Army Boys on German Soil
ARMY BOYS ON GERMAN SOIL
Our Doughboys Quelling the Mobs
AUTHOR OF "ARMY BOYS IN FRANCE," "ARMY BOYS ON THE FIRING LINE," "ARMY BOYS MARCHING INTO GERMANY," ETC.
ARMY BOYS ON GERMAN SOIL
I THE FLASH FROM THE GUNS
II WRAPPED IN MYSTERY
III CAUGHT IN A STORM
IV THE RUINED CASTLE
VI THE BAFFLED PLOTTERS
VII A CLOSE CALL
VIII JUST IN TIME
IX THE COLONEL'S WARNING
X FROM THE SKY
XI MARSHAL FOCH AND GENERAL PERSHING
XII TORN FROM MOORINGS
XIII GERMAN RIOTING
XIV ON THE TRAIL
XV A BARE CHANCE
XVI RAISING THE TRAP DOOR
XVII A PERILOUS SITUATION
XVIII THE CRITICAL MOMENT
XIX TURNING THE TABLES
XX THE CLAWS OF THE HUNS
XXI SQUARING ACCOUNTS
XXII WILL THE GERMANS SIGN?
XXIII ON THE VERGE OF DISCOVERY
XXIV THE DEADLY PHIAL
XXV THE TREATY SIGNED
ARMY BOYS ON GERMAN SOIL
THE FLASH FROM THE GUNS
"I tell you, Bart, I don't like the looks of things," remarked Frank Sheldon to his chum, Bart Raymond, as the two stood on a corner in the German city of Coblenz on the Rhine.
"What's on your mind?" inquired Bart, as he drew the collar of his raincoat more snugly around his neck and turned his back to the sleet-laden wind that was fairly blowing a gale. "I don't see anything to get stirred up about except this abominable weather. It's all I can do to keep my feet."
"It is a pretty tough night to be out on patrol duty," agreed Frank. "But it wasn't that I was thinking about. It's the way these Huns have been acting lately."
"Are you thinking of that sergeant of ours that was found stabbed to death the other night?" asked Bart, with quickened interest.
"Not so much that," replied Frank, "although that's one of the things that shows the way the wind is blowing. But it's the surly way the whole population is acting. Haven't you noticed it?"
"There certainly is a difference," admitted Bart. "Everything was peaches and cream when we first came. The people fairly fell over themselves in trying to tell us how glad they were to have the Americans here instead of the French and English. Now they're getting chesty again. A couple of fellows passed me a little while ago who looked at me as if they'd like to slip a knife into me if they dared."
"They hate us all right," declared Frank. "It makes them sore as the mischief to have Americans keeping the watch on the Rhine. They're mad enough to bite nails every time they're reminded of it."
"And that's pretty often," laughed Bart, "for they can't go out into the street without seeing an American uniform somewhere. We've got this old town pretty well policed, and if any trouble starts we'll put it down in a jiffy."
"Well, trouble's coming all right," prophesied Frank. "There are lots of new faces in the city, fellows who seem to have come from the outside. You know Germany's being ripped up the back everywhere by mobs, and the red flag is flying in Berlin. I have a hunch that these outsiders have come to start the same thing here."
"If they do they'll get more than they bargained for," said Bart grimly. "They'll find they're monkeying with a buzz saw. What our fellows would do to them would be a sin and a shame. But here come Tom and Billy, if I'm any sort of a guesser."
"Right you are," replied Frank, as he descried two uniformed figures approaching, their heads bent away from the icy gale which was increasing in fury as the night wore on.
"Hello, fellows," was the greeting that came from one of the newcomers, as they came into the flickering light of the street lamp, near which Frank Sheldon and Bart Raymond were standing. "This is a dandy night to be out patrolling—I don't think."
"A good night for ducks, Tom," replied Frank with a laugh.
"For polar bears, if you ask me," put in Billy Waldon, Tom's companion, as he shook the drops from his raincoat. "How would it be to be back in the barracks just now lapping up a smoking hot cup of coffee? Oh, boy!"
"It wouldn't be bad—" Bart was beginning, when suddenly a rifle cracked and a bullet whizzed by so close that it nearly grazed Tom Bradford's ear.
"Shelter, fellows!" shouted Frank, as he leaped for an adjacent hallway.
His companions followed him quickly, and crouching in the hall, they peered out into the darkness to see if they could detect the whereabouts of the would-be assassin.
But everything was quiet except for the roaring of the gale, and the street seemed to be empty.
"Might as well look for a needle in a haystack," muttered Tom Bradford. "We don't even know the direction from which the shot came. You can bet that skunk made tracks as soon as he fired."
"It was a mighty close call for you, Tom," remarked Billy. "A half inch closer and you would have been a goner."
"It would have been hard luck to have been laid out now after having come through that Argonne fighting alive," grumbled Tom. "I'd just like to have my hands right now on the cowardly Heinie who tried to snuff me out."
"Don't you see, Bart, that I was right when I told you that trouble was brewing?" remarked Frank.
"I guess you were, old man."
"It's because we've been too confoundedly easy with these fellows," snorted Billy wrathfully. "We've gone on the theory that if we treated 'em white and gave 'em a square deal they'd appreciate it and behave themselves. We might have known better."
"The French and English know these ginks better than we do, and they've put the boots into them from the start," growled Tom. "There's been no namby-pamby dealing with the Huns in the bridge- heads where they've held control. They've made the Boches walk Spanish. If they didn't uncover when the flag went by, they knocked their hats off for them. They know that the only argument that a Hun understands is force, and they've gone on that theory right along. And as a consequence the Heinies don't dare to peep in the districts where the French and English run things. We ought to take a leaf from their books and do the same."
"That's our good-natured American way of doing things," said Bart. "But we're due to stiffen up a bit now. We're not going to stand for attempts to murder in cold blood—"
He was interrupted by an exclamation from Frank.
"Quiet, fellows," he adjured in a low voice.
"See anything?" whispered Bart, who was nearest him.
"I thought I caught a glimpse of a fellow stealing into that alley half-way down the block," returned Frank. "And there goes another one," he added, with a trace of excitement in his voice.
"I was looking that way and I didn't see anything," murmured Billy Waldon rather incredulously.
"I'd bank on Frank," returned Bart. "He has the best eyes of any of us. They're regular telescopes."
"There goes another!" exclaimed Frank tensely. "There's something doing there, sure as guns!"
"I know that alley," said Tom Bradford. "I've often looked into it when I passed it on my beat. But it's a blind alley and doesn't lead to any thing. It ends at a brick wall."
"All the better chance to bag them," replied Frank. "We'll wait just a minute longer to see If any one else goes in, and then we'll go down and nip the whole bunch. It's against regulations for them to be on the streets at this hour, and you can bet they're up to no good."
"I only hope the fellow's among them that fired that shot," murmured Tom vengefully.
They waited a moment or two longer, but Frank Sheldon's eyes detected no other skulking figure and he gave the word to move.
"Have your clubs and pistols ready, but don't use the guns unless you have to," he ordered, for when the Army Boys were together the leadership by common consent devolved on Frank. "I guess the clubs will do the business if it comes to any resistance on their part."
"Fists would be enough," muttered Tom, as with the others he prepared to follow their leader.
Like so many ghosts they drifted out of the hallway, and, moving in the shadow of the houses, though in the rain and darkness that seemed almost unnecessary, they stealthily approached the entrance to the alley.
It was in one of the poorer sections of the town, and the dwelling houses were interspersed with factories and coal yards. On each side of the alley stood the wall of a factory, three stories in height. No light came from any window, and the alley itself was as dark as pitch.
"Bart and I will stand on this side, and you two fellows take the other side," whispered Frank, when they reached the mouth of the alley. "Keep right on your toes and be ready to nab those fellows when they come out."
The others did as directed and all waited, tense with expectation, their clubs ready for instant service if resistance should be offered.
The rain kept pouring down in torrents, and as it fell, a glaze formed on the sidewalks, so that it was with difficulty that the Army Boys kept their feet.
They were eager to bring the matter to a head, and the waiting in drenching rain wore on their patience.
"Could they have possibly gone out some other way, leaving us here to hold the bag?" queried Bart Raymond, after five minutes had passed without result.
"I don't think so," returned Frank. "I'm dead sure there isn't any way to get out except the way they went in. They're in there holding a pow-wow of some kind."
Ten minutes more passed, and by that time even Frank had begun to have doubts. Tom slipped over to him from the other side of the alley.
"For the love of Mike! let's get a move on and go into the alley and smoke them out," he whispered. "We can get them there just as well as here."
"Just five minutes more," Frank replied. "They may hear us going in and be on their guard, while if we nab them here we'll catch them unawares. But if they're not out in that time, we'll go in and round them up."
At the end of the stipulated time Frank gave the signal.
"Creep in as softly as you can," he admonished his comrades. "Spread across so that they can't slip between us. They've got to be somewhere between us and that brick wall at the back."
Moving with all the caution that their experience as scouts had taught them in their frequent incursions into No Man's Land during the war, the four Army Boys crept noiselessly into the darkness of the alley.
Ten, twenty, thirty feet, and still no sign of their quarry. They must be close to them now.
On they went, wonder gradually giving way to doubt, until with a muttered exclamation Frank came plump up against the wall that marked the alley's end.
"Stung!" he murmured in profound disgust.
His comrades gathered close about him.
"That's one on us," muttered Tom.
"We're done good and proper," agreed Billy.
"Are you dead sure that you saw them come in?" queried Bart of Frank.
"I know I did," replied Frank, who although puzzled was not shaken in his conviction.
"They must have been ghosts then," gibed Tom. "Nothing else could have vanished through a brick wall."
Frank drew his flashlight from his pocket and flashed it about. There was no one to be seen.
"That wall is perfectly blank," he murmured in perplexity. "Thirty feet high if it's an inch. There isn't an opening in it anywhere."
"Could they have got into the windows of the building on either side?" suggested Bart.
Frank swept the flashlight on the walls of the factories.
"Not a chance," he affirmed. "All these windows are protected with iron bars and nothing could get between them. Those fellows seem to have just melted away."
At that instant a report rang out, and the flashlight was knocked from his hand by a bullet.
"Down, fellows!" he shouted, setting the example, and the next moment all four were lying flat on the ground.
They were just in time, for there was a crackling of guns, and other bullets sped over their heads.
"After them, boys!" yelled Frank, leaping to his feet. "They're at the mouth of the alley. I saw the flash from their guns."
He sped for the street with his comrades close upon his heels, their pistols drawn and ready for instant use.
WRAPPED IN MYSTERY
The Army Boys looked eagerly about them when they reached the street, but could see no one. It was as though the earth had opened and swallowed the men who had sought their lives.
They scattered and ran in every direction, searching all hallways and side streets for blocks around, but nothing rewarded their endeavors, and it was a bedraggled and exasperated quartette that finally came together again to compare notes and report failure.
"Never saw anything like it in my life!" snorted Tom. "It's as though we were all bewitched. Somebody's wished a jinx on us. Some ghosts are putting up a job on us."
"There was nothing ghostly about that bullet that knocked the flashlight out of my hand or those other bullets that came singing over our heads while we were hugging the ground," said Frank grimly. "If I don't get to the bottom of this, you can call me a Chinaman."
"It gets my goat to think of those Heinies chuckling to themselves because they put one over on us," gritted Billy between his teeth.
"They laugh best who laugh last," growled Bart. "They'll laugh on the other side of their mouth when we lay hands on them."
"If we ever do," muttered pessimistic Tom. "But here comes our relief," he continued, as the light of a lantern hanging on the arm of the foremost man revealed a group coming toward them. "High time, too! I got drenched to the skin while I was lying on the ground in that alley."
"Of course we'll have to report the whole thing to the corporal, shan't we?" inquired Bart.
"I suppose we shall," Frank acquiesced, though reluctantly. "Personally, I'd like to keep the whole thing up my sleeve until we've solved the mystery. But there's danger abroad to-night, and it wouldn't be fair to the boys who are going to take our places not to put them on their guard."
The corporal of the guard now had come so close that the light of his lantern fell upon the group of Army Boys.
"You fellows are all here, I see," said the corporal, who was the boys' old friend, Wilson. "What was that shooting going on here? None of you hurt, I hope."
"Dripping wet but right as a trivet," Frank replied with a smile, and then went on to make his report of the occurrences of the night while the corporal listened with close attention.
"It's certainly strange," he commented when Frank had finished. "It's one of many queer things that are happening lately. I'll report the facts at headquarters and you may be called upon to tell your story there. But now you are off duty, and you can light out for the barracks."
They were only too glad to avail themselves of the permission, and hurried off.
"I've got an idea!" exclaimed Frank, as they scurried along before the gale.
"Frank's got an idea," chaffed Billy. "Hold on to it, old man, for dear life." Frank made a playful pass at him which Billy ducked.
"I've been figuring the thing out," went on Frank, "and I've come to the conclusion that those fellows wanted us to see them go into that alley."
There was an exclamation of surprise from his comrades.
"Come again," said Billy. "I don't get you."
"Why should they want us to see them?" queried Bart. "They might have known that we'd go in after them."
"Sure they did!" answered Frank. "That's just what they wanted. They figured that they'd get us all in there in a bunch. They guessed too that, not finding them, we'd flash a light. That would make us a good target to their confederates who had come to the mouth of the alley, and they thought they could mow us down with one volley. In other words the alley was a trap."
"By ginger, I believe you're right!" exclaimed Bart "The shots came just after the light was flashed. It was a slick trick. You have to hand it to them."
"But that doesn't explain where the men disappeared to who went into the alley first," remarked Billy.
"No," admitted Frank. "And it doesn't explain either where the men who fired the shots vanished to. But there's an answer to everything, and I'm going to try to find the answer to this. I'm not going to drop it. Of course, I suppose the secret service men will take the thing up, but I'm going to do a little investigating on my own account. I have a hunch that when I take a look at that alley by daylight, I'll tumble to something."
And while the four chums, after their narrow escape, are cudgeling their brains to solve the mystery, it may be well for the sake of those who have not read the preceding volumes of this series to trace briefly their adventures before this story opens.
Frank Sheldon, a vigorous, clean-cut, young fellow, was a resident of Camport, a thriving and prosperous town of about twenty-five thousand people. His father had died a few years before the war broke out, and Frank lived in a little cottage with his mother, of whom for some years he was the sole support. She was of French birth, and by the death of her father had recently come into possession of a considerable estate in France. There had been some legal complications regarding the settlement of the property, and she had intended to go to France to look after her interests when the outbreak of the war made this impossible.
Frank was employed in the wholesale hardware house of Moore and Thomas, and his prospects for the future were very bright when the United States entered the World War. Frank was above everything else a hundred-per-cent American, and if he had consulted only his own wishes would have enlisted at once. But his mother's dependence upon him made him hesitate. An episode occurred, however, that decided him, when he was forced to knock down a burly German who had insulted the American flag. There was no further opposition by his mother, and he joined the Thirty-seventh Regiment, a Camport regiment with a glorious record in the Civil War, and one which had recently seen service on the Mexican border.
Billy Waldon, a close friend of Frank, was already a member, and Bart Raymond, Frank's special chum and a fellow employee, joined also. Another friend, Tom Bradford, tried to join, but was rejected on account of his teeth. He was afterward accepted in the draft, however, so that the four chums, to their great joy, found themselves together in the same regiment.
There was one man in the Moore and Thomas firm who was a bitter and malignant anti-American from the start. His name was Nick Rabig, and he was foreman of one of the departments. He was born in America, but his parents were German. Rabig and Frank Sheldon were at sword's points most of the time because of the former's bullying disposition, and after Rabig had been caught in the draft and forced into the ranks of the old Thirty-seventh he got from Frank the thorough thrashing which had been for a long time coming to him.
What experiences the Army Boys went through in the training camps, how narrowly they escaped a submarine attack on the way to Europe, what exciting adventures they met with on their first contact with the enemy, are described in the first volume of the series entitled: "Army Boys in France; Or, From Training Camp to Trenches."
After they had once reached the scene of action the adventures of the Army Boys multiplied rapidly. Trench warfare was soon outgrown, and open fighting in the field became the order of the day. At one time when the American troops were advancing, the boys became separated from their comrades and were compelled to leap from a broken bridge into a stream, and when they attempted to swim to the other side found themselves in the enemy's hands. For a time a German prison camp with all its horrors loomed up before them, but from this they were saved by a friend of theirs, Dick Lever, who swooped down in his airplane, scattered the enemy guards, and carried his friends back in safety to their own lines.
Frank had the good luck to hear encouraging news about his mother's property from a French colonel whose life he had saved under a rain of fire when the officer, Colonel Pavet, was lying wounded on the battlefield.
Soon, from raw recruits the boys had been developed into skillful soldiers, as is shown in the second volume of the series, entitled: "Army Boys in the French Trenches; Or, Hand to Hand Fights with the Enemy."
The Spring of 1918 had now arrived, and the Germans were preparing for the last desperate drive, on the success of which their fortunes depended. If they could once break through the Allied lines and seize Paris or the Channel ports they would have come near to winning the war, or at any rate, would have greatly delayed the Allies' final victory. The Americans were brought to the front to check the thrust of the Crown Prince's army toward Paris, and the old Thirty-seventh found itself in the very van of the fighting. Tom was captured, and had a series of thrilling experiences before he was able to escape and rejoin his comrades. Nick Rabig came out in his true colors, and his guilt as a traitor was discovered by Tom, while hiding in the woods. How the boys were brought again and again within arm's length of death in the terrific fighting is told in the third volume of the series, entitled: "Army Boys On the Firing Line; Or, Holding Back the German Drive."
On July eighteenth, Marshal Foch struck like a thunderbolt and hurled the foe back in a headlong retreat. Again and again the Germans tried to rally, but the Allies were fired with the certainty of victory and would not be denied.
Frank and his comrades were wherever the fighting was thickest, and did their full share in driving the Germans back to the Rhine. An event which for a time put Frank under a cloud, because it looked as though he were involved in the robbery of a paymaster's clerk, ended in showing that Nick Rabig was the real culprit. This completely vindicated Frank, as will be seen in the fourth volume of the series entitled: "Army Boys In the Big Drive; Or, Smashing Forward to Victory."
That victory was now in sight. The German cause was doomed. One great victory remained to be gained, the clearing of the Argonne forest, wild, tangled, meshed with thousands of miles of barbed wire, crowded with machine gun nests and swept with a hurricane of shot and shell. But nothing could stop America's boys now that their blood was up, and they did much in helping to win here the final and greatest battle of the war. All the Army Boys, fighting like tigers, came through unharmed, except Bart, who was wounded and afterward wandered away from the hospital while temporarily insane.
The armistice was signed and the Army Boys assigned to the Army of Occupation with headquarters at Coblenz. At Luxemburg while on the march they came across an American family who for business reasons had lived for a time in Coblenz. How they took the head of the family for a German spy, how they marched as conquerors into Germany, how Frank was cheered by learning that his mother's property was sure to come to her, how Bart was found and restored to his right mind, how by the aid of the suspected spy who turned out to be a patriotic American they thwarted a desperate German plot to blow up the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein on the Rhine—all these and other thrilling adventures are described in the fifth volume of the series, entitled: "Army Boys Marching Into Germany; Or, Over the Rhine With the Stars and Stripes".
Since the Army Boys had served as night patrol, they were exempt from getting up when reveille sounded the next morning, and the sun was some hours high when they found themselves together again in their favorite spot in front of the great fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, which formed the principal barracks for the American troops in the occupied zone.
"Well, Mister Detective," said Billy, with a grin, as he slapped Frank on the back, "have you figured out any dope about the fellows who came so near to bumping us off last night?"
"Can't say that I have yet," laughed Frank. "Fact is, I was so dog-tired when I hit the hay last night that I went to sleep the minute my head touched the pillow. And so far this morning I've been so busy packing away grub that I haven't had time to think of anything else. But if I can get leave I'm going over to Coblenz today and take a look at that alley."
"Here comes the corp," remarked Bart, as he saw Wilson approaching. "I wonder whether he found out anything further about last night's rumpus."
"Nothing at all," answered the corporal, who heard the last words. "Everything was quiet for the rest of the night. I stationed two of the men close to the alley with special directions to watch it, but nothing at all happened that was out of the ordinary."
"It's hardly likely that there would," answered Frank. "They wouldn't be likely to try the same game twice in the same night."
"Perhaps they had some special grudge against one or all of you fellows," suggested the corporal. "Have any of you made any special enemies in the town that you know of?"
"I don't think so," replied Frank. "How about it, boys?"
"Not guilty," laughed Billy.
"We've yanked in a few trouble makers from time to time," said Tom thoughtfully, "but we weren't any rougher with them than we had to be."
"I'll tell you!" broke in Bart, as a thought struck him. "It was our bunch that discovered the plot to blow up Ehrenbreitstein and got the tip to our people just in time. Perhaps that's made some of these crazy Huns wild to throw the hooks into us."
"By Jove!" exclaimed Frank, "I never thought of that. I shouldn't wonder if you were more than half right, Bart."
"It may be so," agreed Wilson meditatively. "They certainly were sore when that plot was knocked on the head. They had sworn that no foreign flag should ever float over the greatest fortress in all Germany."
"They swore falsely then," cried Billy jubilantly, as he pointed to the Stars and Stripes floating in the breeze.
Instinctively they took off their caps, as they gazed lovingly upon Old Glory.
CAUGHT IN A STORM
"Take a good look at that flag, boys," said the corporal, with a smile, "for it may be some time before you see it again."
"What do you mean?" asked Frank in surprise.
Corporal Wilson smiled at the perplexed and somewhat rueful faces of the four Army Boys.
"Just what I said," he replied to Frank's query. "You fellows are slated to go over the mountain with a bunch of others to round up some of the guns and supplies that the Heinies have promised to surrender. They're slow about it, and have been making all kinds of excuses to keep from bringing them in. The general's patience is just about exhausted, and he's going to get those guns or know the reason why."
"Where is the place?" asked Frank.
"I don't know exactly," answered Wilson. "From the lieutenant who told me to get the boys together for the job I only gathered that it's a good way off. He told me to pick out men that I could rely on, and I thought of you at once. There'll be about fifty of you altogether. You want to get ready to start in about two hours."
He passed on to recruit the rest of the detachment, and the boys looked at each other. Frank was thoughtful, Bart indifferent, but Tom and Billy glum.
"Hard luck," growled Tom.
"You said a mouthful!" snorted Billy.
"Look at those boobs," mocked Bart. "I'll bet a dollar to a doughnut that they were planning to go over to see Alice and Helen this afternoon."
"'Gee whiz, I'm glad I'm free, No wedding bells for me."
"Oh, come off!" retorted Tom. "You're simply jealous."
"A perfectly good day gone to waste," grumbled the usually cheerful Billy.
"Cheer up, you hunks of misery," gibed Bart. "The worst is yet to come."
"I'm not specially keen for the trip myself," said Frank. "I'd thought to go over to Coblenz this afternoon and have another look at that place where they so nearly bumped us off last night. But I suppose now that will have to wait."
"The alley will be there when we come back unless there's an earthquake in the meantime," remarked Bart.
"I wish there would be," declared Tom wrathfully. "I'd like to see the whole place wiped off the map. That is," he corrected himself, "if I could get one person out of there before the blow up came."
"Make it two," grinned Billy. "But there's no use grizzling about it. We'll have time anyway to write a letter to the girls telling them all about it. Then, ho! for the mountains and the tricky Huns! I'll be just in the humor to make it hot for them if they don't toe the scratch."
"We'd better get a move on," counseled Frank. "The corp is a hustler, and he'll have that squad together before we know it."
"Hello, what's this?" exclaimed Bart, as they came to a part of the barrack grounds where they caught a glimpse of the road beyond.
Two men were engaged in a heated conversation. One was poorly dressed and had a decided limp, as he tried to keep up with the other, who looked like a professional man of some kind. The former was evidently pleading with the latter, who shook off impatiently the hand that had been placed on his arm.
"Scrapping about something," remarked Tom carelessly.
The lame man still persisted, and suddenly his companion swung around and aimed a blow at him with his cane. The other dodged and the cane was lifted again, but before it could fall, Frank had reached the man's side and wrenched the cane from his hand.
The owner turned with a glare of fury, which changed however to a look of apprehension as his eyes fell on the American uniform.
He mumbled something that might have been an apology or an explanation, but Frank cut him short.
"Hitting a lame man doesn't go around here," said Frank curtly. "If you had actually hit him, I'd have done the same thing to you."
The man was cowed and made no reply. The lame man meanwhile had hobbled away. Frank handed back the cane, turned his back upon the owner and rejoined his companions.
"True Prussian brutality," commented Bart. "Good work, old boy. But now let's hurry or we'll be late."
They scattered to their quarters, and in a short time were fully equipped for the coming journey.
When a little later they had assembled at the place the corporal had appointed, they found there a group of their comrades selected from the old Thirty-seventh bent on the same errand as themselves. Lieutenant Winter was in command of the detachment, which numbered about half a hundred.
"Mighty good name for the leader of this trip," Bart whispered jokingly to Frank, as they stood drawn up in line awaiting the command to start.
"It certainly is," agreed Frank, drawing his coat a little closer. "This is about as bitter weather as I've ever stacked up against."
"Looks to me as if a snow storm were coming," murmured Billy.
"Attention!" came the sharp command. "Forward, march!"
The lines moved forward as one man, the lieutenant riding ahead on horseback and two motor trucks loaded with supplies bringing up the rear.
The road led at first along the bank of the river and was fairly level. After two miles had been traversed the line of march swerved sharply toward the right and the men began to climb.
The weather was biting cold, and a stinging-wind whipped their cheeks and searched their clothing. But they were warmly clad and the pace at which they marched kept them comfortable enough. Their sturdy frames were inured to hardships, and they joked and laughed as they went along.
Soon they had passed through the little suburban villages that hung on the flank of Coblenz, and the way was interspersed with farmhouses at longer and longer intervals. The country became wilder, and as the path wound upward, they soon found themselves in the midst of mountains, on the other side of which lay the town for which they were bound.
The leafless branches of great trees waved creakily over their heads as the wind whistled through them. There was no sign of human life or habitation to, be seen. For all that appeared to the contrary, they might have been in the depths of a primeval forest.
"The jumping off place," muttered Tom, as at the command of the lieutenant the detachment paused for a short rest.
"The little end of nowhere, I'll tell the world," returned Billy, gazing about him. "Gee, what a place to be lost in!"
There was only a brief time permitted for rest, as the lieutenant was anxious to get his men over the ridge and at their destination before the short winter afternoon came to an end. The men fell in and the march went on.
The sky had now become a steely gray, and flakes of snow began to fall. They came down slowly at first and then more rapidly, and the ground was soon covered. The wind too had increased in intensity, and the boys soon found themselves in what promised to develop into a genuine blizzard.
The road had dwindled now to a mere mountain path, and even this was soon obliterated by the snow that was becoming deeper every minute.
Suddenly Bart tripped over a root and fell full-length on the snow. He tried to rise, but could not bear his weight upon his foot, which gave way under him. His comrades, who had laughed at first, sprang to help him. They drew him to one side, while Wilson came to see what the matter was.
"It's nothing," explained Bart, as he stood with an arm flung over the shoulders of Tom and Billy, while Frank, on his knees, vigorously rubbed and manipulated his ankle. "I'll be all right in a minute. It was a boob stunt for me to do."
"Nothing broken?" inquired Wilson anxiously.
"No," answered Frank, looking up but keeping on with his rubbing. "I can feel that the foot's all right. He's just strained it a little, that's all."
"Good," said Wilson. "You fellows come on after us then as soon as you can," and he hurried back to his place.
Two or three minutes more and Bart was able to walk, although he limped a trifle. They picked up their rifles and hurried after their comrades.
In the gathering dusk they did not notice that a trail diverged from the main one that they had been traveling, and they turned into this side trail, straining their eyes through the whirling snow to catch a glimpse of their comrades.
They had gone on for about ten minutes, not talking in order to save their breath, when Frank put into words the growing uneasiness of all of them.
"Queer that we haven't caught up to them yet!" he exclaimed, peering ahead, although he could not see more than twenty paces through the blinding snow.
"We certainly are traveling a good deal faster than they were when we saw them last," declared Bart.
"They must have got hold of some seven-league boots," grumbled Tom.
"Put on a little more speed," advised Billy. "Make it snappy now, and we're bound to catch up with them."
They quickened their pace, but without result. There were no footprints to be seen, but that meant nothing, for the snow covered up all tracks almost as soon as they were made.
For twenty minutes more they hurried along as well as they could through the snow that clogged and clung to their feet, and at last the truth forced itself upon their unwilling minds.
"No use, fellows," said Frank, as he stopped and the others gathered around him. "There's no use kidding ourselves any longer. We might as well own up to it that we've taken the wrong trail."
"Guess you're right, old man," said Tom disconsolately. "It simply wouldn't be possible for us not to have caught up to them at the rate we've been going. We're up against it for fair, and the question is, how we're going to get out of it. Getting snowbound in this wilderness doesn't make any hit with me."
"There's only one thing to do," said Frank decidedly, "and that is to right about face and try to find the place where we turned off."
"Swell chance," muttered Tom. "It's getting dark now by the minute, and it'll be as black as pitch in a little while."
"I know it's a forlorn hope," admitted Frank, "but it's the only thing to do just the same, and even forlorn hopes have a way of winning out sometimes. We can't stand here and be frozen to death. Perhaps we'll find some of the fellows sent back to look for us. Get a hustle on now."
He set the pace, and they followed with a speed that under other conditions they would not have thought possible.
But fast as they went, the snow and the darkness came faster, and despite all their efforts they were not able to find where the paths diverged. Everywhere was one bleak wilderness of snow. Soon they had all lost the path they were following and found themselves floundering through the woods among the tree trunks. There was no use in going further, for in the dense darkness they were quite as likely to be going away from their comrades as toward them, and at last Frank called a halt.
"The storm's got us, fellows," he declared, with a forced laugh that had little mirth in it.
"All my fault," remarked Bart gloomily. "I guess I'm a Jonah, I picked out the wrong moment to take a tumble. Now we're in a fine mess."
"We've been in worse," said Billy cheerily, "and pulled through them just the same."
"That's the way to talk!" exclaimed Frank heartily, giving Billy a slap on the back. "We'll get out of this scrape as we have out of a lot of others. At the worst, it's only a matter of having to wait till daylight. We're worth a dozen dead men yet. At any rate we've got grub with us, so that there's no danger of our starving."
"How about freezing to death?" said Tom, who was always inclined to see the dark side of things.
"We won't do that either," replied Frank. "That is, if we keep moving, and that's what we've got to do. It may not get us anywhere, but at least it will keep the blood circulating. Then too, there's the odd chance of our stumbling upon some hut or other where we can find some kind of shelter."
"Better let me go first, then," put in Bart. "I'm good at stumbling. In fact it's my long suit."
They all laughed and felt better.
"We don't know where we're going, but we're on the way," sang out Billy, as they began to trudge forward.
They had plenty of rations with them, and they munched some food as they went along. It was cold comfort, but it was comfort just the same.
"Oh, you hot coffee!" murmured Billy, and at the picture that he conjured up the others groaned.
The snow was now knee deep and showed no signs of letting up, though the wind had abated somewhat in violence.
They plodded on through the heavy drifts that clutched at their tired legs like so many nightmare hands trying to hold them back to their destruction. They were young and hardy, but their physical strength was sorely tested by the battle with the elements. Their hearts were thumping as though they would burst through their ribs, and their breath came in gasps.
Suddenly Frank's keen eyes caught sight of a dark mass that seemed to stand out even blacker than the darkness which was everywhere around them. He rubbed his eyes clear of the snow that clung to the lashes and looked again. Then he gave a shout.
"We've found it, boys!" he yelled. "There's a building of some kind just ahead of us. See it? See it?"
They looked and saw, and with a joyful shout make a break for shelter.
THE RUINED CASTLE
As the Army Boys drew closer, the building seemed to grow in size. Wing after wing detached itself from the mass that seemed to cover fully an acre of ground. There were no fences to hinder their approach, but there were great masses of broken blocks and masonry through which they had to wind their way before they found themselves before a frowning tower, whose peak rose above the top of a quadrangular group of buildings surrounding it.
"Why, it's an old castle of some kind!" exclaimed Frank, as they paused at the foot of the tower, spent and breathless.
"I don't care what it is," replied Bart. "It's shelter of some kind, and that's enough for me."
"Wonder if there's any one living here," remarked Billy Waldon, his eyes sweeping the great mass for some sign of life. "Even the bark of a dog would be welcome to-night."
"Not a light anywhere," commented Tom. "If there's anybody living here I guess they're dead."
"There's not even a door to knock at," said Frank Sheldon, looking into the yawning space of what had evidently been an entrance to the tower. "I guess we'll have to go on a little exploring expedition. Come along, fellows, and get out of the wind. Lucky that I have my flashlight along."
They crowded in on their leader's heels, first, as a precaution, seeing that their weapons were ready, though there did not seem to be the faintest chance of their being required.
Frank drew his flashlight, and the streaming rays illuminated a long passageway whose end they could not see. There were open spaces in the roof and walls through which the snow had drifted in spots, but there were other parts that were clear and dry, and these were welcomed by the boys with immense relief after their long battle with the snow.
At a turning of the corridor they came upon a large room that, although mildewed and dilapidated and wholly bereft of furniture, was intact as far as the walls and ceiling were concerned. But what especially caught their eyes was a huge stone fireplace, and at once they decided to end their explorations for the present right there.
"Perhaps that hot coffee wasn't such a dream after all," chuckled Billy. "We've got plenty of the stuff in our kits, and all we need is some hot water."
"There's no end of broken branches about here," said Frank. "Let's get a pile of them in here, and we'll have a fire started in less than no time."
Though Tom said that the wood would probably be too wet to burn, he turned in heartily with the others, and in a few minutes they had a bigger pile of wood ready than probably the old room had ever seen before. Then by careful nursing of some chips and twigs a blaze was started that soon developed into a roaring fire, before which the boys stood and dried out their wet clothes and toasted themselves until they were in a glow.
The coffee problem was now a simple one, as all they had to do was to melt snow enough to furnish the hot water, and they used the cooking utensils that they had in their kits, for they had started out that afternoon in full marching order. Savory odors soon announced that the fragrant brew was ready, and they almost scalded their throats in the eagerness to partake of it.
"Yum-yum!" murmured Tom after his second cup. "Nectar has nothing on this."
"I'll say so," agreed Billy, with a blissful expression on his face.
"We never knew how good it was until we thought we couldn't get it," grinned Bart.
"Maybe this isn't a contrast to things as they were an hour ago, eh, fellows?" laughed Frank. "Listen to the wind screaming round this building, mad because it can't get at us."
"I wonder what the rest of the bunch are thinking about us just now," remarked Billy.
"I suppose they're worried to death, because we didn't turn up," replied Frank. "They've probably got squads out hunting for us at this minute. They've probably guessed what happened when we failed to catch up with them."
"Well, there isn't a chance in a thousand of their striking this place," said Tom, yawning. "In the meantime, I'm all tired out and vote that we hit the hay."
"There isn't any hay to hit, worse luck," said Bart, looking about him ruefully. "It's the stone floor for us to-night, all right. But it's warm and dry, and we'll make out with our blankets. It'll beat traveling around in the snow all night, any way."
"Let's get some more wood so that we'll have enough to last all night," suggested Frank, and followed by the others he suited the action to the word.
"How about some of us standing watch?" remarked Bart, when the huge pile of branches had been heaped within easy distance of the fire.
"Don't see any need of it," remarked Tom, rubbing his eyes. "We're probably miles away from any living thing and there's nothing to watch for except ghosts. There ought to be plenty of those around in a place so old as this. But who wants to watch for ghosts? I'd rather be asleep than awake if any of those old codgers come perambulating around."
"Quit your kidding," replied Frank with a laugh. "But I think we ought to stand watch, turn and turn about. There's a bare chance that some of the detachment may come this way, though I don't think it's likely. Then again we're really in an enemy's country, and it wouldn't be good soldiering for all of us to go to sleep. Besides, the fire has got to be kept up."
They felt the force of this and agreed.
"Let's see," remarked Frank, as he consulted his radio watch, "I figure it will be about eight hours till daylight. That'll be two hours for each of us."
"You fellows go to sleep," broke in Bart, "and I'll stand watch all night. That's only right, for I'm the fellow who got you into this fix."
"Nonsense!" said Frank. "That doesn't go with this bunch. We'll share and share alike, or else there's nothing doing."
Bart still persisted, but the others overruled him and he had to give in.
Frank drew a memorandum book from his pocket, tore out a page and made four strips of different lengths. The one that drew the shortest was to stand the first watch and the others were to take their turn according to the length of their strips. Bart drew the shortest, and Billy, Tom, and Frank followed, the latter having the longest slip remaining in his hand.
"If you go to sleep, Bart, you'll be shot at sunrise," joked Billy.
"I'm all right then," retorted Bart, "for I never get up that early."
Frank, Billy, and Tom spread their blankets as near the fire as was safe, and rolled themselves in them. The bed was hard, but this bothered them little, and they were so tired that they were asleep almost as soon as they stretched themselves out.
Bart, too, was more exhausted than he ever remembered being in all his life before, and from time to time he looked enviously at the forms of his sleeping comrades. The two hours that stretched before him would be very long ones.
At times he would pace slowly about the room, stopping now and then to replenish the fire. His foot still hurt him a little, and he frequently sat down in a corner to rest himself. He found, however, that this was dangerous, for an almost uncontrollable drowsiness would steal over him, despite all his efforts to keep awake. The only way he could feel sure of staying awake was to keep on his feet.
An hour passed and half of another.
He was counting the minutes now before he would be relieved, when suddenly, as he was passing the entrance that opened on the corridor, he heard a sound that startled him.
He stood stock still, every trace of sleepiness gone in an instant and all his faculties keenly on the alert. But nothing happened and he relaxed.
"Pshaw!" he said to himself impatiently. "What's the matter with me? Am I letting what Tom said about ghosts get on my nerves?"
Then the sound came again, and this time Bart knew that he was not mistaken.
What Bart heard was the sound of human voices.
At first the thought flashed across him that they might be those of some of his comrades, sent back by Lieutenant Winter to look for the missing men.
But he dismissed this thought almost as soon as it was formed. There was a peculiar quality about the tones that was not American, a coarse guttural sound such as he had grown only too familiar with in the streets of Coblenz. Those who were talking were Germans.
He listened intently.
It was evident from the varying tones that there were quite a number of men in the group. At times the conversation seemed animated, and then again there would be a lull. Once he thought he heard them quarreling.
What could these men be doing here in the dead of night? Was it possible that some part of the castle was inhabited after all? Or had they gathered together for some secret and lawless purpose?
Bart thought at first that he would wake his companions and tell them what he had heard. On second thought, however, he concluded that he would do a little reconnoitering on his own account. They were so utterly tired that he hated to wake them for what after all might prove to be not worth while.
Carefully looking to his weapons, he stole from the room and moved in the direction of the voices.
But this was not so easy a matter as he thought. The old castle proved to be a perfect maze of rooms, some connected and others detached, and again and again he found himself going further away from the sounds and having to retrace his steps. Then too he was afraid to flash a light, and had to grope his way over the uneven floor and amid piles of debris.
At last, however, he found himself on the right track. A faint ray of light from a distant room gave him the clue. Moving with the stealth of an Indian on the trail, he crept forward until at the end of a distant corridor he found what he sought.
In a large room, lighted by a fire that blazed on the hearth and by three or four candles, were a number of men engaged in animated conversation. A glance at their features showed that all were Germans. Some of the men were in civilian clothes, but others wore old, dilapidated army uniforms.
They were a rough looking lot, and Bart saw at a glance that most of them were armed. They were gathered about a man with a red, bushy beard, who seemed to be the leader. He had a map spread on a table improvised from boxes, and was pointing out places indicated by red dots.
Bart counted the men. There were nine burly fellows, who looked desperate and as though they could give a good account of themselves in rough and tumble work. In one of the guns standing against the wall Bart noted a red flag thrust in the muzzle—the symbol of the German revolutionary element that was spreading terror throughout the former empire.
He could hear distinctly now what the speakers said, but his knowledge of German was limited and he could not get the full meaning. He heard repeatedly however the words "Coblenz," "Liebknecht," and "Spartacide." He knew what was meant by those baleful words. They meant the overthrow of law and order, a program of blood and massacre. And they were discussing this program evidently with reference to Coblenz, where the American Army of Occupation had its headquarters.
Bart pondered what he should do. It was out of the question for him alone to attack these conspirators. They were too many for any single man. He must arouse his comrades at once.
With the utmost caution he tiptoed back, and finding the room, not without some difficulty, bent over the sleepers. They were dead with sleep and he had to shake them to get them wide awake, but the news he whispered to them had them on edge and ready for action in an instant.
They crowded together for a whispered conference.
"What would we better do?" asked Billy.
"There's just one thing to do," said Frank, "and that is to nab the whole bunch. That is," he went on, "if we find that they're really hatching mischief, as Bart thinks. I've picked up enough German in the last few months to be able to understand what they're talking about, and on a pinch I could even talk with them after we've got them under our guns."
"But are you sure we have any right to arrest them?" asked Bart, a little doubtfully.
"Sure we have," answered Frank promptly. "You said they were armed, didn't you?"
"Yes," replied Bart.
"That's all the excuse we need then to nip this thing in the bud," Frank answered. "It's against regulations for the Germans to carry arms in the zone occupied by the American army, and any one who does is liable to arrest on sight. See that your guns are all right, fellows, and come along. I have a hunch that we're going to give these plotters a surprise party. But we'll listen first and make sure before we pinch them."
Bart went in advance to show the way, and his comrades crept after him, drifting along like so many ghosts.
The conference was still in progress, but it had somewhat changed its character. When Bart had been listening, it had been a debate in which all were taking more or less part. Now the man with the red beard was making a speech. He had taken the red flag from the gun muzzle and waved it from time to time to punctuate his remarks. He had worked himself up into a passion as he progressed. His eyes were bulging, his face inflamed, as he poured out a torrent of words that evidently carried away his hearers, to judge from their rapt attention and the frequent ejaculations that burst from them.
The Army Boys listened for several minutes, and then at a sign from Frank drew back a little distance, while he spoke to them in whispers.
"It's what I thought," he murmured. "That fellow is an agitator from Berlin who has come to stir up trouble in the Coblenz district. He's urging these men to start an uprising that will take the American troops by surprise and wipe them out. From something he said I have an idea that he was concerned in the plot to blow up Ehrenbreitstein. He's as dangerous as a rattlesnake, and we've got to get him.
"Now," he went on, "just back me up when I give the word. They're nine to our four, but we have the advantage of surprise. Follow my lead and we'll bag them all right."
THE BAFFLED PLOTTERS
When the Army Boys got back to the room the orator was winding up his speech. He finished with an eloquent peroration, and his hearers broke into applause as the last word left his lips.
Frank leaped into the room with his rifle leveled directly at the leader.
"Hands up!" he shouted.
At the same instant, the rest of the Army Boys followed their leader, their rifles sweeping the room.
The effect of the sudden entrance of the Army Boys was electric.
With a roar of rage and chagrin, the conspirators made as though they would rush on the intruders. But the wicked looking muzzles of the army rifles and the look of determination in the faces of the boys who held them produced a change.
Slowly the hands went up until all were raised above their heads.
"Hold them there now," commanded Frank. "The first one who moves is a dead man."
Most of them could not understand the words, but as they looked into Frank's eyes they had not the slightest doubt of his meaning, and they stood like so many statues, only their eyes and the working of their features betraying the impotent anger that possessed them.
"Now, Tom," said Frank, without removing his eyes from those of the German leader, "go over these men and take whatever weapons they may have, while the rest of you keep the bunch covered."
Tom laid aside his rifle and did the work with promptness and thoroughness, and his search was rewarded by a considerable collection of knives and pistols. To these he added the rifles that had been leaning against the wall, and removed the lot from the room.
"They haven't anything left more dangerous than a toothpick," he reported to Frank, with a grin, as he picked up his rifle and resumed his place.
"Fine and dandy," remarked Frank.
"Now," he went on, addressing the prisoners, "back up to that wall and sit down on the floor. Quick now! Sitzen Sie sich. Verstehen Sie?"
They understood, and showed that they did by obeying, though if looks could kill Frank would have been blasted by the venomous glance that the German leader shot at him.
Only then did Frank permit himself to relax. He lowered his rifle with a sense of relief.
"We've got them corralled now," he remarked to his comrades. "Let your rifles down, boys, but keep your eyes on them. If any one of them tries to make a break, we can pot him before he gets to his feet."
"Well, now that we've got them what are we going to do with them?" asked Billy.
"Sort of white elephant on our hands it seems to me," said Tom, in some perplexity.
"No more sleep for any of us to-night, I guess," observed Bart.
"Oh, I don't know," said Frank. "Two of us will be enough to guard these fellows at a time, while the others get a few winks. I think I'll question the fellow who seems to be running this shooting match and see if I can get anything out of him."
He motioned to the leader to get to his feet and come forward, which the latter did with a thunderous frown on his face.
Frank had a faint hope that the man would be able to speak English, in which case his task would be comparatively easy. But when he asked the captive in German whether he could speak English, the latter replied with a surly negative.
So Frank was compelled to muster his limited vocabulary and pick out enough German to make himself understood. In that language, then, the questioning proceeded.
"What were you men doing here?" asked Frank.
"By what authority do you ask me?" the prisoner responded. "Since when has it been a crime for Germans to meet together on German soil?"
"That depends on the purpose of the meeting," answered Frank. "You may be on German soil, but just now you are under American laws, and they don't allow such meetings unless permission is received in advance. Besides, Germans are forbidden to have arms. How about those weapons we've just taken away from you?"
"If there are any laws like that they ought to be broken," replied the prisoner impudently.
"Don't get gay with me now," said Frank, with an ominous glitter in his eyes. "We taught your armies a lesson not long ago, and you'll find that we can teach you civilians just as easily."
"Our armies were not beaten," the man answered with a sudden flare of rage. "They could have fought for years if it had not been for the hunger at home."
"They gave a pretty good imitation of beaten armies then," said Frank sarcastically, "and I had an idea that the Americans had something to do with the beating. But that's neither here nor there. What were you planning to do at Coblenz?"
"Nothing," growled the prisoner.
"That doesn't go with me," replied Frank. "I happened to hear some of that speech of yours and Coblenz was sprinkled through it rather thickly. Suppose you hand over to me that map with the red dots marked on it."
"I have no map," the man replied, a look of apprehension coming into his eyes.
"Lying again, are you?" said Frank. "Bart, cover this fellow with your rifle while Billy goes through his pockets."
The prisoner's fist clenched, but a prod of Bart's rifle made him think better of it, and Billy drew from one of the inside pockets of the man's coat the identical map over which the group had been poring when Bart first came upon the scene.
"That'll do," said Frank. "Go back to the wall and sit down. Your case will be attended to by the American authorities at Coblenz."
The German, with a muttered imprecation, did as he was told, and while Bart kept his eye on the group of prisoners, Frank and the other Army Boys looked over the map.
They had been so long in Coblenz that they knew the town from end to end, and could readily identify the places that on the map were splashed with red. They included all the places occupied as headquarters by staffs of the various brigades and divisions of the American Army, as well as the American hospital and other buildings devoted to army uses.
"What do the red marks mean, do you think?" asked Billy, with lively curiosity.
"Blood or bombs or something of that kind, I suppose," replied Frank. "Taking this with what I gathered from the fellow's speech, I think it marks places that are to be blown up. It looks like a general uprising against American rule. I think that Army headquarters will find this little sheet of paper an interesting thing to study. And it wouldn't surprise me very much if our genial friend over there should find himself before long standing before a firing squad."
"What is this place here?" asked Tom, putting his finger on one of the red spots.
"I don't know of any government building there," commented Billy. Frank took another look.
"Why, fellows," he said with quickening interest, "that's where the alley is that we were so nearly trapped in the other night. Don't you recognize it?"
"Sure enough," agreed Billy. "But what is there that they would want to blow up?"
"Maybe some of these red spots are meant to indicate meeting places of the conspirators," suggested Frank. "See, there's a little red cross added here that you don't find in connection with the army and government buildings. But it's queer that that alley should turn up again. I wish I knew what it meant."
"Well, we'll have to let the Secret Service ferret that out," said Billy. "They have fellows there to whom this will be as clear as crystal after they've studied it a little. In the meantime we've got a big enough job on our hands to take care of these prisoners. What are we going to do with them?"
"We've got time to think that over between now and daylight," answered Frank. "For the present we'll make them lie down flat and far enough apart so that they can't talk with each other. Then you and I will stand the first watch and Bart and Tom the next. As soon as daylight comes we must be on the move."
The plan was carried out, although Bart and Tom declared that they had lost all desire for sleep and would keep awake with the others. Frank, however, wanted to have them in good shape when morning came, and the plan was carried out. As a matter of fact, Bart and Tom were fast asleep in five minutes, and Frank and Billy yielded as readily when their turn came.
With the first streak of dawn, the boys were on their feet.
"Doped it out yet?" Bart asked of Frank.
"Pretty well," his chum answered. "I've figured out that we'd do better to try to find our detachment than to go back with these fellows to Coblenz. In the first place, it must be nearer, and then, too, we have the chance of meeting some of the detachment who have probably been sent out to look for us. The sun will give us the general direction and we'll probably hit the camp before long."
"Perhaps some of the prisoners could give us the direction," suggested Bart.
"I suppose most any of them could," answered Frank. "Some of them, no doubt, are natives of this section, though that big red beard comes from Berlin. But do you think I'd trust any of them? Not on your life! They'd only lead us into a trap."
"I guess you're right," agreed Bart.
"How about breakfast for these Huns?" asked Tom.
"We'll have to rustle some grub for them, of course," answered Frank. "Haven't they got any food with them?"
"A few hunks of bread and cheese," answered Tom, "but not nearly enough to go around. We'll have to give them some of our rations, I suppose, though we made quite a hole in them last night and there isn't very much left."
"Well, we'll divide up with them as long as we have any," said Frank, "though I know mighty well they wouldn't do it with us if the case were reversed."
"You bet they wouldn't," answered Tom, "I've been a prisoner in their hands, and I know what I'm talking about."
They made coffee and distributed food, giving to their prisoners as much as they ate themselves. Then Frank lined up the prisoners and directed them to go ahead in the general direction he pointed out, warning them sternly that he would not hesitate to shoot at the least sign of resistance or any attempt to escape.
The storm had ceased, although a bitter wind was still blowing and heaping the snow in drifts. Still this had some advantages, for while it piled the snow deep in places it swept other spots almost clean and they made fairly rapid progress. The prisoners marched sulkily but steadily, with a wholesome respect for the rifles behind them and the men who held them.
They had been marching for perhaps an hour through the bleak forest, when Bart gave a sudden exclamation.
"See those black dots on the snow?" he said, pointing ahead and a little to the right. "They're moving and they're coming this way! I'll bet it's some of our fellows sent out to find us."
Frank looked hard and long, and as he looked his face grew grave. He did not seem to share his comrade's jubilation.
"Guess again, Bart," he said.
"Why?" asked Bart.
"Because," replied Frank, "those fellows are wearing German uniforms. They're probably a lot of disbanded soldiers on their way home. I rather think, boys, that we're in for a fight."
A CLOSE CALL
There was a stir among the Army Boys as they crowded around their leader.
"Are you sure, Frank?" asked Billy.
"Positive," answered Frank. "I can tell by their uniform and by their walk. I could even make out that some of them were wearing the uniform of the Jaeger regiments. They fought against us in the Argonne, and you'll remember that they're pretty tough birds. If it comes to a scrap we'll have our work cut out for us."
"But why should there be any scrap?" questioned Tom. "Germans are arrested every day in Coblenz and no one tries to rescue them."
"That's different," replied Frank. "The people know there that we've got powerful forces right at hand that could crush any attempt at rescue. But that doesn't count much out in the wilderness. If these fellows have an officer with them, he'll probably have sense enough to know that it doesn't pay to buck up against the United States army. But if they're just traveling along without organization, they feel so sore at us that they may be willing to take a chance and mix in."
"How many do you make them out to be?" asked Billy.
"About fifteen, I should judge," was the answer.
"What are you going to do?" asked Bart.
"Keep right ahead in the direction we are going. The boldest way is usually the best. If they saw us do any pussyfooting, they'd think we were scared, and they'd come after us anyway."
The two parties were not traveling in such a line that they would necessarily meet each other. Under ordinary conditions they would have passed at a distance of perhaps six hundred feet. But as the other party approached, Frank could see that one of their number was observing him and his comrades through a pair of field glasses. There was a hurried consultation, and then the newcomers swerved from their line of march and came directly toward the Army Boys.
"Just what I expected," muttered Frank, as his eyes darted from place to place over the snowy landscape to find a favorable position from a military point of view.
A hundred feet away was a slight rise of ground from which grew a clump of gigantic oak trees. They were so close together that their roots seemed to intermingle. On the near side of the little hill the vagaries of the wind had swept the snow into a sort of cave formation, leaving a space in the center hollowed out with great banks of snow on both sides.
Straight into this cave-like space Frank marched his group of prisoners who were walking with their hands upraised, but resting on their heads so as to ease their arms.
"You stand here, Billy, with your gun leveled, and if any one of these fellows makes a break drop him in his tracks," Frank directed, "You, Bart and Tom, come with me, and we'll go ahead and have a parley with this gang, and see what their intentions are."
The newcomers had now approached within a distance of a hundred yards. The boys looked in vain for any one wearing an officer's uniform, but there was no one who seemed to be in command. The crowd advanced in straggling formation, some of their faces exhibiting merely curiosity, while those of others were ugly and determined. There were perhaps half a dozen rifles among the lot, but the boys could see army revolvers at the belts of half a dozen more. A few had nothing but heavy sticks. The clothing of all was worn and travel stained, but all were of military cut and pattern, indicating that the wearers had belonged to the German army. The Army Boys went boldly toward them, and their confident bearing seemed to impress the Germans, who hesitated in their advance and crowded close together as though in consultation.
The boys kept going until they were within thirty feet, and then Frank handed his rifle to Billy and went forward with empty hands to show that his intentions were peaceable.
"We're American soldiers, as you can see by our uniforms," he said in a clear voice, in which there was no trace of wavering. "We are on our way to camp. We saw you turn from your line of march and come our way as though you wanted to speak to us. What do you want?"
Frank had spoken in German and they all understood him, but there was no answer ready, although the men's eyes glowered as they rested on his uniform and there were muttered exclamations.
"Is there any one of you that speaks English?" Frank asked, after waiting a moment.
Again a whispered consultation, and one of their number was pushed forward by the others.
"Do you speak English?" Frank asked.
"Yes," replied the man roughly. "I lived for five years in your accursed America."
The tone and words were offensively insolent, but Frank took no notice of them.
"Then perhaps you can tell me what you and your comrades want with us," he said.
"We want those prisoners you have with you," the man replied.
"What prisoners?" parried Frank.
"Don't try to fool us," the man answered angrily. "We saw those men walking with their hands on their heads, and we know they are Germans. We want them, and we're going to have them."
"How are you going to get them?" Frank asked quietly.
"How are we going to get them?" sneered the man. "Why, by taking them, if we have to. There are only four of you, as we saw through our glasses, and we're four to one. You wouldn't be fools enough to fight against such odds. If you give them up peaceably we won't hurt you. But if you don't, we'll wipe you out."
"Now listen," said Frank sternly. "We've arrested these men because they were plotting against the United States. We've set out to take them into camp, and we're going to do it. This district is under American rule and America has a long arm. You may wipe us out, but the American Government will reach out that arm and get you, no matter where you try to hide. I warn you to go on your way and let us pass."
"It's fight then, is it?" snarled the German.
He turned to his companions.
"Comrades!" he roared.
But he got no further.
Like lightning, Frank's left hand shot out and gripped the man by the collar. With his right, he yanked his automatic pistol from his belt and clapped it against the man's temple.
"One move and I'll blow your brains out," he snapped.
The man, after his first instinct of revolt, stood like a statue. That cold muzzle against his head was a compelling argument.
There was a wild commotion among the Germans, and rifles were raised, but as Frank had whirled his prisoner between him and them they did not dare to fire, but stood raging but irresolute.
Walking backward with his prisoner, the pistol still pressed to his head, Frank rejoined Bart and Tom, whose rifles were leveled at the crowd. Step by step the boys retreated, until they stood with Billy in the shelter of the oaks. Frank then delivered his prisoner to Billy, who made him lie down in the snow cave with the others.
"Good work, old man!" said Tom admiringly, as he clapped Frank on the shoulder.
"I'll tell the world so," agreed Bart enthusiastically.
"Gee, but my heart was in my mouth while I watched you," said Billy.
"Have any trouble with the prisoners while I was gone?" asked Frank.
"Not much," grinned Billy. "Redbeard tried to get up, but I handed him a clip on the jaw and he sat down again."
"Drop!" shouted Bart suddenly. "Those fellows are getting ready to fire."
They threw themselves flat on the snow, and a moment later some bullets zipped over them.
"Looks as though they meant business," muttered Frank.
"Lucky that they haven't all got rifles," remarked Billy.
"Seems like the old Argonne days come again, only on a smaller scale," remarked Tom. "Shall we let them have a taste of lead, Frank? My finger's fairly itching to pull the trigger."
"Hold in a while, Tom," counseled Frank. "They have done that to vent their spite. We're safe enough behind these oaks, and we haven't any too much ammunition. If they show any signs of making a rush, we'll let them have a volley."
"That's just what they're going to do," remarked Bart. "They know they're four to one and they're going to take a chance."
"Five to one, really," answered Frank, "for Billy will have his hands full in guarding the prisoners."
Another volley came at that minute, and several bullets embedded themselves in the oaks. At the same moment, the Germans rushed forward a few yards, taking shelter behind what trees they could or throwing themselves behind hillocks of snow.
"They're in earnest," remarked Tom.
"All right," said Frank, and his fingers tightened on his rifle. "Let them rush us. They'll get all that's coming to them."
JUST IN TIME
"Those fellows are old campaigners," commented Bart. "You can tell that by the tactics they're using. It's the old system they tried at the Marne and in the Argonne, making a rush for a few yards, throwing themselves flat, and then repeating the process until they got near enough to rush us."
"A pretty good system, too," commented Tom, "but it didn't win then and it isn't going to win now. Just watch me wing one or two of these Huns and put a crimp into their tactics."
His chance came even while he was speaking, for one of the Germans thrust his rifle out from behind a tree and fired. At the same instant, Tom's rifle cracked, and the bullet ploughed its way through the man's right shoulder. He fell with a groan and rolled out from behind his shelter on to the snow. He was an easy mark as he lay there, but Tom refrained from firing again. The man was out of the fight and as good as dead as far as any further offensive was concerned. Besides, it was no part of the American idea of war to kill a wounded foe, although it was a matter of record that it had frequently been done by the Germans.
"Good shooting, old man," commented Frank. "You haven't got out of the way of potting them."
"One less to cause us trouble," remarked Billy. "Gee, if I didn't have these prisoners to watch! I'm getting cross-eyed, trying to keep one eye on them and the other on these fellows that are trying to rush us."
"Keep both eyes on the prisoners," directed Frank, "especially on that red-beard person. He's bad medicine. We'll handle these fellows. Ah, you will, will you?"
The last exclamation was prompted by one of the Germans who tried at that moment to glide from a small tree behind which he was sheltered to a larger one that seemed to promise better protection. He moved swiftly, but Frank's bullet was swifter, and the man went down with a bullet in his thigh.
"Talk about sniping," grinned Bart. "Those fellows will wake up after a while to the fact that they've tackled a hornet's nest. Even a thick German head can take in an idea sometimes."
"Especially if it's pushed in by a bullet," added Tom.
Just then a volley came from the besiegers, and a rain of bullets buried themselves in the trees behind which the boys were crouching.
Bart gave a sharp exclamation.
"Are you hurt, Bart?" asked Frank anxiously.
"Not much, I guess," replied Bart, putting his hand to his shoulder where the cloth had been torn away. "Just ridged the flesh. It doesn't amount to anything."
There was a little blood issuing from the shoulder, but Frank was relieved on examination to find that the bullet had just grazed the flesh, breaking the skin but doing no serious damage. He put a little ointment and lint on it and held the bandage firm with a bit of adhesive plaster, though Bart declared that it was not worth bothering about.
"Here they come!" cried Tom.
The besiegers had gathered themselves for a rush, and now they came in a body toward the trees, firing as they ran.
The rifles of the Army Boys spoke, and two of their assailants went down. The rest faltered for a moment, and in that moment another of their number fell.
This seemed to dash the spirit of the attackers. They had evidently counted upon the retreat of the defenders when they saw three times their number bearing down upon them. They faltered, then broke and ran, not this time to the nearest shelters, but straight back to the place from which they had first started. The accurate shooting had given them a wholesome respect for their opponents, and their only thought was to get out of the range of those deadly rifles.
The boys might have shot more of them as they ran, but that was not in Frank's plan. All he wanted was to get them out of his path so that he could get his prisoners to camp, and he wanted to do it with as little bloodshed as possible.
"Guess they've got enough of our game," remarked Tom, as he reloaded his rifle.
"Shouldn't wonder," replied Bart. "We called their bluff. They thought we'd have a case of nerves when we saw them come rushing towards us. But we've seen those fellows' backs too often to be afraid of their faces."
The Germans continued their retreat until they had gotten to a reasonably safe distance, and then they gathered together and seemed to be consulting as to their next move.
Frank watched them keenly. Suddenly he saw a commotion in their ranks, and looking in the direction to which their faces had turned, he saw a body of men larger than the first coming over the snow.
"Another bunch of disbanded soldiers," he muttered anxiously, as he saw that the newcomers were Germans and had now quickened their steps in answer to the shouts and gestures of their first assailants. "Now we're up against it for fair."
"We didn't figure on tackling the whole German army," growled Tom.
"Our ammunition is getting low, too," remarked Bart, ruefully, as he looked at his cartridge belt. "We'll have to make every shot tell from now on."
"If the bullets give out, we'll light into them with our bayonets and gun butts," gritted Frank between his teeth. "We've started to get these prisoners to camp, and we'll get them there or die trying."
"I know what the Germans would do if they were in our place," remarked Tom. "They'd stand the prisoners in front of them, so that the other fellows would have to kill their own comrades before they could get at them."
"I know they would," agreed Frank. "They did that in Belgium even with women and little children. But we're human beings, and we don't do that sort of thing."
By this time the two bodies of men had joined, and Frank estimated that altogether they numbered more than forty.
"Ten to one," he remarked when he had finished counting, "and most of those new arrivals have guns."
"We're in for another rush," said Bart, "and this time they won't cave in as easily as they did before. The Germans are plucky enough when they fight in numbers."
The Army Boys looked carefully to their rifles and loosened their knives in their sheaths. Then by a common impulse they shook hands all around. Nothing was said, but each knew what was in the hearts of the others. They felt that they were in for a fight to the death, and with the heavy odds against them it looked as though none of them would come out alive.
But the expected rush did not come.
"Can't be that they've given it up, do you think?" asked Tom, after five minutes had passed.
"Nothing like that," replied Frank. "They're holding a big pow-wow about something."
As he spoke, a figure detached itself from the crowd and came towards them, waving a white handkerchief attached to a stick.
"The white flag!" exclaimed Frank. "They're going to invite us to surrender."
"You know what Whittlesey told them in the Argonne when they tried the same thing on the lost battalion," remarked Bart.
"We'll tell them the same thing, only a little more politely," Frank assured him with a grin.
The man approached until he was about fifty feet distant, and then stood there, waving the flag and by gestures inviting the defenders to come out and meet him.
"You're elected, Frank," laughed Billy. "Go out and let Heinie spiel his little spiel."
Frank laid aside his rifle and stepped from behind his tree. He walked directly toward the messenger, who lowered the makeshift flag and stood waiting.
"What is it that you want?" Frank asked in German, when he had come within speaking distance.
"We want you to surrender," replied the man in excellent English.
"And if we don't?" continued Frank, in his native tongue.
"Then you'll be committing suicide," answered the other promptly.
"I'm not so sure of that," replied Frank. "I suppose you'd have said that before you made your last rush. But as you see, we're not dead yet."
"That was different," replied the messenger. "You can see now that we have double the number we had before and more than double the guns. You can't possibly hold out against us."
"Maybe not," replied Frank, "but at any rate we're going to try. If you want us, you'll have to come and take us, and even then you'll only get our dead bodies, for we won't be taken alive."
He spoke with a decision that seemed to disconcert the man who stood for a moment irresolute.
"Is that your last word?" he asked.
"I have only one word," replied Frank. "You heard me. Go back and tell your comrades to come on as soon as they like. They'll find us ready for them. But I warn you now as I warned you before that our Government will get you—every last one of you. You may kill us, but you'll swing for it."
He turned to go back to his friends, but the messenger still stood there.
"Well," said Frank, turning around, "why don't you go? Got anything more to say?"
"Only this," returned the messenger. "My comrades will not insist on your surrender. But we must have the prisoners. If you give them up, you may go where you will."
"So you had that little joker in reserve, did you?" asked Frank grimly. "Well, my answer is just the same. We've got those prisoners, and we're going to keep them. We started to take them into camp, and we're going to take them there. If you get them at all, you'll get them after we're dead."
There was no mistaking the determination in his tones, and there was a look of unwilling admiration in the eyes of the messenger as he turned to depart.
"You are foolish," he said, "but you have had your chance. You and your companions are doomed."
"That may be," replied Frank, "but if we are, we'll take a lot of you along with us."
They separated and returned to their respective camps.
"Get ready now, boys, for the fight of your lives," Frank admonished his comrades, after he had told them of what had passed between him and the flag bearer.
"Let them come," said Bart. "We're good for a lot of them if our bullets hold out."
"And when they're gone, we've got our bayonets," put in Tom.
"And our knives may do some damage," added Billy, as his hand rested on the haft of his.
With every faculty alert and their eyes fixed upon their enemies, the Army Boys waited for the expected rush.
"What are they waiting for?" muttered Tom peevishly. "Are they getting cold feet? Or are they waiting for another gang of hoboes to join them before they care to tackle us?"
"It isn't that," Frank answered. "They may be planning new tactics. Their others didn't work very well."
"I believe they're going away," cried Billy, as he saw the crowd dispersing.
"Guess again," returned Frank. "They're doing what I've been afraid all along they'd try to do. They're spreading out so as to surround us on all sides. They didn't have men enough to do that at first, but they've got them now."
A few minutes more and they saw that Frank was right. The men were describing a wide circle, with the evident intention of attacking the Army Boys from all sides at once.
"That means that they'll drive us out into the open," said Frank. "We can't be on both sides of a tree at once. Half of them at least can take pot shots at us without our having any shelter."
"It's good dope from their point of view," remarked Tom. "We'd better start in to discourage it right away. They think they're out of range, but I'm going to try to prove to them that they're mistaken."
His eye ran along his rifle barrel, and after taking unusually careful aim he fired. One of the Germans threw up his hands and fell.
"A long shot, but I got him," remarked Tom with satisfaction.
"Some shot," said Bart approvingly.
The immediate result was a widening of the circle as the others tried to get back further out of range. But the circle kept forming just the same, and in a quarter of an hour it was completed.
Then it began contracting, the foe taking advantage of every hill and every tree to get nearer. Occasionally they would send over some scattering shots, but in the main they held their fire until they should get into closer quarters.
The Army Boys in the meantime had been working feverishly. The trees were no longer to be relied on, with enemies at the back as well as at the front. So they dug furiously into the snow, until they had heaped it high enough all around them to form a circular trench.
When they had finished, the top of the trench was on a level with their eyes, so that their bodies were sheltered. But they had to lift their heads above it as often as they sighted and fired their rifles, and they risked getting a bullet every time they did it.
By now the enemy was creeping closer, and there was a constant zipping of bullets around and over their heads. The boys themselves were forced to husband their fire, because of their scarcity of ammunition, and they wasted no bullets in merely returning the enemy's fire. They watched their opportunities, and wherever an arm or a head showed itself, it became a target for their rifles. Sometimes they missed, but oftener they found their mark, and they knew that they had put at least five of their enemies out of the fighting. But the odds were still enormous, and with every moment the Germans were drawing closer. Soon they would be near enough for a concerted rush from all sides at once.
"It's coming soon now, fellows," Frank warned his comrades, "and when it comes we want to jump out to meet it. We don't want to be caught in this trench like rats in a trap. When I give the word, let them have all you've got in your guns, and then we'll lay into them with our knives and bayonets."
Several minutes passed and the enemy's fire died down. Soon it ceased entirely and an ominous silence replaced the singing of the bullets.
"Have they run out of ammunition, do you think?" Bart asked of Frank.
"No such luck," was the answer. "They're getting ready for a rush. On your toes now, and listen for the word."
One, two, three minutes passed. And then came the rush.
But it was not the rush that the boys had looked for!
Out from the trees with a wild cheer came tearing a squad of the old Thirty-seventh, with Wilson at their head, and fell like an avalanche on the foe!
The Germans were taken completely by surprise. In their concentration on their expected prey they had failed to note the foe approaching from the rear. There were a few scattered shots, and then the Germans scattered and ran like so many hares in all directions.
THE COLONEL'S WARNING
The Army Boys for the first instant were almost paralyzed with surprise. In their hearts they had bidden good-bye to the world, for they knew how slight their chances were against the odds that menaced them.
Frank was the first to grasp the situation, and he jumped from the trench with a wild hurrah.
"It's the old Thirty-seventh!" he yelled. "Our own boys! Come along, fellows!"
With a whoop Bart and Tom joined him, Billy remaining to guard his prisoners, and they plunged at once into the task of hunting down the fugitives. A few escaped through the wood, but the great majority of them were rounded up and placed in charge of Billy and several aids. Aid was given to the wounded, and litters were made for them which the prisoners were compelled to carry. There were two killed, and these were buried where they lay.
It was only after these necessary things had been attended to that the boys were able to get their breath and find time for explanations with Wilson, who was delighted beyond measure to find that apart from the trifling ridge in Bart's shoulder they were all safe and sound.
He listened with the utmost interest and attention while they unfolded the story of their adventures.
"It is a mighty fine piece of work you boys have done," he remarked, after he had fully grasped the situation, "They'll be glad at headquarters to have these conspirators under their thumb, for they've been hearing all sorts of queer things about ructions that are being planned in the occupied zone. So Raymond's stumble may prove to have been a good thing after all."
"Perhaps it was," admitted Bart with a grin, "though I've been calling myself all sorts of a boob ever since the thing happened."
"It sure has kept things from being monotonous," chuckled Billy. "I've had a lot of things happen to me in my young life, but I can't just now recall anything much more exciting than has taken place since we lost you last night in the snow."
"The lieutenant was all wrought up about it," said the corporal. "He had searching parties out for you all last night. Right after breakfast this morning he routed us out again and told us we'd hear from him if we came back without you."
"Well, you've got us, all right, and a nice little bunch of prisoners in addition to prove that we haven't been loafing on the job," laughed Frank. "But how did you come to find us?"
"It was the sound of shooting that brought us here on the double quick," replied Wilson. "We took just one look at that circle creeping up on you and we tumbled to the situation at once."
"You came just in the nick of time," said Bart soberly. "If you'd been five minutes later you wouldn't have found much except our dead bodies."
"And the old Thirty-seventh would have lost four of its best men," replied the corporal warmly. "But we'd better get a move on now and hustle back to camp."
He lined up his men, and after appointing guards for the disarmed and sullen prisoners, took up the march.
A little over an hour later the band trooped into the village where Lieutenant Winter's detachment was stationed. News of their coming had been carried on ahead, and they received a royal welcome from the men, who crowded about them and grasped their hands and pounded their backs as they made their way to headquarters.
There the reception was more than cordial, and there was heartfelt relief in the clean cut face of the lieutenant as he had the Army Boys tell their story.
"Fine work," he commented, when they had finished. "You men are a credit to the regiment and the army. I'll see that this is brought to the notice of the general in command. You can go now, that is, all but Sheldon. I'll need one of you here to check up on the stories of the prisoners."
The others saluted and retired, and while the prisoners were sent for the lieutenant looked over the map with great interest, asking Frank many questions about the speech he had heard in connection with it.
The man with the red beard simply admitted that his name was Spatler, and then shut up like an oyster. No persuasion or threats could bring anything out of him, and he was finally sent back to the guardhouse to be eventually dealt with by the authorities at Coblenz. The mark of Billy's punch was still evident in his swollen jaw, and he shot a baleful glance at Frank as he passed by him on the way out.
Other prisoners were questioned without result, until the German was reached whom Frank had arrested at the point of his pistol. All his insolence and braggadocio had vanished. He was evidently a poltroon at heart, for he showed every evidence of being willing to betray his comrades and tell all that he knew on condition that his own lot would be made easier.
"This is getting interesting," smiled the lieutenant as he saw that the man was beginning to weaken. "I guess I'll excuse you now, Sheldon, for he'll probably talk more freely with me alone. And as he talks English I shan't need an interpreter."
Frank saluted and went out, glad to rejoin his comrades, whom he found regaling themselves with hot coffee and steaming "chow" which the company cook had put before them, a pleasure in which Frank himself promptly took part, while their comrades crowded around them eager to hear every detail of their experiences of the night before.
They had scarcely finished before Frank was summoned to headquarters by a messenger. He went, expecting that something had come up in connection with the prisoners, but was agreeably surprised to find his old friend, Colonel Pavet, waiting for him.
The meeting was especially cordial on both sides. Colonel Pavet had not forgotten how Frank had brought him in wounded from the battlefield under a hail of enemy fire, and Frank on his part had a profound gratitude to the colonel for his efforts to secure for Mrs. Sheldon her rights in her father's property.
"So you are still at it," smiled the colonel, after greetings had been exchanged.
"What do you mean?" asked Frank.
"Modest as usual," said the colonel. "I've been hearing all about the little war you've been carrying on on your own account. It was a gallant piece of work, and I congratulate you."
"Oh, that was nothing," replied Frank. "It was a job that came our way and we had to do it. But how comes it that I see you in this out of the way place?" he continued, in order to change the conversation.
"I have been to Berlin on a military commission for the Allies," replied the colonel, "and I am now on my way to Coblenz, from which city I will go to our own bridgehead at Mayence."
"So you got to Berlin, did you?" asked Frank with interest. "It's the place I've been wanting to get to ever since I've been in the war. But I wanted to go in with a conquering army with bugles blowing and drums beating and flags flying and plant the flags of the Allies on the Kaiser's palace."
"I have shared that ambition," replied the colonel, "and there's nothing in the world that could have kept us from doing it, if the Germans hadn't signed the armistice just when they did. But, for that matter, we may have to do it yet."
"Do you think so?" asked Frank with quickened interest.
"I shouldn't be surprised," was the reply. "Things are in a terrible condition there. The Soldiers' and Workmen's Councils are trying to take possession of the Government. There were street riots every day that I was there. The police station was captured by the rioters and scores of detectives and policemen were murdered by the mob. The buildings are riddled with bullets and cannon balls. Berlin is getting some of the punishment that is due for her guilt in starting the war."
"I suppose that fellow Liebknecht is at the head of all this," remarked Frank.
"He was, but he isn't any longer," replied Colonel Pavet.
"What do you mean?" asked Frank. "Has he been arrested?"
"He's been killed," was the answer.
"How did that happen?"
"He was shot while attempting to escape from the officers who were taking him to prison," said the colonel. "At least, that was the explanation given. More than likely that was only a pretext. But he is dead anyway, and so is that she-tigress, Rosa Luxemburg, who was his partner in stirring up the mobs. They sowed the wind of riot and massacre and now they have reaped the whirlwind."
"Well, now that they are killed I suppose things will quiet down somewhat," remarked Frank.
The colonel shook his head.
"I don't know," he said dubiously. "The mobs will probably try to obtain revenge for the killing of their leaders. Things look very black, not only in Berlin but in every part of the country. Business is paralyzed, millions are on strike, the food situation is bad, and the whole nation is mad with the bitterness of defeat."