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The Boy Allies At Verdun by Clair W. Hayes

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"You'll learn that later," was the stranger's response. "Are you coming?"

Again Hal and Chester exchanged glances. The latter shrugged.

"We've started; may as well see it through," he said.

"All right," Hal agreed and turned to the stranger, "but cut out all this
winding about," he demanded. "There is a quicker way of reaching our
destination, wherever it may be."

The stranger smiled, but made no reply. He moved off and the boys
followed him, and at last they came to their journey's end.

Before an army tent the man stopped a few moments later.

"In here," he said.

He entered and Hal and Chester paused long enough to look at each other.

"I guess it's all right," said Hal. "Can't much happen right in the heart
of the camp. Come on."

He entered the tent with Chester close behind him.

Within powerful arms seized them and dragged them down; and before they
could cry out gags were stuffed in their mouths. In vain the lads
struggled to free themselves. They were soon safely bound.

Up to this time the tent had been in darkness, but now someone struck a
light. Hal and Chester gazed at their captors. All were attired in
regulation army uniforms, but their faces were masked. One man, who
seemed to be the leader, was short and chunky. The others were taller.
The small man approached the lads and spoke.

"If you will give me your words to make no outcry, I shall have the gags
removed," he said in a shrill, quavering voice, plainly disguised.

Hal considered this point a moment; then nodded his head in token of
assent. Chester did likewise.

"All right," said the little man and beckoned the others to remove the
gags.

Their mouths free of the evil-tasting cloths, Hal and Chester
breathed easier.

"Now," said Chester, "perhaps you will explain what this is all about."

The little man shook his head.

"No," he replied, "all I can tell you is this! You shall be kept confined
here until your removal to Paris can be arranged. Then you will be sent
to London and put aboard a vessel for New York. That's all I can say."

"But what for?" demanded Hal, angrily.

"That you will not be told," was the reply, "although I guess you don't
need to be told."

"By George!" exclaimed Chester, "I don't know what you are talking about,
but you can take my word that somebody is going to suffer for this
night's work. How long do you intend to hold us here?"

"I can't say. Possibly a day or two; at all events, until your removal
can be arranged."

"Do you know who we are?" demanded Hal.

The little man nodded.

"Perfectly," he replied.

"You know that we are attached to the staff of General Petain?"

Again their captor nodded.

"And still you've got the nerve to hold us here?"

"Yes, I've got the nerve."

"Don't you know you shall suffer for this?"

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"At least I shall have done my duty," he replied.

"Duty! Great Scott! Duty! What are you talking about?" demanded Hal,
angrily. "Are you a German sympathizer?"

"No, my sympathies are French," was the reply.

"Well, if you call this doing your duty," said Chester, sarcastically,
"let's hope you don't have too many duties to perform in the service of
France. For if you do, the Germans certainly will win."

"Well," said their captor, "I guess I shall have to leave you now. I must
make my report."

"Who are you going to report to?" demanded Hal, suddenly, thinking to
take the man off his guard.

The latter only grinned.

"I'm too old a bird for that trick," he said, showing that he understood
what had been in Hal's mind. "I'm going to report to the proper person."

"Improper person, I guess you mean," Chester growled.

"At any rate, I must report," said their captor. "Now if you'll promise
to make no outcry while I'm gone, I will not have the gags replaced in
your mouths. Otherwise, I am afraid--"

He closed with a shrug of the shoulders.

"You put one of those things in my mouth again, and I'll make you eat
it--some day," said Chester.

"Not for some time to come, I'm afraid," was the little man's rejoinder.
"I believe I can guarantee you will be kept out of mischief for the
duration of the war."

Hal had been gazing at the little man closely.

"Seems to me," he said at last, "that I have seen you some place before.
There is something familiar about you."

"You've probably seen me," was the reply. "I've been around here for
some time."

Chester was now struck with a sudden thought.

"Is Matin mixed up in this thing?" he demanded, believing that, after
all, the capture might have been concocted by the French soldier who had
sought to kill Hal.

"Matin? Who is Matin?" asked their captor.

Chester explained.

"No, he has nothing to do with it," was the reply.

"Then, in the name of the Great Czar, what's it all about?"

"I can't tell you," was the firm reply.

Chester groaned.

"Of all the fool predicaments," he said, "this is the worst."

The little man had now moved toward the door of the tent.

"I go now," he said, "to make my report. Pleasant dreams to you."

"Hold on a minute," shouted Hal.

"No; I think I had better go. Good-bye, boys!"

There was such a familiar ring to these words that Hal was struck with a
great light. He uttered a loud exclamation, so loud, in fact, that the
little man came running back in the tent.

Even Chester was surprised--but for a moment only--for the words that
escaped Hal were these:

"By all that's holy! If it isn't Stubbs!"

CHAPTER XVIII

STUBBS REFUSES TO EXPLAIN

With two bounds the little man covered the distance to Hal's side and
bent over. Quickly he placed a hand across Hal's mouth and whispered:

"Sh-h-h. Not so loud!"

Hal shook his head free--his hands were tied--and exclaimed:

"So! This is the thanks we get from you, eh! Why, you little fat--"

"Names won't help any," said Anthony Stubbs, quietly. "I've got you here
and, as I told you, here you are going to stay until I arrange for your
transportation back to the good old town where stands the _Gazette_."

"New York, eh?" said Chester. "But why, Stubbs, that's what I want to
know. Come on, be a good fellow and tell us what this is all about."

"If I wasn't so sure you know, I might be tempted to do so," said Stubbs.
"But you do know and there is no need to ask me again. I refuse."

"But I tell you, Stubbs, we don't know," declared Hal. "What's gone wrong
with you? Are you in the employ of the Kaiser?"

"Not by a long shot," was the answer. "That's one reason I want to get
you away from here. I want to see the Kaiser licked properly."

"You don't mean to insinuate--"

"That you are aiding the Kaiser?" Stubbs broke in. "I guess not. But you
know as well as I do that with you here something is sure to go wrong. No
sir. You've got to go back to the old U.S.A. and you're going to go if it
lies in my power to get you there."

"By Jove!" said Chester, suddenly. "I know the answer."

"Well, you're a good guesser if you do," said Hal, dryly. "Let's hear
it."

"Uncle John is the answer," declared Chester. "In some manner he has
learned we are here; he has come up from Italy and bribed Stubbs to get
us sent home."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Hal. "Is that it, Stubbs?"

Stubbs grinned at them.

"Come," he said, "I'm too old to be fooled with such innocence as that.
You know what you're here for and that's all there is about it. Now I'm
going to arrange for your removal."

"Stubbs," said Hal, quietly, "I wonder if you could guess what I
think of you?"

"I'm afraid I could," returned the little man seriously. "But now let me
ask you something. Do you remember, not so many nights ago, that I told
you both that if ever you found me doing something you didn't approve of,
I would be doing it for your own good--because I am fond of you? Do you
remember that?"

"You bet I remember it," declared Hal; "and all I've got to say is that
if you call this thing for our own good you're mightily mistaken. If we
don't report to General Petain to-morrow morning we're likely to be court
martialed."

"Oh, no, you're not," said Stubbs.

"Oh, yes we are."

"I say you're not."

"Say," said Hal, "you talk like you knew something about it."

"I do," returned Stubbs.

"Well, Stubbs," interposed Chester, "if you are bent on showing your
fondness for us in this manner all right; but I want to say that, for my
part, you can take all your affection and go hang with it."

"Same here," growled Hal.

"I'm sorry you feel that way about it, boys," said Stubbs, seriously,
"but I know that some time you will forgive me. Of course, you are
angry now because I have spoiled your plans, but some time you will
overlook it."

"But where do you come in for all this fairy godfather stuff, Stubbs?"
demanded Chester. "What iron have you in the fire? You've got some reason
besides just trying to keep us out of trouble, now haven't you?"

"Why, yes, I have," was Stubbs' quiet reply.

"I thought so. Would you mind telling me what it is?"

"I've already told you. I want to see the Kaiser properly licked."

Chester was about to make an angry retort; then changed his mind and gave
a snort of pure disgust.

"Stubbs," said Hal, "I know what it's all about. If I ask you a question
will you answer it?"

"Depends on the question," was the reply. "Let's hear it."

"Well, here it is, and I think it's the answer to the whole thing: Are
you crazy?"

Stubbs gave a snort.

"Crazy!" he shouted. "No, I'm not crazy! Who says I'm crazy?"

"I do, Stubbs," declared Hal.

"And I agree with him," exclaimed Chester.

The little war correspondent became suddenly very angry. He stamped up
and down the tent muttering to himself. Then he whirled on the lads.

"You make me tired!" he exclaimed. "Here I've gone and got myself in a
mess just to keep you two out of trouble and what thanks do I get for it?
You say I'm crazy! Why, you ought to bow down and thank me for doing what
I am doing. You both make me sick."

"Well, we're not going to do any bowing down to you, Stubbs," said Hal;
"but there is one thing I'll promise you."

"What's that?" demanded Stubbs, eagerly.

"That, Mr. Stubbs," said Hal, "is a good first-class thrashing when I get
hold of you again."

"Guess we had better make it two," declared Chester. "Remember he's got
me here with you, Hal."

"All right, Chester. We'll make it a double-handed affair. Hear
that, Stubbs?"

Stubbs snapped his fingers at them.

"You can do what you please when you get free," he declared. "But I'm
going to make it a point to see that you don't get free on this side of
the English Channel. Now, good-night."

The little man turned, ordered his men out ahead of him and disappeared
from the tent.

For some moments Hal and Chester lay silent without a word. Then Hal
said:

"Chester, if you can tell me what's at the bottom of all this, I'll give
you a million dollars."

"If you had the million, Hal, you'd lose."

"You don't mean to tell me--"

"Of course I know. I thought you did by this time. There are two things
at the bottom of this and they are--two little black peas!"

"Well, by Jove!" said Hal, "and to think I didn't get that through my
head sooner. Then you think these peas--"

"Yes; there is some kind of a conspiracy brewing and Stubbs thinks we
have a hand in it. Whatever it is, he's against it. You remember how he
shut up in the middle of his tale that night when he first saw the peas
in our possession?"

"By Jove! That's so!"

"Sure; but have you any idea what the conspiracy may be?"

"Not the slightest; but if we can get out of here we'll have a look. We
know one of the band, I think."

"You mean?"

"Jules Clemenceau. I don't suppose he ever missed the two peas. He
probably had more. At the first opportunity we'll display our peas where
he can see them and then maybe he will say something that will tip us off
where to look next."

"Not a bad idea; but he seems to be so young to be mixed up in
such a thing."

"He's no younger than we are; and we've been mixed up in a whole lot
of things."

"That's so, too. I would like to know, though, what this plot is. I don't
believe it has anything to do with treachery."

"Depends upon what you mean by treachery. I suppose you mean nothing that
will aid the Germans to defeat us?"

"Exactly; then, too, don't you remember, when Stubbs was telling us about
the conspiracy, that he said he had reason to believe there were plotters
in the German ranks as well as the British and French?"

"He didn't say it just that way, I think, but I remember what you mean.
By Jove! I wonder what it can all be about?"

"Well, it's too deep for me; and unless something happens, I am half
afraid Stubbs may be as good as his word and have us sent back to
New York."

"By George! We can't stand for that."

"I should say not. See if you can wiggle your hands loose."

Hal tried. So did Chester.

"They did a pretty fair job, if you ask me," said the latter.

"I should say they did. However, we'll keep trying. Something may give.
Perseverance is a great medicine, you know."

And they did keep trying; but here was one place where it seemed that
perseverance was about to fail. An hour's tugging at their bonds failed
to loosen them to any noticeable degree.

"I guess it's no use, Chester," said Hal.

"I'm not having much luck, either," was Chester's reply.

They took a brief rest and then fell to tugging at their bonds again. But
they had no better luck than before.

"Well, it's no use," said Chester at last. "I'm going to sleep."

Hal was also forced to admit that he was unable to loosen his own bonds
and he followed Chester's example and sought repose.

How long they slept neither knew, but both were awakened by a hand on
their shoulders. Looking up in the darkness the lads saw a form bending
over them. They could not distinguish the features.

"Hello!" said Hal, in a whisper. "We have company, Chester."

"So we have," was the latter's reply. "Wonder what he wants?"

The figure in the darkness explained his presence in the tent in a
few words.

"Come with me!" he whispered.

"Can't. We're tied up," said Hal.

"I have unloosened your bonds," said the voice in a whisper. "Come, and
make no noise."

The lads found that their deliverer had told the truth. They were no
longer bound. They got to their feet and followed him from the tent. They
had not recognized the voice that had called them; but as they passed
without, Hal caught sight of the man's features.

"Jules Clemenceau!" he exclaimed.

CHAPTER XIX

THE CONSPIRATORS

Chester, who had been unable to catch a sight of their deliverer's face,
was surprised.

"Great Scott! Jules," he exclaimed. "You have a knack of turning up in
the nick of time."

"Sh-h-h!" whispered Jules. "No talk until we get away from here."

The others obeyed this injunction to keep silence and followed the young
Frenchman without further words.

Jules approached his own quarters and led the way inside.

"Make yourselves at home," he said with a wave of his hand. "In here we
may talk."

Hal and Chester found seats and then the former asked a question.

"How did you happen to find us, Jules?"

"I chanced to be near when the stranger showed you his pea," returned
Jules. "I knew that there had been no summons sent out for an immediate
meeting and that something must be wrong. Therefore, I followed you.
Having learned where you were held I returned later to release you.
That's all."

"Well, we certainly thank you," said Chester. "There is no telling what
would have happened to us."

"I was never more surprised," said Jules, "than when I saw you both
exhibit black peas. I had no idea that you were with us."

"Then you, too," said Hal, "are--"

"Yes," Jules interrupted. "I am one of you. I suppose you have received
the summons?"

"Summons? What summons?" asked Chester.

"Why, for the meeting to-night, or, rather, I should say in the morning."

"No, we have received no summons," said Hal.

"Then it is twice good that I arrived," said Jules. "You shall
accompany me."

"And where is the rendezvous?" asked Chester.

"I'll show you," said Jules. He drew his watch from his pocket and
glanced at it in the semi-light of the tent. "Twelve fifteen," he said.
"We have forty-five minutes still, but it will do no harm if we are a few
minutes early. Come."

He picked up his cap from the cot where he had thrown it and led the way
from the tent. Hal and Chester followed without a word. The same thought
was in the mind of each. At last they would be able to learn the nature
of the conspiracy which, although they knew nothing of it, had caused
them so much trouble.

After a walk of perhaps twenty minutes, in which time they had not been
challenged, Jules pulled up before a tent somewhat larger than the rest.

"General Pombrey's quarters," he said, "and for that reason
comparatively safe."

"You mean that the general is one of us?" demanded Hal in no
little surprise.

"Yes," said Jules, briefly.

Chester gave a low whistle. Evidently this conspiracy, whatever it might
be, was more widespread than he had imagined.

Jules entered the tent and the two lads followed him.

Inside a large number of men already had assembled. Apparently, their
anticipation had been so great that they had been unable to control their
impatience until nearer the appointed hour. The lads were impressed with
one peculiar feature. Unlike most plotters--and Hal and Chester already
had come into contact with many--these men wore no masks. Apparently,
they were not afraid of their identities being known by their fellow
conspirators.

There were no remarks when Jules and Hal and Chester entered the tent.
The former led the way to the far side and there stood quietly in the
half light. Hal and Chester took their places beside him.

As time passed other men appeared in the tent and Hal and Chester were
surprised to see that some were officers of high rank; but neither lad
said anything aloud.

Came the voice of a sentry without:

"One o'clock and all's well!"

A moment later the apathy that had gripped the interior of the tent where
the conspirators were assembled disappeared. General Pombrey addressed
the others.

"I am glad to see so many of you here to-night," he said earnestly. "I
note several new faces amongst us and I am pleased to know that others
are joining this great movement every day. It shows that even in the
midst of this warlike camp the spirit of peace has not died."

His words were greeted with a murmur of approval, though no man spoke.

The general continued:

"Now, I have to inform you that the crisis is near. I have had word from
the enemy's lines that the spirit of peace there has grown. It would
appear that we are on the eve of success. Another battle or two--a few
thousand more lives lost--and this great war may end. When the spirit of
peace has overcome the spirit of war in the ranks, then will the war end.
I have called you together to-night to instruct you to sound even deeper
than you have done the sentiment of the men who stand by your side. The
time to stop this war is almost at hand."

Again there was a murmur of approval as the general became silent. He
gazed upon the faces about him a few moments in silence, and then
spoke again:

"I need not caution you to silence. A false move and all would be lost.
But if we can command 10,000 more men when the crisis arrives, men who,
like the rest of us, will refuse to fight more when the word is given, we
shall be strong enough; and if I told you how many already are pledged
you could scarcely believe me. Now here," the general exposed to view a
large box, "I have many more of the little peas that are our bond of
membership. I want each of you to take as many as you please; and pass
them around when you have convinced yourselves the men you approach are
acting in good faith."

One after another the men in the tent stepped forward and dipped a hand
into the box of peas and put the little round pellets into their own
pockets. Then the general signified that he had yet a few remarks to
make. The men stood about respectfully as he addressed them.

"Men," he said, "there may be some among you who question the justice of
this move. To those I say that we are engaged in a great effort. To
prevent further war and bloodshed among ourselves and our enemies is a
great duty; for nothing can possibly be gained by the loss of millions of
lives and the destruction of billions of dollars worth of property.
However, if there are any among you who would draw out of this movement,
I would ask that you do so now."

The general paused and looked keenly at the faces about him. No
man spoke.

"Good," said the general, "then I know you are with me."

"And the time? When will the time come?" asked one man in the crowd.

"That I cannot say," responded the general, quietly. "But I can assure
you that it will be before long. You will all be notified by the
messengers, that you may be ready. Now are there any other questions?"

"If we fail, then what?" asked another man.

General Pombrey shrugged his shoulders.

"Probably court martial and a firing squad," he said indifferently. "But
you will have died in a glorious cause, whereas now--"

A glimpse of happiness stole over the general's face. To Hal and Chester
it meant but one thing. General Pombrey was a fanatic; and the men who
had come under his spell were fanatics. In that instant Hal and Chester
both realized that this matter must be brought to General Petain
immediately.

After some few other words, General Pombrey signified that the meeting
was over, and the men filed from the tent singly and in pairs, discussing
the matter in low tones.

Outside Hal and Chester were accosted again by Jules Clemenceau.

"And what do you think of General Pombrey?" asked the young Frenchman,
his face shining.

For a moment Hal considered what was best to say. Should he try and
convince Jules that his present course was wrong; that there was to be
considered the honor of his country rather than the opinion of General
Pombrey? The lad decided on the side of caution.

"A good man," he replied quietly. "A man who will face a firing squad
without a tremor, secure in the belief he is dying for a good cause."

"And do you not think the cause good, and just?" demanded Jules,
anxiously.

"If not, why should I be the bearer of a pocket-full of black peas?" was
Hal's reply.

Jules, apparently, was satisfied.

Alone in their own quarters later Hal and Chester discussed the situation
seriously.

"To tell the truth," said Chester, "I am half inclined to agree with
General Pombrey. But if for no other reason, there is one thing that
would make me reveal this plot to General Petain."

"And that?" asked Hal.

"That," said Chester, "is the fact that General Pombrey and the others
engaged in this conspiracy are lacking upon the German troops to throw
down their arms and refuse to fight at the same moment the French and
British do."

"Well?" asked Hal, but he was beginning to catch Chester's drift.

"Well," said Chester, "you and I know the Germans won't do that. It's a
ten to one bet that the German general staff knows all about this
conspiracy. The peace talk has been carried from one army to the other by
the prisoners. The Germans will take advantage of it. Should the French
really follow General Pombrey's plan, they would be slaughtered by the
thousands. The Germans could not keep faith. You know that."

"Yes, I know it," said Hal with a nod of his head. "They have never
kept faith in this war, save in individual cases. It doesn't seem to
be in them."

"Exactly," agreed Chester. "Then, if for no other reason than to save
these deluded French and British soldiers, the matter must be brought to
the attention of General Petain, that he may act promptly and not only
save them, but the whole army of France; and the cause of the Allies."

"Good!" Hal agreed. "Then we shall see that it's brought to his
attention."

"The first thing in the morning," said Chester.

"Right you are, Chester. The first thing in the morning."

CHAPTER XX

UNDER ARREST

It was morning. Hal and Chester, refreshed by a good night's rest, had
just completed their toilets and were about to repair to the quarters of
General Petain, there to report for the day's duty and also to inform the
French commander of what they had learned the night before. But, as it
transpired, their good intentions were to go for naught and they were to
be ushered into the presence of General Petain in a manner that neither
would have believed possible.

Came the sound of many footsteps approaching without. They stopped before
the boys' tent. A French officer thrust his head in the entrance.

"Lieutenant Crawford! Lieutenant Paine!" he said sharply.

"Sir!" exclaimed both lads in a single breath.

They stepped from the tent.

"You are under arrest!" were the French officer's next words.

Hal and Chester stepped back in complete bewilderment.

"Wha--what's that, sir?" asked Hal, believing that he could not have
heard aright.

"You are under arrest," was the sharp reply. "I am ordered to conduct you
before General Petain at once."

Both lads had recovered themselves by this time; they stepped forward
coolly enough, in spite of the fact that their hearts were fluttering
strangely.

"The general might have spared himself the trouble of sending for us,"
said Hal, quietly. "Even now we were about to report to him."

The French officer said nothing. He motioned to the file of soldiers whom
he commanded and Hal and Chester stepped in between the men.

"One moment," said the French soldier.

He approached the lads.

"I must ask for your swords and revolvers," he said.

Without a word the lads surrendered their weapons.

"Good!" said the French officer. Then to his men: "Forward, march!"

And in this manner Hal and Chester came before the French commander at
Verdun. The latter was busy with a pile of papers when they entered his
quarters and did not look up immediately. For perhaps fifteen minutes the
lads stood there, firmly erect, their eyes upon the general.

Suddenly General Petain wheeled about.

"Leave these men with me," he instructed the French officer who
had escorted the lads to his tent; "but attend me outside within
call, Captain."

The French officer saluted and withdrew.

General Petain gazed frowningly at Hal and Chester for perhaps a full
minute. The lads returned his look without flinching, though there was
nothing that might be construed as defiance in their manner; rather,
nothing but respectful attention.

"So!" said General Petain at last. "So! I find you two lads, whom I have
trusted, among a band of conspirators, eh?"

"Among them, sir," said Hal, quietly, "but not of them."

"What's that?" demanded the general. "You admit you were with them and
then claim innocence? Impossible!"

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Hal, "but it is not impossible. It is
the truth."

"But I have it on high authority," returned the general, "that you have
been the possessors of the emblem of the conspirators for some days now."

"That is true enough, sir," Hal agreed; "but we came into the possession
of those black peas accidentally and with no thought of their
significance."

The general sniffed contemptuously.

"My information regarding you boys comes from a source that I am afraid I
must believe," he said.

"Will you tell us the source, sir?" asked Hal.

General Petain shook his head.

"It would do no good," he returned. "It would not alter the facts in the
case. Now, I know you boys have been of great value to the cause of the
Allies. My informant is authority for that statement also. You have
accomplished much and France and the other allied countries must thank
you. But it appears now that you have been led from the proper way of
thinking; and my informant in your case says, and rightly, that from
young men who have done much to advance the cause of the Allies, there is
much to be feared when they embark upon some other venture.

"You are both resourceful; I know that. That is the reason that I have
had you placed under arrest--that you may not turn your energies against
us. I shall have you sent to Paris, thence to London, and I hope that
before long you will be back in your own country, the United States."

"Pardon me, sir," said Hal, respectfully, "but I do not need to ask you
again to name the man who has caused us to be in this predicament. His
name is Stubbs."

"Well, I see no need to deny it," said General Petain.

"General," said Chester, now stepping forward, "I would be glad if you
would give me an opportunity to explain this matter."

"It shall not be said that I denied any man a hearing," was the general's
reply. "Proceed."

As briefly as possible Chester recounted the manner in which they had
come into possession of the two peas; of why they decided to keep them;
of their capture the night before by Anthony Stubbs and of their escape;
and last, of their attendance at the meeting of the conspirators, where,
for the first time, they learned the true significance of the little
black peas.

As Chester proceeded with his story the general listened attentively.
When Chester spoke of being captured by Stubbs, the general smiled
quietly, and Hal, noting the smile, guessed rightly that General Petain
had had a hand in the capture himself--or rather, that he at least had
sanctioned it; and when Chester spoke of the meeting of the conspirators
and mentioned the name of General Pombrey, General Petain frowned.

"So," he said when Chester had concluded, "General Pombrey is mixed up in
this thing, eh?"

"He seems to be the leader of the movement, sir," replied Chester. "I
should say that he is without doubt the directing hand."

"And what do you hope to gain by telling me all this?" asked General
Petain, eyeing the lad shrewdly.

"I hope to see the conspiracy crushed, sir, before it gains further
momentum," was Chester's reply.

General Petain eyed the lad peculiarly.

"Can it be that I have been misinformed?" he muttered to himself.

Hal's keen ears caught the words.

"I can assure you that you have been misinformed, sir," he replied
firmly.

For several moments more the general eyed the lads sternly and they
returned his gaze without flinching. Suddenly the general clapped his
hands together. The French officer who had arrested the two lads entered
he tent and saluted.

"Captain," said General Petain. "my compliments to Mr. Anthony Stubbs and
say that I desire his presence here at once."

The French officer saluted and took his departure.

The hearts of the two lads beat high now. Apparently General Petain had
been convinced of the truth of their stories. They believed that when
Stubbs confronted them he would weaken.

"I don't know what to think about this matter," said General Petain as
they waited for Stubbs' arrival. "I am loath to believe you would be
mixed up in anything of this nature."

"How did Mr. Stubbs happen to mention us as being implicated in this
conspiracy, sir?" asked Chester.

"He said he wanted to see you get home safely and not be mixed up in
anything that might mean a firing squad," said General Petain, calmly. "I
promised him your safe return to America for his news of the conspiracy."

"I see," said Chester.

At this moment Stubbs was announced. General Petain looked at him
sharply.

"These officers," he said, indicating Hal and Chester with a wave of his
hand, "deny the charges you have made against them, sir."

"Surely, you didn't expect them to admit it, sir?" questioned
Stubbs, shifting from one foot to another, as Hal and Chester bent
their gaze on him.

"Well, no, I didn't," was General Petain's reply, "but they tell such a
straightforward story that I am of the opinion you must be mistaken as to
their part in this conspiracy."

"But the peas," said Stubbs. "They had them."

"Well, somebody might have slipped one into your pocket, as far as that
goes," said General Petain; "and then you might be standing here under
suspicion."

"Tha--that's so, too," Stubbs stammered. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Well, you should have thought of it," exclaimed General Petain.
"It's no small thing to cast suspicion upon a man and then be able to
prove nothing."

"But the peas--"

"Never mind about the peas," stormed the general. "By any chance, when
you had these officers in your tent last night, did they admit connection
with the plot?"

"No, sir; they professed ignorance. But they had the peas--"

"_Mon Dieu_! Can't you think of anything but peas? What kind of a war
correspondent are you, anyhow?"

Stubbs was offended. He drew himself up and would have made reply, but
General Petain silenced him with a gesture.

"I don't question your loyalty," he said, "and I know that you acted with
the good of these lads at heart. But I am convinced you have been
mistaken. I am going to release these boys. Lieutenant Paine! Lieutenant
Crawford! you are--"

"Sir!" exclaimed Stubbs at this juncture.

The general eyed him closely.

"Well?" he demanded.

"Please, General, do not let them go until I have a few moments' start. I
don't know what they will do to me." Stubbs looked nervous.

"Very well," said General Petain with a smile. "Then hurry and take your
departure, Mr. Stubbs."

Stubbs needed no urging and he disappeared from the general's tent with
agility; and Hal called after him:

"Better hunt a hole, Mr. Stubbs; we'll be on your trail in a few
minutes!"

CHAPTER XXI

THE TURNING OF THE TIDE

In the days immediately following their interview with General Petain,
the lads saw much fighting; and with the close of each day there came
bitterness to them, to the French troops, their officers and to the
people of France and of all the allied nations.

For the armies of the German Crown Prince continued to advance steadily
in spite of the heroic resistance of the French; and it began to appear
that the "Gateway to France" must ere long fall into alien hands.

Day after day the Germans hurled themselves forward in herculean efforts
to break the French lines; and most every day found them fighting a
little nearer to Verdun. In vain the French attempted to stem the
onslaught of the invading forces; the Germans were not to be denied.

On the days when the fiercest of the German assaults were made, it was
learned that the Emperor of Germany had directed the assaults in person.
From the top of a small hill, surrounded by his staff, the Kaiser looked
down upon the battlefield for days at a time, showing no signs of emotion
as his countrymen fell right and left, that the German flag might be
planted a few yards--sometimes only a few feet--farther westward.

While the German losses were something terrible in this continuous
fighting, the French suffered untold hardships. The effect of the great
German shells, which fell within the French lines almost incessantly, was
tremendous. It did not seem that flesh and blood could survive their
deadly effect--and yet the French fought back gamely.

At last the Germans reached a point only three miles and a half from the
city of Verdun itself.

Then began the fiercest of the fighting.

After having been pushed back many miles by the German hordes, the French
now braced suddenly and gave as good as they received. Instead of waiting
for the German attacks, General Petain launched offensives of his own. At
first these broke down easily under the German shells, but as they
continued, the drives began to meet with more and more success. It became
apparent that at this point the advantage usually rested with the
attacking party.

Battles--or what would have been called battles in any other war of
history, but now, in the official reports were merely referred to as
skirmishes--raged for hours at a stretch, some of the most important
continuing for days, first with advantage to one side and then to
the other.

In vain the German Crown Prince hurled his men forward to pierce the
French lines that now separated him from Verdun, less than four
miles away.

While the German guns still continued to shell the city and the
fortifications, there was little they could accomplish now. All walls and
houses in the path of the great guns had crumbled under their terrible
fire days ago; there was nothing left to destroy, except at intervals
where a small fort still stood and breathed defiance to the enemy.

But the German guns served one purpose. They afforded protection for the
infantry as it advanced to the attack. Only when the Germans advanced
close enough to come to hand grips with the French did the big guns
become silent.

But now came the turning of the tide.

From far back the French threw out reinforcements to the hard pressed men
in front. Huge new field guns were brought up. Great masses of
ammunition, which the French had been storing up for just such a chance,
were rushed to the front. Soon the French guns were speaking as loudly
and as often as the great German 42-centimetres themselves.

The first work of the new French offensive was to clear the Germans from
Dead Man's Hill, Hill No. 320 and Hill No. 304. These battles, among the
fiercest of all history, however, were really little more than
skirmishes, when the entire movement was taken into consideration.
Terrible though they were, after all they were nothing more than small
parts of the great battle of Verdun itself.

From Dead Man's Hill and the other two elevations captured by the French,
the Germans now were pushed clear back to the banks of the river Meuse;
and then they were driven beyond. Thiaumont farm, where Hal and Chester
had seen hard fighting, came once more beneath the French tricolor; and
the German eagle went back farther still.

There was little or no rest for the men in the trenches on either side.
Out would rush the Germans from their trenches in a grand attack upon the
trenches of the French. Hand-to-hand fighting would ensue. Perhaps the
Germans would be driven back. If they were they would make a new effort
an hour or so later.

Perhaps the French would give way and the Germans would occupy the
trenches. A short time later the French would re-form under the very
rifles of the enemy, and, by a grand charge, oust the Germans from their
newly won positions. Then came the work of concentrating and fortifying
the trenches all over again.

It was terrible work, these days before Verdun.

Hal and Chester played no small part in the advance of the French army.
More than once they were despatched upon important missions; and their
fortune had been of the best. Not once had they failed to accomplish a
piece of work entrusted to them. General Petain began to look upon them
as among his best men. Many a piece of work that, a month before, he
would have entrusted to an older head now fell to the lot of either Hal
or Chester; and the boys did not complain. In fact, the more they had to
do the better they liked it.

Nor, for the matter of that, was there complaint from any of the men in
the French army, officers or men. They stood to their work bravely and
never flinched under fire. Nor did they protest when they were forced to
go for long hours without sleep, other than that they could catch between
the battles that raged almost incessantly and seemed to be nothing less
than one continuous struggle.

Now came the day when the Germans had been pushed far east of the
Meuse. For the moment the French, flushed with victory, paused for a
breathing spell. It had been work well done, in the days that had just
passed, and men and officers alike realized it. Preparing their lines
against attacks, under the command of General Petain, the French paused
for breath.

The German Crown Prince, realizing the cause of this lull by the French,
thought to take advantage of the foe, and launched assault after assault;
but, tired out as the French were, there was still energy and courage
enough among them to resist successfully the fierce charges of the foe.

And after awhile the Crown Prince gave up these attacks, realizing that
he could not hope, at that moment, to penetrate the French positions,
and, for once, doing away with the needless sacrifice of men.

Upon an afternoon when the battle of Verdun was a little more than three
months old, Hal and Chester were summoned to the quarters of General
Petain. They went eagerly, for they realized that there was important
work ahead.

"Boys," said General Petain, for thus he had come to address them when
alone, after the official salutes had been returned, "I have here a piece
of work, that, because of the danger attached, I hesitate to select a
man, or men, to perform."

Hal and Chester both smiled.

"And you want to give us the first chance at it, sir?" said Hal.

"Yes; I know that if you accept the mission it is more certain of success
than if I entrusted it to other hands."

"We shall be glad of the chance, sir," said Chester, quietly.

General Petain clapped his hands in satisfaction.

"I knew it," he said, "and yet I did not like to order you to perform it.
You boys are true blue."

Both lads flushed with pleasure at this remark, but they made no
reply. They stood quietly waiting until the general should tell them
what was required.

"Boys," said the general, "it is absolutely essential to the success of
this campaign that I have a more accurate knowledge of the enemy's lines
and strength. My aviators have been sent in search of such information,
but they have met with little success. The only man who got close enough
to learn what I am after, according to others who followed him, was shot
down. He failed to return. What he learned, of course, I do not know.
But it is that which I must know. Do you think you can gain this
information for me?"

"We can at least have a try at it," said Chester, with a smile.

"We'll get it if it is humanly possible," agreed Hal.

"I am more confident of success than I would be if the mission were in
other hands," said General Petain, quietly.

"And when do you wish us to start, sir?" asked Hal.

"Immediately," was the reply, "though I believe it would be better to
wait until dark."

"And you would suggest an aeroplane?" asked Hal.

"I leave the means to you," returned the general. "I'll give you a
written order that will put anything in the French lines at your
disposal, aeroplane, automobile or horses. You may take your choice."

The general turned to his desk and scribbled on a piece of paper. To what
he had written he affixed his signature and then passed the paper to Hal.

"I have no further instructions," he said. "But, be as quick as you can,
and be careful."

He arose and extended a hand to each lad. He had come to be very fond of
them, and he patted each on the back affectionately.

"May good fortune attend you," he said quietly.

The lads drew themselves up, saluted and left the tent. The general
stepped to the door and gazed after them.

"Good boys, those," he said quietly to himself. "May they return safely!"

CHAPTER XXII

THE PARTY IS INCREASED

"I guess an aeroplane is the best way after all," said Hal, when they
were back in their own quarters.

"Sure," Chester agreed. "It's swifter, and if we have any luck at all,
it's a pretty good contraption to get away in after we have gained our
information. Now about clothes. Shall we keep on these uniforms?"

"What would you suggest?"

"Well, I don't know. Thought maybe we would take some German
clothes along."

"Might not be a bad idea, though we won't put them on unless we have to.
I don't want to be shot as a spy if I can help it."

"Nor I. Don't suppose there would be any use in taking civilian
costumes?"

"I don't know. Guess it wouldn't do any harm, though. The more clothes
the better. We may need a change of costume most any time."

"All right. We'll load up, if we can find what we want."

"I guess there won't be any trouble about that."

The lad was right. Soon they had a large army plane at their disposal and
had stocked it with all they thought they would need in the way of
clothing and food. Then they returned to their own quarters. Hal glanced
at his watch.

"Only five o'clock," he said. "We've a good three hours yet. We
don't want to go up until well after dark. Let's go out and have a
look around."

Chester was agreeable and they made their way from the tent. They had
walked about for probably an hour, when suddenly Hal took Chester by the
coat sleeve.

"Look there!" he exclaimed.

Chester looked; and there, perhaps fifty yards away, was Anthony Stubbs,
slinking along, now and then casting an eye at Hal and Chester.

"He's seen us," said Chester. "Let's have a little talk with him. Maybe
we can have some fun."

It was the first time they had seen the little war correspondent since
the talk in General Petain's tent more than two months before.

"Come on, then," said Hal.

They increased their stride; but Stubbs, with a quick glance over his
shoulder, observed this and also increased his pace.

"He doesn't want to see us, Hal," said Chester, with a grin.

"I see he doesn't," Hal grinned back. "Well, we want to see him." He
raised his voice in a shout "Hey, there, Stubbs!"

The little man glanced quickly back over his shoulder. Then, seeing that
Hal and Chester were gaining on him, he broke into a run.

"After him, Hal!" cried Chester, and also broke into a run.

Hal followed suit.

Around turn after turn they darted after the little man, who was making
the best time his short legs would permit. At a word from Hal, Chester
slowed down, for they didn't want to catch Stubbs too easily.

"Let him run himself out," Hal said.

And that was what the little man was doing. His tongue was literally
hanging out as Hal and Chester continued to gain slowly. He was puffing
like a locomotive and his arms were working like pistons. Once or twice
he staggered and it seemed to him that he could not run another step. But
he set his teeth and plodded on.

"I've got to get away," he told himself. "There is no knowing what these
young ruffians will do to me."

In vain he tried to increase his pace. It could not be done. Every step
cost him an effort and it seemed that he could not take another. He
waddled crazily from one side to the other; and at last he came to a
stop, and with what strength remained, he faced his pursuers and threw up
his hands in an attitude of defense.

At arm's length, Hal and Chester came to a pause.

"So we have you at last, eh!" said the former.

"You--you keep a-away from me," gasped Stubbs, panting for breath. "I
don't want to have any tro--trouble with you."

"Perhaps not, Mr. Stubbs," said Chester, "but we want to have a little
trouble with you."

"Let me a-alone," gasped Stubbs.

Hal moved a step closer.

"Remember what you did to us?" he asked.

Stubbs stepped backward quickly.

"Don't you come any closer," he gasped. "Let me alone."

"Had us tied up, didn't you, Stubbs?" demanded Chester.

"Yes; but it was for your own good!" Stubbs had regained his wind now.

"For our own good, eh? Well, we have come after you for your own good."

"What have you got to say for yourself, Stubbs?" demanded Hal.

"Nothing," snapped the little man angrily, "except that I want to be let
alone. You hoodwinked the general, all right, but you can't hoodwink me.
Now go on away from here."

Again Chester stepped forward, and this time the lad was treated to an
unpleasant surprise. Instead of moving backward, Stubbs suddenly lowered
his head and charged Chester.

Taken by surprise, the lad was unable to get out of the way and the top
of Stubbs' head rammed him squarely in the stomach. Chester doubled up
and fell to the ground with a cry of pain.

Stubbs turned and started to run; but before he had taken half a dozen
steps, Hal had reached him and taken him by the arm. In vain the little
man struggled to shake off the lad's grasp.

"Hey, Stubbs!" cried Hal, laughing at the predicament in which Chester
found himself, "what's the matter that you've turned so pugnacious all of
a sudden? Getting to be a regular fighter, aren't you?"

"Well, he was just about to swat me," declared Stubbs.

Chester had now picked himself up and advanced upon Stubbs,
threateningly.

"Say!" he exclaimed; "what do you mean by using your head as a battering
ram on me?"

"I told you to keep away," returned Stubbs.

"I know you did; but that's no sign you should try to kill me. I wasn't
going to hurt you."

"Maybe not," said Stubbs, "but I wasn't going to take any more chances.
Now you keep away from me."

"Oh, Chester won't hurt you," said Hal, with a laugh. "You treated him
just right, Stubbs. He's got no kick coming."

"No, that's right, Stubbs," said Chester, with a grin. "No hard feelings,
I'm sure. You're all right. Put her there."

The lad extended a hand. Stubbs advanced doubtfully, but at last grasped
Chester's hand.

Immediately he began to dance about wildly, shouting:

"Leggo! Leggo my hand! Ouch!"

At last Chester relaxed his grip.

"That makes it square all around, Stubbs," he said with a grin.

For a moment Stubbs gazed at him angrily, the while he worked his fingers
back and fro to chase away the stiffness. Then he smiled.

"All right," he said. "Now we're square."

"Where you bound, Stubbs?" asked Hal.

"Hunting news," returned Stubbs.

"By Jove!" said Chester. "Why not take him along with us, Hal?"

"Suits me," was Hal's answer, "if he wants to go."

"Where you going?" demanded Stubbs.

"Sailing," returned Chester. "Sailing over the German lines. Want to
go along?"

"Not me," said Stubbs, briefly.

"Come now, Stubbs, don't be afraid. Nothing is going to hurt you, and we
might need you."

"That's what I thought," said Stubbs. "I knew there was some reason you
wanted me to go along. I knew you didn't just want to take me along to
show me the sights. Want me to stand in the gap when the trouble comes
up. I know you."

"I assure you I had no such thoughts."

"Well, maybe you didn't have them, but that is what would happen all
the same."

"Stubbs," said Hal, quietly. "It's my belief that you're afraid."

"Hal," said Stubbs, "you can bet your life I'm afraid to go up in the air
with you two."

"Come on, Stubbs," said Chester, seriously. "Honestly, we would be glad
of your company. We haven't seen much of you for some time."

"I know you haven't," returned Stubbs, "and that's why my health
happens to be so good right now. But what are you going to do over the
German lines?"

"Get the lay of the land," said Hal. "Find out the German strength and a
few other things, if possible."

"Hm-m-m," muttered Stubbs. "Ought to be some news for the _Gazette_ over
there, don't you think?"

"Lots of it, Stubbs," replied Chester.

"The only trouble," said Stubbs, "is that if I go after it, will I be
able to come back and tell the _Gazette_ about it?"

"If you don't mind, Mr. Stubbs," said Hal, "one of us will take it upon
himself to see that the _Gazette_ gets the news."

"After my job, are you?" said Stubbs, with a smile.

"Well, not exactly. We just offered to help you out."

"I can't see where that would do me any good. However, I guess I'll take
you up on this bet. I might be able to learn something of importance. The
next thing would be to get it by the censor."

"Why, Stubbs," said Chester, "with your pull with General Petain, I can't
see that you should have any trouble."

"My pull, eh?" said Stubbs, with rather a sickly grin. "You two went and
smashed my pull all to smithereens."

"Oh, well," said Hal, "a newspaper man always finds a way."

Stubbs looked at Hal, suspiciously.

"If you're making fun of me--" he began.

"Far from it, Mr. Stubbs," replied Hal. "I was just stating a fact. Why,
you've told us that yourself."

"Come, come, Stubbs," said Chester. "Are you going along or not? It's
time to be moving."

The little war correspondent made his decision.

"I'll go," he said quietly.

CHAPTER XXIII

FLYING

"You know I don't think much of these contraptions," said Stubbs.

With Hal and Chester he was flying aloft in a large army biplane. The
little war correspondent had climbed into the machine with the same
trepidation he always manifested when about to ascend into the air, but
he had not spoken until the machine was a full half mile aloft and Hal
had sent it moving swiftly toward the distant German lines.

"Just sit tight and you will be all right," Chester replied.

"Never fear, I'll sit tight," returned Stubbs and became silent.

It was very dark aloft. Because he feared he might encounter an air craft
of the enemy, Hal had not turned on the searchlight with which the
machine was equipped. He had taken his bearings before making a start and
was now trusting to his judgment of distances to guide him to the spot he
had selected to return to the ground.

This point, which Hal and Chester had decided upon after some
deliberation, was well behind the most advanced German lines. According
to Hal's calculations, it was possible that at the place selected there
would be few German troops. He had figured to descend between the German
lines. Under the cover of darkness he felt there was little to fear
should they avoid all enemy aircraft.

Accordingly, it was about an hour later when Hal reduced the speed of the
biplane and then shut off the motor altogether. A moment later the
machine began to glide slowly to earth.

Chester, peering over the side of the aeroplane, was the first to see the
ground below.

"Land below!" he called to Hal.

"Anything in sight?" asked Hal.

"Not a thing. Coast seems to be perfectly clear. Trees near, too; so we
can hide the plane, if you go almost straight down."

Hal followed directions and a moment later the biplane came to rest upon
the ground as lightly as a bird.

Hal, Chester and Stubbs climbed out quickly.

"Guess we had better run the machine back among the trees," said Hal.
"Lend me a hand here."

It was the work of but a few moments. Hal walked some distance away and
surveyed the spot where the machine had been rolled. He walked around it
on all sides.

"O.K.," he said. "You wouldn't know it was there unless you happened to
be looking for it."

"Well, what now?" asked Chester.

"Guess we had better don those German uniforms and prowl about a bit."

"Snoop, eh," said Stubbs.

"Now look here, Stubbs," said Hal, "you just keep quiet and get into this
uniform we brought along for you."

Mumbling to himself, Stubbs obeyed.

Arrayed in the German uniforms--the attire of lieutenants--the three
advanced toward where they felt sure the main German entrenchments must
be. Hal glanced at his watch in the moonlight.

"Ten o'clock," he said. "Within three hours we should have learned all we
need to. As soon as we reach the German lines we shall separate. We'll
meet here again at two o'clock. Is that satisfactory?"

"Suits me," said Chester.

"Want to lose me, do you?" grumbled Stubbs. "Never mind, though. I'll be
here by the time you are."

"Pick up every scrap of information possible," Hal enjoined his
companions. "Don't take the trouble to write it down. Just impress it on
your memory."

The others nodded their understanding.

The three came now upon a light in the distance.

"Germans ahead, I guess," Chester whispered. "Careful and let all further
conversation be in German."

The lad was right. Advancing two hundred yards farther, the three friends
came upon the outlying sections of the big German camp. Sentinels moved
about in the darkness, their forms lighted up now and then by the flare
of campfires--for the night was very cold.

Once they were challenged by a sentry, but when the man looked at their
uniforms in the moonlight, he lowered his rifle and passed on.

"I'll go straight ahead," said Chester in a low voice. "Hal, you go north
and let Stubbs go south."

And thus it was arranged without further talk. The three friends
separated.

Walking between the rows of German tents, Chester, after perhaps half an
hour, was arrested by the sound of voices in a tent that seemed, in the
darkness, to be much larger than the ones which surrounded it. He paused
and listened attentively.

"Then everything is in readiness," came a voice.

"Everything. When the French see that we have weakened our lines on the
left wing, they naturally will press forward in masses. The pressure on
the right wing probably will be lessened. Also in the center. General
Petain, in all probabilities, will seek to take advantage of what he will
believe is our carelessness."

"And then?" asked the first voice.

"Why, then we shall push forward in the center and on the right,
leaving enough men on the left to make a show of force. Taken at a
disadvantage, the French will be cut off on our left, and our center,
sweeping around, suddenly, will envelop them. As I estimate it, the
French wing, which will be thus enveloped, will be 100,000 strong. It
will be a telling blow."

Chester, while this conversation was in progress, had shrunk close up
against the tent. Now, thinking to gain a view of the occupants, he
drew his knife from his pocket and made a little slit in the canvas.
To this opening he applied his eye; and then gave an exclamation under
his breath.

In the center of the group of officers in the tent was none other than
the German Crown Prince, the directing head of the German attack on
Verdun, and son of the Emperor himself.

The conversation continued and the lad stored up mentally the knowledge
he gained by listening to the conversation.

The gathering within now seemed about to break up; but Chester delayed in
his precarious position, thinking to gather every possible iota of
information. And this almost proved his undoing.

Although Chester did not know it, one of the German officers had, for
some moments, been gazing at the little slit in the tent made by the
point of Chester's knife. Now, with a murmured apology to the other
officers, he strode from the tent. Chester still had his eyes glued to
the opening and did not hear soft footsteps behind him.

A harsh voice sounded in the lad's ear.

"Get up from there!"

Chester did not lose his nerve, although he realized immediately that he
was in a ticklish position, indeed. His hand reached for his pocket as he
rose slowly to his feet.

But one glance at the figure that confronted him told the lad that it
would be useless for him to attempt to draw his revolver; for the
German held a pistol in a steady hand and it was levelled straight at
Chester's head.

"What are you doing here?" was the officer's next question.

"Why, I heard voices," said Chester, "and I thought I would see what was
going on."

"Curiosity has got a man into trouble many a time," said the German
quietly. "March on ahead of me."

There was nothing for it but to obey. Under the muzzle of the German
officer's revolver, Chester was marched around to the front of the tent
and then inside.

"Hello!" It was the Crown Prince who spoke. "What have we here?"

"I caught this man eavesdropping outside the tent," replied the man who
had captured Chester.

"So!" said the Crown Prince in an angry tone. He whirled upon Chester.
"And what were you doing there, sir?" he asked.

"I--why, I--" Chester stammered.

The lad was thankful in that minute for his German uniform; though he
knew it probably would go hard with him anyhow, he believed that the fact
that he was, ostensibly, a German lieutenant would give him more time;
possibly it would give Hal enough time to find and rescue him. At least,
it would preclude a search for more possible French spies.

"To what regiment are you attached?" asked the Crown Prince.

Chester took a long chance.

"Fortieth Hussars, sir," he replied quietly.

"Then what are you doing here?" demanded the Crown Prince, but continued
without giving Chester time to reply: "Surely you know the penalty of
such actions?"

"All I can say, sir," the lad declared, "is that my curiosity
overcame me."

For a moment it seemed that the face of the Crown Prince softened. Then
it became stern again.

"I can see that you are little more than a boy," he said, "but that is no
excuse. You are a soldier and you know a soldier's duty. That is not
prying into the business of your superiors." He turned to the group of
officers. "What do you say, sirs," he said, "shall I have this man court
martialed, or shall I have him returned to his regiment with a warning?"

But there was no mercy on the faces of the others and Chester
realized it.

"He should be court martialed and shot," said one.

"I agree with you," said another.

"I'm not so sure," said the Crown Prince. "The lad is young. How do I
know what I would have done in his place? No; I am tempted to have him
returned to his regiment and placed under arrest indefinitely."

"Lieutenant Hollsein, I shall leave this man in your charge. See that he
is returned to his regiment immediately."

Chester breathed a sigh of relief. He realized that he was still in a
perilous situation, for when he should be taken to the commander of the
Fortieth Hussars, his deception must be learned. But at least it gave him
more time.

But Chester's sigh of relief came too soon.

"Hold on!" said one of the German officers. "This man is no German!"

CHAPTER XXIV

STUBBS AS A STRATEGIST

Anthony Stubbs, after leaving Hal and Chester, pushed off to the south
slowly, absolutely unconscious of the adventures that were to come his
way. Mindful of the fact that there was a certain degree of safety in the
German uniform he wore, and rather proud of himself thus attired, Stubbs
walked on more boldly than he would have done otherwise.

And thus it was that, without warning, he walked suddenly into the midst
of a group of German officers who sat about a campfire a short distance
from where he had left his two young friends.

Stubbs pulled up suddenly and would have drawn back had not one of the
German officers sprung suddenly to his feet.

"Here, Hans, is another man now!" exclaimed the officer. "A moment ago
you were bemoaning the fact that there was not another man to take a hand
in a game of cards. Here is one come in answer to your prayers."

Two other German officers sprang to their feet.

"Four of us; that's enough," said one. He turned to Stubbs. "What
do you say?"

"Say to what?" asked Stubbs, bravely.

"A game of cards."

"What kind of a game of cards?"

"An American game," was the reply. "Hans learned it when he was in the
United States and has taught us something about it. It's called poker."

"I've played it," said Stubbs.

"Good! Then you will join us?"

"I should be elsewhere," said Stubbs, hesitatingly.

Be it known that Anthony Stubbs, war correspondent of the New York
_Gazette_, had, in his day, liked to play a game of poker, whether it was
right or whether it was wrong. Even to this day the lure of the game
held, and in spite of the danger such a game entailed, Stubbs was not
loath to play. Besides, the little man bethought himself that while the
game was in progress he might learn something of value, so he said:

"All right. I'll play."

The man called Hans now sprang to his feet.

"I want to warn you," he said, "that I am extremely lucky at this game."

"Well, I used to be fairly lucky myself," said Stubbs. To himself
he said: "Whoever heard of a German trying to play the American
game of poker?"

The man called Hans now led the way to his quarters, where he produced a
table, chairs and a pack of cards. The four men ranged themselves around
the table.

As the game progressed there was considerable talk of the status of the
opposing armies and Stubbs gained much information that he felt would be
of use. As time passed other officers dropped in to witness the game; and
chancing to look over his shoulder, Stubbs was startled to see the face
of Hal. He gave a slight start, but quickly covered this up as he saw a
look of annoyance on Hal's face.

"Hal objects to my gambling, I guess," Stubbs muttered to himself. "But
what do I care? I'm glad to gather in a few German coins. Fortunate that
I had some in my pocket."

The manner in which Hal came to be in the tent was very simple. He had
walked north for some distance, and finding nothing that would prove of
value, he had turned back. He had been attracted by the sound of
conversation and had joined the group of German officers near the tent
where the game of poker was in progress. When one of the officers had
suggested going in and watching the game Hal had acquiesced. That is how
he found himself standing behind Stubbs and scanning the latter's cards.

At that moment Stubbs had lost a hand to the man called Hans. Stubbs was
considerably nettled, for he felt sure he should have won. He turned an
eye on Hal, who stood directly behind him.

"Don't stand behind me," the little man snapped.

"What's the matter?" demanded Hal. "Superstitious?"

"Yes, if you want to call it that," Stubbs answered.

Hal shifted his position slightly.

Again Stubbs scanned a hand that he felt sure would win. Hans was the
dealer. As he drew two more cards, Stubbs suddenly gave a start. He had
seen Hans slip a card from his sleeve.

Now Stubbs was not a fighter. He had shown that on more than one
occasion. But the little man objected to being imposed upon. Also he had
always stood for a square deal in a friendly game of cards. He had proven
that more than once in his younger days. And now, seeing the man called
Hans cheating made Stubbs' blood boil.

Quietly he leaned across the table and spoke.

"You," he said, shaking his forefinger in the man's face, "no wonder you
say you are lucky."

"Why, what do you mean?" demanded Hans, his face turning pale, for he
well realized the import of Stubbs' words.

"I mean," said Stubbs, and at that moment his hand dropped to his
revolver butt, "I mean that you are a cheat!"

Stubbs produced his revolver and levelled it straight at Hans. Then he
swept the circle of surprised faces about him with his eyes.

"Sir!" exclaimed Hans, "I demand an apology for those words."

"Well, you won't get it," returned Stubbs, decisively. He turned to the
man next to Hans. "Reach up his sleeve there," he said, "and if you
don't find a card or two I'll make you a present of all the money I have
in my pocket."

Surprised, the other obeyed and the result vindicated Stubbs. Two cards
fluttered from Hans' sleeve. Stubbs got to his feet.

"You see, gentlemen," he said, "with what kind of a man you have been
playing. No wonder he calls himself lucky."

The others were very angry. Seeing that the matter would be taken out of
his hands, Stubbs restored his revolver to its place.

Hans stood up.

"If you think I have cheated," he said, "you are welcome to all the money
I have won. As for you," he turned on Stubbs, "you shall die!"

A revolver appeared in his hand as if by magic and Stubbs shrank back.

But before the man could fire Hal leaped quickly forward and struck up
the weapon.

"You are not only a cheat but a coward!" said the lad quietly.

"And who are you?" screamed Hans, now beside himself with rage. "What
have you to do with this?"

"Nothing more than to prevent murder," replied Hal.

Now the other German officers took a hand in the trouble.

"Lieutenant Darnhart," said one. "I wish you never to speak to me again."

"Nor to me," from the other man who had taken part in the game, and
added: "If you are wise, you will know what to do."

For a moment Hans gazed at them hardly knowing what to say. Then, slowly,
he emptied the contents of his pockets upon the table.

"You are right, gentlemen," he said quietly. "I have cheated. Therefore,
this money belongs to you. And do not fear that I do not know what to do.
The honor of the regiment shall be kept clean."

With that he bowed low to the others and stalked from the tent.
The others stood stiffly erect until he had disappeared; then
turned to Stubbs.

"We have to thank you, sir," said one, "for opening our eyes. Long we
have wondered why Darnhart was so lucky, why he always arose from the
game the only winner. Now we know."

"Well," said Stubbs, "I used to play considerably when I lived in the
United States, and for that reason, I guess, I was on my guard."

"At all events," said the second German, "you have done us a service and
we wish to thank you."

"Why, that's all right," said Stubbs. "I am sure either of you would have
done the same thing under the circumstances. And with your permission, I
shall leave you now."

The others bowed and Stubbs turned toward the door.

"If you will wait a moment, sir, I shall accompany you," said a voice.

It was Hal who spoke and Stubbs waited obediently.

"First," said Hal, "I have something else to do." He addressed the
Germans: "Which of you is upon the staff of General Ludwig?"

"Why, I am," said one of the men, stepping forward.

"Good!" said Hal. "I would have spoken sooner, but I was absorbed in the
game. I did not remember your name, but I was sent for you. Will you
follow me?"

The German nodded his head.

"Very well," said Hal. "Come."

He led the way from the tent and the German and Stubbs followed. The
latter was astonished at Hal's words, but he did not show his surprise in
his actions. He walked after the others without a word.

"Something up," he muttered to himself. "I guess I had better keep my
gun handy."

Outside, they walked along slowly.

Five minutes later, when they reached a place that was somewhat
secluded, Hal suddenly produced his revolver and pressed it against the
German's head.

"You will give me immediately what papers you have in your pockets,"
the lad said quietly. "If you make an outcry I shall be compelled to
shoot you."

The German stared aghast.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded.

"It means that I must have whatever papers you possess," said Hal,
calmly, "even if I have to shoot you to get them."

"Ah!" cried the German, "I see! A spy!"

He made a move as though to seize Hal, but the lad was too quick for him.

With his left hand he grabbed the German's elbow in a tight grip and
squeezed. Then, even before the man had time to cry out, the lad released
his hold, reversed his revolver quickly and brought the butt down on the
German's head with all his force.

The man crumpled up without a word and lay still.

Stubbs, who had witnessed this proceeding in open-eyed wonder, now
uttered an exclamation.

"What are you doing? Trying to get us both killed?" he demanded.

Hal did not reply. Stooping over the prostrate German he ran his hand
quickly through the man's pockets. Then he straightened up, and by the
soft light of the moon, ran through the papers hurriedly. He gave an
exclamation of satisfaction.

"I thought I should find something," he muttered. "Come on now,
Stubbs!" he said.

The little war correspondent hurried after him without another word.

CHAPTER XXV

IN GRAVE PERIL

Chester's sigh of relief almost choked in his throat. But he determined
to brave out the situation as well as he could.

"No," exclaimed the man who had spoken, "this boy is no German!"

Even the Crown Prince was surprised.

"Not a German!" he exclaimed. "Then what is he? A--"

"A spy!" the other concluded for him.

"Impossible!" declared the Crown Prince. "How could there be a spy
among us?"

"Well, he's here. Surely you can look at the boy and tell he is not
a German."

The Crown Prince approached Chester and scrutinized him closely.

"Who are you?" he demanded at length.

"I have told you, sir," replied Chester, quietly.

"But you have not told the truth," was the Crown Prince's reply. "I can
see you are not French. Are you British?"

"No, sir."

"Then what?"

"Well," said Chester, at length, realizing that subterfuge was useless,
"I am an American."

"With the French army, eh?" said the Crown Prince.

Chester did not reply. He could see no reason for incriminating himself,
though he realized, too, that it made no particular difference whether he
replied or remained silent. He was convicted either way.

"You don't answer," exclaimed the Crown Prince. "That is evidence
sufficient of your guilt."

Chester shrugged his shoulders. The Crown Prince eyed him angrily.

"You are one of these indifferent ones, are you?" he said. "Well, we know
how to cure that. Do you realize what is in store for you?"

"Perfectly," replied Chester. "The firing squad."

"No; you are wrong," was the Crown Prince's answer. "The firing squad
is too good for spies. You have been captured within our lines in
disguise; therefore, there can be no doubt that you are a spy. You
shall be hanged."

Chester took a step backward. He had realized what his fate would be
should he fall into the hands of the enemy, but this was more than he had
bargained for. And at that moment there seemed little possibility that
Hal would find and be able to rescue him.

"Looks like the end of my rope," the lad muttered.

He made no reply to the Crown Prince's words. He knew a reply would
be useless.

"So you decline to talk?" said the Crown Prince. "Well, it matters not."
He motioned to one of his staff. "See that this prisoner is hanged by the
neck at sunrise," he said.

The officer saluted and motioned to Chester to precede him from the tent.
There was nothing for it but to obey and the lad walked out.

Now it happened that in some unaccountable manner the Germans had
neglected to relieve Chester of his revolvers. The lad's right hand
rested upon the weapon in his belt. But he was unable at this moment to
draw with any degree of hope, for the German officer was directly behind
him and Chester knew he would be shot down before he could turn and fire.
Also, should he succeed in gaining the drop on the German by a quick
move, he was in the very heart of the German camp and the sound of a shot
would bring a thousand men on his heels.

The lad bided his time.

Perhaps half a mile from the quarters of the German Crown Prince,
Chester's captor motioned him into a tent. Chester entered without a
word. What hopes he might have had of suddenly flashing his revolver on
his captor disappeared, for the man entered close behind him.

He clapped his hands.

A moment later a second officer appeared in the tent and stood at
attention.

"Call a guard of four men and have this tent surrounded," instructed
Chester's captor.

The man saluted and left the tent. He was back within a few moments,
however, and saluting said:

"The tent is surrounded, sir."

"Very well," said Chester's captor. "You may go."

Again the man left the tent; then Chester's captor said:

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