TOM SLADE MOTORCYCLE DISPATCH-BEARER
BY PERCY K. FITZHUGH
AUTHOR OF TOM SLADE, BOY SCOUT, TOM SLADE AT TEMPLE CAMP, TOM SLADE ON THE RIVER, TOM SLADE WITH THE COLORS, ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY R. EMMETT OWEN
PUBLISHED WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS :: NEW YORK.
Copyright, 1918, by GROSSET & DUNLAP
Preface vii I. For Service as Required 1 II. Aid and Comfort to the Enemy 8 III. The Old Compass 14 IV. The Old Familiar Faces 20 V. Getting Ready 25 VI. Over the Top 36 VII. A Shot 45 VIII. In the Woods 50 IX. The Mysterious Fugitive 57 X. The Jersey Snipe 62 XI. On Guard 68 XII. What's In a Name? 73 XIII. The Fountains of Destruction 79 XIV. Tom Uses His First Bullet 84 XV. The Gun Pit 89 XVI. Prisoners 97 XVII. Shades of Archibald Archer 105 XVIII. The Big Coup 111 XIX. Tom is Questioned 119 XX. The Major's Papers 127 XXI. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere 133 XXII. "Uncle Sam" 140 XXIII. Up a Tree 150 XXIV. "To Him That Overcometh" 156 XXV. "What You Have to Do—" 162 XXVI. A Surprise 169 XXVII. Smoke and Fire 175 XXVIII. "Made in Germany" 184 XXIX. "Now You See It, Now You Don't" 194 XXX. He Disappears 205
It was good advice that Rudyard Kipling gave his "young British soldier" in regard to the latter's rifle:
"She's human as you are—you treat her as sich And she'll fight for the young British soldier."
Tommy Atkins' rifle was by no means the first inanimate or dumb thing to prove human and to deserve human treatment. Animals of all sorts have been given this quality. Jack London's dog, in The Call of the Wild, has human interest. So has the immortal Black Beauty.
But we are not concerned with animals now. Kipling's ocean liner has human interest—a soul. I need not tell you that a boat is human. Its every erratic quality of crankiness, its veritable heroism under stress, its temperament (if you like that word) makes it very human indeed. That is why a man will often let his boat rot rather than sell it.
This is not true of all inanimate things. It depends. I have never heard of a steam roller or a poison gas bomb being beloved by anybody. I should not care to associate with a hand grenade. It is a matter of taste; I dare say I could learn to love a British tank, but I could never make a friend and confidante of a balloon. An aeroplane might prove a good pal—we shall have to see.
Davy Crockett actually made a friend and confidante of his famous gun, Betsy. And Betsy is known in history. It is said that the gun crews on armed liners have found this human quality in their guns, and many of these have been given names—Billy Sunday, Teddy Roosevelt, etc.
I need not tell you that a camp-fire is human and that trees are human.
The pioneers of old, pressing into the dim wilderness, christened their old flintlocks and talked to them as a man may talk to a man. The woodsman's axe was "deare and greatly beloved," we are told.
The hard-pressed Indian warrior knelt in the forest and besought that life-long comrade, his bow, not to desert or fail him. King Philip kept in his quiver a favorite arrow which he never used because it had earned retirement by saving his own life.
What Paul Revere may have said to his horse in that stirring midnight ride we do not know. But may we not suppose that he urged his trusty steed forward with resolute and inspiring words about the glorious errand they were upon?
Perhaps the lonely ringer of the immortal bell up in the Old South steeple muttered some urgent word of incentive to that iron clanger as it beat against its ringing wall of brass.
So I have made Uncle Sam, the motorcycle, the friend and companion of Tom Slade. I have withheld none of their confidences—or trifling differences. I dare say they were both weary and impatient at times.
If he is not companionable to you, then so much the worse for you and for our story. But he was the friend, the inseparable associate and co-patriot of Tom Slade, the Dispatch Rider.
You will not like him any the less because of the noise he made in trudging up a hill, or because his mud-guard was broken off, or his tire wounded in the great cause, or his polished headlight knocked into a tin can. You will not ridicule the old splint of a shingle which was bound with such surgical nicety among his rusting spokes. If you do, then you are the kind of a boy who would laugh at a wounded soldier and you had better not read this book.
FOR SERVICE AS REQUIRED
Swiftly and silently along the moonlit road sped the dispatch-rider. Out of the East he had come, where the battle line runs between blue mountains and the country is quiet and peaceful, and the boys in khaki long for action and think wistfully of Picardy and Flanders. He was a lucky young fellow, this dispatch-rider, and all the boys had told him so.
"We'll miss you, Thatchy," they had said.
And "Thatchy" had answered characteristically, "I'm sorry, too, kind of, in a way."
His name was not Thatchy, but they had called him so because his thick shock of light hair, which persisted in falling down over his forehead and ears, had not a little the appearance of the thatched roofs on the French peasant's cottages. He, with a loquacious young companion, had blown into the Toul sector from no one seemed to know exactly where, more than that he had originally been a ship's boy, had been in a German prison camp, and had escaped through Alsace and reached the American forces after a perilous journey.
Lately he had been running back and forth on his motorcycle between the lines and points south in a region which had not been defiled by the invader, but now he was going far into the West "for service as required."
That was what the slip of paper from headquarters had said, and he did not speculate as to what those services would be, but he knew that they would not be exactly holding Sunday-School picnics in the neighborhood of Montdidier. Billy Brownway, machine gunner, had assured Thatchy that undoubtedly he was wanted to represent the messenger service on the War Council at Versailles. But Thatchy did not mind that kind of talk.
West of Revigny, he crossed the old trench line, and came into the area which the Blond Beast had crossed and devastated in the first year of the war. Planks lay across the empty trenches and as he rode over first the French and then the enemy ditches, he looked down and could see in the moonlight some of the ghastly trophies of war. Somehow they affected him more than had the fresher results of combat which he had seen even in the quiet sector he had left.
Silently he sped along the thirty-mile stretch from Revigny to Chalons, where a little group of French children pressed about him when he paused for gasoline.
"Yankee!" they called, chattering at him and meddling with his machine.
"Le cheveu!" one brazen youngster shouted, running his hand through his own hair by way of demonstrating Thatchy's most conspicuous characteristic.
Thatchy poked him good-humoredly. "La route, est-belle bonne?" he asked.
The child nodded enthusiastically, while the others broke out laughing at Thatchy's queer French, and poured a verbal torrent at him by way of explaining that the road to the South would take him through Vertus and Montmirail, while the one to the north led to Epernay.
"I'll bump my nose into the salient if I take that one," he said more to himself than to them, but one little fellow, catching the word salient took a chance on nose and jumped up and down in joyous abandon, calling, "Bump le nez—le salient!" apparently in keen appreciation of the absurdity of the rider's phrase.
He rode away with a clamoring chorus behind him and he heard one brazen youngster boldly mimicking his manner of asking if the roads were good. These children lived in tumble-down houses which were all but ruins, and played in shell holes as if these cruel, ragged gaps in the earth had been made by the kind Boche for their especial entertainment.
A mile or two west of Chalons the rider crossed the historic Marne on a makeshift bridge built from the materials of a ruined house and the remnants of the former span.
On he sped, along the quiet, moonlit road, through the little village of Thibie, past many a quaint old heavily-roofed brick cottage, over the stream at Chaintrix and into Vertus, and along the straight, even stretch of road for Montmirail. Not so long ago he might have gone from Chalons in a bee-line from Montdidier, but the big, ugly salient stuck out like a huge snout now, as if it were sniffing in longing anticipation at that tempting morsel, Paris; so he must circle around it and then turn almost straight north.
At La Ferte, among the hills, he paused at a crossroads and, alighting from his machine, stood watching as a long, silent procession of wagons passed by in the quiet night, moving southward. He knew now what it meant to go into the West. One after another they passed in deathlike stillness, the Red Cross upon the side of each plainly visible in the moonlight. As he paused, the rider could hear the thunder of great guns in the north. Many stretchers, borne by men afoot, followed the wagons and he could hear the groans of those who tossed restlessly upon them.
"Look out for shell holes," he heard someone say. So there were Americans in the fighting, he thought.
He ran along the edge of the hills now on the fifteen-mile stretch to Meaux, where he intended to follow the road northward through Senlis and across the old trenches near Clermont. He could hear the booming all the while, but it seemed weary and spent, like a runner who has slackened his pace and begun to pant.
At Meaux he crossed the path of another silent cavalcade of stretchers and ambulances and wounded soldiers who were being supported as they limped along. They spoke in French and one voice came out of an ambulance, seeming hollow and far off, as though from a grave. Then came a lot of German prisoners tramping along, some sullen and some with a fine air of bravado sneering at their guards.
The rider knew where he was going and how to get there and he did not venture any inquiries either as to his way or what had been going on.
Happenings in Flanders and Picardy are known in America before they are known to the boys in Alsace. He knew there was fighting in the West and that Fritz had poked a big bulge into the French line, for his superiors had given him a road map with the bulge pencilled upon it so that he might go around it and not bump his nose into it, as he had said. But he had not expected to see such obvious signs of fighting and it made him realize that at last he was getting into the war with a vengeance.
Instead of following the road leading northwest out of Meaux, he took the one leading northeast up through Villers-Cotterets, intending to run along the edge of the forest to Campiegne and then verge westward to the billet villages northwest of Montdidier, where he was to report.
This route brought him within ten miles of the west arm of the salient, but the way was quiet and there was no sign of the fighting as he rode along in the woody solitude. It reminded him of his home far back in America and of the woods where he and his scout companions had camped and hiked and followed the peaceful pursuits of stalking and trailing.
He was thinking of home as he rode leisurely along the winding forest road, when suddenly he was startled by a rustling sound among the trees.
"Who goes there?" he demanded in pursuance of his general instructions for such an emergency, at the same time drawing his pistol. "Halt!"
He was the scout again now, keen, observant. But there was no answer to his challenge and he narrowed his eyes to mere slits, peering into the tree-studded solitude, waiting.
Then suddenly, close by him he heard that unmistakable sound, the clanking of a chain, and accompanying it a voice saying, "Kamerad."
AID AND COMFORT TO THE ENEMY
Tom Slade, dispatch-rider, knew well enough what kamerad meant. He had learned at least that much of German warfare and German honor, even in the quiet Toul sector. He knew that the German olive branch was poisoned; that German treachery was a fine art—a part of the German efficiency. Had not Private Coleburn, whom Tom knew well, listened to that kindly uttered word and been stabbed with a Prussian bayonet in the darkness of No Man's Land?
"Stand up," said Tom. "Nobody can talk to me crouching down like that."
"Ach!" said the voice in the unmistakable tone of pain. "Vot goot—see!"
Tom turned on his searchlight and saw crawling toward him a German soldier, hatless and coatless, whose white face seemed all the more pale and ghastly for the smear of blood upon it. He was quite without arms, in proof of which he raised his open hands and slapped his sides and hips. As he did so a long piece of heavy chain, which was manacled to his wrist clanged and rattled.
"Ach!" he said, shaking his head as if in agony.
"Put your hands down. All right," said Tom. "Can you speak English?"
"Kamerad," he repeated and shrugged his shoulders as if that were enough.
"You escape?" said Tom, trying to make himself understood. "How did you get back of the French lines?"
"Shot broke—yach," the man said, his face lapsing again into a hopeless expression of suffering.
"All right," said Tom, simply. "Comrade—I say it too. All right?"
The soldier's face showed unmistakable relief through his suffering.
"Let's see what's the matter," Tom said, though he knew the other only vaguely understood him. Turning the wheel so as the better to focus the light upon the man, he saw that he had been wounded in the foot, which was shoeless and bleeding freely, but that the chief cause of his suffering was the raw condition of his wrist where the manacle encircled it and the heavy chain pulled. It seemed to Tom as if this cruel sore might have been caused by the chain dragging behind him and perhaps catching on the ground as he fled.
"The French didn't put that on?" he queried, rather puzzled.
The soldier shook his head. "Herr General," said he.
"Not the Americans?"
Then suddenly there flashed into Tom's mind something he had heard about German artillerymen being chained to their guns. So that was it. And some French gunner, or an American maybe, had unconsciously set this poor wretch free by smashing his chain with a shell.
"You're in the French lines," Tom said. "Did you mean to come here? You're a prisoner."
"Ach, diss iss petter," the man said, only half understanding.
"Yes, I guess it is," said Tom. "I'll bind your foot up and then I'll take that chain off if I can and bind your wrist. Then we'll have to find the nearest dressing station. I suppose you got lost in this forest. I been in the German forest myself," he added; "it's fine—better than this. I got to admit they've got fine lakes there."
Whether he said this by way of comforting the stranger—though he knew the man understood but little of it—or just out of the blunt honesty which refused to twist everything German into a thing of evil, it would be hard to say. He had about him that quality of candor which could not be shaken even by righteous enmity.
Tearing two strips from his shirt, he used the narrower one to make a tourniquet, which he tied above the man's ankle.
"If you haven't got poison in it, it won't be so bad," he said. "Now I'll take off that chain."
He raised his machine upon its rest so that the power wheel was free of the ground. Then, to the wounded Boche's puzzled surprise, he removed the tire and fumbling in his little tool kit he took out a piece of emery cloth which he used for cleaning his plugs and platinum contact points, and bent it over the edge of the rim, binding it to the spokes with the length of insulated wire which he always carried. It was a crude and makeshift contrivance at best, but at last he succeeded, by dint of much bending and winding and tying of the pliable copper wire among the spokes of the wheel, in fastening the emery cloth over the fairly sharp rim so that it stayed in place when he started his power and in about two revolutions it cut a piece of wire with which he tested the power of his improvised mechanical file.
"Often I sharpened a jackknife that way on the fly-wheel of a motor boat," he said. The Boche did not understand him, but he was quick to see the possibilities of this whirling hacksaw and he seemed to acknowledge, with as much grace as a German may, the Yankee ingenuity of his liberator.
"Give me your wrist," said Tom, reaching for it; "I won't hurt it any more than I have to; here—here's a good scheme."
He carefully stuffed his handkerchief around under the metal band which encircled the soldier's wrist and having thus formed a cushion to receive the pressure and protect the raw flesh, he closed his switch again and gently subjected the manacle to the revolving wheel, holding it upon the edge of the concave tire bed.
If the emery cloth had extended all the way around the wheel he could have taken the manacle off in less time than it had taken Kaiser Bill to lock it on, for the contrivance rivalled a buzzsaw. As it was, he had to stop every minute or two to rearrange the worn emery cloth and bind it in place anew. But for all that he succeeded in less than fifteen minutes in working a furrow almost through the metal band so that a little careful manipulating and squeezing and pressing of it enabled him to break it and force it open.
"There you are," he said, removing the handkerchief so as to get a better look at the cruel sore beneath; "didn't hurt much, did it? That's what Uncle Sam's trying to do for all the rest of you fellers—only you haven't got sense enough to know it."
THE OLD COMPASS
Tom took the limping Boche, his first war prisoner, to the Red Cross station at Vivieres where they had knives and scissors and bandages and antiseptics, but nothing with which to remove Prussian manacles, and all the king's horses and all the king's men and the willing, kindly nurses there could have done little for the poor Boche if Tom Slade, alias Thatchy, had not administered his own particular kind of first aid.
The French doctors sent him forth with unstinted praise which he only half understood, and as he sped along the road for Compiegne he wondered who could have been the allied gunner who at long range had cut Fritzie loose from the piece of artillery to which he had been chained.
"That feller and I did a good job anyway," he thought.
At Compiegne the whole town was in a ferment as he passed through. Hundreds of refugees with mule carts and wheelbarrows laden with their household goods, were leaving the town in anticipation of the German advance. They made a mournful procession as they passed out of the town along the south road with babies crying and children clamoring about the clumsy, overladen vehicles. He saw many boys in khaki here and there and it cheered and inspired him to know that his country was represented in the fighting. He had to pause in the street to let a company of them pass by on their way northward to the trench line and it did his heart good to hear their cheery laughter and typical American banter.
"Got any cigarettes, kiddo?" one called.
"Where you going—north?" asked another.
"To the billets west of Montdidier," Tom answered. "I'm for new service. I came from Toul sector."
"Good-night! That's Sleepy Hollow over there."
From Compiegne he followed the road across the Aronde and up through Mery and Tricot into Le Cardonnois. The roads were full of Americans and as he passed a little company of them he called,
"How far is ——?" naming the village of his destination.
"About two miles," one of them answered; "straight north."
"Tell 'em to give 'em Hell," another called.
This laconic utterance was the first intimation which Tom had that anything special was brewing in the neighborhood, and he answered with characteristic literalness, "All right, I will."
The road northward from Le Cardonnois was through a hilly country, where there were few houses. About half a mile farther on he reached the junction of another road which appeared also to lead northward, verging slightly in an easterly direction. He had made so many turns that he was a little puzzled as to which was the true north road, so he stopped and took out the trusty little compass which he always carried, and held it in the glare of his headlight, thinking to verify his course. Undoubtedly the westward road was the one leading to his destination for as he walked a little way along the other road he found that it bent still more to the eastward and he believed that it must reach the French front after another mile or two.
As he looked again at the cheap, tin-encased compass he smiled a little ruefully, for it reminded him of Archibald Archer, with whom he had escaped from the prison camp in Germany and made his perilous flight through the Black Forest into Switzerland and to the American forces near Toul.
Archibald Archer! Where, in all that war-scourged country, was Archibald Archer now, Tom wondered. No doubt, chatting familiarly with generals and field marshals somewhere, in blithe disregard of dignity and authority; for he was a brazen youngster and an indefatigable souvenir hunter.
So vivid were Tom's thoughts of Archer that, being off his machine, he sat down by the roadside to eat the rations which his anxiety to reach his destination had deterred him from eating before.
"That's just like him," he thought, holding the compass out so that it caught the subdued rays of his dimmed headlight; "always marking things up, or whittling his initials or looking for souvenirs."
The particular specimen of Archer's handiwork which opened this train of reminiscence was part and parcel of the mischievous habit which apparently had begun very early in his career, when he renovated the habiliments of the heroes and statesmen in his school geography by pencilling high hats and sunbonnets on their honored heads and giving them flowing moustaches and frock coats.
In the prison camp from which they had escaped he had carved his initials on fence and shack, but his masterpiece was the conversion of the N on this same glassless compass into a very presentable S (though turned sideways) and the S into a very presentable N.
The occasion of his doing this was a singular experience the two boys had had in their flight through Germany when, after being carried across a lake on a floating island while asleep, they had swum back and retraced their steps northward supposing that they were still going south.
"Either we're wrong or the compass is wrong, Slady," the bewildered Archer had said, and he had forthwith altered the compass points before they discovered the explanation of their singular experience.
After reaching the American forces Archer had gone forth to more adventures and new glories in the transportation department, the line of his activities being between Paris and the coast, and Tom had seen him no more. He had given the compass to Tom as a "souvenir," and Tom, whose sober nature had found much entertainment in Archer's sprightliness, had cherished it as such. It was useful sometimes, too, though he had to be careful always to remember that it was the "wrong way round."
"He'll turn up like a bad penny some day," he thought now, smiling a little. "He said he'd bring me the clock from a Paris cathedral for a souvenir, and he'd change the twelve to twenty-two on it."
He remembered that he had asked Archer what cathedral in Paris, and Archer had answered, "The Cathedral de la Plaster of Paris."
"He's a sketch," thought Tom.
THE OLD FAMILIAR FACES
"That's the way it is," thought Tom, "you get to know fellers and like 'em, and then you get separated and you don't see 'em any more."
Perhaps he was the least bit homesick, coming into this new sector where all were strangers to him. In any event, as he sat there finishing his meal he fell to thinking of the past and of the "fellers" he had known. He had known a good many for despite his soberness there was something about him which people liked. Most of his friends had taken delight in jollying him and he was one of those boys who are always being nicknamed wherever they go. Over in the Toul sector they "joshed" and "kidded" him from morning till night but woe be to you if you had sought to harm him!
He had been sorry, in a way, to leave the Toul sector, just as he had been sorry to leave Bridgeboro when he got his first job on a ship. "That's one thing fellers can't understand," he thought, "how you can be sorry about a thing and glad too. Girls understand better—I'll say that much for 'em, even though I—even though they never had much use for me——"
He fell to thinking of the scout troop of which he had been a member away back in America, of Mr. Ellsworth, the scoutmaster, who had lifted him out of the gutter, and of Roy Blakeley who was always fooling, and Peewee Harris. Peewee must be quite a boy by now—not a tenderfootlet any more, as Roy had called him.
And then there was Rossie Bent who worked in the bank and who had run away the night before Registration Day, hoping to escape military service. Tom fell to thinking of him and of how he had traced him up to a lonely mountain top and made him go back and register just in time to escape disgrace and punishment.
"He thought he was a coward till he got the uniform on," he thought. "That's what makes the difference. I bet he's one of the bravest soldiers over here now. Funny if I should meet him. I always liked him anyway, even when people said he was conceited. Maybe he had a right to be. If girls liked me as much as they did him maybe I'd be conceited. Anyway, I'd like to see him again, that's one sure thing."
When he had finished his meal he felt of his tires, gave his grease cup a turn, mounted his machine and was off to the north for whatever awaited him there, whether it be death or glory or just hard work; and to new friends whom he would meet and part with, who doubtless would "josh" him and make fun of his hair and tell him extravagant yarns and belittle and discredit his soberly and simply told "adventures," and yet who would like him nevertheless.
"That's the funny thing about some fellers," he thought, "you never can tell whether they like you or not. Rossie used to say girls were hard to understand, but, gee, I think fellers are harder!"
Swiftly and silently along the moonlit road he sped, the dispatch-rider who had come from the blue hills of Alsace across the war-scorched area into the din and fire and stenching suffocation and red-running streams of Picardy "for service as required." Two miles behind the straining line he rode and parallel with it, straight northward, keeping his keen, steady eyes fixed upon the road for shell holes. Over to the east he could hear the thundering boom of artillery and once the air just above him seemed to buzz as if some mammoth wasp had passed. But he rode steadily, easily, without a tremor.
When he dismounted in front of headquarters at the little village of his destination his stolid face was grimy from his long ride and the dust of the blue Alsatian mountains mingled with the dust of devastated France upon his khaki uniform (which was proper and fitting) and his rebellious hair was streaky and matted and sprawled down over his frowning forehead.
A little group of soldiers gathered about him after he had given his paper to the commanding officer, for he had come a long way and they knew the nature of his present service if he did not. They watched him rather curiously, for it was not customary to bring a dispatch-rider from such a distance when there were others available in the neighborhood. He was the second sensation of that memorable night, for scarcely two hours before General Pershing himself had arrived and he was at that very minute in conference with other officers in the little red brick cottage. Even as the group of soldiers clustered about the rider, officers hurried in and out with maps, and one young fellow, an aviator apparently, suddenly emerged and hurried away.
"What's going to be doing?" Tom asked, taking notice of all these activities and speaking in his dull way.
Evidently the boys had already taken his measure and formulated their policy, for one answered,
"Peace has been declared and they're trying to decide whether we'd better take Berlin or have it sent C.O.D."
"A soldier I met a couple of miles back," said Tom, "told me to tell you to give 'em Hell."
It was characteristic of him that although he never used profanity he delivered the soldier's message exactly as it had been given him.
Tom wheeled his machine over to a long brick cottage which stood flush with the road and attended to it with the same care and affection as a man might show a favorite horse. Then he sat down with several others on a long stone bench and waited.
There was something in the very air which told him that important matters were impending and though he believed that they had not expected him to arrive just at this time he wondered whether he might not be utilized now that he was here. So he sat quietly where he was, observant of everything, but asking no questions.
There was a continuous stream of officers entering and emerging from the headquarters opposite and twice within half an hour companies of soldiers were brought into formation and passed silently away along the dark road.
"You'll be in Germany in a couple of hours," called a private sitting alongside Tom as some of them passed.
"Cantigny isn't Germany," another said.
"Sure it is," retorted a third; "all the land they hold is German soil. Call us up when you get a chance," he added in a louder tone to the receding ranks.
"Is Cantigny near here?" Tom asked.
"Just across the ditches."
"Are we going to try to take it?"
"Try to? We're going to wrap it up and bring it home."
Tom was going to ask the soldier if he thought there would be any chance for him, though he knew well enough that his business was behind the lines and that the most he could hope for was to carry the good news (if such it proved to be) still farther back, away from the fighting.
"This is going to be the first offensive of your old Uncle Samuel and if we don't get the whole front page in the New York papers we'll be peeved," Tom's neighbor condescended to inform him.
Whatever Uncle Samuel was up to he was certainly very busy about it and very quiet. On the little village green which the cottage faced groups of officers talked earnestly.
An enormous spool on wheels, which in the darkness seemed a mile high, was rolled silently from somewhere or other, the wheels staked and bound to the ground, and braces were erected against it. Very little sound was made and there were no lights save in the houses, which seemed all to be swarming with soldiers. Not a civilian was to be seen. Several soldiers walked away from the big wheel and it moved around slowly like one of those gigantic passenger-carrying wheels in an amusement resort.
Presently some one remarked that Collie was in and there was a hurrying away—toward the rear of the village, as it seemed to Tom.
"Who's Collie?" he ventured to ask.
"Collie? Oh, he's the Stormy Petrel; he's been piking around over the Fritzies' heads, I s'pose."
Evidently Collie, or the Stormy Petrel, was an aviator who had alighted somewhere about the village with some sort of a report.
"Collie can't see in the daylight," his neighbor added; "he and the Jersey Snipe have got Fritzie vexed. You going to run between here and the coast?"
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Tom. "I don't suppose I'll go over the top, I'd like to go to Cantigny."
"Never mind, they'll bring it back to you. Did you know the old gent is here?"
"Yup. Going to run the show himself."
"Are you going?"
"Not as far as I know. I was in the orchestra—front row—last week. Got a touch of trench fever."
"D'you mean the front line trenches?" Tom asked.
"Yup. Oh, look at Bricky!" he added suddenly. "You carrying wire, Bricky? There's a target for a sniper for you—hair as red as——"
"Just stick around at the other end of it," interrupted "Bricky" as he passed, "and listen to what you hear."
"Here come the tanks," said Tom's neighbor, "and there's the Jersey Snipe perched on the one over at the other end. Good-night, Fritzie!"
The whole scene reminded Tom vaguely of the hasty, quiet picking up and departure of the circus in the night which, as a little boy, he had sat up to watch. There were the tanks, half a dozen of them (and he knew there were more elsewhere), covered with soldiers and waiting in the darkness like elephants. Troops were constantly departing, for the front trenches he supposed.
Though he had never yet been before the lines, his experience as a rider and his close touch with the fighting men had given him a pretty good military sense in the matter of geography—that is, he understood now without being told the geographical relation of one place to another in the immediate neighborhood. Dispatch-riders acquire this sort of extra sense very quickly and they come to have a knowledge of the lay of the land infinitely more accurate than that of the average private soldier.
Tom knew that this village, which was now the scene of hurried preparation and mysterious comings and goings, was directly behind the trench area. He knew that somewhere back of the village was the artillery, and he believed that the village of Cantigny stood in the same relation to the German trenches that this billet village stood to the Allied trenches; that is, that it was just behind the German lines and that the German artillery was still farther back. He had heard enough talk about trench warfare to know how the Americans intended to conduct this operation.
But he had never seen an offensive in preparation, either large or small, for there had been no American offensives—only raids, and of course he had not participated in these. It seemed to him that now, at last, he was drawn to the very threshold of active warfare only to be compelled to sit silent and gaze upon a scene every detail of which aroused his longing for action. The hurried consultation of officers, the rapid falling in line in the darkness, the clear brisk words of command, the quick mechanical response, the departure of one group after another, the thought of that aviator alighting behind the village, the sight of the great, ugly tanks and the big spool aroused his patriotism and his craving for adventure as nothing else had in all the months of his service. He was nearer to the trenches than ever before.
"If you're riding to Clermont," he heard a soldier say, apparently to him, "you'd better take the south road; turn out when you get to Airian. The other's full of shell holes from the old trench line."
"Best way is to go down through Estrees and follow the road back across the old trench line," said another.
Tom listened absently. He knew he could find the best way, that was his business, but he did not want to go to Clermont. It seemed to him that he was always going away from the war while others were going toward it. While these boys were rushing forward he would be rushing backward. That was always the way.
"There's a lot of skeletons in those old trenches. You can follow the ditches almost down to Paris."
"They won't send him farther than Creil," another said. "The wires are up all the way from Creil down."
"You never can tell whether they'll stay up or not—not with this seventy-five mile bean-shooter Fritzie's playing with. Ever been to Paris, kid?"
"No, but I s'pose I'll be sent there now—maybe," Tom answered.
"They'll keep you moving up this way, all right. You were picked for this sector—d'you know that?"
"I don't know why."
"Don't get rattled easy—that's what I heard."
This was gratifying if it was true. Tom had not known why he had been sent so far and he had wondered.
Presently a Signal Corps captain came out of Headquarters, spoke briefly with two officers who were near the big wire spool, and then turned toward the bench on which Tom was sitting. His neighbors arose and saluted and he did the same.
"Never been under fire, I suppose?" said the captain, addressing Tom to his great surprise.
"Not before the lines, I haven't. The machine I had before this one was knocked all out of shape by a shell. I was riding from Toul to——"
"All right," interrupted the captain somewhat impatiently. Tom was used to being interrupted in the midst of his sometimes rambling answers. He could never learn the good military rule of being brief and explicit. "How do you feel about going over the top? You don't have to."
"It's just what I was thinking about," said Tom eagerly. "If you'd be willing, I'd like to."
"Of course you'd be under fire. Care to volunteer? Emergency work."
"Often I wished——"
"Care to volunteer?"
"Yes, sir, I do."
"All right; go inside and get some sleep. They'll wake you up in about an hour. Machine in good shape?"
This was nothing less than an insult. "I always keep it in good shape," said Tom. "I got extra——"
"All right. Go in and get some sleep; you haven't got long. The wire boys will take care of you."
He strode away and began to talk hurriedly with another man who showed him some papers and Tom watched him as one in a trance.
"Now you're in for it, kiddo," he heard some one say.
"R. I. P. for yours," volunteered another.
Tom knew well enough what R. I. P. meant. Often in his lonely night rides through the towns close to the fighting he had seen it on row after row of rough, carved wooden crosses.
"There won't be much resting in peace to-night. How about it, Toul sector?"
"I didn't feel very sleepy, anyway," said Tom.
He slept upon one of the makeshift straw bunks on the stone floor of the cellar under the cottage. With the first streak of dawn he arose and went quietly out and sat on a powder keg under a small window, tore several pages out of his pocket blank-book and using his knee for a desk, wrote:
"Maybe you'll be surprised, kind of, to get a letter from me. And maybe you won't like me calling you Margaret. I told Roy to show you my letters, cause I knew he'd be going into Temple Camp office on account of the troop getting ready to go to Camp and I knew he'd see you. I'd like to be going up to camp with them, and I'd kind of like to be back in the office, too. I remember how I used to be scared of you and you said you must be worse than the Germans 'cause I wasn't afraid of them. I hope you're working there yet and I'd like to see Mr. Burton, too.
"I was going to write to Roy but I decided I'd send a letter to you because whenever something is going to happen the fellows write letters home and leave them to be mailed in case they don't get back. So if you get this you'll know I'm killed. Most of them write to girls or their mothers, and as long as I haven't got any mother I thought I'd write to you. Because maybe you'd like to hear I'm killed more than anybody. I mean maybe you'd be more interested.
"I'm going to go over the top with this regiment. I got sent way over to this sector for special service. A fellow told me he heard it was because I got a level head. I can't tell you where I am, but this morning we're going to take a town. I didn't have to go, 'cause I'm a non-com., but I volunteered. I don't know what I'll have to do.
"I ain't exactly scared, but it kind of makes me think about home and all like that. I often wished I'd meet Roscoe Bent over here. Maybe he wrote to you. I bet everybody likes him wherever he is over here. It's funny how I got to thinking about you last night. I'll—there goes the bugle, so I can't write any more. Anyway, you won't get it unless I'm killed. Maybe you won't like my writing, but every fellow writes to a girl the last thing. It seems kind of lonely if you can't write to a girl.
OVER THE TOP
The first haze of dawn was not dispelled when the artillery began to thunder and Tom knew that the big job was on. Stolid as he was and used to the roar of the great guns, he made hasty work of his breakfast for he was nervous and anxious to be on the move.
Most of the troops that were to go seemed to have gone already. He joined the two signal corps men, one of whom carried the wire and the other a telephone apparatus, and as they moved along the road other signal corps men picked up the wire behind them at intervals, carrying it along.
Tom was as proud of his machine as a general could be of his horse, and he wheeled it along beside him, keeping pace with the slow advance of his companions, his heart beating high.
"If you have to come back with any message, you'll remember Headquarters, won't you?" one asked him.
"I always remember Headquarters," said Tom.
"And don't get rattled."
"I never get rattled."
"Watch the roads carefully as we go, so you can get back all right. Noise don't bother you?"
"No, I'm used to artillery—I mean the noise," said Tom.
"You probably won't have much to do unless in an emergency. If Fritzie cuts the wire or it should get tangled and we couldn't reach the airmen quick enough you'd have to beat it back. There's two roads out of Cantigny. Remember to take the south one. We're attacking on a mile front. If you took——"
"If I have to come back," said Tom, "I'll come the same way. You needn't worry."
His advisor felt sufficiently squelched. And indeed, he had no cause to worry. The Powers that Be had sent Thatchy into the West where the battle line was changing every day and roads were being made and destroyed and given new directions; where the highway which took one to Headquarters one day led into the lair of the Hun on the next, and all the land was topsy-turvy and changing like the designs in a kaleidoscope—for the very good reason that Thatchy invariably reached his destination and could be depended upon to come back, through all the chaos, as a cat returns to her home. The prison camps in Germany were not without Allied dispatch-riders who had become "rattled" and had blundered into the enemy's arms, but Thatchy had a kind of uncanny extra sense, a bump of locality, if you will, and that is why they had sent him into this geographical tangle where maps became out of date as fast as they were made.
The sun was not yet up when they reached a wider road running crossways to the one out of the village and here many troops were waiting as far up and down the road as Tom could see. A narrow ditch led away from the opposite side of the road through the fields beyond, and looking up and down the road he could see that there were other ditches like it.
The tanks were already lumbering and waddling across the fields, for all the world like great clumsy mud turtles, with soldiers perched upon them as if they were having a straw ride. Before Tom and his companions entered the nearest ditch he could see crowds of soldiers disappearing into other ditches far up the road.
The fields above them were covered with shell holes, a little cemetery flanked one side of the zigzag way, and the big dugouts of the reserves were everywhere in this backyard of the trench area. Out of narrow, crooked side avenues soldiers poured into the communication trench which the wire carriers were following, falling in ahead of them.
"We'll get into the road after the boys go over and then you'll have more room for your machine. Close quarters, hey?" Tom's nearest companion said.
When they reached the second-line trench the boys were leaving it, by hundreds as it seemed to Tom, and crowding through the crooked communication trenches. The wire carriers followed on, holding up the wire at intervals. Once when Tom peeped over the edge of the communication trench he saw the tanks waddling along to right and left, rearing up and bowing as they crossed the trench, like clumsy, trained hippopotamuses. And all the while the artillery was booming with continuous, deafening roar.
Tom did not see the first of the boys to go over the top for they were over by the time he reached the second-line trench, but as he passed along the fire trench toward the road he could see them crowding over, and when he reached the road the barbed wire entanglements lay flat in many places, the boys picking their way across the fallen meshes, the clumsy tanks waddling on ahead, across No Man's Land. As far as Tom could see along the line in either direction this shell-torn area was being crossed by hundreds of boys in khaki holding fixed bayonets, some going ahead of the tanks and some perching on them.
Above him the whole district seemed to be in pandemonium, men shouting and their voices drowned by the thunder of artillery.
His first real sight of the attack was when he clambered out of the trench where it crossed the road and faced the flattened meshes of barbed wire with its splintered supporting poles all tangled in it. Never was there such a wreck.
"All right," he shouted down. "It's as flat as a pancake—careful with the machine—lift the back wheel—that's right!"
He could hardly hear his own voice for the noise, and the very earth seemed to shake under the heavy barrage fire which protected them. In one sweeping, hasty glance he saw scores of figures in khaki running like mad and disappearing into the enemy trenches beyond.
"Do you mean to let the wire rest on this?" he asked, as his machine was lifted up and the first of the wire carriers came scrambling up after it; "it might get short-circuited."
"We'll run it over the poles, only hurry," the men answered.
They were evidently the very last of the advancing force, and even as Tom looked across the shell-torn area of No Man's Land, he could see the men picking their way over the flattened entanglements and pouring into the enemy trenches. The tanks had already crossed these and were rearing and waddling along, irresistible yet ridiculous, like so many heroic mud turtles going forth to glory. Here and there Tom could see the gray-clad form of a German clambering out of the trenches and rushing pell-mell to the rear.
But it was no time to stand and look. Hurriedly they disentangled a couple of the supporting poles, laying them so that the telephone wire passed over them free of the barbed meshes and Tom, mounting his machine, started at top speed along the road across No Man's Land, dragging the wire after him. Scarcely had he started when he heard that wasplike whizzing close to him—once, twice, and then a sharp metallic sound as a bullet hit some part of his machine. He looked back to see if the wire carriers were following, but there was not a sign of any of them except his companion who carried the apparatus, and just as Tom looked this man twirled around like a top, staggered, and fell.
The last of the Americans were picking their way across the tangle of fallen wire before the German fire trench. He could see them now and again amid dense clouds of smoke as they scrambled over the enemy sandbags and disappeared.
On he sped at top speed, not daring to look around again. He could feel that the wire was dragging and he wondered where its supporters could be; but he opened his cut-out to get every last bit of power and sped on with the accumulating train of wire becoming a dead weight behind him.
Now, far ahead, he could see gray-coated figures scrambling frantically out of the first line trench, and he thought that the Americans must have carried the attack successfully that far, in any event. Again came that whizzing sound close to him, and still again a sharp metallic ring as another bullet struck his machine. For a moment he feared least a tire had been punctured, but when neither collapsed he took fresh courage and sped on.
The drag on the wire was lessening the speed of his machine now and jerking dangerously at intervals. But he thought of what one of those soldiers had said banteringly to another—Stick around at the other end of it and listen to what you hear, and he was resolved that if limited horse power and unlimited will power could get this wire to those brave boys who were surging and battling in the trenches ahead of him, could drag it to them wherever they went, for the glorious message they intended to send back across it, it should be done.
There was not another soul visible on that road now nor in the shell-torn area of No Man's Land through which it ran. But the lone rider forged ahead, zig-zagging his course to escape the bullets of that unseen sharpshooter and because it seemed to free the dragging, catching wire, affording him little spurts of unobstructed speed.
Then suddenly the wire caught fast, and his machine stopped and strained like a restive horse, the power wheel racing furiously. Hurriedly he looked behind him where the sinuous wire lay along the road, far back—as far as he could see, across the trampled entanglements and trenches. Where were the others who were to help carry it over? Killed?
Alone in the open area of No Man's Land, Tom Slade paused for an instant to think. What should he do?
Suddenly there appeared out of a shell hole not twenty feet ahead of him a helmeted figure. It rose up grimly, uncannily, like a dragon out of the sea, and levelled a rifle straight at him. So that was the lair of the sharpshooter!
Tom was not afraid. He knew that he had been facing death and he was not afraid of what he had been facing. He knew that the sharpshooter had him at last. Neither he nor the wire were going to bear any message back.
"Anyway, I'm glad I wrote that letter," he muttered.
Then, clear and crisp against the sound of the great guns far off, there was the sharp crack of a rifle and Tom was surprised to find himself still standing by his machine uninjured, while the Boche collapsed back into his shell hole like a jack-in-the-box.
He did not pause to think now. Leaving his machine, he rushed pell-mell back to the barbed wire entanglement where the line was caught, disengaged it and ran forward again to his wheel. Shells were bursting all about him, but as he mounted he could see two figures emerge, one after the other, from the American trench where it crossed the road, and take up the burden of wire. He could feel the relief as he mounted and rode forward and it lightened his heart as well as his load. What had happened to delay the carriers he did not know. Perhaps those who followed him now were new ones and his former companions lay dead or wounded within their own lines. What he thought of most of all was his extraordinary escape from the Boche sharpshooter and he wondered who and where his deliverer could be.
He avoided looking into the shell hole as he passed it and soon he reached the enemy entanglements which the tanks had flattened. Even the flat meshes had been cleared from the road and here several regulars waited to help him. They were covered with dirt and looked as if they had seen action.
"Bully for you, kid!" one of them said, slapping Tom on the shoulder.
"You're all right, Towhead!"
"Lift the machine," said Tom; "they always put broken glass in the roads. I thought maybe they'd punctured my tire out there."
"They came near puncturing you, all right! What's your name?"
"Thatchy is mostly what I get called. My motorcycle is named Uncle Sam. Did you win yet?"
For answer they laughed and slapped him on the shoulder and repeated, "You're all right, kid!"
"Looks as if Snipy must have had his eye on you, huh?" one of them observed.
"Who's Snipy?" Tom asked.
"Oh, that's mostly what he gets called," said someone, mimicking Tom's own phrase. "His rifle's named Tommy. He's probably up in a tree somewheres out there."
"He's a good shot," said Tom simply. "I'd like to see him."
"Nobody ever sees him—they feel him," said another.
"He must have been somewhere," said Tom.
"Oh, he was somewhere all right," several laughed.
A couple of the Signal Corps men jumped out of the trench near by and greeted Tom heartily, praising him as the others had done, all of which he took with his usual stolidness. Already, though of course he did not know it, he was becoming somewhat of a character.
"You've got Paul Revere and Phil Sheridan beat a mile," one of the boys said.
"I don't know much about Sheridan," said Tom, "but I always liked Paul Revere."
He did not seem to understand why they laughed and clapped him on the shoulder and said, "You'll do, kiddo."
But it was necessary to keep moving, for the other carriers were coming along. The little group passed up the road, Tom pushing his wheel and answering their questions briefly and soberly as he always did. Planks had been laid across the German trenches where they intersected the road and as they passed over them Tom looked down upon many a gruesome sight which evidenced the surprise by the Americans and their undoubted victory. Not a live German was to be seen, nor a dead American either, but here and there a fallen gray-coat lay sprawled in the crooked topsy-turvy ditch. He could see the Red Cross stretcher-bearers passing in and out of the communication trenches and already a number of boys in grimy khaki were engaged in repairing the trenches where the tanks had caved them in. In the second line trench lay several wounded Americans and Tom was surprised to see one of these propped up smoking a cigarette while the surgeons bandaged his head until it looked like a great white ball. Out of the huge bandage a white face grinned up as the little group passed across on the planks and seeing the men to be wire carriers, the wounded soldier called, "Tell 'em we're here."
"Ever hear of Paul Revere?" one of the Signal men called back cheerily. And he rumpled Tom's hair to indicate whom he meant.
Thus it was that Thatchy acquired the new nickname by which he was to be known far and wide in the country back of the lines and in the billet villages where he was to sit, his trusty motorcycle close at hand, waiting for messages and standing no end of jollying. Some of the more resourceful wits in khaki even parodied the famous poem for his benefit, but he didn't care. He would have matched Uncle Sam against Paul Revere's gallant steed any day, and they could jolly him and "kid" him as their mood prompted, but woe be to the person who touched his faithful machine save in his watchful presence. Even General Pershing would not have been permitted to do that.
IN THE WOODS
Beyond the enemy second line trench the road led straight into Cantigny and Tom could see the houses in the distance. Continuous firing was to be heard there and he supposed that the Germans, routed from their trenches, were making a stand in the village and in the high ground beyond it.
"They'll be able to 'phone back, won't they?" he asked anxiously.
"They sure will," one of the men answered.
"It ain't that I don't want to ride back," Tom explained, "but a feller's waiting on the other end of this wire, 'cause I heard somebody tell him to, and I wouldn't want him to be disappointed."
"He won't be disappointed."
The road, as well as the open country east and west of it, was strewn with German dead and wounded, among whom Tom saw one or two figures in khaki. The Red Cross was busy here, many stretchers being borne up toward the village where dressing stations were already being established. Then suddenly Tom beheld a sight which sent a thrill through him. Far along the road, in the first glare of the rising sun, flew the Stars and Stripes above a little cottage within the confines of the village.
"Headquarters," one of his companions said, laconically.
"Does it mean we've won?" Tom asked.
"Not exactly yet," the other answered, "but as long as the flag's up they probably won't bother to take it down," and he looked at Tom in a queer way. "There's cleaning up to do yet, kid," he added.
As they approached the village the hand-to-hand fighting was nearing its end, and the Germans were withdrawing into the woods beyond where they had many machine gun nests which it would be the final work of the Americans to smoke out. But Tom saw a little of that kind of warfare which is fought in streets, from house to house, and in shaded village greens. Singly and in little groups the Americans sought out, killing, capturing and pursuing the diminishing horde of Germans. Two of these, running frantically with apparently no definite purpose, surrendered to Tom's group and he thought they seemed actually relieved.
At last they reached the little cottage where the flag flew and were received by the weary, but elated, men in charge.
"All over but the shouting," someone said; "we're finishing up back there in the woods."
The telephone apparatus was fastened to a tree and Tom heard the words of the speaker as he tried to get into communication with the village which lay back across that shell-torn, trench-crossed area which they had traversed. At last he heard those thrilling words which carried much farther than the length of the sinuous wire:
"Hello, this is Cantigny."
And he knew that whatever yet remained to be done, the first real offensive operation of the Americans was successful and he was proud to feel that he had played his little part in it.
He was given leave until three o'clock in the afternoon and, leaving Uncle Sam at the little makeshift headquarters, he went about the town for a sight of the "clean-up."
Farther back in the woods he could still hear the shooting where the Americans were searching out machine gun nests and the boom of artillery continued, but although an occasional shell fell in the town, the place was quiet and even peaceful by comparison with the bloody clamor of an hour before.
It seemed strange that he, Tom Slade, should be strolling about this quaint, war-scarred village, which but a little while before had belonged to the Germans. Here and there in the streets he met sentinels and occasionally an airplane sailed overhead. How he envied the men in those airplanes!
He glanced in through broken windows at the interiors of simple abodes which the bestial Huns had devastated. It thrilled him that the boys from America had dragged and driven the enemy out of these homes and would dig their protecting trenches around the other side of this stricken village, like a great embracing arm. It stirred him to think that it was now within the refuge of the American lines and that the arrogant Prussian officers could no longer defile those low, raftered rooms.
He inquired of a sentinel where he could get some gasoline which he would need later.
"There's a supply station along that road," the man said; "just beyond the clearing."
Tom turned in that direction. The road took him out of the village and through a little clump of woods to a clearing where several Americans were guarding a couple of big gasoline tanks—part of the spoils of war. He lingered for a few minutes and then strolled on toward the edge of the denser wood beyond where the firing, though less frequent, could still be heard.
He intended to go just far enough into this wood for a glimpse of the forest shade which his scouting had taught him to love, and then to return to headquarters for his machine.
Crossing a plank bridge across a narrow stream, he paused in the edge of the woods and listened to the firing which still occurred at intervals in the higher ground beyond. He knew that the fighting there was of the old-fashioned sort, from behind protecting trees and wooded hillocks, something like the good old fights of Indians and buckskin scouts away home in the wild west of America. And he could not repress his impulse to venture farther into the solitude.
The stream which he had crossed had evidently its source in the more densely wooded hills beyond and he followed it on its narrowing way up toward the locality where the fighting seemed now to be going on. Once a group of khaki-clad figures passed stealthily among the trees, intent upon some quest. The sight of their rifles reminded Tom that he was himself in danger, but he reflected that he was in no greater danger than they and that he had with him the small arm which all messengers carried.
A little farther on he espied an American concealed behind a tree, who nodded his head perfunctorily as Tom passed, seeming to discourage any spoken greeting.
The path of the stream led into an area of thick undergrowth covering the side of a gentle slope where the water tumbled down in little falls. He must be approaching very near to the source, he thought, for the stream was becoming a mere trickle, picking its way around rocky obstacles in a very jungle of thick underbrush.
Suddenly he stopped at a slight rustling sound very near him.
It was the familiar sound which he had so often heard away back in the Adirondack woods, of some startled creature scurrying to shelter.
He was the scout again now, standing motionless and silent—keenly waiting. Then, to his amazement, a clump of bushes almost at his feet stirred slightly. He waited still, watching, his heart in his mouth. Could it have been the breeze? But there was no breeze.
Startled, but discreetly motionless, he fixed his eyes upon the leafy clump, still waiting. Presently it stirred again, very perceptibly now, then moved, clumsily and uncannily, and with a slight rustling of its leaves, along the bank of the stream!
THE MYSTERIOUS FUGITIVE
Suddenly the thing stopped, and its whole bulk was shaken very noticeably. Then a head emerged from it and before Tom could realize what had happened a German soldier was fully revealed, brushing the leaves and dirt from his gray coat as he stole cautiously along the edge of the stream, peering anxiously about him and pausing now and again to listen.
He was already some distance from Tom, whom apparently he had not discovered, and his stealthy movements suggested that he was either in the act of escaping or was bent upon some secret business of importance.
Without a sound Tom slipped behind a tree and watched the man who paused like a startled animal at every few steps, watching and listening.
Tom knew that, notwithstanding his non-combatant status, he was quite justified in drawing his pistol upon this fleeing Boche, but before he had realized this the figure had gone too far to afford him much hope of success with the small weapon which he was not accustomed to. Moreover, just because he was a "non-com" he balked at using it. If he should miss, he thought, the man might turn upon him and with a surer aim lay him low.
But there was one thing in which Tom Slade felt himself to be the equal of any German that lived, and that was stalking. Here, in the deep woods, among these protecting trees, he felt at home, and the lure of scouting was upon him now. No one could lose him; no one could get away from him. And a bird in the air would make no more noise than he!
Swiftly, silently, he slipped from one tree to another, his keen eye always fixed upon the fleeting figure and his ears alert to learn if, perchance, the Boche was being pursued. Not a sound could he hear except that of the distant shooting.
It occurred to him that the precaution of camouflaging might be useful to him also, and he silently disposed one of the leafy boughs which the German had left diagonally across his breast with the fork over his shoulder so that it formed a sort of adjustable screen, more portable and less clumsy than the leafy mound which had covered the Boche.
With this he stole along, sometimes hiding behind trees, sometimes crouching among the rocks along the bank, and keeping at an even distance from the man. His method with its personal dexterity was eloquent of the American scout, just as the Boche, under his mound of foliage, had been typical of the German who depends largely upon device and little upon personal skill and dexterity.
The scout from Temple Camp had his ruses, too, for once when the German, startled by a fancied sound, seemed about to look behind him, Tom dexterously hurled a stone far to the left of his quarry, which diverted the man's attention to that direction and kept it there while Tom, gliding this way and that and raising or lowering his scant disguise, crept after him.
They were now in an isolated spot and the distant firing seemed farther and farther away. The stream, reduced to a mere trickle, worked its way down among rocks and the German followed its course closely. What he was about in this sequestered jungle Tom could not imagine, unless, indeed, he was fleeing from his own masters. But surely open surrender to the Americans would have been safer than that, and Tom remembered how readily those other German soldiers had rushed into the arms of himself and his companions.
Moreover, the more overgrown the brook became and the more involved its path, the more the hurrying German seemed bent upon following it and instead of finding any measure of relief from anxiety in this isolated place, he appeared more anxious than ever and peered carefully about him at every few steps.
At length, to Tom's astonishment, he stepped across the brook and felt of a clump of bush which grew on the bank. Could he have expected to find another camouflaged figure, Tom wondered?
Whatever he was after, he apparently thought he had reached his destination for he now moved hurriedly about, feeling the single bushes and moving among the larger clumps as if in quest of something. After a few moments he paused as if perplexed and moved farther up the stream. And Tom, who had been crouching behind a bush at a safe distance, crept silently to another one, greatly puzzled but watching him closely.
Selecting another spot, the Boche moved about among the bushes as before, carefully examining each one which stood by itself. Tom expected every minute to see some grim, gray-coated figure step out of his leafy retreat to join his comrade, but why such a person should wait to be discovered Tom could not comprehend, for he must have heard and probably seen this beating through the bushes.
An especially symmetrical bush stood on the brink of the stream and after poking about this as usual, the German stood upon tiptoe, apparently looking down into it, then kneeled at its base while Tom watched from his hiding-place.
Suddenly a sharp report rang out and the German jumped to his feet, clutched frantically at the brush which seemed to furnish a substantial support, then reeled away and fell headlong into the brook, where he lay motionless.
The heedless current, adapting itself readily to this grim obstruction, bubbled gaily around the gray, crumpled form, accelerating its cheery progress in the narrow path and showing little glints of red in its crystal, dancing ripples.
THE JERSEY SNIPE
Tom hurried to the prostrate figure and saw that the German was quite dead. There was no other sign of human presence and not a sound to be heard but the rippling of the clear water at his feet.
For a few moments he stood, surprised and silent, listening. Then he fancied that he heard a rustling in the bushes some distance away and he looked in that direction, standing motionless, alert for the slightest stir.
Suddenly there emerged out of the undergrowth a hundred or more feet distant a strange looking figure clad in a dull shade of green with a green skull cap and a green scarf, like a scout scarf, loosely thrown about his neck. Even the rifle which he carried jauntily over his shoulder was green in color, so that he seemed to Tom to have that general hue which things assume when seen through green spectacles. He was lithe and agile, gliding through the bushes as if he were a part of them, and he came straight toward Tom, with a nimbleness which almost rivalled that of a squirrel.
There was something about his jaunty, light step which puzzled Tom and he narrowed his eyes, watching the approaching figure closely. The stranger removed a cigarette from his mouth to enable him the better to lay his finger upon his lips, imposing silence, and as he did so the movement of his hand and his way of holding the cigarette somehow caused Tom to stare.
Then his puzzled scrutiny gave way to an expression of blank amazement, as again the figure raised his finger to his lips to anticipate any impulse of Tom's to call. Nor did Tom violate this caution until the stranger was within a dozen feet or so.
"Roscoe—Bent!" he ejaculated. "Don't you know me? I'm Tom Slade."
"Well—I'll—be——" Roscoe began, then broke off, holding Tom at arm's length and looking at him incredulously. "Tom Slade—I'll be—jiggered!"
"I kinder knew it was you," said Tom in his impassive way, "as soon as I saw you take that cigarette out of your mouth, 'cause you do it such a swell way, kind of," he added, ingenuously; "just like the way you used to when you sat on the window-sill in Temple Camp office and jollied Margaret Ellison. Maybe you don't remember."
Still Roscoe held him at arm's length, smiling all over his handsome, vivacious face. Then he removed one of his hands from Tom's shoulder and gave him a push in the chest in the old way.
"It's the same old Tom Slade, I'll be—— And with the front of your belt away around at the side, as usual. This is better than taking a hundred prisoners. How are you and how'd you get here, you sober old tow-head, you?" and he gripped Tom's hand with impulsive vehemence. "This sure does beat all! I might have known if I found you at all it would be in the woods, you old pathfinder!" and he gave Tom another shove, then rapped him on the shoulder and slipped his hand around his neck in a way all his own.
"I—I like to hear you talk that way," said Tom, with that queer dullness which Roscoe liked; "it reminds me of old times."
"Kind of?" prompted Roscoe, laughing. "Is our friend here dead?"
"Yes, he's very dead," said Tom soberly, "but I think there are others around in the bushes."
"There are some enemies there," said Roscoe, "but we won't kill them. Contemptible murderers!" he muttered, as he hauled the dead Boche out of the stream. "I'll pick you off one by one, as fast as you come up here, you gang of back-stabbers! Look here," he added.
"I got to admit you can do it," said Tom with frank admiration.
Roscoe pulled away the shrubbery where the German had been kneeling when he was struck and there was revealed a great hogshead, larger, Tom thought, than any he had ever seen.
"That's the kind of weapons they fight with," Roscoe said, disgustedly. "Look here," he added, pulling the foliage away still more. "Don't touch it. See? It leads down from another one. It's poison."
Tom, staring, understood well enough now, and he peered into the bushes about him in amazement as he heard Roscoe say,
"Arsenic, the sneaky beasts."
"See what he was going to do?" he added, startling Tom out of his silent wondering. "There's half a dozen or more of these hogsheads in those bushes. As fast as this one empties it fills up again from another that stands higher. There's a whole nest of them here. See how the pipe from this one leads into the stream?"
"What's the wire for?" said Tom.
"Oh, that's so's they can open this little cock here, see? Start the thing going. Don't pull away the camouflage. There may be another chap up here in a little while, to see what's the matter. Tommy'll take care of them all right, won't you, Tommy?"
"Do you mean me?" Tom asked.
"I mean your namesake here," Roscoe said, slapping his rifle. "I named it after you, you old glum head. Remember how you told me a feller couldn't aim straight, kind of" (he mimicked Tom's tone). "You said a feller couldn't aim straight, kind of, if he smoked cigarettes."
"I got to admit I was wrong," said Tom.
"You bet you have! Jingoes, it's good to hear you talk!" Roscoe laughed. "How in the world did you get here, anyway?"
"I'll tell you all about it," said Tom, "only first tell me, are you the feller they call the Jersey Snipe?"
"Snipy, for short," said Roscoe.
"Then maybe you saved my life already," said Tom, "out in No Man's Land."
"Were you the kid on that wheel?" Roscoe asked, surprised.
"Yes, and I always knew you'd make a good soldier. I told everybody so."
"Kind of? Tommy, old boy, don't forget it was you made me a soldier," Roscoe said soberly. "Come on back to my perch with me," he added, "and tell me all about your adventures. This is better than taking Berlin. There's only one person in this little old world I'd rather meet in a lonely place, and that's the Kaiser. Come on—quiet now."
"You don't think you can show me how to stalk, do you?" said Tom.
"You see it was this way," said Roscoe after hie had scrambled with amazing agility up to his "perch" in a tree several hundred feet distant but in full view of the stream. Tom had climbed up after him and was looking with curious pleasure at the little kit of rations and other personal paraphernalia which hung from neighboring branches. "How do you like my private camp? Got Temple Camp beat, hey?" he broke off in that erratic way of his. "All the comforts of home. Come on, get into your camouflage."
"You don't seem the same as when you used to come up to our office from the bank downstairs—that's one sure thing," said Tom, pulling the leaves about him.
"You thought all I was good for was to jolly Margaret Ellison, huh?"
"I see now that you didn't only save my life but lots of other fellers', too," said Tom. "Go on, you started to tell me about it."
It was very pleasant and cosy up there in the sniper's perch where Roscoe had gathered the thinner branches about him, forming a little leafy lair, in which his agile figure and his quick glances about reminded Tom for all the world of a squirrel. He could hardly believe that this watchful, dexterous creature, peering cautiously out of his romantic retreat, was the same Roscoe Bent who used to make fun of the scouts and sneak upstairs to smoke cigarettes in the Temple Camp office; who thought as much of his spotless high collar then as he seemed to think of his rifle now.
"I got to thank you because you named it after me," said Tom.
"And I got to thank you that you gave me the chance to get it to name after you, Tommy. Well, you see it was this way," Roscoe went on in a half whisper; "there were half a dozen of us over here in the woods and we'd just cleaned out a machine gun nest when we saw this miniature forest moving along. I thought it was a decorated moving van."
"That's the trouble with them," agreed Tom; "they're no good in the woods; they're clumsy. They're punk scouts."
"Scouts!" Roscoe chuckled. "If we had to fight this gang of cut-throats and murderers in the woods where old What's-his-name—Custer—had to fight the Indians, take it from me, we'd have them wiped up in a month. That fellow's idea of camouflaging was to bury himself under a couple of tons of green stuff and then move the whole business along like a clumsy old Zeppelin. I can camouflage myself with a branch with ten leaves on it by studying the light."
"Anybody can see you've learned something about scouting—that's one sure thing," said Tom proudly.
"One sure thing!" Roscoe laughed inaudibly. "It's the same old Tommy Slade. Well, I was just going to bean this geezer when my officer told me I'd better follow him."
"I was following him, too," said Tom; "stalking is the word you ought to use."
"Captain thought he might be up to something special. So I followed—stalked—how's that?"
"So I stalked him and when I saw he was following the stream I made a detour and waited for him right here. You see what he was up to? Way down in Cantigny they could turn a switch and start this blamed poison, half a dozen hogsheads of it, flowing into the stream. They waited till they lost the town before they turned the switch, and they probably thought they could poison us Americans by wholesale. Maybe they had some reason to think the blamed thing hadn't worked, and sent this fellow up. I beaned him just as he was going to turn the stop-cock."
"Maybe you saved a whole lot of lives, hey?" said Tom proudly.
Roscoe shrugged his shoulder in that careless way he had. "I'll be glad to meet any more that come along," he said.
It was well that Tom Slade's first sight of deliberate killing was in connection with so despicable a proceeding as the wholesale poisoning of a stream. He could feel no pity for the man who, fleeing from those who fought cleanly and like men instead of beasts, had sought to pour this potent liquid of anguish and death into the running crystal water. Such acts, it seemed to him, were quite removed from the sphere of honorable, manly fighting.
As a scout he had learned that it was wrong even to bathe in a stream whence drinking water was obtained, and at camp he had always scrupulously observed this good rule. He felt that it was cowardly to defile the waters of a brook. It was not a "mailed fist" at all which could do such things, but a fist dripping with poison.
And Tom Slade felt no qualm, as otherwise he might have felt, at hiding there waiting for new victims. He was proud and thrilled to see his friend, secreted in his perch, keen-eyed and alert, guarding alone the crystal purity of this laughing, life-giving brook, as it hurried along its pebbly bed and tumbled in little gushing falls and wound cheerily around the rocks, bearing its grateful refreshment to the weary, thirsty boys who were holding the neighboring village.
"I used to think I wouldn't like to be a sniper," he said, "but now it seems different. I saw two fellers in the village and one had a bandage on his arm and the other one who was talking to him—I heard him say a long drink of water would go good—and—I—kind of—now——"
The Jersey Snipe winked at Tom and patted his rifle as a man might pat a favorite dog.
"It's good fresh water," said he.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
In Tom's visions of the great war there had been no picture of the sniper, that single remnant of romantic and adventurous warfare, in all the roar and clangor of the horrible modern fighting apparatus.
He had seen American boys herded onto great ships by thousands; and, marching and eating and drilling in thousands, they had seemed like a great machine. He knew the murderous submarine, the aeroplane with its ear-splitting whir, the big clumsy Zeppelin; and he had handled gas masks and grenades and poison gas bombs.
But in his thoughts of the war and all these diabolical agents of wholesale death there had been no visions of the quiet, stealthy figure, inconspicuous in the counterfeiting hues of tree and rock, stealing silently away with his trusty rifle and his week's rations for a lonely vigil in some sequestered spot.
There was the same attraction about this freelance warfare which there might have been about a privateer in contrast with a flotilla of modern dreadnaughts and frantic chasers, and it reminded him of Daniel Boone, and Kit Carson, and Davy Crockett, and other redoubtable scouts of old who did not depend on stenching suffocation and the poisoning of streams. It was odd that he had never known much about the sniper, that one instrumentality of the war who seems to have been able to preserve a romantic identity in all the bloody melee of the mighty conflict.
For Tom had been a scout and the arts of stealth and concealment and nature's resourceful disguises had been his. He had thought of the sniper as of one whose shooting is done peculiarly in cold blood, and he was surprised and pleased to find his friend in this romantic and noble role of holding back, single-handed, as it were, these vile agents of agonizing death.
Arsenic! Tom knew from his memorized list of poison antidotes that if one drinks arsenic he will be seized with agony unspeakable and die in slow and utter torture. The more he thought about it, the more the cold, steady eye of the unseen sniper and his felling shot seemed noble and heroic.
Almost unconsciously he reached out and patted the rifle also as if it were some trusted living thing—an ally.
"Did you really mean you named it after me—honest?" he asked.
Roscoe laughed again silently. "See?" he whispered, holding it across, and Tom could distinguish the crudely engraved letters, TOMMY.
"—Because I never had anything named after me," he said in his simple, dull way. "There's a place on the lake up at Temple Camp that the fellers named after Roy Blakeley—Blakeley Isle. And there's a new pavilion up there that's named after Mr. Ellsworth, our scoutmaster. And Mr. Temple's got lots of things—orphan asylums and gymnasiums and buildings and things—named after him. I always thought it must be fine. I ain't that kind—sort of—that fellers name things after," he added, with a blunt simplicity that went to Roscoe's heart; and he held the rifle, as the sniper started to take it back, his eyes still fixed upon the rough scratches which formed his own name. "In Bridgeboro there was a place in Barrell Alley," he went on, apparently without feeling, "where my father fell down one night when he was—when he'd had too much to drink, and after that everybody down there called it Slade's Hole. When I got in with the scouts, I didn't like it—kind of——"
Roscoe looked straight at Tom with a look as sure and steady as his rifle. "Slade's Hole isn't known outside of Barrell Alley, Tom," he said impressively, although in the same cautious undertone, "but Tom Slade is known from one end of this sector to the other."
"Thatchy's what they called me in Toul sector, 'cause my hair's always mussed up, I s'pose, and——"
"The first time I ever saw you to really know you, Tom, your hair was all mussed up—and I hope it'll always stay that way. That was when you came up there in the woods and made me promise to go back and register."
"I knew you'd go back 'cause——"
"I went back with bells on, and here I am. And here's Tom Slade that's stuck by me through this war. It's named Tom Slade because it makes good—see? Look here, I'll show you something else—you old hickory nut, you. See that," he added, pulling a small object from somewhere in his clothing.
Tom stared. "It's the Distinguished Service Cross," he said, his longing eyes fixed upon it.
"That's what it is. The old gent handed me that—if anybody should ask you."
Tom smiled, remembering Roscoe's familiar way of speaking of the dignified Mr. Temple, and of "Old Man" Burton, and "Pop" this and that.
"The same. You've heard of him, haven't you? Very muchly, huh?"
"Why don't you wear it?" Tom asked.
"Why? Well, I'll tell you why. When your friend, Thatchy, followed me on that crazy trip of mine he borrowed some money for railroad fare, didn't he? And he had a Gold Cross that he used to get the money, huh? So I made up my mind that this little old souvenir from Uncle Samuel wouldn't hang on my distinguished breast till I got back and paid Tom Slade what I owed him and made sure that he'd got his own Cross safely back and was wearing it again. Do you get me?"
"I got my Cross back," said Tom, "and it's home. So you can put that on. You got to tell me how you got it, too. I always knew you'd make a success."
"It was Tommy Slade helped me to it, as usual. I beaned nine Germans out in No Man's Land, and got away slightly wounded—I stubbed my toe. Old Pop Clemenceau gave me a kiss and the old gent slipped me this for good luck," Roscoe said, pinning on the Cross to please Tom. "When Clemmy saw the name on the rifle, he asked what it meant and I told him it was named after a pal of mine back home in the U.S.A.—Tom Slade. Little I knew you were waltzing around the war zone on that thing of yours. I almost laughed in his face when he said, 'M'soo Tommee should be proud.'"
So the Premier of France had spoken the name of Tom Slade, whose father had had a mud hole in Barrell Alley named after him.
"I am proud," he stammered; "that's one sure thing. I'm proud on account of you—I am."
THE FOUNTAINS OF DESTRUCTION
As Tom had the balance of the day to himself he cherished but one thought—that of remaining with Roscoe as long as his leave would permit. If he had been in the woods up at Temple Camp, away back home in his beloved Catskills, he could hardly have felt more at home than he felt perched in this tree near the headwaters of the running stream; and to have Roscoe Bent crouching there beside him was more than his fondest dreams of doing his bit had pictured.
At short intervals they could hear firing, sometimes voices in the distance, and occasionally the boom of artillery, but except for these reminders of the fighting the scene was of that sort which Tom loved. It was there, while the sniper, all unseen, guarded the source of the stream, his keen eye alert for any stealthy approach, that Tom told him in hushed tones the story of his own experiences; how he had been a ship's boy on a transport, and had been taken aboard the German U-boat that had torpedoed her and held in a German prison camp, from which he and Archer had escaped and made their way through the Black Forest and across the Swiss border.
"Some kid!" commented Roscoe, admiringly; "the world ain't big enough for you, Tommy. If you were just back from Mars I don't believe you'd be excited about it."
"Why should I be?" said literal Tom. "It was only because the feller I was with was born lucky; he always said so."
"Oh, yes, of course," said Roscoe sarcastically. "I say he was mighty lucky to be with you. Feel like eating?"
It was delightful to Tom sitting there in their leafy concealment, waiting for any other hapless German emissaries who might come, bent on the murderous defilement of that crystal brook, and eating of the rations which Roscoe never failed to have with him.
"You're kind of like a pioneer," he said, "going off where there isn't anybody. They have to trust you to do what you think best a lot, I guess, don't they? A feller said they often hear you but they never see you. I saw you riding on one of the tanks, but I didn't know it was you. Funny, wasn't it?"
"I usually hook a ride. The tanks get on my nerves, though, they're so slow."
"You're like a squirrel," said Tom admiringly.
"Well, you're like a bulldog," said Roscoe. "Still got the same old scowl on your face, haven't you? So they kid you a lot, do they?"