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The Boy Allies At Verdun by Clair W. Hayes

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The terrible course of the destruction was pointed out by the French
officer. The town itself had been abandoned by the civil population,
and even few troops were to be found there. Such shops and houses as
had escaped the shells were closed and barricaded; and the shells
continued to fall.

The streets were crumbling ruins, with only jagged walls remaining here
and there. The cathedral had two shell holes in the roof; the main altar
was a mass of debris and the side altar was littered with broken
carvings, statues and chandeliers.

One wing of the handsome military club was torn off and the whole
establishment was a wreck. The archbishop's residence had its famous
sculptured walls peppered with shell holes and the adjoining College of
Marguerite had its delicate stone filigree reduced almost to powder.
The houses along the Meuse, flanking the principal bridge, were
literally wrecked.

Sixteen great shells had struck the town hall; one corner of the building
had been torn off and the clock tower smashed. The mayor's office was
being used as an emergency butcher shop.

Stubbs' guide now led him to one of the inner forts of the
fortifications, which was still shelling the Germans. From here Stubbs
gained a view of the fighting ground of Fleury at close range. Over the
entrance of the fort was a notice to the garrison that the fort was to be
levelled in extremity and never surrendered.

Fleury, lying to the right of Verdun, showed not a house standing. The
great German guns had carried all before them. The whole village was a
mass of ruins. At the moment the village was in the hands of the French.
It had been occupied twice by the Germans, but only the day before had
again been captured by the French. Although Stubbs did not know it, the
little village was to change hands a score of times more in the months
that were to follow.

As Stubbs' guide pointed out the various points destroyed by German
shells, he gave the little man an account of the fighting in each spot.
He pointed out the advantages of earthen breastworks as against the solid
walls of fortresses. The effectiveness of the former was very plain.

Stubbs and his guide now returned to the citadel of Verdun, where
Stubbs thanked General Petain for being allowed to make the tour of
inspection. Gathered about the commander were many members of his
staff, who joined in the conversation. Stubbs could not but be
impressed by the confidence manifested by the officers that Verdun
could be kept from the Germans, and this in the face of the reverses of
the past few days. The feeling was summarized in the closing word of
General Petain, as he bade Stubbs farewell.

"_Au revoir_, Monsieur Stubbs," he said, "until you come back when our
victory is complete!"

By a series of fierce counter assaults, the French now had driven the
seasoned veterans of the German Crown Prince from Dead Man's Hill; from
Hill No. 265, to the north, from Chattancourt and Charny. Back across the
Meuse the Germans fled from the vicious attacks of the French. Second and
third line trenches were re-won.

But the French did not stop there. The third day of March found them
still pushing the Germans and as darkness fell that night, the troops of
General Petain entrenched themselves just to the east of Thiaumont farm
and Hill No. 320. A trifle to the south, Fleury was once more in German
hands, the opposition in this sector having been too much for the French
to overcome. Almost due east, German guns, wheeled into position at Fort
Vaux, captured the preceding day, shelled the reconquered positions of
the French; but the latter stood firm. All night the artillery duel raged
and the coming of morning found both armies ready for the day's work.

The French opened the day by concentrating heavy artillery upon the
German positions at Fort Vaux. After a two hours' bombardment, the
infantry was ordered to the attack. Fresh troops took the places in
the trenches vacated by the attacking forces and heavy guns covered
their advance.

A hundred yards or so from the hastily constructed German trenches, the
thin French lines charged. Their ranks had been sadly depleted as they
marched across the open ground, but they stuck to the work bravely. Clear
to the German trenches they ran, a second and still a third line close
behind; and then the Germans swarmed out to meet them. A fierce
hand-to-hand encounter ensued with victory crowning German arms. What was
left of the French attacking party scurried back to their own lines.

The Germans did not wait for a second attack. German buglers sounded an
advance. Again the Germans swarmed out of their trenches in countless
thousands and rushed the French trenches.

Hal and Chester at this moment found themselves at the front with orders
for respective divisional commanders. They remained as the Germans
charged, sheltered by the huge earthen breastworks.

The fate of the German charge was the same as that of the French a short
while before. Beaten off after a half hour of fierce fighting, the
Germans retired to the shelter of their own lines. The great German guns,
silent while the infantry was engaged, opened up anew on the French
trenches, dropping shells in profusion.

Hal and Chester stood elbow to elbow watching the destructive work of the
giant shells. Of a sudden a shell dropped close to them. Hal uttered a
cry of alarm and made a desperate attempt to drag Chester out of harm's
way. In this he was partly successful and they had dashed forward a few
yards before the shell exploded.

With the fury of the blast, great clouds of earth flew high in the air.
Hal and Chester felt the ground open up beneath them and they gasped for
breath as they were precipitated into what seemed a bottomless pit. How
far they fell they could not tell, but it seemed a long ways; and hardly
had they struck bottom when a shower of earth fell upon them.

Fortunately for them, they were in a section of the trench that was
protected on either side by artificial abuttments of hard dirt and stones
thrown up by the troops and these caught heavy beams and rocks and other
debris that would have showered down upon them and crushed them to death.
A great log, or such it appeared, came down lengthwise and struck the
abuttments on either side of the pit into which the lads had fallen; a
second did likewise and these prevented the shower of rocks and pieces of
big guns from going through. It was all that saved the lads.

Then more earth fell and covered these and the pit was effectually
sealed. Below there was no light, and when Hal and Chester regained their
feet neither could see light above. They groped for each other in the
dark and at last clasped hands.

"Great Scott! What's happened?" gasped Chester. "Where are we?"

"We are in a pit caused by the explosion of that shell," said Hal,
quietly. "The next question is how to get out."

He put a hand above his head, but could touch nothing. He tried jumping,
but with no better success.

"I can't reach the top," he said.

The lads felt around the sides of the pit. The walls were sheer. It was
useless to think of getting up that way.

"Well, we're up against it," said Hal. "I don't know how we are to get
out of here. By Jove! It's lucky we weren't killed by the shell."

"We might just as well have been as to die down here," said Chester.

"Buck up, old man," said Hal. "We're not dead yet and while there's life
there's hope. We've been in some ticklish positions before and pulled
through all right."

"We were never in a hole like this before," said Chester.

Hal had made his way to one side of the pit.

"Here," he called to Chester, "you climb up on my shoulders and see if
you can reach the top."

Chester did as Hal suggested and his efforts were rewarded by touching
something overhead.

"What luck?" asked Hal.

"Good," said Chester. "I have touched something. Feels like a log."

"Can you pull it loose?"

"If I do we're likely to be crushed down here."

"If you don't we're likely to suffocate down here," returned Hal. "I can
scarcely get my breath now. We'll have to take a chance."

"Then I'll have a try at it," said Chester. "Be ready to crouch close to
the side of the pit when I give the word. I'll come down on top of you
and we'll trust to luck that the debris falls clear."

"All right," said Hal. "Yell when you're ready."

Again Chester tested the covering with his hands. At last he struck a
spot where he could obtain a grip. He decided to throw his weight on it
and see if it would come down. He took a firm hold and then called:

"All right, Hal! Stoop quickly!"

CHAPTER X

UNEXPECTED VISITORS

Came a low, rumbling sound from overhead and a shower of dirt poured
down on Hal as he crouched in his corner. Chester still swung to and fro
from above. The lad felt something give, and believing that the mass
above was about to fall, he dropped quickly alongside Hal and buried his
face in his arms.

But nothing happened.

Directly Chester rose to his feet.

"I thought it was coming," he said to Hal. "Guess I didn't hang on long
enough. I'll have another try. Lend me your shoulders again."

Hal also stood up and took his position. Chester clambered up and again
explored the covering with his fingers. At the first touch there was
another shower of earth.

"Won't take a whole lot to move it, I guess," he said.

"Hurry, then," enjoined Hal. "The air is stifling down here."

Chester himself felt that he was suffocating and realized the need
for haste.

"All right," he said. "Here's hoping we're not crushed to death. Down
when I give the word."

Again his fingers found a hold and he braced himself for the shock.

"Down!" he cried suddenly.

Hal dropped.

A second time came the dull rumbling from above as Chester swayed to and
fro in his precarious position. Then the lad felt the covering give. One
instant longer he hung on, for he felt that he would have no strength for
a third attempt should this fail.

And then, with a roar, the mass of debris above came tumbling down.

Chester swung himself close to the side of the pit even as he felt the
covering give and came down a short distance from Hal. He covered his
head as well as he could and waited for he knew not what.

It was not long coming.

Something struck the lad a sharp blow upon the shoulder, numbing it.
Behind him the lad heard rocks and other debris crashing to the bottom.
Holding his breath, he waited for the blow he felt sure must come from
above and unconsciously his right hand stretched out toward where he knew
Hal to be.

But nothing struck him. After five seconds of the terrible roaring, there
was silence. Chester looked up. There was light above. Chester uttered a
short prayer of thankfulness and rose to his feet.

"All right, Hal," he said, still looking above, while he rubbed his
injured shoulder.

There was no reply.

Chester looked quickly about him. There was no sign of Hal.

"Great Scott! What can have happened to him?" he asked himself anxiously.

Quickly he fell to hands and knees and explored the bottom of the pit.
There, where he knew Hal should be, he felt a mound of earth.

"Great Scott! He's buried!" cried Chester.

Frantically he set to work with his bare hands to uncover Hal.

In a few moments his efforts were rewarded. He exposed Hal's arm. From
the position the arm was in Chester was able to locate his chum's head.
This he uncovered quickly, for he feared that his friend might suffocate.
Then he bent over Hal and listened.

Hal was breathing faintly.

Chester uttered a cry of relief and proceeded to uncover the rest of his
friend's body. This done, he set about reviving Hal, who was unconscious.

Chester rubbed Hal's hands vigorously, and was at last rewarded by
hearing Hal sigh. A moment later Hal spoke.

"What's happened?" he asked.

"Well, it looks like the world caved in on you," returned Chester.
"Fortunately, appearances are deceitful. I yanked the log loose from
above and you were buried in the dirt. Fortunately, I got you out in
time. How do you feel?"

"I don't feel very chipper," was the faint reply; "but I guess I'm
all right."

"Can you get up?"

"Don't know; I'll try."

He made the effort, and with Chester's assistance, soon stood leaning
against one side of the pit. He looked up.

"Quite a ways up there," he said. "How are we going to make it?"

"Think you can climb up on my shoulders, pull yourself out and then lend
me a hand?"

"I don't believe so. Guess I can brace myself while you climb up,
though."

"Good, we'll try it."

Once more Chester climbed to Hal's shoulder while the latter braced
himself against one wall of the pit. He took a firm hold on the edge
above and drew himself up with little difficulty. He was about to reach
down and lend Hal a hand when he happened to look toward the east.

"Good night!" he exclaimed and disappeared into the pit in a hurry.

"What's the matter?" demanded Hal, who had not overheard his friend's
ejaculation.

"Matter!" echoed Chester. "There are about ten millions coming this way
on the dead run. The French have retreated!"

"Hm-m-m," said Hal; "and what are we going to do?"

"Bide here for a spell, I expect," was Chester's answer.

"Guess you're right. They may not notice us down here. We'll play we're a
couple of mice and see how still we can keep."

"Good! Listen! I hear 'em coming!"

Above them, to one side, they could hear the trampling of many feet as
the Germans passed the pit.

"Guess we're safe enough so long as we stay down here," said Chester.

"But we're going to have trouble reaching the French lines if the Germans
are permitted to camp out hereabouts," declared Hal.

"Well, maybe the French will chase them back again," said Chester,
hopefully.

"Maybe," Hal repeated, "and then maybe not. Now, if we--hello!"

He broke off suddenly. From above there had come muttered exclamations of
alarm, two bodies came hurtling through space and struck the bottom of
the pit with loud thumps.

"Grab 'em, Hal!" shouted Chester, and leaped across the pit.

Hal followed suit, for the two bodies that had tumbled through space
were nothing less than German soldiers who had failed to see the
opening above.

They were taken by surprise when two forms leaped on them below, but they
put up a fight.

"Tap 'em over the head with your gun!" shouted Chester.

He had drawn his revolver as he leaped forward and now suited the action
to the word. The German toppled over with a groan.

Hal, however, had not drawn his weapon, and was now locked in the arms of
the second German, as they rolled over and over in the bottom of the pit.
Weakened by his recent experience he was getting the worst of it.

Chester took in the situation at a glance and leaped forward. At the
moment Hal was on top and the German stared up at Chester. Seeing a
second foe he raised a loud cry for help.

This was what Chester had been afraid of. He didn't want any more Germans
down there if he could help it.

"Turn him over, Hal!" he cried. "Let me get a whack at him with my gun."

By a desperate effort Hal obeyed and the German rolled on top of him. One
more loud cry he gave and then Chester silenced him with a sharp blow of
his revolver butt.

Chester stepped back with an exclamation of relief and Hal dragged
himself from beneath his now unconscious adversary.

"A tough customer, that fellow," he remarked.

"You'd have done for him if you hadn't been so weak," Chester replied. "I
didn't think we might have callers down here."

"Neither did I," returned Hal, "but I'm glad they came."

"Why?" demanded Chester in surprise.

"We can borrow their uniforms if it's necessary," Hal explained.

"By Jove! I hadn't thought of that," exclaimed Chester. "A good plan."

"Of course it may not be necessary," said Hal. "If the Germans
should be driven back it would be unnecessary. We'll wait until
after dark and see."

"In the meantime we had better tie these fellows up," said Chester. "One
of them is coming to now. He may not know when he's properly licked and
want to continue the fight."

"Better gag 'em, too," said Hal. "I noticed that one fellow had pretty
good lungs."

The lads removed their belts and with these bound the hands of their
captives. They had nothing to tie their legs, but they didn't feel there
was much danger of the men crawling out of the pit with their arms bound.
They gagged them with their handkerchiefs.

A few moments later one of the Germans staggered to his feet and gazed at
the two lads in astonishment. The second also soon regained consciousness
and apparently was no less surprised. Both lads kept their revolvers
handy, for they weren't sure whether the Germans might not attack them,
bound and gagged as they were.

Hal addressed them.

"We expect to keep you company for some time," he said, "and we don't
want any foolishness. The first false move will be your last. Get over
there in the corner."

The men obeyed, growling to themselves.

Hal and Chester listened for sounds above that would indicate the retreat
of the Germans and the advance of the French. No such sounds came; and
with the fall of darkness Hal said:

"Well, I guess we had better change clothes with these fellows and make a
break for it."

"Good!" agreed Chester. "We'll have to unbind them while they disrobe.
We'll strip one at a time. You hold the gun while I do the work."

"Well, I guess everything is all ready," said Chester, when they were at
last garbed in the German uniforms and the men were safely tied up again.
"We may as well be moving."

"All right," said Hal, "climb up on my shoulders. I'll keep my gun on
these two fellows in the meantime. Can't trust 'em."

Chester followed Hal's instructions and a moment later gazed out of
the pit. Ahead he could see moving forms, but there was no one close
to the pit.

"Coast clear," he called to Hal. "Here I go. Be ready when I reach
down for you."

He pulled himself up.

CHAPTER XI

THROUGH THE LINES

"Ready, Hal?"

"All ready."

Hal stretched up his hands, and Chester, leaning far over the pit, seized
them and pulled. Hal came slowly upwards.

Suddenly he gave a cry of pain and twisted and squirmed vigorously.
Chester became alarmed.

"What's the matter?" he asked quickly.

"One of those fellows bit me in the leg!" exclaimed Hal.

It was true.

As Hal had soared upward, one of the Germans had sprung forward, and
being unable to free his hands, had seized the fleshy part of Hal's leg
between his teeth. Evidently the gag had not been properly adjusted.

"Kick him loose!" cried Chester.

Hal obeyed instructions. The German uttered a loud cry--another sign that
the lads had gagged him too carelessly.

In kicking out at the German, Hal had used too much violence and had
jerked loose from Chester's hold. Down into the pit he plunged again.
Apparently believing that Hal had come back with the intention of
silencing him forever, the ungagged German gave vent to a series of
loud cries.

"Quick, Chester!" called Hal. "Pull me out of here before this fellow
brings down the whole German army."

Chester leaned over and again seized Hal by the hands and pulled. Once
more the German below sprang forward and attempted to sink his teeth in
Hal's leg. Hal, realizing what the man was about, kicked out suddenly
before the German could obtain his hold, and the lad's heavy shoe caught
the man squarely in the mouth. One more cry the German gave and then
toppled over.

"Quick Chester!" cried Hal, again.

With an effort Chester dragged Hal from the pit.

Hal stood up and both lads dusted the dirt from their clothes.

"Now the sooner we get away from this spot the better," said Chester.

They advanced directly west toward the extreme German front.

"We'll have to depend on boldness to take us through," said Hal. "It is
unlikely that we shall be questioned until we reach the outposts and then
we'll have to make a break for it."

"Suits me," said Chester.

They walked along leisurely, passing countless German soldiers standing
about; but little attention was paid to them. Occasionally a man nodded
to them and the lads returned the salutation.

Gradually they drew away from the main body of troops and neared the
outposts. Here German troopers were engaged in throwing up breastworks
against a possible attack by the French in the morning.

"Guess we won't have far to go if we can get beyond the outposts,"
muttered Hal. "These preparations indicate the Germans have just won this
ground. The French can't be far away."

Chester nodded in token of assent, and at that moment they came up to the
workers. Casually they stood and watched the German soldiers digging for
a few moments; then wandered in among them, keeping close together.

"When I give the word!" whispered Hal.

Chester nodded.

"Now!"

Hal gave the word suddenly.

Immediately the two lads took to their heels.

For a moment the Germans were stunned by the very audacity of the two
lads. Then entrenching tools dropped to the ground and the men seized
their rifles and fired a volley after the two boys. But in the time it
had taken them to lay aside their tools and pick up their weapons the
lads had disappeared in the darkness and now hurled themselves to the
ground, anticipating such a volley.

In the darkness the Germans could hope to hit them only by accident.

Springing to their feet again, the lads ran forward, bearing off slightly
to the north, and soon felt they were safe.

They slowed down and approached the French lines cautiously. Presently
they beheld the first French entrenchment. As they drew close a French
soldier poked up his head and levelled a rifle at them.

"Halt!" he cried. "Who goes there?"

"Friends!" returned Hal.

"Advance friends," came the soldier's next words while he still held his
rifle ready.

Hal and Chester advanced to the very edge of the trench. There the
soldier took a good look at their faces and noticed the German uniforms.
Up went his rifle again and he would have pulled the trigger with the gun
aimed squarely at Hal had not Chester leaped quickly forward and struck
up the weapon.

The two clinched.

"You fool!" cried Chester. "We are not Germans!"

Other soldiers now came running up. They gathered about the two figures
in German uniforms. An officer approached. Fortunately, he recognized the
two boys and waved the men away.

"These men are all right," he said.

The soldiers drew off, satisfied, all but the man who would have fired
point blank at Hal. He stood there and eyed the lad sullenly. Then, for
the first time, Hal obtained a good look at him. The lad recognized him
instantly. He was the same man who had directed the hazing of young Jules
Clemenceau a short time before.

As the Frenchman leered at him evilly, Hal walked close to him.

"It's my belief you knew me all the time," he declared quietly.

"What of it?" the Frenchman demanded.

"Why," said Hal, "only that if I were sure, I'd pull your nose for you."

"Ha!" exclaimed the Frenchman. "I'd like to see you try it. You caught me
off my guard the other night. You can't do it again."

"I don't particularly care to do it," returned Hal, quietly, "because
you're not worth it; but if I start I'll probably go through with it."

Again the Frenchman sneered at him.

Further conversation was prevented by the appearance of a French
lieutenant who had observed the trouble.

"Matin!" he ordered. "Back to your post at once, sir."

The latter saluted respectfully enough, but he gave Hal another evil look
as he walked away.

"He's no friend of yours, that's sure," said the young French officer to
Hal, with a smile.

"I am glad to say he's not," replied Hal, quietly. "I don't believe I'd
care for a friend like that."

"I don't blame you," was the young officer's response. "Matin has a bad
reputation and I would advise you to keep your eye on him."

"Thanks," said Hal. "I shall remember that. By the way, can you tell me
just where we are?"

"Thiaumont farm," returned the French officer; "or, rather, I should say,
just east of Thiaumont farm. You two fellows look somewhat done up. If
you will go to the farm you will find a place to sleep in the farmhouse.
By some trick of fate the house and barn still stand, although everything
else in this vicinity has been knocked to pieces by the big guns."

"Thanks," said Hal, again. "We shall take your advice. We are pretty
tired and a sleep will help out. It's too far back to our own quarters
when there is a place to bunk so handy."

The two lads left the young officer and made their way to the farmhouse.
Here they found a number of French officers already installed, but the
latter gladly made room for them.

"No beds," said one with a laugh, "but there is plenty of room on
the floor."

"I guess a bed would be too much to expect," said Chester, also
laughing. "Besides, it's been so long since I slept in one I don't
believe I could rest."

"The floor is plenty good enough for me," Hal agreed.

"Help yourselves then. You can pick out your own room."

"Guess we'll go upstairs then," said Hal. "It'll probably be more quiet
up there. These fellows down here are having too much fun to care about
sleep," and he waved his arm toward one corner of the room, where a group
of young French officers were engaged in a game of cards.

The two boys made their way upstairs and found a room to their liking in
the rear of the house. Here they stretched themselves out on the floor
and were asleep immediately. There were no other occupants of the room.

Outside the moon was shining, and it cast a beam of light into the room
where the two chums lay asleep. Several hours after the boys had closed
their eyes in sleep, the figure of a man appeared in the window without.
After some experimenting he opened the window softly and came in. He
closed the window gently behind him.

Chester stirred in his sleep and the man shrank back against the wall in
the darkness. For perhaps five minutes he remained there, and then, as
there was no further move by the sleeper, he advanced into the center of
the room. The light fell upon his face, and had the boys been awake, they
would have recognized in the intruder, Matin, the man who had attempted
to shoot Hal a short time before.

Matin approached the two sleepers quietly, seeking to make sure which was
Hal. He examined each closely and then grinned as he stepped back a pace
or two, apparently satisfied.

From the next room there came the sound of footsteps and again Matin
shrank back against the wall. Directly the footsteps moved away and Matin
drew a breath of relief.

From his pocket now he produced a knife, examined it carefully and
grinned again. Looking carefully about to make sure that there was no one
in the room to observe him, he stepped forward.

Had he turned his head at that moment he would have seen a second figure
lowering itself just inside the room. But so intent was Matin upon the
dark deed ahead of him that, after his one observation of the room, he
did not look again.

The second figure was creeping after Matin now. He was not far behind,
but still he was not close enough to touch the first intruder. Matin took
two quick steps forward and raised his arm. Then he bent on one knee.

The arm flashed down!

CHAPTER XII

THE BATTLE OF THIAUMONT FARM

But the knife never reached its mark.

There came a sudden loud report, a flash of flame and the knife clattered
to the floor. Matin reeled and fell backward, and as he did so the second
intruder pounced upon him and pinned him down.

Hal arose to his feet slowly. In his hand he held a smoking revolver.
Chester, awakened by the shot, leaped quickly to his feet and his
revolver flashed in his hand.

"What's happened?" he exclaimed.

"My friend Matin here tried to do for me," said Hal, pointing. "I
shot him."

Chester rushed to the side of the two figures across the room. Then, for
the first time, the identity of the second figure was established. It was
Jules Clemenceau.

Hal also approached and bent over. He took Jules by the arm.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I followed Matin," replied Jules, rising to his feet. "I saw you when
you entered the trench from the German lines. After you had gone I
heard Matin threaten to kill you. We were relieved at the same time,
and suspecting that he might be up to some mischief, I followed him. I
was too far behind to do any good. I was so frightened that I could
not cry out."

"How did you happen to see him, Hal?" asked Chester.

"I don't know," was Hal's reply. "I was awakened just as Jules here came
through the window. I was about to call out when I saw Matin coming
toward me with drawn knife. I drew my revolver quietly and waited. I
wanted him to get close enough so I would not miss. My arm was doubled
under me and I wasn't certain at that distance."

"Is he dead?" asked Chester as Hal bent over the body.

"No," said Hal. "I didn't shoot to kill him. I shot him through the
shoulder."

"Then he should regain consciousness pretty quick," declared Chester.

"Oh, he's conscious right now," said Hal. "He's just shamming a bit.
Isn't that so, Matin?"

Matin sat up.

"What of it?" he demanded.

"Nothing," returned Hal, "except that the next time you come near me,
except in the performance of duty, you will not get off so lightly."

"Are you going to let him go?" asked Jules, in surprise.

"What did you expect me to do with him?" demanded Hal.

"Shoot him again."

Hal was forced to smile at the grimness of the boy's tones.

"No," he said quietly, "I have done him injury enough for one time.
Let him go."

"But he will try to kill you again!"

"If he does, he will wish he hadn't," was Hal's reply.

He turned and prodded Matin with the toe of his boot. "Get up and get out
of here," he said sharply.

Cringingly, Matin obeyed. He slunk out of the room without a word.

"Now I can breath easier," declared Hal. "His presence contaminated
the air."

"I am afraid you let him off too easily, Hal," said Chester. "You at
least should report him and have him put in a safe place."

"I guess I am big enough to fight my own battles, Chester," said Hal.
"The French officers have enough to do without worrying about men like
Matin. Besides, I don't really believe he will bother me again."

And so the subject was dismissed. Jules took his departure and Hal and
Chester again lay down to sleep. Chester was just about to doze when a
sudden thought struck him.

"I say, Hal," he called.

"What's the trouble now?"

"Do you suppose it could have been Matin who shot at you that night in
our quarters?"

"I don't know. I hardly think so, though. I believe that gentleman called
to pay his respects to Stubbs."

"But--"

"Come, Chester," said Hal, "it's getting late and I am going to get six
good hours' sleep."

But Hal was mistaken. There was to be yet another interruption to the
slumber of the two lads. It came suddenly and unexpectedly.

It was still an hour before dawn when the German artillery broke forth
afresh, thousands of guns hurling death upon the sleeping French lines.
The men were awake in an instant and rushed to their positions. Out of
the first confusion order came promptly as officers issued sharp
commands. Officers and men had the same thought. The heavy bombardment
presaged a new German assault.

Hal and Chester had sprung from the floor at the sound of the first
salvo. Rushing from the farmhouse, they watched the troops form and move
forward. The defenders of the first line trenches already were engaged by
the German infantry when Hal and Chester reached the open, and
reinforcements were being rushed forward as rapidly as possible.

Unassigned for the moment, Hal and Chester were undecided as to what to
do. Chester settled the matter.

"We'll stay here," he decided. "There is no need of our going forward. We
will only be in the way now. If we are needed, of course, it will be
different."

Hal agreed with his chum and the two remained where they were.

The terrible thunder of the great guns ceased now and there broke out the
crash of rifle fire. This told Hal and Chester that the German infantry
was charging the trenches.

And this was indeed the case. In great waves of humanity the German
assault poured on. Into the trenches the men threw themselves, dying by
the hundreds; but there were always more to take their places. While the
attack had not been exactly a surprise, the French nevertheless had been
caught off their guard and the first advantage was with the Germans.

As wave after wave of humanity poured into the trenches, the French broke
and fled. Toward Hal and Chester they came, making for the protection of
the next line of entrenchments just beyond Thiaumont farm. Hal and
Chester stepped within the farmhouse to watch the flight.

"We can't remain here long," Chester shouted to make himself heard above
the din and crash of musketry.

Hal nodded his understanding and turned again to the window.

At that moment a body of French infantry, perhaps 200 strong, dashed
directly for the farmhouse. Through the doors they poured and rushed to
the windows and manned them.

Some rushed upstairs, under the direction of the single officer with them
and others descended into the basement.

"By Jove! They are going to make a stand here!" cried Chester.

"Right!" Hal agreed. "Here is a chance for us to do some good. We'll
offer our services to this officer."

The lads had discarded their German uniforms soon after their return to
the French lines and were again attired in regulation French costume,
with which they had been provided. They now approached the French officer
who was busy directing the disposition of his men.

"We would be glad, sir," said Hal, "if you would put us to work."

The officer glanced at them keenly.

"Officers, I perceive," he said. "Your names, please?"

The boys gave them.

"Good," said the Frenchman. "Lieutenant Paine, you shall take charge of
the second floor. Lieutenant Crawford, you will command in the basement.
I have orders to hold this position, come what may."

"Very good, sir."

The two boys saluted.

"To your posts, then!"

Hal dashed upstairs and Chester descended quickly below.

Hal gazed quickly about the front room upstairs as he entered it.
There were three windows. It was the only room facing east. There were
two other rooms on the floor, and Hal quickly posted men at the
windows of each.

In the basement Chester found that the only two windows fronted east. He
had not much to guard. He gazed upon the men under his command and
quickly selected five.

"The rest of you go upstairs," he commanded. "Six of us will be enough
here. The hard fighting will be done above, if it is done at all."

The five men selected nodded their approval of the boys' understanding of
the situation. They could see he was young in years, but from the way in
which he issued orders they realized that he was old in experience.

A moment later the French officer in command came downstairs. He
approached Chester.

"In the excitement," he said, "I forgot to tell you my name. I am Captain
Leroux. I came down to see if you are all ready."

"All ready, sir," said Chester, saluting.

"Good!" The officer took his departure.

On the first floor he attended to several important details in the matter
of placing his men to best advantage and then ascended to where Hal was
in command. He gave his name to the latter and commended the manner in
which Hal had stationed his men.

"Very good, Lieutenant Paine," he said. "I see that I may depend
upon you."

"And upon my friend below, sir," replied Hal; "and upon the men
with me here."

The soldiers gave a cheer at these words and Hal knew that they would
fight to the last.

Captain Leroux peered from the window.

"Not in sight yet," he muttered. He turned again to Hal. "Two hours,
Lieutenant," he said.

"We'll hold 'em, sir," was Hal's quiet response. "We'll hold them if it
can be done."

"My instructions," returned the captain, "are that they must be held."

"Very well, sir. Then they shall be held."

Hal saluted and turned to the window.

And now there hove into sight in the early morning light countless
numbers of German infantrymen at a charge. They had discovered the fact
that the French held the farmhouse, and although their officers had no
means of ascertaining the French strength at that point, they realized
that it must be won before there could be a general advance. So they
ordered the charge.

"Here they come, sir," said Hal, quietly.

Captain Leroux dashed down the stairs without making reply.

"Let them come close, men," ordered Hal, "and when I give the word let
them have it for all you're worth. Make every shot count."

His words were greeted with a cheer. Each man was in position. Each man's
finger was on the trigger. A moment of silence and then Hal ordered:

"Fire!"

CHAPTER XIII

THE FIGHT

The front of the farmhouse broke into a sheet of flame.

At almost the same moment, Captain Leroux on the floor below, and Chester
in the basement, gave the command to fire and the first line of
approaching Germans seemed to crumple up.

But the men behind came on.

Again and again effective volleys were fired from the farmhouse; but
despite their heavy losses and urged on by commands of their
officers, the Germans pressed forward until they were at the very
side of the house.

As they approached they fired volley after volley at the windows behind
which the defenders stood calmly; and the French had not gone unscathed.

In the basement, where Chester was in command, no German bullet had gone
so far, but Hal had lost three men and Captain Leroux five. As quickly as
these fell others took their places at the windows and continued to fire
steadily into the German ranks.

Came a heavy battering at the front door. A force of Germans had reached
this point in spite of the fire of the French and now were attempting to
batter it down. Without exposing themselves too recklessly the French
could not reach this party of Germans with rifle fire.

Captain Leroux quickly told off ten men to guard the entrance the moment
the door should give beneath the kicks and blows of the enemy.

"Ten men should be as good as a hundred there," he explained. "Pick them
off as they rush through. Aim carefully and make every shot count."

He turned back to the work of directing the fire from the windows.

The battering at the door continued. One of the defenders, thinking to
dispose of a member of the enemy in such close proximity, stuck his head
out and brought his rifle to bear upon the foe in the doorway; but before
he could accomplish his object he fell back inside with a groan. A German
bullet had done its work.

"No more of that!" ordered Captain Leroux, sharply. "I need every man I
have. No need to expose yourselves uselessly."

After that no French head appeared above the window sill farther than was
necessary to aim and fire.

In the basement Chester and his men had had little to do so far. True,
they had been able to pick off a German or two, but their position was
such that they could be of little value at the moment. Their time was to
come later.

On the top floor Hal, because of his position, was better able to command
a view of the open field ahead than Captain Leroux in the room below. The
fire of Hal's men, therefore, was more effective than of the French on
the ground floor.

Below there was a crash as the door splintered beneath the battering
tactics brought into play by the Germans who had gained the shelter of
the house and were able to continue work without molestation. The ten
Frenchmen told off by Captain Leroux to defend the entrance held their
rifles ready, waiting for the first German head to appear in the opening.

But the door was of stout oak, and though it seemed on the point of
giving under each succeeding blow, it still held. Hoarse guttural cries
from without indicated that the Germans were becoming impatient to get at
the French within. Came an extra violent crash and the door suddenly gave
way. Three Germans, who had been leaning against the door, caught off
their balance, were precipitated headlong into the room. It was
unfortunate--for them.

Before they could scramble to their feet, the French had placed them
beyond all hopes of further fighting. Their days of war were over.

But other Germans poured into the door behind them and leaped forward
over the prostrate forms of their comrades. Calmly, the ten French
soldiers, far back against the wall and a little to one side, so as to be
out of direct line of fire from the open doorway, fired into the surging
mass of humanity. And their fire was deadly and effective. In almost less
time than it takes to tell it the doorway was choked with German dead.

It was a gruesome sight and even the French soldiers, used as they were
to such spectacles, shuddered inwardly. It seemed foolhardy for the enemy
to seek entrance to the house through that blocked door. Even the Germans
realized it and would have drawn back but for the fact that their
officers, farther back, urged them on with cries and imprecations.

Again there was a concerted rush for the door.

The pile of prostrate German forms served as a shield for the defenders
and behind this barrier of bodies the men took their posts and poured a
withering fire into the ranks of the attackers. This deadly fire was more
than the Germans could face, and in spite of the frantic efforts of their
officers, they drew off.

"I didn't think they could make it," shouted Captain Leroux. "Good
work, men!"

A cheer went up from the defenders. But the men knew the calibre of these
German veterans and they realized that the attack had not been given up.
They knew that the Germans, with their superior numbers, would not desist
and that eventually they must be overwhelmed.

"Two hours!" Captain Leroux had said.

Hardly a quarter of that time had flown and in it had been crowded
desperate work that well would have been enough for the day. The men were
tired, but they were not willing to admit it. Each had told himself that
he would die at his post rather than surrender.

There came a lull in the fighting.

To the war-seasoned veterans of France this lull told a story of its own.
It presaged a new and more violent attempt on the part of the Germans to
force the farmhouse. Captain Leroux knew it. So did Hal and Chester, and
at their various stations they gave quick commands to their men.

Taking care not to expose himself too much, he gazed from the window. His
action did not even bring a shot. This increased the lad's suspicions.

"Trying to draw us out," he muttered. "Want us to think they have given
up the attempt. Never mind, Mr. German, you are not shrewd enough."

The defenders waited patiently; and presently the Germans again advanced
to the attack, even as Hal and Chester had known they would.

Forward came the Teuton horde in a charge. From a distance of perhaps 500
yards, they dashed across the open at full speed, apparently bent upon
overawing the defenders by the very appearance of such numbers.

But the French did not quail. The weight of numbers meant nothing to
them. It was not the first time they had stood firmly against
overwhelming odds, and there was not a man in the farmhouse who did not
fully expect to survive the present battle and be ready to face
overwhelming odds again. Each man knew well enough that before the
fighting was over it was ten to one that there would be but a handful
of the defenders left, but each man was confident he would be one of
that number.

They poured a galling fire into the ranks of the Germans as they advanced
to the charge.

The effect of this steady stream of rifle fire, accurate and deadly at
such close range, was bound to tell. In spite of the urging of their
officers, the Germans wavered. The lines behind the first surged forward,
however, pushing the men in front closer to the deadly fire of the
French. Those in front pushed back and for a moment there was wild
confusion without.

In vain German officers rushed in among the troops, trying to rally them.
It was too late. The Germans had become demoralized. A moment and they
broke and fled. It was every man for himself.

The French within the farmhouse raised a wild cheer and poured volley
after volley into the fleeing Germans. Men tumbled right and left. The
German losses in the retreat were greater even than they had been in
the advance.

Hal, who had been working like a Trojan, wiped the beads of perspiration
from his forehead with his shirt sleeve--the work had become so hot that
the lad had removed his coat, though it was still cold without--and spoke
words of encouragement to his men.

"Good work, boys," he said quietly. "A few more like that and they will
bother us no more."

Even as he spoke the lad knew that his words meant nothing. He knew the
Germans would not give up until they had captured the farmhouse or had
been driven back by the weight of superior numbers, and at that moment it
did not appear that reinforcements would arrive.

The troops also knew that Hal's words meant nothing, but they cheered
him anyhow. They realized that he had spoken as he did merely to
encourage them; and they liked the spirit that inspired the words. They
knew that Hal was fully competent of judging the hopelessness of the
task ahead of them.

"The captain said to hold them two hours, sir," said one grizzled old
veteran to Hal. "How long has it been now, sir?"

Hal glanced at his watch. "One hour exactly."

"Good!" exclaimed the French soldier. "One half of the work done and most
of us are still here. We'll hold them!"

"Of course we'll hold them, Francois," exclaimed another. "Surely you
didn't think we couldn't do it?"

"Well," was the reply. "It's a pretty big job and--"

"But we were ordered to hold them for two hours," protested the other.

"Of course," returned the man addressed as Francois. "That settles it.
Two hours are two hours."

"Right," said the other. "Also two hours are only two hours, which makes
it that much better."

"But at the end of two hours, then what?" asked a third soldier.

The man who had first engaged Francois in conversation shrugged his
shoulders.

"That," he said, "is not for us to decide. But we will not be forgotten,
you may be sure of that. Our general will see that we are relieved."

"You may rest assured on that score," Hal agreed. "Having picked you as
the men to defend this important position, it is not to be expected that
he will see you all sacrificed."

There was another cheer from the men, followed a moment later by a shout
from one at the front window.

"Here they come again, sir!"

CHAPTER XIV

HAL LEADS A SORTIE

Hal sprang forward and gave a quick look at the enemy.

Apparently, the assault was to be made on the same plan as before. After
the last retreat of the enemy, their officers had succeeded in re-forming
them beyond the zone of French fire and now were about to hurl the troops
forward in another grand offensive against the farmhouse. The Germans
moved forward silently and doggedly.

"It'll be a little warmer this time," Hal muttered to himself.

And the lad was right.

Straight on came the Germans at the charge in spite of the withering fire
poured in among them by the French; straight up to the side of the house
they rushed, though there were many men who did not get that far; and
then the German troops deployed.

While perhaps a hundred men remained at the front of the house,
apparently to seek entrance through the doorway blocked with their own
dead, the others divided and dashed round the house, some to the right
and some to the left.

Now, for the first time, French troops who had not been posted at the
front windows came into action.

As the Germans rushed around the house, these French troops leaned from
their windows on the side of the house and poured volley after volley
into the German ranks. They were almost directly above the Germans and
the latter were at a great disadvantage; for they could not return the
fire of the French without pausing in their mad rush; and when they did
pause and bring their rifles to bear upon the windows above, there were
no French heads to be seen there.

But when they dashed on again, the French heads reappeared and again the
Germans fell in large numbers.

But the losses of the French by this time, in spite of the comparative
safety afforded by their position, had been extremely heavy, considering
the size of the original force. Chester, in the basement, still had
suffered no casualties, but fully a third of the men on the two floors
above had been killed or wounded.

And there had been no time to care for these wounded, except for the
brief respites occasioned by the retreat of the Germans. Now that the
fighting was on again the wounded were left to shift for themselves; and
the air was filled with moans and groans.

The Germans in front of the house again had tried in vain to force a
passage of the doorway, choked with their own dead and dying. This had
failed, for the French, under the direction of Captain Leroux, had poured
in such a galling fire that the Germans dropped as fast as they appeared
in the doorway.

From above, the defenders at the front of the house, also, had done heavy
execution among the enemy below. Again the Germans wavered; then
retreated; and the French mowed them down as they ran.

Suddenly Hal bethought himself of a daring plan. Dashing down stairs he
confided it to Captain Leroux. The latter clapped his hands in approval.

"You shall direct the move," he exclaimed. "I'll take your post and see
that the Germans in front continue to fall back; also I shall be able to
cover you to some extent."

He ran quickly upstairs.

Quickly Hal picked fifty men.

"Clear away those bodies," he said, pointing to the German dead that
blocked the doorway.

It was the work of but a few minutes.

"Now," said Hal, "when we go out the door, I want half of you to go
around the house to the left. The others follow me."

He divided the men into two squads.

"We'll catch the fellows who got behind us by surprise," the lad
explained. "They are still engaged with the men at the windows above. We
can't afford to be surrounded. We must drive them off."

Silently, the men filed from the house.

The strategy of Hal's plan was at once apparent. The Germans who had
circled the house, after dividing after the grand assault, still were
unaware of the retreat of their fellows. They did not know that this
support had been lost to them. Therefore, they were sure to be at a great
disadvantage when attacked from a position that they believed to be held
by their comrades.

Above, the defenders still continued to fire rapidly, seeking to keep up
the delusion.

There was only one thing that worried Hal--one thing that he felt
possibly might bring disaster following his surprise attack. He knew that
the Germans who had recently retreated from before the farmhouse would
understand his plan the minute he led his men from the farmhouse. This
would mean another grand assault. The question in Hal's mind was whether
he could get his men back inside the house before the main force of the
enemy could advance and cut him off.

But he was depending upon the French still within the house to hold the
foe off until he could get back.

As the French dashed suddenly around the house, there came a wild cry
from the distant German lines to the east. The ruse had been discovered
and Hal realized that the bulk of the enemy would be upon them before
long. Therefore, he knew he must hurry.

"Quick!" he cried to his men.

The latter needed no urging.

Swiftly they dashed around the house in either direction and fell upon
the Germans, who had sought shelter at the far side, with their bayonets.
The enemy, taken completely by surprise, uttered cries of consternation
and sought to retreat; for their officers had no means of telling the
numbers of these new foes.

But the French pressed them closely. Although the Germans were taken at a
great disadvantage because of the suddenness of the attack, they,
nevertheless fought bravely.

No quarter was asked.

For safety's sake the enemy pressed close to the French, engaging them
hand-to-hand. In this was their only hope of success, for every time a
man strayed from the struggling mass, a keen-eyed French soldier above
dropped him with a rifle bullet.

But the struggle could have only one end. Bewildered by the sudden
appearance of the French, the Germans never gained time to recover
themselves. The French pushed the fighting; and soon it was all over.

There remained now only half a score of Germans standing.

"Surrender!" called Hal.

With the exception of one, the men threw down their weapons. The
exception was a German officer, who evidently had been in command. He
sprang toward Hal with a cry and thrust with his sword.

The move had been so unexpected that the lad was caught completely off
his guard and the sword must have pierced him had it not been for the
quickness of a French soldier who stood near. Without taking thought to
his own danger, this man sprang forward and grappled with the German.

The latter hurled the French soldier from him with a sudden powerful move
and again advanced on Hal. But now the lad was ready for him and his
sword met the sword of the German officer neatly.

In vain the German officer sought to break down Hal's guard. Hal foiled
him at every turn. The German was furiously angry, but Hal was smiling
easily. The lad realized that he probably owed his life to the German's
anger, for at the first touch of swords the lad had realized that the
German was clearly his master. Therefore, the lad jeered at the officer
as he fought.

Hal became more certain of the outcome of the duel as it continued, for
with every thrust and parry the German became more and more angry because
he could not overcome this boy. Perspiration rolled down his face and he
panted with rage.

"I'll get you!" he cried.

"Oh, not for some time yet," Hal grinned back at him.

The German swore.

"Now! Now!" said Hal. "That's no way for a nice German officer to do.
What would the emperor say?"

The duel was interrupted at this point by a sudden cry from the
farmhouse.

"Never mind him, Lieutenant! Back into the house quickly!"

It was the voice of Captain Leroux and the tone told Hal how urgent was
the call. Taking a quick step forward, he caused the German officer to
retreat a few paces. Then Hal lowered his sword, and calling to his men
to follow him, dashed toward the front of the house.

Behind, the German officer broke into a torrent of abuse and would have
continued it had not a French soldier, who cared nothing for the
etiquette of duelling, put an end to him with a rifle bullet.

To the half score of men who had thrown down their arms, Hal cried:

"Back to your own lines quickly or you shall be shot down! No," pausing
and levelling his revolver as one of the Germans sought to stoop and pick
up his discarded rifle, "never mind the gun. Another move like that and
you'll all be shot down. Move, now!"

The Germans wasted no further time and made for the shelter of their own
lines at top speed.

And their own lines were advancing rapidly to meet them.

"Quick, men!" cried Hal. "Into the house!"

They had now reached the front door again and Hal stood to one side that
his men might enter first.

Above, the fire of the defenders had broken out afresh, but the Germans
rushed forward in spite of it. Bullets hummed close about Hal's head as
he stood beside the doorway, but none struck him; and at last all the men
were inside.

Hal went in after them.

From without came a cry of rage as the advancing Germans realized that,
for the moment, at least, they had been deprived of their prey.

"Guard the door there, men!" shouted Hal. "Get back and to one side out
of the line of fire. Save your bullets until they cross the threshold,
then shoot them down."

The men moved into position. Hal glanced quickly around to make sure
that all was in readiness and at that moment Captain Leroux descended
the stairs.

"Good work, Mr. Paine," he said quietly. "If I live, I shall report this
piece of work. I will take command here now. Return to your post above."

Hal saluted and did as commanded.

Hardly had he reached position above when he heard Captain Leroux below
give the command:

"Fire!"

CHAPTER XV

LEFT BEHIND

The Germans had drawn off again.

The last assault had met with no better success than had the attacks that
had gone before. True, the defenders had suffered considerably, for the
German fire had been accurate; but the losses of the French had been as
nothing compared with those of the Teutons.

This last assault had been more severe than the others. The Germans had
shown even greater tenacity and courage than before. In vain had their
officers sought to hold them to the attack. Once, twice, thrice had the
human sea surged against the farmhouse, only to be thrown back; so at
last the Germans had withdrawn.

Dead and wounded men strewed the floor. There were still some who had not
been touched by the bullets of the foe, but the majority of the defenders
of the top floor lay prone.

Hal shook his head sadly.

"Don't believe we can withstand another such charge," he said aloud.

"How long yet, sir?" asked the grizzled old veteran, Francois, who,
though he had kept his place at the window through the last attack, had
escaped the German bullets.

Again Hal gazed closely at his watch.

"Twelve minutes to go," he said quietly.

The face of Francois brightened.

"Then we are all right, sir," he said. "They will hardly attack again in
that time, sir."

Hal shook his head.

"They are likely to attack at any moment," he replied slowly. "Besides,
if we do succeed in beating them off once more, there is nothing to
assure us that we will be relieved then."

"Nothing sir," returned Francois, "except Captain Leroux's word that we
have only to hold this house two hours, sir."

"True," said Hal, brightening visibly. "I shouldn't have spoken as I did.
We must trust to the others, and if they fail, why, we'll know it is not
their fault."

"Right, sir," said Francois. "If they fail, it will not be their fault."

He returned to his place at the window.

On the floor below Captain Leroux also had taken account of his
casualties. Merely a handful of men remained unwounded. Some of the
men who had felt the effects of the German fire were still in
condition to continue the fight should their services be necessary,
but their number was few.

The captain shook his head dubiously as he glanced at his watch.

"Ten minutes," he muttered. "Well, we'll hold it that long, but
afterwards I can't be held accountable, there will be none of us left."

In the basement Chester and his five men still were unmarked. Though they
had stood at the small windows and fired at whatever German forms came
within view, they had had little work to do, the men were beginning to
murmur among themselves.

"We're not needed down here," said one. "We should be upstairs where the
fighting is being done. No Germans will seek to come in here."

"That's right," said another, "we might do some good above. Here we are
doing nothing at all. Why, we have hardly seen a German. I don't believe
any of the enemy have spotted this opening yet, either."

"Nor I; wish they had let me stay upstairs."

"What's all this?" demanded Chester, suddenly. "You men have been in the
ranks long enough to know better than to question your officers' orders.
You have been posted here and here you shall remain until I get orders to
the contrary."

"But, sir," said one of the men, "we would like--"

"Silence!" said Chester. "Back to your places."

The men obeyed, though they continued to murmur. Chester softened a few
minutes later and again addressed his men.

"I have no doubt you fellows will have all the fighting you want before
this thing is over," he said quietly. "As nearly as I can make out from
here the men upstairs must be about done for. I question whether they
will be able to beat off another attack."

"And are the two hours up, sir," asked one of the men.

Chester glanced at his watch.

"Not quite," he returned.

"How much to go, sir?"

"A little more than five minutes."

The man's face darkened.

"And we'll be relieved at the end of that time without having done any
fighting," he said. "Here we sit down here in the dark and the other
fellows have all the fun."

"You're liable to get yours yet," said Chester. "If I mistake not,
the Germans are returning to the attack. I hear the sounds of firing
from above."

Chester was right. The Germans again had advanced to the charge.

Above, Hal and Captain Leroux were issuing orders to their men for what
each believed would be the final effort. Should this attack be repulsed,
both had some slight hopes that they would not be compelled to face
another--that French reinforcements would arrive before the Germans could
advance again. But, also, neither was sure in his own mind that the
approaching attack of the foe could be beaten off.

And this time the Germans seemed to be advancing in even greater numbers
than before.

"Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack!" came the spatter of German bullets
against the side of the house; and occasionally a bullet struck home and
left no sound, unless it was the sound of a man toppling over backwards
to the floor, or a man as he clapped his hand to his head. The rifle
bombardment was having its effect.

The sharp crack of French rifles answered the challenge of the Germans,
though, because of the fact that the ranks of the defenders had been
sadly depleted, their weapons spoke not so often. But when they did
speak, men fell; for, at this crucial stage of the battle, they were
making every shot count.

But this time, it seemed, the Germans were not to be denied. Men as
well as officers understood the slowness of the French fire. The
Germans were flushed with the spirit of victory, despite the fact that
the field on all sides of the farmhouse was covered with their own dead
and dying. The German soldiers realized, as did their officers, that
the end of the courageous defense was near. Another effort and the
farmhouse would be theirs.

For some reason, in spite of the fact that the German troops appeared to
be making fair progress, their advance was suddenly stayed. At some
distance they halted and continued to pepper the house with rifle
bullets, doing little damage at that distance.

Horses dashed suddenly into view, dragging behind them a rapid-fire gun.

Hal guessed the answer.

"That's to mow us down when we try to run," he told himself. "Well--"

He broke off and shrugged his shoulders.

Now the Germans came on again, the rapid-fire gun covering their
advance. A moment later the side of the farmhouse resembled a sieve, it
was so full of holes. For a man to stick his head out the window meant
instant death.

But as the Germans drew closer, the rapid firer became silent, for,
without risking the lives of Germans as well as French, it was of no
value now. At the same moment the heads of the defenders again
appeared at the windows and renewed the work of picking off the
Germans as they charged.

For some reason Hal took the time to glance at his watch once more.

"Time's up!" he told himself gravely, "and no help in sight."

But the lad was wrong; for, could he have looked from the rear of the
house at that moment, he would have seen advancing several columns of
French cavalry, coming to their relief.

The Germans saw the approach of reinforcements and redoubled their
efforts to gain the farmhouse before the reinforcements could arrive. But
it was too late. With wild cries, the French cavalrymen swept down and
about the house. Cheers from the defenders greeted them. The men left
their places at the windows and ran from the house. Hurriedly the wounded
were carried out and the retreat begun.

And at that moment the Germans, also reinforced, charged again. Greatly
outnumbered the French retreated, firing as they went.

Then, for the first time, Hal noticed Chester's absence.

"Great Scott!" he exclaimed to Captain Leroux, "we have come away without
notifying the men in the basement."

Quickly the two made their way to the French commander and laid the
situation before him. The latter shook his head sadly.

"It's too late now," he said quietly. "Look at the number of the foe. We
could not make headway against them."

He was deaf to all Hal's entreaties that he make the effort.

In the basement, Chester and his five men had been unable to ascertain
the cause of the increased firing at one moment and the lull a moment
later. Chester had about decided that the defenders had given up and that
he and his men in the cellar were all that remained.

From his window he could see the Germans only when they came into a
certain position; and what went on above he had no means of telling. But
that the others would go and leave him and his men behind had not entered
his head. Therefore, he decided to remain quiet with his men.

But when an hour had passed and there came no more sounds of firing from
above, Chester decided it was time to investigate. Accordingly, he
ascended the steps quietly.

There was no one above. The lad gazed about quickly. Except for the dead,
there was no Frenchman in the house. Bloodstains on the floor showed that
the wounded had been removed.

Then Chester realized what had happened.

Quickly he ran to the door and peered out. Far in the rear he could see
the French retreating, pursued by the foe. Chester uttered an exclamation
of dismay and called to his men. He explained the situation to them. All
were dumbfounded.

At that moment Chester espied an object a short distance from the
farmhouse. There was no living form near. With a sudden cry of hope,
Chester dashed from the house.

"Come on, men!" he called over his shoulder.

CHAPTER XVI

CHESTER'S GALLANT FEAT

The object upon which Chester's eyes had fallen and which was the cause
of the sudden activity on the lad's part was nothing less than the
rapid-fire gun the Germans so recently had brought up to bombard the
farmhouse and cut off the retreat of its French defenders. Its crew had
been killed, picked off by the accurate shooting of the French before
they abandoned the house, and the gun had not been remanned. Apparently
the Germans had overlooked the small field piece in their haste to give
chase to the retreating French.

The horses were standing a short distance away, unhurt, as Chester could
see. The lad dashed toward the gun at top speed, his five men following
him as fast as they could run.

There was a light of anticipation on Chester's face as he reached the gun
and examined it carefully.

"Plenty of ammunition," he said with a grin, as his men came up to him.

The others grinned also.

"What are you going to do with it, sir?" asked one.

Chester waved his arm in the direction of the retreating French and
pursuing Germans.

"Give those fellows a little surprise party when they turn back," he
said.

The men caught the idea and were immediately filled with enthusiasm.

"We'd better get away from here before we're discovered, though," said
Chester. "Catch those horses, some of you."

This was an easy matter, for the horses stood still as two of the French
soldiers approached them.

"Hook 'em up," cried Chester.

This, too, was the work of a moment.

"I'll do the driving," said Chester. "You fellows climb aboard."

The others needed no urging and a moment later this strange battery moved
toward the French lines at a gallop.

The Germans in pursuit of the French were still in plain view and Chester
intended to keep close behind. He reasoned that the distance was too
great for the Germans to make out the uniforms of the men on the gun and
he intended to turn off the roadway at the first sign that the Germans
were ready to give up the chase.

Along the road ran a fringe of trees, sparse in some places and thicker
in others. It was Chester's plan to wheel the gun in among the trees at
the proper moment and open on the foe when they came back.

And the plan was to be put in execution sooner than the lad had
hoped for.

Chester saw the Germans slow down. Then they turned and came toward him.
The lad could not make out at once the cause of their sudden decision to
retreat, but it came to him a moment later with the sound of heavy rifle
firing. Apparently, French infantry had advanced to the support of the
cavalry and the Germans were not strong enough in numbers to contest
effectively.

Immediately, Chester swung the horses to the right in among the trees,
which, fortunately, happened to be dense at this particular point.

"Guess we'll give 'em a little surprise," said Chester, with a grin.

Dismounting, he motioned the men to unhitch the horses, which was done.
Then the gun was whirled into position where it commanded the roadway.

"We're ready for them," said Chester, quietly.

The Germans drew on apace. Suddenly a thought struck Chester.

"Great Scott!" he exclaimed. "I can't shoot them down in cold blood, I'll
have to give them a chance. Here!" he motioned to one of his men and the
latter approached. "Take this gun," the lad commanded. "I'm going to give
these fellows a chance to surrender. If they refuse I'll duck back here
and you let them have it. I'll keep out of range, but don't turn this gun
until I get back. Understand?"

The man signified that he did.

Chester walked some distance back to where the road curved a bit. He was
out of the direct line of fire, but still in such position to make his
demand for the surrender of the Germans without allowing them to pass the
sweep of the rapid-firer.

With the Germans still some distance down the road, Chester stepped
directly into the highway and raised a hand.

The leading Germans pulled up and an officer demanded:

"What's the matter?"

"Surrender!" exclaimed Chester, "or you shall all be killed."

The German officer gave a great laugh.

"Hear the boy talk," he exclaimed. "He asks us to surrender when we have
just chased all the French back to their own lines."

There was a roar of laughter from the troop.

"Surrender!" called Chester again.

Again there was a laugh and the German officer called:

"Throw up your hands, boy, or you shall be shot!"

"Well," said Chester, "I've done all I can. I've warned you. Your blood
be upon your own heads."

With a sudden leap he disappeared among the trees. With a fierce cry, the
German officer made after him, firing as he did so.

At the same moment there was a crash as of a thousand rifles.
Germans fell from their saddles like chaff before a storm. Horses
reared, screamed, stampeded and fell down dead, crushing their
riders beneath them.

By this time Chester had returned to his men and took charge of the
rapid-fire gun himself. He turned it this way and that, sweeping the
roadway clear, where the foe was in range.

And from far behind the German line at this moment broke out the crack of
rifles. The French infantry had advanced in pursuit of the Germans, a
squadron of cavalry showing the way.

The Germans were caught between two fires.

Unable to estimate the number of men in the force that had ambushed them,
the Germans threw down their arms.

"We surrender!" cried a German officer.

Instantly the fire of the machine gun ceased and Chester advanced to the
road again. The same German officer who, a moment ago, had scorned the
lad's warning, now advanced and tendered his sword to Chester.

"Tell your men to throw down their arms," commanded Chester.

The officer did so, and swords and pistols rattled to the ground.

"Now," said Chester, "you will about face and march toward the French
lines. There must be no foolishness. My army here is rather small, but we
still have the rapid-fire gun and it will be trained upon you until you
are safe."

The lad signalled to his men, who had already hitched up the horses, and
these now advanced.

"What!" exclaimed the German officer, when he had taken a glance at
Chester's "army," "are these all the men you had when you attacked us?"

"They seemed to be enough," said Chester, with a smile.

"No wonder we haven't beaten you a long while ago," the German officer
mumbled to himself. "When five men and one a boy perform a feat like
this, I begin to have my doubts as to the outcome of this war."

"Well," said Chester, "I don't have any such doubts. But come, now;
forward march."

Slowly the German troopers marched ahead, Chester and his machine gun
bringing up the rear.

And in this manner they came directly upon the French cavalry and
infantry advancing in pursuit of the Germans.

Great were the exclamations among the French troops when it was found
that five men and a young officer had made such an important capture, to
say nothing of the terrible execution inflicted upon the enemy with their
own rapid-fire gun. The French officers were loud in the praises of
Chester's gallantry.

And with the troop of French cavalry Chester found Hal and Captain
Leroux.

"By Jove! I'm glad to see you, Chester," said Hal, advancing with
outstretched hand. "I was afraid we wouldn't get back in time."

"I guess you wouldn't have, if we had waited for you," said Chester,
dryly. "I wasn't going to take any more chances if I could help it. When
you left us there by ourselves, I was sure if we wanted to come away,
we'd have to do it by ourselves."

"We didn't do it intentionally," said Captain Leroux.

"Who said you did?" demanded Chester, somewhat angrily.

The French captain flushed. He drew himself up, seemed about to make an
angry reply; then cooled down and said:

"I'm sorry."

With that he walked away.

"Look here, Chester," said Hal, "you know that I wouldn't have left
you behind for anything if I had only thought of it. But in the
excitement and--"

"That's it," said Chester. "There was too much excitement and you were
having it all. I get buried down in a cellar with five men and sit there
in the dark till the fun's all over. Then you don't even take the trouble
to tell me it's time to go home. I don't like it."

"Great Scott! You're not mad, are you, Chester?"

"Mad? Sure I'm mad. Next time you get in a hole I'm going to walk away
and leave you there."

Hal smiled.

"Oh, I guess not," he returned.

"You do, eh? Well, you try it and see what happens."

"Come, now, Chester, you know how this thing happened," said Hal. "We
didn't do it purposely."

Chester seemed about to make an angry retort; but a moment later a smile
broke over his face and he extended a hand to his chum.

"I know you didn't," he replied, "but can't a fellow have a little fun?"

Hal took the hand as he exclaimed:

"You've offended Captain Leroux."

"Well," said Chester, "Captain Leroux has offended me."

CHAPTER XVII

A QUEER SITUATION

"Somebody following us, Hal!"

"That so?" said Hal; "and why should we be followed along here?"

"I don't know," was Chester's reply, "but I have noticed a shadow
following us wherever we go."

"We'll see about it," was Hal's rejoinder.

It was the night succeeding the day on which the lads had taken part in
the defense of Thiaumont farmhouse. They had returned to their quarters
late in the day, had reported to General Petain and had been relieved of
duty until the following morning. It was now after 8 o'clock and they
were strolling about the camp.

They had made their way well back into the heart of the armed settlement
when Chester had made the announcement that they were being followed.

With Hal to reach a decision was to act. Chester let his friend do the
leading in this instance.

Hal quickened his steps and walked quickly down the row of tents,
which, well back of the trenches, were laid out in the form of streets,
and which, in fact, were called streets by the soldiers themselves.
Chester followed.

At the first cross street, for so they may be called, Hal led the way
sharply to the left and stopped suddenly. A moment later a figure came
slinking around after them. Hal reached out an arm and grabbed him.

"Here," he said, "what are you following us for?"

The man tried to free himself, but Hal held him tight.

"If you'll let me loose, I'll explain," he said finally.

Hal considered this a moment; then with a shrug of his shoulders
released his hold.

"Stand behind him, Chester," he said.

Chester followed Hal's injunction, but the man made no effort to escape.

"Well?" said Hal, questioningly.

The man thrust a hand into his pocket.

"Hold on there!" cried Hal, sharply, producing his revolver. "No
tricks now."

The man smiled and withdrew his hand from his pocket.

"I wasn't after a gun," he said.

He opened his hand and in the palm Hal saw a little round object.

"Can you match that?" the man demanded.

Hal peered closer and made out the nature of the object in the
man's hand.

"A black pea!" he exclaimed. "Yes, I can match it."

He thrust a hand in his pocket and produced a black pea, which not many
days before had rolled from the pocket of Jules Clemenceau.

The stranger looked at it closely.

"All right," he said. He turned to Chester. "And you?" he demanded.

Chester's reply was to produce his black pea, which he exhibited
to the man.

"Good!" said the stranger. "Follow me."

"Follow you where?" Chester wanted to know.

"Yes; what's all this funny business, anyhow?" demanded Hal.

The man smiled enigmatically.

"Best to be careful," he said. "Come on."

Chester looked at Hal and the latter nodded.

"Might as well see what it's all about," said the latter.

They fell into step behind the stranger.

With many turns and twists the man walked for perhaps half an hour.
Apparently he was bent on beclouding the lads' sense of direction.

"I say!" Hal called a halt finally. "Where are you taking us?"

"It's not much farther," the man protested, "and I have been instructed
to bring you."

"Instructed to bring us?" echoed Chester, "and by whom?"

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