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Title: Outwitting the Hun - My Escape from a German Prison Camp
Author: O'Brien, Pat, -1920
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Transcriber's Note: Every effort has been made to replicate this text
as faithfully as possible, including obsolete and variant spellings and
other inconsistencies. Text that has been changed to correct an obvious
error is noted at the end of this ebook.]



OUTWITTING THE HUN


[Illustration: LIEUT. PAT O'BRIEN, R. F. C.]



  OUTWITTING
  THE HUN

  _My Escape from a
  German Prison Camp_

  BY

  LIEUT. PAT O'BRIEN

  _Royal Flying Corps_

  ILLUSTRATED

  [Illustration]

  HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
  NEW YORK AND LONDON


  OUTWITTING THE HUN


  Copyright, 1918, by Lieutenant Pat O'Brien
  Printed in the United States of America
  Published March, 1918



  TO

  THE NORTH STAR

  WHOSE GUIDING LIGHT MARKED THE
  PATHWAY TO FREEDOM FOR A WEARY
  FUGITIVE, THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED
  IN HUMBLE GRATITUDE
  AND ABIDING FAITH



CONTENTS


  CHAP.                                     PAGE

  PREFACE                                     xi

  I.    THE FOLLY OF DESPAIR                   1

  II.   I BECOME A FIGHTING-SCOUT              7

  III.  CAPTURED BY THE HUNS                  21

  IV.   CLIPPED WINGS                         34

  V.    THE PRISON-CAMP AT COURTRAI           53

  VI.   A LEAP FOR LIBERTY                    77

  VII.  CRAWLING THROUGH GERMANY              88

  VIII. NINE DAYS IN LUXEMBOURG               97

  IX.   I ENTER BELGIUM                      112

  X.    EXPERIENCES IN BELGIUM               132

  XI.   I ENCOUNTER GERMAN SOLDIERS          145

  XII.  THE FORGED PASSPORT                  159

  XIII. FIVE DAYS IN AN EMPTY HOUSE          186

  XIV.  A NIGHT OF DISSIPATION               207

  XV.   OBSERVATIONS IN A BELGIAN CITY       219

  XVI.  I APPROACH THE FRONTIER              225

  XVII. GETTING THROUGH THE LINES            236

  XVIII. EXPERIENCES IN HOLLAND              250

  XIX.  I AM PRESENTED TO THE KING           273

  XX.   HOME AGAIN!                          281


[Transcriber's Note: Illustrations were interleaved between pages in the
original text. In this version, they have been moved to be between
paragraphs. Page numbers below reflect the position of the illustration
in the original text.]


ILLUSTRATIONS


  LIEUT. PAT O'BRIEN, R. F. C.              _Frontispiece_

  THE AEROPLANE WHICH LIEUTENANT O'BRIEN
    USED IN HIS LAST BATTLE WITH THE HUNS
    WHEN HE WAS BROUGHT DOWN AND
    MADE PRISONER                           _Facing p._ 30

  THE IDENTIFICATION DISK WORN BY LIEUTENANT
    O'BRIEN WHEN HE WAS CAPTURED
    BY THE HUNS. IT REVEALED TO
    THEM THAT HE WAS AN AMERICAN                   "    36

  LIEUT. PAUL H. RANEY OF TORONTO AND LIEUT.
    PAT O'BRIEN                                    "    50

  MAILING-CARD SENT BY GERMAN GOVERNMENT
    TO PAT O'BRIEN'S SISTER, MRS. CLARA
    CLEGG OF MOMENCE, ILLINOIS                     "    60

  OBVERSE SIDE OF CARD SHOWN ABOVE                 "    60

  A GROUP OF PRISONERS OF WAR IN THE PRISON-CAMP
    AT COURTRAI, BELGIUM                           "    70

  THE FORGED PASSPORT PREPARED IN A BELGIAN
    CITY TO AID LIEUTENANT O'BRIEN'S
    ESCAPE INTO HOLLAND, BUT WHICH WAS
    NEVER USED                                     "   164

  COPY OF TELEGRAM INVITING LIEUTENANT
    O'BRIEN TO MEET KING GEORGE                    "   270

  COPY OF TELEGRAM SENT BY LIEUTENANT
    O'BRIEN IN ANSWER TO AN INVITATION
    TO MEET KING GEORGE                            "   270



PREFACE


There is a common idea that the age of miracles is past. Perhaps it
is, but if so, the change must have come about within the past few
weeks--after I escaped into Holland. For if anything is certain in this
life it is this: this book never would have been written but for the
succession of miracles set forth in these pages.

Miracles, luck, coincidence, Providence--it doesn't matter much what you
call it--certainly played an important part in the series of hairbreadth
escapes in which I figured during my short but eventful appearance in
the great drama now being enacted across the seas. Without it, all my
efforts and sufferings would have been quite unavailing.

No one realizes this better than I do and I want to repeat it right here
because elsewhere in these pages I may appear occasionally to overlook
or minimize it: without the help of Providence I would not be here
to-day.

But this same Providence which brought me home safely, despite all the
dangers which beset me, may work similar miracles for others, and it is
in the hope of encouraging other poor devils who may find themselves in
situations as hopeless apparently as mine oftentimes were that this book
is written.

When this cruel war is over--which I trust may be sooner than I expect
it to be--I hope I shall have an opportunity to revisit the scenes of my
adventures and to thank in person in an adequate manner every one who
extended a helping hand to me when I was a wretched fugitive. All of
them took great risks in befriending an escaped prisoner, and they did
it without the slightest hope of reward. At the same time I hope I shall
have a chance to pay my compliments to those who endeavored to take
advantage of my distress.

In the meanwhile, however, I can only express my thanks in this
ineffective manner, trusting that in some mysterious way a copy of this
book may fall into the hands of every one who befriended me. I hope
particularly that every good Hollander who played the part of the Good
Samaritan to me so bountifully after my escape from Belgium will see
these pages and feel that I am absolutely sincere when I say that words
cannot begin to express my sense of gratitude to the Dutch people.

It is needless for me to add how deeply I feel for my fellow-prisoners
in Germany who were less fortunate than I. Poor, poor fellows!--they are
the real victims of the war. I hope that every one of them may soon be
restored to that freedom whose value I never fully realized until after
I had had to fight so hard to regain it.

                                                  PAT O'BRIEN.

  MOMENCE, ILLINOIS, _January 14, 1918_.



OUTWITTING THE HUN



I

THE FOLLY OF DESPAIR


Less than nine months ago eighteen officers of the Royal Flying Corps,
which had been training in Canada, left for England on the _Megantic_.

If any of them was over twenty-five years of age, he had successfully
concealed the fact, because they don't accept older men for the R. F. C.

Nine of the eighteen were British subjects; the other nine were
Americans, who, tired of waiting for their own country to take her place
with the Allies, had joined the British colors in Canada. I was one of
the latter.

We were going to England to earn our "wings"--a qualification which must
be won before a member of the R. F. C. is allowed to hunt the Huns on
the western front.

That was in May, 1917.

By August 1st most of us were full-fledged pilots, actively engaged at
various parts of the line in daily conflict with the enemy.

By December 15th every man Jack of us who had met the enemy in France,
with one exception, had appeared on the casualty list. The exception
was H. K. Boysen, an American, who at last report was fighting on the
Italian front, still unscathed. Whether his good fortune has stood by
him up to this time I don't know, but if it has I would be very much
surprised.

Of the others five were killed in action--three Americans, one Canadian,
and one Englishman. Three more were in all probability killed in action,
although officially they are listed merely as "missing." One of these
was an American, one a Canadian, and the third a Scotchman. Three more,
two of them Americans, were seriously wounded. Another, a Canadian, is
a prisoner in Germany. I know nothing of the others.

What happened to me is narrated in these pages. I wish, instead, I could
tell the story of each of my brave comrades, for not one of them was
downed, I am sure, without upholding the best traditions of the R. F.
C. Unfortunately, however, of the eighteen who sailed on the _Megantic_
last May, I happened to be the first to fall into the hands of the Huns,
and what befell my comrades after that, with one exception, I know only
second hand.

The exception was the case of poor, brave Paul Raney--my closest
chum--whose last battle I witnessed from my German prison--but that is a
story I shall tell in its proper place.

In one way, however, I think the story of my own "big adventure" and my
miraculous escape may, perhaps, serve a purpose as useful as that of
the heroic fate of my less fortunate comrades. Their story, it is true,
might inspire others to deeds of heroism, but mine, I hope, will convey
the equally valuable lesson of the folly of despair.

Many were the times in the course of my struggles when it seemed
absolutely useless to continue. In a hostile country, where discovery
meant death, wounded, sick, famished, friendless, hundreds of miles
from the nearest neutral territory the frontier of which was so closely
guarded that even if I got there it seemed too much to hope that I could
ever get through, what was the use of enduring further agony?

And yet here I am, in the Land of Liberty--although in a somewhat
obscure corner, the little town of Momence, Illinois, where I was
born--not very much the worse for wear after all I've been through, and,
as I write these words, not eight months have passed since my seventeen
comrades and I sailed from Canada on the _Megantic_!

Can it be possible that I was spared to convey a message of hope to
others who are destined for similar trials? I am afraid there will be
many of them.

Years ago I heard of the epitaph which is said to have been found on a
child's grave:

    If I was so soon to be done for,
    O Lord, what was I ever begun for?

The way it has come to me since I returned from Europe is:

    If, O Lord, I was _not_ to be done for,
    What were my sufferings e'er begun for?

Perhaps the answer lies in the suggestion I have made.

At any rate, if this record of my adventures should prove instrumental
in sustaining others who need encouragement, I shall not feel that my
sufferings were in vain.

It is hardly likely that any one will quite duplicate my experiences,
but I haven't the slightest doubt that many will have to go through
trials equally nerve-racking and suffer disappointments just as
disheartening.

It would be very far from the mark to imagine that the optimism which I
am preaching now so glibly sustained me through all my troubles. On the
contrary, I am free to confess that I frequently gave way to despair
and often, for hours at a time, felt so dejected and discouraged that
I really didn't care what happened to me. Indeed, I rather hoped that
something _would_ happen to put an end to my misery.

But, despite all my despondency and hopelessness, the worst never
happened, and I can't help thinking that my salvation must have been
designed to show the way to others.



II

I BECOME A FIGHTING-SCOUT


I started flying, in Chicago, in 1912. I was then eighteen years old,
but I had had a hankering for the air ever since I can remember.

As a youngster I followed the exploits of the Wrights with the greatest
interest, although I must confess I sometimes hoped that they wouldn't
really conquer the air until I had had a whack at it myself. I got more
whacks than I was looking for later on.

Needless to say, my parents were very much opposed to my risking my
life at what was undoubtedly at that time one of the most hazardous
"pastimes" a young fellow could select, and every time I had a smash-up
or some other mishap I was ordered never to go near an aviation field
again.

So I went out to California. There another fellow and I built our own
machine, which we flew in various parts of the state.

In the early part of 1916, when trouble was brewing in Mexico, I joined
the American Flying Corps. I was sent to San Diego, where the army
flying school is located, and spent about eight months there, but as I
was anxious to get into active service and there didn't seem much chance
of America ever getting into the war, I resigned and, crossing over to
Canada, joined the Royal Flying Corps at Victoria, B. C.

I was sent to Camp Borden, Toronto, first to receive instruction and
later to instruct. While a cadet I made the first loop ever made
by a cadet in Canada, and after I had performed the stunt I half
expected to be kicked out of the service for it. Apparently, however,
they considered the source and let it go at that. Later on I had the
satisfaction of introducing the loop as part of the regular course of
instruction for cadets in the R. F. C., and I want to say right here
that Camp Borden has turned out some of the best fliers that have ever
gone to France.

In May, 1917, I and seventeen other Canadian fliers left for England on
the _Megantic_, where we were to qualify for service in France.

Our squadron consisted of nine Americans, C. C. Robinson, H. A. Miller,
F. S. McClurg, A. A. Allen, E. B. Garnett, H. K. Boysen, H. A. Smeeton,
A. Taylor, and myself; and nine Britishers, Paul H. Raney, J. R. Park,
C. Nelmes, C. R. Moore, T. L. Atkinson, F. C. Conry, A. Muir, E. A. L.
F. Smith, and A. C. Jones.

Within a few weeks after our arrival in England all of us had won our
"wings"--the insignia worn on the left breast by every pilot on the
western front.

We were all sent to a place in France known as the Pool Pilots' Mess.
Here men gather from all the training squadrons in Canada and England
and await assignments to the particular squadron of which they are to
become members.

The Pool Pilots' Mess is situated a few miles back of the lines.
Whenever a pilot is shot down or killed the Pool Pilots' Mess is
notified to send another to take his place.

There are so many casualties every day in the R. F. C. at one point of
the front or another that the demand for new pilots is quite active,
but when a fellow is itching to get into the fight as badly as I and my
friends were I must confess that we got a little impatient, although we
realized that every time a new man was called it meant that some one
else had, in all probability, been killed, wounded, or captured.

One morning an order came in for a scout pilot, and one of my friends
was assigned. I can tell you the rest of us were as envious of him as
if it were the last chance any of us were ever going to have to get to
the front. As it was, however, hardly more than three hours had elapsed
before another wire was received at the Mess and I was ordered to
follow my friend. I afterward learned that as soon as he arrived at the
squadron he had prevailed upon the commanding officer of the squadron to
wire for me.

At the Pool Pilots' Mess it was the custom of the officers to wear
"shorts"--breeches that are about eight inches long, like the Boy Scouts
wear, leaving a space of about eight inches of open country between the
top of the puttees and the end of the "shorts." The Australians wore
them in Salonica and at the Dardanelles.

When the order came in for me, I had these "shorts" on, and I didn't
have time to change into other clothes. Indeed, I was in such a sweat to
get to the front that if I had been in my pajamas I think I would have
gone that way. As it was, it was raining and I threw an overcoat over
me, jumped into the machine, and we made record time to the aerodrome to
which I had been ordered to report.

As I alighted from the automobile my overcoat blew open and displayed
my manly form attired in "shorts" instead of in the regulation flying
breeches, and the sight aroused considerable commotion in camp.

"Must be a Yankee!" I overheard one officer say to another as I
approached. "No one but a Yank would have the cheek to show up that way,
you know!"

But they laughed good-naturedly as I came up to them and welcomed me to
the squadron, and I was soon very much at home.

My squadron was one of four stationed at an aerodrome about eighteen
miles back of the Ypres line. There were eighteen pilots in our
squadron, which was a scout-squadron, scout-machines carrying but one
man.

A scout, sometimes called a fighting-scout, has no bomb-dropping or
reconnoitering to do. His duty is just to fight, or, as the order was
given to me, "You are expected to pick fights and not wait until they
come to you!"

When bomb-droppers go out over the lines in the daytime, a
scout-squadron usually convoys them. The bomb-droppers fly at about
twelve thousand feet, the scouts a thousand feet or so above them to
protect them.

If at any time they should be attacked, it is the duty of the scouts to
dive down and carry on the fight, the orders of the bomb-droppers being
to go on dropping bombs and not to fight unless they have to. There is
seldom a time that machines go out over the lines on this work in the
daytime that they are not attacked at some time or other, and so the
scouts usually have plenty of work to do. In addition to these attacks,
however, the squadron is invariably under constant bombardment from the
ground, but that doesn't worry us very much, as we know pretty well how
to avoid being hit from that quarter.

On my first flight, after joining the squadron, I was taken out over
the lines to get a look at things, map out my location in case I was
ever lost, locate the forests, lakes, and other landmarks, and get the
general lay of the land.

One thing that was impressed upon me very emphatically was the location
of the hospitals, so that in case I was ever wounded and had the
strength to pick my landing I could land as near as possible to a
hospital. All these things a new pilot goes through during the first two
or three days after joining a squadron.

Our regular routine was two flights a day, each of two hours' duration.
After doing our regular patrol, it was our privilege to go off on our
own hook, if we wished, before going back to the squadron.

I soon found out that my squadron was some hot squadron, our fliers
being almost always assigned to special-duty work, such as shooting up
trenches at a height of fifty feet from the ground!

I received my baptism into this kind of work the third time I went out
over the lines, and I would recommend it to any one who is hankering for
excitement. You are not only apt to be attacked by hostile aircraft from
above, but you are swept by machine-gun fire from below. I have seen
some of our machines come back from this work sometimes so riddled with
bullets that I wondered how they ever held together. Before we started
out on one of these jobs we were mighty careful to see that our motors
were in perfect condition, because they told us the "war-bread was bad
in Germany."

One morning, shortly after I joined the squadron, three of us started
over the line on our own accord. We soon observed four enemy machines,
two-seaters, coming toward us. This type of machine is used by the Huns
for artillery work and bomb-dropping, and we knew they were on mischief
bent. Each machine had a machine-gun in front, worked by the pilot, and
the observer also had a gun with which he could spray all around.

When we first noticed the Huns our machines were about six miles back of
the German lines and we were lying high up in the sky, keeping the sun
behind us, so that the enemy could not see us.

We picked out three of the machines and dove down on them. I went right
by the man I picked for myself and his observer in the rear seat kept
pumping at me to beat the band. Not one of my shots took effect as I
went right under him, but I turned and gave him another burst of bullets
and down he went in a spinning nose dive, one of his wings going one way
and one another. As I saw him crash to the ground I knew that I had got
my first hostile aircraft. One of my comrades was equally successful,
but the other two German machines got away. We chased them back until
things got too hot for us by reason of the appearance of other German
machines, and then we called it a day.

This experience whetted my appetite for more of the same kind, and I did
not have long to wait.

It may be well to explain here just what a spinning nose dive is. A
few years ago the spinning nose dive was considered one of the most
dangerous things a pilot could attempt, and many men were killed
getting into this spin and not knowing how to come out of it. In fact,
lots of pilots thought that when once you got into a spinning nose dive
there was no way of coming out of it. It is now used, however, in actual
flying.

The machines that are used in France are controlled in two ways, both
by hands and by feet, the feet working the yoke or rudder bar which
controls the rudder that steers the machine. The lateral controls and
fore and aft, which cause the machine to rise or lower, are controlled
by a contrivance called a "joy-stick." If, when flying in the air, a
pilot should release his hold on this stick, it will gradually come back
toward the pilot.

In that position the machine will begin to climb. So if a pilot is shot
and loses control of this "joy-stick" his machine begins to ascend, and
climbs until the angle formed becomes too great for it to continue or
the motor to pull the plane; for a fraction of a second it stops, and
the motor then being the heaviest, it causes the nose of the machine to
fall forward, pitching down at a terrific rate of speed and spinning at
the same time. If the motor is still running, it naturally increases the
speed much more than it would if the motor were shut off, and there is
great danger that the wings will double up, causing the machine to break
apart. Although spins are made with the motor on, you are dropping like
a ball being dropped out of the sky and the velocity increases with the
power of the motor.

This spinning nose dive has been frequently used in "stunt" flying in
recent years, but is now put to practical use by pilots in getting
away from hostile machines, for when a man is spinning, it is almost
impossible to hit him, and the man making the attack invariably thinks
his enemy is going down to certain death in the spin.

This is all right when a man is over his own territory, because he can
right his machine and come out of it; but if it happens over German
territory, the Huns would only follow him down, and when he came out of
the spin they would be above him, having all the advantage, and would
shoot him down with ease.

It is a good way of getting down into a cloud, and is used very often
by both sides, but it requires skill and courage by the pilot making it
if he ever expects to come out alive.

A spin being made by a pilot intentionally looks exactly like a spin
that is made by a machine actually being shot down, so one never knows
whether it is forced or intentional until the pilot either rights his
machine and comes out of it or crashes to the ground.

Another dive similar to this one is known as just the plain "dive."
Assume, for instance, that a pilot flying at a height of several
thousand feet is shot, loses control of his machine, and the nose of the
plane starts down with the motor full on. He is going at a tremendous
speed and in many instances is going so straight and swiftly that the
speed is too great for the machine, because it was never constructed
to withstand the enormous pressure forced against the wings, and they
consequently crumple up.

If, too, in an effort to straighten the machine, the elevators should
become affected, as often happens in trying to bring a machine out of
a dive, the strain is again too great on the wings, and there is the
same disastrous result. Oftentimes, when the petrol-tank is punctured by
a tracer-bullet from another machine in the air, the plane that is hit
catches on fire and either gets into a spin or a straight dive and heads
for the earth, hundreds of miles an hour, a mass of flame, looking like
a brilliant comet in the sky.

The spinning nose dive is used to greater advantage by the Germans than
by our own pilots, for the reason that when a fight gets too hot for the
German he will put his machine in a spin, and as the chances are nine
out of ten that we are fighting over German territory, he simply spins
down out of our range, straightens out before he reaches the ground, and
goes on home to his aerodrome. It is useless to follow him down inside
the German lines, for you would in all probability be shot down before
you could attain sufficient altitude to cross the line again.

It often happens that a pilot will be chasing another machine when
suddenly he sees it start to spin. Perhaps they are fifteen or eighteen
thousand feet in the air, and the hostile machine spins down for
thousands of feet. He thinks he has hit the other machine and goes home
happy that he has brought down another Hun. He reports the occurrence to
the squadron, telling how he shot down his enemy; but when the rest of
the squadron come in with their report, or some artillery observation
balloon sends in a report, it develops that when a few hundred feet from
the ground the supposed dead man in the spin has come out of the spin
and gone merrily on his way for his own aerodrome.



III

CAPTURED BY THE HUNS


I shall not easily forget the 17th of August, 1917. I killed two Huns in
a double-seated machine in the morning, another in the evening, and then
I was captured myself. I may have spent more eventful days in my life,
but I can't recall any just now.

That morning, in crossing the line on early morning patrol, I noticed
two German balloons. I decided that as soon as my patrol was over I
would go off on my own hook and see what a German balloon looked like at
close quarters.

These observation balloons are used by both sides in conjunction with
the artillery. A man sits up in the balloon with a wireless apparatus
and directs the firing of the guns. From his point of vantage he can
follow the work of his own artillery with a remarkable degree of
accuracy and at the same time he can observe the enemy's movements and
report them.

The Germans are very good at this work and they use a great number of
these balloons. It was considered a very important part of our work to
keep them out of the sky.

There are two ways of going after a balloon in a machine. One of them is
to cross the lines at a low altitude, flying so near the ground that the
man with the anti-aircraft gun can't bother you. You fly along until you
get to the level of the balloon, and if, in the mean time, they have not
drawn the balloon down, you open fire on it and the bullets you use will
set it on fire if they land.

The other way is to fly over where you know the balloons to be, put your
machine in a spin so that they can't hit you, get above them, spin over
the balloon, and then open fire. In going back over the line you cross
at a few hundred feet.

This is one of the hardest jobs in the service. There is less danger in
attacking an enemy's aircraft.

Nevertheless, I had made up my mind either to get those balloons or
make them descend, and I only hoped that they would stay on the job
until I had a chance at them.

When our two hours' duty was up, therefore, I dropped out of the
formation as we crossed the lines and turned back again.

I was at a height of fifteen thousand feet, considerably higher than
the balloons. Shutting my motor off, I dropped down through the clouds,
thinking to find the balloons at about five or six miles behind the
German lines.

Just as I came out of the cloud-banks I saw below me, about a thousand
feet, a two-seater hostile machine doing artillery observation and
directing the German guns. This was at a point about four miles behind
the German lines.

Evidently the German artillery saw me and put out ground signals to
attract the Hun machine's attention, for I saw the observer quit his
work and grab his gun, while the pilot stuck the nose of his machine
straight down.

But they were too late to escape me. I was diving toward them at a speed
of probably two hundred miles an hour, shooting all the time as fast as
possible. Their only chance lay in the possibility that the force of my
dive might break my wings. I knew my danger in that direction, but as
soon as I came out of my dive the Huns would have their chance to get
me, and I knew I had to get them first and take a chance on my wings
holding out.

Fortunately, some of my first bullets found their mark and I was able to
come out of my dive at about four thousand feet. They never came out of
theirs!

But right then came the hottest situation in the air I had experienced
up to that time. The depth of my dive had brought me within reach of the
machine-guns from the ground and they also put a "barrage" around me of
shrapnel from anti-aircraft guns, and I had an opportunity to "ride the
barrage," as they call it in the R. F. C. To make the situation more
interesting, they began shooting "flaming onions" at me.

"Flaming onions" are rockets shot from a rocket-gun. They are used to
hit a machine when it is flying low and they are effective up to about
five thousand feet. Sometimes they are shot up one after another in
strings of about eight, and they are one of the hardest things to go
through. If they hit the machine it is bound to catch fire and then the
jig is up.

All the time, too, I was being attacked by "Archie"--the anti-aircraft
fire. I escaped the machine-guns and the "flaming onions," but "Archie"
got me four or five times. Every time a bullet plugged me, or rather my
machine, it made a loud bang, on account of the tension on the material
covering the wings.

None of their shots hurt me until I was about a mile from our lines,
and then they hit my motor. Fortunately I still had altitude enough
to drift on to our own side of the lines, for my motor was completely
out of commission. They just raised the dickens with me all the time I
was descending, and I began to think I would strike the ground before
crossing the line, but there was a slight wind in my favor and it
carried me two miles behind our lines. There the balloons I had gone out
to get had the satisfaction of "pin-pointing" me. Through the directions
which they were able to give to their artillery, they commenced shelling
my machine where it lay.

Their particular work is to direct the fire of their artillery, and they
are used just as the artillery observation airplanes are. Usually two
men are stationed in each balloon. They ascend to a height of several
thousand feet about five miles behind their own lines and are equipped
with wireless and signaling apparatus. They watch the burst of their own
artillery, check up the position, get the range, and direct the next
shot.

When conditions are favorable they are able to direct the shots so
accurately that it is a simple matter to destroy the object of their
attack. It was such a balloon as this that got my position, marked
me out, called for an artillery shot, and they commenced shelling my
machine where it lay. If I had got the two balloons instead of the
airplane, I probably would not have lost my machine, for he would in all
probability have gone on home and not bothered about getting my range
and causing the destruction of my machine.

I landed in a part of the country that was literally covered with
shell-holes. Fortunately my machine was not badly damaged by the forced
landing. I leisurely got out, walked around it to see what the damage
was, and concluded that it could be easily repaired. In fact, I thought,
if I could find a space long enough between shell-holes to get a start
before leaving the ground, that I would be able to fly on from there.

I was still examining my plane and considering the matter of a few
slight repairs, without any particular thought for my own safety in that
unprotected spot, when a shell came whizzing through the air, knocked me
to the ground, and landed a few feet away. It had no sooner struck than
I made a run for cover and crawled into a shell-hole. I would have liked
to have got farther away, but I didn't know where the next shell would
burst, and I thought I was fairly safe there, so I squatted down and let
them blaze away.

The only damage I suffered was from the mud which splattered up in my
face and over my clothes. That was my introduction to a shell-hole, and
I resolved right there that the infantry could have all the shell-hole
fighting they wanted, but it did not appeal to me, though they live in
them through many a long night and I had only sought shelter there for
a few minutes.

After the Germans had completely demolished my machine and ceased firing
I waited there a short time, fearing perhaps they might send over a
lucky shot, hoping to get me, after all. But evidently they concluded
enough shells had been wasted on one man. I crawled out cautiously,
shook the mud off, and looked over in the direction where my machine
had once been. There wasn't enough left for a decent souvenir, but
nevertheless I got a few, such as they were, and, readily observing that
nothing could be done with what was left, I made my way back to infantry
headquarters, where I was able to telephone in a report.

A little later one of our automobiles came out after me and took me back
to our aerodrome. Most of my squadron thought I was lost beyond a doubt
and never expected to see me again; but my friend, Paul Raney, had held
out that I was all right, and, as I was afterward told, "Don't send for
another pilot; that Irishman will be back if he has to walk." And he
knew that the only thing that kept me from walking was the fact that
our own automobile had been sent out to bring me home.

I had lots to think about that day, and I had learned many things; one
was not to have too much confidence in my own ability. One of the men in
the squadron told me that I had better not take those chances; that it
was going to be a long war and I would have plenty of opportunities to
be killed without deliberately "wishing them on" myself. Later I was to
learn the truth of his statement.

That night my "flight"--each squadron is divided into three flights
consisting of six men each--got ready to go out again. As I started to
put on my tunic I noticed that I was not marked up for duty as usual.

I asked the commanding officer, a major, what the reason for that was,
and he replied that he thought I had done enough for one day. However,
I knew that if I did not go, some one else from another "flight" would
have to take my place, and I insisted upon going up with my patrol as
usual, and the major reluctantly consented. Had he known what was in
store for me I am sure he wouldn't have changed his mind so readily.

As it was, we had only five machines for this patrol, anyway, because
as we crossed the lines one of them had to drop out on account of motor
trouble. Our patrol was up at 8 P.M., and up to within ten minutes of
that hour it had been entirely uneventful.

At 7.50 P.M., however, while we were flying at a height of sixteen
thousand feet, we observed three other English machines which were about
three thousand feet below us pick a fight with nine Hun machines.

I knew right then that we were in for it, because I could see over
toward the ocean a whole flock of Hun machines which evidently had
escaped the attention of our scrappy comrades below us.

So we dove down on those nine Huns.

At first the fight was fairly even. There were eight of us to nine of
them. But soon the other machines which I had seen in the distance, and
which were flying even higher than we were, arrived on the scene, and
when they, in turn, dove down on us, there was just twenty of them to
our eight!

[Illustration: THE AEROPLANE WHICH LIEUTENANT O'BRIEN USED IN HIS LAST
BATTLE WITH THE HUNS WHEN HE WAS BROUGHT DOWN AND MADE PRISONER]

Four of them singled me out. I was diving and they dove right down
after me, shooting as they came. Their tracer-bullets were coming closer
to me every moment. These tracer-bullets are balls of fire which enable
the shooter to follow the course his bullets are taking and to correct
his aim accordingly. They do no more harm to a pilot if he is hit than
an ordinary bullet, but if they hit the petrol-tank, good night! When
a machine catches fire in flight there is no way of putting it out. It
takes less than a minute for the fabric to burn off the wings, and then
the machine drops like an arrow, leaving a trail of smoke like a comet.

As their tracer-bullets came closer and closer to me I realized that my
chances of escape were nil. Their very next shot, I felt, must hit me.

Once, some days before, when I was flying over the line I had watched a
fight above me. A German machine was set on fire and dove down through
our formation in flame on its way to the ground. The Hun was diving at
such a sharp angle that both his wings came off, and as he passed within
a few hundred feet of me I saw the look of horror upon his face.

Now, when I expected any moment to suffer a similar fate, I could not
help thinking of that poor Hun's last look of agony.

I realized that my only chance lay in making an Immermann turn. This
maneuver was invented by a German--one of the greatest who ever flew
and who was killed in action some time ago. This turn, which I made
successfully, brought one of their machines right in front of me, and as
he sailed along barely ten yards away I had "the drop" on him, and he
knew it.

His white face and startled eyes I can still see. He knew beyond
question that his last moment had come, because his position prevented
his taking aim at me, while my gun pointed straight at him. My first
tracer-bullet passed within a yard of his head, the second looked as if
it hit his shoulder, the third struck him in the neck, and then I let
him have the whole works and he went down in a spinning nose dive.

All this time the three other Hun machines were shooting away at me. I
could hear the bullets striking my machine one after another. I hadn't
the slightest idea that I could ever beat off those three Huns, but
there was nothing for me to do but fight, and my hands were full.

In fighting, your machine is dropping, dropping all the time. I glanced
at my instruments and my altitude was between eight and nine thousand
feet. While I was still looking at the instruments the whole blamed
works disappeared. A burst of bullets went into the instrument board and
blew it to smithereens, another bullet went through my upper lip, came
out of the roof of my mouth and lodged in my throat, and the next thing
I knew was when I came to in a German hospital the following morning at
five o'clock, German time.

I was a prisoner of war!



IV

CLIPPED WINGS


The hospital in which I found myself on the morning after my capture
was a private house made of brick, very low and dirty, and not at all
adapted for use as a hospital. It had evidently been used but a few
days, on account of the big push that was taking place at that time of
the year, and in all probability would be abandoned as soon as they had
found a better place.

In all, the house contained four rooms and a stable, which was by far
the largest of all. Although I never looked into this "wing" of the
hospital, I was told that it, too, was filled with patients, lying on
beds of straw around on the ground. I do not know whether they, too,
were officers or privates.

The room in which I found myself contained eight beds, three of which
were occupied by wounded German officers. The other rooms, I imagined,
had about the same number of beds as mine. There were no Red Cross
nurses in attendance, just orderlies, for this was only an emergency
hospital and too near the firing-line for nurses. The orderlies were not
old men nor very young boys, as I expected to find, but young men in the
prime of life, who evidently had been medical students. One or two of
them, I discovered, were able to speak English, but for some reason they
would not talk. Perhaps they were forbidden by the officer in charge to
do so.

In addition to the bullet wound in my mouth, I had a swelling from my
forehead to the back of my head almost as big as my shoe--and that is
saying considerable. I couldn't move an inch without suffering intense
pain, and when the doctor told me that I had no bones broken I wondered
how a fellow would feel who had.

German officers visited me that morning and told me that my machine
went down in a spinning nose dive from a height of between eight and
nine thousand feet, and they had the surprise of their lives when they
discovered that I had not been dashed to pieces. They had to cut me out
of my machine, which was riddled with shots and shattered to bits.

A German doctor removed the bullet from my throat, and the first thing
he said to me when I came to was, "You are an American!"

There was no use denying it, because the metal identification disk on my
wrist bore the inscription, "Pat O'Brien, U. S. A. Royal Flying Corps."

Although I was suffering intense agony, the doctor, who spoke perfect
English, insisted upon conversing with me.

"You may be all right as a sportsman," he declared, "but you are a
damned murderer just the same for being here. You Americans who got into
this thing before America came into the war are no better than common
murderers and you ought to be treated the same way!"

The wound in my mouth made it impossible for me to answer him, and I was
suffering too much pain to be hurt very much by anything he could say.

[Illustration: THE IDENTIFICATION DISK WORN BY LIEUTENANT O'BRIEN
WHEN HE WAS CAPTURED BY THE HUNS. IT REVEALED TO THEM THAT HE WAS
AN AMERICAN]

He asked me if I would like an apple! I could just as easily have eaten
a brick.

When he got no answers out of me he walked away disgustedly.

"You don't have to worry any more," he declared, as a parting shot; "for
you the war is over!"

I was given a little broth later in the day, and as I began to collect
my thoughts I wondered what had happened to my comrades in the battle
which had resulted so disastrously to me. As I began to realize my
plight I worried less about my physical condition than the fact that,
as the doctor had pointed out, for me the war was practically over. I
had been in it but a short time, and now I would be a prisoner for the
duration of the war!

The next day some German flying officers visited me, and I must say
they treated me with great consideration. They told me of the man I had
brought down. They said he was a Bavarian and a fairly good pilot. They
gave me his hat as a souvenir and complimented me on the fight I had put
up.

My helmet, which was of soft leather, was split from front to back by
a bullet from a machine-gun and they examined it with great interest.
When they brought me my uniform I found that the star of my rank which
had been on my right shoulder-strap had been shot off clean. The one on
my left shoulder-strap they asked me for as a souvenir, as also my R.
F. C. badges, which I gave them. They allowed me to keep my "wings,"
which I wore on my left breast, because they were aware that that is the
proudest possession of a British flying officer.

I think I am right in saying that the only chivalry in this war on the
German side of the trenches has been displayed by the officers of the
German Flying Corps, which comprises the pick of Germany. They pointed
out to me that I and my comrades were fighting purely for the love of
it, whereas they were fighting in defense of their country, but still,
they said, they admired us for our sportsmanship. I had a notion to ask
them if dropping bombs on London and killing so many innocent people was
in defense of their country, but I was in no position or condition to
pick a quarrel at that time.

That same day a German officer was brought into the hospital and put in
the bunk next to mine. Of course, I casually looked at him, but did not
pay any particular attention to him at that time. He lay there for three
or four hours before I did take a real good look at him. I was positive
that he could not speak English, and naturally I did not say anything to
him.

Once when I looked over in his direction his eyes were on me and to my
surprise he said, very sarcastically, "What the hell are you looking
at?" and then smiled. At this time I was just beginning to say a few
words, my wound having made talking difficult, but I said enough to
let him know what I was doing there and how I happened to be there.
Evidently he had heard my story from some of the others, though, because
he said it was too bad I had not broken my neck; that he did not have
much sympathy with the Flying Corps, anyway. He asked me what part of
America I came from, and I told him "California."

After a few more questions he learned that I hailed from San Francisco,
and then added to my distress by saying, "How would you like to have a
good juicy steak right out of the Hofbräu?" Naturally, I told him it
would "hit the spot," but I hardly thought my mouth was in shape just
then to eat it. I immediately asked, of course, what he knew about the
Hofbräu, and he replied, "I was connected with the place a good many
years, and I ought to know all about it."

After that this German officer and I became rather chummy--that is, as
far as I could be chummy with an enemy, and we whiled away a good many
long hours talking about the days we had spent in San Francisco, and
frequently in the conversation one of us would mention some prominent
Californian, or some little incident occurring there, with which we were
both familiar.

He told me when war was declared he was, of course, intensely patriotic
and thought the only thing for him to do was to go back and aid in the
defense of his country. He found that he could not go directly from San
Francisco because the water was too well guarded by the English, so he
boarded a boat for South America. There he obtained a forged passport
and in the guise of a Montevidean took passage for New York and from
there to England.

He passed through England without any difficulty on his forged passport,
but concluded not to risk going to Holland, for fear of exciting too
much suspicion, so went down through the Strait of Gibraltar to Italy,
which was neutral at that time, up to Austria, and thence to Germany.
He said when they put in at Gibraltar, after leaving England, there
were two suspects taken off the ship, men that he was sure were neutral
subjects, but much to his relief his own passport and credentials were
examined and passed O. K.

The Hun spoke of his voyage from America to England as being
exceptionally pleasant, and said he had had a fine time because he
associated with the English passengers on board, his fluent English
readily admitting him to several spirited arguments on the subject of
the war which he keenly enjoyed.

One little incident he related revealed the remarkable tact which our
enemy displayed in his associations at sea, which no doubt resulted
advantageously for him. As he expressed it, he "made a hit" one evening
when the crowd had assembled for a little music by suggesting that they
sing "God Save the King." Thereafter his popularity was assured and the
desired effect accomplished, for very soon a French officer came up to
him and said, "It's too bad that England and ourselves haven't men in
our army like you." It was too bad, he agreed, in telling me about it,
because he was confident he could have done a whole lot more for Germany
if he had been in the English army.

In spite of his apparent loyalty, however, the man didn't seem very
enthusiastic over the war and frankly admitted one day that the old
political battles waged in California were much more to his liking than
the battles he had gone through over here. On second thought he laughed
as though it were a good joke, but he evidently intended me to infer
that he had taken a keen interest in politics in San Francisco.

When my "chummy enemy" first started his conversation with me the German
doctor in charge reprimanded him for talking to me, but he paid no
attention to the doctor, showing that some real Americanism had soaked
into his system while he had been in the U. S. A.

I asked him one day what he thought the German people would do after
the war; if he thought they would make Germany a republic, and, much to
my surprise, he said, very bitterly, "If I had my way about it, I would
make her a republic to-day and hang the damned Kaiser in the bargain."
And yet he was considered an excellent soldier. I concluded, however,
that he must have been a German Socialist, though he never told me so.

On one occasion I asked him for his name, but he said that I would
probably never see him again and it didn't matter what his name was. I
did not know whether he meant that the Germans would starve me out or
just what was on his mind, for at that time I am sure he did not figure
on dying. The first two or three days I was in the hospital I thought
surely he would be up and gone long before I was, but blood poisoning
set in about that time and just a few hours before I left for Courtrai
he died.

One of those days, while my wound was still very troublesome, I was
given an apple; whether it was just to torment me, knowing that I could
not eat it, or whether for some other reason, I do not know. But,
anyway, a German flying officer there had several in his pockets and
gave me a nice one. Of course, there was no chance of my eating it, so
when the officer had gone and I discovered this San Francisco fellow
looking at it rather longingly I picked it up, intending to toss it over
to him. But he shook his head and said, "If this was San Francisco, I
would take it, but I cannot take it from you here." I was never able to
understand just why he refused the apple, for he was usually sociable
and a good fellow to talk to, but apparently he could not forget that
I was his enemy. However, that did not stop one of the orderlies from
eating the apple.

One practice about the hospital which impressed me particularly was that
if a German soldier did not stand much chance of recovering sufficiently
to take his place again in the war, the doctors did not exert themselves
to see that he got well. But if a man had a fairly good chance of
recovering and they thought he might be of some further use, everything
that medical skill could possibly do was done for him. I don't know
whether this was done under orders or whether the doctors just followed
their own inclinations in such cases.

My teeth had been badly jarred up from the shot, and I hoped that I
might have a chance to have them fixed when I reached Courtrai, the
prison where I was to be taken. So I asked the doctor if it would be
possible for me to have this work done there, but he very curtly told
me that though there were several dentists at Courtrai, they were
busy enough fixing the teeth of their own men without bothering about
mine. He also added that I would not have to worry about my teeth;
that I wouldn't be getting so much food that they would be put out of
commission by working overtime. I wanted to tell him that from the way
things looked he would not be wearing his out very soon, either.

My condition improved during the next two days and on the fourth day of
my captivity I was well enough to write a brief message to my squadron
reporting that I was a prisoner of war and "feeling fine," although,
as a matter of fact, I was never so depressed in my life. I realized,
however, that if the message reached my comrades, it would be relayed
to my mother in Momence, Illinois, and I did not want to worry her more
than was absolutely necessary. It was enough for her to know that I was
a prisoner. She did not have to know that I was wounded.

I had hopes that my message would be carried over the lines and dropped
by one of the German flying officers. That is a courtesy which is
usually practised on both sides. I recalled how patiently we had waited
in our aerodrome for news of our men who had failed to return, and I
could picture my squadron speculating on my fate.

That is one of the saddest things connected with service in the R. F.
C. You don't care much what happens to you, but the constant casualties
among your friends is very depressing.

You go out with your "flight" and get into a muss. You get scattered and
when your formation is broken up you finally wing your way home alone.

Perhaps you are the first to land. Soon another machine shows in the
sky, then another, and you patiently wait for the rest to appear.
Within an hour, perhaps, all have shown up save one, and you begin to
speculate and wonder what has happened to him.

Has he lost his way? Has he landed at some other aerodrome? Did the Huns
get him?

When darkness comes you realize that, at any rate, he won't be back
that night, and you hope for a telephone-call from him telling of his
whereabouts.

If the night passes without sign or word from him he is reported as
missing, and then you watch for his casualty to appear in the war-office
lists.

One day, perhaps a month later, a message is dropped over the line by
the German Flying Corps with a list of pilots captured or killed by the
Huns, and then, for the first time, you know definitely why it was your
comrade failed to return the day he last went over the line with his
squadron.

I was still musing over this melancholy phase of the scout's life when
an orderly told me there was a beautiful battle going on in the air, and
he volunteered to help me outside the hospital that I might witness it,
and I readily accepted his assistance.

That afternoon I saw one of the gamest fights I ever expect to witness.

There were six of our machines against perhaps sixteen Huns. From the
type of the British machines I knew that they might possibly be from my
own aerodrome. Two of our machines had been apparently picked out by six
of the Huns and were bearing the brunt of the fight. The contest seemed
to me to be so unequal that victory for our men was hardly to be thought
of, and yet at one time they so completely outmaneuvered the Huns that
I thought their superior skill might save the day for them, despite the
fact that they were so hopelessly outnumbered. One thing I was sure of:
they would never give in.

Of course it would have been a comparatively simple matter for our men,
when they saw how things were going against them, to have turned their
noses down, landed behind the German lines, and given themselves up as
prisoners, but that is not the way of the R. F. C.

A battle of this kind seldom lasts many minutes, although every second
seems like an hour to those who participate in it and even onlookers
suffer more thrills in the course of the struggle than they would
ordinarily experience in a lifetime. It is apparent even to a novice
that the loser's fate is death.

Of course the Germans around the hospital were all watching and rooting
for their comrades, but the English, too, had one sympathizer in that
group who made no effort to stifle his admiration for the bravery his
comrades were displaying.

The end came suddenly. Four machines crashed to earth almost
simultaneously. It was an even break--two of theirs and two of ours. The
others apparently returned to their respective lines.

The wound in my mouth was bothering me considerably, but by means of a
pencil and paper I requested one of the German officers to find out for
me who the English officers were who had been shot down.

A little later he returned and handed me a photograph taken from the
body of one of the victims. It was a picture of Paul Raney, of Toronto,
and myself, taken together! Poor Raney! He was the best friend I had and
one of the best and gamest men who ever fought in France!

It was he, I learned long after, who, when I was reported missing, had
checked over all my belongings and sent them back to England with a
signed memorandum--which is now in my possession. Poor fellow, he little
realized then that but a day or two later he would be engaged in his
last heroic battle, with me a helpless onlooker!

The same German officer who brought me the photograph also drew a map
for me of the exact spot where Raney was buried in Flanders. I guarded
it carefully all through my subsequent adventures and finally turned it
over to his father and mother when I visited them in Toronto to perform
the hardest and saddest duty I have ever been called upon to execute--to
confirm to them in person the tidings of poor Paul's death.

The other British pilot who fell was also from my squadron and a man I
knew well--Lieutenant Keith, of Australia. I had given him a picture of
myself only a few hours before I started on my own disastrous flight.
He was one of the star pilots of our squadron and had been in many a
desperate battle before, but this time the odds were too great for
him. He put up a wonderful fight and he gave as much as he took.

[Illustration: LIEUT. PAUL H. RANEY OF TORONTO AND LIEUT. PAT O'BRIEN

(Raney was killed in action before the eyes of O'Brien, who was a
prisoner of war. This picture, found on the body of Raney when he fell
behind the German lines, was handed to O'Brien to identify the victim.)]

The next two days passed without incident and I was then taken to the
Intelligence Department of the German Flying Corps, which was located
about an hour from the hospital. There I was kept two days, during which
time they put a thousand and one questions to me. While I was there I
turned over to them the message I had written in the hospital and asked
them to have one of their fliers drop it on our side of the line.

They asked me where I would like it dropped, thinking perhaps I would
give my aerodrome away, but when I smiled and shook my head they did not
insist upon an answer.

"I'll drop it over ----," declared one of them, naming my aerodrome,
which revealed to me that their flying corps is as efficient as other
branches of the service in the matter of obtaining valuable information.

And right here I want to say that the more I came to know of the enemy
the more keenly I realized what a difficult task we're going to have
to lick him. In all my subsequent experience the fact that there is a
heap of fight left in the Huns still was thoroughly brought home to me.
We shall win the war eventually, if we don't slow up too soon in the
mistaken idea that the Huns are ready to lie down.

The flying officers who questioned me were extremely anxious to find out
all they could about the part America is going to play in the war, but
they evidently came to the conclusion that America hadn't taken me very
deeply into her confidence, judging from the information they got, or
failed to get, from me.

At any rate, they gave me up as a bad job and I was ordered to the
officers' prison at Courtrai, Belgium.



V

THE PRISON-CAMP AT COURTRAI


From the Intelligence Department I was conveyed to the officers'
prison-camp at Courtrai in an automobile. It was about an hour's ride.
My escort was one of the most famous flyers in the world, barring none.
He was later killed in action, but I was told by an English airman who
witnessed his last combat that he fought a game battle and died a hero's
death.

The prison, which had evidently been a civil prison of some kind before
the war, was located right in the heart of Courtrai. The first building
we approached was large, and in front of the archway, which formed the
main entrance, was a sentry box. Here we were challenged by the sentry,
who knocked on the door; the guard turned the key in the lock and I was
admitted. We passed through the archway and directly into a courtyard,
on which faced all of the prison buildings, the windows, of course,
being heavily barred.

After I had given my pedigree--my name, age, address, etc.--I was shown
to a cell with bars on the windows overlooking this courtyard. I was
promptly told that at night we were to occupy these rooms, but I had
already surveyed the surroundings, taken account of the number of guards
and the locked door outside, and concluded that my chances of getting
away from some other place could be no worse than in that particular
cell.

As I had no hat, my helmet being the only thing I wore over the lines,
I was compelled either to go bareheaded or wear the red cap of the
Bavarian whom I had shot down on that memorable day. It can be imagined
how I looked attired in a British uniform and a bright red cap. Wherever
I was taken, my outfit aroused considerable curiosity among the Belgians
and German soldiers.

When I arrived at prison that day I still wore this cap, and as I was
taken into the courtyard, my overcoat covering my uniform, all that the
British officers who happened to be sunning themselves in the courtyard
could see was the red cap. They afterward told me they wondered who the
"big Hun" was with the bandage on his mouth. This cap I managed to keep
with me, but was never allowed to wear it on the walks we took. I either
went bareheaded or borrowed a cap from some other prisoner.

At certain hours each day the prisoners were allowed to mingle in the
courtyard, and on the first occasion of this kind I found that there
were eleven officers imprisoned there besides myself.

They had here interpreters who could speak all languages. One of them
was a mere boy who had been born in Jersey City, New Jersey, and had
spent all his life in America until the beginning of 1914. Then he moved
with his folks to Germany, and when he became of military age the Huns
forced him into the army. I think if the truth were known he would much
rather have been fighting for America than against her.

I found that most of the prisoners remained at Courtrai only two or
three days. From there they were invariably taken to prisons in the
interior of Germany.

Whether it was because I was an American or because I was a flier, I
don't know, but this rule was not followed in my case. I remained there
two weeks.

During that period, Courtrai was constantly bombed by our airmen.
Not a single day or night passed without one or more air raids. In
the two weeks I was there I counted twenty-one of them. The town
suffered a great deal of damage. Evidently our people were aware
that the Germans had a lot of troops concentrated in this town, and,
besides, the headquarters staff was stationed there. The Kaiser himself
visited Courtrai while I was in the prison, I was told by one of the
interpreters, but he didn't call on me and, for obvious reasons, I
couldn't call on him.

The courtyard was not a very popular place during air raids. Several
times when our airmen raided that section in the daytime I went out
and watched the machines and the shrapnel bursting all around; but the
Germans did not crowd out there, for their own anti-aircraft guns were
hammering away to keep our planes as high in the sky as possible, and
shells were likely to fall in the prison yard any moment. Of course, I
watched these battles at my own risk.

Many nights from my prison window I watched with peculiar interest the
air raids carried on, and it was a wonderful sight with the German
searchlights playing on the sky, the "flaming onions" fired high and the
burst of the anti-aircraft guns, but rather an uncomfortable sensation
when I realized that perhaps the very next minute a bomb might be
dropped on the building in which I was a prisoner. But perhaps all of
this was better than no excitement at all, for prison life soon became
very monotonous.

One of the hardest things I had to endure throughout the two weeks I
spent there was the sight of the Hun machines flying over Courtrai,
knowing that perhaps I never would have another chance to fly, and I
used to sit by the hour watching the German machines maneuvering over
the prison, as they had an aerodrome not far away, and every afternoon
the students--I took them for students because their flying was very
poor--appeared over the town.

One certain Hun seemed to find particular satisfaction in flying right
down over the prison nightly, for my special discomfort and benefit it
seemed, as if he knew an airman imprisoned there was vainly longing to
try his wings again over their lines. But I used to console myself by
saying, "Never mind, old boy; there was never a bird whose wings could
not be clipped if they got him just right, and your turn will come some
day."

One night there was an exceptionally heavy air raid going on. A number
of German officers came into my room, and they all seemed very much
frightened. I jokingly remarked that it would be fine if our airmen hit
the old prison--the percentage would be very satisfactory--one English
officer and about ten German ones. They didn't seem to appreciate the
joke, however, and, indeed, they were apparently too much alarmed at
what was going on overhead to laugh even at their own jokes. Although
these night raids seemed to take all the starch out of the Germans while
they were going on, the officers were usually as brave as lions the
next day and spoke contemptuously of the raid of the night before.

I saw thousands of soldiers in Courtrai, and although they did not
impress me as having very good or abundant food, they were fairly well
clothed. I do not mean to imply that conditions pointed to an early end
of the war. On the contrary, from what I was able to observe on that
point, unless the Huns have an absolute crop failure, they can, in my
opinion, go on for years! The idea of our being able to win the war by
starving them out strikes me as ridiculous. This is a war that must be
won by _fighting_, and the sooner we realize that fact the sooner it
will be over.

Rising-hour in the prison was seven o'clock. Breakfast came at eight.
This consisted of a cup of coffee and nothing else. If the prisoner had
the foresight to save some bread from the previous day, he had bread for
breakfast also, but that never happened in my case. Sometimes we had
two cups of coffee--that is, near-coffee. It was really chicory or some
cereal preparation. We had no milk or sugar.

For lunch they gave us boiled sugar-beets or some other vegetable,
and once in a while some kind of pickled meat, but that happened very
seldom. We also received a third of a loaf of bread--war-bread. This
war-bread was as heavy as a brick, black, and sour. It was supposed to
last us from noon one day to noon the next. Except for some soup, this
was the whole lunch menu.

Dinner came at 5.30 P.M., when we sometimes had a little jam made out
of sugar-beets, and a preparation called tea which you had to shake
vigorously or it settled in the bottom of the cup and then about all
you had was hot water. This "tea" was a sad blow to the Englishmen. If
it hadn't been called tea, they wouldn't have felt so badly about it,
perhaps, but it was adding insult to injury to call that stuff "tea"
which, with them, is almost a national institution.

Sometimes with this meal they gave us butter instead of jam, and once in
a while we had some kind of canned meat.

This comprised the usual run of eatables for the day--I can eat more
than that for breakfast! In the days that were to come, however, I was
to fare considerably worse.

[Illustration: MAILING-CARD SENT BY GERMAN GOVERNMENT TO PAT O'BRIEN'S
SISTER, MRS. CLARA CLEGG OF MOMENCE, ILLINOIS]

[Illustration: OBVERSE SIDE OF CARD SHOWN ABOVE]

We were allowed to send out and buy a few things, but as most of the
prisoners were without funds, this was but an empty privilege. Once I
took advantage of the privilege to send my shoes to a Belgian shoemaker
to be half-soled. They charged me twenty marks--five dollars!

Once in a while a Belgian Ladies' Relief Society visited the prison
and brought us handkerchiefs, American soap--which sells at about one
dollar and fifty cents a bar in Belgium--tooth-brushes, and other
little articles, all of which were American-made, but whether they were
supplied by the American Relief Committee or not I don't know. At any
rate, these gifts were mighty useful and were very much appreciated.

One day I offered a button off my uniform to one of these Belgian ladies
as a souvenir, but a German guard saw me and I was never allowed to go
near the visitors afterward.

The sanitary conditions in this prison-camp were excellent as a general
proposition. One night, however, I discovered that I had been captured
by "cooties."

This was a novel experience to me and one that I would have been very
willing to have missed, because in the Flying Corps our aerodromes are
a number of miles back of the lines and we have good billets, and our
acquaintance with such things as "cooties" and other unwelcome visitors
is very limited.

When I discovered my condition I made a holler and roused the guard, and
right then I got another example of German efficiency.

This guard seemed to be even more perturbed about my complaint than I
was myself, evidently fearing that he would be blamed for my condition.

The commandant was summoned, and I could see that he was very angry.
Some one undoubtedly got a severe reprimand for it.

I was taken out of my cell by a guard with a rifle and conducted about a
quarter of a mile from the prison to an old factory building which had
been converted into an elaborate fumigating plant. There I was given a
pickle bath in some kind of solution, and while I was absorbing it my
clothes, bedclothes, and whatever else had been in my cell were being
put through another fumigating process.

While I was waiting for my things to dry--it took, perhaps, half an
hour--I had a chance to observe about one hundred other victims of
"cooties"--German soldiers who had become infested in the trenches. We
were all nude, of course, but apparently it was not difficult for them
to recognize me as a foreigner even without my uniform on, for none of
them made any attempt to talk to me, although they all were very busy
talking _about_ me. I could not understand what they were saying, but I
know I was the butt of most of their jokes, and they made no effort to
conceal the fact that I was the subject of their conversation.

When I got back to my cell I found that it had been thoroughly
fumigated, and from that time on I had no further trouble with "cooties"
or other visitors of the same kind.

As we were not allowed to write anything but prison cards, writing
was out of the question; and as we had no reading-matter to speak
of, reading was nil. We had nothing to do to pass away the time, so
consequently cards became our only diversion, for we did, fortunately,
have some of those.

There wasn't very much money, as a rule, in circulation, and I think for
once in my life I held most of that, not due to any particular ability
on my part in the game, but I happened to have several hundred francs in
my pockets when shot down. But we held a lottery there once a day, and I
don't believe there was ever another lottery held that was watched with
quite such intense interest as that. The drawing was always held the day
before the prize was to be awarded, so we always knew the day before who
was the lucky man. There was as much speculation as to who would win
the prize as if it had been the finest treasure in the world. The great
prize was one-third of a loaf of bread.

Through some arrangement which I never quite figured out, it happened
that among the eight or ten officers who were there with me there was
always one-third of a loaf of bread over. There was just one way of
getting that bread, and that was to draw lots. Consequently that was
what started the lottery. I believe if a man had ever been inclined to
cheat he would have been sorely tempted in this instance, but the game
was played absolutely square, and if a man had been caught cheating, the
chances are that he would have been shunned by the rest of the officers
as long as he was in prison. I was fortunate enough to win the prize
twice.

One man--I think he was the smallest eater in the camp--won it on three
successive days, but it was well for him that his luck deserted him on
the fourth day, for he probably would have been handled rather roughly
by the rest of the crowd, who were growing suspicious. But we handled
the drawing ourselves and knew there was nothing crooked about it, so he
was spared.

We were allowed to buy pears, and, being small and very hard, they were
used as the stakes in many a game. But the interest in these little
games was as keen as if the stakes had been piles of money instead of
two or three half-starved pears. No man was ever so reckless, however,
in all the betting, as to wager his own rations.

By the most scheming and sacrificing I ever did in my life I managed to
hoard two pieces of bread (grudgingly spared at the time from my daily
rations), but I was preparing for the day when I should escape--if I
ever should. It was not a sacrifice easily made, either, but instead of
eating bread I ate pears until I finally got one piece of bread ahead;
and when I could force myself to stick to the pear diet again I saved
the other piece from that day's allowance, and in days to come I had
cause to credit myself fully for the foresight.

Whenever a new prisoner came in and his German hosts had satisfied
themselves as to his life history and taken down all the details--that
is, all he would give them--he was immediately surrounded by his
fellow-prisoners, who were eager for any bit of news or information he
could possibly give them, and as a rule he was glad to tell us because,
if he had been in the hands of the Huns for any length of time, he had
seen very few English officers.

The conditions of this prison were bad enough when a man was in normally
good health, but it was barbarous to subject a wounded soldier to the
hardships and discomforts of the place. However, this was the fate of
a poor private we discovered there one day in terrific pain, suffering
from shrapnel in his stomach and back. All of us officers asked to have
him sent to a hospital, but the doctors curtly refused, saying it was
against orders. So the poor creature went on suffering from day to day
and was still there when I left, another victim of German cruelty.

At one time in this prison-camp there were a French marine, a French
flying officer, and two Belgian soldiers, and of the United Kingdom
one from Canada, two from England, three from Ireland, a couple from
Scotland, one from Wales, a man from South Africa, one from Algeria,
and a New-Zealander, the last being from my own squadron, a man whom
I thought had been killed, and he was equally surprised, when brought
into the prison, to find me there. In addition there were a Chinaman and
myself from the U. S. A.

It was quite a cosmopolitan group, and as one typical Irishman said,
"Sure, and we have every nation that's worth mentioning, including the
darn Germans, with us whites." Of course, this was not translated to
the Germans, nor was it even spoken in their hearing, or we probably
would not have had quite so cosmopolitan a bunch. Each man in the prison
was ready to uphold his native country in any argument that could
possibly be started, and it goes without saying that I never took a back
seat in any of them with my praise for America, with the Canadian and
Chinaman chiming in on my side. But they were friendly arguments; we
were all in the same boat and that was no place for quarreling.

Every other morning, the weather allowing, we were taken to a large
swimming-pool and were allowed to have a bath. There were two pools, one
for the German officers and one for the men. Although we were officers,
we had to use the pool occupied by the men. While we were in swimming a
German guard with a rifle across his knees sat at each comer of the pool
and watched us closely as we dressed and undressed. English interpreters
accompanied us on all of these trips, so at no time could we talk
without their knowing what was going on.

Whenever we were taken out of the prison for any purpose they always
paraded us through the most crowded streets--evidently to give the
populace an idea that they were getting lots of prisoners. The German
soldiers we passed on these occasions made no effort to hide their
smiles and sneers.

The Belgian people were apparently very curious to see us, and they used
to turn out in large numbers whenever the word was passed that we were
out. At times the German guards would strike the women and children
who crowded too close to us. One day I smiled and spoke to a pretty
Belgian girl, and when she replied a German made a run for her. Luckily
she stepped into the house before he reached her or I am afraid my
salutation would have resulted seriously for her and I would have been
powerless to have assisted her.

Whenever we passed a Belgian home or other building which had been
wrecked by bombs dropped by our airmen our guards made us stop a moment
or two while they passed sneering remarks among themselves.

One of the most interesting souvenirs I have of my imprisonment at
Courtrai is a photograph of a group of us taken in the prison courtyard.
The picture was made by one of the guards, who sold copies of it to
those of us who were able to pay his price--one mark apiece.

As we faced the camera, I suppose we all tried to look our happiest,
but the majority of us, I am afraid, were too sick at heart to raise
a smile even for this occasion. One of our Hun guards is shown in the
picture seated at the table. I am standing directly behind him, attired
in my flying tunic, which they allowed me to wear all the time I was
in prison, as is the usual custom with prisoners of war. Three of the
British officers shown in the picture, in the foreground, are clad in
"shorts."

Through all my subsequent adventures I was able to retain a print of
this interesting picture, and although when I gaze at it now it only
serves to increase my gratification at my ultimate escape, it fills me
with regret to think that my fellow-prisoners were not so fortunate. All
of them, by this time, are undoubtedly eating their hearts up in the
prison-camps of interior Germany. Poor fellows!

[Illustration: A GROUP OF PRISONERS OF WAR IN THE PRISON-CAMP AT
COURTRAI, BELGIUM

(Lieutenant O'Brien, in his R. F. C. flying-tunic, is standing in the
center behind the German guard seated at the table. This picture was
taken by one of the German guards and sold to Lieutenant O'Brien for one
mark.)]

Despite the scanty fare and the restrictions we were under in this
prison, we did manage on one occasion to arrange a regular banquet. The
planning which was necessary helped to pass the time.

At this time there were eight of us. We decided that the principal thing
we needed to make the affair a success was potatoes, and I conceived a
plan to get them. Every other afternoon they took us for a walk in the
country, and it occurred to me that it would be a comparatively simple
matter for us to pretend to be tired and sit down when we came to the
first potato-patch.

It worked out nicely. When we came to the first potato-patch that
afternoon we told our guards that we wanted to rest a bit and we were
allowed to sit down. In the course of the next five minutes each of us
managed to get a potato or two. Being Irish, I got six.

When we got back to the prison I managed to steal a handkerchief full
of sugar which, with some apples that we were allowed to purchase, we
easily converted into a sort of jam.

We now had potatoes and jam, but no bread. It happened that the Hun
who had charge of the potatoes was a great musician. It was not very
difficult to prevail upon him to play us some music, and while he went
out to get his zither I went into the bread pantry and stole a loaf of
bread.

Most of us had saved some butter from the day before and we used it to
fry our potatoes. By bribing one of the guards he bought some eggs for
us. They cost twenty-five cents apiece, but we were determined to make
this banquet a success, no matter what it cost.

The cooking was done by the prison cook, whom, of course, we had to
bribe.

When the meal was ready to serve it consisted of scrambled eggs, fried
potatoes, bread and jam, and a pitcher of beer which we were allowed to
buy.

That was the 29th of August. Had I known that it was to be the last real
meal that I was to eat for many weeks I might have enjoyed it even more
than I did, but it was certainly very good.

We had cooked enough for eight, but while we were still eating another
joined us. He was an English officer who had just been brought in on
a stretcher. For seven days, he told us, he had lain in a shell-hole,
wounded, and he was almost famished, and we were mighty glad to share
our banquet with him.

We called on each man for a speech, and one might have thought that we
were at a first-class club meeting. A few days after that our party was
broken up and some of the men I suppose I shall never see again.

One of the souvenirs of my adventure is a check given me during this
"banquet" by Lieut. James Henry Dickson, of the Tenth Royal Irish
Fusileers, a fellow-prisoner. It was for twenty francs and was made
payable to the order of "Mr. Pat O'Brien, 2nd Lieut." Poor Jim forgot to
scratch out the "London" and substitute "Courtrai" on the date line, but
its value as a souvenir is just as great. When he gave it to me he had
no idea that I would have an opportunity so soon afterward to cash it in
person, although I am quite sure that whatever financial reverses I may
be destined to meet my want will never be great enough to induce me to
realize on that check.

There was one subject that was talked about in this prison whenever
conversation lagged, and I suppose it is the same in the other prisons,
too. What were the chances of escape?

Every man seemed to have a different idea and one way I suppose was
about as impracticable as another. None of us ever expected to get
a chance to put our ideas into execution, but it was interesting
speculation, and, anyway, one could never tell what opportunities might
present themselves.

One suggestion was that we disguise ourselves as women. "O'Brien would
stand a better chance disguised as a horse!" declared another, referring
to the fact that my height (I am six feet two inches) would make me more
conspicuous as a woman than as a man.

Another suggested that we steal a German Gotha--a type of aeroplane
used for long-distance bombing. It is these machines which are used for
bombing London. They are manned by three men, one sitting in front with
a machine-gun, the pilot sitting behind him, and an observer sitting
in the rear with another machine-gun. We figured that at a pinch
perhaps seven or eight of us could make our escape in a single machine.
They have two motors of very high horse-power, fly very high and make
wonderful speed. But we had no chance to put this idea to the test.

I worked out another plan by which I thought I might have a chance if I
could ever get into one of the German aerodromes. I would conceal myself
in one of the hangars, wait until one of the German machines started
out, and as he taxied along the ground I would rush out, shout at the
top of my voice, and point excitedly at his wheels. This, I figured,
would cause the pilot to stop and get out to see what was wrong. By that
time I would be up to him and as he stooped over to inspect the machine
I could knock him senseless, jump into the machine, and be over the
lines before the Huns could make up their minds just what had happened.

It was a fine dream, but my chance was not to come that way.

There were dozens of other ways which we considered. One man would
be for endeavoring to make his way right through the lines. Another
thought the safest plan would be to swim some river that crossed the
lines.

The idea of making one's way to Holland, a neutral country, occurred
to every one, but the one great obstacle in that direction, we all
realized, was the great barrier of barbed and electrically charged wire
which guards every foot of the frontier between Belgium and Holland and
which is closely watched by the German sentries.

This barrier was a threefold affair. It consisted first of a barbed-wire
wall six feet high. Six feet beyond that was a nine-foot wall of wire
powerfully charged with electricity. To touch it meant electrocution.
Beyond that, at a distance of six feet was another wall of barbed wire
six feet high.

Beyond the barrier lay Holland and liberty, but how to get there was a
problem which none of us could solve and few of us ever expected to have
a chance to try.

Mine came sooner than I expected.



VI

A LEAP FOR LIBERTY


I had been in prison at Courtrai nearly three weeks when, on the morning
of September 9th, I and six other officers were told that we were to be
transferred to a prison-camp in Germany.

One of the guards told me during the day that we were destined for a
reprisal camp in Strassburg. They were sending us there to keep our
airmen from bombing the place.

He explained that the English carried German officers on hospital-ships
for a similar purpose, and he excused the German practice of torpedoing
these vessels on the score that they also carried munitions! When I
pointed out to him that France would hardly be sending munitions to
England, he lost interest in the argument.

Some days before I had made up my mind that it would be a very good
thing to get hold of a map of Germany which I knew was in the possession
of one of the German interpreters, because I realized that if ever the
opportunity came to make my escape such a map might be of the greatest
assistance to me.

With the idea of stealing this map, accordingly, a lieutenant and I got
in front of this interpreter's window one day and engaged in a very hot
argument as to whether Heidelberg was on the Rhine or not, and we argued
back and forth so vigorously that the German came out of his room, map
in hand, to settle it. After the matter was entirely settled to our
satisfaction he went back into his room and I watched where he put the
map.

When, therefore, I learned that I was on my way to Germany I realized
that it was more important than ever for me to get that map, and, with
the help of my friend, we got the interpreter out of his room on some
pretext or another, and while he was gone I confiscated the map from
the book in which he kept it and concealed it in my sock underneath
my legging. As I had anticipated, it later proved of the utmost value
to me.

I got it none too soon, for half an hour later we were on our way to
Ghent. Our party consisted of five British officers and one French
officer. At Ghent, where we had to wait for several hours for another
train to take us direct to the prison in Germany, two other prisoners
were added to our party.

In the interval we were locked in a room at a hotel, a guard sitting at
the door with a rifle on his knee. It would have done my heart good for
the rest of my life if I could have got away then and fooled that Hun,
he was so cocksure.

Later we were marched to the train that was to convey us to Germany. It
consisted of some twelve coaches, eleven of them containing troops going
home on leave, and the twelfth reserved for us. We were placed in a
fourth-class compartment, with old, hard, wooden seats, a filthy floor,
and no lights save a candle placed there by a guard. There were eight of
us prisoners and four guards.

As we sat in the coach we were an object of curiosity to the crowd who
gathered at the station.

"Hope you have a nice trip!" one of them shouted, sarcastically.

"Drop me a line when you get to Berlin, will you?" shouted another in
broken English.

"When shall we see you again?" asked a third.

"Remember me to your friends, will you? You'll find plenty where you're
going!" shouted another.

The German officers made no effort to repress the crowd; in fact, they
joined in the general laughter which followed every sally.

I called to a German officer who was passing our window.

"You're an officer, aren't you?" I asked, respectfully enough.

"Yes. What of it?" he rejoined.

"Well, in England," I said, "we let your officers who are prisoners ride
first-class. Can't you fix it so that we can be similarly treated, or be
transferred at least to a second-class compartment?"

"If I had my way," he replied, "you'd ride with the hogs!"

Then he turned to the crowd and told them of my request and how he had
answered me, and they all laughed hilariously.

This got me pretty hot.

"That would be a damned sight better than riding with the Germans!" I
yelled after him, but if he considered that a good joke, too, he didn't
pass it on to the crowd.

Some months later when I had the honor of telling my story to King
George he thought this incident was one of the best jokes he had ever
heard. I don't believe he ever laughed harder in his life.

Before our train pulled out our guards had to present their arms for
inspection, and their rifles were loaded in our presence to let us know
that they meant business.

From the moment the train started on its way to Germany the thought kept
coming to my head that unless I could make my escape before we reached
that reprisal camp I might as well make up my mind that, as far as I was
concerned, the war was over.

It occurred to me that if the eight of us in that car could jump up at a
given signal and seize those four Hun guards by surprise, we'd have a
splendid chance of besting them and jumping off the train when it first
slowed down, but when I passed the idea on to my comrades they turned it
down. Even if the plan had worked out as gloriously as I had pictured,
they pointed out, the fact that so many of us had escaped would almost
inevitably result in our recapture. The Huns would have scoured Belgium
till they had got us and then we would all be shot. Perhaps they were
right.

Nevertheless, I was determined that, no matter what the others decided
to do, I was going to make one bid for freedom, come what might.

As we passed through village after village in Belgium and I realized
that we were getting nearer and nearer to that dreaded reprisal camp, I
concluded that my one and only chance of getting free before we reached
it was through the window! I would have to go through that window while
the train was going full speed, because if I waited until it had slowed
up or stopped entirely, it would be a simple matter for the guards to
overtake or shoot me.

I opened the window. The guard who sat opposite me--so close that his
feet touched mine and the stock of his gun which he held between his
knees occasionally struck my foot--made no objection, imagining, no
doubt, that I found the car too warm or that the smoke, with which the
compartment was filled, annoyed me.

As I opened the window the noise the train was making as it thundered
along grew louder. It seemed to say: "You're a fool if you do; you're a
fool if you don't! You're a fool if you do; you're a fool if you don't!"
And I said to myself, "The 'no's' have it," and closed down the window
again.

As soon as the window was closed the noise of the train naturally
subsided and its speed seemed to diminish, and my plan appealed to me
stronger than ever.

I knew the guard in front of me didn't understand a word of English, and
so, in a quiet tone of voice, I confided to the English officer who sat
next me what I planned to do.

"For God's sake, Pat, chuck it!" he urged. "Don't be a lunatic! This
railroad is double-tracked and rock-ballasted and the other track is on
your side. You stand every chance in the world of knocking your brains
out against the rails, or hitting a bridge or a whistling post, and, if
you escape those, you will probably be hit by another train on the other
track. You haven't one chance in a thousand to make it!"

There was a good deal of logic in what he said, but I figured that,
once I was in that reprisal camp, I might never have even one chance
in a thousand to escape, and the idea of remaining a prisoner of war
indefinitely went against my grain. I resolved to take my chance now
even at the ride of breaking my neck.

The car was full of smoke. I looked across at the guard. He was rather
an old man, going home on leave, and he seemed to be dreaming of what
was in store for him rather than paying any particular attention to me.
Once in a while I had smiled at him and I figured that he hadn't the
slightest idea of what was going through my mind all the time we had
been traveling.

I began to cough as though my throat were badly irritated by the smoke,
and then I opened the window again. This time the guard looked up and
showed his disapproval, but did not say anything.

It was then four o'clock in the morning and would soon be light. I knew
I had to do it right then or never, as there would be no chance to
escape in the daytime.

I had on a trench coat that I had used as a flying-coat and wore a
knapsack which I had constructed out of a gas-bag brought into Courtrai
by a British prisoner. In this I had two pieces of bread, a piece of
sausage, and a pair of flying-mittens. All of them had to go with me
through the window.

The train was now going at a rate of between thirty and thirty-five
miles an hour, and again it seemed to admonish me, as it rattled along
over the ties: "You're a fool if you do; you're a fool if you don't!
You're a fool if you don't; you're a fool if you do! You're a fool if
you don't--"

I waited no longer. Standing up on the bench as if to put the bag on the
rack, and taking hold of the rack with my left hand and a strap that
hung from the top of the car with my right, I pulled myself up, shoved
my feet and legs out of the window, and let go!

There was a prayer on my lips as I went out and I expected a bullet
between my shoulders, but it was all over in an instant.

I landed on my left side and face, burying my face in the rock ballast,
cutting it open and closing my left eye, skinning my hands and shins and
straining my ankle. For a few moments I was completely knocked out, and
if they shot at me through the window, in the first moments after my
escape, I had no way of knowing.

Of course, if they could have stopped the train right then, they could
easily have recaptured me, but at the speed it was going and in the
confusion which must have followed my escape, they probably didn't stop
within half a mile from the spot where I lay.

I came to within a few minutes, and when I examined myself and found
no bones broken I didn't stop to worry about my cuts and bruises, but
jumped up with the idea of putting as great a distance between me and
that track as possible before daylight came. Still being dazed, I forgot
all about the barbed-wire fence along the right-of-way and ran full tilt
into it. Right there I lost one of my two precious pieces of bread,
which fell out of my knapsack, but I could not stop to look for it then.

The one thing that was uppermost in my mind was that for the moment I
was free and it was up to me now to make the most of my liberty.



VII

CRAWLING THROUGH GERMANY


The exact spot at which I made my desperate leap I don't know. Perhaps,
after the war is over, some one on that train will be good enough to
tell me, and then I may go back and look for the dent I must have made
in the rock ballast.

As I have said, I didn't stop very long that morning after I once
regained my senses.

I was bleeding profusely from the wounds caused by the fall, but I
checked it somewhat with handkerchiefs I held to my face and I also held
the tail of my coat so as to catch the blood as it fell and not leave
telltale traces on the ground.

Before I stopped I had gone about a mile. Then I took my course from the
stars and found that I had been going just opposite to the direction I
should be making, but I could not go back across the track there.

Heading west, therefore, I kept this course for about two and a half
hours, but as I was very weak from loss of blood I didn't cover very
much ground in that time. Just before daylight I came to a canal which I
knew I had to cross, and I swam it with everything I had on.

This swim, which proved to be the first of a series that I was destined
to make, taught me several things.

In the first place, I had forgotten to remove my wrist-watch. This watch
had been broken in my fall from the air, but I had had it repaired at
Courtrai. In the leap from the train the crystal had been broken again,
but it was still going and would probably have been of great service to
me in my subsequent adventures, but the swim across the canal ruined it.

Then, too, I had not thought to take my map out of my sock, and the
water damaged that, too.

Thereafter, whenever I had any swimming to do, I was careful to take
such matters into consideration, and my usual practice was to make a
bundle of all the things that would be damaged by water and tie it to
my head. In this way I was able to keep them dry.

It was now daylight and I knew that it would be suicidal for me to
attempt to travel in the daytime. My British uniform would have been
fatal to me. I decided to hide in the daytime and travel only at night.

Not far from the canal I could see a heavily wooded piece of ground,
and I made my way there. By this time I had discovered that my left
ankle had been strained in my leap from the train, and when I got to the
woods I was glad to lie down and rest. The wound in my mouth had been
opened, too, when I jumped, and it would have been difficult for me to
have swallowed had not the piece of bread, which was to serve for my
breakfast, got wet when I swam the canal. I found a safe hiding-place
in which to spend the day and I tried to dry some of my clothes, but a
slight drizzling rainfall made that out of the question. I knew that I
ought to sleep, as I planned to travel at night, but, sore as I was,
caked with mud and blood, my clothing soaked through, and my hunger not
nearly appeased, sleep was out of the question. This seemed to me about
the longest day I had ever spent, but I was still to learn how long a
day can really be and how much longer a night!

When night came I dragged myself together and headed northeast.

My clothing consisted of my Flying Corps uniform, two shirts, no
underwear, leather leggings, heavy shoes, a good pair of wool socks, and
a German cap. I had a wallet containing several hundred francs in paper
money and various other papers. I also had a jack-knife which I had
stolen one day from the property-room at Courtrai where all the personal
effects taken from prisoners were kept. For a day or two I carried the
knapsack, but as I had nothing to carry in it I discarded it.

I traveled rapidly, considering my difficulties, and swam a couple of
canals that night, covering in all perhaps ten miles before daylight.
Then I located in some low bushes, lying there all day in my wet clothes
and finishing my sausage for food. That was the last of my rations.

That night I made perhaps the same distance, but became very hungry and
thirsty before the night was over.

For the next six days I still figured that I was in Germany, and I was
living on nothing but cabbage, sugar-beets, and an occasional carrot,
always in the raw state, just as I got them out of the fields. The water
I drank was often very rank, as I had to get it from canals and pools.
One night I lay in a cabbage-patch for an hour lapping the dew from the
leaves with my tongue!

During this period I realized that I must avoid meeting any one at all
hazards. I was in the enemy's country and my uniform would have been a
dead give-away. Any one who captured me or who gave information from
which my capture resulted might have been sure of a handsome reward. I
knew that it was necessary for me to make progress as fast as possible,
but the main consideration was to keep out of sight, even if it took
me a year to get to Holland, which was my objective. From my map, I
estimated that I was about thirty-five miles from Strassburg when I made
my leap from the train, and if I could travel in a straight line I had
perhaps one hundred and fifty miles to travel. As it was, however, I was
compelled to make many detours, and I figured that two hundred and fifty
miles was nearer the extent of the journey ahead of me.

In several parts of this country I had to travel through forests of
young pine-trees about twelve feet high. They were very close together
and looked almost as if they had been set out. They proved to be a
serious obstacle to me, because I could not see the stars through them,
and I was relying upon the heavens to guide me to freedom. I am not much
of an astronomer, but I know the Pole Star when I see it. But for it I
wouldn't be here to-day!

I believe it rained every night and day while I was making my way
through Germany to Luxembourg.

My invariable program at this stage of my journey was to travel steadily
all night until about six in the morning, when I would commence looking
around for a place wherein to hide during the day. Low bushes or woods
back from the road, as far as possible from the traveled pathway,
usually served me for this purpose. Having found such a spot, I would
drop down and try to sleep. My overcoat was my only covering, and that
was usually soaked through either from the rain or from swimming.

The only sleep I got during those days was from exhaustion, and it
usually came to me toward dusk when it was time for me to start again.

It was a mighty fortunate thing for me that I was not a smoker. Somehow
I have never used tobacco in any form and I was now fully repaid for
whatever pleasure I had foregone in the past as a result of my habits
in that particular, because my sufferings would certainly have been
intensified now if in addition to lack of food and rest I had had to
endure a craving for tobacco.

About the sixth night I was so drowsy and exhausted when the time came
for me to be on the move that I was very much tempted to sleep through
the night. I knew, however, that that would be a bad precedent to
establish and I wouldn't give in.

I plugged wearily along and about eleven o'clock, after I had covered
perhaps four miles, I sat down to rest for a moment on a shock of brush
which was sheltered from the drizzle somewhat by other shocks which were
stacked there. It was daylight when I awoke, and I found myself right in
a German's backyard. You can imagine that I lost no time getting out of
that neighborhood, and I made up my mind right then that I would never
give way to that "tired feeling" again.

In the daytime, in my hiding-place, wherever it happened to be, I had
plenty of opportunity to study my map, and before very long I knew it
almost by heart. Unfortunately, however, it did not show all the rivers
and canals which I encountered, and sometimes it fooled me completely.

It must have been about the ninth night that I crossed into Luxembourg,
but while this principality is officially neutral, it offered me no
safer a haven than Belgium would. The Huns have violated the neutrality
of both and discovery would have been followed by the same consequences
as capture in Germany proper.

In the nine days I had covered perhaps seventy-five miles and I was
that much nearer liberty, but the lack of proper food, the constant
wearing of wet clothes, and the loss of sleep and rest had reduced me to
a very much weakened condition. I doubted very much whether I would be
able to continue, but I plugged along.



VIII

NINE DAYS IN LUXEMBOURG


I was now heading northwest and I thought that by keeping that course I
would get out of Luxembourg and into Belgium, where I expected to be a
little better off, because the people in Luxembourg were practically the
same as Germans.

One of the experiences I had in Luxembourg which I shall never forget
occurred the first day that I spent there. I had traveled all night
and I was feeling very weak. I came to a small wood with plenty of low
underbrush, and I picked out a thick clump of bushes which was not in
line with any paths, crawled in, and lay down to spend the day.

The sun could just reach me through an opening in the trees above,
and I took off all my clothes except my shirt and hung them on the
bushes to dry in the sun. As the sun moved I moved the clothes around
correspondingly, because, tired as I was, I could take only cat-naps.

That afternoon I awoke from one of these naps with a start. There were
voices not a dozen feet from me! My first impulse was to jump to my
feet and sell my life as dearly as I could, but on second thoughts I
decided to look before I leaped. Peeping through the underbrush, I could
just discern two men calmly chopping down a tree and conversing as they
worked. I thanked my lucky stars that I had not jumped up on my first
impulse, for I was apparently quite safe as long as I lay where I was.

It then occurred to me that if the tree upon which they were working
should happen to fall in my direction it would crush me to death! It
was tall enough to reach me and big enough to kill me if it landed in
my direction, and as I could see only the heads of the men who were
chopping it down, I was unable to tell which way they planned to have it
fall.

There was this much in my favor: the chances of the tree falling in just
my direction were not very great and there was more than an even chance
that the men would be wise enough to fell it so that it would not,
because if it landed in the bushes the task of trimming the branches off
the trunk would be so much harder.

But, even without this feeling of security, there was really nothing
else I could do but wait and see what fate had in store for me. I lay
there watching the top of the tree for more than an hour. Time and again
I saw it sway and fancied it was coming in my direction, and it was all
I could do to keep my place, but a moment later I would hear the crash
of the men's axes and I knew that my imagination had played me a trick.

I was musing on the sorry plight I was in--weak, nearly starving to
death, a refugee in a hostile country and waiting patiently to see which
way a tree was going to fall--when there came a loud crack and I saw the
top of the tree sway and fall almost opposite to the place where I lay!
I had guessed right.

Later I heard some children's voices, and again peering through the
underbrush, I saw that they had brought the men their lunch. You can't
realize how I felt to see them eating their lunch so near at hand and
to know that, hungry as I was, I could have none of it. I was greatly
tempted to go boldly up to them and take a chance of getting a share,
but I did not know whether they were Germans or not, and I had gone
through too much to risk my liberty even for food. I swallowed my hunger
instead.

Shortly afterward it began to rain, and about four o'clock the men
left. I crawled out as fast as I could, and scurried around looking for
crumbs, but found none, and when darkness came I went on my way once
more.

That night I came to a river, and as it was the first time my clothes
had been dry for a long time, I thought I would try to keep them that
way as long as possible. I accordingly took off all my things and made
them into two bundles, planning to carry one load across and then swim
back for the other.

The river was quite wide, but I am a fairly good swimmer, and I figured
I could rest awhile after the first trip before going back for the
second bundle.

The first swim was uneventful. When I landed on the other side I drank
till my thirst was quenched, and then swam back. After resting awhile
I started across a third time, with my shoes and several other things
firmly tied to my head. Just about ten feet from the opposite bank one
of the shoes worked its way loose and sank in about eight feet of water.
There was nothing to do but finish the trip and then go back and dive
for the missing shoe, as I could not go on with a single shoe.

Diving in my weakened condition was considerable strain, but I had to
have that shoe, and I kept at it for nearly an hour before I eventually
found it, and I was pretty nearly all in by that time.

That was the last time I ever took my shoes off, for my feet were
becoming so swollen that I figured if I took my shoes off I might be
unable to get them on again.

This stunt of crossing the river and diving for the lost shoe had
consumed about three hours, and after resting some fifteen minutes I
went on my way again. I had hardly gone a mile when I came to another
river, about the same size as the one I had just crossed. I walked
along the bank awhile, thinking that I might be lucky enough to find a
boat or a bridge, but after walking about half an hour I received one
of those disappointments which "come once in a lifetime." I found that
this river was the one I had just swum! I had swum it on the bend and
was still on the wrong side! Had I made only a short detour in the first
place, I would have avoided all the annoyance of the past three hours
and saved my strength and time. I was never so mad in my life at myself
as I was to think that I had not paid more attention to the course of
the stream before I undertook to cross it, but, as a matter of fact,
there was really no way of telling. The river was not shown on my map at
all.

Now I _had_ to cross it, whereas before I could have turned it. I walked
boldly into the water, not bothering to take my clothes off this time,
nor did I ever bother to take them off afterward when swimming canals
or rivers. I found it was impossible to keep them dry, anyway, and so I
might just as well swim in them and save time.

All the next day I spent in a forest, to which my night's travel had
brought me about five o'clock in the morning. I kept on my way through
the woods until daylight came, and then, thinking the place would afford
fairly good concealment, I concluded to rest until night.

The prospects of even a good sleep were dismal, however, for about the
time the sun's face should have appeared a drizzling rain began and I
gave up my search for a dry spot which would serve as a bed. Some of the
leaves were beginning to fall, but of course there were not enough of
them to have formed a covering for the ground, and the dampness seemed
to have penetrated everywhere.

I wandered around through the woods for two or three hours, looking for
shelter, but without any success, for, though the trees were large, the
forest was not dense and there was practically no brush or shrubbery.
Consequently, one could get a fairly clear view for some distance, and I
knew it would be unwise to drop off to sleep just any place, or some one
would surely happen onto me.

Once I came very near the edge of the woods and heard voices of men
driving by in a wagon, but I couldn't make out just what they were, and
instinct told me I had better not come out of the woods, so I turned
back. Here and there small artificial ditches had been dug, which at
a dry season might have cradled a weary fugitive, but now they, too,
were filled with water. Once I singled out a good big tree with large
branches and thought I might climb into it and go to sleep, but the
longer I looked at it the more I realized that it would require more
energy than I had in my present weak and exhausted condition, so I
didn't attempt that.

Finally I chose a spot that looked a bit drier than the rest, concluded
to take a chance on being discovered, and threw myself down for a nap.
I was extremely nervous, though, throughout that whole day and would
scarcely get settled into a comfortable position and doze off for a few
minutes when, startled by some sound in the woods, I would suddenly
waken.

After what seemed like a year or more, night finally came, and with it a
"dud" sky, low-hanging clouds, and still more rain. There was not a star
in the sky, of course, and that made it very bad, because without the
aid of the stars I had absolutely no way of knowing in which direction
I was going. It was just a case of taking a chance. I probably would
have been better off if I had simply picked out a place and stayed there
until the weather improved, but naturally I was impatient to be on my
way when each day without food only lessened my strength and my ultimate
chances of reaching the frontier.

So I left the woods and struck off in the direction which I thought was
north. I hadn't been at all sure of my bearings the day before, and as
it had rained the sun failed entirely to help me out; but I was almost
sure I had the right direction, and trusted to luck. That night I found
more rivers, canals, and swamps than I ever found in my life before, but
I had the good fortune to stumble on to some celery, and after my diet
of beets it surely was a treat. Perhaps it's unnecessary to add that
I took on a good supply of celery, and for days I went along chewing
celery like a cow would a cud.

Along toward morning, when I supposed I had got in a fairly good lap of
my journey--perhaps seven or eight miles--I began to recognize certain
objects as familiar landmarks. At least, I thought I had seen them
before, and as I traveled along I knew positively I had seen certain
objects very recently. Off at my right--not over a quarter of a mile--I
noticed some fairly good-sized woods, and thought I would go over there
to hide that day, because it looked as though the sun was going to
shine, and I hoped to get my clothes dry and perhaps get a decent sleep.
I had this celery and a large beet, so I knew I would be able to live
the day through.

Finally, I made my way over to the woods. It was still too dark in among
the trees to do much in the way of selecting my quarters for the day,
and I could not go a step farther. So I waited on the edge of the forest
until dawn and then set out to explore the place with a view to finding
some nook where I might sleep. Imagine my disgust and discouragement,
too, when, an hour or so later, I came upon the exact place where I had
spent the day before, and I realized that all night long I had been
circling the very woods I was trying to get away from. I think perhaps
I had gone all of a quarter of a mile in the right direction, but then
had lost my bearings entirely and daylight found me with nothing
accomplished.

The sun, however, did come out that day, and I welcomed its warm rays
as they perhaps have never been welcomed before. I was very tired--just
about all in--but I spent a better day in the woods than the previous
one.

That night the stars came out; I located my friend, the North Star,
and tried to make up for lost time. But when one is making only seven
or eight miles a day, or rather a night, one night lost means a whole
lot, especially when each day keeps him from freedom. Such ill fortune
and discouragements as this were harder to endure, I believe, than the
actual hunger, and the accompanying worry naturally reduced my weight.
At times I was furiously angry with myself for the mistakes I made and
the foolish things I did, but I always tried to see something funny
about the situation, whatever it might be, that relieved the strain a
bit and helped to pass the time. I think if a man is overburdened with
a sense of humor and wants to get rid of it, this trip I took would be
an excellent remedy for it. Right at this time I would have welcomed
anything for a companion; I believe even a snake would have been a
godsend to me.

With a name as Irish as mine, it is only natural that I looked for
goats along the way, thinking that I might be able to milk them. There
are very few cows in this country, and the opportunities for milking
them fewer than the cows themselves, because they are housed in barns
adjoining the homes and always alertly watched by their fortunate
owners. I did hope that I might find a goat staked out some place in the
fields, but in all my travels I never saw a goat or a pig, and only a
few cows. Several times I searched nests for eggs, but somebody always
had beaten me to it, as I never even found so much as a nest egg.

There was no chance of getting away with any "bullying" stuff in
Luxembourg, I knew, because the young men have not been forced into
the army and are still at home, and as they are decidedly pro-German,
it would have been pretty hard for me to demand anything in that part
of the country. It was not like taking things away from old men and
women or robbing people that could not stop me if they chose to do so.
I thought at this time that I was suffering about the worst hardships
any human being could ever be called upon to endure, but I was later to
find out that the best of my journey was made along about this time.
There were plenty of vegetables, even though they were raw, and these
were much better than the things I was afterward compelled to eat or go
without.

We frequently hear of men who have lived for a certain number of days
on their own resources in the woods just on a bet or to prove that the
"back to nature" theory still has its merits and will still work. My
advice to some of those nature-seekers is to, if in the future they wish
to make a real good record, try the little countries of Luxembourg and
Belgium, with a slice of Germany thrown in.

I suppose that during this experience of mine I made many mistakes
and traveled many unnecessary miles which one with a knowledge of
woodsmanship might have avoided, and I failed to take advantage of many
things which would have been quite apparent to one who knew. It must
not be forgotten, however, that I did not undertake this adventure
voluntarily. It was "wished on me." I simply had to make the most of the
knowledge I had.

At about this time blisters began to appear on my legs and my knees
swelled. In addition I was pretty well convinced that I had lost the
sight of my left eye. I hadn't seen a thing out of it since my leap from
the train.

When I imagine the villainous appearance I must have presented at this
time--my unhealed wounds, eighteen days' growth of beard, and general
haggard and unkempt visage--I think the fear I felt about meeting
strangers was perhaps unwarranted. The chances are they would have been
infinitely more scared than I!

As it was, I was nearly out of Luxembourg before I really came face
to face with any one. It was about six o'clock in the morning and I
was traveling along a regular path. Just as I approached a cross-path
I heard footsteps coming down it. I stopped short, stooped over, and
pretended to be adjusting my shoe-lace, figuring that if the stranger
turned into my path he would probably pass right by me. As luck would
have it, he continued on his way and never noticed me at all.

After that I frequently noticed groups of Luxembourg peasants in the
distance, but I usually saw them first and managed to avoid them.

About the eighteenth day after my leap from the train I crossed into
Belgium. It had taken me just nine days to get through Luxembourg--a
distance which a man could ordinarily cover in two, but, considering
the handicaps under which I labored, I was very well satisfied with my
progress.



IX

I ENTER BELGIUM


I have said it was about the eighteenth day after my escape that I
entered Belgium, but that is more or less guesswork. I was possibly well
into that country before I realized that I had crossed the line.

About the third day after I figured I was in Belgium I started to swim
a canal just before daylight. I was then heading due north in the
direction of the German lines. I was just about to wade into the canal
when I heard a German yelling violently, and for the first time I knew I
was being followed!

I ran up the bank of the canal quite a distance and then swam to the
opposite side, as I reasoned they would not be looking for me there.
I found a sheltered clump of bushes in a swamp near the canal, and
in the driest part that I could find I crawled in and made myself as
comfortable as possible. The sun came up soon and kept me warm, and I
planned to camp right there, food or no food, until the Huns got tired
of searching for me. I think I heard them once or twice that day, and
my heart nearly stopped on each occasion, but evidently they decided to
look in some other direction and I was not further molested.

At the same time I figured that it was absolutely necessary for me to
change my course even at the expense of going somewhat out of my way.
Certainly if I went north they would get me. I decided to go due west,
and I kept in that direction for four days.

As I was in a very weak condition, I did not cover more than five miles
a night. I kept away from the roads and did all my journeying through
fields, beet-patches, woods, swamps--anywhere, provided I was not likely
to be seen and captured. Food was an important consideration to me, but
it was secondary to concealment.

At last I brought up at the Meuse River at a place between Namur and
Huy, and it was here that I came nearest of all to giving up the
struggle.

The Meuse at this point is about half a mile wide--as wide as the
Hudson River at West Point. Had I been in normal condition I wouldn't
have hesitated a moment to swim across. San Diego Bay, California, is
a mile and a half wide, and I had often swum across and back, and the
San Joaquin, which is also a mile and a half wide, had never proved an
obstacle to me.

In the wretched shape in which I then was, however, the Meuse looked
like the Atlantic Ocean to me. I looked for a boat, but could find none.
I tried to get a piece of wood upon which I hoped to ferry across, but I
was equally unsuccessful.

Get across I must, and I decided there was nothing to do but swim it.

It was then about three o'clock in the morning. I waded in and was soon
in beyond my depth and had to swim. After about an hour of it I was very
much exhausted and I doubted whether I could make the opposite bank,
although it was not more than thirty or forty feet away. I choked and
gasped and my arms and legs were completely fagged out. I sank a little
and tried to touch bottom with my feet, but the water was still beyond
my depth.

There are times when every one will pray, and I was no exception. I
prayed for strength to make those few wicked yards, and then, with all
the will power I could summon, struck out for dear life. It seemed a
lifetime before I finally felt the welcome mud of bottom and was able to
drag myself up to the bank, but I got there. The bank was rather high,
and I was shaking so violently that when I took hold of the grass to
pull myself up, the grass shook out of my hands. I could not retain my
grip. I was afraid I would faint then and there, but I kept pulling and
crawling frantically up that infernal bank, and finally made it.

Then, for the first time in my life, I fainted--fainted from utter
exhaustion.

It was now about four o'clock in the morning and I was entirely
unprotected from observation. If any one had come along I would have
been found lying there dead to the world.

Possibly two hours passed before I regained consciousness, and then, no
doubt, only because the rain was beating in my face.

I knew that I had to get away, as it was broad daylight. Moreover, there
was a towpath right there and any minute a boat might come along and
find me. But it was equally dangerous for me to attempt to travel very
far. Fortunately, I found some shrubbery near by, and I hid there all
day, without food or drink.

That night I made a little headway, but when day broke I had a dreadful
fever and was delirious. I talked to myself and thereby increased my
chances of capture. In my lucid intervals, when I realized that I had
been talking, the thought sent a chill through me, because in the silent
night even the slightest sound carries far across the Belgian country. I
began to fear that another day of this would about finish me.

I have a distinct recollection of a ridiculous conversation I carried on
with an imaginary Pat O'Brien--a sort of duplicate of myself. I argued
with him as I marched drearily along, and he answered me back in kind,
and when we disagreed I called upon my one constant friend, the North
Star, to stand by me.

"There you are, you old North Star!" I cried, aloud. "You want me to get
to Holland, don't you? But this Pat O'Brien--this Pat O'Brien who calls
himself a soldier--he's got a yellow streak--North Star--and he says it
can't be done! He wants me to quit--to lie down here for the Huns to
find me and take me back to Courtrai--after all you've done, North Star,
to lead me to liberty. Won't you make this coward leave me, North Star?
I don't want to follow him--I just want to follow you--because you--you
are taking me away from the Huns and this Pat O'Brien--this fellow who
keeps after me all the time and leans on my neck and wants me to lie
down--this yellow Pat O'Brien wants me to go back to the Huns!"

After a spell of foolish chatter like that my senses would come back to
me for a while and I would trudge along without a word until the fever
came on me again.

I knew that I had to have food because I was about on my last legs. I
was very much tempted to lie down then and there and call it a heat.
Things seemed to be getting worse for me the farther I went, and all
the time I had before me the specter of that electric barrier between
Belgium and Holland, even if I ever reached there alive. What was the
use of further suffering when I would probably be captured in the end,
anyway?

Before giving up, however, I decided upon one bold move. I would
approach one of the houses in the vicinity and get food there or die in
the effort!

I picked out a small house, because I figured there would be less
likelihood of soldiers being billeted there.

Then I wrapped a stone in my khaki handkerchief as a sort of camouflaged
weapon, determined to kill the occupant of the house, German or Belgian,
if that step were necessary in order to get food. I tried the well in
the yard, but it would not work, and then I went up to the door and
knocked.

It was one o'clock in the morning. An old lady came to the window and
looked out. She could not imagine what I was, probably, because I was
still attired in that old overcoat. She gave a cry, and her husband and
a boy came to the door.

They could not speak English and I could not speak Flemish, but I
pointed to my flying-coat and then to the sky and said "_fleger_"
("flier"), which I thought would tell them what I was.

Whether they understood or were intimidated by my hard-looking
appearance, I don't know, but certainly it would have to be a brave old
man and boy who would start an argument with such a villainous-looking
character as stood before them that night! I had not shaved for a month,
my clothes were wet, torn, and dirty, my leggings were gone--they
had got so heavy I had discarded them--my hair was matted, and my
cheeks were flushed with fever. In my hand I carried the rock in my
handkerchief, and I made no effort to conceal its presence or its
mission.

Anyway, they motioned me indoors and gave me my first hot meal in more
than a month. True, it consisted only of warm potatoes. They had been
previously cooked, but the old woman warmed them up in milk in one of
the dirtiest kettles I had ever seen. I asked for bread, but she shook
her head, although I think it must have been for lack of it rather
than because she begrudged it to me. For if ever a man showed he was
famished, I did that night. I swallowed those warm potatoes ravenously
and I drank four glasses of water one after another. It was the best
meal I had had since the "banquet" in the prison at Courtrai.

The woman of the house was probably seventy-five years old and had
evidently worn wooden shoes all her life, for she had a callous spot on
the side of her foot the size of half a dollar, and it looked so hard
that I doubt whether you could have driven a nail into it with a hammer.

As I sat there drying myself--for I was in no hurry to leave the first
human habitation I had entered in four weeks--I reflected on my unhappy
lot and the unknown troubles and dangers that lay ahead of me. Here, for
more than a month, I had been leading the life of a hunted animal--yes,
worse than a hunted animal, for Nature clothes her less favored
creatures more appropriately for the life they lead than I was clothed
for mine--and there was not the slightest reason to hope that conditions
would grow better.

Perhaps the first warm food I had eaten for over a month had released
unused springs of philosophy in me, as food sometimes does for a man.

I pointed to my torn and water-soaked clothes and conveyed to them as
best I could that I would be grateful for an old suit, but apparently
they were too poor to have more than they actually needed themselves,
and I rose to go. I had roused them out of bed, and I knew I ought not
to keep them up longer than was absolutely necessary.

As I approached the door I got a glance at myself in a mirror. I was
the awfulest sight I had ever laid eyes on! The glimpse I got of myself
startled me almost as much as if I had seen a dreaded German helmet! My
left eye was fairly well healed by this time, and I was beginning to
regain the sight of it, but my face was so haggard and my beard so long
and unkempt that I looked like Santa Claus on a "bat."

As they let me out of the door I pointed to the opposite direction
to the one I intended taking and started off in the direction I had
indicated. Later I changed my course completely to throw off any
possible pursuit.

The next day I was so worn out from exposure and exhaustion that I
threw away my coat, thinking that the less weight I had to carry the
better it would be for me, but when night came I regretted my mistake,
because the nights were now getting colder. I thought at first it would
be best for me to retrace my steps and look for the coat I had so
thoughtlessly discarded, but I decided to go on without it.

I then began to discard everything that I had in my pocket, finally
throwing my wrist-watch into a canal. A wrist-watch does not add much
weight, but when you plod along and have not eaten for a month it
finally becomes rather heavy. The next thing I discarded was a pair of
flying-mittens.

These mittens I had got at Camp Borden, in Canada, and had become quite
famous, as my friends termed them "snow-shoes." In fact, they were a
ridiculous pair of mittens, but the best pair I ever had, and I really
felt worse when I lost those mittens than anything else. I could not
think of anybody else ever using them, so I dug a hole in the mud and
buried them, and could not help but laugh at the thought of what my
friends would say had they seen me burying my mittens, because they
were a standing joke in Canada, England, and France.

I had on two shirts, and as they were always both wet and didn't keep me
warm, it was useless to wear both. One of these was a shirt that I had
bought in France, the other an American army shirt. They were both khaki
and one as apt to give me away as the other, so I discarded the French
shirt. The American army shirt I brought back with me to England, and it
is still in my possession.

When I escaped from the train I still had that Bavarian cap of bright
red in my pocket and wore it for many nights, but I took great care that
no one saw it. It also had proved very useful when swimming rivers, for
I carried my map and a few other belongings in it, and I had fully made
up my mind to bring it home as a souvenir. But the farther I went the
heavier my extra clothing became, so I was compelled to discard even
the cap. I knew that it would be a telltale mark if I simply threw it
away, so one night after swimming a river I dug a hole in the soft mud
on the bank and buried it, too, with considerably less ceremony than
my flying-mittens had received, perhaps; and that was the end of my
Bavarian hat.

My experience at the Belgian's house whetted my appetite for warm food,
and I figured that what had been done once could be done again. Sooner
or later I realized I would probably approach a Belgian and find a
German instead, but in such a contingency I was determined to measure my
strength against the Hun's if necessary to effect my escape.

As it was, however, most of the Belgians to whom I applied for food gave
it to me readily enough, and if some of them refused me it was only
because they feared I might be a spy or that the Germans would shoot
them if their action were subsequently found out.

About the fifth day after I had entered Belgium I was spending the day
as usual in a clump of bushes when I discerned in the distance what
appeared to be something hanging on a line. All day long I strained my
eyes trying to decide what it could be and arguing with myself that it
might be something that I could add to my inadequate wardrobe, but the
distance was so great that I could not identify it. I had a great fear
that before night came it would probably be removed.

As soon as darkness fell, however, I crawled out of my hiding-place and
worked up to the line and got a pair of overalls for my industry. It was
a mighty joyful night for me. That pair of overalls was the first bit
of civilian clothes I had thus far picked up, with the exception of a
civilian cap which I had found at the prison and concealed on my person
and which I still had. The overalls were rather small and very short,
but when I put them on I found that they hung down far enough to cover
my breeches.

It was perhaps three days later that I planned to search another house
for further clothes. Entering Belgian houses at night is anything but a
safe proposition, because their families are large and sometimes as many
as seven or eight sleep in a single room. The barn is usually connected
with the house proper, and there was always the danger of disturbing
some dumb animal, even if the inmates of the house were not aroused.

Frequently I took a chance of searching a backyard at night in the hope
of finding food scraps, but my success in that direction was so slight
that I soon decided it wasn't worth the risk, and I continued to live on
the raw vegetables that I could pick with safety in the fields and the
occasional meal that I was able to get from the Belgian peasants in the
daytime.

Nevertheless, I was determined to get more in the way of clothing, and
when night came I picked out a house that looked as though it might
furnish me with what I wanted. It was a moonlight night, and if I could
get in the barn I would have a fair chance of finding my way around by
the moonlight which would enter the windows.

The barn adjoined the main part of the house, but I groped around very
carefully and soon I touched something hanging on a peg. I didn't know
what it was, but I confiscated it and carried it out into the fields.
There in the moonlight I examined my booty and found it was an old coat.
It was too short as an overcoat and too long for an ordinary coat, but
nevertheless I made use of it. It had probably been an overcoat for the
Belgian who had worn it.

Some days later I got a scarf from a Belgian peasant, and with this
equipment I was able to conceal my uniform entirely.

Later on, however, I decided that it was too dangerous to keep the
uniform on anyway, and when night came I dug a hole and buried it.

I never realized until I had to part with it just how much I thought of
that uniform. It had been with me through many hard trials, and I felt
as if I were abandoning a friend when I parted with it. I was tempted
to keep the wings off the tunic, but thought that that would be a
dangerous concession to sentiment in the event that I was ever captured.
It was the only distinction I had left, as I had given the Royal Flying
Corps badges and the stars of my rank to the German Flying Officers as
souvenirs, but I felt that it was safer to discard it. As it finally
turned out, through all my subsequent experiences my escape would never
have been jeopardized had I kept my uniform, but, of course, I had no
idea what was in store for me.

There was one thing which surprised me very much as I journeyed through
Belgium, and that was the scarcity of dogs. Apparently most of them have
been taken by the Germans, and what are left are beasts of burden who
are too tired at night to bark or bother intruders. This was a mighty
good thing for me, for I would certainly have stirred them up in passing
through backyards, as I sometimes did when I was making a short cut.

One night as I came out of a yard it was so pitch dark I could not see
ten feet ahead of me, and I was right in the back of a little village,
although I did not know it. I crawled along, fearing I might come to a
crossroads at which there would in all probability be a German sentry.

My precaution served me in good stead, for I had come out in the main
street of a village and within twenty feet of me, sitting on some bricks
where they were building a little store, I could see the dim outline of
a German spiked helmet!

I could not cross the street and the only thing to do was to back-track.
It meant making a long detour and losing two hours of precious time
and effort, but there was no help for it, and I plodded wearily back,
cursing the Huns at every step.

The next night while crossing some fields I came to a road. It was one
of the main roads of Belgium and was paved with cobblestones. On these
roads you can hear a wagon or horse about a mile or two away. I listened
intently before I moved ahead, and, hearing nothing, concluded that the
way was clear.

As I emerged from the field and got my first glimpse of the road I got
the shock of my life! In either direction, as far as I could see, the
road was lined with German soldiers!

What they were doing in that part of Belgium I did not know, but you can
be mighty sure I didn't spend any time trying to find out.

Again it was necessary to change my course and lose a certain amount of
ground, but by this time I had become fairly well reconciled to these
reverses and they did not depress me as much as they had at first.

At this period of my adventure if a day or a night passed without its
thrill I began to feel almost disappointed, but such disappointments
were rather rare.

One evening as I was about to swim a canal about two hundred feet wide I
suddenly noticed, about one hundred yards away, a canal-boat moored to
the side.

It was a sort of out-of-the-way place, and I wondered what the
canal-boat had stopped for. I crawled up to see. As I neared the boat
five men were leaving it, and I noticed them cross over into the fields.
At a safe distance I followed them, and they had not gone very far
before I saw what they were after. They were committing the common but
heinous crime of stealing potatoes!

Without the means to cook them, potatoes didn't interest me a bit, and
I thought that the boat itself would probably yield me more than the
potato-patch. Knowing that the canal hands would probably take their
time in the fields, I climbed up the stern of the boat leisurely and
without any particular pains to conceal myself. Just as my head appeared
above the stern of the boat I saw, silhouetted against the sky, the
dreaded outline of a German soldier--spiked helmet and all! A chill ran
down my spine as I dropped to the bank of the canal and slunk away.
Evidently the sentry had not seen me or, if he had, he had probably
figured that I was one of the foraging party, but I realized that it
wouldn't pay in future to take anything for granted.



X

EXPERIENCES IN BELGIUM


I think that one of the worst things I had to contend with in my journey
through Belgium was the number of small ditches. They intercepted me at
every half-mile or so, sometimes more frequently. The canals and the big
rivers I could swim. Of course, I got soaked to the skin every time I
did it, but I was becoming hardened to that.

These little ditches, however, were too narrow to swim and too wide to
jump. They had perhaps two feet of water in them and three feet of mud,
and it was almost invariably a case of wading through. Some of them, no
doubt, I could have jumped if I had been in decent shape, but with a bad
ankle and in the weakened condition in which I was, it was almost out of
the question.

One night I came to a ditch about eight or nine feet wide. I thought I
was strong enough to jump it, and it was worth trying, as the discomfort
I suffered after wading these ditches was considerable. Taking a long
run, I jumped as hard as I could, but I missed it by four or five inches
and landed in about two feet of water and three feet more of mud.
Getting out of that mess was quite a job. The water was too dirty and
too scanty to enable me to wash off the mud with which I was covered
and it was too wet to scrape off. I just had to wait until it dried and
scrape it off then.

In many sections of Belgium through which I had to pass I encountered
large areas of swamp and marshy ground, and, rather than waste the time
involved in looking for better underfooting--which I might not have
found, anyway--I used to plod right through the mud. Apart from the
discomfort of this method of traveling and the slow time I made, there
was an added danger to me in the fact that the "squash-squash" noise
which I made might easily be overheard by Belgians and Germans and give
my position away. Nobody would cross a swamp or marsh in that part
of the country unless he was trying to get away from somebody, and I
realized my danger, but could not get around it.

It was a common sight in Belgium to see a small donkey and a common,
ordinary milch cow hitched together, pulling a wagon. When I first
observed the unusual combination I thought it was a donkey and ox or
bull, but closer inspection revealed to me that cows were being used for
the purpose.

From what I was able to observe, there must be very few horses left in
Belgium except those owned by the Germans. Cows and donkeys are now
doing the work formerly done by horses and mules. Altogether I spent
nearly eight weeks wandering through Belgium and in all that time I
don't believe I saw more than half a dozen horses in the possession of
the native population.

One of the scarcest things in Germany, apparently, is rubber, for I
noticed that their motor trucks, or lorries, unlike our own, had no
rubber tires. Instead, heavy iron bands were employed. I could hear
them come rumbling along the stone roads for miles before they reached
the spot where I happened to be in hiding. When I saw these military
roads in Belgium for the first time, with their heavy cobblestones that
looked as if they would last for centuries, I realized at once why it
was that the Germans had been able to make such a rapid advance into
Belgium at the start of the war.

I noticed that the Belgians used dogs to a considerable extent to pull
their carts, and I thought many times that if I could have stolen one
of those dogs it would have made a very good companion for me, and
might, if the occasion arose, help me out in a fight. But I had no way
of feeding it and the animal would probably have starved to death. I
could live on vegetables which I could always depend upon finding in the
fields, but a dog couldn't, and so I gave up the idea.

The knack of making fire with two pieces of dry wood I had often read
about, but I had never put it to a test, and for various reasons I
concluded that it would be unsafe for me to build a fire even if I had
matches. In the first place, there was no absolute need for it. I
didn't have anything to cook, nor utensils to cook it in even if I had.
While the air was getting to be rather cool at night, I was usually on
the go at the time and didn't notice it. In the daytime, when I was
resting or sleeping, the sun was usually out.

To have borrowed matches from a Belgian peasant would have been
feasible, but when I was willing to take the chance of approaching any
one it was just as easy to ask for food as matches.

In the second place, it would have been extremely dangerous to have
built a fire even if I had needed it. You can't build a fire in Belgium,
which is the most thickly populated country in Europe, without every one
knowing it, and I was far from anxious to advertise my whereabouts.

The villages in the part of Belgium through which I was making my course
were so close together that there was hardly ever an hour passed without
my hearing some clock strike. Every village has its clock. Many times I
could hear the clocks striking in two villages at the same time.

But the hour had very little interest to me. My program was to travel as
fast as I could from sunset to sunrise and pay no attention to the hours
in between, and in the daytime I had only two things to worry about:
keep concealed and get as much sleep as possible.

The cabbage that I got in Belgium consisted of the small heads that
the peasants had not cut. All the strength had concentrated in these
little heads and they would be as bitter as gall. I would have to be
pretty hungry to-day before I could ever eat cabbage again, and the same
observation applies to carrots, turnips, and sugar-beets--especially
sugar-beets.

It is rather a remarkable thing that to-day even the smell of turnips,
raw or cooked, makes me sick, and yet a few short months ago my life
depended upon them.

Night after night, as I searched for food, I was always in hopes that
I might come upon some tomatoes or celery--vegetables which I really
liked, but with the exception of once, when I found some celery, I was
never so fortunate. I ate so much of the celery the night I came upon it
that I was sick for two days thereafter, but I carried several bunches
away with me and used to chew on it as I walked along.

Of course, I kept my eyes open all the time for fruit trees, but
apparently it was too late in the year for fruit, as all that I ever was
able to find were two pears which I got out of a tree. That was one of
my red-letter days, but I was never able to repeat it.

In the brooks and ponds that I passed I often noticed fish of different
kinds. That was either in the early morning, just before I turned in for
the day, or on moonlight nights when the water seemed as clear in spots
as in the daytime. It occurred to me that it would be a simple matter to
rig a hook and line and catch some of the fish, but I had no means of
cooking them and it was useless to fish for the sake of it.

One night in Belgium my course took me through a desolate stretch
of country which seemed to be absolutely uncultivated. I must have
covered twelve miles during the night without passing a single farm or
cultivated field. My stock of turnips which I had plucked the night
before was gone and I planned, of course, to get enough to carry me
through the following day.

The North Star was shining brightly that night and there was absolutely
nothing to prevent my steering an absolutely direct course for Holland
and liberty, but my path seemed to lie through arid pastures. Far to the
east or to the west I could hear faintly the striking of village bells,
and I knew that if I changed my course I would undoubtedly strike farms
and vegetables, but the North Star seemed to plead with me to follow it,
and I would not turn aside.

When daylight came the consequence was I was empty-handed, and I had to
find a hiding-place for the day. I thought I would approach the first
peasant I came to and ask for food, but that day I had misgivings--a
hunch--that I would get into trouble if I did, and I decided to go
without food altogether for that day.

It was a foolish thing to do, I found, because I not only suffered
greatly from hunger all that day, but it interfered with my sleep. I
would drop off to sleep for half an hour, perhaps, and during that time
I would dream that I was free, back home, living a life of comparative
ease, and then I would wake up with a start and catch a glimpse of the
bushes surrounding me, feel the hard ground beneath me and the hunger
pangs gnawing at my insides, and then I would realize how far from home
I really was, and I would lie there and wonder whether I would ever
really see my home again. Then I would fall asleep again and dream this
time, perhaps, of the days I spent in Courtrai, of my leap from the
train window, of the Bavarian pilot whom I sent to eternity in my last
air-fight, of my tracer-bullets getting closer and closer to his head,
and then I would wake up again with a start and thank the Lord that I
was only dreaming it all again instead of living through it!

That night I got an early start because I knew I had to have food, and I
decided that, rather than look for vegetables, I would take a chance and
apply to the first Belgian peasant I came to.

It was about eight o'clock when I came to a small house. I had picked up
a heavy stone and had bound it in my handkerchief, and I was resolved to
use it as a weapon if it became necessary. After all I had gone through
I was resolved to win my liberty eventually at whatever cost.

As it happened, I found that night the first real friend I had
encountered in all my traveling. When I knocked timidly on the door it
was opened by a Belgian peasant, about fifty years of age. He asked me
in Flemish what I wanted, but I shook my head and, pointing to my ears
and mouth, intimated that I was deaf and dumb, and then I opened and
closed my teeth several times to show him that I wanted food.

He showed me inside and sat me at the table. He apparently lived alone,
for his ill-furnished room had but one chair, and the plate and knife
and fork he put before me seemed to be all he had. He brought me some
cold potatoes and several slices of stale bread, and he warmed me some
milk on a small oil-stove.

I ate ravenously, and all the time I was engaged I knew that he was
eying me closely.

Before I was half through he came over to me, touched me on the
shoulder, and, stooping over so that his lips almost touched my ear, he
said, in broken English, "You are an Englishman--I know it--and you can
hear and talk if you wish. Am I not right?"

There was a smile on his face and a friendly attitude about him that
told me instinctively that he could be trusted, and I replied, "You have
guessed right--only I am an American, not an Englishman."

He looked at me pityingly and filled my cup again with warm milk.

His kindness and apparent willingness to help me almost overcame me,
and I felt like warning him of the consequences he would suffer if the
Huns discovered he had befriended me. I had heard that twenty Belgians
had been shot for helping Belgians to escape into Holland, and I hated
to think what might happen to this Good Samaritan if the Huns ever knew
that he had helped an escaped American prisoner.

After my meal was finished I told him in as simple language as I could
command of some of the experiences I had gone through, and I outlined my
future plans.

"You will never be able to get to Holland," he declared, "without a
passport. The nearer you get to the frontier the more German soldiers
you will encounter, and without a passport you will be a marked man."

I asked him to suggest a way by which I could overcome this difficulty.

He thought for several moments and studied me closely all the
time--perhaps endeavoring to make absolutely sure that I was not a
German spy--and then, apparently deciding in my favor, told me what he
thought it was best for me to do.

"If you will call on this man," mentioning the name of a Belgian in
----, a city through which I had to pass, he advised, "you will be able
to make arrangements with him to secure a passport, and he will do
everything he can to get you out of Belgium."

He told me where the man in question could be found and gave me some
useful directions to continue my journey, and then he led me to the
door. I thanked him a thousand times and wanted to pay him for his
kindness and help, but he would accept nothing. He did give me his
name, and you may be sure I shall never forget it, but to mention it
here might, of course, result in serious consequences for him. When the
war is over, however, or the Germans are thrown out of Belgium, I shall
make it my duty to find that kind Belgian, if to do it I have to go
through again all that I have suffered already.



XI

I ENCOUNTER GERMAN SOLDIERS


What the Belgian had told me about the need of a passport gave me fresh
cause for worry. Suppose I should run into a German sentry before I
succeeded in getting one?

I decided that until I reached the big city which the Belgian had
mentioned--and which I cannot name for fear of identifying some of
the people there who befriended me--I would proceed with the utmost
precaution. Since I had discarded my uniform and had obtained civilian
clothes I had not been quite as careful as I was at first. While I had
done my traveling at night, I had not gone into hiding so early in the
morning as before, and I had sometimes started again before it was quite
dark, relying upon the fact that I would probably be mistaken for a
Belgian on his way to or from work, as the case might be. From now on,
I resolved, however, I would take no more chances.

That evening I came to a river perhaps seventy-five yards wide, and I
was getting ready to swim it when I thought I would walk a little way
to find, if possible, a better place to get to the river from the bank.
I had not walked more than a few hundred feet when I saw a boat. It was
the first time I had seen a boat in all my experiences.

It was firmly chained, but as the stakes were sunk in the soft bank it
was not much of a job to pull them out. I got in, drank to my heart's
content, shoved over to the other side, got out, drove a stake into the
ground, and moored the boat. It would have been a simple matter to have
drifted down the river, but the river was not shown on my map and I had
no idea where it might lead me. Very reluctantly, therefore, I had to
abandon the boat and proceed on foot.

I made several miles that night and before daylight found a safe
place in which to hide for the day. From my hiding-place I could see
through the bushes a heavy thick wood only a short distance away.
I decided that I would start earlier than usual, hurry over to the
wood, and perhaps in that way I could cover two or three miles in the
daytime and gain just so much time. Traveling through the wood would be
comparatively safe. There was a railroad going through the wood, but I
did not figure that that would make it any the less safe.

About three o'clock that afternoon, therefore, I emerged from my
hiding-place and hurried into the wood. After proceeding for half a mile
or so I came to the railroad. I took a sharp look in both directions
and, seeing no signs of trains or soldiers, I walked boldly over the
tracks and continued on my way.

I soon came upon a clearing and knew that some one must be living in the
vicinity. As I turned a group of trees I saw a small house and in the
distance an old man working in a garden. I decided to enter the house
and ask for food, figuring the woman would probably be old and would be
no match for me even if she proved hostile. The old woman who came to
the door in response to my knock was older even than I had expected. If
she wasn't close to a hundred years, I miss my guess very much.

She could not speak English and I could not speak Flemish, of course,
but, nevertheless, I made her understand that I wanted something to eat.
She came out of the door and hollered for her husband in a shrill voice
that would have done credit to a girl of eighteen. The old man came in
from his garden and between the two of them they managed to get the
idea that I was hungry, and they gave me a piece of bread--a very small
piece--which was quite a treat.

The house they lived in consisted of just two rooms--the kitchen and a
bedroom. The kitchen was perhaps fourteen feet square, eight feet of
one side of it being taken up by an enormous fireplace. What was in
the bedroom I had no way of telling, as I did not dare to be too
inquisitive.

I made the old couple understand that I would like to stay in their
house all night, but the old man shook his head. I bade them good-by and
disappeared into the woods, leaving them to speculate as to the strange
foreigner they had entertained.

From the greater density of the population in the section through which
I was now passing I realized that I must be in the outskirts of the
big city which the Belgian had mentioned and where I was to procure a
passport.

Village after village intercepted me, and, although I tried to skirt
them wherever possible, I realized that I would never make much progress
if I continued that course. To gain a mile I would sometimes have to
make a detour of two or three. I decided that I would try my luck in
going straight through the next village I came to.

As I approached it I passed numbers of peasants who were ambling along
the road. I was afraid to mingle with them because it was impossible for
me to talk to them and it was dangerous to arouse suspicion even among
the Belgians. For all I knew, one of them might be treacherous enough to
deliver me to the Germans in return for the reward he might be sure of
receiving.

About nine o'clock that evening I came to a point where ahead of me
on the right was a Belgian police station--I knew it from its red
lights--and on the other side of the street were two German soldiers in
uniform leaning against a bicycle.

Here was a problem which called for instant decision. If I turned back,
the suspicion of the soldiers would be instantly aroused, and if I
crossed the road so as not to pass so closely to them, they might be
equally suspicious. I decided to march bravely by the Huns, bluff my
way through, and trust to Providence. If anybody imagines, however,
that I was at all comfortable as I approached those soldiers, he must
think that I am a much braver man than I claim to be. My heart beat so
loud I was afraid they would hear it. Every step I took brought me so
much nearer to what might prove to be the end of all my hopes. It was a
nerve-racking ordeal.

I was now within a few feet of them. Another step and--

They didn't turn a hair! I passed right by them--heard what they were
saying, although, of course, I didn't understand it, and went right
on. I can't say I didn't walk a little faster as I left them behind,
but I tried to maintain an even gait so as not to give them any idea
of the inward exultation I was experiencing. No words can explain,
however, how relieved I really felt--to know that I had successfully
passed through the first of a series of similar tests which I realized
were in store for me--although I did not know then how soon I was to be
confronted with the second.

As it was, however, the incident gave me a world of confidence. It
demonstrated to me that there was nothing in my appearance, at any rate,
to attract the attention of the German soldiers. Apparently I looked
like a Belgian peasant, and if I could only work things so that I would
never have to answer questions and thus give away my nationality, I
figured I would be tolerably safe.

As I marched along I felt so happy I couldn't help humming the air of
one of the new patriotic songs that we used to sing at the aerodrome
back of Ypres.

In this happy fame of mind I covered the next three miles in about an
hour, and then I came to another little village. My usual course would
have been to go around it--through fields, backyards, woods, or whatever
else lay in my way--but I had gained so much time by going through the
last village instead of detouring around it, and my appearance seemed to
be so unsuspicious, that I decided to try the same stunt again.

I stopped humming and kept very much on the alert, but, apart from that,
I walked boldly through the main street without any feeling of alarm.

I had proceeded perhaps a mile along the main street when I noticed
ahead of me three German soldiers standing at the curb.

Again my heart started to beat fast, I must confess, but I was not
nearly so scared as I had been an hour or so before. I walked ahead,
determined to follow my previous procedure in every particular.

I had got to about fifteen feet away from the soldiers when one of them
stepped onto the sidewalk and shouted:

"Halt!"

My heart stopped beating fast--for a moment, I believe, it stopped
beating altogether! I can't attempt to describe my feelings. The thought
that the jig was up, that all I had gone through and all I had escaped
would now avail me nothing, mingled with a feeling of disgust with
myself because of the foolish risk I had taken in going through the
village, combined to take all the starch out of me, and I could feel
myself wilting as the soldier advanced to the spot where I stood rooted
in my tracks.

I had a bottle of water in one pocket and a piece of bread in the other,
and as the Hun advanced to search me I held the bottle up in one hand
and the piece of bread in the other so that he could see that was all I
had.

It occurred to me that he would "frisk" me--that is, feel me over for
arms or other weapons, then place me under arrest and march me off to
the guard-house. I had not the slightest idea but that I was captured,
and there didn't seem to be much use in resisting, unarmed as I was and
with two other German soldiers within a few feet of us.

Like a flash it suddenly dawned on me, however, that for all this
soldier could have known I was only a Belgian peasant and that his
object in searching me, which he proceeded to do, was to ascertain
whether I had committed the common "crime" of smuggling potatoes!

The Belgians are allowed only a certain amount of potatoes, and it is
against the laws laid down by the Huns to deal in vegetables of any kind
except under the rigid supervision of the authorities. Nevertheless, it
was one of the principal vocations of the average poor Belgian to buy
potatoes out in the country from the peasants and then smuggle them into
the large cities and sell them clandestinely at a high price.

To stop this traffic in potatoes the German soldiers were in the habit
of subjecting the Belgians to frequent search, and I was being held up
by this soldier for no other reason than that he thought I might be a
potato-smuggler!

He felt of my outside clothes and pockets, and, finding no potatoes,
seemed to be quite satisfied. Had he but known who I was he could have
earned an iron cross! Or perhaps, in view of the fact that I had a heavy
water-bottle in my uplifted hand, it might have turned out to be a
_wooden_ cross!

He said something in German, which, of course, I did not understand,
and then some Belgian peasants came along and seemed to distract his
attention. Perhaps he had said, "It's all right, you may go on," or
he may have been talking to the others in Flemish, but, at any rate,
observing that he was more interested in the others than he was in me at
the moment, I put the bottle in my pocket and walked on.

After I walked a few steps I took a furtive glance backward and noticed
the soldier who had searched me rejoin his comrades at the curb and then
stop another fellow who had come along, and then I disappeared in the
darkness.

I cannot say that the outcome of this adventure left me in the same
confident frame of mind that followed the earlier one. It was true I had
come out of it all right, but I could not help thinking what a terribly
close shave I had.

Suppose the soldier had questioned me? The ruse I had been following
in my dealings with the Belgian peasants--pretending I was deaf and
dumb--might possibly have worked here, too, but a soldier--a German
soldier--might not so easily have been fooled. It was more than an even
chance that it would at least have aroused his suspicions and resulted
in further investigation. A search of my clothing would have revealed
a dozen things which would have established my identity, and all my
shamming of deafness would have availed me nothing.

As I wandered along I knew that I was now approaching the big city which
my Belgian friend had spoken of and which I would have to enter if I was
to get the passport, and I realized now how essential it was to have
something to enable me to get through the frequent examinations to which
I expected to be subjected.

While I was still debating in my mind whether it was going to be
possible for me to enter the city that night, I saw in the distance what
appeared to be an arc-light, and as I neared it that was what it turned
out to be. Beneath the light I could make out the forms of three guards,
and the thought of having to go through the same kind of ordeal that I
had just experienced filled me with misgivings. Was it possible that I
could be fortunate enough to get by again?

As I slowed up a little, trying to make up my mind what was best to do,
I was overtaken by a group of Belgian women who were shuffling along
the road, and I decided to mingle with them and see if I couldn't convey
the impression that I was one of their party.

As we approached the arc-light the figures of those three soldiers with
their spiked helmets loomed up before me like a regiment. I felt as if
I were walking right into the jaws of death. Rather than go through
what was in store for me I felt that I would infinitely prefer to be
fighting again in the air with those four desperate Huns who had been
the cause of my present plight; then, at least, I would have a chance to
fight back, but now I had to risk my life and take what was coming to me
without a chance to strike a blow in my own defense.

I shall never forget my feelings as we came within the shaft of light
projected by that great arc-light, nor the faces of those three guards
as we passed by them. I didn't look directly at them, but out of the
corner of my eye I didn't miss a detail. I held a handkerchief up to my
face as we passed them, and endeavored to imitate the slouching gait of
the Belgians as well as I could; and apparently it worked. We walked
right by those guards and they paid absolutely no attention to us.

If ever a fellow felt like going down on his knees and praying, I did at
that moment, but it wouldn't have done to show my elation or gratitude
in that conspicuous way.

It was then well after eleven o'clock, and I knew it would be unsafe for
me to attempt to find a lodging-place in the city, and the only thing
for me to do was to locate the man whose name the Belgian had given me.
He had given me a good description of the street and had directed me how
to get there, and I followed his instructions closely.

After walking the streets for about half an hour I came upon one of the
landmarks my friend had described to me, and ten minutes afterward I was
knocking at the door of the man who was to make it possible for me to
reach Holland--and liberty. At least that was what I hoped.



XII

THE FORGED PASSPORT


For obvious reasons I cannot describe the man to whom I applied for
the passport, nor the house in which he lived. While, in view of what
subsequently happened, I would not be very much concerned if he got
into trouble for having dealt with me, I realize that the hardships he
had endured in common with all the other inhabitants of that conquered
city may possibly have distorted his ideas of right and justice, and I
shall not deliberately bring further disaster on him by revealing his
identity.

This man--we will call him Huyliger, because that is as unlike his
name as it is mine--was very kind to me on that memorable night when I
aroused him from his sleep and in a few words of explanation told him of
my plight.

He invited me inside, prepared some food for me, and, putting on a
dressing-gown, came and sat by me while I ate, listening with the
greatest interest to the short account I gave him of my adventures.

He could speak English fluently, and he interrupted me several times to
express his sympathy for the sufferings I had endured.

"O'Brien," he said, after I had concluded my story, "I am going to
help you. It may take several days--perhaps as long as two weeks, but
eventually we will provide the means to enable you to get into Holland!"

I thanked him a thousand times and told him that I didn't know how I
could possibly repay him.

"Don't think of that," he replied; "the satisfaction of knowing that I
have aided in placing one more victim of the Huns beyond their power to
harm him will more than repay me for all the risk I shall run in helping
you. You'd better turn in now, O'Brien, and in the morning I'll tell you
what I plan to do."

He showed me to a small room on the second floor, shook hands with me,
and left me to prepare for the first real night's rest I had been able
to take in nearly two months.

As I removed my clothes and noticed that my knees were still swollen to
twice their normal size, that my left ankle was black and blue from the
wrench I had given it when I jumped from the train, and that my ribs
showed through my skin, I realized what a lot I had been through. As a
matter of fact, I could not have weighed more than one hundred and fifty
pounds at that time, whereas I had tipped the scales at one hundred and
ninety when I was with my squadron in France.

I lost no time in getting into bed and still less in getting to sleep.
I don't know what I dreamed of that night, but I had plenty of time to
go through the experiences of my whole life, for when I was aroused by a
knock on the door, and Huyliger came in, in response to my invitation to
enter, he told me that it was nearly noon. I had slept for nearly twelve
hours.

I cannot say that the thought did not run through my head that perhaps,
after all, I was living in a fool's paradise, and that when Huyliger
reappeared it would be with a couple of German soldiers behind him,
but I dismissed such misgivings summarily, realizing that I was doing
Huyliger an injustice to let such things enter my head even for an
instant. I had no right to doubt his sincerity, and it would do me no
good to entertain such suspicions. If he was going to prove treacherous
to me, I was powerless, anyway, to cope with him.

In a few moments my host appeared with a tray containing my breakfast.
I don't suppose I shall ever forget that meal. It consisted of a cup of
coffee--real coffee, not the kind I had had at Courtrai--several slices
of bread, some hot potatoes, and a dish of scrambled eggs.

Every mouthful of that meal tasted like angel-food to me, and Huyliger
sat on the edge of the bed and watched me enjoying the meal, at the same
time outlining the plans he had made for my escape.

In brief, the scheme was to conceal me in a convent until conditions
were ripe for me to make my way to the border. In the mean while I was
to be dressed in the garb of a priest, and when the time came for me to
leave the city I was to pretend that I was a Spanish sailor, because
I could speak a little Spanish, which I had picked up on the coast.
To attempt to play the part of a Belgian would become increasingly
difficult, he pointed out, and would bring inevitable disaster in the
event that I was called upon to speak.

Huyliger said I would be given sufficient money to bribe the German
guards at the Dutch frontier, and he assured me that everything would
work out according to schedule.

"Yours is not the first case, O'Brien, we have handled successfully," he
declared. "Only three weeks ago I heard from an English merchant who had
escaped from a German detention camp and come to me for assistance, and
whom I had been able to get through the lines. His message telling me of
his safe arrival in Rotterdam came to me in an indirect way, of course,
but the fact that the plans we had made carried through without mishap
makes me feel that we ought to be able to do as much for you."

I told Huyliger I was ready to follow his instructions and would do
anything he suggested.

"I want to rejoin my squadron as soon as I possibly can, of course," I
told him, "but I realize that it will take a certain length of time for
you to make the necessary arrangements, and I will be as patient as I
can."

The first thing to do, Huyliger told me, was to prepare a passport. He
had a blank one and it was a comparatively simple matter to fill in the
spaces, using a genuine passport which Huyliger possessed as a sample
of the handwriting of the passport clerk. My occupation was entered as
that of a sailor. My birthplace we gave as Spain, and we put my age at
thirty. As a matter of fact, at that time I could easily have passed for
thirty-five, but we figured that with proper food and a decent place
to sleep in at night I would soon regain my normal appearance and the
passport would have to serve me, perhaps, for several weeks to come.

Filling in the blank spaces on the passport was, as I have said, a
comparatively easy matter, but that did not begin to fill the bill.
Every genuine passport bore an official rubber stamp, something like an
elaborate postmark, and I was at a loss to know how to get over that
difficulty.

[Illustration: THE FORGED PASSPORT PREPARED IN A BELGIAN CITY TO AID
LIEUTENANT O'BRIEN'S ESCAPE INTO HOLLAND, BUT WHICH WAS NEVER USED]

Fortunately, however, Huyliger had half of a rubber stamp which had
evidently been thrown away by the Germans, and he planned to construct
the other half out of the cork from a wine bottle. He was very skilful
with a penknife, and although he spoiled a score or more of corks before
he succeeded in getting anything like the result he was after, the
finished article was far better than our most sanguine expectations.
Indeed, after we had pared it over here and there and removed whatever
imperfections our repeated tests disclosed, we had a stamp which made
an impression so closely resembling the original that, without a
magnifying-glass, we were sure it would have been impossible to tell
that it was a counterfeit.

Huyliger procured a camera and took a photograph of me to paste on the
passport in the place provided for that purpose, and we then had a
passport which was entirely satisfactory to both of us and would, we
hoped, prove equally so to our friends the Huns.

It had taken two days to fix up the passport. In the mean while,
Huyliger informed me that he had changed his plans about the convent,
and that instead he would take me to an empty house where I could remain
in safety until he told me it was advisable for me to proceed to the
frontier.

This was quite agreeable to me, as I had had some misgivings as to the
kind of a priest I would make, and it seemed to me to be safer to remain
aloof from every one in a deserted house than to have to mingle with
people or come in contact with them even with the best of disguises.

That night I accompanied Huyliger to a fashionable section of the city
where the house in which I was to be concealed was located.

This house turned out to be a four-story structure of brick. Huyliger
told me that it had been occupied by a wealthy Belgian before the
war, but since 1914 it had been uninhabited save for the occasional
habitation of some refugee whom Huyliger was befriending.

Huyliger had a key and let me in, but he did not enter the house with
me, stating that he would visit me in the morning.

I explored the place from top to bottom as well as I could without
lights. The house was elaborately furnished, but, of course, the dust
lay a quarter of an inch thick almost everywhere. It was a large house,
containing some twenty rooms. There were two rooms in the basement,
four on the first floor, four on the second, five on the third, and
five on the top. In the days that were to come I was to have plenty of
opportunity to familiarize myself with the contents of that house, but
at the time I did not know it, and I was curious enough to want to know
just what the house contained.

Down in the basement there was a huge pantry, but it was absolutely
bare, except of dust and dirt. A door which evidently led to a
sub-basement attracted my attention, and I thought it might be a good
idea to know just where it led in case it became necessary for me to
elude searchers.

In that cellar I found case after case of choice wine--Huyliger
subsequently told me that there were eighteen hundred bottles of it. I
was so happy at the turn my affairs had taken and in the rosy prospects
which I now entertained that I was half inclined to indulge in a little
celebration then and there. On second thoughts, however, I remembered
the old warning of the folly of shouting before you are well out of
the woods, and I decided that it would be just as well to postpone the
festivities for a while and go to bed instead.

In such an elaborately furnished house I had naturally conjured up ideas
of a wonderfully large bed, with thick hair mattresses, downy quilts,
and big soft pillows. Indeed, I debated for a while which particular
bedroom I should honor with my presence that night. Judge of my
disappointment, therefore, when, after visiting bedroom after bedroom,
I discovered that there wasn't a bed in any one of them that was in a
condition to sleep in. All the mattresses had been removed and the rooms
were absolutely bare of everything in the way of wool, silk, or cotton
fabrics. The Germans had apparently swept the house clean.

There was nothing to do, therefore, but to make myself as comfortable
as I could on the floor, but as I had grown accustomed by this time
to sleeping under far less comfortable conditions I swallowed my
disappointment as cheerfully as I could and lay down for the night.

In the morning Huyliger appeared and brought me some breakfast, and
after I had eaten it he asked me what connections I had in France or
England from whom I could obtain money.

I told him that I banked at Cox & Co., London, and that if he needed any
money I would do anything I could to get it for him, although I did not
know just how such things could be arranged.

"Don't worry about that, O'Brien," he replied. "We'll find a way of
getting at it, all right. What I want to know is how far you are
prepared to go to compensate me for the risks I am taking and for the
service I am rendering you."

The change in the man's attitude stunned me. I could hardly believe my
ears.

"Of course, I shall pay you as well as I can for what you have done,
Huyliger," I replied, trying to conceal as far as possible the
disappointment his demand had occasioned me. "But don't you think that
this is hardly the proper time or occasion to talk of compensation? All
I have on me, as you know, is a few hundred francs, and that, of course,
you are welcome to, and when I get back, if I ever do, I shall not
easily forget the kindness you have shown me. I am sure you need have no
concern about my showing my gratitude in a substantial way."

"That's all right, O'Brien," he insisted, looking at me in a knowing
sort of way. "You may take care of me afterward, and then again you may
not. I'm not satisfied to wait. I want to be taken care of _now_!"

"Well, what do you want me to do? How much do you expect in the way of
compensation? How can I arrange to get it to you? I am willing to do
anything that is reasonable."

"I want ---- pounds!" he replied, and he named a figure that staggered
me. If I had been Lord Kitchener instead of just an ordinary lieutenant
in the R. F. C., he would hardly have asked a larger sum. Perhaps he
thought I was.

"Why, my dear man," I said, smilingly, thinking that perhaps he was
joking, "you don't really mean that, do you?"

"I certainly do, O'Brien, and what is more," he threatened, "I intend to
get every cent I have asked, and you are going to help me get it!"

He pulled out an order calling for the payment to him of the amount he
had mentioned, and demanded that I sign it.

I waved it aside.

"Huyliger," I said, "you have helped me out so far, and perhaps you have
the power to help me further. I appreciate what you have done for me,
although now, I think, I see what your motive was, but I certainly don't
intend to be blackmailed, and I tell you right now that I won't stand
for it!"

"Very well," he said. "It is just as you say. But before you make up
your mind so obstinately I would advise you to think it over. I'll be
back this evening."

My first impulse, after the man had left, was to get out of that house
just as soon as I could. I had the passport he had prepared for me, and
I figured that even without further help from him I could now get to the
border without very much difficulty, and when I got there I would have
to use my own ingenuity to get through.

It was evident, however, that Huyliger still had an idea that I might
change my mind with regard to the payment he had demanded, and I decided
that it would be foolish to do anything until he paid me a second visit.

At the beginning of my dealings with Huyliger I had turned over to him
some pictures, papers, and other things that I had on me when I entered
his house, including my identification disk, and I was rather afraid
that he might refuse to return them to me.

All day long I remained in the house without a particle of food other
than the breakfast Huyliger had brought to me. From the windows I
could see plenty to interest me and help pass the time away, but of
my experiences while in that house I shall tell in detail later on,
confining my attention now to a narration of my dealings with Huyliger.

That night he appeared, as he had promised.

"Well, O'Brien," he asked, as he entered the room where I was awaiting
him, "what do you say? Will you sign the order or not?"

It had occurred to me during the day that the amount demanded was so
fabulous that I might have signed the order without any danger of
its ever being paid, but the idea of this man, who had claimed to be
befriending me, endeavoring to make capital out of my plight galled me
so that I was determined not to give in to him, whether I could do so in
safety or not.

"No, Huyliger," I replied. "I have decided to get along as best I can
without any further assistance from you. I shall see that you are
reasonably paid for what you have done, but I will not accept any
further assistance from you at any price, and, what is more, I want
you to return to me at once all the photographs and other papers and
belongings of mine which I turned over to you a day or two ago!"

"I'm sorry about that, O'Brien," he retorted, with a show of apparent
sincerity, "but that is something I cannot do."

"If you don't give me back those papers at once," I replied, hotly, "I
will take steps to get them and damned quick, too!"

"I don't know just what you could do, O'Brien," he declared, coolly,
"but as a matter of fact the papers and pictures you refer to are out of
the country. I could not give them back to you if I wanted to."

Something told me the man was lying.

"See here, Huyliger!" I threatened, advancing toward him, putting my
hand on his shoulder and looking him straight in the eye, "I want those
papers and I want them here before midnight to-night. If I don't get
them, I shall sleep in this place just once more, and then, at eight
o'clock to-morrow morning, I shall go to the German authorities, give
myself up, show them the passport that you fixed up for me, tell them
how I got it, and explain everything!"

Huyliger paled. We had no lights in the house, but we were standing
near a landing at the time and the moonlight was streaming through a
stained-glass window.

The Belgian turned on his heel and started to go down the stairs.

"Mind you," I called after him, "I shall wait for you till the city
clock strikes twelve, and if you don't show up with those papers by that
time, the next time you will see me is when you confront me before the
German authorities! I am a desperate man, Huyliger, and I mean every
word I say!"

He let himself out of the door and I sat on the top stair and wondered
just what he would do. Would he try to steal a march on me and get in
a first word to the authorities, so that my story would be discredited
when I put it to them?

Of course my threat to give myself up to the Huns was a pure bluff.
While I had no desire to lose the papers which Huyliger had, and which
included the map of the last resting-place of my poor chum Raney, I
certainly had no intention of cutting off my nose to spite my chin by
surrendering to the Germans. I would have been shot, as sure as fate,
for, after all I had been able to observe behind the German lines, I
would be regarded as a spy and treated as such.

At the same time I thought I had detected a yellow streak in Huyliger,
and I figured that he would not want to take the risk of my carrying out
my threat, even though he believed there was but a small chance of my
doing so. If I did, he would undoubtedly share my fate, and the pictures
and papers he had of mine were really of no use to him, and I have never
been able to ascertain why it was he wished to retain them unless they
contained something--some information about me--which accounted for his
complete change of attitude toward me in the first place, and he wanted
the papers as evidence to account to his superiors or associates for his
conduct toward me.

When he first told me that the plan of placing me in a convent disguised
as a priest had been abandoned he explained it by saying that the
Cardinal had issued orders to the priests to help no more fugitives,
and I have since wondered whether there was anything in my papers which
had turned him against me and led him to forsake me after all he had
promised to do for me.

For perhaps two hours I sat on that staircase musing about the peculiar
turn in my affairs, when the front door opened and Huyliger ascended
the stairs.

"I have brought you such of your belongings as I still had, O'Brien," he
said, softly. "The rest, as I told you, I cannot give you. They are no
longer in my possession."

I looked through the little bunch he handed me. It included my
identification disk, most of the papers I valued, and perhaps half of
the photographs.

"I don't know what your object is in retaining the rest of my pictures,
Huyliger," I replied, "but, as a matter of fact, the ones that are
missing were only of sentimental value to me, and you are welcome to
them if you want them. We'll call it a heat."

I don't know whether he understood the idiom, but he sat down on the
stairs just below me and cogitated for a few moments.

"O'Brien," he started, finally, "I'm sorry things have gone the way
they have. I feel sorry for you and I would really like to help you. I
don't suppose you will believe me, but the matter of the order which I
asked you to sign was not of my doing. However, we won't go into that.
The proposition was made to you and you turned it down, and that's an
end of it. At the same time, I hate to leave you to your own resources
and I'm going to make one more suggestion to you for your own good. I
have another plan to get you into Holland, and if you will go with me
to another house I will introduce you to a man who I think will be in a
position to help you."

"How many millions of pounds will he want for his trouble?" I asked,
sarcastically.

"You can arrange that when you see him. Will you go?"

I suspected there was something fishy about the proposition, but I felt
that I could take care of myself and decided to see the thing through.
I knew Huyliger would not dare to deliver me to the authorities because
of the fact that I had the telltale passport, which would be his
death-knell as well as my own.

Accordingly I said I would be quite willing to go with him whenever he
was ready, and he suggested that we go the next evening.

I pointed out to him that I was entirely without food and asked him
whether he could not arrange to bring or send me something to eat while
I remained in the house.

"I'm sorry, O'Brien," he replied, "but I'm afraid you'll have to get
along as best you can. When I brought you your breakfast this morning I
took a desperate chance. If I had been discovered by one of the German
soldiers entering this house with food in my possession, I would not
only have paid the penalty myself, but you would have been discovered,
too. It is too dangerous a proposition. Why don't you go out by yourself
and buy your food at the stores? That would give you confidence, and
you'll need plenty of it when you continue your journey to the border."

There was a good deal of truth in what he said, and I really could not
blame him for not wanting to take any chances to help me, in view of the
relations between us.

"Very well," I said; "I've gone without food for many hours at a time
before and I suppose I shall be able to do so again. I shall look for
you to-morrow evening."

The next evening he came and I accompanied him to another house not
very far from the one in which I had been staying and not unlike it in
appearance. It, too, was a substantial dwelling-house which had been
untenanted since the beginning, save perhaps for such occasional visits
as Huyliger and his associates made to it.

Huyliger let himself in and conducted me to a room on the second floor,
where he introduced me to two men. One, I could readily see by the
resemblance, was his own brother. The other was a stranger.

Very briefly they explained to me that they had procured another
passport for me--a genuine one--which would prove far more effective
in helping to get me to the frontier than the counterfeit one they had
manufactured for me.

I think I saw through their game right at the start, but I listened
patiently to what they had to say.

"Of course, you will have to return to us the passport we gave you
before we can give you the real one," said Huyliger's brother.

"I haven't the slightest objection," I replied, "if the new passport is
all you claim for it. Will you let me see it?"

There was considerable hesitation on the part of Huyliger's brother and
the other chap at this.

"Why, I don't think that's necessary at all, Mr. O'Brien," said the
former. "You give us the old passport and we will be very glad to give
you the new one for it. Isn't that fair enough?"

"It may be fair enough, my friends," I retorted, seeing that it was
useless to conceal further the fact that I was fully aware of their
whole plan and why I had been brought to this house. "It may be fair
enough, my friends," I said, "but you will get the passport that I have
here," patting my side and indicating my inside breast pocket, "only off
my dead body!"

I suppose the three of them could have made short work of me then and
there if they had wanted to go the limit, and no one would ever have
been the wiser, but I had gone through so much and I was feeling so mean
toward the whole world just at that moment that I was determined to sell
my life as dearly as possible.

"I have that passport here," I repeated, "and I'm going to keep it. If
you gentlemen think you can take it from me, you are welcome to try!"

To tell the truth, I was spoiling for a fight and I half wished they
would start something. The man who had lived in the house had evidently
been a collector of ancient pottery, for the walls were lined with great
pieces of earthenware which had every earmark of possessing great value.
They certainly possessed great weight. I figured that if the worst came
to the worst that pottery would come in mighty handy. A single blow
with one of those big vases would put a man out as neatly as possible,
and as there was lots of pottery and only three men I believed I had an
excellent chance of holding my own in the combat which I had invited.

I had already picked out in my mind what I was going to use, and I got
up, stood with my back to the wall, and told them that if they ever
figured on getting the passport, then would be their best chance.

Apparently they realized that I meant business and they immediately
began to expostulate at the attitude I was taking.

One of the men spoke excellent English. In fact, he told me that he
could speak five languages, and if he could lie in the others as well I
know he did in my own tongue, he was not only an accomplished linguist,
but a most versatile liar into the bargain.

They argued and expostulated with me for some time.

"My dear fellow," said the linguist, "it is not that we want to deprive
you of the passport. Good Heavens! if it will aid you in getting out
of the country, I wish you could have six just like it. But for our
own protection you owe it to us to proceed on your journey as best you
can without it, because as long as you have it in your possession you
jeopardize our lives, too. Don't you think it is fairer that you should
risk your own safety rather than place the lives of three innocent men
in danger?"

"That may be as it is, my friends," I retorted, as I made my way to the
door, "and I am glad you realize your danger. Keep it in mind, for in
case any of you should happen to feel inclined to notify the German
authorities that I am in this part of the country, think it over before
you do so. Remember always that if the Germans get me, they get the
passport, too, and if they get the passport, your lives won't be worth a
damn! When I tell the history of that clever little piece of pasteboard
I will implicate all three of you, and whomever else is working with
you, and as I am an officer I rather think my word will be taken before
yours. Good night!"

The bluff evidently worked, because I was able to get out of the city
without molestation from the Germans.

I have never seen these men since. I hope I never shall, because I am
afraid I might be tempted to do something for which I might afterward be
sorry.

I do not mean to imply that all Belgians are like this. I had evidently
fallen into the hands of a gang who were endeavoring to make capital
out of the misfortunes of those who were referred to them for help. In
all countries there are bad as well as good, and in a country which
has suffered so much as poor Belgium it is no wonder if some of the
survivors have lost their sense of moral perspective.

I know the average poor peasant in Belgium would divide his scanty
rations with a needy fugitive sooner than a wealthy Belgian would dole
out a morsel from his comparatively well-stocked larder. Perhaps the
poor have less to lose than the rich if their generosity or charity is
discovered by the Huns.

There have been many Belgians shot for helping escaped prisoners and
other fugitives, and it is not to be wondered at that they are willing
to take as few chances as possible. A man with a family, especially,
does not feel justified in helping a stranger when he knows that he and
his whole family may be shot or sent to prison for their pains.

Although I suffered much from the attitude of Huyliger and his
associates, I suppose I ought to hold no grudge against them in view of
the unenviable predicament which they are in themselves.



XIII

FIVE DAYS IN AN EMPTY HOUSE


The five days I spent in that house seemed to me like five years. During
all that time I had very little to eat--less, in fact, than I had been
getting in the fields. I did not feel it so much, perhaps, because of
the fact that I was no longer exposed to the other privations which
had helped to make my condition so wretched. I now had a good place to
sleep, at any rate, and I did not awake every half-hour or so as I had
been accustomed to do in the fields and woods, and, of course, my hunger
was not aggravated by the physical exertions which had been necessary
before.

Nevertheless, perhaps because I had more time now to think of the hunger
pains which were gnawing at me all the time, I don't believe I was ever
so miserable as I was at that period of my adventure. I felt so mean
toward the world I would have committed murder, I think, with very
little provocation.

German soldiers were passing the house at all hours of the day. I
watched them hour after hour from the keyhole of the door--to have shown
myself at the window was out of the question because the house in which
I was concealed was supposed to be untenanted.

Because of the fact that I was unable to speak either Flemish or German
I could not go out and buy food, although I still had the money with
which to do it. That was one of the things that galled me--the thought
that I had the wherewithal in my jeans to buy all the food I needed, and
yet no way of getting it without endangering my liberty and life.

At night, however, after it was dark, I would steal quietly out of the
house to see what I could pick up in the way of food. By that time, of
course, the stores were closed, but I scoured the streets, the alleys,
and the byways for scraps of food, and occasionally got up courage
enough to appeal to Belgian peasants whom I met on the streets, and in
that way I managed to keep body and soul together.

It was quite apparent to me, however, that I was worse off in the city
than I had been in the fields, and I decided to get out of that house
just as soon as I knew definitely that Huyliger had made up his mind to
do nothing further for me.

When I was not at the keyhole of the door I spent most of my day on the
top floor in a room which looked out on the street. By keeping well away
from the window I could see much of what was going on without being
seen myself. In my restlessness I used to walk back and forth in that
room, and I kept it up so constantly that I believe I must have worn a
path on the floor. It was nine steps from one wall to the other, and as
I had little else to amuse me I figured out one day, after I had been
pacing up and down for several hours, just how much distance I would
have covered on my way to Holland if my footsteps had been taking me in
that direction instead of just up and down that old room. I was very
much surprised that in three hours I crossed the room no less than
five thousand times and the distance covered was between nine and ten
miles. It was not very gratifying to realize that after walking all that
distance I wasn't a step nearer my goal than when I started, but I had
to do something while waiting for Huyliger to help me, and pacing up and
down was a natural outlet for my restlessness.

While looking out of that top-floor window one day I noticed a cat on a
window-ledge of the house across the street. I had a piece of a broken
mirror which I had picked up in the house and I used to amuse myself for
an hour at a time shining it in the cat's eyes across the street. At
first the animal was annoyed by the reflection and would move away, only
to come back a few moments later. By and by, however, it seemed to get
used to the glare and wouldn't budge, no matter how strong the sunlight
was. Playing with the cat in this way was the means of my getting food a
day or two later--at a time when I was so famished that I was ready to
do almost anything to appease my hunger.

It was about seven o'clock in the evening. I was expecting Huyliger at
eight, but I hadn't the slightest hope that he would bring me food,
as he had told me that he wouldn't take the risk of having food in his
possession when calling on me. I was standing at the window in such
a way that I could see what was going on in the street without being
observed by those who passed by, when I noticed my friend the cat coming
down the steps of the opposite house with something in his mouth.
Without considering the risks I ran, I opened the front door, ran down
the steps and across the street, and pounced on the cat before it could
get away with its supper, for that, as I had imagined, was what I had
seen in its mouth. It turned out to be a piece of stewed rabbit, which I
confiscated eagerly and took back with me to the house.

Perhaps I felt a little sorry for the cat, but I certainly had no other
qualms about eating the animal's dinner. I was much too hungry to dwell
upon niceties, and a piece of stewed rabbit was certainly too good for
a cat to eat when a man was starving. I ate it and enjoyed it, and the
incident suggested to me a way in which I might possibly obtain food
again when all other avenues failed.

From my place of concealment I frequently saw huge carts being pushed
through the streets gathering potato peelings, refuse of cabbage, and
similar food remnants which, in America, are considered garbage and
destroyed. In Belgium they were using this "garbage" to make their bread
out of, and while the idea may sound revolting to us, the fact is that
the Germans have brought these things down to such a science that the
bread they make in this way is really very good to eat. I know it would
have been like cake to me when I was in need of food; indeed, I would
have eaten the "garbage" direct, let alone the bread.

Although, as I have said, I suffered greatly from hunger while occupying
this house, there were one or two things I observed through the keyhole
or from the windows which made me laugh, and some of the incidents that
occurred during my voluntary imprisonment were really rather funny.

From the keyhole I could see, for instance, a shop window on the other
side of the street, several houses down the block. All day long German
soldiers would be passing in front of the house, and I noticed that
practically every one of them would stop in front of this store window
and look in. Occasionally a soldier on duty bent would hurry past, but
I think nine out of ten of them were sufficiently interested to spend
at least a minute, and some of them three or four minutes, gazing at
whatever was being exhibited in that window, although I noticed that it
failed to attract the Belgians.

I have a considerable streak of curiosity in me and I couldn't help
wondering what it could be in that window which almost without exception
seemed to interest German soldiers, but failed to hold the Belgians,
and after conjuring my brains for a while on the problem I came to the
conclusion that the shop must have been a book-shop and the window
contained German magazines, which, naturally enough, would be of the
greatest interest to the Germans, but of none to the Belgians.

At any rate, I resolved that as soon as night came I would go out and
investigate the window. When I got the answer I laughed so loud that
I was afraid for the moment I must have attracted the attention of the
neighbors, but I couldn't help it. The window was filled with huge
quantities of sausage. The store was a butcher-shop, and one of the
principal things they sold, apparently, was sausage. The display they
made, although it consisted merely of quantities of sausage piled in
the windows, certainly had plenty of "pulling" power. It "pulled" nine
Germans out of ten out of their course and indirectly it "pulled" me
right across the street. The idea of those Germans being so interested
in that window display as to stand in front of the window for two,
three, or four minutes at a time, however, certainly seemed funny to me,
and when I got back to the house I sat at the keyhole again and found
just as much interest as before in watching the Germans stop in their
tracks when they reached the window, even though I was now aware what
the attraction was.

One of my chief occupations during those days was catching flies. I
would catch a fly, put him in a spider's web--there were plenty of
them in the old house--and sit down to wait for the spider to come
and get him. But always I pictured myself in the same predicament and
rescued the fly just as the spider was about to grab him. Several times
when things were dull I was tempted to see the tragedy through, but
perhaps the same Providence that guided me safely through all perils was
guarding, too, the destiny of those flies, for I always weakened and the
flies never did suffer from my lust for amusement.

The house was well supplied with books--in fact, one of the choicest
libraries I think I ever saw--but they were all written either in
Flemish or in French. I could read no Flemish and very little French.
I might have made a little headway with the latter, but the books all
seemed too deep for me and I gave it up. There was one thing, though,
that I did read and re-read from beginning to end--that was a New York
_Herald_ which must have arrived just about the time war was declared.
Several things in there interested me, and particularly the baseball
scores, which I studied with as much care as a real fan possibly would
an up-to-date score. I couldn't refrain from laughing when I came to an
account of Zimmerman (of the Cubs) being benched for some spat with the
umpire, and it afforded me just as much interest three years after it
had happened--perhaps more--than some current item of worldwide interest
had at the time.

I rummaged the house many times from cellar to garret in my search for
something to eat, but the harvest of three years of war had made any
success along that line impossible. I was like the man out on the ocean
in a boat and thirsty, with water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

I was tempted while in this city to go to church one Sunday, but my
better judgment told me it would be a useless risk. Of course some one
would surely say something to me, and I didn't know how many Germans
would be there, or what might happen, so I gave up that idea.

During all the time I was concealed in this house I saw but one
automobile, and that was a German staff officer's. That same afternoon I
had one of the frights of my young life.

I had been gazing out of the keyhole as usual when I heard coming down
the street the measured tread of German soldiers. It didn't sound like
very many, but there was no doubt in my mind that German soldiers were
marching down the street. I went up-stairs and peeked through the
window, and sure enough a squad of German infantry was coming down the
street, accompanying a military truck. I hadn't the slightest idea that
they were coming after me, but still the possibilities of the situation
gave me more or less alarm, and I considered how I could make my escape
if by any chance I was the man they were after. The idea of hiding in
the wine-cellar appealed to me as the most practical; there must have
been plenty of places among the wine kegs and cases where a man could
conceal himself, but, as a matter of fact, I did not believe that any
such contingency would arise.

The marching soldiers came nearer. I could hear them at the next house.
In a moment I would see them pass the keyhole through which I was
looking.

"Halt!"

At the word of command shouted by a junior officer the squad came to
attention right in front of the house.

I waited no longer. Running down the stairs, I flew down into the
wine-cellar, and although it was almost pitch dark--the only light
coming from a grating which led to the backyard--I soon found a
satisfactory hiding-place in the extreme rear of the cellar. I had the
presence of mind to leave the door of the wine-cellar ajar, figuring
that if the soldiers found a closed door they would be more apt to
search for a fugitive behind it than if the door were open.

My decision to get away from the front door had been made and carried
out none too soon, for I had only just located myself between two big
wine-cases when I heard the tramp of soldiers' feet marching up the
front steps, a crash at the front door, a few hasty words of command
which I did not understand, and then the noise of scurrying feet from
room to room and such a banging and hammering and smashing and crashing
that I could not make out what was going on.

If Huyliger had revealed my hiding-place to the Huns, as I was now
confident he had, I felt that there was little prospect of their
overlooking me. They would search the house from top to bottom and, if
necessary, raze it to the ground before they would give up the search.
To escape from the house through the backyard through the iron grating,
which I had no doubt I could force, seemed to be a logical thing to do,
but the chances were that the Huns had thrown a cordon around the entire
block before the squad was sent to the house. The Germans do these
things in an efficient manner always. They take nothing for granted.

My one chance seemed to be to stand pat in the hope that the officer in
charge might possibly come to the conclusion that he had arrived at the
house too late--that the bird had flown.

My position in that wine-cellar was anything but a comfortable one. Rats
and mice were scurrying across the floor, and the smashing and crashing
going on overhead was anything but promising. Evidently those soldiers
imagined that I might be hiding in the walls, for it sounded as though
they were tearing off the wainscoting, the picture-molding, and, in
fact, everything that they could tear or pull apart.

Before very long they would finish their search up-stairs and would come
down to the basement. What they would do when they discovered the wine
I had no idea. Perhaps they would let themselves loose on it and give
me my chance. With a bottle of wine in each hand I figured I could put
up a good fight in the dark, especially as I was becoming more and more
accustomed to it and could begin to distinguish things here and there,
whereas they would be as blind as bats in the sun when they entered the
pitchy darkness of the cellar.

Perhaps it was twenty minutes before I heard what sounded like my
death-knell to me; the soldiers were coming down the cellar steps. I
clutched a wine bottle in each hand and waited with bated breath.

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! In a moment they would be in the cellar proper. I
could almost hear my heart beating. The mice scurried across the floor
by the scores, frightened, no doubt, by the vibration and noise made
by the descending soldiers. Some of the creatures ran across me where
I stood between the two wine-cases, but I was too much interested in
bigger game to pay attention to mice.

Tramp! Tramp! "Halt!" Again an order was given in German, and although I
did not understand it, I am willing to bless every word of it, because
it resulted in the soldiers turning right about face, marching up the
stairs again, through the hall, and out of the front door and away!

I could hardly believe my ears. It seemed almost too good to be true
that they could have given up the search just as they were about to come
on their quarry, but unless my ears deceived me that was what they had
done.

The possibility that the whole thing might be a German ruse did not
escape me, and I remained in the cellar for nearly an hour after they
had apparently departed before I ventured to move, listening intently in
the mean while for the slightest sound which would reveal the presence
of a sentry up-stairs.

Not hearing a sound, I began to feel that they had indeed given up
the hunt, for I did not believe that a German officer would be so
considerate of his men as to try to trap me rather than carry the cellar
by force if they had the slightest idea that I was there.

I took off my shoes and crept softly and slowly to the cellar steps, and
then step by step, placing my weight down gradually so as to prevent
the steps from creaking, I climbed to the top. The sight that met my
eyes as I glanced into the kitchen told me the whole story. The water
faucets had been ripped from the sinks, the water pipes having been torn
from the walls. Everything of brass or copper had been torn off, and gas
fixtures, cooking utensils, and everything else which contain even only
a small proportion of the metals the Germans so badly needed had been
taken from the kitchen. I walked up-stairs now with more confidence,
feeling tolerably assured that the soldiers hadn't been after me at
all, but had been merely collecting metals and other materials which
they expected an elaborate dwelling-house like the one in which I was
concealed to yield.

Later I heard that the Germans have taken practically every ounce of
brass, copper, and wool they could lay their hands on in Belgium.
Even the brass out of pianos has been ruthlessly removed, the serious
damage done to valuable property by the removal of only an insignificant
proportion of metal never being taken into consideration. I learned,
too, that all dogs over fourteen inches high had been seized by the
Germans. This furnished lots of speculation among the Belgians as to
what use the Germans were putting the animals to, the general impression
apparently being that they were being used for food.

This, however, seemed much less likely to me than that they were being
employed as despatch dogs in the trenches, the same as we use them on
our side of the line. They might possibly kill the dogs and use their
skins for leather and their carcasses for tallow, but I feel quite sure
that the Huns are by no means so short of food that they have to eat
dogs yet awhile.

Indeed, I want to repeat here what I have mentioned before: if any
one has the idea that this war can be won by _starving_ the Huns, he
hasn't the slightest idea how well provided the Germans are in that
respect. They have considered their food needs in connection with their
resources for several years to come, and they have gone at it in such
a methodical, systematic way, taking into consideration every possible
contingency, that, provided there is not an absolute crop failure, there
isn't the slightest doubt in my mind that they can last for years, and
the worst of it is they are quite cocksure about it.

It is true that the German soldiers want peace. As I watched them
through the keyhole in the door I thought how unfavorably they compared
with our men. They marched along the street without laughter, without
joking, without singing. It was quite apparent that the war is telling
on them. I don't believe I saw a single German soldier who didn't look
as if he had lost his best friend--and he probably had.

At the same time, there is a big difference--certainly a difference of
several years--between wishing the war was over and giving up, and I
don't believe the German rank and file any more than their leaders have
the slightest idea at this time of giving up at all.

But to return to my experiences while concealed in the house. After the
visit of the soldiers, which left the house in a wretched condition,
I decided that I would continue my journey toward the frontier,
particularly as I had got all I could out of Huyliger, or rather he had
got all he was going to get out of me.

During my concealment in the house I made various sorties into the city
at night, and I was beginning to feel more comfortable, even when German
soldiers were about. Through the keyhole I had studied very closely
the gait of the Belgians, the slovenly droop that characterized most
of them, and their general appearance, and I felt that in my own dirty
and unshaven condition I must have looked as much like the average
poor Belgian as a man could. The only thing that was against me was my
height. I was several inches taller than even the tallest Belgians.
I had often thought that red hair would have gone well with my name,
but now, of course, I was mighty glad that I was not so endowed, for
red-haired Belgians are about as rare as German charity.

There are many, no doubt, who will wonder why I did not get more help
than I did at this time. It is easily answered. When a man is in hourly
fear of his life and the country is full of spies, as Belgium certainly
was, he is not going to help just any one that comes along seeking aid.

One of the Germans' most successful ways of trapping the Belgians has
been to pose as an English or French prisoner who has escaped; appeal
to them for aid; implicate as many as possible, and then turn the whole
German police force loose on them.

As I look back now on those days I think it remarkable that I received
as much help as I did, but when people are starving under the conditions
now forced upon those unfortunate people it is a great temptation to
surrender these escaped prisoners to German authorities and receive the
handsome rewards offered for them--or for alien spies, as I was classed
at that time.

The passport which I had described me as a Spanish sailor, but I was
very dubious about its value. If I could have spoken Spanish fluently
it might have been worth something to me, but the few words I knew of
the language would not have carried me very far if I had been confronted
with a Spanish interpreter. I decided to use the passport only as a
last resort, preferring to act the part of a deaf and dumb Belgian
peasant as far as it would carry me.

Before I finally left the house I had a remarkable experience which I
shall remember as long as I live.



XIV

A NIGHT OF DISSIPATION


During the first two days I spent with Huyliger after I had first
arrived in the big city he had told me, among other things, of a
moving-picture show in town which he said I might have a chance to see
while there.

"It is free every night in the week except Saturdays and Sundays," he
said, "and once you are inside you would not be apt to be bothered by
any one except when they come to take your order for something to drink.
While there is no admission, patrons are expected to eat or drink while
enjoying the pictures."

A day or two later, while walking the streets at night in search of
food, I had passed this place, and was very much tempted to go in
and spend a few hours, particularly as it would perhaps give me an
opportunity to buy something to eat, although I was at a loss to know
how I was going to ask for what I wanted.

While trying to make up my mind whether it was safe for me to go in, I
walked half a block past the place, and when I turned back again and
reached the entrance with my mind made up that I would take the chance I
ran full tilt into a German officer who was just coming out!

That settled all my hankerings for moving pictures that night. "Where
you came from, my friend," I figured, "there must be more like you! I
guess it is a good night for walking."

The next day, however, in recalling the incident of the evening before,
it seemed to me that I had been rather foolish. What I needed more than
anything at that time was confidence. Before I could get to the frontier
I would have to confront German soldiers many times, because there
were more of them between this city and Holland than in any section
of the country through which I had so far traveled. Safety in these
contingencies would depend largely upon the calmness I displayed. It
wouldn't do to get all excited at the mere sight of a spiked helmet.
The Belgians, I had noticed, while careful to obey the orders of the
Huns, showed no particular fear of them, and it seemed to me the sooner
I cultivated the same feeling of indifference the better I would be able
to carry off the part I was playing.

For this reason, I made up my mind then and there that, officers or no
officers, I would go to that show that night and sit it through, no
matter what happened. While people may think that I had decided unwisely
because of the unnecessary risk involved in the adventure, it occurred
to me that perhaps, after all, that theater was about one of the safest
places I could attend, because that was about the last place Germans
would expect to find a fugitive English officer in, even if they were
searching for one.

As soon as evening came, therefore, I decided to go to the theater. I
fixed myself up as well as possible. I had on a fairly decent pair of
trousers which Huyliger had given me and I used a clean handkerchief as
a collar.

With my hair brushed up and my beard trimmed as neatly as possible
with a pair of rusty scissors which I had found in the house, while
my appearance was not exactly that of a Beau Brummel, I don't think I
looked much worse than the average Belgian. In these days, the average
Belgian is very poorly dressed at best.

I can't say I had no misgivings as I made my way to the theater;
certainly I was going there more for discipline than pleasure, but I had
made up my mind and I was going to see it through.

The entrance to the theater or beer-garden--for it was as much one as
the other--was on the side of the building, and was reached by way of
an alley which ran along the side. Near the door was a ticket-seller's
booth, but as this was one of the free nights there was no one in the
booth.

I marched slowly down the alley, imitating as best I could the
indifferent gait of the Belgians, and when I entered the theater I
endeavored to act as though I had been there many times before. A hasty
survey of the layout of the place was sufficient to enable me to select
my seat. It was early and there were not more than half a dozen people
in the place at that time, so that I had my choice.

There was a raised platform, perhaps two feet high, all round the walls
of the place, except at the end where the stage was located. On this
platform tables were arranged, and there were tables on the floor proper
as well.

I decided promptly that the safest place for me was as far back as
possible where I would not be in the line of vision of others in back
of me. Accordingly, I slouched over to a table on the platform directly
opposite the stage and I took the seat against the wall. The whole place
was now in front of me. I could see everything that was going on and
every one who came in, but no one, except those who sat at my own table,
would notice me unless they deliberately turned around to look.

The place began to fill up rapidly. Every second person who came in the
door seemed to me to be a German soldier, but when they were seated at
the tables and I got a chance later on to make a rough count, I found
that in all there were not more than a hundred soldiers in the place
and there must have been several hundred civilians.

The first people to sit at my table were a Belgian and his wife. The
Belgian sat next to me and his wife next to him. I was hoping that other
civilians would occupy the remaining two seats at my table because I
did not relish the idea of having to sit through the show with German
soldiers within a few feet of me. That would certainly have spoiled my
pleasure for the evening.

Every uniform that came in the door gave me cause to worry until I
was sure it was not coming in my direction. I don't suppose there was
a single soldier who came in the door whom I didn't follow to his
seat--with my eyes.

Just before they lowered the lights two German officers came in the
door. They stood there for a moment looking the place over. Then they
made a bee-line in my direction, and I must confess my heart started to
beat a little faster. I hoped that they would find another seat before
they came to my vicinity, but they were getting nearer and nearer, and I
realized with a sickening sensation that they were headed directly for
the two seats at my table, and that was indeed the case.

These two seats were in front of the table, facing the stage, and except
when they would be eating or drinking their backs were toward me, and
there was considerable consolation in that. From my seat I could have
reached right over and touched one of them on his bald head. It would
have been more than a touch, I am afraid, if I could have got away with
it safely.

As the officers seated themselves a waiter came to us with a printed
bill of fare and a program. Fortunately, he waited on the others first,
and I listened intently to their orders. The officers ordered some
light wine, but my Belgian neighbor ordered "Bock" for himself and his
wife, which was what I had decided to order, anyway, as that was the
only thing I could say. Heaven knows I would far rather have ordered
something to eat, but the bill of fare meant nothing to me, and I was
afraid to take a chance at the pronunciation of the dishes it set forth.

There were a number of drinks listed which I suppose I might safely
enough have ordered. For instance, I noticed "Lemon Squash, 1.50,"
"Ginger Beer, 1-," "Sparkling Dry Ginger Ale, 1-," "Apollinaris, 1-,"
and "Schweppes Soda, 0.80," but it occurred to me that the mere fact
that I selected something that was listed in English might attract
attention to me and something in my pronunciation might give further
cause for suspicion.

It seemed better to parrot the Belgian and order "Bock," and that was
what I decided to do.

One item on the bill of fare tantalized me considerably. Although it was
listed among the "Prizzen der dranken," which I took to mean "Prices of
drinks," it sounded very much to me like something to eat, and Heaven
knows I would rather have had one honest mouthful of food than all the
drinks in the world. The item I refer to was "Dubbel Gersten de Flesch
(Michaux)." A _double_ portion of anything would have been mighty
welcome to me, but I would have been quite contented with a _single_
"Gersten"--whatever that might happen to be--if I had only had the
courage to ask for it.

To keep myself as composed as possible, I devoted a lot of attention
to that bill of fare, and I think by the time the waiter came around
I almost knew it by heart. One drink that almost made me laugh out
loud was listed as "Lemonades Gazeuses," but I might just as well have
introduced myself to the German officers by my right name and rank as to
have attempted to pronounce it.

When the waiter came to me, therefore, I said "Bock" as casually as I
could, and felt somewhat relieved that I got through this part of the
ordeal so easily.

While the waiter was away I had a chance to examine the bill of fare,
and I observed that a glass of beer cost eighty centimes. The smallest
change I had was a two-mark paper bill.

Apparently the German officers were similarly fixed, and when they
offered their bill to the waiter he handed it back to them with a remark
which I took to mean that he couldn't make change.

Right there I was in a quandary. To offer him my bill after he had just
told the officers he didn't have change would have seemed strange, and
yet I couldn't explain to him that I was in the same boat and he would
have to come to me again later. The only thing to do, therefore, was to
offer him the bill as though I hadn't heard or noticed what had happened
with the Germans, and I did so. He said the same thing to me as he had
said to the officers, perhaps a little more sharply, and gave me back
the bill. Later on he returned to the table with a handful of change and
we closed the transaction. I gave him twenty-five centimes as a tip--I
had never yet been in a place where it was necessary to talk to do that.

During my first half-hour in that theater, to say I was on pins and
needles is to express my feelings mildly. The truth of the matter is
I was never so uneasy in my life. Every minute seemed like an hour,
and I was on the point of getting up and leaving a dozen times. There
were altogether too many soldiers in the place to suit me, and when the
German officers seated themselves right at my table I thought that was
about all I could stand. As it was, however, the lights went out shortly
afterward and in the dark I felt considerably easier.

After the first picture, when the lights went up again, I had regained
my composure considerably and I took advantage of the opportunity to
study the various types of people in the place.

From my seat I had a splendid chance to see them all. At one table there
was a German medical corps officer with three Red Cross nurses. That
was the only time I had ever seen a German nurse, for when I was in the
hospital I had seen only men orderlies. Nurses don't work so near the
first-line trenches.

The German soldiers at the different tables were very quiet and orderly.
They drank Bock beer and conversed among themselves, but there was no
hilarity or rough-housing of any kind.

As I sat there, within an arm's reach of those German officers and
realized what they would have given to know what a chance they had to
capture an escaped British officer, I could hardly help smiling to
myself, but when I thought of the big risk I was taking, more or less
unnecessarily, I began to wonder whether I had not acted foolishly in
undertaking it.

Nevertheless, the evening passed off uneventfully, and when the show
was over I mixed with the crowd and disappeared, feeling very proud of
myself and with a good deal more confidence than I had enjoyed at the
start.

I had passed a night which will live in my life as long as I live. The
bill of fare, program, and a "throw-away" bill advertising the name of
the attraction which was to be presented the following week, which was
handed to me as I came out, I still have and they are among the most
valued souvenirs of my adventure.



XV

OBSERVATIONS IN A BELGIAN CITY


One night, shortly before I left this city, our airmen raided the place.
I didn't venture out of the house at the time, but the next night I
thought I would go out and see what damage had been done.

When it became dark I left the house, accordingly, and, mixing with the
crowd, which consisted largely of Germans, I went from one place to
another to see what our "strafing" had accomplished. Naturally I avoided
speaking to any one. If a man or woman appeared about to speak to me, I
just turned my head and looked or walked away in some other direction.
I must have been taken for an unsociable sort of individual a good many
times, and if I had encountered the same person twice I suppose my
conduct might have aroused suspicion.

I had a first-class observation of the damage that was really done by
our bombs. One bomb had landed very near the main railroad station, and
if it had been only thirty yards nearer would have completely demolished
it. As the station was undoubtedly our airman's objective, I was very
much impressed with the accuracy of his aim. It is by no means an easy
thing to hit a building from the air when you are going at anywhere from
fifty to one hundred miles an hour and are being shot at from beneath
from a dozen different angles--unless, of course, you are taking one of
those desperate chances and flying so low that you cannot very well miss
your mark, and the Huns can't very well miss you, either!

I walked by the station and mingled with the crowds which stood in the
entrances. They paid no more attention to me than they did to real
Belgians, and the fact that the lights were all out in this city at
night made it impossible, anyway, for any one to get as good a look at
me as if it had been light.

During the time that I was in this city I suppose I wandered from one
end of it to the other. In one place, where the German staff had its
headquarters, a huge German flag hung from the window, and I think I
would have given ten years of my life to have stolen it. Even if I could
have pulled it down, however, it would have been impossible for me to
have concealed it, and to have carried it away with me as a souvenir
would have been out of the question.

As I went along the street one night a lady standing on the comer
stopped me and spoke to me. My first impulse, of course, was to answer
her, explaining that I could not understand, but I stopped myself in
time, pointed to my ears and mouth, and shook my head, indicating that
I was deaf and dumb, and she nodded understandingly and walked on.
Incidents of this kind were not unusual, and I was always in fear that
the time would come when some inquisitive and suspicious German would
encounter me and not be so easily satisfied.

There are many things that I saw in this city which, for various
reasons, it is impossible for me to relate until after the war is over.
Some of them, I think, will create more surprise than the incidents I
am free to reveal now.

It used to amuse me, as I went along the streets of this town, looking
in the shop windows, with German soldiers at my side looking at the same
things, to think how close I was to them and they had no way of knowing.
I was quite convinced that if I were discovered my fate would have been
death, because I not only had the forged passport on me, but I had been
so many days behind the German lines after I had escaped that they
couldn't safely let me live with the information I possessed.

One night I walked boldly across a park. I heard footsteps behind me
and, turning around, saw two German soldiers. I slowed up a trifle to
let them get ahead of me. It was rather dark and I got a chance to see
what a wonderful uniform the German military authorities have picked
out. The soldiers had not gone more than a few feet ahead of me when
they disappeared in the darkness like one of those melting pictures on
the moving-picture screen.

As I wandered through the streets I frequently glanced in the café
windows as I passed. German officers were usually dining there, but
they didn't conduct themselves with anything like the light-heartedness
which characterizes the Allied officers in London and Paris. I was
rather surprised at this, because in this part of Belgium they were much
freer than they would have been in Berlin, where, I understand, food is
comparatively scarce and the restrictions are very rigid.

As I have said, my own condition in this city was in some respects worse
than it had been when I was making my way through the open country.
While I had a place to sleep and my clothes were no longer constantly
soaking, my opportunities for getting food were considerably less than
they had been. Nearly all the time I was half famished, and I decided
that I would get out of there at once, since I was entirely through with
Huyliger.

My physical condition was greatly improved. While the lack of food
showed itself on me, I had regained some of my strength, my wounds
were healed, my ankle was stronger, and, although my knees were still
considerably enlarged, I felt that I was in better shape than I had been
at any time since my leap from the train, and I was ready to go through
whatever was in store for me.



XVI

I APPROACH THE FRONTIER


To get out of the city it would be necessary to pass two guards. This
I had learned in the course of my walks at night, having frequently
traveled to the city limits with the idea of finding out just what
conditions I would have to meet when the time came for me to leave.

A German soldier's uniform, however, no longer worried me as it had at
first. I had mingled with the Huns so much in the city that I began to
feel that I was really a Belgian, and I assumed the indifference that
the latter seemed to feel.

I decided, therefore, to walk out of the city in the daytime when the
sentries would be less apt to be on the watch. It worked splendidly. I
was not held up a moment, the sentries evidently taking me for a Belgian
peasant on his way to work.

Traveling faster than I had ever done before since my escape, I was soon
out in the open country, and the first Belgian I came to I approached
for food. He gave me half his lunch and we sat down on the side of the
road to eat it. Of course, he tried to talk to me, but I used the old
ruse of pretending I was deaf and dumb and he was quite convinced that
it was so. He made various efforts to talk to me in pantomime, but I
could not make out what he was getting at, and I think he must have
concluded that I was not only half-starved, deaf, and dumb, but "luny"
into the bargain.

When night came I looked around for a place to rest. I had decided to
travel in the daytime as well as night, because I understood that I was
only a few miles from the frontier, and I was naturally anxious to get
there at the earliest possible moment, although I realized that there I
would encounter the most hazardous part of my whole adventure. To get
through that heavily guarded barbed and electrically charged barrier was
a problem that I hated to think of, even, although the hours I spent
endeavoring to devise some way of outwitting the Huns were many.

It had occurred to me, for instance, that it would not be such a
difficult matter to vault over the electric fence, which was only
nine feet high. In college, I know, a ten-foot vault is considered a
high-school boy's accomplishment, but there were two great difficulties
in the way of this solution. In the first place, it would be no easy
matter to get a pole of the right length, weight, and strength to serve
the purpose. More particularly, however, the pole-vault idea seemed to
be out of the question because of the fact that on either side of the
electric fence, six feet from it, was a six-foot barbed-wire barrier. To
vault safely over a nine-foot electrically charged fence was one thing,
but to combine with it a twelve-foot broad vault was a feat which even a
college athlete in the pink of condition would be apt to flunk. Indeed,
I don't believe it is possible.

Another plan that seemed half-way reasonable was to build a pair of
stilts about twelve or fourteen feet high and walk over the barriers
one by one. As a youngster I had acquired considerable skill in
stilt-walking, and I have no doubt that with the proper equipment it
would have been quite feasible to have walked out of Belgium as easily
as possible in that way, but whether or not I was going to have a chance
to construct the necessary stilts remained to be seen.

There were a good many bicycles in use by the German soldiers in
Belgium, and it had often occurred to me that if I could have stolen
one, the tires would have made excellent gloves and insulated coverings
for my feet in case it was necessary for me to attempt to climb over the
electric fence bodily. But as I had never been able to steal a bicycle,
this avenue of escape was closed to me.

I decided to wait until I arrived at the barrier and then make up my
mind how to proceed.

To find a decent place to sleep that night I crawled under a barbed-wire
fence, thinking it led into some field. As I passed under, one of the
barbs caught in my coat, and in trying to pull myself free I shook the
fence for several yards.

Instantly there came out of the night the nerve-racking command, "Halt!"

Again I feared I was done for. I crouched close down on the ground in
the darkness, not knowing whether to take to my legs and trust to the
Hun's missing me in the darkness if he fired, or stay right where I was.
It was foggy as well as dark, and although I knew the sentry was only a
few feet away from me I decided to stand, or rather lie still. I think
my heart made almost as much noise as the rattling of the wire in the
first place, but it was a tense few moments for me.

I heard the German say a few words to himself, but didn't understand
them, of course, and then he made a sound as if to call a dog, and I
realized that his theory of the noise he had heard was that a dog had
made its way through the fence.

For perhaps five minutes I didn't stir, and then, figuring that the
German had probably continued on his beat, I crept quietly under
the wire again, this time being mighty careful to hug the ground so
close that I wouldn't touch the wire, and made off in a different
direction. Evidently the barbed-wire fence had been thrown around an
ammunition-depot or something of the kind and it was not a field at all
that I had tried to get into.

I figured that other sentries were probably in the neighborhood and I
proceeded very gingerly.

After I had got about a mile away from this spot I came to a humble
Belgian house, and I knocked at the door and applied for food in my
usual way, pointing to my mouth to indicate I was hungry and to my ears
and mouth to imply that I was deaf and dumb. The Belgian woman who lived
in the house brought me a piece of bread and two cold potatoes, and as I
sat there eating them she eyed me very keenly.

I haven't the slightest doubt that she realized I was a fugitive.
She lived so near the border that it was more than likely that other
fugitives had come to her before, and for that reason I appreciated more
fully the extent of the risk she ran, for no doubt the Germans were
constantly watching the conduct of these Belgians who lived near the
line.

My theory that she realized that I was not a Belgian at all, but
probably some English fugitive, was confirmed a moment later when, as
I made ready to go, she touched me on the arm and indicated that I was
to wait a moment. She went to a bureau and brought out two pieces of
fancy Belgian lace, which she insisted upon my taking away, although at
that particular moment I had as much use for Belgian lace as an elephant
has for a safety-razor, but I was touched with her thoughtfulness and
pressed her hand to show my gratitude. She would not accept the money I
offered her.

I carried that lace through my subsequent experiences, feeling that it
would be a fine souvenir for my mother, although, as a matter of fact,
if she had known that it was going to delay my final escape for even a
single moment, as it did, I am quite sure she would rather I had never
seen it.

On one piece of lace was the Flemish word "_Charité_" and on the
other the word "_Espérance_." At the time, I took these words to mean
"Charity" and "Experience," and all I hoped was that I would get as
much of the one as I was getting of the other before I finally got
through. I learned subsequently that what the words really stood for was
"Charity" and "Hope," and then I was sure that my kind Belgian friend
had indeed realized my plight and that her thoughtful souvenir was
intended to encourage me in the trials she must have known were before
me.

I didn't let the old Belgian lady know, because I did not want to alarm
her unnecessarily, but that night I slept in her backyard, leaving early
in the morning before it became light.

Later in the day I applied at another house for food. It was occupied
by a father and mother and ten children. I hesitated to ask them for
food without offering to pay for it, as I realized what a task it must
have been for them to support themselves without having to feed a hungry
man. Accordingly, I gave the man a mark and then indicated that I wanted
something to eat. They were just about to eat, themselves, apparently,
and they let me partake of their meal, which consisted of a huge bowl of
some kind of soup which I was unable to identify and which they served
in ordinary wash-basins! I don't know that they ever used the basins to
wash in as well, but whether they did or not did not worry me very much.
The soup was good and I enjoyed it very much.

All the time I was there I could see the father and the eldest son, a
boy about seventeen, were extremely nervous. I had indicated to them
that I was deaf and dumb, but if they believed me it didn't seem to make
them any more comfortable.

I lingered at the house for about an hour after the meal, and during
that time a young man came to call on the eldest daughter, a young woman
of perhaps eighteen. The caller eyed me very suspiciously, although
I must have resembled anything but a British officer. They spoke in
Flemish and I did not understand a word they said, but I think they were
discussing my probable identity. During their conversation, I had a
chance to look around the rooms. There were three altogether, two fairly
large and one somewhat smaller, about fourteen feet long and six deep.
In this smaller room there were two double-decked beds, which were
apparently intended to house the whole family, although how the whole
twelve of them could sleep in that one room will ever remain a mystery
to me.

From the kitchen you could walk directly into the cow-barn, where two
cows were kept, and this, as I have pointed out before, is the usual
construction of the poorer Belgian houses.

I could not make out why the caller seemed to be so antagonistic to me,
and yet I am sure he was arguing with the family against me. Perhaps
the fact that I wasn't wearing wooden shoes--I doubt whether I could
have obtained a pair big enough for me--had convinced him that I was not
really a Belgian, because there was nothing about me otherwise which
could have given him that idea.

At that time--and I suppose it is true to-day--about ninety per cent. of
the people in Belgium were wearing wooden shoes. Among the peasants I
don't believe I ever saw any other kind of footwear, and they are more
common there than they are in Holland. The Dutch wear them more as a
matter of custom. In Belgium they are a dire necessity because of the
lack of leather. I was told that during the coming year practically all
the peasants and poorer people in Germany, too, will adopt wooden shoes
for farm-work, as that is one direction in which wood can be substituted
for leather without much loss.

When the young man left I left shortly afterward, as I was not at all
comfortable about what his intentions were regarding me. For all I knew,
he might have gone to notify the German authorities that there was a
strange man in the vicinity--more, perhaps, to protect his friends from
suspicion of having aided me than to injure me.

At any rate, I was not going to take any chances and I got out of that
neighborhood as rapidly as I could.

That night found me right on the frontier of Holland.



XVII

GETTING THROUGH THE LINES


Waiting until it was quite dark, I made my way carefully through a field
and eventually came to the much-dreaded barrier.

It was all that I had heard about it. Every foot of the border-line
between Belgium and Holland is protected in precisely the same manner.
It is there to serve three purposes: first, to keep the Belgians from
escaping into Holland; second, to keep enemies, like myself, from
making their way to freedom; and, third, to prevent desertions on the
part of Germans themselves. One look at it was enough to convince any
one that it probably accomplished all three objects about as well as
any contrivance could, and one look was all I got of it that night,
for while I lay on my stomach gazing at the forbidding structure I
heard the measured stride of a German sentry advancing toward me, and I
crawled away as fast as I possibly could, determined to spend the night
somewhere in the fields and make another and more careful survey the
following night.

The view I had obtained, however, was sufficient to convince me that
the pole-vault idea was out of the question even if I had a pole
and were a proficient pole-vaulter. The three fences covered a span
of at least twelve feet, and to clear the last barbed-wire fence it
would be necessary to vault not only at least ten feet high, but at
least fourteen feet wide, with certain knowledge that to touch the
electrically charged fence meant instant death. There would be no second
chance if you came a cropper the first time.

The stilt idea was also impracticable because of the lack of suitable
timber and tools with which to construct the stilts.

It seemed to me that the best thing to do was to travel up and down
the line a bit in the hope that some spot might be discovered where
conditions were more favorable, although I don't know just what I
expected along those lines.

It was mighty disheartening to realize that only a few feet away lay
certain liberty and that the only thing that prevented me from reaching
it were three confounded fences. I thought of my machine and wished that
some kind fairy would set it in front of me for just one minute.

I spent the night in a clump of bushes and kept in hiding most of the
next day, only going abroad for an hour or two in the middle of the
day to intercept some Belgian peasant and beg for food. The Belgians
in this section were naturally very much afraid of the Germans, and I
fared badly. In nearly every house German soldiers were quartered, and
it was out of the question for me to apply for food in that direction.
The proximity of the border made every one eye one another with more or
less suspicion, and I soon came to the conclusion that the safest thing
I could do was to live on raw vegetables, which I could steal from the
fields at night as I had previously done.

That night I made another survey of the barrier in that vicinity, but it
looked just as hopeless as it had the night before, and I concluded that
I only wasted time there.

I spent the night wandering west, guided by the North Star, which had
served me so faithfully in all my traveling. Every mile or two I would
make my way carefully to the barrier to see if conditions were any
better, but it seemed to be the same all along. I felt like a wild
animal in a cage, with about as much chance of getting out.

The section of the country in which I was now wandering was very heavily
wooded and there was really no very great difficulty in keeping myself
concealed, which I did all day long, striving all the time to think of
some way in which I could circumvent that cursed barrier.

The idea of a huge step-ladder occurred to me, but I searched hour after
hour in vain for lumber or fallen trees out of which I could construct
one. If I could only obtain something which would enable me to reach a
point about nine feet in the air, it would be a comparatively simple
matter to jump from that point over the electric fence.

Then I thought that perhaps I could construct a simple ladder and lean
it against one of the posts upon which the electric wires were strung,
climb to the top and leap over, getting over the barbed-wire fences in
the same way.

This seemed to be the most likely plan, and all night long I sat
constructing a ladder for this purpose.

I was fortunate enough to find a number of fallen pine-trees from ten
to twenty feet long. I selected two of them which seemed sufficiently
strong and broke off all the branches, which I used as rungs, tying them
to the poles with grass and strips from my handkerchief and shirt as
best I could.

It was not a very workmanlike-looking ladder when I finally got
through with it. I leaned it against a tree to test it and it wabbled
considerably. It was more like a rope ladder than a wooden one, but I
strengthened it here and there and decided that it would probably serve
the purpose.

I kept the ladder in the woods all day and could hardly wait until dark
to make the supreme test. If it proved successful, my troubles were
over; within a few hours I would be in a neutral country out of all
danger. If it failed--I dismissed the idea summarily. There was no use
worrying about failure; the thing to do was to succeed.

The few hours that were to pass before night came on seemed endless, but
I utilized them to reinforce my ladder, tying the rungs more securely
with long grass which I plucked in the woods.

At last night came, and with my ladder in hand I made for the barrier.
In front of it there was a cleared space of about one hundred yards,
which had been prepared to make the work of the guards easier in
watching it.

I waited in the neighborhood until I heard the sentry pass the spot
where I was in hiding, and then I hurried across the clearing, shoved my
ladder under the barbed wire, and endeavored to follow it. My clothing
caught in the wire, but I wrenched myself clear and crawled to the
electric barrier.

My plan was to place the ladder against one of the posts, climb up to
the top, and then jump. There would be a fall of nine or ten feet, and I
might possibly sprain my ankle or break my leg, but if that was all that
stood between me and freedom I wasn't going to stop to consider it.

I put my ear to the ground to listen for the coming of the sentry. There
was not a sound. Eagerly but carefully I placed the ladder against the
post and started up. Only a few feet separated me from liberty, and my
heart beat fast.

I had climbed perhaps three rungs of my ladder when I became aware of an
unlooked-for difficulty.

The ladder was slipping!

Just as I took the next rung the ladder slipped, came in contact with
the live wire, and the current passed through the wet sticks and into my
body. There was a blue flash, my hold on the ladder relaxed, and I fell
heavily to the ground unconscious!

Of course, I had not received the full force of the current or I would
not now be here. I must have remained unconscious for a few moments, but
I came to just in time to hear the German guard coming, and the thought
came to me that if I didn't get that ladder concealed at once, he would
see it even though, fortunately for me, it was an unusually dark night.

I pulled the ladder out of his path and lay down flat on the ground,
not seven feet away from his beat. He passed so close that I could have
pushed the ladder out and tripped him up.

It occurred to me that I could have climbed back under the barbed-wire
fence and waited for the sentry to return and then felled him with a
blow on the head, as he had no idea, of course, that there was any one
in the vicinity. I wouldn't have hesitated to take life, because my only
thought now was to get into Holland, but I thought that as long as he
didn't bother me perhaps the safest thing to do was not to bother him,
but to continue my efforts during his periodic absences.

His beat at this point was apparently fairly long and allowed me more
time to work than I had hoped for.

My mishap with the ladder had convinced me that escape in that way was
not feasible. The shock that I had received had unnerved me and I was
afraid to risk it again, particularly as I realized that I had fared
more fortunately than I could hope to again if I met with a similar
mishap. There was no way of making that ladder hold, and I gave up the
idea of using it.

I was now right in front of this electric barrier, and as I studied it I
saw another way of getting by. If I couldn't get over it, what was the
matter with getting under it?

The bottom wire was only two inches from the ground, and, of course, I
couldn't touch it, but my plan was to dig underneath it and then crawl
through the hole in the ground.

I had only my hands to dig with, but I went at it with a will, and
fortunately the ground was not very hard.

When I had dug about six inches, making a distance in all of eight
inches from the lowest electric wire, I came to an underground wire. I
knew enough about electricity to realize that this wire could not be
charged, as it was in contact with the ground, but still there was not
room between the live wire and this underground wire for me to crawl
through, and I either had to go on digging deep enough under this wire
to crawl under it or else pull it up.

This underground wire was about as big around as a lead-pencil and there
was no chance of breaking it. The jack-knife I had had at the start of
my travels I had long since lost, and even if I had had something to
hammer with, the noise would have made that method impracticable.

I went on digging. When the total distance between the live wire and the
bottom of the hole I had dug was thirty inches I took hold of the ground
wire and pulled on it with all my strength.

It wouldn't budge. It was stretched taut across the narrow ditch I had
dug--about fourteen inches wide--and all my tugging didn't serve to
loosen it.

I was just about to give it up in despair when a staple gave way in the
nearest post. This enabled me to pull the wire through the ground a
little, and I renewed my efforts. After a moment or two of pulling as I
had never pulled in my life before a staple on the next post gave way,
and my work became easier. I had more leeway now and pulled and pulled
again until in all eight staples had given way.

Every time a staple gave way it sounded in my ears like the report
of a gun, although I suppose it didn't really make very much noise.
Nevertheless, each time I would put my ear to the ground to listen for
the guard, and, not hearing him, went on with my work.

By pulling on the wire I was now able to drag it through the ground
enough to place it back from the fence and go on digging.

The deeper I went the harder became the work, because by this time my
finger-nails were broken and I was nervous--afraid every moment that I
would touch the charged wire.

I kept at it, however, with my mind constantly on the hole I was digging
and the liberty which was almost within my reach.

Finally I figured that I had enough space to crawl through and still
leave a couple of inches between my back and the live wire.

Before I went under that wire I noticed that the lace which the Belgian
woman had given me as a souvenir made my pocket bulge, and lest it might
be the innocent means of electrocuting me by touching the live wire, I
took it out, rolled it up, and threw it over the barrier.

Then I lay down on my stomach and crawled or rather writhed under the
wire like a snake, with my feet first, and there wasn't any question of
my hugging Mother Earth as closely as possible, because I realized that
even to touch the wire above me with my back meant instant death.

Anxious as I was to get on the other side, I didn't hurry this
operation. I feared that there might be some little detail that I had
overlooked, and I exercised the greatest possible care in going under,
taking nothing for granted.

When I finally got through and straightened up there were still several
feet of Belgium between me and liberty, represented by the six feet
which separated the electric barrier from the last barbed-wire fence,
but before I went another step I went down on my knees and thanked God
for my long series of escapes and especially for this last achievement,
which seemed to me to be about all that was necessary to bring me
freedom.

Then I crawled under the barbed-wire fence and breathed the free air
of Holland! I had no clear idea just where I was, and I didn't much
care. I was out of the power of the Germans, and that was enough. I had
walked perhaps a hundred yards when I remembered the lace I had thrown
over the barrier, and, dangerous as I realized the undertaking to be, I
determined to walk back and get it. This necessitated my going back on
to Belgian soil again, but it seemed a shame to leave the lace there,
and by exercising a little care I figured I could get it easily enough.

When I came to the spot at which I had made my way under the barbed wire
I put my ear to the ground and listened for the sentry. I heard him
coming and lay prone on the ground till he had passed. The fact that he
might observe the hole in the ground or the ladder occurred to me as I
lay there, and it seemed like an age before he finally marched out of
earshot. Then I went under the barbed wire again, retrieved the lace,
and once again made my way to Dutch territory.

It does not take long to describe the events just referred to, but the
incidents themselves consumed several hours in all. To dig the hole
must have taken me more than two hours, and I had to stop frequently
to hide while the sentry passed. Many times, indeed, I thought I heard
him coming and stopped my work, and then discovered that it was only
my imagination. I certainly suffered enough that night to last me a
lifetime. With a German guard on one side, death from electrocution
on the other, and starvation staring me in the face, my plight was
anything but a comfortable one.

It was the 19th of November, 1917, when I got through the wires. I had
made my leap from the train on September 9th. Altogether, therefore,
just seventy-two days had elapsed since I escaped from the Huns. If I
live to be as old as Methuselah, I never expect to live through another
seventy-two days so crammed full of incident and hazard and lucky
escapes.



XVIII

EXPERIENCES IN HOLLAND


But I was not yet quite out of the woods.

I now knew that I was in Holland, but just where I had no idea. I walked
for about thirty minutes and came to a path leading to the right, and I
had proceeded along it but a few hundred yards when I saw in front of me
a fence exactly like the one I had crossed.

"This is funny," I said to myself. "I didn't know the Dutch had a fence,
too." I advanced to the fence and examined it closely, and judge of my
astonishment when I saw beyond it a nine-foot fence apparently holding
live wires exactly like the one which had nearly been the death of me!

I had very little time to conjecture what it all meant, for just then I
heard a guard coming. He was walking so fast that I was sure it was a
Dutch sentry, as the Huns walk much more slowly.

I was so bewildered, however, that I decided to take no chances, and
as the road was fairly good I wandered down it and away from that
mysterious fence. About half a mile down I could see the light of a
sentry station, and I thought I would go there and tell my story to the
sentries, realizing that as I was unarmed it was perfectly safe for me
to announce myself to the Dutch authorities. I could be interned only if
I entered Holland under arms.

As I approached the sentry box I noticed three men in gray uniforms,
the regulation Dutch color. I was on the verge of shouting to them when
the thought struck me that there was just a chance I might be mistaken,
as the German uniforms were the same color, and I had suffered too many
privations and too many narrow escapes to lose all at this time.

I had just turned off the road to go back into some bushes when out of
the darkness I heard that dread German command:

"Halt! Halt!"

He didn't need to holler twice. I heard and heeded the first time. Then
I heard another man come running up, and there was considerable talking,
but whether they were Germans or Hollanders I was still uncertain.
Evidently, however, he thought the noise must be a dog or the wind.

Finally I heard one of them laugh and heard him walk back to the sentry
station where the guard was billeted, and I crawled a little nearer to
try to make out just what it all meant. I had begun to think it was all
a nightmare.

Between myself and the light in the sentry station I then noticed the
stooping figure of a man bending over as if to conceal himself, and on
his head was the spiked helmet of a German soldier!

I knew then what another narrow escape I had had, for I am quite sure
he would have shot me without ceremony if I had foolishly made myself
known. I would have been buried at once and no one would have been any
the wiser, even though, technically speaking, I was on neutral territory
and immune from capture or attack.

This new shock only served to bewilder me the more. I was completely
lost. There seemed to be frontier behind me and frontier in front of
me. Evidently, however, what had happened was that I had lost my sense
of direction and had wandered in the arc of a circle, returning to the
same fence that I had been so long in getting through. This solution of
the mystery came to me suddenly, and I at once searched the landscape
for something in the way of a landmark to guide me. For once my faithful
friend, the North Star, had failed me. The sky was pitch black and there
wasn't a star in the heavens.

In the distance, at what appeared to be about three miles away, but
which turned out to be six, I could discern the lights of a village, and
I knew that it must be a Dutch village, as lights are not allowed in
Belgium in that indiscriminate way.

My course was now clear. I would make a bee-line for that village.
Before I had gone very far I found myself in a marsh or swamp, and I
turned back a little, hoping to find a better path. Finding none, I
retraced my steps and kept straight ahead, determined to reach that
village at all costs and to swerve neither to the right nor to the left
until I got there.

One moment I would be in water up to my knees and the next I would
sink in clear up to my waist. I paid no attention to my condition. It
was merely a repetition of what I had gone through many times before,
but this time I had a definite goal, and, once I reached it, I knew my
troubles would be over.

It took me perhaps three hours to reach firm ground. The path I struck
led to within half a mile of the village. I shall never forget that
path; it was almost as welcome to my feet as the opposite bank of the
Meuse had seemed.

The first habitation I came to was a little workshop with a bright light
shining outside. It must have been after midnight, but the people inside
were apparently just quitting work. There were three men and two boys
engaged in making wooden shoes.

It wasn't necessary for me to explain to them that I was a refugee, even
if I had been able to speak their language. I was caked with mud up to
my shoulders, and I suppose my face must have recorded some of the
experiences I had gone through that memorable night.

"I want the British consul," I told them.

Apparently they didn't understand, but one of them volunteered to
conduct me to the village. They seemed to be only too anxious to do all
they could for me; evidently they realized I was a British soldier.

It was very late when my companion finally escorted me into the village,
but he aroused some people he knew from their beds and they dressed and
came down to feed me.

The family consisted of an old lady and her husband and a son who was a
soldier in the Dutch army. The cold shivers ran down my back while he
sat beside me, because every now and again I caught a glimpse of his
gray uniform and it resembled very much that of the German soldiers.

Some of the neighbors, aroused by the commotion, got up to see what it
was all about, and came in and watched while I ate the meal those good
Dutch people prepared for me. Ordinarily, I suppose, I would have been
embarrassed with so many people staring at me while I ate, as though I
were some strange animal that had just been captured, but just then I
was too famished to notice or care very much what other people did.

There will always be a warm place in my heart for the Dutch people.
I had heard lots of persons say that they were not inclined to help
refugees, but my experience did not bear these reports out. They
certainly did much more for me than I ever expected.

I had a little German money left, but as the value of German money is
only about half in Holland, I didn't have enough to pay the fare to
Rotterdam, which was my next objective. It was due to the generosity of
these people that I was able to reach the British consul as quickly as
I did. Some day I hope to return to Holland and repay every single soul
who played the part of Good Samaritan to me.

With the money that these people gave me I was able to get a third-class
ticket to Rotterdam, and I am glad that I didn't have enough to travel
first-class, for I would have looked as much out of place in a
first-class carriage as a Hun would appear in heaven.

That night I slept in the house of my Dutch friends, where they fixed
me up most comfortably. In the morning they gave me breakfast and then
escorted me to the station.

While I was waiting in the station a crowd gathered round me, and soon
it seemed as if the whole town had turned out to get a look at me. It
was very embarrassing, particularly as I could give them no information
regarding the cause of my condition, although, of course, they all knew
that I was a refugee from Belgium.

As the train pulled out of the station the crowd gave a loud cheer, and
the tears almost came to my eyes as I contrasted in my mind the conduct
of this crowd and the one that had gathered at the station in Ghent when
I had departed a prisoner en route for the reprisal camp. I breathed a
sigh of relief as I thought of that reprisal camp and how fortunate I
had really been, despite all my suffering, to have escaped it. Now, at
any rate, I was a free man and I would soon be sending home the joyful
news that I had made good my escape.

At Einhoffen two Dutch officers got into the compartment with me. They
looked at me with very much disfavor, not knowing, of course, that I was
a British officer. My clothes were still pretty much in the condition
they were when I crossed the border, although I had been able to scrape
off some of the mud I had collected the night before. I had not shaved
nor trimmed my beard for many days, and I must have presented a sorry
appearance. I could hardly blame them for edging away from me.

The trip from Einhoffen to Rotterdam passed without special incident.
At various stations passengers would get into the compartment and,
observing my unusual appearance, would endeavor to start a conversation
with me. None of them spoke English, however, and they had to use their
own imagination as to my identity.

When I arrived at Rotterdam I asked a policeman who stood in front of
the station where I could find the British consul, but I could not make
him understand. I next applied to a taxicab driver.

"English consul--British consul--American consul--French consul,"
I said, hoping that if he didn't understand one he might recognize
another.

He eyed me with suspicion and motioned me to get in and drove off. I had
no idea where he was taking me, but after a quarter of an hour's ride he
brought up in front of the British consulate. Never before was I so glad
to see the Union Jack!

I beckoned to the chauffeur to go with me up to the office, as I had no
money with which to pay him, and when we got to the consulate I told
them that if they would pay the taxi fare I would tell them who I was
and how I happened to be there.

They knew at once that I was an escaped prisoner and they readily paid
the chauffeur and invited me to give some account of myself.

They treated me most cordially and were intensely interested in the
brief account I gave them of my adventures. Word was sent to the
consul-general, and he immediately sent for me. When I went in he shook
hands with me, greeting me very heartily and offering me a chair.

He then sat down, screwed a monocle on his eye, and viewed me from top
to toe. I could see that only good breeding kept him from laughing at
the spectacle I presented. I could see he wanted to laugh in the worst
way.

"Go ahead and laugh!" I said. "You can't offend me the way I feel this
blessed day!" And he needed no second invitation. Incidentally, it gave
me a chance to laugh at him, for I was about as much amused as he was.

After he had laughed himself about sick he got up and slapped me on the
back and invited me to tell him my story.

"Lieutenant," he said, when I had concluded, "you can have anything you
want. I think your experiences entitle you to it."

"Well, Consul," I replied, "I would like a bath, a shave, a hair-cut,
and some civilized clothes about as badly as a man ever needed them, I
suppose, but before that I would like to get a cable off to America to
my mother, telling her that I am safe and on my way to England."

The consul gave the necessary instructions, and I had the satisfaction
of knowing before I left the office that the cable, with its good
tidings, was on its way to America.

Then he sent for one of the naval men who had been interned there since
the beginning of the war and who was able to speak Dutch, and told him
to take good care of me.

After I had been bathed and shaved and had a hair-cut, I bought some new
clothes and had something to eat, and I felt like a new man.

As I walked through the streets of Rotterdam, breathing the air of
freedom again and realizing that there was no longer any danger of being
captured and taken back to prison, it was a wonderful sensation.

I don't believe there will ever be a country that will appear in my
eyes quite as good as Holland did then. I had to be somewhat careful,
however, because Holland was full of German spies, and I knew they
would be keen to learn all they possibly could about my escape and my
adventures, so that the authorities in Belgium could mete out punishment
to every one who was in any respect to blame for it. As I was in
Rotterdam only a day, they didn't have very much opportunity to learn
anything from me.

The naval officer who accompanied me and acted as interpreter for me
introduced me to many other soldiers and sailors who had escaped from
Belgium when the Germans took Antwerp, and as they had arrived in
Holland in uniform and under arms the laws of neutrality compelled their
internment, and they had been there ever since.

The life of a man who is interned in a neutral country, I learned, is
anything but satisfactory. He gets one month a year to visit his home.
If he lives in England, that is not so bad, but if he happens to live
farther away, the time he has to spend with his folks is very short, as
the month's leave does not take into consideration the time consumed in
traveling to and from Holland.

The possibility of escape from internment is always there, but the
British authorities have an agreement with the Dutch government to send
refugees back immediately. In this respect, therefore, the position of
a man who is interned is worse than that of a prisoner who, if he does
succeed in making his escape, is naturally received with open arms in
his native land. Apart from this restraint, however, internment, with
all its drawbacks, is a thousand times--yes, a million times better than
being a prisoner of war in Germany.

It seems to me that when the war is over and the men who have been
imprisoned in Germany return home they should be given a bigger and
greater reception than the most victorious army that ever marched into a
city, for they will have suffered and gone through more than the world
will ever be able to understand.

No doubt you will find in the German prison-camps one or two
faint-hearted individuals with a pronounced yellow streak who
voluntarily gave up the struggle and gave up their liberty rather than
risk their lives or limbs. These sad cases, however, are, I am sure,
extremely few. Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of the men
fighting in the Allied lines would rather be in the front-line trenches,
fighting every day, with all the horrors and all the risks, than be a
prisoner of war in Germany, for the men in France have a very keen
realization of what that means.

But to return to my day in Rotterdam.

After I was fixed up I returned to the consulate and arrangements were
made for my transportation to England at once. Fortunately there was a
boat leaving that very night, and I was allowed to take passage on it.

Just as we were leaving Rotterdam the boat I was on rammed our own
convoy, one of the destroyers, and injured it so badly that it had to
put back to port. It would have been a strange climax to my adventure
if the disaster had resulted in the sinking of my boat and I had lost
my life while on my way to England after having successfully outwitted
the Huns. But my luck was with me to the last, and while the accident
resulted in some delay, our boat was not seriously damaged and made
the trip over in schedule time and without further incident, another
destroyer having been assigned to escort us through the danger zone in
place of the one which we had put out of commission.

When I arrived in London the reaction from the strain I had been under
for nearly three months immediately became apparent. My nerves were
in such a state that it was absolutely impossible for me to cross the
street without being in deadly fear of being run over or trampled on.
I stood at the curb, like an old woman from the country on her first
visit to the city, and I would not venture across until some knowing
policeman, recognizing my condition, came to my assistance and convoyed
me across.

Indeed, there are a great number of English officers at home at all
times "getting back their nerve" after a long spell of active service
at the front, so that my condition was anything but novel to the London
bobbies.

It was not many days, however, before I regained control of myself and
felt in first-class shape.

Although the British authorities in Holland had wired my mother from
Holland that I was safe and on my way to England, the first thing I did
when we landed was to send her a cable myself.

The cable read as follows:

     _Mrs. M. J. O'Brien, Momence, Ill., U. S. A._:

     Just escaped from Germany. Letter follows.

                                        PAT.

As I delivered it to the cable-despatcher I could just imagine the
exultation with which my mother would receive it and the pride she would
feel as she exhibited it among her neighbors and friends.

I could hear the volley of "I told you so's" that greeted her good
tidings.

"It would take more than the Kaiser to keep Pat in Germany!" I could
hear one of them saying.

"Knew he'd be back for Christmas, anyway," I could hear another remark.

"I had an idea that Pat and his comrades might spend Christmas in
Berlin," I could hear another admitting, "but I didn't think any other
part of Germany would appeal to him very much."

"Mrs. O'Brien, did Pat write you how many German prisoners he brought
back with him?" I could hear still another credulous friend inquiring.

It was all very amusing and gratifying to me, and I must confess I felt
quite cocky as I walked into the War Department to report.

For the next five days I was kept very busy answering questions put
to me by the military authorities regarding what I had observed as to
conditions in Germany and behind the lines.

What I reported was taken down by a stenographer and made part of the
official records, but I did not give them my story in narrative form.
The information I was able to give was naturally of interest to various
branches of the service, and experts in every line of government work
took it in turns to question me. One morning would be devoted, for
instance, to answering questions of a military nature--German methods
behind the front-line trenches, tactics, morale of troops, and similar
matters. Then the aviation experts would take a whack at me and discuss
with me all I had observed of German flying-corps methods and equipment.
Then, again, the food experts would interrogate me as to what I had
learned of food conditions in Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium, and as
I had lived pretty close to the ground for the best part of seventy-two
days I was able to give them some fairly accurate reports as to actual
agricultural conditions, many of the things I told them probably having
more significance to them than they had to me.

There were many things I had observed which I have not referred to
in these pages because their value to us might be diminished if the
Germans knew we were aware of them, but they were all reported to the
authorities, and it was very gratifying to me to hear that the experts
considered some of them of the greatest value.

One of the most amusing incidents of my return occurred when I called at
my banker's in London to get my personal effects.

The practice in the Royal Flying Corps when a pilot is reported missing
is to have two of his comrades assigned to go through his belongings,
check them over, destroy anything that it might not be to his interest
to preserve, and send the whole business to his banker or his home,
as the case may be. Every letter is read through, but its contents is
never afterward discussed nor revealed in any way. If the pilot is
finally reported dead, his effects are forwarded to his next of kin,
but while he is officially only "missing" or is known to be a prisoner
of war they are kept either at the squadron headquarters or sent to his
banker's.

In my case, as soon as it was learned that I had fallen from the sky it
was assumed that I had been killed, and my chum, Paid Raney, and another
officer were detailed to check over my effects. The list they made and
to which they affixed their signatures, as I have previously mentioned,
is now in my possession and is one of the most treasured souvenirs of my
adventure.

My trunk was sent to Cox & Co. in due course, and now that I was in
London I thought I would go and claim it.

When I arrived in the bank I applied at the proper window for my mail
and trunk.

"Who are you?" I was asked, rather sharply.

"Well, I guess no one has any greater right to Pat O'Brien's effects
than I have," I replied, "and I would be obliged to you if you would
look them up for me."

"That may be all right, my friend," replied the clerk, "but according
to our records Lieutenant O'Brien is a prisoner of war in Germany,
and we can't very well turn over his effects to any one else unless
either you present proof that he is dead and that you are his lawful
representative, or else deliver to us a properly authenticated order
from him to give them to you."

He was very positive about it all, but quite polite, and I thought I
would kid him no more.

"Well," I said, "I can't very well present proofs to you that Pat
O'Brien is dead, but I will do the best I can to prove to you that he is
alive, and if you haven't quite forgotten his signature I guess I can
write you out an order that will answer all your requirements and enable
you to give me Pat O'Brien's belongings without running any risks." And
I scribbled my signature on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.

He looked at me carefully through the latticed window, then jumped down
from his chair and came outside to clasp me by the hand.

"Good Heavens, Lieutenant!" he exclaimed as he pumped my hand up and
down. "How did you ever get away?" And I had to sit right down
and tell him and half a dozen other people in the bank all about my
experiences.

[Illustration: COPY OF TELEGRAM INVITING LIEUTENANT O'BRIEN TO MEET KING
GEORGE]

[Illustration: COPY OF TELEGRAM SENT BY LIEUTENANT O'BRIEN IN ANSWER TO
AN INVITATION TO MEET KING GEORGE]

I had been in England about ten days when I received a telegram which,
at first, occasioned me almost as much concern as the unexpected sight
of a German spiked helmet had caused me in Belgium. It read as follows:

     _Lieut. P. A. O'Brien, Royal Flying Corps, Regent's Palace
     Hotel, London_:

     The King is very glad to hear of your escape from Germany.
     If you are to be in London on Friday next, December 7th, His
     Majesty will receive you at Buckingham Palace at 10:30 A.M. Please
     acknowledge.

                                                  CROMER.

Of course, there was only one thing to do and that was to obey orders. I
was an officer in the army and the King was my commander-in-chief. I had
to go, and so I sat down and sent off the following answer:

     _Earl Cromer, Buckingham Palace, London_:

     I will attend Buckingham Palace as directed, Friday, December
     7th, at 10:30.

                                   LIEUTENANT PAT O'BRIEN.

In the interval that elapsed I must confess, the ordeal of calling on
the King of England loomed up more dreadfully every day, and I really
believe I would rather have spent another day in that empty house in the
big city in Belgium, or, say, two days at Courtrai, than go through what
I believed to be in store for me.

Orders were orders, however, and there was no way of getting out of it.
As it turned out it wasn't half so bad as I had feared; on the contrary,
it was one of the most agreeable experiences of my life.



XIX

I AM PRESENTED TO THE KING


When the dreaded 7th of December arrived I hailed a taxicab and in as
matter-of-fact tone of voice as I could command directed the chauffeur
to drive me to Buckingham Palace, as though I were paying my regular
morning call on the King.

My friends' version of this incident, I have since heard, is that
I seated myself in the taxi and, leaning through the window, said,
"Buckingham Palace!" whereupon the taxi driver got down, opened the
door, and exclaimed, threateningly:

"If you don't get out quietly and chuck your drunken talk, I'll jolly
quick call a bobby, bli' me if I won't!"

But I can only give my word that nothing of the kind occurred.

When I arrived at the palace gate the sentry on guard asked me who
I was, and then let me pass at once up to the front entrance of the
palace.

There I was met by an elaborately uniformed and equally elaborately
decorated personage, who, judging by the long row of medals he wore,
must have seen long and distinguished service for the King.

I was relieved of my overcoat, hat, and stick and conducted up a long
stairway, where I was turned over to another functionary, who led me to
the reception-room of Earl Cromer, the King's secretary.

There I was introduced to another earl and a duke whose names I do not
remember. I was becoming so bewildered, in fact, that it is a wonder
that I remember as much as I do of this eventful day.

I had heard many times that before being presented to the King a man is
coached carefully as to just how he is to act and what he is to say and
do, and all this time I was wondering when this drilling would commence.
I certainly had no idea that I was to be ushered into the august
presence of the King without some preliminary instruction.

Earl Cromer and the other noblemen talked to me for a while and got me
to relate in brief the story of my experiences, and they appeared to be
very much interested. Perhaps they did it only to give me confidence and
as a sort of rehearsal for the main performance, which was scheduled to
take place much sooner than I expected.

I had barely completed my story when the door opened and an attendant
entered and announced:

"The King will receive Leftenant O'Brien!"

If he had announced that the Kaiser was outside with a squad of German
guards to take me back to Courtrai my heart could not have sunk deeper.

Earl Cromer beckoned me to follow him, and we went into a large room,
where I supposed I was at last to receive my coaching, but I observed
the earl bow to a man standing there and realized that I was standing in
the presence of the King of England.

"Your Majesty, Leftenant O'Brien!" the earl announced, and then
immediately backed from the room. I believed I would have followed
right behind him, but by that time the King had me by the hand and was
congratulating me, and he spoke so very cordially and democratically
that he put me at my ease at once.

He then asked me how I felt and whether I was in a condition to
converse, and when I told him I was he said he would be very much
pleased to hear my story in detail.

"Were you treated any worse by the Germans, Leftenant," he asked, "on
account of being an American? I've heard that the Germans had threatened
to shoot Americans serving in the British army if they captured them,
classing them as murderers because America was a neutral country and
Americans had no right to mix in the war. Did you find that to be the
case?"

I told him that I had heard similar reports, but that I did not
notice any appreciable difference in my treatment from that accorded
Britishers.

The King declared that he believed my escape was due to my pluck and
will power, and that it was one of the most remarkable escapes he had
ever heard of, which I thought was quite a compliment, coming as it did
from the King of England.

"I hope that all the Americans will give as good an account of
themselves as you have, Leftenant," he said, "and I feel quite sure they
will. I fully appreciate all the service rendered us by Americans before
the States entered the war."

At this point I asked him if I was taking too much time.

"Not at all, Leftenant, not at all!" he replied, most cordially. "I
was extremely interested in the brief report that came to me of your
wonderful escape, and I sent for you because I wanted to hear the whole
story first-hand, and I am very glad you were able to come."

I had not expected to remain more than a few minutes, as I understood
that four minutes is considered a long audience with the King. Fifty-two
minutes elapsed before I finally left there!

During all this time I had done most of the talking, in response to the
King's request to tell my story. Occasionally he interrupted to ask a
question about a point he wanted me to make clear, but for the most part
he was content to play the part of listener.

He seemed to be very keen on everything, and when I described some of
the tight holes I got into during my escape he evinced his sympathy.
Occasionally I introduced some of the few humorous incidents of my
adventure, and in every instance he laughed heartily.

Altogether the impression I got of him was that he is a very genial,
gracious, and alert sovereign. I know I have felt more ill at ease when
talking to a major than when speaking to the King--but perhaps I had
more cause to.

During the whole interview we were left entirely alone, which impressed
me as significant of the democratic manner of the present King of
England, and I certainly came away with the utmost respect for him.

In all of my conversation, I recalled afterward, I never addressed the
King as "Your Majesty," but used the military "sir." As I was a British
officer and he was the head of the army, he probably appreciated this
manner of address more than if I had used the usual "Your Majesty."
Perhaps he attributed it to the fact that I was an American. At any
rate, he didn't evince any displeasure at my departure from what I
understand is the usual form of address.

Before I left he asked me what my plans for the future were.

"Why, sir, I hope to rejoin my squadron at the earliest possible
moment!" I replied.

"No, Leftenant," he rejoined, "that is out of the question. We can't
risk losing you for good by sending you back to a part of the front
opposed by Germany, because if you were unfortunate enough to be
captured again they would undoubtedly shoot you."

"Well, if I can't serve in France, sir," I suggested, "wouldn't it be
feasible for me to fly in Italy or Salonica?"

"No," he replied; "that would be almost as bad. The only thing that
I can suggest for you to do is either to take up instruction--a very
valuable form of service--or perhaps it might be safe enough for you to
serve in Egypt; but, just at present, Leftenant, I think you have done
enough, anyway."

Then he rose and shook hands with me and wished me the best of luck, and
we both said, "Good-by."

In the adjoining room I met Earl Cromer again, and as he accompanied me
to the door he seemed to be surprised at the length of my visit.

"His Majesty must have been very much interested in your story," he
said.

As I left the palace a policeman and a sentry outside came smartly to
attention. Perhaps they figured I had been made a general.

As I was riding back to the hotel in a taxi I reflected on the
remarkable course of events which in the short space of nine months had
taken me through so much and ended up, like the finish of a book, with
my being received by his Majesty the King! When I first joined the Royal
Flying Corps I never expected to see the inside of Buckingham Palace,
much less to be received by the King.



XX

HOME AGAIN!


That same day, in the evening, I was tendered a banquet at the Hotel
Savoy by a fellow-officer who had bet three other friends of mine that
I would be home by Christmas. This wager had been made at the time he
heard that I was a prisoner of war, and the dinner was the stake.

The first intimation he had of my safe return from Germany and the fact
that he had won his bet was a telegram I sent him reading as follows:

     _Lieutenant Louis Grant_:

     War-bread bad, so I came home.

                                   PAT.

He said he would not part with that message for a thousand dollars.

Other banquets followed in fast succession. After I had survived nine
of them I figured that I was now in as much danger of succumbing to a
surfeit of rich food as I had previously been of dying from starvation,
and for my own protection I decided to leave London. Moreover, my
thoughts and my heart were turning back to the land of my birth, where I
knew there was a loving old mother who was longing for more substantial
evidence of my safe escape than the cables and letters she had received.

Strangely enough, on the boat which carried me across the Atlantic I saw
an R. F. C. man--Lieutenant Lascelles.

I walked over to him, held out my hand, and said, "Hello!"

He looked at me steadily for at least a minute.

"My friend, you certainly look like Pat O'Brien," he declared, "but I
can't believe my eyes. Who are you?"

I quickly convinced him that his eyes were still to be relied upon,
and then he stared at me for another minute or two, shaking his head
dubiously.

His mystification was quite explicable. The last time he had seen me I
was going down to earth with a bullet in my face and my machine doing
a spinning nose dive. He was one of my comrades in the flying corps and
was in the fight which resulted in my capture. He said he had read the
report that I was a prisoner of war, but he had never believed it, as he
did not think it possible for me to survive that fall.

He was one of the few men living out of eighteen who were originally
in my squadron--I do not mean the eighteen with whom I sailed from
Canada last May, but the squadron I joined in France. He rehearsed
for me the fate of all my old friends in the squadron, and it was a
mighty sad story. All of them had been killed except one or two who
were in dry-dock for repairs. He himself was on his way to Australia to
recuperate and get his nerves back into shape again. He had been in many
desperate combats.

As we sat on the deck exchanging experiences I would frequently notice
him gazing intently in my face as if he were not quite sure that the
whole proposition was not a hoax and that I was not an impostor.

Outside of this unexpected meeting, my trip across was uneventful.

I arrived in St. John, New Brunswick, and eventually the little town of
Momence, Illinois, on the Kankakee River.

I have said that I was never so happy to arrive in a country as I was
when I first set foot on Dutch soil. Now I'm afraid I shall have to take
that statement back. Not until I finally landed in Momence and realized
that I was again in the town of my childhood days did I enjoy that
feeling of absolute security which one never really appreciates until
after a visit to foreign parts.

Now that I am back, the whole adventure constantly recurs to me as a
dream, and I'm never quite sure that I won't wake up and find it so.


THE END


       *       *       *       *       *


[Transcriber's Notes:

The transcriber made these changes to the text to correct obvious
errors:

  1. p. 172 woulb --> would
  2. p. 265 geting --> getting

End of Transcriber's Notes]





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