. Here they left the machine to avoid attracting
They lost no time, and made their way through the town as swiftly as
possible. They walked along boldly, and near the outskirts, coming upon a
little restaurant Chester suggested a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Hal
assented and they entered the door.
They took seats at an improvised counter and soon were engaged in the
pleasant occupation of satisfying their appetites. A German officer, who
had been eating in the rear of the restaurant, passed them on his way
out, and, as he did so, he cast a quick look at Chester, and turned back
"Haven't I seen you some place before?" he asked, tapping the lad on
The lad turned and glanced at him sharply, and his heart leaped into his
throat. He recognized the officer in a moment. He was the man with whom
Hal had fought in a farmhouse near Liege in the earlier days of the war,
the man who, mistaking Chester for Hal, had spared the former's life when
he was sentenced to death by a band of conspirators in Louvain, and from
whom the lad had escaped in time to warn the Belgian commander of the
plot to deliver the town into the hands of the Germans.
"I don't seem to remember you," said Chester, replying to the
The officer looked at him long and searchingly. Chester returned the gaze
without flinching, and finally the German, evidently satisfied that he
had made a mistake, bowed and turned to leave. Chester drew a quick
breath of relief as the officer stepped from the door.
"Do you know who that was," he whispered to Hal, who, although he had
said no word, had been greatly surprised by the conversation between his
friend and the German officer.
"No," he replied. "Who is he?"
"That," replied Chester, "is the German whom you disarmed in Edna
Johnson's home and whose life you spared."
"Is that so?"
"Yes; and it's lucky he didn't recognize us."
"I should say it is. Well, let's be moving."
The two lads left the restaurant and started on their journey again.
They had not gone a block, however, when they halted at a sudden hail
from behind them. Turning suddenly they saw the German officer hurrying
"I can't get you off my mind," he said to Chester, as he came up. "I am
positive that I have seen you some place, but for the life of me I can't
"Well, you have the advantage of me," replied the lad, his hand seeking
his pocket and resting on the butt of one of his revolvers.
The two lads started to move on again, and at that moment the German
"I have it! You are the lad who invaded our secret council in Louvain!"
Chester did not take the trouble to deny it, but as the German's hand
went to his hip he said quietly:
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
His revolver gleamed in his hand as he spoke, and he took a step
forward. The German moved back a pace, but he made no further move to
draw his weapon.
"Now that you have recognized me," continued Chester, "I would advise you
to come along with us. We can't afford to let you go back and set up an
alarm, you know. I don't want to shoot you, for I remember that I owe my
life to you. Walk on ahead of us, now!"
He emphasized this last sentence with a flourish of his revolver, and
the German, realizing that a refusal to obey might possibly spell
"Sorry I didn't place you at once," he exclaimed. "Then I guess we would
be going the other way."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Hal broke in. "We usually go the way
we want to."
Half a block farther on Hal perceived a body of German troops moving
"Step in between us," he commanded the prisoner.
The latter obeyed without remonstrance.
"One false move and you are a dead man, no matter what happens to us,"
said Chester quietly.
The prisoner recognized by the lad's tone that he was in earnest, and he
would have passed right on, but an officer with the approaching troop
walked directly up to him and saluted.
At the same moment he felt the pressure of Chester's automatic, which the
lad gripped inside his pocket, against his back.
ON THE AISNE.
The prisoner was in a quandary. To raise a cry of warning, he felt
sure, would mean his instant death; and yet, should he remain silent if
he was asked any questions concerning his companions he might also get
"Good evening, Captain," said the officer who had accosted him. "Are you
The pressure of the revolver against the German's back increased, and
"I am accompanying my friends to the bank of the Aisne. They wish to have
a look at the enemy on the opposite shore."
"You might invite them to go with us when we cross the next time," was
the laughing rejoinder. "When we cross again we shall stay."
The prisoner also forced a laugh.
"I am likely to go across sooner than I expect," he said.
"What do you mean?" demanded the other. "Are you going on a scout?"
"Well, you might call it that. Anyway, I am going across."
Both lads were forced to smile to themselves at this. In their minds
there was no doubt that the prisoner was going across the Aisne at once.
"Well, I wish you luck," said the second German officer, as he continued
on his way.
"Thanks," replied the prisoner briefly.
The lads, with the man still between them, started on again.
After some walking they made out in the distance a stream of water.
It was the Aisne, and the lads, realizing that upon the opposite side lay
safety, increased their pace.
Some distance back, on both sides of the stream, the opposing armies
were drawn up in force. Occasional raids had been made by first one side
and then the other, but there had been no real change in the situation
for days. Now the French, by a bold assault or a night attack, would
gain a foothold upon the German side, only to be driven back again; and
now the Germans would gain a foothold on the French ground by a bold
attack, but would also be forced to retire. This give-and-take game had
continued for weeks.
Feeling secure in the company of their prisoner the lads did not
hesitate, but marched straight through the German line to the very edge
of the river. The German officer spoke to several others, as they made
their way along, but Chester kept his revolver pressed against him, and
he did not once offer to raise an alarm.
The three descended the sharp incline to the water's edge. There they
were fortunate enough to find a small motor boat, apparently having
suffered much usage by the Germans in their travels forward and backward
across the river. Into this they forced their prisoner to climb, and then
quickly jumped in after him.
"Head down the river, Chester," ordered Hal. "If we put off straight
for the opposite shore they are likely to suspect something and open
fire on us."
Chester, at the wheel, guided the boat down the stream, keeping close to
the German shore.
But this plan also was fraught with danger, for a French sentry on the
opposite side, espying the boat, opened upon it with his rifle.
The first shot attracted others to the scene, and several more rifles
were brought into action. The Germans, seeing the boat with a German
officer and apparently two friends in it, immediately opened upon the
French. The latter turned from the boat and opened upon these new foes.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Hal. "This is more than I bargained for. We'll
have to get out of here, or we shall wind up at the bottom of the river."
Seeing that the French and Germans were too busy with each other to pay
much attention to the little boat, Chester steered quickly to the center
of the river. There, as the bullets sped overhead, he felt safer.
Turning to view the scene, Hal for a moment relaxed his vigilance over
the prisoner, and in that moment the latter sprang upon him. He launched
himself in a desperate spring, and Hal, taken unprepared, was borne back
to the bottom of the boat, almost being hurled overboard.
Chester immediately released his hold upon the wheel and sprang to Hal's
The boat, now with no guiding hand upon the wheel, staggered crazily
about, heading first in one direction and then in the other, as the
struggling figures gave it impetus, first toward one shore and then
toward the other.
As the boat heeled over, Chester hurled himself upon the German, who had
succeeded in clutching Hal by the throat and was slowly strangling him.
He seized the German by both shoulders, and, putting his knee in his
back, pulled with all his strength.
The pain was unbearable, and the man was forced to loosen his grip on
Hal's throat. But so fierce had been the pressure of his fingers, that
for a moment Hal was unable to go to Chester's assistance, and lay
panting and gasping for air.
The German, who was much larger and more powerfully built than Chester,
turned upon his second opponent. By a quick shift of position, he grasped
the lad's throat with his left hand and with his right aimed a hard blow
at his face. This the lad struck up with his left arm, and before the
German could repeat the blow, let drive with his right.
There was a loud smack, as his right first crashed into his opponent's
face, and a stream of blood poured from the German's nose. Hal now had
regained his wind, and jumped to aid his chum.
All this time the battle between the two skirmish lines of the armies
continued. Both sides had perceived the struggle in the boat, but both
were fearful to fire for fear of wounding friend as well as foe--for the
very fact of the struggle proved that there were men of both armies in
the boat. Gradually the fire of both sides slackened, as the troops
peered intently toward the fighting figures in midstream.
The lads' prisoner, raising his left arm to ward off a blow delivered by
Chester, accidentally caught the lad under the chin with his fist. The
blow was a hard one, and, before the lad could recover his balance, the
prisoner had delivered another resounding smack, which caused Chester to
At that moment Hal leaped upon the German from behind. His right fist
struck the man a stunning blow on the back of the neck. The German
wheeled and clinched with his opponent, and for a moment they stood, arms
locked about each other, swaying upright in the boat.
Then Hal, putting forth every ounce of his strength, succeeded in
breaking his opponent's hold, and gave him a violent push. The German
staggered and tottered; but, in the very act of falling overboard, his
outstretched hand grasped Hal by the collar and both tumbled into the
Chester scrambled to his feet as the two pitched into the river. As they
went over the side, violently tipping the boat, it suddenly turned
turtle. Chester went flying through the air and disappeared beneath the
water with a loud splash.
Still locked in each other's embrace Hal and his opponent rose to the
surface. Both had one arm free and struck out blindly at the other's
face. Hal landed two short-arm blows, and the German sent one home.
Neither had an advantage, however, and they sank again.
At almost the same instant Chester's head appeared above the water. He
cast a quick look around, but could see no sign of the other two
occupants of the boat. Treading water, he remained close to the spot
where the water bubbled up. Two or three seconds later the heads of the
struggling pair again appeared above the water.
Chester acted promptly. Swimming rapidly up to them, he raised his right
arm and sent his fist crashing full into the German's face. The latter's
already white countenance turned whiter, and gradually his hold on Hal
relaxed. With a quick movement Hal freed himself, and the German sank
Without waiting to see whether he would come up again both lads struck
out for the opposite shore.
But they were too late.
When the little motorboat had capsized, four French soldiers had run down
to the bank and thrown themselves into the stream. Almost at the same
time a squad of perhaps a dozen Germans had performed the same maneuver.
Now, from both sides of the river, men were closing in upon the almost
But the Germans were the best swimmers and overtook them first. One
grasped Hal by the arm and another seized Chester. In vain did the lads
try to shake off these opponents, striking out blindly at them, and
calling to the French to hurry to their assistance.
In spite of the superior numbers of the enemy the French swam rapidly
toward them. The first to arrive struck the man that grasped Hal a
stunning blow. Immediately the lad felt his arm freed, but it was
immediately grasped again by a second German, who held on while his
comrades swam on to drive back the French.
Knives were drawn and the battle in the water continued with desperation.
The four Frenchmen gave a good account of themselves, and two German
soldiers disappeared beneath the water to come to the surface no more.
But the weight of numbers told at last; and, when two of the French had
been severely wounded, the other two, realizing the futility of further
fighting in the face of overwhelming odds, drew off, and, supporting
their wounded companions, returned to the far shore.
Hal and Chester had put forth their best efforts to free themselves from
the hands of their captors, but in spite of their frantic struggles,
they were overpowered and were soon dragged back to the bank on the
A German trooper had dived beneath the water and succeeded in grasping
the collar of the boys' late prisoner and dragging him to shore, where
several men were now at work trying to restore him to consciousness.
The men who had captured the boys stopped to watch this operation. Soon
the German began to gasp for breath, and ten minutes later he was able to
sit up and look about. His gaze rested on the two lads.
He was a pitiful-looking object, but in spite of this the lads were
forced to smile as he glanced at them. The man arose and approached them,
leaning heavily upon the arm of a brother officer.
"So you didn't get away after all?" he said.
"No," said Hal quietly, "we are still here."
"And here you'll stay, if I have anything to do with it," was the
response. "You are tough customers, and no mistake, but I guess there are
enough here to keep you quiet now."
The German officer turned to his fellow-officer.
"I'll take charge of them," he said quietly. "Give me a couple of dry
guns; mine are no good."
The other did as requested, and, pointing his two weapons at the lads,
the German ordered:
A BREAK FOR LIBERTY.
Chilled to the bone by their cold swim the boys marched along with
chattering teeth. Their clothes froze to them until they were stiff, and
the lads moved with difficulty.
"Where are you taking us?" asked Hal, shaking with cold.
"To my quarters right now," was the reply, "where I shall let you warm up
a bit before taking you before General Steinbach."
It was a long walk to the quarters of Captain Eberhardt, for as such the
captain later gave his name, and when they reached there both lads were
blue with cold.
Captain Eberhardt's condition was just as bad, and once inside the hut
all three shed their frozen garments and drew close to the fire. Here
they thawed out quickly, and the German officer motioned them to seats.
"You are both brave lads, as I learned a long time ago," he said, "and it
pains me that I must turn you over to my commanding officer. I bear you
no grudge for anything you have done against me, and if I could do
otherwise I would. But my duty is clear. The necessity of war demands
that you be tried by court-martial."
"Tried by court-martial!" exclaimed Chester. "What for?"
"You were found within our lines in civilian clothes. Had you been in
uniform you would have been treated as prisoners of war. As it is--"
The captain broke off and shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"True," said Hal quietly. "I forgot."
"So we are to be shot as spies, eh?" said Chester.
"I am sorry," replied Captain Eberhardt. "I will speak a word for you,
but I doubt if it will do any good."
"Thanks," said Hal.
They sat about the little fire for several hours, when the German
officer, arising, said:
"Well, whenever you are ready I shall conduct you before General
"We are ready any time," replied Chester.
The lads followed the captain from the tent, and at last stood before the
German commander. Here Captain Eberhardt briefly explained the details of
"And you say they were in civilian attire?" asked the general.
"Then they shall be given a trial, but unless they can show good reason
for their actions they will be shot."
"But, General," said the captain, "I have told you that they wore
civilian attire simply to get through our lines. I can vouch for the fact
that they are not spies."
"You can make your statement before the trial board, sir," replied the
commander briefly. "I may as well say, however, that I do not believe you
will be able to do them much good. You know our rules are ironclad."
The lads returned to Captain Eberhardt's tent, the general ordering
him to guard them until they should appear for trial early the
"I am afraid I cannot be of much help to you," said the captain. "I
"Never mind," replied Hal. "We are grateful for what you have done for
us. Of course we know that you are governed by a sense of duty in
capturing us, and we would have been forced to do the same had we been in
"I am glad to have you say that. However, I shall do what I can for you."
An hour later all turned in and soon were fast asleep.
Hal had been asleep for perhaps three hours when he was suddenly
awakened. Glancing up quickly he was surprised to see Chester standing
over the sleeping figure of Captain Eberhardt. His arms were free and he
had untied his legs.
Just before the three had turned in Captain Eberhardt, with an apology
for the necessity of his actions, had bound them. Chester, after sleeping
for perhaps an hour, had roused up, and, by holding his hands over the
blaze, had loosened the knot that bound them. Then quickly untying his
feet, he had relieved the German officer of his weapons, and in turn had
bound and gagged him. He was just approaching Hal when the latter awoke
and saw him.
To untie his chum was the work of a moment. Then the boys, in low tones,
talked over what was best to be done.
"There is no use staying here," said Hal. "Every moment brings us that
much nearer death."
"Right," agreed Chester. "Therefore, to my way of thinking, the sooner we
make a start the better."
Without further delay the lads stepped cautiously from the hut. Keeping
out of the glare of the small fires on the outside they stole away in
At the far end of the camp, toward the river, they came upon a troop of
horses picketed. Silently Hal crept forward, and with his penknife
slashed the ropes with which two of the horses were tied. Leading the
animals quietly some distance away, he gave the bridle of one to Chester.
Quickly both lads leaped to the saddles.
Chester now passed one of the weapons he had taken from Captain Eberhardt
to Hal, and, grasping a bridle in one hand and a revolver in the other,
the lads urged their mounts silently forward.
They passed close to several bodies of moving troops, but were not
Hal rode his horse close alongside of Chester.
"We had better bear off to the east or west," he said. "We may not have
so much difficulty in getting across the river there."
"Right," Chester agreed. "They will probably be keeping a careful watch
along here, as the result of to-day's doings."
The lads turned their horses' heads to the right, and headed in a
direction that eventually would bear them to Coucy, on the French side of
the Aisne, should they be able to get through the German line.
Consequently they did not approach the river bank for upward of
Perhaps a mile from the river the lads came upon thousands of sleeping
men, housed in little tents. Here and there sentries flitted about in the
dark and campfires blazed merrily.
Keeping their horses well out of the glare of the fires, and going very
slowly, so as to make no sound, they drew nearer and nearer to the river.
The Germans were some distance back from the water's edge, to escape the
danger of being bombarded by the heavy guns of the French during the
night, and consequently there was quite an open space between the river
and the most advanced German outpost.
Their horses made no sound, and they crept between the sleeping
thousands, evading, by careful vigilance, the eyes of the enemy's
At last they were beyond the German line. Urging their mounts on with low
words, they at length reached the edge of the little stream.
Without a moment's hesitation they forced the animals into the icy water,
and the big German chargers, after shivering once or twice, struck out
for the opposite shore.
The water was bitterly cold, and the lads drew themselves out as much as
possible, holding their arms aloft, weapons in hand, that they might keep
the revolvers dry.
There was no sound from the German side of the river until they were in
midstream. Then one German sentry, chancing to cast his eye over the
distant water, made out the two forms in the moonlight.
Instantly he brought his rifle to his shoulder and fired.
But the distance was too great for accurate shooting and he missed. At
the sound of the shot the lads urged their horses to even greater
efforts, and soon were upon the opposite shore, in comparative safety.
"Well, we are over here at last," said Chester gleefully, in spite of the
fact that he was shaking with the cold.
"Right," said Hal; "and the thing to do now is to find a fire before we
freeze to death."
They rode forward.
Suddenly in the moonlight a squad of armed men sprang up before them as
though by magic.
"Halt!" rang out a command.
The lads drew up their horses and raised their hands above their heads.
"Who are you?" came a voice.
"British officers," replied Hal, "on our way to Soissons with a dispatch
for General Joffre."
"Advance!" came the command, and the two lads obeyed.
An officer approached and looked at them closely. At sight of their
civilian clothes he stepped back.
"How do I know you are British officers?" he asked.
"Because I say so," replied Hal angrily. "Take us to your commanding
officer at once. We have just come across the river. Do you want us to
freeze to death here in the cold?"
"But he was not to be disturbed," replied the officer hesitatingly.
"Well, you lead us to his tent and we'll do the disturbing," said Chester
gruffly. "Hurry up, man."
Without further words the young officer motioned for the lads to follow
him, and, dismounting, they did so. At the entrance of a rather large
tent the officer halted.
"I don't like to disturb him," he said, "but--"
"We might possibly be German spies," said Chester, "so you had better
arouse him at once--unless you want to take the responsibility upon
yourself and find us quarters for the night."
"Oh, I couldn't do that," was the quick reply.
"Well, then, get your commanding officer out here immediately," ordered
Hal. "We are officers of General French's staff, and we are entitled to
some consideration, if we have to fight for it."
The French officer finally entered the tent, and returned a few moments
later followed by the officer in command of the outpost. To him the lads
explained the mission and recent difficulties, and the officer soon had
them fixed up with comfortable quarters, where, safe once more and
perfectly easy in their minds, they turned in for the night, and soon
were sleeping the sleep of the exhausted.
On the opposite shore the German camp was in confusion. The escape of the
prisoners had been discovered, and Captain Eberhardt, held responsible
for his prisoners' disappearance, was under arrest.
A NOBLE SACRIFICE.
"You say Captain Eberhardt is to be shot? What for?" demanded Hal.
"For allowing his prisoners to escape," was the reply of the German
soldier, captured the following morning by a squad of French troopers,
who had picked him up on their side of the river, where he had been on
The conversation was taking place in the tent of the French officer in
charge of the outpost. Questioned upon various topics the German had
volunteered the information that Captain Eberhardt, from whom Hal and
Chester had escaped the night before, was to be put to death.
"Tell us more about it," said Chester.
"Well, there isn't much to tell," said the soldier. "During the night a
shot gave notice of the escape of two prisoners. General Steinbach,
suspecting the cause of the shot, went himself to Captain Eberhardt's
tent. There he found the captain bound and gagged. He immediately ordered
him put under arrest, and commanded that he be executed at noon to-day
for allowing the prisoners to get away. That is all there is about it."
Chester quickly drew his watch from his pocket and glanced at it.
"Nine o'clock," he said; "plenty of time."
"Plenty of time for what?" asked Hal in surprise.
"Why, plenty of time to save Captain Eberhardt."
"What have you got on your mind now?" demanded Hal, grasping his friend
by the arm. "How do you figure you are going to save him?"
"Go back across the river," said Chester briefly.
"Exactly. Didn't Captain Eberhardt put himself out attempting to save us?
He interceded for us, didn't he?"
"Well, then, it is our fault that he is to be executed."
"I know all that," said Hal; "but, if we go back to intercede for him, we
shall probably be shot in his stead."
"That's a chance we must take," said Chester briefly.
"Well," said Hal slowly, after some hesitation, "I don't know but you
"Of course I'm right," declared Chester. "We can't stand by and have a
man shot because of us."
He turned to the French officer, who stood by with wide-open mouth while
this conversation progressed.
"Can you furnish us with a couple of French uniforms?" he asked.
"Why, yes," was the reply, "but I--"
"Never mind the rest of it," Chester broke in, "we haven't much time."
The officer said no more, but quickly left the tent, returning in a few
moments with two uniforms, which he gave the lads.
"What's the object in changing clothes?" asked Hal.
"It may help a bit," replied Chester. "If we went back in civilian attire
we would undoubtedly be shot."
"I don't see that changing now will help matters," said Hal.
"Well, I hardly think so, either; but it may."
Attired in the uniforms of French lieutenants, the boys were at last
ready to go; but, before leaving, Hal drew the dispatch he carried and
put it into the hands of the French officer, saying:
"Will you have this forwarded to General Joffre at once?"
"It shall be done," was the reply. "I shall attend to it immediately."
"I guess that's all, then," said Chester. "Good-by."
The French officer shook hands with them warmly.
"You are brave," he said simply, as the lads left him.
On the river they found a small rowboat. Into this they climbed hurriedly
and set out for the opposite shore. Halfway across a bullet from the
rifle of a German sentry greeted them. Chester immediately dropped his
oars, and, standing erect in the boat, waved his handkerchief.
There was no further shooting.
On the opposite side of the river a squad of German troops, commanded by
a sergeant, awaited them when they landed. Chester approached the
sergeant, and said:
"Take us to General Steinbach at once."
"What for?" inquired the sergeant.
"That," said Hal quietly, "is none of your business."
"Is that so?" blustered the sergeant. "If you get too gay, I shall have
you clapped in irons and kept right here."
"I'll guarantee that you shall lose your stripes if you do,"
The German sergeant looked at him long and searchingly. Something in the
lad's face must have impressed him, for he said gruffly:
"I'll take you to the general, but I warn you that your business with him
must be urgent."
"It is," replied Chester, and once more he glanced at his watch.
It was now after eleven o'clock.
"Great Scott!" cried Chester, "if we don't hurry we are likely to be
Realizing that the lads--for some reason unknown to him--were in
great haste, the sergeant, in spite of his recent gruffness, hurried
It was a considerable distance to the German commander's headquarters,
and Chester became nervous as the minutes flew by. Half past eleven came,
and a quarter to twelve, and at last they came in sight of General
They approached rapidly, and the sergeant inquired for the general.
"He has gone to witness the execution," was the reply.
"Where is the execution to take place?" asked Chester, stepping forward.
The German soldier pointed over his shoulder.
"Nice place for an execution back there," he said. "Plenty of trees, so
the sun won't interfere with the aim of the executioners. I am waiting
now to hear the pop of the rifles."
Chester darted hurriedly forward.
"Come on!" he cried to Hal.
Hal dashed after his friend. Neither heeded the frantic cries of the
sergeant, who called on them to halt.
It was now four minutes to twelve, but in less than that time the
lads, Chester in the lead, came upon the scene of the execution. Their
eyes took in the situation at one brief glance, and Chester hurled
Standing firmly erect, with his face to the west, was Captain Eberhardt.
Facing him, with grounded rifles, were six soldiers. These made up the
firing squad who were to snuff out the life of the German captain.
Right between these men and their victim Chester and Hal dashed.
There came a startled cry as the Germans made out the French uniforms in
which the lads were dressed, and an exclamation of alarm broke out.
"The French!" came the cry.
The Germans turned quickly in the direction from which the lads had come,
evidently expecting to see more of the enemy. Then General Steinbach,
realizing that he only had two of the enemy to dispose of, raised a hand
The rifles of the Germans came to their shoulders, but before they could
fire Chester stepped quickly toward the general and raised his hand.
With a quick command the general stayed the fire of the soldiers, and
advanced to hear what the lad had to say. In their French uniforms, he
had not recognized Hal and Chester as Captain Eberhardt's erstwhile
"What is it?" he demanded sharply.
"This execution must not proceed," said Chester.
The general took a step back.
"And why not?" he asked.
"Because," said Chester, "Captain Eberhardt in no way aided the
prisoners to escape. It was through no fault of his that they were able
to get away."
"How do you know this?" asked General Steinbach. "Who are you?"
"We are the prisoners," replied Chester quietly.
"What!" exclaimed the general, starting back.
"Yes," said Hal, "we are the prisoners."
It did not take the German commander long to recover his poise, and he
advanced toward the lads.
"I thought you had made good your escape," he said. "I was told that you
had made you way into the French lines during the night."
"We did, sir," said Chester.
"Then how comes it that you are back here?"
"We learned from a prisoner this morning that Captain Eberhardt was to be
shot because we escaped," said Chester, "so we came back to help him if
"Do you mean to tell me," exclaimed General Steinbach, "that you risked
your lives to save that of an enemy?"
"He interceded for us," said Hal quietly, "and it was because of us that
he was sentenced to be shot. It was no more than right for us to save him
if we could."
The general looked at them in undisguised amazement.
"_Himmel_!" he exclaimed, and added beneath his breath: "No wonder we are
having such trouble disposing of these English!"
"We hope, sir," said Hal, walking up to the German commander, "that you
will see fit to stay the execution."
"In that event, you will have to consider yourselves prisoners and stand
trial as spies," was the reply.
The lads bowed their heads in assent.
The general threw wide his arms in a sudden gesture.
"Captain Eberhardt shall go free," he said.
He turned, and with a word, dismissed the firing squad.
Captain Eberhardt approached the lads and grasped each by the hand before
the very eyes of the general.
"I can never thank you half enough," he said, and there were tears
in his eyes.
"Oh, that's all right," said Chester. "We couldn't do less."
General Steinbach turned upon Hal and Chester.
"Such bravery as you have exhibited," he said quietly, "is not often
seen. You are prisoners, but you have my word that you shall not even be
tried as spies. You shall be treated as prisoners, and sent back to
Berlin until the war is over."
Hal twisted his face into a wry expression.
"Back to Berlin!" he exclaimed in the deepest disgust, "where have I
heard that expression before?"
STUBBS TO THE RESCUE.
Chester also uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"That phrase is certainly getting to be monotonous," he said. "It
seems that every time we turn around somebody talks of sending us back
"Well, they won't get me back there if I can help it," said Hal.
"Nor me, either," agreed Chester.
General Steinbach now spoke again.
"You will not be sent back before to-morrow," he said; "in the
meantime, if you will give me your paroles, I shall be glad to have you
as my guests."
Chester glanced quickly at Hal, and the latter nodded his head
"We are sorry, sir," said Chester, "but we cannot give our paroles."
The general hesitated for a brief moment.
"Oh, well," he said, "I don't know as it makes any difference. There
is no chance of your escaping again. I shall be pleased to have you
lunch with me."
The lads accepted this invitation gladly, for both were very hungry, and
they knew from past experiences that the Kaiser treated his officers to
the best that was to be obtained in the line of food.
They accompanied General Steinbach to his quarters, where they soon sat
down to a substantial meal. The meal over, the German commander walked
with them to the outside, and asked them if they would care to have a
look about. Both lads agreed that they would and the general detailed an
officer to show them around.
"I hardly believe you will be able to reveal what you may see," he said
with a smile, as he left them, "for within a few days you will be safe
"I wish he wouldn't harp on Berlin so much," said Chester. "I don't like
the name of that place."
After an hour's stroll the lads were conducted to a tent at the northern
extremity of the German lines, where they were placed under guard. They
had the tent to themselves, but guards were stationed upon the outside.
All the rest of the afternoon they sat there talking over the situation
and trying to hit upon some plan of escape; but no feasible scheme
occurred to either.
Night came and food was brought them. The lads did not turn in early, for
they were in no mood for sleep. Well into the night they sat up talking.
In the midst of the conversation Hal became conscious of the fact that an
object of some kind was trying to crawl under the tent from the outside.
Silently he called Chester's attention to the spot where the canvas was
being tampered with.
Presently a head appeared beneath the rear of the tent, followed by a
man's head and shoulders. His face was not turned toward the lads, so
they did not recognize him; but they did not move from their chairs.
Now the apparition succeeded in drawing his legs within the tent, and,
rising to his feet, turned toward them. In spite of their surprise,
however, the boys were too cool to exclaim aloud, but both muttered
beneath their breath:
The newcomer was indeed the little American war correspondent.
He laid a cautious finger to his lips and came toward them. Both lads
arose and silently took him by the hand.
"I've come to get you out," whispered Stubbs.
"How did you get here?" asked Hal in a low voice.
"I have been here for two days," was the reply. "I came before you did,
and when I told the German commander I was an American war correspondent,
he was glad to see me. You know the Kaiser is seeking the moral sympathy
of the United States. When I told General Steinbach that I was here to
get the German side of the war he treated me royally. He presented me
with a pass giving me the freedom of the German lines and has taken the
trouble to show me about a bit himself."
"You certainly must have made a hit with him," said Chester.
"Leave that to Stubbs," was the little man's reply. "Now, the thing is,
to get you out of here."
"But how did you know we were here?" asked Hal.
"I was a silent witness of the scene at the place of execution," he said.
"Since that time I have been following you. When I saw you placed in this
tent I disappeared, for I didn't want to be seen hanging about the
prisoners. I knew you would be here till morning, so I waited till dark
to come to you."
"Have you a plan?" asked Chester.
"A newspaper man always has a plan," was the reply.
He went to the place where he had come under the tent and, reaching out
a hand, pulled a bundle in after him. This he brought over to the lads
The lads bent over it eagerly and started back in surprise when they saw
what it contained.
"Women's clothes!" exclaimed Hal in a low voice.
Stubbs smiled complacently.
"They were the best I could obtain upon short notice," he explained.
"Then, too, I believe they will be better disguises than anything else."
"We'll make a couple of fine-looking girls," said Hal in disgust.
"Oh, I don't know," replied Stubbs. "I guess you will look a heap better
than some I have seen hereabouts."
"But I don't know anything about women's clothes," protested Hal.
"Nor I," said Chester, "except I know that if you don't walk just so you
might as well tell everybody you are not a woman."
"That would be true in New York, but not here," said Stubbs. "Some of
these French peasant women walk just like a man, so you won't have any
trouble on that score. The main thing is to see if they fit."
"Well, the easiest way to tell that is to try 'em on," said Chester.
He took a faded blue dress from the bundle, and, holding it in two hands,
thrust one foot into it.
"Here, here, that's not the way to get into it," exclaimed Stubbs.
Chester looked at him in surprise.
"How else can you get into it?" he demanded.
"Put it over your head," whispered Stubbs. "You see," he explained, "I am
a married man and I know something about such things."
Chester tried again, and, obeying Stubbs's injunction, found that the
dress slipped on more easily. He fastened it around his waist.
"Pretty good fit, isn't it?" he asked.
"Well, it's not so awfully good," replied Stubbs, concealing a grin, "but
I guess it will answer the purpose. Now throw that shawl over your head
and you'll be fixed."
Hal, by this time, had climbed into the second costume, and now
"Hold on a minute," said Stubbs. "You'll have to roll up your trousers'
legs, or a puff of wind is likely to come along and give you away."
Both lads obeyed this injunction.
"That's better," said the war correspondent, after eying them critically.
"Now, let's see if there is anything else."
He stood back a few paces and surveyed them carefully.
"How do we look?" asked Hal.
"It would be a shame to tell you," said Stubbs cheerfully. "However, I
guess you will pass muster. Wait a minute, though, there is another
thing. You stand too erect. Stoop over a little bit. That's better. Now
you have it," he exclaimed, as the lads dropped into the proper pose.
"Now, rub your hands in the dirt a bit and streak your faces."
The lads obeyed, and once more Stubbs stood off and surveyed them long
"I guess that will do all right," he murmured.
"What are we supposed to be, anyway?" demanded Chester.
"Apple-women," replied Stubbs.
"Then where are the apples and baskets?" asked Hal.
"Well, you are shy on them right now," said Stubbs. "So you will have
to do the best you can without 'em. If you are questioned, which I
don't believe you will be, say that you have sold out; that you have
thrown your baskets away and that you are going to try to get to a
place of safety."
"But I didn't know there were any apple-women near here," said Chester.
"Well, there aren't any," replied Stubbs. "However, if there had not been
two, I wouldn't have been able to get these clothes for you."
"How did you get them?"
"Then why didn't you get the baskets and apples, too?" asked Hal.
The little man sniffed his contempt.
"I would have looked nice lugging two big baskets about, wouldn't I?" he
asked. "If I had tried that I'd have been shot a long while ago. I had
trouble enough getting here with the bundle without being seen."
"But why--" began Hal.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Stubbs. "You fellows should have been
newspaper men. You can ask more fool questions to the minute than
anyone I ever heard."
The little man's feelings were considerably ruffled, and Hal hastened to
"Don't think for a minute we are not grateful," he said. "If we succeed
in getting safely away we'll owe you a deep debt of thanks."
"Rats!" exclaimed Stubbs. "I don't want any thanks. All I want is to get
you fellows out of here."
"But how are you going to get away?"
"Don't you worry about me. I'll get away, all right--a newspaper man can
go any place, any way and any time."
"Except in times of war."
"Well, perhaps so," admitted Stubbs. "However, I have my pass. I'll get
away, all right, but not until I have found some news for the Gazette."
"But you are not paid to get killed," said Hal.
"No," was the reply, "but I am paid to get news. Now, I'll go out under
the tent first, and if the coast is clear, I'll whistle twice, like
this." He whistled softly.
The boys signified that they understood. Stubbs held out his hands, and
both lads grasped them.
"Good-by, and good luck," said Stubbs quietly.
He crossed the tent quickly, dropped down, and wormed his way out slowly
THROUGH THE NIGHT.
Hal and Chester listened intently.
One minute passed, then two, then three, and then a low whistle broke the
stillness. Once, twice, it came.
The boys sprang into action.
"You go first, Hal," whispered Chester.
Hal nodded, and, dropping to his knees, crawled beneath the tent. In
a few seconds, he was on the outside, where Chester joined him a
They looked around for Stubbs, but he was not there. The little war
correspondent, his work done, had sought safety in flight. He realized
that, should anything go wrong and the three be recaptured together, it
would go hard with all of them.
The lads could hear the footsteps of the guard, as he paced to and fro in
front of the tent they had just left. While to the rear and on both
sides, farther away, they could also hear the tramp of other sentries, as
they made their rounds.
A sentry came into view to the rear, but passed on without seeing them.
Immediately the lads made their way whence he had come, and soon had put
considerable distance between them and their late prison. Here, sure that
they were far enough from their recent quarters not to cast suspicion
upon themselves should they be seen, they walked boldly forward.
The huge German camp was asleep, for the hour was after nine and the
soldiers always turned in early except when they were on night duty or a
night attack by the French was anticipated; but they slept on their arms.
"Which way?" asked Chester of Hal, in a low voice.
"I don't believe we had better try for the river," was the reply. "We had
better strike straight west."
"Suits me," declared Chester, and the boys set off through the sleeping
German camp at a fast walk.
Row after row of tents they passed through, walking along the improvised
streets until they were well beyond the main camp. Here they were still
in the midst of the enemy, but the tents were more scattered. Suddenly
they slackened their speed.
A German sentry was approaching them.
Perceiving the two shadowy forms, the sentry brought his rifle to his
shoulder, and cried:
The lads obeyed, and the sentry came close to them. Perceiving that the
figures he had accosted were attired in women's clothing, he dropped his
rifle and demanded:
"What are you doing here?"
"We have been selling apples to the soldiers," replied Hal in French in a
The soldier understood French and replied:
"Where are your baskets?"
Hal replied as he had been instructed by the little war correspondent.
"Well," said the sentry, apparently satisfied, "you have no business
around here at this hour of the night. Go quickly."
The lads needed no further urging, and, bearing off a trifle to the
north, continued their journey.
Their shoulders stooped and their shawls thrown over their heads so they
could barely see, they went on with slowly shambling steps.
"When we get back to America," whispered Chester, "I am going on the
stage as a female impersonator."
"After this," Hal whispered back, "I am inclined to believe that we would
both make good."
All night they continued toward the northwest, and when morning dawned
they were still within the German lines.
"We shall have to be more careful now," said Chester, as it began to
"On the contrary," said Hal, "we may go forward more boldly."
"How do you make that out?" demanded Chester in surprise.
"Why," Hal explained, "two apple-women strolling about the enemy's
camp in the night would attract more attention, should they be
discovered, than in broad daylight, when they might possibly have some
"Right," agreed Chester. "I hadn't thought of it in that way."
Accordingly they proceeded more boldly now.
Here and there troops of German cavalry now came to life. The lads also
passed regiment after regiment of hurrying infantry; but they were not
so much as challenged. Old apple-women, such as the lads appeared to
the enemy, were plentiful in the German lines, and no attention was
paid to them.
Suddenly the lads beheld a sight that caused them to start back in
astonishment and dismay.
Directly ahead of them they saw a long trench, stretching out on
either side as far as the eye could reach--and it was filled with
"Great Scott!" ejaculated Hal. "I had forgotten that the Germans were
probably intrenched along here. How on earth are we to get through?"
At that moment the two lads beheld three old women coming toward them,
and Hal exclaimed:
"I wonder if we look like that?"
In their hands the women carried large baskets, and even from where the
lads stood they could see that they were chockfull of bright red apples.
Chester was struck with a sudden idea. Stepping out of view behind Hal,
he quickly lifted his skirts and thrust his hand into his pocket. He
pulled forth a handful of gold and silver, from which he extracted
several German pieces. Then he advanced toward the old women, Hal
following him in surprise.
Chester accosted the women in French.
"How much do you want for your basket of apples?" he asked,
The old woman named a sum.
Chester counted it out and dropped it into her hand, much to her
surprise, and relieved her of her basket. Then he turned to a second and
repeated the operation, passing the second basket to Hal.
"Now, we'll see how business is," he said, and led the way directly
toward the trenches.
In the midst of the German soldiers, the lads did a thriving business,
and, although they did not know it, the reason was because they were
offering their wares at a much lower price than had been customary.
The soldiers joked with them and resorted to flattery in an attempt to
cause them to reduce the price of the apples even more. The lads, talking
in shrill, wheedling tones, joked back, and made quite a hit with the men
in the trenches.
At last, having disposed of all their apples, and having come to a place
somewhat more secluded than the rest, the lads sat down to wait. As they
looked around, they observed that for some reason this short section had
not been dug to fit in with the rest of the trenches. As a result they
were out of sight of either side.
Becoming conscious of voices from beyond the little wall of earth to the
right, the lads became silent and listened.
"Then everything is in readiness for the grand advance?" asked a voice.
"Yes," replied a second.
"And where will the assault be made?"
"At Soissons. The French are secure in their belief that a concerted
attack will not be made for some time--at least not until the Kaiser,
who, as you know has been very ill, returns to the front."
"I thought that myself."
"Well, you are right, to a certain extent. What the French don't know is
that the Kaiser will be on the firing line the day after to-morrow."
"What! So soon?"
"He has recovered, then?"
"Practically! Therefore, the grand offensive will be resumed around
Soissons two days later, which will be Saturday. The French--absolutely
unprepared for any such movement--will be caught unawares, and a wedge
will be driven into them."
"And the object of this new offensive?" queried one of the voices.
"The object," was the reply, "will be the same as was the object when we
first moved into France."
"Paris?" asked a voice.
"Paris," was the brief reply.
"Good! And there is no chance of failure, you say?"
"Not unless our plans come to the ears of General Joffre. If he knew of
the plan he might, of course, hurry up reenforcements enough to stop it."
"And if, by any chance, this offensive fails, the other plan will be put
into execution, you say?"
"Yes, it has been arranged, I understand, down to the last detail. The
Paris Apaches, as you know, have neither love of country nor love of
fellow-men. They seek only gold. Well, a man, Pierre Duval, by name,
the King of the Paris Apaches, has been reached by one of our agents.
I am told he has 500 underworld denizens at his command. These, at an
auspicious moment, will seize the president, who will be hustled into
a closed automobile surrounded by the army of Apaches, and the rest
will be easy."
"But Poincare's bodyguard?"
"_Ach_! It will not be strong enough to cope with the Apaches. Besides,
the surprise itself augurs well for the success of the plan."
"Well, I hope neither plan fails."
"You may rest easy on that score. If one fails the other is sure
Hal and Chester, from their concealment, heard the men rise and move off
in the opposite direction.
"Great Scott!" cried Chester. "Do you know what that means?"
"I do," said Hal simply. "It means that, unless General Joffre is warned,
the French army may suffer a crushing blow; also, if President Poincare
is not warned, he may be kidnapped by the enemy!"
"Exactly," said Chester. "But what are we to do?"
"We must make a dash for it," was the quiet response.
Quickly the lads stripped themselves of their woman's garments, and
advanced to the very edge of the German trenches.
"Now!" cried Hal, and, jumping from the shelter, they darted across the
open field to where the tricolor of France fluttered aloft.
GENERAL JOFFRE IS WARNED.
A great tumult arose in the German trench as the eyes of the soldiers
fell upon the two figures speeding toward the distant French line.
Stripped of their woman's attire the lads had exposed their French
uniforms and they were recognized in a flash by the enemy.
But, so sudden had been their dash that they were enabled to cover a
considerable distance before the troops, at a sharp command from their
officers, brought their rifles to their shoulders to fire a volley after
them. By that time the lads were perhaps a hundred yards beyond the
trench, and, glancing quickly over his shoulder, Hal perceived the
movements of the enemy.
"Drop, quick!" he called to Chester.
Without slackening their speed the lads threw themselves to the ground at
the very moment the Germans fired.
The bullets whistled harmlessly over the lads' heads.
They were up again in an instant and dashed forward. By a miracle, it
seemed, they escaped being shot down. Soon they were nearer the French
trenches than those of the Germans. Still the enemy rained bullets
Perceiving the forms of what appeared to be two French officers dashing
from the enemy's trenches, the French commander immediately ordered a
detachment of infantry to protect their flight. These climbed rapidly
from the trenches and dashed forward.
A moment later the Germans also threw out a detachment to drive
The French column fired a volley over the heads of the approaching lads,
and the latter once more dropped to the ground to avoid the return fire
of the Germans.
Two minutes later Hal and Chester were behind the French detachment and
were making hurriedly for the trenches. Immediately the small force of
French which had advanced to their support commenced to retire slowly,
and soon also were safe from the enemy's fire.
This little skirmish had resulted in severe losses to both sides,
although the French casualties were slightly heavier than those of the
enemy. Ten Frenchmen were left on the field, while but eight German
bodies strewed the ground.
Hal and Chester quickly sought out the French commander. Upon telling him
that they had important information for General Joffre, they soon had a
large automobile at their disposal and were dashing toward Soissons,
where the French commander-in-chief had established temporary
The distance was not great, and, as they now had no enemies to bar their
progress, the lads soon pulled up near General Joffre's quarters. An aide
accosted them, and carried the lads' names to the French commander. He
returned a few moments later and announced that General Joffre would
receive them immediately.
Hal and Chester followed the aide to the general's tent, where he stood
back and motioned for them to enter.
Inside stood General Joffre, surrounded by members of his staff. He
motioned for the lads to approach, which they did, and came to attention.
The general greeted them warmly.
"I am glad to see you again," he said. "I have not forgotten the valuable
service you rendered the French army recently. I am told you carry
"Yes, sir" replied Hal.
"Let me have it, then," said General Joffre.
In a few brief and well-chosen words Hal repeated what they had
overheard so recently in the German trench. The general listened to them
"So!" he exclaimed, when Hal had concluded his narrative, "they are
planning to kidnap President Poincare, eh? Well, we shall be ready for
them. But first I must take steps to thwart the proposed German drive. It
is to be delivered when, you say?"
"Two days after to-morrow, sir," replied Hal.
"And you say the Kaiser will return to the front the day after
"Good! We shall be ready for him."
He turned to a member of his staff. "Colonel Mercer," he said, "my
compliments to General Rochelle, and repeat to him what you have just
heard. You will order him to fall back slowly when the German
He turned to the others of his staff, who had manifested some surprise at
this command. "I do this, gentlemen," he explained, "that the Germans may
be drawn into a trap of our own setting. Not knowing that we have learned
their plans, they will probably push the attack with vigor. When we begin
to give way they will be confident of the success of their plan. In the
meantime reenforcements shall be hurried forward, and, when the Germans
have advanced to a point I shall select, we shall take the offensive with
redoubled vigor. The enemy, caught unprepared, will be crushed before
they can be sufficiently reenforced."
Exclamations of satisfaction escaped the group of staff officers, and Hal
and Chester were greatly impressed by the prompt action of the French
"He allows no grass to grow under his feet," Hal whispered to Chester.
"I should say not," replied the latter.
General Joffre turned to Hal.
"It is your understanding, then," he said, "that the plot against the
President will not be tried until after the grand assault?"
"That is my understanding of the matter, sir," Hal replied.
"Good! In the meantime, then, we shall have time to take care of that."
He turned to another of his officers. "Colonel Devore," he said, "you
will see that these two lads are given suitable quarters."
The colonel saluted.
"I shall ask them to share mine, sir," he replied.
"_Bien_," returned General Joffre. "I shall probably have need of you
again, soon," he added, to Hal and Chester.
He sat down at his desk and turned to a mass of papers and maps, and the
lads realized that the interview was ended.
Colonel Devore motioned them to follow him, and, saluting the French
commander, the lads filed out of the tent.
Colonel Devore introduced them to his own quarters and, waving his hand
"You will make yourselves perfectly at home here as long as you
"Thank you, Colonel," said Chester. "We appreciate your hospitality."
The colonel waved aside the thanks with a gesture and strode from the
The lads immediately composed themselves to rest, for it was a long time
since they had closed their eyes in slumber.
Greatly refreshed by a short sleep they arose two hours later and took
a walk about the camp. At a distant part of the trenches they saw a
large number of troops gathered about, and the sounds of laughter rose
on the air.
"Wonder what's up?" asked Hal.
"I don't know," replied Chester, "but we may as well have a look. Come
He led the way and Hal followed him.
Coming closer the lads cried out in astonishment. Their eyes fell upon a
body of troops that they knew in an instant could have hailed but from
one part of the world. They were English--but a mere handful of them--not
more than a single squad.
"By Jove!" said Hal. "I didn't know there were any British troops in this
part of the field."
"Nor I," said Chester. "But what do you suppose all those fellows are
They drew closer. Coming upon the circle of troops that surrounded a
single man, the lads stared in astonishment, and then they, too, broke
into a loud laugh.
There, right in the foremost trench and therefore in the more danger from
the enemy's fire, a tall, lank Englishman lay, stretched at full length
upon the ground. His arms were above his head, and he appeared to be
resting in perfect comfort, at peace with the world.
But it was something that protruded from the legs of his army trousers
that had caused the merriment of the troops gathered about. The lanky
Englishman had removed his puttees and exposed to the view of the
astonished Frenchmen two silk-clad feet, and red silk at that.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Hal. "Silk socks! and in this weather!"
"Silk socks," said Chester, "are clearly against the army regulations."
They approached closer.
Now the lanky Englishman sat up, and apparently unconscious of the gaze
of the troops about him, produced a nice leather box, opened it,
extracted an instrument, and proceeded to manicure his nails. He did it
coolly and paid no attention whatever to those about him.
"Well!" said Hal. "What do you think of that?"
"That's the best I have seen yet," said Chester, laughing.
The lads pushed through the crowd of curious French soldiers and soon
were in the midst of the British. They approached a sergeant.
"What sort of a freak is this?" asked Hal, indicating the long
"By Jove!" exclaimed the sergeant. "You're English, aren't you?"
"Yes," replied Hal. "But who is this gentleman with the manicure set?"
The sergeant smiled.
"That," he said, "is His Lordship."
"'His Lordship'? But what's his name?"
"Well, I have forgotten his name. We all call him 'His Lordship.'"
"But why do you permit all this funny business?"
The sergeant shrugged his shoulders.
"What can I do?" he exclaimed. "If I forbid one thing he bobs up with
something else. Look at him! He's the laziest man I ever saw. We named
him 'His Lordship' the moment of his arrival in our midst, and bets were
made that he would succumb after the first day's march. Not a bit of it!
He looked tired at the start, but he looked no more so at the finish. We
were finally placed in the trenches. His Lordship did everything
ungrudgingly, but he could not sleep without a pillow. What do you
suppose he did?"
"I haven't the slightest idea," said Hal. "What did he do?"
"Why, he made a bargain with a big fat fellow, who, for four packs of
cigarettes a day, agreed to let his lordship use his stomach as a pillow.
He's lazy, yes, but just the same he's a fighter. We began to respect him
on the day he laid low sixteen Germans with eighteen cartridges. He did
it as nonchalantly as though he were in a shooting gallery. But lazy!
Why, he was so lazy he would not brush the perspiration off his forehead.
He asked a neighbor to do it for him!"
The sergeant stopped and eyed His Lordship.
"Look," he said, "he's going to bed again."
It was true. His Lordship had stretched out on the cold, hard ground.
"Great Scott! Can he sleep there?" asked Chester, in surprise.
"His Lordship," said the sergeant calmly, "can sleep anywhere!"
THE GERMAN ATTACK.
A battle, as severe in its hand-to-hand struggle and toll of life as
Fredericksburg or Antietam, in the American Civil War--yet in this vast
conflict only an incident, chronicled as "progress" in the official
reports--such was the battle of Soissons. It was the most terrific and
the most bitterly contested of the great war up to date, January 8.
There, for eight days, men fell, torn with shell and bullet, and over
these trenches men charged in the face of certain death.
A German attack in force opened the battle on January 8. General Joffre
had slightly altered his plan, as outlined to Hal and Chester, and
immediately the battle began the French made a counter-attack.
The Aisne river, at this point, is one of the most strategic positions.
The battlefield covered a front of approximately seven miles. On the
western side is a deep valley, running northward, which is bounded on
either side by turnpikes from Soissons, La Fere and Laon.
A high, level plateau rises steeply a couple of hundred feet from the
valley of the Aisne and formed the center and eastern flank of the
battlefield. The plateau is deeply notched by three steep-sided ravines
running down to the Aisne. Through these General Joffre, if he chose,
could bring up supports unnoticed and without danger to positions on
The French counter-attack, then, was made up the valley to the west
between the two turnpikes.
Immediately the Germans had begun their offensive the French made ready
for their attack by a terrible artillery bombardment. Field guns and
heavy artillery concentrated their fire on this section of the German
trenches, and there was such a rain of shell and shrapnel on the
defenders that they were unable to make an effective defense against the
French infantry attack which followed.
The French, with great dash, carried part of the German positions; but
this success dampened the vigor of their artillery bombardment, which
could not be continued without endangering their own men. The big German
guns opened a heavy fire on the rearward communications of the French,
preventing the bringing up of reenforcements.
Meanwhile, General Von Kluck, the German commander, was gathering his
forces for a counter-stroke, which came, not through the valley, but
across the high plateau to the eastward, a large part of which was held
by the French. The surface of the plateau, which is fairly level, was
crossed by row after row of deep French trenches, each trench with a
clear field for the fire of its guns.
It seemed impossible, in the cold light of the day after the passing
excitement of battle, to conceive of troops successfully storming such
intrenched positions But this is just what the Germans did, or thought
they did, for their officers did not realize that the giving way of the
French at this point was part of General Joffre's counter-stroke.
There were five successive lines of permanent French trenches, each with
its entanglement of barbed wire, supported on iron posts. German pioneers
cut their way through the first entanglement before the general attack,
but it was necessary for the others to make the advance across the
exposed positions under fire.
These attackers, however, were General Von Kluck's veterans, who, after
the famous dash on Paris, the battle of the Marne and the retirement to
the Aisne, had remained in comparative inactivity since the middle of
They succeeded in sweeping across the plateau, first in the center and
then on the eastern flank, carrying trench after trench by storm in an
interrupted and irresistible attack.
The French retired from the plateau. Then they gave up the valley below
and retreated across the river. The Germans advanced through the valley.
The narrow turnpikes had become great cemeteries. Four thousand German
troops, engaged in the work of burying the dead as fast as they fell, had
been unable to clear the field of even their own dead after eight days,
while the field was strewn with the bodies of French infantrymen, in
their far-to-be-seen red-and-blue uniforms, swarthy-faced Turcos,
colonials, Alpine riflemen and bearded territorials.
There came a lull in the fighting. The French retained a foothold
north of the river at St. Paul, where the bridge from Soissons crosses
the stream; but the bridge head was commanded by German artillery on
The promenade along the exposed side of the plateau, in sight of Soissons
and the bank of the Aisne, also held by the French in force, gave a
rather uncanny feeling of insecurity. However, it was less dangerous than
it seemed, for a slight haze rendered the group in German field gray
invisible to the French artillery on the heights on the opposite side of
In the part of the field where Hal and Chester had been on the eighth day
of the fighting, at the edge of the plateau, the struggle had been
desperate. Here, with the final German assault, the French had fought
stubbornly and a hand-to-hand struggle ensued.
Regiments of French troops, rather than retire to safety down a
declivity, had contested this section of the field to the last, finally
to be mowed down by the German artillery as the infantry was forced back.
Hal and Chester had taken no important part in the battle, and had
remained with the little body of British troops, held with masses of
infantry of the French, in reserve, and had only been thrown forward with
the reenforcements when General Joffre decided that it was time to halt
the tide of the German advance.
Immediately heavy reenforcements were hurled upon the Germans, and the
latter must have been surprised by the fact that an apparently beaten
enemy could come back so strongly to the attack. It became evident,
however, after the eighth successive day of fighting, that the German
leaders realized that General Joffre had anticipated the German attack;
for, when French reenforcements were hurled forward in force, and the
entire line assumed the offensive, the Teutons gave back rapidly.
All that they had gained at such terrible sacrifice was again soon in the
hands of the French. To their recent positions the French advanced--and
beyond--carrying trench after trench which had been occupied for a few
days by the enemy.
There was no staying this terrible drive.
The greatest pressure by the French was brought to bear upon the two
flanks of the enemy, and these gave back while the German center held;
but soon this gave way also and retreated, for General Von Kluck
perceived that if it did not keep pace with the retreat of either flank,
it was likely to be cut off and annihilated.
Thus, from apparent victory the Germans had met defeat. It was a hard
blow to the Kaiser, who from the rear watched the battle as it progressed
and stood nervously clenching and unclenching his hands as victory turned
The first two rows of German trenches had fallen into the hands of
the French, and there the troops prepared to make themselves at home.
Thousands upon thousands of men were set to work burying the dead,
and soon the field was cleared of the bodies. The losses on both
sides had been enormous, for the battle of Soissons had been the
bloodiest of the war.
General Joffre, who had moved his headquarters somewhat toward the rear
when the German advance began, reoccupied his old quarters once more, and
it was here that Hal and Chester, having been summoned, found him.
"I have a mission that I thought you would like to undertake," said
"We shall be glad to," returned Chester.
"The little village of Pom lies just beyond our farthest outpost," said
General Joffre. "Take the squadron of British and occupy it. You should
be able to do so with little difficulty."
The lads saluted and departed, rejoicing that they had some work
ahead of them.
The British raised a loud cheer when they learned that they were to
advance, for they had had little part in the terrible fighting around
Soissons, and were growing restless.
It was after dark when the little force moved out from the trenches and
advanced upon Pom. They marched quietly and swiftly, and morning found
them in the streets of the little town.
Here they encountered a small force of the enemy, who, however, gave way
before them, evidently believing them the vanguard of a larger force.
"Now," said Hal, "half of us may as well turn in while the other half
stands guard. Break in the doors of some of these houses, men."
Then it was that His Lordship, the lanky Englishman who had afforded so
much amusement to the others, came to life. Up to this time he had been
marching along with hanging head, apparently in nowise concerned in what
was taking place.
He ran lightly up the steps of the nearest house, and, putting his
shoulder to the door, broke it in with ease. Immediately he
Into this house Hal and Chester also went, and instructed their men to
occupy the adjoining buildings.
"We can give a good account of ourselves in here, should we be attacked,"
"Right," Chester agreed. "But do you anticipate an attack?"
"I do," replied Hal. "As soon as the Germans we drove out report to the
main body, a strong force probably will be sent against us."
"And are we supposed to hold them off?"
"We are supposed to stick until ordered to fall back, I reckon,"
"Well," declared Chester, "we are at the very opposite side of the town
and can see them coming--if they do."
They were attracted by a peculiar noise at the opposite side of the room
in which they stood.
It was His Lordship, dead to the world, snoring, with wide-open mouth.
"The sergeant was right," said Hal. "His Lordship can sleep anywhere."
Almost at this moment there came a warning from without.
"Germans approaching in force, sir," cried the sergeant, poking his head
in the door.
And at that moment there came a clattering of horses' hoofs, and a moment
later a French officer entered the room.
"General Joffre orders you to fall back, sir!" he said.
A FIGHT FOR A BED.
With a word to the sergeant to order an immediate retreat, Hal crossed
the room and shook His Lordship roughly.
"Get up!" he shouted.
His Lordship opened one eye sleepily.
"What's that?" he demanded.
"Get up!" repeated Hal.
"Not on your life," said His Lordship slowly, and closed his eyes again.
"Quick!" shouted Hal. "We must retreat! A whole German regiment is about
to attack us."
"All right," came the reply, and His Lordship did not take the trouble to
open his eyes.
Once more the lad shook him roughly, and Chester added his voice.
"Get up out of here," he commanded sharply. "A German regiment is upon
"I don't care if it is the whole German army," replied His Lordship, with
some heat--and it was the first time in his life that he had ever been
aroused--"they won't get my bed."
"I order you--" Hal began.
But His Lordship calmly shut his eyes, turned on his other side, and went
peacefully to sleep.
"Now, what do you think of that?" demanded Hal of Chester.
"Well," said Hal, "there is nothing we can do. It's up to us to save our
own skins. We have done the best we can for him."
He stepped to the door and Chester followed him. They looked about for
some sign of their men, but the latter had gone, and Hal, Chester and His
Lordship were left alone in the house.
"We might as well make a dash for it," said Hal. "Come on!"
He stepped from the door, but, as he would have started ahead, something
whistled by his head. He started back with an exclamation, and, jumping
back into the house, closed the door.
"Too late," he said briefly.
For a moment he stood listening.
"What are we going to do?" demanded Chester.
"Follow me," he said at length.
He led the way beyond where His Lordship was sleeping, and, swinging
himself out of a rear window, quickly clambered into the house next door.
"Maybe they won't look for us here," he said. "Then, when they have gone,
we can escape."
"Maybe," said Chester dubiously, "but I don't think so."
The boys approached the front of the house and looked out the window,
taking care to keep out of sight from the street. But just then there
came a sound of a shot.
"Wonder what that is for?" asked Hal.
He peered through the window. At the far end of the street he beheld a
squad of German troops gazing toward the house they had just left.
"Guess they are afraid we'll take a shot at 'em if they rush us," said
Chester. "They don't know we have left."
At that moment, from the house they had so recently quitted, there came
the sound of a shot. A German soldier tumbled in his tracks.
The enemy was just beyond the town, and the others, instead of rushing
forward when their companion hit the ground, scattered and took refuge
behind the nearest possible shelter.
Another shot rang out from the next house, and a second German trooper,
who had exposed his head for a moment, toppled over.