"You know what to do with them."
He turned his back again. For a moment Hal hesitated.
"Well," he said finally, "if it has to be done, the sooner the better."
He raised the heavy bunch of keys aloft again, and brought it down on the jailer's head. The man dropped to the floor and lay still. Hal threw the keys down beside him.
"Hope I didn't hurt him too much," he muttered. He turned to the others. "Now," he said, "shall we eat of this food or shall we leave at once?"
"Let's get out of here," said Stubbs. "We can eat any time. Something may turn up to defeat our plan."
But nothing did.
Hal led the way from the cell and along a long corridor. At the end were steps, which the friends mounted quietly. At the top they found it necessary to pass through what appeared to be the office of the superintendent, or whoever was in charge. Inside a man sat at a desk.
Hal hesitated a moment. He knew there was little prospect of all passing through without attracting the man's attention, and he had no means of knowing whether this man was a party to the plot or not.
However, the lad moved forward again, and the others followed without question.
The man at the desk shifted his position, and Hal stepped quickly toward him, his fist ready to strike. He caught low words:
"Hurry up and get out of here."
The lad's hand dropped to his side, and he made haste toward the door on the far side of the room. Through this all passed safely, and Hal stood before a door he felt sure led to the street. The door opened easily, and Hal, Chester, McKenzie and Stubbs passed out into the darkness.
Stubbs heaved a sigh of pure relief.
"Well, we did do it," he muttered. "I didn't believe it possible. Wish I had some of that grub now."
"Wouldn't be surprised if Herr Block could rustle us up something to eat," said McKenzie. "He seems to be a right resourceful sort of a customer."
Hal found Herr Block's quarters without difficulty. It appeared that Herr Block had anticipated that they would be hungry, for he had a tempting repast already spread when they arrived. To this the four friends did full justice, for they were, indeed, hungry.
"Now," said Herr Block when they had finished, "if you will tell me what success you had on your mission and how you managed I will appreciate it. After that, I will see you safely into your own lines. I have a large automobile waiting, and you may depart at any time; but I am greatly interested in your adventures."
Hal was nothing loath, and recounted the manner in which he and McKenzie had secured the list of coveted names.
"Now, Chester," he said when he had concluded, "it's your turn. You haven't told us yet how you left the house and how you chanced to be discovered."
"My adventures don't amount to much," replied Chester. "I left the ball with Mrs. Schweiring. We were somewhat alarmed at Gladys' disappearance, but there was nothing we could do but wait.
When Gladys came rushing into the room, she thrust the list into my hand, and told me what had happened, and that I must fly. I commandeered the Schweiring automobile, and took to the road. I don't know how the Germans got wind of my departure, but soon after I left the city I knew I was being followed.
"There was nothing I could do but try and outrun my pursuers, whoever they were. It soon became apparent, however, that this was impossible, because the pursuing machine was too high-powered. Nevertheless, I determined to go as far as possible and leave something to chance.
"My pursuers fired at me several times, but they didn't hit anything so far as I could discover. All of a sudden, however, my engine went dead. I yanked out my automatic, determined to give battle. I fired at a man who alighted from the pursuing car when it stopped, but I must have missed him. Before I could fire again a bullet hit me, and that's all I remember until I woke and learned that Hal, McKenzie and Stubbs had saved me."
"Well, you have all had an exciting time," declared Herr Block. "I wish that I could have been with you. However, this war is not over yet, and, personally, I do not believe that Holland will maintain her neutrality to the end. In that case, I still may have opportunity of lending a hand."
"You have already lent a hand," declared Hal, "and you must know that when you lend a hand to the Allies you are also helping your own country, and, ultimately, the cause of the whole world."
"I believe that to be true," replied Herr Block quietly; "otherwise, I would not have raised a hand to help you. Germany must be crushed. There is no room for doubt on that score. If Germany wins, what nation in the whole world is safe?"
"True," said McKenzie. "It's too bad the world could not have realized that a long time ago. The war might have been over by this time."
"As it is," Herr Block agreed, "the war will not be over for years. But come, I am keeping you here idle when I know you are all anxious to be about your work."
He led the way to the street, where a large touring car awaited them.
"I'll drive you as far as the border myself," said the Dutchman.
The four friends climbed in, and the car dashed away in the darkness.
For perhaps four or five hours they rode along at a fair speed and soon, Hal knew, they would once more be within their own lines.
It was half-past four o'clock in the morning when Herr Block stopped the car and said:
"I'll leave you here. You must make the rest of the trip alone."
"Great Scott! You can't get out here in the middle of the wilderness," said Hal.
"Don't worry," laughed Herr Block. "I haven't far to go. If you'll look to the right there you will see the lights of a little town. I shall be able to get a conveyance there for my homeward journey. I brought you this way because it will save time and trouble."
He stepped from the car, then reached back and extended a hand to Hal, who had taken his place at the wheel.
"I'm awfully glad to have met you," he said quietly, "and I am glad to have been of assistance to you. I trust that we shall see more of each other at some future time."
"Thanks," said Hal, gripping the other's hands. "If it hadn't been for you our mission would have failed. We shall never forget it."
Herr Block shook hands with the others, and then disappeared in the darkness.
"A fine fellow," said Hal, as he sent the car forward.
"You bet," Chester agreed. "I hope we shall see him again."
Stubbs and McKenzie also had words of praise for the assistance given them by Herr Block.
Dawn had streaked the eastern sky when the four friends made out the distant British lines. Chester gave a cheer, which was echoed by the others.
"At the journey's end," said Hal quietly.
As the automobile approached the British line, an officer, with several men, advanced with a command "Halt." Hal obeyed, and leaped lightly from the car.
He identified himself to the satisfaction of the British officer, and Hal swung the car sharply south, heading for the distant American sector of the battle front.
They were forced to go more slowly now, as the ground came to life with soldiers, so it was almost noon when they came in sight of that section of the field where the American troops were quartered.
Leaving McKenzie and Stubbs in the car, Hal and Chester made their way to the headquarters of General Pershing. They were admitted immediately.
"Back so soon?" exclaimed General Pershing, getting to his feet. "I was afraid —"
From his pocket Hal produced the list of German spies in America.
"Here, sir," he said quietly, "is the list."
General Pershing snatched it away from him and scanned it hastily. Then, turning to the lads, he said very quietly:
"You have done well, sirs. Your work shall be remembered. You will both kindly make me written reports of your mission."
He signified that the interview was at an end. Hal and Chester saluted, and left their commander's quarters.
A GLANCE AT THE WAR SITUATION
The apparent deadlock on the western front from the North Sea, through that narrow strip that remained of Belgium, Flanders and France almost to the borders of Alsace-Lorraine, had been maintained for so long now that the world was momentarily expecting word that would indicate the opening of what, it was expected, would be the greatest battle of the war since Verdun.
It was known that Germany, confident because of the disruption of the Russian armies, had drawn heavily upon her forces on the eastern front. The world waited for some announcement of where the Kaiser would strike next.
The blow was delivered in Italy. Field Marshal von Hindenburg, the greatest military genius the war had yet produced, left his command on the west front and hurried into Italy, succeeding General von Mackensen, who had been in command originally.
The Italian troops fought hard to maintain the ground they had won from the Austrians the spring and summer before; but in two days the Austrians, reinforced by German troops, and commanded by, German officers, had won back all they lost in two years of war and penetrated to the heart of Italy itself.
The world stood aghast at the mighty Teutonic offensive, before which the Italian troops, seasoned veterans that they were, were like chaff before the wind.
The Allies became alarmed.
Von Hindenburg's blow in Italy, if successful threatened to dispose of one country entirely, and would endanger the French and British troops from the rear. It was decided to reinforce the Italians with French and British troops.
At the same time, it became a part of the plan of the general staff to strike hard in Flanders and in the Cambrai sector, while the Germans were busily engaged elsewhere. It would, indeed, be an auspicious moment to strike.
Since the days when the Germans had been beaten back by the French at Verdun, Teuton offensives had been few and far between. It had been the Allies who had advanced after that, with the one exception of the Austro-German offensive being made in Italy. The ground that the British and French had won, now they held. From time to time they pushed their lines farther to the east, consolidated their positions and made ready to move forward again.
It was plainly apparent that success was crowning the efforts of the British and French on the western front. The Germans now and then launched heavy local attacks, but these apparently were more for the purpose of feeling out the strength of their opponents than with any idea of concerted advance.
British troops in Egypt were pushing on toward Jerusalem and it seemed that it was only the question of time until the Holy City would fall. Once Turkish rule there had been broken, it was a foregone conclusion that the Ottomans would never regain a foothold.
The thing of chief concern to the Allies was the internal conditions in Russia. Revolt had succeeded revolt in the land of the Muscovite, and, as rulers replaced rulers, it was hard to tell what the next day would bring forth.
Conditions had not reached such a pass, however, that the German general staff felt safe in releasing the bulk of its great army on the eastern front. Therefore, although it appeared that Russia was about to give up the fight, a million and a half of the Kaiser's best troops were held on the Russian front.
It was known to the Allied governments that German efforts were at the bottom of the Russian troubles, and the diplomatic corps had been hard at work trying to offset this. As time passed, however, it was realized that Russia's aid could no, longer be counted upon.
With the entrance of the United States into the war, with the American nation's unlimited resources in men and money, the cause of the Allies took on a more roseate hue. True, it would require time to put the American fighting machine into shape to take the field, but once its energies had been turned to making war, even Germany knew that America would put her best foot foremost.
The latest British successes had been in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge, which position, believed by the Germans to be impregnable, had been carried by Canadian troops in a single attack. German counter-assaults in this sector had failed to dislodge them, and there they remained secure.
The Canadians had launched this attack in April soon after the United States had declared war on Germany. Now, in November, their lines still held despite the pounding of big German guns and infantry and cavalry assaults.
As the Germans continued to push forward in Italy, threatening the city of Venice — called the most beautiful in the world — General Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander-in-chief, prepared himself for a blow in Flanders, and also for a drive at Cambrai, one of the most important German military centers.
Preparations for this attack were made quietly, and without knowledge of the enemy; so, when the attack came, the Germans were taken absolutely by surprise, and only escaped annihilation by the masterful direction of Field Marshal von Hindenburg, who hurried from the Italian front in time to stem the tide.
American troops in France at this time numbered not more than 125,000 men — these in addition to several detachments of engineers who had been sent in advance to take over French railroad operations in order to release the French for service on the fighting line. Many of the Americans who had fought with the Allies in the early days of the struggle, before Uncle Sam cast in his lot with them had returned to America and joined their own countrymen in the expectation that they would soon return to the front.
The American Army was being put in readiness as fast as possible, but it was known that months of intensive training would be necessary to fit it for its share of fighting at the front. Preparations were being rushed, however, to send the national guard units across. These would form the second contingent of Americans to reach France — the first having been composed only of regulars.
American troops in France so far had seen little actual fighting. Their activities had been confined mostly to beating off trench raids and launching an occasional bomb attack on the German dugouts so close to them. Several Americans had been killed in one of these attacks — forming the first United States casualty list. Others had been wounded, and some were missing, believed to be prisoners in the German lines.
Hal and Chester had been in the midst of the Canadian advance and capture of Vimy Ridge. Immediately after the battle they had left the fighting front and returned to America, where they spent several months training reserve officers at Fort Niagara. Because of excellent service there, they had been honored by being numbered among officers who went with the first expeditionary force under General Pershing.
Both lads had been among the American troops who beat off the German trench raid which accounted for the first United States casualties, and they had performed other services for General Pershing, as have already been recounted.
Americans though they were, each felt that he would rather be where action were swifter than lying idle in the trenches with their countrymen. It was hard telling how long it would be before the British and French general staffs would consider the American troops sufficiently seasoned to take over a complete sector of the battle line, and for that reason, the "Sammies," as they were affectionately called at home, were unlikely to see any real fighting for some time.
In fact, it developed that when General Haig finally launched his drive, only British, Irish, Welsh and Scots were used. The Americans had no hand in the fighting.
Hal and Chester, after reporting to General Pershing following their return from the German lines, returned to the automobile where they had left McKenzie and Stubbs.
"There are no orders for us," said Hal, "so we may as well hunt our quarters and get a little rest."
Upon inquiry they learned that their own company, in the trenches when they left, had been moved back to make place for another contingent. This was in line with the policy of seasoning the American troops. Their own company, therefore, they found somewhat removed from the danger zone.
"Of course, it's better to be in the trenches, where there is a chance of action," Chester said, "but when a fellow needs sleep, as I do, I guess it's just as well that we're back here."
"Right you are, Chester," said Stubbs, "and if you have no objections I'll bunk along with you boys."
"Help yourself, Stubbs," laughed Chester. "Guess we can make room for you."
"It's daylight yet," said Stubbs, "but I'm going to bed just the same. Lead the way, Chester.
Chester needed no urging, for he could scarcely keep his eyes open. McKenzie hunted his own quarters, and soon was fast asleep.
Hal and Chester also soon were in slumberland, and Stubbs' loud snoring proclaimed that the little man's troubles were over for the moment at least.
THE EVE OF BATTLE
"Good news, Chester."
"That so? What is it?"
Hal glanced about him. There was no one near. "Little work for us to do," he said quietly.
"What kind of work?"
Hal did not reply directly to this question.
"How's your side?" he demanded.
"All right. Why?"
"Wound hurt you much?"
"No. Hardly know it's there. But what's all this about, anyhow?"
"Well," said Hal, "there is about to be a battle."
"That so? Good. How do you know?"
"General Pershing just told me. That's why I want to know how your side is. We've orders to report to General Haig in person."
"Oh," said Chester, somewhat disappointed, "I thought you meant the American troops were going to get into action."
"Well, they may get into action, too. I don't know. But this, to my mind, is the biggest undertaking since the Somme."
"Sounds good," said Chester, greatly interested. "Let's hear more about it."
"I don't know much more about it. I was summoned to General Pershing's tent, and he gave me a message to carry to General Haig. Told me to have you report to General Haig also if your wound had healed sufficiently."
"It's healed sufficiently for that," Chester interrupted.
"That's what I thought you'd say, no matter how badly it might pain you. Anyhow, General Pershing said we might be in time to see some action."
"Did he indicate the nature of it?"
"No, but I drew my own conclusions. I'll tell you why. Remember those tanks we had here experimenting with?"
"You mean the armored tractors — those things that climb fences, trenches, and things like that?"
"Sure I remember them. Why?"
"Well, they're all gone — been ordered back to the British lines. Therefore, something is going on."
"Oh, pshaw!" said Chester. "That may mean only a local attack some place. I thought you knew something."
"Wait a minute now. I know more than you think."
"Well, let's hear it then."
"Infantry and cavalry are being massed in the sector that would lead to Cambrai, if a drive were successful."
"You're sure of that?"
"Perfectly. I have it from Captain O'Neill, who knows what he's talking about."
"That may mean something," Chester agreed, nodding his head.
"May mean something? Of course it means something. Besides, our aeroplanes are more active than usual, probably to keep the enemy back so they can't anticipate the attack."
"The Germans will suspect something then," declared Chester.
"Maybe. But there is something in the air. You can bank on that."
"Well, I hope so," declared Chester. "We haven't had any real fighting for a long while now."
"Don't forget you've a bullet hole in you still," smiled Hal. "You're not as good as new, you know."
"I can still answer for a couple of Germans," replied Chester with a smile.
"I guess you're right. But come, we must be moving."
The two lads left their quarters and sought their horses. As they mounted Stubbs approached.
"Where to?" he demanded.
"We've a mission to General Haig," said Hal. "Why?"
"Wait till I get a horse and I'll go along," said Stubbs.
He hurried away.
"I don't know whether he should go with us or not," muttered Hal.
"If you think that, let's don't wait for him," returned Chester.
"Good idea," Hal agreed, and put spurs to his horse.
Chester followed suit.
For ten minutes they rode rapidly, and then Hal slowed down.
"Guess we've lost him, all right," he said.
But they hadn't. A short time later Hal, glancing over his shoulder, made out the form of a solitary horseman hurrying after them. The rider made gestures as Hal looked, and the lad perceived that the man, whoever he might be, desired them to wait. Therefore, having forgotten all about Stubbs, the lad reined in. Chester did likewise.
"Hello," said Chester, as the rider drew closer. "It's Stubbs."
"Tough," Hal commented. "I had forgotten about him. However, we don't want to hurt his feelings. He's seen us now, so there is no use running."
They sat quietly until Stubbs drew up alongside.
"What's the idea of running away from me?" the little man wanted to know.
"Running away, Mr. Stubbs?" questioned Chester. "Surely you must be mistaken. Why should we run away from you?"
"That's what I would like to know," declared Stubbs. "Didn't I tell you to wait for me?"
"Did you, Stubbs?" This from Hal.
"Did I? You know deuced well I did. You're not deaf, are you?"
"Well, no," said Hal, "but your memory, Mr. Stubbs, how is that?"
Stubbs glared at the lad angrily.
"There is nothing the matter with my memory," he said, "as you'll find, if you ever have occasion to need me."
"Come now, Stubbs," said Chester. "You do us both an injustice. You must explain yourself."
"Great Scott!" Stubbs burst out. "Explain, must I? What do you mean, I must explain?"
"Hold up a minute, now, Stubbs," said Hal. "You're all tangled up here. You've forgotten what you are talking about."
"Tangled? Forgot?" sputtered Stubbs. "What do you think I am, a fool?"
"Well, I didn't say so, did I Mr. Stubbs?" Hal wanted to know.
"That means you do, eh?" grumbled Stubbs.
"Well, all right, think what you please. What I asked you was this: Why did you run away from me?"
"What makes you think we ran away, Stubbs?" asked Chester.
"What makes me think it? Why shouldn't I think it, I ask you? Why shouldn't I think it? I ask you to wait till I get a horse, and when I come back, you're gone."
"Maybe we didn't hear you, Mr. Stubbs," put in Hal.
"And maybe you did," exploded Stubbs. "Now, if you don't want my company, all you've got to do is to say so."
"Stubbs," said Chester, "you know we'd rather have your company than that of - of — of, well, say three wildcats."
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed Hal.
"Think you're funny, don't you?" said Stubbs, gazing at Chester with a scowl.
"Not so funny as you and the wildcats, Stubbs." laughed Chester.
Stubbs wheeled his horse about.
"I can see I'm not wanted here," he said with dignity. "Therefore, I shall not bother you."
He rode back the way he had come.
"It's too bad," said Hal. "We've offended him and he's awfully angry. He raised his voice and shouted: "Hey, Stubbs! Come back here."
Stubbs did not deign to turn his head.
"He's mad all right," Chester agreed. "But hell get over it. Besides, it's just as well. We should not take him with us."
"You're right, Chester. Come, we have no time to waste."
The lads again put spurs to their horses and galloped rapidly along.
It was late afternoon when they rode up to General Haig's tent, and announced their errand. They were admitted to the general's quarters immediately, and Hal presented his message.
"General Pershing informs me," said General Haig at length, "that if I have need of you, I may use you."
The lads bowed.
"As it happens," said General Haig, "I do have need of you at this moment. You have, perhaps, surmised that we are about to strike?"
Again the lads bowed.
"Good. This attack will be made with the third army, under command of Sir Julian Byng. I have dispatches for you to carry to him. Also, you will attach yourselves to his staff during the engagement. I will write him to that effect."
General Haig scribbled hastily, and then passed several documents to Hal.
"Deliver these immediately," said the British commander.
Hal and Chester saluted, left the tent, mounted their horses, and dashed rapidly away.
They reported to General Sir Julian Byng at 6 o'clock.
The advance of the British troops under Sir Julian Byng, who was to win in this engagement the sobriquet of "Bingo" Byng, marked a departure from rules of warfare as it had been conducted up to date in the greatest of all conflicts. Heretofore, heavy cannonading had always preceded an advance in force. Heavy curtains of smoke from the great guns had been flung over the enemy's lines to mask the movements of the attackers.
While this smoke curtain had protected, to some extent, the movements of the assaulting party, it also had the effect of "tipping off" the foe that an attack was about to be launched. Now the British were about to advance without the protection of the smoke screens.
But General Byng's army moved forward in the wake of even a more formidable protection than smoke.
British "tanks," armored tractors, showed the way.
General Byng's attack covered the whole length of what had become known as the redoubtable and supposedly impregnable "Hindenburg line," so called because it had been established by that greatest of all German military geniuses, Field Marshal von Hindenburg. From Drocourt, just to the northwest of Douai, the line stretched for forty miles in a fairly straight line down through Vitryen-Artois, Villiers, Cagnocourt to Queant and Pronville, thence on to Boursies, Havrincourt, Gour Zeacourt, Epehy and St. Quentin.
The first, or upper section of this line — from Drocourt to Queant — was called the Wotan line. The lower section had become known as the Siegfried line. Both together formed the general scheme of the Hindenburg front.
It was along this line, then, that the British struck on the morning of Nov. 20, 1917. The drive had for its chief objective the capture, or possible isolation, of Cambrai, one of the most important positions in this sector in German hands. Cambrai was a railroad center in those days, a terminus from which the German general staff supplied various points of the long line with munitions, food and men, the latter when required.
The capture of Cambrai, it was apparent, would mean the ultimate fall of St, Quentin and Lille, both points of strategic advantage.
General Byng ordered his third army forward shortly before daylight so that when the moment came for the first blow his men would have daylight with which to go about their work.
As has been said, there was no preliminary bombardment of the enemy's positions sufficiently in advance to give the enemy time to prepare his resisting measures. Instead of the uprooting barrage, British tanks cleared the path for the infantry, and what few cavalry was used in the attack. Thus the enemy was given no warning.
The attack was a complete surprise — and a surprise attack in this great war had been called well nigh impossible. Even the German air service was fooled. As a result of its inability to anticipate General Byng's movements, the German fighting machine naturally lost some of its efficiency.
As dawn broke, the British tanks bore down on the foe steadily and without the appearance of undue haste; in fact, the tanks could not have made haste had such been General Byng's plan. Formidable instruments of warfare that they are, they do not number speed among their many accomplishments.
Hundreds of these tanks, bearing every resemblance to mythical monsters of a prehistoric day, crawled across the ground that separated the opposing armies. What must have been the surprise of the German general staff when the break of day showed these monsters so near?
Having had no warning of the impending attack, the enemy naturally was taken at a disadvantage. The warning of the advance was flashed along the German first- line defenses the moment daylight disclosed the hundreds of tanks advancing to the fray. The second-line defenses were made ready to withstand an attack should the first line be beaten back, and, although it was not within the comprehension of German leaders that it could be possible, the third-line defenses also were made ready to repel the invaders.
Between the German first-line trenches and the British front at this point the distance was something under half a mile. Between the various German lines of defense, the distance was almost an even mile. As the British tanks advanced across the open ground, smashing down barbed-wire entanglement and crawling in and out of shell craters as though they did not exist, defenders sprang to their positions. Rapid-firers opened upon the British from every conceivable angle; but the shells dropped harmlessly from the sides of the armored tanks. The tanks just seemed to shake their heads and passed on.
Behind the tanks the infantry advanced slowly, flanked here and there by squadrons of cavalry, the horses of which could hardly be held back, so anxious did they seem to get at the foe.
The British tanks spat fire from the rapid-fire guns that formed their armament. Streams of bullets flew into the German lines, dealing death and destruction.
From the rear the great British guns dropped high explosive shells in the German trenches.
The German first-line defenses, prepared with days of hard labor, and formed of deep ditches, of concrete and pure earth, offered no difficulties to the British tanks. Straight up to these emplacements they crawled, shoved their noses into the walls, and uprooted them; then crawled calmly over the debris.
Into the gaps thus opened, the British infantry poured, while cavalrymen jumped their horses across the gaps and fell upon the foe with sword and lance.
The Germans fought bravely, but they were so bewildered by this innovation in the art of warfare that their lines had lost their cohesion long before the tanks plowed into them, and they scattered as the British "Tommies" dashed forward, after one withering volley, with the cold steel of the bayonet.
Here and there small groups collected and offered desperate resistance, but their efforts to stem the tide of advancing British were in vain.
An hour after daylight first-line defenses of the entire Hindenburg line were in the hands of the British.
But General "Bingo" Byng was not content to rest on these laurels. He ordered his left wing — those of his troops who had advanced against the Wotan line — to advance farther, and also threw his center into the conflict again. Troops opposed to the Siegfried line he held in reserve, that he might strike a blow in that sector of the field should his main attack fail.
Again the British on left and center dashed to the attack. Again the tanks plowed over the uneven ground, and advanced against a second apparently impregnable barrier. Flushed with victory, the British "Tommies" cheered to the echo, as they moved forward gaily.
Many a man fell with a song on his lips, as he stumbled across the shell craters that made walking so difficult, for the Germans from their second-line defenses poured in a terrible fire, but the others pressed on as though nothing had happened. There was no time to pause and give succor to a wounded comrade, the command had been to advance. Besides, the Red Cross nurses and the ambulance drivers would be along presently to take care of those who could no longer take care of themselves. It was hard, many a man told himself, but he realized that the first duty was to drive back the foe.
Shell after shell struck the British tanks as they waddled across the rough ground. One, suddenly, blew into a million pieces. An explosive had struck a vital spot. For the most part, however, the shells fell from the armored sides like drops of water from a roof.
German troops lined the second-line defenses and poured a hail of bullets into the advancing British. It was no use. The British refused to be stopped.
Straight to the trenches the tanks led the way, and nosed into them. Down went emplacements that the Germans had spent days in making secure. The tanks rooted them up like a steam shovel. Men fled to right and left, and there, at command from their officers, paused long enough to pour volleys of rifle fire into the Britons, as they swarmed into the trenches in the wake of the tanks.
From the second-line defenses the tanks led the way to the third line, where they met with the same success. This, however, took longer, and when the British found themselves in possession of these, with Cambrai, the immediate objective, less than four miles away. General Byng called a halt. He felt that his men had done enough for one day. There would be a renewed attack on the morrow, but now he realized that the most important thing was to straighten out his lines, consolidate them against a possible counter-assault, and work out his plan of attack for the following day.
Therefore, the "Tommies" made themselves as comfortable as possible in their newly won positions. Prisoners were hurried to the rear, and captured guns were swiftly swung into position to be used against their erstwhile owners should they return to the fight.
In these positions the British third army spent the night.
THE ADVANCE CONTINUES
The British losses had been heavy, as was only natural in view of the nature of the work they had accomplished. But the German casualties had been tremendously greater. This, no doubt, was because of the fact that the German general staff had been taken by surprise and had had no time to prepare against the attack.
The British, according to the report of General Byng, on the first day's offensive, had captured in the neighborhood of 5,ooo prisoners. Of artillery and munitions, great stores had fallen into the hands of the victors.
It was a great day for Old England and all her Allies. The victory was the greatest achieved by the Allies since the Battle of the Marne.
Cambrai was almost in the hands of the British. The importance of the victory could not be estimated at that time, but every soldier knew that if the enemy could be driven from Cambrai it would necessitate a realignment of the whole German defensive system in Flanders and along the entire battle front. With the victory the British menaced the main German line of communications — Douai, Cambrai and St. Quentin.
Around Lavasquere, formidable defenses, known as Welsh Ridge and Coutilet Wood, had been, captured. Flesquires had been invested and the Grand Ravine crossed. Havrincourt was in British hands.
Trench systems north of Havrincourt and north of the west bank of the Canal du Nord also had been captured. The Masnieres Canal was crossed, and the British had stormed and captured Marcoing Neufwood. East of the Canal du Nord, the villages of Graincourt and Anneux were now in possession of General Byng's men; while west of the canal the whole line north to the Bapaume-Cambrai road was stormed. Bonaires hamlet and Lateau Wood had been captured after stiff fighting.
East of Epehy, between Bullecourt and Fontaine les Croisilles, important positions also had been captured by the gallant "Tommies."
"The enemy was completely surprised."
This was the laconic message sent to Field Marshal Haig by the man who had led the British to victory, as he rested until the morrow. Along the entire forty- mile line the attack had been successful.
There were no American troops in General Byng's drive. The forces were composed solely of English, Scots, Irish and Welsh — a combination that more than once before in this war had proved too much for the Germans to combat successfully.
It was a happy army that slept on reconquered territory on the night of November 20,1917. Men talked of nothing but the most glorious victory since the Marne. They knew that the offensive in all likelihood would be resumed the following morning, and most of the troops turned in early that they might be fit on the morrow to make the foe hunt a new "hole." There was no doubt in the breasts of the "Tommies" that the following day would take them nearer to Cambrai and, consequently, Berlin.
Hal and Chester had had no active part in the first day's fighting. They had stuck close to headquarters of General Byng, and several times, while the fighting was at its height and the general was short of aides, each of the lads had carried messages for him. Both chaffed somewhat because of the fact that they were not in the midst of the fighting, but they bided their time, confident that they; at length, would get a chance for action.
They had followed the advance of the British troops with admiring eyes. It was, indeed, an imposing spectacle.
"Wonder if our Canadian friends are in this attack?" asked Chester.
"I don't believe so," declared Hal. "I suppose they are still at Vimy Ridge. They're still needed there, you know."
"That's so, but they would be good men to have around at a time like this."
"These fellows seem to be doing fairly well, if you ask me," said Hal dryly.
Then the conversation languished, as the lads looked toward the fighting front.
As it developed, Hal and Chester soon were to see their Canadian friends again. During the night several divisions of Canadians were hurried to General Byng's support that he might have fresh blood in his ranks when he renewed his attack against the Hindenburg defenses. And, as it chanced, the commander of one of these divisions was the lad's old friend, Colonel Adamson-general now, however.
Hal and Chester were standing close to General Byng when announcement of the arrival of the Canadians was brought to him. All of the general's aides were busy. He espied Hal and called to him.
"You will carry my compliments to General Adamson," he said, "and tell him to go into camp for the night. Instructions will be sent him before morning."
Hal saluted, mounted his horse, and dashed away.
General Byng summoned Chester to his side.
"Come with me," he said.
He led the way into a tent that had been erected hastily, and which served him as field headquarters. There the general scribbled hastily for some minutes, then passed a piece of paper to Chester.
"You will ride after your friend," he said, "and present this to General Adamson. Then you had better turn, in for the night. You may stay with General Adamson's command and lend what assistance there you can."
Chester was soon speeding after Hal.
General Adamson recognized Hal instantly when the lad reported to him, and professed pleasure at seeing him again. He also saluted Chester, when the latter arrived a short time later.
"And so you are going to stay with me, eh?" he said. "Well, I have no doubt I shall be able to make use of you. However, you'd better turn in now. I suppose we'll be at it bright and early in the morning."
General Adamson proved a good prophet.
Hal and Chester met several men whom they had known when they were with the Canadian troops at the capture of Vimy Ridge, and these expressed delight at seeing the lads again. A young officer invited the lads to spend the night in his quarters, and they accepted gratefully.
They followed General Adamson's injunction and turned in early. They were very tired, and they were asleep the moment they hit their cots.
It seemed to Hal that he had just closed his eyes when he was aroused by the sound of a bugle. It was the call to arms, and the lad sprang to his feet and threw on his clothes. Chester also was on his feet, and the two lads dashed from the tent together.
They made their way to General Adamson's quarters, where they stood and awaited whatever commands, he might give them.
The Canadian troops were all under arms. Each and every man was eager for the fray. They had not been in the battle the previous day, but they had heard full accounts of British success and they were determined to give a good account of themselves when the time came.
And the time came soon.
It was just growing light when the British army launched the second day's drive.
Along the whole forty-mile line the troops under General Byng advanced simultaneously. This time, however, the Germans were not caught napping. They anticipated the second attack by the British, and a terrific hail of shells and bullets greeted the Allied troops, as they moved across the open ground.
But these men were not raw troops. Hardly a man who could not be called a veteran. They advanced as calmly under fire as though on parade. Men went down swiftly in some parts of the field, but as fast as one dropped, his place was instantly filled. The lines were not allowed to break or be thrown into confusion.
The Canadian troops advanced calmly and with a sprightliness that seemed strange for men used to the grim work of war. There was something in their carriage that told their officers that they would give a good account of themselves this day.
General Adamson eyed his men with pride, as they moved off in the semi-light. He dispatched Hal with a command to Colonel Brown, commander of one regiment, and Chester to Colonel Loving, commander of another. As it chanced, these two regiments were marching together, so the two lads once more found themselves together in the midst of an advancing army.
Their messages delivered, they did not return to General Adamson, and without even asking permission of their superiors, ranged themselves behind. Colonel Loving, and pressed forward with the troops.
Colonel Loving and Colonel Brown, besides Hal and Chester, were the only mounted men with the Canadian advance. Ten minutes after the lads had gone forward, Colonel Loving dismounted and turned his horse over to one of his men, who led it toward the rear. Colonel Brown followed suit. Hal and Chester did likewise.
"Good idea," commented Chester. "We make too good targets there."
Hal nodded, and looked toward the front.
The British tanks again led the way. Bullets whistled over the heads of the Canadians. Hal saw that the first-line German defenses were less than 200 yards away.
"Good." he told himself. "Now for the battle."
The first British tank nosed into the German trench.
The early stages of the morning fighting were repetitions of the first day's advance. Success perched upon British standards from the first. Try as they would, the Germans were unable to hurl back the British infantry, which advanced steadily under the protecting wings of countless armored tanks.
Every now and then one of these terrible instruments of warfare burst to pieces, killing its crew, as a German shell struck in a vital spot, but, for the most part, they advanced unharmed.
Over the German trenches they plowed their path, as though there was nothing in the way to bar their progress. Walls, earth, and human bodies were crushed beneath them, and they passed on as though nothing had happened. In vain the Germans charged straight up to their sides. There was nothing they could do when they reached the monsters, except to fire ineffectual rifle shots in an effort to penetrate the apertures and reach the gunners, or to hurl hand grenades, which had no effect.
Each time the enemy charged it was never to return. While they wasted their energies attempting to put the tanks out of commission, British infantry mowed them down with, rifle fire. At length these attempts were given up.
The Germans, after an hour's desperate fighting, deserted their first-line trenches, and sought the shelter of the second; from these they were driven to the third.
Hal and Chester found themselves in the midst of the fighting, alongside the heroic Canadians of Vimy Ridge fame. The part of the field in which they found themselves was to the extreme north of the Hindenburg line, almost opposite Douai.
Time after time the Canadians drove the foe back at the point of the bayonet. The Canadians, it appeared soon after noon, had been the most successful of the entire British army. They had pushed their lines almost to Douai. To the south, General Byng's forces had not advanced quite so far.
Suddenly there was an explosion inside a tank scarcely a hundred feet from Hal and Chester. Great clouds of earth ascended into the air. The tank stopped stock still. Apparently it was undamaged, but it proceeded no further. A moment later, the armored door swung open, and the half-dozen men who composed its crew got out.
"Something the matter with the engine," one said in reply to a question by a Canadian officer.
Members of the tank's crew secured rifles and joined the advancing infantry. Hal pressed close to Chester.
"I've a hunch I can fix that thing so it will run," he shouted to make himself heard above the din of battle.
"Lets have a try," Chester shouted back.
The boys left their places in the line, and approached the tank. Hal climbed inside first. Chester followed him.
He bent down and tinkered with the engine. It was not the first time the lads had been inside a tank, so they were fairly familiar with the mechanism.
After some tinkering, Hal gave an exclamation of satisfaction.
"She'll go now," he cried.
He opened the throttle, and the machine moved forward. Hal brought it to a stop almost immediately.
"We can't man all these guns," he cried. "We must have a crew."
Chester alighted and approached a captain of infantry who was passing at that moment.
"We want a crew for this tank!" he exclaimed. "Can you give me four men?"
"Take your pick," the captain called back.
Chester motioned four stalwart Canadians to follow him. They entered the tank not without some foreboding, for it developed that none had been mixed up in such warfare before. But they were not afraid and took the places Hal assigned them.
"You can handle these guns, can you?" Hal shouted.
The men nodded affirmatively.
"All right. Take your places. Looks like there is ammunition enough there for a week. Ready?"
"Ready, sir," one of the men answered.
Chester made the door secure, and Hal now moved the tank forward.
Straight over the German trench plunged the car tilting first to the right and then to the left, as one side or the other sunk into a deep hole. But, although it jostled the crew considerably, it did not roll over, as it seemed in imminent danger of doing.
The other tanks had gone forward some time before; so had the mass of the infantry. Hal's tank now lumbered forward in an effort to overtake the others. It moved swiftly enough to push ahead of the soldiers afoot, and gradually it overtook the others, which went more slowly in order that the infantry might keep pace with them. At last the lads found themselves on even terms with the most advanced tank.
Perhaps a dozen of these monsters, pressing close together, now made a concerted attack on the second-line German trenches. Down went barbed-wire entanglements directly in front of the trenches. There was a loud crash as the tanks pushed their noses into the trench itself, and threw out rocks, boards, and earth in shattered fragments. The troops poured into the trenches behind them.
Half an hour's desperate fighting in the trenches and the Germans fled. As the tanks would have pushed along further, a bugle sounded a halt. Instantly the infantry gave up pursuit of the enemy, and all the tanks came to a stop — all except the one in which Hal was at the throttle.
"Whoa, here, Hal!" shouted Chester. "Time to stop. Can't you see the others have given up the pursuit?"
"I can't stop!" Hal shouted back. "The blamed thing won't work."
Every second they were approaching where the Germans had made a stand.
"Come about in a circle then and head back!" shouted Chester.
Hal swung the head of the tank to the left. It moved perhaps two degrees in that direction, then went forward again.
"Something the matter with the steering apparatus!" Hal shouted. "I can't turn it. I can't stop it. I can't shut off the power, and the brakes won't work."
"Let's jump for it, then!" cried Chester. "We'll be right in the middle of the enemy in a minute."
The tractor was still spitting fire as it advanced. It was plain that the Germans took the advance of the single tank as a ruse of some kind, which they were unable to fathom. They could not know that the occupants of the tank were making desperate effort to stop its advance or bring it about and head back toward the British lines.
From the British troops shouts of warning arose. Crews of other tanks had now dismounted, and these men added their voices to those of the others calling upon the apparently venturesome tank to return. These men could understand the advance of the single tractor no more than could the Germans.
"The fools!" shouted one man. "They'll be killed sure; and what good can they do single-handed against the whole German army?"
But the tank driven by Hal took no cognizance of the remarks hurled after it; nor did it swerve from its purpose of waddling straight up to the foe.
"Let's jump!" called Chester again.
"We'll be killed sure, or captured if we do," said Hal.
"Well, we'll be killed or captured if we don't," declared Chester.
"Exactly. It doesn't make any difference just what we do, so I'm in favor of seeing the thing through."
"By Jove!" said Chester after a moment's hesitation, "I'm with you!"
He explained the situation to the man.
"Let's go right at 'em, sir," said one of the Canadians, grinning. "Maybe they won't hit us with a shell. We'll shoot 'em down as long as we have ammunition - - and it's about gone now."
"Suits me," said Hal quietly.
The other men nodded their agreement.
So the tank still waddled forward. With but one foe now to contend with, the Germans braved the fire of the single gun, advanced and surrounded the tank.
"Surrender!" came a voice in German. "Surrender or we shall blow you to pieces."
Hal smiled to himself.
"Can't be done, Fritz," he said quietly.
At the same moment one of the crew fired the last of the ammunition.
"Well, we've nothing left but our revolvers," said Chester. "Here goes."
He poked his weapon out one of the portholes, and emptied it into the foe.
"Give me yours, Hal," he said.
Hay obeyed, and the contents of this also was poured at the enemy.
"That settles it," said Chester.
One of the Canadians drew out a cigarette and lighted it.
"Might as well be comfortable," he said.
Outside, the Germans danced wildly around the car, shouting demands for surrender, all the while bombarding the tank with rifle and revolver fire.
"No use, Fritz," said Hal. "We just can't, whoa!"
The tank had stopped abruptly.
"Now what do you think of that?" Hal muttered to himself. "Must be a German tank, I guess. Seems to know when it gets home. Well, what now, Hal?" asked Chester.
"You know as much about it as I do," said Hal grimly. "See all that merry gang outside dancing around us? Guess we'll have to surrender. We can't fight with nothing to fight with."
"You're right, Sir," said one of the men. "No use staying here and being blown up when we can't fight back."
As the occupants of the tank so far had made no signs of complying with the German demand for surrender, bullets were still being rained upon the tractor. Hal now took a handkerchief from his pocket, put it on the end of his empty revolver, and poked it through the porthole.
A cry of triumph went up from the outside, and the firing ceased.
Chester threw open the door of the armored car, and, with Hal and the four members of the crew, got to the ground. An officer approached them and saluted.
"You are my prisoners, Sir," he said.
"So it seems, captain," said Hal with a smile. "Well, it can't be helped now."
He passed over his empty revolver, the only weapon he possessed. Chester followed suit. The members of the crew had no arms. They had discarded their rifles when they entered the tank.
"I shall conduct you to Colonel Hertlitz," said the German captain. "Come."
The four followed the German officer far back into the German lines, where the officer ushered them into a tent where sat a German officer whose insignia proclaimed him a colonel of infantry.
"These are the men who manned the armored car, sir," said the captain.
"Take the men and lock them up safely," was the reply. "Send my orderly to attend me while I converse with these officers. See, too, that the captured car is made safe."
The captain withdrew and the colonel's orderly entered, and stood at attention. The four Canadian members of the tank's crew were ordered to the rear, but for the night they would be kept in the lines behind the trenches.
"You are brave young men," said the colonel to Hal. "I watched you advance into our army single-handed. At the same time, it was a fool's trick - or a youngster's."
"We're not so brave as you would think, sir," said Hal with a slight smile. "Neither are we such fools. We would gladly have turned about, but the thing wouldn't work; neither could I stop my engine."
"Oh-o! I see," said the colonel. "I took your deed for an act of bravery, and for that reason I had planned to have you particularly cared for, so it was only an accident, eh? Orderly, have these fellows locked up with the others."
"We're officers in the United States Army, sir," Hal protested, "and, as such, are entitled to treatment as becomes our rank."
"You are American pigs!" was the angry response. "So American troops are really in France, eh? I never believed they would come. America is a nation of cowards."
Hal took a threatening step forward.
The German did not move from his chair, but called to his orderly:
"Take them away."
A moment later a file of soldiers entered and Hal and Chester were escorted from the colonel's quarters. An hour later they found themselves in a tent behind the German trenches together with the four Canadians who, such a short time before, had formed the crew of the tank that had advanced single-handed into the German lines.
"You went and spoiled it, Hal," Chester muttered when they were left to themselves again.
"Well, I was just trying to be honest. They say 'honesty is the best policy,' you know."
"That's all right," said Chester, "but you don't have to go around telling how honest you are."
"I'll admit I put my foot in it," Hal a I greed. "But here we are, six of us, captured by the enemy with the chances that our days of fighting are over."
"Never say die," said Chester. "We've been in some ticklish places before now and we're still alive and kicking."
"We'll hold a council of war," Hal decided. "I don't know your names," he said to the Canadians, "but I take it you'll all be glad to get out of here if possible."
"You bet," said one. "I've no hankering for a German prison, sir."
"Good! Now what are your names?"
"Crean, sir," said the man who had spoken.
"Yours?" said Hal, turning to the next man.
The other two men admitted to the names of Jackson and Gregory.
Hal then introduced Chester and himself.
"This is not the first time we've been captured by the enemy," he explained, "and we've found that because escape is looked upon as such a remote possibility, it is much simpler than in days when wars did not cover so much territory as the whole world."
"We're with you in anything you decide, sir," said Smith. I
"You can count upon us to the finish," Crean agreed.
"I was sure of it," said Hal quietly. "Now, we'll take stock. Of course, we've no weapons."
"Nothing that looks like one," Chester agreed.
"The first thing, then," said Hal, "is to secure weapons. Makes a fellow feel a bit more comfortable if he has a gun in his hand."
"Or even a sword, or a knife, sir," said Gregory.
"Well, I'm not much of a hand with a knife," Chester declared. "I have been slashed a couple of times, but every time I think of a knife being drawn through my flesh it makes me shudder. Now, a gun is another matter."
"I agree with you, Chester," said Hal. "However, if we can't get guns we won't turn down knives if we can get our hands on them."
"Right you are, sir," said Gregory. "Now, I've lived long enough in the northwest to realize the value of a good knife when I get my hands on it . A weapon is a weapon after all, sir."
"Only some are better than others," Smith interrupted.
"We won't argue about that," said Hal, "since we have decided that the first thing we need are weapons. Of course, that means that first we must have one weapon. One will mean others. Now, I'll suggest this: I'm no pickpocket, but someone will come in here directly to give us food or something, and I'm no good if I can't, relieve him of a gun or a knife, providing I get close enough to him."
"And then what?" demanded Chester.
"One thing at a time, old man," said Hal. "We'll have to leave most of this to chance."
"Anything suits me," Chester declared. "Listen, I think someone is coming now."
Chester was right. A moment later the officer to whom the lads had surrendered entered the tent. He greeted the lads with a smile.
"I've heard of your treatment," be said. "I won't presume to criticize my superior officer, but I just want to say that I admire your bravery no matter what brought you into our lines."
"Thanks," said Hal. "We appreciate it. I suppose I should have kept my mouth shut, but I guess it won't make any difference in the long run. What will be done with us, do you suppose?"
"Well, you are prisoners of war, of course," was the reply. "You'll probably be sent to a prison camp until peace is declared — and nobody knows when that will be."
"You're right on that score," said Hal. "Oh, well, I guess we should consider ourselves fortunate that we are prisoners rather than dead soldiers."'
"And yet you don't," said the German with a smile.
"Well, no, that's true," Hal admitted. "'I just said we should."
"I must be going now," said the young German, "So I'll say good-bye. I hope I may see you when the war is over."
"Thanks," said Chester.
He extended a hand, which the German grasped. Hal pressed close to the man's side with extended hand, which he offered as the German grasped Chester's fingers.
As the ]ad stood close to the German, his left hand stole forth cautiously, and dropped to the revolver which the German carried in a holster at his side.
He removed the weapon so gently that the German did not feel his touch. Quickly Hal slipped the revolver into his coat pocket, and then grasped the man's hand as Chester released it.
"Good-bye," he said quietly. "I'm sure I second your wish."
The German bowed and left the tent.
Chester turned to Hal and said in a low voice:
"You bet!" said he.
A STRANGE PROCEEDING
"Lieutenant," said the Canadian named Gregory, "before I joined the army I was considered somewhat of a detective in Montreal. I've had some experience with pickpockets. It's a pleasure to see you work."
"That sounds like rather a left-handed compliment," said Chester with a smile, while Hal and the others laughed.
"Nevertheless, it was very neatly done," said Gregory.
"Well, Hal," said Chester, "you've got one gun, what are you going to do with it?"
"Hold your horses, old man," returned Hal. "Nothing was ever gained by too great haste. Something will turn up."
Something did a moment later in the form of the German officer who so recently had left the tent. He came in quickly, looked around, and stood undecided.
"Why, I thought you'd gone, captain," said Chester, though his heart sank.
The lad realized the import of the other's return.
"I've lost something," said the German.
"What was it?" asked Hal.
"Well, it's my revolver," said the German. "I thought maybe I had dropped it here."
"Hope you didn't expect to find it if you had?" said Hal.
The German laughed good-naturedly.
"Maybe not," he said. "However, I'm going to ask you if any of you have it."
"If we had," said Hal quietly, "I'll guarantee we wouldn't stay here half an hour."
The German looked at Hal keenly. Apparently he took the lad's answer for a denial, for he said:
"Well, all right. I just thought I'd make sure. I know you wouldn't lie about it."
He bowed again and was gone.
"Well, by George!" exclaimed Hal. "I didn't tell him I didn't have his gun, did I?"
"You did not," said Chester, "but you seem to have convinced him that you didn't have it."
"It's just as well," said Smith.
Five minutes later a German soldier entered, bearing a tray on which was water and dry bread.
"Well, well," said Hal. "What a feast for the hungry, eh?"
He took the tray from the man's bands, while Chester edged closer to him. When the man left the tent, Chester produced an object which he held aloft.
"Something for you, Gregory," he said.
Gregory eyed the object in surprise. It was a long-handled knife.
"I just happened to see it sticking in his belt," said Chester.
"I believe that you two fellows have been fooling us," said Gregory with evident sincerity. "Come, now. What was your occupation before you joined the army?"
"Well, it wasn't picking pockets, if that's what you mean," said Chester with a laugh.
"If this thing keeps up," said Crean, "we'll soon have weapons enough to equip a first-class arsenal."
"And that's no joke," said the man called Jackson.
"We can't hope for any more such luck," said Hal quietly. "We'll have to create what opportunities come to us now."
"You take this knife, Gregory," said Chester. "I wouldn't know what to do with it."
Hal approached the canvas door to their prison and poked his head out.
"Get back there!" came a guttural command in German.
Hal spied a sentry standing before the tent.
"Hello," he said pleasantly. "Didn't know you were there. All by yourself, too, eh?"
"Not much," was the reply. "There's a man in the rear, too."
"I just wondered," murmured Hal.
"Get back inside," commanded the guard.
"Oh, all right," said Hal, "if you are going to be nasty about it. But, say, do you have a pack of cards you can lend us?"
"No, I don't," said the guard.
"Well, all right," and Hal would have withdrawn but the German halted him.
"I didn't say I didn't have a pack," he said.
"But I heard —"
"No, you didn't. I said I didn't have a pack to lend."
"Well, what's —?"'
"I've a pack to sell," said the guard.
"Oh, I see," said Hal. "Rather hard up, are you."
"If you mean I have no money, yes."
"I've a few German coins, I believe," said Hal, and explored his pockets. "I'll give you these for the pack of cards."
He held forth two coins.
The German grunted.
"All right," he said.
He produced a pack of cards, and took the money Hal extended.
"Times must be getting hard in Germany," said Hal suggestively.
Again the German granted.
"We don't have any bread, and we don't have any meat," he declared. "I haven't had a good meat for a year, it seems."
"It'll be worse before the war's over," said Hal pleasantly.
The German grounded his rifle with a thump. "Don't you think I know it?" he demanded with some heat.
"Well, don't get angry," said Hal, struck with a sudden idea.
"You've got some money," he said.
"Not very much."
"Well, I'll tell you something. We're going to have a little card game inside. I don't have any too much money, either, and I'd be glad to win some. What's the matter with you sneaking in and getting in the game? Your money's as good to me as anyone else's."
"And an officer'll come along, and I'll face a firing squad," grumbled the German.
"Pshaw!" said Hal. "Nothing risked nothing gained, you know. Besides, we're in an out of the way place here. When will you be relieved?"
"Not before 10 o'clock."
"And it's only a little after six now. However, if you won't, you won't. You know your own business best."
The German smiled an evil smile.
"Have you any objection to my inviting another in the game?" he asked.
"Not a bit. Who?"
"The man who is guarding the tent in the rear. He will come in handy, too. If you should try to escape, we'd do for you. We will be armed, and you won't."
"Who said anything about trying to escape?" demanded Hal. "This is to be a little friendly game of poker."
"Poker?" exclaimed the German.
Again his eyes gleamed.
"You go back in the tent," said the guard. "I'll probably be along later with my friend. I need the money, and will take a chance."
"Good!" said Hal, and disappeared within.
Hal explained the situation to the others, and added:
"Of course, the man's idea is that he and his friend, by playing together, will win by cheating. Well, that doesn't make any difference to us. Let them have the money. All we want is to get out of here. I don't know much about playing cards, anyhow. But let no man make a move until I give the word."
The others nodded their understanding of this to him.
"We may as well get started, so it won't look bad," said Chester.
The six seated themselves on the ground, and Gregory dealt out the cards.
"I can't understand how a man will take a chance like this guard," said Chester.
"He says he needs money," declared Hal.
"But even so," said Chester, "he should have sense enough —?"
"You haven't forgotten he is German, have you?" demanded Jackson. "I was brought up among them to some extent. One idea is all a true German's head will hold at one time. That's the truth. And if he gets an idea in his head, you can't get it out.
"Shh-h!" said Hal. "Here comes someone."
A moment later the guard with whom the lad had conversed entered the tent. A second man followed him.
"Quiet!" whispered the first guard.
The two men sat down among the others . Each laid his rifle within easy reach of his hand, and each loosened a revolver in his belt.
"Go on with the game," said the first German in a low voice.
Gregory dealt out the cards.
It was not Hal's intention to attempt a break for liberty as soon as the Germans entered the tent. He knew that the two men would be on their guard at least until their interest in the game had overcome their vigilance.
Neither Hal nor Chester were proficient in card playing. The game of poker had not been included in their education. Nevertheless, each knew the value of the cards, and they felt that a situation like this would justify their taking a hand, considering the ends in view.
The German with whom Hal had conversed just outside the tent had poor luck from the start, but his companion won. So far the men had made no, attempt to play together, thus taking advantage of their prisoners. But it wasn't long before they did.
There came a time when Gregory noticed this. He grew angry.
"Here!" he exclaimed. "That kind of playing won't go. This is a friendly game, and I don't stand for that kind of work."
The Germans looked up in well-simulated surprise. They indicated by gestures that Gregory was doing them an injustice; the game proceeded.
As time passed both Germans won now, Naturally, both grew more and more interested in the game. And at last the moment for which Hal had been waiting presented itself.
The Germans still had their rifles close to their sides, and from time to time their hands toyed with the revolvers in their belts.
Hal, after a hand had been played out, arose and stretched himself. The German eyed him suspiciously for a moment, but, as he appeared about to sit down again, they turned their attention to the cards, which Chester dealt them.
Suddenly Hal whipped out the revolver be had taken from the German officer earlier, and, taking a quick step forward, covered the two men.
"Hands up!" he exclaimed in German.
The cards fell, to the ground, as Chester and the Canadians got to their feet. The Germans sat still. Then, slowly, their hands went into the air.
"Quick, men!" said Hal. "Get their revolvers and guns."
This was the work of an instant. The six friends now were armed with three revolvers, two rifles, and one long knife.
"What'll we do with these fellows?" demanded Chester.
"We'll tie 'em up and gag 'em," said Hal without hesitation. "We can't afford to have them raise the alarm."
"We've no rope, nor anything that looks like rope," said Chester. "What'll we tie 'em up with?"
"Their own clothing will have to serve the purpose then," said Hal.
Quickly the Germans were stripped to their underclothing. Their shirts were torn in strips, and they were securely bound. Handkerchiefs were used as gags.
"There," said Hal, when this was accomplished. "I guess that will hold them safe enough."
"It'll have to hold them," said Chester. "Now what?"
"Now to get out of here," said Hal.
"Look here, Lieutenant," said Jackson, "we can't go far in these uniforms, you know."
"Of course I know it," Hal declared. "We can go far enough to tap a few Germans over the head, though, maybe, in which event there will be uniforms enough of the proper kind to go around."
"Right you are, sir," agreed Crean. "Lead the way."
Making sure that the Germans who had been bound would be unable to release the improvised ropes, Hal moved to the entrance of the tent and looked out. It was very dark outside, and Hal could see nothing.
"Guess the way is clear," he whispered, "but it's so dark out there you can't see a thing. However, we'll take a chance, and we'll head toward the front, for that's the direction in which we want to go."
The others followed him from the tent.
For perhaps five minutes they walked along without interruption, but at the end of that time Hal, still in advance, made out a form approaching them. He stopped in his tracks, and the others also stood stock still.
Hal now perceived that there were two figures advancing instead of one. He reached back a hand and pulled Chester to his side. The two lads moved forward together.
In the darkness it was impossible for the men who moved toward them to make out the lads' uniforms, so, though they perceived the approaching figures, they naturally took Hal and Chester for their own kind.
They moved slightly to one side in order that Hal and Chester might pass. Instead, the lads stepped quickly up to them and shoved their guns in their faces.
"Silence!" said Chester quietly. "Silence or you are dead men!"
Chester's tone left no room for doubt, and the Germans stood still without a word. Hal now made out that they were officers — both lieutenants.
"Take off your clothes," said Hal briefly.
The Germans understood the lad's plan, but under the muzzle of two guns, they did not protest, and quickly stripped to their under-garments . Hal and Chester each took possession of one of the officer's revolvers. Then, covering the two men, Hal said:
"Get into one of those uniforms while I keep them covered, Chester."
Chester obeyed promptly, and then he, in turn, covered the men while Hal changed clothes.
The lads now escorted their prisoners back to where the four Canadians still stood in the darkness. There they explained the situation. Willing hands tore the clothes that the two boys had discarded, and the Germans, still in their underclothing, were hastily bound and gagged.
The party of British moved on again.
"Four more uniforms and a couple of more guns, and we are 0. K.," said Chester quietly.
Fortune again smiled on them a few moments later. A party of three German soldiers approached. These were quickly covered, and the same procedure gone through with. A few moments later all except Gregory were attired in German uniforms.
"Don't worry, old man," said Chester with a laugh. "We'll soon have one for you, too."
"It's not that I am fond of a German uniform," said Gregory, "but I just like to be in style."
The friends now passed several groups of Germans, but the latter were in such large numbers that they did not accost them.
"What we want is just one man, or possibly two or three," said Chester. "We don't want to tackle so many that there may be a fight."
At length their patience was rewarded. A solitary figure came toward them. Hal stepped forward and accosted him.
With a gun poked under his nose, the German gave back a step.
"What's the matter?" he demanded. "Are you crazy?"
"Not a bit of it," said Hal, "but I want your clothes."
"Well," said the German, "you won't get them. This is no time of the year for a man to be walking around with no clothes."
"Nevertheless, I must have yours," said Hal.
Chester came up at that moment, and his revolver, glistening in the darkness, lent added weight to Hal's words.
"Oh, well, of course, if you insist," said the German.
He quickly stepped from his uniform, which Chester tossed back to Gregory, who donned it hastily. As hastily the German was bound and gagged, and Hal, Chester and the four Canadians moved forward again.
"We're safe enough for the moment," said Hal, as they walked along. "The enemy will have no suspicion that we are other than we pretend to be until
daylight, when one look at your Canadian faces will give the whole thing away."
"That means," said Chester, "that we should be beyond the German lines before daylight."
"Exactly," said Hal, "though how we shall do it is still the question."
"We've come along pretty well so far," said Gregory. "We won't give up now."
"Who said anything about giving up?" Chester wanted to know. "Of course, we won't give up. Have you any idea where we are, Hal?"
"Well, I should judge we are pretty close to the town of Cambrai. Personally, I believe the best plan would be to head in that direction. I judge it to be directly south."
"But it is within the German lines," Chester protested.
"True, but once there we may be able to find a hiding place. In the open we wouldn't have much chance if we failed to get beyond the lines before daylight overtook us."
"You may be right," said Chester. "Once in Cambrai, providing we can find a hiding place, we can figure out a means of leaving the German lines."
"Exactly," said Hal, "and with a better chance of success."
"Suit you, men?" asked Chester.
"You're the doctor," said Gregory. "Lead the way. We'll follow." Hal and Chester turned abruptly to the left. "South it is, then," said Hal.
As it developed, the distance to Cambrai, one of the chief points in the German line of communications, was comparatively short.
As the six plodded along through the darkness there was no conversation. None of the Canadians spoke German, and Hal and Chester had instructed them to be silent, for the sound of a few English words would have done more to destroy the success of their venture than any other possible thing. As for Hal and Chester, both of whom spoke German fluently, neither felt like talk.
It was almost midnight when the lads saw before them what appeared to be the lights of a small town. Approaching closer, they saw that they were, indeed, approaching a settlement of some kind.
"Cambrai, do you suppose?" asked Chester.
"Don't know," returned Hal. "Probably is. I understand that Cambrai is about the largest place around here, and this seems to be quite a sizable village."
Half an hour later they set foot in the streets of the little French city, in German hands now for more than three years.
"We'll hunt a house with a light and see if they'll put us up for the night," said Hal.
Down a side street they saw a house somewhat larger than the others. Several lights showed from the windows.
"Somebody up, at all events," said Chester.
"Trouble is, Germans may already be quartered there," said Hal.
"Well, we'll have to take a chance," said Chester grimly.
"Right. So the sooner we try the better."
Hal led the way, and knocked on the door. Came the sound of hurried footsteps within, and a moment later the door was thrown open. An old woman poked her head out.
"What do you want?" she demanded.
"A place to sleep," replied Hal, in excellent German, although the woman had spoken in French.
"There is no place here for you!" exclaimed the woman, and would have shut the door.
But Hal was too quick for her. He shoved a foot in the door, and thus prevented its closing.
"Come, my good woman," he said. "We mean you no harm, but we must have a place to spend the night."
"How many of you are there?" asked the woman.
"Six," replied Hal briefly.
The woman threw up her hands in a gesture of dismay.
"I can't possibly take care of so many!" she exclaimed.
"But we are all coming in," declared Hal, who realized that the sooner they were off the streets the better.
He pushed the door open and went inside. Chester and the four Canadians followed him.
"Which way, madam?" asked Hal. "Upstairs?"
The old woman nodded, and led the way up a flight of winding steps.
"I've only one room," she said, "so you will have to make the most of it."
"That will be satisfactory," said Hal. "We don't like to inconvenience you."
"You don't, eh?" exclaimed the woman. "You're the first who wear that uniform who haven't gone out of their way to inconvenience me, and all other French women."
"Come, come," said Hal. "I'm afraid you are too hard on us."
"I'm not half as hard on you as the French and British will be when they get hold of you!" exclaimed the woman angrily.
Hal looked at her in surprise. He supposed that all women in territory conquered by the Germans had long since realized the value of keeping a silent tongue in their head. Aloud he said:
"I would advise you to be more careful of your speech. If words like those came to the ears of the general staff, you probably would be shot."
"You can't frighten me," declared their hostess. "'I say what I please, Germans or no Germans."
"Well, suit yourself," said Hal, "but don't forget that I have warned you."
"Thank you," sneered the woman. "Here's your room," kicking open the door at the top of the stairs. "You can sleep there if you wish, but I hope the British have arrived when you wake up again."
She waited for no reply, but descended the stairs hastily.
"By Jove!" muttered Hal. "The Germans snared a Tartar when they caught her."
"They certainly did," Chester agreed with a smile. "Great Scott! Seems to me she could have given us a candle or something. It's as dark as pitch in this room."
"You fellows stay here," said Hal. "I'll go down and remind her that she has been negligent in her duty as hostess."
Hal descended the stairs quietly. As quietly he passed through the room that in days of peace apparently had served as a parlor, and moved toward a door beyond, under which a light streamed.
"Guess she's in there," said Hal.
He laid a hand on the knob and opened the door.
As he did so there was an exclamation of alarm. Hal, in the light beyond, saw a form disappear into another room. The old woman ran toward him
"What do you mean by coming in here without knocking?" she exclaimed furiously.
"Why —why, I didn't know —" Hal began.
"Of course you didn't know," shouted the woman. "But I'll have you understand that you can't make free of my house, though you be the Kaiser himself."
From the folds of her skirt she suddenly produced a large revolver, which she leveled squarely at the lad. Hal stepped back.
"Here, my good woman," he said. "Put down that gun. Don't you know that a single shot will arouse the whole German army. You couldn't escape."
The woman hesitated, and the revolver wavered. Before she could bring it to bear again, had such been her intention, Hal seized her arm, twisted sharply, and the revolver fell to the floor with a clatter.
"I'm afraid you're not to be trusted with that gun," the lad said quietly.
He stooped, picked up the weapon, and stowed it away in his own pocket with this mental comment:
"One more weapon for our own little army."
"You're a brute," gasped the woman. "You're just like all Germans."
"Silence," said Hal. "I have heard enough from you. What I came here for was to tell you that you had neglected to furnish us with a light. Now I shall have to look in yonder closet, where I saw a man secret himself as I came in."
The old woman flew across the room and stood defiantly in front of the closet door.
"You can't go in there! "she exclaimed.
"I can't, eh?" said Hal. "Why can't I?"
"Because I say you can't."
"That is a very poor reason," said Hal. "Either you will stand aside now, or I shall call my men."
The woman realized the force of this reasoning. With a gesture of resignation she stepped aside. Hal advanced.
"I hope he shoots you through the door," said the woman to Hal.
"Thanks for the hint," said Hal dryly. "I'll keep out of the line of fire."
He approached the door from the side, and, standing close, called:
"Whoever you are in there, come out."
There was no response, and Hal called again.
"I've got the door covered," the lad shouted, and if you don't come out I shall fire through it."
Slowly the door moved open. Hal stepped quickly aside, for he did not wish to be taken unaware. He seized a chair and sent it spinning across the floor. The ruse succeeded, for the man inside, taking the noise made by the chair for the sound of Hal's feet, stepped quickly forward and pointed a revolver in that direction.
This meant that Hal stood directly behind the newcomer. Smiling to himself, Hal raised his revolver and said quietly:
"Drop that gun or I'll bore a hole through you. No, don't bother to turn first."
Realizing that he was absolutely in the other's power, the newcomer obeyed. The revolver fell clattering to the floor.
"Now," said Hal, "I'd like to have a look at you. Please turn around."
Slowly the other turned, and, as Hal caught sight of the man's face, his own revolver dropped to the floor and he sprang forward with outstretched hand.
"Major Derevaux!" he cried.
THE MAJOR EXPLAINS
The man who had emerged from the closet gazed at Hal in amazement.
"Who are you?" he exclaimed, taking a step forward.
"What! Don't you know me?" exclaimed Hal.
The other peered at him intently. Then he uttered an exclamation of pure astonishment.
"Hal Paine!" he cried. "Is it really you? And what are you doing in that uniform?"
"I might ask you, major, what you are doing out of uniform?" laughed Hal, as he grasped his old friend's hand.
"Well, I'm here on business," explained the major.
"And I'm here trying to get out of the German lines," said Hal.
"And where is Chester?" asked the major.
"He's upstairs, waiting for me to bring up a candle that he may have light," said Hal. "By George! It's good to see you again. Let me see, it has been almost two years since I last saw you in France."
"Yes, it's been all of that," agreed the major.
"And what of our old friend Anderson? Do you know what has happened to him?"
"No," said Hal, "the last indirect word I had of him he had been sent to Mesopotamia. I have not seen him for many months. But, tell me, what are you doing here?"
"It isn't a very long story," said Major Derevaux. "As you perhaps know, General Byng's drive against the Germans has been one of the greatest successes since the Battle of the Marne."
"Well," the major continued, "I have been stationed with General Pitain at Verdun, where I last saw you. Now we know that the Germans have drawn heavily from other fronts to make possible the Italian invasion. Other fronts now will have to be weakened to hold back General Byng — even to launch a counter- offensive, for we all know that Hindenburg will strike back. That leaves the Verdun situation somewhat in the air."
"I see," said Hal. "If you can make sure that the Verdun front of the enemy has been weakened, the French will strike there."
"Exactly," said the major. "Then there is another possibility. It may be the plan of the German general staff to make a show of force here and then, when we are feeling secure before Verdun, to deliver a lightning-like blow there. Those are the things I am commissioned to learn."
"I see," said Hal again. "But how does it happen I find you here?"
"It's very simple. This woman here is a distant relative of mine. She is a patriot to the soul. Under the gruff exterior which you have seen she is the most kindly soul in the world. She is risking her life every minute she remains here, for she is accounted one of the most successful of French spies."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Hal. "You don't mean it. Why, her very actions toward us, if used toward other Germans, it strikes me, would mean a firing squad for her."
"That," laughed Major Derevaux, "has been her greatest asset. The Germans are not particularly fond of her, that's a fact. She attacks them with a sharp tongue, but for that very reason she is looked upon as harmless. Come, I'll introduce you."
Major Derevaux led the way across the room to where the woman had been eyeing the two in the utmost astonishment.
"Lieutenant Paine," said the Major,. "I take pleasure in presenting you to Mademoiselle Vaubaun. Mademoiselle, this is Lieutenant Paine, of His British Majesty's service."
"I must correct you, major," said Hal, smiling and acknowledging the introduction. "Lieutenant Paine, U. S.A."
"Oh — o!" said the, major. "So you are fighting with your own countrymen at last, eh?"
"I am, thank goodness," said Hal. "But can this indeed be Mademoiselle Vaubaun? I have heard of her before, but I judged that she was a young woman."
Major Derevaux smiled.
"And a consummate actress," he said. "Mademoiselle, will you grant my friend the lieutenant a look at your true self?"
"If this young man is a friend of yours, Raoul, he is a friend of mine," said the woman.
She removed a cap from her head, straightened herself up and shook down her hair. Then she passed a hand several times over her face, and when Hal looked again there stood before him a girl in her teens. . "Great Scott!" exclaimed Hal, and started back.
In a few words he now explained his own presence in the German lines, together with that of Chester and the four Canadians.
Mademoiselle Vaubaun, in turn, told the lad how she had been left in Cambrai when German troops had swept across Belgium and France in the early days of the war, and how, from time to time, she had found it possible to send word to the French and British staffs of impending German movements.
"But how about me and my friends?" inquired Hal.
"I can hide you all, too. Beyond the room in which your friends are now is a second room and beyond that a false wall. It is there, I will hide the major. I was about to take him there when you came to the door tonight. There is room for all."
"Then I shall return to my friends," said Hal. "I have been gone so long Chester will fear something has happened to me. Will you go with me, major?"
"To be sure. I shall be glad to see Chester again. May we have a light, Antoinette?"
"I will lead the way myself," said the girl. "It will be as well that you go to your hiding places now."
She lighted the way upstairs with a candle.
In the darkened room above, Chester and the Canadians had been waiting impatiently. Chester had come to the conclusion that something had happened to Hal and was about to go down and hunt for him. As the light came upstairs, however, he drew back.