"What will happen then?"
"Now you're asking a question I can't answer. We've got to wait more or less on the movements of the Blue army, you see. After all, we're on the defensive. Of course, we've taken the offensive to-day, and on the showing that's been made so far the Blues are very much out of it. On the single day the umpires would have to give the decision to General Harkness. He's in a better position right now to prevent an attack on the capital itself than he was before the war began."
Then Durland called the order to sound taps, and in a few minutes the Troop was sound asleep.
Bremerton that night was peaceful and quiet. Over in the telegraph office watchful soldier operators were at work, but the clicking of their keys did not disturb the Scouts in their well-earned rest. For miles all about them there was bustle and activity. Troops, exhausted after a day of work that was very real indeed for a good many of the militiamen, clerks and office workers, camped along the roads and took such rest as they could get. This game was proving as much of an imitation of war as many of them wanted to see.
They had come out expecting a restful, pleasant vacation, with the thrill of a war game as an additional incentive for them to turn out, but they were finding that it closely resembled hard work—the sort of work they got too little of in their crowded days of office routine. Later they would enjoy the recollection of it, but while they were doing it there was a good deal of roughing that wasn't so pleasant.
A late moon made the countryside brilliant, and easy to cover with the eye, and when, a couple of hours after midnight, the roll of rifle firing in the distance, coming like light thunder, awoke the Scouts, who were sleeping three in a room, many of them rushed to their windows.
Jack Danby shared a room with Pete Stubbs and Tom Binns, his particular chums, and he laughed at them.
"What are you looking for, powder smoke?" he asked them. "Don't you remember that they're using smokeless powder in this war? You couldn't see that firing if it were within a hundred yards."
The firing soon became general and Jack himself grew interested.
"That doesn't sound just like outposts coming together," he said. "It seems to me that it's pretty general firing, as if considerable bodies of men were getting engaged. I'd like to be out there and see what's going on."
The distant din increased, and there was no longer a chance for the Scouts to sleep. In real warfare tired men, it is said, can sleep with a battle raging all about them, but the Scouts weren't inured to such heavy firing yet, and it disturbed and excited them. Durland himself wasn't bothered, but he sensed the restlessness of his Troop, and he rose and dressed. One by one, too, the Scouts followed his example, and gathered on the big veranda of the village inn.
"Come on over to the telegraph office, Dick," said Durland. "Let's see if we can't find out who's kicking up all this fuss and what it's about."
The telegraph wires, which never slept, were clicking busily when the Scout-Master and his assistant entered the office.
"Abbey's cavalry running into the enemy on the Newville pike," said a tired operator, flicking a cigarette from his mouth as Durland spoke to him. "Funny, too! We thought he'd join General Bean before he saw a sign of the enemy."
Durland felt himself growing anxious; then laughed at himself for his own anxiety. He turned to find Dick Crawford at his elbow.
"I'm taking this thing too seriously, Dick," he said, with a smile. "After all, it's only a game. But I'd certainly like to know the inner meaning of that firing. Unless we've been grossly deceived, Abbey had no business to bump into any considerable force of the Blue army to-night."
"I guess we're all taking it pretty seriously, sir," said Dick. "Isn't that the right way, too? Of course, it's only a game—but we might be playing it seriously some time."
"You're right, Dick," said the Scout-Master. "We can't take this too seriously. I'm going to horn in here and see if there isn't something we can do."
He walked over to the key.
"See if you can report my Troop to General Harkness as ready for any service required," he said.
It took some little time for the operator to get the message through. Then, however, he sat back with a smile.
"I guess they'll be able to use you, all right, Captain," he said. "They seem to be a mile up in the air about what Colonel Abbey's doing. All the Colonel can report himself is that he's run into a considerable force, and he's engaging him tentatively. He seems to be afraid of being cut off if he goes on without feeling his way."
Then followed another delay.
"Here you are, Captain," said the operator, at last. "Coming, now!"
"Take it," said Durland. "I can read it as it comes."
Out of the chatter of the sounding key both Durland and Dick Crawford could make sense.
"Take your Troop up to Colonel Abbey," came the order. "Report to him for any service possible. But detail two Scouts, with automobile, to make an attempt to discover the nature of the enemy's operations on the Newville road beyond the point where Colonel Abbey's command has engaged the enemy. General Bean is within three miles of Newville, waiting for daylight, owing to the firing in that direction. It is most important to apprise him of the actual conditions."
"Report that orders are received and will be obeyed at once," Durland flung back to the operator, and he and Crawford hurried from the building to rejoin the Scouts, who were waiting eagerly on the porch of the hotel for any news that might come.
"Get ready to hike," ordered Dick Crawford, as he reached the Scouts. "Danby, report to Captain Durland at once."
Jack listened to his instructions carefully.
"This is a harder job than any you've had yet, Jack," said his commander. "But it counts for more, too. Are you sure you're not too tired to handle your car?"
"Not a bit of it, sir!" protested Jack. "I've had all the sleep I need. What the General wants to know chiefly is whether there are enough troops of the enemy between Colonel Abbey and Newville to prevent a junction between the cavalry and General Bean's brigade, isn't it?"
"Right! I can't give you any special orders. You'll have to use your own judgment, and do whatever seems best when the time comes. This is the sort of a situation that changes literally from minute to minute, and if I gave you special orders before you started they would probably hamper you more than they helped you."
"Can I have Tom Binns again, sir?"
"Certainly! I'll have Crawford tell him to report to you at the garage. Overhaul your car carefully—you don't want any little mechanical trouble to come along and spoil your work just as you are on the verge of success."
"The car's all right, sir. I went over every bit of it before I turned in. I had an idea I might be called for some sort of emergency work when every minute would count, and she's ready for any sort of a run right now."
"Good enough! That's the way to be. 'Be prepared'—that's a pretty good motto. It has certainly been proved abundantly in the last few hours."
It would take the Scouts a good three hours to come up with Colonel Abbey's regiment of cavalry, but Jack and Tom Binns, in the big grey car that moved silently, like a grey ghost, in the moonlight, were well ahead of them as the column swung out of the little town.
"Well, we're off again!" said Jack. "No telling what's going to come up before the night's over, either, Tom. We've got a roving commission, with no orders to hold us down, and I'm out to see just as much as the road will show us."
"Are you going to stick to the main road, Jack?"
"No. There's a cross road a little way beyond here. If they've blocked Colonel Abbey's advance on this road, we couldn't get beyond his position, anyhow, and it won't do us any good to get as far as that and no further. It's what they're doing beyond there that General Harkness wants to know."
"Where is the main body of our army now, Jack?"
"Right around Hardport. The only troops that are moving to-night are Abbey's cavalry regiment, and General Bean's brigade. General Bean, with the rest of the army closing toward him, is to hold the enemy in check if they occupy Newville before we get to the place ourselves. The rest of the army, at Hardport, can move to his support, or it can develop a big flanking movement that will bring Bremerton into the centre of our line, with the forces toward Newville making a sort of a triangular wedge stuck out in front. That wedge, you see, will have the whole army as a reserve. It isn't as favorable a situation as if they had made for Cripple Creek, for there we would have been in a position to force them back on Smithville, where they mobilized."
"They'd have gone right into a trap if they had kept on for Newville, wouldn't they?"
"Yes; but that was too much for us to hope for, really. It's good enough as it is. It was General Harkness's plan from the first to make a stand at Bremerton, unless they gave him the chance to make it an offensive campaign. The mistake we made in sending a brigade to Cripple Creek more than made up for the capture of Hardport, however, and so we lost that chance. If we could have made sure of Newville to-night, nothing could have saved the Blue army."
"Who's to blame for that, Jack?"
"No one. You can't expect the enemy to tell you what he's going to do, and even Napoleon couldn't always guess right. I think we'll beat them all right—that is, I don't think they'll get within twenty miles of the capital in the time they've got, even if we get badly beaten in this battle that's starting now."
"Here we are at the cross roads, Jack. Which way are you going now?"
"Toward Mardean, at first. I'm going to swing in a great big circle around Hardport, and way beyond it. I want to come down on them from behind and see just as much as I can."
"If you swing very far around that way it'll take you pretty near Smithville, won't it?"
"That's just where I want to get, Tom. The place to find out what the enemy is going to do is the place where he is doing it, it seems to me."
Hardport, a patch of light against the sky, held little interest for Jack. The road he took swung back toward the State line, so that he passed very near Hardport before he reached the road that he and Tom had first traveled when they crossed the line at full speed after war had been declared. But Mardean wasn't held by the enemy now. The troops that had crossed there had been recalled after the capture of Hardport and the wreck of the early Blue plans, and some of them probably were in Hardport now as prisoners of war, but with none of the rigors commonly attaching to imprisonment to distress them.
"This road is safer than it was when we took it before," said Jack. "Remember how we had to take to the fields a little way along here? That was pretty exciting."
"You bet it was, Jack! I'm glad we can stick to the roads here."
"Don't be too glad yet, Tom. No telling what we may have to do before the night's over, you know. It's early yet—or late, as you happen to look at it."
Mile after mile of road, looking like a silver streak in the moonlight, dropped beneath the wheels of the big grey car. They sped around and beyond Hardport, and Jack, studying his road map, lighted now by a little electric light, began to slow down, since they were in country where it was possible, though not probable, that the enemy's outposts might be encountered.
"I've got an idea that they're marching hard and fast to-night," said Jack. "Somehow, I'm not easy in my mind. I'm afraid they may have had some way of finding out what our army was doing. You know that we're not the only people who can detect concealed and covered movements. And they may be setting a trap for us again, just as they were doing when General Bean was drawn off toward Cripple Creek."
"I've lost track of where we're going, Jack. Where does this road we're on now come from?"
"Practically straight from Mardean. You see, Mardean will be about the right of our army to-morrow. A brigade will drop back that way from Hardport, if we give up that town in the morning, and the main force will move for Bremerton."
"Then if the enemy should happen to get around this way and break over the State line near Mardean, they'd be in a good position to meet us to-morrow, wouldn't they?"
"First rate! But that's not the idea, at all. They're all over in the other direction, nearer Bremerton, and east of Hardport. The trouble Colonel Abbey encountered seems to indicate that it's their plan to cross in force near Bremerton. That's why holding Newville would be so important to them."
Now Jack threw in the high speed again. And at once, almost, as the car sped on, something about the song of the throbbing engine bothered Jack. In a moment he had shifted his gears, and in another, the car, coughing and rattling, came to a sudden stop.
"Good thing I heard that," said Jack, a few moments later, "or we'd have been stuck properly a few miles further on. Won't take me five minutes to fix it now."
As he tinkered on the machine, his ears were busy, and he and Tom heard the sound of approaching horses in the same instant. At once Jack leaped to his driver's seat, and ran the car through an open fence into a field beside the road.
"I want to see what's doing here," he said. "That doesn't sound very good to me."
The trouble with his engine had been providential, for ten minutes later he realized that had he gone on at full speed he would have encountered the advance guard of at least a full division of the enemy.
Quietly and steadily the Blue troops were marching on. There was purpose in the look of them, and a grim earnestness that made Jack whistle.
"Tom," he whispered, "you certainly hit it! They're setting a trap all right. They're going to cross at Mardean and swing around to cut off our troops from Bremerton. They've got a nice plan—just to steal our position, and make us fight on our ground—but with positions reversed."
JACK DANBY'S GOOD NEWS
Hardly daring to breathe lest they be heard, the two Scouts waited while the Blue troops passed. It took more than two hours for the regiments, marching in close order, to get by them, and it was nearly light when the last stragglers had passed their hiding-place.
"Gee," cried Jack, "that's certainly a surprise to me! Say, Tom, do you know what they've done? They've buffaloed General Bean, and fooled him completely—and our whole army! They've left not more than two regiments there. Of course, that was a stronger force than Abbey had, but they managed it so cleverly that they're holding up General Bean and his whole brigade."
"How can that be, Jack? I thought the umpires decided on the strength and the probable result of any encounter between the armies—and they surely couldn't decide that two regiments could beat a brigade?"
"No—but if the two regiments masked their real weakness so cleverly that they weren't attacked by the brigade, there wouldn't be anything for the umpires to decide—and that's what I'm afraid of. That's clever tactics, you see, and they'd get the credit for it, of course—and they'd deserve it, too. Well, here's where we stop loafing. We've got to cut a telegraph wire somewhere and get word of the true state of affairs to General Harkness. He can't wait until full daylight to move his troops now."
"What good will cutting a wire do, Jack?"
"Lots of good, Tom. This car has a regular apparatus for cutting in on a wire, and a set of sending and receiving instruments. If we cut the wire, it goes dead until we connect it with our instruments. Then only the section beyond where we cut in is dead. There's a telegraph wire direct from Hardport to Smithville. Cutting the wire is legitimate, even in the war game, because it's necessary to do the actual cutting. It isn't like the railroad, which can be destroyed theoretically, and left actually ready for use."
Jack had started his car, still running through the fields when the troops had passed, and now, looking carefully at the telegraph poles and wires, he dropped from his seat and, with wire cutters and repair tools, and his pocket set of instruments, he proceeded to put into practice the theory that he had explained to Tom. He cut the wire neatly and carefully. Then he connected the broken end with his instruments, completing the circuit again, and began calling for General Harkness's headquarters in Hardport.
"See how it's done, Tom?" he asked. "Easy when you know how, you see."
"Yes; it's like lots of other things that way, Jack. The trouble is you always seem to know just how to do things like that and I never do."
"Got 'em!" cried Jack, enthusiastically, at that moment, and began at once to send his important news.
"I want to get permission now to go on and tell General Bean what we've learned," he explained to Tom as he still waited after sending his message. "Then, as soon as I get it, I'll splice this wire and fix it so that the line will be open for regular service again. We don't want to interrupt traffic by telegraph or telephone, if we can help it. But this won't make much difference at this hour of the night. I don't believe that many messages are sent over this wire after midnight as a rule."
They had to wait twenty minutes for the reply, but when it came Jack was told to use his own best judgment, and that General Harkness would rely upon him to get the highly important information he had sent to headquarters to General Bean.
"I thought we'd be allowed to do that," said Jack, after he had put the wire in order again. In the car there was plenty of telegraph wire for repairing lines cut by the enemy, so the task was not at all a difficult one.
"Gee, Jack," said Tom, "I've certainly learned one thing lately, and that is that there's nothing you know that isn't likely to come in handy sometime or another. I didn't know you knew as much as this about telegraphy."
"I've always been interested in it, Tom. It's so fascinating. You can use all sorts of knowledge if you're in the army, too. Think of the engineers. They have to be able to build bridges, and destroy them, and erect fortifications without the proper materials. Not in this war, of course, but if there was real fighting. These maneuvers are different from the ordinary sort. They're not so cut and dried, and there aren't so many rules. I've read about maneuvers when there were rules to govern every sort of situation that came up—in fact, surprising situations couldn't come up, because everything that was to happen had been worked out ahead of time."
"This is better for us, isn't it, Jack? I mean, we're really learning how a war would actually be fought."
"We're getting a pretty good idea of it, anyhow. It isn't a bit the way I thought it was going to be."
"Well, we ought to be getting in touch with General Bean pretty soon, I should think."
"We've got another ten or twelve miles to drive yet. I took a pretty wide swing around, thinking we'd avoid the enemy altogether. Instead of that, we bumped right into them. It's surely a good thing we had that little engine trouble. We'd be prisoners right now if we'd been able to go on at full speed, because I don't believe we'd have been able to see them in time to turn around and get away. And we got a much better chance to see what they were up to, too."
As they approached General Bean's brigade the firing in the direction of Bremerton, where Colonel Abbey had encountered the enemy, began to be audible again. It had died away for a time, and Jack had wondered whether Abbey had retired. The sound of the heavy rifle fire, however, with an occasional explosion of a shell to make it louder, reassured him.
Newville was deserted when they entered it, and Jack laughed. Not a Blue soldier was in sight—and yet General Bean was waiting for full daylight, convinced that the main body of the Blue army was there.
"They certainly did make a clever shift," he said to Tom. "General Bliss has a reputation for moving quickly, and striking like a snake. He covers his movements well, and I'll bet that if we ever do have another war, he'll cut a pretty big figure. Captain Durland says he's a real fighter, of the sort that was developed in the Civil War. Some of the best fighters on both sides in that war, you know, were men who never went to West Point at all."
"The great generals were regulars, though, weren't they?"
"Most of them, yes. Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Lee—they were all West Pointers, and a lot more of them, too. But there were others. They say, in the histories, that a great crisis brings up the men to meet it. It's perfectly true that Grant and Sherman had been in the regular army, but they had resigned before the war, and they hadn't made good particularly before that, either in the army or afterward, when they went into business. It was the war that made them famous, and a good many others, too."
They had turned now toward Hardport, and the pickets of General Bean's waiting brigade, eagerly looking for the enemy, were in sight. Time after time they were challenged and stopped, but Jack, despite questions from officers and men, all eager for the news they were sure he was bringing, since his exploits had already won him a considerable reputation in the Red army, refused to tell what he knew to anyone save General Bean himself. They did not have to go all the way to the rear of the army. General Bean himself, small, wiry, active and peppery, met them soon after they had come into the midst of his lines. He was riding his big, black horse, and, although he had had no sleep that night, he looked fresh and ready for another day in the saddle.
"Hum," he said, pulling his moustache, as he listened to them, "they fooled us, didn't they? Captain Jenks, you will give my compliments to Colonel Jones, and instruct him to put his regiment in motion at once. We will occupy Newville, and then close in on the enemy, supporting Colonel Abbey by an attack on the enemy's rear."
He rubbed his hands together delightedly as the officer rode off to give the order.
"Do you know the enemy's position now?" he asked Jack. "He's the nut, and Abbey and I are the crackers. You've done good work. This is the second time within twenty-four hours that the information you have obtained has rescued us from a situation of a good deal of danger. Did you learn what General Harkness's plans were?"
"He intends moving at once to Bremerton, sir," said Jack. "The enemy, as nearly as I could guess, was heading for that place, planning to cross the line by the Mardean road, and then swing cast to Bremerton."
"Right! That's what they must intend to do. Well, I reckon they will find we're ready for them, and that we'll hold a position that the umpires will have to give us credit for."
The brigade was already in motion while they spoke. The men had bivouacked in their lines, as they had marched, and the whole section of country was lighted with their fires. In the faint light of dawn, growing stronger every minute now, the twinkling fires had a strange and ghost-like effect.
"Looks like the real thing, doesn't it?" asked General Bean. "I wish I'd had such a chance when I was a boy as you have now. We don't ever want another war—but there's no use acting as if it was beyond the range of possibility, and the next best thing to not fighting at all is knowing how to do it and getting it over quickly when it does become inevitable. If I had my way these maneuvers would take place in a score of different parts of the country every year. It isn't asking much to ask the militia to turn out for one week of the fifty-two, and a week of this sort of thing is worth a year of ordinary drill and theory work in armories. I don't mean that the drill isn't useful; it is. But it isn't everything, as we've seemed inclined to think. This sort of work, and constant practice at the ranges is what makes soldiers. These fellows, if they ever go to a real war, won't have to work any harder than my brigade has had to work in the last few hours. They're so tired now that they haven't got enough energy to know they are tired. They'd just as soon march as rest—and that's the way they ought to be. Do 'em good!"
Jack led the way of Colonel Jones's regiment into Newville, and then turned down the pike. The firing in front was very sharp now. And soon it was redoubled, as the advance of the main body of General Bean's brigade came into touch with the Blue troops who had so decidedly worried Abbey during the night.
Finally, on the crest of a hill which overlooked the valley beneath, Jack stopped the car.
"This is a splendid chance to see a battle on a small scale, Tom," he said. "There's nothing else for us to do now—we might as well take a look at things."
There was light enough now to make it worth while to stop and look on. Abbey's men were dismounted. In a field a mile or so back of the line of battle they could see the horses of his regiment, hobbled, and under guard. Before them, lower down, was the enemy, doing little of the firing, and with his real strength pretty well masked. And, as they knew, Bean's troops were advancing slowly, ready to take them in the rear, and cut them off.
"Where are the umpires?" asked Tom.
"They're somewhere around—trust them for that!" said Jack. "They're not only supposed to umpire, but they've got to make a detailed report of all the operations to the War Department, and criticize everything that both armies do, too. The firing brought them up as soon as it began, you may be sure."
Slowly but steadily and surely the drama unfolded itself before their fascinated eyes. They could see the slow advance of Abbey's dismounted troopers as soon as the firing in the enemy's rear convinced them that the support they had been awaiting had come at last. And before long the enemy was completely surrounded by a chain of Red troops, firing steadily. It lasted for nearly twenty minutes and then a bugle blew, over to their right, and in another moment the "Cease Firing" call had passed from regiment to regiment. The appeal to the umpires had been made, and now the troops that had been seeking all possible cover showed themselves, that the umpires might inspect the position and see whether there was any possible chance for the entrapped regiments of the Blue army to extricate themselves.
"They hung on too long," said Jack. "They ought to have begun their retreat before daylight. Then they might have been able to fall back and slip away and around to join the main Blue army at Mardean. I'm afraid they'll all be written down as captured now."
Jack was right in his idea, too. The umpires, after a careful inspection of the situation, decided that General Bean's tactics had been successful.
"You are to be congratulated, General," said a Brigadier General of the regular army, the chief umpire, riding up to the militia commander. "A very neat evolution, carefully planned and worked out. We were inclined to think that they had fooled you. Abbey was in a bad way until you came up. But you came out very well."
THE SCOUTS MEET AN OLD FRIEND
Jack Danby's clever scouting had changed the entire situation. The capture of his two regiments made General Bliss's situation decidedly precarious. His case was not hopeless yet, by any means, since, as the attacking force, the Blue army had been the stronger to begin with, because the War Department had so arranged matters that the advantage of position favored the Red forces sufficiently to make up for the superior force of General Bliss. General Bean's quick following up of the information Jack had given, however, had enabled the Red army to equalize the forces of the contending armies, and General Harkness, who threw a cavalry brigade into Bremerton within three hours of the timely warning Jack sent him, was now in no danger of being forced to fight on ground where his original advantage of position would be transferred to the enemy.
Now the position was one of open tactics. The lines were drawn, and some sort of a battle would have to be fought, theoretically, before further movements were in order. With Bremerton as his centre, General Harkness and his army lay directly across the line of the Blue advance, already across the border at Mardean, and seeking, or intending, rather, to seek the control of the railroad at Fessenden Junction, a dozen miles back of Bremerton.
The Junction was the key to the situation now, so far as the hopes of the invading forces were concerned. Its possession would, theoretically, cut the defenders off from their base of supplies, and, once it was captured, General Bliss would force the Red army immediately to fall back and occupy the defenses of the capital city itself, since the railroad would enable him to cut off its supplies and advance his troops against it with great speed. That would mean the immediate abandonment of any offensive tactics on the part of General Harkness, and would make up for the capture of the two regiments that General Bean had sent into Bremerton as prisoners of war.
But there seemed little chance of an engagement on Tuesday. Ever since noon the day before, when hostilities had begun, both armies had been constantly on the march. There had been severe fighting, and the plans of the commanders had involved the rapid movement of considerable bodies of troops. As a result, the troops on both sides were nearly exhausted. In the first place, they did not have the stamina that is the portion of regular troops. They were, in the main, militiamen, clerks, lawyers, brokers, and men of that sort, who do not have the chance of regular exercise, and who do not keep such strict hours as do trained soldiers.
"There'll be no fighting until to-morrow, in my opinion," said Durland, when Jack and Tom reported to him; "it's a pretty situation as it stands now, but these fellows can't do any more. Bean's brigade in particular must be about ready to drop. I never saw troops worked harder. They've done mighty well, and, while there won't be any formal arrangement to that effect, I suppose, I guess that both generals will understand that they can't accomplish any more without some rest. They'd have to recognize that in a war, for the wise general never requires his men to fight when exhausted, except in the case of attack."
The Scouts retained their headquarters in Bremerton, which was now, after the abandonment of Hardport, headquarters for the Red army, also. But General Harkness had his headquarters in tents, despising the chance to use the small hotel of the town. He was exceedingly busy with his plans. General Bean had come in from the lines facing the enemy, who had been forced, reluctantly enough, to shift their base of attack, so that Newville was the focus of their semi-circular advance. Other brigade commanders and other high officers with them had also come in, and for the first time since hostilities had begun, General Harkness was able to consult with his subordinate officers.
"I guess the strategy of the campaign for the next two days will be pretty well worked out about now," said Durland, glancing over toward the tent of General Harkness, from which the smoke of the cigars and pipes of the officers was curling.
Before General Harkness's tent two orderlies were waiting. Now, suddenly, one of them, evidently hearing a call inside, answered it, and a few seconds later went off. He returned presently with a young officer of militia, and a few minutes later that officer came over to the Scout headquarters.
"Captain Durland?" he began, then broke off. "Great Scott!" he cried, "it's my old friend the Scout-Master, isn't it? I had no idea it was your Troop that was doing so well here."
"Jim Burroughs! Is that really you? I'm glad to see you!" exclaimed Durland.
Jack Danby, Tom Binns, Pete Stubbs and the rest of the Scouts, with happy memories of their days at Eagle Lake, and of the time when they had turned out in the woods at night to search for Burroughs and Bess Benton, crowded around to greet the young militia officer.
"I'm a lieutenant in the Sixteenth Regiment," said Burroughs. "Captain Durland, you're wanted in the General's tent. I went there to make a report, and he asked me to tell you to come to him at once."
Then the Scouts and Burroughs, who had nothing else to do for the time, began to exchange reminiscences and talk over old times.
"I've been hearing a lot about the good work a Scout called Danby was doing in one of the new scouting autos," said Jim Burroughs, "but somehow I didn't have any idea that it was a Boy Scout they were talking of. But I might have guessed it! If it hadn't been for you when we had the forest fires up at the lake, Camp Benton would have been wiped out."
"Oh, I guess you'd have managed all right with the guides," said Jack. "You always try to make out that I do more than I do, Jim. You must be trying to give me a swelled head."
"No danger of that, I guess," said Burroughs, laughing. "You're pretty level-headed, young man. By the way, I heard you had some trouble lately with a man called Broom. Anything in that?"
Jack's face darkened. Jim was bringing up a painful subject. But Pete Stubbs spoke up for him.
"Trouble?" he said. "Well, I guess yes, Mr. Burroughs! You heard about how Jack broke up the plot to wreck the train and rob it when he and Tom Binns were on a hike together?"
"Well, Broom was mixed up with that gang in some fashion. Then, afterward, we found that he was really after Jack. You know all about Jack's queer life up at Woodleigh—about Old Dan and all that?"
"I know that Jack never knew much about himself—his real name and who his mother and father were. You're still trying to find out about all that, aren't you, Jack?"
"You bet I am!" said Jack, his face lighting up at the thought. "And I'm going to do it, too!"
"Well, this Broom," Pete Stubbs went on, "was trying to find out where Jack had gone from Woodleigh. He didn't know that our Jack was the one he was looking for, or we don't know what he'd have done. So he had a double reason to be after him, though all he knew was that Jack might give dangerous evidence against those pals of his who were mixed up with the train business."
"I see! He was really playing against himself, without knowing it, wasn't he?"
"Yes. That was the funny part of it. Well, Broom and some other crooked people got an old gentleman and his daughter to trust them. The old gentleman, whose name was Burton, was looking for a boy, his brother's son, who was kidnaped when he was a baby. We think it may be Jack, and we're going to try to find out. Broom made the Burtons think that he could find the boy they were looking for, and he got a lot of money out of them."
"Gee, Pete, that sounds pretty interesting! Was that how the trouble came with Broom?"
"One of the ways, yes. When we were down at the shore a little while ago they tried to get hold of Jack. One night there was a pretty bad storm, and that was the night they picked out. Jack and I, with Mr. Durland and Dick Crawford, went out to rescue the Burtons, who had been left on their yacht, and when we got back some of us caught Broom and a friend of his. But they were rescued afterward by the sailors who had quit the yacht, and Jack raced into Wellbourne, and got most of them arrested. But Broom got away, in some fashion, after they had taken him to jail. So we don't know what's become of him."
"How about the Burtons, Pete? Have you found out yet whether they're really Jack's long-lost relatives or not?"
"No, not yet. Mr. Burton was terribly ill after the wreck of his yacht. He was exposed to the sea and the wind for a long time that night, you see, and as soon as he could be moved, he was sent to Europe by his doctor. Until they get back we sha'n't be able to tell for certain."
"I'm glad they're over there, anyhow," said Jack, breaking in. "I think they're safe from Broom over there."
"I'll tell you someone that isn't glad, though," said red-headed Pete Stubbs, mischievously. "That's Dick Crawford!"
The Assistant Scout-Master, who hadn't heard the conversation that had preceded Pete's mischievous remark, came up just then.
"What is it that doesn't make me glad like everyone else?" asked Dick, unsuspiciously, and everyone laughed.
"Discovered, Dick!" cried Jim Burroughs, laughing. "I hear that a certain beautiful young lady has charmed you—the one man I knew that I thought was proof against the ladies!"
Dick flushed furiously, but he saw that there was no use in attempting to deny the charge. He seized Pete Stubbs, jestingly, by the neck, however, and shook him hard.
"I've a good mind to give you the licking of your young life, you red-headed rascal!" he cried, but there was no malice in his tone, and Pete knew that the threat would never be carried out.
"I didn't do anything but tell the truth," protested Pete. "Let go of me, Dick! If it wasn't true, you wouldn't be so mad!"
"He's right, Dick, my boy," said Burroughs, much amused. "We've caught you with the goods. It's nothing to be ashamed of—we all do it, sooner or later, you know. You've done well to escape the charms of the other sex so long, it seems to me."
Then the Scouts began to drift away, and Dick and Jim Burroughs were left alone.
"Did they tell you of the way Jack's been pursued by this fellow Broom?" asked Dick.
"They told me enough to worry me, Dick. We mustn't let anything happen to that boy."
"I'd a good deal rather have something happen to me, Jim. But he's shown that he's pretty well able to take care of himself. Down at the beach there we all helped, but he was the one who really beat them, after all, when it came to the point. They were mighty determined. I think myself that they know who he is, although Jack himself and some of the others don't. But my idea is that there is a very queer secret about him, that they know all about it, and that they think it is to their advantage to keep Jack from learning the truth and also to keep those who may be looking for him from finding him."
"How about these Burtons, Dick? Do you really think that Jack is the boy they're looking for, or is that just one of Pete's wild guesses?"
"Miss Burton and I have talked that over two or three times, and while we're not sure, owing to Mr. Burton's illness, which made it impossible for us to discover certain things which would probably have made matters clear, we both agree that it looks very much as if Jack were the one. She thinks so, anyway, and she's quite prepared to acknowledge him as her cousin."
"Is she pretty, Dick, you sly old fox?"
"She certainly is, Jim! You can't tease me about her. I'm crazy about her, and I don't care who knows it. But she'd never look at me, I know that!"
"You can't tell, Dick. They're funny that way. You'd never think that Bess Benton would have any use for me, but we're engaged, and we're going to be married in a few months. Never give up hope, old chap! You've got as good a chance as anyone else. What more do you want?"
"Well, I'm not going to worry about that now, anyhow, Jim. She'll be away for some time yet, I'm afraid. And I've got to wait until I'm doing better than I am now before I can even think about getting engaged, much less married."
"You can think about it as much as you like, Dick, and it will do you good. The more you think about it, the harder you'll work and the better you'll get on. I've found that out, and I guess it's true with most of us."
"I guess the council's over, Jim. Here comes Captain Durland, and the other officers seem to be leaving, too. I wonder what's doing."
"Nothing much, probably. But I'll leave you to find out and get back to my regiment."
AN INTENTIONAL BLUNDER
"You're wanted for duty again, Jack," said Captain Durland, when he returned from the council of war in General Harkness's tent.
"I'm all ready, sir," said Jack. "Gee, I think I've had it easy, riding around in an automobile, when all the rest of the fellows were scouting on foot."
"You'll make up for it, if you have been having it any easier," said the Scout-Master, with a smile. "This job that you've got on your hands now means a whole lot of work. You're to go to Fessenden Junction first, and make a detail map of the tracks about the depot there. I don't know just why it's wanted, or why it wasn't done before, but that's none of our business. Then when that's done, you're to bring it back here. After that I guess you'll have plenty more to do. But I won't tell you about the rest of it until you've finished that."
"Am I to go alone?" asked Jack.
"No. I want it done as quickly as possible, so you'd better take Peter Stubbs and Tom Binns along with you. Divide the work up and it won't take you very long. That's the easy part of it."
The Boy Scouts had studied map-making from a practical, working point of view, and it was no sort of a job for the three of them to make the required map.
"I see why they need this map, all right," said Jack. "There are a whole lot of new tracks in here, and the whole yard has been changed around within the last few weeks. That explains it. The old maps wouldn't be of much use for anyone who was depending on them for quick understanding of the railroad situation here."
"Now," said Durland, when they returned, "I've got the most difficult task that's been assigned to you yet, Jack. You've got only about one chance in a thousand of succeeding in it, but it's my own plan, and I'll be very pleased and proud if you do accomplish it. I want two of you to take the car, get inside the enemy's lines, with or without the car, as far as you can, and then get yourselves taken prisoners. What we want is for you to be near enough to General Bliss's headquarters to get some sort of an inkling of the nature of the attack that will be made.
"There is a dangerous weakness of the position here, which could hardly have been foreseen when the campaign was laid out in advance. That is, anyone getting control of Tryon Creek, which is practically dry in the summer, is in a position to dominate one side of the prospective battlefield. There are two lines of attack open to General Bliss. If he chooses Tryon Creek we must keep him from occupying it at all costs. To do that we would have to uncover the other side—the road from Mardean."
"I'm to try to find out which line of attack they will follow, then, sir? Is that it?" asked Jack.
"Yes. We must know before the actual attack begins, or it will be too late. Now I want you to understand my plan. I haven't thought of the details, because they will depend absolutely on conditions as you may find them to be. But here is the outline. Three of you will take the car. You, Jack, and one other Scout will leave that, when there is no longer a chance of continuing to use it, and proceed on foot until you are well within the enemy's lines. Then you will manage to get captured, while seeming to make an effort to escape."
"Are we to give our parole then, sir?"
"On no account! But pretend to be frightened and discouraged. That is legitimate. You mustn't give your word not to attempt to escape, because that is an essential part of the plan. I have an idea that they will not keep a very close watch on you, and that you will find it quite possible to make a dash for liberty after dark. But before you do that you must try to discover where the attack is to be made, by keeping your ears open and your eyes as well, for possible movements of guns. Then you can try to get away, rejoin the automobile, and get back to our lines. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir, I do! I think Pete Stubbs would be a good one to go with me, with Tom Binns to look after the car, because he knows how to drive it. Then if Pete and I couldn't both get away, one of us ought to be able to manage it, I should think, anyhow."
"That's the reason for sending two of you, of course," said Durland. "It's an outside chance, but you've done things almost as difficult. Remember that you must exercise the utmost caution. In time of real warfare no enterprise could be more dangerous, and the mere fact that there is no actual danger involved now is no reason for you to grow careless, though I need hardly give you such a warning."
"I'll do my best, sir," said Jack, enthusiastically. "It would certainly be a great joke on them if we could work it."
"Well, do the best you can. I don't want you to think that I really expect you to succeed. I think the chances are desperate. But, even if you cannot escape, there will be no difficulty about exchanging you, for we have a great many of their prisoners, including a number of officers, and they will be very glad to get them back. Otherwise I am sure General Harkness would never have consented to let you make the effort."
"If this were real war, and they saw us trying to escape, they would fire at us, wouldn't they?" asked Jack. "What I want to know is whether we're assumed to be shot, and have to stop if they see us and get a shot?"
"Yes, at any range less than a hundred yards. Above that range a prisoner escaping is supposed to have a good chance to get away. He has to stop, but need not show himself, and unless he is found he can resume his attempts to escape."
Then Durland explained briefly to Pete Stubbs and Tom Binns the parts they were assigned to play in this newest development of the war game, and, thrilling with excitement, they took their seats with Jack in the grey scout car.
"It won't be dark for a couple of hours yet," said Jack. "I think that's a good thing because we couldn't get very far in the enemy's lines with this car in daylight. So I'm going to take a long circle again and come down on them from behind. I'm not sure of where General Bliss's quarters are, but I should think they were probably pretty near Newville. If we come down the Newville pike from the direction of Smithville, it will be safe enough. Their watch will be closer in this direction, and by going around for about fifty miles we can manage that easily enough."
"Gee, you talk about driving a car fifty miles the way I would about getting on the trolley car at home," said Pete, admiringly.
"If you can drive at all, it isn't much harder, if you've got the time, to drive fifty miles than it is to drive five," said Jack. "And this time it's a lot safer. It's certainly one time when the longest way around is the shortest cut. We don't want to be caught until about ten o'clock, Pete. You understand that."
They roared through Smithville as it began to get dark, and then down the Newville pike. Jack slowed down when he was sure that he had plenty of margin in time, and through the growing dusk they saw the campfires of the Blue army springing up in all directions before them.
"Gee, there must be an awful lot of them," said Pete. "This is the closest I've been to them since we got started. You know, it makes me feel kind of shivery, even though I know that they won't do anything to us when they do catch us, Jack."
"That just shows that you really get into the spirit of it," said Jack, laughing happily. "If we remembered all the time that this was only a game, we wouldn't be doing things the right way at all. If you feel a little scary, and something like the way you'd feel if it was a real enemy in front of us, it'll only make you a bit more careful, and that's just what we want. We want them to think, when they catch us, that we're surprised and scared, and if we can make ourselves feel that way, so much the better. It's much easier to make other people believe a thing if you half believe it yourself, even if you know down at the bottom of your heart it isn't so at all."
A few rods farther on Jack swerved the car into a field.
"Here's a good place to stop, I guess," said Jack. "It's pretty quiet here, and we'll get along, Pete, and find out as much as we can before we let them catch us. You'll be all right here, Tom. Turn the car around and keep it right here, no matter what happens. If there seems to be a chance of your being caught, leave the car, but keep the spark plug in your pocket. Then they'll find it impossible to do much with it. It's too heavy to do much pushing, and I don't believe you're likely to be seen, anyhow, under the hedge here. We may have to make a mighty quick run for it if we get back here at all."
"Suppose you don't get away, Jack? Shall I wait here?"
"Wait until daylight, no longer. Not quite daylight, either. Let's see—figure to the sunrise, and wait till half an hour before that. And if you do have to go back alone, don't take any chances at all on being caught. Make even a wider circle than we did coming here, and don't go near Mardean. The car is a good deal more important than any of us. And don't forget, if you do have to leave the car and take to the woods, to take the spark plug with you. Do that, even if you just get out to get a drink at a well, or anything like that. Remember that we're right in the heart of the enemy's country, and you can't tell what minute you're likely to be attacked."
"All right, Jack. I don't believe they'll see me here, either. But I'll do the best I can if they do, and I'll be here, unless they pick me up and carry me away."
"That's the right spirit, Tom! I think you've got the hardest part of all. Pete and I've got something to do, and something pretty exciting, too. But you've just got to wait here in the dark for something to happen."
"Don't let it get on your nerves, Tom," said Pete. "It's hard work, but keep your nerve, and you'll be all right. Coming, Jack? So long, Tom!"
"So long, Pete and Jack! Good luck! I hope you'll get away from them all right—and get what you're after, too."
It was almost pitch dark by this time. The moon would not rise until very late, and the night had the peculiar blackness that sometimes comes before the moon appears. The country was thickly wooded here, which worked to the advantage of Jack and his companion. Most of the country in which Jack had been operating so far had been fairly open, which would have increased the difficulty of their task very much if the scene of operations had not been shifted eastward by the action near Newville that morning.
"How far are we from their headquarters now, Jack?" asked Pete.
"About a mile and a half, I think, Pete. I can't be sure, of course, but I think that's a pretty good guess. I could have run the car a little nearer and probably still been safe, but I didn't want to take chances. If we lose the car we can't get it back. If we're captured, why, they can get someone else to run the car, but we wouldn't be any good if we lost the machine."
"We'll want to be pretty careful, though, as we go along, Jack."
"Sure we will! But it won't be any harder than scouting the way we've learned to do, Pete. These people aren't looking for us, and we've done a lot of scouting when other fellows who were on the lookout for us knew just about where we were."
The lay of the land favored the two Scouts decidedly as they made their way onward. They were able to progress through the woods, but they did not have to go so deep into them that they could not observe, as they moved along, the situation in the open country that marched with the woods. In these fields they saw the twinkling of numerous fires, and they judged that the enemy was thick alongside, so to speak.
"They ought to watch these woods better than they do," whispered Jack. "Gee, I can see how their whole camp is laid out! That's one thing they're weak in—and it shows how important it is. They have fine strategy, but they're weak on details, like guarding their camp. If they don't watch these woods better when we start to make our get-away, we'll have it pretty easy."
"That looks like headquarters, Jack. See, over there?"
"You're right, Pete. And I'll bet they're planning to move before daylight, too. That's why 'Lights out!' was sounded so early. That was the call we heard about three quarters of an hour ago."
A light still showed in one of two big, adjoining tents, however, and the sound of voices came distinctly from it.
Jack waited until they were abreast of the tent.
"This will be a good place, Pete," he said. "There'll be a guard there. We want to pretend to make a run for it. Come on, now—make a little noise!"
Pete obeyed. The next moment the sharp challenge of a sentry rang out, and a shot followed. Jack and Pete ran, as if frightened and confused, right out into the midst of the sleeping men, and a moment later they were the prisoners of a group of laughing militiamen.
A RACE FOR FREEDOM
"They've got us, Pete," said Jack, dejectedly.
"Here, who are you, and where did you come from?" said a sleepy officer, running up.
"We've caught a couple of spies, sir," said one of their captors.
"We are not spies!" cried Pete, indignantly. "Can't you see that we're in uniform?"
"Hello, that's an aggressive young fighter, all right!" said the officer, smiling at Pete's red-headed wrath. "No wonder—look at his hair! Boy Scouts, eh? Do you belong to Durland's Troop?"
"Yes, sir," said Jack.
"How did you get here?"
"I d—don't know, sir. We hadn't any idea we were right among you till we heard the sentry challenge us."
"Well, we won't eat you, my boy. No need to be frightened. Here, Corporal, put them in the guard tent. We haven't many prisoners—I guess we can take them along in the morning and let them see us lick the Reds at Tryon Creek."
Jack almost betrayed himself by the involuntary gasp he gave as the lieutenant revealed the secret he had taken so much trouble to surprise. Here was luck with a vengeance! The very information they wanted was being handed to them on a silver platter. But he managed to restrain his emotions, so that no one should suspect the elation he felt at the discovery.
Tryon Creek! That meant it was doubly important for the news to be carried back to General Harkness, for it showed that General Bliss had seized upon the weak spot in the Red line of defense, the necessity for weakening one spot to strengthen another, and, moreover, that the Blue army was far from being out of it as a result of the success of General Bean in the minor engagement of Tuesday morning.
Jack nudged Pete as they were being led away to the guard tent. And Pete nudged back, to show that he understood. That pleased Jack, for he knew now that the all-important information had a double chance of being carried to General Harkness. If he were baffled in his attempt to escape and Pete did manage to get away, the news would go with him.
"You two boys can give your parole in the morning," said the young officer. "The guard tent's the only place where there's room for you to-night, and anyhow you'll be just as comfortable there as if you'd given your parole."
Then he went off, leaving them to the care of the corporal of the guard, who seemed immensely amused. That relieved Jack, too. He had feared that they would be offered their parole, and that to refuse to give it would mean an added watchfulness on the part of their captors and jailers, as the Blue soldiers had become. Now he was relieved from that danger. It was lucky, he thought, that the officer was loose and careless in his methods.
In the guard tent they found themselves alone.
"Guess you can sleep all right in here," said the corporal. "It's a pretty comfortable prison, and there's lots of room. If you get lonely, call the sentry. He'll talk to you."
"Thanks," said Jack. "I'm sure you're very kind."
But he was really angry at the condescending way in which the Blue corporal spoke. As soon as he was alone with Pete he expressed his disgust, too.
"Gee, Pete," said he, "I thought this was going to be hard. It's like taking candy from a kid. They'll catch us if we go up to them and ask them please to do it, just the way we did before. And that corporal was acting as if we were little boys! I hope he finds out some time that we're the ones that spoiled their Tryon Creek plan for them."
"Hold on," said Pete, laughing. "We haven't done it yet, Jack. Gee, usually you're the one that keeps me from going off at halfcock. We're not out of the woods yet, old boy."
"That's right, too, Pete, but he did get my goat. He's so cocky! Some of our fellows are a little like that, too, I guess, but I haven't happened to run into any of them yet."
"I was just as mad as you were, Jack, but we have got a lot to do yet before we get back to Tom. How are we going to get out of here?"
"Cut our way out," he said, shortly. He looked back toward the flap of the tent in disgust. "They didn't even take our knives away from us. I wonder if they thought we were going to stay here like little lambs. And they didn't even ask us for our parole! I'll bet someone will get court-martialed for this—and they ought to, too."
Still looking his disgust, he began to cut through the stout canvas of the tent. As he had suspected, there was no sentry at all in the rear of the tent, and it was a matter of five minutes to cut a hole big enough to let them get out.
"Here we go, Pete!" he whispered. "We can get away now any time we want to. Might as well do it now, too. No use waiting any longer than we have to."
They slipped out quietly, within ten minutes of the time when they were put in the guard tent. Quietly still, and using every bit of Scout craft that they knew, they made their way to the shelter of the woods, wondering every minute why some alarm was not raised. But a dead silence still prevailed behind them when they crept into the sheltering shadow of the trees, and, once there, they straightened up and began to more fast.
First they went some distance into the woods, so as to lessen the danger of discovery should their absence from the tent be discovered, and then they struck out boldly in the direction which they had traveled only a short time before, making their way back toward the place where they had left Tom and the grey scout car.
"Gee," said Pete, drawing a long breath, "that certainly was easy! You were right, Jack. I thought they must be setting some sort of a trap for us. It didn't really seem as if they could be going to leave things fixed so nicely for us. Why, they might better have turned us loose at once! Then someone with more sense might have picked us up and really held on to us before we could get out."
"They ought to be licked for being so careless," said Jack. "I'll put everything that happened in the camp into my report. I'll bet the next time they get prisoners, they'll look after them all right! It makes me sore, because they're supposed to be learning how to act in case of a real war just as much as we are, and it shows that there's an awful lot of things they don't know at all."
In the east now the first faint stirrings of the light of the coming moon that would soon make the country light began to show.
"I'm glad we got through so soon, anyhow," said Jack, then. "For Tom Binns' sake, mostly. It must have been scary work for him, just sitting there in the dark, waiting for us."
"He won't have to wait much longer, Jack. He's certainly a plucky one! I know that waiting that way scares him half to death, but you never hear a peep out of him. He just does as he's told, and never whimpers at all."
"He's got what's really the highest courage of all, though he doesn't know it himself, Pete. He's got the pluck to do things when he's deadly afraid of doing them. There are a lot of people like that who are accused of being cowards, when they're really heroes for trying to do things they're afraid of. I've got much more respect for them than I have for people who aren't afraid of things. There's nothing brave about doing a thing you're not afraid of."
"There's the car now, Jack! We haven't wasted much time coming back, anyhow."
Jack put his hand to his lips and imitated the cry of a crow. That was the sign of the Crow Patrol, to which all three of the Scouts belonged.
"There comes his answer! That means the coast is clear. I was half afraid they might have caught him and the car. It wouldn't have done at all for us to escape as we have and then walk into a trap here—that would make us look pretty foolish, it seems to me."
"You're right it would, Jack. Hello, Tom! Anything doing here while we were gone?"
"Not a thing! How on earth did you get back so soon? Did you get what you were looking for?"
"I guess we did! Get the spark plug in, Tom, and we'll be off."
A few moments saw them on the road again, and moving fast. In the distance now, as they sped along, Jack's practiced ear caught a strange sound, and he slowed down so that he might listen the better.
"Say," he cried, in sudden excitement, "that's another car! And what's an automobile doing here at this time of night?"
The same thought came to the three of them at once.
"I wonder if it's one of their scout cars," cried Tom Binns, voicing the thought. "I've been thinking it was funny we hadn't run into them at all, Jack."
"Well, we'll have to look out if it is," said Jack.
The sound grew louder, and it was soon apparent that the other car was coming toward them. Jack slowed down, and kept to a slow pace, keeping his car as much as possible in the shadow of the trees that hung over one side of the road. The other car came on fast, and, as it swept around a bend of the road that had hidden it from them, they were almost blinded by the great ray from the searchlight it carried. Jack himself had been running without lights of any sort, for greater safety from detection.
As soon as the driver of the other car saw the machine in which the three Scouts were riding, he slowed down. It came alongside in a few moments and a man leaned out and hailed Jack.
"What are you doing here?" he cried, and then, before Jack could answer the question: "Come on, men, it's one of their cars! We've got to capture them!"
As he spoke he slewed his car around, so that it half filled the road, and two men leaped to the ground and made for Jack's car.
But Jack had a different plan. He had no mind to surrender tamely now when victory was within his grasp. In a moment the big grey car shot down the road, and the next moment it was roaring at full speed ahead. Behind it, after a stunned moment of surprise and silent inaction, thundered the other car, a scout car of the Blue army.
"Gee, this is going to be a real road race!" yelled Jack. "That car is this one's twin. They can go just as fast as we can. And they're stronger than we are, if they ever catch us—three men to three boys. But they'll have to go some to catch us!"
For the first time since his dash across the State line when the war began, Jack let the grey car do its best for him now. It leaped forward along the road as if it were alive. But behind, going just as fast, keeping the gap between the cars the same, pounded the hostile machine.
Over roads as empty as if they had been cleared by the police for a race for the Vanderbilt cup, the two cars sped, kicking up a tremendous dust, their exhausts roaring and spitting blue flame, and the noise of their passage making a din that Jack thought could be heard for miles. Only the big metal hood saved them from being cut to ribbons by the wind and the flying dirt and stones that their mad rush threw back from the road before them. But Jack had one big advantage, as he guessed. He knew the country better, and he was making baffling turns every few minutes. One thing he dared not do. He stuck to the road, afraid, at the frightful speed, to risk a side trip into the fields, and equally afraid to slow down, since that would mean that the other car, never very far behind, would be able to catch up to them.
So fast they went that, by making many corner turns, Jack was able to turn completely around without attracting the attention of the pursuing car. He was heading straight for Bremerton, finally, and his heart leaped at the thought that this new and unforeseen danger was going to be thrown off. Just to lose the car behind would not be enough, he knew. He was playing for high stakes now, and at last he slowed down—not much, but enough to let the other car make a perceptible gain. He felt safe now. He knew that the other car was no faster than his own, though it was just as fast, and if he had even a hundred yards of lead, he was sure he could hold it.
Other campfires were twinkling near by now. The sentries that guarded them, he knew, would not fail to hear and guess at the reason for the roaring race of the war automobiles.
And at last, making the sharpest sort of a turn, he baffled the pursuers. Before they realized what they were doing, they were in the midst of Colonel Abbey's regiment, and a minute later they were forced to stop by a volley of shots, and instead of capturing the Red scout car, as they had hoped, were themselves prisoners.
"I guess that's going some!" cried Pete, as they turned back toward the captured car. "We got the news we were after, and we led one of their scout cars into a trap, too. That's what I call a pretty good night's work. Fine business, Jack! And that was certainly some ride, too! If you hadn't been able to drive as well as you do, we'd never have got away from them."
"We had a lot of luck," said Jack. "But it certainly was a great race! I'll be glad to get some sleep, now. That was pretty tiring work."
A REAL ENEMY
Jack had led the hostile scout car into the most hopeless sort of a trap. He had twisted and turned and doubled on his course so cleverly that his pursuers had completely lost their sense of direction. In a chase of that sort, with his quarry in front of him, the driver of a racing automobile, making from sixty to seventy miles an hour, has no chance to watch objects about him.
There Jack's almost uncanny sense of direction and locality had helped him mightily. The speed at which he had driven his car had not at all confused him. He had known exactly what he was doing, and just where he was going, at all times. A few miles had taken him into country over which he had already driven, and his memory for any place he had once seen was phenomenal. So he had been able, by constant turning and doubling, to fool the driver of the enemy's car completely, and lead him, all unknowing the fate in store for him, into the very midst of the Red troops.
Jack had taken his final turn from the road so sharply that it had been impossible for his pursuer to turn quickly enough to follow him. Any attempt to do so would have resulted in disaster, and, since this was only a mock war, the driver of the other scout car was not justified in taking the chance of killing himself and his companions in the effort to make the turn. He had gone straight on, therefore, and a few rods had carried him into the midst of Abbey's cavalry regiment. A minute was enough to surround his car, and a line of troops in front of him made him see the hopelessness of escape. Therefore he stopped and surrendered.
Jack and his two companions sprang at once from their own car and ran quickly, glad of the chance to loosen their tired and aching muscles, stiff, sore and cramped from the confinement in one position that the wild race had forced, toward the group that was gathered around the captured car. Colonel Abbey, himself, the type of a true cavalry leader, was questioning the prisoners.
"I'm Captain Beavers, of the regular army," said the man who had driven the car, "detached from my regiment to serve on the staff of General Bliss. We were returning from a scouting trip in our car when we ran into this machine, and we chased it. The driver certainly knew his roads better than I did. I haven't had any idea for the last forty minutes of where we were going—I could only see the car ahead, and do all I could to catch it."
"How are you, Danby?" said Colonel Abbey, trying to hide a smile. "You'll excuse me, Captain, but you remind me a little of the dog that chased the railroad train. You know the old story about the farmer who watched him do it, and, when he got tired, turned around and said: 'What in tarnation do you reckon he'd do with that engine if he caught it?'"
Beavers laughed a bit ruefully.
"Something in that, Colonel!" he admitted. "I suppose it was a good deal like chasing a bird to put salt on its tail. But it was sheer instinct with us—nothing more. We saw that car start up, and we chased it. A fine lot of trouble it's got us into, too! But I guess we'd do the same thing again, probably."
"Any of us would, Captain," said Abbey. "Don't feel bad about it. We'll have to impound your car, but if you'll give me your parole, I'll be glad to give you the run of the camp."
"Thank you," said Captain Beavers. "I say, I'd like to see the man who led me that chase. I had an idea that I knew something about driving a fast car, but he can show me lots of things I never knew at all."
Suddenly his eye fell upon Jack Danby, whose hands gave abundant evidence that he was the chauffeur. The captain's jaw dropped and he stared at the Scout in amazement.
"You don't mean to tell me that it was you who was driving that car?" he gasped, finally.
"Permit me," said Colonel Abbey, smiling. "Scout Jack Danby, of Durland's Troop, Captain, and the operator of our first scout automobile ever since these maneuvers began."
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" said Beavers, speaking slowly. "You're all right, my boy! You drove that car like a Lancia. If you entered one of the big road races I believe you'd win it—upon my word I do!"
"We had a big lead at the start," said Jack; then, flushing a little at this public praise, "You see, the two cars are supposed to be exactly alike, and if one is just as fast as the other, and two of them get into a race, it's only natural for the one that has the start to keep its lead. I don't think I deserve any special credit for that. All I had to do was to keep her at full speed and steer."
"Yes, but it took more than that to lead us into this little man trap you had ready for us. Don't forget that!"
"Danby," said Colonel Abbey then, significantly, "you'd better get over to your headquarters and report to Captain Durland, if you have any information as a result of your trip. He is probably anxious to learn what you have accomplished."
Jack saluted at once, and turned on his heel. The headquarters of the Scouts was a mile or so distant from Abbey's camp, so the three Scouts got in the car again.
"Gee," said Jack, as he tested his gasoline tank, "we couldn't have gone much farther, that's sure! The juice is pretty low here, and if we had had to go a mile or so farther I don't know what might have happened. I guess he could have put the salt he was talking about on our tails easily enough."
"Well, he didn't, anyhow," said Tom Binns. "It isn't what they might have done, but what they did, that counts, Jack. I think we came out of it jolly well. Gee, but I was scared when that headlight hit us first!"
Durland was up and waiting for them when they arrived.
"Tryon Creek, eh?" said he, when Jack had made his report. "I thought as much. They may have weaknesses of their own in the matter of keeping a close guard, but General Bliss doesn't overlook anything in the way of strategy. He is mighty wide-awake on any point of that sort. I think I'll let you drive me over to General Harkness's headquarters and go in with you while you make your report in person, Jack."
General Harkness had to be awakened, but he had left orders that he was to be called at once should the Boy Scouts bring any news, and they had no difficulty in reaching him.
"You don't think there can be any mistake about their intention to march by way of Tryon Creek, do you?" he asked, with a grave face, when Jack had finished making his report.
"No, general, I do not," said Jack, and he explained the manner in which he had obtained his information.
"That lieutenant, you see, thought we were pretty well scared, and it never entered his head that we might try to escape," he said. "I've got an idea myself that they haven't found out yet that we've gone, really. There was no hue and cry raised while we were slipping out of their lines and back to the automobile, and I'm sure that we would have heard if there had been any pursuit. It's my idea that they won't discover that we're missing until breakfast. Even then, they're not likely to suspect that we know as much as we do, and I don't believe it will occur to that lieutenant to tell anyone that we learned from him where their attack was to be made. He'll probably forget that he said what he did."
"I hope so," said General Harkness. "In any case we will act on the information. If they knew that you had escaped with that news, I think General Bliss would be quite likely to change his plan. But I imagine that you are right about the officer who put you in the guard tent. His every action shows that he is careless and unlikely to think of the really important nature of the disclosure he made so lightly. I think we may assume with a fair amount of safety that they will attack by way of Tryon Creek, and I shall lay my plans accordingly and mass my troops at that point."
Jack had referred only incidentally to the race with the other car, but now the bell of the field telephone in the General's tent rang sharply, and an orderly answered it.
"Colonel Abbey, General," he said. "He wishes to know if he may talk to you."
Jack and Durland waited during the conversation that followed. General Harkness began laughing in a moment, and, after a conversation of five or six minutes, he hung up the receiver, his eyes wet with the tears his laughter had produced and his sides shaking.
"You leave out the most interesting part of your adventures when you think you can, don't you?" said he. "Do you know that Captain Beavers is regarded as the most expert driver of automobiles in the regular army? He invented the type of scout car that is being tried out, and you have beaten him squarely at a game that he should be the absolute master of."
"I hadn't heard a word about this," said Durland, showing a good deal of interest.
"I suppose we never would have from Danby," said the general. "That's what Abbey said—that was why he called me up."
And he proceeded to recount, while Jack, embarrassed, stood first on one foot and then on the other, the events that led up to the capture of the enemy's car, as Abbey had learned them from Captain Beavers. Far from being sore at his capture, Beavers regarded the whole affair as a fine joke on himself, and was only eager to find listeners who would give him a chance to repeat the story.
"That was fine work, Jack," said the Scout-Master, his eyes showing how proud he was of the Scout who had done his duty so well. "You accomplished something to-night that General Harkness and I were agreed was next door to impossible."
"It certainly seemed so to me," said the general, nodding his head. "But we needed that information badly, and I was ready to consent to any plan, however desperate the chances of success seemed to be, if it gave us even an outside chance to learn what it was that the enemy intended to do. We couldn't defend Tryon Creek and the Mardean road together, though we could block either one or the other, if we only knew where to look for the attack. As it is, thanks to what you have brought back, I think that we need have no fear of the outcome of the battle."
General Harkness, once aroused, and understanding what he had to do, stayed up. It was no time for him to sleep, and, as was presently proved, the army had had all the rest that was its due that night. For even as Jack and Durland made their way back to their own headquarters, the bugles began to blow, and the sleeping ranks began to stir all over the great encampment.
The transition from sleep to wakefulness and activity was brief enough. The bugles, blowing in all directions, aroused the sleepers, and soon all was bustle and apparent confusion all over the camp. But it was only apparent. Soon ordered ranks appeared, and all around the odor of frying bacon, and the aroma of coffee told of breakfast being cooked under the stars and the late moon, for it was recognized that there might be hard marching and plenty of it before there would be a chance for another meal. Two brigades were to start at once on the march to Tryon Creek, and General Harkness had ordered that the men eat their breakfast and receive a field ration before the march began.
"I guess we can turn in," said Jack to Pete and Tom, with a sigh of utter weariness. "Seems funny to be going to bed when everyone else is getting up—but they got in ahead of us on their sleep, so I guess it's our turn all right."
"Me for the hay, too!" said Pete Stubbs, without much thought for elegance of expression, but in such a tone as to convince anyone who heard him that he really needed sleep. As for Tom Binns, he hadn't been more than half awake since he had tumbled out of the car after the race, and he was leaning against a post, nodding, when the others aroused him to go upstairs.
The bustle and din of the army getting underway didn't keep Jack and his companions from sleeping. They cared little for all the noise, and even the rumbling of the gun caissons as the artillery went by was not enough to disturb them at all.
When Jack awoke it was broad daylight. He sprang to the window and looked out, to see that the sun was high, and that it must be after noon. In the distance the sound of firing told him that the troops were finding plenty of action. But the village street of Bremerton was deserted. There was no sign, except a litter of papers and scraps, that an army had ever disturbed the peace of the little border line village.
"Here, Pete, wake up!" he cried. "The whole army's gone—and we're left behind! Let's get dressed and see if there are any orders down below for us."
Pete got up, shaking his tousled red head disgustedly. He struggled over to the window, and a moment later a sharp cry from him brought Jack to his side.
"Jack! Look! Over there—looking up this way, now. See, it's Broom!"
Jack looked. There could be no doubt about it. The man who was lounging across the street was Broom, the villain who had escaped after Jack had caused his arrest at Wellbourne, and who had more than once tried to harm Jack and his friends.
"You're right, Pete," said Jack, quietly. "It's Broom!"
A PARLEY WITH THE ENEMY
Even Tom Binns, sleepy as he was, and hard as it usually was to arouse him, was wide awake as soon as he heard what his companions had seen.
"Broom!" he cried. "What's he doing here?"
"I don't know," said Jack, as he dressed hurriedly. "But I guess we'll soon find out, unless he's changed his ways. Whenever he appears it's a first-rate sign that there's trouble in the air. He's as good as a storm warning. Whenever you see him, look out for squalls, and you're not likely to be disappointed."
"He won't try to make any mischief here, with a whole army ready to drop on him if he starts anything," said Pete. "I believe he's all sorts of a scoundrel, and he's got plenty of nerve—but not enough for that."
"That's what we thought at the seashore, too, Pete, didn't we?" said Jack. "But he made trouble, all right, and it was only by good luck, really, that we got on to what he had in his dirty mind and stopped him."
"Yes, that's so, too, Jack. Gee, I wish I was a little bigger—I'd jump him myself and do all I could to lick him within an inch of his life!"
"What do you think we'd better do, Jack?" asked Tom.
"We've got to find out first what orders there are from Captain Durland. Then we can tell better. If Broom leaves me alone, I won't do anything about him. We're on active duty now, and we're not supposed to let any of our private affairs interfere with our duty. We're just as much bound to obey orders as if the country were really at war."
"I'm not worrying about interfering with him, Jack," said Pete, with a grin. "I'm perfectly willing to let him alone—in this State. His pull is in good working order here, you know. It wouldn't do any good, even if we did have him arrested. I don't believe he'd ever be taken back to Wellbourne for trial, because he and his gang know that there's a good chance that he might be sent to prison if he were ever taken there. But suppose he interferes with us? That's just what he's here to do, I think, if the way he always has acted is any guide to what he's likely to do now."
"Well," said Jack, "all we can do is to mind our own business and pay no attention to him at all, Pete, unless he bothers us. If he lets us alone, why, we'll do the same by him."
Then they went downstairs, and Jack found a note left for him by Durland.
"I have left orders that you are not to be awakened, unless you wake up yourselves, before three o'clock," the Scout-Master had written; "you three have had plenty of work, and you are entitled to a good rest. The Troop will be on scout duty near Tryon Creek, but your orders are to use the car, and reconnoiter in the direction of Mardean. The fighting will swing the Blue center over in that direction, unless we are badly beaten, and your orders are to keep a close watch on the roads leading to Fessenden Junction. It is possible that General Bliss may make a raid in that direction, probably with his cavalry brigade. Timely warning of any such plan is important, as it is not desirable to detach any considerable number of troops to guard the Junction."
"What would they want to make a raid toward the Junction for?" asked Pete, after Jack had shown him the note.
"Why not, Pete?"
"A cavalry brigade couldn't hold it a day, Jack. We would drive them out in no time at all. Don't you think so?"
"Well, even so, a day would be enough to do an awful lot of damage. They could destroy the station,—theoretically, of course,—tear up miles of track, burn all the cars there, and destroy or capture and carry off with them a great many of our reserve stores. That was why our capture of Hardport was such a blow to them. We didn't hold it very long, of course, but it wasn't much use to them when they got it back."
"I see, Jack. Yes, they could do a lot of mischief."
"You see, Pete, as it is now, even if we're beaten, we can fall back on the Junction, hold it with a relatively small force, and retreat on the capital and the inner line of defenses. But if our supplies and the railroad cars, and everything of that sort that are massed there were rendered useless by being marked destroyed, we couldn't do anything but make our way back toward the capital as best we could, with a victorious enemy harrying us all the way, which is a bad situation in warfare."
"Shall we cook breakfast for ourselves, Jack?"
"No! On account of Broom. Captain Durland will understand. We'll get our breakfast here. I think that's better. If he's waiting for us, we'll give him a good long wait, anyhow."
"Fine, Jack! I think that's a good idea, too. Gee, but I hate that man!"
"I can't say I exactly love him, myself, Pete. I wish I was big enough to have it out with him with my fists. That's certainly one fight that I wouldn't have any regrets for after it was over."
They had an excellent breakfast, and then they went out in the street together. Broom was still waiting, and save for one or two of the idlers commonly to be seen in a little country town, he was about the only person in sight. He came over toward them at once.
"Don't shoot, Colonel," he said to Jack, smiling amiably. "I ain't looking for no more trouble. I've been up against you and your pals often enough now to know that it don't pay to tackle you. You're too much class for me, and I'll give you best."
"We don't want to have anything to do with you," said Jack. "We know the sort of a man you are, and you'll get your deserts some time. But right now, if you'll let us alone, we'll do the same for you. We've got other things to do beside talk to you. Good-day!"
Jack really was rather relieved at Broom's pacific advances. He had not known what to expect from his enemy's appearance, and he knew that if Broom had any considerable number of his allies on hand, he and his companions would not be able to make a very effective resistance, try as they would. After all, they were only boys, though in some respects they had proved that they could do as well as men, and Broom and his fellows were grown men, without scruples, who had no idea, apparently, of what fair fighting meant. But though he was secretly pleased, he did not intend to let Broom see it, and moreover he felt that he must be constantly on the lookout for treachery.
"No use bearing malice and hard feelings," said Broom. "We never meant to hurt you, my boy. You'd have been safe enough with us, and, as you wouldn't come willing, we tried to get you to come the other way. We didn't do it, so you've got no call to be sore."
"I've had plenty of samples of your good intentions," said Jack, his lip curling in a sneer. "I'm not afraid of you, but you can't fool me with your soft, friendly talk, either. I know you, and all about you, and I'll thank you to keep away from us. We aren't going to stay here, anyhow, and we haven't got time to talk to you, even if we wanted to."
"Yes, you have!" said Broom, suddenly, coming close to Jack and dropping his voice. "Suppose I told you that I knew all about you, and could tell you who you were and everything else you want to know? You'd have had a better time at Woodleigh if you'd had a name of your own, like all the other fellows, wouldn't you? You know you would! Well, that's what I can do for you, if I want to. Now will you talk to me?"
"If you know all that about me, why don't you tell me?" asked Jack.
Despite himself, he was curious, and he was forced to admit that Broom interested him. The secret of his birth, which seemed resolved to elude him, was one that he would never tire of pursuing, and he was ready to make use of Broom, villain though he knew him to be, or anyone else who could shed some light on the mysterious beginnings of his life.
"I can't tell you now and here," said Broom. "But I tell you what I'll do. Meet me here to-night at eleven o'clock, if you're off duty, and I'll tell you the whole story. It's worth your while to hear it, too, I'll promise you."
"I'm likely to do that," said Jack, with a laugh. "Do you know that sounds like 'Will you walk into my parlor? said the spider to the fly.' You must certainly think I'm an easy mark if you think I'll go into a trap you set as openly as that! Not if I know myself!"
"You think you're mighty smart, don't you?" asked Broom, his face working with disappointment and anger. "I'm not setting any trap for you. If I'd wanted to do that, I couldn't have had a better chance than there was here this morning, when your Scouts and all the rest of your people went off and left you behind. If you're scared to come alone, bring anyone you like—Durland, Crawford, or anyone. Bring them all—the whole Troop! I don't care! But come yourself, or you'll always be sorry!"
Jack was impressed, despite himself, by the man's earnestness. He knew that Broom had been crooked in many ways, and he knew, also, that Captain Haskin, the railroad detective, had given him the reputation of being a clever criminal, whose scruples were as rare as his mistakes. But there was some truth in what the fellow said. Had he meant to make any attempt on Jack's liberty, he had already let the best chance he was likely to have for a long time, slip by.