TOM SLADE ON A TRANSPORT
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
Illustrated by Thomas Clarity
Published With the Approval of the Boy Scouts of America
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS :: NEW YORK Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1918, by GROSSET & DUNLAP
I. Tom Meets One Friend and Is Reminded of Another 1 II. He Does a Good Turn and Makes a Discovery 9 III. He Scents Danger and Receives a Letter 19 IV. He Gets a Job and Meets "Frenchy" 29 V. He Makes a Discovery and Receives a Shock 39 VI. He Hears About Alsace and Receives a Present 46 VII. He Becomes Very Proud, and Also Very Much Frightened 55 VIII. He Hears Some News and Is Confidential with Frenchy 61 IX. He Sees a Strange Light and Goes on Tiptoe 68 X. He Goes Below and Gropes in the Dark 77 XI. He Makes a Discovery and Is Greatly Agitated 83 XII. He Is Frightened and Very Thoughtful 86 XIII. He Ponders and Decides Between Two Near Relations 92 XIV. He is Arrested and Put in the Guardhouse 97 XV. He Does Most of the Talking and Takes All the Blame 103 XVI. He Sees a Little and Hears Much 107 XVII. He Awaits the Worst and Receives a Surprise 115 XVIII. He Talks With Mr. Conne and Sees the Boys Start for the Front 121 XIX. He Is Cast Away and Is in Great Peril 129 XX. He Is Taken Aboard the "Tin Fish" and Questioned 135 XXI. He Is Made a Prisoner and Makes a New Friend 144 XXII. He Learns Where He Is Going and Finds a Ray of Hope 151 XXIII. He Makes a High Resolve and Loses a Favorite Word 154 XXIV. He Goes to the Civilian Camp and Doesn't Like It 161 XXV. He Visits the Old Pump and Receives a Shock 169 XXVI. He Has an Idea Which Suggests Another 176 XXVII. He Plans a Desperate Game and Does a Good Job 185 XXVIII. He Disappears—for the Time Being 192
TOM SLADE ON A TRANSPORT
TOM MEETS ONE FRIEND AND IS REMINDED OF ANOTHER
As Tom Slade went through Terrace Avenue on his way to the Temple Camp office, where he was employed, he paused beside a truck backed up against the curb in front of a certain vacant store. Upon it was a big table and wrestling with the table was Pete Connigan, the truckman—the very same Pete Connigan at whom Tom used to throw rocks and whom he had called a "mick." It reminded him of old times to see Pete.
The vacant store, too, aroused dubious memories, for there he had stolen many an apple in the days when Adolf Schmitt had his "cash grocery" on the premises, and used to stand in the doorway with his white apron on, shaking his fist as Tom scurried down the street and calling, "I'll strafe you, you young loafer!"
Tom had wondered what strafing was, until long afterward he heard that poor Belgium was being strafed; and then he knew.
"Wal, ef 'tain't Tommy Slade!" said Pete, with a cordial grin of surprise. "I ain't seen ye in two year! Ye've growed ter be a big, strappin' lad, ain't ye?"
"Hello, Pete," said Tom, shaking the Irishman's brawny hand. "Glad to see you. I've been away working on a ship for quite a while. That's one reason you haven't seen me."
"Be gorry, the town's gittin' big, an' that's another reason. The last time I seen ye, ye wuz wid that Sweet Cap'ral lad, an' I knocked yer two sassy heads tergither for yez. Remember that?"
"Yes," laughed Tom, "and then I started running down the street and hollered, 'Throw a brick, you Irish mick!'?"
"Ye did," vociferated Pete, "an' wid me afther ye."
"You didn't catch me, though," laughed Tom.
"Wal, I got ye now," said Pete, grabbing him good-naturedly by the collar. And they sat down on the back of the truck to talk for a few moments.
"I'm glad I came this way," said Tom. "I usually go down Main Street, but I've been away from Bridgeboro so long, I thought I'd kinder stroll through this way to see how the town looked. I'm not in any particular hurry," he added. "I don't have to get to work till nine. I was going to walk around through Terrace Court."
"Ben away on a ship, hev ye?" questioned Pete, and Tom told him the whole story of how he had given up the career of a hoodlum to join the Scouts, of the founding of Temple Camp by Mr. John Temple, of the summers spent there, of how he had later gotten a job on a steamer carrying supplies to the allies; how he had helped to apprehend a spy, how the ship had been torpedoed, how he had been rescued after two days spent in an open boat, of his roundabout journey back to Bridgeboro, and the taking up again of his prosaic duties in the local office of Temple Camp.
The truckman, his case-spike hanging from his neck, listened with generous interest to Tom's simple, unboastful account of all that had happened to him.
"There were two people on that ship I got to be special friends with," he concluded. "One was a Secret Service man named Conne; he promised to help me get a job in some kind of war service till I'm old enough to enlist next spring. The other was a feller about my own age named Archer. He was a steward's boy. I guess they both got drowned, likely. Most all the boats got upset while they were launching them. I hope that German spy got drowned."
"Wuz he a German citizen?" Pete asked.
"Sure, he was! You don't suppose an American citizen would be a spy for Germany, do you?"
"Be gorry, thar's a lot uv German Amiricans, 'n' I wouldn' trust 'em," said Pete.
"Well, there's some Irish people here that hate England, so they're against the United States too," said Tom.
"Ye call me a thraiter, do ye!" roared Pete.
"I didn't call you anything," Tom said, laughing and dodging the Irishman's uplifted hand; "but I say a person is American or else he isn't. It don't make any difference where he was born. If he's an American citizen and he helps Germany, then he's worse than a spy—he's a traitor and he ought to get shot."
"Be gorry, you said sumthin'!"
"He's worse than anything else in the world," said Tom. "He's worse than—than a murderer!"
Pete slapped him on the shoulder. "Bully fer you!" said he. "Fwhativer became uv yer fayther, lad?" he questioned after a moment.
"He died," said Tom simply. "It was after we got put out of Barrel Alley and after I got to be a scout. Mr. Ellsworth said maybe it was better—sort of——"
"An' yer bruther?"
"Oh, he went away long before that—even before my mother died. He went to work on a ranch out West somewhere—Arizona, I think."
"'N' ye niver heard anny more uv him?"
"No—I wrote him a letter when my mother died, but I never got any answer. Maybe I sent it to the wrong place. Did you ever hear of a place called O'Brien's Junction out there?"
"It's a good name, I'll say that," said Pete.
"Everybody used to say he'd make money some day. Maybe he's rich now, hey?"
"I remimber all uv yez when yez used fer ter worrk fer Schmitt, here," said Pete.
"It reminded me of that when I came along."
"Yer fayther, he used fer ter drive th' wagon fer 'im. Big Bill 'n' Little Bill, we used fer ter call him 'n' yer bruther. Yer fayther wuzn' fond uv worrk, I guess."
"He used to get cramps," said Tom simply.
"He used fer ter lick yez, I'm thinkin'."
"Maybe we deserved to get licked," said Tom. "Anyway I did."
"Yer right, ye did," agreed Pete.
"My brother was better than I was. It made me mad when I saw him get licked. I could feel it way down in my fingers, kind of—the madness. That's why he went to live at Schmitt's after my father got so he couldn't work much. They always had lots to eat at Schmitt's. I didn't ever work there myself," he added with his customary blunt honesty, "because I was a hoodlum."
"Wal, I see ye've growed up ter be a foine lad, jist the same," said Pete consolingly, "'n' mebbe the lad as kin feel the tingles ter see's bruther git licked unfair is as good as that same bruther, whativer!"
Tom said nothing, but gazed up at the windows of the apartment above the store where the Schmitts had lived. How he had once envied Bill his place in that home of good cheer and abundance! He remembered the sauerkraut and the sausages which Bill had told him of, and he had not believed Bill's extravagant declaration that "at Schmitt's you could have all you want to eat." To poor Tom, living with his wretched father in the two-room tenement in Barrel Alley, with nothing to eat at all, these accounts of the Schmitt household had seemed like a tale from the Arabian Nights. Once his father had sent him there to get fifty cents from thrifty and industrious Bill, and Tom remembered the shiny oilcloth on the kitchen floor, the snowy white fluted paper on the shelves, the stiff, spotless apron on the buxom form of Mrs. Schmitt, whom Mr. Schmitt had called "Mooder."
Tom Slade, of Barrel Alley, had revenged himself on Bill and all the rest of this by stealing apples from the front of the store and calling, "Dirty Dutchman"—a singularly inappropriate epithet—at Mr. Schmitt. But he realized now that Mr. Schmitt had been a kind and hospitable man, a much better husband and father than poor Bill Slade, senior, had ever been, and an extremely good friend to lucky Bill, junior, who had lived so near to Heaven, in that immaculate home, as to have all the sauerkraut and sausage and potato salad and rye bread and Swiss cheese and coffee cake that he could possibly manage—and more besides.
HE DOES A GOOD TURN AND MAKES A DISCOVERY
"What became of the Schmitts?" Tom asked.
"It's aisy ter see ye've ben away from here," said Pete.
"I've only been back five days," Tom explained.
"Wal, if ye'd been here two weeks ago, ye'd know more'n ye know now about it. Ye're a jack ashore, that's what ye are. Ye've got ter be spruced up on the news. Did ye know the school house burned down?"
"Yes, I knew that."
"Wal—about this Schmitt, here; thar wuz two detectives come out from Noo Yorrk—from the Fideral phad'ye call it. They wuz making inquiries about Schmitt. Fer th' wan thing he wuz an aly-an, 'n' they hed some raysons to think he wuz mixed up in plots. They wuz mighty close-mouthed about it, so I heerd, 'n' they asked more'n they told. Nivir within half a mile uv Schmitt did they go, but by gorry, he gits wind uv it 'n' th' nixt mornin' not so much as a sign uv him wuz thar left.
"Cleared out, loike that," said Pete, clapping his hands and spreading his arms by way of illustrating how Adolf Schmitt had vanished in air.
"Thar wuz th' grocery full uv stuff and all, 'n' the furnitoor upstairs, but Adolf 'n' the old wooman 'n' th' kids 'n' sich duds ez they cud cram inter their bags wuz gone—bury drawers lift wide open, ez if they'd went in a ghreat hurry."
Tom had listened in great surprise. "What—do—you—know—about—that?" he gasped when Pete at last paused.
"It's iviry blessed worrd that I know. I'm thinkin' he wint ter Germany, mebbe."
"How could he get there?" Tom asked.
"Wouldn't thim Dutch skippers in Noo Yorrk Harrbor help him out?" Pete shouted. "Gerrmany, Holland—'tis all th' same. Thar's ways uv gittin' thar, you kin thrust the Germans. They're comin' and goin' back all the toime."
"What do you suppose they suspected him of?" Tom asked, his astonishment still possessing him.
"Nivir a worrd wud they say, but ye kin bet yer Uncle Sammy's not spyin' around afther people fer nuthin'. They searched the store aftherworrds, but nary a thing cud they find."
So that was the explanation of the now vacant store which had been so much a part of the life of Tom Slade and his poor, shiftless family. That was the end, so far as Bridgeboro was concerned, of the jovial, good-hearted grocer, and Fritzie and little Emmy and "Mooder" in her stiff, spotless white apron. It seemed almost unbelievable.
"A Hun is a Hun," said Pete, "'n' that's all thar is to't."
"What did they do with all the stuff?" Tom asked.
Pete shrugged his shoulders. "Mister Temple, he owns th' buildin' an' he hed it cleared out, 'n' now he leaves them Red Cross ladies use it fer ter make bandages 'n' phwat all, 'n' collect money fer their campaign. He's a ghrand man, Mister Temple. Would ye gimme a lift wid this here table, now, while ye're here, Tommy?"
As they carried the table across the sidewalk, a group of ladies came down the block and whom should Tom see among them but Mrs. Temple and her daughter Mary. As he looked at Mary (whom he used to tease and call "stuck up") he realized that he was not the only person in Bridgeboro who had been growing up, for she was quite a young lady, and very pretty besides.
"Why, Thomas, how do you do!" said Mrs. Temple. "I heard you were back——"
"And you never came to see us," interrupted Mary.
"I only got back Tuesday," said Tom, a little flustered.
He told them briefly of his trip and when the little chat was over Pete Connigan had disappeared.
"I wonder if you wouldn't be willing to move one or two things for us?" Mrs. Temple asked. "Have you time? I meant to ask the truckman, but——"
"He may be too old to be a scout any more, but he's not too old to do a good turn," teased Mary.
They entered the store where the marks of the departed store fixtures were visible along the walls and Schmitt's old counter stood against one side. Piles of Red Cross literature now lay upon it. Upon a rough makeshift table were boxes full of yarn (destined to keep many a long needle busy) and the place was full of the signs of its temporary occupancy.
"If I hadn't joined the Red Cross already, I'd join now," said Tom, apologetically, displaying his button. "A girl in our office got me to join."
"Wasn't she mean," said Mary. "I'm going to make you work anyhow, just out of spite."
Other women now arrived, armed with no end of what Tom called "first aid stuff," and with bundles of long knitting needles, silent weapons for the great drive.
Tom was glad enough to retreat before this advancing host and carry several large boxes into the cellar. Then he hauled the old grocery counter around so that the women working at it could be seen from the street. The table, too, he pulled this way and that, to suit the changing fancy of the ladies in authority.
"There, I guess that's about right," said Mrs. Temple, eying it critically; "now, there's just one thing more—if you've time. There's a thing down in the cellar with little compartments, sort of——"
"I know," said Tom; "the old spice cabinet."
"I wonder if we could bring it up together," said Mrs. Temple.
"I'll get it," Tom said.
"You couldn't do it alone," said Mary. "I'll help."
"I can do it better without anybody getting in the way," said Tom with characteristic bluntness, and Mary and her mother were completely squelched.
"Gracious, now he has grown," said Mrs. Temple, as Tom disappeared downstairs.
"His eyes used to be gray; they've changed," said Mary.
As if that had anything to do with moving tables and spice cabinets!
The spice cabinet stood against the brick chimney and was covered with thick dust. Behind it was a disused stove-pipe hole stuffed with rags, which Tom pulled out to brush the dust off the cabinet before lifting it.
He had pushed it hardly two feet in the direction of the stairs when his coat caught on a nail and he struck a match to see if it had torn. The damage was slight, and, with his customary attention to details, he saw that the nail was one of several which had fastened a narrow strip of molding around the cabinet. About two feet of this molding had been torn away, leaving the nails protruding from the cabinet and Tom noticed not only that the unvarnished strip which the molding had covered was clean and white, but that the exposed parts of the nails were still shiny.
"Huh," he thought, "whoever pulled that off must have been in a great hurry not to hammer the nails in or even pull them out."
As he twisted the nails out, one by one, it occurred to him to wonder why the heavy, clinging coat of damp dust which covered the rest of the cabinet was absent from this white unsoiled strip and shiny nails. The cabinet, he thought, must have been in the cellar for some time, whereas the molding must have been wrenched from it very recently, for it does not take long for a nail to become rusty in a damp cellar.
He struck another match and looked about near the chimney, intending, if the strip of molding were there, to take it upstairs and nail it on where it belonged, for one of the good things which the scout life had taught Tom was that broken furniture and crooked nails sticking out spell carelessness and slovenliness.
But the strip was not to be found. A less observant boy would not have given two thoughts to the matter, but in his hasty thinking Tom reached this conclusion, that some one had very lately pulled this strip of molding off of the cabinet and had used it for a purpose, since it was nowhere to be seen.
With Pete's tale fresh in his mind, he struck match after match and peered about the cellar. Against the opposite wall he noticed a stick with curved tongs on one end of it, manipulated by a thin metal bar running to the other end. It was one of those handy implements used to lift cans down from high shelves. It stood among other articles, a rake, an old broom, but the deft little mechanical hand on the end of it was bright and shiny, so this, too, had not been long in the damp cellar.
For a moment Tom paused and thought. It never occurred to him that momentous consequences might hang upon his thinking. He was simply curious and rather puzzled.
He picked up the can lifter and stood looking at it. Then with a sudden thought he went back to the chimney, struck a match and, thrusting his head into the sooty hole, looked up. Four or five feet above, well out of arm's reach, something thin ran across from one side to the other of the spacious chimney. The can lifter was too long to be gotten wholly into the chimney, but Tom poked the end of it through the hole and upward until its angle brought it against the chimney wall.
It was right there that the crosspiece was wedged. In other words, it had been pushed as high, a little on this side, a little on that, as this handy implement would reach, and perhaps kept from falling in the process by the gripping tongs.
Not another inch could Tom reach with this stick. By hammering upward against the end of it, however, he was able to jam it up a trifle, thanks to its capacity for bending. Thus he dislodged the crosspiece and as it tumbled down he saw that it was the strip of molding from the cabinet.
But along with it there fell something else which interested him far more. This was a packet which had evidently been held against the side of the chimney by the stick. There were six bulging envelopes held together by a rubber band. The dampness of the chimney had not affected the live rubber and it still bore its powdery white freshness.
"I wonder if they looked there," Tom thought. "Maybe they just reached around—kind of. I should think they'd have noticed those shiny nails, though."
He put the packet safely in his pocket and, hauling the cabinet up on his back staggered up the stairs with it.
"What in the world took you so long?" said Mary Temple. "Oh, look at your face!"
"I can't look at it," said matter-of-fact Tom.
"It's too funny! You've got soot all over it. Come over here and I'll wash it off."
It was a curious thing about Tom Slade and a matter of much amusement to his friends, that however brave or noble or heroic his acts might be, he was pretty sure to get his necktie halfway around his neck and a dirty face into the bargain.
HE SCENTS DANGER AND RECEIVES A LETTER
Tom was greatly excited by his discovery. As he hurried to the office he opened the envelopes and what he found was not of a nature to modify his excitement. Here was German propaganda work with a vengeance. He felt that he had plunged into the very heart of the Teuton spy system. Evidently the recipient of these documents had considered them too precious to destroy and too dangerous to carry.
"He might still think of a way to get them, maybe," thought Tom.
There was a paper containing a list of all the American cantonments and opposite each camp several names of individuals. Tom thought these might be spies in Uncle Sam's uniform. There was some correspondence about smuggling dental rubber out of the United States to make gas masks in Germany. There were requests for money. There was one letter giving information, in considerable detail, about aeroplane manufacture.
Another letter in the same handwriting interested Tom particularly, because of his interest in gas engines—the result of his many tussles with the obstreperous motor of the troop's cabin launch, Good Turn. Skimming hastily over some matter about the receipt of money through some intermediary, his interest was riveted by the following:
"... I told you about having plans of high pressure motor. That's for battle planes at high altitudes. I've got the drawings of the other now—the low pressure one I told you about at S——'s. That's for seaplanes, submarine spotting, and all that. Develops 400 H.P. They're not putting those in the planes that are going over now, but all planes going over next year will have them. B—— told me what you said about me going across, but that's the only reason I suggested it—because the information won't be of any particular use to them after they bring down a plane. They'll see the whole thing before their eyes then. But suit yourself. There's a lot of new wrinkles on this motor. I'll tell you that, but there's no use telling you about it when you don't know a gas engine from a meat-chopper.
"Sure, I could tend to the other matter too—it's the same idea as a periscope. That's a cinch. I knew a chap worked on the Christopher Colon. She used to run to Central America. Maybe I could swing it that way. Anyway, I'll see you.
"If you have to leave in a hurry, leave money and any directions at S——'s.
"I'm going to be laid off here, anyway, on account of my eardrums.
"Hope B—— will give you this all right. Guess that's all now."
Tom read this twice and out of its scrappiness and incompleteness he gathered this much! that somebody who was about to be dismissed from an aeroplane factory for the very usual reason that he could not stand the terrific noise, had succeeded in either making or procuring plans of Uncle Sam's new aeroplane engine, the Liberty Motor.
He understood the letter to mean that it was very important that these drawings reach Germany before the motors were in service, since then it would be too late for the Germans to avail themselves of "Yankee ingenuity," and also since they would in all probability succeed in capturing one of the planes.
He gathered further that the sender of the letter was prepared to go himself with these plans, working his way on an American ship, and to do something else (doubtless of a diabolical character) on the way. The phrase "same idea as a periscope" puzzled him. It appeared, also, that the sender of the letter, whoever he was and wherever he was (for no place or date or signature was indicated and the envelopes were not the original ones) had not sent his communications direct to this alien grocer, but to someone else who had delivered them to Schmitt.
"It isn't anything for me to be mixed up in, anyway," Tom thought. He was almost afraid to carry papers of such sinister purport with him and he quickened his steps in order that he might turn them over to Mr. Burton, the manager of Temple Camp office.
But when he reached the office he did not carry out this intention, for there was waiting for him a letter which upset all his plans and made him forget for the time being these sinister papers. It took him back with a rush to his experiences on shipboard and he read it with a smile on his lips.
"Dear Tommy—I don't know whether this letter will ever reach you, for, for all I know, you're in Davy Jones's locker. Even my memo of your address got pretty well soaked in the ocean and all I'm dead sure of is that you live in North America somewhere near a bridge."
Tom turned the sheet to look at the signature but he knew already that the letter was from his erstwhile friend, Mr. Carleton Conne.
"You'll remember that I promised to get you a job working for Uncle Sam. That job is yours if you're alive to take it. It'll bring you so near the war, if that's what you want, that you couldn't stick a piece of tissue paper between.
"If you get this all right and are still keen to work in transport service, there won't be any difficulty on account of the experience you've had.
"Drop in to see me Saturday afternoon, room 509, Federal Building, New York, if you're interested.
"Best wishes to you. "Carleton Conne."
So Mr. Conne was alive and had not forgotten him. Tom wished that the letter had told something about the detective's rescue and the fate of the spy, but he realized that Secret Service agents could hardly be expected to dwell on their adventures to "ship's boy" acquaintances, and was it not enough that Mr. Conne remembered him at all, and his wish to serve on an army transport?
He took the letter into the private office to show it to Mr. Burton, resolved now that he would say nothing about his discovery in Schmitt's cellar, for surely Mr. Conne would be the proper one to give the papers to.
"You remember," he began, "that I said if I ever heard from Mr. Conne and he offered me a job, I'd like to go. And you said it would be all right."
Mr. Burton nodded. "And the expected—or the unexpected—has happened," he added, smiling, as he handed Mr. Conne's letter back to Tom.
"It'll be all right, won't it?" Tom asked.
"I suppose it will have to be, Tom," Mr. Burton said pleasantly. "That was our understanding, wasn't it?"
"Yes, sir—but I'm sorry—kind of."
"I'm sorry, kind of, too; but I suppose there's no help for it. Some boys," he added, as he toyed with a paperweight, "seem to be born to work in offices, and some to wander over the face of the earth. I would be the last to discourage you from entering war service in whatever form it might be. But I'm afraid you'd go anyway, Tom, war or no war. The world isn't big enough for some people. They're born that way. I'm afraid you're one of them. It's surprising how unimportant money is in traveling if one has the wanderlust. It'll be all right," he concluded with a pleasant but kind of rueful smile. He understood Tom Slade thoroughly.
"That's another thing I was thinking about, too," said Tom. "Pretty soon I'll be eighteen and then I want to enlist. If I enlist in this country I'll have to spend a whole lot of time in camp, and maybe in the end I wouldn't get sent to the firing line at all. There's lots of 'em won't even get across. If they find you've got good handwriting or maybe some little thing like that, they'll keep you here driving an army wagon or something. If I go on a transport I can give it up at either port. It's mostly going over that the fellers are kept busy anyway; coming back they don't need them. I found that out before. They'll give you a release there if you want to join the army. So if I keep going back and forth till my birthday, then maybe I could hike it through France and join Pershing's army. I'd rather be trained over there, 'cause then I'm nearer the front. You don't think that's sort of cheating the government, do you?" he added.
Mr. Burton laughed. "I don't think the government will object to that sort of cheating," he said.
"I read about a feller that joined in France, so I know you can do it. You see, it cuts out a lot of red tape, and I'd kind of like hiking it alone—ever since I was a scout I've felt that way."
"Once a scout, always a scout," smiled Mr. Burton, using a phrase of which he was very fond and which Tom had learned from him; "and it wouldn't be Tom Slade if he didn't go about things in a way of his own, eh, Tom? Well, good luck to you."
Tom went out and in his exuberance he showed Mr. Conne's letter to Margaret Ellison, who also worked in Temple Camp office.
"It's splendid," she said, "and as soon as you know you're going I'm going to hang a service flag in the window."
"You can't hang out a service flag for a feller that's working on a transport," Tom said. "He isn't in regular military service. When I'm enlisted I'll let you know."
"You must be sure to write."
Tom promised and was delighted. So great was his elation, indeed, that on his way home to his room that evening he went through Terrace Avenue again, to see how the Red Cross women were getting on in their new quarters.
Mary Temple received him in a regular nurse's costume, which made Tom almost wish that he were lying wounded on some battle-field. She was delighted at his good news, and, "Oh, we had such a funny man here just after you left," she said. "Mother thinks he must have been insane. He said he came to read the gas-meter, so I took him down into the cellar and the gas-meter had been taken away. Wouldn't you think the gas company would have known that? Then he said he would stay in the cellar and inspect the pipes."
"Did you let him?" Tom asked.
"I certainly did not! With all our stuff down there? When he saw I intended to stay down as long as he did, he went right up. Do you think he wanted to steal some of our membership buttons?"
Tom shrugged his shoulders thoughtfully. He was glad the next day was Saturday.
HE GETS A JOB AND MEETS "FRENCHY"
Tom found Mr. Conne poring over a scrapbook filled with cards containing finger-prints. His unlighted cigar was cocked up in the corner of his mouth like a flag-pole from a window, just the same as when Tom had seen him last. It almost seemed as if it must be the very same cigar. He greeted Tom cordially.
"So they didn't manage to sink my old chum, Sherlock Nobody Holmes, eh? Tommy, my boy, how are you?"
"Did the spy get rescued?" Tom asked, as the long hand-shake ended.
"Nope. Went down. But we nabbed a couple of his accomplices through his papers."
"I got a new mystery," said Tom in his customary blunt manner. "I was going to give these papers to my boss, but when I got your letter I decided I'd give 'em to you."
He told the detective all about Adolf Schmitt and of how he had discovered the papers in the chimney.
"You say the place had already been searched?" Mr. Conne asked.
"Yes, but I s'pose maybe they were in a hurry and had other things to think about, maybe. A man came there again just the other day, too, and said he wanted to read the gas-meter. But he looked all 'round the cellar."
"Hmm," Mr. Conne said dryly. "Tom, if you don't look out you'll make a detective one of these days. I see you've got the same old wide-awake pair of eyes as ever."
"I learned about deducing when I was in the scouts," said Tom. "They always made fun of me for it—the fellers did. Once I deduced an aeroplane landed in a big field because the grass was kind of dragged, but afterwards I found the fellers had made tracks there with an old baby carriage just to fool me. Sometimes one thing kind of tells you another, sort of."
"Well, whenever you see something that you think tells you anything, Tommy, you just follow it up and never mind about folks laughing. I shouldn't wonder if you've made a haul here."
"There was one of 'em that interested me specially," ventured Tom; "the one about motors."
Mr. Conne glanced over the papers again. "Hmm," said he, "I dare say that's the least important of the lot—sort of crack-brained."
Tom felt squelched.
"Well, anyway, they'll all be taken care of," Mr. Conne said conclusively, as he stuffed the papers in his pocket.
Tom could have wished that he might share in the further developments connected with those interesting papers. But, however important Mr. Conne considered them, he put the matter temporarily aside in the interest of Tom's proposed job.
"I just happened to think of you," he said, as he took his hat and coat, "when I was talking with the steward of the Montauk. He was saying they were short-handed. Come along, now, and we'll go and see about it."
Mr. Conne's mind seemed full of other things as he hurried along the street with Tom after him. On the ferryboat, as they crossed to Hoboken, he was more sociable.
"Don't think any more about those letters now," he said. "The proper authorities will look after them."
"And whatever they set you to doing, put your mind on your work first of all. Keep your eyes and ears open—there's no law against that—but do your work. It's only in dime novels that youngsters like you are generals and captains and famous detectives."
"Yes, sir," said Tom.
"What I mean is, don't get any crazy notions in your head. You may land in the Secret Service yet. But meanwhile keep your feet on the earth—or the ship. Get me?"
Tom was sensible enough to know that this was good advice.
"Your finding these letters was clever. If there are any spies in the camps they'll be rounded up double quick. As for spy work at sea, I'll tell you this, though you mustn't mention it, there are government sleuths on all the ships—most of them working as hands."
"Yes, sir," said Tom.
"I'm going across on a fast ship to-morrow myself," continued Mr. Conne, greatly to Tom's surprise. "I'll be in Liverpool and London and probably in France before you get there. There's a bare possibility of you seeing me over there."
"I hope I do," said Tom.
The transport Montauk was one of the many privately owned steamers taken over into government service, and Tom soon learned that outside the steward's department nearly all the positions on board were filled by naval men. Mr. Conne presented him to the steward, saying that Tom had made a trip on a munition carrier, and disappeared in a great hurry.
Tom could not help feeling that he was one of the least important things among Mr. Conne's multitudinous interests, and it must be confessed that he felt just a little chagrined at finding himself disposed of with so little ceremony.
But, if he had only known it, this good friend who stood so high in that most fascinating department of all Uncle Sam's departmental family, had borne him in mind more than he had encouraged Tom to think, and he had previously spoken words of praise to the steward, which now had their effect in Tom's allotment to his humble duties.
He was, in a word, given the best position to be had among the unskilled, non-naval force and became presently the envy of every youngster on board. This was the exalted post of captain's mess boy, a place of honor and preferment which gave him free entrance to that holy of holies, "the bridge," where young naval officers marched back and forth, and where the captain dined in solitary state, save for Tom's own presence.
Now and then, in the course of that eventful trip, Tom looked enviously at the young wireless operators, and more particularly at the marine signalers, who moved their arms with such jerky and mechanical precision and sometimes, perhaps, he thought wistfully of certain fortunate young heroes of fiction who made bounding leaps to the top of the ladder of fame.
But he did his work cheerfully and well and became a favorite on board, for his duties gave him the freedom of all the decks. He was the captain's mess boy and could go anywhere.
Indeed, with one person he became a favorite even before the vessel started.
It was well on toward dusk of the third day and he was beginning to think they would never sail, when suddenly he heard a tramp, tramp, on the pier and up the gangplank, and before he realized it the soldiers swarmed over the deck, their tin plates and cups jangling at their sides. They must have come through the adjoining ferry house and across a low roof without touching the street at all, for they appeared as if by magic and no one seemed to know how they had got there.
Their arrival was accompanied by much banter and horseplay among themselves, interspersed with questions to the ship's people, few of which could be answered.
"Hey, pal, where are we going?"
"Where do we go from here, kiddo?"
"Say, what's the next stop for this jitney?"
"We don't know where we're going, but we're on our way,"
someone piped up.
"We're going to Berlin," one shouted.
The fact that no one gave them any information did not appear to discourage them.
"When do we eat?" one wanted to know.
Tom saw no reason why he should not answer that, so he said to those crowded nearest to him, "In about half an hour."
"When are we going to start? Who's running this camp anyway?"
"Go and tell the engineer we're here and he can start off."
"Fares, please. Ding ding!"
"Gimme me a transfer to Berlin."
And so it went. They sprawled about on the hatches, perched upon the rail, leaned in groups against the vent pipes; they covered the ship like a great brown blanket. They wrestled with each other, knocked each other about, shouted gibberish intended for French, talked about Kaiser Bill, and mixed things up generally.
At last they were ordered into line and marched slowly through the galley where their plates and cups were filled and a butcher was kept busy demolishing large portions of a cow. They sprawled about anywhere they pleased, eating.
To Tom it was like a scout picnic on a mammoth scale. Here and there was noticeable a glum, bewildered face, but for the most part the soldiers (drafted or otherwise) seemed bent on having the time of their lives. It could not be said that they were without patriotism, but their one thought now seemed to be to make merry. Tom's customary stolidness disappeared in the face of this great mirthful drive and he sat on the edge of the hatch, his white jacket conspicuous by contrast, and smiled broadly.
He wondered whether any other country in the world could produce such a slangy, jollying, devil-may-care host as these vociferous American soldiers. How he longed to be one of them!
A slim young soldier elbowed his way through the throng and, supper in hand, seated himself on the hatch beside Tom. He had the smallest possible mustache, with pointed ends, and his demeanor was gentlemanly and friendly. Even his way of stirring his coffee seemed different from the rough and tumble fashion of the others.
"These are stirring times, hey, Frenchy?" a soldier said.
"Yess—zat is verry good—stirring times," the young fellow answered, in appreciation of the joke. Then, turning to Tom, he said, "Zis is ze Bartholdi statue, yess? I am from ze West."
"That's the Statue of Liberty," said Tom. "You'll see it better when we pass it."
"Ah, yess! zis is ze first; I haf' nevaire seen. I zank you."
"Do you know why the Statue of Liberty looks so sad, Frenchy?" a soldier asked. "Because she's facing Brooklyn."
"Do you know why she's got her arm up?" another called.
Frenchy was puzzled.
"She represents the American woman hanging onto a strap in the subway."
"Don't let them jolly you, Frenchy," another said.
Frenchy, a little bewildered, laughed good-humoredly as the bantering throng plied him with absurdities.
"Are you French?" Tom asked, as some new victim diverted the attention of the boys.
"Ah, no! I am Americ'."
"But you were born in France?"
"Yess—zey call it Zhermany, but it is France! I take ze coat from you. Still it is yours. Am I right? I am born in Alsace. Zat is France!"
"Doncher believe him, kiddo!" said a soldier. "He was born in Germany. Look on the map."
"He's a German spy, Whitey; look out for him."
"Alsace—ziss is France!" said Frenchy fervently.
"Ziss is the United States," shouted a soldier derisively.
"Ziss is Hoboken!" chimed in another.
"Vive la Hoboken!" shrieked a third.
Tom thought he had never laughed so much in all his life.
HE MAKES A DISCOVERY AND RECEIVES A SHOCK
Soon after dusk the soldiers were ordered to throw away their "smokes" and either go below or lie flat upon the decks. Officers patrolled the rail while others strolled among the boys and reminded the unruly and forgetful not to raise themselves, and soon the big ship, with its crowding khaki-clad cargo, was moving down the stream—on its way to "can the Kaiser." Then even the patrol was discontinued.
A crowded ferryboat paused in its passage to give the great gray transport the right of way, and the throng of commuters upon its deck saw nothing as they looked up but one or two white-jacketed figures moving about.
Tom thought the ship was off, but after fifteen or twenty minutes the throb of the engines ceased and he heard the clank, clank of the anchor winches. A little distant from the ship tiny green, red and white lights appeared and disappeared and were answered by other colored lights from high up in the rigging of the Montauk. Other lights appeared in other directions and were answered by still others, changing rapidly. Tom thought that he could distinguish a dark outline below certain of these lights. The whole business seemed weird and mysterious.
In the morning he looked from the rail at a sight which astonished and thrilled him. No sign of land was there to be seen. Steaming abreast of the Montauk and perhaps a couple of hundred yards from her, was a great ship with soldiers crowding at her rail waving caps and shouting, their voices singularly crisp and clear across the waters. Beyond her and still abreast was another great ship, the surging army upon her decks reduced to a brown mass in the distance. And far off on either side of this flotilla of three, and before it and behind it, was a sprightly little destroyer, moving this way and that, like a dog jumping about his master.
Upon the nearest vessel a naval signaler was semaphoring to the Montauk—his movements jerky, clean-cut, perfect. Enviously Tom watched him, thinking of his own semaphore work at Temple Camp. He read the message easily; it was something about how many knots the ship could make in a steady run of six hundred miles. The Montauk answered that she could make twenty-eight knots and keep it up for nineteen hours. The other signaler seemed to be relaying this to the transport beyond, which in turn signaled the destroyer on that side. Then there was signaling between the Montauk and her own neighbor destroyer about sailing formation in the danger zone.
It was almost like A B C to Tom, but he remembered Mr. Conne's good advice and resolved not to concern himself with matters outside his own little sphere of duty. But a few days later he made a discovery which turned his thoughts again to Adolf Schmitt's cellar and to spies.
He had piled the captain's breakfast dishes, made his weather memoranda from the barometer for posting in the main saloon, and was dusting the captain's table, when he chanced to notice the framed picture of a ship on the cabin wall. He had seen it before, but now he noticed the tiny name, scarcely decipherable, upon its bow, Christopher Colon.
So that was the ship on which somebody or other known to the fugitive, Adolf Schmitt, had thought of sailing in order to carry certain information to Germany. As Tom gazed curiously at this picture he thought of a certain phrase in that strange letter, "Sure, I could tend to the other matter too—it's the same idea as a periscope."
Yet Mr. Conne's sensible advice would probably have prevailed and Tom would have put these sinister things out of his thoughts, but meeting one of the steward's boys upon the deck shortly afterward he said, "There's a picture of a ship, the Christopher Colon——"
"That's this ship," interrupted the steward's boy. "They don't say much about those things. It's hard to find out anything. Nobody except these navy guys know about how many ships are taken over for transports. But I saw a couple of spoons in the dining saloon with that name on them. And sometimes you can make it out under the fresh paint on the life preservers and things. Uncle Sam's some foxy old guy."
Tom was so surprised that he stood stark still and stared as the boy hurried along about his duties. Upon the Montauk's nearest neighbor the naval signalman was semaphoring, and he watched abstractedly. It was something about camouflage maneuvering in the zone. Tom took a certain pride in being able to read it. Far off, beyond the other great ships, a sprightly little destroyer cut a zigzag course, as if practicing. The sky was clear and blue. As Tom watched, a young fellow in a sailor's suit hurried by, working his way among the throng of soldiers. Presently, Frenchy strolled past talking volubly to another soldier, and waving his cigarette gracefully in accompaniment. A naval quartermaster leaned against the rail, chatting with a red-faced man with spectacles—the chief engineer, Tom thought.
Who were Secret Service men and who were not? thought Tom. Who was a spy and who was not? Perhaps some one who brushed past him carried in his pockets (or more likely in the soles of his shoes) the designs of the Liberty Motor. Perhaps some one had the same thought about him. What a dreadful thing to be suspected of! A spy!
That puzzling phrase came into his mind again: Sure, I could tend to the other matter too—it's the same idea as a periscope. What did that mean? So the Montauk was the Christopher Colon....
He was roused out of his abstraction by the fervid, jerky voice of Frenchy, talking about Alsace. Alsace was a part of Germany, whatever Frenchy might say.... Again Tom bethought him of Mr. Conne's very wise advice, and he went to the main saloon and posted the weather prediction.
That same day something happened which shocked him and gave him an unpleasant feeling of loneliness. Mr. Wessel, the steward, died suddenly of heart failure. He was Tom's immediate superior and in a way his friend. He, and he alone, had received Tom's recommendation from Mr. Conne, and knew something of him. He had given Tom that enviable place as captain's boy, and throughout these few days had treated him with a kind of pleasant familiarity.
He stood by as the army chaplain read the simple burial service, while four soldiers held the rough, weighted casket upon the rail; and he saw it go down with a splash and disappear in the mysterious, fathomless ocean. It affected him more than the loss of a life by torpedoing or drowning could have done and left him solemn and thoughtful and with a deep sense of loss.
Just before dark they semaphored over from the Dorrilton that they could spare the second steward for duty on the Montauk. Tom mentioned this to one of the deck stewards, and to his surprise and consternation, an officer came to him a little later and asked him how he knew it.
"I can read semaphoring," said Tom. "I used to be in the Boy Scouts."
The officer looked at him sharply and said, "Well, you'd better learn to keep your mouth shut. This is no place for amateurs and Boy Scouts to practice their games."
"Y-yes, sir," said Tom, greatly frightened.
The next morning, when the sea was quieter, they rowed his new boss over in a small boat.
HE HEARS ABOUT ALSACE AND RECEIVES A PRESENT
That was a good lesson for Tom and a practical demonstration of the wisdom of Mr. Conne's advice. Not that he had exactly gone outside his duties to indulge his appetite for adventure, but he had had a good scare which reminded him what a suspicious and particular old gentleman Uncle Sam is in wartime.
The officer, who had thus frightened him and, in Tom's opinion, cast a slur upon the Scouts, made matters worse by scrutinizing him (or so he fancied) whenever they met upon the deck. But that was all there was to it, and the captain's mess boy did his allotted tasks each day, and stood for no end of jollying from the soldiers, who called him "Whitey" and "Eats," because he carried the captain's tray back and forth.
This banter he shared with Frenchy, who took it as good-humoredly as Tom himself, when he understood it, and when he didn't Tom explained it to him.
"Ziss—how you call—can ze Kaiser?" he would inquire politely.
"That means putting him in a tin can," said Tom.
"Ze tin can? Ze—how you call—wipe ze floor wiz him?"
"They both mean the same thing," said Tom. "They mean beating him—good and thorough—kind of."
Frenchy did not seem to understand but he would wave his hands and say with great vehemence, "Ah, ze Kaiser, he must be defeat! Ze wretch!"
Frenchy's name was Armande Lateur. He was an American by adoption and though he had spent much time among the people of his own nationality in Canada, he was strong for Uncle Sam with a pleasant, lingering fondness for the region of the "blue Alsatian mountains," whence he had come.
It was from Frenchy that Tom learned much which (if he had only known it) was to serve him well in the perilous days to come.
The day before they entered the danger zone the two, secure for a little while from the mirthful artillery fire of the soldiers, had a little chat which Tom was destined long to remember.
They were sitting at dusk in the doorway of the unoccupied guardhouse which ordinarily was the second cabin smoking-room.
"Alsace-Lorraine is part of Germany," said Tom, his heavy manner of talking contrasting strangely with Frenchy's excitability. "So you were a German citizen before you got to be an American; and your people over there must be German citizens."
"Zey are Zherman slaves—yess! Citizens—no! See! When still I am a leetle boy, I must learn ze Zherman. I must go to ze Zherman school. My pappa have to pay fine when hees cheeldren speak ze French. My little seester when she sing ze Marsellaise—she must go t'ree days to ze Zherman zhail!"
"You mean to prison?" Tom asked. "Just for singing the Marsellaise! Why, the hand-organs play that where I live!"
"Ah, yess—Americ'! In Alsace, even before ze war—you sing ze Marsellaise, t'ree days you go to ze zhail. You haf' a book printed in ze French—feefty marks you must pay!" He waived his cigarette, as if it might have been a deadly sword, and hurled it over the rail.
"After Germany took Alsace-Lorraine away from France," said Tom, unmoved, "and began treating the French people that way, I should think lots of 'em would have moved to France."
"Many—yess; but some, no. My pappa had a veenyard. Many years ziss veenyard is owned by my people—my anceestors. Even ze village is name for my family—Lateur. You know ze Franco-Prussian War—when Zhermany take Alsace-Lorraine—yess?"
"Yes," said Tom.
"My pappa fight for France. Hees arm he lose. When it is over and Alsace is lost, he haf' lost more than hees arm. Hees spirit! Where can he go? Away from ze veenyard? Here he hass lived—always."
"I understand," said Tom.
"Yess," said Frenchy with great satisfaction. "Zat is how eet is—you will understand. My pappa cannot go. Zis is hees home. So he stay—stay under ze Zhermans. Ah! For everything, everything, we must pay ze tax. Five hundred soldiers, zey keep, always—in zis little village—and only seven hundred people. Ziss is ze way. Ugh! Even ze name zey change—Dundgart! Ugh!"
"I don't like it as well as Lethure," said matter-of-fact Tom.
Frenchy laughed at Tom's pronunciation. "Zis is how you say—Le-teur. See? I will teach you ze French."
"How did you happen to come to America?" Tom asked.
"Ah! I will tell you," Frenchy said, as a grim, dangerous look gathered in his eyes. "You are—how many years, my frien'!"
"I'm seventeen," said Tom.
"One cannot tell wiz ze Americans," Frenchy explained. "Zey grow so queeck—so beeg. In Europe, zey haf' nevaire seen anyzing like zis—zis army," he added, indicating with a sweeping wave of his hand the groups of lolling, joking soldiers.
"They make fun of you a lot, don't they?"
"Ah, zat I do not mind."
"Maybe that's why they all like you."
"I will tell you," said Frenchy, reverting to Tom's previous question. "I am zhust ze same age as you—sefenteen—when zey throw my seester in ze zhail because she sing ze Marsellaise. Zat I cannot stand! You see?—When ze soldiers—fat Zhermans, ugh! When zey come for her, I strike zis fat one—here—so."
"I'm glad you did," said Tom.
"Hees eye I cut open, so. Wiz my fist—zhust boy's fist, but so sharp."
"I don't blame you," said Tom.
"So zen I must flee. Even to be rude to ze Zherman soldier—zis is crime. So I come to Americ'. Zey are looking for me, but I go by night, I sleep in ze haystack—zis I show. (He exhibited a little iron button with nothing whatever upon it.) You see? Zis is—what you call—talisman. Yess?
"So I come to Epinal across ze border, through ze pass in ze mountains. I am free! I go to my uncle in Canada who is agent to our wines. Zen I come to Chicago, where I haf' other uncle—also agent. Now I go to France wiz ze Americans to take Alsace back. What should I care if they laugh at me? We go to take Alsace back! Alsace!—Listen—I will tell you!
"Vive la France! A bas la Prusse! D'Schwowe mien Zuem Elsass 'nuess!
See if you can say zis," he smiled.
Tom shook his head.
"I will tell you—see.
"Long live France! Down with Prussia! The Boches must Get out of Alsace!"
"It must make you feel good after all that to go back now and make them give up Alsace," said Tom, his stolid nature moved by the young fellow's enthusiasm. "I'd like it if I'd been with you when you escaped and ran away like that. I like long hikes and adventures and things, anyway. It must be a long time since you saw your people."
"Saw! Even I haf' not heard for t'ree year. Eight years ago I fled away. Even before America is in ze war I haf' no letters. Ze Zhermans tear zem up! Ah, no matter. When it is all over and ze boundary line is back at ze Rhine again—zen I will see zem. My pappa, my moother, my seester Florette——"
His eyes glistened and he paused.
"I go wiz Uncle Sam! My seester will sing ze Marsellaise!"
"Yes," said Tom. "She can sing it all she wants."
"If zey are not yet killed," Frenchy added, looking intently out upon the ocean.
"I kind of feel that they're not," said Tom simply. "Sometimes I have feelings like that and they usually come out true."
Frenchy looked suddenly at him, then embraced him. "See, I will give you ziss," he said, handing Tom the little iron button. "I haf' two—see? I will tell you about zis," he added, drawing close and holding it so that Tom could see. "It is made from ze cannon in my pappa's regiment. Zis is when Alsace and Lorraine were lost—you see? Zey swear zey would win or die together—and so zey all die—except seventy. So zese men, zey swear zey will stand by each other, forever—zese seventy. You see? Even in poor Alsace—and in Lorraine. So zese, ze haf' make from a piece of ze cannon. You see? If once you can get across ze Zherman lines into Alsace, zis will find you friends and shelter. Ah, but you must be careful. You see? You must watch for zis button and when you see—zen you can show zis. You will know ze person who wears ze button is French—man, woman, peasant, child. Ze Zhermans do not know. Zey are fine spies, fine sneaks! But zis zey do not know. You see?"
It was as much to please the generous Frenchy as for any other reason (though, to be sure, he was glad to have it) that Tom took the little button and put it in his pocket.
"Ze iron cross—you know zat?"
"I've heard about it," said Tom.
"Zat means murder, savagery, death! Zis little button means friendship, help. Ze Zhermans do not know. You take this for—what you call—lucky piece?"
"I'll always keep it," said Tom, little dreaming what it would mean to him.
An authoritative voice was heard and they saw the soldiers throwing away their cigars and cigarettes and emptying their pipes against the rail. At the same time the electric light in the converted guard house was extinguished and an officer came along calling something into each of the staterooms along the promenade tier. They were entering the danger zone.
HE BECOMES VERY PROUD, AND ALSO VERY MUCH FRIGHTENED
Tom's talk with Frenchy left him feeling very proud that he was American born. He had that advantage over the Frenchman, he thought, even though Frenchy had escaped through a pass in the Alsatian mountains and made such an adventurous flight.
When Frenchy had spoken of the American soldiers Tom felt especially proud. He was glad that all his people so far as he knew anything about them, were good out-and-out Yankees. Even his poor worthless father had been a great patriot, and played the Star-Spangled Banner on his old accordion when he ought to have been at work.
Then there was poor old one-armed Uncle Job Slade who used to get drunk, but he had told Tom about "them confounded rebels and traitors" of Lincoln's time, and when he had died in the Soldiers' Home they had buried him with the Stars and Stripes draped over his coffin.
He was sorry now that he had not mentioned these things when gruff, well-meaning Pete Connigan had spoken disparagingly of the Slades.
He was glad he was not an adopted American like Frenchy, but that all his family had been Americans as far back as he knew. He was proud to "belong" to a country that other people wanted to "join"—that he had never had to join. And as he stood at the rail when his duties were finished that same night and gazed off across the black, rough ocean, he made up his mind that after this when he heard slurs cast upon his father and his uncle, instead of feeling ashamed he would defend them, and tell of the good things which he knew about them.
He stood there at the rail, quite alone, thinking. The night was very dark and the sea was rough. Not a light was to be seen upon the ship.
It occurred to him that it might be better for him not to stand there with his white steward's jacket on. He recalled how, up at Temple Camp, one could see the white tents very clearly all the way across the lake.
There was no rule about it, apparently, but sometimes, when people forgot to make a good rule, Tom made it for them. So now he went down to his little stateroom (the captain's mess boy had a tiny stateroom to himself) and put on a dark coat.
The second cabin dining saloon and dining room, which were below decks and had no outside ports, were crowded with soldiers, playing cards and checkers, and they did not fail to "josh" Whitey as he passed through. Frenchy was there and he waved pleasantly to Tom.
"Going to get out and walk, Whitey?" a soldier called. "I see you've got your street clothes on."
"I thought maybe the white would be too easy to see," Tom answered.
"Wise guy!" someone commented.
Reaching the main deck he edged his way along between the narrow passageway and the washroom to a secluded spot astern. He liked this place because it was so lonesome and unfrequented and because he could hear the whir and splash of the great propellers directly beneath him as each big roller lifted the after part of the vessel out of the water. Here he could think about Bridgeboro and Temple Camp, and Roy Blakeley and the other scouts, and of how proud he was that he was an American through and through, and of what he was going to say to people after this when they called his father a "no good" and Uncle Job a "rummy." He was glad he had thought about that, for back in Bridgeboro people were always saying something.
Suddenly a stern, authoritative voice spoke just behind him. "What are you doing here?"
In the heavy darkness Tom could just make out that the figure was in khaki and he thought it was the uniform of an officer.
"I ain't doing anything," he said.
"What did you come here for?" the voice demanded sternly.
"I—I don' know," stammered Tom, thoroughly frightened.
Quickly, deftly, the man slapped his clothing in the vicinity of his pockets.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"I'm captain's mess boy."
Laying his hand on Tom's shoulder, he marched him into the saloon and to the head of the companionway where the dim light from the passageway below enabled him to get a better sight of the boy. Tom was all of a tremor as the officer scrutinized him.
"You're the fellow that read the semaphore message, aren't you?" the officer demanded.
"Y-yes, sir, but I didn't notice them any more since I found out I shouldn't." Then he mustered courage to add, "I only went back there because it was dark and lonely, kind of. I was thinking about where I live and things——"
The officer scrutinized him curiously for a moment and apparently was satisfied, for he only added, speaking rather harshly, "You'd better be careful where you go at night and keep away from the ropes." With this he wheeled about and strode away.
For a minute or two Tom stood rooted to the spot where he stood, his heart pounding in his breast. He would not have been afraid of a whole regiment of Germans and he would probably have retained his stolid demeanor if the vessel had been sinking, but this little encounter frightened him. He wished that he had had the presence of mind to tell the officer why he had doffed his white jacket, and he wished that he had had the courage to mention how his Uncle Job had fought at Gettysburg and been buried with the flag over his coffin. Those things might have impressed the officer.
As he lay in his berth that night, his feeling of fright passed away and he was overcome with a feeling of humiliation. That he, Tom Slade, who had been a scout of the scouts, who had worked for the Colors, whose whole family history had been one of loyalty and patriotism, should be even—— No, of course, he had not been actually suspected of anything, and he knew that the government had to be very watchful and careful, but—— Well, he felt ashamed and humiliated, that's all.
He made up his mind that if he should see that officer again, and he did not look too forbidding, he would mention how his mother had taught him to sing America, how his father had played the Star-Spangled Banner on his old accordion and how Uncle Job had died in the Soldiers' Home. Those were about the only good things he could remember about his father and Uncle Job, but weren't they enough?
And since the government was so very particular, Tom got up and hung his coat across the porthole, though no clink of light could possibly have escaped, for his little stateroom was as dark as pitch and even when he opened his door there was only the dim light from the inner passage.
HE HEARS SOME NEWS AND IS CONFIDENTIAL WITH FRENCHY
The next morning there was a rumor. Somebody told somebody who told somebody else who told a deck steward who told Tom that a couple of men had gone very stealthily along the dimly lighted passageway outside the forward staterooms below, looking for a lighted stateroom.
"There was never so much as a glint," the deck steward volunteered.
Instantly Tom thought of his experience of the previous night and there arose in his mind also certain passages from one of the letters he had turned over to Mr. Conne.
Acting on his benefactor's very sensible advice, he had not allowed his mind to dwell upon those mysterious things which were altogether outside his humble sphere. But now he could not help recalling that this ship had been the Christopher Colon on which somebody or other had thought he might be able to sail. Well, in any event, the ship's people had those things in hand, and after his disturbing experience of the night before, he would not dare speak to one of his superiors about what was in his mind. But he was greatly interested in this whispered news.
"The electric lights are turned off in the staterooms, anyway," he said.
"Yes, but that bunch is always smoking—them engineers," said the deck steward, "and a chap would naturally stick his head out of the port so as not to get the room full of smoke. All he'd have to do is drop his smoke in the ocean if anyone happened along. It's been done more'n once."
"Then you don't think it was spies they suspected or—anything like that?"
The deck steward, who was an old hand, hunched his shoulders. "Maybe, and maybe not. You can't drum it into some men that a cigarette is like a searchlight on the ocean."
"Yet the destroyers signal at night—even here in the zone," Tom said.
"Not much—only when it's necessary. And the transports don't answer. It's just a little brown kind of light, too. They say the tin fish can't make it out at all."
"Is that where the engineers sleep—down there?" Tom asked.
"The chief and the first assistants up on deck; third and fourth and head fireman are down there, and two electricians. The carpenter's there, too."
"Well, they didn't find anything, anyway," said Tom. "Is that all they did?"
"Did? They opened every room on their way back and searched every nook and corner. Not so much as a pipe or a cigarette or a cigar could they find—nor a whiff of smoke neither. Besides, the port windows were locked shut and the steward had the keys! They're takin' no chances in the zone, you can bet."
"I was thinking, if it was a spy or anyone like that, he might have had a flashlight," said Tom, "and thrown it out if he heard anyone coming."
"With the glass locked shut?"
"No, that spoils it," said Tom.
"They searched every bloomin' one of 'em," said the deck steward. "Charlie was two hours making up the berths again after the way they threw things around. But nothing doing. They found a mess plate with a little black spot on it and he said they thought it might have been from a match-end being laid there, but I heard they told the captain there was nothing wrong down there."
"What made them think there was?" asked Tom.
The deck steward shrugged his shoulders. "You can search me. But they're mighty particular, huh?"
He went about his duties, leaving Tom to ponder on this interesting news, and though admittedly nothing had come of that stealthy raid which had exposed neither rule breakers nor spies, still Tom thought about it all day, more or less, and he was glad that Uncle Sam was so watchful and thorough. It made him realize, all the more, how absurd and preposterous it would be for him, the captain's mess boy, to concern himself or ask questions or say anything about serious matters which were none of his business.
All day long they ran a zigzag course, taking a long cut to France, as Pete Connigan would have said, the general tension relieved by the emergency drills, manning the boats and so forth.
In the afternoon hours of respite from his duties he met Frenchy, whose patience had been a little tried by some of Uncle Sam's crack jolliers, and they sat down on the top step of a companionway and talked.
"Zis I cannot bear!" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "To be called ze Hun! Ugh!"
"They're only kidding you," said Tom; "fooling with you."
"I do not like it—no!"
"But if you hadn't become an American before the war," said Tom, "you couldn't have enlisted on our side because you really were a German—a German citizen—weren't you?"
"Subject, yess! Citizen, no! All will be changed. Alsace will be France again! We go to win her back! Yess?"
"Yes," said Tom. "I only meant you belonged to Germany because you couldn't help it."
"You are a lucky boy," Frenchy said earnestly. "Zare is no—what you say?—Mix-up; Zhermany, France, America—no. You are all American!"
"I got to remember that," said Tom simply. "I know some rich fellers home where I live. They let me join their scout troop, so I got to know 'em. One feller's name is Van Arlen. His father was born in Holland. They got two automobiles and a lot of servants and things. But anyway my father was born in the United States—that's one thing."
"Ah," said Frenchy, enthusiastically, "zat is ever'ting! You are fine boy."
His expression was so generous, so pleasant, that Tom could not help saying, "I like France, too."
"Listen, I will tell you," said Frenchy, laughing. "It is ze old saying, 'Ever' man hass two countries; hees own and France!' You see?"
In the warmth of Frenchy's generous admiration Tom opened up and said more than he had meant to say—more than he ever had said to anyone.
"So I got to be proud of it, anyway," he said, in his honest, blunt fashion. "Maybe you won't understand, but one thing makes me like to go away from Bridgeboro, kind of, is the way people say things about my folks. They don't do it on purpose—mostly. But anyway, all the fathers of the fellows I know, they call them Mr. Blakeley and Mr. Harris, and like that. But they always called my father Bill Slade. I didn't ever hear anybody call him Mister. But anyway, he was born in the United States—that's one sure thing. And so was my grandfather and my grandmother, too. Once my father licked me because I forgot to hang out the flag on Decoration Day. That shows he was patriotic, doesn't it? The other day I was going to tell you about my uncle but I forgot to. He was in the Civil War—he got his arm shot off. So I got a lot to be proud about, anyway. Just because my father didn't get a job most—most of the time——"
"Ah!" vociferated Frenchy, clapping him on the shoulder. "You are ze—how you say—one fine boy!"
Tom remained stolid, under this enthusiastic approval. He was thinking how glad and proud he was that his father had licked him for forgetting to hang out the flag. It had not been a licking exactly, but a beating and kicking, but this part of it he did not remember. He was very proud of his father for it. It was something to boast about. It showed that the Slades——
"Yess, you are a fine boy!" said Frenchy again, clapping him on the shoulder with such vehemence as to interrupt his train of thought. "Zey must be fine people—all ze way back—to haf' such a boy. You see?"
FOOTNOTE:  Submarines.
HE SEES A STRANGE LIGHT AND GOES ON TIPTOE
Of course, it would have been expecting too much to suppose that the boys in khaki would overlook Tom Slade any more than Frenchy would escape them, and "Whitey" was the bull's-eye for a good deal of target practice in the way of jollying. It got circulated about that Whitey had a bug—a patriotic bug, particularly in regard to his family, and it was whispered in his hearing as he came and went that his grandfather was none other than the original Yankee Doodle.
Of course, Tom's soberness increased this good-natured propensity of the soldiers.
"Hey, Whitey," they would call as he passed with the captain's tray, "I hear you were born on the Fourth of July. How about that?"
"Hey, Whitey, I hear your great grandfather was the fellow that put the bunk in Bunker Hill!"
But Tom did not mind; joking or no joking, they knew where he stood with Uncle Sam and that was enough for him.
Sometimes they would vary their tune and pleasantly chide him with being a secret agent of the Kaiser, "Baron von Slade," and so on and so on. He only smiled in that stolid way of his and went about his duties. In his heart he was proud. Sometimes they would assume to be serious and ply him with questions, and he would fall into their trap and proudly tell about poor old Uncle Job and of how his father had licked him, by way of proving the stanch Americanism of the Slades.
In their hearts they all liked him; he seemed so "easy" and bluntly honest, and his patriotism was so obvious and so sincere.
"You're all right, Whitey," they would say.
Then, suddenly, that thing happened which shocked and startled them with all the force of a torpedo from a U-boat, and left them gasping.
It happened that same night, and little did Tom Slade dream, as he went along the deck in the darkening twilight, carrying the captain's empty supper dishes down to the galley, of the dreadful thing which he would face before that last night in the danger zone was over.
He washed his hands, combed his hair, put on his dark coat, and went up on deck for an hour or two which he could call his own. In the companionway he passed his friend, the deck steward, talking with a couple of soldiers, and as he squeezed past them he paused a moment to listen.
It was evidently another slice of the same gossip with which he had regaled Tom earlier in the day and he was imparting it with a great air of confidence to the interested soldiers.
"Don't say I told you, but they had two of them in the quartermaster's room, buzzing them. It's more'n rule breaking, I think."
"German agents, you mean?"
The deck steward shrugged his shoulders in that mysterious way, as if he could not take the responsibility of answering that question.
"But they haven't got anything on 'em," he added. "The glass ports were locked—they couldn't have thrown anything out. So there you are. The captain thinks it was phosphorus and maybe he's right. It's a kind of a light you sometimes see in the ocean."
"Huh," said one of the soldiers.
"It's fooled others before. So I guess there won't be any more about it. Keep your mouths shut."
Tom passed them and went out upon the deck. He did not venture near the forbidden spot astern, but leaned against the rail amidships. He knew he had the right to spend his time off on deck and he liked to be alone. Now and then he glimpsed a little streak of gray as some apprehensive person in a life belt disappeared in a companionway, driven in by the cold and the rough sea.
Presently, he was quite alone and he fell to thinking about home, as he usually did when he was alone at night. He thought of his friend Roy Blakeley and of the happy summers spent at Temple Camp; of the stalking and tracking, and campfire yarns, and how they used to jolly him, just as these soldiers jollied him, and call him "Sherlock Nobody Holmes" just because he was interested in deduction and had "doped out" one or two little things.
One thing will suggest another, and from Temple Camp, with its long messboard and its clamoring, hungry scouts, and the tin dishes heaped with savory hunters' stew, his thoughts wandered back across the ocean to a certain particular mess plate, right here on this very ship—a mess plate with a little black stain on it, where someone might have laid a burning match-end.
He caught himself up and thought of Mr. Conne. But this was his time off and he had the right to think about anything he pleased. He could not be reprimanded for just thinking. Nothing would tempt him to run the risk of another encounter with one of those stern, brisk-speaking officers, but he could think.
And he wondered whether that black spot had been made by a match-end. The spot would show plainly, of course, for he knew how shiny and clean mess plates were kept. Had he not done his part in scouring and rubbing them down there in the galley?
He wondered how the mess plate had happened to be in the stateroom, anyway. Sherlock Nobody Holmes again! But the crew, as well as the troops, carried their supper wherever they pleased to eat it. So there was nothing so strange about that. If there had been, why, Uncle Sam's all-seeing eye would not have missed it.
He fell to thinking of Bridgeboro again. And he thought of Adolf Schmitt and——
A phrase from one of those letters ran through his mind—It's the same idea as a periscope.
For a moment Tom Slade felt just as so often he had felt when he had found an indistinct footprint along a woodland trail. What was the same idea as a periscope? What was a periscope, anyway?
Why, a thing on a submarine by means of which you could look two ways at once—you could look up through the ocean and across the ocean—all with one look.
He wondered whether Mr. Conne had noticed that rather puzzling phrase and whether the people on this ship had seen that letter. Mr. Conne had seemed to think that one the least important of the lot. Perhaps he had just told the ship's people to look out for spies. And they would do that anyway. The names of uniformed spies in the army cantonments—names in black and white—that was the important thing—the big discovery.
But Tom Slade was only a humble Sherlock Nobody Holmes and he couldn't get that phrase out of his head.
It's the same idea as a periscope.
A periscope is a kind of a—a kind of a——
Tom's brow was knit, just as when he used carefully and anxiously to move the grass away from an all but obliterated footprint, and his eyes were half closed and keen.
"I know what it is," he said to himself, suddenly. "It means how light can be passed through a room even while the room is dark all the time—kind of reflected—and you wouldn't have to use any match."
He stood still, almost frightened at his own conclusion. The clean, shiny mess plate and the phrase out of that letter seemed to fit together like the sections of a picture puzzle. The black spot and the match-end (if there was any match-end) meant just nothing at all. The dim light out in the passageway down below hardly reached the dark staterooms, but——
He could not remember just how it was down there, but he knew that in the staterooms where the glass ports were locked (and that was the case with all of the crews' quarters below) air was admitted by a slightly opened panel transom over the door.
What should he do? Go and tell an officer about his discovery? If it were a discovery that would be all very well. But after all, this was only a—a kind of a deduction. And they might laugh at him. He had always stood in awe of the officers and since last night he was mortally afraid of them. If he told any of the soldiers or even the steward they would only jolly him. He did not know exactly what he had better do.
He made up his mind that he would go down through the passageway where those under engineers and electricians slept and see how it looked down there. He had been through there many times, but he thought that perhaps he would notice some thing now which would help to prove his theory and then perhaps they would listen to the captain's mess boy if he could muster the courage to speak.
He had just left the rail when he saw, some distance to starboard as it seemed, and well forward of the ship, an infinitesimal bluish brown spark. How he happened to notice it he did not know. "Once a scout, always a scout," perhaps. In any event, it was only by fixing his eyes intently upon it that he could keep it in sight. And even so, he lost it after a few seconds. He tried to find it again, but quite in vain. It had been about as conspicuous as a snowflake would have been in a glass of milk.
"Huh, if there's anyone on this ship can see that, he must be a peach. Maybe up in the rigging you can see it better, though. If it's on the destroyer, she's quite a ways ahead of us——"
He squinted his eyes and, seeing a number of imaginary lights, decided that perhaps the other had been imaginary too. He crossed the saloon, went down the companionway and through the second class cabin dining-room where the soldiers hailed him pleasantly, and, passing the stokers' washroom, tiptoed along the dim, narrow passageway.
HE GOES BELOW AND GROPES IN THE DARK
There were half a dozen or more staterooms along this passage. At the end of it was the steep, greasy flight of iron steps leading down into the engine-rooms. Here, also, was a huge box with a hinged lid, filled with cotton waste. It was customary for one going down here to take a handful of this waste to protect his hands from the oily rail, and also on coming up to wipe his hands with a fresh lot. The very atmosphere of a ship's engine-room is oily. Here, also, were several fire-buckets in a rack.
Along the side of the passage opposite the staterooms were electric bulbs at intervals, but only two of them were burning—just enough to light one through the narrow passage. Above each closed door was a solid wooden transom, hinged at its lower side and opened at an angle into the room.
Tom moved quickly and very quietly, for he feared to be caught loitering here. He saw at once that only one of these staterooms could possibly be used for any such criminal purpose as he suspected, and that was the one with a light directly opposite it in the passage, for the other light was beyond the staterooms.
For a few seconds he stood listening to the slow, monotonous sound of the machinery just below him. The vibration was very pronounced here; the floor thumped with the pulsations of the mighty engines. And Tom's heart was thumping too.
Within the staterooms all was dark and quiet. He knew the under engineers turned in early. Not the faintest flicker was to be seen through any of those transoms. He had been mistaken, he thought; had jumped at a crazy notion. And he half turned to go up again.
But instead he listened at the companionway, then tiptoed stealthily along the passage and looked over the oily iron rail, down, down into the depths of the great, dim, oil-smelling space with its iron galleries and the mammoth steel arms, moving back and forth, back and forth, far down there upon the grated floor. A tiny figure in a jumper went down from one of the lower galleries, paused to look at a big dial, then crossed the floor and disappeared, making never a sound. No other living thing was in sight—unless those mighty steel arms, ever meeting and parting might be said to be living. To come up from down there would mean the ascent of three iron stairways.
Tom withdrew into the passage and quietly lifting one of the fire-buckets from the rack, tiptoed with it to the door which was directly opposite the passageway.
Then he paused again. He could open that door, he knew, for no keys or bolts were allowed on any stateroom door. He could surprise the occupant, whom he would find in darkness. If his suspicion was correct (and he was beginning now to fear that it was not) there would be no actual proof of anything inside of that dark little room, save only just what the authorities had already found—an apparently innocent mess plate. The criminal act would consist of simply holding a shiny plate in a certain position. The moment a sound was heard outside the plate could be laid down. And who would be the wiser?
Tom's heart was thumping in his breast, his eyes anxiously scanning one end of the passage, then the other.
Not a sound—no sign of anyone.
Tom Slade had been a scout and notwithstanding his suspense and almost panicky apprehension, he was not going to act impulsively or thoughtlessly. He knew that if he could only present a convincing case to his superiors, they would forgive him his presumption. If he made a bungle it might go hard with him. Anyway, he could not, or would not, turn back now.
In truth, he did not believe that anything at all was going to happen. The stateroom was so dark and so still that all his fine ideas and deductions, which had seemed so striking and plausible up on the lonesome, wind-swept deck, began to fade away.
But there would be no harm in one little test, and no one would be the wiser. He tried to picture in his mind's eye the interior of that little stateroom. If it were like his own, then the mirror was on the other side of the passage wall, that is, on the opposite side of the stateroom from the port hole. If one looked into the mirror he would see the port hole. All of the smaller rooms below decks which he had seen were arranged in the same way.
Therefore, thought Tom, if one should hold a shiny mess plate, for instance, up near the transom, so as to catch the light from without, he could throw it down into the mirror, which would reflect not only the glare but the brilliant image of the bulb as well. From out on the ocean that reflected light would be very clear.
All of which, thought Tom dubiously, was a very pretty theory, but——
Without making a sound he placed the inverted bucket on the floor and listened. He put one foot on it and listened again. Then he stood upon it, his heart pounding like a triphammer.
Not a sound.
Probably the tired occupant of the room was fast asleep—sleeping the peaceful sleep of the innocent.
Tom knew that if his mind's eye picture of the room's arrangement were correct, the metal reflector would be of no avail unless tilted at a slight angle from the horizontal, right inside the transom.
For a moment he stood upon the bucket, not daring to budge. He could hear his own breathing, and far away the steady, dull thud of the tireless machinery. Something creaked in the passage, and he turned cold. He did not stir a muscle.
Only some superficial crevice or crack somewhere—some loose panel or worn hinge responding to the onslaught of a giant wave without—— Nothing——
He turned his head and looked down the passage, clenching his fists in momentary fright, as if he feared the bending of his neck might be heard.
No one. Not a sound.
He tried to look through the transom but his eyes were not high enough. For another second he paused. Then he reached through the transom and moved his hand about in the silence and darkness. He heard the cracking again and waited, trembling, though he knew it was nothing.
Then he groped about with his hand again.
HE MAKES A DISCOVERY AND IS GREATLY AGITATED
Suddenly his hand encountered something hard and cold, and he grabbed it like lightning. His heart was in his throat now. There was a scuffling sound within and the object was wrenched and twisted and pulled frantically.
But Tom had been a scout and he was prepared. The two big clumsy hands which bore the captain's tray back and forth each day had once torn a pack of thirty cards in half to entertain tenderfeet at campfire. And one of those hands clutched this thing now with the grip of a bulldog.
His excitement and his pounding heart did not embarrass him in the brief tussle. A few dexterous twists this way and that, and he withdrew his hand triumphantly, scratched and bleeding, the light in the passage glinting upon the polished surface of the mess plate which he held.
Scarcely three minutes had escaped since he came down from the deck, but in that short period his usually sturdy nerves had borne a terrific strain and for a moment he leaned against the opposite side of the passage, clutching the dish in consternation.
In that brief moment when he had paused before putting his hand through the transom, he had thought that if indeed the plate were being held there even still the conspirator's eyes would be fixed upon the stationary mirror in order to keep the reflection centered in direct line with the porthole. Evidently he had been right and had taken the plotter quite unaware.
Sherlock Nobody Holmes had succeeded beyond his most extravagant dreams!
The door of the little room flew back and a figure stood in the dark opening, looking at him.
"That—that's what you meant," Tom stammered, scarcely knowing what he said, "about the same idea as a periscope. You thought—you thought——"
The man, evidently surprised at seeing no one but the captain's mess boy, stuck out his head and looked apprehensively up and down the passage.
"There's nobody," breathed Tom, "except me; but it won't do you any good—it won't—because I'm going to tell——"
He paused, clutching the mess plate, and looked aghast at the disheveled, half-dressed man who faced him. Then the plate dropped from his hand, and a strange, cold feeling came over him.
"Who are you?" he gasped, his eyes stark and staring. "I—I didn't know—I ain't——"
He stopped, refusing to believe, and groped for the precious mess plate, part of the makeshift periscope which his own keenness had discovered and rendered useless. Then he stood again, fumbling the thing in his clumsy hands and staring, all bewildered, at the traitor who had used it to betray his country.
Was it——? It could not be—— But the years had wrought more change in Tom himself than in the man who stood there glaring back at him, half recognizing.