E-text prepared by Al Haines
World's War Series, Volume 8
SHELLED BY AN UNSEEN FOE
COLONEL JAMES FISKE
Illustrated by F. Schwankovsky, Jr.
[Frontispiece: One, two, three steps past him went the sentry again.]
The Saalfield Publishing Company Chicago —— Akron, Ohio —— New York Copyright, 1916, by The Saalfield Publishing Company
I. The Call of Home II. An Impressed Soldier III. Only a Stoker IV. A Struggle in the Sea V. Into Service VI. A Letter Home VII. A Bit of Romance VIII. Happiness for Helen IX. Visions X. Victory XI. Days of Waiting XII. Greater Things
One, two, three steps past him went the sentry again. . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
Trench layout diagram
SHELLED BY AN UNSEEN FOE
THE CALL OF HOME
Reveille was over at the military school, and the three boys on the end of the line nearest the mess hall walked slowly toward the broad steps of the big brick building ahead. They differed greatly in type, but of this they were unconscious, for all were deep in thought.
"I am going home," said the tallest boy abruptly. "Had a letter from my sister last night. My word, they are having some ripping times over there!"
"Your father won't let you," said the second lad. "How can you go to England when I can't get back to Mexico?"
"I can jolly well go," said the tall boy. "I've been planning for this. Mid-term is over, and I haven't told you chaps, but I've been hoarding every cent of my allowance all winter. I have enough and to spare for second cabin."
"But your father wants you here out of harm's way," urged the Mexican.
"He thinks he does," said Nickell-Wheelerson smiling, his blue eyes flashing. "He thinks he does, but I know he is just trying me out. Here's the way it is. Dad's in the field and my second brother; you know my oldest brother was shot in the trenches in France two months ago. I'm nineteen. There are two little chaps to carry on the name and take care of the title, if the rest of us go. I've just got to get over there! Don't you see how it is?"
"Of course!" said the Mexican, his dark eyes glowing gloomily. "Of course you feel you've got to go! And here I must stay. I want to go home too."
"It's different with you," said Nickell-Wheelerson, patting his companion on the back. "You keep out of that mess! Mexico is going to need you worse later on."
"How about you?" demanded Morales, the Mexican. "I should think England would need you when that mess, as you call it, is finished."
"She needs me now, and I know it, and dad knows it," Nick assured him. "I'm going home! You'd better be glad you are not mixed up in this thing," he said, turning to the third boy. "You are safe awhile yet, you old Greece-spot, you!"
"There are some Greeks fighting; a few on the European border of the Dardanelles," said the boy addressed.
"Oh, of course you will get into it sooner or later," said Nick, "but I'm banking on that queen of yours to stall things along as far as she can. She can't put it off forever, though. You will be in it."
"As sure as my name is Zaidos," said the young Greek, "you are quite right! We will have to fight sooner or later."
"Well, don't cross bridges," said Nick. "Sit tight, and I'll go over there and help clean up things."
Light-heartedly they raced up the steep hill leading from the parade ground to the mess hall.
A slim young orderly came out of the Adjutant's office onto the terrace and looked about. Seeing the three boys, he called in a high, clear voice, "Oh, you Nosey!" and as the Greek approached added formally, "Corporal Zaidos is wanted by the Adjutant."
"What's he going to get ragged for now, I wonder," mused Nickell-Wheelerson as he and Morales joined the crowd and went into the mess hall.
Zaidos did not come back. Nick watched the door anxiously. They were room-mates, and Nick was well aware of Nosey's tendencies in the way of breaking minor rules. As soon as he could get out of the mess, he hurried down past the Adjutant's office, and hastily framing an errand, went in. The room was empty.
Nick hurried over to the barracks to their room. Sitting on the side of his narrow bunk, his hands clenched, his face white, was Zaidos.
"What's the row, old top?" Nick sang out cheerfully as he made a great pretense of picking up his books and stuffing a couple of pencils in the top of his pigskin puttee.
The young Greek shook his head, and Nick realized that it was something indeed very serious with him.
"What is the row, old man?" he said again, coming over and sitting beside his friend. "What has the Adjutant got in for you this time?"
"Nothing," said Zaidos. "He had a cablegram from home. It is pretty bad, Nick . . ." He paused. "My father is sick; fact is, he is dying; and I've got to leave to-night."
"Gosh!" exclaimed Nick. "That's too bad! I'm more than sorry!"
"Yes, it's bad," said Zaidos. "And the queer thing is that I don't seem to feel as sorry about my father dying as I do to think that I don't know him any better. Think of it, Nick, I came over here to school when I was not quite seven. My mother died when I was six, and since that I have seen my father twice; once when he came over here, and the year I went home. And it is not as though there was not plenty of money. I suppose my father is the richest man, or one of the richest men, in Greece. He's just—Oh, I don't know! He never seemed to be like a lot of fathers I have seen. I never could get next to him. And I've been pretty lonely most all my life. I have always planned to go back as soon as I finished school, and get acquainted with my father. I thought if I tried, I could make him like me. I suppose he does well enough, but I wanted to be chummy with him. I thought I could if I tried."
"You bet you could, Nosey!" said Nick, an arm over the bowed shoulder beside him. "You could warm up a wooden Indian, you old live-wire, you! I jolly well know you! You would get under the crust if anyone could! Perhaps it isn't as bad as they think. You go home, and perhaps your father will get better, and you will get to be the best chums in the world. Cheer up, old chap! It will come out all right. Do you really go tonight?"
"Yes, I go to-night. They have got my tickets, and now they are telephoning for my passage."
Nickell-Wheelerson sat thinking hard. Then he rose and bolted for the door.
"Wait!" called Zaidos. "I want you to help me pack, Nick."
But the big English boy had disappeared. In half an hour he returned, looking triumphant. He flung his trim military jacket on the bunk.
"That's done for!" he cried. He jerked a trunk into the middle of the floor and, opening it, commenced to turn out its cluttered contents.
"Come on, Nosey!" he cried. "As our American brothers put it, 'get a move on!' We have about half a day to get packed."
"Are you crazy?" demanded the Greek, staring at him.
"Not crazy, Nosey, dear chappie! Not crazy; merely going home!"
"Home?" repeated Zaidos feebly. "Home?"
"Home!" said Nick jubilantly. "With you! At least on the same steamer. So if they blow us up on the way over, we can soar hand in hand, old chum!"
"Well, when you get through raving, I wish you would tell how you did it."
"I simply reminded the Adjutant that the arrangement was that I was remaining here at my own discretion, as per Pater's written agreement. I said I had decided to go with you, although I had been thinking for a week that I might leave at any time. They mentioned money, and I showed my little roll. There is plenty. So I am going to-night with you. They have telephoned about a stateroom. That's all! I'm going to give all my stuff away. I won't come back."
Nickell-Wheelerson never did come back. But that is another story.
There were a lot of poor marks made that afternoon. With the two most popular fellows in the school going off, there couldn't be much studying. Everybody tried to help, and everybody got in the way and had to be stepped over or pushed over. But time passed, and good-byes were said, and the night on the swift train passed, too; and when they looked back, the following day in New York was a hurried whirl. And then they smelt the unchanging smell of the docks; sea salt and paint and tar.
They watched the last person down the gang-plank, a weeping woman it was. Then they shouted farewell to the kindly shores, and the steadfast Lady of Liberty on Governor's Island. She seemed to salute the passing ship with her uplifted torch, and the boys felt that peace and safety and prosperity lay behind them.
Then some nights and days went swiftly by, and one morning the boys clasped hands and gruffly spoke their farewells. Nickell-Wheelerson went home to find that his older brother slept in a lowly grave somewhere in France. His father, dead of his wounds, lay in the castle hall, and the boy Nick answered wearily when sorrowing footmen called him "My Lord."
But that is really the beginning of the other story.
Zaidos hurried on his way alone, and one bright morning, after many adventures, stood once more in Saloniki.
A porter came up to him, and at the same moment a man in the livery of his father's house approached and saluted him. "Your father urges you to hasten, Excellency," he said.
"Is my father very ill?" asked Zaidos.
"Very ill indeed, sir," said the man.
They started through the station and as they left the building a man approached. He spoke to Zaidos, but the boy, having spent years of his life in America, failed to catch the rapidly spoken words.
He turned to the house-servant, who stood with bulging eyes.
"What does he say?" he asked.
The man was speaking violently, then beseechingly, to the stranger, who was in uniform.
"What is it?" again demanded Zaidos. He began to get the run of the conversation, but as he made it out, it was too preposterous to consider. The officer laid a hand on his shoulder and shook his head.
"You will have to come," he said. "YOU ARE WANTED FOR THE ARMY."
"But my father?" said Zaidos, alarmed.
The man shrugged his shoulders. "He will die the same whether you come or not. Come!"
A grim look came into the boy's face. It alarmed the servant.
"Go, go, master," he begged. "You do not know. They take everyone. What is to be must be. Go, I entreat you, without violence. I do not want to go and tell your father that I have seen you slain before my eyes. I will tell him you are here, and that you will come later." He drew back and bowed to the officer, who kept a hand on Zaidos' shoulder.
"Yes, tell him I will come soon," said Zaidos. "Go to him quickly."
The man turned and hurried away.
"Give up all thought of going," said the officer. "It is a pity—one owes a great duty to one's father; but we need you now. And the need of country comes first."
"But Greece is not in the war!" said Zaidos as they hurried along the street.
"No, not yet; but there are places enough to guard, so we need more men than we dreamed. But I talk too much. Here is the headquarters. Let me advise you not to bother the Colonel with demands to visit your home."
They entered the big, dingy room of the police station which had been transformed into a sort of recruiting station. The officer in charge was an overbearing First Lieutenant who was overworked, tired and irritable. He had come from a distant part of Greece, and the name of Zaidos carried no weight with him. He shook his head when Zaidos made his request. He even smiled a little. "Too thin, too thin!" he said. "I should say that all the mothers and fathers, and most of the uncles and aunts and cousins in the world are ill," he sneered. "No, you can't go. Get back there in line and wait for your squad to be outfitted."
Zaidos shrugged his shoulders and obeyed, well knowing that, once in uniform, even that display of feeling would be absolutely out of order. He had been too long in a military school to misunderstand military procedure, and he knew that whatever queer chance had placed him in his present position, the thing was done now. He was to see real fighting.
Zaidos had a lion's heart and was absolutely ignorant of fear, but he worried when he thought of the possible effect on his father. He, poor man, would feel that his natural wish to behold his only son once more had placed the boy in a position of the gravest danger; indeed, in the path of almost certain death. What the effect of this knowledge would be on his health, Zaidos trembled to consider. But he was powerless to avoid the shock to his father, and once more shrugging his shoulders he stepped into line.
After a tedious delay, during which the men and boys who were unaccustomed to any sort of drill shifted uneasily from foot to foot, shuffled, twisted, and fretted generally, while Zaidos alone stood easily at attention, the order was given for the squad to go into another room.
Here they were registered, examined physically, and equipped with uniforms. Then they were finally taken to the mess hall and provided with a wholesome, plain meal which they proceeded to enjoy to the utmost. Zaidos could not eat. He toyed with the food, his quick brain ever planning some way by which he could get to his father. The more he thought of it the more it seemed to be his duty to do so at any cost. But he seemed surrounded by barriers. He could not see a way clear. So he resigned himself for the present, and marched to the dormitory where his squad was quartered. It had been a trying and exhausting day for everyone and his peasant companions, accustomed to bed-time at sunset, soon threw themselves down and slept.
The sleeping quarters were on the ground floor. Zaidos found his pallet behind a great door opening on the street. It was open a trifle, but a heavy chain secured it from opening any further. Zaidos stuck his head out. There was enough space for that. It was the blackest night he had ever seen, if one could be said to see anything as dark.
A sentry padded up and down in the blackness. Zaidos smiled. The man could certainly not see five feet ahead of him. All the city lights were out for safety's sake. As he approached, Zaidos drew back, and lay staring at the ceiling.
A stifled sob startled him. He turned. On the next pallet a young fellow lay face downward, and muffled his weeping in the coarse blanket. For an hour Zaidos listened. The shaken breathing and occasional sobs continued. Zaidos could stand it no longer. He reached over and let a friendly clasp fall on the heaving shoulder.
"What is it?" he whispered in his best Greek.
The young fellow turned to him eagerly, glad of sympathy. In a rush of words that made it hard for Zaidos to understand, he whispered his story. There was a wife and a little, little baby, "Oh, so little!" far up on the mountain-side; they would starve; surely, surely they would starve! They did not know what had become of him. Zaidos tried in vain to calm the man. He could not do so and finally dropped into a restless sleep with the man's stifled sobs ringing in his ears.
Zaidos had to concede that the man's fate was a hard one. He was only nineteen years of age. The girl-wife was seventeen. As Zaidos dropped asleep he was reflecting that no doubt nine-tenths of the men sleeping in that room carried burdens as well as the young mountaineer and himself.
He was wakened awhile later by a touch on the shoulder nearest the door. A voice addressed him. For a moment Zaidos was unable to locate it. Then he discovered that it was coming from the partly open door. It was the young husband who had sobbed in the dark.
"Waken, friend!" said the low whisper. "Waken! Farewell! I go! There is a small packet under my pallet. I forgot it. Will you hand it quickly before the sentry turns?"
"Don't do a fool stunt like that," said Zaidos in English.
The deserter repeated, "Quickly, quickly!" and as Zaidos handed him the packet he disappeared, the night swallowing him in its blackness. Zaidos crawled to the door and, flat on the floor, put his head out the opening into the street. All was quiet. The sentry marched up and down the long block with the dragging slowness of a weary man. The mountaineer had escaped!
Somewhere a clock struck eleven booming strokes. Zaidos could not believe that it was so early, but immediately another faint chime verified the first. Here and there in the room heavy snoring or muttered words sounded. There were no guards in the room as the door was locked.
Eleven o'clock! Five hours before daylight. A daring thought flashed into Zaidos' head. He knelt and once more leaned through the opening of the door. He thanked his schoolboy leanness. There was enough space! He waited until the sentry's heavy footfall dragged to the end of the block; then with a struggle he twisted through the door and stood in the open, deserted street.
In the years of his absence he had forgotten the city, but he remembered the general directions, and only yesterday he had seen in the distance the gleaming white marble walls of his home standing on the beautiful headland overlooking the blue waters of the bay. He heard the sentry approaching and, trusting to instinct, turned into the nearest street and hurried away.
It seemed to Zaidos that the journey was endless, yet he went like the wind. He found himself searching the east for dawn. His instinct did for him what sight and reason would have failed to do. In daylight he would have been lost, but in that black darkness he kept his course, and finally the great white building where his fathers for generations had lived loomed mysteriously before him. He hurried up the broad stairs and besieged the massive doors with heavy blows. A startled footman opened it, and with a curt word Zaidos entered and demanded his father. The man bowed and led him up to a closed door. Here he knocked softly and a stout old woman answered. She looked hard at the young man in uniform, then with a little cry clasped him in a warm embrace. It was his old nurse.
"Ah," she cried, "God has answered my prayers! You are in time!"
A chill of apprehension swept over the boy. "Is he so ill?" he asked.
"He has waited for you," she answered. "I told him you would come. I knew it. He has been dying for many days, but he would not go until he saw you."
"Let me come," said Zaidos. He dashed past the old woman, the nurses and the doctors, and was clasped in his father's arms.
AN IMPRESSED SOLDIER
The events of that night long remained in Zaidos' memory, a blurred picture of pain and heart-break. There was a brief and precious hour with the father whom he had so seldom seen; a time filled with the priceless last communications which seemed to bridge all absence and bring them close, close together at last. His coming seemed to fill his dying father with a strange new strength. He talked rationally and earnestly with his beloved son. Zaidos could not believe that the end was near. Count Zaidos gave the boy a paper containing a list of the places where the family treasure was put away or concealed. Also other papers of the greatest value. Without these he would be unable to prove his heirship to the title and estates of the Zaidos family. In case of the boy's death all would go to a distant cousin, Velo Kupenol, who had long made his home with the Count. Zaidos turned to meet this cousin, whom he had not seen for so many years that his existence had been forgotten. He saw a keen, ferret-faced lad, a little older than himself. He took an instant dislike to the boy, and rebuked himself for doing so. Yet the hard eyes looked too steadily into his, with a cold, piercing, deadly look.
"I'm in the way," thought Zaidos, as he turned again to his father. And some sure instinct in his heart cried, "Beware, beware!"
When the dying Count handed the thin packet of precious papers to his son, Zaidos slipped them in the inner pocket of his blouse. At that moment Velo approached the bedside.
"Uncle," he said, "unfortunately my cousin here has been impressed into service. Would it not be well for me to keep these papers? I would guard them with my life, and as I do not intend to fight they would be safe with me in any case."
The Count frowned. "No," he cried. "Velo Kupenol, I have not found you true to your name! You have been here with me for years, and I know you through and through. I have treated you with all patience, have paid your debts, have saved you from disgrace for the sake of the family. I have forgiven you over and over. You have not shown me even the loyalty that a true friend would expect, to say nothing of a relative. If anything happens to my son, unfortunately the estates will be yours; but while he lives, the papers will remain in his possession, to do with as he sees fit. Ah!" he cried, turning to his son, "be worthy of our name, my boy! No Zaidos has ever yet disgraced it. I put my trust in you, and I know you will not fail me. To the day she died, your mother planned great things for her baby boy. She—"
He fixed his eyes on space. A look of surprise and happiness lit his face. Slowly he raised his arms as though in greeting, then sank back, dead.
Zaidos, kneeling, buried his face in the pillow. So it was over, all over! Someone raised him to his feet, as the nurse tenderly drew the sheet over his father's face. He lifted it and with one last lingering look replaced it gently, then left the room.
The clock struck three.
As he sank wearily in a chair, the old nurse entered. Her face was stained with tears. She glanced about, then seized Zaidos by the arm.
"Don't trust Velo!" she whispered, and left his side. None too soon, for Velo entered the room and with a gesture dismissed the old servant.
"Now, Zaidos," he said abruptly, "we will talk. You are crazy to carry such valuables around with you. After we have had breakfast, we will decide where to keep those papers. I am the next in line, as you know, and it is only just that I should know where they are in case you should get in trouble."
Zaidos shook his head. "I shall keep the papers," he said. "Of course you may remain here. I shall always look out for you. I shall not be killed in this fighting; I feel it."
"So have other men," sneered Velo. "How did you get away?"
Zaidos told him.
"Do you mean that you could not get permission, and that you escaped and came anyhow?" he asked, an evil gleam lighting his narrow eyes.
"That's about it," said Zaidos, nodding. "I must go back at once. The doctor's car will take me close to the barracks. I must get there before dawn." He went to the window and looked out. "I have no time to waste!" he cried.
"But look here, if you are caught, it means desertion," said Velo.
"In war-time that means death," said Velo.
"Yes, but I am not going to be caught," answered Zaidos.
"Then you must hurry," declared his cousin. "Wait here just a moment, and I will see that the car is ready and get a cloak to cover you. I almost fear you have waited too long, cousin," and hurried, from the room with a last sidelong look at Zaidos' bent head.
Five minutes passed; then with a last look at his father's closed door, Zaidos went down and found Velo standing beside the automobile, talking to the chauffeur. Already the intense blackness of the night was lifting. Zaidos felt a chill of apprehension.
"You will have to hurry," said his cousin. "I will come down later and look you up. Hope you get back." He stepped back, and the car shot forward, but only for a short distance. With a queer grinding noise the engine stopped. The driver leaped out and examined it with a flashlight. He uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"Someone has put sand in the engine!" he exclaimed. "Yet I have been in it all night long!"
"You must have left it," said Zaidos. "Or did you go to sleep?"
"Yes, yes!" stammered the driver excitedly. "I was called away just now, when Velo Kupenol sent me to my master to tell him that I was to take you back to barracks. Ah, what shall we do?"
"How far is it?" demanded Zaidos. The night was lifting. He shivered.
"A mile straight down that avenue, Excellency, until you reach the great fountain in the public square. Then a half block to the left. You cannot miss it, but you cannot make it before dawn."
"Good-bye!" called Zaidos. He started down the wide avenue with the gentle, easy stride that had made him the best long-distance runner in school. His wind was perfect and he covered ground like a deer; but clearer and clearer as he raced he could see the grey forms of surrounding objects take shape. He reached the fountain in the public square; he made the turn to the left and slowed to a walk. The sentry, walking slowly, reached the opposite corner, and before Zaidos could reach the open door he turned. It was too late to turn back. Zaidos squared his shoulders and approached. The sentry eyed him sharply and was about to speak but Zaidos said, "Good-morning," with civil ease. The man returned the salutation. Then, "What are you doing here?" he questioned.
"With a letter," said Zaidos, tapping his pocket.
"Where from?" demanded the sentry.
"Over there," said Zaidos, nodding his head in the direction of the avenue. It was a bold shot, but it carried.
"Oh!" said the sentry. "The other barracks, eh? Well, will your errand wait, or must I wake them up within?"
"There is no hurry at all," said Zaidos, easily. "I must see the commanding officer by seven o'clock, that's all."
"Very well," said the man. "I'll take you in then. I'm tired enough myself tramping up and down here all night. That place is full of recruits, and a lot of them are unwilling ones, I can tell you. But they are under lock and key. They can't escape. All the air they get even is from that crack in the door. A fly couldn't get out there." He was a fat sentry, and he laughed. Zaidos joined his mirth.
"Perhaps a thin fly might," he said.
The man shrugged. "Perhaps!" he said. "Those recruits are raw, I can tell you. You can be glad you are a trained soldier. I could tell it by your walk, even in this dim light. The walk always tells."
Zaidos nodded and squatted down near the open door. Moment by moment his danger was growing. The sentry turned and sauntered to the end of the block. Zaidos counted slowly. Once the man turned and nodded in a friendly fashion, then resumed his slow pace. Sixty steps. He stood for a moment on the corner, then came back. "Not long now," he said, and smiled. Then he passed in the other direction. Eighty steps that way. Zaidos counted. Again the man returned. Zaidos could feel his muscles stiffening, as if about to spring. He cautiously shifted to a position still nearer the partly open door and measured the opening. He felt heavy and awkward. He studied the dark opening. It did indeed look very narrow. He had squirmed through it without much trouble, but that was in the densest darkness, and he had taken all the time he needed. Now if the sentry should turn * * * Well, it would be the end of Zaidos, and a most ignominious end at that. He was not a coward, but he had no fancy to find himself against a wall with a firing squad before him.
Sixty steps and back walked the sentry, and Zaidos, head against the wall, body reclining close to the open door, seemed to be dozing. One, two, three steps past him, went the sentry again—
With the quickness of a cat Zaidos ripped off his uniform blouse, thrust it through the door, stretched his arms over his head, and with a mighty shove of his strong young legs thrust himself into the opening.
There was a terrific struggle for a moment, a series of agile twists, and Zaidos fell forward on the stone floor. Quickly he kicked away his shoes and tumbled down on his pallet. After the gray dawn outside the room was very dark. He heard the sentry outside come running to the door, push it against its stout chain and stand thinking. Zaidos laughed to himself. The opening, "too small for a fly," had swallowed him; and the unsuspicious fellow outside was filled with almost superstitious amazement. He knew that Zaidos could not by any possibility have reached the corner without making the least sound, and the street was absolutely silent. Zaidos, scarcely daring to breathe, smiled in the dark.
Then, fatherless and friendless as he was, and thrust by a strange fate of birth into a war in which he had no part, Zaidos, exhausted by his night's experiences, dropped asleep. About him men tired by a long night spent on pallets as hard as the stone flooring tossed and groaned or sighed wakefully. Zaidos slept on.
He was sleeping so heavily an hour later that he did not hear two soldiers enter with a slender young fellow in civilian dress. He never stirred as they went from pallet to pallet, scanning the faces as they passed. When they reached his side the young man looked down at him with an expression which might have been taken for startled amazement if anyone had been watching. He nodded to the officers, and spoke a word of thanks. "This is my cousin," he said in a low voice. "With your permission I will sit here by him until he awakes. It would be cruel to rouse him only to tell him of his father's death."
"Yes, you may stay," said the older soldier. "There can be no objection to that."
They turned and soon the distant door closed behind them. Then the newcomer did a strange thing. He cast a swift glance over the sleeping faces, to assure himself that he was not watched, and with the light-fingered stealth of the born thief, he slipped his thin hand into Zaidos' breast pocket. Withdrawing it, he smiled wickedly at the sight of what he held. He rose to his feet, hastily pocketed his find, and for a moment stood looking down at Zaidos. With a noiseless laugh he nodded sneeringly at the sleeping boy, picked his way carefully among the men and left the room.
When Velo Kupenol had sifted sand in the engine of the automobile, he had made his first move in a dastardly campaign. Most of his life had been spent surrounded by the ease and luxury of the Zaidos castle. He had had horses and automobiles to use; he had had great stretches of park and woodland to roam through and hunt over. And best of all, he had had the best teachers in all Greece. But these he had neglected and defied at every possible turn. Velo Kupenol was lazy, cowardly and deceitful. That he was not yet a criminal was due to the watchful care and great forgiveness of the uncle who had befriended him. In the past few years this forgiveness had been stretched to its utmost. Velo himself was not aware of the number of disgraceful things his uncle had had to face for his sake. But it would have mattered not at all. He did not know the meaning of gratitude. This boy, who should have been on his knees beside the death-bed of the truest friend of his life, shedding the tears that are an honor to true men, had instantly, with his uncle's last breath, bent his quick and wicked brain on the problem of wresting the Zaidos title and estates from his cousin. The knowledge that the kindness and forbearance of the father would be continued on the part of the son never occurred to him. He would have laughed if it had. It was all or nothing. He determined that the cruel chance of war was on his side. So he dropped sand in the engine when he had sent the chauffeur on an errand, and then had hurried to headquarters. And it happened that while Zaidos sat on the sidewalk beside the chained door, talking to the friendly sentry, Velo himself was at the front door of the barracks waiting for it to be opened for visitors.
Fortunately, in telling Velo of his escape from barracks, Zaidos did not go into details, so Velo did not know of the door through which Zaidos had crept. He had taken it for granted that he had slipped unnoticed through the door at which he himself was standing, and as he waited he momentarily expected his cousin to come hurrying up. Velo smiled. He hoped Zaidos would come. He wanted to be there when he tried to make his lame excuses for leaving the barracks in the face of the refusal to give him permission. Velo knew well that in the troubled times in which Greece found herself, no excuse would be accepted. It was desertion; and the fact of his return would not soften the offense. There was no place or time for punishment or imprisonment. Velo shuddered, but smiled evilly.
However, Zaidos did not appear, time passed, and finally the doors opened. Velo, very humble and apologetic, made his simple request that he should be allowed to speak with his cousin who was with the soldiers in the inner room. The request was granted, and with two soldiers he entered the room full of sleeping men. He went from cot to cot, making an idle examination of each face. He was waiting for the moment when he could turn to his escort and say, "He is not here."
But there he was! Velo could not believe his senses. The soldiers, seeing that he had found his relative, turned back to the door, and Velo noiselessly knelt beside the sleeper. He stared long and curiously at the serene and open face. How he had returned was a mystery which maddened him. He was foiled for the present at least; but securing the coveted papers, he silently withdrew.
"Did you find him?" asked the young officer in charge, as Velo came up to his desk.
"Yes, thank you," said Velo, "but he could not tell me what I wanted to know. I wanted tidings of a cousin, the son of Count Zaidos, who died last night."
"Zaidos?" said the officer. "That's the name of one of our recruits."
"Yes, he is my cousin," said Velo. "But not the one we want. This fellow in here is a lazy no-account, and the army is the best place for him, although I am sorry to say so."
"Yes, the army nowadays is a good place for lazy-bones," agreed the officer. A queer look came over his face. "We are picking up all the single men we can." He leaned on the desk and spoke as one man to another. "You see we found that the army had to be doubled in short order and the only way to do it was to insist on compulsory enlistment. That's the reason," he continued calmly, "that you are now a private in the army of Greece."
"Me? Oh, no!" said Velo hastily. "It is impossible. I—I—have other things to consider. You will have to excuse me, Captain."
"I am Lieutenant," said the officer, "but you will learn the difference in rank shortly."
"But I can't do it!" said Velo violently, a red flush mounting to his forehead. "I simply can't do it! Why, my uncle died last night, and unless we find his son I am the only heir. I have got to stay here. I am the heir doubtless."
"That's fine!" said the officer, smiling. "In case you are shot, which is likely, all your property will revert to the crown. Greece is going to need all she can raise. I hope your uncle is rich."
Velo could not keep from boasting.
"One of the richest men in the country!" he bragged.
"Fine, fine!" said the officer. Then his manner changed. "Now, my boy, your name and address. This is straight. We need you."
Velo mumbled his name, a deadly fear growing in him. He was a coward and the thought of bloodshed filled him with a cold, deadly terror.
He regarded the Lieutenant with staring eyes. His teeth chattered.
The young officer smiled. He called two soldiers.
"Take this man to the South Barracks," he said coldly. "Under guard," he added significantly. He knew men. He saw that the boy before him would have to be whipped into shape. He thought of a recruit made the day before. Zaidos his name was. He remembered with respect and appreciation the manner of the lad. He looked once more at the new recruit. Then he took a piece of paper from his desk, wrote one word on it, addressed it "Officer in Command at South Recruiting Station," handed it to one of the soldiers standing beside Velo, and turned away. For him the incident was closed.
But Velo, feeling as though he was under arrest, walked miserably and fearfully through the streets, a soldier on either side, wondering with all his might what was written in the folded paper.
He finally asked the bearer to let him see it, but the soldier refused scornfully. As they neared the South Station his fears grew, if such a thing could be possible. Once more he tried to get the mysterious note. He had some money with him. He tried to bribe the man. For answer the soldier struck him in the face. Velo sunk into a sulky silence, and stood with eyes on the ground while the officer in charge opened the message and read the single word therein.
"Good enough!" he exclaimed. "Just what we need!" and waved the two men toward an inner room where Velo was stripped of his comfortable clothes and fitted to the new uniform of the Greek Army.
And not until then did he find out his fate. A third man sauntered up and stood watching.
"Rank and file?" he said jestingly.
"No," said the man who had carried the note. "Stoker!"
Velo thought his heart would break.
ONLY A STOKER
Zaidos was the last person in the room to awaken. Half a dozen of the groups nearest the door had filed out, answered roll call, and stood at attention in the street when a man shook him roughly by the shoulder and roused him.
"Get up, lazy-bones," he cried gruffly, "else you will feel the flat of a sword! Here you have been snoring since early last evening. How can there be so much sleep in thee, I wonder? One would nearly think thou hadst been wandering about all last night instead of sleeping here on thy good soft bed."
"All right!" said Zaidos, nodding. He smiled at the speaker the bright and winning smile that always won a way for him. He was on his feet in an instant.
"That's the way to do it!" commended the man. "Wake when you wake, not rubbing thy eyes out."
Zaidos was soon standing in a line in the office while the twenty men in his group answered to name. Then what Zaidos had feared came to pass. A name was called and no one answered. Again it rang out sharply. There was a consultation between the two officers at the desk. The young mountaineer who had led the perilous way through the chained door was gone! Zaidos, keeping his face as free from interest and expression as he could, stood stiffly at attention while the count was made and questions put to the men. As luck would have it, Zaidos was asked but one thing. Had he seen the fellow on his pallet before he himself went to bed? He answered honestly that he had. He was conscious of keen scrutiny from the officers, and knowing of his own escape and return, felt that he must be looking the picture of guilt. The truth of the matter was that his military training in school made him so perfectly at ease and so soldierly in appearance that he was very noticeable in the line of slipshod, lounging, green recruits.
They were presently ordered to drill, and for two hours went through a grilling labor with their arms. Again Zaidos' trained muscles served him well. While he was tired and muscle-sore at the close of the drill, others were on the point of exhaustion. They were sent back to their barracks and flung themselves down to rest.
The incident of the young mountaineer seemed closed. He did not return, nor did the slightest whisper concerning him reach Zaidos. Four days dragged by. Two days were filled with strenuous drilling. Twice Zaidos was visited by members of his father's family—devoted old servants who begged to do something to free him from his present position, and who questioned him vainly for news of Velo Kupenol. On the second visit Zaidos decided to entrust the old servant with the papers which he carried. He opened the flat leather folder in which he had placed them. They were gone! Zaidos was well aware that the packet had been on him since the moment he had received it. He could only think that they had been stolen, while he slept. But why should any one of the ignorant men about him take papers which could not concern them and leave untouched the large bills folded in the same compartment with the papers? He reported his loss. The officers who had been in charge on that eventful night had been transferred, but the new Commandant was just and obliging. He had a thorough search made of every man in barracks, but the papers were gone. Without them Zaidos felt himself an outcast. He resigned himself to his fate. How foolish he had been to suspect Velo! He should have been the one of course to care for the valuables, yet he could not but remember his father's anger when Velo had suggested it. Zaidos knew his father to be a just and generous man; and he knew that there was some good reason for his distrust and dislike, although the time had been too cruelly short for explanations.
The proofs of his identity at all events had disappeared, and in such a mysterious manner that it seemed hopeless to search for them. Zaidos had always wanted to join the army, but he had anticipated all the honor and pleasure of graduating from West Point, in America. This was indeed the raw and seamy side of soldiering. He was a philosopher, however, so he shrugged his shoulders, gave the old servants the best instructions he could about closing up and caring for the estates, and threw himself, body and soul, into his new adventure.
The third day, while they were drilling, an automobile raced up and stopped with a suddenness that nearly threw its occupants from their seats. It was filled with soldiers, and with them was a little fellow closely bound. Zaidos looked at him with a sinking heart. He had never seen the pallid, quivering face, with its wild black eyes. No, the night had been too dark, but instinct told him that here was the deserting mountaineer. Zaidos looked away. The man was dragged through the doors, and again a thick curtain seemed to fall over the incident.
But a load of apprehension seemed to be cast on the soldiers. They continued to talk about the prisoner in low voices. Not one of them, with the exception of Zaidos, however, realized the true horror. It was war times and at such a period there was but one end for desertion.
Zaidos prayed not to see it. He would not let himself think of it. He threw himself into his work and with his knowledge of Boy Scout tactics and the wonderful range of their knowledge he passed on to his comrades all he had learned before he had left America on the journey which had had such an exciting end. He never once suspected the influence he innocently exerted for good. Boy as he was, he taught the soldiers in his group so much that they were the special objects of attention to their officers. Drill went smoothly and evenly; the men gained poise and assurance. Zaidos was almost happy in his work.
Then suddenly on the fifth day the blow fell. The unbelievable horror came to pass.
Zaidos and his group passed out into the street as usual, early in the morning. As they made formation a smothered groan like a deep breath escaped them.
Against the blank wall before them, bound, stood the deserter.
Once Zaidos had read a highly colored account of a man who had felt the extremest depth of horror. The book said that he had felt as though his bones were turning to water, and Zaidos had sneered at the description. It flashed into his mind when he looked into the wild, chalky countenance of the man against the wall. He glanced down the line of soldiers. A stupid blankness seemed to envelop them. Pale as death they stared at the shaking creature before them. There was a terrible silence that sounded as loud and beat as fiercely in their ears as the boom of cannon. Things moved with frightful deliberation. It seemed that they stood for hours staring at the doomed man. It seemed to take hours of physical, dragging effort to obey the next command and move directly in front of that ghastly face. Then more moments, hours, or ages, ticked off endlessly with the dull beating of their hearts. In the face opposite a dull despair dawned slowly. Expression died out. A fearful understanding of things washed away all earthly hope. He stared at the file of men in front of him as dumbly as the ox approaching the butcher. He had deserted, he had been caught, he was to die; that was all. All the little simplicities of his life lay behind him. His wife—his little girl-wife, the tiny baby, the warm hut, the friendly wildness of the trackless mountains. They were back of him; he could no longer turn to them. Back-to-the-wall he stood, this untrained, undisciplined creature, facing a line of muskets that wavered in the shaking hands of the soldiers. There was not one of them who would not have faced a regiment, untried as they were, for the men of Greece are heroes; but to stand there and aim at that one poor quaking target. * * * It was a nightmare. It was delirium. Zaidos felt his bones turn to water. He almost fell. Down the line a man fainted.
The priest approached and, walking swiftly to the condemned man, spoke to him in a low and tender tone. The man did not reply. He nodded, but looked at the soldiers. The priest, tears coursing down his face, stepped back.
There was a brief command, a rattle of arms, another order, a pause, a sharp word. Then came a snarling report of guns * * * and on the ground before him lay a crumpled heap. Zaidos, sick to the soul, obeyed the order to retire. He had fired in the air!
The day passed in a horrid daze. Two of the firing squad were so ill and shaken that they could only lie on their cots with eyes hidden, and moan. It was the first tragedy that had entered their simple lives.
The heart of Zaidos rebelled. He could have stood the rage and fear and excitement of battle, but this unspeakable act in which he had taken part seemed too much. As night approached he began to fear the quiet hours of the dark. When he closed his eyes he could see that white, blank face before him.
It was with a deep feeling of relief and gratitude then that he obeyed the order to march to the wharves. There were forty men included in the command, and they went off gaily, glad of anything as a change from the barracks.
Three transports waited at the wharves. Zaidos obeyed an order to go aboard the largest, a noble ship ready to put out. It was crowded with men. Zaidos, with two others, boarded her. They were led down and down into the depths of the ship, and with despair Zaidos discovered that he was to be one of the assistant stokers.
The engine-rooms were stifling, notwithstanding the big electric fans that supplied a change of air as it entered through the great air intakes. The furnaces roared. A couple of engineers nodded to him and one of them led him to a bunk where he exchanged his uniform for the thin, scant garments suited to his new work. At once he returned to his new duty. He found the shifts were short, but the work was so heavy and the heat so intense that at the end of his first duty he went to his stuffy bunk and threw himself down, more exhausted than he had ever been in his life. He lost track of time down there in the firelighted gloom, and the clock seemed to bring no understanding to him.
At last night came, and he was sent to his bunk again to remain until summoned. The engineer, who was like an officer in charge, was not a hard man. He understood the necessity of breaking his boys in gradually. Zaidos, too tired to sleep, lay in his bunk watching the men about him and listening to their idle or boastful talk. His native tongue had come back to his remembrance, and it was easy to understand most of them.
Presently he heard groans from the next berth, and a tall soldier came over and looked in.
"What is the matter with you?" he said to the complaining youth lying there.
"I'm sick, I'm going to die!" said a whining voice. "I have been down in the engine-room until I am nearly cooked. I think my back is broken too."
The listening man laughed.
"Not a bit of it, my boy!" he said. "You are tired out. That is what ails you. You have soft muscles evidently. You will be all right soon."
"I tell you I am about dead!" insisted the voice.
Zaidos listened, puzzled. There was a familiar sound in the tones, but for the life of him he could not place the speaker.
"I tell you I am in a bad way!" insisted the unseen speaker. "I shall appeal this matter to the King as soon as we land."
"That's a good idea," said a soldier, nodding. "When I came away I left my tobacco pouch in barracks. I will appeal too. It is not to be endured!"
"You don't understand," said the fellow. "I am Velo Kupenol, the head of the house of Zaidos. I am a Count!"
The tall soldier nodded with a twinkle in his eye. Zaidos fell back in his bunk with a gasp of surprise, and listened.
"Is that so?" said the soldier. "I heard of the death of Count Zaidos the other day. So you are his heir, eh? I thought he had a son. Where does he appear in this story of yours?"
"He is dead," said Velo. (It was he.) "He went to America, and has not been heard from. So I am the heir. I shall appeal to the King, I tell you!"
"All right; all right!" agreed the soldier, while the others, listening near, laughed. "At least it is a pretty story, Count. Stick to it. We like to hear you talk."
"Well, it is so, and I can prove it!"
"How?" said Zaidos, suddenly leaning over the edge of his bunk.
For a full minute Velo stared at him with bulging eyes.
"How will you prove it?" said Zaidos with a steady stare. He leaped to his feet and, shoving the tall soldier out of his way, went to the berth and thrust his furious face close to his cousin's.
"You won't prove anything!" he said in a low, tense tone. "You have made a fool of yourself and of me. I won't have my father's name dragged into this mess. I'm here as Zaidos, the stoker; and you will forget Zaidos of Saloniki as fast as ever you can. And if I find you telling anything more, I will thrash you, Velo Kupenol, within an inch of your life. I can do it, too. I learned that in America, at least. And for the present we are in the same fix. We are here as common soldiers. My papers were stolen from me in barracks the night my father died, Velo, so there won't be any proving at all. We are just a pair of stokers on a transport. But don't think for a minute that I mean to stay where I am. A Zaidos cannot be kept in the hold. I shall do something for the honor of my name, you may be assured of that. But remember I am Zaidos, the stoker. As I said, if I find that silly tongue of yours wagging, I will make—you—good—and—sorry."
He paused, and with keen eyes searched Velo's face to make sure he comprehended it all.
Velo was silent, and Zaidos returned to his cot, once more conscious of his fatigue and lameness.
But Velo, turning to the wall, pressed his face to the hard mattress, and let the deadly hate he bore his cousin fill his very being. He pressed his hand on the stolen papers hidden in his kit. Zaidos must die. Zaidos must die! All his evil blood boiled in him. For hours, when he should have been sleeping off his fatigue, as Zaidos was doing, he lay hating and plotting. A dozen evil schemes formed in his mind, but Velo was a coward. He did not mean to be caught in anything that looked shady. When he was finally rid of his cousin, he did not want to be unable to appeal to the King and later enjoy the boundless wealth and vast estates and unblemished honor of the Zaidos name.
Before dawn both boys were called to go into the engine-rooms with their shift. Zaidos, although lame and aching, was still refreshed by his slumber and ready for work. But Velo could scarcely drag himself along. He worked as little as possible, the engineer grumbling at his poor performance. He kept close to Zaidos, dogging him about like a treacherous and snapping cur.
His chance came finally. Zaidos, with a great shovel of coal, was approaching the terrible open door of the blazing furnace. Velo, with his empty shovel, had just left it. As his cousin passed him he gave a sly twist to the dragging shovel, which threw the corner of it between Zaidos' feet. He stumbled and fell headlong toward the open door where a horrible death seemed reaching for him.
But as he plunged forward, the chief, who was beside him, turned and shoved his rake against the falling body. It was enough to change the direction of his fall. He crashed to the ground safe. He was on his feet instantly, turning to his cousin with a look where certainty and inquiry were mingled. But as he opened his mouth to speak, a sudden jar under them was followed by a terrific crash, and in a moment a fearful list of the great vessel disclosed the worst.
The transport had been struck by a submarine and was sinking. Water rushed into the engine-room and rose toward the immense bed of living coals in the furnaces. There was a savage hiss of steam. The ship listed rapidly to port. A rapid ringing of bells cut the air. The chief listened. It was the danger signal, never sounded when any hope of saving the ship remained.
"Up to the deck for your lives!" he roared, and throwing down the shovels and rakes, the men and the two boys sped for the entrances. They struggled up with a mob of terrified men who pushed and fought. More and more the big boat leaned to the sea. When Zaidos finally gained the deck, one rail nearly touched the water. He thought she would go under immediately, but thanks to some uninjured air chamber below, she hung balanced. On the bridge the Captain shouted through a megaphone.
"Jump before she goes!" he cried. "Swim away from the wreck!"
Zaidos, forgetting all but the present danger, seized his cousin by the arm and rushed him to the side of the ship.
"Jump!" he cried.
"No!" screamed Velo. "No, no! I am going to stay here!"
"Don't you hear the Captain?" cried Zaidos. "Jump! Jump!"
Velo pulled back and Zaidos urged him toward the heaving water.
"It's our one chance, Velo!" he cried. "We will go down with the ship if we stay."
He suddenly gave Velo a push and flung him into the water. Together they swam rapidly from the rail. As though to give the soldiers the one slim chance for their lives, the ship, leaning on its side, still balanced at the lip of the sea. Then with a sickening roar the vessel went down. Zaidos looked over his shoulder. On the bridge, white haired, erect, undismayed, stood the Captain. As the waters engulfed him he even smiled. A fearful force dragged at the boys and swept them toward the great whirlpool made by the ship. They swam desperately, and just as strength seemed to fail, the pressure was released and they floated in a sea covered with wreckage and with swimming or drowning men.
The boys were swimming close together when Velo gave a cry and clasped Zaidos around the neck in a choking grip. At once they both went under, and Zaidos fought his way out of the strangling clasp; but Velo seized him by the arm. They came up, and Zaidos turned on his cousin.
"Don't, don't let me go!" Velo begged with staring eyes. "I'm getting a cramp!"
"Then let go of me!" cried Zaidos. "I'll save you if I can, but don't grab me!"
Velo, overcome with terror, tried to obey, but his reason was not as strong as his terror. Once more he tried to grasp Zaidos.
The boy turned, grabbed him by the throat, and forced him under water.
He struggled furiously for a space, then suddenly went limp. Zaidos drew him to the surface. He was unconscious. He supported the unresisting weight on his shoulder, and as he kept afloat, he despairingly scanned the horizon.
Bearing down upon them at full speed he saw an English Red Cross ship!
A STRUGGLE IN THE SEA
Hope rose in Zaidos' bosom. He gave a sigh of relief. The boat was only a couple of miles distant, and coming full steam ahead. Something bumped heavily against Zaidos' shoulder. It was a dead soldier. A gaping water-soaked wound on his head sagged open, and told the story as plainly as words could do. He was supported by a life belt carelessly strapped around him. The body pressed against Zaidos, bumping him gently as it moved in the wash of the sea.
Still holding Velo with his left arm, Zaidos unbuckled the single strap that held the life belt and the body, released, slipped down into the water and disappeared. Zaidos, treading water as hard as he could, next managed to get the belt around Velo and buckled it. He fastened it so high that Velo's head was supported well out of the water; and Zaidos let himself down in the water with a gasp of relief. He felt that he was good for hours now. Keeping a hand on the strap of the belt, he turned on his back and floated. The water was warm, there was a hot sun shining, and with the Red Cross ship approaching, Zaidos felt that he was indeed lucky.
He felt no uneasiness about the Red Cross ship changing its direction; the sea about was full of wreckage and men swimming and clinging to spars and timbers. It was not as though he and Velo had been alone there in the sea. The Red Cross ship had no doubt seen the explosion and sinking of the transport. So Zaidos floated easily beside his unconscious companion, occasionally calling to some hardy swimmer who came near, and expecting soon to see the rescuing vessel approach. Velo opened his eyes, felt the lap of the waves round his shoulders, and gave a convulsive leap out of the sea.
"Had a good nap?" asked Zaidos.
Velo groaned. "I am going to die," he said.
"Not just yet," Zaidos assured him. "I wish you would have a little more courage," he said crossly. "You are in the greatest luck. The transport is gone, with all her officers and nearly all of the men. I don't suppose there are more than six or eight hundred afloat out of the three thousand on board. Look over there, Velo. There is a Red Cross ship coming along. She will pick us up, and then we will be all right."
Velo looked eagerly and gave a cry of dismay.
"Oh, oh, oh!" he screamed. "We are lost; we are lost!" He burst into tears.
Zaidos rolled over and looked.
When you are in the water, as every Boy Scout knows, every object afloat looks mountainous. A common rowboat looms up like a three master, and Zaidos, looking in the direction of the Red Cross ship, saw a couple of battleships approaching, while a huge Zeppelin like a great bird of prey floated overhead. How many submarines were playing around beneath him, he could not guess. One thing was clear. They were in a position stranger than any story, madder than any dream. Floating there, almost exhausted in the sea, they were to be in the center of a sea fight. Velo still wept, and Zaidos himself felt a sob of excitement choke his throat.
"We are going to get it from both sides," he remarked to his cousin. "That Red Cross ship is trying to get out of range until this thing is over."
"What is going to become of us?" cried Velo.
"Don't know!" said Zaidos. "And I don't so much care. At least I don't mean to worry. I've watched a lot of poor swimmers go down just from exhaustion; and if we are not rescued, why, we just won't, that's all. I'll tell you one thing, though," he said with sudden anger, "if you don't brace up and stop making me listen to your whimpering, I am going to duck you again. I did it before when you were trying to drown us both and I am perfectly willing to do it again. You had better brace up!"
Velo was silent, and Zaidos fixed his eyes on the most amazing sight that a Scout ever witnessed.
Suddenly a wild shot ripped across the water, skipped along twenty feet from them, plowed its way into the sea, then disappeared.
Velo screamed. Another shot followed so close that the wave from it rocked them. Zaidos watched the Zeppelin with fascinated eyes. It circled round and round, in an effort to get over the biggest ship. A shot leaped up at it, and missed. The Zeppelin rose a little, then returned to the attack. Another shot narrowly missed it; but at that instant a bomb dropped like a plummet. It was a close miss. Zaidos could see wood fly as it clipped the prow and exploded as it reached the sea, doing but little damage.
"Look! Look!" cried Velo.
Another battleship was coming, and another, until before them five great monsters battled. The Zeppelin returned to the attack, and Zaidos himself cried, "Look! Look!" as a swift gleam of light across the water, on a line with his eyes, betrayed the lightning swift course of a torpedo. It struck the ship, and at the same moment the Zeppelin dropped an accurate bomb. There was a terrific explosion as the torpedo struck amidships, a spurt of flame as the bomb scattered its inflammable gases over the decks, and fire burst out everywhere. Another torpedo tore into the ship. Zaidos' eyes bulged as he watched, the monster ship flaming and roaring with repeated explosions, her own guns valiantly firing to the last. As she plunged nose-first into the sea, the boys could see the crew, like ants, pouring, leaping over the side, only to go down in the vast whirlpool made by the sinking vessel.
The Zeppelin now soared skyward, made a wide circle that took it almost out of sight, and returned to attack another ship. Then a strange thing happened. The upleaping shot from the battleship crossed the bomb from the Zeppelin in mid-air, and as the bomb exploded on the deck of the cruiser, the shell from her aeroplane gun hit the delicate body of the airship and tore through it. As the Zeppelin came whirling down, turning over and over in the air, Zaidos could see the crew spilling out like little black pills out of a torn box. That they were men, human beings whirling to a dreadful death, did not occur to him. He had lost all sense of human values in the terrible pageant before him.
It seemed like a picture show, only with the vivid colors of reality and the deafening noise of exploding shells. Once they felt the submarine pass under them, so close that it made an eddy that pulled them toward the combating ships. When it came up to release its dart, the boys were too intent on keeping themselves enough out of the sea wash to breathe, to see whether the torpedo struck or not. The excitement grew in intensity. Gradually the group of fighting ships drew nearer the swimmers. They were not more than half a mile away. Another great hulk went down. The Zeppelin, with broken wings wide spread, floated on the sea. They could scarcely see it except when a wave made by a falling shell lifted some of its delicate framework.
"There goes another ship!" exclaimed Zaidos. "I wish I could tell what they are. I can't see any flags or emblems from here."
"I don't care what becomes of them," Velo said irritably. "I'm water-soaked. I feel queer. I'll never get out of this."
"Oh, brace up!" cried Zaidos, speaking in English. He reflected that Velo could not understand a word of the language, and proceeded to give vent to his feelings in a tongue that he had found extremely expressive in times of need. He glared at the drooping boy, while the guns continued to thunder.
"You make me sick! You make me tired!" he exploded. "Great Scott, you are the worst baby I ever saw! I wish to goodness you were wherever you want to be, wrapped up in cotton batting, I suppose, and tied with pink string, and laid on a shelf in a safety deposit vault. You are a regular jelly fish! I wish I had some fellow along who had a real spine! I—" he paused for breath.
"I don't know what you are saying," complained Velo.
"It doesn't matter," said Zaidos in Greek. "It was nothing of consequence. I think I told you once or twice before just about what I thought about things. If you feel better to whimper around all the time and complain about things, why, so ahead! I suppose we will drown. I'm getting pretty tired myself, but I mean to hang on as long as I can.
"If this fight ends before nightfall, that Red Cross ship is sure to come back and pick up all they can, and you can see for yourself just the position it is in now. It can't get to the battleships without coming past us. So we have a good chance. I've been in the water longer than this without much damage. But I wish you could manage to keep yourself together, Velo. I'm sure we will come out all right. I'm not going to die now, before I have a chance to do something worth while." He shook the water from his face.
"Well, I believe they are going to quit," he said. "I wonder how many fellows have seen anything like this. Three dreadnaughts and a Zeppelin sunk and wrecked, and I don't know which is which or who is who. It doesn't much matter to us, however. However long or short I live, I'll never forget it. Never! Just think of it, Velo; three ships of the line, and a flyer." He turned to the opposite direction, scanning the sea with keen eyes.
"Yes, sure enough, here comes the Red Cross! The fight is over. She is going to pass us. That's pretty fine, isn't it, Velo? Don't that make you feel warm all over?"
"She may not stop," said Velo gloomily.
"A Red Cross ship pass all this bunch swimming around here without stopping to pick them up? You are crazy!"
"There are not so very many," insisted Velo.
"They will stop to pick you up if all the rest of us go down before they get here," said Zaidos patiently. "You have the life belt, Velo, so don't worry any more than you have to."
A silence followed. After the wild racket of the guns, it seemed as though the sea itself whispered. On and on came the Red Cross ship. It approached so near that they could see that a couple of boats were being lowered. They were gasoline launches, and they raced here and there, pausing every little while to pick up a survivor. As they approached Zaidos and his cousin, Velo commenced to scream in a weak voice. Zaidos sighed, but said nothing.
When the nearest launch approached them, Velo thrust him back and left him swimming while he, with his life belt, was lifted over the side. But a sailor had Zaidos by the shoulder. It was well, for the boy was at the point of exhaustion, and as he felt himself drawn into the boat, he found a sudden darkness settle over everything, and he sank back unconscious into the arms of a doctor.
When he opened his eyes, he was in the clean, airy, floating hospital. It took a little thought for Zaidos to recollect where he was. When he did so, he made an effort to arise. To his great surprise, he could not move. He threw back the covers. His leg was in splints. He stared at it with surprise.
A nurse came up. "How did that happen?" he demanded. "What ails my leg anyhow?"
"You ought to know," she smiled. "We expect you to tell us. Your leg is broken below the knee. Just the small bone, you know. Do you mean to say you did not know it?"
"I should say not!" said Zaidos. "You are sure it is broken? It hurts a lot, but I don't see how it could be broken without my knowing it."
"Yes, it is certainly broken," the nurse repeated.
"Oh, you are talking English, aren't you?" cried Zaidos with delight.
"Why, yes. This is an English Red Cross ship," replied the nurse. "You are English, are you not? Or American?"
Zaidos shook his head. "No, I'm a Greek," he explained. "But I've been in America at school since I was a little chap, and I have had an English room-mate for three years."
"That's it, then," said the nurse. "You must not talk now, however. You must drink this and sleep if you can. There are a lot of badly hurt men here. You are all right, but pretty well water-soaked and tired out. Try to sleep."
She started on, but Zaidos put out his hand and detained her.
"Just a moment, please," he said, smiling at her in his sunny way. "Is there a fellow here called Velo Kupenol? Tall fellow, thin, and looks a little like me perhaps?"
"Perhaps not again," said the nurse, frowning a little. "Yes, your friend is here. He does not seem to have anything the matter with him, yet he acts like a very sick boy."
"Seems to enjoy poor health?" asked Zaidos, smiling. "Well, I myself can't really blame him. You don't know how very wet we felt! I feel as though I could lie here a week and enjoy these dry sheets."
"You will be very likely to do so whether you enjoy it or not," said the nurse. "Legs do not mend in a day. When your friend thinks he is strong enough, I will suggest his coming to visit you."
She passed on, and Zaidos lay staring at the wooden ceiling so near his head.
Round and round and round goes the wheel of fate, thought Zaidos.
He wondered what the next turn would be, and where it would carry him. He drank from the cup the nurse had given him, and presently dozed off, although his leg pained too much to allow him to get a sound sleep.
He was aroused later by voices near him, and recognized the sound of his cousin's voice. Velo was talking in a rapid, low tone to one of the doctors.
"Looks like a nice boy," said the doctor in Greek.
"Yes, he is," said Velo. "But if he is my cousin, I must say he is one of the most stubborn fellows I have ever known."
"Is that so?" thought Zaidos, keeping his eyes shut tight. He thought there would be no more talk about him, but the doctor went on, "He doesn't look it."
"No," said Velo, "but he is. I thought I would never be able to rescue him from that sinking transport. He went sort of crazy, he was so afraid, and when the order came to jump, he clung to the rail, and refused to move. I had to twist his hands away, and jump with him."
"Well, I do declare!" thought Zaidos. He decided that he had better find out just what sort of a fellow he was supposed to be anyhow.
Velo went on, "When I got him into the water, I had to take him over my shoulder, and swim for dear life to get away from the boat before she went down. We just made it, and at that he clung to me with such a grip that I thought I would have to let go and leave him to his fate."
"Queer how they hang on to one in the water," said the doctor. "It seems strange he does not swim."
"Oh, he swims a little," said Velo. "He thinks he swims well, but it does not amount to much. I got hold of a life belt and buckled it around him, and kept his courage up as well as I could. The fight out there nearly finished him."
"I don't know as I blame him," said the doctor. "It must have been a pretty stiff experience, especially when a shot came your way occasionally."
"Yes, it was exciting," Velo agreed. He spoke with the ease of a man accustomed to worse things. Zaidos wondered how the doctor ever believed it all.
"Well," he said, "I'll have to go on. You can congratulate yourself, young man, on having the courage and patience to stick it out and save the lad. It is a great credit to you and I'm proud to know you." And he turned and walked softly away between the white bunks.
Velo remained standing near Zaidos. Presently he came over and looked down at his cousin. Zaidos opened one eye and looked up. The other he kept tightly closed. It gave him a teasing, guying expression of countenance which he had many times found very irritating at school.
"Dear, dear Velo," he said with a simper, "how can I ever thank you for saving my life?"
Zaidos' method of punishing Velo for the yarn he had told the doctor took the form of an exaggerated gratitude. Being perfectly independent of praise himself, Zaidos could not understand why on earth Velo should have taken the trouble to misrepresent things so. As far as Zaidos could see, there was nothing to be gained by it. The incident was past and did not concern the doctor in any way. Zaidos, who did not know his cousin at all, had yet to learn that his was one of the natures that are incapable of any noble effort, yet which feed on praise. With Velo everything was personal. If he passed a beautiful woman driving in the park, he thought instantly, "Now if that horse should run away, and I should leap out and grasp the animal by the head, wouldn't that be fine? I would doubtless be dashed to the pavement a few times, but what of that?" He could almost hear the lovely lady, pale and shaken, as she thanked her noble preserver and pressed into his hand a ring of immense value. The lovely lady was always a Countess at least, and frequently a Princess.
Velo imagined drowning accidents, and fires where he dashed the firemen aside, and made thrilling rescues of other lovely ladies who were seen hanging out of high windows. Velo himself always came out unhurt and with his clothes nicely brushed and in order. Sometimes he imagined a slight, very slight cut on his forehead, which had to be becomingly bandaged, but that was always the extent of his injuries. Velo liked to imagine bandits, too; big, ferocious fellows whom he outwitted, or choked into insensibility in single combat. At a moving-picture show, he always sat in a delicious dream, admiring his own exploits as the pictures flashed on the screen.
Thus it was perfectly natural and simple for him to take the adventure of the previous day, and twist it to his own glorification.
To Zaidos this would have been such an impossibility that he simply could not have understood it at all, even if someone had explained Velo's way of looking at things.
To Zaidos the only possible or natural way to look at things was to do whatever came up for a fellow to do, and to do it as soon and as well as he possibly could. Not knowing Velo, he did not dream that he was in the habit of glorifying himself on every possible occasion. If he had, he would have pressed a little harder. As it was, he drove Velo into a cold fury by his sweet, humble gratitude.
"Oh, Velo," he would say, "whenever I think how you wrenched my hands from the rail, and forced me into the water, and swam with me to safety, I don't see how I will ever thank you!"
Then he would get out the square of antiseptic gauze the nurse had given him for a handkerchief and cry into its folds as loudly as he dared.
Zaidos had to take medicine to keep down fever, so there were two bottles on the tiny table beside him. He had to take a dose every hour. Once he woke up, and took the bottle in his hand and started to pour it out just as the nurse came past. She gave a look at the bottle, smothered a cry, and snatched it from Zaidos' hand. She was pale.
"How—where—when did you get that?" she stammered.
"What's the matter with it?" asked Zaidos. "Isn't it my medicine? I've been taking it all the time, haven't I?"
The nurse had regained her self-control and even smiled.
"Have you been asleep this morning?" she asked, as though the medicine no longer interested her.
"Just woke up," said Zaidos. "I had a fine nap."
"That's good," said the nurse and walked away, taking the bottle in her hand.
But five minutes later, when she reported to the doctor, her manner was not so calm.
"What do you think?" she cried, closing the door of the tiny laboratory where he was working with an assistant. "What can this mean? This bottle was on young Zaidos' table instead of the medicine I left there!"
The doctor scanned the label.
"Bichloride of mercury," he said. "Why, that's queer!" He pondered. "What do you make of it?"
"I can't make a guess even," said the nurse. "There is no one out there who is delirious, and Zaidos could not get up on that broken leg in his sleep, if he wanted to. If it was not such a crazy idea, I should say someone had a reason for getting rid of Zaidos, but he is very popular, and his cousin thinks the world of him."
The incident was mysterious as well as serious. They discussed it and made guesses which flew wide of the mark. The doctor quietly ordered a change of medicine for Zaidos, and removing the bottles on his table, gave the nurse instructions to give him the doses herself. She did so, without rousing any suspicion in Zaidos' open and confident mind, but Velo Kupenol noticed the change.
He was more attentive to his cousin than ever.
Only in the rare moments when he was alone and secure from observation did he allow himself to take off the mask of good nature and kindliness, and let those thin features of his twist into the wicked leer that well fitted them. He no longer saw himself in the part of hero. He was too eager to remove from his way the boy who stood between him and all the luxury he craved. But his common sense told him that at the present, at least, there was nothing to be done. He would have to await further developments. In the meantime he would gain his cousin's confidence. That ought to be easy. Zaidos was the most friendly fellow he had ever seen. Velo resolved that if ever he came in for the Zaidos name and title, he would show them just how haughty and overbearing a young nobleman could be. But in the meantime, he thought it better to do as Zaidos commanded and say nothing about the family. Zaidos had elected to be known as a common soldier, and he would keep to his word. Velo realized that he himself could make no pretentions while Zaidos was about; he would not stand for that. So Velo acted in his best and oiliest manner, and waited on the nurse, and urged his services on the doctors, and wondered why they never acted at ease and friendly with him, as they all did with the laughing boy on the cot.
When they were sent ashore it dawned on Velo that now they would be separated. Zaidos would have to go to a hospital to wait for his leg to heal; but he was well, and would be set at some duty which would separate him from Zaidos. That would never do. He worried over it as they approached land, and finally took the matter to the doctor. He put the matter strongly. He had promised Zaidos' dying father that he would not be separated from the boy. They were almost of an age, but he had always been the one to look out for Zaidos, and surely now if ever was the time to be true to his trust. He explained the manner of their enlistment, and reminded the doctor they were both listed among the drowned.
"You see I must remain near him," he urged. "Just help me find a way."
"The hospitals are all short handed," mused the good-natured physician. "I think they would be glad to get you. There is lots of heavy lifting that tells on the nurses, and all that sort of thing, you know. It will be two weeks before Zaidos can be discharged. That bone is not knitting right. It was splintered, you see. I'll do all I can for you, Velo, and I think it will work out nicely."
So it came about that when the patients on the Red Cross ship were transferred to the land hospital within the English lines, Velo was there in full force, carrying one end of Zaidos' stretcher. Of course it was the light end; Velo saw to that instinctively, but then it was Velo's attention to just such little details that made life easy for him.
Zaidos soon improved so that he was allowed to hop about on crutches. The second day he used them, however, a brass pin somehow worked into the arm pad and scratched him badly before he knew that it was just where his weight would press it into his shoulder. It was very sore, and that same night, when he sat carefully on the edge of his narrow bed, waiting for Velo to come and help him undress, the bed went down and Zaidos was thrown to the floor. It hurt his leg again. Velo picked him up and was so sorry that for once Zaidos felt a twinge of remorse when he thought of the way he had guyed him.
But the nurse, who had been transferred to the land hospital also, pressed her lips tight together and thought hard. Zaidos was almost too unlucky. She took him under her own special care, although Velo protested and assured her that she must not burden herself while he was there to look out for his cousin.
"I don't see why so many things keep happening to you," she said to Zaidos while she dressed the place on his arm where the brass pin had made a bad sore.
"I am playing in hard luck, at that," said Zaidos, smiling. "Every time I turn around I seem to bump myself somehow. I was on the football team, and had won my letter for running. Do you suppose I will ever get to run again?"
"I don't know," said the nurse. "I don't see why this leg should make much difference. It was only one bone, you know, and you could bandage that leg if it felt weak. But you can't keep falling off cots and sticking infected pins into you."
"Funny thing about that cot," said Zaidos. "The bolt that held the spring and headboard together was gone—completely gone. I wonder if it ever was in. Perhaps when they put it together, they forgot that corner, and it stuck together until I happened to sit down on it just right. I've known things like that. I'm glad it didn't go down with some poor fellow who was badly wounded. It gave my leg an awful jolt. And it certainly gets me where I got that pin in the crutch pad. It must have been in the lining, and just worked out. I don't believe it will make a bad sore. My blood is pretty good. It's funny, though."
"A lot of queer things happen to you, Zaidos," said the nurse. "Tell me, have you no other name? Are you just Zaidos and nothing else?"
"Oh, yes, I have five or six other names," said Zaidos, smiling. "But you know in Greece it is the custom to call the—"
He glanced into the face before him with a queer embarrassed look, and stopped.
"Just so," said the nurse. "I understand. You are the head of your house, whatever that is, and you have very sensibly decided to keep it all to yourself while you are mixed up in this war. Well, Zaidos, in England, too, we sometimes call the head of a noble house by his family name. For my part, however, I prefer to think of you simply as a particularly nice, agreeable boy, who has made his illness a very pleasant time for the people who have been near him; and so I think I will call you something simpler than Zaidos. Is John one of your five or six names?"
"Nothing so easy as that," said Zaidos, smiling. "Why, I will tell you what they are."
"I don't want to know," said the nurse. "I, too, have a name that we will forget for the time, but you may call me Nurse Helen. And I have the dearest father in the world whose name is John; so I will call you John. Do you mind?"
"I should say not!" said Zaidos.
"You see, John," said Nurse Helen, "every time I say that name I feel closer to my home and all the dear ones there. Some day I will tell you about them all."
"I wish you would," said Zaidos. "I have often wondered how your people could let a dandy girl like you get into this sort of thing." He wanted to say such a pretty girl, but did not quite have the courage to do it. "You know you might even get hurt."
"It's quite likely," said Helen simply. "One has to accept that chance. And there is a chance about everything. A lot of the people in this war, dreadful as it is, will go home when it is over, and get run over by London busses, or fall down stairs, or things like that."
"Or slip on banana peels," added Zaidos. "You are right about it. I wonder I never thought of it before."
"Who is Velo Kupenol?" asked Helen. "Is he really your cousin?"
"My second cousin, to be exact," said Zaidos; "He has lived at our house ever since he was a boy eight years old. I don't exactly understand Velo lots of the time."
"I wouldn't think he was too awfully hard to understand," said Helen.
"Well, he is," said Zaidos. "He has been just nice to me ever since I was hurt, but he has done some of the queerest things. And what he told the doctor about what happened the day we were in the water—Oh well, I can't explain it very well!"
Zaidos was too modest to tell Helen that the account had simply been twisted around to Velo's advantage.
"Don't try," commented Helen. "There is one thing I feel as though I ought to tell you. That is, that I want you to watch that cousin of yours. If we are doing him an injustice, we will find it out just so much sooner. Otherwise it pays to be on guard. Just tell me one thing, John. If anything happened to you, would there be anything for Velo to gain by your death?"
Zaidos looked uncomfortable.
"Oh, I suppose so," he said. "Why, yes, to be honest with you, he would gain a lot. But I can't—Oh, he wouldn't be such a sneak! Perhaps I had better tell you all about everything, now you have sort of adopted me."
"Not if you think best not to," said Helen; "but of course I would love to know all about you."
"And I had better tell you," said Zaidos. "You see, I have no relatives at all except Velo, and we aren't too sure of him yet, are we?"
He rapidly recounted the happenings of the past from the time the telegram reached him in far America. Several times Helen interrupted with a keen question.
When Zaidos finished, she sighed.
"Well, John," she said, "as far as I can see, there is not a thing you can take as a real clue. But it all looks queer, just the same. Sometimes everything will happen so things look black. That is why circumstantial evidence is always so dangerous. But all the same, I worry over you."
"Don't do that," said Zaidos. "I ought to be old enough to look out for myself."
"What are you going to do when your leg heals?" asked Helen.
"I'm going to join the Red Cross," said Zaidos.
"How perfectly fine!" exclaimed Helen. "We will be posted together for awhile if you do, because the field hospitals at the front where I am going are very short handed. Don't you suppose we could persuade Velo that his duty lies in some other sphere of action?"
"I don't believe so," said Zaidos.
"No, I know we couldn't," said Helen. "He has repeatedly told me that he would never leave you. Here he comes now. Let's try it!"
She smiled as Velo approached and drew himself up. Nurse Helen was undeniably beautiful, even in her severe uniform.
No, Velo had no intention of deserting his dear cousin. If Zaidos joined the Red Cross, so would Velo. It made no difference to him at all. If Zaidos was stationed in the trench hospitals at the front, that was where he would be found.
And two weeks later he actually did find himself there. It was in one of the lulls between engagements, and they arrived with no more excitement or danger than might attend any summer trip.
But there they were, actually in the trenches.
A LETTER HOME
Zaidos, who was still on sick list and walked with a cane, was nevertheless put to work, in order to familiarize him with the position of the trenches. For two weeks the English had been expecting an attack, and the inaction was telling on the nerves of the officers.
The men are only kept under fire for four days. At the end of that time, they are sent back a few miles in shifts to the nearest village where they find quarters, and rest from the nerve-racking, soul-shaking clamor of guns and buzz of bullets. The trenches were wonderful. Zaidos and Velo, the Red Cross badges on their arms giving them free passage, soon explored every inch until they were perfectly familiar with them all. Zaidos drew a sketch of the plan to send to the fellows in school.
First of all, and nearest the opposing force, is the line of the small trenches for the snipers or sharp-shooters. These men, facing certain death in their little shelters, are picked shots, and keep up a steady, harassing fire at anything showing over the tops of the enemy's trenches or, failing that, at anything that looks like the crew of a rapid-fire gun. These, of course, they guess at from the line of fire as the guns are placed in the first line of trenches in little pits of their own. On his map Zaidos marked the positions of the guns with an A.
Behind the snipers are the barbed wire entanglements, a nightmare of tumbled wires piled high in cruel confusion. Close behind this are the observation trenches. There was no firing from these small trenches; they were simply what the name implied: look-outs. Leaving these, and passing down the zig-zag connecting trench, the first line trench was reached. This was fifty yards from the wire entanglements, and along here the rapid-fire guns were set.
When Zaidos and Velo made their first visit through the trenches, they were puzzled to see that the guns were all set at an angle, so that the line of fire intersected, usually just over the barbed wire entanglements.
Zaidos asked about it.
"We protect our guns in that way," explained the young Lieutenant who accompanied them. "With the fire coming at an angle, it is difficult for the enemy to get the exact position of our guns, and they are unable to follow the line of our fire with their own fire, and so cripple us. On the other hand, you notice that all trenches are either battlement shape or zig-zag."
"I wondered why," said Zaidos.
"Well, that is so a shot from the enemy, no matter what the angle, striking in a trench, will simply go a few feet, and plow into the bank of earth ahead of it. Formerly, a single shot, raking the length of a portion of a trench, would cost hundreds of men. Now it seldom means a loss of more than six or eight."
It was fifty yards between the entanglements and the first line trench, and in the two hundred yards between that and the second line trench, there was quite a little underground settlement.
The bomb-proof shelter was a regular cellar with sheets of steel over it, and earth over that. It was dark, and the dirt walls and floor gave out a damp and mouldy smell. The men had made crude provisions for comfort. Narrow benches were about the walls, a door from some wrecked building had been brought with much labor, and converted into a table, around which the men sat and played cards.
But Zaidos was most interested in the First Aid Station. He felt that much of his time might be spent here in this strange dug-out.
It was a strange mixture of the latest thing in surgical science and the crudeness of the caveman.
The walls were simply scooped out. They might have been dug with a gigantic spoon, so rough they were and so rounding. The floor had been packed, or trodden hard, and in the middle of the small space was a rude operating table. Beside it, however, on enameled, collapsible iron stands, looking as though they might have been just carried out of some perfectly appointed hospital, were rows of delicate instruments.
There had been no firing for some time, and the place was empty. The surgeon and his assistant sat reading a month-old copy of a London paper. They scanned the columns eagerly, and laughed heartily at the jokes. For London gallantly jests, even in war time.
The lieutenant introduced Zaidos and Velo to the doctors, and explained their presence.
"Well, me lad," said the older man, cordially taking note of Zaidos' sunny smile and fearless eyes, "I'm thinkin' that we need such as you. We can't hope those fellows over there beyond will keep still much longer, and we will have the deuce of a time to hold our position, I believe. Of course we will do it, but it will mean a lot of work for us in here, worse luck!
"You want to familiarize yourself with every turn of the place. A lost moment may mean a lost life, perhaps yours, perhaps the man you are trying to help. You may have to leave the connecting trench you are running along and take to the top of the ground. If a shell falls ahead of you, you will find your path stopped up. Have you ever been under fire?"
"I don't know just what you would call it," said Zaidos laughingly, and proceeded to tell the doctor how they happened to be in their present position.
"Well, well, well!" said the doctor. "You ought to do! First drowned, and then shot at, and submarined. It does seem as though you ought to be able to keep your head, with only a few simple bullets and gas bombs flying around."
He got to his feet stiffly, for living underground makes men rheumatic, and put down his paper.
"Just pay attention," he said in a crisp, business-like way. "When you serve wounded men, remember two things. Work deliberately, yet with the greatest speed. Many a man has died from one little twist given in getting him on his stretcher. Forget the fight, forget everything for the time but that the torn body is in your hands. Do you know anything at all about lifting a man?"
"I do," said Zaidos. "I'm a Boy Scout. Besides, we learned all that at school."
"Good!" said the doctor. "All you have to do is to remember what you know, when the necessity of using your information arrives. When you have your man on the stretcher, get here as soon as ever you can. Don't wait for anyone; private and General alike must stand aside for the Red Cross. Wonder if you could stop a cut artery?"
"Yes, sir," replied Zaidos.
"How?" said the doctor, reaching out his arm. Zaidos took it and demonstrated the thing and the doctor gave a grunt of satisfaction.
"When you get your man here, lay him down on one of the benches or on the floor or anywhere else that you see a place for him. Don't wait, for we will attend to him after that."
"Yes, sir," said Zaidos. He foresaw lively times.
"Good morning," said the doctor, sitting down and taking up his precious paper. The boys went out, feeling as though they had been dismissed from class.
The large cook house was very close to the First Aid Station, and was equipped with wonderful field stoves and great kettles and pots. A number of cooks were in charge, and the boiling soup smelled good enough to eat!
Three zig-zag trenches led from the cook house and First Aid Station to the second line of trenches.
Here was a repetition of the first line trench, machine guns and all. Back of it stretched a line of snipers' trenches, and behind them another barbed wire entanglement. A tunnel led under this; several of them in fact, and large enough to permit the passage of a number of men at the same time. This was arranged in case the line was pushed back by the advancing enemy.
When Zaidos had arrived at this point in his drawing, his paper gave out, and he was obliged to write the rest on the back of the sheet.
"You will see, fellows," he wrote, "just how the second trench is laid out by looking at the first. Back of the barbed wire and the observation trenches come a lot of connecting trenches again. These are not laid out in exactly the same direction as the first group, of course, but are generally the same. Instead of a shelter for thirty men, there is a shelter for one hundred thirty men. The cook house is much larger, and the First Aid Station is really a sort of hospital, where the men can be placed until they are taken back to the regular field hospital which is back of the third trench, four hundred yards away. This makes the hospital proper pretty safe.
"The shelter for men in the third position holds three hundred men easily and the hospital is quite complete.
"You never saw such courageous fellows as these are. Just think, you chaps, kicking as you do over there about the feed and the beds and the barracks, what it is like to live underground against the bare earth!
"The men are never able to undress to sleep. Once in two weeks each man has a bath, which he has to take in two minutes. He is then given a complete set of new underwear. The men spend four days in the trenches, almost always under fire night and day. There has been no firing since we struck the place, but there is going to be a bad time soon, they say. And then the noise is perfectly deafening, they tell me.
"When the men have been four days in the trenches under fire, they are sent back in squads to the nearest village for four days to rest and get their nerves back in shape.
"I was talking to a jolly young Englishman this morning, and he told me about the place he stayed in the village. He has just come back.
"He was quartered in a cellar, where they were perfectly safe from Zeppelin bombs or stray shells, but it was dark and damp and cold. When he went to sleep at night the rats ran all over him, and he and all the other fellows had to wrap their coats around their faces to keep the rats from running over the bare skin. Some rats, eh?
"A lot of chaps go to pieces with rheumatism, and have to be sent way back to the stationary hospitals in the cities.
"This Englishman I was talking to was over in France last Christmas, and he told me all about the time they had. Seems queer, but I think it is so. He said almost every fellow in the outer trench had some sort of a Christmas box with fruit-cake and candles, and 'sweets' as he calls candies. There they were, wishing each other a merry Christmas, and shaking hands, and laughing, and the snipers' guns popping away at the Germans a few feet away from them. Pretty soon a white flag went up in the enemies' trench, and they ran one up, too, and stuck up their heads to see what was what. They didn't know if it was a ruse or not; but there was a group of Germans sitting on the edge of their trench with their legs down inside ready to jump; and they were calling 'Merry Christmas, Englishmen!' as jolly as you please.
"Well, that was all our fellows needed, and they got out of their holes and advanced. But one of their officers went first, a young fellow who was pretty homesick on account of the day, and he went up to a big German officer, and they agreed that there should be a truce for the day, and shook hands on it. So the men came across and met, and tried to talk to each other and learned some words from each other. The Germans had Christmas boxes, too, and they swapped their funny pink frosted cakes for the English fruit-cake, and gave each other cigarette cases and knives for souvenirs.
"Then it came dinner time, and they brought their stuff out on the neutral ground, and ate it together. Then pretty soon they all went back to their own trenches, and commenced singing to each other. The English sang their Christmas carols, old as the hills of England; and the Germans boomed back their songs in their big, deep voices. I tell you, fellows, it must have been queer! Just before dark, the German lieutenant stood up once more, with his white flag, and the English officer went to meet him. The German talked pretty fair English and the men heard what he said.
"'We have a lot of dead men here to bury,' he explained. 'Will you come and help us?' So the English said yes, and they all came out again and helped to bury the fellows they had shot. Then they all stood together, and the German officer took off his helmet and everybody took off their caps, and the German officer looked down at the graves, and then up, and he said, 'Hear us, Lieber Gott,' and the fellow said he must have thought his English was not good enough to pray in; so he said a little prayer in German, but everybody sort of felt as though they understood it, and of course some did. And then he put his helmet back, and shook hands very straight and stiff with our officer, and said, 'Auf wiedersehn,' and turned away. And everybody shook hands and went back to their own trenches, and long after dark they kept calling to each other 'Good-bye! Good-bye!'