THE BOY ALLIES AT LIEGE
Through Lines of Steel
By CLAIR W. HAYES
AUTHOR OF "The Boy Allies On the Firing Line" "The Boy Allies With the Cossacks" "The Boy Allies In the Trenches"
THE TWO COMRADES.
"War has been declared, mother!" shouted Hal, as closely followed by his friend, Chester Crawford, he dashed into the great hotel in Berlin, where the three were stopping, and made his way through the crowd that thronged the lobby to his mother's side.
"Yes, mother, it's true," continued Hal, seeing the look of consternation on Mrs. Paine's face. "The Kaiser has declared war upon France!"
Mrs. Paine, who had risen to her feet at her son's entrance, put her hand upon the back of her chair to steady herself, and her face grew pale.
"Can it be?" she said slowly. "After all these years, can it be possible that millions of men will again fly at each other's throats? Is it possible that Europe will again be turned into a battlefield?"
Overcome by her feelings, Mrs. Paine sank slowly into her chair. Hal and Chester sprang to her side.
"It's all right, mother," cried Hal, dropping to his knees and putting his arm about her. "We are in no danger. No one will harm an American. At this crisis a citizen of the United States will not be molested."
Mrs. Paine smiled faintly.
"It was not of that I was thinking, my son," she said. "Your words brought back to me the days gone by, and I pray that I shall not have to go through them again. Then, too, I was thinking of the mothers and wives whose hearts will be torn by the news you have just told me. But come," and Mrs. Paine shook off her memories, "tell me all about it."
"As you know, Mrs. Paine," spoke up Chester, who up to this time had remained silent, "Hal and I went to the American Embassy immediately after dinner to-night to learn, if possible, what difficulties we were likely to encounter in leaving Germany. Since the Kaiser's declaration of war against Russia all Americans have been preparing to get out of the country at the earliest possible moment. But now that war has been declared on France, we are likely to encounter many hardships."
"Is there any likelihood of our being detained?" asked Mrs. Paine in alarm. "What did the ambassador say?"
"While the ambassador anticipates no danger for foreigners, he advises that we leave the country immediately. He suggests that we take the early morning train across the Belgian frontier."
"Why go to Belgium?"
"All railroad lines leading into France have been seized by German soldiers. Passenger traffic has been cut off, mother," explained Hal. "All trains are being used for the movement of troops."
"Yes, Mrs. Paine," continued Chester, "we shall have to go through Belgium. Even now thousands of the Kaiser's best troops are marching upon the French frontier, and fighting is only a question of hours."
"Very well, then," returned Mrs. Paine. "We shall go in the morning. So I guess we would all better go upstairs and pack. Come along, boys."
While the packing is going on, it is a good time to describe the two American lads, who will play the most important parts in our story.
Hal Paine was a lad some seventeen years of age. Following his graduation from high school in a large Illinois city the previous June, his mother had announced her intention of taking him on a tour through Europe. Needless to say, Hal jumped at this chance to see something of the foreign countries in whose histories he had always been deeply interested. It was upon Hal's request that Mrs. Paine had invited his chum, Chester Crawford, to accompany them.
Chester was naturally eager to take the trip across the water, and, after some coaxing, in which Mrs. Paine's influence also was brought to bear, his parents finally agreed to their son's going so far away from home.
Hal's father was dead. A colonel of infantry, he was killed leading a charge at the battle of El Caney, in the Spanish-American war. Hal's grandfather died of a bayonet wound in the last days of the Civil War.
But, if Hal's father's family was a family of fighters, so was that of his mother. Her father, a Virginian, was killed at the head of his men while leading one of Pickett's regiments in the famous charge at Gettysburg. Three of her brothers also had been killed on the field of battle, and another had died in prison.
From her own mother Mrs. Paine had learned of the horrors of war. Before the war her father had been a wealthy man. After the war her mother was almost in poverty. While too young then to remember these things herself, Mrs. Paine knew what havoc had been wrought in the land of her birth by the invasion of armed men, and it is not to be wondered at that, in view of the events narrated, she should view the coming struggle with anguish, despite the fact that her own country was not involved and that there was no reason why her loved ones should be called upon to take up arms.
Chester's father was a prominent and wealthy lumberman, and Chester, although nearly a year younger than Hal, had graduated in the same class with his comrade. The two families lived next door to each other, and the lads had always been the closest of chums.
For the last three years the boys had spent each summer vacation in one of the lumber camps owned by Chester's father, in the great Northwest. Always athletically inclined, the time thus spent among the rough lumbermen had given the boys new prowess. Day after day they spent in the woods, hunting big game, and both had become proficient in the use of firearms; while to their boxing skill—learned under a veteran of the prize-ring, who was employed by Chester's father in the town in which they lived—they added that dexterity which comes only with hard experience. Daily fencing lessons had made both proficient in the use of sword and saber.
Among these woodsmen, composed of laborers from many nations, they had also picked up a smattering of many European languages, which proved of great help to them on their trip abroad.
Standing firmly upon their rights from first to last, the two lads never allowed anyone to impose upon them, although they were neither naturally pugnacious nor aggressive. However, there had been more than one lumberjack who had found to his discomfort that he could not infringe upon their good nature, which was at all times apparent.
Both boys were large and sturdy, and the months spent in the lumber camps had given hardness to their muscles. Their ever-readiness for a rough-and-tumble, the fact that neither had ever been known to dodge trouble—although neither had ever sought it, and that where one was involved in danger there was sure to be found the other also—had gained for them among the rough men of the lumber camp the nickname of "The Boy Allies," a name which had followed them to their city home.
It was by this name that the boys were most endearingly known to their companions; and there was more than one small boy who owed his escape from older tormentors to the "Boy Allies'" idea of what was right and wrong, and to the power of their arms.
Both lads were keenly interested in history, so, in spite of the manner in which they tried to reassure Mrs. Paine and set her mind at rest, there is no cause for wonder in the fact that both were more concerned in the movement of troops and warships than in the efforts the other powers were making to prevent a general European war.
Staunch admirers of Napoleon and the French people, and, with a long line of descendants among the English, the sympathies of both were naturally with the Allies. As Chester had said to Hal, when first rumors of the impending conflagration were heard:
"It's too bad we cannot take a hand in the fighting. The war will be the greatest of all time, and both sides will need every man they can get capable of bearing arms."
"You bet it's too bad," Hal had replied; "but we're still in Europe, and you never can tell what will happen. We may have to play a part in the affair whether we want to or not," and here the conversation had ended, although such thoughts were still in the minds of both boys when they accompanied Mrs. Paine to their apartment to pack up, preparatory to their departure in the morning.
The packing completed, the lads announced their intention of walking out and learning the latest war news.
"We won't be gone long, mother," said Hal.
"Very well, son," Mrs. Paine replied; "but, whatever you do, don't get into any trouble. However, I do not suppose there is any danger to be feared—yet."
For more than an hour the lads wandered about the streets, reading the war bulletins in front of the various newspaper offices, and listening to crowds of men discussing the latest reports, which became more grave every minute.
As the boys started on their return to their hotel, they heard a shout down a side street, followed immediately by more yells and cries; and then a voice rang out in English:
Breaking into a quick run, Hal and Chester soon were upon the scene of confusion.
With their backs to a wall, two young men were attempting to beat back with their fists a crowd of a dozen assailants, who beset them from three directions.
As the two boys rounded the corner, the cry for help again went up.
"Come on, Chester!" shouted Hal. "We can't let that gang of hoodlums beat up anyone who speaks the English language."
"Lead on!" cried Chester. "I am right with you!"
They were upon the crowd as he spoke, and Hal's right fist shot out with stinging force, and the nearest assailant, struck on the side of the neck, fell to the ground with a groan.
"Good work, Hal!" shouted Chester, at the same time wading into the crowd of young ruffians, for such the attackers proved to be, and striking out right and left.
Howls of anger and imprecations greeted the attack from this unexpected source, and for a moment the ruffians fell back. In the time that it took the crowd to return to the struggle, the boys forced their way to the side of the victims of the attack, and the four, with their backs to the wall, took a breathing spell.
"You didn't arrive a moment too soon," said one of the young men, with a smile. "I had begun to think we were due for a trimming."
"There are four of us here," returned Hal, "and we ought to be good for that crowd; but, instead of standing here, when they attack again, let's make a break and fight our way through. There will be more of them along in a minute, and it will be that much harder for us."
"Good!" returned the second stranger in French. "Here they come!"
"Are you ready?" asked Hal.
"All ready," came the reply from the other three.
"All right, then. Now!"
At the word the four rushed desperately into the throng, which was pressing in on them from three sides. Taken by surprise, the enemy gave way for a moment; then closed in again.
Blows fell thick and fast for the space of a couple of minutes. Then, suddenly, Chester fell to the ground.
Turning, Hal fought his way to the other side of Chester's prostrate body. Then, bending down, he lifted his chum to his feet.
"Hurt much?" he asked.
"No," replied Chester, shaking his head like an enraged bull. "Let me get at them again!"
He rushed in among his assailants with even greater desperation than before, and two young hoodlums fell before his blows.
In the meantime the strangers were giving a good account of themselves, and the enemy were falling before their smashing fists.
Hal ducked a blow from the closest of his assailants, and, stepping in close, struck him with all his power under the chin. The youth fell to the ground.
As he did so the ruffian nearest him, with a hiss of rage, drew a knife, with which he made a wicked slash at Hal. Hal did not see the movement, being closely pressed elsewhere, but Chester, with a sudden cry, leaped forward and seized the hand holding the knife, just as the weapon would have been buried in Hal's back.
"You would, would you, you coward!" he cried, and struck the young German in the face with all the strength of his right arm. The latter toppled over like a log.
All this time the crowd of assailants continued to grow. Attracted by the sounds of the scuffle, reinforcements arrived from all directions, and it is hard to tell what would have happened had not the sudden blast of a whistle interrupted the proceedings.
"The police!" yelled someone in the crowd. "Run!"
In less time than it takes to tell it, Hal, Chester, and the two other young men were alone, while racing toward them, down the street, were several figures in uniform.
"Run!" cried the young Frenchman. "If they catch us we will all go to jail, and there is no telling when we'll get out. Run!"
The four took to their heels, and, dodging around corner after corner, were soon safe from pursuit.
"Well, I guess we are safe now," said the Englishman, when they stopped at last. Then, turning to Hal:
"I don't know how to thank you and your friend. If you had not arrived when you did, I fear it would have fared badly with us."
"No thanks are due," replied Hal. "It's a poor American who would refuse to help anyone in trouble. Shake hands and call it square!"
The Englishman smiled.
"As modest as you are bold, eh? Well, all right," and he extended his hand, which Hal and Chester grasped in turn.
But the Frenchman was not to be put off so easily. He insisted on embracing both of the boys, much to their embarrassment.
"I'm Lieutenant Harry Anderson, of the Tenth Dragoons, His Majesty's service," explained the Englishman, and then, turning to his friend: "This is Captain Raoul Derevaux, Tenth Regiment, French Rifle Corps. We were strolling along the street when attacked by the gang from which you saved us. In the morning we shall try to get out of Germany by way of the Belgian frontier. If now, or at any other time, we may be of service to you, command us."
"Yes, indeed," put in the Frenchman, "I consider myself your debtor for life."
Hal and Chester thanked their newly-made friends for their good will, and, after a little further conversation, left them to continue their way, while they returned to the hotel, much to the relief of Mrs. Paine, who had become very uneasy at their long absence.
A PERILOUS SITUATION.
"Come on, Hal. Let's stroll about a few minutes. We've lots of time before the train pulls out."
It was Chester who spoke. Mrs. Paine and the two boys were sitting in their compartment of the Brussels express, in the station at Berlin. It still lacked ten minutes of the time set for departure.
"You don't mind, do you, mother?" said Hal.
"No; if you do not go too far," was the answer.
The boys descended from the car, and wandered toward the entrance of the station. Just as they were about to step on to the street, a German military officer swung into the doorway. Hal, who was directly in his path, stepped aside, but not quickly enough to entirely avoid him.
With one outstretched arm the officer shoved him violently to one side, and then stopped.
"What do you mean by blocking my way?" he demanded. "Do you know who I am?"
Hal's temper was aroused.
"No, I don't; and I don't care," was his reply.
"Well, I'll give you something to care about," and, raising his hand, the officer made as though to strike Hal across the face.
"Don't you strike me," said Hal quietly. "I'm an American citizen, and I give you warning."
"Warning!" sneered the officer. "You young American upstart! I'll have you whipped!" and he turned as though to call someone.
At that moment there was a sudden cry of "All aboard!" and the officer, after taking a threatening step toward Hal, made a dash for the train.
"I guess that is our train, Hal," said Chester. "We had better hurry."
The lads retraced their steps toward their train. Reaching the shed, they saw the German officer disappearing into a compartment on the train.
"That looks like our compartment to me," said Hal. "I hope we don't have to ride with him."
"I hope not," agreed Chester, and then broke into a run, as he shouted:
"Hurry! The train is moving!"
It was true. The boys had wasted too much time.
The door to one compartment was all that stood open, and that was the one in which Mrs. Paine could be seen gesticulating to them.
"We just made it," panted Hal, as they reached the open door, and started to climb aboard.
At that instant a uniformed arm appeared through the door and pushed Hal away.
"Go away, you American puppy," came a voice.
Hal slipped, and but for the prompt action of Chester, who caught him by the arm, would have fallen beneath the train.
The train gathered momentum, as the boys raced along beside it, in vain seeking an open door by which they might climb aboard. There was none but their own compartment, and that had passed them. It was impossible for them to overtake it, and there was not a train guard in sight.
The boys stopped running and stood still as the remainder of the train slipped past.
On ahead they could see Mrs. Paine and the big German officer, both gazing back toward them, the former gesticulating violently.
Hal stamped his foot with rage.
"I'd like to get my hands on that big lout!" he shouted. "I'd—"
"Come, come, old fellow," interrupted Chester, "never mind that, now. I don't blame you, but you can see it's impossible. You'll have to wait."
"You are right, of course," replied Hal. "The thing to do now is to send mother a telegram to the first station and tell her not to worry, that we shall be along on the next train. But, just the same, I'd like to get my hands on that—"
"Come, now," Chester interrupted again, "let's send that telegram and find out when the next train leaves."
They found the telegraph office, and Hal prepared a message, which he handed through the window.
The clerk glanced at it, and then passed it back.
"Can't be sent," he informed Hal.
"Can't be sent! Why not?"
"Nothing can be sent over this wire but military messages from this time on," said the clerk.
"But we missed the train, and I want to send this message to my mother, so she won't worry," pleaded Hal.
"I'm sorry," the clerk returned kindly, "but it is impossible. I must obey my orders."
Hal and Chester were nonplused.
"What shall we do?" questioned Chester.
"The only thing I know to do," replied Hal, "is to take the next train without telegraphing. Mother is sure to be at the Brussels station. I guess she knows we have enough sense to get there."
"All right Let's find out when the next train leaves."
On their way to the ticket window, Hal stopped suddenly.
"What's the matter" asked Chester.
"Matter!" exclaimed Hal. "The matter is I haven't any money. All I have was enough to send that telegram, and that amount won't get us to Brussels."
Chester reached in his pocket, and a startled expression came over his face.
"Neither have I," he exclaimed, feeling first one pocket and then another. "I have lost my pocketbook. All I have is a little change."
The lads looked at each other in silence for several minutes.
"What shall we do?" Chester asked finally.
"I don't know what to do," replied Hal; "but we have got to do something. I guess the best thing is to go back to the embassy and see if we can't raise the price of a couple of tickets. I am sure the ambassador will let us have it."
"A good idea," said Chester. "I guess the sooner we get there the better. Come on."
The ambassador received them immediately.
"I'm awfully sorry, boys," he said, after listening to their troubles, "but I am afraid I can do nothing for you."
"Can't you lend us enough money to get to Brussels?" asked Hal in surprise. "You'll get it back, all right."
"Yes, I can lend it to you, and I am not afraid of not getting it back."
"Then why can't you help us?"
"The reason is this," the ambassador explained, "this morning's train to Brussels was the last upon which foreigners were allowed to depart. The German government has given orders that all foreigners now in Germany must remain until mobilization is completed. So you see you are up against it"
Hal and Chester looked at each other, and both smiled faintly.
"I see we are," said Chester.
"Now, I'll tell you what I can do," continued the ambassador. "I can let you have enough money to keep you until such a time as you will be allowed to leave the country; or, better still, you can come and live with me. What do you say?"
"I'm sure we appreciate your kindness very much," said Hal, "and we may be forced to take advantage of it. We shall look about the city this afternoon, and, if nothing else turns up, we shall be glad to stay with you."
"Let me hear from you before night, anyhow," said the ambassador, rising.
"We certainly shall. Come, Chester, let's go out and look around a bit."
The boys left the embassy.
The streets of the city were even more densely thronged than they had been the night before. Thousands and thousands of people paraded up and down—war the sole topic of their conversation.
Late in the afternoon, as Hal and Chester were walking along Strassburga Strasse, a hand was suddenly laid on the former's arm, and a voice exclaimed:
"I thought you boys were on your way to Brussels. How does it happen you are still in Berlin?"
Turning, Hal perceived that the person who had accosted him was none other than Lieutenant Anderson, and with him was Captain Derevaux.
All four expressed their pleasure at this unexpected meeting, and the boys explained their misfortune.
"How is it you and Captain Derevaux didn't get away?" Chester finally asked.
Captain Derevaux smiled.
"We were so unfortunate as to be recognized by a member of the German general staff at the station this morning," he explained, "and we were detained. But," he added grimly, "we are not figuring upon remaining in Berlin overnight."
"What do you propose to do?" asked Hal and Chester in a breath.
"Oh, Anderson and I have a little plan whereby we shall make ourselves scarce on this side of the border," answered the captain. "We are planning to get out of Berlin soon after nightfall."
"How?" asked Hal.
"Well," said Lieutenant Anderson, "we haven't perfected our plans yet, but we have an idea that we believe will take us safely out of Germany. It may be successful, and it may not. But we are going to take a chance at it."
"Is it dangerous?" questioned Chester.
"That all depends upon how you look at it," replied the lieutenant, with a smile. "It may mean a fight," he added seriously, "but we are prepared for that," tapping the pocket of his civilian coat significantly.
"Yes, it may mean a fight," agreed the French captain, "but an officer of the French army will not shirk an encounter with these German aggressors."
"No, nor an English officer," declared the lieutenant. "War between England and Germany has not been declared yet, but it seems only a question of hours until it will be."
Hal was suddenly struck with an idea. He turned to the lieutenant.
"Why cannot we go with you?" he asked. "We must get to Brussels as soon as possible. If we wait here until after the mobilization of all the German forces, and are unable to send a message to mother, she will be frantic. Why cannot we go with you?"
The lieutenant was taken aback.
"Why, I know no reason," he said, "except that your presence in our company, if ill fortune should befall us, would probably mean your arrest as enemies of Germany. You might even be convicted as spies, and shot."
"We are willing to take any chances necessary to get us to Brussels and put an end to mother's worries," declared Hal stoutly. "Aren't we, Chester?"
"You bet we are," replied Chester.
The lieutenant turned to Captain Derevaux. "What do you say?" he asked.
The captain shook his head.
"It's a bad business," he replied slowly. "If we are caught it will go hard with our young friends, I am afraid. Of course, I am willing to do anything in my power to aid them, but this—this, I fear, is impossible."
"Don't say no," implored Hal. "Just think how mother must be worrying. Why, we would go through anything to save her pain. Besides, you don't expect to be captured, do you?"
The captain shook his head.
"You have a good plan of escape, I am sure, or you would not tackle it. Isn't that so?" continued Hal.
The captain admitted it.
"Would our presence make it more dangerous for you?"
"Then, I ask you again, if you won't allow us to go with you, sharing whatever dangers may arise. Besides," and Hal smiled, "you know that four are sometimes better than two."
The captain reflected.
"You are right," he said at length. "If Anderson is agreeable, I shall be glad of your company; yes, and your aid," he added, after a pause.
"I agree with the boys," said the lieutenant. "Four are sometimes better than two, and in an adventure, such as this promises to be, four are always better than two. I say, let them come with us, by all means."
And so it was decided. A meeting-place was arranged for eight o'clock that night, and, with this parting injunction, the officers left:
"Say nothing to anyone. Do not talk, even between yourselves, and, if you can, buy a revolver apiece," for the purchase of which the lieutenant tendered Hal a bill.
TOWARD THE FRONTIER.
It was a long afternoon for Hal and Chester, and they waited impatiently for the time when they were to meet the two young men who were to be their companions on the journey.
After several futile attempts the lads finally gave up their attempt to buy revolvers, as it caused too many questions, and, in spite of their eagerness to get away, it was with no little anxiety that they made their way to the rendezvous that night.
Captain Derevaux and Lieutenant Anderson were waiting when the lads arrived.
"I am glad you are prompt," said the former. "We must hurry. Even now we may be followed," and he glanced about furtively.
"Which way do we go?" asked Hal, of the young Englishman, as the four moved along the street.
"North," was the reply. "We are heading for Kolberg, on the Baltic Sea. From there we will try to get across into Denmark. The thing to do is to get out of Germany at the earliest possible moment, and, with good luck in getting a boat of some kind at Kolberg, that is the quickest route."
"Won't we have trouble getting a boat?"
"I am afraid we shall; but we must leave something to chance."
"Well, I guess we won't be any worse off in Kolberg than in Berlin," said Hal. "How do you figure to get there?"
"Automobile! We have arranged for a car to pick us up on the northern outskirts of the city, just inside the line."
"Won't the place be guarded?"
"Of course; but, by a little ingenuity and a bold dash, we should be able to get through. If not—"
The lieutenant shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"Well," said Hal, "I won't object to a little excitement."
"Don't worry," replied the young officer; "you will have all the excitement you want, and more, too, or I miss my guess."
They continued their walk in silence.
Beyond getting into Denmark, the young officers had formulated no plan. But, once out of Germany, the rest would be easy. A ship to England, and from there into France for the young Frenchman, and the two American boys would telegraph to their mother, or continue their journey alone. Lieutenant Anderson was bound direct for London, where he would join his regiment.
The officers had decided to make their attempt at escape by way of Denmark because, in all likelihood, the country between Berlin and Kolberg would be less closely guarded than any other part of the German Empire. Troops were being rushed to the French and Russian borders, and they realized it was practically impossible for them to journey in those directions without being captured. Also the southern route offered little hope of success.
The streets became more and more deserted as the four friends continued their walk toward the northern outskirts. They passed several detachments of rapidly moving troops, but they were unchallenged.
Suddenly the young Englishman called a halt.
"The automobile is waiting at the next corner," he explained. "Just beyond is the northern limit of the city. Go quietly and we may not be molested."
Hal and Chester were greatly excited by this time, but they obeyed instructions as well as they could, and climbed into the big car that was waiting for them, without even being seen. The driver immediately started the machine, and our boys were on their way at last.
On toward the city line the big car rushed, and it was just as the four friends were breathing a sigh of relief at having passed the first danger safely, that a harsh voice rang out:
Almost directly ahead stood a squad of armed men, their rifles leveled straight at the occupants of the oncoming car.
"The patrol!" exclaimed Captain Derevaux, as the auto came to a stop.
An officer approached the side of the machine.
"Give an account of yourselves," he demanded. "Your passports, please."
"We have none," replied Captain Anderson. "We are just taking a little spin."
"You cannot pass here," said the officer. "Either return at once, or I shall be forced to place you under arrest."
There was no use arguing.
"Home it is, then," said the young Englishman aloud, and then in a whisper to the driver: "Ahead! Full speed!"
"To the bottom of the car!" he cried, as the machine jumped forward with a lurch.
He dived to the floor of the car, the young Frenchman and Hal following his example.
Chester, however, had been so surprised at the suddenness of this maneuver, that for a moment he was unable to move; but, while his momentary inaction placed him in great danger, it nevertheless saved his companions from capture, or even death.
As the automobile lunged away, hurling the officer to the side of the street, the latter shouted a command:
"Fire! Shoot the driver!"
One man only was in a position to obey. The others were forced to jump for their lives, as the machine bore down on them. This one man, however, raised his rifle and aimed at the driver, just as the car swept by.
The muzzle was right at the side of the car, and a miss would have been almost impossible.
But, before he could fire, Chester sprang to his feet, and, leaning out, grasped the barrel of the weapon in both hands. With a desperate effort, he wrenched it from the soldier's hands, just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Then, at a second command from Lieutenant Anderson, he dropped beside his friends in the bottom of the car, and it was well that he did so.
A volley rang out from behind. The hum of bullets could be heard overhead, and there was the sound of splintering wood, as others crashed into the rear of the auto, but the machine sped on.
Then came a second volley, and the automobile swerved suddenly to one side. The chauffeur groaned, but the car immediately righted itself and continued on its way.
Unmindful of the bullets flying about, Hal sprang to his feet and climbed into the front seat, where the chauffeur was making heroic efforts to keep the car steady, a stream of blood the while pouring from a wound in his head.
"Give me the wheel!" cried Hal, as the car lurched from one side of the road to the other, at the imminent risk of turning over.
He climbed in front of the chauffeur and his strong hands grasped the steering wheel just as the man's body relaxed and he fell back unconscious.
Bullets were still flying thick and fast, but the range was too great now for accurate shooting. Still, there was always the chance that one of the leaden messengers would hit Hal and end disastrously the career of the flying machine.
Without even checking the speed of the auto, Hal called to Chester:
"The chauffeur is badly wounded. Pull him into the rear of the car!"
"Slow down!" came the answer. "We can't pull him from beneath you while going at this terrific speed."
"Slow down nothing!" shouted Hal. "We don't want to be captured after this. You'll have to pull him out!"
It was no small task, this driving a flying automobile, while a man in whose lap he was almost sitting was being pulled from under him by hands from behind.
Once Hal lost his balance. Throwing out one hand, he grasped the side of the car, and that alone saved him and his friends, too, for that matter.
The car swerved to one side of the road, and just at that instant a sharp curve came into view.
With a desperate effort Hal regained his balance, steadied the machine, and, without even trying to slacken his speed, took the curve on two wheels.
"Whew!" he muttered to himself. "That was a close shave!"
By this time the body of the chauffeur had been pulled into the back of the car, and Hal slid into his seat.
"Are you all right?" came Chester's voice from the rear.
"All right now," replied Hal.
"You can slow down a bit," shouted Lieutenant Anderson. "We are out of range. We are safe enough now."
"We are safe from bullets, but we are not safe from pursuit," Hal called back. "Do I keep to this road?"
"Yes," came the reply, "if you don't run into a ditch or a telegraph pole."
"Oh, I'll run it, all right; and I'll run it on the road, too," Hal answered grimly. "I've made a record on a worse road than this."
"Is the chauffeur badly hurt?" he called back after a few minutes.
"No, I don't think so," replied the French captain's voice. "Just a scalp wound. He has lost a lot of blood, and is still unconscious, but I think he will come around all right presently."
Hal settled back in his seat and gave his entire attention to the road ahead.
The big car flashed through several small towns, and the dim lights in the homes looked like a string of brilliant spots, so swiftly did they go by. For almost half an hour the terrific speed was continued, and then, at a shouted command from Lieutenant Anderson, Hal slowed down.
"We should be nearing Angermunde by this time," the lieutenant explained, "and it will never do to go through there at this speed."
"Do you suppose our would-be captors have communicated with the authorities at Angermunde?" asked the Frenchman.
"I would not be surprised," replied the lieutenant; "but we must risk it. One thing I am sure of, however, is that our pursuers are not far behind. They will never rest till we are caught. And, for that reason, we cannot afford to waste much time."
"You are right," said the captain. "We must get through Angermunde as quickly and as quietly as possible."
Then to Hal he shouted: "Don't lose your nerve, and keep cool. Be ready to make a dash if you get the word."
"Don't you worry about my nerve," Hal replied grimly. "I'll run right through a thousand Germans, if you say so."
"I guess that will not be necessary," broke in the lieutenant, with a laugh, "but you never can tell what may happen."
Hal reduced the speed of the machine even more, and slowly approached the town, the lights of which could be seen in the distance.
It was now nearly midnight, and, as Captain Derevaux suggested, it would be wise to go through the town without attracting attention, if possible.
But this was not to be.
The automobile entered the town, and had proceeded some distance, when Hal called back:
"I guess we will get through without any trouble, all right."
"Don't be too sure," replied the Englishman. "Always be ready for the unexpected."
The words were hardly out of his mouth, when, rounding a sharp turn, Hal saw a line of cavalrymen blocking the street some distance ahead.
"The road is blocked with troops," he called back to his friends, as he reduced his speed. "Their rifles seem pointed right at us. Shall I speed up and run through them?"
His three companions arose and peered over his shoulder. The cavalrymen were plainly discernible in the glare of an electric street light.
"It's impossible," replied the lieutenant. "We shall have to stop. They would shoot us to pieces before we could get through. Here," turning to Chester and Captain Derevaux, "cover up the chauffeur with these rugs and lay him in the bottom of the car. It would never do for an officer to see him. It may be that our friends behind have not tipped off our present enemy, but the sight of this wounded chauffeur would give it all away." The car was slowly nearing the line of troops. "Halt!" came the command. "Halt, or we fire!" The car came to a stop within a few feet of the soldiers.
IN DANGER STILL.
It was with no small trepidation that the occupants of the automobile saw the officer in command approach.
"Keep your wits and say nothing unless you have to," was the young lieutenant's whispered advice. "Leave the talking to me."
"Where are you from?" asked the officer.
"Berlin," replied the Englishman.
"Where are you bound?"
"Our business is purely private. Two of my companions are young American lads and the third is a Belgian gentleman. I am an Englishman. You will interfere with us at your peril."
"In times of war we interfere with whom we choose. A state of war exists in Germany, as you know."
"There is no state of war between your country and ours."
"Perhaps not, but I am not sure of it; there may be by this time. You have no passports, I take it?"
"We have not."
"Then I must ask you to leave your machine and come with me."
"For what reason?"
"Because I command it. You are my prisoners."
Turning to an aide, the German officer commanded:
"Call a guard of four men!"
The aide saluted and did as he was ordered. Four of the troopers who blocked the road dismounted and ranged themselves beside the car.
"Order Lieutenant Myers to take his men and report to Major Von Volk," commanded the German officer of his aide.
The troopers, with the exception of the four who guarded the car, wheeled and rode away.
The officer turned again to the automobile.
"Leave the car," he ordered the four occupants.
"He evidently hasn't been tipped off," whispered Lieutenant Anderson to his companions, as they left the machine.
"No," Hal whispered back, "but the others are likely to be along in a few minutes."
"Right," came the reply. "We must watch our chance, and, if one comes, make the most of it."
The four stepped from the automobile, and were immediately surrounded by their guards.
"See what they have in the machine," the officer ordered one of the men.
"Great Scott!" ejaculated Chester. "We are in for it now!"
Exploring the front of the auto first, the soldier found nothing. Then he turned his attention to the back. He lifted up the rugs that had been thrown over the chauffeur, and started back with a cry.
"A dead man!" he exclaimed, and added: "At least he appears to be dead. He has a bullet hole in the back of his head."
"What!" demanded the officer, and hurried to the side of the car.
He drew his sword and waved it at his men.
"Guard them closely!" he exclaimed, indicating his four prisoners.
"Pretty ticklish situation," whispered Hal to Chester, who stood beside him. "We have got to do something."
"You bet," replied Chester, "and we've got to do it now."
He took off his cap, twirled it about a few seconds, and let it fall to the ground.
Chester stooped to pick it up. Rising suddenly, he came up under the guard of his nearest captor, and with his head butted him with all his force under the chin.
The blow was more than flesh and blood could stand. The soldier fell to the ground with a groan of pain, his tongue almost bitten off. Without a pause, Chester turned upon another of his captors, and, with two well-directed blows of his fist, sent him staggering.
The suddenness of Chester's attack had not taken Hal by surprise. When Chester dropped his cap, Hal divined his purpose, and, as his friend butted his first victim, Hal acted. Turning upon his nearest guard, he seized the latter's rifle, at the same time delivering a well-directed kick at his enemy's shin. The man released his hold on the rifle, and, as he stooped unconsciously to rub his shin, the pain of which was almost unbearable, he met Hal's right fist, which, sent into his face with stunning force, knocked him cold.
All this happened in the smallest fraction of the time it takes to tell it, and, before the German officer and the soldier who were exploring the interior of the automobile could realize what was happening and go to the aid of their companions.
Captain Derevaux and Lieutenant Anderson had acted with almost as much celerity as had Hal, in spite of the fact that Chester's attack had taken them by surprise. Almost at the same moment Hal seized the weapon of his guard Captain Derevaux closed with the third man, and, with his fingers at his throat, was attempting to choke him into unconsciousness.
At the same moment the German commanding officer and his troops ran to the aid of their fellows.
"Shoot them!" shouted the officer, drawing his revolver and rushing to take part in the fray. He already held his sword in his hand.
The soldier drew a revolver.
Hal, having disposed of one enemy, clubbed the rifle he had wrenched from him, and, before either the German officer or his man could fire, was in the thick of the melee. Lieutenant Anderson, having picked up a rifle dropped by one of the German soldiers, was already there, his weapon also clubbed.
The officer and the trooper were unable to bring their revolvers to bear, and rushed into the fight with their weapons clubbed.
With a single blow Hal crushed the skull of the soldier, and then turned upon the officer who was engaging Anderson.
Lieutenant Anderson and his opponent were still battling desperately for the possession of the latter's gun, and Captain Derevaux and the remaining German trooper were rolling about upon the ground, the captain's finger still pressed into his enemy's throat. Chester had gone to the captain's aid.
Warding off the officer's sword, Anderson suddenly dropped his rifle, and, stepping inside the other's guard, placed the officer hors de combat with several well-directed and lightning-like blows to the face and jaw.
At that moment Captain Derevaux's opponent succeeded in shaking off the captain's grip, and, springing to his feet, leveled his rifle, which he snatched from the ground as he arose, squarely at the young Frenchman.
With a shout Chester sprang forward, picking up a rifle as he leaped, and aimed a smashing blow at the man's head. The clubbed weapon found its mark with a crushing impact, and the man threw up his arms, spun around two or three times, and then fell in a heap.
And it was not a moment too soon. For, as the last German measured his length upon the ground, there was a sudden shout, and a body of cavalry, attracted by the sounds of the conflict, bore down upon the victors.
"Quick!" shouted the lieutenant. "To the machine!" And, with Hal and Captain Derevaux, he made a rush for the auto.
Chester had stopped to gather up the two revolvers that lay on the ground.
"Go ahead!" he shouted. "I'm coming!" And, picking up the last revolver, he ran up to the automobile and swung himself aboard, just as Hal, who had climbed into the driver's seat, threw in the clutch, and the machine leaped forward.
At that moment a volley of shots rang out. The whizzing bullets again flew around the car, and there was again the sound of splintering wood, as they smashed into the rear of the auto.
All but Hal dived into the bottom of the car, and he bent as low as possible over the steering wheel.
Soon the sound of firing became less audible, and finally ceased altogether.
Chester, Lieutenant Anderson and Captain Derevaux arose from the bottom of the car and resumed their seats.
"That's what I call great work, boys," declared the lieutenant, putting his hand on Hal's shoulder. "If it hadn't been for you, I guess the captain and I would be locked up by this time. Isn't that so, captain?"
"It certainly is," was the reply. "And had it not been for the prompt action of Chester in that encounter, France would have lost a captain of rifles."
Hal and Chester were embarrassed by all this praise.
"That's all right," Hal called over his shoulder. "You would have done the same for us."
At this moment the chauffeur, who had been almost forgotten in the excitement, stirred.
"Hello," ejaculated the captain. "Our friend is getting better. Guess we had better see what we can do for him."
He raised the head of the wounded man to his lap, and wiped the blood stains from his face, while the lieutenant prepared a bandage. In a few minutes the chauffeur had recovered sufficiently to drink a little water and to eat several sandwiches the lieutenant produced from a small but well-filled hamper.
"Well, I guess we are safe for a little while, at any rate," remarked Hal.
"It looks like it," replied the lieutenant; "but, as I said before, you never can tell."
They rode cautiously along in silence for a long time; in fact, until the first streak of dawn appeared in the east. Then, suddenly, the sound of chug-chugging came from behind.
Chester turned his head and jumped to his feet with a cry:
"We are pursued! Speed up, Hal! Speed up!"
It was true. Far back could be seen a pursuing automobile, and, even from that distance, it was apparent it was gaining.
Hal "speeded up" and in a short time the pursuing car was out of sight. Nevertheless, the speed was not diminished.
"I guess they have learned that we can travel some, anyhow," remarked Hal happily.
And just at that moment there was a loud explosion—the car rocked crazily, and Hal brought it to a stop.
"Tire blown out," exclaimed the French captain, in despair. "Now we are up against it. What shall we do?"
"Fix it," retained Chester briefly.
He got out, and the rest, including the wounded chauffeur, followed suit.
At that moment Chester bethought himself of the pursuing machine, and said:
"We haven't time. Our pursuers will be upon us."
"You are right," said the captain, "but I have an idea."
The place in which they had stopped was shaded upon both sides by great trees. As far as could be seen the woods continued. A hundred yards back over the road they had traversed was a sharp curve, hiding any approaching vehicle from sight. Ahead, the road stretched out in a straight line for a considerable distance.
"I figure this way," said the captain hurriedly, "the machine as it is is doing us no good, is it?"
"It certainly is not," replied the lieutenant.
"And, if we wait here long enough to fix it it won't do us any good either, will it?"
"Then my idea is this: Head the machine straight down the road, lash the wheel fast and start her off. If I am not mistaken, it will run along the road at least to the next curve. Even from here you can see the steep embankment at the curve. When the machine hits that curve it will go over.
"Now, if that embankment is as steep as it looks, the car, when it hits the bottom, will be out of sight. In the meantime, we hide here until our pursuers pass. The chances are they will continue past the curve, never seeing the wreckage at the bottom of the embankment, believing we are still ahead of them. Then we can continue our journey afoot. What do you think of that idea?"
"I think it is first-rate," declared Hal, and the others agreed with him.
"But won't they discover, when they reach the next town, that we haven't passed through?" asked Chester.
"They probably will," was the reply; "but we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Besides, there is little doubt in my mind that the authorities in the next town know of our coming. We couldn't be so fortunate a second time."
Accordingly the plan suggested was carried out. Hal elected to get in the car and start it, and, as it took a flying leap forward, he hurled himself from the machine to the soft grass beside the road. He was considerably shaken up, but not badly hurt.
Then the five stood and watched the car in its mad flight down the road.
"I hope that the fact of a tire being bursted won't stop it's sticking to the road," said Chester.
Fortunately the car continued its journey in as straight a line as the best chauffeur in the world could have driven, and the five companions strained their eyes as it neared the distant curve.
"It's almost there!" cried Hal. "I hope it makes a good jump; and I hope that embankment is steep."
"And I hope that she makes her leap before our pursuers heave in sight, which is more to the point," declared Chester.
Again they strained their eyes, watching the flight of the mad car. And then the car reached the embankment.
"There she goes!" cried Chester, and the big machine, as though making a desperate leap, hurled itself into space, where it soared for a moment like a huge bird, and then disappeared from sight.
"Well, it's gone," said the lieutenant sorrowfully; "and now it's up to us to hoof it, to the next town, at least."
The five moved into the woods and just as they gained the first dense covering there was a sound from the road over which they had come.
Dropping to the ground, they peered between the trees. Presently a second huge car, in which could be caught a glimpse of uniforms, rounded the curve, flashed by, and disappeared down the road.
"Let's go farther into the woods," urged Chester. "We might be seen here."
Going deeper and deeper in among the trees the five continued their journey; and, when they felt sure they had penetrated far enough to avoid any chance of detection, they turned their faces northward and set out at a brisk pace.
All morning the journey through the woods continued. At intervals the big trees became more sparse, and the party took all precautions against being seen, as they flitted through the open places.
About noon, Lieutenant Anderson made a foraging expedition, and returned with a basket of food, which he had purchased from a nearby farmhouse. Hungrily the five disposed of it, quenching their thirst from a sparkling brook of cool water. Then they resumed their march.
Night was falling when the travelers at length emerged from the woods. Half a mile ahead could be seen the lights of a town.
Lieutenant Anderson called a consultation.
"If I mistake not," he said, "those lights indicate the town of Stettin. We shall have to be very careful. They are bound to be on the lookout for us."
"Has anyone a plan?" he asked, after some further talk.
"I think I have one," returned Hal. "It might work out all right"
"Let's hear it," demanded Chester.
"Yes," chorused the others, "what is it?"
"Well," said Hal, "my idea is that it would be much better for us to separate. If we all approach together we are sure to be recognized. Our number alone would give us away. But, if we go singly, or by twos, from different directions, we stand a chance of gaining the city without being challenged."
"A good idea," exclaimed Captain Derevaux; "I heartily approve of it."
"And I, too," declared the young lieutenant; "and I recommend that we put the plan into execution at once."
The lone dissenting voice came from the wounded chauffeur.
"I don't know your plans, gentlemen," he said; "and I don't want to know them. I have had trouble enough. I am a German, and, from what I have heard, although I know I should look upon you as enemies of my country, I do not believe you mean any harm. Besides, you have treated me well, and I will not betray you. But I must ask that you leave me here. I will make my way into the town some time during the night I shall be perfectly safe."
"Had we not better make him go with us?" questioned Chester. "Is he not likely to betray us?"
"No; I am sure he would not," said Hal.
"And I," agreed the French captain.
"I am a little inclined to doubt the advisability of leaving him behind," said Lieutenant Anderson, "but—"
"Sir!" broke in the chauffeur. "I am just as much a gentleman as you are, and my word is my bond!"
The young Englishman's face flushed.
"Forgive me!" he exclaimed, extending his hand. "I am sorry for my unreasonable doubts. I am sure that you can be trusted."
"I believe that our friend's decision simplifies matters exceedingly," declared Hal.
"In what way?" demanded the lieutenant.
"In the first place, it makes one less of us. And, again, it does away with the necessity of one of us approaching the town alone, which is also a good thing. While for two to approach the town is much better than four, under the circumstances, two are also better than one, for the reason that they can give a good account of themselves should occasion arise."
"Which is good reasoning," declared Captain Derevaux. "I agree with you."
"I suggest," said Lieutenant Anderson, "that one of the boys go with you, captain, and the other with me. I shall go back a short distance into the woods, make a detour, and enter the town from the west."
"Another good idea," replied the captain. "Hal and I will wait here half an hour after you have gone, and will reach the town from this side at about the time you and Chester arrive."
"Where shall we meet?"
"I believe the best plan would be to meet in the hotel. Whichever of us arrives first will wait for the others."
"Good," said the lieutenant. "The best part of that idea is that, providing we get into the town safely, the hotel will be the least likely place our pursuers will look for us. They probably will figure we will sneak along the outskirts."
"Sure," broke in Chester. "But how are we to get out of the town? Won't the other side be so closely guarded that we can't get through?"
"Yes, I suppose they will be laying for us, all right, but we shall have to leave that to luck. The thing to do now is to get in. We will get out as best we may."
"Right," declared Hal; "and I guess that, as long as we are going, we might as well go now. The sooner we start the better, is the way I look at it."
Chester and the lieutenant said good-by to the chauffeur, and then Chester turned to Hal and held out his hand.
"In case—" he said, as they gripped, and a moment later he and the young lieutenant were gone.
Hal, Captain Derevaux and the chauffeur reentered the woods, where they sat down to wait the half hour agreed upon.
As his chum's form disappeared from sight, striding rapidly along beside the gallant lieutenant, Hal experienced a peculiar sinking sensation in the region of his stomach, while his heart throbbed jerkily, and he turned faint. For almost the first time he realized the real seriousness of the situation.
"Good old Chester!" he said to himself. "I hope nothing happens to him. I wish I could take all the danger upon my own shoulders."
In vain did he try to shake off the feeling of uneasiness that oppressed him; and it was with a heavy heart at the absence of his friend that he found himself bidding the chauffeur good-by, when Captain Derevaux roused him from his reverie and announced that it was time for them to be on their way.
Striking out from their shelter, the two approached the town boldly. They walked silently and swiftly.
It was now quite dark, but the gleam of a full moon made their figures plainly discernible. At the edge of the town they unconsciously breathed easier and quickened their step.
Just passing the first house inside the city, they heard the sound of running footsteps behind them. Hal looked over his shoulder. A uniformed figure was hurrying after them.
"Run!" cried Hal to his companion, and he suited the action to the word.
The captain also broke into a quick run.
A command of "Halt!" behind them went unheeded, and the two friends sped over the ground, heading for the friendly shelter of the first cross street that was now but a few yards away.
Slackening their speed but a trifle, they rounded the corner just as the sharp crack of a rifle rang out. Around a second corner they dodged, and another, and still another.
Stopping a moment to gain a much-needed breath, they could hear the sounds of great confusion, and again they broke into a quick run.
"The whole town will be aroused and on our track in a few minutes," panted Hal. "We will have to lose ourselves some way awfully quick."
Luckily, the streets they had traversed so far had been deserted. But as they rounded another corner they saw a crowd of men coming rapidly toward them.
"I guess it's all up," exclaimed Hal, and the two slowed to a walk.
The crowd moved rapidly, and they advanced to meet it.
"No use running," said the captain. "We will try to bluff it out."
The first man of the crowd to reach them stopped.
"What's the row back there?" he asked.
"Just a street fight, I guess," replied Hal. "We didn't stop to see."
"More than likely some Frenchman has been rounded up," said the man. "Better come along and see the fun," and he broke into a trot again.
"We had better make a bluff at going," said Hal to the captain, as he noticed that some of the crowd eyed them queerly.
Turning, they joined the crowd, and began to retrace their steps. They went slowly, however, and the crowd gradually drew away from them. At last, finding themselves behind the last man, they turned suddenly into a side street and broke into a run again.
Turning another corner, they slowed down to a walk.
"We had better get away from here," exclaimed the Frenchman. "They will be back after us in a minute."
They continued their walk, still stepping along at a rapid pace, and at length emerged, without further difficulty, into a brilliantly lighted street, which, they learned, was the main thoroughfare of the town. Mingling with the crowd, they were soon comparatively safe.
"The thing to do now is to find out where the hotel is," said the Frenchman.
Stopping in an open shop, Hal made an inquiry.
"Two blocks ahead," was the reply, and following directions, Hal and the captain soon came upon a large, though unpretentious, hotel. They went in and sat down in the rotunda. Chester and the lieutenant had not arrived, and once more Hal felt that queer sinking sensation in his stomach.
"If anything has happened to Chester," he mused, "I don't know what I shall do."
But his anxiety was soon set at rest, for a few moments later Chester and Lieutenant Anderson appeared in the doorway.
Hal jumped to his feet and seized Chester by the hand.
"I was afraid—" he began in a queer voice, but the lieutenant silenced him with a gesture.
"Careful!" he whispered.
Hal returned to his seat and Chester and the lieutenant also sat down.
Hal recounted the experience he and the captain had had, and the lieutenant said:
"Then we have no time to waste. We must leave here at once."
Rising, the four companions left the hotel.
"We must get something to eat before we go," declared the Frenchman, and accordingly they dropped into a little restaurant, where they treated the inner man to his entire satisfaction. Then they went to the street again.
"The best thing we can do is to go straight through the town and out on the other side—if we can," said the lieutenant, and they turned their steps toward the north once more.
They reached the northern extremity of the town without difficulty and just as they were congratulating themselves on their good fortune, Hal gripped lieutenant Anderson by the arm and whispered:
Not two hundred yards ahead could be seen a line of army huts, extending on either side as far as the eye could see.
"Ummm," grunted the lieutenant. Then: "Doesn't look like much chance of getting through here."
At the same instant there came from the rear the sound of the footsteps of a large body of men approaching with confusion.
"The crowd!" cried Hal.
The lieutenant was a man of action, as already has been seen.
"Follow me!" he exclaimed, and dashed to the right. His three companions ran after him.
Suddenly the lieutenant stopped and pointed ahead.
"Horses!" he whispered. "Good!"
He advanced more slowly, the others closely behind him.
"If we can cut out four horses," explained the lieutenant, "we will have a chance. We'll make a dash and trust to luck and the darkness."
Silently they approached the horses, which stood quietly a few yards away. A sentry passed nearby, and the four companions dropped to the ground. Fortunately, the sentry did not look in their direction.
"That's what I call luck," whispered Hal.
From behind the sounds of confusion became more audible, indicating the rapid approach of the crowd. At the same time lights flared up in the huts, and an officer stepped to the entrance of one only a few feet from the four friends.
He espied them on the instant, and then the lieutenant acted.
"Quick!" he cried, and jumped toward the horses.
A revolver cracked, and a bullet whined over Hal's head even as he leaped forward.
With a bound all four fugitives were among the horses, and almost with a single movement each threw himself into a saddle.
But at that moment the camp came to life. Armed men sprang up on all sides.
In the very act of digging his heel into his horse's flank, the lieutenant pulled up.
"It's no use," he said quietly to his friends. "To move is certain death."
Then came a voice from right before them.
"Surrender!" it cried. "Surrender or you are dead men!"
THE OLD CASTLE.
Lieutenant Anderson raised a hand.
"We surrender," he said quietly.
The officer approached, a revolver held ready for instant use.
"Dismount!" he ordered shortly.
The four companions slid to the ground. A squad of soldiers surrounded them.
"Search them for arms," was the next command, and they were relieved of their weapons.
"To the castle!" ordered their captor. "Forward, march!"
With the four prisoners in the center, the soldiers moved away.
"Looks like we were into it pretty steep this time," said Hal, as they were being led away.
"Silence!" came the sharp command of the German officer.
They moved along for several minutes without a word except for an occasional command from the officer.
At length a grim, gray wall loomed before them in the darkness, and without a stop the prisoners were hurried across a little bridge, led across a courtyard and escorted within the structure.
A fear-inspiring place it was, but the four captives entered without a tremor, their heads held high and their step firm. Any spirit of foreboding they may have felt was not manifested in their carriage.
Down dark and dirty corridors they were led, and after many sharp turns, their guards stopped before what appeared to be a hole in the side of the wall. Into this opening the prisoners were thrust without ceremony, and a door behind them was closed with a bang.
It was several minutes before the four companions could accustom their eyes to the semi-darkness, but finally they were able to make out the few objects that furnished the cell, for such it proved to be.
There were three broken chairs and two dirty-looking mattresses, one of the latter at each end of the cell. Also there was a small table.
"Pretty dismal looking place, this," remarked the doughty French captain, after a hasty glance about.
"Dismal and dirty it certainly is," said Hal.
"How long do you suppose we shall have to stay here?" asked Chester.
"Until they get ready to let us out," replied the young English lieutenant dryly. "Which may not be a very satisfactory answer, but it's the best I can do."
"What do you suppose they will do with us?" queried Hal.
"You've got me. If they don't take us out and shoot us as spies, we are likely to lie here till we rot."
"Surely they would be afraid to do that."
"Don't fool yourself that they are afraid to do anything."
"But we can prove we are not spies."
"Can we? How? With the trouble we have made, they won't be able to kill us off quick enough."
"Well," said Hal hopefully, "maybe something will turn up that will enable us to convince them."
"I hope so. But if it doesn't turn up soon, we are gone goslings, just as sure as you're a foot high," and Lieutenant Anderson threw himself down on one of the evil-looking mattresses, remarking: "Might as well take a little snooze, anyhow."
"This doesn't look to me like a time to sleep," remarked Hal to Chester, although he almost envied the coolness with which the young Englishman accepted his perilous situation.
"Looks to me more like the time to try and find a way out," agreed Chester.
Captain Derevaux, however, also flung himself upon one of the mattresses and he and the lieutenant soon were fast asleep.
In spite of the fact that they had been more than twenty-four hours without sleep, the two boys were in no mood to close their eyes. As Hal said, now seemed to be the proper time to expend whatever energies they had in getting out of their prison.
The boys looked around. There were two small windows to their cell, but it was plain they were too small to permit of a human body being squeezed through. Besides, they were barred. Beyond, across a courtyard, could be seen another wing of the castle. It appeared to be almost in ruins.
Looking from the other window, the boys could discern the bridge which they had been led across. The bridge spanned a moat, which at one time had been filled with water. Now it was a mass of growing weeds.
Hal shook the bars at the window through which he was peering, and one came away in his hand. It had grown loose through age. Still, however, it was impossible for a man to pass through the window. The opening was too small.
"No chance of getting out here," remarked Hal, turning to Chester, who stood at the other window.
"Nor here," was the answer. "I couldn't squeeze through to save my life."
"What are we to do, then? I certainly won't let them take me out and shoot me without a fight."
"No more will I," declared Chester. "I would rather be killed fighting than to be taken out and stood up against a wall."
"Then if it comes to the worst we will pitch into the guards when they come to take us out and fight until the end," said Hal.
"We will," agreed Chester. "It would be a much more pleasant death. I don't think much of walking out and standing over my own grave and letting somebody shoot at me without a chance to fight back."
They continued their conversation well into the night.
As the first rays of sunlight filtered into their cell a key turned gratingly in the rusty lock of the door. Captain Derevaux and Lieutenant Anderson, who now appeared to have been sleeping with one eye open, were on their feet immediately, and the four friends faced the door.
Slowly the huge door swung outward and a grinning apparition appeared in the doorway, carrying a vessel of water and a loaf of bread. It was an old, old negro, and he shuffled forward haltingly. Just outside the door could be seen half a dozen German soldiers.
Hal and Chester stared at the old negro in speechless amazement. The sight of the old darky carried them back across the sea to the home of Hal's Virginia uncle. They forgot their danger for a moment, gazed at each other and broke into a laugh.
The old negro looked at them in surprise, and with ruffled dignity. He placed the water and bread upon the table, and drawing himself up, pointed to them and then commanded:
It was too much for the two lads and they broke into another loud guffaw.
"Well, what do you think of that!" exclaimed Chester. "Here's what looks like an old plantation negro, and he speaks German."
"Funniest thing I ever heard," gasped Hal between bursts of laughter.
At their words, an expression of amazement passed over the old negro's face.
"Lawdy! Lawdy!" he exclaimed, a wide grin spreading itself over his features; "if dese two chilluns ain't 'Mericans," and advancing toward them he demanded:
"What yo'al doin' hyah? Dey tol' me dey dun captured fo' spies!"
Hal explained briefly.
The old negro rolled his eyes in gaping wonder at the recital.
"Can't you help us, uncle?" asked Chester, as Hal completed his story.
Frightened, the old darky looked around; then began slowly to back toward the door of the cell, just beyond which stood the line of soldiers.
"Yo'al jes' wait," he spoke in a hoarse whisper. "Ol' Uncle Billy'll see what he c'n do."
He backed out of the cell as he finished and the door clanged behind him.
"It seems that we have at least one friend," remarked Hal, after Uncle Billy had gone.
"But what can he do to help us?" demanded the young French captain.
"I don't know," replied Hal; "but you may be sure he will do anything he can. He will not desert us. He is that kind, and I know the kind well."
"You can bet on that," Chester agreed. "He'll be back before long."
It was nearing the hour of noon when the cell door again swung open. Believing that Uncle Billy had returned, the two boys jumped to their feet. But they were disappointed. An officer, whose shoulder straps proclaimed him a lieutenant, entered. Behind him stood the inevitable line of soldiers.
He beckoned the prisoners. "Follow me!" he commanded.
"Where to?" demanded Lieutenant Anderson.
"General Steinberg desires your presence."
He stood aside as the captives filed from the cell. Outside the line of soldiers fell in step behind them.
Our four friends were marched out of the castle and across the field to the army camp. They were led to a hut rather larger than the rest, which proclaimed it the headquarters of the commanding officer. They were ushered inside and their military escort fell back.
General Steinberg sat at a table surrounded by several officers of his staff. He looked up as the prisoners entered, and unconsciously Captain Derevaux saluted.
General Steinberg jumped to his feet.
"So!" he exclaimed. "A soldier, eh? And an officer, besides. I thought so! What rank, and to what command are you attached?"
Captain Derevaux drew himself up to his full height.
"Captain of French Rifles!" he said defiantly.
"And what are you doing within our lines in civilian clothes, may I ask?" demanded the general, with a sneer. "Spying, eh?" he continued without waiting for a reply. "I thought so. Are your companions also spies?"
"We are not spies," declared the captain vehemently. "I was stranded in Berlin and was trying to make my way out of the country so as to join my regiment."
"And why should we allow you to leave the country and join our foes? Did you report yourself to the authorities in Berlin when war was declared?"
"And why, may I ask?"
"Because I had already received orders to join my regiment, and I did not propose to be detained."
The general waved him aside and turned to Lieutenant Anderson.
"And you are also an officer, perhaps, eh?" he questioned.
"I am," replied the lieutenant boldly. "I hold his British majesty's commission as a lieutenant of Dragoons."
"Another spy, eh?"
"No; I am no spy, and you do not dare treat me as one."
"I don't? You shall see. Stand aside!"
The general turned to Hal and Chester.
"And you," he said, "you both look over young to be taking the risk of spies. How do you come to be mixed up in this business?"
"Why did you not submit to arrest in Angermunde?"
"Because we feared we would be detained."
"And is that a sufficient cause for attacking a squad of German troops?"
"We considered it so," replied Hal.
"Enough!" exclaimed General Steinberg. "It is my belief you are all spies. You shall be shot to-morrow at sunrise!"
Turning to the officer who had escorted them to his hut, he commanded:
"Return them to their cell and see that they are well guarded!"
"But, general," the young captain spoke up, "these boys are in no way to blame. They are perfectly innocent!"
"Shoot us if you like, but spare them," pleaded the lieutenant.
"Bah!" exclaimed the general. "One is as guilty as the other!"
With a wave of his hand he signified that the interview was ended.
"Take them away!" he ordered.
"It's all my fault!" exclaimed Captain Derevaux when they were back in the cell once more. "I should not have permitted you boys to accompany us."
"It is not!" denied Hal and Chester together. "Whatever may befall us is no discredit to you. Had we not come with you, we probably should have tried to escape the country alone."
"But if you had not been captured in our company you would be in no danger of being shot," declared Lieutenant Anderson. "I cannot forgive myself that I consented to your coming."
"Never mind that," said Hal. "You tried to help us, and that we go to our deaths to-morrow morning is not due to you."
"Fool that I was!" cried the Frenchman. "Had I kept my presence of mind in Steinberg's hut our position would not be so desperate. It was my salute that caused all this trouble."
"Come, come, never mind that," soothed Chester. "It couldn't be helped. Besides, I am sure he had his mind made up to shoot us, anyhow. Let's not think about it."
It was perhaps an hour later that the huge cell door once more swung slowly open. Uncle Billy stepped quickly inside and closed the door after him.
"Sh-h!" he whispered, holding up a warning finger and coming close.
Silently he went to the table and, one after another, produced from some place about his person four revolvers.
"When I brung yo'al yo' dinnah t'night," he explained, "I'se gwine ter leave de' door open. I'se gwine ter p'tend ter lock it, but it ain't gwine ter be locked.
"At nine o'clock t'night de' watch am changed, an' fer five minutes there ain't no guard in de' hall. That am when yo'al slip out an' sneak down de' hall. When yo'al gits out o' de cas'le, jes' yo'al sneak roun' to de right, an' dere'll be frien's dere."
Uncle Billy again put a warning finger to his lips.
Hal opened his mouth to ask a question, but with a soft "sh-h" Uncle Billy silenced him.
Then, after several furtive glances about, the old negro stole quickly from the cell, closing the door softly behind him.
"What did I tell you!" shouted Hal, when the old negro had taken his departure. "Didn't I tell you old Uncle Billy wouldn't leave us in the lurch?"
"What do you suppose his plan is?" asked Chester.
"I haven't any idea, but you can depend upon its being a good one."
Captain Derevaux and Lieutenant Anderson were examining the revolvers Uncle Billy had laid on the table.
"Loaded, all right," remarked the latter.
"At least they won't stand us up against a wall without a fight," declared the captain.
"I don't know what Uncle Billy's plan of escape is," said Hal, "but I am sure it will be successful. I have a lot of confidence in these old-time negroes."
"And I, too," declared Chester.
"Well," interrupted the Frenchman, "all we can do now is to wait and hope for the best."
"We at least have a fighting chance," spoke up the lieutenant, "and that's more than I ever expected to have again."
"It's a long time between now and nine o'clock," said Chester. "I think we all had better get some sleep. We are likely to need it before we get through."
"Right," replied the lieutenant. "I guess we had better turn in."
The four lay down upon the dirty mattresses, and with their minds more at ease were soon asleep.
It was after six o'clock when Uncle Billy once more entered the cell with their "dinner," which consisted of another vessel of water and a second loaf of bread.
Hal made a grimace.
"Is that what you call dinner, Uncle Billy?" he demanded. "Why, I'm so hungry I could eat a fence rail."
Uncle Billy grinned widely.
"Yo'al will git a shore 'nuff dinnah 'fore long," he replied.
"Is everything all right?" asked Chester.
"Yassah, yassah. Everyt'ing am all right. Yo'al jes' do like I tell you," and the old darky hastened from the cell.
The four prisoners fell upon the single loaf of bread and devoured it hungrily. Thirstily they gulped down the water, and then sat down to wait.
The long hours passed slowly.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Chester finally. "Won't nine o'clock ever come?"
"Hold your horses and don't get excited," ordered Lieutenant Anderson. "Impatience won't get us anything."
Chester subsided, and for a time the four sat in silence.
Suddenly the stillness was broken by the faint sound of a distant bell.
The young lieutenant pulled his watch from his pocket. Then he closed the case with a snap and rose to his feet.
"Nine o'clock!" he said briefly. "Time to be moving!"
Cautiously the four approached the cell door. Hal pressed his weight against it, and slowly the huge door swung outward. Poking out his head, Hal glanced up and down the corridor.
"No one in sight," he informed his companions, and softly the four stepped outside, closing the door gently behind them.
Silently four shadows flitted along the corridor, out across the bridge and to the wall beyond. They encountered no one.
"Your Uncle Billy is a jewel," declared the young Frenchman, in a whisper.
"He is for a fact," whispered back the lieutenant.
Chester crept silently through the gate and peered in all directions. Then he crept back to his companions.
"All safe!" he whispered.
"Now to get to the place where Uncle Billy said friends would be waiting," said Hal.
"I guess we had better make it at a run," spoke up the Frenchman.
"Yes," said the lieutenant; "some one might happen along and we would have to make a fight for it."
Passing through the entrance to the old castle, the four broke into a run, and turning to the right in accordance with their instructions, increased their speed.
For a considerable distance they sped along under the shelter of the castle wall. Just as they reached the end of the wall a whispered voice brought them to a halt.
"Hyah, sah!" came the unmistakable voice of Uncle Billy.
Turning, they saw the old negro, who had been hidden from their sight, standing under the far wall of the castle.
"Follow me!" he whispered, and led the way a short distance along the wall, to where were picketed four horses.
Turning, he motioned the companions to mount.
"Which way?" asked the lieutenant, when all were in the saddle.
"Straight north, I suppose," said the captain.
"No, sah, no, sah," broke in Uncle Billy. "Yo'al can't get free that-a-way. Since de Emp'ror declared wah on Belgin an' Englan' dun declare wah on Germany, all de no'th coast am hev'ly guarded."
"What!" exclaimed the French captain. "War on Belgium!"
"England has declared war?" asked the young lieutenant, in surprise.
"Yassah, yassah. I jes' hearn erbout it."
"Then which way shall we go?"
"Yo'al must go that-a-way," came the answer, and Uncle Billy pointed toward the southwest, in the direction of the faraway frontier of The Netherlands.
"But Holland is a long ways off, and the country between must be overrun with troops," protested the Frenchman.
"Mos' all de troops am at de front," explained the old negro. "Dat am de bes' way, sah."
"I believe we had better take Uncle Billy's word for it," declared Hal.
"I guess he is right," said the lieutenant. "Uncle Billy, we can never thank you enough."
"No," agreed Captain Derevaux. "We can never thank you enough."
"Come," said the lieutenant, "let us ride," and he turned his horse's head toward the southwest, and started off cautiously.
But Hal and Chester stopped for a further word with Uncle Billy.
"But how about you, Uncle Billy?" demanded Chester. "Won't you get in trouble for aiding us to escape?"
"No, sah," replied the old negro. "There won't none o' dese hyah Germans hurt ol' Uncle Billy!"
"Well, then, good-by," said the boys. "After the war is over we are coming back to see you."
"After de wah am over," said the old negro slowly, "Ise gwine back ter ol' Virginy!"
With another word of farewell the boys wheeled their horses and rode after their companions, who were now some distance ahead.
"We shall have to go very slowly and feel our way until we have passed the outposts of the town," said the lieutenant, as they rode along; and for the first half hour their progress was slow.
Once they passed within a few yards of a German sentry, but so softly did their horses step that the soldier did not turn in their direction.
Bearing well to the south, they passed the long line of huts where they had been captured the night before, at a considerable distance; and now, feeling sure they had passed the last of the outposts, they urged their horses into a quick trot.
"We will try and avoid all towns this time," declared Lieutenant Anderson, "going just close enough to them to keep our bearings."
"A good scheme," said the Frenchman. "We would better avoid the highways as much as possible also."
In almost a straight line, the direction in which the companions were now headed eventually would put them into Holland a few miles north of the Belgian frontier. Following the highways, their way would lead through Prenzlau, Brunswick, and Detmold. But upon Captain Derevaux's advice, they decided to skirt these towns, staying just close enough to the roads to keep their sense of direction.
As the four rode along through the open fields, Hal and Chester continued to talk of Uncle Billy.
"After the war," said Chester, "we'll come back and get him and take him home with us."
But such was not to be; nor was the old Southern negro ever again to see his Virginia home.
And because of the assistance he rendered Hal and Chester and their two friends, it is fitting that here be related the fate of this old plantation slave, who had come so nobly to the aid of our boys.
As the four companions rode away from the old castle, Uncle Billy, with bared head, gazed lovingly after them.
"Praise de Lawd!" he exclaimed. "May dey git home in safety."
The riders disappeared in the distance, and the old negro, after one last glance, turned toward his quarters in a broken-down wing of the old castle.
There he threw himself to his knees, and for long minutes prayed in silence. Then he arose, extinguished his light, and crawled into his dirty cot.
Before sun-up he arose, and was soon about his duties of carrying food to others imprisoned in the castle. Upon the order of General Steinberg he went to the vacant cell with the firing squad that was to put an end to the lives of the four companions whom he had aided to escape.
He opened the door, and then threw up his hands in well-feigned surprise.
"Dere gone!" he exclaimed.
"What!" exclaimed the officer in charge of the firing squad. "Impossible!"
He brushed the old negro aside and peered into the cell. Then he turned to Uncle Billy and laid his hand on his shoulder. "You are under arrest!" he said.
"What fo', sah?"
"For aiding the prisoners to escape."
"Silence! To the general's quarters!" he commanded his men.
Uncle Billy was led before General Steinberg.
"So!" thundered the latter, after the situation had been explained to him. "A traitor, eh!"
Uncle Billy drew himself up proudly, and the years seemed to fall from his shoulders.
"I is no traitor, sah!" he said quietly, "Is I a traitor, sah, because I is willin' ter die fer two li'l chillun, who is so like mah young massa?"
"What!" shouted the general. "You admit it?"
General Steinberg's face grew purple and he waved his arms about angrily.
"Then you shall die in their stead!" he shouted. "Sergeant! Take that black hound out and shoot him! See that my order is carried out at once!"
The sergeant saluted and turned to Uncle Billy.
"Come!" he said.
With bowed head the old negro walked slowly from the hut. Outside the squad of soldiers encircled him, and he was led away.
With his back to a wall and the line of soldiers facing him, their rifles grounded by their sides, Uncle Billy's face turned chalky, and he trembled.
But, as the sergeant approached with a bandage for his eyes, the old negro regained his composure.
For the last time he drew himself to his full height; imperiously he waved the sergeant away, and his eyes met the gaze of his executioners unflinchingly.
"Ready!" came the voice of the sergeant.
Without a murmur, Uncle Billy slid gently to the ground, his body riddled with bullets.
The sergeant hurried to his side, and placed a hand over his heart. As he did so, the body of the old negro twitched, and he made an effort to rise.
The sergeant caught the faint sound of his voice.
"I'se a-comin', massa; I'se a-co—" came the old voice in a low whisper; and Uncle Billy's body fell back inert.
The sergeant straightened up, and lifted his cap from his head.
"He is dead!" he said softly.
IN TROUBLE AGAIN.
All night long the four companions continued their way without adventure. Twice they saw lights of nearby towns, and upon each occasion they bore farther away from these signs of habitation.
The first gray dawn streaked the eastern sky before they drew rein at a little brook, where they sat down to rest for a few moments, and to allow their horses to quench their thirst.