THE DESPERATE CHANCE

AS Tom, in the gray of the breaking dawn, came pounding into the lines
which surrounded the thousands of sleeping soldiers, he nearly
precipitated himself upon the out-thrust bayonet of a sentry whose call
of halt he did not hear.

His breath coming and going in quick, sharp gasps, Tom managed to give
the countersign, adding, “Sergeant Walton, Company C.” The sentry
lowered his rifle and Tom proceeded; but a few yards further on he was
compelled to repeat the process. For once he wished that all sentries
were asleep on their posts.

At brigade headquarters he encountered a man who refused to get excited,
and who demanded to know in detail what it was Tom wanted before he
would waken his own sergeant to see if the message could be delivered to
the general.

“I tell you,” Tom blurted out, in rising tones, “the life of every man
here is in danger. This place is likely to be blown off the map any
minute. The whole place is mined. I’ve just seen the bombs—scores of
them—in a big underground chamber directly under the town. I’ve got to
speak to someone in authority.”

“What’s that you say,” demanded a staff major, suddenly appearing on the
scene. He had heard the last few words, and as he peered into the face
of Sergeant Walton, who immediately came to a salute, he seemed
instantly to sense the seriousness of the situation.

Briefly as possible Tom repeated his startling information. The major
rattled off some orders to the sentry and a sergeant who had appeared,
then left suddenly, telling Tom to wait right there.

In an incredibly short time the brigadier general, followed by most of
his staff, emerged hurriedly from a dug-out.

“You are certain of this?” the general demanded sternly.

“Absolutely positive,” Tom answered. “I fell into the mouth of the cave
myself, in helping to capture the German who had just come out of it,
and when I found that it was a long tunnel, leading directly northward
toward this spot, I led the way through it. We came upon a large
underground chamber practically filled with big bombs, all connected
with a cable. I should measure the distance we travelled as bringing
that chamber almost beneath where we are standing now.”

Had Tom himself thrown a bomb into the midst of the gathered staff
members it hardly could have caused greater consternation.

The general waited for no more. He barked a dozen orders to as many
different officers in rapid-fire succession.

“Come with me,” he instructed Tom and those officers who had not yet
been charged with special duties. He led the way quickly to a dug-out
further down the line. Before they reached it bugles were sounding, men
were tumbling out of their blankets, rubbing their eyes and looking
about sleepily. Staff officers were shouting the orders for immediate
movement. Officers and men who heard, looked around hurriedly for signs
of the enemy.

In the dug-out the general ordered one of the several men sitting at
telephone instruments to connect him immediately with the commanding
officer of the nearest unit of Engineers.

To this officer he indicated as definitely as he could the position of
the mouth of the tunnel, and ordered him to be there as quickly as
possible.

“To dig out mines,” he summed up. “They’re already connected up, I
believe.” And seeing the first of the thousands of men under him already
on the move for designated points beyond the danger zone, he took a part
of his staff with him, and with Tom in the lead, set out at a vigorous
double-quick for the point where George Harper still was guarding the
man whose movements indirectly led to discovery of the mines.

Meanwhile Ollie had encountered even greater difficulties than Tom in
his search for the commanding officer of the Engineers, for although he
went directly to the wood, he found only small squads at work there, the
main body having progressed in a circling movement to the northward of
the town, to prepare the pathway for the day’s advance.

When, after the greatest difficulty, he finally did locate the
headquarters of the colonel, he arrived there just in time to see the
latter and his aides departing at the head of a hundred men.

Saluting a lieutenant, Ollie started to tell him his story, but was cut
short with the information that the news already had been received and
they were then on their way.

“But you arrive at a good time,” the lieutenant added quickly, and
addressing a superior he informed him that Ollie could take them
directly to the spot.

And thus it was not without a justifiable feeling of being of some real
importance that Ollie was called to the colonel’s side, and walking
beside that officer, to direct the way, was plied with questions as to
the discovery. It was little enough that Ollie could tell, for Tom had
given him but a bare outline of the danger that confronted the troops.
Nevertheless the colonel thanked him warmly, not forgetting to add a
word of praise for all three of the lads after he had been told how it
happened that the mouth of the tunnel had been discovered.

“And you got your man after all?” he asked, when Ollie had finished,
having touched but lightly upon the fact that all three had at one time
dropped off to sleep.

“Yes, sir, he’s wounded,” the lad responded.

“Well, he’ll probably wish he had been killed outright,” was the
colonel’s cryptic comment.

As if in reply to that remark, German guns far to the north let go a
salvo of shells, several of which fell uncomfortably near. The colonel
glanced in the direction from which the projectiles seemed to come, but
his pace never wavered.

“Fritz seems to be out of bed, anyway,” was all he said, as another
shell exploded not a hundred yards to the left of them, throwing up a
veritable geyser of dirt and rock and splinters of steel.

As they came over a little knoll, Ollie pointed out where the tunnel
entrance was, and the colonel raised his glasses to get a better view as
he walked.

Approaching, from an about equal distance beyond the spot where Harper
and his prisoner sat, were the general and members of his staff. It was
when both parties were within fifty feet of the entrance to the
passageway that a shell exploded with such violence and in such
proximity that it knocked both Harper and his prisoner on their backs.
For a moment everyone thought they had been killed.

It was Ollie, who with a feeling of dread, realized the real damage that
that shell might have done; and as misfortune would have it his surmise
was right. It had landed directly over the tunnel, a few yards beyond
its entrance, and with such force as to cave the whole thing in!

As the general and colonel arrived almost simultaneously, the situation
and its necessities became clear. It required but a moment’s
investigation by one of the members of the Engineers Corps to verify the
fact that the passageway had been effectually blocked by a great wall of
earth caved in by the shock of the exploding shell.

The general held a short consultation with the colonel of Engineers, and
then called both Tom and Harper to them.

“Young men,” he said, “we are going to place a great deal of reliance
upon your judgment and sense of direction. A straight line drawn from
the entrance of this tunnel to the spot where the shell caused a cave-in
shows that you were right in saying that it ran almost directly north
from where you started. You are sure it takes no turns?”

“Not until the very entrance to the bomb chamber,” Tom answered quickly;
and Harper corroborated him.

“Very well,” the commander went on quickly. “If that is true, then we
are saved some unnecessary labor. It is not likely that we could dig
directly into the tunnel from any given spot, but we will proceed
directly northward to a point which you consider near to the chamber,
but yet a safe distance away, then try to effect an entrance.”

And with competent engineers directing a true northward course, they
proceeded rapidly toward Thiaucourt.

Tom, who had been considering the distance carefully, came to a halt and
saluted. “I would suggest, sir, that perhaps this is as near as is safe
to begin the digging.”

“Very well,” the general replied, and nodded to the colonel.

A moment later fifty men with spades were lined up before their
commander for instructions. He marked the spot where the tunnel might
be, and then, at right angles to the direction they had walked, or
almost directly east and west, he established an imaginary line.

“Dig along that, working toward this point at the centre,” he ordered.
“Somewhere along that line you should strike the tunnel. Proceed with
care after you are six or seven feet deep.”

Every man there had a fair idea of what depended upon cutting the
connection to those bombs before, somewhere to the north, a German hand
reached for a switchboard and turned on the current that would cause a
holocaust. Also, they knew that they were about the closest in proximity
to those hidden mines, so there was no lack of incentive for all the
speed that strength could muster.

Dirt flew out of that ever deepening and lengthening pit in a constant
cloud, piling up a high trench work on either side. But despite the care
to which they had cautioned, it was the muffled exclamation of surprise
from a man suddenly dropped downward with a great accompanying scraping
and crashing of earth, that heralded the discovery of the tunnel.

The general and colonel both smiled their congratulations to Tom and
Harper at the accuracy of their report. At the same time spades worked
with feverish haste, the man who fell into the tunnel was extricated
undamaged, and the hole was rapidly widened to let two or three in at
one time. Then another halt was ordered.

The colonel spoke.

“A short distance to the north of us is an underground chamber
supposedly filled with highly explosive mines. They are wired and, it is
believed, are directly connected up with the German lines. Apparently
the enemy has been waiting for the concentration of a large number of
troops here before touching off the mines. He may decide to do so at any
moment. I want volunteers to go into that chamber and sever the cable
connection.”

Instantly every man present stepped forward. The colonel’s face glowed
with pride, and the general nodded approvingly. This was the spirit
which made America invincible! One looking at the general’s fine
countenance saw there satisfaction, absolute assurance. A nation could
not fail with men like these! And they but typified the entire United
States army.

The colonel rapidly picked half a dozen of the men he thought best
fitted for the hazardous task at hand, and under the guidance of a
clean-cut captain they dropped into the tunnel and disappeared from
sight.

Agonized moments dragged by, and scarcely a word was spoken. The colonel
had suggested that all hands move further away from the danger zone, but
as he and the general gave no evidence of doing so themselves, none of
those present, no matter how they felt about it, showed the hardihood to
seem to want to escape, when a little group of their pals probably at
that very moment were struggling with the heavy cable which at any time
might be charged with the death-dealing current.

Every man present held his breath when the captain suddenly dashed into
sight, quickly lifted himself to the ground, and, grabbing a spade from
one and a pair of rubber gloves from another, started back over the line
which the tunnel followed to the bomb chamber.

“Connection’s cut, but I want to see something,” he told them.

As he began digging they gathered in a wide circle about him. Presently
he struck a hard metallic substance. With a wave of his hand he
requested them to get to a greater distance. A few more cautious jabs
with the spade and he stooped over, gripping something with both hands
and tugging upward with all his strength. The blood rushed to his face
and the veins on his neck and forehead stood out, but after a little the
thing he was pulling began to give way.

It was the severed cable. With a final jerk he pulled the loose end
through the ground, and all hands could see where the cut had been made.
At last the terrible menace was over. The captain looked triumphantly at
his superiors. He laid the cable on the ground.

“Don’t go near it,” he cautioned, “because—”

The sentence was never finished. There was a sudden sharp crackling, a
gasp of exclamations from the throng, and a shower of sparks shot into
the air from where the severed cable end lay upon the ground.

The Germans had turned on the current, but they had turned it on a
moment too late!

The narrow margin by which a terrible tragedy had been averted was
obvious to all. They stood about, awed and silent, watching the deadly
current expend itself in a harmless sputter.

The general himself was a man of few words. He summoned the lads to him.

“Young men,” he said, “I congratulate and thank you. You have saved an
army. It will not be forgotten.”

And the three youths flushed deeply as a lusty cheer went up from the
men gathered about them.

AS the three lads, hoping for a snatch of sleep before the orders came
for a renewal of the battle, settled into their blankets in a dug-out
which only forty-eight hours before had been occupied by Germans who
held forth there in that sublime assurance born of four years of
uninterrupted and practically unchallenged possession, Ollie Ogden
chuckled audibly.

“What’s the matter now?” demanded George Harper, none too graciously,
for already he had drowsed, and the injection of humor, particularly
when the cause was unknown, was not altogether pleasant.

Tom, too, looked sharply at his friend, but with other reason. For an
instant he feared that the low laugh was the first hysteria which is the
forerunner of one phase of shell shock—that dreaded punishment when taut
nerves break, the mind snaps, and a strong man temporarily is
transformed into a cowering, jabbering, pitiful hulk of his former self,
actuated by one thought, escape from the thing that caused his mental
wreck.

But Tom’s one quick glance was sufficient to assure him. To be sure
Ollie showed the same evidences of fatigue as did the others; but all
three had built up for themselves, in the sports and athletics at
Brighton, constitutions which it would require far more than their
experiences of the last twenty-four hours to break, harrowing as those
experiences had been, and Ollie was only giving vent to amusement at a
sudden thought that had flashed through his mind.

“What are you giggling at?” Harper demanded again, now only half awake.

“Remember that relay race at Brighton,” Ollie answered, “when you, Tom,
ran the first mile, George the second, and I was to finish with the
third?”

“Aw, can’t you ever forget that?” Harper interrupted, peevishly. “What’s
the idea of rehashing that thing again?” he added, suddenly forgetting
his sleepiness.

“I’m not rehashing it,” Ollie assured him, in soothing tones. “I was
just thinking about it, that was all.”

“Well, what’s that got to do with us and this war?” George demanded,
showing no disposition to abandon the subject which always was an
unpleasant one to him.

“Oh, it just occurred to me that it was somewhat of a parallel case in a
way.”

“What way?”

Tom also was evidencing an awakened interest, and cast another inquiring
glance at Ollie.

“I’ll tell you,” the latter answered, at the same time giving Tom a sly
wink which entirely escaped the other youth, who at that time with
belligerent movements was disentangling himself from his blanket, in
order to get into a sitting posture.

“Well tell us,” he snapped. “You might as well get it off your mind.”

“Now don’t get so peeved,” Ollie soothed again. “It’s nothing to get so
excited about.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” from Harper again. “Nothing to get excited
about, of course. Well, are you going to tell us what you were grinning
and sputtering about a moment ago?”

“Sure,” Ollie answered, “if you’ll just give me half a chance.”

“Go ahead, I’m not interrupting you.”

“You remember, Tom,” again giving him the wink, “that you got so far
ahead of the others that you had the race practically won at the end of
the first mile, when you touched George’s hand, and he was off, to
maintain that lead to the end of the second mile, when I was waiting to
finish up?”

“Yes,” Tom drawled, trying vainly to suppress a smile, while George
squirmed uneasily and had to interrupt with, “You always have to review
the whole thing, don’t you?”

As George seemed about to break forth with another impatient
interruption, Ollie turned to Tom again with another grimace. “It wasn’t
George’s fault that he started across country in the wrong direction,”
he went on. “We all know he didn’t do that on purpose. He ran like the
wind, all right, but it just happened that he ran the wrong way.”

There was a distinctly audible grunt of disgust from Harper.

“Yes, I remember,” Tom responded in tone so obviously sympathetic as
merely to aggravate the victim of the story further.

“Well, as I stood there with the relay men of the other teams,” Ollie
continued, “and as one after another they were touched off and were
away, I kept wondering and wondering what in the world could have
happened to Harper, and—”

“You’ve said all that at least a dozen times before,” the latter
interjected again. “What’s the idea of—”

“And finally the last man was away, and still I stood there, just
wondering and wondering—”

“And wondering, like a blamed idiot,” Harper shot out again, in deep
disgust.

Ollie went on as though there had not been an interruption to his
reminiscence.

“At last I gave up in despair and trudged back to Brighton. Remember,”
to Tom, “the race was over before George ever stopped. Didn’t even
hesitate until he’d reeled off about five miles, and then it took him an
hour to get back, after he’d realized he was away up the county and far
off the course of the race. Well, I just recalled how I felt, when I was
waiting there for something to happen, and nothing did. I was thinking
that those Germans, waiting for that mine to explode and send us all
into Eternity, must have felt somewhat the same way as I did.”

“Huh!” George Harper grunted, in deep disgust. But Tom and Ollie burst
into laughter which was none the less uproarious if suppressed by the
necessities of their present situation; and their merriment was not so
much at the predicament of the Germans, if the truth be told, as in the
mischievous delight they took in the increased misery with which Harper
heard this oft’ repeated tale of his mistake in that Brighton relay
race.

“Think you’re smart Alecks, both of you, don’t you?” Harper growled,
from the depths of his blanket, while distinct gasps of amusement
continued to come from Tom and Ollie as they wrapped themselves in
theirs; but a few moments later all three were sleeping as soundly and
as peacefully as though nothing more serious than the story just told
had disturbed the quiet routine and happiness of their lives.

And thus, too dog-tired even for dreams, as oblivious to all that was
going on about them as they were themselves for the time completely
forgotten by the officers and men of their own company, they slept on
and on, hour after hour, unmindful and unknowing that overhead—above the
dark and hidden hole in which they lay unheeded—their own advance army
had moved out, and entirely vanished in pursuit of the enemy; the whole
American movement pushing forward, circling about them, leaving them
alone, forgotten, abandoned.

The afternoon was well on the wane when Tom Walton, falling into a dream
of that foot race which had been the subject of their conversation just
before they slumbered off, awoke panting and as breathless as though in
fact he had just run a mile in record-breaking time.

For a moment he looked about the dark cavern dazedly, unable to remember
where he was or why he was there. Then slowly it began to dawn upon him
that he had been asleep for a long time, and he rose hurriedly, throwing
his blanket aside and hurrying up the short ladder to the outside world
above.

What he saw almost took his breath away. The thousands of men who had
been there when he and his two companions turned in for their
much-needed sleep were nowhere to be seen. The land all about was a
shell-torn desolation. Here and there lay corpses as grim reminders of
the awful struggle which had marked the taking of what once had been the
town of Thiaucourt; but so far as Tom could see there was not a sign of
life anywhere—except that which was betokened in the dull booming of
guns far, far to the northward.

Shouting to awaken George and Ollie, he descended part way into the
dug-out.

“Up, slackers!” he called, still rubbing the sleep out of his own eyes,
scarcely able as yet to fully comprehend the truth of the situation.

As the other two lads raised tousled heads inquiringly out of the warm
depths of their blankets, peering at him blankly as exhausted persons do
in that first instant of suddenly being brought back to wakefulness, Tom
was up and out of the dug-out again, taking a second survey of the
scene, reviewing the events which had preceded their turning in, casting
about in his still muddled mind for some explanation of the surprising
situation he found himself and his friends in.

What had happened? Why hadn’t they been summoned to join their company
whenever and wherever it went? A score of such questions chased each
other through his mind, to be capped with the utterly disconcerting
one—which way had the American army gone? Had it advanced, even beyond
sight and sound, or had it—had it been compelled to retire?

For an instant Tom shivered as though he suddenly had been struck by a
chilling wind, but in another he had regained his assurance and
confidence, for did not the booming of the guns to the north indicate
beyond question that there the battle raged anew—that in the quick
advance they had been forgotten and left there to sleep away their
fatigue?

Of course! And thus Tom quickly summed up the situation for his two
surprised friends when they emerged from the dug-out to demand excitedly
the whys and the wherefores of their sudden awakening.

“Apparently the whole army that was in this section has gone ahead for
two or three miles,” Tom told them briefly. “We were overlooked, which
is a good warning that we should not place too great a value upon
ourselves, or overestimate our own importance.”

“But when,” demanded George Harper, excitedly, “when did all this
happen? I didn’t hear anything.”

“Nor I,” added Ollie, not without a sense of humor, even in the most
trying situation, “and yet the evidence is pretty conclusive. Apparently
it did happen, and right effectively, too.”

“Yes,” Harper admitted slowly, and then added: “I wonder whether we’d be
classed as deserters or deserted?”

“I feel like I did the day of that race, when I—” Ollie began, but the
rest was lost as he dodged suddenly to escape a well-aimed kick from the
irritated Harper.

It required Tom’s diplomacy to restore peace and calm consideration of
what they were to do in the situation confronting them.

“Only one thing to it, as I see it,” said George Harper at last, “and
that is to head out toward the sound of those guns and just keep on
until we come up with some of our own men.”

“Yes, just keep on going, that’s you,” Ollie answered, his mischievous
nature again cropping out. “But how about your sense of direction?”

A tart reply which Harper already had phrased upon his lips remained
unsaid as he abruptly pointed upward to where a big aeroplane was
approaching them from out of the north. They stood silent as it came
swiftly and majestically down the wind toward them.

“An American,” Tom announced at last, when able to make out the markings
on the machine. “Wish he’d come down and give us our bearings.”

“Seems as if he was thinking of that himself,” said Ollie, as the ’plane
nosed downward in its approach. “Maybe he’s got some engine trouble and
is going to make a landing.”

“Changed his mind,” Harper remarked, as the machine passed over them,
took an upward tack again, then at a higher altitude began circling
about them. “Looks as though he was sort of sizing us up. Tom, why not
signal him?”

Acting upon the suggestion, Tom, who was the only one of the three who
could talk in the arm signalling code, began to reveal their identity,
while if the maneuvers of the aeroplane were significant, those in it
looked on with interest.

“Americans seeking our own lines,” Tom spelled out with quick upward and
outward jerks and sweeps of both arms.

The three youths waited for something that might be taken as an
acknowledgment or reply, but none came, or, if it did, they were too far
away to see it; and a moment later the machine swept to the eastward,
swooped down so close to the ground that for a time it was completely
lost to sight behind a nearby wood, then rose again and taking a wide
swerve east and north finally disappeared entirely.

“He’s polite, anyway, whoever he is,” Ollie commented as they gave up
hope of the pilot having any intention of returning to them. “He might
at least have dropped us a biscuit or two.”

“Which reminds me that I’m pretty hungry myself,” admitted Tom Walton.

“Ravenous, better describes my awful emptiness,” said Harper, “and I
don’t see any hope of eats around here. Let’s get started.”

They descended together into the dug-out to roll their blankets and get
their equipment, but they were not to move on just then with the freedom
they had expected.

The aeroplane, camouflaged as an American machine, had done some
signalling, too, but not to the boys from Brighton. Its mission in
descending almost to earth behind the wood had been to make the presence
of the Americans known to a small detachment of Germans which somehow
had escaped detection in remaining there, and which had been waiting for
darkness to fall, in order to make an effort to skirt the long American
lines and join their own, further on.

And while Sergeant Tom Walton and Privates Ollie Ogden and George Harper
were down in the dug-out, totally ignorant of what was going on above,
half a dozen of these Germans had crept up and concealed themselves in
positions most advantageous to the capture of the Americans.

The three youths had not moved fifty feet from the dug-out when without
the slightest warning, or time in which to fight back, they found
themselves entirely surrounded, a bayonet point jabbing the stomach and
back of each of them.

There was absolutely nothing they could do but surrender, and this they
did at the command of the officer in charge,—a lieutenant of cavalry, as
the lads noted from his uniform and insignia.

“A fine mess we’re in now,” Tom ejaculated, as their guns were taken
from them and they were instructed to march ahead of their captors.

“Wonder where we’re bound for?” Ollie whispered in reply.

“Some place where they’ve got some eats, I hope,” George Harper summed
up, and as the first shadows of night began to fall they were herded
into the Germans’ hiding place, where they found a dozen more Huns.

Preparations of some sort were going forward, but to the extreme
disappointment of the famished youths it was apparent that it was not
for the serving of food. And it was not long before they became aware
that they were in for what looked like a long and fatiguing march,
although they had not eaten for many hours.

“Well,” said Ollie, when that matter seemed settled beyond all hope or
doubt, “we ought to be glad they didn’t shoot us, anyway.”

The sharp glance of a German near them was sufficient to warn them
against any further conversation.

BY short stretches the Germans and their three American prisoners had
been pushing forward now for nearly two hours. The Huns were not in
ignorance of their own danger of capture, and their progress was made
with the utmost caution, the major number, with Tom, Ollie and George,
forming a central party, ahead of, behind and on either side of which
scouts reconnoitered constantly to avoid contact with American outposts.

Even in the silence and secrecy that was necessary in that cautious
advance, the American youths had more than a taste of Hun treachery and
brutality. Apparently the Germans knew that their prisoners were hungry,
from having overheard their remarks immediately after their capture.
They were made aware of their parched thirst when the lads asked for
water.

And to aggravate their misery so far as possible, although the lads were
too proud to let it be seen that the acts even annoyed them, the
Germans, singly and in pairs, would walk directly in front of or beside
them, munching thick slices of their own brutal-looking brown, or rather
black, bread, or thrust the opening of a water bottle to the lips of one
of them, only to withdraw it quickly with a low laugh when the youths
thus sorely tempted would try to get at least a swallow of the craved
water.

“They’re barbarians; they are without human instincts or feelings,” Tom
hissed into the ear of Ollie, who walked in the middle of the trio, “so
try not to mind anything they do. Our best course is to ignore what they
do in their efforts to punish us, and to avoid aggravating them any
further.”

At that moment Harper stumbled over a fallen tree branch and fell to the
ground, splintering and crashing the dead wood.

A gutteral oath just behind him was accompanied by a sharp bayonet jab
in the ribs. Harper was about to let out an involuntary cry of mingled
pain and anger when Tom, who well enough knew the result would be more
punishment, cautioned him, “Say nothing.” The Boche, who did not
understand English, peered at the sergeant inquiringly through the
darkness, but as Harper got up he did nothing worse than give him a
vigorous shove forward.

They were now closely skirting a long fringe of wood that seemed to run
almost directly northeast and southwest, and even the men who were
stretched out ahead and on either side as “feelers” for the American
forces kept well within its shadows, for the rising moon was bathing the
whole countryside in its light, and objects, particularly if they were
moving, could be discerned at a considerable distance. Occasionally they
came upon the body of a dead soldier, the stark and staring eyes
acquiring an added touch of ghastliness in the pale lunar light.

Occasionally the dull hum of an aeroplane motor would be heard in the
distance, its sound rising to a roar as it approached and passed, but
practically all the time it was within hearing the small band of Germans
remained in hiding among the trees, and although sometimes the lads
could see the machines so plainly that it seemed they might attract
attention to themselves with a shout, they never were discovered by the
pilots or their observers.

As this continued, and the distance covered made it seem as though they
must now be paralleling, if not actually already by, the American lines,
the youths became more and more depressed. The aeroplanes passed above
them without knowing they were there, and thus far not a single American
patrol had been encountered. The outlook was not encouraging. It began
to look as though Tom Walton, George Harper and Ollie Ogden were to be
ushered out of hostilities and into a German prison camp for the
duration of the war.

Without a spoken word, but in glances as eloquent as any speech, the
young men questioned one another as to the possibilities of escape; but
though each cast about desperately in quest of what might look like the
slightest promise or the smallest opportunity, none presented, and the
three tramped on, striving to go along so quietly and unobtrusively as
to allay all suspicion upon the part of their captors that they might
even be contemplating escape. Each felt that if they could succeed in
this, then the Germans might become less watchful, and perhaps, later
on, when the Huns were more weary with their tramp and constant caution
of attracting attention to themselves, they might drop behind and not be
missed until they had made good their escape.

Optimism is an American characteristic, but particularly it prevails in
the happy, care-free, sturdy American youth, and these three lads were
of the sturdiest stock and could trace their forebears back to
Revolutionary times.

It is good, too, that invariably with optimism goes courage and
self-possession, or Sergeant Tom Walton might have gasped out his
astonishment, or cried out in involuntary consternation, when he
happened to glance upward just as a Boche in front of him struck a match
to light his pipe.

There in the branches of a tree just above him, almost near enough for
him to have touched it with a slight jump, a face peered down at him!

It was all in the space of a few seconds, but as the man there in the
branches stared back at him, not a muscle of his countenance moving, his
eyes blinking ever so slightly from the sudden flare of light from the
match, Tom recognized in that swarthy personage one whom he knew—a man
of iron strength, of indomitable will, of almost uncanny ability in
following a trail—John Big Bear, Indian scout for Uncle Sam, one time
crack rider and dead shot with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West!

Tom Walton could have shouted then and there from sheer happiness, for
he recognized in John Big Bear the equal in strength, courage and
swiftness of action, of any six Germans who could be picked from the
Kaiser’s crack Prussian Guards. But instead of shouting, or even by any
other utterance or slightest sign, permitting John Big Bear’s proximity
to become known, Tom simply flashed back a look of understanding, to
which John Big Bear vouchsafed but the slightest nod, and then the match
went out, darkness again closed them in, and the Indian scout was left
to the rear, still perched in the tree to which evidently he had climbed
the better to observe the numerical strength of the enemy he had heard
approaching.

It was perhaps a hundred yards further on, and while they were still
hugging closely to the shadows of the wood, that Tom had an opportunity,
a few quickly whispered words at a time, to impart a knowledge of what
he had observed to Ollie. And a little later Ollie, by the same guarded
process, informed George Harper.

They were now prepared for any eventuality, for they felt absolutely
certain that John Big Bear, to whom all three had been friendly on more
than one occasion, never would permit them to be taken prisoners to the
German lines without some brave effort at rescue.

The question agitating the minds of the three lads was whether he would
attempt this alone, or by assistance which he might procure from the
nearest detachment of Americans.

Knowledge of John Big Bear’s nature made it more than an even
supposition that he would try it without going far afield for other
assistance, and especially did the lads believe this to be true now that
he was certain that they knew of his proximity; for once he launched his
plan, whatever it might be, he could count upon their assistance to
carry it through.

Naturally, therefore, they were keenly on edge, and at the slightest
untoward sound, even so slight that the Germans themselves did not seem
to notice, they were ready either for a wild dash for liberty, a running
fight, or a man-to-man struggle right upon the spot.

But the lads themselves, expectant as they were, hardly were prepared
for the wily Indian warfare of John Big Bear.

They were in a particularly shadowed spot when Tom thought he heard the
slightest grunt, or it might have been a suppressed hiccough, from the
German not two feet away from him and acting as their guard upon the
right. There wasn’t anything at all unusual about the sound. Tom turned
a merely casual glance in that direction, and but for a slight nudge
from a lithe form which had carried the German speechless and motionless
to the ground, he would have come to a sudden halt.

John Big Bear was at work! And already he had disposed of one Boche—or
was at that instant disposing of him—and without a single one of the
other Germans realizing that anything had happened.

As Tom continued on he managed to cast one sidelong glance at the two
forms locked together upon the ground. With his powerful left hand John
Big Bear, trusty scout for Uncle Sam, had the German in a throat
stranglehold, and before the under man could begin to writhe free, or so
much as utter a groan, a knife which the Indian held in his uplifted
right hand descended with tremendous force and unerring aim.

[Illustration: With His Powerful Left Hand John Big Bear had the
German in a Throat Stranglehold.]

Tom knew that the Hun had died instantly and with only a flash of pain
as the steel blade penetrated his heart!

Instinctively, rather than by any sound he heard, Tom knew that John Big
Bear, as silently as the wild animals he had stalked years before in his
native woods in the great northwest of the United States, was
approaching again. He gave Ollie the barest nudge, and he in turn
relayed the warning to Harper.

Tom felt a slight touch upon his arm. It was startling, even uncanny, to
know that a man could move so silently and stealthily that he might be
right beside one and his presence remain unknown until he, himself,
revealed it. In the darkness the Indian pressed a finger against Tom’s
lips, then put the automatic pistol which had been the German’s into his
hand.

“Wait!” was the one word he barely breathed into Tom’s ear, and the
latter knew he was only to use the firearm when John Big Bear directed.
And he was entirely content to trust to John Big Bear’s judgment in such
an emergency as this.

A moment later the German who had been stalking along beside George
Harper, as the guard on the left, went the way of the Hun before him.
Like a panther the Indian leapt upon him, strangling the breath from him
and swiftly bearing him to the ground at the same time, and all so
silently that no one else was the wiser.

Each of the lads realized what they had not before—that it was a crafty
determination to learn all that could be taught him about his own work
in life, and not any lack either of strength or agility, which had
caused the Indian time and again to go down to apparent defeat in
wrestling matches with a powerful and practiced Japanese athlete who was
a member of Company M in their same regiment.

This Jap, descendant of a race of men noted for their agility and
wrestling ability, their strength and suppleness and cat-like quickness,
was an acknowledged peer of that mat, even among men of his own
nationality, but more than once, after he had thrown John Big Bear only
with the most evident effort, the lads had seen him look at the Indian
in a silent questioning way, unconsciously shaking his head ever so
slightly.

The truth was, as they learned later, he had sensed that John Big Bear,
did he care to, could have proved himself more than a match even for
this expert wrestler, for the Indian was bigger, stronger, equally as
quick and lithe and agile. And in the last match they had seen between
the two, the Indian had rapidly bent and twisted, side-stepped and
squirmed until he had just the hold upon the Jap which so many times he
had studied the Jap getting upon him, and then, as though his opponent
was a mere child, he had lifted him into the air and placed him,
impotent and shoulders squarely down, upon the mat.

The gleam in the eyes of the Jap as he rose was not that of hatred or
revenge, but rather of good sportsmanship, mingled with a look that told
of a suspicion confirmed. John Big Bear had been learning every trick
that the Jap knew, without once revealing any of his own; and the Jap
realized that except by accident he never would throw the Indian in a
serious contest again.

These were the tactics that were being brought to bear now upon the
helpless, unsuspecting Germans, and one at a time they were being
rendered forever hors-de-combat and relieved of their weapons which in
turn were handed over to the three lads.

But if John Big Bear was strong, able and self-confident, so also was he
daring, as he proved beyond all doubt that night.

Having disposed in quick succession of the three Huns who were nearest
the three youths, and who had been acting as their guards, the Indian
was able to whisper something into their ears which made their hearts
beat a little faster in startled surprise and admiration.

“No kill ’em all,” John Big Bear muttered in a low tone. “Take ’em
prisoner like ’em took you. Show ’em heap big s’prise party. Show ’em
American kill if want, take prisoner if want. Take ’em in, show ’em Heap
Big White Chief Persh.”

The lads waited in awed silence for John Big Bear to make further
revelations of his plan. All this time they were walking the same
measured step as though nothing at all had occurred.

“Maybe kill ’em lieutenant,” the Indian continued. “Anyway get ’em
uniform on me. Lead ’em to American lines. You follow. No get by you.
See?”

The lads did see. John Big Bear somehow was going to get into the German
lieutenant’s uniform, without any of his men realizing the substitution,
and lead them directly into the American lines, with their supposed
prisoners bringing up the rear to prevent their escape.

“You know whistle?” John Big Bear asked, by way of indicating the signal
he would give, when attired in the uniform and taking over the
leadership of the German officer.

They had heard it before. It was a sound like that of some distant bird
crying in a wood. No one would suspect it came from a point less than
half a mile away. John Big Bear was a ventriloquist in that respect.

The march continued. Within fifteen minutes they heard the distant,
dismal bird-call that signalled that now John Big Bear was leading the
Germans in the guise of their lieutenant. A moment later they left the
edge of the wood and struck out into the open. The lads saw one of the
Germans try to approach the man he thought to be his officer. John Big
Bear waved him back imperiously. The march continued.

Twenty minutes more elapsed when suddenly, in a spot which the glare of
the moon made almost as light as day, and just when some of the Huns had
noticed the decrease in their number, John Big Bear swung about, an
automatic in either hand.

“Stick ’em up,” he cried, and his manner was so menacing that the
Germans, whether they understood the order or not, after one glance
behind them, which showed them their erstwhile prisoners as their actual
captors, were so dumbfounded that they did not even attempt resistance.

“Take ’em guns,” the Indian ordered, and Ollie Ogden carried out the
instruction with alacrity.

“A regular arsenal,” he commented, as he gathered in the last weapon and
divided the burden with Tom and George.

John Big Bear marshaled the Germans into a double file line.

“Heap step,” he shouted abruptly, and again the Germans responded as
though the Indian vernacular was their method of daily intercourse.

They stepped—and at such a lively rate that in another ten minutes the
startled challenge of a sentry informed them that they were within the
American lines.

“Got ’em heap fool prisoners,” was John Big Bear’s response to the
sentry’s demand; but the man was a member of the same company with the
Indian, knew his voice, his value and his idiosyncrasies. He peered just
long enough to make certain that it was John Big Bear, with a batch of
Boche prisoners, and then summoned the corporal of the guard.

The colonel in charge of that particular section of the front was
passing at the time, heard the call and stepped over. In a very few
seconds he had gathered what had taken place.

He started to commend John Big Bear.

“Ugh!” the Indian interrupted, at the same time walking away, as though
the colonel was nothing more than another private in the ranks, “Not
hard ketch ’em. German big wind, no fight. Heap fool.”

And thus John Big Bear dismissed the incident and strode to the quiet of
a well-earned rest.