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The Boy Allies At Verdun by Clair W. Hayes

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The Boy Allies At Verdun

OR

Saving France from the Enemy

By CLAIR W. HAYES

AUTHOR OF "The Boy Allies At Liege" "The Boy Allies On the Firing Line"
"The Boy Allies With the Cossacks" "The Boy Allies In the Trenches"
"The Boy Allies On the Somme"

1917

CHAPTER I

THE EVE OF VERDUN

On the twenty-second of February, 1916, an automobile sped northward
along the French battle line that for almost two years had held back the
armies of the German emperor, strive as they would to win their way
farther into the heart of France. For months the opposing forces had
battled to a draw from the North Sea to the boundary of Switzerland,
until now, as the day waned--it was almost six o'clock--the hands of time
drew closer and closer to the hour that was to mark the opening of the
most bitter and destructive battle of the war, up to this time.

It was the eve of the battle of Verdun.

The occupants of the automobile as it sped northward numbered three. In
the front seat, alone at the driver's wheel, a young man bent low. He was
garbed in the uniform of a British lieutenant of cavalry. Close
inspection would have revealed the fact that the young man was a youth of
some eighteen years, fair and good to look upon. As the machine sped
along he kept his eyes glued to the road ahead and did not once turn to
join in the conversation of the two occupants on the rear seat. Whether
he knew that there was a conversation in progress it is impossible to
say, but the rush of wind would have made the conversation
unintelligible, to say the least.

This youth on the front seat was Hal Paine, an American.

The two figures in the rear seat were apparently having a hard time
to maintain their places, as they bounced from side to side as the
car swerved first one way and then the other, or as it took a flying
leap over some object in the road, which even the keen eye of the
driver had failed to detect. But in spite of this, even as they
bounced, they talked.

One of the two figures was tall and slender and there was about him an
air of youthfulness. He was in fact a second American boy. His name
was Chester Crawford, friend and bosom companion of Hal Paine. Like
the latter he, too, was attired in the uniform of a British lieutenant
of cavalry.

The second figure in the rear seat was built along different lines. He
was short and chunky; also, he was stout. Had he been standing it would
have been evident that he was almost as wide as he was long. He had a
pleasant face and smiled occasionally, though upon each occasion this
smile died away in a sickly grin as the car leaped high in the air after
striking a particularly large obstruction in the road, or veering crazily
to one side as it turned sharply. In each case the grin was succeeded by
a gasp for breath.

The figure was that of Mr. Anthony Stubbs, war correspondent of the New
York _Gazette_, on the firing line in Europe to gather facts for his
newspaper. He was attired in a riding suit of khaki.

Said Mr. Stubbs:

"Well, we may get there and we may not."

"Oh, we'll get there all right, Mr. Stubbs!" Chester raised his voice to
make himself heard.

"We're likely to land out here in the ditch," was Stubbs' reply. "The way
Hal runs this car, there is no telling what may happen."

"Not frightened, are you, Mr. Stubbs?" asked Chester, grinning.

"Frightened?" echoed Stubbs. "Why should I be frightened? We can't be
going more than a couple of hundred miles an hour. No, I'm not
frightened. I'm what you call scared. Wow!"

This last ejaculation was drawn from the little man as he was pitched
over into Chester's lap by an extra violent lurch of the car. He threw
out a hand, seeking a hold, and his open palm came in contact with
Chester's face. Chester thrust Stubbs away from him.

"I say, Stubbs!" said the lad half angrily. "If you want to jump out of
here, all right; but don't try and push me out ahead of you. Keep your
hands out of my face."

"I wasn't trying to push you out," gasped Stubbs. "I was hunting
something to hang on to."

"Well, my face is no strap," declared Chester.

The automobile slowed down suddenly and a moment later came to a stop at
a fork in the road.

"I'll have to have a look at this chart," Hal called over his shoulder to
his companions, as he thrust a hand into a pocket. "Forget which way we
head from here."

"We're headed for the happy hunting grounds no matter which road we
take," mumbled Stubbs.

"Don't croak, Mr. Stubbs," said Hal. "Barring accidents, we'll reach
General Petain at Verdun in time to deliver these despatches before it's
too late."

"What I don't understand," said Chester, "is why it is necessary to
deliver these despatches by courier. What's the matter with the wire?"

"I don't know," said Hal, as he returned the chart to his pocket after a
quick scrutiny, "unless there is a leak of some kind."

"Hardly," said Chester.

Hal shrugged his shoulders as he settled his cap more firmly on his head
and laid a hand on the wheel.

"You never can tell," he said.

"Well," said Stubbs, "I don't--hey! what're you trying to do, anyhow?"

For the little man again had been hurled violently against Chester as Hal
sent the car forward with a lurch. "Trying to leave me behind? What?"

"Can't be done, Mr. Stubbs," said Chester.

Mr. Stubbs glared at the lad angrily, but deigned to make no reply. So
the big army automobile continued on its way in silence.

Darkness fell. Hal stopped the car and lighted the lamps.

"Can't take any chances while going at this speed," he said.

Stubbs grinned feebly to himself, seemed as if about to speak, then
thought better of it and remained silent. But he waved a hand in disgust.

A moment later the car was rushing through the darkness at the speed of
an express train; and while this journey in the night continues it will
be well to explain the presence of the three companions in the big army
car, how they came there and why, and the nature of the mission upon
which they were bound.

A month before the three had been in the Balkans. There the two lads,
together with Anthony Stubbs, had gone through many dangerous adventures,
finally reaching Greek soil in the nick of time, with a horde of
Bulgarians just behind them. With them had been others--Ivan, a Cossack,
a third British officer and a young girl. Ivan had elected to join the
Anglo-French forces at Salonika; the other British officer had found his
own regiment there and the girl, whom it had been the good fortune of the
boys to save from the Bulgarians, found friends in the Greek city who had
taken her in charge.

Hal, Chester and Stubbs had embarked on a French battleship, homeward
bound. After due time they landed in Marseilles.

"Now," said Chester, when he once more felt French soil under his feet,
"I suppose the thing for us to do is to return to the Italian lines and
see if we can learn anything of Uncle John, then return to Rome and to
New York."

Uncle John was the brother of Chester's mother. All had been bound for
home when Hal and Chester had become involved in a matter that took them
forward with the Italian troops. Uncle John had been along to keep them
out of mischief, if he could. He hadn't succeeded and had fallen into the
hands of the Austrians. The boys had saved him. Later they had been
forced to seek refuge in the Balkans, having found it impossible to get
back into the Italian lines, and they had lost Uncle John. Their arrival
in Marseilles had really been the first step toward a return to Rome,
where they intended to try and find their mothers.

But their plans to return to Rome did not materialize. As Hal said: "Luck
was with us."

In a little room in a Marseilles restaurant they had overheard a
conversation between two men, plainly foreigners, that had resulted in
their once more being sent on active service. While they had been unable
to gather all the details, they had learned enough to know that the
German Crown Prince had laid careful plans for an attack on Verdun. They
had taken their information to the French commanding officer in
Marseilles. The latter had been somewhat skeptical, but Colonel Derevaux,
an old friend of the boys, had arrived at the psychological moment and
vouched for them.

Immediately the French officer decided that something must be done. The
plans of the Germans, so far as he knew, had not been anticipated. For
some reason he did not wish to trust the information to the telegraph
wires, and the two lads had volunteered to deliver it in person to
General Petain. Their offer had been accepted, which accounts for the
fact that we find them upon the last leg of their journey to Verdun at
the opening of this story.

Stubbs had elected to accompany them, for, as he said, "I've got to get
the news."

The two lads had seen considerable active service. They had fought with
the Belgians at Liege; with the British on the Marne; with the Cossacks
in Russian Poland and in the Carpathians; with the Montenegrins and
Serbians in the Balkans, and with the Italian troops in the Alps.

They had been participants in many a hard blow that had been delivered by
the Allies. They had won the confidence of Field Marshall John French,
commander of the British forces in France until he was succeeded by
General Sir Douglas Haig after the battle of the Champagne, and of
General Joffre, the French commander-in-chief.

While they ostensibly were British army officers, their titles were
purely honorary, but they held actual lieutenancies in the Belgian army,
these having been bestowed upon them by King Albert in recognition of
services accomplished in and around Liege in the early days of the war.

The boys had been chums since early childhood. They had been brought up
together. They attended school together and were inseparable companions.
Each spoke German and French fluently, and service with other armies had
given them a knowledge of other tongues. Both were strong and sturdy,
crack shots, good with sword and sabre, and particularly handy with their
fists. These accomplishments had stood them in good stead in many a tight
place. But better than all these accomplishments was the additional fact
that each was clear-headed, a quick thinker and very resourceful. They
depended upon brains rather than brawn to pull them through ticklish
situations, though they did not hesitate to call on the latter force when
occasion demanded.

Hal, peering ahead by the glare of the searchlight on the large army car,
suddenly slowed down; the car stopped. A group of mounted men rode up.
Hal stood up and gave a military salute as one of the group advanced
ahead of the others.

"I am from General Durand at Marseilles, sir," he said. "I have important
dispatches for General Petain."

The French officer returned the salute.

"Follow me," he said briefly.

CHAPTER II

VERDUN

Rightly is the fortress of Verdun called the gateway to France. By reason
of its strategic position, it is absolutely essential that an invading
army have possession of Verdun before thought of a successful advance on
Paris can be entertained; and it was upon the capture of Paris that the
German emperor laid his hopes, in spite of the collapse of a similar
offensive launched in the first days of the war.

But Wilhelm II had learned a lesson. Verdun must be taken before he
ordered his armies upon the French capital; and so it was that, upon
February twenty-third, 1916, the German Crown Prince began a determined
assault upon the historic French fortress.

In sheer human interest the battle of Verdun surpassed all other
individual events of the war. For six months and more the defenders of
the gateway to France withstood a storm at the fury of which the world
stood aghast.

Foot by foot, almost inch by inch, the Germans forged ahead with a
reckless disregard of their lives, a tenacity and cool courage which was
only equalled by the cool determination of the French. Five months after
the opening of this great battle, the unofficial estimate of German dead
was a half million men. The assailants fought their way to within three
miles and a half of the fortress itself, but there they were finally
halted. It was then that the tide turned; and though the Germans surged
forward day after day in heavy masses they progressed no further. It was
the beginning of the end.

The Germans advanced confidently. The destruction of the fortress
presented no hard problem to them. The utter worthlessness of similarly
fortified positions had been proven in the earlier days of the war--in
the destruction of Louvain, Liege, Brussels and Antwerp, the latter the
most strongly fortified city in the world, with the exception of Paris
itself. The huge 42-centimetre guns of the Germans had battered them to
pieces in little or no time at all.

It was with the knowledge of the effectiveness of these great guns that
the Crown Prince opened the battle of Verdun. The fortress of Verdun and
the outlying fortifications, it was believed, would be shattered with
little effort. With these facts in mind, the German Crown Prince opened
with his big guns, first upon the fortresses guarding Verdun itself.

These approaches shattered, the Crown Prince ordered his infantry and
cavalry to the attack. But where the onrushing Germans, according to the
reasoning of the Crown Prince, should have found no resistance, they
encountered strenuous opposition. Abandoning the outlying artificial
fortifications, the French had thrown up huge earthworks and from behind
these received the German attacks coolly.

Against these great earthworks the heavy guns of the attacking forces
availed little. The force of even the great 42-centimetres was not great
enough to penetrate the loosely built mounds of earth behind which the
French reposed. The great shells struck the fresh earth, were embedded
there and did no harm. The French general staff had realized the
uselessness of fortresses as soon as had the Germans.

Therefore, while the Germans were able to destroy forts and fortresses at
will, almost, it availed them little. The defenders were secure behind
their breastworks of earth. True, German guns dropped huge shells in the
trenches, a veritable rain of death, but the gaps in the defending lines
were filled promptly.

There remained naught for the Germans but to try and carry the trenches,
under the support of their artillery.

Day after day the Crown Prince launched assault after assault. The French
met them bravely. But the Germans were not to be denied; and urged on by
the Crown Prince, and often by the presence upon the firing line of the
German emperor himself, they continued the herculean task without regard
to loss of life.

Gradually the French were forced back. Hand-to-hand fighting for
possession of the greatest strategical positions, fought daily, for a
time resulted in advantage to neither side. Among the chief objectives of
the German attack were two particularly important positions--Hill No 304
(so called to distinguish it from numerous other elevated positions) and
Le Mort Homme (Dead Man's Hill). This name, which was fated to become
historic, was gained only after days and days of constant hand-to-hand
fighting and is now recalled as one of the bloodiest battlefields of the
titanic struggle.

General Henri Phillip Petain, in direct command of the French operations
at Verdun, endeared himself to the hearts of all his countrymen by his
gallant conduct of the defense. While the decision of General Joffre, the
French commander-in-chief, to give ground before the German attacks
rather than to sacrifice his men in a useless defense of the fortresses,
was criticized at first by the people, the resulting value of this move
was soon apparent and censure turned to praise.

While the heaviest assaults of the Germans were launched in the
immediate vicinity of Verdun itself, the great battle line stretched far
to the north and to the south. When it appeared at one time that the
French must be hurled back, General Sir Douglas Haig, the British
commander-in-chief, weakened his own lines to the far north to take over
a portion of the ground just to his right and thus relieved the French
situation at Verdun somewhat.

General Petain thus was enabled to shorten his own lines, and from that
moment, with few exceptions, the French stood firm.

It seemed that the Germans, beaten off time after time as they were, must
soon abandon the attempt to break the French lines at Verdun; but each
repulse brought a new assault mightier than before. The Germans raced
across the open ground under a veritable hail of lead. They fell by
hundreds and thousands, but what few survived hurled themselves against
the barbed wire entanglements of the French or into the trenches, there
to die upon the points of the foes' bayonets, or to be shot down as they
tumbled over the breastworks.

The German general staff drew heavily from its forces on the east front
and added these new legions to the already large army occupied before
Verdun; but the result was always the same. So far they could progress
and no farther.

After almost five months of defensive tactics, General Petain began to
launch assaults of his own. At first the Germans put these down with
regularity, but at last the effort began to tell. The French made
headway. Much of the lost ground was recovered. The French moved forward
a bit day by day, occupied new positions and consolidated them. It was
terrible work, but the French persevered.

Around Hill No. 304 and Dead Man's Hill the fighting was especially
severe. There men died by the hundreds and by the thousands that one of
the opposing armies might advance a few yards. Gains even were counted by
feet--almost by inches. Gain of a few yards was accounted a day's work
well done.

Not once did the French troops falter under fire; nor did the Germans,
for that matter. Never was there greater bravery, loyalty and devotion.
Called upon for tasks that seemed well nigh impossible, the men did not
hesitate. They met death in such numbers as death was never met before.

Almost daily, after the French had taken a brace three and a half miles
from Verdun, it seemed that the Crown Prince must give up the effort. It
appeared incomprehensible that the useless sacrifice of men could
continue. But the attempt was not given up; rather, it was pressed with
greater vigor each succeeding day.

But, after five months, the fury of the German assaults gradually
lessened. They were not delivered with the same effectiveness as before.
The great guns continued to rage, scattering death over the field for
miles, but the massed attacks of infantry, and cavalry charges, became
more uncommon.

Then came a day when the Germans failed to attack at all. For more than
twenty-four hours there was a lull. Weeks passed with the Germans
launching only occasional drives. The same held good for the French. It
appeared that each side was content to rest on its laurels, biding the
time when a grand assault could be delivered with some degree of
effectiveness.

The fighting was intermittent. It came spasmodically. Each side had
fought itself out and had paused for breath. What advantage there had
been, all things considered, rested with French arms. The losses on both
sides, in killed and wounded, had been enormous--almost beyond
comprehension. The number of prisoners taken by the French was large.
Many French troops also had been captured, but not so many as Germans.
Also, the French having been the defenders for the most part, they had
suffered less in killed and wounded than had the foe.

This, then, was the result of the battle of Verdun six months after it
had begun. There had been no decisive victory. Each side retained its
positions, but each was ready to strike whenever the opportune moment
presented itself.

Even while the fighting at Verdun was at its height there came the
whisper of a grand offensive to be launched by the Allies. The whisper
became louder as the days passed. There was more talk of Roumania and
Greece throwing their armies to the support of the Allies, thus forming a
steel cordon around the Central powers and their smaller allies, Bulgaria
and Turkey, and forcing the Germans to shorten their lines. In the
eastern war theater the Russians again were on the advance and were
pushing the Germans and Austrians hard, threatening for a second time to
invade Galicia and the plains of Hungary. It began to appear that the end
was in sight.

Italy, too, had launched a new offensive with Trieste as the objective
and the driving power of the Italian troops was beginning to tell. It
began to appear that the Central powers must before long be placed upon
the defensive in all war zones.

The world waited impatiently for the opening of the grand allied
offensive that, it was expected, would be delivered simultaneously on all
fronts. It was felt that it would not be long coming. There was talk of a
new great field gun perfected by Great Britain--a gun that would be more
effective than the German 42-centimetres--but so far it had come to play
no part in the struggle.

But of all battles, land or sea, that had been fought in the greatest war
of history, the battle of Verdun stood head and shoulders as the most
important. It was the greatest and bloodiest struggle of all time, up to
that period.

And it was in this battle that Hal and Chester, with the friend Anthony
Stubbs, war correspondent, and other friends, old and new, were to play
important roles. While each realized, as the three made their way to
General Petain behind the French officer who had interrupted their wild
automobile ride, that an important engagement was about to be fought,
neither had, of course, means of knowing that they were to take part in
one of the greatest of all battles.

It was with the satisfaction that they had arrived in time to prevent a
surprise attack that they made their way to General Petain's quarters.
But, as it transpired, they had arrived a trifle too late. For even as
they reached the general's tent the German guns spoke.

CHAPTER III

GENERAL PETAIN

To the soldier the voice of the great guns speaks plainly. Their ears
accustomed to the various forms of bombardments, Hal and Chester
realized as well as the rest that this was no mere resumption of an
artillery duel. It was not a single salvo from a single German position
that had been fired. The great guns boomed from north and south; and
continued to boom.

The officer who was conducting the three friends to the headquarters of
General Petain turned and called a single word over his shoulder:

"Hurry!"

He broke into a run and the others did likewise. A short turn or two and
they brought up before a tent somewhat larger than the rest. This the
lads knew was General Petain's field headquarters.

Even as the French officer approached the entrance, the general himself
rushed from the tent, followed by members of his staff. The officer who
had conducted the lads there accosted him.

"Sir," he said, "despatch bearers from General Durand at Marseilles."

General Petain waved them aside.

"I've no time for them now," he said, and made as if to move on.

Hal stepped forward.

"Sir," he said, "the despatches we carry have to do with the
impending action."

General Petain stopped suddenly and eyed the lad keenly. Then he
said abruptly:

"Come with me."

He led the way into the tent, and Hal, Chester and Stubbs followed
him. The general seated himself at a desk at a far end of the tent
and demanded:

"The despatches."

Hal produced several documents, which he passed to the general. The
latter broke the seals quickly and read. Then suddenly he sprang to his
feet and dashed outside. The lads could hear him delivering sharp orders
to members of his staff. A moment later his voice became inaudible.

After fifteen minutes' waiting, Chester grew fidgety.

"Wonder where he went?" he said.

"Don't know," returned Hal with a shrug.

"Let's go out and see what's going on," said Stubbs, and moved
toward the exit.

"Hold on," said Hal. "We're under General Petain's orders now. We had
better remain here until he returns."

"You and Chester may be," said Stubbs, "but I'm not. I'm going out and
have a look around."

"Better stick around, Stubbs," said Chester grimly. "If they find you
wandering about you're liable to be put under arrest. You can't go
snooping around without permission, you know."

"Snooping!" repeated Stubbs. "Snooping! Who's going snooping? I want to
find out what's going on."

"Same thing," said Chester.

The little man was offended.

"Call it snooping when I go out hunting news for my paper?" he asked.

"It's snooping when you go sticking your nose into other people's
business," declared Chester.

"This is my business," exclaimed Stubbs.

"Oh, no, it's not. It's just a plain case--"

"I tell you it is my business. It's the business of the New York
_Gazette_. The people in the United States want to know what is going on
over here."

"I'm afraid General Petain wouldn't agree with you, Stubbs," interposed
Hal. "He doesn't care what the people in the United States want. All he
cares about right now is to lick the Germans."

"Well, maybe you're right," Stubbs admitted, "but just the same--I want
you fellows to know that hunting news is not snooping."

"Stubbs," said Chester, "I've got to give you credit. In my opinion
you're a first class snooper."

"What?" exclaimed the little man, fairly dancing with rage. "Snooper? Me
a snooper? What do you mean?"

"Of course you are," replied Chester; "and a good one. Why, I can
remember once or twice that if you hadn't been a good snooper Hal and I
wouldn't be here now. Remember?"

"Well, yes," said Stubbs, somewhat mollified, "but I don't know whether
that's what you meant or not."

"Why, Stubbs," said Chester, "what else could I have meant?"

Stubbs looked at Chester coldly; then turned and walked to the far end
of the tent.

"Now see what you've done, Chester," said Hal, in a whisper meant for
Stubbs to overhear. "You've made him mad."

Stubbs whirled about angrily.

"You bet you've made me mad," he declared. "You can bet, too, that I
won't ever do any more snooping on behalf of either of you. The next time
you get in trouble you'll have to depend on someone besides Anthony
Stubbs to get you out of it."

"See," said Hal. "I told you not to do it, Chester. He's liable to let us
both get killed. He--"

Stubbs could stand no more. He turned on his heel and made his way from
the tent. But even as he would have moved away he became involved in
more trouble.

With head down and not looking where he was going, he collided with
another figure and was pushed violently backwards. Stubbs looked up
angrily and was about to say something when he glanced at the other. It
was General Petain. The latter spoke before Stubbs could apologize.

"What's the matter with you?" he demanded. "Can't you see where you're
going? What were you doing in my tent, anyhow? Who are you? What's your
business here?"

The questions, came so fast that Stubbs was confused.

"I--why--I--" he stuttered.

"Come inside here," said the general.

He stretched forth a hand, seized Stubbs by the collar and pushed him in
the tent. Stubbs, caught off his balance, went stumbling and almost fell
into Hal's arms. General Petain entered the tent immediately behind him.

When his eyes fell upon Hal and Chester he gave a start of surprise.
Evidently he had forgotten all about them. Then he remembered.

"So you're still here?" he said. "I had forgotten all about you."

"We are awaiting your orders, sir," said Hal.

"I don't know as I have any for you," was the reply. "I have taken what
precautions I can. Had you arrived a day earlier it might have been
different. I would have had more time."

"We came as fast as we could, sir," said Chester.

"I've no doubt of that," said the general. "Your information is of great
value, of course. I suppose you will return to Marseilles?"

"We had rather remain here a while, sir," said Hal.

"So," said the general. "It's fighting you want, eh? Well, I guess I can
accommodate you. I probably shall need every man I can get hold of. I
shall attach you to my staff temporarily. But tell me, who is this man
here?" He pointed to Stubbs.

"War correspondent," replied Hal briefly.

"What?" roared the general, "and in my tent! I'll have him court
martialed!"

Stubbs quailed visibly.

"A war correspondent, eh," continued the general, "and walking about
within my lines as free as air. He may be a spy. I'll have him shot."

"Look here, general," said Stubbs, "I--"

"Silence!" thundered General Petain. He turned to Hal. "Your name, sir?"

"Paine, sir."

"A lieutenant, I see."

"Yes, sir."

General Petain turned to Chester.

"And your name?"

"Lieutenant Crawford, sir."

"Good. I'll turn this man over to you. You may do as you please with him.
I see he is a friend of yours."

"Yes, sir," returned Hal. "He's a good friend of ours, sir. He's rendered
us several valuable services. Also, sir, he is to be trusted. He will
seek to send out no information which you desire suppressed."

"I never heard of one like that," said the general.

"He's the only one in captivity, sir. His name is Stubbs, sir, of the New
York _Gazette_"

"His name will be Mudd, sir, if he doesn't conduct himself properly while
within my lines," declared General Petain. "Take him with you. Find
Lieutenant Maussapant and tell him to find quarters for you. Report to me
at midnight. I probably shall have work for you."

The lads saluted and made their way from the tent. Stubbs followed them.
Chester glanced at his watch.

"Great Scott!" he ejaculated. "I had no idea it was so late."

"How late?" asked Chester.

"Ten-thirty."

"Nor I," said Chester. "Where do you suppose we are going to find
Maussapant?"

"You've got me. However, here comes a young officer; we'll ask him."

Hal did so.

"That is my name," was the young man's smiling response.

"Then we're in luck," said Hal. "General Petain requests that you find
quarters for me."

"As it happens," said the young Frenchman, "two of my brother officers
have been transferred and I can ask you to bunk with me."

"How about Stubbs?" asked Hal.

"Stubbs?"

"Yes; our friend here, a war correspondent."

"Oh, I guess we can find room for him. Come with me."

The three friends followed the young Frenchman and presently were
installed in a large, comfortable tent.

"Turn in whenever you're ready," said the Frenchman.

"We must report to the general at midnight," was Hal's reply.

"What's up?"

"You've got me," said Hal. "Hope it's something good, though."

"Probably is, or he wouldn't want you at that hour."

"Well," said Stubbs at this point, "you boys can do what you please. I'm
going to get a little sleep."

"All right," said Chester. "If we shouldn't be around in the morning,
don't worry. We'll turn up sooner or later."

Stubbs nodded and made ready for bed.

At five minutes to twelve o'clock, Hal and Chester started for the
headquarters of General Petain.

"Here's where we get busy again, old man," said Chester.

CHAPTER IV

THE BATTLE OPENS

For forty-eight hours the greatest of modern artillery duels had raged
incessantly. German guns swept the French positions in all sections of
the Verdun region. Fortresses protecting the approach to the city of
Verdun had been shattered. The Germans had hurled two and three shells to
each one by the French.

But after the first day the French had entrenched themselves behind
their earth breastworks, hastily dug and thrown up, and now remained
secure. Into these the German guns now poured their fire. The defenders
were ready for the first attack by infantry, which it was realized would
come soon.

And it came even sooner than was expected.

Hal, with a despatch for the officer in command of the first line troops
just to the north of Verdun, was about to return when there came a
sudden shout:

"Here they come!"

Hal turned quickly.

There, perhaps half a mile away, stretched out a long thin line, barely
visible through the dense cloud of smoke that overhung the ground. Hal
took in the situation, instantly. The German infantry was advancing to
the charge under artillery support.

Behind the first long line stretched out a second and beyond that a third
and a fourth and many more. They advanced slowly in the face of a rain of
lead turned on them by the men in the trenches. Men fell to the right and
to the left, Hal could see, but the gaps were filled instantly and the
long lines pressed forward.

Now they were within three hundred yards and the heavy German guns became
silent. The advance now must be made without further artillery support,
for the German batteries could not fire without imminent danger of
shooting down their own men. The Germans broke into a run.

From behind the French earthworks was poured a hail of lead, but it did
not serve to check the approaching foe. On to the breastworks they came
and clambered up. Behind the first line came many more and they swarmed
upon the defenders like bees in a hive.

Bayonet met bayonet and revolvers cracked. Men struggled with their bare
hands. Friend and foe went down together, struggling to the last. On the
right and on the left, though Hal could not see these actions, similar
scenes were being enacted. The Germans had made their initial advance
upon a front of almost fifteen miles.

A bugle sounded.

French reinforcements were rushed forward to aid the hard-pressed men in
the first line trenches. More Germans poured in. The struggling mass
surged backward and forward. Then the French broke and fled, and Hal
found himself among a panic-stricken mass of humanity, running for life
for the protection of the second line trenches. From behind, the
victorious Germans fell to their knees and poured a steady rifle fire
upon the vanquished. Over the heads of their fleeing countrymen the
second line French troops returned the fire.

Hastily the Germans fell to work throwing up earthworks facing the second
French line. Under experienced hands the breastworks sprang up as if by
magic. They entrenched calmly under the rifles of the French infantry and
the heavy guns of the French batteries, though men fell upon all hands.

Far away, but coming closer, the German batteries now opened fire on the
second French trenches, firing above the heads of the victorious German
infantry. The infantry action subsided. The duel of big guns was resumed.

Chester, who had been despatched by General Petain with orders, arrived
there to witness a scene similar to the one Hal had seen in the center.
The German assaults had been successful all along the line. The French
had lost their first line trenches on a front of approximately twelve
miles. Only at one or two isolated spots had the Germans met reverses;
and these few points that the French still held were doubly dangerous
now. They could not be given the proper support. Later in the day they
were abandoned.

Hal and Chester returned to their posts about the same time. Each was
sadly disappointed at the result of the first infantry fighting. For
several hours they were kept on the jump carrying despatches, and it was
after dark before they found themselves alone together after the
strenuous day.

"Pretty hard," said Hal, shaking his head sadly.

"I should say so," Chester agreed. "It seems to me that those fellows
could have been stopped."

"It doesn't to me," declared Hal. "The way they swept into our trenches
seemed to me beyond human power to stop. I'm glad they stopped when they
did. They probably could have gone farther."

"They'll try again to-morrow," said Chester positively.

"I'm afraid so," agreed Hal; "and if they do, I'm afraid they'll drive us
back again."

"And what's the reason?" demanded Chester.

Hal shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know," he said. "Of course they can only progress so far.
They'll wear themselves out by their own exertions. They lost a great
deal more heavily than we did to-day; but certainly it seemed as if
nothing could stop them."

There was little rest for Hal and Chester that night. It seemed to both
that they had hardly closed their eyes when they were again summoned to
General Petain. Assembled there they found the entire staff. The French
commander was reviewing the events of the day and issuing orders and
instructions rapidly. He realized that there would be more and probably
harder fighting on the next day and he was laying his plans
accordingly. Hal and Chester received their instructions for the morrow
along with the rest.

Returning to their own quarters again, they were attracted by the sound
of confusion a short distance away.

"Something up," said Chester. "Let's have a look."

Nothing loath, Hal followed his chum.

In the light of a large camp fire they made out a crowd of soldiers
gathered about in a large circle. Howls of amusement and hilarious
laughter rose on the air. Hal and Chester pushed closer and were able to
ascertain the cause of merriment.

In the center six French soldiers held a blanket and in the center of
this blanket was a man. He rose and fell as the six men alternately
released the blanket and then drew it taut again. He was yelling at the
top of his voice to be let alone and threatening dire vengeance on his
tormentors when he would be able to get at them. But he was laughing and
taking the joke good naturedly.

Hal and Chester joined the circle of spectators and derived as much
amusement as the others from the proceedings. At length, tiring of their
present victim, the men lowered him to the ground. One of them, a large,
strapping fellow, perhaps thirty years of age, cast his eye around the
circle of faces.

"Let's get another one," he shouted.

There was a chorus of assent from the others and all six set to looking
about for a victim who would not prove too willing. As Hal said to
Chester, apparently there was no fun tossing a man who took it good
naturedly.

At last the big fellow gave a howl of delight and dashed forward. Hal
gazed after him. As the big fellow bounded forward, a slight figure in
the first row turned and ran. But the big fellow overtook him and
dragged him back.

"Here's one, men," he cried. "See, he doesn't want to come with me. He
doesn't know what a good time he is going to have. We'll give him a
good one."

The others lent a hand and dragged the unwilling captive forward. As they
would have put him on the blanket, the youngster--for such the captive
proved to be--protested.

"Some other time, fellows," he said. "I'm sick to-night. I hadn't ought
to be out at all, but I couldn't stay in the tent any longer. I'll let
you toss me in the blanket some other time, but please let me alone
to-night."

From where Hal and Chester stood it was plain to see that the boy was
telling the truth. His face was deathly pale and he looked very ill.

"Great Scott," said Hal, "they shouldn't torment him. He is telling
the truth."

"Certainly he is," Chester agreed. "I believe the boy is very ill."

But the young French boy's protest fell on unheeding ears.

With loud guffaws the men grabbed hold of the blanket and sent the
captive spinning aloft. Two, three times he rose and fell, and upon the
last was still in the blanket. Apparently the men who held the blanket
had not noticed this, however, for they were preparing to toss him aloft
again. But Hal had detected the lad's condition. He decided it was time
for some one to interfere, and as no one else apparently was ready to
call a halt on the proceeding, he determined to take a hand himself.

Quickly he shed his overcoat and then tossed off his jacket and passed
them to Chester.

"Hold 'em!" he said, and sprang forward.

At the edge of the circle he halted and gazed at the big Frenchman, who
had chanced to turn in his direction.

"Let the boy go," he said. "Can't you see that he is unconscious?"

The big Frenchman grinned at him. When Hal had taken off his coat, he had
removed all signs of his rank and the soldier had no means of knowing he
was an officer.

"One more toss," said the Frenchman.

Hal stepped close to him.

"The boy is unconscious," said the Frenchman, and added: "Then we'll
take you."

He nodded to the others in signal that it was time to toss; but before he
could move, Hal had seized him by the wrist and whirled him around.

"You heard me," the lad said quietly. "I meant what I said."

He gave the Frenchman's arm a quick twist and the man dropped his hold on
the blanket. The Frenchman's hold on the blanket released, the lad upon
it tumbled to the ground, where he lay still. Instantly several others
bent over and gave their attention to bringing him to. The man whom Hal
had confronted turned on him angrily.

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

"I told you to let the boy alone and I meant it," said Hal quietly.

For answer the Frenchman struck at him. Hal dodged the blow and stepped
back. He would have avoided a fight if possible. But the Frenchman
stepped after him and struck again. Again Hal dodged and the blow passed
harmlessly over his head. The lad struck out quickly with his right and
caught the Frenchman a hard blow upon the side of the neck. Big man
though he was, the Frenchman toppled over. Hal walked back to where he
had left Chester, donned his coat and the two moved away.

Behind them, as the big Frenchman staggered to his feet there was a howl
of merriment. The Frenchman shook a fist angrily at Hal's back.

CHAPTER V

THE BLACK PEAS

The howling without continued when Hal and Chester reached their
own quarters.

"Well, you've made another enemy, Hal," said Chester.

"Can't help that," was his chum's reply. "It had to be done. By the way,
I wonder what's happened to Stubbs?"

"Oh, I guess he is spooking around some place. He'll turn up
before long."

The lad was right. Hal and Chester had hardly composed themselves to
sleep when the flap to the tent was lifted and Stubbs' head appeared. He
struck a match and looked at the two lads.

"Asleep?" he asked.

Neither lad was, but neither replied. They were both too sleepy to
care to enter into a conversation with Stubbs, so they maintained a
discreet silence.

"All right, then," said Stubbs, "if you're asleep I'll soon be with you."

He removed his clothing and went to bed.

Stubbs was up early the following morning and when the lads arose
entertained them with an account of his wanderings.

"And," he concluded, "I've stumbled across a story that's a wonder."

"A story?" repeated Chester.

"Yes. A 'story' is a newspaper man's way of expressing something big."

"Something to do with the battle?" asked Hal.

"It may have and it may not," declared Stubbs. "It may have something to
do with the whole war--and it may not. I don't know."

"What is it, Stubbs?" asked Chester.

Stubbs winked one eye at him.

"As I happened to stumble across this while I was snooping," he
said, "and as you don't think much of snooping, I am going to keep
this to myself."

"Come, Mr. Stubbs," said Chester, "you know I was just fooling."

"Well, I may be just fooling now, for all you know," said Stubbs.

In vain did the lads plead to know what he was talking about. Stubbs was
obdurate and took his departure, announcing that he was going to do some
more "snooping," without enlightening them.

Hardly had he gone when the lads received a caller. It was none other
than the young French boy whom Hal had rescued from the hands of his
tormentors the night before.

"They told me you came to my aid," he said to Hal, "so I have come to
thank you."

"Who are they?" asked Hal.

"Some of the men. It was true that I was ill last night. Jules Clemenceau
will not forget."

The young French boy had stood with one hand in his pocket, and now
withdrew the hand and extended it to Hal. As he did so, two small objects
fell from his pocket. Apparently Jules did not notice them. Hal shook
hands with the boy and the Frenchman took his departure.

Chester, in the meantime, had picked up the two little objects and now he
called to Jules, but the young Frenchman did not hear him.

"Oh, I guess he doesn't want these things, anyhow," the lad muttered.

"What things?" asked Hal, who had not seen the objects drop from
Jules' pocket.

Chester passed one of the objects to him.

"Know what it is?" he asked.

"Sure," returned Hal, "don't you?"

"No. What is it?"

"A pea."

"I never saw a pea like that."

"Probably not. They are rather rare. A black pea, that's what it is.
Where did you get it?"

"Jules dropped it out of his pocket."

"Well, as he seems to think I have done him a favor, I am just going to
keep this. I guess he won't mind. I'll carry it as a pocket piece."

"Then I'll carry the mate to it," said Chester.

He put the little round pea in his pocket and Hal followed suit.

Although neither could possibly have suspected it, these two little peas
were to be the means of getting them into all kinds of trouble.

There was heavy fighting that day and when night fell it found the
Germans safely entrenched in the French second line trenches along a
seven-mile front. For some reason or other Hal and Chester did not get to
the front, their duties confining them close to General Petain's
headquarters. They were kept busy most of the day, however, and were
tired out when they returned to their own quarters late that night.

Ready as they were for bed, they consented to sit up a while and talk
with Stubbs, who announced that he had a wonderful tale to unfold.

"Well," said Stubbs, "I have discovered a strange thing. It's a big
thing and there are many men in the French army implicated in it. Most
likely in the British, too, and I know that it has touched the ranks of
the enemy."

"What is it, a conspiracy?" asked Chester.

"It is," said Stubbs, "and it's a whopper. I haven't been able to find
the names of any of the leaders and I wouldn't know what to do if I did
learn who they are. This one thing, rather than anything else, is likely
to disrupt the aims of the Allies."

"Then you had better tell General Petain about it," declared Hal.

"I suppose I should," said Stubbs, as he drew out his pipe and proceeded
to fill it.

He was quiet a moment as he ran his fingers in his vest pocket,
seeking a match.

"Say, I'm a good one, ain't I?" he demanded, forgetting his grammar
absolutely.

"What's the matter now?" asked Hal.

"Matter is that I can never keep a match. Have you got one?"

"Fortunately for you, I have," said Chester. "I don't carry them, as a
rule, having no use for them, but I chanced to find a box of safety
matches to-day."

He reached in his pocket and produced the box; and as he did so the
little black pea rolled from his pocket. It rolled toward Stubbs and the
little man caught it. He would have returned it to Chester, but as he
started to do so he took a close look at it. He gave a sudden start and
the box of matches Chester had extended to him dropped to the floor even
as his fingers would have closed on it.

"H-m-m-m," he muttered to himself. "I wonder. I suppose it would be a
great thing. I wonder."

Stubbs picked up the box of matches and proceeded to light his pipe with
deliberation.

"Well, now that you have that pipe puffing," said Hal, "what's the rest
of this story of yours?"

"On second thought," said Stubbs calmly, "I have decided to keep it
to myself."

"You're not going to tell us?" demanded Chester.

"No," said Stubbs. "By the way, here's your black pea," for Chester had
not noticed that he had dropped it.

"Thanks," said Chester, taking the pea and dropping it in his pocket, "I
wouldn't want to lose it."

"No, I guess not," said Stubbs mysteriously. "Pretty scarce articles. I
don't suppose you could find another one in some distance."

"Oh, yes, you could," said Hal. "I have one myself."

"That so?" said Stubbs, and added to himself: "I thought so, but I wanted
to make sure."

Hal produced his black pea. Stubbs examined it carefully and passed it
back to him.

"Better keep it in a safe place," he said. "As I say, they are scarce
and it never does a fellow any good to lose anything when there is
anyone around."

Hal and Chester started guiltily. How could Stubbs know they had found
the peas when they fell from the pocket of Jules Clemenceau? Stubbs, who
had been watching the two closely, observed these sudden starts and
interpreted them to his own satisfaction.

"Come now, Stubbs," said Chester, "tell us the rest of this story
of yours."

"No," said Stubbs, "I am going to keep it to myself." He added under his
breath: "The young cubs! Trying to pump an old-timer like me to see how
much I know!"

"You mean you are not even going to tell the general?" asked Hal.

"That's what I mean," said Stubbs.

Hal and Chester exchanged glances. They wondered what had come over the
little man so suddenly. Stubbs caught the interchange of glances and
again he read it wrong. To Stubbs it appeared that there was relief on
their features.

Stubbs shook his head.

"I'm going to turn in," he said.

Not another word could the lads get out of him, try as they would. But
Stubbs, on his cot, did not sleep immediately. Covertly he watched the
two lads as they talked in tones too low for him to hear, strain his ears
as he would.

"Well, I guess I don't need to hear 'em," he told himself. "I can guess
what it's all about."

He rolled over and went to sleep.

But the nature of the lads' conversation was a whole lot different from
what Stubbs thought it was, though it concerned the little man himself.

"Something wrong with him," said Chester.

"Right you are," agreed Hal. "Talks like we had offended him or
something."

"Maybe he just wants to keep us guessing."

"That might be it. Anyhow, if he doesn't tell us to-morrow, I'm going to
tell him what I think of him."

"Then he won't talk," said Chester.

"We might be able to get him mad enough to make him talk," returned Hal.

"By Jove! so we might," said Chester. "We'll have a try at it to-morrow
if it's necessary."

"All right. Then let's turn in. I've a feeling it's going to be a
strenuous day to-morrow."

And it was; though not strenuous in the way Hal had expected.

CHAPTER VI

A PERILOUS SITUATION

Hal and Chester held no conversation with Anthony Stubbs the following
day, and therefore were unable to learn more than they already knew of
the war correspondent's great "story."

Before they rose Stubbs was up and gone, and when he returned, several
hours later, Hal and Chester were receiving orders from General Petain.

The German advance had continued the day before in spite of the heroic
stand of the French troops. Successive charges by the Teuton hordes had
driven the defenders back along practically the entire front. Here, with
the coming of night, they had taken a brace with the arrival of
reinforcements and had stemmed the tide; but not a man failed to realize
that there would be more desperate work on the morrow.

The French lines now had been pushed back well to the west of the city
of Verdun itself and the civil population of the town had fled. The town
had been swept by the great German guns until hardly one stone remained
upon another. North of the city, the French had been bent back as the
Germans thrust a wedge into the defending lines almost to the foot of
Dead Man's Hill.

This hill was of particular importance to the Germans, for it commanded
the approach on all sides; and now the German Prince had determined upon
its capture. General Petain anticipated the move and acted promptly.

It was toward this point, then, that Hal and Chester found themselves
moving upon the sixth day of the great battle. They bore despatches from
General Petain and each bestrode a high-powered motorcycle, which the
French commander had placed at their disposal. The two lads rode swiftly,
for there was no time to be lost.

Even above the "pop-pop" of their motorcycles could be heard the
terrible roar of the German guns as they were brought to bear on Dead
Man's Hill, paving the way for an infantry advance, which was to come a
few hours later. It was risky business upon which the lads were bent,
for the great shells struck on all sides of them, throwing huge masses
of dirt in the air like giant fountains and digging immense excavations
in the hard ground.

But the lads reached their destination in safety; and here, for the
first time, Hal and Chester were to come in contact with a new method
of fighting.

General Domont, in command at Dead Man's Hill, having read the despatches
the lads carried, announced that they would remain with him during the
day, acting as members of his staff. He ordered Hal forward with
instructions for the troops holding the crest of the hill to the north
and Chester was despatched upon a similar mission to the south.

Hardly had Chester delivered his message when a shout told him the German
infantry was advancing to the attack. The lad glanced around, and as he
did so, a sharp order rang out and a moment later the French troops
clamped queer-looking devices over their faces and heads.

Chester knew what they were--gas masks to protect the defenders from
the poisonous vapors of German gas bombs, which, had the defenders not
been protected by masks, would have killed them instantly. A passing
officer said something unintelligible to the lad as he passed and
pointed to the ground. Glancing down, the lad perceived a mask and then
understood that the officer had meant for him to put it on. Chester did
so, though not without some difficulty, for he had trouble adjusting
it. But with his nostrils protected at last, Chester turned to watch
the approach of the enemy.

The Germans came forward in a dense mass, despite the fearful execution
worked in their ranks by the French guns. In the lines of the defenders
dropped huge bombs that sent up dense vapors--the deadly gasses of the
foe--but they caused little harm, for the French were protected. Now and
then a man fell, however; perhaps he had failed to adjust his helmet
properly, or perhaps it was not perfect. But for the most part the gas
bombs had little effect.

The first concerted attack of the German troops availed little; and after
trying for half an hour to gain a foothold in the French lines they
withdrew. But a second attack followed a few moments later. This also was
beaten off. A third attack, however, met with better success.

This time the Germans succeeded in gaining a hold in the French lines,
and this they retained in spite of repeated counter assaults by the
French. Bravely the men charged, but they could make no impression on the
positions so recently won by the foe. The troops of the German Crown
Prince stood firm.

The French were forced to retreat toward the summit of the hill.

Here the big French guns opened violently upon the enemy, but the
invaders remained in spite of the hail of death.

Chester had been carried back with the French retreat and he now found
himself almost in the first line. He was sadly disappointed, for he had
felt sure that the French effort to repel the attack would be successful.

His men still falling back before the German advance, General Domont
determined upon a bold stroke. Orders were given thick and fast. Hal and
Chester, returning from their first missions of the day, found themselves
again near the front. The orders to the various French divisional
commanders were explicit. As the Germans advanced again to the attack,
the French, too, all along the line, were to take the offensive.

The men awaited the word eagerly.

At last it came. With a shout the French, still wearing their gas masks,
hurled themselves forward with the troops.

Halfway down the hill the lines met with a crash. Rifles and small arms
were fired point blank into the very faces of the foe and then the men
fell to the work with bayonets. Both sides fought desperately.

Hal and Chester had drawn their swords and found themselves engaged with
the troops. So close was the fighting that had it not been for the
difference in uniform it would have been practically impossible to
distinguish friend from foe.

Hal found himself engaged with a German officer of huge stature, who was
endeavoring to bring the lad to earth by fierce sweeping blows of his
officer's sword. Hal was hard pressed to defend himself.

As the German's sword descended in a stroke of extra violence, Hal
stepped lightly aside and evaded the blow. Before the German could
recover himself, Hal moved quickly forward. There was a sudden, quick
movement of his arm and the German officer toppled over, to rise no more.

Hal turned just in time to see a second German officer level a revolver
straight at his head. The lad ducked and the ball passed harmlessly over
his head. Before the German's finger could press the trigger again Hal
had raised his arm and struck.

Chester, in the meantime, had his own hands full. He had accounted for a
German trooper who had sought to bring his rifle butt down on the lad's
head and was now engaged with two other troopers, who sought to end his
career with bayonets.

Chester sprang nimbly back as the two men advanced on him. One tripped
and stumbled over a fallen comrade and as he did so Chester took
advantage of his misfortune to strike with his sword. But the second
German protected his fellow by catching Chester's stroke with his bayonet
and for a moment Chester was at a disadvantage.

Even as the bayonet of the first trooper, who had regained his balance,
would have pierced him, however, Chester dropped flat on the ground and
seized one of the man's legs. The German dropped his bayonet and crashed
to the ground. Chester sprang up quickly and jumped to one side to escape
the point of the bayonet in the hands of the second trooper.

Chester thrust with his sword, but the effort was futile. The point of
the lad's sword fell short. Again the lad was at a disadvantage and the
German grinned as he stepped forward to end the combat. His bayonet was
pointed straight at the lad's breast and it seemed as though nothing but
a miracle could save the boy.

But the miracle happened. Suddenly the German dropped his bayonet with a
crash and threw up both arms. He spun on his heel and then fell to the
ground without an outcry. A stray bullet had done what Chester had been
unable to accomplish, and for the moment the lad was safe.

The second trooper now returned to the attack and engaged Chester
fiercely. All this time the French were gradually being forced back, and
of a sudden Chester found himself the center of a mass of German troops.

But the lad had no mind to give up. Throwing caution to the winds, he now
struck out swiftly and sharply with his sword. Once or twice the thrusts
went home. Chester felt a sting in his left shoulder. The bayonet of a
German trooper had pricked him slightly. Chester whirled about and seized
the bayonet with his left hand. A powerful wrench and it was wrested from
the hands of the German soldier, who had been caught off his guard.

Without taking time to reverse the weapon, Chester hurled it in the faces
of the foe who pressed in about him. It struck one man squarely on the
forehead and he toppled over with a groan.

Again Chester laid about him with his sword, retreating slowly as he did
so. The gas helmet that he wore impeded his progress somewhat, for it was
strange to his head and felt uncomfortable. Now the lad realized for the
first time that the Germans before him also wore the heavy helmets.

He aimed a blow at one man's breast and it went home. At the same moment
a second German brought his rifle butt down upon the lad's sword and the
weapon snapped off. Chester felt a second sting in his arm and then he
felt a blow across the helmet.

There was a sudden roaring sound, Chester saw a million stars flash
through the air; then he threw up his arms, made a move to step forward
and crashed to the ground.

The last blow had broken open Chester's gas helmet and the lad was at the
mercy of the poisonous vapors!

CHAPTER VII

HAL TO THE RESCUE

At the same moment that Chester fell to the ground, the clear note of
a bugle rang out from the German rear, sounding the recall. The
attack was to be given up. The resistance of the French had been too
much for the foe.

Hal, who had been retreating with the other French troops, turned a
second before the recall was sounded just in time to see a single form
that had been struggling with a knot of the enemy crash to the ground.
Hal gave a loud cry, which was stifled by his gas helmet, for he felt
sure that it was Chester.

It was at that moment the German bugle sounded the recall.

Hal dashed toward the spot where Chester had fallen. A score of enemy
troops, perceiving his approach, stayed their retreat and offered him
battle. Hal was nothing loath. He dashed toward them at top speed.

Other French troops, seeing one of their numbers dashing forward, and
perceiving his peril, jumped to the rescue. Still more Germans turned and
more French dashed forward. For a moment it seemed that the struggle
would be renewed in spite of the order for a German recall.

Hal dashed among the foe with sword flashing aloft. Right and left he
slashed and the Germans gave way before his fury. Then they closed in.
Almost at the same moment the French troops came to his assistance.
Again the recall was sounded from the German rear. The few of the foe
who apparently had Hal at their mercy heeded this second call
reluctantly. They drew off slowly, opening upon the advancing French
with their rifles as they did so. The French returned the fire and the
Germans retreated faster.

Apparently it was not the plan of General Domont to follow up the
retreating Germans, for there came no order for a charge. Instead, the
French commander apparently was satisfied with having broken down the
German attack. He had no intention of sacrificing more of his men in a
useless pursuit that would bring them again under the mouths of the big
German guns.

Quickly Hal bent over Chester. The latter had fallen with his face on the
ground, and this fact undoubtedly had saved his life. He was unconscious
and his nose was buried in the dirt. He had almost suffocated, but this
fact had saved him from the poisonous gases. Hal stripped the gas helmet
from a dead French soldier and slipped it over Chester's head. Then he
lifted his chum from the ground and started toward the rear, supporting
the unconscious figure as well as he could.

Several French troopers ran to his assistance. Hal lowered Chester to the
ground and put both hands under his chum's head. He motioned one of the
French soldiers to take Chester's feet, and in this manner they carried
Chester from the danger zone.

Hal did not rest easily until after a French surgeon had pronounced
Chester little the worse for his experience. Two bayonet wounds in the
lad's arm were found to be mere scratches.

"He'll pull round in a day or two," said the surgeon. "In the
meantime it would be well to keep him as quiet as possible, though he
is in no danger."

Hal thanked the surgeon, and leaving Chester in safe hands, sought out
General Domont and explained the circumstances to him.

"And I would like to get him back to my own quarters," he concluded.

"Very well," said General Domont. "I shall place an automobile at your
disposal."

The French officer was as good as his word and in a high-power motor car
Hal and Chester, the latter having regained consciousness, were soon on
their way to headquarters, Hal bearing General Domont's report on the
morning's encounter.

Hal went first to the quarters of General Petain, where he delivered
General Domont's report; then he accompanied Chester to their own
quarters, where he made Chester as comfortable as possible.

He was just about to leave Chester alone, when another figure entered the
tent. It was Stubbs.

"Hello, Mr. Stubbs," said Chester from his cot. "Where have you been
all summer?"

"Summer?" said Mr. Stubbs, removing his overcoat. "This is the month of
February."

"All right; have it your own way," said Chester.

"Well, I've just been having a look around," said Stubbs.

"Find out anything more about the conspiracy?" asked Hal.

"What conspiracy?" demanded Stubbs.

"Why, the one you were telling us about the other night," exclaimed
Chester.

Stubbs looked at the lad critically.

"Wounded to-day, weren't you?" he asked.

"A trifle," returned Chester.

"Any fever?" asked Stubbs.

"No," said Hal. "Why?"

"Why? He's dreaming things. What's this conspiracy he's talking about?"

Chester sat up in his cot.

"You don't mean to tell me you don't remember what you told us about it?"
he demanded.

Stubbs tapped his head with a significant gesture and nodded to Hal.

"Did you have a surgeon look at him?" he asked.

"Look here, Stubbs--" began Chester angrily.

"Here, here," interposed Hal. "You lie down there, Chester. I'll talk to
our friend here."

At this Mr. Stubbs moved toward the outside.

"I've got to be going now," he announced.

"Well, you're not going to go until you tell me what all this foolishness
is about," declared Hal.

"Foolishness?"

"Yes, foolishness. You can't deny, can you, that you told us the other
night you had unearthed a conspiracy of some kind?"

"I can," said Stubbs, "but I won't. It's my belief that there is
something wrong with both of you. What would I know about a conspiracy?"

"That's what I would like to know," returned Chester, from his cot.
"If you won't tell us, I've a notion to tell General Petain what
you told us."

"I wouldn't if I were you," said Stubbs. "It wouldn't do you any
good. He probably would think your wound had affected your mind.
That's what I think."

"Oh, no you don't," said Hal. "You are just trying to keep the thing to
yourself, whatever it is. Maybe you're going to slip it by the censor to
the _Gazette_, eh?"

Stubbs made no reply.

"If I thought that, I would tell General Petain," declared Chester.

"It must be a great thing to have such imaginations," said Stubbs with
something like a sigh. "Some of these days, if you like, I'll get you
both jobs on the _Gazette_."

"Now look here, Stubbs," said Hal. "Laying all joking aside, are you
going to tell us about this thing or not?"

"What thing?" demanded Stubbs.

"By George!" ejaculated Hal in exasperation. "You're the limit, Stubbs."

"Sure I am," was the little man's smiling response. "Otherwise, I
wouldn't be in this tent with you."

"Stubbs," said Chester, a sudden idea striking him, "have we done
something you don't like?"

"You have," was Stubbs' reply.

"By Jove!" said Hal. "We're sorry for that, Stubbs. We apologize. Will
you tell us what we've done?"

Stubbs looked at the lad with a peculiar smile on his face. He was silent
several moments before replying:

"You don't know, eh?"

"Of course not."

Stubbs shrugged his shoulders and started out of the tent.

"Say!" Chester called after him, "are you going to tell us or not?"

"Not!" said Stubbs briefly, and was gone.

"Now what do you think of that?" demanded Chester of his chum.

"There's something wrong with him," was Hal's reply. "I haven't any idea
what it can be."

"Suppose it is because we were poking fun at him the other night?"

"I don't know. I don't believe he would take a thing like that to heart.
However, you can't tell."

"Anyhow," said Chester, "we're not likely to find out what it's all about
until he gets good and ready to tell us."

"You're right, there," returned Hal. "He can be as mum as an oyster when
he wants to. Well, old boy, I'll leave you alone now and go out and look
around a bit. Maybe I can stumble on this conspiracy Stubbs talks about."

"You mean the one he won't talk about," said Chester with a smile. "All
right. Go ahead. I'll take a little snooze."

He rolled over on his side as Hal left the tent.

How long Chester slept he did not know, but it was dark in the tent when
he opened his eyes.

"Wonder what can be keeping Hal?" he muttered to himself.

He had hardly had spoken the words when a form came through the entrance
to the tent. Chester was about to speak, for he thought at first that it
was Hal, but something seemed to tell him to remain silent. The lad,
therefore, said nothing.

At second glance Chester realized that the figure that had entered the
tent was not Hal. Neither was it Stubbs.

"Great Scott!" muttered the lad to himself. "Wonder who he is and
what he wants here? He hasn't seen me though. Guess I'll wait and see
what happens."

The lad stretched out a hand carefully and drew toward him a camp stool
upon which he had laid his clothes before going to bed. Without a sound
he secured one of his revolvers and straightened to a sitting posture.

"I'm ready for whatever happens," he told himself.

The intruder had now taken up such a position in the tent as to command a
view of the entrance, shielded from sight himself. Chester saw something
glisten in the man's hand.

"Gun," said the boy to himself. "Guess I can beat him to it."

Came footsteps without. They stopped just outside the tent. Chester
saw the nocturnal visitor in the tent raise his revolver arm. Chester
did likewise.

"I'll just shoot that gun out of your hand, my friend," he said quietly.

He took deliberate aim.

CHAPTER VIII

AN UNKNOWN ENEMY

The footsteps outside came nearer the entrance. Chester's finger
tightened on the trigger of his revolver, as he saw the stranger in the
tent draw himself taut.

At that moment Hal's figure appeared in the entrance.

There were two sharp cracks, so close that they seemed as one, and two
spurts of flame in the darkness. Came a cry of pain from the stranger in
the tent and Hal dashed forward.

"Quick, Hal! Grab him!" shouted Chester.

But quick as he was, Hal was not quick enough. With a snarl the man
jumped toward Hal even as Hal leaped himself. The stranger was of much
greater bulk than Hal and the lad was hurled to the ground. When he
regained his feet the stranger had disappeared.

Chester, unmindful of his wound, had leaped from his cot and now ran
outside. Some distance away he saw a figure disappear in the darkness.
The lad did not fire a second shot, for at that distance he could not be
sure of a hit and he did not wish further to alarm the camp.

Hal struck a light and the two chums looked at each other.

"Did you get a look at him, Hal?" asked Chester.

"No, did you?"

"No. He was in the tent for some time, but I waited until I was sure
what he was going to do before I fired, though I had him covered all
the time."

"You must be losing your eye. At that distance you should you should have
potted him without trouble."

"I guess I could have done it this time had I tried," returned Chester.
"I shot at his revolver."

"Well, I guess you hit it," said Hal. "There it is, right where he
dropped it. But his bullet whistled pretty close to my ear."

"I suppose I shouldn't have taken a chance," said Chester. "Next time
I'll shoot to hit something better than a pistol."

"Well, it doesn't make any difference now," said Hal. "He didn't get me.
I wonder who he is and what he wanted to shoot me for?"

"You've got me, look at the gun and see if there is any mark of
identification on it."

Hal stooped over and picked up the revolver. He examined it carefully and
then passed it to Chester.

"Can't find anything," he said.

Chester examined the weapon with no better success.

"Well," he said at last, slowly, "there is one thing certain. You've an
enemy of some kind in the camp. It will behoove you to be careful in
the future."

"I suppose the bullet was meant for me," said Hal, "although, of course
it might have been meant for either you or Stubbs."

"Great Scott! What would anybody want to shoot Stubbs for?"

"Well, you can search me," said Hal with a shrug of his shoulders, "which
may not be very good English, but expresses my sentiments just the same."

"How about Stubbs' conspiracy? Maybe one of the conspirators has caught
Stubbs nosing about."

"By Jove! It might be that, after all," said Hal. "I wonder!"

"At all events, we shall all have to be on our guard," declared
Chester. "We don't know for which of us the bullet was meant. We'll
have to warn Stubbs."

"So we shall, and if I mistake not here he comes now."

Hal was right. A moment later the rotund face of the little war
correspondent appeared in the tent entrance.

"Stubbs," said Hal gravely, "you missed getting killed by just about
five minutes."

The little man started back in alarm.

"Wha--what's that?" he demanded.

"I said you just escaped getting killed."

"But who would want to kill me?" demanded Stubbs, plainly very nervous.

"It might have been one of your conspirators," said Hal. He displayed the
weapon from which a bullet had sped toward his own head.

"Hey!" shouted Stubbs. "Put that gun down! Don't shoot!"

The little man was so visibly frightened that Hal looked at him in
surprise.

"Surely you didn't think I was going to shoot you, Mr. Stubbs?" he asked
in some surprise.

"I don't know," returned Stubbs, wiping a moist brow with his
handkerchief. "I don't understand you fellows at all. First you said you
wanted to kill me five minutes ago and there you stand with a gun in your
hand. What am I to think?"

"Stubbs, you're crazy," said Hal, calmly. "I didn't say I wanted to kill
you. When I came into the tent just now there was a man took a shot at
me. I don't know whether he wanted to kill me, or whether he wanted to
kill you. He may even have been trying to kill Chester. He didn't take
time to investigate. He fired at the first figure to enter the tent. I
don't know who he was. Have you any enemies?"

"I--I--Why I don't know," said Stubbs.

"How about the conspirators. Do any of them know you?"

"What conspirators?" demanded Stubbs, and added, "I wish you would quit
harping on that subject. It's all right to have a little fun with me once
in a while. I don't mind it; but enough is enough."

Chester was about to make an angry retort, but Hal stayed him with a
word.

"All right, Stubbs," he said. "If you don't know anything about a
conspiracy you don't and that's all there is about that. But if you do, I
should advise you to be careful. I believe that shot was meant for you."

"I am afraid that this tent is going to be dangerous for me," said
Stubbs, slowly. "I shall remain here no longer."

"What! Not going to leave us, Stubbs?" exclaimed Chester.

"Yes," returned the little man quietly. "If I remain here I'm liable to
wake up dead some morning, and I wouldn't like that. There's an
expression in New York that hits me just right. 'Safety first!' I'm going
to get out of this tent, and I'm going to get out right now, while I'm
all together."

He hurried to the far side of the tent and got his belongings together.
Then he moved toward the door. There he paused a moment, as if undecided,
then walked up to Hal and extended a hand.

"Good-bye, Hal," he said quietly. "I may not see you for some time and
then again it may be soon."

Hal took the hand as he said:

"Look here, Stubbs, we don't like to lose you."

"I know, I know," said the little man, "but it will be better for all
concerned."

He approached Chester and extended a hand to him also.

"Come now, Stubbs," said Chester. "Drop those things back down there and
go to bed."

"Not much," replied Stubbs grimly. "I'm going to hunt a safer spot
than this."

He released Chester's hand and made his way to the door. There, just
before moving away, he turned and spoke.

"Boys," he said, "we've been pretty good friends, the three of us,
haven't we?"

"You bet we have, Stubbs," returned Chester warmly.

"We certainly have, Mr. Stubbs," Hal agreed.

"All right, then," said the little man. "You both have been good enough
to tell me once or twice that I have been of some service to you."

"You certainly have, Mr. Stubbs," declared Hal, "and anything we can do
to repay you--"

"Never mind that," said Stubbs with a wave of the hand. "All I want to
say is this: If, at any time, within a day or two or within a month or
two, I do anything you don't like, anything that puts you to some
inconvenience--you will know that I am doing it for your own
good--because I am fond of both of you and don't want to see you get
in trouble."

"Say, Stubbs, what on earth are you talking about?" asked Chester in
great surprise.

"Never mind what I'm talking about," returned Stubbs, half angrily. "I
just want you to remember what I am saying."

"We'll remember, if that will do you any good," said Chester, "but I wish
you would tell me what it is all about."

"I may not be talking about anything, and then I may be talking about a
whole lot," was Stubbs' enigmatical response. "Time will tell."

"Time will tell what, Mr. Stubbs?" demanded Hal.

"Oh, rats!" said Stubbs. "I haven't time to stay here and talk to you
fellows all night. Just remember what I said. That's all."

He stepped out the tent and was gone.

Hal and Chester gazed at one another in the utmost surprise.

"What in the time of the Czar do you suppose he was talking about?"
asked Chester.

"I'm not good at conundrums," replied Hal. "He's got something on his
mind, all right."

"Providing he has a mind left," agreed Chester.

Hal smiled.

"From the way he talked that fact is open to doubt," he replied.

"I didn't think he was a drinking man," said Chester.

"Oh, he was sober enough. By the way, did you notice his hesitation when
I asked him if he had any enemies?"

"By George! I did. He couldn't answer. I'll bet he knows more about the
man that fired that shot at you than he is willing to admit."

"It looks like it," Hal agreed. "From his actions, I would judge that the
shot was meant for him."

"Exactly," said Chester, "and he knows who it was that fired it."

"Well, there is no use talking about it," declared Hal. "We can't
possibly figure it out ourselves. One thing, though, we shall have to be
on our guard. The unknown enemy may not know that Stubbs has moved and
may try again."

"Right," said Chester. "We'll have to sleep with one eye open."

"Oh, we're safe enough to-night," said Hal. "He'll figure we'll be on the
watch and will postpone his next visit for a day or two. By the way, old
man, how do you feel?"

"First rate. I'll be as good as new in the morning."

"I hope so. In that event we had better get a little sleep."

"Then you don't think it necessary for one of us to stand watch?"

"No; here goes for bed."

CHAPTER IX

IN THE TRENCHES

In some manner, known only to himself, Anthony Stubbs, war correspondent
of the New York _Gazette_, had ingratiated himself with General Petain,
the French commander at Verdun. General Petain, upon Stubbs' request,
agreed that the little war correspondent should be allowed to make a tour
of the city of Verdun and the surrounding fortifications and view for
himself the effects of the siege thus far.

An officer of the general staff was assigned by the French commander to
show Stubbs about. It was the first time a war correspondent had been
admitted to Verdun and the surrounding fortifications; and because of the
things that Stubbs learned on the tour, it is fitting that the reader
take the trip with him.

The officer first led Stubbs to the highest point on the walls encircling
Verdun and there explained the lay-out of the contending forces. From
this point of vantage, commanding the battlefield, Verdun looked like the
center of a huge saucer, with the town lying very low, while all around
rose an even circle of crests forming the outer edge of the saucer.

The dangerous proximity of the Germans was apparent. At the time that
Stubbs viewed the battlefield the armies of the Kaiser held a goodly
portion of these crests, though the battle of Verdun was less than two
weeks old.

An intermittent bombardment was in progress from Fort Tavennes, Fort
Soueville, Fort St. Michael and Fort Belleville, which were barking
steadily and giving off jets of black smoke. The German cannonade sounded
like a distant roar. The shelling of Verdun was continuing.

Three hundred shells a day had been hurled into Verdun itself during the
battle, Stubbs was informed by the French officer, upon one day as many
as 750 having been counted; but the average was 300. As the two stood
there a French aeroplane was attacked by a German gun, shrapnel bursting
all around as the machine turned from the German positions and darted
back to French cover.

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