They were used to hearing Tubby talk like this. He often became inspired with ambition, but, as time went on, the spirit died out, and something new took its place.
"You're letting the little fire die out, I notice, Rob," Merritt observed.
"Why, yes; we have no further use for it," he was told, "and there's always a small chance that some soldier would be sent this way on an errand, when he might get a whiff of the smoke, and take a notion to investigate. For one I'm not hankering to be sent a prisoner of war to some detention camp on the Rhine."
"And I'd feel pretty bad if my mission over here turned out a fizzle," said Merritt, "because my heart is set on getting that paper for Grandfather Crawford."
"I'm going to propose," Tubby projected, as though he could not tear his thoughts away from the one fascinating subject as long as the taste of his remarkable feast was still on his lips, "that we put in a couple of hours' more work getting a supply of these bouncing big frogs. If the Germans stay right there the rest of the day we want to lay in some provisions; and our choice is limited, you know, to this one thing."
"Of course we could do that," Rob informed him, "in case it was absolutely necessary; but I've got a hunch that there's going to be a movement of that army before sundown. If that happens, we can get away from here, and find some one to cook us a meal."
"Then you must have noticed signs that told they were beginning to get ready to go?" suggested Merritt.
"Which was just what I did," replied Rob. "I can hear certain sounds that tell me they have received the order they were expecting, and are breaking camp."
As all of them were anxious to learn whether this glorious possibility could be really true or not, they once more made their way back to the spot where their former vigil had taken place.
"Why, the whole army is in motion, seems like!" ejaculated Tubby.
"And a wonderful sight it is, at that," added Merritt. "They can say what they please about these German soldiers—and the Belgians feel they've got a right to call them all sorts of hard names, as barbarians and the like; but there never was such remarkable discipline in the history of the world. The huge army is like one vast machine. Men count only as necessary cogs. When one goes another takes its place, and the engine grinds on."
They crouched there and watched every operation from a safe distance. It seemed as though there was a never-ending procession of gray-coated figures, most of them with the spiked helmets on their heads, marching away in columns toward the southwest. Then came batteries of quick-firing guns, and heavier field pieces. The clattering of accouterments, the neighing of horses, and the hoarse singing of various regiments—all these things came floating on the breeze to the ears of the three lads, as they lay there in the afternoon sunshine and watched.
"They seem particularly fond of certain tunes," remarked Tubby, "and I know one is the German national air, 'The Watch on the Rhine,' because we've sung it many a time in the school at Hampton. What's that other they roar out, Rob?"
"I think it's a popular patriotic German air, called Deutschland ueber Alles, which means, of course, 'Germany Over All'," Rob obligingly replied.
"Oh! well, every country's sons believe they ought to have the first place in the sun; and I reckon we Americans have done a heap of boasting that way," Merritt remarked, which seemed to be about what Tubby thought, too.
So they lay there until the camp was entirely deserted. Never would those three scouts forget the spectacle to which they had been treated that day.
It was now along toward the middle of the afternoon. Far off in the distance somewhere, an action was certainly going on, for the grumble of heavy cannonading came almost constantly to their ears.
"Chances are," said Rob, as they prepared to vacate their refuge and once more push onward, "there's a fierce battle in progress, and this corps has received orders to get on the firing line. That would account for the way the troops were singing. Their business is to fight, and most of them are only happy when they can smell burnt powder, hear the crash of bursting shrapnel, and the heavy boom of big shells."
"We've seen one battle," observed Tubby with a shudder, "and for myself I'm not hankering after a second experience."
"I suppose in time we'd get used to such terrible things," Rob pursued in a reflective way, "for even the fellow who nearly swoons away in his first fight, they say, becomes a regular fire-eater after a while; but, so far as I'm concerned, I'll be a happy boy when I see good old peaceful Long Island again, with its sandy beaches, and the familiar things we love."
"We all will, Rob," remarked Tubby fervently, a yearning expression coming over his rosy face, as in imagination he again saw the home folks, and sat down to a table that fairly groaned with the good things he doted on.
"Yes, after I've carried out my mission I'll be just as glad to start back as either of you fellows," Merritt assured them.
The last of the Germans had disappeared from view when the boys started out. Rob was looking a bit serious, and the other noticed that he kept turning his eyes off toward the right, for it was in that direction the great host had gone.
"You don't expect they will turn back and give us trouble, do you, Rob?" asked Merritt, noticing this frequent look.
"No; it isn't that," he was told, "but I'm wondering what a certain movement that I happened to notice could mean."
"Tell us about it, won't you, Rob?" Tubby implored. "It can't be that we have to take the same road that army marched away along, because we're heading in just the other quarter."
Before Rob could commence with his explanation they heard the sound of what appeared to be an automobile behind them. At the time they chanced to be at the foot of a slight elevation, which rose for perhaps twenty feet in a gradual ascent.
"Gingersnaps and popguns! Look what's bearing down on us, will you?" gasped Tubby.
"It's an armored automobile, as sure as anything!" added Merritt, "just like that car we saw in Antwerp, you know. Yes, I can see the muzzle of the deadly Maxim gun that's back of that metal shield. Rob, it's heading straight at us. What if they take us for Germans, and open fire?"
"Oh! for goodness' sake, let's wave a white flag to keep them from mowing us down like wheat!" exclaimed Tubby, commencing to fumble in his pocket.
"Hold up your hands to show that we have no arms!" ordered Rob, abruptly. "They are Belgians, and perhaps the same daring fellows we saw come into Antwerp with all sorts of spoils to show they had made a raid, and shot down their regular allotment of the enemy. Yes, wave the white bag, if you want, Tubby; we don't mean to take any chances."
"It's a hard thing to be shot down, and then have some one say they're sorry, and that they didn't know the gun was loaded," remarked Merritt.
The armored car slowed down as it approached. Those vigilant Belgians aboard were doubtless observing the three figures in khaki closely. Already they must have discovered that they were Boy Scouts. Possibly they more than half expected to find they were Belgian scouts, for such boys were being used as dispatch bearers all over the war zone.
"We are friends!" called out Rob, "American boys, who belong to the scouts over in our country, you understand? We have nothing to do with the war. Do any of you speak English? I can talk in French a little, if it's necessary."
The three Belgian soldiers laughed at that. Plainly they had been at a loss to place these three lads.
"I happen to be able to talk English very good," one of them called out, as the car stopped, "and we are glad to meet you. Americans are good friends of ours."
"Listen," said Rob impressively, "if you keep on the road you expect to take, so as to follow the German army corps, you will fall into an ambush inside of three minutes."
TURNING THE TABLES.
When Rob made this astonishing statement his two chums suddenly realized that this must be the matter he had been on the point of explaining to them when the armored car from Antwerp came tearing along the road in their rear like a modern war chariot.
The leader of the three Belgian soldiers, and who seemed to be a captain, looked incredulous. He repeated what Rob had said to his backers, in Flemish; and they, too, observed the scout with wondering eyes.
"This is a strange thing you are telling me, boy," remarked the captain. "How is it you know there is an ambuscade laid to catch us napping?"
"I will gladly explain," the Eagle Patrol leader hastened to say. "You see, we want to get to Sempst, and, as we helped the Red Cross on the battlefield yesterday, we were detained. Then we found that there was a German army camped right in our way. It moved off toward the front only an hour ago, and we have been hiding most of the day. But, while we were watching the troops depart, I was surprised to see a single gun taken into a patch of scrub on a little elevation that commands the road. It is pointed this way, and you can never notice it there unless you have been posted. Now I can guess what they are hiding for; they expect that you may be along, and mean to rid the German army of your stinging them so often!"
Tubby's mouth was wide open. He stared at Rob as though he hardly knew whether he were awake or asleep. Even Merritt seemed thrilled by what he had heard.
As for the Belgian captain, it was an incredulous look that gripped his features.
"I do not know what to believe, boy," he said, looking earnestly at Rob.
"The best way is to prove it," that worthy told him immediately.
"It would at least be convincing," the pilot of the armored car declared.
"Suppose, then," continued the scout, "you leave your car here at the foot of this little rise. They couldn't see us with that hump between. Go up the hill, and look along the road. You needn't let them see you, of course; but I notice that you've got a pair of field-glasses along. Follow the road with those until you come to a little break in the stone wall that lies around a patch of field on the right. It is this knoll I spoke of, crowned with brush. Watch that brush closely for a minute; perhaps you will see the sun glint from the gun; or else one of the hidden German gunners may move ever so slightly. That will tell the story, captain."
The pilot of the armored car jumped out.
"I will do as you say, at least it can be no harm," he remarked hastily.
After speaking in Flemish to his companions, he started up the rise, carrying the field-glasses and a revolver along with him. Watching, they saw him get down and crawl the last yard or so; and then evidently he found a way to level his glasses in the quarter under suspicion.
Five minutes later and he backed off, coming quickly down the little declivity. The first thing he did was to grip Rob's hand and squeeze it fiercely.
"I have to thank you for my life, and the lives of my brave comrades as well!" he said with fervor.
"Then you found that what I told you was exactly so?" Rob asked.
"Yes, there is an ambuscade," replied the soldier. "They must have suspected that we would chase after the army so as to pick up stragglers, because that is our favorite game these terrible days; anything to sting the snake that is crawling across our beloved country and leaving death and destruction behind."
"You will not go ahead after learning what is waiting there, I suppose, Captain?" Rob continued.
"Certainly not, my boy, because they have the range plotted out, and, when we reached a certain spot, one shot would blow the car and the three of us to pieces. Our play is to go around another way. But why have you done this for us, when you say, as Americans, you must be neutral?"
"I hardly know," replied Rob. "Up to lately we have not felt like favoring either side, because we have many good German friends at home. But what we have seen and heard here in Belgium is beginning to turn us to the side of the Allies. You see, I could not watch you rush right to your death, knowing what I did. Perhaps, if the tables had been turned I might have warned a German pilot to turn around before it was too late."
"Well, you have done us a great favor, and we thank you," said the Belgian soldier, with considerable feeling; after which he conversed with his two comrades for a minute or so, no doubt explaining what had awaited them close by; and that only for the timely warning of the Americans they would have been launched into eternity.
Then the car was turned around, and away the three dashing Belgians sped. The last the boys saw of them was when they waved their hands back ere vanishing around a curve in the road.
"Well," said Tubby, "that was a splendid thing you did, Rob. And to think you noticed the Germans laying that cute little ambush there! It shows what training will do for a fellow, doesn't it?"
"It is only what every scout is supposed to do," replied Rob, thinking to impress a lesson on Tubby's mind. "Observe every little thing that happens, and draw your own conclusions from it. When I saw that gun going up into the field, I wondered what they meant by that. Then I saw they were laying a trap. I couldn't believe it was intended for us, and so I was puzzled, because we didn't expect to use that road at all."
"And when the armored car came whizzing along you knew the Germans meant to get the Belgians who had been doing so much damage day after day, as we'd heard; that was it, eh, Rob?" and Merritt nodded his head sagely, as though things were all as plain as anything to him now.
"Huh!" snorted Tubby, "after Columbus had cracked the end of the egg and stood it up, didn't those Spanish courtiers all say that was as easy as pie? Course we can see things after they've happened. But you and me, Merritt, had better be digging the scales off our eyes, so we can discover things for ourselves next time."
Merritt did not answer back. Truth to tell he realized that he merited a rebuke for his lack of observation. It might pass with an ordinary boy, but was inexcusable in a scout who had been trained to constantly use his faculties for observation wherever he went.
"Our road will take us past that place where they are hiding, won't it, Rob?" he presently said. "Suppose, now, they guessed that we must have turned the armored car back, and lost them their victims, wouldn't they be likely to take it out on us, thinking we might be Belgian Boy Scouts?"
"I had that in my mind, Merritt," admitted Rob, "and for that reason I reckon we ought to leave the road right here. We can make a wide detour, and strike it further along, where the danger will be past."
All of them were of the same mind. They did not fancy taking any chance of having that concealed six-pounder discharged point-blank at them. Mistakes are hard to rectify after a fatal volley has been fired. The best way is to avoid running any chances.
They found a way to leave the road and take to the fields, skirting fences, and in every way possible managing to keep out of sight of the German gunners who were lying concealed in that scrub on the little elevation.
It was while they were pushing on some distance away that without the least warning they caught a strange pulsating rattling sound from the rear. All of them came to a stop, and wondering looks were quickly changed to those of concern.
"Rob," exclaimed Merritt, "it comes from near where that gun lies hidden back of the bushes; and that's the rattle of a Maxim, as sure as you live. Those Belgians have turned the tables on the Germans; they've managed to sneak around back of them, and must be pouring in a terrible fire that will mow down every gunner in that bunch of brush!"
Rob was a little white in the face, as he continued to listen to the significant discharge. He had seen what mischief one of those Maxim guns could do at fairly close quarters, for they had witnessed them at work during the battle of the preceding day.
"I feel bad about it in one way," he said, "because in saving the lives of those three Belgians we have been the means of turning the trap on those who set it. But I never dreamed they would try to surprise the men in ambush."
The sounds died out, and silence followed; though the far-away grumble of the conflict could be heard from time to time.
"They've launched their bolt," said Merritt, "and either skipped out again, or else the German battery has been placed out of commission. We didn't hear the six-pounder go off, so they had no chance to fire back."
They continued their walk in silence. All of them had been much sobered by these thrilling and momentous events that were continually happening around them. Much of the customary jolly humor that, as a rule, characterized their intercourse with one another had been, by degrees, crushed by the tragedies that they had seen happening everywhere among the poor Belgians and amid the stricken soldiers whom they had so nobly assisted on the field of battle.
Striking the little road again at some distance beyond, they continued to follow it, under the belief that they could not now be very far away from the town they were aiming to reach.
Before they entirely lost sight of the late encampment of the German army, the boys discovered that a number of peasants from the surrounding country had come on the scene, and appeared to be hunting for anything of value which might have been purposely or by accident left behind.
"The poor things know they're going to have the hardest winter ever," said Tubby, with considerable feeling in his voice, "and they're trying to find something to help out. Like as not some of them even came from Louvain, where they lost everything they had in the wide world when the place was burned to the ground. It's just awful, that's what it is. America looks like the only place left where there's a chance of keeping the peace."
As they went along Rob was keeping track of their course. He gave Merritt his reasons for believing they would reach Sempst before sunset after all, unless something entirely unexpected happened to delay them again.
"Just now we're in great luck," he finished. "So far as we can see the Germans have cleared out of this particular section completely. They may be back again to-morrow; you never can tell what they'll do. But the main line of railroad is where they are mostly moving, because in that way they can get their supplies of men, guns, ammunition and food, and also take back the wounded. Some of their dead are buried, but in the main they prefer to cremate them, which is the modern way to prevent disease following battles."
Merritt did not make any remark, for he was becoming more and more anxious the closer they drew to the town where he expected to have that question of the success or failure of his mission settled.
Rob knew how strained his nerves must be. He could feel for his chum, and it was only natural for him to want to buoy up Merritt's sinking hopes.
"Don't get downcast, old fellow," he told him. "You've stuck it out through thick and thin so far. Whether you find this Steven Meredith in Sempst or not, you're bound to meet up with him somewhere, sooner or later, you know."
Merritt gritted his teeth, and the old look of resolution came across his face, which the others knew full well.
"Thank you for saying that, Rob," he observed steadily. "You know that once my mind is made up I'm a poor one to cry quits. I'll follow that man to China, or the headwaters of the Amazon, if necessary, but I'll never give up as long as I can put one foot in front of the other."
"And," said Tubby vehemently, "here are two loyal comrades who mean to stick to you, Merritt, to the very end."
FOR HUMANITY'S SAKE.
"I think we're coming to Sempst," said Rob.
It was nearly half an hour after Merritt had so firmly announced his intention of staying in the game, no matter if he should meet with a bitter disappointment in the town, which had been the loadstone for their advance through the heart of war-stricken Belgium.
"Then Brussels can't be very far away, over there," said Tubby. "Gee! I only wish we could find some scarecrows about now, and get a change of clothes."
"What makes you say that?" asked Rob. "I thought you were so proud of your suit of khaki that nothing could tempt you to give it up."
"Oh! I didn't mean I'd really want to discard this bully suit," Tubby hastened to explain. "Only if we could manage to conceal the scout uniform under something more common, why, you see the Germans might take us for Belgian boys, and in that case wouldn't molest us."
"I understand what he's getting at, Rob," Merritt chuckled, "Tubby has said a number of times that the one thing he was sorry about was that we couldn't have a run through Brussels. Seems like he got a great notion he wanted to visit there, as he'd read a lot about the wonderful city. But you'll have to let that longing sleep until the next time you come abroad, Tubby."
"Unless we happen to find we've got business in Brussels," observed the other cunningly. "Then mebbe we might decide we'd find a way to go in. 'Course I mean if they told us here in Sempst that Mr. Steven Meredith, who seems to be a pretty smart secret agent of the German Government, had changed his residence to Brussels, so as to be in touch with army headquarters and the General Staff. How about that, Merritt?"
"We won't cross rivers before we come to them," Rob hastened to remark, not wishing the other to fully commit himself to any course. "After coming so far with the intention to find our man here in this little town, it seems silly to get cold feet when we're right on the spot, and before we know anything that's against our having the best of success."
"Oh! you're right, Rob," agreed Tubby. "You remember the old motto we used to write in our copybooks at school long ago—'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.' Guess that's from the Good Book, too; but it applies to our case, all the same. We'll wait till we see what is going to happen here in Sempst. Anyway, they haven't burned this little place down, because I don't see anything that looks like ruins."
Indeed, it seemed as though the peasants living close to Brussels had been induced by the Germans to continue their regular field work, under promise of purchasing for fair prices all the green stuff they could fetch into the capital. They, mostly women, old decrepit men, and children, for even the smallest could be given some task that would help out, were working in the fields.
"I wonder if any of them could understand my French," Rob was saying. "Of course it wouldn't be likely they could talk English. I've got a good notion to try it on the first one we meet on the road ahead."
"Do it, Rob," urged Tubby. "Merritt and I will stand by to catch him if he starts to faint."
"Oh! I hope my French isn't quite that bad," exclaimed Rob. "I've been polishing it up considerable, you know, while on the steamer, and after we landed in Belgium; and, with what I know, and by pointing and shrugging my shoulders, I generally manage to make people understand. Of course, I don't know how it would be with a clodhopper who didn't happen to be as intelligent as I'd want. But here's a chance, and I'm going to make the attempt."
"It won't kill, even if it doesn't cure," said Merritt; "and, Rob, if you can get him to understand what you're saying, be sure and ask if that chemical factory, where we understood Steven had been given his responsible berth, has shut down, or if it is still in operation."
"I'll do that, Merritt," the other promised.
Accordingly, when the peasant, smoking his big pipe, came along in his wooden shoes, Rob stopped him. He wanted to impress the fellow favorably, so as to increase the prospect for a favorable answer; and so Rob made sure to have one of his famous smiles on his bright face when he began to air his French.
The other boys stood there watching the "circus," as Tubby called it. They saw, however, that Rob, many times at a loss for words in order to express his meaning, must have managed to make the peasant understand him.
Again and again each of them pointed toward the town so near at hand. Possibly Rob may have been explaining just who he and his chums were, and also how they had come all the way from Antwerp with the one hope of finding a certain person in this little suburb.
"He's picking up some kind of news, seems like," Merritt told Tubby, as the dialogue progressed under so many difficulties, expressive movements of the shoulders, and waving hands taking the place of words that failed.
"What makes you think so?" demanded the fat scout.
"Look at Rob's face, and you can tell that he's feeling more or less satisfied with the way things are going on," replied Merritt.
"Gosh! that's so," muttered Tubby. "Seems you're getting a move on, too, with observing things. I'll have to hurry and do something myself, if I don't want to find that I'm no first-class scout, after all, but only a dub."
Finally Rob was seen to press a coin in the calloused palm of the peasant, who took off his cap and bowed several times, as though grateful, and then he continued on his way along the road.
"What luck?" asked Tubby immediately; while Merritt, more deeply interested than any of them, silently waited to listen.
"Oh! he gave me quite some information," replied Rob; "and, so far as I can see, it looks good for us. I didn't learn anything about Steven Meredith, because the farm laborer probably never heard of such a person; but he did tell me that the chemical works have been kept going full blast ever since the Germans occupied Brussels."
"That must be because certain things are made there that they can use in their war game, eh, Rob?" Merritt conjectured, and the other nodded.
"No question about it," he said, "though the peasant couldn't say why certain things were done, only that they did happen. But, if the factory is running wide open, there seems to be a chance that we may find Steven still on deck, and keeping his finger on the pulse."
"I'm only afraid that if he really is what we think, a secret agent of the government," Merritt suggested uneasily, "that he may have been transferred to some other point where his smartness would be apt to count, perhaps away down in France, so that he could send up valuable information about the making of artillery, or how the conscription of the Nineteen-Fifteen boy recruits is coming on."
"Still, to find the works open, and doing business right along, looks like a piece of good luck to me," said Tubby.
"It is," added Rob positively. "We agreed long ago that we'd consider it such, if we learned there had been no shutdown. We hoped it would be that way, for we already knew that German capital had been back of the chemical works. I wouldn't be much surprised if it was learned that somewhere about the place, unknown to most people, these clever Germans had long ago built a heavy concrete floor, to be used in their business; but which would make the best kind of foundation for one of those big siege guns they used to knock down the Liege and Namur forts."
When Rob said this he did not dream how closely he was hitting the truth. It had not been discovered at that time how secret preparations along such lines had been made by the Germans, year after year, in close proximity to many of the leading cities in Belgium, France, and even over in England.
"Well, now for moving on, and entering the town," Merritt remarked, with a look on his face that told how he was summoning all his resolution so as not to appear too heartbroken should they meet with bitter disappointment.
"I hope we don't run across any German soldiers here," said Tubby.
"We want to keep on the constant watch for them," Rob gave warning. "If they saw us, they might think it their duty to have us arrested at once, and detained until our story could be investigated."
"And that would spell ruin for all our plans, wouldn't it?" Merritt asked, not as cheerfully as he might, because he had been fearful all along that something like this might come to pass just when he had discovered the object of his long search, and before he could proceed to relieve Steven Meredith of the old case in which he carried those splendid field-glasses.
They were now among the outer houses of the town. So far as they could see, Sempst did not differ to any degree from various other Belgian towns they had seen. It consisted of numerous small houses, a few more pretentious dwellings, possibly of Brussels business men, and some factories.
From only one of these stacks was smoke seen coming, and, having picked up a pointer, it was easy for the scouts to decide that this must be the German-owned chemical works with which Steven Meredith had been connected, between his foreign trips.
When thus entering the town that was so close to Brussels, where the Germans were in full charge, it was the policy of the three scouts to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. While thus far they had not chanced to notice any German soldiers, still there was always a possibility that some of them were around.
Besides, Rob figured that if a German-owned chemical factory had been in operation here for years, very naturally there would be many natives of the Rhine country employed there, and living in the town. If the German government were really back of this Belgian works, as seemed possible, they would want to have mostly reliable men on guard, who, in case of sudden emergency, could throw off their workmen's garb and show themselves in their true colors, as regularly enlisted soldiers, serving their superiors while plying their regular trade.
When, therefore, the boys heard loud outcries, after entering the town, and made the distressing discovery that there was a runaway approaching them, the first thought Rob had was that they must keep out of the way, and not interfere, lest by so doing they attract attention toward themselves.
With this discreet plan of action rapidly forming in his mind, Rob was even in the act of hastily drawing both his chums back behind a wall until all the excitement had subsided, when he made a discovery that brought his scheme to a halt.
It was, after all, only a pony that had been seized with an attack of blind staggers, and was now dashing frantically away, with a little basket-cart dragging back and forth at his heels; but in that cart Rob saw was a frightened child.
In that moment, Rob struggled with a grave question. To show themselves before a crowd such as would likely gather, was full of danger, not only to themselves, but for their mission as well. At the same time there was a something within his soul that refused to avoid the responsibility by shutting his eyes.
He could not do it. He knew that child was in deadly peril, for, small as the pony might be, just then he was acting like a little demon. If he allowed the runaway to go by, and something dreadful happened, how could he ever reconcile his action with his vows as a true-blue scout?
So Rob's mind was made up.
"Merritt, we must save that poor little child, come what will!" he exclaimed; and that loyal comrade, forgetting all else for humanity's sake, instantly cried:
"We will, Rob! Hurry and get on one side, while I look out for the other!"
"Where do I come in? Won't you let me help?" bawled Tubby, hurrying after his two chums as fast as his fat legs would carry him.
Neither of the others paid the slightest attention to him. Just then Tubby was about as useless as a fifth wheel to a wagon. He was so clumsy that if he attempted to take a hand in the rescue work the chances were Rob and Merritt would have to spend a portion of their time in saving him.
They ran out into the middle of the road. The crazy little pony was already close up, and there was no time to be lost.
"Now!" shouted Rob. "Nab him, and throw him if you can!"
Both scouts fastened upon the bridle close to the bit. Every ounce of muscle the boys possessed was brought to bear, supplemented by all the shrewdness they had acquired upon the football field, in tackling and throwing the runner who held the coveted pigskin oval.
There was something of a struggle, and then down went the frantic pony.
"Hey! let me sit on him; I'll keep him quiet!" called Tubby, as he came panting up to the spot; and once he had deposited his extra weight upon the little beast, it had no other course open but to succumb to circumstances and lie quiet.
Rob turned to see what had become of the child. There was a stout, red-faced man, coming on the run as fast as he could hurry. Undoubtedly it was his child. While he was in a store, the pony probably had been taken with a sudden seizure of what Rob called "blind staggers," which sometimes causes horses to dash madly away as though possessed of an evil spirit, and even to destroy themselves against any barrier that arises in their path.
The child, though crying with fright, was apparently unhurt. Some one had taken her from the basket-cart, and should the pony have broken loose again, it could not have imperiled the little one.
In another minute, the red-faced man was hugging his child, and covering her face with kisses. The people must have told him who had saved his darling, for he came up to Rob and Merritt. (The pony had now become quite calm, though Tubby continued to occupy his seat, for, as he afterwards said, "he knew a good thing when he found it; and he was awful tired.")
The big stout man, evidently a German, from his appearance and language, began to pour out his thanks; but Rob shook his head as he remarked:
"None of us can speak German, sir. We are American boys, you see; I can understand a little French, but that is all."
The man's face lighted up. He immediately seized Rob by the hand and commenced to kiss him on the cheeks; but the boys had learned that this was the common method of warm salutation abroad, even among men, though they had never seen it done across the water.
"I am glad you are American and not English!" the other went on to cry. "I would be sorry, indeed, if I owed the life of my little Frieda to an English boy. But an American, it is quite different. Ach! what would I not do to show you how grateful I am for your brave act? Tell me, can I not do something to prove that in Germany we look upon your country as our friends? My name it is Herr Frederick Haskins, I am the principal owner of the chemical works over yonder. Let me be your host while in Sempst you stay. It would give me much pleasure, I assure you."
Rob stared at Merritt, and the latter almost held his breath. Was there ever such great luck as this? They had saved a child from danger, and made a warm friend of her father, who had turned out to be the proprietor of the very factory where Steven Meredith had an interest outside of his occupation as a secret agent of the Kaiser.
"Rob, ask him!" whispered Merritt, too overcome himself to find words in which to give utterance to what was weighing so heavily on his mind.
So the patrol leader, mastering his inclination to feel just as "shaky" as Corporal Crawford, turned again toward the red-faced German chemist.
"We might accept your kind offer of entertainment for to-night, Herr Haskins," he said, as though they took the man's sincerity for its face value, "because we will have to put up somewhere, though to-morrow it may be we shall want to start back toward Antwerp again. You said that you were the proprietor of the chemical company in town. Are those the works where the smoke is coming out of the stacks?"
The man nodded. He held his little girl in his arm, as though he could not bear to let her be away from him again. A look of what seemed to be pride crept over his face; it meant something that his was the only factory that had been kept running, simply because his foreign hands did not have to go when the call to the Belgian colors came.
"It is because I have the confidence of the German government that I am allowed to continue my works," he said in a low tone, as though not wishing others to hear what he was saying.
"It is very strange," continued Rob, bound to learn the worst immediately, now that such a golden opportunity had come along, "but it was to see a man connected with your business that we came all the way from Antwerp. His name is Mr. Steven Meredith, who was over in America not so many months ago."
It was apparent that they were going to meet with a keen disappointment; Rob knew this the second he saw the shade of regret pass over the rubicund face of Herr Haskins.
"Ah! that is really too bad," the stout man exclaimed; "for you are just one week too late!"
"Has he left Sempst, then?" asked Merritt sturdily.
"Just seven days ago he shook hands with me, and said I could look for him when I saw him again. That might be in a month, and it might be six, even Steven could not say. He simply had to obey his orders from his superiors. His interest in the works is not the only thing he follows, you understand."
"No," said Rob, mysteriously, looking carefully around, as though he wanted to make sure he was not overheard, "of course we know his other business. The General Staff has ordered him again on duty somewhere. It is too bad, because my friend here wishes to see Herr Meredith very much, indeed."
"I am sorry," remarked the stout man, in a hesitating way, and Rob knew that if he hoped to get any information from this source at all now was the time to strike—while the iron was hot.
"You say you are grateful, sir," he hurriedly whispered, "because we happened to save your little girl's life, or at least kept her from being badly injured. We would call the debt canceled if you could tell us where we can find Herr Meredith. If he is in France, tell us where."
The man did not immediately reply. His face was a study. He was undoubtedly being torn between gratitude and devotion to the interests of his emperor, whom he would have died to serve, no doubt.
"If I could only be sure it was right for me to give you that information," Rob heard him mutter, and he hastened to follow up his attack.
"I give you my word of honor, Herr Haskins," he said earnestly and convincingly, "that none of us has the slightest intention to betray Steven Meredith to his enemies. If you write down the information we need, we solemnly promise you not to use it to his injury. My friend only wants to get a small thing Herr Meredith has with him, although he himself does not know it is in his possession, for it was all a mistake about his taking it. He will be only too glad to give it to us, and we shall trouble him no more. Won't you take our word of honor, sir?"
The big man looked down at his child, and that must have decided him.
"Come home with me, and spend the night," he said in a hospitable way. "We will entertain you the best we can under the peculiar conditions existing here. If you care to, you can tell me all about yourselves; and I promise you that before you go to sleep this night I will place in your possession an address in Northern France where you will likely find my partner, under another name. But you must swear to me that under no conditions will you imperil his position there. Is it a bargain, my boys?"
Rob looked at Merritt. The latter, although terribly disappointed, was still game. He gave not the slightest sign of submitting to the decrees of a cruel Fate.
"We will accept your hospitality, Herr Haskins," he said quietly, "and also take from you that address under the promise you ask. Steven Meredith has no reason to fear that we will betray him. We are Americans, and our President has asked that every one, old and young, remain strictly neutral while this war is going on."
"We bound up the wounds of three times as many Germans after the battle as we did Belgians," Rob added, while Tubby was heard to mutter under his breath:
"Which was because there were ten times as many Germans hurt as there were of the brave little Belgian army."
They accompanied Herr Haskins to his fine home, where they were splendidly entertained that night. Tubby ate so much dinner that he was incapable of joining in the conversation that immediately followed, though that fact was of minor importance, because, as a rule, he only made himself a nuisance when there was any serious discussion on hand.
At least, if they had to be disappointed in not finding the man they had come so far to deal with, they could deem themselves lucky in meeting Herr Haskins under conditions that placed him heavily in their debt; otherwise they might never have discovered in what direction Steven Meredith had gone when his superiors in the German Secret Service ordered him on duty again.
As it was, when the boys on the following morning once more headed in the direction of Antwerp, armed with a letter from Herr Haskins that would be of considerable service should they be held up by any German patrol, Merritt also had a small bit of paper secreted inside the lining of his coat, on which simply an address was written.
As they journeyed they had plenty of opportunities to lay out their new program and build fresh castles in the air concerning the success which they meant to attain if it lay in mortal power.
Whether they were as fortunate in the new fields that now stretched before them as they had been in avoiding pitfalls between the battle lines in Belgium, you will find recorded in the next volume of this series, under the title of "The Boy Scouts with the Allies in France."
BOY SCOUT SERIES
LIEUT. HOWARD PAYSON
MODERN BOY SCOUT STORIES FOR BOYS Cloth Bound, Price 50c per volume.
THE BOY SCOUTS ON THE RANGE.
Connected with the dwellings of the vanished race of cliff-dwellers was a mystery. Who so fit to solve it as a band of adventurous Boy Scouts? The solving of the secret and the routing of a bold band of cattle thieves involved Rob Blake and his chums, including "Tubby" Hopkins, in grave difficulties.
There are few boys who have not read of the weird snake dance and other tribal rites of Moquis. In this volume, the habits of these fast vanishing Indians are explained in interesting detail. Few boys' books hold more thrilling chapters than those concerning Rob's captivity among the Moquis.
Through the fascinating pages of the narrative also stalks, like a grim figure of impending tragedy, the shaggy form of Silver Tip, the giant grizzly. In modern juvenile writing, there is little to be found as gripping as the scene in which Rob and Silver Tip meet face to face. The boy is weaponless and,—but it would not be fair to divulge the termination of the battle. A book which all Boy Scouts should secure and place upon their shelves to be read and re-read.
Sold by Booksellers Everywhere.
HURST & CO., PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
BOY SCOUT SERIES
LIEUT. HOWARD PAYSON
MODERN BOY SCOUT STORIES FOR BOYS Cloth Bound Price, 50c per volume.
THE BOY SCOUTS OF THE EAGLE PATROL.
A fascinating narrative of the doings of some bright boys who become part of the great Boy Scout movement. The first of a series dealing with this organization, which has caught on like wild fire among healthy boys of all ages and in all parts of the country.
While in no sense a text-book, the volume deals, amid its exciting adventures, with the practical side of Scouting. To Rob Blake and his companions in the Eagle Patrol, surprising, and sometimes perilous things happen constantly. But the lads, who are, after all, typical of most young Americans of their type, are resourceful enough to overcome every one of their dangers and difficulties.
How they discover the whereabouts of little Joe, the "kid" of the patrol, by means of smoke telegraphy and track his abductors to their disgrace; how they assist the passengers of a stranded steamer and foil a plot to harm and perhaps kill an aged sea-captain, one must read the book to learn. A swift-moving narrative of convincing interest and breathless incident.
Sold by Booksellers Everywhere.
HURST & CO., PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Obvious mistakes have been corrected, but other discrepancies have not been changed. Inconsistent hyphenation has been retained.