"Safe at last!" he cried.
Now all alighted from the car, the Bulgarian officer, Hal's prisoner, with them.
Greek troops approached.
Hal spoke hurriedly to the Bulgarian.
"Quick now!" he cried. "If you make a dash you can get back over the border before these fellows can stop you."
The Bulgarian wasted no time in talk. He took to his heels and made record time for his own country, which he reached in safety, in spite of a volley fired by the Greek troops.
A Greek officer now came hurriedly up to Hal.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded harshly. "Do you not know that this is a neutral country?"
"And we thank Heaven for that," said Stubbs fervently. "We have had a hard enough time getting here."
"I shall have to turn you over to my superior," said the officer. "He will dispose of your cases. In the meantime, you may consider yourselves under arrest."
Neither Hal nor Chester paid much attention to what the Greek officer was saying. They were too busily engaged watching the antics of their erstwhile prisoner, who, now safe on his own side of the line, was shaking his fist in their direction and making other fierce gestures.
Now Hal turned to the Greek officer.
"Will you accompany us back close to the line," he said, "that we may hear what yonder little fellow is talking about? He seems to be greatly put out about something."
"First tell me what you are doing here?" was the command.
Hal explained as rapidly as possible and then repeated his request that they be allowed to go back toward the border a few moments.
At last the officer gave his permission.
Chester, Hal, Colonel Anderson, Ivan and Nikol, each grinning, moved back toward the border. Stubbs hung back, and seeing this, Hal called:
"Come along, Mr. Stubbs. Here is one time you may look at an enemy with impunity."
The Bulgarian officer was still angrily waving hit arms about when they neared him.
"Look at him rave, will you?" said Hal, with a laugh.
"Ha! Ha!" laughed Ivan.
"He should think himself lucky that we allowed him to go back," declared Chester.
The friends were less than fifty feet from the Bulgarian now, but they ventured no closer for fear they might inadvertently cross the line. They stood in this order: Hal, Chester, Nikol, Stubbs, Ivan and Colonel Anderson.
"Poor little fellow," said Stubbs at this juncture. "Poor little fellow. He looks so awfully mad!"
The Bulgarian officer, who had been growing angrier with each taunt from across the Greek line, now became suddenly infuriated. Forgetting all prudence, forgetting all laws of neutrality, forgetting everything except the smiling face of Anthony Stubbs, American war correspondent, he suddenly drew his revolver and fired pointblank at the little man.
Stubbs' face blanched at the movement and the others were too surprised to move—all except one; and this one, quick as a flash, leaped forward with the agility of a cat and thrust his body protectingly before Anthony Stubbs.
When the smoke of the revolver had cleared away Stubbs stood erect, unharmed—but at his feet lay the twitching body of Nikol, the dwarf.
There was a sudden hush, prolonged for several minutes; then Stubbs dropped to his knee with an inarticulate cry and threw his arms around the neck of Nikol.
Quickly the others gathered about and Hal shouted:
"A surgeon, quick!"
But Nikol, raising his head to Stubbs' knee, stopped him with a gesture.
"It's no use," he said quietly. "It got me here," and he raised a hand slowly and touched a spot just above the heart. "A surgeon can do no good. Besides, I would not have a stranger near me when I die. To me you are all strangers and yet for days I have not looked upon you as such. I am glad to have known you all and I know the day will come when I shall see you all again. Now, if I could see the young lady for just a moment before—before—"
Hal hastened back to the automobile where Helen Ellison still sat, wondering at the cause of the trouble, and repeated the dwarf's request.
"Of course I'll go," said the girl, and there was a catch in her voice, for this was the first time death had come so close to her.
She ran forward and knelt over the little dwarf and took his hand. He smiled at her.
"I just wanted to tell you good-bye," he said. "I have never seen a young lady like you before."
For a space of several seconds he looked at her. Then he dropped her hand and said:
"Now if the rest of you will just shake hands with me once—"
Silently the others grasped Nikol's hand, one after another, and at the last came Stubbs.
To the latter's hand the dwarf clung tenaciously.
"You, sir, are a brave man," said Nikol. "I am glad I was able to save you. You may be of some use in the world."
The pressure upon Stubbs' hand tightened and tightened until the little man winced with the pain of it; but he made no outcry—only smiled as he exclaimed in a broken voice:
"Well, good-bye, all," said Nikol faintly, after a moment's pause. "Good—"
The pressure on Stubbs' hand relaxed and the little dwarf of the Albanian hills fell back, dead.
Stubbs rose and brushed the tears from his eyes. Then, after one look at the still form on the ground, he turned and walked away. The others said nothing, for they knew his grief was great.
And now, while the others—all good friends and true—are gathered about the body of little Nikol, the dwarf, we shall leave them once more, knowing that, after days and weeks of strenuous adventures and grave perils, they are, for the moment at least, in a land of peace.