Part 2 out of 3
Characteristic it was of the lieutenant to ask who would come with
him. American officers do that. A German would have said "Go!" The
American said "Come!"
And characteristic it was of the Sammies that everyone within the
sound of the young officer's voice answered, as one:
"Keep your heads down! You may get them knocked off soon enough when
the rush comes," went on the lieutenant, for in their eagerness to
answer and be selected for the dangerous mission, some had partly
raised themselves from their prone positions.
"There's no question but that's a German machine-gun in that old mill;
is there?" asked the lieutenant.
"Here's one of the bullets, sir," replied Roger, tossing over one that
had penetrated the earth near where he was lying, and come out after
striking a stone. "That's a bit of Hun lead all right."
He tossed it over to the officer, who was stretched out in the young,
green grain near by.
"Yes, that's German all right," was the answer. "It's larger than
ours. I thought perhaps some of our men might have gone in there to
pepper the Huns. Well, we've got to get it--that's all."
"And soon, too," murmured Jimmy. "Whew! This is fierce!"
A hail of lead from the weapon in the old red mill drew this
exclamation from him. Fortunately the men were low enough to escape
the worst of the firing, but some were wounded and one killed.
"There's two guns in that mill, sir!" called Franz, who was lying near
Bob. "They're both firing together."
"You're right," was the lieutenant's comment. "Well, so much the more
work for us to do. How many of us are here?"
It developed, by an improvised roll call, that there were fifteen,
including our five Brothers. With the lieutenant who was in immediate
command, there were sixteen.
"We'll all go!" was the officer's decision. "Fill your magazines, get
your hand grenades where you can reach 'em and be ready for the rush.
It's got to be a rush, and I hope it lasts long enough for some of us
to get there," he added soberly. "Boys, it's a desperate chance we're
taking, but a machine-gun nest there may hold up the advance. Maybe it
is holding it up. We've got to clean out the red mill!"
"We're with you!" cried Jimmy and the others.
And, as he spoke and the others cheered their assents, there came
another burst of fierce fire from the machine-guns hidden in the old
red mill. But there was too much elevation and the bullets, this time,
flew harmlessly over the backs of the Yanks.
"Now for it!" cried the lieutenant. "They may have to put in a fresh
belt of cartridges, or the guns may have heated or jammed. We'll take
a chance. We'll make three lines of five each. I'll lead one, and
there'll be six in that. Blaise, you take four men, and Simpson, you
take four. We'll spread out--fan shape--and don't stand upright--run
crouching. Now, Blaise and Simpson, pick your men, and give me the
word when you're ready."
Of course Jimmy picked his four Brothers, and they crawled up behind
him, ready for the word. Sergeant Simpson, a brave but somewhat
reckless lad, had four of his own choosing, and there were five who
crawled over to line up behind the lieutenant.
"All ready?" asked the officer. "Ready," answered Jimmy, and the other
leader gave a like reply.
"Then come on, and may we all live to get there!" cried the gallant
He arose to a crouching position and started to run toward the red
mill, followed by Jimmy and his four, and Simpson and his quartette.
And, as they rushed on, the automatic guns cut loose again.
The dust in the grain field rose in little spurts as the bullets
struck, and the rattle of the spiteful machine-gun made a chorus with
the snapping and popping of the American rifles. For Jimmy and the
others fired from the hip as they ran.
They could not hope to do much execution on the German gunners,
protected as the latter were by the old mill. But some chance bullet,
entering through crack or crevice, might end the activity of one or
more of the Hun crews. It was the only thing to do, however, until
they could come to hand grips--to cold steel--with the hidden Boches.
"Come on! Come on!" cried the lieutenant.
"Come on! Come on!" echoed Jimmy and Simpson.
They were nearing the red mill now. They could see no one in it, but
the sight of two windows, on either side of the big, open door, seemed
to give evidence of the location of the machine-guns. Smokeless powder
was being used, but there was a thin film of smoke, for all of that,
and this smoke floated from the two windows.
"There they are!" cried the lieutenant. "Come on, boys, we have 'em
But the glory of it was not to be--for him. Hardly had the words left
his mouth than he crumpled up, rolled completely over and lay still.
Afterward a dozen bullets were found in his body.
But the others halted not. The man immediately behind the fallen
lieutenant leaped over his lifeless body and led the advance, as Jimmy
and Simpson were doing.
They were close to the mill now. They could see the flashes of fire
coming from the guns which were shooting through the windows. And the
fire was deadly. Jimmy heard a yell from Franz, who was directly in
his rear. He did not dare stop or turn around but he shouted:
"Done for, Schnitz?"
"Only one finger nipped," was the grim answer. "Go on! We're with
One machine-gun concentrated on Simpson and his four gallant lads,
and, in less time than it takes for you to read these words, the five
lives were snuffed out.
"Come on! Come on!" yelled Jimmy. He was so mad with rage he hardly
knew what he was saying or doing. He saw a German face at one of the
windows. Quickly he fired. The face turned crimson with blood and
Mason, who was leading the other four, since the death of the
lieutenant, stumbled and fell twenty feet away from the red mill. One
of his companions assumed the lead of the three who were left, and
Jimmy and his four chums now converged with these four in a rush
toward the open portal.
They were now out of range of the guns, which could not be turned at
such an angle as to rake them. But hard fighting was yet to come.
"Wait!" shouted Jimmy, as he reached the threshold of the door, and
saw, to his left, a group of Huns about a gun that seemed to have
jammed. And not all the Huns were alive, either, showing that the fire
of the attacking party had done part of its work.
With a quick motion Jimmy threw a hand grenade into the midst of the
German crew, at the same time falling back himself behind the door
post, and pushing Bob, who was now next him, into the same safe
There was a roar as the grenade burst, and smoke, for the moment,
obscured the scene. When it was blown away, drifting through the doors
and windows, there was no longer a German machine-gun crew, and all
that remained of the gun was torn and twisted metal.
Jimmy's quick action with the hand grenade had saved fierce fighting
for possession of the weapon. But the other remained--the second
on the other side of the main door of the mill. To this some of the
gallant lads gave their attention. With wild yells they rushed at the
German crew, and to their credit--if credit it be--let it be said that
these Huns did not cry "_Kamerad_!" They were ready for a fight and
they got it. It was a case of cold steel, and there were no better
exponents of that mode of fighting than the American lads.
There was a short and bloody conflict and then it was over. But at sad
cost to the attacking party. Of the sixteen that had started to wipe
out the machine-gun nest in the old red mill, the five Brothers alone
were left alive, and, save for slight flesh wounds, which all of them
had, they were not seriously injured. No, I am not quite correct in
saying that only these five were left alive. There was one other, a
lad named Blakeley from New Jersey. But he was so badly wounded, by
a bayonet thrust from a German, that his death was only a question of
He managed, before he passed away, to whisper a message to his loved
ones at home, and this Jimmy Blaise undertook to send by letter.
"And now, let's see what's next to do," murmured Roger, when the dead
lad had been reverently laid with the other Americans killed in the
"I don't believe we're going to have much choice," said Jimmy, grimly,
as he pointed through the window.
"Why?" asked Roger.
"The Germans have surrounded the place," was the answer. "We're
For a moment Jimmy's companions did not quite understand him. Was he
perpetrating some grim joke, or had he received an injury on the head
that made him irresponsible?
Suddenly the concussion of a heavy gun shook the mill, making the old
walls rattle and sending up little clouds of grain dust from nooks and
crannies where it had gathered for many peaceful years.
"The Germans have surrounded us?" cried Roger. "Do you mean that?"
"Look for yourself," said Jimmy, and his very calmness as he pointed
from the window seemed to indicate that he was master of himself.
His four companions looked as he indicated. Rolling down from the
hills, which surrounded the little valley in which the mill was
located, were ranks of gray-clad men; Huns beyond a doubt. And they
were coming in force.
"Do you suppose they are after us?" asked Bob, and he was quite
surprised when his four chums burst into laughter. No, I am wrong.
Only three of them laughed--Roger, Jimmy and Franz. Iggy looked on
almost as uncomprehendingly as did Bob, but Iggy was staring at a dead
German on the floor of the mill--a German he had killed by a bayonet
thrust from behind, when that same German was about to fire his
revolver, pointblank, at Roger. Iggy was filled with many emotions as
he looked at his work--work undertaken and carried out for Liberty.
"What's the matter?" asked Bob, a bit nettled. "Doesn't it look as
though they were after us?"
"I don't know why I laughed," confessed Jimmy. "Sort of nervous, I
guess. But the idea of a German army, or at least several divisions,
coming to capture us five struck me as funny."
"Well, you said we were being surrounded!" protested Bob.
"Well, I meant it, too. But in a general way," went on Jimmy. "I don't
suppose the Huns know we are here. Of course they may realize it after
they find out we've silenced the machine guns. But for the present
this seems to be a big advance. I guess there's going to be some
fierce fighting. They've brought up some of their reserves to stop our
progress, and by the fortunes of war, we're caught in a back current."
"You mean none of our fellows are here?" asked Roger.
"None that you can see," went on Jimmy. "I guess we sort of over-ran
our objective. There must have been a withdrawal and we didn't know
"We were too intent on capturing this mill. And we did, though it
wasn't easy. And now the Germans are coming on, and--well, if we can
stay here long enough, and keep hidden, we may get out of it yet.
He shrugged his shoulders. It was too much of a question for him to
"But I don't see that we are completely surrounded," declared Franz,
hopefully, as he gazed from the window.
"Sure not!" broke in Iggy, who now began to comprehend, in a measure,
what was in the wind. "We may out run by der back door yet."
"Not a chance," declared Jimmy. "Look over there!"
He pointed in the direction where their own lines were supposed to be
located--where they probably were, for it was from there that the lads
had come in the rush during the gas attack. But now the way over
which they had hastened, amid fire and smoke and death and wounds, was
occupied by a line of gray. The Germans had slipped down from the left
flank and had cut off the retreat of the five Brothers in the mill.
And as the advancing army was coming on in the shape of a huge
semi-circle toward the mill it can easily be seen that if the boys
were not exactly surrounded it was so near that perilous situation as
to be what is called a distinction without a difference.
For a moment, after they had comprehended the situation to which Jimmy
had called their attention, they were all silent. Then Iggy caused
another laugh by remarking.
"Well, I eat me now. I haf some of my rations and I hear where is
water running yet. Always in our countries where is a mill is water.
Of a dryness I am, and water is good for of a dryness."
"That's the truest thing you've said in a long while!" cried Jimmy,
clapping his chum on the back. "Fellows, we'd better eat and drink
while we can. We have our emergency rations, and, as Iggy says, there
must be water where there's a mill. It isn't a wind one and there's no
steam or electricity here yet. Let's get ready for a siege."
"Do you really think they know we're here?" asked Bob, and he pointed
out toward the advancing German army.
"To be perfectly frank, I don't," said Jimmy. "I think the situation
is just this--but let's go get washed up a bit, and then we can eat
and talk. I'm as dry as a bone, and this--well this place isn't just
the most inviting," and he could not repress a shudder as he looked
at the death and devastation all about them. The bodies of the killed
Germans were sprawled in all positions, some even resting on the guns.
Then, too, there were bodies of the companions of the five Brothers.
As Jimmy said, it was no place to eat and talk.
They found where the mill stream came down the flume to turn the
wheel, and there they washed and drank, and then, finding a room where
the miller had evidently lived, they sat down to make what meal they
could. And as they ate the Germans advanced down the hills to occupy
the valley in which was located the old red mill.
"Now let's hear your opinion, Blazes," called Bob.
They all seemed instinctively to turn to Jimmy as a leader now. Nor
was this the first time.
"Well, I think we've seen the last of some Germans and the first of
others," he began.
"Sounds like a puzzle," commented Bob.
"It may turn out to be before we get through with it," was Jimmy's
grim reply. "But here's the situation as I see it. You know we
started, some days ago, to drive back the Huns. To a certain extent
we succeeded. Then came a lull, and that ended when they launched an
attack to-day--an attack with the gas as a preface.
"We did our best then, and I guess we must have rolled back part of
a wing of one of the German divisions. But our particular sector was
halted, and we seem to have gone on too far, or else the others got
orders to retreat, and we didn't, and here we are.
"Now I think the two German machine-gun crews that were in this mill
were probably what was left of the force our boys succeeded in wiping
out. They had orders to stay as long as possible to delay our advance,
and they stayed--got to give 'em that credit.
"But we just had to wipe 'em out, and we did. That's to our credit.
This seems to be the last of some not very large German force that
started the game this morning. And now comes a much larger force," and
he indicated the Hun hordes rolling down the slopes. "It was probably
the knowledge of the advance of this big body of troops that caused
the retreat, or halt, of our main force. We're probably waiting for
reserves, or we may be playing a deeper game--to get the Huns in this
valley and clean 'em up.
"That, of course, is up to the General Staff. But that doesn't change
our position. We're here, but I don't believe those Huns know it. The
army, or division, or whatever it is, that's coming on now may not
even know that this mill, for a time, was held by some of their
own men. Though, of course, later, when orders and instructions are
interchanged, this fact will come out.
"But before then I hope we'll either be out of here, or in a position
to give a better account of ourselves," went on Jimmy, who was sitting
on a box, munching part of his rations, and drinking from an old tin
cup he had found.
"What's that mean?" asked Franz.
"Well, either we can escape, or our boys will drive these Huns back,
and in that case we'll be all right. I admit it's going to be a
ticklish proposition to escape from here though," and Jimmy went to an
upper window and took another observation.
"Are they closing in?" asked Bob.
"They seem to have halted," replied Jimmy. "At least the center has.
The two wings are coming on like a pair of pliers getting ready to nip
us between the jaws."
"Ach! Den will dey squeeze us?" asked Iggy.
"If they know we are here I suppose they'll try it," declared Jimmy.
"But maybe we can inflict a few bites before they crush us! Fellows,
we'd better look to the defense. How much ammunition have we?"
"Mighty little!" declared Roger, gloomily. "I fired about all I had
coming on in the rush."
"Same here," admitted Bob.
"Maybe a machine-gun yet we could shoot," suggested Iggy. "One only
was bust by your grenade, Jimmy. Maybe one iss--"
"By Jove! He's right!" cried Jimmy. "I never thought of that. If worst
comes to worst we may, for a short time, turn the German's own gun on
'em. Come on and we'll take a look."
To the delight of the Khaki Boys the second machine-gun was in good
order, and there was considerable ammunition left.
"But can we work it?" asked Bob.
"Let me take a look," suggested Franz. "I saw something of 'em when
they had me a prisoner."
"Something good may come of that, after all," cried Jimmy. "Here you
go, Schnitz, take a look."
This Franz did, and presently reported that there was no reason why
they should not work the German gun. Accordingly it was freed from the
dead Huns about it, and the ammunition was overhauled. There was also
some ammunition for the German rifles that had fallen from the
dead hands of their owners, and this, together with the guns, was
In addition to this the lads had a few rounds left for their own
rifles, though, as Roger had said there was very little available.
They had fired fast and fiercely in the rush on the old mill.
"Let's look around and see if the Huns had any food they didn't
gobble," suggested Roger. "That ration of mine was only a sample."
A look from the mill windows showed that the advancing German army had
no present intentions, as far as could be judged, of attacking the red
mill. They did not seem to be paying any attention to it.
So far there had been a total absence of either artillery or rifle
fire. The advance had been made silently and comparatively quietly.
On either side of the mill, in the far distance, and to the rear,
however, were dull rumblings and booms that told of war's activities.
Greatly to their relief, the lads found quite a store of food the
Germans had put away, evidently in preparation for a long stay in
the mill. It was not food of the best quality, but it was better than
nothing, they all agreed. And there was water in plenty.
"If they come at us we'll fight as long as we can," decided Jimmy,
which was the sentiment of all, "and we'll live to the best of our
"But they don't seem to be going to attack," ventured Roger. "They
look to me as though they were settling down for a long stay. I can't
see 'em digging trenches yet, but maybe there are some already dug."
While getting the food and ammunition in readiness, and dragging back
the dead bodies out of the way, the boys occasionally looked from the
mill windows. As Roger had said, the army appeared to have come to a
halt, both the center and the wings.
The Khaki Boys had just finished binding up their minor hurts, and
were talking of their chances for escape, when there suddenly sounded
outside a whine, a scream and a mingled roar.
The next instant there was an explosion that threw them all flat from
the force of the concussion, and a terrific noise deafened them. They
seemed to be at the ending of the career of this part of the old earth
as they saw the whole front wall of the red mill collapse, falling as
though sliced off by a gigantic cleaver.
A STRANGE RESCUE
Stunned by the concussion, half choked by the clouds of dust and
smoke, terribly jarred when they had been felled by the force of the
explosion just outside the mill, our five heroes lay, for several
seconds, totally unable to stir. Had there been a rush of Huns on them
at that moment, or had some following explosion endangered the mill,
they would not have been able to move to save themselves.
But, for a time, there was no further explosion, so that the Khaki
Boys had a chance to recover their breath, and, what was more
important in their perilous situation, gather their no less scattered
"What--what in the name of the great Attila himself was that?" gasped
"I think it was yet a gun what went off," mildly said Iggy.
"A gun? Say, it must have been the grandfather of all the cannon the
Huns ever made," declared Jimmy. "Are any of you alive?"
"Guess we're all alive," answered Bob, as he slowly arose and shook
some of the dust from him. For the dust was thick all over, in clouds
and scattered about. Some of it was flour dust and other was the lime
and mortar that had held together the front wall which had collapsed
and slid outward. The whole front of the mill was open.
There was no doubt about their all being alive, but, for a time, even
this had been in doubt. They were still stunned, but they managed to
gather in a knot about Jimmy. They were hardly able to breathe, partly
because of the shock and partly because of the choking dust.
"There goes our defense," said Bob, gloomily, pointing to where the
machine-gun stood--the one they had decided to use against their
enemies. It had been crushed by the falling wall.
"Lucky we had the rations in the back room," commented Roger, "Else
we'd go hungry."
"We may yet," returned Jimmy, grimly.
"What do you mean!" asked Bob, anxiously.
"Well, I don't believe that was a chance shot," went on the young
sergeant. "If they see the mill still standing they may try another,
and that may take off the roof. And then----"
"Whoa! Hold on a minute! A little at a time!" protested Bob. "This is
enough. Don't give us any more."
"We've got to know where we're at!" declared Jimmy, and there was a
new quality to his voice. "If this mill is within range of the German
guns, and, unquestionably, it is, we've got to get out."
"Or go down cellar," added Roger.
"I don't believe any cellar, unless it was double bomb proof, would be
safe if another shell like that came over," said Franz.
"Was it a German shell or one of ours?" asked Bob. "That would be
interesting to know. I don't suppose, though," he went on, "that it
really makes much difference, after you're dead, whether you're killed
by an enemy shell, or by one fired in mistake by one of your friends.
At the same time if the American guns have come up it may mean that
the Germans will have to retreat and we'll be safe."
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that," declared Jimmy. "It will mean
a big battle, anyhow, if the Americans and some of the French and
British have come up. And that may mean we'll have a chance to join
our friends. But, in the meantime, maybe we can tell whether that was
a Hun shell, sent to blow this mill off the earth, or whether it was
from the good old United States."
Cautiously they advanced across the floor, toward what had been the
front of the mill. Caution was necessary, for with the collapse of the
front wall and part of the sides, the floor supports were weakened.
"No telling where that shell landed," declared Bob. "It's buried deep,
and about ten tons of mortar and bricks are on top of it. If we had
seen it coming----"
"Look out--duck!" suddenly yelled Franz, as he grabbed Jimmy, who was
nearest him and darted toward the rear of the structure.
"What's the matter?" cried Bob.
"Another shell coming!" shouted Franz, and, even as he spoke there was
that horrid screeching sound. "Duck!"
Together they ran to the farthest corner of the old mill. Whether it
would have been better to have tried to get out none of them stopped
to think. They were in a panic.
And then came the explosion, but so distant that it caused no more
than a mere rumble of the ground, and a faintly-felt concussion of the
now tottery building.
"Missed us that time," declared Roger. "But they're getting our
"No, they didn't fire at us," declared Franz. "If they had they would
have hit us, for undoubtedly the gunners know the effect of that first
shot. The Huns aren't shooting at us purposely."
"Do you mean that shell came from a German battery?" asked Bob.
"It did," affirmed Franz. "I saw the puff of smoke from a battery on
the hill where the Germans are grouped. Then I knew they were firing
in our direction. But of course I couldn't see the shell, and I didn't
know where it would land. But I didn't want to take a chance. That
either went over or fell short. But there's no question, now, as to
where the firing is coming from--it's from the German lines."
"Then there's no chance for us," said Roger, gloomily.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," declared Franz. "They don't know we're
here, and they evidently aren't firing directly at this mill. They may
be using it to get the range, and that's why they dropped the first
shell here. But we still have a chance."
"I don't see it!" declared Bob. "We can't get out--surrounded as we
are by the enemy, and if we stay here another chance shell may wreck
"Better as we noathing do, maybe; eh?" suggested the Polish lad.
"I guess you've struck it," assented Jimmy. "There isn't very much we
can do. We might take a chance and sneak out, but I think very likely,
the Germans are well supplied with glasses. They are, most certainly,
watching this mill, if for no other reason than that it's so
conspicuous. If we run out they'll be sure to spot us, and it would
mean capture sure."
"Then what do you, advise, Blazes!" asked Roger.
"That we see if there's a chance of getting down in the cellar and
staying there. Some of these old mills had very thick foundation
walls. I don't know just how long this one will stand up if many more
such shells as the first one came over, but we can try it. In fact, it
seems to be our only chance."
"All right--to the cellar!" cried Bob. "And don't forget to take with
us what food and water we can. Maybe we'll be held there some time.
If there's a big battle it may last several days, though if our boys
drive back the Huns we'll take the opportunity to slip out and join
"That's right," agreed Jimmy. "Just think, fellows, what's happening
to us now may have happened to poor Maxwell. Maybe that's why he
hasn't been heard from. If we don't come back they'll list us as
missing, and no one will know whether we've run away, been killed or
captured. So we'll have to suspend judgment on the man that's got our
"That's so," agreed Franz. "I never looked at it in just that way. We
never thought this would happen to us, any more than I thought I'd be
They were gathering up such food as remained to them, and Bob was
looking for something in which to carry some water to the cellar, when
there came again that nerve-racking screech, followed by a roar and
bang that seemed to knock the very bottom out of the world itself.
And this time the boys were conscious, for a brief instant at least,
that the old mill was gone. It seemed to fall apart, to disintegrate,
to crumble like some time-worn structure. And then all five of
the lads lost consciousness and seemed to be slipping down into
everlasting blackness, while all about them fell and rattled and
banged stones, bricks, mortar-dust and dirt, mingled with cracked and
It was Iggy who first recovered his senses. Whether he was less
shocked, or whether his nerves were in such a state from his recent
experience as to make his unconsciousness of shorter duration,
does not matter. The fact is he opened his eyes. And he was at once
conscious that he was held down by the weight of much debris. It was
on his legs and on his body, but his arms and head were free.
"Ach! Back again am I in de shell hole! It was a dream, yes, that I
was taken out!" exclaimed the poor Polish lad. "It a dream must of
been! I shall sleep again!"
But as he was closing his eyes, for he really, as he said later,
thought that he was back in the shell hole, he saw Jimmy, who was half
buried near him, moving slightly.
"Oh, Jimmy Blazes! And dey kill you, too!" sighed Iggy. "How sorry I
am we both deat are alretty!"
"Who's dead?" asked Jimmy, in a faint voice. "I'm not, anyhow, but
blamed near it. Is that you, Iggy?"
"Yes, I it is. But I know not if I am deader or aliver."
"Take my word for it--you're alive so far, though how long you'll be
that way--or me, either--I can't say," said Jimmy. "What happened,
To Iggy's relief Jimmy managed to scramble out of the pile of dirt
and stones that half buried him. And then, from another corner of what
seemed to be the cellar, a third voice said:
"They sent over a proper shell, that time." It was Franz.
"A _proper_ shell? Most _improper_, I call it!" came from Roger. "It
blew the mill to pieces!"
"And us along with it," added Bob. "Are we in the cellar?"
"Sub-cellar, basement--anything you like to call it!" put in Jimmy.
"But is it possible that none of us is seriously hurt?"
He walked over a pile of masonry and beams. He saw Bob crawling out
of a hole and Franz swinging himself down from what appeared to be a
ledge. Roger picked himself up from a corner. Only Iggy seemed to be
seriously hurt, but it was demonstrated, a few moments later, that
he was not. For he scrambled out, scattering the dust in a cloud, and
stood with his chums.
They were a sorry sight--covered with dust and streaks of blood, for
the wounds they had bound up had opened again, and they had many fresh
scratches and cuts.
"It's very evident what happened," declared Jimmy. "They must have
dropped a shell on the roof, and it blew the mill right down into
the ground, and us with it. We're in the cellar--or what was once the
"And the next question is, how to get out," added Bob.
"Hark!" exclaimed Jimmy, holding up a warning hand.
There was silence, broken by a faint, crackling noise.
"Do you think you hear the German guns, or ours!" cried Bob.
"Neither one," said Jimmy, and there was a curious note in his voice.
"What I hear--and what you'll all hear, soon--is the crackling of
flames. The old mill--or what's left of it, boys--is on fire!"
"Then let's get out!" yelled Roger.
Jimmy looked about him, without moving. Above them there seemed to be
a solid mass of torn beams and jumbled masonry. On either side there
were stone walls--cracked walls, it is true, but, nevertheless, too
solid to admit the passage of the Khaki Boys. And only on one side
was there an opening, but this was so choked with debris as to make
it seemingly impossible to make egress that way. And, as the young
soldiers stood there, trapped under the collapsed mill, the sound of
the crackling flames became more plain. They could smell, now, the
smoke of burning wood.
"We've got to get out! We've got to get out!" yelled Bob.
He rushed to a place where, through a crisscross of beams and planks,
he could see daylight. Yet, though there were openings, none of them
was large enough to permit the passage of the smallest of the five
Brothers. And the wooden beams and planks were all of extraordinary
"We're trapped! Trapped! And the fire coming nearer!" half sobbed Bob.
And then he saw through the crisscross of beams, coming toward the
burning mill, a man who seemed to be an American officer. And yet he
wore no such uniform as Bob had ever seen before.
"Steady, boys!" cried this strange rescuer, as he glimpsed them. "I'll
soon have you out! Wait! Don't bring the ruins down on top of you!"
Through the splintered and tangled crisscross of beams, planks and
boards which barred their way to freedom, as some iron grill or
lattice work might have kept in some ancient prisoner, the Khaki Boys
looked at the man who had shouted to them; the man who had said he
would rescue them. And he spoke with a calmness and confidence that
was in strange contrast to the scene of terror, noise and confusion
which was behind the boys--a danger that was ever coming nearer as the
fire, started by the exploding shell, ate its way into the dry timber
of the old mill, and menaced the five imprisoned Brothers.
"Who is he?" murmured Bob.
"And where did he come from!" inquired Roger.
"Is he an American or German?" was the question Jimmy asked, and he
peered out through a space between two big beams that had fallen and
crossed when the mill collapsed.
"He isn't a German--that's sure," declared Franz. "No German would be
so decent as to rescue five imprisoned Americans. He'd let us roast to
"Maybe he knows not dat we American be," suggested the Polish lad.
"Well, he wouldn't have to be much of a guesser to tell that we
weren't Germans, after he heard us talk," said Jimmy. "We might be
of either nationality, as far as our being here is concerned. But no
matter what he thinks we are, he seems to be willing to help. What's
he looking for, I wonder?"
The strange rescuer appeared to be looking about in front of the mill
for some object. His eyes eagerly sought the ground, and he hurried to
and fro, seeming to realize the need of haste.
"I'll be there in just a moment, boys!" he called. "I'm looking for
something to use in prying apart those beams. They're pretty heavy,
and I've got to work all alone. I'll get you out in time!"
"Wonder how he knows we're boys!" asked Bob.
"Oh, that's a general term--he'd call us that if we were forty years
old," declared Jimmy. "And no matter how old a man is, if he's in the
army, he's a boy. But I wish he'd hurry. It's getting hot here!"
It certainly was! The fire was gaining rapidly, and, every now and
then, with a shift in the wind, the hot, choking gases from the
flames, together with rolling clouds of smoke, would be blown into the
rude chamber where the boys were imprisoned.
When the smoke-clouds blew away the Khaki Boys could look out and see
their rescuer, still hunting frantically about for some object to use
as a lever. In spite of the danger of their situation they could not
help observing the man. He was tall, and well formed, and unmistakably
a military character. He appeared to be above the general type of
captain or lieutenant.
"If he's any less than a general I'll eat my gas mask!" Roger declared
Clearly the man was born to command, or he had acquired that right in
some manner. There was an indefinable air of authority about him, even
though now he was hurrying about almost frantically, looking for some
weapon with which to attack the barrier that held the boys prisoners.
"That sure is a queer uniform he has on," remarked Jimmy, as he tried
in vain to move some of the beams from his side of the mass of timber
that had fallen when the mill was blown up. "It's mostly American, but
it has a British air about it."
"And his leather puttees look like some the Germans wear," added Bob.
"Maybe he's a war correspondent, and had to pick up bits of uniform
from all over."
"He isn't a war correspondent," declared Jimmy.
"What makes you so sure?" Roger wanted to know.
"Because, if he was, he'd have a brassard with a large letter 'C'
on it, around his arm," went on Jimmy. "And he wouldn't have a big
automatic revolver strapped to his hip, either. The correspondents
are classed as non-combatants, and aren't allowed to go armed."
"That's right," chimed in Franz. "But who is he!"
It seemed useless to speculate then, and, indeed, the boys were in
little mood for it. The precariousness of their position was alarming.
And while I have detailed the conversation among them, you are to
understand that it all took place very quickly. In fact from the time
they first observed the strange rescuer, until they had talked about
his odd uniform, was only about half a minute.
Suddenly the man--officer let us call him--who was scurrying about
just beyond the jagged barrier, uttered a cry of satisfaction. He
hurried out of the boys' vision for a moment, but lest they have
any fear that he had deserted them and left them to their fates, he
"I've found what I've been looking for--an axe! I'll soon have you out
He came running back, carrying an axe of curious make. It was a large,
keen one, however, and later it developed that it was one the French
miller had used to chop his firewood. Throwing off his coat, and
revealing beneath it a dark blue shirt, the officer began fiercely
to chop at the beams.
And the boys remembered afterward, though at the time they were too
excited to mark it, that the officer picked out what might be called
the "key" beam. That is one which held all the other pieces of jigged
and splintered timber in place, making a prison of that part of the
With vigorous blows of the keen implement, the unknown chopped away at
a great hand-hewn beam. And he swung the axe as though he knew how to
use it, and not as a tyro.
"He's been in a lumber camp at one time of his life," decided Jimmy,
and the others were inclined to agree with him.
The fire was now gaining so rapidly that the heat of it, penetrating
to the prison of the boys, was almost unbearable. The smoke, too, made
their eyes smart and burn, and it choked them, causing them to gasp
"Steady, boys! Steady!" panted the officer, between his vigorous
blows. "A few more strokes and I'll have this beam cut. Then I think
you can get out."
Again and again he swung the keen axe. Between the blows the boys
could hear the sounds of distant firing, and the reverberation told
them that heavy guns were being used.
"Hope they don't send any more shells over this way," murmured Bob.
"They seem satisfied, now that they have brought down the old mill on
top of us," commented Franz. "Can any of you see the German lines!"
None of them could, it developed. In fact, their vision was obstructed
by a small hill directly in front of the grill work of their prison,
and, even if this had been removed, the smoke was now swirling around
them so thickly that, at times, even the officer chopping them out was
Once or twice the chopper had to stoop down, in order to breathe the
purer and cooler air near the ground, and the boys were put to the
And then, suddenly, there came a crashing, splintering sound. There
was an exclamation from the officer, and, as he leaped back he cried:
"There she goes, boys! The way is as clear as I can make it! Come on
out, and lively, too!"
The Khaki Boys lost no time in obeying. Leaping and scrambling as best
they could over the heaps of brick, stone and splintered wood, they
emerged through the hole cut for them by the officer. He had chopped
through the one beam that held all the others, or most of the others
in place, and the crisscross structure had collapsed, allowing the
boys to escape.
"Come on! Come on!" cried Jimmy. "Everybody out!"
And they leaped out only just in time, for as Bob, the last to make
his way to safety, cleared the jagged barrier, a burst of flames and
smoke swept into what had been the boys' prison.
Now they stood on the green grass, in the open, with the burning ruins
of the mill at their backs. And confronting them, still holding the
axe, and panting from his terrific exertions, was the strange officer.
And as the young soldiers looked at him they wondered, more than ever,
who he was.
A PERILOUS JOURNEY
Almost at once there set in a reaction, as was natural under the
circumstances. The Khaki Boys had been keyed up to such a high pitch
through the battle, the attack on the hill, the subsequent shelling
of it, and their own dangerous position after the collapse of the
building, that now their rescue hardly seemed real.
"Say, I'm about all in!" exclaimed Bob, as he sank down on the grass.
"Same here," agreed Jimmy, staggering to a seat.
"Take it easy, boys, take it easy," counseled their rescuer. "And
better come a bit farther away from the fire. The whole place is
going, and the wind's blowing strongly this way. We're too much in
line with it."
He spoke the truth. The boys were enveloped, part of the time, in a
haze of smoke and a swirl of burning brands. Tired, and physically
and mentally exhausted as they were, they scrambled to their feet--for
they had all stretched out on the grass--and made their way to a spot
where they could breathe with freedom. The mill ruins were now burning
"Any more left in there!" asked the officer, pointing with his axe
towards the fiery structure.
"None alive," answered Jimmy, as he thought of their brave comrades
in arms who had perished in wiping out the German machine-gun nest. It
was, perhaps, a fitting funeral pyre for them.
"Stay here and I'll get you some water," offered the blue-shirted
officer. "That will fetch you around quicker than anything else. I can
get you a little food, too, I think--emergency rations, if you need
"We aren't exactly hungry, sir," said Jimmy, tacking on the "sir" in
an almost certain opinion that the man was an officer. "We had some
of our own rations, and we were eating when the Huns sent a big shell
over that spilled the beans."
"I see. Well, then, rest here until I can get you some water.
Fortunately the Boches can't blow up a stream. The water is sure to
remain somewhere. It won't take long to get it, I'll be back in a
He hurried off between two little hillocks, away from the burning mill
and in the direction of the stream.
"Who in the world is he?" asked Bob.
"It's a puzzle," said Jimmy. "We'll ask when we thank him for saving
"Here you are, boys," said the officer, as he came up the slope with a
canteen which gurgled most musically with water. "Drink this and then
we'll discuss what's best to be done."
"Are we safe here?" asked Jimmy. "Safe from the Germans, I mean?
They're all about here, you know."
"Yes, I know," said the officer, and there seemed to be more in his
remark than the mere words indicated. "But you're safe for the time
being. They have destroyed the mill, so it is no longer a menace, they
fancy. Their guns are directed elsewhere now."
The sound of distant firing could be plainly heard, but the boys could
no longer observe the gray ranks of the Huns on the distant hill. One
reason for this was because of the smoke from the burning mill, which
swirled about in all directions, and the other reason was that there
was a lot of smoke caused by the guns of the Germans, and this, or
perhaps a smoke screen which they started, concealed them.
"Feel better?" asked the officer, when the lads had emptied the
"Much," answered Jimmy. "And now, sir, may we have the pleasure of
knowing to whom we owe our escape? We're from the 509th Infantry," he
went on. "We were in the battle, and got cut off. Our lieutenant had
ordered us to take the mill where some Germans had two machine-guns.
We five are all that are left of the sixteen that started. And we
wouldn't be alive but for you. So if we could know whom to thank--"
The officer stopped him with an imperious gesture. He looked rather
stern, and then, as though conscious that this was not the attitude to
take, he smiled.
"I'm glad I was able to serve you," he said. "I happened to be in the
neighborhood. I heard your cries after the mill collapsed and began to
burn, and I hastened up. I had no time to summon help--in fact, your
friends are rather distant from here now. The Germans are all about."
"We know it--to our sorrow," replied Bob. "How we are going to get
back to our company is what's worrying me."
"It _is_ going to be a problem," assented the officer.
"Are you coming with us?" asked Jimmy. It was a perfectly
natural question. Here was one--by most appearances an American
officer--marooned with some American doughboys in the midst of the
Germans. Why should he not cast his lot with them, and lead them to
the best of his ability to the safest place? He was an officer--there
was no question of that--and it was his right to lead. But he seemed
disturbed at Jimmy's question. He looked searchingly at the boys, and
then toward the distant hills where the Germans were massed, though
not then in sight.
"No, I--I can't come with you," the unknown said. "I'm sorry, but you
will have to shift for yourselves. I'll give you the best directions
I can to enable you to reach your own lines, but you'll have to go
"We'll try," said Bob. "But we wish to thank you, and we don't know--"
"Oh, it was all in the day's work," interrupted the officer, "Any one
who came along would have done just as I did to help you."
"Not anyone, sir," asserted Franz, in a low voice. "A German wouldn't
have chopped us out."
"Well--er--perhaps not," said the officer. "But it was in my line of
duty and I did it. I don't want to be thanked for doing my duty."
"But we insist on thanking you, sir!" exclaimed Jimmy with a
smile. "If it hadn't been for you we'd be dead in there now--it was
impossible for us to free ourselves!"
"Well, you may call me Captain Frank Dickerson," said the officer
slowly. And he appeared to hesitate over the words.
"Then allow me, in the names of my companions, to thank you from the
bottoms of our hearts!" exclaimed Jimmy, rising and saluting. The
captain returned the salute. He stood for a minute looking Jimmy
straight in the eyes, and the lad said afterward that the officer
seemed to be searching out the sergeant's very soul. Then Captain
"I must leave you now. You will find a little package of food at the
end of the mill flume. I'll leave you this canteen so you may carry
water with you on your journey toward your own lines. Your way lies
there," and he pointed to the south. "Good-bye--and good luck! I hope
you may get through, but--"
Then, turning abruptly he strode off between two high grassy hummocks,
and was soon lost to sight in the smoke and haze.
For a moment the khaki boys stood, motionless, and then Jimmy, looking
around on the circle of his companions, exclaimed:
"Well, if that isn't mysterious!"
"I should say so!" agreed Bob. "Talk about the man in the iron
mask--this beats it!"
"Why doesn't he come with us, toward the American lines?" asked Roger.
"Why does he want to go over where the Huns are? This gets me. It
looks as if he was----"
He did not finish the sentence. But his chums knew what he had started
to say. Only it seemed a terrible suspicion to which to give voice,
against the man who had saved their lives. Still, with all that, the
khaki boys could not help thinking in their hearts that there was
"Maybe he's going over there to scout around and see if that's a
better way for us to get back to our quarters," suggested Bob.
Jimmy shook his head. Then he remarked slowly:
"Come on! Let's see about food and water and then well hike. All our
stuff--guns, rations and everything--has gone up in the fire."
"I haf yet two off dem handle chranades," spoke up Iggy, meaning,
thereby the serrated Mills bombs which were used in the trench raids.
"Hold on to them!" advised Jimmy. "We'll need them if the Huns see us,
and they're very likely to."
They crawled to the end of the mill flume. The fire was now some
distance from this wooden water carrier. There, in a canvas bag which
the boys recognized as one of the variety carried by the Americans,
they found a goodly stock of provisions.
"They'll last us a day, anyhow," said Jimmy, making an inspection.
"And by that time we may be back in our lines."
"Or in the Germans'," voiced Bob.
"There's a big battle going on all around us, but we seem to be in the
center of a calm area," said Roger. "The question is how to find our
"Well, let's go!" suddenly exclaimed Jimmy. "Well only get lame and
stiff staying here, I feel as if I'd been rolled down hill in a spiked
Not one of the five Brothers but what had several wounds. But,
fortunately, they were superficial ones. They were sore and bruised
from being knocked down by the concussion, and by being precipitated
into the cellar by the collapse of the mill. But they were still able
to travel; though, as Jimmy said, if they remained inactive their
muscles and joints would stiffen.
"Hike!" cried Bob, and they set off in the direction indicated
by Captain Dickerson--that strange man who had seemed so cold and
reserved, and who had made so light of what he had done in saving the
lives of the Khaki Boys.
"I wonder if we'll ever see him again," mused Franz, as they marched
away from the burning mill.
"Somehow I have a feeling that we will," said Jimmy. And afterward he
was to recall those words under strange circumstances.
And so they began what was destined to be a most perilous journey to
get back to their own lines.
"Now, boys," said Sergeant Jimmy, when they had dipped down into a
hollow among the many hills in the big valley, "we've got to have some
plan of action, and some system to this. We've got to have a leader,
too. Military rule must prevail, even among friends."
"You act as leader!" suggested Bob Dalton.
"That's right!" chimed in all the others.
"We'll make you captain, for the time being," added Roger.
"Thank you for the honor," said Jimmy with a smile. "I'll wait, I
guess, until my promotion comes regularly. But if you really want me
to take the lead and--"
"Of course we want you!" exclaimed Franz, while Iggy added:
"Besser as we should have him for to leader us dan a Germans."
"Well, I'm glad you think that much of me!" laughed Jimmy. "Now then,
if I'm to lead I'll have to give orders. And do you all agree to obey
them--at least if they don't seem against your better judgment?"
"We'll obey 'em anyhow," said Roger, and the others nodded assent.
"All right," went on Jimmy. "The first thing to do is to calculate how
long our rations will last. There's enough for one day if we each took
about all we wanted. Or there's enough for two days, or more, if we
"Then we'll go on a diet!" declared Bob. "There's no telling how long
we may be in getting back to our lines, and while we might be able to
find something to eat along the way, it won't do to take chances."
"I thought you'd look at it that way," said Jimmy. "As for water, it
rains so infernally often in this country that I imagine we shan't
be thirsty. But we'll always carry the canteen full. Now, then, I'll
appoint Roger as Secretary of the Interior--that is, I'll make him the
cook and give him charge of the rations," and Jimmy handed the canvas
bag of food over to his chum.
"There isn't anything to cook," said Roger, as he looked in the bag.
"It's all emergency ration stuff."
"So much the easier for you," declared Jimmy. "Now that's settled, the
next thing to decide is how to get to our lines."
"Keep right on going the way Captain Dickerson told us," suggested
"That's what I want to consider," Jimmy went on. "Do you all think
that is the wisest course to follow?"
"Why in the world not?" asked Franz, in some amazement. "Didn't
he tell us to go south, and don't we pretty well know that in that
direction would be the most logical place for our troops to be?"
"I grant that," replied Jimmy. "But if our lines are to the south, why
did Captain Dickerson, who appears to be an American officer, go to
the north! Why didn't he come with us?"
"That's starting the whole question over again," declared Bob. "I say
let's take a chance and go south. The captain wouldn't send us wrong
after he went to all that trouble to save us alive."
"Perhaps you're right," admitted Jimmy. "Well, though I'm leader I'm
willing to abide by the majority rule. Since you all want to go to the
south, the south it shall be."
"Don't you think that's the best way?" asked Roger.
"Well, it's as good, perhaps, as any other," was the reply. "I think
we're pretty well surrounded by Germans, and it doesn't really make
much difference which way we go. So the south is as good as any."
"Then lead on!" exclaimed Bob.
"Yes--hike!" added Roger.
And once more they started off.
Their way lay through what had once been a beautiful farming country.
In places, still, there were fields under cultivation--that is, they
had been cultivated up to within a few weeks. But the tide of battle
had swept over the region and the French farmers had either been killed
or had left their homesteads. Still, where the fields had not been torn
up by shell fire, grains were growing, and there were even orchards here
But, as far as the soldier boys could see, there was no sign of life.
Even the birds seemed to have flown away. There were no chickens, no
dogs, no cattle nor horses--in fact none of the usual farm scenes.
Here and there were farmhouses, some in ruins, others scarcely touched
by the devastating wave of war. But in these latter, which were still
habitable, there were no men or women, and no laughing children. In
fact, throughout France it is probable that there were no laughing
children at this stage of the war. Or if they laughed, it was because
they were too young to appreciate the menace of the Boche invasion.
"We may not be so badly off for food, even if we eat up all our
Secretary of the Interior has," remarked Bob, as they trudged along a
deserted road. They had, some time since, left behind them the burning
mill. It was out of sight, though they could catch occasional glimpses
of the smoke from it.
"What do you mean!" asked Jimmy.
"Well, there may be a lot of good things to eat in some of these
farmhouses," suggested the young corporal. "I vote we take a look."
"It can't do any harm," decided Jimmy. "But I doubt if we find
anything worth taking."
And he was right--at least in the first few houses the boys entered.
The cupboards had been cleaned out, if not by the unfortunate owners,
then by the Germans who had devastated the region.
"We'll have to live on what we have," said Jimmy. "And we may not be
so badly off for all that Lots of the boys have been without food
for three days. If they stood it we can. And we may get to our lines
sooner than we expect."
"I don't see why we shouldn't get there by night," observed Roger. "We
didn't hike very far when we were fighting, and our boys can't have
retreated far enough in the time that has elapsed since the fighting
changed, to get entirely beyond our reach. I believe we'll be with our
own division by night."
"Well, it doesn't do any harm to hope," said Jimmy. "But we've got to
be cautious just the same."
They kept on, ever on the alert for a sight of the Germans, ever
hoping for a sight of their own khaki-clad comrades. They appeared to
be marching away from the scene of the battle, or battles. The firing
became fainter. The country was now quite open, consisting of little
hills and valleys. Each time they came to a height which afforded
a place for observation, they looked all around. But all they saw,
besides an occasional deserted farmhouse, or patch of woods, were
rolling clouds of mist or smoke.
There had been considerable rain, and the ground was damp. The sun,
shining on this, caused the moisture to condense into fog that swirled
about here and there. The day had begun wonderfully clear, but now it
looked like rain again.
They halted in a little grove of trees and ate some of their
none-too-plentiful rations. Then, after a rest, they started on again.
It was late afternoon when, as they were hiking down a lonely road,
the rain suddenly began to fall.
"Whew! Now we're in for it!" exclaimed Roger, as he did his best to
protect the bag of food. "We might better have stayed back in the
"Let's double-quick it!" suggested Bob. "Maybe there's a house around
the bend in the road."
They hastened on, and the surmise of Bob proved correct. There was a
lonely little house--more of a cabin, or shack--set in the midst of
what had been a garden, but now overgrown with weeds.
"Shelter, at any rate!" cried Jimmy. "Come on, fellows!"
Roger was the first to enter the humble little cottage. But he had no
sooner crossed the threshold than he started back.
"What's the matter?" asked Bob, who was directly behind his chum. "Any
"No, but I fancy the owner is," said Roger. "Look!"
He pointed to the figure of an old man, with white hair, seated at a
table in what was evidently the kitchen. The man's head was bowed on
his arms which were resting on the table.
"Oh!" exclaimed Jimmy, as he looked in.
"Beg your pardon, sir," said Bob, "but we're Americans. May we stay
here out of the rain, and perhaps for the night?"
There was no answer. The figure did not move.
"He doesn't understand anything but French, very likely," said Franz.
"Can't you take a hand, Blazes?"
"Yes," assented Jimmy. "But it's funny he didn't wake up when Bob
spoke, even if he didn't understand. I'll go ahead. But let's get in
out of the wet."
They entered the room. The white-haired occupant of it did not stir
from his position of bowed-down grief.
"He sleeps very soundly," remarked Jimmy in a low voice.
Stepping forward he touched the old man on the shoulder, and then
Jimmy knew what had happened.
"He's dead!" he whispered.
"Dead?" echoed the others.
"Come on--let's go into the other room," suggested Jimmy.
There was another room opening out from the kitchen. Into this the
Khaki Boys filed silently.
"Do you suppose the Germans killed him?" asked Roger.
"Very likely. Or he may have died from old age, fright or shock. We'll
leave him where he is."
"And stay here?" asked Bob.
"Sure! Why not? We're out of the rain. The poor dead man can not harm
us, and we have seen enough of death, in worse forms than this, to be
"Oh, it isn't that I'm afraid!" exclaimed Bob. "But if the Germans did
that to--him--they may come back and--"
"I fancy not," said Jimmy. "I believe they think they have cleaned out
this place. It's the safest spot for us with the old man as a silent
sentry. Come, fellows, well spend the night here with the dead to
It was said reverently--piously--and there was a strange feeling in
the hearts of all the boys as they closed the door on the silent,
pathetic figure and stood together in the other room, while the rain
beat down on the roof, and dashed against the windows.
And so they began their bivouac of the with death as a sentry on
IN THE BATTLE AGAIN
"Well, we've got to be thankful that we had a place to stay all night
where we were out of the wet," remarked Jimmy, as he and his chums
awoke the next morning in the lonely cottage of the dead Frenchman.
"Yes, and we're going to have a good day to travel, too," said Bob.
"There's the sun up good and proper, as Tommy Atkins would say."
"No telling how long it'll stay up," came from Roger. "Yesterday
started in fine, but look what happened before night."
"Look what happened!" echoed Jimmy. "I don't believe since we joined
the service any more things have happened in any one day. We ought to
be thankful we're alive."
"Sure we are," said Iggy. "But I thinks me dat he is going to rain!"
"Who's he?" asked Franz.
"Him!" and Iggy pointed to the sun. "Der wedder I mean. Him will rain
before night I feel, for of my foot there is such a pains. Always when
it rain going to be is, of my foots there is a pain."
"You mean your corn hurts!" asked Bob, with a laugh. He had been
rather gloomy the day before, but now he seemed to have recovered his
usual good spirits. "Imagine having a corn in these days of battle!"
he went on.
"He is not what you say--imagitive!" declared the Polish lad
earnestly. "He is real, dat pain in mine foots! But I can away from
here march quick. It gives me bad dreams," and he looked toward the
kitchen where the silent occupant had acted as sentry for them.
There had been no disturbance during the night, and if any parties of
Germans had passed the lonely farmhouse this was unknown to the boys.
Occasionally they heard the sound of distant firing, but now, as
the sun rose higher in the heavens, the noises became louder, and,
"Must be a big battle going on not far from here," remarked Bob.
"I don't believe there's been any let-up in the big battle," came from
"The only trouble is that we're being left out!" exclaimed Franz. "I
want to get back in the fighting again."
"Same here!" murmured Roger. "Let's eat and then well hike. We ought
to get back to our lines to-day, sure."
"If we have luck," remarked Jimmy. "Well, let's go!"
It was not much of a breakfast that the Khaki Boys had, but it was
better than nothing. They managed to make a fire in the stove and
boiled some coffee they found in a cupboard.
"Best meal I've had in a week!" exclaimed Bob with a grateful sigh, as
he finished his cup of hot liquid. "Now I'm ready to meet Kaiser Bill
They packed up what food remained, filled their canteen from a little
stream not far from the cottage, and then, bidding a silent farewell
to the dead Frenchman, they started off once more.
The country through which the five Brothers traveled seemed as
deserted as that over which they had journeyed the previous day after
their rescue from the old mill. But the evidences of war were more
frequent in destroyed orchards, ruined farmhouses and, here and
there, immense holes in the ground where great shells had struck and
"What's your trouble, Jimmy!" asked Bob, clapping his chum on the
shoulder, as they trudged down a road. "You look as though you hadn't
heard from your girl in Buffalo in a month of Sundays."
"Neither I have," said Jimmy. "But I wasn't exactly thinking of
Margaret then, though I have given her a lot of thought at different
times. I'm just wondering--"
"'Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile,
smile!'" sang Bob.
"Good advice," commented Jimmy. "My troubles aren't any more serious
than those of anyone else in this war. But I was just wondering if
that officer told us the truth"
"What officer?" asked Roger.
"The one who called himself Captain Dickerson, and who saved our lives
at the red mill?" answered Jimmy. "I can't get over his not coming
with us to show us the way to the American lines. I believe he ought
to have done it!" and Jimmy spoke very determinedly.
"He certainly would have if he had had any consideration for
Iggy's pet corn!" laughed Bob. "We don't seem to be having any luck
ourselves. It wouldn't have hurt him to have taken command of this
squad of rookies and led us back to civilization."
"Civilization! I hope you don't call the trenches with their big rats
and cooties and--er--other things--civilization!" cried Jimmy. "If it
is--give me barbarism."
"Well, I didn't just mean that," went on Bob. "But I wish Captain
Dickerson had come back with us."
"Maybe he had orders to proceed elsewhere," suggested Franz.
"If he had he was on a dangerous mission," said Jimmy simply. "He went
straight toward the German lines. I can't understand it at all. He
certainly was a strange man."
"But he did us the greatest service one man can do for another,"
remarked Roger. "He saved our lives, fellows! Don't forget that!"
"No," agreed Jimmy in a low voice. "Whatever happens we must never
They trudged on in silence a little longer, and then Franz broke out
"And speaking of wondering, Jimmy, what do you suppose has become of
"And your money, Blazes," added Bob.
"Our money," corrected his chum. "Haven't I told you that the five
thousand francs is the joint property of the five Brothers."
"All right--have it your own way--anything if or a quiet life!" said
Bob, quickly. "I was just wondering, that's all."
"I have been wondering, too," admitted Jimmy. "The disappearance of
Maxwell and the cash is almost as much of a mystery as is Captain
Twice that day, as they tramped along, seeking in vain for the
American lines, they saw small parties of German soldiers. And on
both occasions the Khaki Boys were fortunate enough to sight the enemy
first, so they could conceal themselves in patches of woods.
They were now in a country where there were larger tracts of forest,
and after coming out of one of these thickets Bob remarked.
"Fellows, do you know what I think?"
"Do you, really?" chafed Roger.
"Do I really what?" asked Bob, a bit disconcerted.
"Think!" exclaimed his chum. "I thought you'd given that up."
"This war is enough to make a chap give it up," Bob agreed. "But
seriously, fellows, I think we're lost--that we've been going around
in a circle, and we aren't any nearer our lines than when we were at
the red mill. Not so near, in fact, for there we knew that some of the
doughboys were not more than a mile away. But here--"
"Bob, I shouldn't be surprised but what you are right!" exclaimed
Jimmy. "It does seem funny that, with all our traveling, we haven't
come to the American lines. They can't be so far away as all this. I
guess we must have traveled in a circle. Pity we haven't a compass."
"Can't you steer by the sun?" asked Franz. "We started south, and if
we keep the rising sun on our left and the setting sun on our right,
we're bound to go south."
"The trouble was yesterday that we didn't see the sun after we started
hiking," declared Jimmy. "It's all right now--we're surely going
south. But how long we can keep it up there's no telling."
"Well, then, as long as we know we're going in the right direction
now, let's double quick and cover as much ground as we can straight
away, before we get turned around again," suggested Roger.
His plan was voted a good one, and the tired young soldiers hurried
on. But to their chagrin it soon became cloudy, and then a mist
settled down obscuring every gleam of sunshine, and they had to
depend on their sense of direction, which, truth to tell, was not very
When night came, it found the boys on a lonely stretch of land, partly
bogs, with, here and there, patches of woods. The prospect was most
gloomy, for their food was getting scarce, and they were tired and.
sore. Their wounds, slight as they were, bothered them, and though
none complained, each one would have been glad to be able to slip into
some dugout, no matter how rough, and there rest.
"What shall we do!" asked Jimmy, as it became almost too dark to
proceed along an uncertain path. "Shall we hole in or keep on?"
"It's going to be cold, holing in this night," replied Roger, with a
shiver. "Look at that fog!" he went on, as the mists rolled up from a
swamp. "It goes right through you!"
"Well, then let's keep on walking," said Jimmy, trying to speak
They walked on in silence. Bob did not get off any of his queer,
improvised rhymes, and as for Iggy he turned up the collar of his
coat, hunched his shoulders; and seemed like some old man tramping
"Hark!" suddenly called Jimmy, and the words came in a tense whisper.
It was as if he had said "Halt!" for his chums came to a stop on the
"What is it?" asked Bob.
"Don't you hear some one walking toward us?" went on Jimmy, his voice
still low and tense.
They all listened. The fog swirled around them in cold, white clouds.
And then, through the darkness, they all heard, and distinctly, this
time, the measured beat of marching feet.
"Soldiers all right!" commented Roger in a whisper.
"Yes, but what kind?" was Jimmy's question. "Are they our boys, some
of the Allies or--Germans?"
"What shall we do?" asked Franz, and, in the misty darkness he turned
toward Jimmy, as seemed natural.
"Keep still," was the advice given. "And crouch down. If they are
Boches well let 'em pass--if they'll be so obliging as to go on. If
they're some of our boys--"
"Oh, boy! If they only are!" sighed Bob.
The tramping feet came nearer.
"They're headed right this way!" declared Franz, who was crouching
down next to Jimmy.
"Yes. But keep still! Don't even whisper. Sounds carry very far on a
misty night--almost as they do over water."
The thud of heavily shod feet sounded plainly now, and then, suddenly,
so suddenly that it made the hearts of the Khaki Boys thump fiercely,
there came a voice out of the darkness saying:
"I don't believe we'd better go any farther, boys. We've come quite a
way from our lines, and we haven't seen a sign of even a Hun sentry.
We can go back and report the coast clear!"
And the voice was that of an American! Hearing it Jimmy and his chums
leaped to their feet.
"Americans there"! sung out Bob.
Instantly came the sharp challenge:
"Some of the 509th Infantry," answered Jimmy, giving the names of his
companions and himself.
"Advance, Sergeant Blaise! The others stay where they are. And
remember our rifles have you covered, so don't try any funny work."
It was a grim warning, but the five Brothers appreciated its need.
Jimmy stepped forward, and the light from a pocket electric torch
flashed in his face.
"Don't know you, but you look all right," said a tall, young
lieutenant who was in charge of the party, the tramping feet of which
had so alarmed our heroes. "What are you doing here?"
"It's a long story, but I'll cut it short," said Jimmy, and he did.
The lieutenant listened with interest, and then, satisfied that the
truth was being told, he remarked.
"You'd better come back with us. We'll take care of you for to-night,
and to-morrow you can send word to your command. I don't know this
Captain Dickerson you speak of."
"Are we near the American lines?" asked Bob.
"Within half a mile," was the answer.
They were led back, and soon were comfortably housed in a dugout,
partaking of hot rations, and telling their story to wondering
comrades. They had come upon a sector of the line held by a division
made up of New York and New Jersey troops, and, though our heroes knew
none of them personally, they fraternized all right.
The next day the commanding officer, having heard their story, sent
them back to their own company, which had moved considerably farther
toward the front since the battle of the mill, as the boys called it.
They learned that the big body of German troops which they had seen
from their hiding place had not yet come into an engagement to any
great extent with the Allies.
"A big battle is pending though," said their captain, when our heroes
were back in their own command, where they were made royally welcome.
"There have been skirmishes and some long-distance artillery work. But
the big fight is yet to come. You'll have a chance to rest up and get
in trim for it."
Jimmy and his chums were glad of this. They were allowed leaves of
absence, and went back of the lines to a pleasant little village,
where rest and good food soon made them "fit" again. All efforts to
learn something more of Captain Dickerson, and the whereabouts of
Sergeant Maxwell, were, however, without avail.
One evening, after the five Brothers had reported back to their billet
for duty, and while they were in the dugout, detailing over again some
of their experiences at the mill, the sergeant-major entered.
"Get set, boys!" he exclaimed. "The orders are coming in. We go over
the top again in the morning, and it's going to be some fight!"
And when the zero hour was signaled again the five Brothers were in
battle once more.
Equipped with gas masks, their packs filled with first-aid outfits,
carrying emergency rations, with the "tin hats" on their heads and
with rifles firmly grasped, over the top went the Khaki Boys, and
thousands like them, in another attempt to subdue the Boche enemy.
Behind the boys roared out the big guns that were laying down a
protecting barrage--a veritable curtain of fire behind which they
might advance and without which they would have been swept back into
their trenches broken and bruised and killed. The artillery duel had
been under way some little time now, and it had evidently taken the
Germans by surprise, for they were longer than usual in replying.
"Smash 'em up! Smash 'em up!" yelled the lieutenant in charge of that
particular part of the advance in which Jimmy Blaise and his chums
were included. "Smash 'em up, boys!"
"Wow! We're with you!" howled Franz. "Smash 'em up!"
Forward they surged, the gallant American lads, who a short time
before were peaceful clerks, factory and farm hands and happy college
lads, and some boys who instinctively shrank from the mere thought of
killing. But now their spirits were on fire with the sacred wine of
liberty, and they were daring as they had never dared before. Their
daring was imbued with right, and other than this nothing will stand.
The gray mists of morning swirled this way and that, blown not so much
by nature's wind as by the bursts from the flaming mouths of great guns.
And through this mist rushed the Americans, some to horrible death or
agony, and some to escape scatheless--to inflict just punishment on a
mass of men who had lost all sense of right and wrong--men who had
reverted to beasts.
"Are we all here?" yelled Jimmy, above the horrid din of battle, as he
tried to see if Bob, Roger and the others were near him.
"I guess we're here--yet," snapped back Franz, grimly. "No telling how
long we shall be, though!"
"Come on now--sharp's the word!" yelled the commanding officer.
"Separate there, you!" he cried to Jimmy and the other four, for they
were too close together. "Spread out! You're too good a target for a
machine-gun as you stand!"
They knew the advice was good, and they took it. But they did not
separate too far, for they wanted to be together as they went into
this fight. It might be the last for all or any one of them.
The din was terrific. It seemed as if all the guns of the world were
letting go together, and as Jimmy rushed forward, firing at a foe he
could not see, he reflected that this same terrific havoc and riot
of sound was taking place for miles along the front held by the
Americans, and also along the sectors where the gallant French and
British were disputing with the Huns the right to rule the world.
"Forward! Forward! No lagging!" cried the young lieutenant, leading
his men. It was getting lighter now, as the sun arose, but the orb
itself could not be seen because of the smoke and mist.
But he need not have concerned himself about the laggards. There
were none in the 509th Infantry. Too often had they had their mettle
A shell rushed screechingly over Jimmy's head seemingly within a few
feet of him, and instinctively he ducked. Then he almost laughed at
himself, for he realized that if he heard the noise he was safe.
"We're getting closer," mused Jimmy as he leaped forward, firing as
he went, now crouching down, and again standing partly upright, as he
hurried on. He and his chums were passing through an orchard, now, on
their way to come to grips with the Germans. That is, it had been an
orchard, but all that was left of it now were a few broken stumps of
trees. The firing of heavy guns, and the bursting of big shells had
wiped out the work of nature.
There came an explosion on Jimmy's left--an explosion from a small
German shell that blew up a section of the orchard, tossing the
blackened and gnarled stumps high in the air. And with the stumps were
mingled poor, twisted human bodies.
For one terrible moment Jimmy feared for Franz and Iggy, whom he had
last noted almost at the very spot where the shell exploded. His heart
turned faint within him. But it was no time to falter. One must not
halt nor turn back even though one's own brother were torn to pieces.
Forward was the word in that grim and terrible fighting. Forward to
your own death, perhaps, to the death of those you held most dear!
Forward to insure life and happiness for those who would come after!
Such was the sacred duty!
And then, to his great relief, Jimmy heard a voice he knew well
"Ach! Him was one big whizz-bang, yes!"
"You said it, Iggy!" shouted Franz, and Jimmy saw his two comrades
emerge from the smoke and dust cloud, and rush forward. They had
just escaped death by the shell, which sent into eternity six beloved
bunkies of the 509th.
"Well, they're alive yet!" grimly mused Jimmy, as he fired and
crouched down. A look to the right showed him Roger and Bob doing the
same thing. So far the five Brothers had suffered no harm.
But the battle was only beginning. The German big guns had not yet
opened in force to reply to the challenge of the American heavy
artillery. So far the barrage had, in a great measure, protected our
lads. Now they were to move forward again. The guns at the rear
were elevated, to send the bursting shrapnel further into the German
ranks--to prevent them from rushing at the advancing American troops.
And now was a critical time, for even in spite of the barrage some
parties of Huns, in bomb-proofs, might suddenly arise and confront the
Americans. There was a chance for close fighting.
But it did not come. That part of No Man's Land over which Jimmy and
his chums were advancing, leaping from shell crater to mud hole, and
from one slimy pool to another, seemed to have been cleared of Huns.
Once again came the explosion of a comparatively large shell, and
again, hurled aloft in a shower of stones and dirt, went the bodies of
a half score of Americans. The Germans were taking frightful toll.
"This way! This way!" suddenly ordered the lieutenant. "Into the
Jimmy saw a large grove of trees on his left. He turned toward them,
and he noted that Franz and Iggy were ahead of him, while Bob and
Roger came in the rear.
And, just as they reached the somewhat sheltering woods, there sounded
from the air above them several explosions, and with them was an
undercurrent of humming and droning as if from a million swarms of
"The Boche aeroplanes! They're right over us--a whole flock of 'em!"
cried Roger. "And they're dropping bombs on us!"
A BATTLE OF THE AIR
What Roger had said was only too true. The advance of the American
army had been halted, at least temporarily, by a sudden attack from
a large number of German aeroplanes. The Fokkers had arisen from far
enough back of the place where the American shells were falling to
escape them. And then they had sailed directly over the advancing
Americans, the center formation of the Huns' ships of the air being
almost directly over where our five heroes were now stationed in the
"Bombs! I should say so!" cried Jimmy, as one landed on the other edge
of the woods, and blew a great hole in the ground. "This is getting
too close for comfort!"
The German machines, having flown from the direction of their own
lines across the American front, dropping bombs that did great
execution, were now coming back again, to repeat the performance, it
was very evident.
"Why didn't we bring up some anti-aircraft guns?" demanded Bob,
as though some officer, immediately over him, had neglected this
"Guess no one expected the Huns would try this trick," said Roger.
"It's a daring move, all right."
"And it's a dangerous one for us, too!" added Jimmy, grimly. "These
woods are a pretty good protection against shrapnel and machine-gun
fire, but they're absolutely useless when it comes to screening us
from aeroplane bombs. Of course we can hide from the sight of the
flying Huns, but they must know this wood is full of Americans, and
a bomb dropped anywhere among the trees will get some of us. It's
"You said it!" cried Franz. "Wow! That was a bad one!"
A bomb--one of the winged affairs that wrought such deadly havoc in
Paris and London--had fallen not one hundred feet from where the five
Brothers were crouching in the underbrush. The concussion jarred
them, and the force of the explosion uprooted several large trees that
injured a number of the command, while the bomb itself killed three in
"Why don't our flying lads get after 'em?" demanded Franz. "Surely we
have some planes over here now--in fact, I know we have; though not
nearly enough. Where are they?"
Well might he ask that, for the Germans were circling around, now over
the woods and again over the open country, dropping their bombs, which
exploded, doing terrible damage, killing and wounding many.
Suddenly Bob, who was gazing skyward in despair, clutched Jimmy's arm
"Look! Look! There they are! There come our boys! American machines!
See the Indian head! Now we'll see Mr. Hun on the run! Oh, boy!"
Jimmy gazed for a moment in the direction indicated by his excited
churn. Then he exclaimed:
"You're right! The American aviators are here at last, and I'll wager
it wasn't their fault that they didn't get here sooner! Now for a
fight in the air!"
And up just beneath the clouds, sometimes out of sight in the mist,
the American flying men attacked the enemy. Now there was no time for
the Huns to loose their bombs. They must look to their own safety. No
longer did they have all the odds on their side.
"Look! Look! See our man engage those two!" shouted Roger.
They all saw what he meant. One intrepid American airman had headed
for two Fokkers which were flying directly toward him, close together.
But in another instant one of the German planes was seen to swerve
to one side, and then it darted downward, and in a manner to indicate
that its pilot had been killed or wounded, for the machine was out of
control. Like a dead leaf it descended, crashing into a shapeless mass
in a field some distance from the woods.
"Now he's after the other!" cried Bob. "Oh, they're going to collide!"
But he spoke without knowledge of the skill to be shown by the
American pilot and his accompanying gunner. For, just as it appeared
as though the two hostile craft would come together in a mid-air
crash, the American machine seemed to slide up and over its opponent.
And then, just as the first German had done, the enemy craft crumpled
up, and down it went in dizzying whirls.
"Two at once! That's going some!" yelled Jimmy, capering about. They
were comparatively out of danger now, sheltered as they were in
the woods from the artillery and rifle and machine-gun fire of the
Germans. And no more airship bombs were being dropped.
"Some stunt, that!" declared Bob. "Wonder who they were--those
"I hope they live through it so we can find out," voiced Franz. The
battle in the air was now going on fiercely. There were ten American
machines attacking more than double that number of Germans, and, as
was always the case, the Huns were brave when they had the numerical
advantage. They fought bitterly, and with skill--that could not be
denied. And before the battle had been going on very long two American
machines had been shot down. Whether the men in them had been killed,
or not, remained to be seen.
"It's sort of going against us," said Jimmy, with a dry, choking sob.
"This is fierce!" cried Roger. "Why don't we send up some more
"Haven't got 'em, maybe," remarked Franz. "Oh, look at that! They
collided head on!"
This actually happened. One of the larger American machines, the
ammunition probably having given out, was being attacked by a German
Fokker. Knowing that it was either kill or be killed, the pilot of the
craft with the Indian head painted on the underside of the wings took
a desperate chance.
Straightening out his craft, he headed it directly toward that of his
enemy. The latter tried to steer out of the way when it was seen what
the game would be, but he was unable to do so.
They came together with what must have been a fearful crash, though of
course not the faintest echo of it could be heard down in the woods.
And then, locked together in a death embrace, the two machines hurtled
over and over to earth, bursting into flames as they fell. They
smashed down in a swamp, and all four airmen were killed--the two
brave Americans and their perhaps no less intrepid German fighters.
"It's going to be a tight squeeze!" murmured Roger, as he and the
others gazed aloft. "There's three of our machines done for and here
come some more Germans. Oh, this is fierce!"
"More German machines? Where!" cried Jimmy.
"There!" and Roger pointed to the sky behind the German planes. "Ten
more of 'em!" he cried. "Now we're done for, sure!"
"Those aren't Hun planes! They're French!" yelled Bob. "See, they're
French! They've circled up behind the Germans! Now we have 'em between
And this was just what happened. The French, seeing that the battle of
the air was going against their American allies, had hastily sent up
a squadron of speedy craft. These arose very high, flew over and above
the Germans, out of sight, and then, coming down, attacked them in the
This was too much for Fritz. He had no taste for a battle against even
less odds than this. The Fokkers turned to flee, but it was too late
for all but two of them. These managed to elude the American and
French cloud-fighters and disappeared in the mist in the direction of
the German lines. It was presumed they reached there safely.