THE STRUGGLE UNDER THE WATER

AS John Big Bear stalked away without even so much as saluting the
commander of the regiment, the colonel stood gazing after him
reflectively, the suspicion of a smile twitching at the corners of his
mouth. There were several things the colonel might have done, for John
Big Bear’s action distinctly came within the official definition of
unbecoming conduct, even insubordination.

But after all it is often not so much the act itself that counts, as the
motives behind it; and whereas such conduct as the Indian’s might have
been deliberate disobedience in one of a different nature, the colonel,
who knew men, and who particularly knew the hidden courage and devotion
of John Big Bear, merely looked after the Indian as he strode away,
muttering something under his breath which, as Ollie Ogden caught it,
was far from suggesting the guard house or a court martial.

The boys were standing aside, waiting to learn where their own company
was stationed, and the colonel had turned for a moment to speak to
another officer who had come up.

“A fighter from the ground up,” Ollie heard him say, undoubtedly
referring to John Big Bear.

“Yes,” the other man replied, “the only trouble I have is in holding him
in restraint. He constantly wants to go out and clean up the whole
German army himself. I must say he hasn’t much respect for the Huns. I
believe a dozen men like him could demoralize a whole Boche regiment.”

And the lads became aware for the first time that the speaker was their
own captain. They saw, too, that he carried his left arm in a sling. A
pang went through them as they realized the action their own company
must have been in that day while they were sleeping in the dug-out under
Thiaucourt; but the thought also brought with it all that they had
accomplished, and though not disposed to flatter themselves, they felt,
and justifiably so, that on every occasion they had fulfilled their duty
whenever and in whatever guise it presented itself.

The colonel and captain, who had been conversing in low tones, turned
and approached the three lads. The captain recognized them for the first
time.

“Well, well,” he exclaimed. “Here you are, apparently well and sound,
and we thought the three of you were gone. Have you been with another
unit? Just arrived I see. What’s the report, sergeant?”

Briefly, but clearly, Tom explained everything—how they had slept on
while squads and companies and battalions and regiments and brigades and
even the entire division moved out; how they had awakened to find
themselves alone; of their capture by the twenty Germans, and later,
under the leadership of John Big Bear, of their turning the tables on
those of the Germans who remained living after the Indian got through
his work.

Sergeant Tom Walton did not spare himself or his two pals in what looked
to them like unforgivable carelessness in having slept so soundly that a
whole army moved out over their heads without their having heard a
sound; neither did he seek to embellish the account of their later
daring accomplishment.

The colonel and captain listened in silence until the report was
concluded, but the lads found no censure awaiting them. The colonel
nodded his head approvingly and again called the captain aside. They
conversed for several minutes, apparently giving grave consideration to
some important project, and then called the youths over.

“Our company has been pretty well shot to pieces, boys,” the captain
began, “but the success of this entire drive of course depends upon the
manner in which every unit carries through its especial mission. And
ours is a difficult one tonight. The men have been fighting all day, and
those who are not dead or wounded are so utterly exhausted that they
hardly can be asked or expected to do anything further tonight.”

The colonel was gazing at them intently. The captain paused for a
moment. The young men remained at rigid attention, waiting to learn what
new service or sacrifice lay before them. Tired as they were, they knew
that they had rested and slept since other members of the company had,
and that they had not endured the awful conflict of the day, under which
hundreds of their friends had gone down. And besides, there was
something exhilarating and thrilling in receiving some commission
directly from the captain, in the presence, and undoubtedly with the
approval, of the commander of the regiment.

“We are not more than a quarter of a mile from a swift but narrow
river,” the captain continued, pointing off to the right, “but we were
unable to get further before darkness. Most of the enemy are on the
other side, but a strong rear guard is holding the near bank.

“To properly lay our plans for the morning it is necessary that we have
some definite idea of whether the Germans have decided to make a
determined stand here, or whether the main force is retreating beyond
the other side of the stream, leaving only this comparatively small
guard to harry and delay our advance.

“As I have said, our men are exhausted. It is necessary that we send out
scouts to reconnoiter. You men already have gone through a great deal
that has earned you the respect and admiration and commendation of your
officers. Do you feel that you can go forward on the difficult and
dangerous mission that I have outlined? I would send John Big Bear with
you, but he has been through enough in the last forty-eight hours to
kill an ordinary man. Are you men prepared to take up this necessary
task?”

“We are,” the three young soldiers answered in unison, and at the same
instant from out of the darkness behind them came a deep grunt and John
Big Bear stepped forward.

“Young ’em fellas go; me go, too,” the Indian announced briefly

John Big Bear had been listening! The captain swung on him suddenly, his
lips already framing a reprimand, when he caught the colonel’s eye. The
latter merely gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head, and the
captain at once changed his tactics.

“John Big Bear,” he announced, as though it had been he instead of the
Indian who had decided the question, “you and Sergeant Walton and Harper
and Ogden are assigned to report upon the approximate strength of the
enemy forces on the opposite bank of the river, and also whether they
are preparing to make a stand there, or are moving on.”

The four men saluted and a moment later were lost in the darkness. It
was not until they were crawling well within the enemy outposts that
they remembered that with the exception of John Big Bear, who had
equipped himself with a regulation automatic and plentiful ammunition,
the others had only what cartridges were in the revolvers they had taken
from the Germans.

And it was almost at that instant that an alert sentry discovered their
presence. He fired point blank from a distance of not more than fifty
feet, and Ollie Ogden felt the bullet whistle by his head.

Bang! It was John Big Bear’s unerring aim, and the Boche was laid low.
But in that moment a dozen of the enemy suddenly rose into sight, and
there was but one course open—a running fight toward the river bank, for
the position of the Germans was such that retreat to the American lines
was cut off, even had the four men been disposed to turn back.

Just as they reached the edge of the river a suppressed grunt from John
Big Bear indicated that he had been hit, but he did not go down.

“In big water,” he shouted to the others, and with a simultaneous splash
they dived into the river.

All were excellent swimmers, but as they came up close together, far out
in the stream, the outlook was far from encouraging. The bank from which
they had jumped was lined with hostile men, and directly approaching
them was a boat containing at least half a dozen others, evidently
engaged in ferrying back and forth, gradually depleting the rear guard
which had been left upon the American side.

With one long breath the four men dived again, but not before Tom had
noticed that John Big Bear was swimming only with his right arm, his
left seemingly out of commission.

When they came to the surface again they were above the boat, which was
a raft-like affair, but still at a point between it and the American
side. Before their whereabouts had been discovered John Big Bear had
formulated a plan and in a few swift words imparted it to his
companions.

Inhaling all the air they could, in order to remain under water as long
as possible, they dived for the third time. The three lads swam with all
their strength down stream and ahead of the Indian, to a point just
behind the boat.

There, until it seemed that their lungs would burst, they waited. Unable
to stay down longer, each struck out again for the top. They lifted
their heads into the air not ten feet below the boat, and just at an
instant when, if the situation had not been so serious, they could have
laughed outright.

John Big Bear, giant of a man that he was, with the strength of a
Sampson despite his wounded left arm, had come up unsuspected on the
upper side of the boat, and, despite the weight of the men in it, had
with one deft and tremendous upward push turned it over. Or, to be
exact, with the men all lined up on the opposite side, waiting to take
pot shots at the swimmers when they came up where they thought they
must, he was just in the act of turning it over, with their unconscious
assistance, when the lads came up for air.

The Germans had neither time nor thought for shooting then. It all had
happened so suddenly, as most things did that were engineered by John
Big Bear, that they were seized with consternation as they hurtled
headlong into the river.

Each of the lads had his gun ready, butt end outward, for the struggle
that must ensue. John Big Bear, working with one arm and shoulder, as he
had to, was having all he could do to right the boat again.

There were shouts from the American side of the bank which indicated
that another raft loaded with men was trying to put out. A Boche came up
beside Tom Walton, gave one wild stare at him and dived again, just as
Tom’s revolver butt hit the water with a resounding splash. Ollie at
that moment was struggling in the grasp of a gigantic Hun. With three
quick strokes Tom was beside them. He managed to hit the enemy a
terrific blow over the head, which released Ollie, but a moment later it
was George Harper who had to come to Tom’s rescue as a German who had
dived under him dragged him gasping and breathless, below the surface.

Some of the Germans had fled down stream as fast as their swimming
abilities could carry them, but enough had stayed to make it a terrible
struggle, with all the odds upon the enemy side.

Firing had ceased on the bank when it was seen that Americans and
Germans were all mixed up together in the water, but no sooner had John
Big Bear righted and crawled into the boat than bullets began to whiz
around his head.

This angered John Big Bear, and it’s bad business to get an Indian mad.
He is likely to do some damage. John Big Bear was no exception to his
race.

Lying flat in the boat, he leveled his revolver over its side. Pop! And
a Boche who twice had nearly drowned Ollie Ogden went down to a watery
grave. The sight so disconcerted the other Huns who had seen it that
they immediately dived. John Big Bear’s gun continued to speak as one by
one they came to the surface again. Instantly all dived. The lads saw
only two finally reappear. Whether the others had been killed or
drowned, or had made their escape in the darkness, they never knew.

Nor did they much care. It had been the most exhausting experience they
ever had been through, and as they climbed into the boat which John Big
Bear managed to maneuver to them, and each laying to the oars struck out
with all their strength for a point of safety down stream, they were
thankful enough to have escaped alive.

A bullet had smashed John Big Bear’s shoulder, and all were half frozen
from the icy water and chilling winds. But they had learned that for
which they had been sent. The rear guard left on the American side of
the stream was rapidly being ferried to the opposite side, and no shots
worth speaking of had come at them from there. Undoubtedly the Germans
were continuing a hasty retreat under cover of the night.

And with all the strength they had remaining in them, after half an
hour’s rowing had brought them to a place of safe landing, the lads ran
back into the mainland, to report to their commander and get hot coffee
and into dry clothes.

EVEN as the lads had started from the river’s edge inland to where their
own lines stretched away to seemingly endless distances south and east,
the moon which had been such a handicap to them in their sortie against
the Germans hid its light behind gathering clouds, and that which had
developed into a steady drizzle before they reached their company’s
quarters was now a veritable downpour as they turned in for the night.

Truly, they were in France! As Ollie remarked between vigorous tugs at a
mud-caked and water-soaked shoe that was reluctant to leave an aching
foot, it was unbelievable that it could rain anywhere else with such
persistency and in such quantity.

“I don’t know what country is on the opposite side of the earth from
France,” he said, with a vehemence engendered by the weather, his shoes
and the experiences he had endured, “but I’ll wager it’s a mighty
fertile land whatever and wherever it is.”

“Hope it grows men who know how to keep quiet when others want to
sleep,” a deep bass voice grumbled out of the darkness of a corner which
the boys up to that moment had thought unoccupied.

“Buck Granger!” George Harper almost shouted. “Of all things unexpected!
When did you get back?”

“Caught up with you again about noon,” Buck answered drowsily. “They
thought they had me for keeps, I guess, but I’m limping along all right.
I’m back to hand Fritz something as good as he gave me.”

The meeting took on the characteristics of a family reunion, for really
the lads had not realized what a warm spot Buck occupied in their hearts
until he had fallen, as they thought, mortally wounded, the day before.
And so, despite his sleepy protests, they kept up a running fire of
questions and conversation for the next ten minutes.

“Well,” said Buck at last, as though in retaliation, “now that you’ve
about pumped me dry, suppose I turn the tables and ask what you fellows
have been doing out so late as this?”

“Fair enough,” answered Tom laughingly. But before they were half
through telling him of their experiences of that evening, and all they
had been through since he had last seen them, Buck was sitting up wide
awake and plying them with interested queries upon this and that phase
of their harrowing escapes and thrilling captures and adventures.

“Say!” that energetic youth finally ejaculated. “I’d have given a whole
lot to have been along.”

“Wish you had been,” said Ollie, with deep sincerity. “There were times
when we certainly needed you.”

“It means certain and early promotion for all of you, of course,” Buck
went on, “and promotion is certainly worth striving for; but it isn’t
that so much as just having been through such things.”

The other three lads nodded in silent assent.

“Just imagine, Tom,” Buck Granger went on, with increasing enthusiasm,
and turning toward the newly-made sergeant, “just imagine the yarn that
will make for a little snoozer you’re joggin’ on your knee when you’re a
grandfather, eh?”

“Say, look here,” Tom interjected, in a startled tone.

“Oh, that’s all right,” Buck went on. “You expect to be a grandfather
some day, don’t you, if you get through this all right?”

“Your mind certainly can cover great distances in a short stretch of
time,” Tom objected again.

“Yes, but that story will make any kid proud of his grandpap,” Buck
continued, while George and Ollie chuckled at Tom’s evident discomfort.
“Why, that would make any youngster wish he had been living in the days
of the taming of the Boche, just to have knocked off a few of them
himself. Yes-sirree!”

And when Ollie knew by the sound and regular breathing on either side of
him that both Tom and George were sound asleep, and he himself was about
dozing off, he heard Buck mutter, in a self-accusing tone, “By gosh, I’m
an unlucky guy; nothing like that ever happens to me.”

Then Ollie slept. It could not have been long thereafter that Buck
Granger also drifted off into the land of sleep, to have this rest
interrupted with vivid dreams of personal participation in all the
incidents that his three friends had so modestly related to him.

What wakened Buck he could not tell, but he knew it was hours later and
that the rain was still falling and that it was yet dark, although
probably beyond the hour when, had it been clear, dawn would have been
breaking. But it was not the mystery of what had wakened him that
bothered Buck so much as it was that terrible feeling that possessed
him—that unexplainable, indefinable feeling that we all have at times,
when for some unknown reason we feel certain that something is wrong and
we know not what, or why we feel it so keenly.

The four youths were billeted in the small section that remained
standing of what once had been a cow-shed. Yes, here once had been a
fertile farm, the home and the support of a thrifty Frenchman and his
family. And now it was a vast shambles and ruin, with only a part of the
cow-shed remaining as tragic testimony to its earlier estate. Not very
luxurious quarters, you may think! But real luxury, after all, when
compared to water-logged trenches and rain-soaked, rat-ridden dug-outs.

As Buck first came out of his sound sleep he was conscious only of the
ceaseless, pitiless hammering of the rain upon the rusted tin roof of
the shed within which he lay—conscious only of that and of the
indefinable feeling, which he could not overcome, that something was
wrong.

And there is nothing that so unpleasantly grips the mind and the
imagination, and causes the heart occasionally to miss a beat, as that
tense waiting, waiting, waiting which accompanies a premonition of
impending evil or danger—born of no one knows what—which comes to one
with sudden awakening in pitch darkness and amid strange surroundings.

So it was that even as Buck Granger lay there, fully aware now of where
he was, and listening to the even breathing of his three friends who
were stretched out not more than ten feet away from him, something
happened which seemed almost to make the blood freeze in his veins.

It was a moan! Weak, subdued, but distinctly audible, it came from
directly beneath him, as though out of the very ground upon which he
lay.

Buck Granger was no coward, but there are some things which, calmly
accepted if not easily accounted for in the assurance and
self-possession which one feels in daylight, seem to verge upon the
supernatural in the darkness and mystery of night.

The hand which Buck Granger passed swiftly across his now wide staring
eyes was as cold as ice. For a moment he lay there as though hypnotized.
And then the moan was repeated, this time so subdued as to be scarcely
audible, but all the more uncanny for that very fact. With a quick
movement that brought him to his hands and knees, Buck literally dived
across the black space to where the other three men lay, landing
directly beside Tom Walton.

“Tom!” he whispered shrilly into the latter’s ear. “Tom! Wake up! It’s
Buck Granger! There’s something queer going on around this shack!”

Tom, who had been partially aroused by the first mention of his name,
came upright into a sitting posture as Granger spoke jerkily of the
mystery at hand; and he sat up with such suddenness and force that his
head, striking Buck directly under the chin, nearly dislocated the
latter’s neck and as narrowly escaped cracking Tom’s skull.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” the young sergeant demanded, also in a
hoarse whisper, as they both rubbed their respective injuries.

“Listen!” Buck responded; but there was no necessity, for just at that
instant the moan was repeated for the third time, now as clear and
distinct as the first time Buck had heard it.

“Great Scott, that’s wierd,” Tom exclaimed, almost involuntarily. “What
is it? Who is it? Where does it come from?”

“I don’t know who or what it is,” Buck whispered back, “but it seemed to
come right up out of the ground where I was asleep, and you’re right,
it’s wierd enough.”

“When did you hear it first?” Tom asked in a low tone, at the same time
cocking his ear in the darkness for a repetition of the strange sound.

“Just a moment ago—heard it twice,” answered Buck. “Let’s waken the
others and make a light and see what we can find.”

Tom reached into his pocket and drew, forth an electric searchlight
which he immediately switched on. Their first act was to squint around
in the glare of the light into every crook and cranny of the little
cow-shed, but there was nothing unusual to be found, nor was there any
further sound.

“I’ve always heard that ghosts fade into thin air and cease all sound
when a light appears,” said Tom, trying to speak lightly.

“There’s no such thing as a ghost, as you and I both know,” Buck
responded, resenting anything that might tend to make him look foolish.
“That groan came from a man, and whoever he is or wherever he is the
fellow isn’t far away from where we are right now.”

“What’s the matter with you two, anyway,” demanded Ollie Ogden, suddenly
sitting up and rubbing his eyes, and at the same time so disturbing
Harper that he too, awakened.

“Wait a minute or two and you’ll know as much as we do,” Tom replied.

But they did not have to wait that long. The words had hardly died on
Tom’s lips when something most resembling the sighing of wind through
the bare branches of trees, but which all four knew to be a human sound,
reached their ears. And just as Buck Granger had said, it seemed to come
from directly out the ground, at the spot where he had been sleeping.

Tom took the pocket searchlight over to that part of the shed and began
an examination. He laid his ear to the damp earth, but could hear
nothing. Then playing the light over the ground, he got down upon his
hands and knees for a closer examination. Standing around him and gazing
over his shoulder, the other three carefully followed his every move.

He was moving around almost in a circle, when accidentally, in a quick
turn, he kicked a section of the shed wall heavily with the heel of his
boot. He drew up suddenly, and the other lads crowded closer to him.

“Didn’t that seem to you to have a peculiar sound?” he asked.

“It certainly did to me,” George Harper replied.

“Like tapping a rotten watermelon,” said Buck Granger, in language more
descriptive than elegant.

“Sounded hollow, anyway,” put in Ollie Ogden.

“That’s just what I thought,” said Tom, and to verify their verdict he
tapped the partition again. It gave off the same empty sort of sound.

“Ah, ha!” exclaimed George Harper, leaning over Tom’s shoulder, and
examining the woodwork above the sergeant’s head. “I guess this explains
it. Looks like some sort of a secret door.”

He had been tracing the outline of a scarcely perceptible crack which
ran from the floor to a height of about three feet, then across for two
more feet, where it joined another vertical one which paralleled the
first. Also he had found what anyone might have taken for a knot-hole at
first glance, but which closer examination showed to have been made,
apparently for the purpose of pulling the thing open.

“Try it again,” Tom suggested, as George, with one finger crooked into
the aperture, gave it a tug without any seeming result. “Try it again; I
thought it moved a little.”

With considerable effort Harper managed to twist two fingers of his
right hand into the hole, and again gave a sudden jerk; but the only
result was a slight vibration, while George vigorously rubbed his two
pained digits.

“Wait a minute,” Ollie suggested, and going across the shed he picked up
a piece of iron shaped at the end like a stove poker. “Try this,” he
suggested.

“Let somebody else do it,” said Harper. “My hand feels as though it was
broken.”

Tom took the iron, fixed the end into the hole and gave a mighty yank.
As the secret door gave way under his weight, Tom suddenly and
unceremoniously and without advance preparation took a seat on the floor
at the far side of the shed.

At any other time his fall might have caused some merriment, but no one
paid attention to it now. They were too busy examining a little
apparatus in the closet-like aperture in the wall of the shed, which now
stood exposed to full view. The mechanism resembled, in fact was almost
a replica, of the dial on the front of a combination safe. The only
difference was that this disc was marked only with an S at the top, an O
at the bottom, and with a line running part way around it, near the
outer edge, with an arrow at the bottom end, showing that the small
lever over the dial was always moved from the top downward to the right,
and then upward on the other side.

“S and O,” Tom read off, gazing at the queer thing as he joined the
others. “And it points to S now. Why, that seems to be clear. It means
‘shut’ and ‘open.’”

“If it’s connected up with any signalling apparatus a complete
revolution of that lever also might sound an S.O.S.,” suggested Buck
Granger.

“Or it might mean ‘slip out’ while the slippin’s good,” put in Ollie.

“Oh, it might mean any one of a thousand things, such as ‘stop orating’”
George Harper spoke up, impatiently, “but I’m inclined to believe Tom’s
right. Let’s try it, anyway.”

Tom was just reaching for the small lever when another suppressed moan,
unquestionably from directly beneath their feet, arrested his hand.

“There’s someone down there under the ground,” said Tom, in an awed
whisper. “I believe there’s some connection between that person and this
thing here. I’m going to try it anyway. Suppose you fellows stand back
there against the opposite wall, in case anything happens to me when I
turn this lever. And Ollie, you hold the light so that it will be
directly on the dial.”

Not knowing what to expect, the three youths stood with their backs
against the opposite wall, staring at Tom’s hand as the fingers closed
on the lever and he began turning it toward the mark O, in the direction
the arrow indicated.

Slowly he pushed it round until the point was directly over the O. Tom
stepped over to where the others were, and he was just in time. There
was a sucking sound, such as is made by drawing one’s boot out of oozy
mud, and then _the ground where Buck Granger had slept began to move
upward_!

The lads stood huddled together. The ground, which proved to be but a
very thin layer, gave way, and a trap door lifted itself slowly into the
air.

Tom was the first to move. He stepped over and peered down into the
hole.

“Great guns!” he gasped, in a quivering voice.

The others were at his side in an instant. The sight was a staggering
shock to all.

There, on the bottom of a black cavern that apparently extended under
the whole flooring of the cow-shed, lay two bodies. Both were in French
uniforms. Obviously one man was dead. The other moved slightly and gave
another low moan that showed he was alive, although not conscious. Three
huge rats scampered away in fright as the light was thrown upon them.

“Ollie,” said Tom, again taking the leadership, “you get a surgeon as
quickly as you can. We’ve got to get that fellow out, and save his life
if possible.”

Without a word Ollie was gone on the errand directed, while Tom, holding
to the hands of George Harper and Buck Granger, lowered himself into the
subterranean prison, the floor of which was not more than five feet
below that of the shed.

Tom turned the living man over so as to see his face. It was drawn in
lines of suffering and fixed in an expression of absolute terror. The
whole body was emaciated almost beyond belief.

“Poor fellow,” murmured Tom, as he placed one arm under the shoulders of
the soggy and mildewed uniform. “Left here to go stark mad and starve to
death. Probably heard death rattle of his companion here as the rats
were gnawing at him. Ugh!”

The man weighed no more than an average boy of fifteen or sixteen years.
Tom raised the body carefully, lifted it to the height of the shed
floor, and into the hands of the two youths waiting there. Tom himself
was just climbing out of the pit when Ollie and a surgeon entered.

“What have we got here?” the latter asked, as with businesslike
precision he strode to the still form on the floor, the boys making way
for him.

In a few brief words Tom explained—told how Buck Granger first had been
awakened, then how all of them had heard the moans, and of the discovery
of the secret switch, and then of the cavern and the bodies within.

As Tom spoke the surgeon cast a queer look at him, but an instant later
he was working over the unconscious Frenchman, a hand on his pulse, his
ear to his heart.

“Weak,” he announced at last, “mighty weak. If he survives it will be
because you men reached him not a moment too soon. But at that he may be
a hopeless lunatic. We can’t tell about that yet—especially when a man
has gone through what this one evidently has.”

The surgeon again looked down at his patient. “Why,” he ejaculated
suddenly, “he wears a major’s uniform—infantry, too.”

It was true. The ghastly ruin of a man that lay before them once had
been a battalion commander in the French army.

“Discovered at last,” the surgeon murmured, more to himself than the
others.

“What?” demanded Tom, quickly.

“The terrible torture prison that we all have heard about, but never
knew how to locate.”

The surgeon paused for an instant as the unconscious man made a feeble
movement.

“Unquestionably,” he continued, “this is the Hun chamber of horrors
known throughout the Allied armies—the Death Dungeon.”

IT was breaking daylight, the rain had ceased and the sky was clearing
when stretcher-bearers arrived to remove the unfortunate Frenchman from
the squalid shed which had been the roof of his dungeon prison.

A steady and terrific pounding of the big guns in the rear had begun.
And as though the first shot had been the signal for general activity,
the vast area occupied by the American troops became suddenly peopled
with thousands of khaki-clad men. They swarmed here, there and
everywhere, apparently springing to life and action from nowhere.

The individuals formed into small groups, and these in turn rapidly
mingled with and became parts of larger units; and thus uninterruptedly
the process continued until, in the briefest conceivable time and with
remarkable system and precision, and even before the sun was well above
the horizon, an army had been reassembled and was ready to follow the
creeping barrage which would be laid down by hidden artillery, as soon
as its present firing had mowed away wire entanglements and other
obstructions which aerial observers already had reported the Germans as
having left behind them as they began another day’s retreat.

The direction of the firing indicated that it was along a line
stretching far to the northward, and as time wore on it became apparent
that the extreme upper end was swinging eastward in a movement of which
the section of line where Company C remained was the pivotal point. Nor
was the object of this strategy, and the part to be played in it by
those surrounding the pivot, long in doubt.

For four miles almost due east of Company C, the American lines
stretched out unbrokenly where they had smashed back the southern leg of
the St. Mihiel salient. Not only had this line remained invincible to
each successive effort of the Huns in counter attack, but it had slowly
but steadily advanced northward, in absolute keeping with the
prearranged schedule by which every unit was to go forward.

This line, and the troops around the pivot on which the turn was being
made, were to hold firm for a time, and then advance but slowly, if at
all, until it had been fully determined whether the enveloping movement
being swiftly carried out by the left wing was a success or failure.

If it accomplished its aim, and closed in, or pocketed, the retreating
Germans before they could make their escape, then but two courses would
remain open to them—suicidal battle, which must mean ultimate
annihilation, or surrender.

The big question of the day was whether the already routed Germans could
get through the neck of the bottle-shaped line in which their pursuers
now were closing in upon them, before even that escape was cut off.

But if that section of the line in which the lads were stationed was not
to advance at once, at least no man there was inactive, for there was
more than enough to keep everyone busy during every moment of the time
that they were waiting for the word that would send them again into the
life and death struggle in which the contending armies were engaged.

Red Cross units which had not been able to keep pace with the rapid
advance now were coming up and making ready to go forward with the first
of the doughboys to carry on the offensive.

Trucks in apparently never-ending line were replenishing the company
kitchens, bringing up more men and munitions; wireless tractors were
pushing to the very front of the lines to maintain complete
communication between the foremost and division and brigade headquarters
when once the drive in that sector should begin.

Tractors, and mules only a little less powerful, were bringing forward
some of the heavy guns, new field hospitals were being set up, and in
every department of the great game of war big preparations were under
way.

“Doesn’t look as though it was intended we should loaf around here very
long,” said George Harper to Phil Godwin, another member of Company C,
who came hurrying up at that moment.

“That looks like a pretty safe prediction,” the other man responded,
“but where on earth have you been. I’ve been hunting you and Ollie Ogden
for half an hour. Major Barton, down at the hospital, sent me after you
two and Tom Walton. Just found Tom, but do you know where Ogden is?”

“Right there,” answered Harper, for Ollie had at that moment arrived
from another direction and was standing almost directly behind the man
who bore the message.

“Major Barton wants to see us at the hospital,” Harper explained. “I
wonder what he wants us for.”

“Why,” Ollie answered quickly, “Major Barton was the surgeon who treated
that Frenchman we found under the cow-shed. Do you suppose it is in
reference to that?”

“It must be,” said George, “although at the time I did not connect the
two things. Do you know where Tom is? The summons also included him.”

“Yes, just down the line here,” Ollie replied, at the same time leading
the way toward where Major Barton awaited them.

“Maybe that poor Frenchman has died,” was Harper’s comment, after they
had told Tom their own speculations as to the call for their presence at
the hospital.

“I sincerely hope not,” said Tom, “although it wouldn’t be much of a
surprise if he failed to survive such barbarous punishment as that. He
was more dead than alive when we reached him. By the way, where is Buck
Granger?”

“Captured,” answered Ollie Ogden, without an instant’s hesitation.

“What’s that?” the other two demanded of him in unison, coming to an
abrupt halt and turning to face the bearer of this rather startling
news. “What did you say?” Harper asked again, unable to believe that he
had heard right.

“Captured,” Ollie repeated briefly.

“Well holy cats, when and where?” Tom exploded. “I didn’t know there
were any Germans in this immediate vicinity, except those who are our
prisoners.”

“I don’t believe there are,” answered Ollie, making desperate efforts to
repress a grin.

“Look here,” George Harper exclaimed impatiently, at the same time
grasping Ollie by the shoulder, “quitcherkiddinow, wadayamean, Buck
Granger’s captured?”

“You talk like a machine gun,” Ollie responded, sparring for time. “I
meant exactly what I said—Buck was captured.”

“When?” Tom Walton demanded.

“About an hour ago.”

“Where?”

“Oh, only a short distance from where I was.”

“Who captured him?”

Ollie made ready for a quick dive away from the immediate reach of his
two companions.

“One of the field hospital outfit,” he answered quickly, at the same
time jumping to safer quarters. “Said he had no business out for another
day or two, with his wound.”

Whatever pleasant hostilities Tom and George may have contemplated were
abandoned with their arrival at that moment at the place to which Major
Barton had summoned them. They entered in silence, and the major met
them at the door.

“I’m glad you came when you did,” he greeted them, “but weren’t there
four of you? Where is the other man?”

“Cap—,” Ollie began, but Tom, with a quick frown and a surreptitious
kick which made Ollie wince, squelched him before the word was finished.

“Buck Granger is his name, sir,” Tom answered. “But he was suffering
from a slight wound himself, and he got out earlier than was intended.
They sent him back to the hospital this morning, to remain for another
day or two.”

“I see,” Major Barton replied, with the flicker of a smile playing about
the corners of his mouth for an instant. “Wouldn’t stay put, eh?”

“I guess that was about it,” Tom answered.

“But they captured him,” added the irrepressible Ollie, and the surgeon
joined in the laugh.

“Well,” he said, “I suppose you can imagine why I sent for you boys.
It’s in reference to that Frenchman you rescued from the death dungeon.
I believe he will pull through all right, but he is in for a long siege,
and what he needs most, of course, is nourishment and rest. So, when he
responded to treatment a while ago and regained consciousness I
determined to send him back to the base hospital, where he will get just
the sort of treatment he requires. I think he can stand the trip without
any bad results.

“But when he realized where he was he regarded it as nothing less than a
miracle, for he had given up all hope of escape from his underground
prison. He insisted upon knowing how his rescue had been accomplished,
and as he showed wonderful vitality and recuperative powers, we told
him. When we informed him we were about to send him back to a base
hospital he insisted that he see you boys before he went. So, if you are
ready, we will go in.”

As they passed down the double row of cots in the improvised
hospital—that mercy station where men receive first aid before, if their
wounds are sufficiently serious, being sent back to the base hospital,
where better facilities and attention are possible, they saw many men
whom they knew personally, others whom they recognized by sight. Brave
fellows, at least temporarily incapacitated for further battle, they lay
there weak and helpless, smiling wanly and wistfully as the lads, with a
nod and a kindly, cheering word for each, passed by.

When they came to the cot of the Frenchman they recognized an
improvement already. Hair and beard that had been matted and tangled had
been combed out. He had been bathed and clothed in fresh linen, and the
mental relief that came with finding himself safe was reflected in his
countenance. But he was pitifully weak, as the lads realized when he
feebly grasped the hand of each.

As the French soldier began to speak, Tom saw John Big Bear standing
just a few feet away from them, evidently waiting for them, obviously
listening to all that was said. He had just received a second treatment
of his slight wound in the shoulder.

“I never expected to get out of that place alive,” the Frenchman gasped
weakly. “They tell me I must not talk much, but I wanted to thank you
before they took me away from here. If it had not been for you lads I
probably would be dead now. The other man who was in there with me died
twenty-four hours before I lost consciousness, and I could not have held
out much longer.”

The man spoke almost perfect English. And this was explained in his next
remark.

“I lived for ten years in your country,” he said, “and now I owe my life
to the intelligence and courage of four of its bravest sons.”

He moved restlessly, and the lads saw for the first time that the four
fingers and thumb of his left hand were gone. He saw them looking at the
disfigured member.

“Not by a bullet or shell,” he said, by way of explanation, “but cut off
with a hatchet, one at a time over a period of ten days, by the same
Germans who finally thrust me into that hole to die. They were enraged
because I refused to give them military information. They cut off the
little finger, and gave me forty-eight hours in which to think it over.
They repeated the process every two days until only the hand remained.
Why they did not start in on the other I do not know.”

The grunt of rage which came from directly behind the lads caused all to
turn, and the Frenchman to look inquiringly. John Big Bear had heard
enough. He was striding away toward the door. And while his only
language at the time was a series of deep grunts, could they have been
interpreted they would have been to the effect that while his ancestors
might have scalped a few whites, they never cut men’s fingers off to
force a secret, and it was a pity, after all, that the Indian nation had
not survived and prospered, to scalp every German who had the slightest
warlike disposition.

“Our friend,” Tom explained to the mystified Frenchman. “And a brave and
loyal fellow he is, too, although he seems a trifle queer to strangers.”

The Frenchman nodded, and, seeing the attendants approaching with a
stretcher, to convey him to the waiting ambulance, he asked them to
remain until he was actually started away.

The lads walked beside the emaciated officer, and as they emerged
through the wide doorway they saw John Big Bear standing outside,
apparently in deep and unpleasant meditation.

Looking beyond him Tom saw a group approaching—half a dozen German
prisoners being taken to the rear under two American soldiers as guards.
A moment later and he realized the first prisoner to be one of those
whom they and John Big Bear had brought in. His exclamation attracted
the Indian’s attention, and also that of the man on the stretcher.

John Big Bear looked at them without the slightest change in expression,
but the effect upon the man who had been rescued from the dungeon was
instant and startling.

With a cry that was almost a shriek he pointed at the big German in the
lead. The recognition was apparently mutual, for the latter’s face went
as white as chalk, his step wavered, and even though it was apparent he
was making a tremendous effort to maintain his self-possession, his
hands shook.

“The beast!” the Frenchman shouted, his weak voice breaking into an
hysterical sob. “It was he—he—who cut off my fingers. It was he who
threw me into that pit to die.”

In that tense instant a shot rang out. The big German crumpled and went
down in a heap without so much as a sound. If anyone there knew from
whence that shot had come, he made no mention of it, and there was no
investigation.

The others gathered about the German who had gone down, but he had died
instantly—shot directly through the heart. John Big Bear, with just a
perceptible grunt, turned and walked away.

Tom Walton, glancing after him, saw the Indian push something down into
his pocket; that was all. The tortured Frenchman had been avenged.