THE BOY SCOUT AVIATORS
BY GEORGE DURSTON
"As long as I can't be at home," said Harry Fleming, "I'd rather be here than anywhere in the world I can think of !"
"Rather!" said his companion, Dick Mercer. "I say, Harry, it must be funny to be an American!"
Harry laughed heartily.
"I'd be angry, Dick," he said, finally, "if that wasn't so English — and so funny! Still, I suppose that's one reason you Britishers are as big an empire as you are. You think it's sort of funny and a bit of a misfortune, don't you, to be anything but English ?"
"Oh, I say, I didn't quite mean that," said Dick, flushing a little. "And of course you Americans aren't just like foreigners. You speak the same language we do - though you do say some funny things now and then, old chap. You know, I was ever so surprised when you came to Mr. Grenfel and he let you in our troop right away!"
"Didn't you even know we had Boy Scouts in America?" asked Harry. "My word as you English would say. That is the limit! Why, it's spread all over the country with us. But of course we all know that it started here — that Baden-Powell thought of the idea!"
"Rather!" said Dick, enthusiastically. "Good old Bathing-Towel! That's what they used to call him at school, you know, before he ever went into the army at all. And it stuck to him, they say, right through. Even after Mafeking he was called that. Now, of course, he's a lieutenant general, and all sorts of a swell. He and Kitchener and French are so big they don't get called nicknames much more."
"Well, I'll tell you what I think," said Harry, soberly. "I think he did a bigger thing for England when he started the Boy Scout movement than when he defended Mafeking against the Boers!"
"Why, how can you make that out?" asked Dick, puzzled. "The defence of Mafeking had a whole lot to do with our winning that war!"
"That's all right, too," said Harry. "But you know you may be in a bigger war yet than that Boer War ever thought of being."
"How can a war think, you chump?" asked the literal-minded Dick.
Again Harry roared at him.
"That's just one of our funny American ways of saying things, Dick," he explained. "I didn't mean that, of course. But what I do mean is that every-one over here in Europe seems to think that there will be a big war sometime — a bigger war than the world's ever seen yet."
"Oh, yes!" Dick nodded his understanding, and grew more serious. "My pater - he's a V. C., you know — says that, too. He says we'll have to fight Germany, sooner or later. And he seems to think the sooner the better, too, before they get too big and strong for us to have an easy time with them."
"They're too big now for any nation to have an easy time with them," said Harry. "But you see what I mean now, don't you, Dick? We Boy Scouts aren't soldiers in any way. But we do learn to do the things a soldier has to do, don't we?"
"Yes, that's true," said Dick. "But we aren't supposed to think of that."
"Of course not, and it's right, too," agreed Harry. "But we learn to be obedient. We learn discipline. And we get to understand camp life, and the open air, and all the things a soldier has to know about, sooner or later. Suppose you were organizing a regiment. Which would you rather have — a thousand men who were brave and willing, but had never camped out, or a thousand who had been Boy Scouts and knew about half the things soldiers have to learn? Which thousand men would be ready to go to the front first?"
"I never thought of that!" said Dick, mightily impressed. "But you're right, Harry. The Boy Scouts wouldn't go to war themselves, but the fellows who were grown up and in business and had been Boy Scouts would be a lot readier than the others, wouldn't they? I suppose that's why so many of our chaps join the Territorials when they are through school and start in business?"
"Of course it is! You've got the idea I'm driving at, Dick. And you can depend on it that General Baden-Powell had that in his mind's eye all the time, too. He doesn't want us to be military and aggressive, but he does want the Empire to have a lot of fellows on call who are hard and fit, so that they can defend themselves and the country. You see, in America, and here in Enland, too, we're not like the countries on the Continent. We don't make soldiers of every man in the country."
"No — by Jove, they do that, don't they, Harry? I've got a, cousin who's French. And he expects to serve his term in the army. He's in the class of 1918. You see, he knows already when he will have to go, and just where he will report - almost the regiment he'll join. But he's hoping they'll let him be in the cavalry, instead of the infantry or the artillery."
"There you are! Here and in America, we don't have to have such tremendous armies, because we haven't got countries that we may have to fight across the street - you know what I mean. England has to have a tremendous navy, but that makes it unnecessary for her to have such a big army."
"I see you've got the idea exactly, Fleming," said a new voice, breaking into the conversation. The two scouts looked up to see the smiling face of their scoutmaster, John Grenfel. He was a big, bronzed Englishman, sturdy and typical of the fine class to which he belonged — public school and university man, first- class cricketer and a football international who had helped to win many a hard fought game for England from Wales or Scotland or Ireland. The scouts were returning from a picnic on Wimbledon Common, in the suburbs of London, and Grenfel was following his usual custom of dropping into step now with one group, now with another. He favored the idea of splitting up into groups of two or three on the homeward way, because it was his idea that one of the great functions of the Scout movement was to foster enduring friendships among the boys. He liked to know, without listening or trying to overhear, what the boys talked about; often he would give a directing word or two, that, without his purpose becoming apparent, shaped the ideas of the boys.
"Yes," he repeated. "You understand what we're trying to do in this country, Fleming. We don't want to fight — we pray to God that we shall never have to. But, if we are attacked, or if the necessity arises, we'll be ready, as we have been ready before. We want peace — we want it so much and so earnestly that we'll fight for it if we must."
Neither of the boys laughed at what sounded like a paradox. His voice was too earnest.
"Do you think England is likely to have to go to war soon — within a year or so, sir?" asked Harry.
"I pray not," said Grenfel. "But we don't know, Fleming. For the last few years — ever since the trouble in the Balkans finally flamed up — Europe has been on the brink of a volcano. We don't know what the next day may bring forth. I've been afraid - " He stopped, suddenly, and seemed to consider.
"There is danger now," he said, gravely. "Since the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, Austria has been in an ugly mood. She has tried to blame Servia. I don't think Russia will let her crush Servia — not a second time. And if Russia and Austria fight there is no telling how it may spread."
"You'd want us to win, wouldn't you, Harry, if we fought?" asked Dick, when Mr. Grenfel had passed on to speak to some of the others.
"Yes, I think I would — I know I would, Dick," said Harry, gravely. "But I wouldn't want to see a war, just the same. It's a terrible thing."
"On, it wouldn't last long," said Dick, confidently. "We'd lick them in no time at all. Don't you think so?"
"I don't know — I hope so. But you can't ever be sure."
"I wonder if they'd let us fight?"
"No, I don't think they would, Dick. There'd be plenty for the Boy Scouts to do though, I believe."
"Would you stay over here if there was a war, Harry? Or would you go home?"
"I think we'd have to stay over here, Dick. You see, my father is here on business, not just for pleasure. His company sent him over here, and it was understood he'd stay several years. I don't think the war could make any difference."
"That's why you're here, then, is it? I used to wonder why you went to school over here instead of in America."
"Yes. My father and mother didn't want me to be so far from them. So they brought me along. I was awfully sorry at first, but now it doesn't seem so bad."
"I should think not!" said Dick, indignantly. "I should think anyone would be mighty glad of a chance to come to school over here instead of in America! Why, you don't even play cricket over there, I've been told!"
"No, but we play baseball," said Harry, his eyes shining. "I really think I miss that more than anything else here in England. Cricket's all right — if you can't play baseball. It's a good enough game."
"You can play," admitted Dick, rather grudgingly. "When you bowl, you've got some queer way of making the ball seem to bend —"
"I put a curve on it, that's all!" said Harry, with a laugh. "If you'd ever played baseball, you'd understand that easily enough. See? You hold the ball like this — so that your fingers give it a spin as it leaves your hand."
And he demonstrated for his English friend's benefit the way the ball is held to produce an out-curve.
"Your bowlers here don't seem to do that — though they do make the ball break after it hits the ground. But the way I manage it, you see, is to throw a ball that doesn't hit the ground in front of the bat at all, but curves in. If you don't hit at it, it will hit the stumps and bowl you out; if you do hit, you're likely to send it straight up in the air, so that some fielder can catch it."
"I see," said Dick. "Well, I suppose it's all right, but it doesn't seem quite fair."
Harry laughed, but didn't try to explain the point further. He liked Dick immensely; Dick was the first friend he had made in England, and the best, so far. It was Dick who had tried to get him to join the Boy Scouts, and who had been immensely surprised to find that Harry was already a scout. Harry, indeed, had done two years of scouting in America; he had been one of the first members of a troop in his home town, and had won a number of merit badges. He was a first-class scout, and, had he stayed with his troop, would certainly have become a patrol leader. So he had had no trouble in getting admission to the patrol to which Dick belonged.
It had been hard for Harry, when his father's business called him to England, to give up a all the friendships and associations of his boyhood. Had been hard to leave school; to tear up, by the roots, all the things that bound him to his home. But as a scout he had learned to be loyal and obedient. His parents had talked things over with him very frankly. They had understood just how hard it would be for him to go with them. But his father had made him see how necessary it was.
"I want you to be near your mother and myself just now, especially, Harry," he had said. "I want you to grow up where I can see you. And, more-over, it won't hurt you a bit to know something about other countries. You'll have a new idea of America when you have seen other lands, and I believe you'll be a better American for it. You'll learn that other countries have their virtues, and that we can learn some things from them. But I believe you'll learn, too, to love America better than ever. When we go home you'll be broader and better for your experience."
And Harry was finding out that his father had been right. At first he had to put up with a good deal. He found that the English boys he met in school felt themselves a little superior. They didn't look down on him, exactly, but they were, perhaps the least bit sorry for him because he was not an Englishman, always a real misfortune in their sight.
He had resented that at first. But his Boy Scout training stood him in good stead. He kept his temper, and it was not long before he began to make friends. He excelled at games; even the English games that were new and strange to him presented few difficulties to him. As he had explained to Dick, cricket was easy for any boy who could play baseball fairly well. And it was the same way with football. After the far more strenuous American game, he shone at the milder English football, the Rugby game, which is the direct ancestor of the sport in America.
All these things helped to make Harry popular. He was now nearly sixteen, tall and strong for his age, thanks to the outdoor life he had always lived. An only son, he and his father had always been good friends. Without being in any way a molly-coddle, still he had been kept safe from a good many of the temptations that beset some boys by the constant association with his father. It was no wonder, therefore, that John Grenfel, as soon as he had talked with Harry and learned of the credentials he bore from his home troop, had welcomed him enthusiastically as a recruit to his own troop.
It had been necessary to modify certain rules. Harry, of course, could not subscribe to quite the same scout oath that bound his English fellows. But he had taken his scout oath as a tenderfoot at home, and Grenfel had no doubts about him. He was the sort of boy the organization wanted, whether in England or America, and that was enough for Grenfel.
Though the boys, as they walked toward their homes, did not quite realize it, they were living in days that were big with fate. Far away, in the chancelleries of Europe, and, not so far away, in the big government buildings in the West End of London, the statesmen were even then making their best effort to avert war. No one in England, perhaps, really believed that war was coming. There had been war scares before. But the peace of Europe had been preserved for forty years or more, through one crisis after another. And so it was a stunning surprise, even to Grenfel, when, as they came into Putney High street, just before they reached Putney Bridge, they met a swam of newsboys excitedly shrieking extras.
"Germany threatens Russia!" they yelled. "War sure!"
Mr. Grenfel brought a paper, and the scouts gathered about him while he read the news that was contained on the front page, still damp from the press.
"I'm afraid it's true," he said, soberly. "The German Emperor has threatened to go to war with Russia, unless the Czar stops mobilizing his troops at once. We shall know tonight. But I think it means war! God save England may still keep out of it!"
For that night a meeting at Mr. Grenfel's home in West Kensington had long been planned. He lived not far from the street in which both Harry and Dick lived. And, as the party broke up, on the other side of Putney Bridge, Dick, voicing the general feeling, asked a question.
"Are we to come tonight, sir?" he said. "With this news — ?"
"Yes — yes, indeed," said the scoutmaster. "If war is to come, there is all the more reason for us to be together. England may need all of us yet."
Dick had asked the question because, like all the others, he felt something that was in the air. He was sobered by the news, although, like the rest, he did not yet fully understand it. But they all felt that there had been a change. As they looked about at the familiar sight about them they wondered if, a year from then, everything would still be the same. War? What did it mean to them, to England?
"I wonder if my father will go to war!" Dick broke out suddenly, as he and Harry walked along.
"I hadn't thought of that!" said Harry, startled. "Oh, Dick, I'm sorry! Still, I suppose he'll go, if his country needs him!"
At home, Harry had an early dinner with his father and mother, who were going to the theatre. They lived in a comfortable house, which Mr. Fleming had taken on a five-year lease when they came to England to live. It was one of a row of houses that looked very much alike, which, itself, was one of four sides of a square. In the centre of the square was a park-like space, a garden, really. In this garden were several tennis courts, with plenty of space, also, for nurses and children. There are many such squares in London, and they help to make the British capital a delightful place in which to live.
As he went in, Harry saw a lot of the younger men who lived in the square playing tennis. It was still broad daylight, although, at home, dusk would have fallen. But this was England at the end of July and the beginning of August, and the light of day would hold until ten o'clock or thereabout. That was one of the things that had helped to reconcile Harry to living in England. He loved the long evenings and the chance they gave to get plenty of sport and exercise after school hours.
The school that he and Dick attended was not far away; they went to it each day. A great many of the boys boarded at the school, but there were plenty who, like Dick and Harry, did not. But school was over now, for the time. The summer holidays had just begun.
At the table there was much talk of the war that was in the air. But Mr. Fleming did not even yet believe that war was sure.
"They'll patch it up," he said, confidently. "They can't be so mad as to set the whole world ablaze over a little scrap like the trouble between Austria and Servia."
"Would it affect your business, dear?" asked Mrs. Fleming. "If there really should be war, I mean ?"
"I don't think so," said he. "I might have to make a flying trip home, but I'd be back. Come on — time for us to go. What are you going to do, boy? Going over to Grenfel's, aren't you ?"
"Yes, father," said Harry.
"All right. Get home early. Good-night!"
A good many of the boys were already there when Dick and Harry reached Grenfel's house. The troop — the Forty-second, of London — was a comparatively small one, having only three patrols. But nearly all of them were present, and the scout-master took them out into his garden.
"I'm going to change the order a bit," he said, gravely. "I want to do some talking, and then I expect to answer questions. Boys, Germany has declared war on Russia. There are reports already of fighting on the border between France and Germany. And there seems to be an idea that the Germans are certain to strike at France through Belgium. I may not be here very long — I may have to turn over the troop to another scoutmaster. So I want to have a long talk to-night." There was a dismayed chorus.
"What? You going away, sir? Why?"
But Harry did not join. He saw the quiet blaze in John Grenfel's eyes, and he thought he knew.
"I've volunteered for foreign service already," Grenfel explained. "I saw a little fighting in the Boer war, you know. And I may be useful. So I thought I'd get my application in directly. If I go, I'll probably go quietly and quickly. And there may be no other chance for me to say good-bye."
'Then you think England will be drawn in, sir?" asked Leslie Franklin, leader of the patrol to which Dick and Harry belonged, the Royal Blues.
"I'm afraid so," said Grenfels grimly. "There's just a chance still, but that's all — the ghost of a chance, you might call it. I think it might be as well if I explained a little of what's back of all this trouble. Want to listen? If you do, I'll try. And if I'm not making myself clear, ask all the questions you like."
There was a chorus of assent. Grenfel sat in the middle, the scouts ranged about him in a circle. "In the first place," he began, "this Servian business is only an excuse. I'm not defending the Servians — I'm taking no sides between Servia and Austria. Here in England we don't care about that, because we know that if that hadn't started the war, something else would have been found.
"England wants peace. And it seems that, every so often, she has to fight for it. It was so when the Duke of Marlborough won his battles at Blenheim and Ramillies and Malplaquet. Then France was the strongest nation in Europe. And she tried to crush the others and dominate everything. If she had, she would have been strong enough, after her victories, to fight us over here — to invade England. So we went into that war, more than two hundred years ago, not because we hated France, but to make a real peace possible. And it lasted a long time.
"Then, after the French revolution, there was Napoleon. Again France, under him, was the strongest nation in Europe. He conquered Germany, and Austria, Italy and Spain, the Netherlands. And he tried to conquer England, so that France could rule the world. But Nelson beat his fleet at Trafalgar —"
"Hurrah!" interrupted Dick, carried away. "Three cheers for Nelson!"
Grenfel smiled as the cheers were given.
"Even after Trafalgar," he went on, "Napoleon hoped to conquer England. He had massed a great army near Boulogne, ready to send it across the channel. And so we took the side of the weaker nations again. All Europe, led by England, rose against Napoleon. And you know what happened. He was beaten finally at Waterloo. And so there was peace again in Europe for a long time, with no one nation strong enough to dictate to all the others." But then Germany began to rise. She beat Austria, and that made her the strongest German country. Then she beat France, in 1870, and that gave her her start toward being the strongest nation on the continent.
"And then, I believe — and so do most Englislmen — she began to be jealous of England. She wanted our colonies. She began, finally, to build a great navy. For years we have had to spend great sums of money to keep our fleet stronger than hers. And she made an alliance with Austria and Italy. Because of that France and Russia made an alliance, too, and we had to be friendly with them. And now it looks to me as if Germany thought she saw a chance to beat France and Russia. Perhaps she thinks that we won't fight, on account of the trouble in Ireland. And what we English fear is that, if she wins, she will take Belgium and Holland. Then she would be so close to our coasts that we would never be safe. We would have to be prepared always for invasion. So, you see, it seems to me that we are facing the same sort of danger we have faced before. Only this time it is Germany, instead of France, that we shall have to fight — if we do fight."
"If the Germans go through Belgium, will that mean that we shall fight?" asked Leslie Franklin.
"Almost certainly, yes," said Grenfel. "And it is through Belgium that Germany has her best chance to strike at France. So you see how serious things are. I don't want to go into all the history that is back of all this. I just want you to understand what England's interest is. If we make war, it will be a war of self- defence. Suppose you owned a house. And suppose the house next door caught fire. You would try to put out that fire, wouldn't you, to save your own house from being burned up? Well, that's England's position. If the Germans held Belgium or Holland — and they would hold both, if they beat France and Russia — England would then be in just as much danger as your house would be. So if we fight, it will be to put out the German fire in the house next door.
"Now I want you to understand one thing. I'm talking as an Englishman. A German would tell you all this in a very different way. I don't like the people who are always slandering their enemies. Germany has her reasons for acting as she does. I think her reasons are wrong. But the Germans believe that they are right. We can respect even people who are wrong if they themselves believe that they are right. There may be two sides to this quarrel. And Germans, even if they are to be our enemies, may be just as patriotic, just as devoted to their country, as we are. Never forget that, no matter what may happen."
He stopped then, waiting for questions. None came.
"Then you understand pretty well?" he asked. There was a murmur of assent from the whole circle.
"All right, then," he said. "Now there's work for Scouts to do. Be prepared! That's our motto, isn't it? Suppose there's war. Franklin, what's your idea of what the Boy Scouts would be able to do?"
"I suppose those who are old enough could volunteer, sir," said Franklin, doubtfully. "I can't think of anything else —"
"Time enough for that later," said Grenfel, with a short laugh. "England may have to call boys to the colors before she's done, if she once starts to fight. But long before that time comes, there will be a great work for the organization we all love and honor. Work that won't be showy, work that will be very hard. Boys, everyone in England, man and woman and child will have work to do! And we, who are organized, and whose motto Be Prepared, ought to be able to show what stuff there is in us.
"Think of all the places that must be guarded. The waterworks, the gas tanks, the railroads that lead to the seaports and that will be used by the troops."
A startled burst of exclamations answered him. "Why, there won't be any fighting in England, sir, will there?" asked Dick Mercer, in surprise.
"We all hope not," said Grenfel. "But that's not what I mean. It doesn't take an army to destroy a railroad. One man with a bomb and a time fuse attached to it can blow up a culvert and block a whole line so that precious hours might be lost in getting troops aboard a transport. One man could blow up a waterworks or a gas tank or cut an important telegraph or telephone wire!"
"You mean that there will be Germans here trying to hurt England any way they can, don't you sir? asked Harry Fleming.
"I mean exactly that," said Grenfel. "We don't know this — we can't be sure of it. But we've got good reason to believe that there are a great many Germans here, seemingly peaceable enough, who are regularly in the pay of the German government as spies. We don't know the German plans. But there is no reason, so far as we know, why their great Zeppelin airships shouldn't come sailing over England, to drop bombs down where they can do the most harm. There is nothing except our own vigilance to keep these spies, even if they have to work alone, from doing untold damage!"
'We could be useful as sentries, then?" said Leslie Franklin. He drew a deep breath. "I never thought of things like that, sir! I'm just beginning to see how useful we really might be. We could do a lot of things instead of soldiers, couldn't we? So that they would be free to go and fight?"
"Yes," answered the scoutmaster. "And I can tell you now that the National Scout Council has always planned to 'Be Prepared!' It decided, a long time ago, what should be done in case of war. A great many troops will be offered to the War Department to do odd jobs. They will carry messages and dispatches. They will act as clerks, so far as they can. They will patrol the railways and other places that ought to be under guard, where soldiers can be spared if we take their places. So far as such things can be planned, they have been planned.
"But most of the ways in which we can be useful haven't showed themselves, at all yet. They will develop, if war comes. We shall have to be alert and watchful, and do whatever there is to be done..."
"Who will be scoutmaster, sir. if you go to the war?" asked Harry.
"I'm not quite sure," said Grenfel. "We haven't decided yet. But it will be someone you can trust — be sure of that. And I think I needn't say that if you scouts have any real regard for me you will show it best by serving as loyally and as faithfully under him as you have under me. I shall be with you in spirit, no matter where I am. Now it's, getting late. I think we'd better break up for tonight. We will make a special order, too, for the present. Every scout in the troop will report at scout headquarters until further notice, every day, at nine o'clock in the morning.
"I think we'll have to make up our minds not to play many games for the time that is coming. There is real work ahead of us if war comes — work just as real and just as hard, in its way, as if we were all going to fight for England. Everyone cannot fight, but the ones who stay at home and do the work that comes to their hands will serve England just as loyally as if they were on the firing line. Now up, all of you! Three cheers for King George!"
They were given with a will — and Harry Fleming joined in as heartily as any of them. He was as much of an American as he had ever been, but something in him responded with a strange thrill to England's need, as Grenfel had expressed it. After all, England had been and was the mother country. England and America had fought, in their time, and America had won, but now, for a hundred years, there had been peace between them. And he and these English boys were of the same blood and the same language, binding them very closely together. "Blood is thicker than water, after all!" he thought.
Then every scout there shook hands with John Grenfel. He smiled as he greeted them.
"I hope this will pass over," he said, "and that we'll do together during this vacation all the things we've planned to do. But if we can't, and if I'm called away, good-bye! Do your duty as scouts, and I'll know it somehow! And, in case I don't see you again, good-bye!"
"You're going to stand with us, then, Fleming?" he said, as Harry came up to shake hands. "Good boy! We're of one blood, we English and you Americans. We've had our quarrels, but relatives always do quarrel. And you'll not be asked, as a scout here, to do anything an American shouldn't do."
Then it was over. They were out in the street. In the distance newsboys were yelling their extra still. Many people were out, something unusual in that quiet neighborhood. And suddenly one of the scouts lifted his voice, and in a moment they were all singing:
Rule, rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves! Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
Scores of voices swelled the chorus, joining the fresh young voices of the scouts. And then someone started that swinging march song that had leaped into popularity at the time of the Boer War, Soldiers of the Queen. The words were trifling, but there was a fine swing to the music, and it was not the words that counted — it was the spirit of those who sang.
As he marched along with the others Harry noticed one thing. In a few hours the whole appearance of the streets had changed. From every house, in the still night air, drooped a Union Jack. The flag was everywhere; some houses had flung out half a dozen to the wind.
Harry was seeing a sight, that once seen, can never be forgotten. He was seeing a nation aroused, preparing to fight. If war came to England it would be no war decreed by a few men. It would be a war proclaimed by the people themselves, demanded by them. The nation was stirring; it was casting off the proverbial lethargy and indifference of the English. Even here, in this usually quiet suburb of London, the home of business and professional men who were comfortably well off, the stirring of the spirit of England was evident. And suddenly the song of the scouts and those who had joined them was drowned out by a new noise, sinister, threatening. It was the angry note that is raised by a mob.
Leslie Franklin took command at once. "Here, we must see what's wrong!" he cried. "Scouts, attention! Fall in! Double quick — follow me!"
He ran in the direction of the sound, and they followed. Five minutes brought them to the scene of the disturbance. They reached a street of cheaper houses and small shops. About one of these a crowd was surging, made up largely of young men of the lower class, for in West Kensington, as in all parts of London, the homes of the rich and of the poor rub one another's elbows in easy familiarity. The crowd seemed to be trying to break in the door of this shop. Already all the glass of the show windows had been broken, and from within there came guttural cries of alarm and anger.
"It's Dutchy's place!" cried Dick Mercer. "He's a German, and they're trying to smash his place up!"
"Halt!" cried Franklin. He gathered the scouts about him. "This won't do," he said, angry spots of color showing on his cheek bones. "No one's gone for the police — or, if they have, this crowd of muckers will smash everything up and maybe hurt the old Dutchman before the Bobbies get here. Form together now — and when I give the word, go through! Once we get between them and the shop, we can stop them. Maybe they won't know who we are at first, and our uniforms may stop them."
"Now!" he said, a moment later. And, with a shout, the scouts charged through the little mob in a body.
They had no trouble in getting through. A few determined people, knowing just what they mean to do, can always overcome a greater number of disorganized ones. That is why disciplined troops can conquer five times their number of rioters or savages. And so in a moment they reached the shop.
"Let us in! We're here to protect you!" cried Franklin to old Schmidt, who was cowering within, with his wife. Then he turned to the rioters, who, getting over their first surprise, were threatening again.
"For shame!" he cried. "Do you think you're doing anything for England? War's not declared yet — and, if it was, you might better be looking for German soldiers to shoot at than trying to hurt an old man who never did anyone any harm!"
There was a threatening noise from the crowd, but Franklin was undismayed.
"You'll have to get through us to reach them !" he cried. "We —"
But he was interrupted. A whistle sounded. The next moment the police were there.
PICKED FOR SERVICE
The coming of the police cleared the little crowd of would-be rioters away in no time. There were only three or four of the Bobbies, but they were plenty. A smiling sergeant came up to Franklin.
"More of your Boy Scout work, sir?" he said, pleasantly. "I heard you standing them off! That was very well done. If we can depend on you to help us all over London, we'll have an easier job than we looked for."
"We saw a whole lot of those fellows piling up against the shop here," said Franklin. "So of course we pitched in. We couldn't let anything like that happen."
"There'll be a lot of it at first, I'm afraid, sir," said the sergeant. "Still, it won't last. If all we hear is true, they'll be taking a lot of those young fellows away and giving them some real fighting to do to keep them quiet."
"Well, we'll help whenever we can, sergeant," said Franklin. "If the inspector thinks it would be a good thing to have the shops that are kept by Germans watched, I'm quite sure it can be arranged. If there's war I suppose a lot of you policemen will go?"
"We'll supply our share, sir," said the sergeant. "I'm expecting orders any minute — I'm a reservist myself. Coldstream Guards, sir."
"Congratulations!" said Franklin. He spoke a little wistfully. "I wonder if they'll let me go? I think I'm old enough! Well, can we help any more here tonight?"
"No, thank you, sir. You've done very well as it is. Pity all the lads don't belong to the Boy Scouts. We'd have less trouble, I'll warrant. I'll just leave a man here to watch the place. But they won't be back. They don't mean any real harm, as it is. It's just their spirits — and their being a bit thoughtless, you know."
"All right," said Franklin. "Glad we came along. Good-night, sergeant. Fall in! March!"
There was a cheer from the crowd that had gathered to watch the disturbance as the scouts move away. A hundred yards from the scene of what might have been a tragedy, except for their prompt action, the scouts dispersed. Dick, Mercer and Harry Fleming naturally enough, since they lived so close to one another, went home together.
"That was quick work," said Harry.
"Yes. I'm glad we got there," said Dick. "Old Dutchy's all right - he doesn't seem like a German. But I think it would be a good thing if they did catch a few of the others and scrag them!"
"No, it wouldn't," said Harry soberly. "Don't get to feeling that way, Dick. Suppose you were living in Berlin. You wouldn't want a lot of German roughs to come and destroy your house or your shop and handle you that way, would you?"
"It's not the same thing," said Dick, stubbornly. "They're foreigners."
"But you'd be a foreigner if you were over there!" said Harry, with a laugh.
"I suppose I would," said Dick. "I never thought of that! Just the same, I bet Mr. Grenfel was right. London's full of spies. Isn't that an awful idea, Harry? You can't tell who's a spy and who isn't!"
"No, but you can be pretty sure that the man you suspect isn't," suggested Harry, sagely. "A real spy wouldn't let you find it out very easily. I can see one thing and that is a whole lot of perfectly harmless people are going to be arrested as spies before this war is very old, if it does come! We don't want to be mixed up in that, Dick — we scouts. If we think a man's doing anything suspicious, we'll have to be very sure before we denounce him, or else we won't be any use."
"It's better for a few people to be arrested by mistake than to let a spy keep on spying, isn't it?"
"I suppose so, but we don't want to be like the shepherd's boy who used to try to frighten people by calling 'Wolf! Wolf!' when there wasn't any wolf. You know what happened to him. When a wolf really did come no one believed him. Wo want to look before we leap."
"I suppose you're right, Harry. Oh, I do hope we can really be of some use! If I can't go to the war, I'd like to think I'd had something to do — that I'd helped when my country needed me!"
"If you feel like that you'll be able to help, all right," said Harry. "I feel that way, too not that I want to fight. I wouldn't want to do that for any country but my own. But I would like to be able to know that I'd had something to do with all that's going to be done."
"I think it's fine for you to be like that," said Dick. "I think there isn't so much difference between us, after all, even if you are American and I'm English. Well, here we are again. I'll see you in the morning, I suppose?"
"Right oh! I'll come around for you early. Goodnight!"
Neither of them really doubted for a moment that war was coming. It was in the air. The attack on the little shop that they had helped to avert was only one of many, although there was no real rioting in London. Such scenes were simply the result of excitement, and no great harm was done anywhere. But the tension of which such attacks were the result was everywhere. For the next three days there was very little for anyone to do.
Everyone was waiting. France and Germany were at war; the news came that the Germans had invaded Luxembourg, and were crossing the Belgian border.
And then, on Tuesday night, came the final news. England had declared war. For the moment the news seemed to stun everyone. It had been expected, and still it came as a surprise. But then London rose to the occasion. There was no hysterical cheering and shouting; everything was quiet. Harry Fleming saw a wonderful sight a whole people aroused and determined. There was no foolish boasting; no one talked of a British general eating his Christmas dinner in Berlin. But even Dick Mercer, excitable and erratic as he had always been, seemed to have undergone a great change.
"My father's going to the war," he told Harry on Wednesday morning. He spoke very seriously. "He was a captain in the Boer War, you know, so he knows something about soldiering. He thinks he'll be taken, though he's a little older than most of the men who'll go. He'll be an officer, of course. And he says I've got to look after the mater when he's gone."
"You can do it, too," said Harry, surprised, despite himself, by the change in his chum's manner. "You seem older than I now, Dick, and I've always thought you were a kid!"
"The pater says we've all got to be men, now," said Dick, steadily. "The mater cried a bit when he said he was going — but I think she must have known all the time he was going. Because when he told us — we were at the breakfast table — she sort of cried a little, and then she stopped.
"I've got everything ready for you,' she said.
"And he looked at her, and smiled. 'So you knew I was going?' he asked her. And she nodded her head, and he got up and kissed her. I never saw him do that before he never did that before, when I was looking on," Dick concluded seriously. "I hope he'll come back all right, Dick," said Harry. "It's hard, old chap!"
"I wouldn't have him stay home for anything!" said Dick, fiercely. "And I will do my share! You see if I don't! I don't care what they want me to do! I'll run errands — I'll sweep out the floors in the War Office, so that some man can go to war! I'll do anything!"
Somehow Harry realized in that moment how hard it was going to be to beat a country where even the boys felt like that! The change in the usually thoughtless, light-hearted Dick impressed him more than anything else had been able to do with the real meaning of what had come about so suddenly. And he was thankful, too, all at once, that in America the fear and peril of War were so remote. It was glorious, it was thrilling, but it was terrible, too. He wondered how many of the scouts he knew, and how many of those in school would lose their fathers or their brothers in this war that was beginning. Truly, there is no argument for peace that can compare with war itself! Yet how slowly we learn!
Grenfel had gone, and the troop was now in charge of a new scoutmaster, Francis Wharton. Mr. Wharton was a somewhat older man. At first sight he didn't look at all like the man to lead a group of scouts, but that, as it turned out, was due to physical infirmities. One foot had been amputated at the time of the Boer War, in which he had served with Grenfel. As a result he was incapacitated from active service, although, as the scouts soon learned, he had begged to be allowed to go in spite of it. He appeared at the scout headquarters, the pavilion of a small local cricket club, on Wednesday morning.
"I don't know much about this — more shame to me," he said, cheerfully, standing up to address the boys. "But I think we can make a go of it — think we'll be able to do something for the Empire, boys. My old friend John Grenfel told me a little; he said you'd pull me through. These are war times and you'll have to do for me what many a company in the army does for a young officer."
They gave him a hearty cheer that was a promise in itself.
"I can tell you I felt pretty bad when I found they wouldn't let me go to the front," he went on. "It seemed hard to have to sit back and read the newspapers when I knew I ought to be doing some of the work. But then Grenfel told me about you boys, and what you meant to do, and I felt better. I saw that there was a chance for me to help, after all. So here I am. These are times when ordinary routine doesn't matter so much you can understand that. Grenfel put the troop at the disposal of the commander at Ealing. And his first request was that I should send two scouts to him at once. Franklin, I believe you are the senior patrol leader? Yes? Then I shall appoint you assistant scoutmaster, as Mr. Greene has not returned from his holiday in France. Will you suggest the names of two scouts for this service?"
Franklin immediately went up to the new scoutmaster, and they spoke together quietly, while a buzz of excited talk rose among the scouts. Who would be honored by the first chance? Every scout there wanted to hear his name called.
"I think they'll take me, for one," said Ernest Graves. He was one of the patrol to which both Harry Fleming and Dick Mercer belonged, and the biggest and oldest scout of the troop, except for Leslie Franklin. He had felt for some time that he should be a patrol leader. Although he excelled in games, and was unquestionably a splendid scout, Graves was not popular, for some reason, among his fellows. He was not exactly unpopular, either; but there was a little resentment at his habit of pushing himself forward.
"I don't see why you should go more than anyone else, Graves," said young Mercer. "I think they'd take the ones who are quickest. We're probably wanted for messenger work."
"Well, I'm the oldest. I ought to have first chance," said Graves.
But the discussion was ended abruptly.
"Fleming! Mercer!" called Mr. Wharton.
They stepped forward, their hands raised in the scout salute, awaiting the scoutmaster's orders. "You will proceed at once, by rail, to Ealing," he said. "There you will report at the barracks, handing this note to the officer of the guard. He will then conduct you to the adjutant or the officer in command, from whom you will take your orders."
"Yes, sir," said both scouts. Their eyes were afire with enthusiasm. But as they passed toward the door, Dick Mercer's quick ears caught a sullen murmur from Graves.
"He's making a fine start," he heard him say to Fatty Wells, who was a great admirer of his. "Picking out an AMERICAN! Why, we're not even sure that he'll be loyal! Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
"You shut up!" cried Dick, fiercely, turning on Graves. "He's as loyal as anyone else! We know as much about him as we do about you, anyhow — or more! You may be big, but when we get back I'll make you take that back or fight —"
"Come on," said Harry, pulling Dick along with him. "You mustn't start quarreling now - it's time for all of us to stand together, Dick. I don't care what he says, anyhow."
He managed to get his fiery chum outside, and they hurried along, at the scout pace, running and walking alternately, toward the West Kensington station of the Underground Railway. They were in their khaki scout uniforms, and several people turned to smile admiringly at them. The newspapers had already announced that the Boy Scouts had turned out unanimously to do whatever service they could, and it was a time when women — and it was mostly women who were in the streets — were disposed to display their admiration of those who were working for the country very freely.
They had little to say to one another as they hurried along; their pace was such as to make it wise for them to save their breath. But when they reached the station they found they had some minutes to wait for a train, and they sat down on the platform to get their breath. They had already had one proof of the difference made by a state of war.
Harry stopped at the ticket window.
"Two-third class — for Ealing," he said, putting down the money. But the agent only smiled, having seen their uniforms.
"On the public service ?" he questioned.
"Yes," said Harry, rather proudly.
"Then you don't need tickets," said the agent. "Got my orders this morning. No one in uniform has to pay. Go right through, and ride first-class, if you like. You'll find plenty of officers riding that way."
"That's fine!" said Dick. "It makes it seem as if we were really of some use, doesn't it, Harry?"
"Yes," answered Harry. "But, Dick, I've been thinking of what you said to Graves. What did you mean when you told him you knew more about me than you did about him? Hasn't he lived here a long time?"
"No, and there's a little mystery about him. Don't you know it?"
"Never heard of such a thing, Dick. You see, I haven't been here so very long and he was in the patrol when I joined.",
"Oh, yes, so he was! Well, I'll tell you, then. You know he's studying to be an engineer, at the Polytechnic. And he lives at a boarding house, all by himself. Not a regular boarding house, exactly. He boards with Mrs. Johnson, you know. Her husband died a year or two ago, and didn't leave her very much money. He hasn't any father or mother, but he always seems to have plenty of money. And he can play all sorts of games, but he won't do them up right. He says he doesn't care anything about cricket!"
"How old is he?"
"Sixteen, but he's awfully big and strong."
"He certainly is. He looks older than that, to me. Have you ever noticed anything funny about the way he talks?"
"No. Why? Have you?"
"I'm not sure. But sometimes it seems to me he talks more like the people do in a book than you and I do. I wonder why he doesn't like me?" pondered Harry.
"Oh, he likes you as well as he does anyone, Harry. He didn't mean anything, I fancy, when he said that about your being chosen just now. He was squiffed because Mr. Wharton didn't take him, that's all. He thinks he ought to be ahead of everyone."
"Well, I didn't ask to be chosen. I'm glad I was, of course, but I didn't expect to be. I think perhaps Leslie Franklin asked Mr. Wharton to take me."
"Of course he did! Why shouldn't he?"
Just then the coming of the train cut them short. From almost every window men in uniform looked out. A few of the soldiers laughed at their scout garb, but most of them only smiled gravely, and as if they were well pleased. The two scouts made for the nearest compartment, and found, when they were in it, that it was a first-class carriage, already containing two young officers who were smoking and chatting together.
"Hullo, young 'uns!" said one of the officers. "Off to the war?"
They both laughed, which Harry rather resented. "We're under orders, sir," he said, politely. "But, of course, they won't let us Scouts go to the war."
"Don't rag them, Cecil," said the other officer. "They're just the sort we need. Going to Ealing, boys?"
Harry checked Dick's impulsive answer with a quick snatch at his elbow. He looked his questioner straight in the eye.
"We weren't told to answer any questions, sir," he said.
Both the officers roared with laughter, but they sobered quickly, and the one who had asked the question flushed a little.
"I beg your pardon, my boy," he said. "The question is withdrawn. You're perfectly right - and you're setting us an example by taking things seriously. This war isn't going to be a lark. But you can tell me a few things. You're scouts, I see. I was myself, once - before I went to Sandhurst. What troop and patrol?"
Dick told him, and the officer nodded.
"Good work!" he said. "The scouts are going to turn out and help, he? That's splendid! There'll be work enough to go all around, never you fear."
"If, by any chance, you should be going to Ealing Barracks," said the first officer, rather shyly, "and we should get off the train when you do, there's no reason why you shouldn't let us drive you out, is there? We're going there, and I don't mind telling you that we've just finished a two hour leave to go and say good-bye to - to -"
His voice broke a little at that. In spite of his light-hearted manner and his rather chaffing tone, he couldn't help remembering that good-bye. He was going to face whatever fate might come, but thoughts of those he might not see again could not be prevented from obtruding themselves.
"Shut up, Cecil," said the other. "We've said good-bye - that's the end of it! We've got other things to think of now. Here we are!"
The train pulled into Ealing station. Here the evidences of war and the warlike preparations were everywhere. The platforms were full of soldiers, laughing, jostling one another, saluting the officers who passed among them. And Harry, as he and Dick followed the officers toward the gate, saw one curious thing. A sentry stood by the railway official who was taking up tickets, and two or three times he stopped and questioned civilian passengers. Two of these, moreover, he ordered into the ticket office, where, as he went by, Harry saw an officer, seated at a desk, examining civilians.
Ealing, as a place where many troops were quartered, was plainly very much under martial law. And outside the station it was even more military. Soldiers were all about and automobiles were racing around, too. And there were many women and children here, to bid farewell to the soldiers who were going - where? No one knew. That was the mystery of the morning. Everyone understood that the troops were off; that they had their orders. But not even the officers themselves knew where, it seemed.
"Here we are - here's a car!" said the officer called Cecil. "Jump aboard, young 'uns! We know where you're going, right enough. Might as well save some time."
And so in a few minutes they reached the great barracks. Here the bustle that had been so marked about the station was absent. All was quiet. They were challenged by a sentry and Harry asked for the officer of the guard. When he came he handed him Wharton's letter. They were told to wait - outside. And then, in a few minutes, the officer returned, passed them through, and turned them over to an orderly, who took them to the room where Colonel Throckmorton, who was seemingly in charge of important affairs, received them. He returned their salute, then bent a rather stern gaze upon them before he spoke.
The House of the Heliograph
"You know your way about London?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said Harry.
"I shall have messages for you to carry," said the colonel, then. "Now I want to explain, so that you will understand the importance of this, why you are going to be allowed to do this work. This war has come suddenly — but we are sure that the enemy has expected it for a long time, and has made plans accordingly.
"There are certain matters so important, so secret, that we are afraid to trust them to the telephone, the telegraph — even the post, if that were quick enough! In a short time we shall have weeded out all the spies. Until then we have to exercise the greatest care. And it has been decided to accept the offer of Boy Scouts because the spies we feel we must guard against are less likely to suspect boys than men. I am going to give you some dispatches now — what they are is a secret. You take them to Major French, at Waterloo station."
He stopped, apparently expecting them to speak. But neither said anything.
"No questions?" he asked, sternly.
"No — no, sir," said Dick. "We're to take the dispatches to Major French, at Waterloo? That all, is it, sir? And then to come back here?"
The colonel nodded approvingly.
"Yes, that's all," he said. "Except for this. Waterloo station is closed to all civilians. You will require a word to pass the sentries. No matter what you see, once you are inside, you are not to describe it. You are to tell no one, not even your parent - - what you do or what you see. That is all," and he nodded in dismissal.
They made their way out and back to the railway station. And Dick seemed a little disappointed.
"I don't think this is much to be doing!" he grumbled.
But Harry's eyes were glistening.
"Don't you see ?" he said, lowering his voice so they could not be overheard. "We know something now that probably even a lot of the soldiers don't know! They're mobilizing. If they are going to be sent from Waterloo it must mean that they're going to Southampton — and that means that they will reach France. That's what we'll see at Waterloo station — troops entraining to start the trip to France. They're going to fight over there. Everyone is guessing at that — a lot of people thought most of the army would be sent to the East Coast. But that can't be so, you see. If it was, they would be starting from King's Cross and Liverpool street stations, not from Waterloo."
"Oh, I never thought of that!" said Dick, brightening.
When they got on the train at Ealing they were lucky enough to get a compartment to themselves, since at that time more people were coming to Ealing than were leaving it. Dick began at once to give vent to his wonder.
"How many of them do you suppose are going?" he cried. "Who will be in command? Sir John Frencli, I think. Lord Kitchener is to be War Minister, they say, and stay in London. I bet they whip those bally Germans until they don't know where they are —"
"Steady on!" said Harry, smiling, but a little concerned, none the less. "Dick, don't talk that! You don't know who may be listening!"
"Why, Harry! No one can hear us — we're alone in the carriage!"
"I know, but we don't know who's in the next one or whether they ean hear through or not. The wall isn't very thick, you know. We can't be too careful. I don't think anyone knows what we're doing but there isn't any reason why we should take any risk at all."
"No, of course not. You're right, Harry," said Dick, a good deal abashed. "I'll try to keep quiet after this."
"I wonder why there are two of us," said Dick presently, in a whisper. "I should think one would be enough."
"I think we've both got just the same papers to carry," said Harry, also in a whisper. "You see, if one of us gets lost, or anything happens to his papers, the other will probably get through all right. At least it looks that way to me."
"Harry," said Dick, after a pause, "I've got an idea. Suppuse we separate and take different ways to get to Waterloo? Wouldn't that make it safer? We could meet there and go back to Ealing together."
"That's a good idea, Dick," said Harry. He didn't think that their present errand was one of great importance, in spite of what Colonel Throckmorton had said. He thought it more likely that they were being tried out and tested, so that the colonel might draw his own conclusions as to how far he might safely trust them in the future. But he repressed his inclination to smile at this sudden excess of caution on Dick's part. It was a move in the right direction, certainly.
"Yes, we'll do that," he said. "I'll walk across the bridge, and you can take the tube under the river from the Monument."
They followed that plan, and met without incident at the station. Here more than ever the fact of war was in evidence. A considerable space in and near the station had been roped off and sentries refused to allow any to pass who could not prove that they had a right to do so. The ordinary peaceful vocation of the great terminal was entirely suspended.
"Anything happen to you ?" asked Harry with a smile. "I nearly got run over — but that was my own fault."
"No, nothing. I saw Graves. And he wanted to know what I was doing."
"What did you tell him?"
"Nothing. I said, 'Don't you wish you knew?' And he got angry, and said he didn't care."
"It wasn't any of his business. You did right," said Harry.
They had to wait a few moments to see Major French, who was exceedingly busy. They need no one to tell them what was going on. At the platform trains were waiting, and, even while they looked on, one after another drew out, loaded with soldiers. The windows were whitewashed, so that, once the doors of the compartments were closed, none could see who was inside. There was no cheering, which seemed strange at first, but it was so plain that this was a precautionary measure that the boys understood it easily enough. Finally Major French, an energetic, sunburned man, who looked as if he hadn't slept for days, came to them. They handed him the papers they carried. He glanced at them, signed receipts which he handed to them, and then frowned for a moment.
"I think I'll let you take a message to Colonel Throckmorton for me," he said, then, giving them a kindly smile. "It will be a verbal message. You are to repeat what I tell you to him without a change. And I suppose I needn't tell you that you must give it to no one else?"
"No, sir." they chorused.
"Very well, then. You will tell him that trains will be waiting below Surbiton, at precisely ten o'clock tonight. Runways will be built to let the men climb the embankment, and they can entrain there. You will remember that ?"
"You might as well understand what it's all about," said the major. "You see, we're moving a lot of troops. And it is of the utmost importance for the enemy to know all about the movement and, of course, just as important for us to keep them from learning what they want to know. So we are covering the movement as well as we can. Even if they learn some of the troops that are going, we want to keep them from finding out everything. Their spy system is wonderfully complete and we have to take every precaution that is possible. It is most important that you deliver this message to Colonel Throckmorton. Repeat it to me exactly," he commanded.
They did so, and, seemingly satisfied, he let them go. But just as they were leaving, he called them back.
"You'd go back by the underground, I suppose," he said. "I'm not sure that you can get through for the line is likely to be taken over, temporarily, at any moment. Take a taxicab — I'll send an orderly with you to put you aboard. Don't pay the man anything; we are keeping a lot of them outside on government service, and they get their pay from the authorities."
The orderly led them to the stand, some distance from the station, where the cabs stood in a long row, and spoke to the driver of the one at the head of the rank. In a moment the motor was started, and they were off.
The cab had a good engine, and it made good time. But after a little while Harry noticed with some curiosity that the route they were taking was not the most direct one. He rapped on the window glass and spoke to the driver about it.
"Got to go round, sir," the man explained. "Roads are all torn up the straight way, sir. Won't take much longer, sir."
Harry accepted the explanation. Indeed, it seemed reasonable enough. But some sixth sense warned him to keep his eyes open. And at last he decided that there could be no excuse for the way the cab was proceeding. It seemed to him that they were going miles out of the way, and decidedly in the wrong direction. He did not know London as well as a boy who had lived there all his life would have done. But his scout training had given him a remarkable ability to keep his bearings. And it needed no special knowledge to realize that the sun was on the wrong side of the cab for a course that was even moderately straight for Ealing.
They had swung well around, as a matter of fact, into a northwestern suburban section, and once he had seen a maze of railway tracks that meant, he was almost sure that they were passing near Willisden Junction. Only a few houses appeared in the section through which the cab was now racing and pavements were not frequent. He spoke to Dick: in a whisper.
"There's something funny here," he said. "But, no matter what happens pretend you think it's all right. Let anyone who speaks to us think we're foolish. It will be easier for us to get away then. And keep your eyes wide open, if we stop anywhere, so that you will be sure to know the place again!"
"Right!" said Dick.
Just then the cab, caught in a rutty road where the going was very heavy, and there was a slight upgrade in addition, to make it worse, slowed up considerably. And Dick, looking out the window on his side, gave a stifled exclamation.
"Look there, Harry!" he said. "Do you see the sun flashing on something on the roof of that house over there? What do you suppose that is?"
"Whew!" Harry whistled, "You ought to know that, Dick! A heliograph - field telegraph. Morse code - or some code - made by flashes. The sun catches a mirror or some sort of reflector, and it's just like a telegraph instrument, with dots and dashes, except that you work by sight instead of by sound. That is queer. Try to mark just where the house is, and so will I."
The cab turned, while they were still looking, and removed the house where the signalling was being done from their line of vision. But in a few moments there was a loud report that startled the scouts until they realized that a front tire had blown out. The driver stopped at once, and descended, seemingly much perturbed. And Harry and Dick, piling out to inspect the damage, started when they saw that they had stopped just outside the mysterious house.
"I'll fix that in a jiffy," said the driver, and began jacking up the wheel. But, quickly as he stripped off the deflated tire, he was not so quick that Harry failed to see that the blow-out had been caused by a straight cut — not at all the sort of tear produced by a jagged stone or a piece of broken glass. He said nothing of his discovery, however, and a moment later he looked up to face a young man in the uniform of an officer of the British territorial army. This young man had keen, searching blue eyes, and very blond hair. His upper lip was closely shaven, but it bore plain evidence that within a few days it had sported a moustache.
"Well," said the officer, "what are you doing here?"
The driver straightened up as if in surprise. "Blow-out, sir," he said, touching his cap. "I'm carrying these young gentlemen from Waterloo to Ealing, sir. Had to come around on account of the roads."
"You've have your way lost, my man. Why not admit it?" said the officer, showing his white teeth in a smile. He turned to Harry an Dick. "Boy Scouts, I see," he commented. "You carry orders concerning the movement of troops from Ealing? They are to entrain — where?"
"Near Croydon, sir, on the Brighton and South Coast Line," said Harry, lifting his innocent eyes to his questioner.
"So! They go to Dover, then, I suppose - no, perhaps to Folkestone —- oh, what matter? Hurry up with your tire, my man!"
He watched them still as the car started. Then he went back to the house.
"Whatever did you tell him that whopper about Croydon for?" whispered Dick. "I wasn't going to tell him anything -"
"Then he might have tried to make us," answered Harry, also in a whisper. "Did you notice anything queer about him ?"
"Why, no —"
"You have your way lost!' Would any Englishman say that, Dick? And wouldn't a German? You've studied German. Translate 'You've lost your way' into German. 'Du hast dein weg —' See? He was a German spy!"
"Oh, Harry! I believe you're right! But why didn't we —"
"Try to arrest him? There may have been a dozen others there, too. And there was the driver. We wouldn't have had a chance. Besides, if he thinks we don't suspect, we may be able to get some valuable information later. I think —"
"I'd better not say now. But remember this — we've got to look out for this driver. I think he'll take us straight to Ealing now. When we get to the barracks you stay in the cab — we'll pretend we may have to go back with him."
"I see," said Dick, thrilling with the excitement of this first taste of real war.
Harry was right. The driver's purpose in making such a long detour, whatever it was, had been accomplished. And now he plainly did his best to make up for lost time. He drove fast and well, and in a comparatively short time both the scouts could see that they were on the right track.
"You watch one side. I'll take the other," said Harry. "We've got to be able to find our way back to that house."
This watchfulness confirmed Harry's suspicions concerning the driver, because he made two or three circuits that could have no other purpose than to make it hard to follow his course.
At Ealing he and Dick carried out their plan exactly. Dick stayed with the cab, outside the wall; Harry hurried in. And five minutes after Harry had gone inside a file of soldiers, coming around from another gate, surrounded the cab and arrested the driver.
On the Trail
Harry had reached Colonel Throckmorton without difficulty and before delivering Major French's message, he explained his suspicions regarding the driver.
"What's that? 'Eh, what's that?" asked the colonel. "Spy? This country's suffering from an epidemic of spy fever — that's what! Still — a taxi cab driver, eh? Perhaps he's one of the many who's tried to overcharge me. I'll put him in the guardhouse, anyway! I'll find out if you're right later, young man!"
As a matter of fact, and as Harry surmised, Colonel Throckmorton felt that it was not a time to take chances. He was almost sure that Harry was letting his imagination run away with him, but it would be safer to arrest a man by mistake than to let him go if there was a chance that he was guilty. So he gave the order and then turned to question Harry. The scout first gave Major French's message, and Colonel Throckmorton immediately dispatched an orderly after giving him certain whispered instructions.
"Now tell me just why you suspect your driver. Explain exactly what happened," he said. He turned to a stenographer. "Take notes of this, Johnson," he directed.
Harry told his story simply and well. When he quoted the officer's remark to the cab driver, with the German inversion, the colonel chuckled.
"You have your way lost!' Eh ?" he said, with a smile. "You're right — he was no Englishman! Go on!"
When he had finished, the colonel brought down his fist on his desk with a great blow.
"You've done very well, Fleming — that's your name? — very well, indeed," he said, heartily. "We know London is covered with spies but we have flattered ourselves that it didn't matter very much what they found, since there was no way that we could see for them to get their news to their headquarters in Germany. But now —"
He frowned thoughtfully.
"They might be able to set up a. chain of signalling stations," he said. "The thing to do would be to follow them, eh? Do you think you could do that? You might use a motorcycle — know how to ride one?"
"Yes, sir," said Harry.
"Live with your parents, do you? Would they let you go? I don't think it would be very dangerous, and you would excite less suspicion than a man. See if they will let you turn yourself over to me for a few days. Pick out another scout to go with you, if you like. Perhaps two of you would be better than one. Report to me in the morning. I'll write a note to your scoutmaster — Mr. Wharton, isn't it? Right!"
As they made their way homeward, thoroughly worked up by the excitement of their adventure, Harry wondered whether his father would let him undertake this service Colonel Throckmorton had suggested. After all, he was not English, and he felt that his father might not want him to do it, although Mr. Fleming, he knew, sympathized strongly with the English in the war. He said nothing to Dick, preferring to wait until he was sure that he could go ahead with his plans.
But when he reached his house he found that things had changed considerably in his absence. Both his parents seemed worried; his father seemed especially troubled.
"Harry," he said, "the war has hit us already. I'm called home by cable, and at the same time there is word that your Aunt Mary is seriously ill. Your mother wants to be with her. I find that, by a stroke of luck, I can get quarters for your mother and myself on tomorrow's steamer. But there's no room for you. Do you think you could get along all right if you were left here? I'll arrange for supplies for the house; Mrs. Grimshaw can keep house. And you will have what money you need."
"Of course I can get along!" said Harry, stoutly. "I suppose the steamers are fearfully crowded?"
"Only about half of them are now in service," said Mr. Fleming. "And the rush of Americans who have been travelling abroad is simply tremendous. Well, if you can manage, it will relieve us greatly. I think we'll be back in less than a month. Keep out of mischief. And write to us as often as you can hear of a steamer that is sailing. If anything happens to you, cable. I'll arrange with Mr. Bruce, at the Embassy, to help you if you need him, but that ought not to be necessary."
Harry was genuinely sorry for his mother's distress at leaving him, but he was also relieved, in a way. He felt now he would not be forbidden to do his part with the scouts. He would be able to undertake what promised to be the greatest adventure that had ever come his way. He had no fear of being left alone for his training as a Boy Scout had made him too self reliant for that.
Mr. and Mrs. Fleming started for Liverpool that night. Train service throughout the country was so disorganized by the military use of the railways that journeys that in normal, peaceful times required only two or three hours were likely to consume a full day. So he went into the city of London with them and saw them off at Euston, which was full of distressed American refugees.
The Flemings found many friends there, of whose very presence in London they were ignorant, and Mr. Fleming, who, thanks to his business connections in London, was plentifully supplied with cash, was able to relieve the distress of some of them.
Many had escaped from France, Germany and Austria with only the clothes they wore, having lost all their luggage. Many more, though possessed of letters of credit or travellers' checks for considerable sums, didn't have enough money to buy a sandwich; since the banks were all closed and no one would cash their checks.
So Harry had another glimpse of the effects of war, seeing how it affected a great many people who not only had nothing to do with the fighting, but were citizens of a neutral nation. He was beginning to understand very thoroughly by this time that war was not what he had always dreamed. It meant more than fighting, more than glory.
But, after all, now that war had come, it was no time to think of such things. He had undertaken, if he could get permission, to do a certain very important piece of work. And now, by a happy accident, as he regarded it, it wasn't necessary for him to ask that permission. He was not forbidden to do any particular thing; his father had simply warned him to be careful.
So when he went home, he whistled outside of Dick Mercer's window, woke him up, and, when Dick came down into the garden, explained to him what Colonel Throckmorton wanted them to do.
"He said I could pick out someone to go with me, Dick," Harry explained. "And, of course, I'd rather have you than anyone I can think of. Will you come along?"
"Will I!" said Dick. "What do you think you'll do, Harry?"
"We may get special orders, of course," said Harry. "But I think the first thing will be to find out just where the signals from that house are being received. They must be answered, you know, so we ought to find the next station. Then, from that, we can work on to the next."
"Where do you suppose those signals go to?"
"That's what we've got to find out, Dick! But I should think, in the long run, to someplace on the East coast. Perhaps they've got some way there of signalling to ships at sea. Anyhow, that's what's got to be discovered. Did you see Graves tonight ?"
"No," said Dick, his lips tightening, "I didn't! But I heard about him, all right."
"How? What do you mean?"
"I heard that he'd been doing a tot of talking about you. He said it wasn't fair to have taken you and given you the honor of doing something when there were English boys who were just as capable of doing it as you."
"Oh!" said Harry, with a laugh. "Much I care what he says!"
"Much I care, either!" echoed Dick. "But, Harry, he has made some of the other chaps feel that way, too. They all like you, and they don't like him. But they do seem to think some of them should have been chosen."
"'Well, it's not my fault," said Harry, cheerfully. "I certainly wasn't going to refuse. And it isn't as if I'd asked Mr. Wharton to pick me out."
"No, and I fancy there aren't many of them who would have done as well as you did today, either!"
"Oh. yes, they would! That wasn't anything. We'd better get to bed now. I think we ought to report just as early as we can in the morning. If we get away by seven o'clock, it won't be a bit too early."
"All right. I'll be ready. Good-night, Harry!"
Morning saw them up on time, and off to Ealing. There Colonel Throckmorton gave them their orders.
"I've requisitioned motorcycles for you," he said. "Make sure of the location of the house, so that you can mark it on an ordnance map for me. Then use your own judgment, but find the next house. I have had letters prepared for you that will introduce you to either the mayor or the military commander in any town you reach and you will get quarters for the night, if you need them. Where do you think your search will lead you, Fleming?"
He eyed Harry sharply as he asked the question. "Somewhere on the East coast, I think, sir," replied Harry.
"Well, that remains to be seen. Report by telegraph, using this code. It's a simplified version of the official code, but it contains all you will need to use. That is all."
Finding the house, when they started on their motorcycles, did not prove as difficult a task as Harry had feared it might. They both remembered a number of places they had marked from the cab windows, and it was not long before they were sure they were drawing near.
"I remember that hill," said Harry. "By Jove — yes, there it is! On top of that hill, do you see? We won't go much nearer. I don't want them to see us, by any chance. All we need is to notice which way they're signalling."
They watched the house for some time before there was any sign of life. And then it was only the flashes that they saw. Since the previous day some sort of cover had been provided for the man who did the signalling.
"What do you make of it, Dick ?" asked Harry eagerly, after the flashing had continued for some moments.
"It looks to me as if they were flashing toward the north and a little toward the west," said Dick, puzzled.
"That's the way it seems to me, too," agreed Harry. "That isn't what we expected, either, is it?"
"Of course we can't be sure."
"No, put it certainly looks that way. Well, we can't make sure from here, but we've got to do it somehow. I tell you what. We'll circle around and get northwest of the house. Then we ought to be able to tell a good deal better. And if we get far enough around, I don't believe they'll see us, or pay any attention to us if they do."
So they mounted their machines again, and in a few moments were speeding toward a new and better spot from which to spy on the house. But this, when they reached it, only confirmed their first guess. The signals were much more plainly visible here, and it was obvious now, as it had not been before, that the screen they had noticed had been erected as much to concentrate the flashes and make them more easily visible to a receiving station as to conceal the operator. So they turned and figured a straight line as well as they could from the spot where the flashes were made. Harry had a map with him, and on this he marked, as well as he could, the location of the house. Then he drew a line from it to the northwest.
"The next station must be on this line somewhere," he said. "We'll stick to it. There's a road, you see, that we can follow that's almost straight. And as soon as we come to a high building we ought to be able to see both flashes — the ones that are being sent from that house and the answering signals. Do you see?"
"Yes, that'll be fine!" said Dick. "Come on!"
"Not so fast!" said a harsh voice behind them.
They spun around, and there, grinning a little, but looking highly determined and dangerous, was the same man they had seen the day before, and who had questioned them when the tire of their taxicab blew out! But now he was not in uniform, but in a plain suit of clothes.
"So you are spying on my house, are you?" he said. "And you lied to me yesterday! No troops were sent to Croydon at all!"
"Well, you hadn't any business to ask us!" said Dick, pluckily. "If you hadn't asked us any questions, we'd have told you no lies."
"I think perhaps you know too much," said the spy, nodding his head, "You had better come with me. We will look after you in this house that interests you so greatly."
He made a movement forward. His hand dropped on Dick's shoulder. But as it did so Harry's feet left the ground. He aimed for the spy's legs, just below the knee, and brought him to the ground with a beautiful diving tackle - the sort he had learned in his American football days. It was the one attack of all others that the spy did not anticipate, if, indeed, he looked for any resistance at all. He wasn't a football player, so he didn't know how to let his body give and strike the ground limply. The result was that his head struck a piece of hard ground with abnormal violence, and he lay prone and very still.
"Oh, that was ripping, Harry!" cried Dick. "But do you think you've killed him?"
"Killed him? No!" said Harry, with a laugh.
"He's tougher than that, Dick!"
But he looked ruefully at the spy.
"I wish I knew what to do with him," he said. "He'll come to in a little while. But —"
"We can get away while he's still out," said Dick, quickly. "He can't follow us and we can get such a start with our motorcycles."
"Yes, but he'll know their game is up," said Harry. "Don't you see, Dick? He'll tell them they're suspected — and that's all they'll need in the way of warning. When men are doing anything as desperate as the sort of work they're up to in that house, they take no more chances than they have to. They'd be off at once, and start up somewhere else. We only stumbled on this by mere accident — they might be able to work for weeks if they were warned."
"Oh, I never thought of that! What are we to do, then?'
"I wish I knew whether anyone saw us from the house or if they didn't - ! Well, we'll have to risk that. Dick, do you see that house over there? It's all boarded up — it must be empty."
"Yes, I see it." Dick caught Harry's idea at once this time, and began measuring with his eye the distance to the little house of which Harry had spoken. "It's all down hill — I think we could manage it all right."
"We'll try it, anyhow," said Harry. "But first we'd better tie up his hands and feet. He's too strong for the pair of us, I'm afraid, if he should come to."
Once that was done, they began to drag the spy toward the house. Half carrying, half pulling, they got him down the slope, and with a last great effort lifted him through a window, which, despoiled of glass, had been boarded up. They were as gentle as they could be, for the idea of hurting a helpless man, even though he was a spy, went against the grain. But —
"We can't be too particular," said Harry. "And he brought it on himself. I'm afraid he'll have worse than this to face later on."
They dumped him through the window, from which they had taken the boards. Then they made their own way inside, and Harry began to truss up the prisoner more scientifically. He understood the art of tying a man very well indeed, for one of the games of his old scout patrol had involved tying up one scout after another to see if they could free themselves. And when he had done, he stepped back with a smile of satisfaction.
"I don't believe he'll get himself free very soon," he said. "He'll be lucky if that knock on the head keeps him unconscious for a long time, because he'll wake up with a headache, and if he stays as he is he won't know how uncomfortable he is."
"Are we going to leave him like that, Harry?"
"We've got to, Dick. But he'll be all right, I am going to telephone to Colonel Throckmorton and tell him to send here for him, but to do so at night, and so that no one will notice. He won't starve or die of thirst. I can easily manage to describe this place so that whoever the colonel sends will find it. Come on!"
They went back to their cycles and rode on until they came to a place where they could telephone. Harry explained guardedly, and they went on.
THE MYSTERY OF BRAY PARK
"I hope he'll be all right," said Dick.
"They'll find him, I'm sure," said Harry. "Even if they don't, he'll be all right for a few days, two or three, anyhow. A man can be very uncomfortable and miserable, and still not be in any danger. We don't need half as much food as we eat, really. I've heard that lots of times."
They were riding along the line that Harry had marked on his map, and, a mile or two ahead, there was visible an old-fashioned house, with a tower projecting from its centre. From this, Harry had decided, they should be able to get the view they required and so locate the second heliographing station.
"How far away do you think it ought to be, Harry?" asked Dick.
"It's very hard to tell, Dick. A first-class heliograph is visible for a very long way, if the conditions are right. That is, if the sun is out and the ground is level. In South Africa, for instance, or in Egypt, it would work for nearly a hundred miles, or maybe even more. But here I should think eight or ten miles would be the limit. And it's cloudy so often that it must be very uncertain."
"Why don't they use flags, then?"
"The way we do in the scouts? Well, I guess that's because the heliograph is so much more secret. You see, with the heliograph the flashes are centered. You've got to be almost on a direct line with them, or not more than fifty yards off the centre line, to see them at all, even a mile away. But anyone can see flags, and read messages, unless they're in code. And if these people are German spies, the code wouldn't help them. Having it discovered that they were sending messages at all would spoil their plans."
"I see. Of course, though. That's just what you said. It was really just by accident that we saw them flashing."
Then they came to the house where they expected to make their observation. It was occupied by an old gentleman, who came out to see what was wanted and stood behind the servant who opened the door. At the sight of their uniforms he drew himself up very straight and saluted. But, formal as he was, there was a smile in his eyes.
"Well, boys," he said, "what can I do for you? On His Majesty's service, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir," said Dick. "We'd like to go up in your tower room, if you don't mind."
"Scouting, eh?" said the old gentleman, mystified. "Do you expect to locate the enemy's cavalry from my tower room? Well, well — up with you. You can do no harm."
Dick was inclined to resent the old gentleman's failure to take them seriously, but Harry silenced his protest. As they went up the stairs he whispered: "It's better for him to think that. We don't want anyone to know what we're doing, you know — not yet."
So they reached the tower room, and, just as Harry had anticipated, got a wonderful view of the surrounding country. They found that the heliograph they had left behind was working feverishly and Harry took out a pencil and jotted down the symbols as they were flashed.
"It's in code, of course," he said, "but maybe we'll find someone who can decipher it — I know they have experts for that. It might come in handy to know what they were talking about."
"There's the other station answering!" said Dick, excitedly, after a moment. "Isn't it lucky that it's such a fine day, Harry? See, there it is, over there!"
"Let me have the glasses," said Harry, taking the binoculars from Dick. "Yes, you're right! They're on the top of a hill, just about where I thought we'd find them, too. Come on! We've got no time to waste. They're a good seven miles from here, and we've a lot more to do yet."
Below stairs the old gentleman tried to stop them.
He was very curious by this time, for he had been thinking about them and it had struck him that they were too much in earnest to simply be enjoying lark. But Harry and Dick, while they met his questions politely, refused to enlighten him.
"I'm sorry, sir," said Harry, when the old gentleman pressed him too hard. "But I really think we mustn't tell you why we're here. But if you would like to hear of it later, we'll be glad to come to see you and explain everything."
"Bless my soul!" said the old man. "When I was a boy we didn't think so much of ourselves, I can tell you! But then we didn't have any Boy Scouts, either!"
It was hard to tell from his manner whether that was intended for a compliment or not. But they waited no longer. In a trice they were on their motorcycles and off again. And when they drew near to the hilltop whence the signals had come, Harry stopped. For a moment he looked puzzled, then he smiled.
"I think I've got it!" he said. "They're clever enough to try to fool anyone who got on to their signalling. They would know what everyone would think — that they would be sending their messages to the East coast, because that is nearest to Germany. That's why they put their first station here. I'll bet they send the flashes zig-zagging all around, but that we'll find they all get east gradually. Now we'll circle around this one until we find out in what direction it is flashing, then we'll know what line we must follow. After that all we've got to do is to follow the line to some high hill or building, and we'll pick up the next station."
Their eyes were more accustomed to the work now, and they wasted very little time. This time, just as Harry had guessed, the flashes were being sent due east, and judging from the first case that the next station would be less than ten miles away, he decided to ride straight on for about that distance. He had a road map, and found that they could follow a straight line, except for one break. They did not go near the hilltop at all.
"I'd like to know what they're doing there," said Dick.
"So would I, but it's open country, and they're probably keeping a close lookout. They're really safer doing that in the open than on the roof of a house, out here in the country."
"Because they can hide the heliograph? It's portable, isn't it?"
"Yes. They could stow it away in a minute, if they were alarmed. I fancy we'll find them using hilltops now as much as they can."
"Harry, I've just thought of something. If they've planned so carefully as this, wouldn't they be likely to have country places, where they'd be less likely to be disturbed?"
"Yes, they would. You're right, Dick. Especially as we get further and further away from London. I suppose there must be plenty of places a German could buy or lease."
"And perhaps people wouldn't even know they were Germans, if they spoke good English, and didn't have an accent."
That suggestion of Dick's bore fruit. For the third station they found was evidently hidden away In a private park. It was in the outskirts of a little village, and Harry and Dick had no trouble at all in finding out all the villagers knew of the place. "'Twas taken a year ago by a rich American gentleman, with a sight of motor cars and foreign-looking servants," they were told. "Very high and mighty he is, too — does all his buying at the stores in Lunnon, and don't give local trade any of his patronage."
The two scouts exchanged glances. Their suspicions were confirmed in a way. But it was necessary to be sure; to be suspicious was not enough for them.
"We'll have to get inside," he said under his breath to Dick. But the villager heard, and laughed.
"Easy enough, if you're friends of his," he said. "If not — look out, master! He's got signs up warning off trespassers, and traps and spring guns all over the place. Wants to be very private, and that, he does."
"Thanks," said Harry. "Perhaps we'd better not pay him a visit, after all."
The village was a sleepy little place, one of the few spots Harry had seen to which the war fever had not penetrated. It was not on the line of the railway, and there was not even a telegraph station. By showing Colonel Throckmorton's letter, Harry and Dick could have obtained the right to search the property that they suspected. But that did not seem wise.
"I don't think the village constables here could help us much, Dick," said Harry. "They'd give everything away, and we probably wouldn't accomplish anything except to put them on their guard. I vote we wait until dark and try to find out what we can by ourselves. It's risky but even if they catch us, I don't think we need to be afraid of their doing anything."
"I'm with you," said Dick. "We'll do whatever you say."
They spent the rest of the afternoon scouting around the neighboring country on their motorcycles, studying the estate from the roads that surrounded it. Bray Park, it was called, and it had for centuries belonged to an old family, which, however, had been glad of the high rent it had been able to extract from the rich American who had taken the place.
What they saw was that the grounds seemed to be surrounded, near the wall, by heavy trees, which made it difficult to see much of what was within. But in one place there was a break, so that, looking across velvety green lawns, they could see a small part of an old and weatherbeaten grey house. It appeared to be on a rise, and to stand several stories above the ground, so that it might well be an ideal place for the establishment of a heliograph station.
But Harry's suspicions were beginning to take a new turn.
"I believe this is the biggest find we've made yet, Dick," he said. "I think we'll find that if we discover what is really going on here, we'll be at the end of our task — or very near it. It's just the place for a headquarters."
"I believe it is, Harry. And if they've been so particular to keep everything about it secret, it certainly seems that there must be something important to hide," suggested Harry, thinking deeply. "I think I'll write a letter to Colonel Throckmorton, Dick. I'll tell him about this place, and that we're trying to get in and find out what we can about it. Then, if anything happens to us, he'll know what we were doing, and he will have heard about this place, even if they catch us. I'll post it before we go in."
"That's a splendid idea, Harry. I don't see how you think of everything the way you do."
"I think it's because my father's always talking about how one ought to think of all the things that can go wrong. He says that's the way he's got along in business is by never being surprised by having something unfortunate happen, and by always trying to be ready to make it as trifling as it can be."
So Harry wrote and posted his letter, taking care to word it so that it would be hard for anyone except Colonel Throckmorton to understand it. And, even after having purposely made the wording rather obscure, he put it into code. And, after that, he thought of still another precaution that might be wise. "We won't need the credentials we've got in there tonight, Dick," he said. "Nor our copies of the code, either. We'll bury them near where we leave our motorcycles. Then when we get out we can easily get them back, and if we should be caught they won't be found on us. Remember, if we are caught, we're just boys out trespassing. Let them think we're poachers, if they like."
But even Harry could think of no more precautions after that, and they had a long and tiresome wait until they thought it was dark enough to venture within the walls.
Getting over the wall was not difficult. They had thought they might find broken glass on top, but there was nothing of the sort. Once inside, however, they speedily discovered why that precaution was not taken — and also that they had had a remarkably narrow escape. For scarcely had they dropped to the ground and taken shelter when they saw a figure, carrying a gun, approaching. It was a man making the rounds of the wall. While they watched he met another man, also armed, and turned to retrace this steps.
"They've got two men, at least - maybe a lot more, doing that," whispered Harry. "We've got to find out just how often he passes that spot. We want to know if the intervals are regular, too, so that we can calculate just when he'll be there."
Three times the man came and went, while they waited, timing him. And Harry found that he passed the spot at which they had entered every fifteen minutes. That was not exact for there was a variation of a minute or so, but it seemed pretty certain that he would pass between thirteen and seventeen minutes after the hour, and so on.
"So we'll know when it's safe to make a dash to get out," said Harry. "The first thing a general does, you know, is to secure his retreat. He doesn't expect to be beaten, but he wants to know what he can live to fight another day if he is."
"We've got to retreat, haven't we?" asked Dick. "It wouldn't do us any good to stay here."
"That's so. But we've got to advance first. Now to get near that house, and see what we can find Look out for those traps and things our friend warned us of. It looks like just the place for them. And keep to cover!"
They wormed their way forward, often crawling along. Both knew a good deal about traps and how they are set, and their common sense enabled them to see the most likely places for them. They kept to open ground, avoiding shrubbery and what looked like windfalls of branches. Before they came into full view of the house they had about a quarter of a mile to go. And it was an exciting journey.
They dared not speak to one another. For all about, though at first they could see nothing, there was the sense of impending danger. They felt that unseen eyes were watching, not for them, perhaps, but for anyone who might venture to intrude and pass the first line. Both of the scouts felt that they were tilting against a mighty force, that the organization that would perfect, in time of peace. Such a system of espionage in the heart of the country of a possible enemy, was of the most formidable sort.