The two men struck the floor with a terrible crash; a cry was wrung from the spectators, for it seemed that a fall with such force could mean nothing less than broken bones for one of the fighters. But apparently it did not; for, still locked in each other's embrace, the men were struggling furiously for advantage upon the floor.
Ivan was still on top, but the Montenegrin, with both arms around the Cossack's neck, was making desperate efforts to roll his opponent over.
Nicolas lay squarely upon his back and Ivan's arms, wrapped around him at the moment of encounter, were pinioned beneath the other. The big Cossack was making strenuous attempts to free his right hand and still hold his opponent down with his great bulk. And at last he succeeded.
At the same moment Nicolas also released his hold and flopped over on his face. Apparently he had given up all hope of overcoming Ivan and was now acting purely upon the defensive. Ivan acted too late to prevent his opponent from turning over, but now he seized him by both shoulders, and planting his feet firmly upon the ground, by a mighty effort, jerked Nicolas to his feet.
It was a marvelous exhibition of strength and brought a cry from Stubbs, than whom there was no more interested spectator of the struggle. Nicolas now whirled suddenly and his right fist caught Ivan a terrible and unexpected jolt on the point of the chin. Ivan reeled back several paces and Nicolas followed him closely, shouting:
"I've got you!"
The words seemed to have a strange effect upon Ivan. He seemed to recover himself with an effort and his right and left fists shot almost simultaneously in mighty blows. The first went wild, but the second caught Nicolas squarely upon the side of the neck and checked his rush. Before he could give ground, Ivan brought his huge right fist forward again to the point of Nicolas' chin. The Montenegrin reeled.
But Ivan, having the advantage for really the first time, gave his man no time to recover. He leaped forward and for a third time seized his opponent in a close embrace. This time Nicolas had been unable to draw a deep breath before the great arms closed about him and he weakened suddenly.
In fact, he weakened so suddenly, that Ivan, believing victory his, released his hold; and this overconfidence almost proved the Cossack's undoing. Nicolas, realizing that he could not again free himself from Ivan's embrace, had decided upon a bold stroke, and by apparently giving up the struggle had placed himself in Ivan's power absolutely.
Then, when Ivan released his hold, Nicolas dropped suddenly to his knees and seized Ivan by the legs and pulled sharply. Caught completely off his guard, Ivan toppled over backwards. Nicolas jumped upon the prostrate form and again his fingers sought Ivan's throat.
But Ivan was too quick for him and the fingers failed to find their mark. Ivan doubled up his knees suddenly and thus prevented Nicolas from obtaining his hold; then, straightening out his legs, he hurled Nicolas from him. Instantly the Cossack was on his feet and after his opponent.
Nicolas also sprang to his feet and as the two men came together again they threw wrestling tactics to the winds and brought their fists into play. It was plainly apparent that neither had ever been schooled in the art of self-defense and there was nothing skillful about the fight that followed.
The attempts of each to ward off the blows of the other were ludicrous and of little avail. Almost every blow started went home and it became apparent to the spectators that in this kind of fighting the man who could withstand the most punishment and land the hardest blows must be the victor.
Several hard jolts had found their way to Ivan's face, but he did not show any symptoms of being unable to continue the battle. His face was a sight, but so was the face of Nicolas, for the matter of that. Both men swung hard and often, and nine out of every ten times each landed.
Also both were panting heavily now and it was perfectly plain that the fight must come to an end soon. And it did, but more suddenly than could have been expected.
Nicolas, swinging wildly for Ivan's chin, had left an opening as large as a house. The merest novice must have taken advantage of it. To Hal and Chester, both skillful boxers, it was the best opening that had been presented during the entire fight, and Hal cried out:
But his words were not needed. Ivan had seen the opening and had acted promptly.
"Smack!" his right fist landed heavily between Nicolas' eyes.
"Smack!" it was his left landing on the point of Nicolas' jaw.
"Crash!" It sounded like the breaking of bones. There was a brief silence, followed by another crash. The first was Ivan's right over Nicolas' mouth and the second was the sound caused as Nicolas tumbled to the ground, unconscious.
There was a twinkle in Ivan's eye as he surveyed his fallen foe.
"Some fighter, that fellow," he said. "I didn't believe he had it in him. But I would have had him sooner if he hadn't fooled me."
"You certainly would," said Hal. "You see, Ivan, that's your trouble. You know nothing of boxing. Had you been, a boxer you could have polished him off easily."
"There is no science to using your fists," said Ivan decidedly. "The only thing is to hit your opponent before he hits you."
"True enough," said Chester, "and that's where skill plays a part. For instance now, I suppose I could keep you from ever touching me, big as you are, and I venture to say I could land upon you almost at will, though possibly not hard enough to put you out. You're too big for that."
"Ho! Ho!" laughed Ivan gleefully. "Hear the little fellow talk. Why, you couldn't even lay a finger on me. I would just hold out one of my long arms and you couldn't get near me."
"It sounds easy enough," he said. "But take my word for it, I know what I am talking about."
"Well, show me," said Ivan.
"I will some time," was the reply. "Right now we'll have to tie Nicolas up and finish our sleep."
But when Nicolas had been safely secured, Ivan declared that he would not go to sleep until he had proven to Chester just how easy it would be to handle him.
"Well, all right, then," said Chester, "I'll show you. But remember, don't you crack me too hard if you do happen to land."
Chester placed himself quickly in an attitude of defense, left arm extended slightly, right arm well back. Crouching slightly and treading on his toes, he stepped lightly around Ivan, who, with arms wide, waited for him to come in.
Chester feinted quickly with his left and brought his right forward as he stepped in close. The right fist bumped the giant's chin gently, for Chester had not struck hard. A moment later his left landed almost in the same spot, a trifle harder, and he escaped Ivan's rush and wild swing by side-stepping nimbly.
There was a puzzled expression on Ivan's face as he followed the lad about the cavern, Chester dancing nimbly first to this side and then that. Once the lad let the giant come close, and when he swung, Chester jerked his head aside sharply and the blow passed over his shoulder.
Quickly then Chester stepped forward and with his open left palm smacked Ivan smartly across the left cheek. He performed a similar operation with his right; then stepped back and dropped his hands.
"Well?" he said, eying Ivan inquiringly.
"Well, you did it," said Ivan, greatly crestfallen. "How, I don't know. Will you teach me?"
"Some time," said Chester. "Now, let's finish that sleep."
"We ought to be pretty close to the place we left our horses," said Chester.
"I was just thinking that, myself," agreed Colonel Anderson. "Must be around here some place."
"We shall be there within the hour," said Nikol, to whom the situation had been explained. He had declared he could lead them straight to the place they had left the animals.
"So you see, Mr. Stubbs, we are not coming back in such a hurry after all," said Hal.
"We're not there yet," mumbled Stubbs. "An hour is an hour. We've been altogether too lucky, if you ask me. It's about time something happened."
"Croaking again, eh?" said Chester. "I never saw a fellow like you before. You see trouble in everything."
"So I do—when I'm with you," declared Stubbs. "It's been my experience that wherever you and Hal happen to be, there also is trouble. I'm a peaceable man, I am. I believe in taking all precautions. But here we go, walking along as though we were on your uncle's farm. No thought of danger among any of you. But I've got a hunch—"
"You've always got a hunch," Hal interrupted.
"Well, all right," said Stubbs. "Just remember I've warned you."
They continued on their way in silence.
"To tell the truth, we have been remarkably fortunate," declared Colonel Edwards. "I had expected to bump into some of Nicolas' friends before this. It's funny."
"It's not too late yet," said Stubbs.
"Mr. Stubbs," said Chester, with some exasperation, "if you—"
"Hold on," said Stubbs. He pointed ahead and slightly to the left. "Here comes a gang after us now."
The others glanced in the direction indicated. A body of men afoot, perhaps a dozen all told, were approaching.
"Yes," said Chester, "here comes a gang, but that's no sign they are enemies."
"Everybody is an enemy in these parts," said Stubbs sententiously.
"By George, you are the limit, Stubbs!" declared Chester. "Now, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll just bet you something pretty you're wrong in this case."
"Well, I ain't wrong," returned Stubbs, forgetting his grammar. "I'll take that bet. But in the meantime you fellows have a look at your guns. I may need protection."
This was good advice and the others realized it. They acted on it and the chamber of Colonel Anderson's revolver snapped with a click that emphasized his next remark:
"Can't trust them," he said.
The men were close now, and they appeared to be friendly enough. At sight of the prisoner in the center, one of them cried:
"Ho, Nicolas! where are you going?"
Quickly Hal stepped behind the prisoner and out of sight of the strangers, his revolver was pressed into Nicolas' back.
"No foolishness," he said in a low voice.
"Rather risky for you in these parts, isn't it, Nicolas?" said another of the strangers.
Nicolas heeded Hal's advice.
"I'm with friends," he returned. "There are enough of us here to look out for ourselves."
"Where are you bound?"
"Not far. I have a little business a couple of miles farther on."
"Want any company?"
Nicolas hesitated a moment and there came a queer gleam into his eye. And before Hal could say a word, he replied:
"Well, you can come along if you want to."
This reply staggered the others a bit, but it was too late now. Hal saw that he had not acted promptly enough, but to order Nicolas to change his decision would have aroused the suspicion of the others. There was nothing for it but to make the best of a bad situation.
"All right, we'll come along then, Nicolas," said the man who appeared to be the leader of the newcomers. "Might be a little gold in it for us, eh?"
"There might be," agreed Nicolas, with an evil smile.
Hal held a whispered consultation with the others and it was agreed it would be foolish to bring matters to a climax now.
"Wait until we get our horses," was Chester's advice.
The augmented party now continued on its way.
Half an hour later they came to the place where they had left their horses some days before. The man who had taken care of them advanced to meet the party.
"Horses still here?" asked Colonel Edwards.
The man nodded.
"And can you spare us three extra ones?"
The man considered.
"Do you wish to buy?" he asked at last.
Colonel Edwards indicated that he did.
"Then I can accommodate you," was the reply. "I have a dozen of my own animals, but times are hard and I need the money."
He named a sum and Colonel Edwards agreed to pay it.
"Have them all brought out immediately," the Colonel instructed.
The man bowed and departed after pocketing the money the Colonel gave him. Colonel Edwards returned to the others.
"It's all right," he said in a low voice. "Our horses are still here and I have bought three more—one each for Nikol, Ivan and Nicolas."
"Good," said Hal.
He gathered his friends about him, Nicolas in the center, and in a few brief words explained a plan he had hit upon:
"We'll walk slowly toward the barn," he said. "Nicolas will tell the others to remain where they are." He eyed the traitor coldly. "Then we'll dash into the barn and mount. When we are all ready, we'll make a dash for it, shooting as we do so."
"As good a plan as any, I guess," said Colonel Edwards, after a moment's hesitation. "Let's get started."
Slowly they moved toward the barn. Nicolas' friends, seeing him moving away, followed, but still kept at some distance.
The friends entered the barn without being molested. The mountaineer had just finished with the last horse and Hal gave the word for all to mount.
"Keep Nicolas in the center," he said, "and if he makes a false move, shoot him. He's too dangerous a man to be running around loose."
While the others mounted, Hal moved to the door to watch the men without. He arrived there just in time to meet a man who would have entered. Hal produced his automatic.
"Get back there!" he commanded.
The man took one look at the revolver and leaped back in a hurry. A moment later a voice called:
"What's the matter in there, Nicolas?"
"Answer him," said Chester, prodding Nicolas with his revolver. "Tell him everything is all right."
Nicolas did so.
Came the voice from without again:
"Trying to give us the slip, eh? Don't want to divide up the gold with us, I guess? Well, we're coming in after you."
"All ready?" asked Hal at this juncture.
Chester glanced around quickly.
"Ready, as soon as you mount," he replied quietly. "Hurry!"
Hal took one more look out the door and saw that the men were approaching, separated widely.
"They're coming!" he cried, and leaped astride his horse. Then he called to the mountaineer,
"Open the door wide!"
For a moment the mountaineer hesitated. He saw that there was trouble coming and he knew that it was none of his business.
Hal aimed his automatic at him.
"Open it wide, quick!" he commanded.
The man hesitated no longer. He threw wide the door.
Again Hal glanced quickly about him; then gave the command in a sharp voice:
Out the door they charged at a gallop—Hal and Chester in the lead, next Colonel Anderson and Nicole, then Nicolas and Stubbs, with Ivan and Colonel Edwards bringing up the rear.
Outside the door the enemy had drawn somewhat closer together and they stood with drawn revolvers as the riders charged.
There was no time for flight, and in spite of the fact that the charge was a distinct surprise, the foe opened with their revolvers.
Without checking their wild speed, Hal and Chester fired point blank into the faces of the men who barred their way. Whether they hit or not it was impossible to tell, but two men who were unable to jump out of the way in time, were knocked down by the foremost horses and the rest of the little troop passed over their prostrate forms.
But now beyond the enemy, Hal and Chester, leading, did not check the speed of their horses, for Colonel Edwards had mentioned the fact that there were more horses in the barn, and all knew that there would be pursuit.
Behind, some of the men had fallen to their knees and taken deliberate aim at the flying riders, and the sharp crack, crack of the weapons continued for several seconds. Bullets flew near, but not one struck home.
Out of revolver shot, Hal and Chester drew up their horses to take stock.
"Any one hit?" demanded Hal.
There was no reply.
"All right," said Hal, "we'll move on again."
Colonel Edwards, glancing to the rear at that moment, called:
"Here they come!"
The others looked back.
It was true. With loud shouts and waving their revolvers aloft, almost a dozen men galloped forward.
There came a cry of alarm from Stubbs, in the center of the little troop.
"Hey! Let's get away from here."
He dug his heels into his horse's ribs and dashed through the others.
"Spread out!" ordered Hal. "We make too good a mark this way."
The others obeyed this order, Ivan still keeping close behind Nicolas, and then Hal commanded:
They went forward at a rapid gallop. The pursuers gave chase with wild yells, firing wildly as they did so.
A SAD LOSS.
The leader of the flight was Anthony Stubbs. He had covered considerable distance when the others started and was now well in advance. The little man's heels continued to dig at the ribs of the horse he bestrode, and the animal, snorting and with ears laid back, covered the ground in great bounds.
Hal and Chester, riding close to each other, kept an eye on the others; and after they had ridden perhaps half a mile, they perceived that Nicolas and Ivan were lagging behind.
"Nicolas is holding back!" shouted Chester.
Hal shook his head.
"His weight is too great for the horse," Hal shouted back. "Same with Ivan."
This was plainly true and the lads saw that the pursuers were gaining on them.
Hal headed his horse diagonally across the road and slowed down a bit. Chester followed suit. Perceiving this movement, the others also checked the speed of their horses, all save Stubbs, who was now far ahead.
As Nicolas came abreast of Hal he suddenly leaned over his horse, and before the lad could realize what was up, he seized Hal's revolver, which was in a holster at his side. Hal grabbed for it too late.
With an evil light in his eye, the Montenegrin leveled the revolver directly at Hal and his finger tightened on the trigger. But another brain had acted more quickly than Nicolas'.
Two sharp reports came almost together. Hal felt a bullet brush past his ear. Nicolas dropped suddenly from his horse. Turning, Hal gazed into the calm face of Nikol and in the dwarf's hand was a smoking revolver. He had whipped out his revolver and fired in the nick of time.
Hal realized that he owed his life to the dwarf and he smiled at him slightly.
A quick look at the prostrate form of Nicolas showed that he was beyond human aid, and Hal also realized the need of haste, as the pursuers were even now within range and bullets whined about the fugitives.
"Forward!" he cried.
Again they set off at a gallop.
Ten minutes later Hal again noticed that Ivan was lagging behind. He drew his horse down until Ivan came up with him. A moment later Colonel Edwards also dropped back on even terms with them.
"Go ahead. Don't wait for me," shouted Ivan.
Hal shook his head slightly, as did Colonel Edwards.
"I tell you, it's no use," said Ivan. "This horse can't carry me much farther. Ride on!"
The others paid no heed.
Suddenly Ivan drew rein, pulling his horse back on his haunches, and leaped lightly to the ground. Then, before the others realized his intention, he drew his revolvers and faced the pursuers.
Quickly Hal and Colonel Edwards checked their horses, wheeled about and hurried back to him.
"You are fools!" said Ivan hoarsely. "There is no need for all of us to die. I could have held them off until the rest of you were safe. It is not too late yet. Ride on!"
For answer Hal leaped lightly to the ground and Colonel Edwards followed suit. The latter produced two revolvers and Hal one, for his other still lay beside the body of Nicolas.
"Into the woods here, quick!" Hal commanded.
The others obeyed him; and they moved from their perilous positions not a moment too soon, for the pursuers had found the range and revolver bullets whistled about them as they darted for shelter.
Ahead, Chester now discovered that the others had stopped. He checked his own horse, and calling to Colonel Anderson and Nikol, wheeled about and dashed down the road, the others following.
Chester allowed the reins to fall loose on his horse's neck and in each hand glistened a revolver. Colonel Anderson and Nikol were also prepared.
Some distance beyond where Hal, Colonel Edwards and Ivan had dismounted, the pursuers had drawn rein; and now Chester, Colonel Anderson and Nikol charged right at them.
In spite of their numbers, the pursuers, after one hasty volley, turned and fled as the three charged down upon them. The three fired once each at the foe and one man dropped. Then they checked their horses, dismounted and made their way into the woods, where they joined the others.
"Well," said Chester. "Here we are. Now what?"
"I don't know," said Hal. "We might push on through the woods, leaving the horses here, or we might wait until dark and make another break. We can probably lose our pursuers some way."
"I should say the latter is the better plan," said Colonel Edwards. "If Ivan will start first, we can come on an hour later. We can protect his flight. Because of his great weight his horse cannot keep up with the rest of us."
Ivan protested. He didn't want to go and leave the others behind. But at last he agreed.
"Then I can see no reason for waiting until dark," said Chester. "Let Ivan mount now and make a break for it. We can cover him. They won't get by us. An hour later we can start."
After some further discussion, this plan was adopted; and grumbling somewhat, Ivan mounted in the shelter of the trees. When the Cossack was ready, Hal peered out. A short distance back he could see the pursuers and his appearance drew a shot. But the men were too far away to aim with any degree of accuracy and the shot went wild.
"All right, Ivan," the lad said. "Go!"
The big Cossack dug his heels into his horse's ribs and with a shout dashed out into the road.
There was an answering shout from behind and the thundering of horses' hoofs told those among the trees that the enemy was on the advance.
"We'll have to stop 'em!" cried Hal. "Aim carefully now."
They waited until the riders were close and then stepped into the open.
"Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack!"
The revolvers of the six friends spoke as one. Two of the approaching horsemen reeled in their saddles, then toppled to the ground. Two more dropped their weapons and uttered loud cries. The pursuers beat a hasty retreat.
"Guess that will give Ivan a chance to get away," said Hal briefly. "Now, all we have to do is to wait until he has a good start."
But the mountaineers had no mind to remain idle and let the fugitives make all the plans. Even now they were in deep consultation. There were many gestures and noddings of heads. And at last the mountaineers seemed to have hit upon a plan of action.
The men split up into small groups, and leaving their horses, picketed by the side of the road, plunged in among the trees. Hal, glancing from his place of concealment at that moment, took account of the activities of the foe.
"Something up," he whispered to the others. "They probably will attempt to surprise us. We'll have to look sharp now."
"My advice," said Colonel Edwards, "is that we split up a bit, to return here at a given signal. If we all remain here, it will be simple for them to surround us. Scattered, we may catch them at a disadvantage."
"A good plan," Hal agreed. "We'll scatter a hundred yards in each direction. And the signal to return?"
"I'll whistle," said Colonel Edwards.
"Good! Let's move."
Five minutes later, in the spot where the five had been, there remained only the five horses.
With revolvers in hands, the five friends were scattered near by, eyes wide open for the first enemy to show himself.
And the first chanced to be a scant twenty yards from Chester. He came crawling along the ground, glancing furtively about. He spied Chester at the same moment the lad saw him. The two revolvers spoke almost as one.
Chester felt a slight pain in his left arm. His opponent gave a loud cry and toppled over.
"Guess he won't bother us any more," muttered the lad grimly.
He kept his eyes peeled for sign of another of the foes. And in other parts of the woods the others did likewise.
Hal saw no sign of an enemy and after the one whom he had accounted for, neither did Chester. They kept careful watch, the while awaiting the signal that was to call them back to their horses in a final dash for safety.
From their places of concealment the lads heard a shot. There was not a second. Each was greatly worried, for neither knew who had fired it or whether friend or foe had been hit. All they could do was wait.
At last the whistle came, the signal agreed upon. It came so faintly as to be scarcely audible to those who had been awaiting it. Hal and Chester moved toward the spot where stood the horses. There they saw Colonel Edwards holding the bridle of his own animal. A moment later Colonel Anderson and Nikol appeared.
"All right. No use waiting longer," said Colonel Edwards. "Mount and we'll run for it!"
All suited the action to the word.
"Go!" commanded Colonel Edwards.
There was a strange catch in the colonel's voice and Hal glanced at him sharply before touching his horse. He saw Colonel Edwards reel suddenly in his saddle, then fall heavily to the ground.
With a cry to the others, Hal leaped quickly to the ground, ran to the fallen figure of the colonel and bent over him anxiously.
The others, at Hal's cry, also dismounted and returned to the fallen man.
"Stand guard there till I see what's wrong!" Hal commanded.
Colonel Anderson, Chester and Nikol stood with drawn revolvers.
Gently Hal lifted Colonel Edwards' head to his knee. The eyes were closed. The lad put a hand over the officer's heart. There was a faint beating.
A moment later Colonel Edwards opened his eyes. He smiled feebly.
"Guess I'm done for," he said quietly.
Hal did not reply, for the little wound just above the heart showed where the bullet had gone home.
Now Colonel Anderson knelt down beside his old friend.
"What's the matter, old man?" he said. "Did they get you?"
"They got me," replied Colonel Edwards. "You fellows go on. You can do nothing for me. It's too late."
A sudden shudder shook him and he burst into a fit of coughing. His eyes closed, but he reached forth a hand and his fingers clasped Colonel Anderson's hand.
"Tell the folks at home—" he said feebly, then became still.
Quickly Colonel Anderson placed a hand over the other's heart. Then he looked at Hal.
"Dead!" he said simply.
For long minutes all stood there silently, their hats off. How long they would have remained, it is hard to tell, but the sound of a shot close at hand awakened them to their own danger.
"We can do no good here," said Colonel Anderson quietly. "We may as well go."
"First," said Hal, "we shall move his body to a little hole in the ground I saw back here. We'll cover him up and then we'll go."
Under the very revolvers of the enemy this was done; and the four returned to their horses.
"Mount!" ordered Colonel Anderson.
The order was obeyed. Colonel Anderson gazed lingeringly toward the spot where lay the body of Colonel Edwards, and there were tears in his eyes as he did so. He drew a hand sharply across his eyes, shook himself a bit and commanded:
Away they went at a gallop, only four of them now. The horses, once upon the road again, let themselves out nobly and sped on like the wind. There was a single volley from the foe as the four came into the open, but all the bullets went wild, and before a second could be fired they were out of range.
Then the pursuers hurried for their own horses, mounted and again gave chase.
But if the ranks of the pursued had been thinned, so had those of the pursuers. Back in the woods lay four bodies cold in death. Of the survivors who still pursued there were seven.
The horses ridden by the four friends had benefited by the brief rest and were in condition for a long run; and all might have gone well had it not been for an unlooked-for occurrence.
As they were dashing swiftly along, Chester's horse stumbled and emitted a groan. Instantly the lad checked the animal, jumped to the ground and ran to its head. There was a look of pain in the horse's eyes and he held up one foot. Chester glanced down.
"He can't go on," the lad said; "the leg is broken."
He drew his revolver.
"Here! What are you going to do?" demanded Colonel Anderson.
"Shoot him," replied Chester quietly. "Put him out of his misery."
"Wait a moment," said the colonel, dismounting. "I know something about horses. Maybe it's not as bad as all that."
He examined the leg carefully. When he straightened up he looked at Chester and nodded.
"It's the best way," he said quietly. "There is nothing that can be done for him."
Chester stroked the horse's head gently and the animal whinnied in pain.
"I'm awfully sorry, old fellow," said the lad, "but it will be best for you."
The horse seemed to understand. Chester took aim and fired quickly.
"And now what are we going to do?" he asked.
"Climb up behind me," said Hal. "We've got a pretty fair start. May be they will not overtake us."
Chester did as Hal suggested, and the party moved on again, but more slowly now.
It was perhaps half an hour later, when hoofbeats were heard behind.
"Here they come!" cried Hal, and dug his heels into his horse's side.
The animal responded nobly, but five minutes later it became apparent that they would be unable to distance their pursuers at this speed. The hoofbeats became plainer.
Hal drew rein.
"Dismount!" he cried.
His command was obeyed instantly.
Taking his horse by the head, Hal led him in among the trees. The others followed his lead.
"When they get by, we'll go forward again," said Hal.
They waited silently.
A few moments later the pursuers flashed by, going at a rapid gallop. When they were out of sight, Hal led his horse to the road, as did the others, and all mounted.
"We'll follow them," said the lad. "We'll have to keep our ears open, though, for they are likely to turn almost any time."
An hour later, rounding a turn in the road, Colonel Anderson, who was in advance, checked his horse suddenly. The others also drew up sharply.
"What's the matter?" asked Hal.
For answer Colonel Anderson pointed down the road.
There, probably half a mile away, were their pursuers, stationary.
"What do you suppose they are waiting for?" demanded Chester.
The answer came from an unexpected source.
From beyond the pursuers arose a puff of smoke, followed by a faint report. It was the sound of a revolver.
"They've bumped into another enemy of some kind," said Chester. "Wonder how strong this new force is?"
"Can't be very strong or those fellows would be heading this way," declared Hal. "Maybe they think it's us."
"That's about the size of it," declared Colonel Anderson.
There was another puff of smoke at this moment, and one of the enemy fell.
"Bully for you, whoever you are," shouted Chester. "Say!" he added, "what's the matter with taking them in the rear? They haven't spotted us yet."
"I was thinking of that," said Colonel Anderson. "Guess it can be done all right. Will your horse carry double that far, Hal?"
"He'll have to," replied the lad grimly.
"Good. Are you ready?"
"When you give the word."
Down the road at a rapid gallop went the three horses, carrying the four friends.
Hal, Colonel Anderson and Nikol each guided their mounts with their left hands, flourishing their revolvers in the right. Chester held fast to Hal with his left and also flourished a revolver with his free hand.
Nearer and nearer they came upon their unsuspecting enemies, who still stood where they had been when first discovered. Occasionally one fired his revolver at the spot from which shots came at frequent intervals now.
"Wonder why those fellows beyond don't charge, now that they must see us coming," muttered Hal to himself.
He watched the puffs of smoke as they came at intervals, and he was suddenly struck by an idea.
"By Jove!" he shouted, to make himself heard, "I'll bet there is only one man there. That's why the shots are so far apart."
"Well, we're pretty evenly matched," said Chester. "There are only six of them in condition to fight."
"Five," said Hal suddenly, as another of the enemy pitched suddenly to the ground, a shot from beyond having struck him.
"See! they are going to charge him!" cried Chester, peering over his friend's shoulder.
It was true. The enemy had spread out as much as the road would permit and the man who appeared to be the leader raised his hand.
"We'll have to stop that," muttered Hal.
He raised his voice in a shout, which carried plainly to the foe.
The five men wheeled about suddenly and for the first time saw they were beset in the rear as well as in front. For a moment they hesitated, then turned and charged the new arrivals.
"Keep going!" shouted Hal. "And don't miss!"
The enemy fired first, but all the shots went wild. Suddenly Nikol checked his horse, took deliberate aim and fired. A rider fell to the ground. The range was still great, but Nikol's aim was true. A second man dropped at his second bullet.
Now Colonel Anderson and Hal fired simultaneously. Another man dropped—it was impossible to tell whether Hal or Colonel Anderson had scored a hit.
The two remaining riders drew their horses upon their haunches, and headed them for the friendly protection of the trees. Hal and Colonel Anderson fired a parting shot, but they were unable to tell whether the bullets had gone home.
Chester, behind Hal, had been unable to get into the battle, Hal's figure interfering with his aim.
"Well, I don't think the two of them will bother us," said Hal.
"No," Chester agreed. "And there are two loose horses. I'm going to get one of them."
"Better make it two," said Colonel Anderson. "Our ally beyond, whoever he may be, may need one."
"He deserves one," he said. "He knocked off three of these fellows."
He secured the two horses without much trouble, mounted one and led the other.
"Now we'll have an interview with our friend," he said.
They rode forward slowly.
"Funny he doesn't come out and show himself," said Hal.
"Guess he thinks we are enemies, too," suggested Colonel Anderson. "Well—whoa, there."
He broke off suddenly and ducked his head, for a bullet had whistled just above him. He raised his voice in a shout:
"Hey!" he cried in English, forgetting just where he was, "what do you mean shooting at us? Quit it. We're friends."
"That you, Hal?" came a familiar voice.
Hal, Chester and Colonel Anderson gazed into each other's eyes almost dumbfounded.
"Well, what do you think of that?" exclaimed Hal.
There came a pleased chuckle from one member of the party, who rushed forward happily.
It was Nikol.
"Now where is he going?" demanded Chester anxiously.
"Going to greet his friend Stubbs," returned Hal. "To Nikol, Stubbs is a brave man and a grand fighter; and what has happened just now will only increase his admiration. Come on, let's go and have a look for ourselves."
"Is that you, Hal, Chester?" came Stubbs' voice again.
"Yes," Hal shouted back.
They rode forward.
Anthony Stubbs, now that he had found his friends again, came forward as fast as his queer stature would permit. He was puffing and blowing so hard by the time he reached them that he could hardly talk. Of Nikol, who stuck close to his side, eyeing him admiringly, he took no notice.
"By George! It's good to see you fellows again," declared Stubbs. "I thought my days were numbered when that gang of ruffians set upon me. I didn't want to fight, but I had to. It seems to me I got seven or eight of them."
"Well, how do you happen to be here, anyhow?" demanded Chester.
"My horse threw me and went away by himself," said Stubbs mournfully. "If I ever see him again I'll tell him about it. He might have got me killed."
Nikol now forced himself in front of Stubbs and extended a hand.
"Mr. Stubbs," he said quietly, "you are a brave and gallant man."
Stubbs was pleased. He made as though to take the hand; then thought better of it. He remembered the grip of those powerful fingers.
"I know it, Nikol," he said gravely.
He put out his hand and patted the dwarf on the head.
MR. STUBBS EASES HIS MIND.
The remainder of the journey to Cettinje was without incident. After the defeat of the mountaineers the lads felt safe, for they were once more within the borders of Montenegro and were unlikely, they knew, to encounter other enemies.
Stubbs, when informed of the death of Colonel Edwards, was greatly grieved.
"Poor fellow," he said, and added after a pause: "There is no use talking, Hal, this is no life for any one. He's likely to be snuffed out at a moment's notice. I'm going to be careful where I go in the future."
Besides the three bags of gold he had carried when he left the Albanian mountains, Hal now had the two he had taken from the body of Colonel Edwards. The two Nicolas had carried had been left with him, for there had been no time to get them. Stubbs had held on to the two entrusted to him, and Ivan, wherever he was, had two more.
It was while speaking of the gold that Hal's thoughts turned to Ivan.
"I wonder what can have happened to him?" he said.
Chester shrugged his shoulders.
"No telling," he replied. "However, I guess he'll turn up sooner or later."
And the lad was right.
It was dark when the little party came again within the first line of Montenegrin troops. Colonel Anderson announced that he would seek an audience of King Nicholas immediately. He made his wants known to the officer of the guard, and after he had explained the situation, the officer departed to learn whether the king would see the returned travelers. He returned fifteen minutes later with the announcement that the king would receive them in his field quarters immediately.
As they started for the monarch's quarters, Stubbs and Nikol both hung back.
"Come on now, Mr. Stubbs," said Chester. "The king will be as glad to see you as any of the rest of us."
"I'm not much used to kings," Stubbs protested. "Besides, this is none of my expedition. You're the fellows he wants to see."
"Nonsense," said Hal, and struck with a sudden thought, he added: "Perhaps the king will give you an interview. It would be a good thing for the New York Gazette."
"By Jove! you're right there," Stubbs agreed. "I must be a great newspaper man to have overlooked a thing like that. If my boss knew it I'd get fired. I'll go along."
Still Nikol hung back, and it took considerable coaxing before he consented to go; and then it took Stubbs to clinch matters.
"Look here, now," he said, eyeing Nikol sternly, "I took you for a brave man. You're not afraid of a king, are you?"
Nikol shook his head negatively.
"Well, if you don't come along I'll think you are," declared Stubbs. "Look at me now. I don't care particularly about going, but I want to show King Nicholas I'm not afraid of him. Come on."
He took the dwarf by the arm and the latter moved along grumbling to himself.
The king received the party in his private quarters—a large field tent. When the party was ushered into his presence, he was attended by a single orderly. He arose at their entrance. His eyes surveyed the group quickly, and he demanded:
"Where is my friend, Colonel Edwards?"
Colonel Anderson, delegated spokesman for the party by reason of his superior rank, stepped forward and replied quietly:
"He is dead, sire."
The king took a step backward and passed a trembling hand across his brow. He was silent for some moments before replying.
"Dead! One more victim of the Kaiser's militarism. Tell me, how did he die?"
Colonel Anderson explained quietly and briefly. Then, at the king's request, he went into the details of the journey; and when he had concluded, King Nicholas expressed his deep thanks for the service each member of the party had rendered him.
"And you say Nicolas, the traitor, is dead?" he questioned.
"Yes, your majesty. Nikol here," and Colonel Anderson indicated the dwarf, "saw to that."
The king turned to Nikol. Then he commanded:
Trembling, in spite of his denial that he was afraid of a king, Nikol approached. The king extended a hand, and Nikol bent one knee and put his lips to the hand.
"I thank you," said King Nicholas.
Nikol, with flushed face, muttered something unintelligible and backed slowly away.
Then the king thanked each member of the party separately. Even Stubbs seemed somewhat abashed by the king's manner.
Later Colonel Anderson mentioned the gold they had brought and it was all deposited—fifteen bags of the precious metal—before the king.
"Again I thank you," said the monarch. "You may make sure that this gold will be used where it will do the most good."
A few moments later the king signified that the audience was at an end. As they passed out he spoke a final word:
"If, at any time, there is anything I am able to do for any of you, you have but to command me."
All bowed low.
"One moment," said the king as they were about to withdraw, "have you quarters?"
"No, sire," returned Colonel Anderson.
The king spoke to the officer who attended him.
"You will see that these gentlemen are provided with suitable quarters at once," he commanded. "They are my guests."
The officer saluted and motioned the others to follow him. Outside they were turned over to a second officer, who escorted them to a tent somewhat larger than the rest.
"You will make this your quarters," said the officer. "I shall send you an orderly, and if at any time there is anything you require, you have but to mention it to him."
He saluted and departed.
Left to themselves at last, Hal, Chester and the others looked about. The tent was fitted up comfortably, almost luxuriously. There were seven or eight cots within and the tent had the appearance of having sheltered men of note.
"Style to this place, if you ask me," said Stubbs, "Makes a fellow want to turn in and sleep a bit."
"And that is just what we'll do," said Chester. "I'm tired out myself."
"Same here," agreed Hal.
Colonel Anderson and Nikol also announced that they were ready to seek repose at any time, and after some further talk, all lay down and soon were fast asleep.
The sun was high in the heavens when Chester opened his eyes. He was up and dressed quickly. Glancing around, he saw that the others, with the exception of Stubbs, who had one eye open, were still fast asleep.
"Guess I'll take a little trip by myself," the lad muttered.
He moved toward the exit.
"Wait a minute, there," Stubbs called, hopping out of his cot. "I'll go with you."
"How's that, Mr. Stubbs?" said Chester, pausing. "Why do you arise so early? Thought you always stayed until last."
"Don't you believe it," said the little man. "I like to sleep the same as the next fellow, but when I have business on hand I attend to it first."
"Business?" repeated Chester. "And what business have you on hand this morning?"
"Got to get busy and get some news," was the reply. "I'm going to have a look about this camp, ask some questions, then do a little writing; after which I'll hunt up the official censor and the rest of the gang and see what arrangements I can make toward getting my stuff sent through."
"Then I'll go with you on your hunt," Chester decided. "Maybe I can get a few pointers. I might want to get into the newspaper business myself some day."
"Don't," said Stubbs. "Take my advice and do anything else. Look at me now, I'm a fair example. Here I've been in this business for fifteen years, and what has it got me, eh? I'll tell you. It's got me a chance to get out and get shot so that people over in the good old U.S.A. can read, with their morning cup of coffee, what is going on in this benighted land. And what do I get for it? Nothing."
"And still, the excitement," said Chester.
"Excitement?" echoed Stubbs. "Now I ask you, what do I want with excitement? I can get all the excitement I want right back in New York. This is a long way to come looking for excitement."
"Well, perhaps so," Chester admitted, "but when you get back home you will be able to tell people who want to know, more about this war than they could read in the Gazette."
"So I can," Stubbs agreed, "but I wouldn't if these two by four censors didn't stick to their jobs so closely."
The little man slapped on his hat and stalked from the tent, calling over his shoulder:
Chester followed him.
Outside, Stubbs made a straight line for the first line troops.
"If you want to find out anything, you have got to get right where it is," he declared. "I could stay back here and ask questions, but I want to see things for myself."
Chester offered no objections.
Suddenly the camp seemed to spring to life. Bugles blew shrilly, men came pouring out of the tents to form into ranks. Officers darted hither and thither, shouting hoarse commands. For a moment all seemed to be confusion, but a moment later, in response to sharp commands, all became quiet and orderly.
"Something up," said Chester.
"An advance, I imagine," he said. "We'll see."
He approached a gruff-looking officer of forbidding aspect and addressed him in French.
"Where to?" he asked.
"To the attack," was the reply.
At the same moment a bugle rang out. Others took it up. It was the command to advance.
Right, left, front and rear of where Stubbs and Chester stood the troops began to move. In front they could make out the heavy guns being dragged forward, officers dashing about and gesticulating excitedly, but order reigning in the midst of apparent confusion.
From the rear now dashed a squadron of cavalry, a handsome appearing body of men. A second squadron came into sight and disappeared ahead, to be followed a moment later by a third. Other squadrons passed in rapid succession.
Chester and Stubbs kept their positions.
Half an hour passed and still the mounted horsemen swept by. Then came the infantry. Column upon column came swinging along at a dog trot, their officers urging them on. They moved silently and swiftly, apparently all ready for the terrible business in hand.
"A handsome body of men," said Stubbs. "I have never seen better."
"And the size of them," exclaimed Chester. "Must all be over six feet."
It did seem so. Great, big, husky-looking fellows they were, strong as gorillas—heavily bearded, most of them, and warmly and snugly dressed.
"They'll make these Austrians move around some, with an even break," declared Chester.
And still the troops passed, seemingly without end.
"Must be an attack in some force," said Chester.
"Or reinforcements to check an enemy's advance," declared Stubbs.
"Well," said Chester, "if there is going to be a battle, we ought to try and see something of it."
"They'll arrest us if we go fooling around here," declared Stubbs.
Chester thought quickly.
"I'll tell you," he said at length, "you saw the orderly stationed outside our tent?"
"We'll go back and get him. Also we'll take Hal and Colonel Anderson. They wouldn't want to miss this."
"Don't forget my old friend Nikol," said Stubbs. "Remember he is something of a fighter, too. He'll want to have a look."
They made their way back to the tent quickly and aroused the others. The orderly placed at their disposal, once their wants were made known, volunteered to conduct them to the front.
"I'll get an automobile," he said, and departed.
Five minutes later he was back with a big car and all climbed aboard. A moment later they were being driven rapidly toward the extreme front. There, just behind the first line troops, Hal and Chester made out that the movement was in reality a defensive one. Apparently the men rushed forward so early in the morning were reinforcements.
The troops had entrenched themselves hurriedly and were preparing to resist an attack, which, the orderly informed his charges, was expected momentarily. It appeared that the Austrians had made some slight gains the day before and the Montenegrin general staff had reason to believe the offensive would be continued to-day. Accordingly, steps had been taken to resist the invader.
As the orderly explained the situation, the battle would probably be fought along a twenty-five-mile front; and he announced that at this particular moment the party was somewhere between the center and the left wing of the Montenegrin army.
"Well, we can't see much from here," said Chester.
He gazed across the hills. Then he pointed to his right, toward a not far distant elevation, somewhat higher than the others nearby, and also somewhat closer to the Montenegrin center.
"Now, if we were up there," he said, "we might be able to see something."
The orderly seemed nonplussed.
"It is from that eminence that the king and the general staff will witness the struggle," he said, "I do not know—"
"Oh, that will be all right," said Stubbs. "The king is a good friend of ours. Why, only last night he said that if we desired anything all we had to do was to call on him. Now, taking the king at his word, what we would desire most is to be allowed to witness the battle from that eminence."
The Montenegrin officer hesitated; but only for a moment. Then he said:
"If those were the king's words, he no doubt will forgive me for leading you thither."
"Most certainly he will," declared Stubbs; "in fact, he will thank you for bringing us to him."
The officer, without further words, proceeded as desired, and ten minutes later, having left the big army automobile, they climbed the eminence and took their positions not far from where the king and the general staff stood viewing the Austrian lines through their glasses.
Even as they settled themselves as comfortably as possible, the first big gun of the enemy boomed. Other big guns from the Montenegrin lines took up the action and soon the artillery engagement became general. The air was filled with terrible din and it was next to impossible to make oneself heard above the roar of battle.
Hidden batteries in the Montenegrin lines were making their fire felt. Shielded from the enemy in front, they were also, in most cases, made invisible to the Austrian air craft that continually hovered overhead, sheltered as they were in dense clumps of trees and bushes.
From the Montenegrin lines now went a small fleet of aeroplanes, seeking out the hiding places of the enemy artillery and signaling back the range to the Montenegrin gunners.
For an hour the duel of big guns continued without other action of any kind. Now and then the spectators were able to make out the effect of an enemy shell as it struck within the Montenegrin line, but they were unable to determine the result of the Montenegrin fire.
Came the sound of a bugle from the rear.
"Something up!" shouted Chester at the top of his voice.
Hal nodded but said nothing. He did not feel equal to making himself heard above the terrible roar of battle.
From the Austrian line suddenly issued a squadron of cavalry, closely followed by many other squadrons. It became apparent to the spectators that the enemy had determined to silence the Montenegrin guns, or a portion of them, at any rate, by a charge.
On they came in the very face of a hail of lead that cut great gaps in their ranks, mowing men and riders down like chaff before a storm. But as fast as the ranks were thinned, they filled up again as the Austrians continued their charge, while from their rear the great Austrian guns continued to hurl their messengers of death over their heads into the ranks of the Montenegrins beyond.
Straight for a little woods in the center of the long battle line the Austrian cavalry dashed, their intention apparently being to seek temporary shelter there before charging some other part of the Montenegrin line.
Now they were almost to the trees and it seemed that they must find shelter there. This would mean that it would be a hard task for the Montenegrins to dislodge them. They were less than a hundred yards away when there came a fresh, terrible rumble and roar.
A Montenegrin masked battery had opened with its rapid-firers. Men dropped in great heaps, but the others came on.
The Austrian officer in command, realizing that he was in a trap, took the one chance left him. With what men he had, cut off from his infantry support as he was, he must either capture that masked battery, die or surrender. The only support he had now was from his own artillery, and a moment later that, too, became silent, for the masked Montenegrin battery could not be shelled without imminent risk of shooting down Austrian as well as Montenegrin.
On came the Austrians in a desperate and spectacular charge. Of the number that had sallied forth from the Austrian trench, less than half remained when they came to the edge of the little woods. These few hurled themselves forward with the utmost bravery and abandon, and for a moment it seemed that they might reach the guns, which Hal and Chester, from the eminence, could see.
But at that moment four squadrons of Montenegrin cavalry, fresh and eager for the fray, were hurled forward. They dashed out with a yell, and the two forces met just beyond the fringe of trees.
There was a terrific shock as they came together and in a moment all was confusion. Men cursed, slashed, stabbed and discharged revolvers at each other, while the horses of the opposing forces fought as well as their riders.
The Montenegrin battery had now become silent, for to have fired would have been to endanger the life of friend as well as foe. The horsemen struggled desperately, hand-to-hand.
But the force of the Austrian charge had been spent. The few who remained fought bravely, but they were no match for the fresher and more powerful Montenegrin horsemen, among the best fighters in the whole world.
Slowly the Austrians were forced back. Then they gave ground faster and faster, until finally those who were left turned their horses and fled back toward their own lines. For perhaps a hundred yards the Montenegrins pursued, then, at the call of a bugle, they halted and turned back.
A moment later the rapid-firers broke loose again, cutting great holes in the ranks of the fleeing Austrians. The latter retreated even faster than they had charged, but by the time they reached the shelter of their own lines their number had been thinned by fully three-fourths.
All the way across the field dead and wounded strewed the ground. The successful Montenegrins paused for a moment and cheered wildly; then they took stock of their own dead and wounded, for they had not escaped scot-free. The hand-to-hand struggle, though brief, had been severe while it lasted, and the Austrians fought hard and well. The Montenegrin losses, though comparatively light, had been severe.
While the cavalry action was being fought, the artillery fire had slackened perceptibly; but now the cavalry of each side—what was left of it—had returned to its own lines.
The big guns took up the duel anew with even greater vigor than before.
THE BATTLE CONTINUES.
Hal, Chester and Colonel Anderson had watched the battle with the eyes of veterans; Stubbs had taken in the scene with the eye of a newspaper man in the search of news. Nikol, the dwarf, had gazed at the struggling knot of horsemen in undisguised amazement.
As the Austrians, defeated, had withdrawn, each had drawn a deep breath.
"A terrible spectacle, when you stop to think of it," said Hal slowly.
"Terrible, indeed," agreed Colonel Anderson quietly; "and yet it must go on and on until the power of the Teuton allies has been crushed out forever."
"Which it will be," said Chester quietly.
All turned their eyes to the battlefield once more.
Even from where they stood they could discern a sudden activity in the Austrian lines. The action of the big field pieces became more vigorous than before. Hal, Chester and Colonel Anderson guessed the answer immediately, as, probably, did the officers of King Nicholas' forces.
The next Austrian move was to be a grand assault under cover of artillery fire. The problem to be solved was where it would be delivered—in the center, on the right, or on the left flank.
For a brief instant Hal turned his eyes from the battlefield to the place where King Nicholas and his staff stood. Officers were arriving and departing in haste, carrying orders to the various commanders.
The fire of the Montenegrin guns also became more violent; but it was evident that the Montenegrin staff had decided to take no action until they were confident of just where the Austrians would strike.
The noise of the cannonading was tremendous. It was like the continual roar of the loudest peal of thunder. The very ground trembled from the vibrations of the big guns.
From the Austrian trenches now poured thousands of men at the double—poured in dense masses toward the Montenegrin center, the while the Austrian artillery shelled the Montenegrin center with greater energy than at any time since the battle began.
Apparently the enemy had determined upon the Montenegrin center as the objective of its grand assault.
In the open field, a small plateau, the Austrians reformed coolly, in spite of the death-dealing fire from the Montenegrin lines. The field was packed closely with the enemy, now less than half a mile away.
At this distance the fire of the Montenegrin artillery was terribly effective, but the Austrian line did not waver.
Steadily forward it came; and now the Montenegrins moved to meet the attack. Apparently satisfied that there was no question that the center was to be the main objective of the enemy, the Montenegrin staff ordered the bulk of the Balkan army massed there to beat back the foe.
Regiments and brigades were hurriedly drawn from the two flanks to reinforce the center. The left wing was weakened badly.
A quarter of a mile from the first Montenegrin trench the Austrians charged fiercely. All eyes were turned to that section of the field. The shock was but a few moments away.
At that moment—almost the moment of impact—a second line of men issued from the Austrian, trenches, this time on the Montenegrin left wing. These, too, supported by artillery and strong bodies of cavalry, came forward in a charge.
It seemed the Austrian commander had outgeneraled the Montenegrins, for it did not seem possible that the Montenegrin left flank could be reinforced in time to successfully withstand the shock of the Austrian attack, and there could be no doubt now that the left flank was where the main attack would be delivered.
The assault upon the center had been a feint—nothing more. The main bodies of Austrians were to be hurled against the Montenegrin left, in an effort to turn it before reinforcements could be hurried from the right flank to support the threatened center and left.
But King Nicholas, taking matters in his own hands, acted quickly. In spite of the protests of his officers, he ordered the reinforcements so recently massed in his center back to strengthen his left; then ordered that the center hold firm at all hazards and against all numbers.
He hurried reinforcements from his right to support his center, and having taken these precautions, he was ready to give battle.
The Austrian attacking force and the Montenegrin center had come in contact long before the king had made his other moves, but there was no doubt in Nicholas' mind that his sturdy mountaineers could hold their trenches against larger numbers of the enemy.
One, two, three times the Austrians charged the trenches in the Montenegrin center. Three times they were driven back with terrible losses. The Montenegrins, in the shelter of their trenches, fought stubbornly and tenaciously. Once the first line of Austrians succeeded in obtaining a foothold in the first trench and hand-to-hand fighting ensued.
At this style of fighting the Austrians were no match for the sturdy Balkan warriors, and they were soon forced out again.
Meanwhile the Austrian main attack had come in contact with the Montenegrin left wing. Outnumbered two to one, sometimes more, the defenders fought gallantly. But the Austrians, by the very weight of numbers, swooped down upon the defenders of the first line trenches in spite of the heavy Montenegrin artillery fire.
The Montenegrins were forced to fall back to their second line; but they contested every inch of ground and by the time they had been forced out, reinforcements began to arrive. The second line of trenches held in spite of all attempts of the enemy to force them.
Reinforcements continued to arrive.
The Austrian artillery had now slackened its fire perceptibly, for there was danger of mowing down its own men.
King Nicholas decided upon a bold stroke. Secure in the fact that the Austrian guns could not be used at the moment, and having every confidence in his stalwart troops, in spite of the fact that they were heavily outnumbered, King Nicholas ordered a charge.
A cheer went up along the Montenegrin line.
With bayonets fixed and every nerve tense, the Montenegrins poured suddenly from their trenches. They charged like wild men.
The advantage of the surprise was theirs—the advantage of their impetuous devotion to the cause they served; and the force of their charge was irresistible. It carried all before it.
In vain the Austrian officers tried to rally their men. The sight of these determined, grim-faced men pouring from their trenches bewildered the Austrian troops. They gave ground, slowly at first, then more swiftly; and five minutes later they were in full retreat, with the Montenegrins in close pursuit.
Once the Austrian commander succeeded in reforming his men for a stand; but the Montenegrins rushed on as though they could have carried the Rock of Gibraltar itself, and again the Austrians broke and fled.
The Montenegrins pursued them for probably a quarter of a mile, cutting them down and bayoneting them as they ran. Then the bugle sounded a recall and the Montenegrins drew off.
It was then, too, that the great Austrian guns opened on them again, doing fearful havoc. The Montenegrins suffered greater losses on their return to their trenches than they had during the entire engagement up to that time.
In the center, the battle was still raging; but now that he had been victorious on his left, King Nicholas immediately hurled his weary men to the support of his center. Also he drew upon his already weakened right wing; for the advantage was his and he was determined to make the most of it.
The Austrians fell back in the center.
Now the Montenegrins opened with their heavy artillery, which was rushed forward to shell the retreating foe. Again King Nicholas ordered a charge along his entire front.
With the present morale among the enemy, King Nicholas decided it was time to push his advantage further. He had determined to drive the foe from its own trenches.
The Montenegrins advanced confidently all along the line, pursuing the Austrians closely in the center. Cavalry and infantry, under the protection of the giant batteries, were hurled forward and dashed upon the Austrians with ferocity.
Rapidly they covered the open distance to the first Austrian trenches and leaped into them without thought of death. The Austrians, brought to bay at last, fought desperately, but the Montenegrins, once having gained the whip hand, were not to be denied.
The fighting in the Austrian trenches continued for what seemed an eternity; but finally the Austrians broke and fled.
The Montenegrins, flushed with victory, advanced again, and under cover of their artillery, stormed the enemy's second line trenches. These, too, were won after a desperate struggle and heavy losses on both sides, and with these the Montenegrins, worn and spent, rested content.
The troops were for pushing on after the Austrians, but King Nicholas called a halt.
"My brave men!" he exclaimed, with tears in his eyes. "They have done a day's work to-day that will live in memory for generations to come. It is a brilliant victory."
The duel of heavy guns continued, but the infantry fighting was over for the day. The Montenegrins, in their newly won trenches, fell to preparing them to resist the attack that they knew would come sooner or later, while the Austrians were taking account of their losses and making ready for a new assault.
Stubbs laid a hand on Chester's arm.
"Didn't I tell you they looked like real fighters?" he exclaimed.
"Certainly, I have never seen better," returned the lad.
Stubbs turned to Nikol.
"Well, Nikol," said he, "what do you think of these fellows as fighters?"
Nikol eyed him in silence for several moments. But at last he spoke.
"Mr. Stubbs," he said quietly, "they are better fighters than you or I."
"Come," said Colonel Anderson, "the battle is over. There will be no more fighting to-day. Let us move."
Slowly all made their way back toward their quarters, talking over the battle as they went.
It was late in the afternoon. The battle had raged all day, and now for the first time the friends felt the need of food. Instead of taking camp fare, to which they were invited by the Montenegrin officer who accompanied them, they decided to go to a little village not far from the camp, where the officer informed them they could get a substantial meal at a certain, little restaurant.
Thither they made their way and to their satisfaction found the information correct. Then, their appetites satisfied, they left the restaurant and started back to the camp.
It was now after dark and as they walked slowly, discussing events of the day, they came upon a knot of men engaged in some sort of an argument.
"My curiosity always gets the better of me," said Chester. "Let's have a look," and he led the way toward the gesticulating group.
It was plain, as they drew nearer, that the argument was heated. Loud voices broke the stillness of the night, and one of them, a deep bass, had a familiar ring. One look at the faces in the crowd and they recognized its owner.
It was none other than Ivan, whom they had last seen when he made his dash for liberty in the mountains.
Ivan was in the very center of the crowd, and as Hal, Chester and the others came close, in the glare of a dim light he could be seen gesticulating violently.
"I tell you," he shouted, "I have no money."
"But you showed two bags of gold in the restaurant," said one of the men pressing in on him.
"Well, what if I did?" demanded Ivan. "That gold is not mine. It belongs to your king and I am taking it to him."
"A likely story," said one man in the crowd with a sneer. "You stole it some place. We want a share."
"Oh, you do?" said Ivan, and he broke into a loud laugh. "Well, you won't get it. First, however, I want to tell you again, that I did not steal the money and that it is not mine."
"Then why," said another of the crowd, "why did you dip into one of the bags to pay for a drink at the restaurant?"
"Why?" echoed Ivan in a loud voice. "I'll tell you. Because I was dry."
"But if the gold is not yours?"
For a moment Ivan appeared somewhat flustered. But he made answer after a moment.
"I am entitled to the price of a glass of wine for carrying this gold for the king. That's why."
"It's my belief you filled up on wine before you got the gold," said another voice in the crowd.
"You may have any belief you choose," shouted Ivan angrily. "But now stand aside. I am going on my way."
"Not until you give us a share of your spoils," said a voice close to him.
"Ho!" said Ivan. "You think so. Ho! Ho!"
He took a step forward and his merriment subsided.
"Stand aside there!" he commanded sternly.
For a moment it appeared that the crowd would give before him, but a man in the back of the crowd cried:
"What! will you run from one man, a drunken man at that?"
Another, closer to the giant, reached out a hand and sought to clutch the bag of gold Ivan held in his left hand.
With a sudden movement and a loud cry, Ivan stretched forth a hand and seized the man by the throat. Then he lifted him high in the air and hurled him through space. The man struck the ground with a loud cry of pain.
At the same instant a second man struck at Ivan with a club.
With a cry of anger, Ivan reached forth and seized the club; then, whirling it about his head, brought it down on the man's skull. The man toppled over like a log.
Now Ivan began to laugh in glee.
"Ho! Ho!" he cried. "Come on and take the gold," and he brandished it aloft in his left hand. "What! Are you afraid of one man? Ho! Ho!"
The crowd gave back as Ivan moved forward.
A man from behind sprang forward and stabbed the giant between the shoulders with a thin knife.
Ivan whirled about with a terrible cry. Then, raising his recently acquired club, he dashed in among the crowd and laid about him right and left. Men went down on all sides and in a moment the others turned and fled.
One, from a distance, drew a revolver and fired. Whether the bullet came close to the giant, Hal could not tell, but he drew his own revolver, and springing forward, cried:
"That's enough of this! The next man to make a move I'll put a bullet through."
Chester, Nikol and Colonel Anderson ranged themselves by Hal's side and also produced their automatics. Seeing nothing else to do, Stubbs also joined them and flourished a revolver.
The crowd gave back.
Ivan turned upon the newcomers in surprise. Then he cried in a great voice:
"Well! Well! and where did you come from? I had made sure you had deserted me."
"No, we haven't deserted you," said Hal. "We simply missed you, that's all."
"Well, it's all right, anyhow," said Ivan. "Now come to the restaurant with me and I shall buy wine for all of us."
"Thanks, Ivan, but we don't drink wine," said Hal quietly. "If you will come with us to our quarters we will talk matters over."
"Not I, not until I have had wine," declared Ivan.
"But you have had enough wine," declared Chester.
"And how do you know I have had enough wine?" demanded Ivan, turning upon the lad.
"The way you talk makes it plain enough," replied Chester quietly. "Come, Ivan, let's get away from here."
"Well," said Ivan hesitatingly, "maybe you are right." Turning he caught sight of Nikol.
"Why, there is my old friend Nikol," he shouted. "Nikol, you will join me in a bottle of wine?"
"I shall be pleased," said Nikol, with a smile.
"Good. Come with me." He turned and made as though to move away, when suddenly his eyes lighted upon Stubbs.
"Ho! Ho!" he laughed. "And my friend Stubbs here shall accompany us."
"Thanks; some other time," said Stubbs nervously.
For answer Ivan leaned down, picked the little man up in his arms and walked away with him in spite of Stubbs' cries and struggles.
Nikol went along and for once he did not offer to take Stubbs' part.
"Great Scott! Hal, we can't stand for this," said Chester. "What shall we do?"
"Go along, I should say," said Colonel Anderson.
"But we don't drink wine," protested Hal.
"There is no reason you should. If you can get Ivan seated and talk to him he will be all right in a few minutes. Besides, he is likely to get into more trouble this way."
"I guess you're right," said Hal. "Come on, Chester."
The three followed Nikol, Ivan and the latter's struggling burden in the person of Stubbs.
They entered the restaurant right behind the others and took seats at the same table. Ivan greeted them with a smile.
"Glad to see you came along," he said. He turned to Stubbs. "What will you have?"
"Thanks, I don't drink," said Stubbs fearfully.
"Now, Mr. Stubbs!" said Ivan with a comical grin.
Hal now decided the affair had gone far enough.
"Listen to me, Ivan," he said quietly. "Stubbs doesn't want any wine and neither do the rest of us. You have had enough."
"And what have you to do with it?" demanded Ivan loudly.
"Just this," said Hal, and produced a revolver. "Before I'll stand for any more of this nonsense, I'll put a hole through you. Understand?"
Ivan looked at the lad, apparently bewildered, for some moments. Then he said with a laugh:
"Don't you ever shoot at me with that gun. Not ever!"
He rose to his feet and faced Hal threateningly. The lad was nonplussed. He had no idea that his bluff wouldn't work. He knew of course that he could never shoot the Cossack.
It was Chester who saved the day.
"Ivan," he said quietly. "That's not your money."
"What—what's that?" said Ivan, turning to him suddenly.
"I said that's not your money. Surely you are not a thief?"
"A thief?" cried Ivan. "Who says I am a thief?"
"I do, if you touch the money in the bag you hold there," said Chester quietly.
For a moment it seemed that the big Cossack would spring upon Chester; but the lad stood his ground, and suddenly Ivan sank down in a chair.
"No, I'm not a thief," he mumbled. "I'm not going to be a thief."
He threw the bag of gold down heavily on the table and looked thoughtfully into space.
Chester approached him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"There," he said calmly, "I knew you wouldn't. This, you know, is the king's money. You wouldn't touch that?"
"No," said Ivan, then added hastily: "but I have touched it. I bought wine with it; and it wasn't my money."
His remorse was so apparent that Chester was forced to smile.
"Why, that's all right," he said. "You are going to pay him back. Now come with us."
Again Ivan was silent for several moments.
"That's right," he said at last. "I'm going to pay him back." He rose to his feet. "Come, I shall go with you," and they all passed out into the night.
Two days later and we find our friends once more in the air and sailing swiftly toward the rising sun.
"Seems to me we should be along about there some place," declared Hal, taking his eyes from the distance ahead for a brief moment.
"Unless you have not gauged your course accurately," replied Chester.
"I'm sure I have made no mistake," said Hal.
"Then we should be about there."
"About where, that's what I want to know," put in Anthony Stubbs, from his place in the rear of the large army plane, the same in which the four friends had made their escape from the Austrians not so many days before. "Where are we headed for, anyway?"
"That will be a little surprise for you, Mr. Stubbs," Chester returned.
"I'm getting too old to care much about surprises," declared Stubbs. "In the first place, I have no business in this machine, anyhow. I never was much good when my feet were not on the ground, and I feel pretty sick up here."
"Oh, you'll get used to that, Stubbs," spoke up Colonel Anderson.
"Don't you believe it. I've tried it before and I haven't become used to it yet. No, sir. In the first place, a man has got no business up here. If he were meant to fly, he'd have wings, like a bird. I claim it's tempting Providence to go floating about through space in one of these things."
"Well, you didn't seem to hesitate much when we asked you to come," commented Chester.
"Of course not. Think I want to be left alone in this benighted land, with a couple of million Austrians likely to swoop down on it at any minute? I guess not. The air may not be safe, but it can't be any worse than I would have been if I were left behind to await the arrival of the invader. But where are we going?"
"Belgrade," said Chester briefly.
Anthony Stubbs half started to his feet.
"Great Scott!" he exclaimed, and sank back again. "Out of the frying pan into the fire. Say!" and his voice rose a trifle, "What do we want to go to Belgrade for? What's the use of sticking our heads into a hornet's nest?"
"Look here, Mr. Stubbs," said Hal, again turning in his seat. "Don't you want to go to Belgrade with us? If you don't, I'll go down and let you off here."
He reduced the speed of the craft a trifle.
"No, no. Never mind," said Stubbs hurriedly. "I was just joking. Of course I want to go to Belgrade. They tell me that the Germans are just about to come in. But that won't make any difference, will it? No, indeed. Not to us. I suppose we are going to be there to welcome them. I'll bet they'll be glad to see us."
The others smiled, but they made no reply to this outburst. They had known Stubbs long enough now not to pay much attention to him at times. And this was one of those times.
Stubbs now turned a bit in his seat and spoke to another figure who was close to him.
"How do you like this kind of travel, Ivan?" he asked.
"I belong on the ground," was the brief response.
Ivan's face was a chalky white, but he was sitting tight and saying nothing except when it was absolutely necessary. Just behind him sat Nikol, and the latter seemed to be in a condition similar to Ivan. Nor did he make a sound.
Suddenly, as the aeroplane moved swiftly along, there came a loud explosion. The machine rocked crazily and Hal's prompt action at the wheel was all that saved the occupants from being pitched head-first into space. He righted the craft with an effort.
"What's the matter?" demanded Chester in no little alarm.
"It's all over now," mumbled Stubbs with a groan. "Pray, Ivan."
The big Cossack seemed to have no doubt that it was all over and while he clung to the side of the machine with both hands, he mumbled strange words in his native tongue. Apparently he was following Stubbs' injunction.
"I don't know," replied Hal, answering Chester's question. "Something seems to have gone wrong with the engine. Guess we had better go down."
He tilted the elevating levers and the plane descended gradually and swiftly.
Under Hal's firm hand it settled gently upon the ground and all immediately climbed out. Stubbs drew a great breath of relief.
"I never expected to reach here alive," he declared.
Ivan and Nikol also were plainly relieved. They said nothing, but the expression upon both their faces spoke plainer than words.
Hal bent over the engine. As he straightened up, Chester asked:
"Believe I can fix it within an hour," replied Hal. "I'll have a try at it, anyhow."
"Need any assistance?" asked Colonel Anderson.
Hal shook his head.
"Nothing you can do, I guess," he replied.
"Then I am going to take a little prowl into these woods here," said the colonel, indicating a small clump of trees that stood perhaps a quarter of a mile to the east.
"I'll go along," said Chester. "I feel like stretching my legs a bit."
The two walked away together. Ivan and Nikol remained behind and watched Hal tinker with the engine.
Chester and the colonel prowled about among the trees for the better part of half an hour and then turned to make their way back to the machine. As they walked along, Chester suddenly caught Colonel Anderson by the arm, stopping him in his stride.
"Sh-h-h," muttered the lad and listened intently.
"What's the matter?" demanded Colonel Anderson, in a low voice.
"Thought I heard voices," replied Chester. "Listen."
Both became silent; and directly they caught the sound of a low voice off to the right. Then there came a second and a third voice.
"Don't see what they can be doing here, whoever they are," declared Chester in a whisper. "We'll see if we can get a look at them."
He led the way softly in the direction from which the voices had come. The voices became louder; and directly, parting two large bushes, Chester made out the forms of three figures not ten yards away.
He turned quickly to Colonel Anderson and laid a finger to his lips. The colonel approached cautiously.
From the spot where the two stood it was possible to see the three men in front of them without danger of being seen themselves, for they were screened from sight by the large bushes. One of the men was attired in what Chester took to be a Serbian uniform, but the others were in civilian attire.
"We'll do a little eavesdropping," whispered Chester.
Colonel Anderson nodded and they became silent.
"So you say that everything is ready for Bulgaria's entrance into the war?" spoke the man with the uniform.
"Yes," replied one of the others, a man of perhaps forty years of age, with a long flowing beard.
"And she will strike when?"
"The moment Belgrade has fallen before the Germans," replied the third man, who, the watchers saw now, was little more than a boy, smooth of face and bright of eye.
"And they will strike where?"
"At the Anglo-French force being rushed from Saloniki to the aid of the Serbians."
"Why wasn't I kept posted on all this? How was I expected to do my part here, being left in ignorance of diplomatic affairs?"
"I don't know anything about that. All I know is that we were ordered here to learn what success you have had in undermining the Serbian officials. Also to get your views upon which way the Serbians will retreat."
"Well, I can tell you that in a few words. I have had very little success with the Serbians. They are loyal to their cause and seem determined to fight to the last ditch. But I did get close enough to one man—a member of the general staff—to learn that in the event of reverses to Serbian arms, the Serbian army will retreat into Greece."
"So? I had deemed it most likely they would fall back and join the Montenegrins."
"Such is not the plan of the general staff. Their reasons I cannot tell you; but at a guess I should say it is because they hope that, by a juncture with the Anglo-French forces, they may hope to show an effective front until Italy can throw an army to their support, or possibly until the long expected Russian offensive materializes."
"Then we shall have to bring some pressure to bear upon Greece," said the younger man. "We cannot permit that. Bulgaria must get in the game sooner and thus foil such a plan."
"Well, you probably know best," said the officer, "but remember one thing. To all intents and purposes, Bulgaria is still neutral. Announcement that she has decided to cast her lot with the Central Powers, if premature, undoubtedly would spoil many plans. Particularly, if it came to the ears of the Anglo-French commander at Saloniki."
"Exactly," replied the young man. "Our plans now are to permit the Allies to advance a considerable distance toward Belgrade, and then to have Bulgaria declare war at the psychological moment."
"A good plan, that," returned the officer. "But I must get back now. My absence will be noticed and I do not care to arouse suspicion."
The men moved off.
Chester and Colonel Anderson gazed at each other.
"Rather neat little play," said Colonel Anderson.
"Rather," repeated Chester dryly.
"And to think," continued Colonel Anderson, "how leniently Bulgaria has been treated by the Allies. Well, her day of reckoning will come."
"We'll have to get word of this to the Serbian commander in Belgrade," said Chester.
"So we will," said the colonel. "And also to the commander of the Anglo-French forces in Saloniki."
"Let's get back then and see if Hal has the machine fixed so she'll fly."
They retraced their footsteps; and even as they arrived, Hal arose from his position above the aeroplane.
"She'll go now all right," he said. "All aboard!"
Stubbs, Nikol and Ivan hesitated and Stubbs protested. Chester drew Hal aside for a moment and told him what he and the colonel had learned. Hal wasted no further time.
"In here with all of you," he commanded gruffly. "We're going right now."
The others hesitated no longer, and a few moments later the big machine was flying swiftly toward the Serbian capital.
THE END OF A TRAITOR.
It was two years after the outbreak of the great war that the Austro-German armies were hurled forward in a great and final effort to crush Serbia. Since the early days of the struggle, heavy battles had been fought upon the Austro-Serbian frontier, with success first to one side and then to the other.
Belgrade, the Serbian capital, had been bombarded time after time by the great Austrian guns and once the city had been occupied by the foe. Later, however, the Serbians had driven out the invader and reoccupied the capital. And now, the Austrian army, reinforced by a hundred thousand Germans, bringing the total number of troops to half a million, was again knocking at the gates of Belgrade; and the Serbians, realizing the utter hopelessness of their cause unless aid arrived from the Anglo-French troops at Saloniki, were preparing to flee.
This was the situation when the aeroplane bearing Hal, Chester and their friends descended just outside the city.
Hardly had they alighted when they were taken in charge by a squad of Serbian troops. Colonel Anderson, acting as spokesman for the party, explained their presence in a few well-chosen words and asked to be taken to the commanding officer. There was considerable red tape to go through before the friends finally were ushered into the presence of the Serbian commander, and that worthy immediately informed them he had but a few moments to give them.
Colonel Anderson, therefore, came to the point at once. He told him of the conversation he and Chester had overheard a short time before.
"And you say one of the men wore a Serbian uniform?" asked the general.
"You don't know who he is—you didn't hear his name mentioned?"
"No, sir; but I would know him again if I saw him."
"Good. You shall have the chance. Now, how far from the city do you say this conversation took place?"
"Must have been all of ten miles, sir."
"Then the men have hardly returned to the city yet. And you say you did not hear the name of the member of the general staff, the first traitor, or spy mentioned as having divulged information?"
"Very well. Now I will leave all of you here for an hour or so. I have some matters to attend to. When I come back we'll see if you can identify the man you speak of."
The general bowed to them and took his departure, leaving them alone in his quarters.
From without a heavy cannonading could be heard.
"I guess the last advance has begun," said Chester slowly.
"You probably are right," agreed Hal. "And I feel sorry for these Serbians. If the British and French could only get here in time."
"Well, I don't see why they don't," declared Chester. "England has promised more than once since the war began that she would not permit Serbia to be crushed. Seems to me she should have taken some decisive action before now."
"You forget," said Colonel Anderson, "that England has her hands full in other parts of the great war theater—France, Belgium, the Dardanelles, Egypt, India and Africa."
"That's the trouble," said Hal. "England has too many irons in the fire. That's where the Germans and Austrians have the edge, as we say in the United States. Their armies are not scattered all over the world."
"That's true enough," replied Colonel Anderson, "and it is, without doubt, the reason the Central Powers have not been crushed long ago."
Ivan now took a hand in the conversation.
"These wonderful tales you told me of my brother Alexis," he began.
"Well, what of them?" asked Hal.
"Why," said Ivan. "When I came with you I thought I should see some fighting. All I have done is fly through the air, like a bird, and hear a thousand miles of talk. I want to see some fighting, like Alexis saw."
"You probably will see it soon enough," returned Chester quietly. "Even now you can hear the booming of the great guns without. The Austro-Germans are moving on Belgrade and it will only be hours before the Serbian retreat begins."
The conversation continued along various lines until the return of the Serbian commander, General Save.
"If you will come with me," he said to Colonel Anderson, "I will see if you can identify the traitor. Which of your friends here was with you?"
Colonel Anderson nodded toward Chester.
"Then he shall come, too. The others may remain here until we return."
Hal, Ivan and Nikol were undeniably disappointed at this turn of affairs. Not so Stubbs.
"This comes nearer being what I call comfort than anything I have enjoyed since coming across to Europe," he said, settling himself in the commander's easy chair and drawing exhilarating puffs from his pipe. "I don't care how long we stay here."
"Mr. Stubbs," said Hal, "I am afraid you are lazy."
"Mr. Paine," said Stubbs, "I know I'm lazy."
Leaving the general's quarters, Colonel Anderson and Chester accompanied the Serbian commander toward the front.
"The enemy has begun his advance," General Save explained, as they walked along. "He is attacking in force all along the line. We are resisting as well as we may. That is why every available man has been sent forward. We will find the traitor there some place."
"And do you have any hope of holding back the enemy, sir?" Chester asked.
"None," returned the general quietly. "We will resist to the last, but even now preparations are being made for evacuating the capital. With the coming of darkness, the retreat will begin. We shall fall back to Nish, which, I trust, we shall be able to hold until Anglo-French assistance arrives."
"I hope so, sir," declared Chester.
"And as soon as you have picked out this traitor for me," said General Save, "I will ask you to undertake a mission for me."
"We shall be glad to be of service, sir," replied Colonel Anderson. "And the nature of the mission?"
"Why," said the commander. "I have information to the effect that the Anglo-French troops are already on the way from Saloniki. They may not know of the real seriousness of our position. Communication has been hampered for the last few days. I will send word to them by you."
"Very well, sir," said Colonel Anderson. "We shall be glad to go."
"Now keep your eyes open," said General Save, as they came for the first time among the Serbian troops, the men farthest from the front, men being held in reserve.
Among the regiments the three passed slowly, scanning the face of every officer; and they came upon their man sooner than they could reasonably have hoped.
Chester suddenly touched General Save on the arm.
"Look! There he is!" the lad said in a low voice.
The general glanced in the direction indicated. Perhaps twenty yards to the left, engaged in conversation with an officer who wore colonel's stripes, and a man whom General Save immediately recognized as one of the general staff, stood the person the lads had seen in the woods a few hours earlier. "Are you sure that is he?" demanded the Serbian commander.
Chester nodded his head vigorously.
"Certain, sir," Colonel Anderson agreed.
"Very good. Then come with me."
The general approached the group of officers, who stood respectfully at attention when they perceived his approach.
"Captain Dellse!" said the General.
"Sir," replied the officer, stepping toward the Serbian commander.
The older officer looked squarely into the man's eyes for several moments without saying a word. The traitor tried his best to return the general's steady gaze and for a moment he succeeded. Then his eyes wavered slightly.
General Save extended his right hand.
"Your sword, sir!" he commanded.
The other staggered back and his face turned a ghastly white.
"Wha—what, sir?" he stammered.
"Your sword," repeated the general calmly, his hand still extended.
With a visible effort the other pulled himself together.
"I do not understand you, sir," he said, with a subdued air of insolence, glancing quickly about at the others who now surrounded him.
General Save lost all patience now. He took a step forward.
"Give me your sword, you traitor!" he commanded angrily. "You are under arrest. You shall be shot in ten minutes."
The face of the accused officer turned livid. There was no pretending to misunderstand now.
Quickly he glanced about him. Chester and Colonel Anderson, in their civilian clothes, stood each with a hand in his right coat pocket, and in the hand of each rested a little automatic.
An ever increasing group of Serbian officers also surrounded him. The man with whom the traitor had been engaged in conversation moved gradually toward the rear of the circle. General Save caught sight of him out of the corner of his eye.
"Colonel Breyold!" he commanded.
The other halted.
"Come here, sir," commanded the general.
Glancing furtively about him, the other obeyed. The Serbian commander turned to another of his officers.
"Relieve Colonel Breyold of his sword," he commanded.
Without waiting to see that his command was carried out, he stepped close to Dellse. The other gave way before him and with a sudden movement produced a revolver.
Before those nearby could interfere, he had raised the weapon and pulled the trigger. There was a sharp report, a flash of fire, and when the smoke had cleared away, Dellse and General Save were locked in each other's embrace, struggling furiously.
With loud cries other Serbian officers jumped forward and separated the combatants. Dellse's weapon was wrested from his grasp and in a moment he was powerless.
"Are you hurt, sir?" asked one of the officers anxiously of the general.
"No," was the reply.
With a gesture of his arm, he indicated the two traitors. "Take them out and shoot them immediately!" he ordered.
"No," said Hal, "I am afraid to take a chance with our old airplane. It hasn't been gone over thoroughly yet. If General Save is anxious for us to go at once, Chester, you and Colonel Anderson go on ahead. I'll look our machine over and follow you."
"Well, whatever you say," said Chester. "The general is anxious that we start at once and perhaps the way you suggest will do as well as another."
"I'm going with the first party," declared Ivan at this juncture. "I'm tired of sitting about doing nothing. I want to be on the move. If something doesn't happen pretty soon, I'm going back to the Albanian Mountains."
"I'll be glad to have you go with me," said Chester. "Hal, you can bring Stubbs and Nikol with you."