BOB COOK AND THE GERMAN SPY
BY PAUL G. TOMLINSON
Author of "To the Land of the Caribou," "The Trail of Black Hawk," etc.
Every one knows that Germany is famous for her spy system. Scarcely a land on earth but is, or was, honeycombed with the secret agents of the German Government. Ever since this country began to send war munitions to the Allies an organized band of men has plotted and schemed against the peace and welfare of the United States. When America itself declared war their efforts naturally were redoubled. Our Secret Service has been wonderfully efficient, but it has not been humanly possible to apprehend every spy and plotter at once. It is a big task to unravel all the secrets of this great German organization.
We are at war with Germany now and it is the duty of every American to help his government in every way he can. This book is the story of how two boys, too young to enlist, did "their bit" right in their own home town. It is not an exaggerated tale, but presents in story form what has actually happened all around us. Due allowance is made for the fact that the most of our citizens of German birth and descent are good Americans. No one whose motto is, "America First," need fear offense from anything contained in the story of "Bob Cook and The German Spy." Two boys loved their country and did their duty by it. May we all do as well.
PAUL G TOMLINSON.
Elizabeth, N. J.
I WAR IS DECLARED II THE SECRET SERVICE AT WORK III BOB HAS A FIGHT IV HEINRICH AND PERCY V ON THE BRIDGE VI HUGH HAS AN IDEA VII IN THE NIGHT VIII A STRANGE OCCURRENCE IX ANOTHER SURPRISE X BOB IS MYSTIFIED XI THE DESERTED HOUSE XII TRAPPED XIII MISTAKEN IDENTITY XIV AN EXPEDITION XV FIRE XVI MORE COMPLICATIONS XVII A MESSAGE XVIII KARL HOFFMANN XIX A DISCUSSION XX ANOTHER SUSPECT XXI ON THE STREET XXII BOB ACTS QUICKLY XXIII UNDER THE LIGHT XXIV AT THE FACTORY XXV A STRUGGLE IN THE DARK XXVI AN EXPEDITION IS PLANNED XXVII A RAID AND A SURPRISE XXVIII CONCLUSION
BOB COOK AND THE GERMAN SPY
WAR IS DECLARED
"Well," said Mr. Cook, "I see that the United States has declared war on Germany. I am glad of it, too."
"Why, Robert!" exclaimed Mrs. Cook. "How can you say such a thing? Just think of all the fine young American boys who may be killed."
"I realize all that," said her husband. "At the same time I agree with President Wilson that the German Government has gone mad, and as a civilized nation it is our duty to defend civilization. The only way left for us is to go in and give Germany a good beating."
"And I shall enlist and get a commission," cried Harold, their eldest boy. "I am twenty-three years old. I have been at Plattsburg two summers, and I have done a lot of studying; I know I can pass the examinations."
"What will you be if you do pass?" inquired his father. "A lieutenant?"
"Well," said Harold, "a second-lieutenant."
"I wish I could enlist," sighed Bob.
"Huh!" snorted his older brother. "You can't enlist. What military training have you had? And besides, you're only seventeen; they wouldn't take you."
The Cook family were seated at the dinner table, mother, father, and three children, the two boys referred to above and a young daughter, Louise, just thirteen years of age. Congress had that day declared war on Germany, and naturally that was the one thing in every one's mind. Crowds in front of the newspaper offices had greeted the news from Washington with wild enthusiasm, patriotic parades had been organized, and from almost every house and office streamed the Stars and Stripes.
Bob Cook had been among the crowds, and his young mind and heart were fired with patriotism and enthusiasm. A company of soldiers from the Thirty-ninth Infantry called out the week before had caused him to cheer and hurl his cap high in the air, while all the time he envied the men in khaki.
"I hate to think of you enlisting, Harold," said Mrs. Cook sadly.
"Why?" demanded Harold earnestly. "Don't you think it is my duty to offer my services to my country! I'm free; no one is dependent upon me."
"I know," agreed his mother, "but somehow I don't like to have my boy go over to France and be killed. Let some one else go."
"Suppose every one said that," exclaimed Harold. "We shouldn't have much of an army and our country wouldn't be very well defended, would it?"
"Let him go," said Mr. Cook quietly to his wife. "I don't want him killed any more than you do, but there are some things worse than that. Suppose he was afraid to go; you'd be ashamed of your son then I know."
"How do you know I'm going to get killed anyway?" demanded Harold. "Every one that goes to war doesn't get killed. At any rate it's sort of gruesome to sit up and hear your family talk as if you were just as good as dead already."
"True enough," laughed Mr. Cook. "When does your examination come?"
"Will you wear a uniform?" asked Louise.
"Why, certainly," said Harold, swelling out his chest at the thought.
"I wish I could enlist," sighed Bob.
"You're too young, I told you," said Harold scornfully.
"I'll bet I could fight as well as you could," said Bob stoutly. "Besides, I'm big for my age and maybe if I told them I was older than I really am they might take me."
"Don't do that, Bob," said his father earnestly. "Don't lie about it."
"They'd find you out anyway," exclaimed Harold. "You can't fool these recruiting officers."
"I'd like to get to France and see the trenches, and see the soldiers, and the guns, and the fighting," Bob insisted.
"Do you realize that Harold may never get to France even if he does enlist and get a commission?" remarked Mr. Cook.
"First of all on account of Mexico."
"Do you think the Mexicans will make trouble?" inquired Harold.
"I shouldn't be at all surprised," said Mr. Cook. "If they think we have our hands full with Germany those bandits may stir up a fuss and then troops would have to be sent down there."
"And Harold might be one of them," laughed Bob. "That would be a joke, wouldn't it?"
"I don't see why," cried Harold warmly. "If troops were needed in Mexico and I was one of those sent, I'd be serving my country just the same."
"Of course you would," his father agreed. "It might be though that you wouldn't even get out of High Ridge."
"You think they'd keep us right here?" demanded Harold, his face falling.
"Possibly," said Mr. Cook. "It might be that you'd have your hands full too."
"Do you think the Germans could land an army and invade this country?" exclaimed Mrs. Cook in alarm.
"Not for a minute do I think that," said Mr. Cook.
"Then what do you mean?"
"Aren't there lots of Germans in the country already?"
"Do you think they'd make trouble?"
"Most of them would be peaceable enough, but some of them would only be too glad to blow up some factories, or railroads, or things like that."
"They've been doing that for the last two years," said Harold, "but I don't see what there is in High Ridge."
"There's my company," said Mr. Cook. He was president of the High Ridge Steel Company.
"But you don't make war supplies," exclaimed Mrs. Cook. "Why should they want to blow up your plant?"
"Up until now we haven't manufactured war supplies," Mr. Cook corrected. "This afternoon, however, we took a contract from the Government to make high explosive shells. And, what is more, we are going to do it at cost price so we shan't make a cent out of it."
"I think that's fine," said Bob enthusiastically. "Perhaps you'll have to stay home and guard father's factory, Harold."
"Do you think there'll be any danger to it?" Harold asked his father.
"I don't know," replied Mr. Cook. "There are a lot of rabid Germans in High Ridge and you can't be sure just what they will do."
The telephone rang at that moment and Bob excused himself to go into the next room and answer it. Dinner was now over and the rest of his family shortly followed. As they entered the sitting-room where the telephone was located, Bob was in the act of hanging up the receiver.
"Who was it, Bob?" asked his mother.
"I don't know; it sounded like a German's voice. At any rate he had the wrong number. He said, 'Iss dis Mr. Vernberg?'"
"Oh, Wernberg," exclaimed Mr. Cook. "He's the man who moved into that house down on the corner about two years ago. Karl Wernberg is his full name and he's one of the worst of the Germans; he used to be an officer in the German army, I understand."
"What do you mean 'he's one of the worst of the Germans'?" asked Harold.
"Why, the way he talks against the United States and for Germany. He's made all his money here, too."
"What's his business?"
"Some kind of chemicals, I believe."
"Perhaps he's making bombs," laughed Harold, and the rest of the family joined in the laugh. That is, all but Bob, who took the suggestion seriously, and his heart thumped a beat faster at the thought.
In fact, as he went to bed that night his mind was filled with thoughts of spies, and plotters, and the hundred and one other things connected with the war that he and his family had discussed that evening. He went to the closet and took out the .22 caliber rifle that he owned; it was in good condition and Bob assured himself that he had plenty of cartridges, though he knew so small a gun would be of but little use in time of trouble.
As he undressed he thought over the events of the day. Never had he experienced such excitement. War had been declared, and many of the young men, not much older than he, had enlisted. He, too, wanted to go in the worst way, but he knew that his father and brother were right when they said he would not be accepted.
"Why not?" muttered Bob to himself. "I'm big enough and strong enough too; I could stand it as well as most of those fellows, even if they are older. Besides I weigh a hundred and fifty-three and I'm five feet nine inches tall. Perhaps they won't take me because I've got light hair and blue eyes," he murmured bitterly. "They think I look like a German."
Stripped to the skin he stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself. Certainly he was big and strong. He had always lived a clean, outdoor life, he had been active in athletics and right now was captain of the high school baseball team. The muscles played and rippled under his white skin, as he moved his lithe young body to and fro.
A few breathing exercises before he jumped into bed, and then he was under the covers. And all night long he dreamed of chasing big fat Germans up and down the streets, over fences, and across fields, and even up the steep sides of houses. Usually just as he had caught up with them he awoke. Most of all he dreamed he was pursuing Karl Wernberg, who was a middle-aged German and not hard to overtake. But Bob did not catch him because he always woke up too soon.
THE SECRET SERVICE AT WORK
The following morning Bob was in the trolley car on his way to school. The car was full, and every one was eagerly scanning a newspaper or discussing the war with his neighbor. Words of praise for the President were to be heard on all sides, and enthusiasm was everywhere in evidence. Old men wished they were young enough to enlist.
All at once Bob heard voices raised in dispute. The trouble was at the opposite end of the car, but he could hear plainly what was said.
"It is wrong, all wrong," exclaimed a florid-faced man with a light mustache, who plainly was of German blood. "What has Germany done to this country?"
"They've sunk our ships when they had no right to, and they've murdered our peaceful citizens," said the man next to him. "Isn't that enough?"
"They were forced to do it," the German insisted.
"Oh, no, they weren't," said his neighbor calmly. "Any one can play the game according to the rules if he wants to; there is never any excuse for dirty work."
"Germany wants peace with the United States," said the German loudly.
"Well, if they do, they take a strange method of showing it," replied the other man with a grim smile. "Personally it's my opinion that we've been patient with Germany far too long. Now they've forced war upon us and for my part I'm ready to go out and fight for my country."
Every one in the car was now listening to the discussion, and perhaps the most interested listener of all was young Robert Cook.
"Well, I won't fight for the United States!" exclaimed the big German, rising to his feet. "I won't fight for Germany either, but I'll fight all right." He started toward the door of the car, while Bob pondered over his last remark and wondered what it could mean.
As the German approached the door, a man dressed in a neat black suit and soft hat got up out of his seat. Bob was watching the German and also noticed this man, though not particularly; he did see that he had a square jaw and a determined look in his gray eyes.
The German started to crowd past the stranger who stood squarely in the aisle. "Don't be in such a hurry," said the man quietly. "You stay here."
"I want to get off this car," shouted the German angrily. "Get out of my way."
"I want you to come with me," said the man still in the same quiet tone. As the German started to protest once more he drew back his coat slightly and Bob saw the gleam of a badge on his coat. "Sit down," he said to the German, who obeyed without further question.
There was a mild flurry of excitement in the car, and there were smiles of amusement on the faces of many of the passengers as they glanced at the German sitting meekly in the corner of the seat. He seemed entirely cowed now, and kept his eyes fixed upon the floor, save for an occasional look he stole at the secret service man standing in front of him. The latter seemed entirely at his ease and acted as if not a thing out of the ordinary had taken place.
Bob was greatly impressed, and looked with marked respect at the quiet-mannered detective standing near him. He wondered what it was all about, and his father's words of the evening before concerning plotters and spies came again to his mind. He wondered if he could join the secret service and help his country in that way. Then he remembered that he was only seventeen and sighed to think that there was probably less chance of that than there was of being taken into the army.
What was the detective going to do with the German, wondered Bob. The car was approaching the high school, and he would have to get off soon and he did not want to miss any of the drama. Suddenly he remembered the police station on the block adjoining the school building and decided that that must be the detective's destination. Bob decided to stay on the car long enough to see anyway.
They passed the high school, and sure enough, as they came to the next corner, the secret service agent motioned to the German to follow him out. Bob decided to go along. They got off the trolley car and entered the police station. Behind the desk sat the sergeant, a man named Riley, well known to Bob. The detective led his prisoner up to the rail.
"I want you to take care of this man for me, Sergeant," he said, at the same time displaying his badge.
"Certainly," said Sergeant Riley quickly. "Here, Donovan," he called to a policeman standing near by. "Take this man and lock him up."
Officer Donovan beckoned to the German who was standing sullenly by the side of the policeman; his face was white and his eyes gleamed wickedly while he opened and closed his hands nervously. He even started to protest, but before he could say anything Sergeant Riley quickly silenced him. Without further ado he joined the policeman, and together they disappeared through the door leading out to the room where the cells were located.
Satisfied that his prisoner was taken in charge, the secret service agent turned and without further ado left the building.
Bob was much excited and interested. "Who was that secret service man?" he inquired of the sergeant.
"Dunno," said Riley. "I never saw him before."
"He didn't even make a charge against the man," said Bob.
"I know it," said Riley. "He don't have to."
"I thought you couldn't lock up a man unless there was some charge against him," exclaimed Bob.
"We have orders to lock up every man them fellers bring in here," said Sergeant Riley. "We keep 'em here until we get word to do something else with 'em. It's not for us to ask questions, you know."
"Have you got any more here?" demanded Bob.
"That's the first; we have accommodations for seventy-five though."
"Whew," exclaimed Bob. "Do you think there'll be much trouble with the Germans here in High Ridge?"
"Can't say. Some of them are a crazy lot. At any rate we're ready for 'em. And what are you doing here at this time o' day anyhow? You'll be late for school; your visiting hour here is usually in the afternoon."
"I saw that fellow on the trolley," Bob explained. "I wanted to see what happened to him."
"Well, you better run along," advised the sergeant. "Come in and see me later."
Bob hurried out and ran down the block toward the high school. His mind was not on his lessons, however. War was uppermost in his thoughts, and he still pondered over what his father had said the evening before, and the recent arrest of the German in the trolley car. Probably after all there was something in this scare about spies and plotters.
He arrived at school fifteen minutes late, but nothing was said to him. School discipline was greatly relaxed that morning and instead of recitations the first period, the principal gave a talk on patriotism and what the declaration of war would mean. He especially warned the pupils against acting differently toward any of their number who might be of German blood.
"They may be just as good and loyal citizens as we are," he said. "At any rate we must act as though they were until they convince us otherwise."
Bob considered this good advice, but he still thought of his father's words and his experience of that morning. "Suppose anything should happen to father's steel works," he thought. They were making shells for the Government and could afford to run no risks. "I'll see if I can be of any help in protecting them," he told himself.
He tried to concentrate his mind on his tasks, but it seemed hopeless. The words of the German in the trolley came back to him continually—"I won't fight for Germany. I won't fight for the United States either, but I'll fight all right." What could he have meant? Did he mean that he wouldn't try to enlist in either the German or American armies, but that he'd do his fighting on his own account? How could that be? Bob wondered if the fighting he would do would be for this country or Germany. If for this country, it seemed queer that the secret service officer should have arrested him. The thought of bombs returned insistently to Bob's mind.
Recess came at last and he sought out Hugh Reith, his best friend. Hugh was a boy of Bob's own age, almost exactly his size, and as they both liked to do the same things they were bosom companions. Bob was light and Hugh was dark, his hair was almost raven black, and his eyes a deep brown. He had large hands and several crooked fingers owing to the fact that he had broken them playing base ball. He was stronger than Bob, though not so agile or quick on his feet, and while he could defeat his light-haired friend in tests of strength he was not a match for him when it came to speed.
"What do you think of this war, Hugh?" Bob asked eagerly.
"I wish I could enlist," said Hugh.
"So do I, but I guess we can't."
"We're too young, I suppose. Isn't there anything we can do to help?"
"My father thinks we may have trouble with the Germans here in town. If anything starts you can be sure I'm going to get in it if possible."
"Say," exclaimed Hugh, "did you see young Frank Wernberg this morning when the principal was making his speech about patriotism?"
"No, what was he doing?"
"Oh, he was snickering and making side remarks to Jim Scott, and making himself generally objectionable."
"If I'd been Jim I'd have told him to keep quiet," said Bob warmly.
"That's just what he did do finally."
"Did he stop?"
"Oh, for a little while," said Hugh. "He was awful, I thought."
"You know," said Bob, "my father says that Mr. Wernberg is about the most rabid German in High Ridge. He's crazy on the subject."
"Who, your father?"
"No, Mr. Wernberg. He's crazy on the subject of Germany. He thinks it is the greatest country in the world and that every one in the United States is a fool or something."
"Why doesn't he go back to Germany then?" demanded Hugh angrily.
"That's what I—"
"Sh," hissed Hugh. "Here comes Frank Wernberg now."
BOB HAS A FIGHT
Frank Wernberg was a stocky, light-haired boy with blue eyes and a pink and white complexion; that is, it was usually pink and white, though this morning his face was flushed and red. His eyes had a glint in them not usually apparent and his mouth was drawn down at the corners into a scowl. His hair, close-cropped, seemed to bristle more than was its wont; in fact his usual mild-mannered appearance had given way to one of belligerency.
"Hello, Frank," said Bob pleasantly.
"Hello," said Frank shortly.
"What's the matter?" inquired Hugh. "You seem to have a grouch."
Something was in the air and the boys felt uneasy in one another's presence. Usually they laughed and joked incessantly, and Frank Wernberg was one of the jolliest boys in the school. He was inclined to be stout and like most fat people was full of fun as a rule. This morning, however, his demeanor was far from happy.
"Why shouldn't I have a grouch?" he demanded angrily. "I've just been talking to that chump, Jim Scott. He seems to think that any one who disagrees with him must be wrong."
Bob nudged Hugh. "What was the argument?" he asked.
"The war," said Frank bitterly. "I said I thought Germany was all right, and he tried to lecture me about it. Hasn't a fellow a right to his own opinion?"
"Sure he has," exclaimed Bob. "Any one can think Germany is all right if he wants to, but no one who is an American can side with Germany against the United States at a time like this."
"Who says they can't?" demanded Frank flaring up.
"I say so," exclaimed Bob.
"Who are you to tell others what they can do?"
"I'm an American, anyway."
"Well, I'm a better American than you are," cried Frank hotly.
"And you stand up for Germany now?"
"I do, because Germany is right and America is wrong."
The three boys were standing in one corner of the school yard, removed from all the others so that the rapidly rising tones of their voices passed unheard. Their faces were now white and their breath came fast. Hugh had taken no part in the argument thus far, but he stood shoulder to shoulder with Bob, prepared for any emergency.
"And what's more," exclaimed Frank, "this country was forced into war by a lot of men who want to make money out of it."
"You're crazy," said Bob.
"No, I'm not crazy either. Some of those men live right in this town too. I guess you know who I mean all right."
"What do you mean?" demanded Bob in a tense voice. "Name somebody. I suppose the fact that Germany has murdered a lot of Americans has nothing to do with our going to war."
"Certainly not," said Frank. "It's the men who want to make money."
"Who says so?"
"I say so, and so does my father."
"Huh!" sniffled Bob. "Name one of the men."
"They may get fooled," said Frank darkly. "Something might happen to their factories and they'd lose money instead of making it."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Oh, you know all right."
"He hasn't named anybody yet," Hugh reminded his friend.
"That's right," exclaimed Bob. "Who are they, Frank?"
"Well," said Frank, "one of the men who thinks he is going to make a lot of money but who may get fooled is—"
"Go on," urged Bob, as Frank hesitated.
"Your father!" snapped Frank suddenly.
Quick as a flash Bob's right arm shot out and his clenched fist caught Frank squarely on the nose. Hugh started forward as if to help his friend, but Bob waved him aside. "This is my affair," he panted.
Whatever else he was, Frank was no coward. Blood was already trickling from his nose and the force of the blow he had received brought tears to his eyes. He recovered himself almost immediately, however, and with head down rushed at Bob. Bob was waiting for him and sent a crushing blow to his opponent's jaw. Again Frank staggered back, but a moment later advanced for more.
He was more wary this time, however, and several of Bob's blows missed their mark. The boys danced about, each sparring for an opening. They were of almost equal size and weight, though Frank was probably a better boxer. Bob, however, was furiously though quietly angry, and convinced that the right was on his side had an advantage to that extent. Meanwhile the rest of the boys, attracted by the noise of the combat were running from all directions to get a close view of the fight. They quickly formed a ring around the two combatants and urged their favorites on. Most of them cheered for Bob, he being popular with all, while Frank had not so many friends.
Bob lowered his guard for an instant, and Frank was quick to take advantage of the opportunity offered. He dealt Bob a staggering blow directly over the left eye; a ring on his finger broke the skin and blood flowed into Bob's eyes, while a swelling appeared almost immediately. He felt no pain, however, and with a yell of rage he rushed at his opponent. He had thrown caution to the winds and consequently Frank drove home two more good stiff punches to Bob's wet and bleeding face. Nothing daunted Bob clinched and swaying back and forth for a moment they presently fell to the ground. Over and over in the dust they rolled, each one trying desperately to get his arms free. The crowd cheered wildly and moved back to give more room to the fighters.
Presently the spectators saw that Bob was on top. He was in better physical condition than Frank and this fact was beginning to count. Frank was short of wind and puffing hard. Bob sat astride him, holding him pinned to the earth with both knees while he pounded his head up and down on the ground.
"Lemme up," said Frank weakly.
Bob bumped him once or twice more for good measure. "Had enough?" he asked.
"Yes," gasped Frank, while the spectators yelled their approval.
Suddenly the cheering stopped and a gap appeared in the ranks of the onlookers. The principal of the school came running toward the spot where the fight had occurred.
"What does this mean?" he demanded, much out of breath.
The two fighters picked themselves up slowly. They were smeared with dirt and blood. Bob's collar was torn and Frank's coat was almost ripped from his back. Bob's left eye was half closed and rapidly turning black; Frank's nose was swollen and the skin all scraped off the side of his jaw.
"We had a fight, sir," said Bob.
"So I see," said the principal, while the crowd snickered.
"He started it," exclaimed Frank.
"I did not," cried Bob hotly, turning half way around as if he was considering pitching into his opponent again.
"We won't discuss that question here," said the principal. "The best thing for you two boys to do is to get cleaned up and then come and see me in my office."
He turned away, slowly followed by Bob and Frank and all the rest of the spectators. "Good boy, Bob," whispered Hugh in his friend's ear. "You did him up all right and he deserved it too." Many others also took occasion to show Bob that they heartily approved of what he had done.
A short time later Frank and Bob stood before Mr. Hewitt, the principal. He was a kindly man and well liked by all the boys, even if they did love to imitate the way he had of looking at them over his spectacles. He was always fair to every one and the boys knew they could expect to be treated justly by him at all times. They respected him and looked up to him.
"Well, boys," said Mr. Hewitt, "I'm sorry you had a difference of opinion."
"That's just what it was, sir," exclaimed Bob quickly.
"Haven't I a right to opinion?" demanded Frank.
"What is your opinion?" inquired Mr. Hewitt.
"Well," said Frank slowly, "I say that the United States is wrong about going to war with Germany."
Mr. Hewitt glanced at Frank over his spectacles. "I'm afraid I can't agree with you, Frank," he said. "I don't like war and I don't believe many of our people do either. There is a limit to any country's patience, however."
"Some people here want war," said Frank.
"Yes," exclaimed Bob. "He said that my father wanted war so he could make money out of it."
"He's making ammunition for the Government," Frank exclaimed.
"But at cost price," said Bob. "He will lose money if anything."
"I have always regarded Mr. Cook as one of our best citizens and a fine man," said Mr. Hewitt. "I think you must be wrong, Frank."
"I tried to convince him that he was," said Bob, stealing a sidelong glance at Frank's battered features. Mr. Hewitt also looked at Frank and a faint smile flitted across his face.
"People should be careful about what they do and say these days," he advised. "You are very wrong to talk against the United States, Frank."
"I only repeated what my father says," exclaimed Frank. "He knows."
"I'm sure he's mistaken this time," said Mr. Hewitt quietly. "I also hope he won't talk like that again; people's feelings are easily aroused in times of war and he might suffer harm."
Frank looked sullenly at the floor and said nothing. Bob held out his hand to him. "Let's shake hands," he said. "We all ought to work together now. I'll forget this morning if you will."
Frank made no move. "Come on, Frank," urged Mr. Hewitt. "Do as Bob says, and in the future try to remember that you were born in America, not in Germany. You were born here, weren't you?"
"No, sir," said Frank. "I was born in Germany."
"Well, at any rate remember that you are living in the United States. Shake hands and go back to your work, and I hope you will have no further trouble."
Frank somewhat reluctantly shook hands with Bob and they walked out of the principal's office together. At the door of the study room Frank turned to Bob. "I shook hands with you then because I had to," he snapped. "I warn you though, I'll never do it again, and you'll be sorry for what you did to me this morning. Yes, you and your whole family!"
Bob was completely taken aback by this sudden outburst but before he could make any reply Frank was gone. Bob walked slowly to his desk, carefully avoiding the glances of the many boys in the room who looked curiously at him and his black, swollen eye.
When school closed that afternoon he hurried away as quickly as he could, for he had no desire to discuss the matter with his schoolmates. Around the corner he waited for Hugh and together the two boys started homeward.
"What did Mr. Hewitt say?" asked Hugh.
Bob told him.
"Good for him," exclaimed Hugh. "What did Frank think of that?"
"He was mad," said Bob, and he told his friend of the threat Frank had made. Hugh was silent for some time.
"We must watch him pretty closely," he said at length.
"Yes," Bob agreed, "and his father too."
HEINRICH AND PERCY
"Bob!" exclaimed Mrs. Cook as her son arrived home that afternoon. "What have you been doing to get that black eye?"
Bob related the story of his fight with Frank Wernberg. He did not tell her of the threat Frank had made against him and his "whole family," however, for he had no desire to cause any alarm. His mother listened with a troubled countenance.
"Oh, Bob," she said. "I wish you wouldn't fight like that."
"But he insulted the United States, and father too," Bob insisted.
"I know," she admitted. "Still I hate fighting so. One boy in the family is enough to worry about."
"Where is Harold?" exclaimed Bob.
"Down at the armory," said Mrs. Cook. "I wish it was all over."
"I wonder if I can go down and see him," said Bob eagerly.
"Perhaps," said his mother. "I don't know." She turned away and Bob hurried out of the house and turned his steps towards the garage. His plan was to get his bicycle and ride down to the armory. He entered the garage just in time to see Heinrich, the chauffeur, stuffing a large roll of bills into his pocket.
"Whew, Heinie!" he exclaimed. "Where did you get all the money?"
Heinrich seemed much embarrassed at being thus interrupted and colored violently. "Golly," said Bob, "I never saw so much money in all my life."
"Dot's not so much," said Heinrich. "Besides it iss mine."
"I didn't say it wasn't," laughed Bob.
Heinrich Muller was the Cooks' chauffeur. He was a German, as his name implies, but he had been in the United States for over twenty years and had originally come into the employ of the Cook family as a coachman. Then when the automobile had taken the place of the horse to such a large extent he had been converted into a chauffeur.
He was a mild mannered, quiet little man, and had always been a prime favorite with the children of the neighborhood. He could do wonderful things with a jackknife and the whistles, canes, swords and other toys he had made for the Cook children had often filled their friends with envy. He wore thick glasses with gold rims and was very bow-legged. He always said that his legs were crooked because he had ridden horseback so much when he was a young German cavalry trooper.
He was a skillful man with horses, and had never liked an automobile half as much. He loved all animals and they seemed to love him too. At the present time his pets consisted of a small woolly dog, an angora cat, a parrot, and an alligator. The last named pet he kept in an old wash tub, half full of water, and called him Percy. He used to talk to all his pets as if they were human beings, Percy included, and many people had ventured the opinion that his brain was not quite as good as it should be.
"A little bit cracked, but harmless and faithful," was the way Bob's father described him.
Bob had never seen Heinrich so upset as he was that afternoon. He put the rolls of bills in his pocket and looked at Bob fiercely through his thick glass spectacles. His watery blue eyes looked almost ferocious.
"What do you want here?" he demanded.
"My bicycle," said Bob.
"It iss got a puncture," said Heinrich.
"Oh, Heinrich," Bob exclaimed. "Why didn't you fix it?"
"I had no time so far."
"I need a new one anyway," said Bob, looking at his wheel where it rested against the wall of the garage. "This one is six years old."
"It iss one bunch of junk," said Heinrich.
"Right you are," laughed Bob. "I tell you what, Heinrich; you've got a lot of money now, why don't you buy me a new one for my birthday?"
"Dot iss my money," said Heinrich insistently.
"Of course it is," exclaimed Bob. "You don't suppose I thought for a moment that you stole it, do you?"
Heinrich glanced at him questioningly. "Come and see Percy," he said, apparently very anxious to change the subject.
"What has he done lately?" asked Bob.
"He iss grown."
They approached the tub where the alligator was kept. "I can't see that he has grown much," exclaimed Bob. "He looks about the same to me."
"He iss now two feet and one inches long," said Heinrich proudly. "He does not grow fast though."
"I wish my bicycle was fixed," sighed Bob. "I wanted to ride down to the armory."
"Harold iss in the army," said Heinrich.
"I know it," said Bob. "I wish I was too."
"You want to fight?" Heinrich asked.
"Of course I do. Don't you? You're an American citizen, aren't you, Heinie?"
"Yes, indeed," said Heinrich quickly. "For twelve years I been one."
"You're all right," exclaimed Bob heartily. "If all Germans were as loyal as you I wouldn't have this black eye right now."
"A German hit you?"
"He ought not to be a German, but he is," said Bob bitterly.
"Who was it?"
"I won't tell you. What's the use?"
"It was Frank Wernberg," said Heinrich.
Bob looked curiously at the chauffeur. "How do you know?" he demanded.
"Was it him?"
"Yes, but how could you find it out so soon?"
"Mebbe I guess," said Heinrich.
"Probably you did," laughed Bob. "What do you know about the Wernbergs anyway, Heinie?"
"Nothing," said Heinrich quickly and he acted as though he had made a mistake. "Look at Percy," he exclaimed. "He iss going down into the water."
The alligator slipped slowly off the rock where he had been dozing. He slid quietly into the water and remained floating there all its four feet standing straight out.
"He iss cute," said Heinrich proudly.
Bob had never considered an alligator as being cute, but he did think "Percy" was interesting. Little did he dream how much more interested he would be in the small animal before many days had passed.
ON THE BRIDGE
Harold came home for dinner that night. He was serving in the ninth infantry as a private until such a time as he should pass his examination and receive his commission.
"Bob has seen active fighting sooner than you have, Harold," laughed Mr. Cook glancing at his younger son's battered eye.
"Yes, and he won the battle too," said Bob warmly.
"All I can say is," remarked Harold, "that Frank Wernberg must be an awful looking sight if he's worse than you."
"He is," said Bob. "You ought to see his nose."
"Don't talk about it," urged Mrs. Cook. "I hate it."
"All right," laughed her husband. "Tell us what you have to do down at the armory, Harold. You were lucky to get off to-night."
"Oh, I've got to go back," said Harold. "We'll probably be ordered out for guard duty to-night. I may be guarding your plant for all I know."
"I hope we'll need no guards," said Mr. Cook earnestly. "In spite of all I said last night I can't believe that many people will be disloyal."
"Some German got on our wire by mistake again to-day," said Louise. "He wanted Mr. Wernberg just as that man did last night."
Mr. Cook shook his head slowly. "I don't like that man Wernberg," he said.
"Oh, the secret service must be watching him," said Bob. "They seem to be ready for anything," and he related what had taken place in the trolley that morning when he was on his way to school.
The telephone rang and Bob answered it to find Hugh Reith on the wire. He wanted Bob to go down to the armory that night and see the soldiers. Bob readily agreed.
A short time after supper Hugh arrived at the Cooks', and the two boys accompanied by Harold set out. They felt very proud to be walking with a real live soldier, a man in the olive drab uniform of the American Army. Harold carried a rifle, with an ugly looking bayonet affixed to the barrel, the whole thing being nearly as tall as he was.
The roll call had been started at the armory and Harold took his place in line just in time to answer to his name. Bob and Hugh looked on from the gallery and were greatly impressed by the business-like appearance of the men, and the curt, crisp orders of the officers. The soldiers were divided into squads and presently were marched out of the building to unknown destinations.
"I guess it's all over,'' remarked Hugh.
"Looks so," Bob agreed. "It's early yet though and I don't want to go home."
"Nor I. What do you say to a walk down by the river? My canoe is in Brown's boathouse and I'd like to take a look at it. It has been laid up all winter and I'll want to get it out pretty soon."
"All right," said Bob. "How shall we go?"
"We can take a short cut down over the railroad bridge."
They set out through the streets of High Ridge. Few people were stirring and nowhere were any signs of war. The soldiers had disappeared and the quiet town seemed far removed from the strife of conflict. It seemed incredible that even at that moment some one might be plotting to overthrow the law and order of the little city. It was a far cry to the crimson-stained battlefields of France.
"No school to-morrow," said Hugh finally.
"That's true," exclaimed Bob. "I had forgotten that this is Friday."
"Nothing to worry about," said Hugh. "No lessons to prepare and as far as I am concerned I'd just as soon stay up all night."
"We ought to have baseball practice to-morrow," said Bob. "Somehow I've lost all interest in it though; this war is more exciting to me."
"If we could only do something," sighed Hugh bitterly.
"Where do you suppose those soldiers went?"
"Out for a hike probably. They looked fine, didn't they?"
Bob said nothing; both boys were busy with their thoughts and walked along in silence for some distance. Presently the steel span of the great bridge across the Molton River loomed ahead of them in the darkness.
"There's the bridge," Bob exclaimed.
It appeared ghostly in the dark, the big steel girders taking on weird and fantastic shapes. A train rushed across its span, roaring and throwing a shower of sparks high into the air.
"Come on," urged Hugh and scrambled up the embankment.
Bob followed close at his heels and together they made their way towards the bridge itself. They soon found themselves picking their way on the open ties above the water; as they were headed west they of course took the east-bound track. The walking was precarious and they had to pay close attention to what they were doing, for a misstep might prove fatal.
Suddenly a sharp command to halt startled the two boys. They stopped short and peered intently about them in the dark.
"Who are you?" demanded a curt voice, and Hugh and Bob saw the figure of a man in khaki outlined against the skyline. A faint flicker of light showed a keen-edged bayonet affixed to the gun he carried.
"Who are you!" repeated the voice, strangely familiar in tone to both of the boys. "Come over here, and keep your hands over your head."
"Harold!" exclaimed Bob suddenly. "Is that you?"
"That you, Bob?" queried Harold, for the guard proved to be Bob's older brother. "Who's that with you?"
"Well, it seems to me you two are pretty nervy," said Harold testily. "What are you doing down around here anyway?"
"We were going down to Brown's boathouse to see Hugh's canoe," Bob explained. "We thought we'd take the short cut over the bridge."
"And stand a good chance of getting shot," said Harold. "All bridges are guarded by soldiers with rifles, and we're not supposed to wait forever before we shoot either." Hugh and Bob had advanced to the spot where Harold was standing, and the three young men were grouped in a small circle.
"We never thought of that," said Bob sheepishly.
"Don't you know the United States is at war?"
"Of course we do."
"Well, then—. Sssh!" hissed Harold suddenly.
He peered intently down the railroad track. The figure of a man could be seen approaching. "Get back, quickly," whispered Harold, and the two boys flattened themselves against one of the big steel girders.
Nearer and nearer came the man. Harold stood motionless, his gun half raised and ready for instant action. Hugh and Bob looked on, fascinated. When about thirty yards distant the man stooped and appeared to be fumbling with something at his feet. Only for a moment, however, for he soon straightened up again and proceeded on his way.
"Halt!" commanded Harold sharply.
The man started, and then came to an abrupt stop.
"Come over here," Harold ordered.
His order was obeyed somewhat slowly, but without question.
"What's your name?" queried Harold, as the man came up to him.
There was no answer.
"What's your name?" repeated Harold shortly.
"John Moffett," said the man sullenly.
"Where do you live?"
"Where in High Ridge?"
"Twelve eighty-two," said the man after a moment's hesitation.
"What are you doing on this bridge?"
"I been across the river to see my brother."
"Why didn't you take the passenger's bridge then, instead of this?"
"This one is shorter for me."
"Oh, no, it isn't," said Harold quickly. "The other one takes you right into Elm Street."
The man offered no comment.
"Why did you bend over down there a minute ago?" Harold asked.
No answer was forthcoming.
"Answer my question," ordered Harold curtly.
The man shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. "My shoe lace came undone," he muttered finally. All the time he was talking he kept looking behind him and over the route he had just come. He seemed to be intensely nervous about something.
Harold looked at him up and down from head to foot, as best he could in the poor light. He appeared undecided as to what he should do.
"You'd better come along with me," he said finally. "I guess the captain might like to talk to you for a few minutes."
"Where is the captain?" demanded the man.
"That's nothing to you," said Harold. "You do as you're told. You walk on ahead of me and don't try any funny business; I'll be right behind you and my gun is loaded."
"Which way?" the prisoner asked.
"That way," directed Harold, indicating the High Ridge end of the bridge with the point of his bayonet. "As long as you live in High Ridge I'll see you part way home," he added drily.
"Yes, sir," exclaimed the man, it seemed almost joyously. He set out immediately, Harold following close at his heels.
"You two better go home," Harold called to Bob and Hugh as he walked off down the track.
"All right," called Bob, and then he turned to his friend. "We'll take our time," he announced.
"Sure," agreed Hugh. "Who do you think that man was?"
"I don't know, but he did act sort of queer I thought. Probably Harold was wise to arrest him."
"What'll they do with him?"
"Oh, lock him up probably," said Bob carelessly. "I guess some officer will question him and if he's all right he'll be let go; otherwise I don't know what will happen to him."
"How about the canoe?" suggested Hugh.
"You mean, shall we go on to the boathouse?"
"The other end of the bridge is probably guarded too," said Bob. "We would be held up there and maybe be arrested ourselves." He peered earnestly down the track which led over the bridge to Rivertown on the opposite bank. Suddenly he started violently and clutched Hugh by the arm.
"What's that?" he gasped in a terror-stricken voice.
HUGH HAS AN IDEA
"What's what?" demanded Hugh, peering in the direction Bob indicated.
"Look!" cried Bob.
"I am looking. What is it?" The tone of his friend's voice had alarmed him greatly, though he did not know what it was that Bob saw.
"Can't you see? Right down there!"
"Where? Where?" pleaded Hugh. "Tell me, Bob."
"Down under the track. I see sparks."
"It's a bomb," cried Hugh suddenly catching sight of the little flashes of light. "It's a bomb that man planted there."
"What shall we do?" cried Bob, acting as if he was ready to turn and run.
"Go and get it," said Hugh instantly. "Come along," and he started towards the spot of danger. Spurred on by his comrade's show of courage, Bob followed.
Their hearts were in their throats and terror held them in its grasp as they hurried along. The little sparks still appeared, and the sputtering of the fuse could be heard distinctly as they ran forward. The footing was dangerous and who could tell but that at any moment the bomb might explode and blow them into eternity.
Hugh reached the spot first. He was outwardly calm, but had the sun been shining his face would have shown white and frightened. A second later Bob arrived and stood beside him.
"There it is," he gasped. "It's a bomb all right."
"Pinch the fuse," cried Hugh excitedly. "Put it out."
Both boys reached for it, but Bob was first. He had completely recovered his nerve now and was perhaps even more self-possessed than Hugh.
Bob grasped the lighted part of the fuse between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He squeezed it tightly, but quickly withdrew his hand with a cry of pain. The fuse still sputtered.
"Let me!" almost sobbed Hugh. "Let me try."
He repeated Bob's performance, except that he held on in spite if the pain he suffered. With tight-shut lips and set jaw he pinched the fuse with all his strength. Finally he could stand it no longer and let go.
"It's out," cried Bob. "No, it isn't either," he exclaimed a second later as the fuse once more showed red and the tiny sparks again made their appearance. "We'd better run for it, Hugh. What's the use in our being blown up along with the bridge?"
"Get out of the way!" ordered Hugh, and Bob obeyed at once. There was something in the tone of his friend's voice that made him hasten to do as he said.
Hugh knelt on the ties and leaned down over the bomb.
"Here comes a train," cried Bob suddenly. "On this track too."
Hugh paid no attention to this warning. He picked the bomb up in his two hands and staggering under its weight, carried the spitting and sputtering engine of death to the edge of the bridge. With a supreme effort he hurled it from him. A moment later a splash told that it had landed in the river below.
"That'll never do any more harm," he gasped faintly.
"Stay there, Hugh!" shouted Bob. "Look out for the train!"
The two boys crowded close against the side of the bridge and a moment later a heavy train thundered past them. Through the lighted windows could be seen crowds of passengers, and Hugh and Bob shuddered as they thought what might have happened to the train with its load of precious human freight had the bomb exploded. They felt faint and weak after their experience and presently sat down until their shattered nerves should have recovered somewhat from the shock.
The night was cool, but Bob mopped his perspiring brow. "Whew," he gasped. "That was a close call."
"I should say it was," echoed Hugh. "What luck that you should have seen those sparks when you did! There was only a couple of inches of fuse left."
"Lucky you were with me too," said Bob soberly. "If I'd been alone I think I would have run for home."
"Haven't you two gone home yet?" demanded a voice, and the two boys looked up to see Harold standing over them.
"Not yet," said Bob.
"Well, you'd better skip," Harold advised. "You'll get in trouble around here."
"There'd been more trouble if we hadn't been here," said Bob quietly.
"What do you mean?"
Bob related the story of the bomb to his brother.
"Say!" exclaimed Harold in an awestruck voice. "That was pretty good work of you two. A train came along on that track too."
"Hugh got the bomb out just in time," said Bob.
"Say," repeated Harold. "Say," he said again, completely overcome.
"Do you think they'll let us enlist on the strength of what we did?" Hugh asked hopefully.
"I doubt it," said Harold. "I'll certainly speak to the captain about you though."
"We might as well go home now, I guess," said Bob. "You don't want to see your canoe tonight, do you?"
"No," replied Hugh grimly. "I've lost all interest in canoes for the present."
They said good night to Harold and started homeward. They still felt a little shaky as a result of the bomb episode, but before long the walk and the crisp night air had refreshed them and their spirits once more revived.
"I wonder what they'll do to that German," exclaimed Bob.
"Harold said they had locked him up for over night, and I guess when they hear what he tried to do, they'll keep him longer than that."
"They'll send him to jail probably."
"I hope so," said Hugh. "Any man who would try to blow up a bridge and kill crowds of people deserves worse than jail."
"They'll give him five or ten years all right," said Bob.
"Yes, and when they try his case we'll have to act as witnesses I suppose."
"I wouldn't mind that," Bob exclaimed. "It might be a lot of fun."
"Aren't these plotters silly?" said Hugh. "They may be able to blow up a plant or a bridge here and there, but they'll lose more than they gain."
"Because it'll make the people mad. When they once get angry they'll fight and work much harder to defeat Germany. Half the people in this country don't seem to realize that we are at war now, but when a few of them get blown up we'll begin to do something."
They discussed the war and the possibility of sending American troops to France. Hugh wanted to go into the aviation corps when he was old enough but Bob thought the infantry and solid ground under his feet would be good enough for him.
Presently they came near home. Hugh lived two blocks farther down the street than Bob and consequently he had to pass the Cooks' house on his way.
"There's the Wernbergs'," said Bob. "A light in the second story back window, and two automobiles in front."
"Do you suppose they're up to anything?" exclaimed Hugh.
"I suspect them all right, but how can we prove it?"
"I have an idea," Hugh exclaimed suddenly. The two boys were standing on the opposite side of the street from the Wernbergs' house, regarding it curiously.
"What is it?"
"Can you get your automobile?"
"I guess so, if Heinrich hasn't taken the family out."
"Let's get it and follow one of those machines. In that way we can see where the people live who are at the Wernbergs'. Maybe we can learn something about them if we know who they are."
"A good scheme," exclaimed Bob readily. "We'll have to be awfully careful though; if they ever found out we were following them it might go hard with us."
"We'll be careful all right," said Hugh grimly. "Come ahead, we want to be ready to start and they may leave at any time."
The two boys walked quickly up the street, taking care to keep on the opposite side from the Wernberg home. When they arrived in front of the Cooks' they darted across the street and hurried along the driveway until they came to the garage. The door was shut and locked. Bob knocked loudly.
There was no reply. Bob looked at his watch under the light of a match which Hugh struck. It was twenty minutes of eleven.
"That's queer," he muttered. "Heinie is usually in bed long before this."
"Maybe he is now, and is asleep," Hugh suggested.
Bob glanced up at the second story window. "I don't think so," he said. "The window is closed in the room where he usually sleeps, and I know he is a crank on fresh air."
"Throw some gravel at it," said Hugh. "That'll get him up if he's there."
This plan was followed, but with no success.
"He's out," said Bob finally. "What'll we do?"
"Is the car there?"
"Yes, but what good will it do us if we can't get in?"
"Haven't you got a key to the garage up at the house?"
"Father has one, but I don't dare wake him now." Bob glanced at the house and the absence of lights on the first and second floors convinced him that his family were all in bed. A single light shone from a window on the third floor where Lena, the cook, slept.
"Maybe we can force a window," suggested Hugh. "You can open the door from the inside, can't you?"
"Oh, yes," said Bob. "Let's try a window anyway."
They went around the corner of the garage and the first window they tried yielded immediately. A moment later both boys had clambered inside, and presently Bob found the electric light button. As the light flooded the garage Heinrich's angora cat rose sleepily from the tonneau of the automobile and stretched himself. A cloth covering over the parrot's cage kept that garrulous bird quiet. Percy lay stretched out in the water which filled his tub.
"The dog must be out with Heinrich," said Bob.
He seated himself in the driver's seat of the car, and Hugh lifted the drowsy cat to the floor. Bob pushed a button, put his foot on the self-starter and the engine started. Heinrich always backed the car into the garage so that it was headed in the right direction as it stood. Hugh undid the spring catch on the door and rolled the door back. They were now ready to start.
"I'll go down by the street and watch the Wernbergs," said Hugh. "I hope they haven't gotten away while we have been fooling around here."
"I guess not," said Bob. "When they start you whistle twice and I'll be with you right away."
"All right," agreed Hugh. "You'd better run with your lights dimmed."
"I shall, don't worry."
Hugh hurried away. Bob was left alone in the car and he presently shut off the engine. He had wished to warm up the motor so that it would start readily when the time came; he was convinced that it would do so now.
He thought over the events of the day, and for the first time he realized that he was tired. Excitement had spurred him on and the intense interest he took in the war had made him forget all else. He wondered if he and Hugh were starting off on a wild goose chase now. What particular reason had they to suspect the Wernbergs anyway? True, all Germans were more or less under suspicion just then, but why the Wernbergs any more than the others? He recalled his fight with Frank that morning, and his father's remarks. Perhaps it was just as well to go out that night after all.
Bob thought of the war and the terrible things the Germans had done. What brutes and beasts they were! The Germans had been busy in the United States too. The big factory at Eddystone had been blown up that day, with the loss of a hundred and twenty-five lives, mostly of girls. That showed what the American people had to guard against.
"I hate them all!" muttered Bob angrily. He took that back a moment later, however, as he thought of Heinrich. Surely their chauffeur was as faithful and kindly a soul as ever lived; his love for animals proved that. Then there was Lena, their cook, a buxom woman of forty who had never been heard to utter a cross word in her life.
Heinrich was capable of getting mad, however, particularly about the car. Bob wondered what he would say if he should arrive home now, and find him preparing to go out in it and perhaps get it dirty.
His reverie was suddenly interrupted by the sound of two whistles. A moment later the motor was purring softly, and with the headlights dimmed, the big sixty horse-power car slid out of the garage and started silently down the driveway.
IN THE NIGHT
"They're starting," said Hugh in a low voice. He jumped upon the running board as Bob came along, and climbed into the front seat beside him. "Let's wait here a minute," he whispered.
Down the street in front of the Wernbergs' house they could see men getting into the two automobiles. Presently the whirr of the motors came to their ears and the two cars started. One came towards them and the other went in the opposite direction.
"Which one shall we follow?" whispered Bob.
"Let's follow the one going the other way."
They rolled out of the driveway and started down the street. As they turned into the avenue the first car passed them, a gray roadster bespeaking power and speed in its every detail. Two men were seated in it. Bob and Hugh obtained a fleeting glimpse of them as they flashed by. The tail light of the car they intended to follow showed a dim, red spot far down the street.
"Speed her up a little, Bob," urged Hugh. "We don't want to lose them."
"We can't keep too close to them either," said Bob. "Besides, my thumb and forefinger are pretty sore from that fuse burn and it's hard to grip the wheel."
"Mine are sore too," said Hugh. "Put on gloves."
"I haven't any with me."
"I have; take mine."
Still watching the small red dot ahead of them Bob managed to slip on Hugh's right-hand glove. It was a great help to him in driving.
"They've turned a corner," exclaimed Hugh suddenly. "Faster, Bob!"
Bob pressed his foot on the accelerator and the car leaped forward as if it were a living thing. A moment later they reached the cross street and turned into it, peering anxiously ahead. The car they were following was still in sight.
"Keep about two hundred yards in back of them," Hugh advised.
"We mustn't lose them."
"No, and we don't want them to get suspicious either."
"They're turning another corner," exclaimed Bob after a few moments.
"Speed it up now that they can't see us."
Bob did so and they came to the corner just in time to see the car they were following pull up at the curb in front of a white stucco house.
"Go ahead, Bob! Go ahead!" urged Hugh. "Don't turn!"
Bob kept straight on. "What street was that?" he asked.
"Isn't that where the German on the bridge told Harold he lived?"
"Why so it is," exclaimed Hugh.
"I wonder what number that house is."
"I don't know. Let's see, Howard Seeley lives on Elm Street, just the next block down; his number is eleven hundred and something."
"The German told Harold he lived at twelve eighty-two, and I'll bet you that was the house."
"Whew!" whistled Hugh. "I wonder if it was."
"They probably went to find out why the bridge wasn't blown up to-night," said Bob. "Do you suppose that could be it?"
"Maybe. We could have told them quicker if they'd come to us though," chuckled Hugh. "They'll probably give that fellow the mischief for failing."
"They can't get at him if he's in jail."
"That's so. Suppose we're called as witnesses at his trial? They'll learn that we spoiled their game and our lives won't be worth two cents."
"Well, if those men are plotters we must prove it before the case even comes to trial."
"Do you suppose they have a regular organization to blow up everything around here that they can?" said Hugh. "I should think the secret service would get after them."
"Probably it has; no doubt the names of all those men are listed."
"That is, if they really are plotters."
"Of course. Where are you going!"
They had kept straight on down the road and were now on the outskirts of the city. The houses were fewer and more scattered all the time and presently the boys would be in the open country.
"I don't know," said Bob. "I was just going ahead without thinking."
"We'd better go back, hadn't we? We must be about three miles from home."
"There's a road up ahead here to the right," said Bob. "We can turn down there and go back that way."
When they were about two hundred yards distant from the road in question, an automobile came out of it and turned into the main highway. A moment later it was speeding along in front of Bob and Hugh, the roar of its cutout coming faintly to their ears.
"Bob," exclaimed Hugh excitedly, "that's the gray roadster!"
"What gray roadster?"
"The one we passed in front of your house. It came from the Wernbergs'."
"Shall we follow it?"
"Certainly. It's going like the wind though."
"Well, it can't lose us," said Bob grimly. He advanced the spark, gave the motor more gas and they were soon tearing through the night at fifty miles an hour. Over the crest of a hill in front of them, the gray roadster was outlined for a moment and then disappeared.
Up the grade of the hill Bob drove the big car. When they arrived at the top they peered ahead anxiously for any sign of the machine they followed. Nothing was to be seen of it.
"It's gone," exclaimed Hugh.
"Perhaps not," said Bob. "It can't be very far ahead of us anyway."
They continued down the road at breakneck speed, passing through a clump of woods that lined both sides. Bob forced the motor to its utmost, but no sign of the gray roadster could they discover. Finally he brought the car to a dead stop and turned to Hugh.
"What became of that car?" he demanded. "They weren't far enough ahead of us to have gotten out of sight so quickly."
"They must have turned off into another road," said Hugh. "I don't see what else could have happened."
"But there are no roads into which they could have turned."
"Are you sure?"
Both boys relapsed into silence, completely mystified by the strangeness of the thing. Apparently the roadster had vanished from the face of the earth.
"Wait a minute," cried Bob suddenly. "There is a road back there too."
"I thought there must be."
"Remember those woods back there, just this side of the hill?"
"Yes. That's where we used to go for chestnuts in the fall."
"That's the place. Remember the old house back in there?"
"It's deserted and tumble-down."
"I know it, but there's an old wagon road leading to it."
"Do you think that is where they went?" exclaimed Hugh in surprise.
"Where else could they have gone?"
"I don't know, I'm sure."
"Shall we go back there and see?"
"We can't run the car in there."
"Why not? We can if they can."
"Suppose we should meet them coming out?"
"That's right," exclaimed Bob. "I tell you what we can do though. We'll run back down the road and leave the car and then go to the old house on foot."
"Good scheme," said Hugh readily. "We can hide the car somewhere I suppose."
"Oh, yes. We'll leave it a little way off the road under some trees."
A few moments later Bob had turned the car around and they were speeding back in the direction whence they had come.
"You know where the road is, don't you?" asked Hugh.
"I do," said Bob confidently. "We'll leave the car about a quarter of a mile this side of it and then walk."
"I wonder if they could have gone to that old deserted house," mused Hugh.
"Maybe. I swear I don't see why though."
"We're probably chasing moonbeams," said Hugh.
"Perhaps we are, but we're having a lot of fun anyway."
"Of course we are," exclaimed Hugh, "and I'm for going ahead."
A moment later Bob slowed down the car. A clump of trees appeared alongside the road, and shifting into second speed Bob carefully steered his course toward them. In the shadow of the trees he stopped, shut off the motor, turned off the lights, and stepped out. Hugh got out on the other side.
"Here we are," whispered Bob. "I guess it's all right to leave the car here."
"I should think so," Hugh agreed. "We're about fifteen yards from the road and I don't believe any one would notice it in here."
They started down the road, keeping well to one side, so that they would not show up against the faint white ribbon of the highway as it stretched through the country. After a walk of about five minutes Bob halted.
"There's the road," he whispered, pointing ahead.
"Come on then," urged Hugh. "Carefully now."
It was a weird sensation to be stealing along in the darkness, and the hearts of both boys were pounding. They turned from the main road and started down the narrow wagon track through the woods. It was much darker there and difficult to pick one's path.
A dry twig snapped under Hugh's foot and the boys stopped short, their breath coming fast. The hoot of an owl directly overhead startled them violently and unconsciously they clutched each other's arm. The giant trees loomed black and forbidding in the darkness, and it was easy to imagine all kinds of things lurking behind to spring out at them.
"I don't like this," whispered Hugh. "How far is it from here?"
"Just a short distance. I don't like it either."
Presently Bob tugged at Hugh's sleeve. "There's a light," he said softly.
A faint glimmer appeared through the darkness ahead. Presently the boys were able to see that it came from a lantern held by some man standing in the open doorway of the old house. A moment later four others appeared from within and came out to the tumble-down porch. Bob and Hugh looked on with bated breath. What could it all mean?
A STRANGE OCCURRENCE
The man with the lantern advanced to the edge of the porch, holding the lantern at arm's length and shoulder high. In the flickering light Bob and Hugh could see the others putting on their overcoats. Presently there was a flash of light as the powerful searchlights of an automobile were turned on; only for a second or two, however, as they were quickly extinguished.
"There's the gray roadster," whispered Hugh.
The two boys were crouched behind a fallen tree, an obstruction they had been on the point of climbing when they had spied the lantern. They could hear the men walking about near the house, and frequently could even catch the sound of voices.
Presently they heard the whirr of a motor. Dimmed lights were turned on in the roadster and soon it started.
"Lie low," whispered Hugh. "They mustn't see us."
Bob needed no cautioning on that score, however.
The car rumbled toward them as if it were feeling its way. The wagon-road was some ten yards to the left of the spot where the two boys were concealed. Directly to it the roadster went, its two glowing eyes giving it the appearance of some gigantic bug. With bated breath Hugh and Bob watched its progress. Presently it passed them and lumbered away over the rough road.
"How many men were in it?" whispered Hugh.
"Three, I think."
"There were only two when we passed it in front of your house."
"I know it. There must be a couple more men here, too."
"Ssh," hissed Hugh softly, grasping his companion by the wrist.
Voices could be heard, coming nearer and nearer to their hiding place. Once again the two boys almost stopped breathing while they waited for the speakers to pass. They could make out two shadowy forms following the same course taken by the automobile. The two men conversed earnestly together in tones so low, that the listeners could not overhear what was said. After a few moments the sound of the voices died away and Hugh and Bob were left alone. That is, they were alone as far as they could tell.
"Well," said Hugh finally. "They're gone."
"Seems so," admitted Bob. "We can't be sure though."
"Were those men talking German?"
"I couldn't tell."
"Neither could I for sure, but I thought they were."
"Probably so," said Bob. "At any rate it looks to me as if there was some queer business going on in this place."
"It certainly does. I wonder what's in that house?"
"Shall we go and see?"
"You don't catch me in that house at this time of night," said Hugh grimly.
"How about coming out here to-morrow, then?"
"To-morrow's Saturday, isn't it?"
"All right," said Hugh. "I'll come out with you."
"And now we'd better go home."
"I guess we had. It must be nearly midnight."
They arose from their cramped positions on the ground and stealthily began to retrace their steps. They were even more wary on their way out than they had been going in, for they could not be sure that they would not meet some of the men they had seen about the old house. Just before they came to the end of the wagon-road they heard the sound of a motor and saw the lights of an automobile speeding down the main road in the direction of High Ridge.
"Sounds like our car," said Bob. "All those motors make the same sort of noise."
"Pretty good ears you have," remarked Hugh.
"You ought to see old Heinie," said Bob. "He may look stupid, but he can tell almost any make of car just by the noise it makes."
"What'll he say when you get home?" queried Hugh.
"He'll be mad. He doesn't think I know how to drive the car, and if there is any dirt on it he'll be madder yet."
"The roads aren't muddy now though."
"I know it, but he'll be cross if there's dust on it even."
They emerged on the main road, looked carefully in both directions, and then still keeping to the side of the road, started back toward the spot where they had left the car. A ghostly moon, in its last quarter, shed its pale light on the highway, and aided the boys to distinguish their surroundings.
"There's the place," said Bob a moment later.
They ran quickly across the road and hurried towards the clump of trees where they had hidden the car. Both boys would feel relieved when they were seated in their conveyance once more, and on their way home. It was nervous work prowling around the countryside at night with a suspicious gang of men lurking near.
Bob and Hugh hurried along side by side and presently came to the patch of trees, which was their destination. A feeling of relief came over them that soon they would be speeding back to High Ridge.
Suddenly Bob uttered an exclamation of surprise and stopped short.
"The car is gone," he gasped.
At first the two boys were too amazed to speak. They stared blankly at the spot where the car had been concealed. It now was nowhere to be seen.
"Is this the place?" exclaimed Hugh, the first to regain his senses.
"I know it is," said Bob. "I ran the car right up under that big birch tree so that I could surely mark the spot."
"Well!" gasped Hugh, unable to say more.
"What'll we do?" Bob almost sobbed. "Some one has stolen the car, and it is all my fault. What will father say?"
"You'll have to tell him the circumstances," said Hugh lamely. "I don't know what else you can do."
"But the car is gone," insisted Bob, his mind unable to grasp any idea beyond that. "The car is gone."
"Maybe it'll come back," said Hugh. "Stolen cars are often recovered."
He lighted a match and held it close to the ground. There were the marks made by the tires in the damp earth. There was no doubt that this was the place.
"Who could have taken it?" demanded Bob.
Both boys were silent and the same thought flashed through their minds at once.
"One of those men from that old house," said Hugh.
"They must have had sentries posted," said Bob and he glanced about him nervously. "Probable they watched us leave it here and when we went back into the woods they took it. Probably they followed us and watched us all the time too; very likely they're watching us now."
"Let's go home," exclaimed Hugh. "I've had enough of this."
"But the car," protested Bob.
"It's gone, isn't it?" said Hugh. "We can't find it by just standing around here. The best thing we can do is to hurry back to High Ridge as fast as we can and report it to police headquarters."
"It's over three miles," said Bob.
"Suppose it is," Hugh exclaimed. "Suppose it was twenty miles: we'd have to go just the same. We may get a lift on the way."
"Not at this time of night."
"Anyway we'd better start; we may be in danger here."
This latter consideration had great weight with Bob. He realized that enemies of one kind or another were there, or had been recently, in that neighborhood and he had no desire to meet them, unarmed as he was. His judgment also told him that Hugh's suggestion about reporting the loss of the car to the police was the only feasible one under the circumstances.
"Come on," he urged. "Let's go home."
"Some one may come along and offer us a ride," said Hugh hopefully.
"I'm afraid there won't be many people out at this time of night," returned Bob disconsolately. "I wish I knew what had happened to the car."
They proceeded in silence, glancing about them nervously for fear that they might be the victims of some further surprise. For a half-mile they kept to the side of the road, for little as they cared to walk where the darkness was thickest, they knew they would not be as exposed there as they would be in the middle of the road. When they reached the top of the hill, however, they became bolder and ventured out upon the paved highway.
They walked swiftly, every few yards one or the other of the boys turning to glance behind them to see if they were followed. The night was clear, and the stars were shining brilliantly; hardly a breath of air was stirring. Presently they came within sight of the town, and the sound of the clock on the town hall striking one came faintly to their ears.
"Whew," said Bob, "it's late."
"I should say so," Hugh agreed, "and I was just thinking of everything we have done to-day. We've certainly been busy."
"We may be even busier to-morrow."
"Well, if we go back to that house again, you can't tell what we'll get into."
"I wonder if we ought to report to the police what we've seen."
"Probably we should," said Bob. "I'd like to go it alone though."
"And so should I. Let's wait a day or two longer anyway."
"I hope it won't be too late then."
"We'll risk it anyway," said Hugh. "Look, here comes an automobile."
"It's going the wrong way for us. Get over on the side of the road."
In the distance appeared the headlights of an automobile rapidly approaching. The two boys hurried to one side of the road and took up their positions behind the shelter of some low growing bushes. The car was traveling fast and as it neared the spot where they were concealed they could hear the thunder of the cutout. A moment later it roared past them and disappeared.
"Hugh," exclaimed Bob. "The gray roadster!"
"It was for sure!" said Hugh. "What do you think of that?"
"It was going back to the old house probably."
"I guess it was. Perhaps after all, we should report to the police."
"Wait till after to-morrow," said Bob. "We'll go out in the morning and take a look around there on our own account."
"We may have to spend to-morrow looking for your car."
"That's true, but let's wait and see what happens anyway."
They continued on their way homeward and soon came within the outskirts of the town. The houses were darkened and apparently every one was in bed and asleep. The sound of the boys' footsteps on the pavements echoed loudly along the still, deserted streets.
"Here's Elm Street," said Hugh. "Let's turn down here; it's on our way home and we can pass right by that stucco house."
"All right," Bob agreed, and they turned the corner.
"That's the place," whispered Hugh a few moments later.
"There's a light in the third story," said Bob in a low tone.
"Perhaps they're waiting up for that German bomb planter," chuckled Hugh. "I guess he won't be home to-night."
"Don't joke about it, Hugh. I feel sorry for the man's family."
"So do I, but I don't feel sorry for him."
"I should say not! Anything they do to him won't be half bad enough."
"The snake," muttered Hugh. "I'd like to have one look inside that room up there though and see what is going on." He glanced up at the lighted window questioningly. As he did so the shade was thrown up and the window opened by some man who thrust his head out and looked around. Bob and Hugh shrank back within the shadow of a nearby tree. They caught only a fleeting glimpse of the man's face, and saw that it was no one they knew. He had closely cropped hair and a bristling mustache turned up at the ends.
"Who do you suppose that was?" whispered Bob a moment later, as the man they watched withdrew his head and shut the window.
"Never saw him before," said Hugh.
"He looked like a German though. Let's get home before he comes outside and begins to prowl around."
Walking on the ground so that they would not make any noise they hurried on. A few moments later they stood in front of the Cooks' house.
"There's a light in your house too," said Hugh. "This and that house on Elm Street are the only ones where people seem to be awake."
"That's Lena's room," said Bob.
"She's a German, isn't she?"
"Look here, Hugh," laughed Bob. "You can't make me suspicious about Lena. She has been our cook ever since I was born. She's the most faithful and kindhearted woman that ever lived. Why she's practically one of the family."
"Then what is she doing up there all this time?" demanded Hugh. "Her room was lighted up when we started out."
"I don't know what she's doing," said Bob. "Reading, maybe. You can't get me excited about her, and just because some Germans are disloyal you mustn't think they all are."
"All right," said Hugh. "I'd watch them all though."
"You're crazy," said Bob. "What I want to know is what happened to our automobile. Tomorrow morning before breakfast you'll see me on my way to police headquarters to report it. Heinie was going to fix the puncture in my bicycle to-day and I'll go down on that."
"Will you telephone to me about eight o'clock?"
"I will," said Bob, "and if there's nothing we can do about the automobile well take our bicycles and ride out to the old deserted house."
"Good, and now we'd better sneak to bed, for we shan't get much sleep as it is."
"All right. Good night."
"Good night," said Hugh and turned off down the street.
Bob made his way quietly across the lawn towards the house, glancing up curiously once or twice at the lighted window in Lena's room. As he looked the light went out. "Poor old Hugh," he thought. "How silly he is to be suspicious of Lena." He tiptoed up the steps and across the porch, let himself in carefully with his latch key, and stole upstairs.
He wished to get into bed without waking any of the family, and was successful in this, for soon he was snugly under the covers without having disturbed any one. It was a long time before sleep came to him, however. He was greatly worried about the loss of the car and he dreaded having to tell his father about it the next day. Of course his father would understand, but no one could be blamed for being upset at the loss of a new automobile, particularly as the result of what might prove to be a wild goose chase.
Heinrich too would be furious, and Bob expected their chauffeur to knock on his door at any moment and demand where the automobile was. Heinrich did not go to bed until the car was safely in the garage, and as a rule he washed it no matter how late the hour was.
Bob's black eye throbbed somewhat too, his fingers smarted from the burn of the lighted fuse, and his brain was reeling with the events of the day. At length, however, he fell asleep and strange to say he slept dreamlessly. He had taken care to set his alarm-clock for half-past six and it seemed to him that his eyes had been closed only a very few minutes when it went off close beside his ear. He clutched it quickly and stifled the alarm so as not to awaken the rest of the household; a moment later he had jumped out of bed and was getting into his clothes.
He glanced out of the window and saw that it was light outside. The early morning sun shone on the bare limbs of the trees and made them glisten. Here and there a bud could be seen almost ready to burst its shell and Bob rejoiced to see signs of the coming of spring and summer. He was not happy, however, for the loss of the car weighed him down and oppressed him. Even the awakening beauties of nature did not cheer him up and that was unusual in Bob's case.
A few moments later he was fully dressed except for his shoes. He held them in one hand, and in his stocking feet slipped out of his room and stole downstairs. He opened the front door carefully and then sat down on the steps to put on his shoes. As he busied himself a bicycle passed along the street in front of the house, and Bob recognized the rider as Frank Wernberg.
"What's he doing out at this time of day?" muttered Bob angrily. He sat motionless and as Frank did not look toward the house he decided that he had not been seen. Bob yawned, rubbed his eyes sleepily, and stretched. He suddenly recalled the loss of the automobile, and jumping to his feet started toward the garage.
As he came near he saw that the front door of the garage was open. That was queer, he thought, as Heinrich never left it open at night. Then he recalled that he and Hugh had left it open the night before and that probably Heinrich had left it undisturbed so that they could run in the car without trouble when they returned. Heinrich had no doubt come in and gone to sleep, and had not yet discovered that the car was missing.
Imagine Bob's surprise therefore when he turned the corner of the building and saw the car standing in its accustomed place. Heinrich was washing it as if nothing in the world had happened.
BOB IS MYSTIFIED
Bob stopped and stared in amazement. He could scarcely believe his eyes. There was the car that had disappeared so mysteriously the night before, in its right place, and undamaged as far as he could see.
"Heinrich," he exclaimed in amazement.
The chauffeur, a hose in one hand, a big sponge in the other, and wearing high rubber boots, looked up inquiringly.
"What are you doing up so early?" he asked.
"Where did the car come from?" demanded Bob.
Heinrich straightened up and gazed at Bob.
"What you mean?" he inquired.
"Who brought the car home?"
"How do I know? Maybe your father use it last night. Whoever do it, get it all covered mit dust."
"But," stammered Bob, "the car was stolen."
"What!" exclaimed Heinrich. "What you talking about?"
"What time did you get in last night?" Bob inquired, becoming more and more anxious and bewildered every moment.
"Twelve o'clock," said Heinrich. "What you mean the car iss stolen?"
"Was it here when you came home?"
"Certainly it was here. What you talking about?"
"I don't know," said Bob weakly, and he sat down on the running board and passed his hand across his brow.
"Are you sick?" asked Heinrich anxiously. "You look pale."
"I'm not sick," said Bob. "I guess I'm crazy," and he held his head in both hands, staring blankly at the floor.
Heinrich did not know what to make of the strange behavior of his employer's son. He stared at him curiously, and it was plain to see that he was telling the truth in all he said.
"What you mean the car iss stolen?" he inquired finally.
"Nothing," said Bob blankly. "It's too much for me."
"I go to a party last night," said Heinrich. "I come home late and the door here iss open. Here iss the car too. Why you think it stolen?"
"I don't know," said Bob. "I guess I must have dreamt it."
"You are sick," exclaimed Heinrich. "You had better go back and go to bed. If you wish I go with you to the house."
"No," said Bob. "I'm all right." He rose to his feet dazedly, looked in bewilderment at the car again and started out.
"I have a loss," said Heinrich, convinced that Bob was probably all right.
"What's that?" demanded Bob, turning around.
"Burglars," said Heinrich.
"Where? In the garage here?"
"Yes. Last night," and Heinrich brushed a tear from his eye.
"You did?" exclaimed Bob. "They didn't steal all that money you had yesterday, did they?"
"No," said Heinrich sorrowfully. "I almost wish they had. They steal Percy."
"Percy," cried Bob, greatly relieved. "Why should any one steal him?"
"I do not know. I come down this morning and I look in the tub to say good-morning to Percy. The tub iss here, but Percy iss gone."
"There are some queer things going on around here, Heinie," said Bob.
"I like to catch the man what steal him," said Heinrich fiercely.
"I'd like to catch lots of people," said Bob. "Maybe he fell out of the tub."
"He could not do that," exclaimed Heinrich. "The sides iss too high."
"Well, it's certainly strange." Bob went out of the garage and started slowly back toward the house. Heinrich, sorrowing over the loss of his alligator, with a sigh took up the sponge and hose again and fell to washing the car once more.
Bob returned to his room, washed his face and hands, something he had neglected to do before, and went downstairs again. He glanced at the morning newspaper, full of war news and preparations for war; one column told of the arrest of many Germans all over the country, men who were suspected of caring more for the Fatherland than they did for the United States.
There was no mention of the bomb episode on the railroad bridge the night before, however. Bob knew that the authorities would not permit the publication of any such items if they could prevent it so he was not surprised. Presently the rest of the family appeared and they went in to breakfast.
Mr. Cook's mail was lying on the table by his plate; it was his custom every morning to glance it over while he was eating. While Mrs. Cook talked to Bob about Harold, her husband looked through his letters. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation of surprise. "Here's a queer thing," he said.
"What?" demanded Mrs. Cook anxiously. She had been very nervous lately.
"This postcard," said Mr. Cook. "Listen to what it says. 'Take the advice of one who knows and keep your automobile home at night.'"
Bob turned pale. "What does it mean!" inquired Mrs. Cook.
"I'm sure I don't know," said her husband.
"How is it signed?"
"It is not signed at all."
"I can't imagine what it's all about," said Mr. Cook. "As far as I know, our car hasn't been out of the garage at night for over a week."
"Perhaps Heinrich has had it out," Mrs. Cook suggested.
"I'll ask him right after breakfast," said Mr. Cook. "They must have mistaken our car for some one else's."
"Who do you suppose sent it?"
"I'm sure I don't know," said her husband musingly. "At any rate I think I shall turn it over to the police; I don't like the look of it."
Throughout this conversation Bob sat silent. He thought perhaps he could explain part of the mystery to his father, but he was puzzled as to whether he ought to do so or not. On the other hand if his father called in the police, he knew that he and Hugh would have small chance of clearing up the matter themselves.
"It worries me so, Robert," exclaimed Mrs. Cook. "I am so afraid that something will happen to you, especially as you are making war supplies at the factory now."
"The plant is guarded," said her husband. "Besides I think I owe it to my country to help all I can, don't you?"
"Of course, but suppose some of your guards are treacherous."
"They are all trusted employees of American birth."
"No Germans at all?"
"The man in charge at night has parents born in Germany; you know him, Karl Hoffmann, the one who wants to marry Lena. He is just as faithful and true as she is. I can vouch for all the others as well."
"He's all right I guess," said Mrs. Cook with a smile. "Even if Heinrich doesn't like him." Heinrich and Karl Hoffmann were rivals for Lena's affections, and they despised each other. Lena, however, seemed to like them both equally well, or at least she did not care enough about either to marry him.
Bob used to delight in teasing Heinrich about his rival. When Karl was on the premises Heinrich would sulk in the garage and mutter threats against him. Karl was twice Heinrich's size, but the little blue-eyed, spectacled chauffeur never seemed to question his ability to deal with him.
Mr. Cook rose from the table. "I'll go down and ask Heinrich about this car business," he said, "and then I'll go down to the office." He kissed Mrs. Cook and Louise and left the room. Bob followed him out. His father put on his coat and hat and stepped out onto the front porch. A sudden resolution seized Bob.
"Father," he said.
"What is it, Bob?" asked Mr. Cook, turning to glance at his son.
"I think I can explain about the car."
"You can?" exclaimed his father in surprise, looking curiously at Bob's pale face.
"Yes, sir," said Bob, nervously. "It's a sort of a long story. Shall I tell it all?"
"Certainly. Come out here to the summer house."
They walked in silence to the little rustic house on the lawn and sat down side by side on the rough wooden seat. Bob was excited, but still determined that the best thing for him to do was to tell his father the whole story. He knew his father would understand and see things from his point of view; they were more like two brothers than a father and son.
"Hugh and I had the car out last night," said Bob, and then he began at the beginning and related the entire story through to the end. He told of their visit to the armory, their meeting with Harold on the bridge, the narrow escape with the bomb, their decision to watch the Wernbergs' house, their trip to the deserted house, the disappearance of the automobile, and finally its strange return.
Mr. Cook listened intently throughout the whole narrative, one exclamation as Bob told of the bomb episode being his sole interruption.
"That card must have been sent by the one that brought the car back," said Bob.
"It would seem so," his father agreed, and fell silent, thinking.
"That was a close call you boys had with that bomb," he said finally.
"Yes, sir," said Bob.
"What have you planned to do to-day?"
"We were going to report the loss of the car to police headquarters and then go out to the deserted house again, to see what we could find."
"You weren't going to say anything to the police about it?"
"That might be dangerous, you know."
"Yes, sir," said Bob. "We wanted to solve the thing ourselves if we could though."
"I don't know about that," said Mr. Cook musingly. "I hate to think of you two boys fooling around out there with a lot of desperate men around."
"Don't do anything until this afternoon anyway," Bob pleaded.
Mr. Cook thought for a minute. "All right," he agreed. "Ill wait until after luncheon. Do you and Hugh expect to go out there this morning?"
"Have you got a gun?"
"No, we haven't."
"Well, there's an automatic pistol and two boxes of cartridges in the second drawer of my bureau. Go up and get them before you start, for I think you ought to be armed. And above all don't say anything about it to your mother."
"Certainly not," exclaimed Bob, much excited that his father was helping them.
"Be careful," warned his father. "I'll be home for luncheon and we'll talk more then."
Heinrich appeared with the car and Mr. Cook got in and was soon on the way to his office. Bob hurried into the house to telephone to Hugh and possess himself of his father's automatic pistol.
Hugh promised to hurry over as fast as he could, and he could tell from the tone of Bob's voice that something stirring was on foot. Bob had answered his question about the car evasively and he was anxious to hear the latest developments. Consequently by the time that Bob had tucked the pistol safely in his back pocket and had gone to the garage for his bicycle, Hugh appeared.
Bob related the story of the car and its strange return, and also told about the postal card his father had received that morning. The mystery seemed to deepen rather than clear up, and both boys were profoundly mystified by the strange events of the previous day.
"Your eye's better anyway," remarked Hugh.
"Yes," said Bob. "But I may get another one to-day."
"We'll hope not. When do you want to start?''
"Come ahead then," and jumping on their bicycles the two boys pedalled out of the yard. Little did they dream that bright April morning, as they rode along, that they were headed for adventures which would make the events that had gone before appear mild in comparison.
THE DESERTED HOUSE
"Somebody stole Percy," said Bob when they had ridden a little way.
"Yes. Heinrich's pet, you know."
"Why should any one want to do that?"
"I can't imagine, and poor old Heinie is all broken up about it. I've never seen any one who liked animals as much as he does."
"Who do you suppose did it?"
"I've no idea. Perhaps the man who returned the car stole him and is planning to wait until he grows big and then train him to come and bite us," laughed Bob.
"Let's hope not," smiled Hugh. "There are too many strange things going on for me to understand just now. My brain is all mixed up."
"And so's mine. I should like to know who sent that postal card though."
"Perhaps we'll get on the trail of it when we get to the deserted house."
"Do you suppose we can break in?"
"Perhaps we can. I've brought an electric flashlight along that may come in handy."
"A good idea," exclaimed Bob. "I have an idea myself."
"We'd better not ride too far down the road. Let's leave our wheels this side of the hill, and then go across the country and come in to the house from the back. In that way I think we'll stand less chance of being seen."
"Probably you're right. At any rate I hope no one steals our bicycles."
"I wonder if they'd be returned," said Bob. "Wasn't that a queer thing?"
"It certainly was."
They rode in silence for some time and presently came within sight of the hill of which they had been speaking. They dismounted from their bicycles, and wheeling them by their sides started across the fields. A hundred yards from the main road they concealed them under a clump of bushes and then continued on their way. They walked for about a half-mile until they saw the fringe of the woods in the middle of which stood the deserted house.