THE BOY ALLIES WITH THE COSSACKS
A WILD DASH OVER THE CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS
By CLAIR W. HAYES
"The Boy Allies at Liege" "The Boy Allies On the Firing Line" "The Boy Allies In the Trenches"
A. L. BURT COMPANY
By A. L. Burt Company
The Boy Allies with the Cossacks
THE BOY ALLIES WITH THE COSSACKS.
"What's that below, Hal?"
The speaker was Chester Crawford, an American lad of some 16 years.
Hal Paine allowed his eyes to turn from the steering wheel and glanced over the side of the flying aeroplane.
"I don't see anything," he replied, after a careful scrutiny below.
"Neither do I, now," said Chester, straining his eyes.
At this moment the third occupant of the machine made his presence known.
"Woof! Woof!" he exclaimed.
The third speaker was Marquis, a dog.
"Woof! Woof!" he barked again.
Hal, with a quick move, slackened the speed of the aeroplane, and let it glide gently closer to the earth.
"Must be something wrong," he confided to Chester, "or Marquis wouldn't be barking like that."
Both lads peered into the darkness that engulfed them on all sides. As far as the eye could penetrate there was nothing but blackness, solid, intense.
"Let's go a little lower, Hal," whispered Chester.
Under Hal's firm hand the aeroplane came down gently, until at last it was soaring close to the treetops. And now, suddenly, both lads made out the cause of Marquis's uneasiness.
Beneath them were thousands upon thousands of armed men. To the north, to the south, and to the east and west the dense mass of humanity stretched out. Hal and Chester, flying close to the earth, at last could make out moving forms below them.
Suddenly it became light. Not broad daylight, but the darkness gave way enough for the lads to distinguish what lay below them. The dawn of another day was breaking.
At the same instant that the lads made out the huge mass of humanity upon the ground their presence in the air was discovered. There came the sound of a single shot and the whiz of a bullet, as it sped close to Hal's ear.
With a quick movement the lad sent the plane soaring high in the air once more. So sudden was the movement that Chester, caught unprepared, lost his balance, and saved himself from tumbling to the ground only by clutching the side of the machine. Marquis also had a narrow escape from being thrown out. He let out a loud yelp of fear, as he was thrown violently against Chester. The lad threw out a hand and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, just as it seemed he would plunge to certain destruction.
"Say!" he called to Hal, when he finally regained his breath and his head. "What's the matter with you? You almost dumped us both out."
"Did I?" replied Hal briefly. "Well, as long as you didn't fall it's all right. We had to come up suddenly, or the chances were we would have gone down suddenly. But it's my fault. I should have given you warning. Are you hurt?"
"No," replied Chester.
"I'll be careful next time," said Hal. "You'll have to forgive me this once."
"Say no more about it," answered Chester. "But what was the cause of this sudden rise?"
"Cause!" repeated Hal in astonishment. "You don't mean to tell me you don't know the cause? Didn't you hear that shot?"
"Yes, I heard it. But how do you know whether it was fired by friend or foe?"
"I can't see as that would make any difference if it happened to hit us. However, I'm morally certain they were Germans."
"Well, maybe they were. What are we going to do now?"
"We'll stay up here until we are absolutely certain we have passed over the German lines. Then we'll come down."
The machine was high in the air now, and, peering intently over the side, as he did, Chester was unable to make out anything below in the early morning light.
But in the rear, soaring high in the air, although neither lad realized it, a new danger threatened. When the presence of the boys' plane had been discovered, a German craft had immediately risen, and was now in pursuit.
Glancing over his shoulder, Chester was the first to discover that they were followed. At the same moment that he perceived the pursuing machine there came a shot from the enemy.
There was no need for Chester to cry out to Hal. The sound of the shot told the latter of their danger, and he immediately threw the speed lever over as far as it would go.
The machine bounded forward.
But the pursuer also came on faster than before; and, while it was apparent that he was not lessening the distance between the two craft, he nevertheless was still in range, and his rifle continued to crack. However, neither the machine nor its three occupants were struck.
Chester took a snap shot at the other craft with his revolver, but the bullet fell short. While the enemy could pepper them at will with his rifle, a bullet from the lad's revolver could not reach him.
Hal heard the sound of Chester's revolver, and called out:
"Did you hit him?"
"No!" Chester shouted back, "he's too far behind. But he'll get us in a minute if we don't do something." To himself he added: "If I only had a rifle!"
"You be ready with your revolver," Hal called to his friend, "and I'll soon fix that. It's our only chance."
Abruptly he slackened the speed of the machine, and swiftly the enemy came on. So suddenly had Hal acted that the man at the wheel of the pursuing machine could not act promptly enough, and was within range of Chester's revolver before he could slow down.
As the first machine righted after its abrupt halt, Chester took deliberate aim and fired, even at the moment that a bullet passed close to his head.
There was a yell from the pursuing machine. A man leaped suddenly to his feet, shaking the frail craft violently as he did so, waved his arms once, twice, and toppled into space.
"I got one of 'em," Chester shouted to Hal, and his lips shut grimly.
"Good for you!" Hal shouted back.
Even Marquis realized that it was time to be pleased, and he sent up a sharp bark of joy. His canine intelligence told him that something that threatened had been overcome.
But the man at the wheel of the German aeroplane, now that he was alone, was not minded to give up the chase. The machine darted at the boys' craft suddenly, and, but for the fact that Hal at that very moment happened to glance over his shoulder, the sharp-pointed prow of the German craft would have cut them down.
With a sudden twist of the wheel, however, Hal sent the machine out of the path of the German, and, as the enemy sped by, Chester took a snap shot with his revolver.
Evidently he missed, for the German checked his plane and returned to the attack.
"So," said Hal to himself, "two can play at that game."
Once more he avoided the German rush; and then, wheeling his own craft at the moment the German sped by, he dashed in pursuit. The enemy, doing the work of two men, did not perceive this change in tactics by his foes, and, even as he slowed down to turn and make another attack, the point of the lad's machine plowed into him.
There was a ripping, tearing sound; the German plane wavered and started to fall as the craft in which the boys were flying dashed by. But, by a superhuman effort, the German succeeded in righting his craft.
Then, holding the wheel steady with one hand, he calmly produced a revolver and took deliberate aim at Hal.
There was a sharp crack, followed immediately by another, but Hal was unharmed.
Realizing the German's purpose, Chester's weapon had spoken a second before that of the enemy. The lad had not had time to take careful aim, but the bullet sped true, striking the German squarely in the forehead, even at the moment his finger pressed the trigger of his own revolver.
Chester saw the man throw up his hands and fall backward. The German plane, now without a hand to keep it steady, rocked crazily for several moments, then turned turtle and went tumbling over and over toward the ground.
"Did you get him, Chester?" asked Hal, who had not turned his head, and therefore had not perceived his own danger.
"Yes, I got him," replied Chester simply.
"Good!" returned Hal. "And the machine?"
The lads now paused to take stock of their own damage, if any. There was none. Not a German bullet had so much as struck the machine.
"They are not very good marksmen, are they?" said Hal, with a slight grin.
"Doesn't look that way," returned Chester. "However, maybe those fellows are not the best specimens."
"Maybe not," replied Hal.
"What next?" asked Chester, after a slight pause.
"Guess we might as well go on," replied Hal. "There may be some more of those German machines flying after us, so I guess it behooves us to get away from here as soon as possible."
"I guess you are right," Chester acquiesced.
Once more the aeroplane straightened itself out on its course and, flying high—absolutely hidden from the ground by a dense mass of black clouds that seemed to spring up as if by magic—sped on.
Hal, with firm hands on the wheel, kept his gaze directly ahead. Chester settled himself comfortably in his seat again, and Marquis, after sniffing about for several moments, finally composed himself to sleep.
In spite of the fact that he was flying far above ground, the dog had not shown a sign of nervousness or fright. Evidently he had no fear. Possibly through his head flashed the thought that if these young boys who were caring for him had saved him once, it was no more than they would do again.
BEYOND THE ENEMY.
Hal Paine and Chester Crawford, two young American lads, had already seen much active service in the great European war of 1914, the greatest war of all history.
With Hal's mother they had been in the capital of Germany when the conflagration broke out. In making their way from Berlin they had been separated from Mrs. Paine and, thrown upon their resources, it became necessary for them to make their way out of Germany alone, or else to stay in Berlin for an indefinite time. The boys elected to leave.
With Major Raoul Derevaux, a French Officer, then a captain, and Captain Harry Anderson, an Englishman, they had finally succeeded in making their way into the Belgian lines. They had witnessed the heroic defense of the Belgians at Liege, and had themselves taken part in the battle. Having accomplished several missions successfully, they had come to be looked upon with the greatest respect by the Belgian commander.
At Louvain Hal was wounded, and Chester had him conveyed to Brussels. Here the lads again fell in with Captain Anderson, and, through the good offices of the latter, eventually found themselves attached to the British forces on the continent. They had gained favor in the eyes of Sir John French, the British Field Marshal in command of the British troops, and had successfully accomplished several difficult missions.
Taken prisoners by the Germans, they had been saved from death at the hands of a firing squad by the Emperor of Germany himself, and had finally been taken back to Berlin.
In the streets of the German capital, one day, a message had been put into their hands by an English prisoner, who declared that its delivery to the Grand Duke Nicholas, commander of the hosts of the Czar of Russia, was a matter of much moment.
Displaying great resourcefulness and bravery, the lads had succeeded in escaping from Berlin in an aeroplane, as narrated in "The Boy Allies on the Firing Line," the same in which, at the opening of this story, we find them flying swiftly eastward.
Crack revolver shots, and having skill in the use of the sword and with their fists, the boys had fought themselves out of many ticklish situations. And now, free again, they were making all speed to deliver the message from the combined leaders of two countries to Grand Duke Nicholas, a message that would mean closer cooperation between the Russians in the east and the British and French forces in the west.
The Russian campaign so far could hardly be called a success. True, the first German advance into Poland, with Warsaw as its object, had been checked, and the invader had been driven back; but the mighty legions of the Czar of all the Russias could not be mobilized with the swiftness of the Kaiser's troops; and, when mobilized, could not be transported to the front with the same dispatch.
Reenforced after their first defeat in Poland, the Germans had begun a new drive into the heart of Poland. Day after day they drew nearer and nearer to the little capital, Warsaw—the Russians retreating before them.
But now, within two days' march of Warsaw, the Russians held steadily, and, try as he might, the German commander could not break through this line of steel. Grand Duke Nicholas, commander-in-chief of the Russian armies—who at first had been with the southern army opposing the Austrians and advancing upon Cracow, in Galicia—had hurried north, to take personal command in Poland.
His presence had instilled new vigor into the Russian troops, and, after several days of defensive action, the Russian troops had at last resumed the offensive.
It was toward this mighty army that the aeroplane that had borne the boys through the heart of the enemy was now flying swiftly.
"Seems to me," said Hal, "that by this time we must have passed the German lines. I guess we might as well go down a bit and have a look around."
Accordingly the machine glided nearer the earth. The day was dark and foggy, and at first the lads could discern nothing below but a great blur.
They drew closer.
At that moment there came a shot from below. Hal instinctively threw over the lever in an effort to take the craft out of harm's way.
But the machine did not respond to his touch.
"Great Scott!" he cried. "That one bullet must have put us out of commission. We'll have to go down, or be shot to pieces up here."
Gently the little craft glided toward the earth; and now the boys could make out the objects below.
On all sides, stretching out as far as the eye could see, was a mighty mass of moving men.
"Germans?" asked Chester anxiously.
"We'll soon see," replied Hal briefly.
It was apparent now that those below, realizing that the aircraft was falling, would not fire at it again. With upturned eyes thousands of men watched the flight of the little plane, as it soared down among them.
Hal looked closely at the men, as the machine drew near the ground, and then exclaimed:
"No, they are not Germans; Russians, that's what they are."
Chester raised a feeble cheer.
"Hurrah!" he shouted.
Marquis, aroused by the sound of the lad's voices, arose and stretched. Even he seemed pleased.
And now the aeroplane bumped the ground, and the lads stepped out to see a long line of rifle barrels confronting them.
The lads threw up their hands instantly, but Marquis's back bristled and he growled threateningly.
"Keep quiet!" Chester commanded, and the dog grew still. An officer approached the lads.
"What do you here?" he demanded, in some language the lads could not understand.
The lads shook their heads, and the officer tried again, this time in German.
"What do you here?" he demanded.
As briefly as possible, Hal, acting as spokesman, explained. The officer's incredulous gaze grew more so as the lad went on with his story. When the lad had finished, he said simply:
"I don't believe you!"
Hal was angry in a second. He took a step toward the officer.
"What do you mean by that?" he demanded.
The officer stood his ground.
"Just what I say," he replied. "I don't believe you. The tale you tell is impossible."
Chester stepped into the breach. He took Hal by the arm.
"Of course such a tale is hard to believe," he said. "But, nevertheless, it is true. We carry an important message for the Grand Duke."
"Well," said the officer, "I don't think you will see him. He is too busy to give up his time to listen to such a tale as yours."
But at this moment a second officer, apparently the other's superior, approached. To him, upon request, Hal repeated his story. This officer also looked incredulous, but the result was different.
"You tell a very strange story," he said, "but it is not for me to pass upon its veracity. You shall be given an audience with the Grand Duke; but, mark me well, if it is found that you have been lying—that you have nothing of importance, it will go hard with you."
"We have no fear of that, sir," said Chester briefly.
"All right, then. Follow me."
The lads did as ordered, Marquis trailing along after them. Through thousands of rapidly-moving men the lads followed the officer, and at last, after more than an hour's walk, came to a stop, upon command, in front of a large, bewhiskered man, of imposing military stature.
"This," said the officer who had conducted them, "is Grand Duke Nicholas."
The officer looked down on them.
"What is it?" he demanded gruffly.
The officer repeated the story the boys had told him. The Grand Duke grew greatly interested as the story progressed, and, when the message was mentioned, he interrupted.
"Enough," he said. "I have been expecting such a message." He turned to the two lads. "Do you bear it?" he asked.
Hal bowed in assent.
"Then give it to me!" he cried eagerly.
Chester reached in his pocket, and a moment more the Grand Duke eagerly clutched the paper the lad handed him—a paper they had gone through so much to deliver.
The Grand Duke read the message through twice, sitting on his horse without a move, his face a perfect blank. Then he thrust it into his pocket and turned once more to the two lads.
"You have done well," he said. "Captain, you will see that they are brought to my quarters to-night at eight o'clock. I desire to question them. In the meantime, see that they are fed and clothed properly, for it is very cold."
The officer saluted, and the Grand Duke rode away, closely followed by the members of his staff. At a sign from the officer in whose charge they had been left, the lads followed him.
Toward the rear of the army they continued their way, coming at last upon a row of tents. Into one of these the officer led the way, the lads and the dog following him.
Here the officer quickly set out food, and the boys fell to with a will, for it was a long time since a morsel had passed their lips. Then, having satisfied their appetites, they informed the officer that they would like to rest.
The officer nodded, and showed them into another tent, where two bunks had been prepared. With a word of thanks, the boys climbed in, and the officer left them alone.
"Well," said Chester, "we have accomplished our mission successfully. What are we going to do now?"
"I have been thinking," Hal replied, "of how life on this side of the war arena would go."
"You mean stay here and not return to France?" asked Chester.
"Exactly. I have read that the Russian Cossacks are terrible fighters. I would like to see some of them in action."
"And so would I," declared Chester.
"All right," said Hal. "Then, if you are agreeable, when we see the Grand Duke to-night, I shall ask him if he cannot arrange to assign us to duties with the Russian army."
In another moment the two lads, tired out, were fast asleep, with Marquis on guard.
UNDER THE BEAR.
"So, Your Excellency," Hal concluded, "you may see that we have had considerable active service."
The Russian Grand Duke Nicholas did not reply for some moments. It was plain that he was greatly impressed, as he had been greatly interested in the boys' adventures since they had taken service with the Allies just before the defense of Liege.
"Yes," he said at length, "you certainly have seen considerable service; and, in bringing me this paper safely"—the Grand Duke tapped his breast pocket—"you have rendered an invaluable service to our cause. I am indeed glad to know you. Now, if there is anything I can do to show my appreciation, you may consider it done."
Remembering their conversation of a few hours before, Hal started to speak, then hesitated. Realizing that the lad had something he felt a delicacy of saying, the Grand Duke said:
"Come, out with it. What can I do for you?"
"Well, Your Excellency," said Hal, "my friend and I would like to see service with the Russian army."
"What!" exclaimed the Grand Duke.
"Yes," Chester broke into the conversation. "We have talked it over, and we have decided that we would like to see service in the Eastern theater of war."
"Hm-m-m," said the Duke, stroking his mustache, "and have you picked out the branch of the service to which you would like to be attached?"
"Yes, sir," said Hal; "we have."
"And that is?" questioned the Grand Duke.
"The cavalry, Your Excellency—the Cossacks."
The Grand Duke jumped to his feet in surprise.
"Well, well!" he exclaimed. "You have certainly picked out the most difficult thing you could have asked me. Still, I have no doubt it can be arranged."
"If it will inconvenience you, your Excellency——" Chester began.
"Tut! Tut!" the Grand Duke interrupted him, with a wave of his hand. "It shall be done. Consider the matter settled. Do you know anything of the Cossacks?"
"Why, yes, Your Excellency," replied Hal. "We have read considerable about them."
"Still," said the Grand Duke, "I'll warrant you do not know overly much about them. I'll tell you a little, if you like."
"We would be glad to hear Your Excellency," said Chester.
"The Cossacks," said the Grand Duke, "from whom the Russian cavalry is mainly drawn, form a community within the Russian Empire enjoying special rights and privileges in return for military service. Each Cossack village holds its land as a commune, and the village assembly fixes local taxation and elects the local judges. It has been estimated that the Cossacks will place 400,000 armed men in the field in this war.
"Both in historical writings and in fiction the Cossacks are often represented as little better than savages. But this is a mistake, for the level of education among the Cossacks is higher than in the rest of Russia.
"Now, the Cossacks have always been fighters—none better in the world. They have won renown wherever they have fought by their daring and bravery. But the Cossacks, to a certain degree, are clannish—they do not take kindly to those not of their kind. Which is the reason, as I said, you had made it hard for me when you asked to be assigned to a Cossack regiment. By the way, can you ride?"
"Yes, Your Excellency," replied Hal. "We are both used to the saddle, having ridden much in America."
"Well," said the Grand Duke, "I will see that it is arranged. Report to me here in the morning."
The lads saluted and took their departure, returning to the spot where they had sought rest only a few short hours before.
It was about seven o'clock the following morning when they again stood in the presence of the Grand Duke. With him was an officer in a dark uniform, that gave evidence of having seen hard service, but gaily bedecked nevertheless. He was a large man, fully six feet in height, and built proportionately. The Grand Duke motioned the boys to approach.
"This," he said, indicating the officer who stood beside him, "is your future commander, General Ivan Jorvitch. I have informed him of your request, and my command that it be granted."
The lads saluted the general, and he acknowledged the salute stiffly.
"I am not at all sure as to how they will be received by the men, sir," he said to the Grand Duke.
"You will see that they are well treated," replied the Grand Duke. "My commands are not to be treated lightly. These lads will be attached to your staff with the rank of lieutenants. They are not to serve in the ranks."
"Yes, your excellency," said the general, saluting.
"You will find, general," continued the Grand Duke, "that you may depend upon them to the limit. I fancy I am a good judge of character. They have already done me an invaluable service. They may do more."
The Grand Duke then proceeded to relate some of the lads' exploits and informed the general of the message they had brought.
General Jorvitch thawed immediately upon hearing this, and extended a hand to each lad in turn.
"I shall be glad to have you with me," he told them sincerely. "I feared, at first, that the Grand Duke was trying an experiment."
In spite of the general's first gruffness the lads had taken a liking to him. Straight and erect, with a flashing eye, he was the beau ideal of a soldier. Still, there was a slight twinkle in the corner of those same eyes, which proclaimed him a man, though stern, of a kindly disposition.
The lads thanked the general, and their interview with the Grand Duke concluded, followed their new commander back to his quarters.
"I have been ordered to advance," the general informed them as they made their way along, "and as soon as I have introduced you to your fellow officers and procured you uniforms and horses, we shall proceed."
An hour later, in true Russian garb and astride two fiery chargers, the lads made their way forward with the rest of the troop. In all there were probably 10,000 Cossacks in this advance.
With one of the Cossack officers, a young lieutenant, huge in stature and pleasant of face, the lads at once struck up a friendship. He stood at least six feet six and seemed a Goliath in strength. He it was who picked their horses for them, and obtained their uniforms. Some of the other officers, while not openly hostile, still were disdainful of the two boys, and plainly not well pleased with their company.
"Have you any idea where we are bound?" asked Hal in German of their new friend, who introduced himself with a swagger as "Lieutenant Alexis Vergoff."
"Lodz; and when we get there we'll make the Germans hard to find," was the answer, made in a loud, boasting tone.
Hal and Chester glanced at each other and smiled quizzically. The same thought was in the mind of each: "He talks too boastfully to be much of a fighter."
Alexis noticed the interchange of glances, and the quizzical smiles. He realized their meaning in an instant.
"You think I won't fight, eh?" he said loudly. "Alexis Vergoff not fight? Ho! Ho!"
He threw back his head and laughed loudly. The boys were not impressed.
"Worse and more of it," thought Hal to himself.
Chester was of the same opinion, but he did not say so aloud.
"Why," continued Alexis, "I've fought more battles than you will ever hear of. I have killed twenty men."
"Twenty is a good many," said Hal softly.
"True! True!" shouted Alexis, "but I'll kill twenty more in the next battle, just to show you. You shall see what sort of a man Alexis Vergoff is!"
"I am afraid we shall see too soon," muttered Chester to himself.
"Why," went on Alexis, "it was only a month ago, before being ordered to the front, that I slew five men single-handed!"
"Great Scott!" muttered Hal. "I wish I had not started him. He'll never let up now."
"It was at my mother's home," continued Alexis. "I reached home unexpectedly. Five men had surrounded her and threatened to kill her unless she gave them money she kept in the house. One had drawn a knife just as I entered the room. No one saw me enter, and I was upon them before they knew it.
"I picked up the man with the knife as though he had been a child, and threw him bodily upon the other four. He had no time to strike at me with his knife or even drop it. The other four went down in a heap. The knife of the first man was buried in one of his companions, and so there were only three who could stagger to their feet. I picked up a lamp that stood on the table. This I hurled at another. It struck him squarely on the head, and rebounded against the head of another. Both men went down with cracked skulls. The fifth man turned to flee, but picking up a knife, I hurled it after him. It stuck in his back, and he ran half a mile before he fell down dead. The next man jumped for me——"
"Hold on!" said Hal, laughing. "You said there were only five, and you have already killed them."
"True!" muttered Alexis, though in no wise taken aback. "It was in another fight where I killed six men. I always get them mixed up. In that fight——"
"Save that for another time," said Hal, restraining his laughter with difficulty.
"Don't you want to hear it?" demanded Alexis in surprise. "I always like to hear a story of a good fight."
"I believe you would rather tell one," replied Hal.
Alexis looked very much crestfallen.
"Do you think I made that up?" he asked in consternation. "Why, I can tell you of other fights I have had that——"
"I don't doubt it at all," said Hal. "I am willing to admit that you can draw the long bow to the Queen's taste."
"Draw the long bow?" repeated Alexis, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"It wouldn't do for me to tell you," replied Hal chuckling to himself. "Ask someone else."
Alexis turned to Chester.
"Do you know what he means? Will you tell me?" he asked.
"Yes, I know what he means," replied Chester, laughing, "and I believe he is right. However, it wouldn't do for me to tell you either. You must ask someone else."
Alexis turned to the man on his right, and repeated his question. The man acknowledged he knew no more what the expression meant than Alexis himself.
Alexis accosted several other officers, but with no better luck. He turned to Hal aggrieved.
"You should not have said that unless you tell me what you mean," he said.
"Ask Colonel Bluekoff, perhaps he may tell you," said Hal.
Alexis approached the Colonel.
"What is it, sir?" asked the latter.
"Colonel," said Alexis, saluting, "can you tell me what drawing the long bow means?"
The colonel looked at him in amazement. Then he said sternly:
"Get back to your place, sir. This is no time for joking."
Alexis returned to his place.
"Did he tell you?" asked Hal.
"No," replied Alexis, "but I'll find out, if I have to put off killing one of my enemies to ask him about it."
There came a sudden command from Colonel Bluekoff, and the regiment to which Hal and Chester were attached galloped forward. The advance guard could be seen falling back, firing as they retreated upon the main body of cavalry. They had encountered a force of the enemy.
With Colonel Bluekoff leading, his sword whirling about his head, the troop dashed forward at a charge. As they went by, the retreating advance guard reformed and also dashed forward with them. From ahead came several puffs of smoke and the cracking of rifles, and here and there a man fell to the ground. But the rest dashed on.
The Cossacks did not fire a shot and soon the enemy had disappeared in the distance.
"A reconnoitering force that must have gotten around Lodz in some way," Colonel Bluekoff told his officers.
The regiment now fell back upon the main body.
"That's two more," said Alexis complacently to Hal and Chester.
"Two more what?" demanded Hal.
"Two more of the enemy I have killed," said Alexis without a suspicion of a smile. "Didn't you see them go down when I fired?"
"I didn't know we fired a shot," said Chester, with a laugh.
"Sh-h-h," whispered Alexis, "do you want to get me into trouble?"
"Trouble," said Chester. "What do you mean?"
"Don't you know I'd get into trouble if the colonel knew I had fired without orders, even though I killed two of the enemy."
"Great Scott!" muttered Hal to himself. "He is the limit."
Alexis showed his revolver to Hal and Chester.
"Little invention of my own," he said. "Now I'll leave it to you, you didn't hear me when I fired, did you?"
"No," said Chester emphatically, "I did not."
"I knew it," exclaimed Alexis triumphantly. "You see," he explained, patting the revolver, "that's how I was able to kill two of the enemy without you hearing the sound of my revolver. Little invention of my own. No noise, no smoke."
Hal stretched out a hand.
"Let me have a look at that wonderful weapon," he said.
Alexis drew back, and returned the revolver quickly to its place.
"No," he said seriously. "I wouldn't trust it out of my own hand. If it's not handled just right, it might get out of commission, and I don't believe I could make another like it."
Hal whistled softly to himself.
"He's the best I ever heard," he said to himself, "and I've heard a whole lot of 'em at one time or another."
Alexis rode ahead as complacently as before, whistling softly to himself, pausing once just long enough to turn to Hal and ask:
"Have you decided yet to tell me what you mean by drawing the long bow?"
"While you have a gun like that in your possession, I wouldn't tell you for the world," replied Hal.
Now the column, at a command from General Jorvitch, increased its pace. In the distance could be made out the buildings of a large town.
"Lodz," said Alexis briefly, pointing ahead.
Hal and Chester acknowledged they understood. The troop continued onward.
Lodz, an important railroad center, was one of the most important towns in Poland, and the Grand Duke had decided that it must be held at all hazards. There was already a large body of troops stationed there, but the Grand Duke had not considered them sufficient to hold off the ever-increasing horde of the Kaiser. Even now large masses of infantry were being thrown forward to reenforce the troops already there.
Acclaimed on all hands, the Cossacks rode rapidly through the town and went into camp at the side facing the Germans. Outposts were thrown out and the Cossacks sat down to a day of waiting.
Having secured permission, Hal, Chester and Alexis walked back toward the town. For several hours they strolled about, looking in the windows, and purchasing several small articles.
The people of Lodz were serene in their belief that there was no danger of a German invasion, in spite of the nearness of the foe. Shops and stores, theaters and all buildings were gaily decorated, and thousands promenaded the streets. The city was in festival attire.
"Looks like they were preparing for a celebration," Hal remarked to Chester.
"I should say it does," the latter returned. "But it wouldn't take the Germans long to wreck the town, if they once got here. You remember Louvain?"
"Well, they won't get here," Alexis broke in. "One Cossack is always good for ten Germans. Why, I remember——"
"Tell us later," Hal interrupted. "We want to look about a little now."
The three entered a store, where, Alexis' eye having been caught by a red necktie, the Cossack purchased it. The necktie in his pocket, he leaned over the counter and asked the salesman:
"Say, what does drawing the long bow mean?"
Hal and Chester burst into a loud guffaw, and the salesman, drawing back, suddenly turned and disappeared.
A man in civilian garb, who stood nearby, also broke into a loud guffaw. Alexis turned on him angrily.
"What are you laughing at?" he demanded.
"Why, I'm laughing at you," replied the man calmly. "What about it?"
Plainly Alexis was astonished at this reply. He drew back.
"Oh, I guess it's all right," he said pleasantly. "I wasn't sure, that's all."
"And who are these children you have with you?" demanded the man.
Hal answered this question himself.
"None of your business," he said shortly.
"Is that so?" said the man, stepping forward. "What if I should make it some of my business?"
"I don't think you will," he said quietly.
The man, large, though somewhat stout, with a red, evil-looking face, stepped quickly forward, and tapped Hal lightly on the cheek with his hand.
"Let that teach you not to talk back to your elders," he said.
"And let that teach you not to interfere in other people's business," said Hal, also taking a step forward, and tapping his opponent lightly on the cheek.
The man grew very angry, and his face turned a dull red. He raised his cane, and struck sharply at Hal. But Hal was not there, and a moment later the man received a sharp jolt on the jaw as Hal's fist went home.
The man let out a string of epithets and rushed at the boy. But the latter was prepared for him, and drove him back with straight rights and lefts; one blow brought a tiny stream of blood from the man's nose.
He drew back.
"You will answer for that," he said quietly, and turning, walked off.
Hal shrugged his shoulders, and at that moment the salesman whom Alexis had frightened a few moments before came back.
"Do you know who that was?" he asked of Hal.
"No," replied the lad, "and what's more, I don't care."
"Well," said the salesman, "the man whom you just struck is Count de Reslau, and he is very influential. You have made a bad enemy."
"I don't care if he is the King of Poland," replied Hal. "No man can hit me and get away without a return blow."
Alexis, meanwhile, had been gazing at Hal in astonishment. Now he approached and laid a hand on the lad's arm.
"A real fighter!" he exclaimed. "A man after my own heart!"
"I didn't see you doing much fighting just a moment ago," said Hal, somewhat nettled.
"Of course not," replied Alexis. "Do you think I wanted to get in trouble? Suppose an officer had come along?"
"Well," said Hal, "suppose he had?"
"If he had, we would have lost our liberty for all time to come."
"And is that why you didn't fight?"
"Yes! Discipline in the Russian army is more strict than in any army in the world; but you are certainly a fighter. The way you stood up to that man reminds me of the time I——"
"Come on," broke in Chester, not wanting to hear any more bluster, "and let's get out of here."
The three left the store, and continued their stroll about the town. As they were passing an unfrequented corner, six men suddenly sprang out upon them, armed with clubs and knives.
Hal and Chester immediately backed up against a wall, and turned to fight off their assailants; but not so Alexis.
With a loud shout he rushed upon the six who had attacked them. Right and left flew his huge fists, striking out blindly. One man toppled to the ground. A stabbing wrist was caught in the Cossack's great hand, and thrown twisting through the air. And at the same time Alexis called to Hal and Chester:
"Now you shall see how Alexis can fight!"
But Hal and Chester had no mind to let Alexis fight the whole crowd of assailants. They sprang to his aid.
Alexis drove his right fist, with tremendous power behind it, right into the face of the second man, and the latter went down to rise no more for some time to come.
Hal, with a sudden spring, clinched with one of the assailants, and the two went tumbling to the ground. Chester and another of the enemy were also rolling on the ground.
Alexis reached one huge hand and grasped another of the foe by the back of the neck, and lifted him, kicking and struggling, from his feet. The last man turned to flee, but he had reckoned without the giant Cossack.
Still holding one man by the scruff of the neck, the Cossack took a step forward and, with his free hand, grasped the last man by the back of the neck also. Then, holding one in either hand, he walked calmly to where Hal and his opponent were engaged.
Hal was uppermost, and Alexis, seizing a chance when the lad's head was out of the way, dashed the man he held in his left hand, headfirst, against the head of the enemy on the ground. There was a crunch, and both men lay still.
Then, with his other victim in his left hand, Alexis walked over to where Chester and his opponent were rolling about, and performed a similar operation. Then he lent each lad a hand in getting to his feet, after which he turned and surveyed the field of battle.
"Six!" he said briefly. "That's enough for one day. Come on! Let's get away from here before some officer comes along and sees us."
Both boys looked at the giant Cossack with amazement written large upon their faces. From the first time that he had boasted to them, they had put him down as anything but a fighter, in spite of his huge size. But the quickness with which he had disposed of six men showed them that they had been wrong.
As they walked along, it was plain to the lads that something was troubling Alexis; and at last Hal was moved to ask:
"What's the matter, Alexis?"
The huge Cossack looked at the lad for a moment, and then said:
"There is no use my telling you, but I will. I want to know what you meant by 'drawing the long bow.'"
ALEXIS IN BATTLE.
Both lads laughed heartily.
"You'll learn before many days," said Hal, "and I am not as sure as I was about it."
"Nor I," agreed Chester.
The three made their way back to their posts, where Alexis immediately insisted on donning his new red necktie. Marquis, who had been left behind while the three friends made a tour of the city, greeted them with joyful barks. He had made friends with the big Cossack, and the latter had taken quite a fancy to the dog.
Hardly had the three retired to their positions, when an air of excitement throughout the troops became apparent. There was bustle and some slight confusion and shouted commands. A moment later and a body of 5,000 Cossacks, armed and spurred, stood beside their horses, ready to mount and ride at the command.
"Where do you suppose we are going?" asked Hal of Chester.
"Haven't any idea," was the reply, "but it looks as though there was a little fighting to be done."
"That's what!" exclaimed Alexis, who stood beside the two lads. "Now you shall see how we handle the Germans."
"Mount!" came the command.
As one man, the troop sprang to the saddle.
"Forward!" came the next order, and the Cossacks started forward at a gallop.
Good riders themselves, Hal and Chester could not but envy the riding prowess of their companions. Accounted among the best riders in the world, the Cossacks who now dashed forward hurled themselves toward the enemy with reckless abandon. Their lances held high in one hand, each brandished a large revolver in his other. The bridles lay across the horses' necks, the riders guiding their mounts by the pressure of their knees.
And so they swept forward, dashing swiftly over the few miles of open ground toward the spot where the Germans were known to be entrenched.
The enemy greeted them with a hail of bullets, but they faltered not. Men fell and horses dropped, but there was no hesitation among those left.
Now a bugle sounded, and they dashed on with greater ferocity than before.
Squadrons of German cavalry issued forth to meet them. They crashed with a terrible shock. The impact was terrific, and horses and riders on both sides reeled back.
But the Cossacks were the first to recover, and they spurred their horses into the thick of the enemy. The sweep of their lances and the fire from their automatics were deadly. There was no pause in the Russian attack.
Cutting and slashing, the squadron to which Hal, Chester and Alexis were attached was soon in the midst of the foe. Not unused to such encounters, the lads nevertheless found themselves hard put to keep their seats and ward off the blows of their foes.
But with each moment they gained confidence, and finally were fighting with the best of them. Hal caught a descending lance on his upraised sword, and raising his revolver took a snap shot at his opponent. The latter threw his arms high, and toppled from his horse. Chester, by a quick move, escaped a revolver shot aimed at him by a German officer, and the lad's own weapon spoke sharply. His aim was true, and the German dropped.
Now the Germans began to give ground. It was impossible to stand in the face of the terrible Cossack charge. The Russians pressed the retreating foe closely.
But now new forces of Germans dashed forward to drive back the Cossacks, or at least to protect the retreat of their companions.
The Cossacks dashed into these fresh troops with the same abandon they had first charged. But this time the result was different. Tired by the furious work, they were thrown back by the German reenforcements, and in spite of heroic efforts, were forced to retire slowly.
Flushed with this success, the Germans pressed on. The fighting was man to man, horse to horse, and hand to hand. Not for once had Alexis left the side of the two lads and none of the three had so far been injured, although men dropped on all sides of them.
Suddenly there came a command from Colonel Bluekoff.
"Charge!" he cried.
Immediately the squadron to which the lads were attached hurled itself forward once more, right into the thickest of the fray, in the face of overwhelming numbers. They dashed forward with the fury of madmen, shouting and yelling as they charged.
For a moment the Germans gave back, so terrible was the charge of this mere handful of Cossacks, but for a moment only; then they came on again. From all sides they bore down on the squadron, now completely cut off from the main body of troops, seeking to annihilate them.
There was no order to surrender from the German commander, nor would one have been heeded for the matter of that. At a quick command, the Cossacks formed a little square, back to back, and awaited the attack of the enemy.
It came upon the instant. Upon the Russian horsemen the Germans hurled themselves bravely, cutting and shooting as they came on. The Cossacks gave blow for blow, and in spite of the fierce charge, maintained their unbroken front, though men fell here and there. Unable to pierce this line of steel, the Germans drew off.
Given this little breathing space, Hal and Chester, standing side by side, took in the scene about them. Of the little troop of Cossacks there remained now possibly a hundred men. Their support, the lads could see, desperately engaged elsewhere, would be unable to come to their assistance. It was up to them to fight it out alone.
Colonel Bluekoff was down, having been pierced a few moments before by a German bullet. Among these few men there were, besides Alexis, but two minor officers unharmed. At that moment Alexis himself took command.
His sword raised aloft, he turned flashing eyes upon his men.
"Will we surrender?" he shouted, and answered his own question: "No!"
A wild cheer from his men was the reply. The huge Cossack turned to the two lads.
"We will fight till the last," he said calmly. "Are you with us?"
"We are," said Hal simply.
"You bet!" Chester agreed.
"Good!" exclaimed Alexis.
He turned once more toward the enemy, who, it was evident, were preparing for another attack upon the little band. The latter stood quietly, awaiting the charge; and in a moment it came.
Urging their horses on at a gallop, the Germans came rapidly forward. There was the clash of steel on steel as the enemy hurled themselves upon three sides of the little square simultaneously. Russians and Germans dropped together, fighting till the last.
But the odds against them were too great. Dense masses of the Germans swooped down upon them, engulfing them, overpowering them. Hal, engaged with a big German officer, had just succeeded in parrying a thrust of the other's sword, when someone from behind struck him a heavy blow over the head. The lad fell from his horse without a sound.
Chester, seeing his friend fall, fought his way toward Hal. He was just about to leap from his horse by his chum's side, when a tall German trooper brought the flat of his sword down on the lad's head. Chester also went hurtling to the ground.
And now Alexis, with a few remaining men, was left to fight the enemy alone. His sword whirling around his head in great sweeps, and an empty revolver clutched tightly in his left hand; his teeth bared in a snarl and his eyes flashing angrily, this great Cossack stood off his foes.
Four men sprang upon him at once. Putting spurs to his horse, the giant dashed in between them. Two he cut down with lightning-like slashes of his sword, and a third he disposed of by hurling his empty revolver squarely into his face. The sword of the fourth pierced him through the left arm, but before the German could regain his balance after this thrust, Alexis' sweeping sword had laid him low also.
The giant Cossack was now the last of his troop in condition to fight. Suddenly his horse staggered, and went to its knees. With a quick move, Alexis freed himself and leaped from the saddle just as the animal, dying from a pistol wound in its head, toppled to the ground.
Alexis leaped up lightly and turned again to face his foes.
A German officer urged his horse forward, seeking to ride him down. As the horse approached, Alexis fell on one knee, and the horse, pierced by his sword, fell to the ground. The officer leaped from the animal's back, but before he could bring his revolver to bear upon Alexis, the latter had pierced him through with a thrust of his sword.
A dozen of the enemy sprang upon him. With his sword sweeping around his head, seeming to make a circle of fire, the great Cossack held them at bay. One ventured to spring at him, and without even stopping the whirl of his weapon, Alexis dropped him at his feet.
More Germans sprang to the attack—ten, twenty, thirty of them. Hopelessly outnumbered, and believing that the end was near, Alexis gave up his defensive tactics and leaped into the very midst of his foes. For a moment they gave way before him, then closed in again like a pack of hungry wolves. Here and there the giant's sword darted out and men dropped beneath its thrust.
Cutting and thrusting with his dripping sword, and striking out with his naked fist, Alexis fought on. A sword pierced him through the shoulder, but the man who had aimed the thrust paid the penalty with his life. Two men closed in, and as the Cossack struck out at the one on his left with his fist, the second German seized his sword arm.
With a roar like that of an angry bull, Alexis gave a mighty wrench, and the sword came free. At the same moment he felt a sting in his right arm. A bullet had struck him. The giant scarcely felt his wounds, although he was bleeding now in a dozen places. Before him, the ground was full of dark swaying faces. His sword found another human sheath, and being unable to withdraw it quickly enough to meet another of his foes, he left it there and turned upon his enemies with his bare hands.
He snatched a revolver from the ground, and not taking time to aim, dashed it into the face of the nearest man, and then dashed forward, hitting out with his naked fists.
Vaguely he noticed the sameness of the faces about him. A short wiry man sprang at him, and with a broken sword, stabbed him in the left shoulder. Alexis caught him by the throat with his right hand, and the man gave a choking screech as he lifted him clear off the ground.
As he did so, someone behind him struck him a heavy blow on the head with the butt of a revolver. With a last furious effort he turned upon his foes, and dashed the man he held by the throat full into their faces; fell forward upon the body and, with a great sob, he shuddered and lay still.
And there, on the battlefield on the plains of Poland, lay the bodies of the two American lads and, a short distance away, that of Alexis, the giant Cossack, their friend.
The Russian cavalry, outnumbered by the Germans, had continued to give ground and the Germans were still in pursuit. But now, from the distance arose a cloud of dust, and a moment later, in a headlong dash to save their companions, came a second body of Cossack cavalry, 5,000 strong, to give battle to the Germans.
Down they came upon the unprepared Germans, with yells and shouts, their horses running free. At the same time that part of the first Cossack body which still remained reformed and sprang forward.
The Germans turned and fled.
Then from the trenches came forth columns of infantry, supported by field batteries, and in a moment these had opened upon the advancing Russian horsemen; but in spite of this hail of death, the Cossacks did not falter nor pause. Straight up to the mouth of the field guns they rode—sabering the gunners right and left—and in a few moments these had been silenced.
Then the Cossacks turned their attention to the infantry, which, firing with machine-like precision and accuracy, dealt havoc to the ranks of the Russian horsemen and mowed them down.
Several squadrons of Cossacks dismounted and approached the foe on foot, and soon the fighting became hand to hand. The standard-bearer suddenly threw up his hands and fell over backward, the colors fluttering to the ground.
A German officer, thinking to capture the flag, jumped forward, and leaning down laid his hand upon it; but at that moment a hairy, snarling body sprang forward, straight at the German's throat. The latter released his hold on the flag and jumped to his feet to ward off the attack of this strange enemy, which he could not at first make out.
But this new enemy was not to be shaken off. His teeth found their mark, and with a cry, the German tumbled to earth.
The newcomer was Marquis.
Separated from Hal and Chester, Marquis, though a battle dog, had become uneasy at their absence and set out to find them. He had advanced with the second troop of Cossacks, and seeing the dead upon the field, had been trying to pick out the bodies of the two lads.
But when the Russian standard-bearer, almost beside him, had been shot down and the German had leaped for the colors, Marquis had turned from the search of his friends to dispose of his lifelong enemy.
As Marquis' foe went to the ground, a second German sprang forward and, aiming a kick at the dog, also stooped and started to raise the colors. Marquis, disregarding the kick, seized upon the flag with his teeth at the same moment.
Then came a tug of war. Snarling, and with bristling back, Marquis pulled at the standard. Crying out hoarse epithets, the German pulled also; but neither made any headway.
Realizing that the dog was a match for him, the German uttered a fierce imprecation, dropped his hold on the flag, stepped back and aimed his revolver.
But the dog was ready for him. He had released his hold upon the flag almost as soon as had the German, and his canine reasoning told him the German's object. Before the German could pull the trigger, Marquis was ready for him, and hurled his body straight at the German's throat.
He had gauged the distance accurately enough, and beneath the shock the officer was hurled to the ground. He attempted to fight off his four-footed assailant, but he was no match for the angry dog.
This adversary disposed of, Marquis calmly returned to the flag, picked it up in his mouth, carried it to the commander of the squadron and put it in his hand. The commander took the time to pat Marquis on the head, and utter some words of praise.
But Marquis had no time to listen to these. He had other work to do, and had disappeared almost before the Cossack ceased speaking.
Hither and thither over the field of battle Marquis made his way, sniffing the bodies of the dead, and licking the faces of the wounded. For an hour he wandered about, and at last his search was rewarded.
From near him came a feeble moan. Marquis pricked up his ears. Surely he recognized that voice. The moan came again. Marquis hesitated no longer. He had recognized the voice of Hal. Quickly he sprang to where the lad lay and poked his cold muzzle into the boy's face.
Hal turned feebly on his side and put out a hand before he realized what had touched him. Then he succeeded in raising himself on one arm and threw the other around Marquis' neck.
"Marquis!" he almost sobbed. "Where is Chester?"
Apparently the dog understood his question, for he jumped away and began nosing other bodies nearby. And at last he came upon Chester. The latter also was returning to consciousness. With some difficulty Hal staggered to his feet and made his way to his friend's side. He turned to Marquis.
"Get some water!" he commanded, and paused to see if the dog understood.
Marquis bounded away, and returned a few moments later with a well-filled canteen, in his mouth. Hastily Hal removed the stopper and poured some of the water down Chester's throat. Then he took a drink himself.
Thus refreshed, Chester sat up and looked around. Hal did the same. It was indeed a terrible sight that met their eyes. As far as they could see, bodies of dead and wounded men lay scattered about. Hal shuddered.
"Terrible!" he exclaimed. Then: "I wonder where Alexis is?" He turned to Marquis. "Find Alexis," he commanded.
Marquis understood and trotted away. Chester and Hal now arose and walked slowly after him. At last Marquis, some distance away, set up a loud bark. Hal and Chester approached as rapidly as their exhausted condition would permit.
Marquis was standing directly over the body of the giant Cossack, surrounded by a circle of the enemies whom Alexis had slain in combat.
The giant stirred slightly as the boys approached. Quickly Hal bent over him and, raising his head upon his knee, placed the canteen to his lips.
This brought a sigh from Alexis' lips, and soon he sat up and looked around.
"Well," said he, waving his arm toward the circle of his fallen foes, "you can see what a Cossack does when he fights."
"I see," said Hal briefly. "But come, if you are able to walk. We had better get away from this spot. The battle is not over."
"What, a Cossack run!" he demanded.
"But if we stay here we shall probably be killed," replied Chester. "See," pointing, "even now the Cossacks are retreating in the face of superior numbers. We must go."
"I don't——" began Alexis, but Hal interrupted him.
"Come on," he said, taking him by the arm. "Let's move away from here."
Grumbling and protesting, the giant allowed himself to be led toward the head of the Cossack line, now some distance back. Bullets and shells were still whistling overhead, for the three were between the opposing forces. None dropped near them, however, and they continued on their way.
Suddenly, from the German line, came the clear call of a bugle.
"Quick!" shouted Hal, hurrying forward. "The Germans are going to charge. We mustn't be caught in between."
But it was too late. Even as the lad spoke, the German cavalry came forward with a rush.
Hal realized in an instant that they would not have time to rejoin the main body of Cossacks, for should the latter advance to meet the charge, they would not do so rapidly enough to come up to them before the Germans. Should the Cossacks retreat, the three could not possibly hope to come up with them.
Fortunately the three were at the extreme east of the battle line; so now, turning quickly, Hal led the way out of danger. When far enough away so that there was little likelihood of being struck by stray bullets, they halted to witness the progress of the battle.
The Cossacks advanced to meet the charge of the German cavalry, and threw it back upon its infantry support, which once more issued from the trenches. German field guns were unlimbered and hurled their shells screeching at the Russians. The latter were forced to retreat.
The Germans pushed this advantage closely.
"If we only had infantry or artillery here," groaned Alexis, "there would be a different story to tell."
"I'm sure of that," replied Hal; "but to advance in the face of such overwhelming numbers would be foolish."
"True," said Alexis, "but I never like to see a Cossack run from his foes, no matter what their number."
It was plain now that the Russian commander realized the futility of further fighting with his vastly superior foe. The Cossacks gave way more rapidly and finally turned and began their retreat upon Lodz.
"And here we are right in the middle of the Germans," said Chester. "What are we going to do?"
"We'll have to try to get back to our lines," said Hal, "and the sooner we start the better."
"Good," said Chester. "Let's start at once."
Alexis had so far recovered now as to announce that he was feeling "perfectly fit," and making a slight detour, the three friends, closely followed by Marquis, set out.
They had progressed possibly half a mile, when Marquis suddenly began to growl.
"What do you suppose is the matter with him?" demanded Chester.
"I don't know," replied Hal. "Evidently he scents some kind of danger." He turned to the dog. "What is it, Marquis?" he demanded.
Marquis' only answer was a series of deep growls.
"Germans?" asked Hal.
Marquis uttered a short bark.
"That's what's the matter," said Hal, quietly.
At that moment there came riding down a nearby road a troop of German cavalry.
"Quick! down on the ground!" cried Hal. "Perhaps they won't see us!"
He suited the action to the word, and Chester and Alexis followed his example.
But it was too late. The Germans had espied them and now came toward them at a gallop. Alexis rose to his feet and stretched.
"Another fight," he said. "Good!"
"Fight nothing!" exclaimed Hal. "It's impossible. They have us. That's all there is about it. We shall have to submit."
The Germans came to a sudden halt a few feet away, and rifles were brought to bear upon the three friends.
"You are our prisoners!" called the German commander.
Hal raised his hands in token of surrender.
"There is no help for it," he said to his two friends in an undertone.
The German commander motioned the three to approach. They did so.
"You will each climb up behind one of my men," ordered the German leader.
Hal and Chester did as ordered, but when Alexis approached one of the German horsemen the latter eyed him dubiously.
"Man!" he exclaimed. "You can't ride with me. You would break this horse in two."
The officer turned to the soldier.
"Give your horse to the prisoner," he commanded, "and you climb up behind the man nearest you."
The soldier did as commanded, and a moment later Alexis also was in the saddle. Then the little troop got under way again, headed for the German lines.
There was no conversation as the little troop rode along, and at length they were well inside the German trenches. Here, after some delay, the three prisoners were conducted before General von Hindenburg, the Teuton commander in the East, a man of kindly face and courteous bearing, the man whose successes, brief though they were, earned him the name of "The German Napoleon."
"How comes it," asked General von Hindenburg of Hal, "that you two American lads are fighting with the Russians? How comes it that two lads born and reared in a civilized country have espoused the cause of the barbarians?"
"In the first place," answered Hal boldly, "I do not consider the Russians barbarians. In the next place, we joined the Allies when the Germans ravaged Belgium."
"Ravaged!" exclaimed the German commander with some heat.
"Exactly," said Hal. "We joined the Belgian army before Liege, and we hold commissions in the Belgian army. We were also attached for a time to the British forces under Sir John French. We bore communications from Sir John French to Grand Duke Nicholas, that is how we happen to be here."
"And how did you carry these dispatches, may I ask?" inquired General von Hindenburg.
"By airship," replied Hal briefly.
"What!" cried the general. "You flew over Germany in an airship?"
"Well, only part of it," replied Hal with a grin; and seeing no harm, he told the German commander of their adventures after being captured and taken to Berlin.
"You are brave lads," said the general calmly, when Hal had finished. "I would that Germany had more like you. But I fear your fighting days are over."
"What will you do with us, General?" asked Chester, who up to this time had remained silent, Hal usually acting as spokesman when there was explaining to be done.
"You will be sent to Posen," replied the general, "where you will be detained until after the war."
"But that may be for years, General," protested Hal, trying to draw the general out.
In this he was successful.
"You are mistaken," replied General von Hindenburg calmly. "The war will be over within the next six months. Germany will have conquered."
Hal did not reply, for he had no mind to antagonize the general; but he had his own ideas as to the ultimate outcome of the war.
The general now summoned one of his staff, and turned the lads over to the latter with this injunction:
"Have them sent to Posen. Instruct Commander Friech that they must be well guarded, but treated with kindness."
He bowed gravely to both lads, who saluted and followed the other officer from the German commander's quarters.
"You will remain in my quarters until to-night," said the officer to the three friends, "and you probably will start on your journey about midnight. There is a detachment leaving about that time."
He conducted the three and the dog to his tent, where their wounds were dressed and a guard was stationed over them. Then they were left to themselves.
Alexis, who up to this time had not spoken, at last opened his mouth.
"What's this all about?" he demanded. "I can't understand this outlandish gibberish. What's it all about, anyhow?"
The conversation between the lads and the German officers had been in English.
Chester broke into a laugh.
"Outlandish gibberish!" he exclaimed. "Why, Alexis, if you only knew how your native tongue sounds, you wouldn't call anything gibberish. It's fortunate you speak German."
"Well, perhaps so," Alexis agreed. "But what's it all about?"
"Simply," said Hal, "that we are to be taken to Posen, where we will be held prisoners till after the war."
Alexis uttered a loud Russian imprecation.
"I was in hope," he said, "that when I went into East Prussia it would be as part of an army too big for the Germans ever to drive out."
"It can't be helped now," said Chester briefly.
"It would have been helped if you had let me fight when I wanted to," said the big Cossack regretfully.
All day long the three were kept close inside the tent. Not once were they permitted to step into the open. Night fell, and food was placed before them. They were almost famished, so they ate heartily, sharing their meal with Marquis. It was well along toward midnight when the German officer once more entered the tent and informed them it was time for them to leave.
They followed the officer into the open air, where a large body of men were ready to move. Quickly they were led to horses, and were soon in the saddle. Then, closely guarded, they were led away at a swift trot.
The German camp was some miles from the nearest railroad station, and it took several hours to cover this distance. At last, however, they were conducted aboard a train, where, under heavy guard, they continued their journey.
It was well along toward the next evening when the train, after many stops, finally pulled into Posen. With a number of other prisoners, the three friends and Marquis, who had been allowed to accompany them, were taken from the train and turned over to another squad of troops. In the center of these they were led to a large and massive castle at one end of the town. Here they were thrust into a dark though well-appointed room, which, their guard informed them, was to be their prison.
"So this is where we are to spend the next few years, eh?" said Chester.
"The outlook is not very bright," replied Hal, "but we shall have to make the best of a bad situation."
The three began a careful survey of their prison. There were two large windows in the room, looking out into a little court. Through these a dim light streamed. The windows were heavily barred. Hal and Chester tested the bars. Alexis, however, after one look, sat down in deep disgust. If his wounds bothered him any, he did not seem to mind them.
"No chance of escape here," said Hal, after shaking one of the heavy iron bars.
"I should say not," agreed Chester, after making a test.
They turned from the windows just as a key grated in the lock of the heavy door, and a man of huge stature, topping the giant frame of Alexis by more than an inch, entered the room.
"Good evening," he said politely enough. "I have come to see if you require anything. We have been instructed to treat you kindly."
"A little liberty is about all," said Hal, with a rueful smile.
"I am sorry," replied the newcomer, also smiling slightly, "but that is the one thing I cannot grant you. I suppose you wonder who I am?"
The boys nodded.
"I," said the newcomer, striking himself a hard blow on the chest, "am Freiderich von Bernstrum, brother of Heinrich von Bernstrum, commander of this fortress, and I am kept cooped up here while there is fighting to be done—me, Freiderich von Bernstrum, a real fighter!"
"Hm-m-m," muttered Hal to himself as he glanced keenly at Alexis. "Two of a kind."
Alexis moved restlessly as the big German made this boast. It was plain to both lads that, while he might like to brag himself, he did not relish hearing another do so.
"Yes," continued von Bernstrum, "I would go to the front. But my brother, he would stay here. You see," and the talkative German leaned closer to the lads, "he has a fair captive in the tower above, and he seeks to marry her."
"And who is she?" demanded Hal.
"I will mention no names," replied the German. "Enough that she is a Russian countess."
Alexis jumped to his feet and advanced upon the big German.
"You have dared to lay a hand upon a Russian lady?" he demanded.
The German eyed him amusedly.
"And what of it?" he demanded. "However, you need have no fear. She prefers me, and I shall take her away from him."
Alexis raised a threatening hand, but Hal stayed him.
"Quiet," he whispered. "Some good may come of this if you obey me."
Hal approached Chester and whispered.
"Keep von Bernstrum in conversation while I have a word with Alexis."
Chester did as Hal ordered, and the latter whispered to the big Cossack:
"Do you think you can whip this man?" pointing to von Bernstrum.
Alexis' fingers twitched.
"Remember you are wounded, Alexis."
"Try me," he said simply.
"Keep quiet, then, and do as I tell you," said Hal.
He turned again to von Bernstrum.
"I can see," he said, "that the lady would be pleased to know a man like you."
"Ah! you see it?" cried the German. "But Heinrich is so cunning. Now if I had your help——"
"What would you have us do?" asked Hal.
The big German was silent for some minutes before replying.
"If I had your help," he said at length, "I would see that you all regained your liberty. Will you help me?"
"What is it you would have us do?" asked Chester.
"I will not say until you have promised," said von Bernstrum.
"And we will not promise till you have told us," said Hal. "How do we know that you are a man of your word, or that you are a fighter, such as you would have us believe."
"What! Freiderich von Bernstrum not a fighter!" exclaimed the big German in surprise.
"We have only your word for it," said Hal quietly.
Von Bernstrum paced up and down excitedly. He stopped suddenly.
"Let me bring swords!" he exclaimed, "and you shall see whether I can fight!"
He made as if to leave the room.
"Not so fast!" exclaimed Hal. "The clash of steel would bring the whole fortress down on us. But I shall try you out."
"How?" exclaimed the German eagerly.
"Alexis!" called Hal.
The big Cossack approached.
"Here," said Hal to the German, pointing to Alexis, "is a foeman worthy of your steel. You shall try with him."
"Good!" exclaimed von Bernstrum. "With fists?"
"No," replied Hal, who was somewhat doubtful of Alexis' prowess in the fistic art. "How about a wrestling match?"
"Good!" exclaimed von Bernstrum again. "But I assure you I am his superior." He turned to Alexis. "Get ready, man!"
Alexis made ready.
Hal realized that he was taking a desperate chance to put through the scheme that had entered his mind. Not only was von Bernstrum a bigger man than Alexis, but the latter had lost much blood only 36 hours before. Doubtless also he knew every trick of a wrestler or fighter.
Alexis took off his shoes and threw them into a corner, and divested himself of his coat. Von Bernstrum growled like a dog as he followed the Cossack's example.
Alexis held out his hand. Von Bernstrum gripped it hard and gave a grunt of satisfaction.
"A man's hand," he exclaimed.
Alexis placed his right hand across the German's shoulders and caught him firmly and the boys saw by the expression on his face that he was not certain of the outcome. The German had not boasted in vain. He was indeed a giant.
"If ever men felt the joy of battle, these two do," exclaimed Hal to Chester.
The two men were now gripped in a tight embrace. Von Bernstrum felt Alexis over carefully, but gave him no opening.
"A man's chest," he grunted.
Alexis so far had uttered no word. Now he perceived that his opponent was preparing for the loin throw and prepared himself to meet it. When he had foiled this attack, he held his opponent for a moment at a disadvantage.
Alexis gripped von Bernstrum for a hug. Had the German been a weaker man, his ribs must have cracked; but he had caught deep breath, and the Cossack might as well have tried to crush a tree.
"A good try!" muttered the German.
He now tested Alexis sorely. He tried a cross hitch, but failed. At this, a smile broke out on Alexis' face.
Both lads, who had been watching the struggle nervously, now grew confident. It was evident that the Cossack hoped for victory.
At last Alexis saw his chance. In getting the grip he wanted, it was necessary for him to face the danger of putting himself in his opponent's power; but the Cossack ventured to do this, for he realized that by no other means could he throw him. Von Bernstrum saw his opponent's move and took advantage of it, and for a moment Alexis was afraid it was all over with him.
But he still held his ground. Von Bernstrum's grip grew weaker at last, and the boys could hear him panting like a dog. Hal spoke to Chester.
"I believe he realizes that Alexis will master him," he exclaimed in a whisper.
Chester nodded in assent.
Now Alexis put all the strength of his mighty shoulders, back and loins into a mighty heave, and Freiderich von Bernstrum, giant though he was, went flying across the room, his head striking the floor with a terrible thud.
For a moment the lads were afraid Alexis had killed him; but for a moment only. Calmly Alexis put on his shoes and donned his coat. Then he turned to his young friends and waited. His attitude said as plain as words:
"I have done the fighting. You do the rest."
Quickly Hal stooped over the fallen man and took a bunch of keys from his pocket. Then, straightening up, he approached the door, opened it and peered out. There was no one in sight.
Hal turned to Alexis.
"Change clothes with him," he whispered, motioning to the fallen German.
Hastily Alexis obeyed. In spite of the fact that von Bernstrum was almost two inches taller than Alexis, the height of the latter was so great that Hal believed the difference would not be noticed.
The lad now relieved von Bernstrum of his revolvers. Alexis had donned his adversary's sword with his uniform. Then once more Hal approached the door and peered out. Then he spoke to Alexis.
"We will go with you as though we were your prisoners," he explained. "If anyone accosts us, we may have to fight. However, I believe you look enough like von Bernstrum to avoid detection. Pull the hat well over your face, and if anyone asks where you are going, reply that you are taking the prisoners to the commandant. Do you understand?"
Alexis signified that he did, and quietly the three, still followed by Marquis, left the room. Along the same passageways they had traversed Hal guided Alexis by a touch of the hand, for the lad's sense of direction was much better than that of the giant Cossack.
At last they came into the open and started toward the gate. So far they had not been accosted. At the gate a soldier approached Alexis and saluted.
"Are you going out, sir?" he demanded.
"Yes," replied the Cossack, mimicking von Bernstrum's voice as best he could. "These prisoners have given me their parole, and I am taking them out for a breath of air. Get me two more horses."
The soldier saluted and turned away. Hal addressed Alexis.
"You are doing beautifully," he exclaimed. "I didn't know you were such a strategist."
"Why," exclaimed Alexis, "next to being a fighter I am a strategist. I remember one time——"
"Save it for some other time," said Hal.
"If you don't believe——" began the big Cossack, somewhat crestfallen.
"Never mind now," broke in Chester. "We have other things to do."
Alexis subsided, grumbling. A few moments later the soldier reappeared leading three horses. Alexis took all three bridles, and bade the soldier begone, which order the latter obeyed in a hurry.
Quickly the three friends leaped into the saddle, and started off at a rapid trot, riding eastward. Out of sight of the town, they bore off slightly to the North, for, as Hal said, they did not wish to run right into the German army advancing on Lodz.
They had proceeded perhaps a mile out of sight of the castle, when Hal suddenly checked his mount, and raised a warning hand. All stopped to listen. From the direction in which they had just come, came the frenzied tolling of a great bell, followed by a few faint shots.
"They have learned of our escape," said Hal quietly. "That, I imagine, is a warning to the countryside to be on the lookout for us."
All three put spurs to their horses, and set off again at a gallop. For two hours they kept up this swift pace, and then Alexis drew rein.
"Unless I want this horse to drop under me," he said, "we shall have to slow down. There is no horse living that can carry me at that gait very long."
The boys did not doubt this, and they continued their journey at a more leisurely pace. Finally, rounding a turn in the road, they came upon a little stream, perhaps a hundred yards wide. There was no bridge.
"Guess we shall have to make our horses swim it," said Chester.
Accordingly all plunged into the stream, Marquis swimming behind, and soon reached the opposite shore. Here they drew up in a clump of bushes and sat down to dry off a bit.
"Do you suppose they know which way we came?" asked Hal of Chester.
"I don't know. However, I suppose they will search in all directions, and they are bound to come upon us sooner or later if we linger around here."
"You are right. I guess we had better move."
Soon the little party was in the saddle again, and making off at a rapid trot. Hal, for some unaccountable reason turning suddenly in his saddle, uttered an ejaculation.
"What's the matter?" demanded Chester.
"Look!" said Hal, pointing back toward the little stream.
Alexis and Chester followed the direction of Hal's finger. Just plunging into the stream were half a dozen horsemen, and it was plain from that distance that they were German soldiers, and that they had made out the forms of the fugitives.
The three friends put spurs to their horses and, with Marquis loping along behind, soon lost themselves in a little woods. Here they urged their tired horses on, and at last came to a small open space. This they crossed before Alexis' horse gave out and went to the ground in a heap.
"I am afraid it's all off," exclaimed Hal. "How far do you suppose we are from the German border, Alexis?"
"Not far," answered the Cossack. "Besides, some of our troops have been operating in these parts. They were only small detachments, and most of them have been driven off; but even now there may be some of them near."
Alexis urged the two lads to ride on and leave him, but this they refused to do. Therefore they dismounted and, turning their horses loose, they continued their journey on foot.
As they walked along a man suddenly popped out from among the trees, brought his revolver to bear upon the trio, and in a loud tone cried:
Alexis gave one quick glance at the man's uniform, uttered a cry of pleasure and spoke a few quick words in his native tongue. The lads were surprised to see the man drop his rifle, throw his arms about Alexis and embrace him.
For some moments after quitting this embrace the two talked in Russian, the lads being able to pick up only a few words. Then Alexis turned to the two lads.
"My brother," he said simply. "He belongs to a detachment of Cossacks who raided in these parts two weeks ago. The detachment was surrounded by Germans, he tells me, and practically annihilated. About 150 men escaped to the woods, where they have been conducting a guerilla warfare, picking off the Germans one at a time, wherever they happen to find one alone, or in pairs, or small parties. These Cossacks are scattered all through the woods, and to get them together would be almost impossible."
"Then how are they able to tell friend from foe?"
"You see that large green leaf my brother wears in his hat?"
"That is their emblem."
Alexis' brother approached and spoke in German.
"Come," he said. "I shall show you something."
He led the way into the woods, and approached a large tree, where he pointed to a placard tacked on it. The placard read:
"All Russians at large in these woods are ordered to assemble at this spot the 10th of this month without arms and surrender, under penalty of death."
"That was posted two weeks ago," said Alexis' brother, "and this is the 20th. Read our answer below it."
The answer read:
"Come and take us!"
"Do you mean?" asked Hal, "that 150 men, at large in these woods, have defied the whole German army?"
"There are less than a hundred now," replied the brother of Alexis, whose name the lads learned was Stephan. "We have been conducting this guerilla warfare for more than two weeks now, and we have done inestimable harm to the Germans. We have evaded large bodies of troops sent out to kill or capture us. Of course, some of our men have been picked off, but we are not going to run yet."
"But how do you live?" demanded Chester.
"We have been living on roots and herbs," was the reply, "and such other food as we have been able to take from the enemy."
"And where do you sleep?"
"This forest," said Stephan, "makes an ideal hiding place. It is filled with large caves, the presence of which seems to be unknown to the foe. Many of the caves are large enough for twenty men, although it is seldom that there are more than five or six men in one at a time."
From the rear came the sound of galloping horses. Stephan sprang to instant action.
"Come with me," he cried, and led the way into the very thick of the forest.
Hal, Chester, Alexis and Marquis followed him and soon were safe from discovery in a large cave, the mouth of which was screened from view by a dense mass of shrubbery.
Outside, after a few minutes, the lads could hear the sounds of moving horses and the exclamations of their riders. The horsemen halted near the entrance to the cave and held a consultation.
"They have probably fallen in with some of these guerillas," said one voice. "If so, we shall have hard work to find them."
Close upon his words came a scream from outside, and straining their ears, the party inside made out the sound of a distant pistol shot.
"One more gone," said Stephan briefly.
There came a volley from outside the cave, as the Germans fired at their unseen assailant.
"Not much chance of their hitting anybody," said Stephan calmly.
From outside the cave came the sound of rapidly retreating hoofbeats. The Germans were moving away. Alexis, having thus quickly learned the way of the guerillas, cautiously poked his head from the cave, reached back and picked up his brother's rifle, and fired after the retreating foe.
"Another one," he said grimly, returning the weapon to Stephan.
"Just how long do you suppose you can keep this work up?" Chester asked of Stephan.
"Not much longer, I am afraid," was the reply. "I figure it is only a question of days now until the Germans send out a force strong enough to search the woods thoroughly. In that event, we shall try to make our way back over the border to safety."
From a corner of the cave Stephan now produced a small quantity of food, which he set out. All fell to and it was soon disposed of. Then they ventured from the cave and, walking slowly, made their way northward.
"It's just a case of keep moving," Stephan explained. "Of course, it might be possible for us to join forces, but then we should greatly lessen our effectiveness."
Alexis, who was in front, stopped suddenly and threw up a warning hand. Immediately the other three halted in their tracks. Peering in the direction in which Alexis pointed, they made out the forms of half a dozen German soldiers standing near a tree. Directly, however, the latter made off, and the little party approached the tree.