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Title: The Brighton Boys at St. Mihiel
Author: Driscoll, Lieutenant James R.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Brighton Boys at St. Mihiel" ***

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(http://digital.library.villanova.edu/))



    [Illustration: “Americans Seeking Our Own Lines,” Tom Spelled Out.]



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          The BRIGHTON BOYS at
                               ST. MIHIEL


                                   BY
                      LIEUTENANT JAMES R. DRISCOLL


                                  ---

                              ILLUSTRATED

                                  ---


                      THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY
                              PHILADELPHIA



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          Copyright, 1919, by
                        THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO.



                       =THE BRIGHTON BOYS SERIES=

                                   BY

                      LIEUTENANT JAMES R. DRISCOLL

                              AS FOLLOWS:

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        WITH THE FLYING CORPS

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        IN THE TRENCHES

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        WITH THE BATTLE FLEET

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        IN THE RADIO SERVICE

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        WITH THE SUBMARINE FLEET

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        AT CHÂTEAU-THIERRY

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        AT ST. MIHIEL

                      THE BRIGHTON BOYS
                        WITH THE ENGINEERS AT CANTIGNY



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


                  CHAPTER
                       I. BIG PREPARATIONS

                      II. READY TO GO

                     III. THE SILENT CALL TO BATTLE

                      IV. THE THUNDER OF MARS

                       V. THIAUCOURT AT ANY COST

                      VI. BLASTING THE ENEMY OUT

                     VII. THE BATTLE IN THE WOOD

                    VIII. ADVANCEMENT FOR TOM

                      IX. AT REST

                       X. A SPY IN THE NIGHT

                      XI. IN THE NICK OF TIME

                     XII. THE DESPERATE CHANCE

                    XIII. CAPTURED

                     XIV. JOHN BIG BEAR—SCOUT

                      XV. THE STRUGGLE UNDER THE WATER

                     XVI. THE DEATH DUNGEON

                    XVII. JOHN BIG BEAR AVENGES

                   XVIII. THE DEATH OF SNOOPER JONES

                     XIX. THE SCOPE OF IT ALL

                      XX. WELL-EARNED REWARDS



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


    “AMERICANS SEEKING OUR OWN LINES,” TOM SPELLED OUT

    OLLIE HURLED A GRENADE DIRECTLY INTO THE GROUP THAT REMAINED

    THE KHAKI-CLAD WARRIORS SURGED INTO THE TOWN FOR HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT

    WITH HIS POWERFUL LEFT HAND JOHN BIG BEAR HAD THE GERMAN IN A THROAT
       STRANGLEHOLD



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                    The Brighton Boys at St. Mihiel

                                -------



                               CHAPTER I

                            BIG PREPARATIONS


RAIN, rain, rain.

Not the puny patter of a slow and drizzling and short-lived storm, nor
the gusty petulance of an April shower, but a steady, sullen inundation
that had set in more than a week before.

For days and nights it had been nothing but a steady downpour, and from
all appearances and barometric indications for days more it would
continue to be nothing else.

It was as desolate a place and as gloomy a season as one could imagine,
and the abominable weather was but adding to the depression of the
thousands of sturdy American youths who for weeks had loitered in what
seemed to them a useless and nerve-racking inactivity in a vast
water-logged section of France, west of St. Mihiel, almost south of
battle-scarred Verdun.

Now and then as the hours wore on toward late afternoon and early
darkness, a rising wind seemed to whine something of an echo to the
mental misery of those in the khaki-clad armies thus held as on a leash.
Or was it more as a dismal-toned challenge to them as they wallowed
through the slippery mud, unloading and distributing food, supplies,
ammunition from the seemingly never-ending caravan of drab-colored motor
trucks which hour after hour and day after day like the rain itself
streamed in seemingly from nowhere to the veritable swamp in which the
cream of American young manhood waded—and waited.

Tom Walton, despite himself, was thinking of Brighton and the pleasant
school-days there, as, just relieved from a monotonous sentry duty, he
headed toward the company kitchen where he knew his good friend Harper
would hand him out a cup of steaming coffee to warm his blood and loosen
his stiffened bones.

Often with Harper, and with Ollie Ogden, too, Tom Walton had played
football on a sometimes soggy field at Brighton, but never, he was
repeating to himself bitterly, had it been anything like this.

But pessimism or drooping spirits cannot for long grip a lad in perfect
health and possessed of the knowledge that eventually, soon or late, and
probably at no far distant date, he has a great mission to perform. And
so, with the first thoughts of good old Brighton, the mood of Tom Walton
began to change, even the weather did not seem quite so dreary, the
outlook not so glum.

Like many of their pals from the famous school, these three had gone
into the same service together—fighting doughboys, if you please—and at
their own request had been directly associated in the same unit from the
first hour that they went into training. And it had at all times been a
happy trio, for in their days at school they had been inseparable pals.

Just at present Harper, by grace of his culinary capabilities, was doing
emergency duty in the kitchen because of the temporary illness of one of
the regular cooks, but this was more of an advantage than a hardship to
his two friends, as a fat sandwich or a couple of hot doughnuts between
meals often bore substantial testimony.

Tom Walton was thinking of these things when suddenly he was brought
back to the realities of life by a loudly shouted “Hi, there!”
accompanied by a clatter which sounded like a section of the German army
advancing at a tremendous pace.

It was all so sudden, the ground so treacherously slippery, that Tom
scarcely had attempted to turn when something of tremendous weight and
momentum struck him a glancing blow and he went sprawling face downward
in the muck, his mackinaw canopying out over him like a miniature
dog-tent.

Before he could rise and scrape enough of the mud from his eyes to see
what was going on, three or four men went galloping by him, one shouting
warnings and futile commands, another grunting under the stress of his
labors, a third laughing jerkily but uproariously.

In shocked surprise and disgusted recognition, Tom, rising monkey-like
to all-fours, took in the situation in a single sour glance.

He had been bowled over by Maud, the company mule!

Maud, evidently, was on another privately-conducted tour of the works—a
favorite diversion, by the way—and Maud was objecting strenuously to any
curtailment of her pastime, especially in the shape of human company. It
was the fourth time in three days that Maud had broken tether, and, so
to speak, pulled stakes for another part of Europe—and always somebody
got hurt.

Tom reflected with some satisfaction that at least he had come off
better than “Buck” Granger, who in a pursuit of the escaped Maud the
preceding day had attempted a flying flank attack just as Maud
perceptibly increased her speed and let fly with her heels. Buck’s
pained expression later, when the surgeon had finished plastering and
bandaging him up, was: “The ornery cuss caved two of my slats.”

“That mule will get killed some day,” Tom muttered to himself, still
scraping mud from face and garments. “Fellow won’t stand for this sort
of stuff all the time. I believe she’s a German spy anyway, trying to
kill off decent Americans the way she does.”

And he wended his way sorely toward Harper and the kitchen, while afar
off he could hear the continued cry of the hunt as Maud, the
incorrigible, cavorted around in the mud, defying sentries, dodging
pursuers, having generally what Maud seemed to regard as an all-round
good time.

“Any news?” he asked, as Harper handed him the cup of hot coffee for
which he had come.

Harper looked off to the northward for a moment before he answered. Not
that he could see anything but hundreds upon hundreds of men of all
branches of the American arms, but he seemed to be conjuring a dismal
picture in his imagination as he stood there in silence, seeming not to
have heard the question.

“Well, are you in a trance?” Tom demanded impatiently.

“No,” Harper answered in a peculiar tone, “but I’m wondering just how
much longer we’re going to be kept here this way. Of course, we
shouldn’t complain or question, but I guess we all feel the same way
about it. We’re all anxious to ‘go in,’ and I don’t think it ought to be
much longer now.”

“What do you mean? What have you heard?” Tom asked, excitedly.

“It’s not what I have heard, for that hasn’t been very much. It’s what I
have seen, what you have seen, what every man here has seen that makes
me feel that the big clash of the war is soon to come, and that we will
have a chance to be in it. The concentration of the entire First
American Army in this sector isn’t for the purpose of giving us a
vacation, and after all I guess we can best show our patriotism and
loyalty right now by being ready for any emergency, rather than
grumbling because Foch and Pershing haven’t asked us out to lunch to get
our opinion on their plans.”

“Righto!” exclaimed Tom, with just that emphasis upon the word which the
English Tommies had taught the Yanks.

“Yes,” continued Harper, “I’m satisfied that we are down for a big part
on the program. Look what our men have been doing further north since
June 11th, when they captured Belleau Wood and took three hundred
prisoners.

“And just review all of that and last month. On June 19th our men
crossed the Marne, near Château-Thierry. On June 29th it was a raid on
Montdidier. July 2nd they captured Vaux. On the glorious 4th word came
of American success in the Vosges. A month later Fismes was taken, and
now—look at this.”

Harper liked nothing better than to spring a surprise—a happy
surprise—on his friends. He pulled from under his blouse a late copy of
“Stars and Stripes,” the official newspaper of the American
Expeditionary forces. It was dated September 3rd, and across the first
page, under bold, inspiring headlines, was the stirring story of the
capture of the plain of Juvigny, north of Soissons.

With nothing of boastfulness about it, it told in vigorous language of
the heroic valor of the American troops; how, behind a creep-barrage,
they had steadily advanced until, with a final lifting of the artillery
screen, the men, singing, shouting, cheering, advanced into open battle
with the Hun hosts.

It was a story to stir the blood of any patriotic American, particularly
one who was himself under arms and only awaiting the opportunity to
perform like service in behalf of his country and humanity.

Tom Walton read it to the last word before he spoke.

“I think you’re right,” he said, “it won’t be long now until we, also,
will be ‘going in’.”

“What else could all this mean?” was Harper’s way of reply. His arm
swept the whole horizon, north, westward, south, and then up toward the
east. “Haven’t you noticed the immense numbers of the Engineering Corps
that are being brought up? Thousands upon thousands of them.”

“And the truck trains,” Tom supplemented. “Buck Granger told me last
night that he heard a captain and a lieutenant talking, and how many of
those trucks do you think they said already are here?”

“Don’t know. Couldn’t even guess. How many?”

“More than three thousand, and they’re still coming in by scores every
hour.”

“It means business,” Harper assented, nodding his head vigorously. “It
means business, and on a tremendous scale. Why, just this morning—”

But just at that moment their conversation was interrupted. Their school
chum and army pal, Ollie Ogden, burst in upon them, wrathful to the
point of pitched battle, and at the time too breathless to speak.

“Have you seen—,” he demanded, and then gasped for another breath. “Have
you seen—.”

“Yes,” ventured Tom, in friendly mockery, winking at Harper, “We’ve seen
a lot. But just what do you refer to?”

“MAUD!” almost shrieked the angered Ollie. “Have you seen that gol
darned mule?”

George Harper and Tom Walton went into gales of uncontrollable laughter.
Had they seen Maud? They sure had. Harper saw her on her way—whither it
led she refused to say—and Tom had encountered her on the journey.

“Well, what are you two standing there guffawing about?” Ollie demanded,
his rage in no way abated by the evident amusement of his friends. “You
hee-haw like that beast itself.”

This was too much for Harper, and with his arms folded across his
stomach he doubled up like a jack knife in his mirth. But his position
was rather unfortunate. He had his back to, and was directly in front
of, the outraged Ollie, who hauled off and gave Harper his boot with a
force that straightway brought him upright.

“Look here,” he ejaculated in pained surprise.

“Look here!” repeated Ollie. “I’ve looked here, I’ve looked there, I’ve
looked all over this blamed camp for that ornery offspring of Satan. I
guess you fellow’s would like to see me get a couple of days in the
guard for letting her get away.”

“Could anybody ever keep her when she made up her mind to go?” Tom
asked, now laughing as well at Harper as at Ogden.

“Well, I couldn’t, anyway, and it’s not my fault,” Ollie asserted. “Just
because a fellow’s doing stable police he can’t be personal valet to a
beast like that all day. She—he—say, what is a mule, anyway? A he or a
she?”

“A mule is what America was before Germany tested her too far,” Harper
advised him.

“What do you mean?” asked Ollie, with a blank look.

“Neutral.”

“Oh, no. You’ve got Maud wrong. She’s never neutral. She’s belligerent
all the time.”

Just then there was a wild whoop of mixed masculine voices, punctuated
with a loud hee-haw, and Ollie dashed off to join a growing group of
khaki-clad runners in pursuit of the elusive Maud.

But the mule’s present freedom was destined for an early and ignominious
end. She hadn’t counted upon the slipperiness of the soggy mud. She was
fanning the air with her two hind legs when the two in front went from
under. She came down suddenly upon her side, and with a heavy grunt.

In that instant two of the leaders of the chase were upon her. The
struggle that ensued was spectacular in the extreme. The next two men to
arrive grabbed the two fore feet.

“A rope, a rope!” they cried in unison, but none dared go near, or even
approach, Maud’s rapid-fire hind legs which were kicking out frantically
in every direction.

But the men hung on—two at her fore legs and half a dozen across the
body—and in a few minutes more another breathless doughboy arrived with
the needed rope.

The struggle continued, but finally Maud’s capture was made complete. A
slip-noose was made upon her neck; half a dozen huskies took death grips
upon the other end; the signal was given, and all at once those who were
grappling with her jumped to a safe distance.

Maud gave one disgusted glance around, and then with a mighty effort
rose to her four feet and her full dignity. The six men gave a quick tug
at the rope around her neck.

Wow! The response was immediate and expressive. Maud’s heels cut the air
and she made a bee-line for her captors. They wildly scrambled to escape
the onslaught, but bravely held to the rope. The mule went crashing by,
and the slack line began to be taken up. With a sudden jerk it became
taut, and the six men, feet outspread before them, but unable to take a
grip upon the slippery mud, began a wild and involuntary ride in the
rear of the cavorting Maud.

Across camp they took their undignified way, as hundreds of onlookers
shouted in laughter, or made pretentious but ineffective efforts by the
vigorous waving of arms and hats to stop the mule and the
mud-bespattered retinue that went flying in her wake. But even Maud
could not for long endure the strangulation that the dead weight of six
men placed upon her windpipe, and so, after having traversed fully half
a mile, she came to a halt that was as abrupt as had been the original
beginning of her flight.

A strategist at all times, Maud knew by long experience how to accept
defeat and capture. It was with a lamb-like docility that unfailingly
won her immunity from the punishment which she so richly deserved.

But even Maud’s caprice, painful as it had been to a few, with the
amusement it had provided all the others, was forgotten a few moments
later in a rumor that ran the gamut of the square miles of armed camp
with greater speed than the fastest mule ever could hope to attain.

“Buck” Granger, who was just wandering from a remote spot where he had
dropped off in the pursuit, first brought the news to Tom Walton, Ollie
Ogden and Harper.

“Listen!” he said, gathering them about him as though it was some secret
not yet told to another soul. “Pershing is due to arrive here tomorrow
morning.”

Pershing coming! The supreme commander of all the American forces in
Europe! “Black Jack” Pershing, adored alike by the men under him and
those at home! Coming into the American sector at that point! It could
mean but one thing. Their time to show their mettle was near at hand.

The rumor ran back and forth through the vast area that the advance
might be made within the next twenty-four hours. None could confirm it,
of course. None wanted to deny it. All were on the tip-toe of
expectancy.

No longer were there lingering doubts. It was perfectly clear and
assured now that for a vast project, indeed, had all of these great
preparations been made.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER II

                              READY TO GO


ALTHOUGH there was scarcely an officer who long ago had not realized the
full import and significance of the gigantic movement which had
concentrated so many hundred thousand Americans in and around that
section opposite the German-held St. Mihiel salient, comparatively few
of the lads in the line had looked quite so deeply into the situation.

Now it was perfectly clear.

Hundreds of the biggest guns, together with the famous French “75’s” had
been concentrated in position a few miles back. Aeroplane squadrons had
been constantly patrolling the skies. Every branch of the Engineers had
been brought up, and now those brave and intrepid men, the Pioneers,
were adding the final touches to the preparations for their hazardous,
self-sacrificing task.

For the Pioneers, if you did not know it before, go first of all when it
is a concentrated attack upon a well fortified and entrenched position.

It is the Pioneers who pave the way, doing what previous artillery
bombardment may have failed to do in cutting wire entanglements, etc.;
theirs is the necessary preliminary work, in which, much of the time,
they are open targets for the enemy fire.

And then come the engineers, bridging streams, cutting and blasting away
earthen and concrete obstructions, filling in shell holes, levelling
roads—making ready for the great attack in which every branch of the
service on land will participate; infantry, cavalry, light artillery,
tanks, trucks, ambulances, field hospitals, everything.

These were the things for which everyone was making ready at ten o’clock
the following morning when the first actual order was received. It was
an order which in no way affected the men and lesser officers directly,
and yet it was one which marked the first step in the tremendous
program.

Brigade, regimental and even battalion commanders, which is to say
brigadier-generals, colonels, lieutenant-colonels and majors, were
summoned to Division Headquarters.

There, as it soon became known, they met not only the major-general in
command, but General Pershing himself. Unheralded, he had arrived by
fast auto with the break of dawn, and since that time, as hundreds of
maps spread out before them testified, he and the major-general had been
in most important conference.

To Corporal Tom Walton fell the never-to-be-forgotten privilege of
witnessing this historic sight.

His colonel’s aide arrived back from the conference a few moments after
it had begun, to get some maps from the colonel’s quarters. He needed
someone to help carry them over.

“Corporal Walton,” his direct commander’s voice called, “you will
accompany and assist Lieutenant Behring.”

And that was how Tom Walton got his first glimpse of the great American
commander, General Pershing. It was a close view, too, for he had to
deposit the maps and photographs upon a table only a few feet away from
where the generals sat.

In that instant, while Tom was furtively staring at him, General
Pershing looked up. It may have been that he did not give a thought to
the youth who thus was overcome by a sudden confusion, but Tom believed
otherwise, for the eyes seemed to twinkle kindly for just the fraction
of a second, the square jaws relaxed just a little, and the line of the
mouth relaxed.

Perhaps, on the other hand, with the biggest job of his big career
before him, General Pershing was not unmindful of the fact that he had
behind him a whole army—thousands upon thousands—of just such clean-cut,
courageous, never-say-die Americans as this young man from Brighton.

In a second, however, he was concentrated again upon the problems before
him, and Tom, his job completed, was on his way back to his comrades, to
tell them over and over again just how General Pershing looked, spoke,
acted, and a dozen other details of information which Tom did his best
to give.

What actually was going on at that conference was American and world
history in the making. It was, as it became known later, the beginning
of the end for the Boche and for Germany.

Thousands of maps and photographs were distributed. Every foot of ground
to be traversed by every separate unit was marked off, timed and
scheduled to the whole program. Each colonel knew to the exact moment
the time when his regiment was to go forward from a given point of
concentration; every major knew how his battalion was to be divided and
thrust eastward under instructions which he was to convey to his
respective captains.

No war strategy ever was worked out to finer detail. None ever attained
its objective so quickly and successfully.

That afternoon, as the captains were summoned to receive their detailed
orders, the greatest excitement prevailed everywhere. Orders are not
revealed to the men and non-commissioned officers until the time has
arrived to carry them into effect. But there was no longer any
concealing the fact that activities of tremendous import were imminent,
and all down the lines, as men examined their accoutrements, the word
passed and was repeated, “We’re going in.”

And finally some bright mind hit upon a recollection, and thenceforth
there was no further doubt as to the day of the advance; only the hour
was in doubt.

On September 12, 1914, the Germans, at tremendous sacrifice in their
first drive toward Paris, had established the St. Mihiel salient. It had
been held steadily ever since, and on this September 10, 1918, it was
within two days of that fourth anniversary. It would be fitting
punishment that the Huns should begin to suffer retribution on the very
day when they might be expected to be feeling as boastful as only a
German can.

Yes, there was no doubt about it in any man’s mind. They were going to
attack on September 12th.

And so, with this almost definite assurance in mind, the preparations
went forward with even renewed vigor and anticipation. No need to urge
the men. They worked as boys would for a holiday. The rain, which
continued with only slight and infrequent abatement, was no annoyance,
was hardly even noticed now.

The big work for which they had prepared for months—first in America,
then in England, and finally behind the lines in France—was now at hand.
Their mettle was to be tested against the Boche. Their numbers, their
ability, their courage were to be thrown into the world contest of
Liberty against Autocracy.

“Do you remember how you used to feel just before we went into a game
against an eleven that we knew to be at least our own weight?” Ollie
breathed to Tom and George, as the three of them were completing the
last essentials to a critical inspection.

“Sure do,” replied Tom, the biggest and heaviest of the three, “and I
never put on a head-piece with greater anticipation than I do this,” and
he clamped his heavy helmet on as though the battle already were under
way.

In a muffled voice Harper wanted to know how his gas mask became him,
and if really, after all, he wasn’t the long-sought missing link.

There is a cheerfulness about men about to go into battle that only
those who have been through it can understand—a thrilling of every nerve
that makes one jest, even though death may be stalking only a few yards
or a few hours ahead—a forgetfulness of all else but the determined will
to fight to the last, and to win.

Suddenly from far to the east there came the muffled thunder of heavy
cannonading which brought all three men upright. For a moment they
thought that real hostilities were on; but the illusion was not for
long. The sporadic reply of their own batteries told them as clearly as
words could that it was just “one of those messages from Fritz and
Heinie” which of course required a reply, but did not after all amount
to very much. It was a sort of exchange of compliments, the lads in the
trenches termed it.

Nevertheless every man was on edge, and when a simultaneous shout of
warning and expectancy went up from two or three alert fellows who had
been gazing skyward, a thousand heads went up, to witness one of those
most daring and spectacular exhibitions of the entire war—a battle in
the air.

The three Brighton boys—for as such they were known to all their
companions—rushed for an elevation already occupied by half a dozen
others, and from which a wider sweep of the skyline was to be had.

Even as they did so the real preliminaries to the battle began. The
American pilot, who it was now plain had been merely playing the role of
the pursued to lead the enemy beyond the aid of any of his own machines,
suddenly swerved for the attack.

The Boche pilot was in a small and speedy Albatross, but in maneuvres
and tactics he was outmatched by the American, who came at him with such
speed and directness that the witnesses, a thousand feet below, held
their breath in expectation of a crash that would bring both machines
and their pilots to the ground a battered, mangled mass.

But the American pilot knew his game well. He swerved a little upward
and over, just as the Hun took a swift nose dive to avoid contact. There
was the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire, that sounded from the distance
more like the popping of toy guns. Neither made a hit, apparently, but
the American plane had the position in which the Boche had to pass
under, over or around him in any attempt to reach his own lines.

The German had no heart for battle and headed straight south. Again the
American came at him like a streak of lightning, began to climb at the
same time, and the enemy tried a downward sweep and a turn northward at
the same time. The American turned, too, and those on the ground began
to applaud at the advantage he had gained. He was but a relatively short
distance behind, but at a much higher altitude.

As the Hun headed northeastward with all the speed he could get out of
his Albatross, the American came down the wind, dropping as he came, and
with momentum adding to the power of his propeller. When just within
range he opened up with a fusilade from his machine gun. The German
tried swiftly to change his course, but the effort was made too late.

His plane was seen to hover for a moment first on one wing and then the
other, as it seemed to come to a dead halt, and then, just as a little
tongue of flame shot outward there was a loud explosion, the Albatross
turned its nose downward and crashed to earth.

The American machine circled for a moment, as though the pilot were
seeking his exact bearings, and then began a long, slow, gliding
descent.

From all directions men by the score hurried over to where the machine
would land, learn the identity and get a glimpse of the pilot who had
furnished the entertainment.

As he came to the ground, the plane halted and the first of them
gathered around, there was a gasp of astonishment and sympathy, the
pilot lay back in his seat as white as a ghost, his left arm hung limp
at his side, blood trickled from a wound in his shoulder, and obviously
he would have fainted and fallen had the battle lasted a few moments
longer.

“A stretcher!” cried a lieutenant of the Aviation Corps, who had run to
the spot to congratulate his colleague.

A stretcher was brought, and an ambulance came hurrying up. The man was
unconscious when he was lifted in.

“Serious, but not fatal,” was the abrupt diagnosis of a surgeon after a
cursory examination. “Mostly weakness from loss of blood.”

“But why did he stay up after being hit?” asked one man, more of himself
than anyone else.

“The Hun would have been glad to get away at any time,” put in another.

The lieutenant who had called for the stretcher turned in no unfriendly
way toward them.

“He didn’t come down until he’d gotten his objective,” he said, “because
of the stuff that he’s got in him—the same stuff that you fellows have
got, too. You’ll be doing the same and just as good things on land, once
you get started—and that won’t be very long now.”

He added the last few words in more of an undertone, as though speaking
to himself, but everyone caught the significance of them.

“I believe it’s a good sign,” said Ollie Ogden, as the three friends
were slushing over the still slippery return journey, although the long
rain had ceased early that morning.

“Believe what’s a good sign?” demanded Harper, impatient that Ollie
should be so indirect.

“The way that pilot stayed up and won his fight.”

“Well, how’s that a sign? A sign of what?” Tom broke in.

“Why,” explained Ollie, “I believe it’s a sort of a forecast of this new
drive we’re going into, and for that matter the whole war. Some of us
may and will get hurt, but we’re going to stick at it until we win, and
we’re going to make the quickest possible job of it.”

“Bravo!” exclaimed Tom, “Only in our case we’re not going to invite the
enemy over our lines to do it. We’re going to carry the fight to him.”

“You’re right,” added Harper, “and this looks as if it’s not many hours
off.”

He pointed to a long string of motor trucks bearing pioneers, engineers,
snipers, wire-cutters—the forerunners of a battle in which preliminary
difficulties must be overcome.

Tom looked at his wrist watch. It was 6.16 and the sun was just setting.
Darkness would soon enclose that part of France in the cloak of
night—and it was upon the eve of the fourth anniversary of
German-established St. Mihiel saliant!

“Not long is right,” he said, reminiscently.

And Harper added, while Ollie nodded his head in assent:

“We’ll soon be ready to go.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER III

                       THE SILENT CALL TO BATTLE


AT nine o’clock that night the order came. Or rather, it better be said,
that it was nine o’clock, the appointed hour, when the top sergeants
silently formed their men, reported to lieutenants, who in turn relayed
the statements to captains, who passed them to majors, and thus to the
colonels and the brigadier generals.

Not a word as to their destination; as few spoken orders as possible;
very few lights.

The very air seemed to tingle with the mystery of it as Tom and George
and Ollie fell into their places in the first platoon of Company C.

Company after company strode away until entire regiments were on the
move. It was ten-thirty when Company C entered the march.

So far as the boys could determine, their direction was northeast, which
was calculated to bring them in direct contact with the entrenched
Germans holding the southern leg of the St. Mihiel salient.

They had gone perhaps two miles, their own platoon somewhat separated
now from the rest of the company as each unit took its own particular
divergent route, when the lieutenant, Gaston by name, halted them for a
moment while he consulted his wrist watch, and then, more guardedly, a
map and the landscape thereabouts.

Those men would have gone anywhere for Gaston. He was one of those born
leaders of men, but what was more, he was always willing to go where he
would ask another man to take a risk. The men knew that, and as a result
there was no finer morale in any platoon in the whole American army,
which was saying a great deal.

“We’re a trifle behind schedule,” he announced in a quiet voice. “We’ll
hustle up a bit as we go down this incline.”

And setting the pace himself, they dogtrotted for the next half mile.
Then a second stop was made, and as the men under him watched his
countenance by the brief glare of his pocket searchlight they knew that
they had made up their lost time, and were now at the point where the
program scheduled them to be at that particular moment.

Hardly a word was spoken. If one man wanted to speak to his “bunkie,” he
first gave him a slight nudge on the arm or in the ribs, and then leaned
over close to whisper whatever it was he had to say.

Heavy clouds obscured the stars. It was a pitch black night. But despite
that, there were few accidents, although a few of the lads stumbled and
went to the ground, only to rise and adjust themselves without a word.

They passed through a thick wood, but the engineers had been before
them, and there was at least the semblance of a broad path, now well
beaten down by the hundreds of their fellow men who had passed through
before them during the last two hours.

Once a felled tree which had not entirely flattened to the ground, broke
off at the stump with a sharp crack and crunching sound. On the instant
every man was flat on the soggy earth, listening, intent, ready for a
surprise attack or any emergency.

But Tom recognized the voice of his own captain, fifty feet on the other
side of it, instructing the men as to the route of their passage, and in
a moment more they were again on their way.

They were coming now into the area of the furthest obstacles and
entanglements that had been thrown out by the Germans, and as they swung
into a broad and fairly level road, the piles of barbed wire along its
sides testified to the rapid, but efficient work of the wire-cutters who
had been there for two preceding nights unobserved, and were even now
but a short distance ahead, paving the way with the pioneers for the
great hosts of infantry and tanks that soon were to attack the enemy.

“Lively now, men,” Lieutenant Gaston instructed as they came upon this
highway; and again they swung into a trot, after ten minutes of which,
as though it had all been done by clock work, they closed in with the
balance of Company C.

“If an enemy flare goes up, each man into the gutter along the roadside
without a second’s hesitation,” Captain McCallum ordered. “And no noise
from now on.”

It was as though he had said to them: “A few hundred yards ahead are the
enemy outposts, with sentries listening for the slightest warning.” And
indeed that was true.

They entered a rocky, shell-torn, treacherous field, where even the art
and energy of the Engineers had failed entirely to fill all the pits or
level all the mounds thrown up by the powerful projectiles which the
Boches had directed there.

The pace slackened, to avert accident or discovery, and the men
literally crawled along, their unit only kept intact by each man keeping
in touch with those on either side of him.

Their baptism of fire came while crossing this vast stretch of open
ground. They were on their final lap of the march to the communication
trenches when there was a roar from behind the German lines and a big
shell broke almost directly in front of Company D.

By the spasm of light that accompanied the explosion the boys from
Brighton saw at least half a dozen of D company men go down. Whether
they were killed, wounded or merely thrown to the ground by the force of
the shock they did not learn until later. But it proved that three men
had been killed outright, two others fatally and a third slightly
injured.

Tom and Ollie shuddered as Harper whispered the names, as they had been
passed along from man to man. One of the killed was Henry Turner, as
fine a fellow as ever breathed, as Tom himself learned when they had
played guard positions opposite each other on opposing boarding school
football teams.

“Too bad,” Ollie muttered. “Lots worse that could be better spared.”

They were halted here for nearly ten minutes, the officers waiting for
any further evidence that the enemy was aware of their movement, but
apparently it was but a chance shot, for no other followed it. They
resumed the advance, but even more cautiously than before.

They could sense rather than see now that before and about them on
either side were thousands upon thousands of their own men, coming up in
separate companies, becoming battalions and these in turn regiments,
until whole brigades and entire divisions lay stretched along the line,
waiting for the opening of the tremendous artillery bombardment and
barrage that was to screen their final advance into the enemy’s lines.

It was as Company C was entering the second line trenches from a tramway
that an incident occurred that caused both mirth and many a heart pang.

The leading men in the first platoon came to a sudden halt and for no
apparent reason did not immediately take up progress. There was
grumbling and growling, punctuated by sounds of suppressed mirth. When
the delay had lengthened into minutes, and couriers had arrived from the
commanders of both D and E companies, bearing their respects and asking
if the line would not move on, Captain McCallum himself pressed
impatiently forward to determine the cause of the hold-up.

He found the men in the lead maintaining a respectful distance from the
rear end of an army mule that stood, with head down, ready to kick out
at any moment, and effectively blocking the passageway.

“Buck” Granger, who was in the lead, informed the captain that the
animal was adamant to all coaxing.

“See if you can slide by,” Captain McCallum ordered.

“Buck” tried it. He was about midships of the mule when it suddenly
leaned over against him. He was caught as though in a trap.

“Oh, gosh,” he panted in misery.

“What’s the matter now?” the captain demanded.

“Nothing,” Granger answered with what breath he had left, “only it’s
Maud, and she’s got me fast, paying up back debts.”

“Three or four of you huskies try to lift her out of the trench,” the
officer then ordered, and as the designated number applied their
strength to trying to budge the mule upward, half a dozen others
clambered out of the trench to lend a helping hand from above.

But it was a useless effort. Not only were the men risking their life in
futile efforts to raise the heavy beast, but the men above leaned over
and whispered to the captain, “No use, there’s a high wire fence on
either side.”

By this time the Germans—apparently without any knowledge of the
movement beyond their lines, however—were letting go occasional shells.

“With the next blast from Fritz, shoot the beast,” Captain McCallum
ordered; for not only were his own men being delayed, but all of those
who followed. The entire program might fall with the failure of the
required regiments to be at their appointed place when the opening of
the artillery signalled the forward movement behind a curtain of shells.

How Maud got there no one in the entire regiment could have told. It was
like Maud—German spy, Tom had called her—to be forever upsetting law and
order and the best-laid plans. She was interfering now with the movement
of a large part of an American army, and yet the lads who had known and
loved the beast despite its unruly disposition felt much as though a
personal friend thus was to be put forever out of the way.

A corporal who had mounted the trench side to try and help lift Maud
out, jumped down in front of her and placed his pistol at her head.

“And be careful not to hit Granger,” was the captain’s final warning, as
he again noticed “Buck,” still in the vice-like grip and rapidly being
crushed breathless.

The corporal pointed his pistol in such a way that the bullet could not
endanger “Buck;” a German gun went off and simultaneously with it there
was a flash at Maud’s head, her whole body quivered for an instant, and
then she went down in a heap.

The hundreds upon hundreds of men who followed those of Company C
through that trench, stepped upon something big and bulky and soft, but
none knew until later that it was the dead body of what had been one of
the most cantankerous mules in the American army.

How the word came none knew, but nevertheless the various regiments
hardly had taken up their appointed places before it became whispered
from man to man that simultaneously with the American attack upon the
southern wing of the St. Mihiel salient, the French were to launch an
equally vigorous attack from the north.

It was satisfying information, or prediction, although the Americans,
needless to say, required nothing to sharpen their enthusiasm, nothing
to bolster up a courage which was prone at times even to sweep away
discretion and better judgment and carry them into unnecessary hazards.

Nevertheless, it was good news to know that the poilus were “going in,”
too—that it was to be a strike-together battle for quick and
indisputable supremacy.

It was not known until later how true the information was, but the
German high command would have paid a fat price to have been apprised of
it; for not only was it exactly what did happen, but had the Boches
known of the plan undoubtedly they would have been able to put up a
stouter defense, even though it was bound to crumble in the end under
such terrific attacks as Foch and Pershing launched against the armies
which for four years had lain impregnable in that bulging line, a menace
to the Allies in any forward movement that the Huns might be able to put
under way.

The marvel of it all, though, to the men who entered the trenches that
night, was the completeness and the readiness of the preparations for
the opening of the battle they were to make.

When you, who read this, stop to think how long a distance 5,000 miles
is, and then consider that just that amount of telephone wire, 5,000
miles, had been laid and connected for keeping every unit and the
various commanding quarters in complete touch with every advance, every
development, every emergency or contingency, you may realize, too, that
these Americans were being sent in only after the most careful planning,
and after every precaution of whatever nature had been taken to insure
success. It was no haphazard undertaking, there was no reliance upon
luck or chance. It was a scientific operation, computed and arranged to
the last detail.

Not only that, but more than 100,000 detail maps and 40,000 photographs
were prepared, largely from aerial observations, and distributed to the
officers in charge of carrying the operation forward. These maps and
photographs showed practically every foot of ground to be traversed,
every natural and artificial defense which they would be called upon to
conquer, and put upon paper even more clearly than words could have
expressed it the exact route and objective of every single company and
platoon that was engaged in the fight.

And in addition to that, as the men of the regiment to which our friends
were attached lay down upon their arms that night, awaiting the outbreak
of the artillery onslaught which would indicate that the first phase of
the battle was on, 10,000 men sat at the various instruments connected
up to the improvised telephone system, and 3,000 carrier pigeons were
being distributed among different units, to be released when their
objectives had been obtained, or insurmountable difficulties were
encountered—provided word could not be gotten back to headquarters by
any other means.

Captain McCallum looked at his wrist watch, and then at a paper he held
in his hand. He went down the trench repeating the information which was
the first thing definite that the men had learned since they started for
the front.

“Our army is attacking along a twelve-mile front,” he said. “Our own
immediate objective for tomorrow will be Thiaucourt. I need not tell you
more. That is our objective. It means that we must take that town.
Pershing has placed his trust in you for that; so, also, has Marshal
Foch. We are at about the centre of the line driving upon that point.”

And without further word he passed along to another group, to which he
issued the same information and instruction.

“Thiaucourt,” repeated Tom, as the captain left. “Never heard of it
before, but I guess it’s got to be ours by tomorrow night.”

“Righto!” assented Harper and Ollie together.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IV

                          THE THUNDER OF MARS


NEVER has there been such a sudden and simultaneous crashing outburst of
artillery of every conceivable kind and calibre as ripped the darkness
and the silence at two-thirty o’clock on the morning of September 12th
on the southern side of the St. Mihiel salient.

For the five minutes preceding the appointed time every officer of the
staff and line had stood gazing at his wrist watch, counting off the
seconds, knowing what was coming, waiting for it, wishing for it, and
yet withal unprepared for the terrible shock which seemed to make the
very earth rock and roar.

With such an uninterrupted banging and booming and screeching and
swishing as never before had been heard upon the face of the earth,
thousands upon thousands of guns, massed side by side along a line
twelve miles long, were belching forth as in one thunderous voice a new
and world wide Declaration of Independence.

America, come to another continent to avenge mankind and save humanity
and civilization, was pouring the wrath of the universe into the Hun
lines and defenses.

Under the terrific shock of the thing men fell upon their faces in the
trenches, their hands to their ears in a vain effort to shut out the
screaming, nerve-racking death-cry of the cannon. The attempts were
futile. Never for an instant did the guns pause; never was there the
slightest break in their awful rhythm.

Men in the trenches whose duty still lay before them, marveled at the
strength and endurance, the proficiency and the tenacity of those other
men, far behind the lines, who were feeding, feeding, feeding shells
into the maw of this tremendous array of artillery.

A veritable cloud of projectiles—death-dealing, trench-destroying
shells—were being hurled over the heads of the infantrymen into the
long-held defenses of the Boche.

And then, as if that was not enough for men to endure, just before they
were to throw their own lives into the battle, the German guns began to
reply.

They had no range, for the attack was a complete surprise. Had they been
less self-complacent they might have realized that for days before, when
an invincible fleet of aeroplanes of every description had kept their
own air observers from flying over this area, something of great
significance was under way.

But if they sensed it, their efforts to learn were of no avail, and so
when the awful thunder of shelling began, they could only guess where
the infantry and tanks were massed, which inevitably would follow in the
wake of the artillery carnage.

So, when they opened up, terrifically, too, it is true, but with nothing
like the force of the assault directed against them, it was with a
sweeping shelling much like the playing of a searchlight over an area.
It was not a barrage; it was more like the blind, helpless and
hysterical hitting back of one who knows not where his opponent is.

Nevertheless shells fell dangerously near; and once a big one landed
directly in the second line trenches, less than a hundred yards below
where Company C was stationed. Its toll of death was appalling. A dozen
men were blown to atoms. Rocks that had been part of the trench
formation were thrown in all directions, dealing death and injury as
surely as the explosive itself.

The inadvertent first cry of a dozen injured men was enough to shake the
nerves of the strongest; for after all in warfare, it is not so much the
risking, or even the giving, of one’s life, as it is the agonized
suffering of others dying that makes a man quake, and for the moment
falter.

Tom leaned over toward Harper and tried to shout something in his ear,
but the effort was as useless as though the one had been dumb and the
other deaf. It was absolutely impossible to make the human voice heard.
When an officer wished to issue some brief order, it was only by signs
that he could make himself understood.

Hour after hour it continued without the slightest halt.

Tom Walton began to wonder how much longer it would continue—how much
longer such an earth-shaking onslaught _could_ continue. Men who have
gone through it know that the strain of such a thing, the absolutely
inactive and helpless waiting, is the worst mental torture of all
warfare, and far worse than rushing forth into battle which may mean
almost certain death.

For a time thought seems to be suspended, and there is nothing but the
frightful burst of explosions, during which one cannot think. And then
comes a period of dulled senses—dulled to the present, and taking one
into the past.

It is not like the mental sensations of a drowning man, in which the
entire past life flashes before the mind in a clear but lightning-like
panorama; but rather one takes up separate events, finds himself
analyzing them for causes, motives; and, try to shake himself together
as he will, cannot for the time rid himself of the melancholy
fascination of it.

So it was with Tom Walton—perhaps also with Ollie Ogden and George
Harper.

Men were not cowards who broke down and wept during that awful night.
They were not afraid of bodily injury or death. It was the terrible
strain upon nerves already strung taut with preparation for, and in
anticipation of, the battle which they must fight and win. The very
restraint which for the time curbed the fulfillment of their
determination was the severest sort of sap upon their vitality.

Tom wondered at his own impersonal and disinterested detachment as he
stood watching a man of his own company wringing his hands, unable to
repress his feelings, the tears rolling down his cheeks. He had known
the fellow intimately for months. Twice he had seen him risk his life to
aid a comrade. He gazed at him now, but his own feelings were calloused
to the other’s misery.

His own thoughts, strangely enough, were not of the present nor of the
task so near at hand, but of his school days. And of all the incidents
that crossed his mind, one stood out with particular insistence. It was
shortly before he had entered Brighton, and when his mother, dear soul,
was skimping herself of everything she could (as he knew now) to give
him the education which she realized would be his asset later.

The day stood out before his distorted mind now as a great blot upon his
whole career. He shuddered as he thought of it, and yet he could not
turn his mind to other things. He reviewed it again and again.

He had started for school as usual that morning, but on his way had met
companions. They, too, were pupils in the same school, but it was the
late springtime of the year, and they were going to try the old swimming
hole. At first Tom refused to join them, but finally the temptation
became too great.

He joined them in their truancy, and they started for what they planned
to be a rollicking day. On their way they invaded an apple orchard and
pulled branch after branch of the blossoms that, left to grow, would
have become ripe and useful fruit. Tom’s mother hardly would have
believed that he would deliberately stay away from school, much less go
swimming at that season when she had warned him that illness inevitably
would be the result. But he had done both. And on their way home one of
the lads, who had a sling-shot, had killed a chirping robin. It was
probably that last act of heartlessness that showed Tom the exact
character of the companions he had chosen for his day of deception.

That night he had had a chill, and for days his mother had nursed him
through a sickness for which she could not account. And he had never
told her. A feeling of revulsion and shame overcame him. For the time he
even forgot the thousands of shells that were being hurled over his
head. He wondered if in this battle he would be killed. A great longing
came over him to see his mother, and in the old spirit of boyhood
confidence to tell her the whole story. Yes, if he should live, he would
tell her at the first opportunity. He did not want anyone else to have
the chance to tell her first.

And with the good resolution came mental relief. He seemed to come back
to himself again, and looking about him began to speculate as to what
sort of thoughts were passing through the minds of the men about him.
From one to another he looked, wondering what confessions, if any, they
would make if they could.

But in such an inferno as that neither introspection nor retrospection
can last very long, and it was the nearby explosion of a heavy German
shell, sending a shower of steel and rock fragments into the trench,
that brought Tom Walton to a keen realization of the present. A piece of
metal plate nearly circular in shape, fully three inches in diameter,
and most peculiarly scrolled by the forces that had blown it from the
shell, fell directly at his feet. He picked it up, examined it for a
moment, and then dropped it into his blouse pocket as a souvenir of his
first night under such a cannonading.

A lieutenant tapped him on the shoulder, and he swung around as though
shot. The officer smiled grimly an instant and thrust before Tom a sheet
of paper on which was a brief instruction which could not be given
verbally because of the din:

“We go over in forty-five minutes. Be ready when the artillery lets up.”

Tom nodded and the lieutenant passed to Ollie and George Harper, and so
on from man to man along the entire section of trench occupied by
Company C.

In forty-five minutes! The time was getting close. Well, anything was
better than remaining there motionless under such a strain, not knowing
at what moment a Boche shell might come thundering into their shallow
stopping place to spread sudden death and mortal injury.

Men began tightening and adjusting their equipment, examining their
rifles, cartridge belts and small arms.

A Salvation Army man came down the trench lugging a great can of
steaming coffee. The boys of Company C greeted him with cheers which
their lips formed but their voices could not make heard; and as they
took cautious quaffs of the hot beverage it seemed to soothe ragged
nerves and give them new vigor.

Tom looked at his wrist watch and compared it with Harper’s. They were
exactly the same time. But half an hour now remained.

That instant marked another move in the game, too. In little groups men
climbed out of the trench and went forward. Tom knew instinctively that
they were the dare-devil wire-cutters—that the American artillery,
adjusted like clockwork, had moved forward and these men were going out
to cut away any entanglements that it had not smashed and entirely
destroyed.

In this conflict war had become an exact science, and the men going out
knew that except for an occasional German shell that might fall in their
vicinity they were working behind an invincible screen of steel and
fire.

There flashed across Tom Walton’s mind the picture of General Pershing
as he had seen him on the preceding day in conference with the officers
who were to direct and carry out the gigantic project which he and the
other great commanders had formulated; and in the recollection Tom found
new confidence and determination. Whatever indecision may have possessed
him fell away; it was as though he suddenly had been shorn of shackles
which weighted him down; he breathed in deeply of the powder-tainted
air, and his only sensation was that of a great and noble strength of
purpose.

Tom examined his watch again. But ten minutes more!

Suddenly, almost with as great a shock as it had begun, the firing
ceased. If the expression can be made, the tremendous silence that fell
upon the area came like a crash. For the men had become gradually tuned
up to the dreadful uproar, and to have it abruptly break off set their
heads ringing.

“Get ready, boys!” Captain McCallum’s perfectly controlled voice spoke
out down the trench, and the lads could hear other captains giving like
orders to their own men.

And then the artillery began again, but it was more subdued than before.
Tom looked upward and realized that the first streaks of dawn were
stretching out across the sky.

He was immediately aware of something else, also. The smoke screen was
being laid down!

This was the final of the preliminary moves to their “going over.”

It began only a few yards out from the trench line and gradually moved
off toward where the enemy had been undergoing such terrific punishment.

Lieutenant Gaston was alternating his attention upon the smoke screen
and his watch. Tom looked at his own timepiece. It was 5.25 on the
morning of September 12, 1918, four years to a day since the Germans had
established the St. Mihiel salient!

Men were readjusting their steel helmets or tugging impatiently at
uniform and equipment.

Captain McCallum raised his right arm and the men as best they could in
their cramped quarters came to attention.

“Thiaucourt!” the commander shouted.

A great cheer came from every throat. It was taken up and echoed by
companies on their right and on their left.

The captain again raised his right hand. His eyes were on his watch. The
second hand was ticking round to 5.30.

The men stood with outstretched hands grasping the wall of the trench in
front of them to leap up and out.

Abruptly the captain’s hand fell. “Let’s go.”

And with a wild shout of exultation men of that company, and men of
other companies on either side, miles up and down the trench, were up
and over, in pursuit of the smoke screen—and the Hun.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER V

                         THIAUCOURT AT ANY COST


SHOCK troops are all that the name itself implies. They are the troops
sent forward, in human waves, to receive and break the first shock of
contact with the enemy lines. Invariably a large number of them are
doomed to death or injury, and the men themselves know it. But the very
knowledge seems to drive them forward with greater fury, and the clash,
therefore, is one of carnage for one or both sides.

These were the shock troops that were going over with the dawn against
the entrenched Germans—if they still remained entrenched after the
terrible fire to which they had been subjected for hours by the massed
American artillery, augmented by the world-known French 75’s.

Even through the rolling smoke screen the light was becoming stronger,
and Tom, Ollie and Harper, plodding ahead rapidly with their comrades,
knew that soon it would be full dawn, that the screen would be lifted,
and behind a barrage of fire that still would precede them for a short
distance, the infantry would come to position to launch its close-range
avalanche of rifle and machine gun bullets upon the enemy.

It was just as they were beginning to quicken the pace that Tom heard a
grunt and a gasp, followed by a muttered word or two, and looking down
upon his left side saw Ollie, almost up to his neck in a huge hole dug
by one of the shells with which the Boche had made futile effort to stop
the American fire.

Tom on one side and George Harper on the other, they managed to haul
Ollie out, but the sudden drop had jarred him to the point of nausea and
for several yards, as they double-quicked it to catch up with their
line, they virtually carried their chum along, each of them holding to
one of his arms.

Looking skyward Tom made another discovery. It was as though great
flocks of giant birds peopled the air. Aeroplanes of every capacity and
description and in various formations were maneuvering over their heads
and beyond them.

Watching them as he trotted along, Tom saw from time to time a smaller
scout plane separate itself from its group and dart forward and out of
sight over the enemy lines. Presently it would return, sometimes to
remain with its squadron, at others to continue back to some signalling
point in the rear, from which it relayed the facts of the German’s
position or movements.

Massive battle and bombing planes plowed along, their powerful motors
beating a tremendous bass throb as their big propellers churned the air.

Here and there, too, were anchored observation baloons, the observers in
them, equipped with parachutes for a long jump to safety at any time,
sitting at telephone instruments connected with the various
headquarters.

On the land and in the sky the battle was on—the history-making battle
of the St. Mihiel salient!

Once a German aero battle fleet that a few months before would have been
considered the most formidable fighting unit that ever took the air,
sailed forward as if to engage the American gunners and pilots in a
struggle; but either their courage failed them or better judgment
prevailed, for there was a quick signal from the leader of the group,
and with greater speed than they had approached they turned and fled
toward their own lines.

“Fritz isn’t feeling very well this morning,” the irrepressible “Buck”
Granger shouted, and a merry shout arose from the men who were within
hearing of the remark.

And, indeed, it seemed to be the truth. Fritz was getting some of his
own medicine, and apparently he considered it a rather bitter dose.

The smoke ahead began to dissipate itself in the brisk early morning
breeze, and the men had their first realization that the firing behind
them had almost ceased.

In subdued voices the officers were now counselling their men to use all
reasonable precaution; and indeed the orders were necessary, for the
lads, now this far upon their errand of victory, were ready to plunge
ahead, regardless of all hazards.

And then in another instant the whole thing was on. Tom did not hear the
order given. As he thought the thing over afterward, he wondered if any
actual order had been uttered. It was a matter of doubt, not only with
himself, but with many other of the men. But after all that was a matter
of only secondary moment.

They were in—those men in the first wave of shock companies—and now they
were racing like mad toward where the enemy lay waiting.

They were within fifty yards of the wood which was their immediate
objective when they suddenly were made aware that it was a veritable
wasp’s nest of hidden machine guns. With disconcerting unison they began
to spit their bullets at the American lines, and the men, trained to
just such a contingency, fell flat upon their stomachs with such
alacrity that none could tell which or how many had been killed or
wounded by this first defense of the hidden Huns.

The machine guns continued their murderous sput-sput-sput, but the range
was over the heads of the men as they stealthily edged forward, now in
scattered, zig-zag line.

Tom saw George Harper train his gun upon the thick foliage of a near
tree, and, almost on the instant that he fired, a huge German came
toppling through the branches and to the ground.

“Number one,” Harper muttered, with set jaw. But another sharp-shooter
had picked him out, and he had hardly said the words when a bullet
flattened itself against his helmet with such force as to drive it down
over his eyes.

A sergeant crawled past where Tom and Ollie were scraping their way
forward. “I want three men to go with me to get that nearest machine gun
nest,” he whispered, “you two come along.”

As Tom and Ollie followed as cautiously as they could, they realized
that the third man was their old friend, “Buck” Granger. “A little
action at last,” he grumbled, good-naturedly, as he wiped from his eye a
chunk of dirt that had been thrown up by a bullet which plowed into the
ground less than a foot ahead of him. “This is the real stuff.”

The sergeant warned them to be careful not to raise their voices. They
were making their way through a patch of tall weeds and grass, and the
object was to move as rapidly as possible, and yet with every caution,
so that they might overtake the nest without themselves being
discovered.

Further to the left of them some of their own men already had risen
again and were rushing toward the wood. This particular gun was trained
upon them, and Tom gritted his teeth in silent resolution of revenge as
he saw it send forth its hail of bullets, mowing down three Americans,
painfully if not mortally wounded.

They were within fifteen yards of the spot when the tallest of the four
Germans visible discovered them approaching. He muttered some gutteral
sound of warning to his companions, but it was his last word, for the
sergeant picked him off with a clean shot through the heart.


    [Illustration: Ollie Hurled a Grenade Directly Into the Group That
        Remained.]


Hardly had the sergeant’s rifle spoken when Ollie, with the strength and
aim he had gained on many a long throw straight from second base to the
home plate in many a hard-fought baseball game, hurled a grenade
directly into the group that remained. As the smoke cleared, Tom was at
the gun, swung it about and turned it full upon a clump of bushes from
which another batch of Boches were attempting to stop or stem the
irresistible tide of American oncomers.

They attempted to surrender, but as through a trumpet Tom heard the
shouted order of a major, “On, on! No quarter!” And with what had been
their own weapon a few moments before, another half dozen of the enemy
went to their Judgment.

Far ahead of them German guns were hurling shells at the point where the
fight was becoming thickest, but for the time their range was
sufficiently short to be inflicting more damage upon their own troops
than upon the Americans. The battle was now becoming hotter with each
moment, for while the first wave of shock troops was going forward with
unconquerable valor, the Germans who were on the very rear of a vast
retreating host were stubbornly contesting each foot of the way,
marveling at the bravery of their opponents, not realizing that the
avalanche of men throwing themselves upon them were fighting, not
because they had been ordered or compelled to, but because they had
before them every instant of the time the ideal of liberty and freedom
which brought the United States into the conflict.

With a detonation that threw Tom and several other of the men flat upon
the ground, a tremendous German shell exploded just ahead of them. It
sent a great cloud of earth and rock into the air, and before they could
arise a big tree, that had been completely uprooted by the projectile
fell directly toward them. The others rolled out of the way, but Tom was
not quick enough. One of the large branches pinned both his legs to the
ground.

As he tugged in vain to get his freedom, George Harper crawled over to
him. “Lay still for a moment,” he instructed his friend, “I think I can
get you out.”

With bullets whistling and singing all about them, with now and then a
shell screaming its death message almost into the pit where Tom lay an
impatient prisoner, the two lads worked frantically, but to little
avail. Although his legs lay in a slight depression, which left him free
of the weight of the huge tree, he was nevertheless held fast, and at
last Tom began to urge Harper to abandon him there until others came
along.

“I’ll dig you out,” his friend replied, at the same time poising his
bayonetted rifle for the job of scooping out enough earth to permit Tom
to slip his legs out of the trap.

Harper was in that position when suddenly his eye caught something in
the fallen tree which made him swerve suddenly. “You beast!” he cried,
and with all the gathered force of his strong body he flung his rifle,
as a primitive savage would a spear, into the nearby branches.

Tom, looking at that instant, saw the bayonet sink to the hilt in a
brutal-looking German who at that instant was bringing up his gun to
fire upon them. With one agonized grunt he crumbled, and then lay still;
and Harper, averting his head, recovered his weapon.

Obviously the Boche had been an enemy sharp-shooter hidden in the upper
branches of the tree, and until that moment had remained stunned by the
force of the fall precipitated by a shell from his own lines.

Harper set to work instantly to dig Tom out, but it was not an easy job.
As he lay there, virtually helpless, gazing up at the sky and at the
scores of aeroplanes dashing, dodging, cruising about, he gave a gasp of
astonishment which also attracted his friend’s attention.

With consummate daring a Boche pilot had dodged the apparently
impenetrable American air defenses, and, with half a dozen planes
pursuing and attacking him, was making straight toward a big anchored
observation baloon that hung motionless in the air a little to the north
of where the first wave of shock troops thus far had progressed.

The tremendous pounding of the motors rose even above the din of big and
little guns. From every point Allied planes were sweeping down upon the
Hun machine, but before they could overtake him he had fired an
incendiary bullet at the baloon with unerring aim.

As it burst into a mass of flames that were lurid, even in the now broad
daylight, the two men who had been occupying it as observers jumped out.
There was nothing else for them to do, and probably it was not their
first parachute descent from a great height. Nevertheless Tom gave an
involuntary gasp at the apparent cool courage of the men as they leaped
into space, and, for a distance of fully a hundred feet, shot down with
tremendous speed toward the earth until their parachutes opened up.

They landed upon the opposite side of the wood, and the men who had
watched them never learned whether they escaped in safety or were killed
in the inferno into which they landed.

In five minutes more Tom was free. The fight by that time had forged
steadily ahead, and beyond the delay of stopping to ease the dying
moments of one brave fellow with a last gulp of water, they rushed
forward to join the others of their platoon.

As they passed through the wood, which stretched longitudinally for a
considerable distance, but was comparatively shallow in depth, they saw
scores of Germans and not a few of their own men, most of them dead,
others mortally wounded and dying, others temporarily incapacitated but
not so seriously hurt, trying to staunch their own wounds and hobble
back to first aid stations.

It was a sight that struck to the very heart of the lads, but looking
backward for an instant they saw the second wave of indomitable men
approaching, and scattered through the occasional breaches in their
lines they saw that emblem of tender care and mercy, the Red Cross.

Where the Germans previously had dug in, just behind the line of the
wood, was now a havoc of wreck and ruin, the whole earth thereabouts
having been churned and plowed and furrowed by the terrific artillery
fire which the Americans had poured in preliminary to the advance.

From where they had swung round the eastern end of the miniature forest,
hundreds of tanks were now bobbing up and down like great, clumsy,
fire-spitting beetles, as they lumbered across this chaos of mounds and
gullies, paving the way for the renewed infantry attack that would open
with the arrival of the second wave of shock troops.

Actual fighting had been going on little more than an hour, and yet the
Americans had progressed more than a mile beyond where the first German
line had been encountered, had taken what the Boche had regarded as an
almost impregnable wood, peopled as it was with sharp-shooters and
hundreds of machine gun nests, and by the sheer courage and
determination of their attack had struck fear to the heart of the Hun.

Losses had been heavy, but they were slight as compared with the
casualties of the Germans. It had been a fearful ordeal, and the attack
really had but just begun. The men were begrimed, powder-stained and
most of them crusted with mud. But they were as invincible now as when
they started—and more anxious to continue.

Major Sweeney, his own left hand roughly bound in a handkerchief
betokening a wound of some sort, dashed up for a hurried word as he
passed along the line.

“Brave work!” he shouted. “You are doing no less than was expected of
you, but much remains yet to be done. Make good use of your short
breathing spell. The next half mile ought to be comparatively easy but
beyond that it will be more difficult. No one of us, however, can have
doubt of the result. Civilization never will forget what sacrifices you
are making for it today. We must not weaken for a moment now.

“The enemy already is upon the verge of an utter rout. We must make it
complete. He will stop a little further on to marshal his forces and
make a desperate and determined stand. So far as possible we must
prevent him from succeeding in that aim. We must keep him moving so fast
that he will be unable again to reorganize his forces for effective
resistance.

“All reports indicate that we are obtaining our objectives at every
point along the line. Upon you men devolves the responsibility of taking
Thiaucourt—Thiaucourt at all costs.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER VI

                         BLASTING THE ENEMY OUT


THE cheer which greeted Major Sweeney’s speech was of itself a pledge.
The first of the men in the second wave were arriving by that time at
that point where Company C, a little frazzled, but with renewed
determination, had rallied those of its men who had come through the
first attack uninjured. The new arrivals gave fresh energy and impetus
to those who thus far had borne the brunt of the original contact, and
again they made ready to resume the big push.

The sun had come out for the first time in more than a week, and those
who were aware of it, who were cheered and strengthened by its genial
glow, believed that they saw in the incident something significant of
success for the attack that had been so auspiciously launched.

Undoubtedly, from the first trend that the battle had taken, the Germans
had been caught unawares, and there was little doubt, either, that the
onslaught, coming as it did upon the fourth anniversary of their
undisputed possession of the St. Mihiel salient, contributed further
toward disorganizing the enemy and completely breaking down his
much-vaunted discipline and morale. The wisdom of American generalship
dictated that he should not be given a moment’s rest in which to
recover.

By re-formed platoons and companies, the vacancies filled in by the new
arrivals, officers and men began to move forward again to hasten the Hun
in his precipitate retreat.

They had not gone many more yards, picking their way from knoll to
knoll, when they began to sense something of the real horror of warfare
as the Germans waged it. Sticking out here and there above the surface
of the ground like grim and ghastly monuments were battered heaps of
stone and mortar—all that remained of houses which once had stood there.
This site had been a village once!

But what ruin had been wrought there! What scenes of carnage, of
brutality and outright murder had been enacted here upon this spot that
the Americans were now traversing? How many innocent noncombatants—aged
men and women, defenseless little children—had had their lives snuffed
out, or were tortured to death, or were driven like haunted wild beasts
before that relentless, pitiless advance of the Boches four years
before?

Tom Walton, asking himself these things, horrified by the thoughts and
the terrible picture they conjured, even as he threw himself forward
with the rest could not help comparing this barren desolation of what
once had been a thriving, happy, harmless community, with the peace and
quiet of his own country, even though it was at war, and with the
content and safety which he and his kin always had known there. To Tom
the wretched scene about him was like a terrible nightmare, and yet he
knew that it was in fact all too tragic reality.

Unquestionably the day—not _Der Tag_, of which the Germans had so
brutally and boastfully spoken for four long years—but a far different
day, the Day of Retribution, was now near at hand. It could not come too
swiftly or severely to avenge the horrors which German invasion, Hun
brutality and Boche atrocity had inflicted upon the people and the land
of Belgium and eastern France.

Stirring as were these reflections, thrown with lightning-like rapidity
across the mind of Tom Walton and perhaps scores of others who were
fighting side by side with him, they were but passing thoughts which
speedily gave way to the stern and hazardous realities of the moment as
a hail of machine bullets from a dozen hidden nests again challenged,
and for a time halted, their further advance.

It was another of those long, narrow, intermittent stretches of wooded
land that they were approaching, and somehow, by the exertion of almost
superhuman efforts, the Germans had thrown a hasty but temporarily
effective barbed wire entanglement in front of it. It was another of
those obstacles which cost lives to overcome, but which had to be thrown
aside with the least delay in order that the enemy might not have time
to marshal a recouped strength against the oncoming line.

But of the great fleet of aeroplanes that kept dashing back and forth
above, one which had been especially assigned to watch and report their
progress, hovering over them like a powerful winged guardian, had seen
their predicament and even as the cloud of machine gun bullets mowed the
first unfortunate ones down the message had been flashed to brigade
headquarters, and almost in the same instant an order to action had been
flashed to the commander of a nearby squadron of heavy tanks that just
had performed a like service a short distance up the line.

Prostrate upon the ground, but with no other protection than an
occasional shell hole afforded the luckiest of them, the men saw the
tanks swerve in their course and come in their direction. Crawling,
rolling, both right and left, they opened an avenue through which they
might pass.

With a loud and joyous shout that rose high above the dismal song of
death of the bullets, the harried soldiers greeted the lumbering,
jolting approaching of the “Treat ’em Rough” branch of the American
service.

Dipping into ditches and shell holes, but just as majestically taking
the sharp and rugged rises in the ground, bobbing, gliding, sliding like
antediluvian many-legged serpent-beasts, they came on at a jogging,
uneven pace, much as might a great herd of giant, iron-hided elephants,
puffing and snorting and spouting forth fire.

To avoid casualties they slowed up and proceeded cautiously through the
little lane created for them, flanked on either side by indomitable
doughboys, only awaiting their passage through to be up and at the enemy
again, and who now, prostrate upon the ground, were taking pot shots at
the sheltered Germans operating the machine guns.

But once past that point where they might hit or run down their own men,
the tanks proceeded with all the power and speed they possessed straight
for the sapling wood and the wire entanglements in front of it. Machine
gun bullets pelted against their tops and sides as harmlessly as drops
of rain upon a roof. Invincible to everything but the larger guns, which
had not yet made their range, so viciously did the Americans in the
skies fight off the enemy observers, they plodded on, barbed wire
twisting and snapping, trees cracking off and falling before their
terrible assault.

Some of the men already were up and running in the path of the iron
monsters when the shrill whistle of their captain brought them to the
ground. The tanks were coming backward. To the uninitiated it seemed
that they were in full and precipitate retreat. For a distance of
perhaps forty feet they backed, while many wide-eyed Americans looked on
in wonder; then they as suddenly halted, and a second later again went
forward.

They had returned for a renewed momentum with which to mow down the
heavier trees which had obstructed their course already slowed down by
contact with the outer fringe of the wood.

Suddenly, as though from out the sky, there was a veritable avalanche of
fire and shell. Projectiles exploded everywhere, annihilating men in the
terrible force of their concussion, laying others low with the deadly
rain of bullets and jagged chunks of shrapnel.

Tom with a sinking heart saw Ollie go down like a log, but a couple of
moments later he was on his knees, adjusting his helmet and putting more
ammunition into his rifle. Hours afterward Tom learned that Ollie’s
helmet had saved him, a piece of iron having been driven against it with
such force as to knock him down and for the moment stun him.

But even as Ollie at the time was getting to his feet, Tom felt
something hit him in the chest with a tremendous blow, and he went
staggering backward, feeling for the wound. His blouse was torn, almost
over the heart, and as he regained his breath he felt cautiously inside,
certain he would withdraw his hand covered with blood. Instead he felt
something hard and flat, with a sharp dent nearly in the middle. He drew
it forth. It was a piece of metal plate nearly circular in shape and
fully three inches in diameter. It was the piece of German shrapnel he
had dropped into his blouse pocket hours before while in the trench, and
undoubtedly it had saved his life.

But it was only an inwardly muttered word of gratitude that Tom had time
for then, though he had seen his chum and himself almost miraculously
escape death within the same minute. There was no living in the terrific
downpour of shells with which the Germans desperately were trying to
halt the American advance. To go backward was almost like admitting
defeat, and no man had even a thought of that. There was but one course
open, and that immediately was ordered by Major Sweeney, in charge of
that particular part of the line.

Of the five hundred men who had been hurled at that particular position,
at least ten per cent had been killed off or wounded in that fiery
concentration of Hun artillery. There was no time to move the wounded
then; it was a case of get the uninjured out as soon and as safely as
possible. In the stress of bitter battle conservation of fighting
strength, man-power, often becomes the biggest consideration.

Therefore the units were divided into two groups, one to strike eastward
and the other westward, to flank the wood in a northward movement and at
the same time to advance more rapidly than German air scouts could trace
and report their position to the artillery that was blasting away at
them.

Tom and George Harper were in a squad chosen immediately to go forward
as scouts on the enemy’s eastern wing to endeavor to ascertain the exact
strength there, and, if possible, to learn the location of the machine
gun nests from which the Boche were adding to the havoc wrought by their
artillery further back. Their work was most hazardous. Only the most
cautious advance could obscure their movements from dozens of snipers
hidden in the thick foliage of the trees. Most of the tanks either had
been crippled by the shell fire or had been ordered to a safer distance
back, and only the best strategy could bring the infantry into a
position where it could storm and take the woods.

Under the leadership of a sergeant the scouts crept forward. They
attempted to make a detour, but there was no cover of darkness to
obscure them; there was but a scattering growth of scraggly weeds and
upturned rocks, and when but a short distance on their mission a
fusilade of bullets that tore up the ground directly before them gave
them ample notice that they were not unnoticed—in fact were about to be
the especial targets of German marksmanship.

Tom tumbled into the shell hole nearest him, and he saw Harper do the
same only a few feet away. But as Tom rolled himself into his place of
safety he landed upon something cushiony and soft. His landing also was
accompanied by an angry grunt. It came from directly beneath him. In a
flash Tom had turned and at the same time maneuvered himself to his
hands and knees. He was directly astraddle a fat German.

The American lad took in the situation in a glance. The Boche was
bleeding from a wound in the left hand, but otherwise, so far as Tom
could see, he was uninjured. But if he had deliberately flopped into
that hole to avoid further fighting and surrender himself in safety to
the advancing American troops, at least he had not forgotten the
characteristic treachery of his training, for apparently he felt it
would be a good piece of work first to deprive the United States of one
more fighting man.

He already had his revolver in his hand when Tom managed to turn around,
and with a quick upward jerk he sought to bring it into range. But Tom
Walton had not been the champion wrestler at Brighton for nothing, nor
had he forgotten any of the jiujutsu movements which made him the peer
of any of his pals in any rough-and-tumble contest. With a quick upward
movement of his right hand he gave the German’s arm a twist which made
the shot a harmless one as he pulled the trigger. At the same moment he
brought his knee down in the man’s stomach with a force that jolted the
breath almost completely out of him. But the German was a powerful man,
despite his excess flesh, and as he made a grab for Tom’s arm he also
partly rolled over in a way to endanger the younger man’s balance. Again
he tried to bring the gun into play, but with a forward dive Tom took
the only desperate course open to him and sunk his teeth deep into the
Hun’s wrist.

With a howl of rage and pain the fellow began to yell “Kamarad!
Kamarad!” but Tom had experienced enough by this time to know that his
own life was not safe there so long as that treacherous German remained
able to inflict an injury upon him.

Pinning the German’s gun arm down to the ground, Tom suddenly raised his
head, and as suddenly lowered it again and with all his weight smashed
into the Boche’s face, billy-goat fashion. With a string of gutteral
sounds which Tom took to be oaths, his enemy tried in vain to avoid this
new attack. It was an entirely new brand of fighting to him, and what
was worse in view of his whole training, he was fast in close quarters
and could not hit and run. Before he had fully recovered from this last
shock Tom had managed to draw his own gun. He fired, but without time
for any deliberate aim. The German was just raising his own revolver,
but his arm dropped back limp and his eyes rolled up into his head.

With a shudder—for he had not yet become accustomed to seeing men
die—Tom suddenly leaned forward, a feeling of sorrow overcoming him,
despite himself. But there was no need of asking questions. The German
was no longer a menace to any man. The bullet had hit him almost
directly over the heart, and his death had been instantaneous.

Further consideration was cut short, however, when the sergeant crawled
over to the same shell hole.

“I’ve reported to the major,” he said, “and there’s no use of our
attempting to go further alone. Be ready for a sudden rush attack and
join in. What’s that you’ve got there?” he asked, suddenly becoming
aware of the German under Tom.

“He’s done,” came the even answer. “He tried to get me first when I
rolled in here, and we had quite a set-to, but I was just a little
quicker on the trigger than he was.”

“Good!” the sergeant exclaimed, and then, in the same breath, “Our
fellows are coming now. Be ready to jump out when they’re about
alongside. We’re going to take that wood and every living German in it.”

And as the sergeant a few seconds later gave the word, Tom leapt out and
joined in the rush upon the wood. As he did so he saw Ollie Ogden coming
along with the rest. But he looked in vain for his Brighton friend and
fellow scout, George Harper. He was nowhere about.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VII

                         THE BATTLE IN THE WOOD


WEARIED as they were with the long hours of fighting, preceded by a
night of the most nerve-racking vigil and anticipation, those lads went
across that intervening space and into the very jaws of death as though
it was their customary exercise before breakfast each morning—went
singing, shouting and cheering, oblivious to danger, seeing only a duty
to perform in the quickest possible way.

For a full minute after the Americans began their fearless dash, Heinie
and Fritz were so utterly dumbfounded by the utter audaciousness of the
assault that, except for the steady descent of the heavy shells which
were falling harmlessly many yards away, firing practically ceased.
Consternation seemed to seize the German snipers and crews which manned
the hidden machine guns. The assault was so boldly carried out, the
attack was so swift and vicious, that before they could recover
themselves the Americans were upon them, and mortal man-to-man combat
was on.

Those who could get away in safety began to run, but the two groups
which had been divided to escape the artillery fire had carried on a
simultaneously converging movement, and most of those who occupied the
miniature forest were caught in a trap and compelled to fight.

Tom had gotten only a dozen yards into the wood when he stumbled and
fell. As he fell he rolled down a short incline and into the very heart
of a machine gun nest. Apparently the five Huns there were more startled
than he was, but he did not wait to inquire. With a quick backward
somersault he hurtled himself out of the place, and as he came to his
feet he threw a grenade. It struck upon the machine gun itself, and
exploded with a force that made his teeth shake, but it did the work and
saved his life, at the same time eliminating five more menaces to the
peace of the world and human happiness.

Off to the left a machine gun of the enemy was playing a vicious tattoo.
Tom saw it mow down four of his comrades, and realized that situated as
it was it was there to do a great deal more damage if it was not
captured and its crew taken prisoners or killed. He felt as though he,
too, had been hit, and then, from tree to tree, began worming his way
along the ground.

He had just reloaded his rifle, in which the bayonet was fixed, but he
had thrown his last grenade. He stopped for a moment by a comrade who
would never again need his. Tenderly he clutched the explosive to him
and continued on his way.

He was almost to the spot, and realized, too, that he had gotten away
from all the rest, who were bearing off in a diagonal direction, when he
saw something darting along the ground just ahead of him. At first, in
the semi-darkness of the wood, he thought it was nothing but a shadow,
perhaps only a delusion of his eye or brain, but as he paused it moved
again, scarcely discernible as its own color mingled with that of the
ground.

But Tom knew that it was a German—and seemingly an officer—who was
trying to get away while the getting was good. He determined that the
German had not yet seen him, and cautiously took up the trail,
especially as it was in the general direction toward the machine gun
nest. He might have shot the man then, but the shot would have revealed
his own whereabouts and probably save the machine gun crew, as well as
cost him his own life.

Watching every move that his quarry made, Tom stalked him as noiselessly
as an American woodsman would follow a wary animal’s trail. He noticed
as the Boche went along on the ground, he seemed to draw himself forward
with only the right arm, the other hanging limp at his side. A little
further on Tom found the faint pathway spotted with blood. He crept
closer. As he did so he inadvertently stuck one of his own hands into a
smouldering pile of leaves which had been set afire by a bomb or shell,
and the exclamation that escaped him made it impossible longer to keep
his presence there unknown.

The German turned quickly. Tom noted all in one glance that he wore a
fierce bristly mustache turned up at the ends after the style of
Wilhelm, the Arch-Murderer, that his complexion now was a
greenish-white, and that his left arm had been shot completely off just
below the elbow. But he noted something more than that, even while he
covered the man with his gun, and the latter stuck his right hand into
the air in token of surrender. The man was a colonel in the Prussian
Guards! A regimental commander in what the Kaiser himself regarded as
his crack troops!

Tom gasped in astonishment. Seeing that the other made no move to get
his own weapon, the younger man lowered his rifle the least bit, at the
same time rose, first to his knees and then to his feet, and then
commanded the German officer to stand up.

“But keep that arm in the air, Colonel,” he cautioned vigorously, “or I
might get nervous and pull this trigger.”

Apparently the officer understood, and maybe, too, he had some sense of
humor, for he not only did as Tom bade him to do, but the features, that
were distorted with the torture of pain and fast ebbing strength, for an
instant were softened by just the flicker of a smile.

“You seem to be just a little more decent than the rest, anyway,” Tom
continued, “and that arm needs attention pretty badly. I’ll let that
machine gun nest go for a few moments while I turn you over to be taken
back a prisoner, and for treatment.”

“I thank you very much for sparing my life and giving me this
attention,” the German colonel responded, in almost perfect English.
“You are very kind.”

As Tom fell in behind him, after having directed him which way to walk,
he began to marvel over the man’s accent, and in a guarded way to admire
the manner in which he bore what must have been the agonizing pain of
his injury.

They had almost reached the point where Tom could turn his prisoner over
to those who would take him in charge and transfer him to the rear and
to a hospital, when they came upon George Harper, propped up against a
tree, apparently asleep.

But as he heard them approach he opened his eyes, and then he did what
to Tom seemed a strange and unaccountable thing. He jumped to his feet,
showing no evidence of a wound or other injury, and then, gazing
intently into the face of Tom’s high-ranking prisoner, took a few more
steps forward.

“Why, Professor Schultz,” he exclaimed. “If it isn’t the professor I’ll
eat my helmet. And with one wing gone, too, eh? You’re not looking quite
so well, professor, as when I saw you last.”

Tom, who had listened to this in surprise, turned toward the colonel as
though expecting him to explain it, but the German officer only tried to
tilt his head a little higher, make his mustaches appear a little more
formidable, and maintained an absolute silence.

“He don’t want to recognize me now,” Harper explained to Tom. “He’s got
good reasons, too. The only good it will do him to have that arm fixed
up, now that he’s recognized, will be to get well enough to be stood up
before a firing squad.”

The erstwhile proud colonel made a move as though he would make a dash
for his liberty.

“Oh, no you don’t,” George Harper snapped, at the same time levelling
his gun at the officer. “No more of that funny work this time.”

Keeping the prisoner covered with his gun, he turned again to Tom.

“This professor-colonel and I have met before,” he explained, “and the
latest time was a few hours ago. I got separated from you fellows and
tried to rush a machine gun nest. I was just about to throw a grenade
when this fellow caught me in the stomach with a whacking big rock. It
was the handiest weapon to him, for his revolver had been shot out of
his hand. I’ll say for him that he throws well. It knocked me out
completely. When I came to my senses I could hardly move, but I
remembered one thing, and that was that the man who laid me low was the
one-time Professor Schultz, confidence man and swindler, indicted and
sought by half a dozen different States, but particularly wanted by the
United States Secret Service as a daring and dangerous spy. Some record
you’ve got, eh, Schultzy—pardon, professor, I should address you as
colonel—the crookedest colonel I ever knew.”

“Will you take him back?” Tom asked, amused despite himself at the
manner in which George Harper delivered himself of his information
regarding Schultz.

“I sure will,” his pal responded. “I want to get back into the thing as
soon as ever I can, but honest, that fellow sure can heave a rock, and I
feel as though some of my intrals have gotten too crowded together.
Maybe I need a little repairing myself. I’ll be right back again,
though. Come on, Schultzy,” and Harper and his prisoner trudged off.

Tom started back for the machine gun emplacement which had been his
objective when the German colonel crossed his path, but he found it had
long since been silenced and swept aside, and his own comrades were far
ahead of where they had been when he took his prisoner.

They were now nearing the other side of the wood, with its open land
beyond, but the rear guard of the Germans still were fighting
stubbornly, the reason for which Tom learned later. The only way the
German officers could compel those poor dupes left in the rear, to stand
and fight until the rest had started well upon their escape, was to tell
them that the Americans were barbarians in war and, if they captured
German soldiers, would torture them to death. A Boche prisoner, fearful
even of accepting a cigarette, fearing it was poisoned, until the man
who offered it stuck it into his own mouth and began to smoke, finally
told his captors the secret of what they previously had put down to
courage upon the part of the Hun fighters.

Tom, coming upon the rigid resistance as it was being shown at the
fringe of the wood, jumped into the thick of the fight just as “Buck”
Granger went down with a bullet wound in his right leg. “I’m all right,
don’t bother about me,” the brave fellow shouted, as Tom wavered and was
about to stop. “Just a little hit in the calf. I’ll hobble along all
right.”

“Better stay where you are,” Tom advised him, “and if I come through
myself I’ll be back for you later in the day. The Red Cross stretcher
men will be along shortly anyway, and they’ll give you a lift.”

The injured man nodded, the while he nursed his injured leg, the knee
drawn up under his chin, and Tom started off.

“Say!” Granger shouted, before he was out of hearing, “just give Fritz a
couple for me, will you?”

“Do my best,” Tom called back, and disappeared.

He was no more than out of “Buck’s” sight when a German, lying prone
upon the ground, and whom Tom thought dead, fired point blank at him.
The bullet tore through his right sleeve and left a stinging sensation
on his arm. With fixed bayonet he charged before the man could shoot
again.

It was the second man he had killed at close range that day. The sight
sickened him. He hurried on. There was the great difference in the
armies. The Germans seemingly killed for the lust of killing. The
Americans, only because it was the only way in which to save humanity,
rescue or aid martyr nations, and redeem civilization to the world.

As he reached the edge of the wood, a hundred feet from the nearest of
his own men, he thought he heard a voice weakly calling him—calling him
by his own name.

“Tom Walton!” Silence, as he looked around; and then again, “Tom Walton!
Here I am, over here.”

It was scarcely more than a weak and quavering whisper, and the very
ghastliness of it sent the chills running up and down Tom’s spine as
fire and bullets couldn’t make them do.

He looked in the direction from whence the voice seemed to come, and saw
a man in an American officer’s uniform stretched out upon the ground.
His face was smeared with mud and blood and was distorted in mortal
agony.

Tom ran to his side. He was tugging at his blouse, as though to open it.
Tom gazed into his face again, and then gave a gasp of shock and
astonishment.

“Why, Major,” he gulped, “Major Sweeney, are you badly hurt?”

The officer tried to answer, just the effort of a smile flickered for a
moment on his swollen lips, and he weakly motioned toward Tom’s water
flask.

A few swallows seemed to relieve him a little, and with his head
pillowed in Tom’s arm he tried to move a bit, but it was no use. The
attempt was too painful, and he was fearfully weak. Tom instantly
realized that. He looked around desperately for help, but there was none
immediately at hand. The major, evidently divining his intention, gave a
slight wave of the hand. It expressed much. It was the inborn heroism of
the man—the man under whom Tom had trained and come over seas, the man
for whom he had the greatest respect and the deepest affection.

“In there,” the major gasped, after a terrible effort, motioning toward
an inner pocket. “Important papers—took them from German—officer.”

Tom reached into the pocket and extracted what seemed to be a packet of
maps and instructions. Major Sweeney was lapsing into unconsciousness,
but he rallied himself with a great effort, and, in a voice which Tom
now had to lean close to hear, he continued:

“Take them—to—brigade head—quarters,” he reached feebly and let
his own quivering hand drop upon Tom’s. “Tell them—Major
Sweeney—sends—his—respects and he’s—going west.”

The voice ceased, the big frame quivered slightly for just the fraction
of an instant, and then lay still. Tom Walton knew that for his brave
major the end had come. Gently he laid the form upon the ground. Tears
were running down his cheeks. Tenderly, as though it had been his own
father, he smoothed back the matted hair.

“Major Sweeney,” he repeated, in a choked whisper. “Gone west.”

And then the long tension snapped, his head dropped forward and his body
was shaken by convulsive sobs.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VIII

                          ADVANCEMENT FOR TOM


BUT if there is sadness in battle, so also at times does it have its
humorous aspects, some of which are ludicrous to an extreme.

It was just that sort of a reaction that Tom Walton got when, having
laid the body of Major Sweeney on a little knoll by the side of a tree,
he again laid siege to the enemy line.

By this time it was a general free-for-all at that particular point, and
it was vicious and close-range fighting. Tom was having all he could do
to defy two Germans, one of whom was doing his best to bayonet him,
while the other was trying to brain him with a rifle butt, when Ollie
Ogden suddenly appeared upon the scene.

With a single leap—and no one to this day knows why he adopted that
method of attack, except that men often do strange things in the stress
of battle,—Ollie was upon the back of the man trying the bayonetting.
His two arms were gripped about the German’s throat, and his feet were
twined affectionately around his waist and over the stomach. From all
appearances he was there to stay awhile.

The other German—he who had been so seriously intent upon crushing Tom’s
head in with the butt of his rifle—was so startled by the strange
performance that he stood gazing as though stricken, while Tom with a
sudden wrench took the gun from him and added him to the list of
prisoners.

But by this time a dozen men on both sides had abruptly suspended
hostilities to watch the antics of the big German with Ollie on his
back. The latter seemed to be enjoying it as much as anybody.

The Hun first clawed desperately to disengage Ollie’s strangle grip upon
his throat, and failing in that, vainly transferred the same tactics to
disengaging himself from the latter’s feet.

But Ollie held the whip hand. Or rather, he held the bayonet hand; and
with this weapon, rather more effective than a cavalryman’s spur, he
reached backward and downward and gave the German a none too gentle jab
just beneath where he himself sat perched.

“Dunder und blitzen!” shouted the big Boche, as he began to buck
viciously to dislodge Ollie from his back.

Even the Germans who were looking on laughed. But even as they did so
they realized that they had let down their guard and that everyone of
them within range was covered with an American rifle and was a prisoner
unless he preferred sudden death. They realized that the Americans could
conduct warfare and enjoy a little humorous diversion at the same time.

It was a shock to several of them, but they seemed suddenly to realize
that it was good, rather than bad, fortune, and they gave themselves up
entirely to the enjoyment of their comrade’s misery.

“’At a boy,” yelled one Company C man to Ollie, “make ’im prance.”

And Ollie, enjoying himself immensely and not at all loth to give his
companions all the fun they desired, suddenly loosened one foot, gave
his mount a quick backward kick in the stomach, which elicited a
tremendous grunt, and amid a shout of laughter which made men many yards
distant turn suddenly in their fighting, the German started off at a
full gallop toward his own lines.

For a few moments it looked bad for Ollie, unless he elected to make a
quick drop, for none of the Americans dared shoot at the Boche for fear
of hitting him. But either blinded by his rage, or bewildered by the
sudden trick that fate, in the shape of a young American, had played
upon him, the German suddenly turned, made two or three more grotesque
bows in futile effort to throw Ollie from his back, and then came racing
back toward the American lines.

“Give ’im the hook! Give ’im the hook!” came a chorus of advice from
lusty members of Company C, and Ollie, interpreting the hook to mean the
pointed instrument otherwise known as a bayonet, on the end of his
rifle, proceeded to follow instructions. It was rather a vicious jab,
which made the German suddenly draw himself in at the rear and expand in
the stomach in a most ridiculous manner.

“Gott in Himmel, kamarad!” he shouted in a voice that could be heard
above the thunder of cannon and the cracking of rifles.

He was purple in the face, his breath was coming in sharp snorts, and
what strength he had left he was exhausting in vain efforts to swing his
rifle back to knock Ollie from his perch. In his final vicious lunge the
gun slipped from his hands and went skimming through the air, narrowly
missing the heads of several of the German prisoners.

“Kam—kam—,” he gasped, but he hadn’t breath to finish the word. He tried
to buck again, his knees weakened and folded under him, and Ollie,
seeing what was coming, leaned far back and gave a sudden thrust of his
weight forward. The German pitched headlong and with a terrible grunt
hit the ground, Ollie still astride him.

For several seconds he lay there gasping in utter helplessness, and then
he rolled over, almost frothing at the mouth in his rage and
humiliation. He started to shake a fist at Ollie, and a sergeant gently
rested his bayonet on his chest.

“Come on, Prince,” he ordered, to another gale of laughter. “You can
show us some new steps on the way to the rear of the line. Barnum and
Bailey want you.”

The big fellow rose to his feet, and suddenly spying one of his fellow
countrymen grinning, gave him a slap across the face which sent him
reeling.

“Kamarad!” yelled an American youth mockingly, and the hostilities ended
as swiftly as they had begun.

The sergeant ordered two men to accompany the batch of prisoners to the
rear, after all of them had been disarmed, and the last seen of Ollie’s
bucking broncho whom the sergeant called Prince, he was leading the
procession, glum but silent.

“Don’t try that again,” the sergeant commanded, feeling impelled to
administer some rebuke to the spirited young Ollie; but even as he spoke
his mouth twitched suspiciously, and he turned suddenly to say something
to another group of men.

“No sergeant,” answered Ollie demurely, and a dozen soldiers grinned
broadly, even as they brought their rifles up and started forward into
the thick of the fire again.

Why none of them had been hit while they stood forth as open targets,
watching the strange performance which Ollie staged, remains one of
those mysteries of Divine Providence.

They were out in the broad open land beyond the wood now, and in the
distance they could see what still remained standing of Thiaucourt, the
objective for which they had fought so valiantly, and for the attaining
of which so many of their brave comrades already had died.

The battle took on a new fury. From every conceivable shelter machine
guns popped away at the advancing Americans, who were without protection
against the terrible fire. There was no chance to dig in. Their furthest
thought was to turn back. Orders were to take the town. Speedy
advancement, even at great cost, was the only course open to them.

Seemingly every standing bit of battered wall and terrace protected one
or more of the German rapid-fire guns. Where was their artillery? Why
didn’t the American heavies pave the way? The answer was obvious. The
infantry had far outdistanced the artillery, and the tanks had become
stranded for the time being on the opposite side of the thick wood.
Clearly there was nothing to it but an infantry onslaught that with many
deaths as the price would carry the town by storm.

But just at that moment when many a man and officer, stifling criticism
or complaint, nevertheless was thinking that too terrible a task had
been placed upon them, a broad dark shadow passed between them and the
sun, and more speedily than any cloud ever travelled on a clear day,
flitted across that blood-soaked intervening stretch of land and toward
the town.

Instinctively Tom and scores of others looked upward. As if in one voice
there rose a tremendous cheer. Above them was the greatest armada of the
air the world had ever seen. It was heading directly for a point above
Thiaucourt, and another piece of shrewd strategy was being revealed.

As enemy anti-aircraft guns began to send their projectiles toward the
fleet, it suddenly swerved upward and into a zig-zag course, but its
general direction remained unaltered.

Every conceivable sort of aeroplane was in the formation. In the centre,
convoyed and surrounded by swifter, lighter, more easily manipulated
planes, were the great bombers, manned by crews of five, six, eight, ten
and even a dozen men. These were to inflict the damage, while the others
fought off all interference, acted as scouts and couriers, or in other
ways guided the attack and kept the headquarters informed of the
progress made.

And then occurred one of the most thrilling feats—or happy
accidents—ever witnessed in the air.

Half a dozen of the one-man scout planes were scurrying along in the
formation of an upright V. A dozen enemy anti-aircraft guns were trained
upon them. One sent a shot squarely into one of the two highest of the
planes. It staggered for an instant, and a quick gasp went up from the
American soldiers on the ground as it suddenly crumpled and began to
fall.

But they had not recovered their breath when the pilot, somehow
extricating himself from his seat in the falling plane, gave a wild
leap. His jump was inward in the V-shaped formation. Men held their
breath as he dropped straight downward. Then someone gave a shout. It
was all in the fraction of a minute, but it seemed an eternity of time.
So far as could be seen from the ground his leap was but a few yards to
the next plane, and he was almost directly above it.

The shout that had been one merely of startled anticipation broke into
tremendous applause as, for only a second, the falling man was obscured
from sight by the wings of the plane under him, and then that plane
quivered for a moment as with a tremendous shock, then righted itself,
and the pilot, evidently divining rather than having seen what had
happened, and having received the frantic signals of half a dozen pilots
nearest him, began a slow and cautious descent downward.

“He landed safely!” one man shouted frantically.

“Looks like it, but he may be unconscious and roll off any minute,”
another supplemented.

Men stood breathless, their hearts seeming hardly to beat, in the face
of this most thrilling of all the excitements they ever had witnessed or
participated in.

Four other heavier planes stood by the smaller one as it began its
descent, and then, “Look! Look!” the cry went up, as a big, swift German
machine hovered for a moment in the skies like a giant vulture, then
swooped downward with a speed that was startling, straight for the
little group that had formed to save a single American life.

Even as it did so, two large American planes detached themselves from
the bombing formation, and headed for the Boche. They took him on either
side just as he opened his machine guns at the smaller planes below.
Throughout the war there was a chivalry among the airmen of the enemy
armies that was at once an inspiration and an honor. The few violations
of it gave it greater emphasis. This pilot evidently was one of those
brutes who, had he been a submarine commander, would have taken rescued
men upon his deck, and then submerged, to let them drown like rats; or
one, maybe, who could calmly murder children, girl children, of his own
country, and mutter, “One less mouth to feed.” For it is of record that
some Germans did commit these and even greater atrocities throughout the
war.

From a little above and on either side of him, the American planes
opened a terrible fire—it was a fire of machine gun and incendiary
bullets—and a dozen struck him at the same time. There was a burst of
flame that swept the plane from stem to stern; its nose suddenly turned
downward, and with a dive that only narrowly missed the little group on
which the German had directed his attack, he fell to earth a mixed and
mangled mass of man and mechanism.

As the group of little planes flew by, not more than a hundred yards
above them, on the way to a safe landing place half a mile in the rear,
another shout of approval went up from the men on the ground. And just
over the rear of the top wing of one of the machines a grinning face
appeared and a waving arm seemed to send back a genial how-do-you-do.

It might have been the signal too, for the tremendous aerial attack that
was at that moment launched upon the German gunners and infantrymen,
hidden in what they believed the safe and impregnable protection of the
town. Tons upon tons of highly explosive bombs were dropped, as the big
fleet circled and circled over what once had been a happy and prosperous
French village. A constant cloud of thick black smoke went up as incense
to Mars, and every attempt of the German airmen to attack the bombers
was repulsed with disaster.

Finally two swift scout planes detached themselves from the fleet,
dashed for nearly a mile northward over the German army, then as
suddenly turned and continuing on back beyond the machines they had
helped convoy, made straight for where temporary brigade headquarters
then stood.

In five minutes the orders came to the men who had witnessed these
scenes.

“The enemy is retreating, leaving only a small rear guard. Advance and
take the town. Remain there for further orders.”

That meant that they were within sight of rest and recuperation, and
every man needed it badly. They were a tired and frazzled but determined
lot. They were ravenously hungry, too, for they had not eaten for many,
many hours.

Detachments of engineers were coming up directly behind them. The enemy
artillery was grumbling now from an increasing distance, coming only in
a scattered fire, the gunners evidently taking pot luck, without any
well-defined idea of where the Americans might be.

“Advance!” The order rang out all down the line, and the men went
forward on the last lap of the bitter battle for their first objective.


    [Illustration: “The Khaki-Clad Warriors Surged Into the Town for
        Hand-to-Hand Combat.”]


For half an hour there was some hard fighting, and then the Germans,
what remained of them, threw up their hands as the khaki-clad warriors
surged into the town for hand-to-hand combat.

It was a clean-cut victory, even though at heavy cost. Far to the north
could be heard the grumbling rumble of the German guns, but even as the
men listened they knew that the course was swinging eastward, ever
eastward, to avoid the pitiless pincers that the strategy of Foch and
Pershing were beginning to close relentlessly upon them, eastward toward
the Rhine!

“Dig in!” And the most welcome news of the day, the promise of a night
of needed rest, was responded to with alacrity. No chances were being
taken with German trickery.

It was late afternoon and dusk was laying its cloak over the land when a
brigadier arrived, briefly consulted with Captain McCallum, and then
departed. In a moment he returned, however, and again spoke to the
company commander. The latter turned abruptly and called the name of Tom
Walton.

Wonderingly Tom approached and saluted.

“Thomas Walton,” the captain announced, in what Tom thought were
terribly solemn tones, “by order of the commander of this brigade I
advance you to the place of sergeant.”

“What—,” Tom began impetuously, even for the moment forgetting
discipline.

“For the capture of a German colonel, who is also a much-wanted spy,”
the general supplemented. “Young man, I congratulate you.”

Tom came to a stiff salute; the general responded, turned abruptly and
strode off.

Tom Walton was left with his captain to be assigned to his new duties.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IX

                                AT REST


IF one wants to know the real tragedy of war, he does not have to see
the battle waged; he need not watch men fight and fall, need not hear
their anguished moans, nor even witness their awful agony. He has only
to be with a company, a battalion or a regiment when the tally of
casualties is made to hear—when the weary struggle relaxes for a few
hours, and there is comparative peace and quiet—the calling of the roll,
with those fearful, ominous silences that follow name after name. One
more closely visions then the human holocaust, and finds his mind
wandering in dismal, useless, melancholy speculation. He wonders, and
wondering, too vividly pictures to himself, what has happened “out
there” to those brave men who are not present to respond to their names.

He knows that sometimes the explanation lies in the fact that they have
become separated from their own units in the fighting, and, unable to
get back, are for the time attached to entirely different regiments. But
more often the cause is all too clear; and comrades who have safely
survived the terrible ordeal—who silently close up the ranks that have
been left with great gaps—stand at rigid attention, their faces as fixed
masks, their hearts torn by sorrow.

For friends whose real worth has been tried and proved in the acid test
of bloody battle and in the face of death, have “gone west”—west, as the
fine but futile sentiment of an awful loneliness likes to picture it, to
the place, the far distant place, where home is; west, to the land of
the setting sun, where there is no war, no death, where all is peace and
quiet and happiness.

“Gone west!”—as one repeats it many times the tragedy of it drops away,
and the expressive words take on the tranquility of a benediction.

As men stood ready to drop in their tracks at Thiaucourt that night, too
weary to move, utterly exhausted mentally and physically by the terrific
strain under which they had been for the last twenty-four hours, it was
the unpleasant duty of roll-call that fell to Sergeant Tom Walton.

He would far rather have escaped it, but discipline required that he do
the task at hand without murmur or complaint, and it was in this case as
it is so often in war—the sooner over, the better for all.

And so he took up the roster of the company, cast a swift glance over
the men before him, and in what he tried to make a dull monotone, began.

From time to time some man suddenly would stiffen and his lips would be
drawn into a hard line, as the name of his “bunkie” was called and there
was no response. When Tom knew of his own knowledge that one in his own
ranks had been killed or wounded, he skipped over his name with only the
quickest articulation, going rapidly to the next, in order that no undue
emphasis might be laid upon the casualties that had befallen Company C
in the brave assault that had more than obtained them their given
objective.

But there were others—a great many others—of whose absence he was not
aware, and after each of these names there was that awed, painful
silence in which time had to be taken to record the fact that the man
was among the missing. They were intervals in which it seemed that a pin
could be heard dropping upon the ground. Men gave no outward sign of
their grief, but each knew what all the others felt.

It was Tom himself who broke the terrible strain of the thing. He was
down the alphabet as far as O.

“Jockey Ogden,” he suddenly called; and as Ollie responded with a brief
but energetic “Here, but without mount,” a laugh ran along the line, and
everyone felt better for the merest excuse for throwing off the
inevitable melancholy accompanying roll-call after battle.

When it was over, Tom sought out Ollie and Harper, who by that time had
returned to his company, assured that his “bang in the slats,” as he
expressed it, at the hands of Tom’s later prisoner, was perhaps painful,
but in no way a permanent or even serious injury.

In subdued tones Tom told them of the death of Major Sweeney. Would they
go with him back into the night and over the ground they had traversed
that day, to find the body and give it decent burial? Would they? Why,
of course they would.

And through the mind of each was running the same thing. How it was
Major Sweeney himself to whom they had first gone when they had
determined to enlist together—Major Sweeney, whose house near Brighton
always was open to boys of that school; who was always ready with a
helping hand, and who personally had coached the best football eleven
that Brighton ever had put upon the gridiron.

Brave, big-hearted Major Sweeney! He had told the boys that night when
they visited him at his home that within a few days he would depart for
service. He had been commissioned a captain, and if they desired he
would try to see to it that they were assigned to his company. And true
to his word he had.

Now he lay out there on the edge of that wood where so many lives had
been sacrificed, an American hero, gone to his last reward.

With the permission of the Captain the three youths armed themselves
with searchlights, the sentry pass-word, spades, a hammer and saw. It
was Sergeant Tom who thought of a little can of paint and a brush.

It was half an hour before they reached the wood, and an hour later
before they found the body. It was a ghastly business, and more than
once they thought they were at the right spot, only to find that the
search must be renewed.

When at last Tom’s sense of direction brought them to the exact place,
they found the body lying just as Tom had left it, the blouse still
slightly open, the hair smoothed back, the right hand resting peacefully
on the breast.

“Let him be buried near the spot where he fell,” said Tom, in subdued
tones, as, sticking his searchlight into the ground so that it would
give them sufficient light, he thrust his spade into the dirt and began
preparing his major’s grave.

Harper and Ollie joined in the work and within another half hour they
had gently placed the body in its last resting place. To Tom fell the
duty of saying the brief rites; a handful of dirt was thrown in, and
then, anxious to have an unhappy duty over, they completed their task as
rapidly as possible.

While Ollie and Harper were doing that, Tom had sawed from a broad tree
limb two fairly lengthy slats. These he nailed together in the form of a
cross. And upon this cross he began to paint.

He had inscribed the lateral board with the Major’s full name, and the
battalion he commanded, and then abruptly he stopped, looking far over
the desolate open stretch and through the black night to where he knew
Thiaucourt to be—Thiaucourt, which had been their day’s objective;
Thiaucourt, for the possession of which so many courageous Americans had
died; Thiaucourt, where the men who had survived now lay stretched in
heavy slumber; Thiaucourt, quiet and peaceful now and giving no evidence
of the terrific battle in which it had been the goal.

And Tom, taking his brush in hand again, dipped it into the can and
painted a brief inscription:

                              “_At Rest._”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER X

                          THE SPY IN THE NIGHT


AS Tom and his two companions turned from their sad task with one last
lingering look at the rough grave wherein lay the body of the brave man
who had been their friend and advisor, as well as their superior
officer, they became aware for the first time that the advance
contingent of Engineers had progressed to that point on the edge of the
wood, working frantically in the felling of trees and the repairing of
the roads and ground over which the day’s battle had raged, to make
passageway for the ambulances to carry away the wounded, for the trucks
bearing food and munitions, for the heavy and light artillery, the tanks
and all the other vast and inevitable retinue of an army advancing in
successful combat with an enemy.

From these men of the Engineer Corps the lads learned that the combined
American and French attack upon the west leg of the salient, launched
simultaneously with their own assault northward, had been attended with
the same success; while vague messages also repeated to them from around
on the north of the huge bulge, where the French were pushing southward
with an irresistible weight, indicated that swiftly and surely Allied
strategy was vindicating itself in a persistent closing of a great
pincers-like movement which threatened soon to entirely cut off
thousands upon thousands of Germans from their main army, now in
retreat. For they were in momentary danger of being trapped in a
veritable pocket of annihilation by this quick closing-in process.

The great question now was how rapidly these divisions could follow in
the retreat, and whether or not the Americans could, or under present
plans intended, to entirely cut off their avenue of escape before they
could emerge from that desperate position.

Already in the distance, over the ground which the Engineers had
prepared, they could hear their own artillery rumbling forward, seeking
placement for the tremendous bombardment that soon would be resumed. For
the present, though, there was a comparative quiet and silence that
seemed ominous. The boys expected it to be broken at any moment by a
tremendous roar of guns, with their accompanying flash of exploding
shells. Their nerves were taut in subconscious anticipation of it. Yet
nothing happened, and as though they, too, were under orders not to
awaken the night, they picked their way cautiously back toward where
their own company had halted in the attack, speaking only infrequently,
and then in hushed whispers.

It was Ollie, walking between Tom and George Harper, who suddenly laid a
detaining hand upon the arm of both. They looked at him questioningly in
the almost unbroken gloom of the night, but they could see dimly that he
was peering forward, and trained by this time to the constant vigil of
warfare, they followed his gaze without a spoken word.

Both saw what Ollie had been the first to discover. A hundred yards
ahead of them, against the sky line, they could make out the silhouette
of a man, stooping over a form that lay prone upon the ground. As he
moved about, his actions were cat-like in their quickness. Once in
awhile he hesitated to peer about him, but with the background of the
heavy wood behind them the lads remained unseen, while able to observe
every action in the strange, even weird performance being enacted before
them.

The man was not a stretcher-bearer, neither was he a surgeon, else he
would not have been alone. It was several minutes, while their vision
was being focussed to the scene, before it dawned upon the lads what was
taking place. It was Tom who breathed the words in a scarcely audible
tone.

“A spy,” he whispered.

It seemed impossible that the man out ahead could have heard, but he
stopped suddenly in his hurried work, crouched further forward over the
dim form on the ground, and peered all about him after the manner of
some wild beast of the jungle, sensing the approach of danger. For
several moments he remained in that position, while the three lads stood
motionless, scarcely daring to breathe.

At the end of that time, apparently assured that he was still
undiscovered, he raised himself slightly and went to his work again.

There was no doubt as to his object now. He was frantically tearing at
the clothing of the man beneath him. It all became as clear as daylight
now to the three boys from Brighton. There could be no further doubt
about it. The man was a German scout spy who somehow had remained in, or
gotten back to, the territory taken by the Americans, and he was now
fulfilling his mission by searching the dead in quest for secret orders,
maps, plans and photographs, which would arm his superiors with valuable
information as to the method and direction of the campaign which had
been launched with such success.

“We can’t advance directly without being seen,” whispered Harper,
drawing the others close to him so that they might hold a hasty
consultation. “And we daren’t shoot from here, because there’s the
barest chance that he may be one of our own men, although it is a
hundred to one against it.”

“You’re right,” Tom agreed. “There is but one thing to do, and that is
for two of us to circle in on him from either side, while the other
pushes slowly forward, giving us time to get near him without being
discovered ourselves.”

“Sh-h!” Ollie warned; and then, in a tone scarcely to be heard, “Look!
Apparently he’s found what he was after.”

It was true. Even as Ollie had spoken, and the others had turned swiftly
to look back again to where the treacherous enemy was in quest of
information which might greatly hinder and harass the American advance,
the man cautiously raised himself and began moving forward, away from
where the lads stood.

He had gone only a few feet, however, while the boys were debating as to
what was the best course for them to pursue, when he again stopped, and
they could just make out that he was bending over another still shadow
on the ground. It was becoming ghastly. Was he in reality a spy? Or was
he, after all, one of those most despicable of all human beings, a
ghoul, prowling about in the night, robbing the helpless, plundering the
dead?

There was but one way to find out; there was but one course open to
them. They must follow out Tom’s plan, without further delay, and if
possible come upon the man before he scented danger or knew of their
presence, capturing him in the very act of his search.

A hasty council was held. They could go back and get assistance from
some of the Engineers, but this possibility held no weight with them.
They would trap and take the man themselves. And with this decided upon,
it then was agreed that Tom should circle forward on the right of the
stranger, while George Harper carried out a like flanking movement on
the left, leaving Ollie to creep almost directly forward after he had
given them sufficient time to begin closing in. All three were to arrive
as a human net about the man as nearly as possible at the same time.

As Tom and Harper crept away and out of sight, Ollie remained standing
where they had left him, his gaze glued to one spot, never for an
instant taking his eyes from the swiftly-working man of mystery, except
in those rare snatches when, to retain a clear vision, he had to look
away and blink several times in quick succession when he found the
constant stare dimming his sight and blurring his perspective.

Scarcely time enough had elapsed, however, for Tom and George to get
well under way on their perilous mission, when the stranger turned
suddenly from his work, gazed long and steadily in the direction from
which Ollie knew Tom Walton would be approaching, his whole attention
concentrated upon something out there which Ollie could not see.

Instinctively Ollie raised his revolver, training it upon him, ready to
fire at the first indication that Tom himself was in danger of being
shot or ambushed. But if the man was armed, he evidently had no taste
for thus attracting general attention to himself, except in the direst
emergency. From his actions it seemed equally certain that he either had
seen or heard Tom approaching, or by that sixth sense of intuition,
sensed his danger without knowing exactly what it was or where it lay.

Even as Ollie stood there, silently alert, covering the fellow with his
gun, the latter dropped suddenly flat upon the ground and like a
writhing serpent began to glide quickly forward and into the gloom
ahead. As he did so his form was no longer shadowed against the sky
line—in fact could be discerned only occasionally and with difficulty as
he sped along with almost incredible agility.

Ollie ran forward swiftly but silently for a distance of several yards,
and then dropped to the ground also, replacing his revolver in its
holster so that he might the better hurry along on hands and knees in
quest of the fleeing enemy.

Once or twice he stopped for the double purpose of raising himself to
make sure he was keeping in the trail of the man ahead, and to listen
for indications of the approach of Tom or Harper. But while, thus far,
he was keeping to the right path and making good progress, there was no
sign of the presence, or even proximity, of his two pals.

Already he was approaching the spot where they first had discovered the
fellow at work, and where Tom and Harper should now be closing in. But
Ollie realized what handicaps they had to overcome, and also how easy it
would be for either to mistake the distance to be covered before they
swung inward toward their objective. Either or both might now be
considerably off their given course, and without present knowledge of
their exact whereabouts. Meanwhile the man they sought was steadily
pushing forward and away from them, into the blackness of the night.

Much as he would have liked to wait for his two friends, Ollie decided
that if the enemy was to be kept in sight and finally captured, he must
continue to go forward alone. And with the thought he proceeded.

He had gone scarcely more than another thirty feet when something
happened that for the instant seemed to make his heart stand still and
the blood to freeze in his veins. Momentarily he had lost sight of his
quarry. In that instant while he groped about him, undecided as to his
exact position and the direction he should pursue, the cold steel of a
revolver barrel was thrust against his right temple, and Ollie for the
first time was aware of the presence of another man, not more than two
feet away from him.

It may have been that only a fraction of seconds elapsed, but to Ollie,
rigid and helpless in the darkness, unable to see his opponent or make a
single move, it seemed like an eternity of time, in which sudden death
was inevitable, before a low voice close to his ear commanded, “Put up
your hands!”

Ollie could have shouted with joy and relief. He could have embraced the
speaker in a great hug. Instead, he very wisely followed a policy of
“safety first.” He put his hands straight into the air, as directed, and
as high as he could reach, so that there might be no mistake as to his
intentions. Then he whispered sharply, “Tom, it’s Ollie; for the love of
Mike take that gun away from my head. I don’t like the feel of it at
all. You might get a sudden twitching of that trigger finger.”

“Well I’ll be hanged,” ejaculated Tom Walton, in a hushed and rather
abashed tone. “It’s good I didn’t shoot first and speak afterward. I
thought you were that Hun. Where is he?”

“Not so loudly,” warned Ollie. “I don’t know where he is now, but I only
lost sight of him a few seconds before you poked that gun to my head. He
had started for home. He ought to be out there straight ahead somewhere.
Wonder where George is?”

There was no time to loiter, however, if they were going to capture the
man they were after, and after waiting for several seconds without
hearing or seeing any sign of their friend approaching, they began
cautiously and silently to push forward again.

Stretched out almost flat upon the ground, pulling themselves forward by
handgrips upon the turf, only occasionally raising their heads to take a
hurried but unsuccessful survey of the vicinity to locate the enemy,
they finally came upon the first of the bodies over which he had been
working.

They had made no mistake. The most cursory glance showed that the dead
man was a captain in the United States army, and that every pocket of
his uniform had been rifled. Not only that, but the shirt beneath had
been torn loose and the chest was bared, showing that the most thorough
search had been made for anything of value that might have been
concealed there.

The lads paused for a moment in an effort to identify the officer, but
it was out of the question even to attempt to read his identification
tag, and a shell fragment had so mutilated his head and face that in the
darkness it was impossible for them even to guess who he was. With a
suppressed sigh and a muttered threat against the man who thus had
defiled the dead, they pressed onward, but without any definite idea as
to the exact direction they should pursue, or how far they ought to go.

The second body was that of a first lieutenant, and here, also, the
search had been complete. The boys had no doubt that each had had upon
their persons explicit instructions of the whole advance, at least so
far as it was purposed that their units should participate in it, but
not the slightest trace of a paper, map or photograph could be found on
either of them. Capture of the spy, therefore, was imperative.

But where was the enemy who had committed these thefts? A few moments
before he had been plainly visible to Ollie. The latter had crouched
down again to continue his own advance, and when he again looked, the
man had disappeared completely. True it was a dark night; but the open
space was broad, and he had been clearly silhouetted against the
skyline. It was inconceivable that he could have covered a sufficient
distance in the meantime to take him out of sight of the lads. They
decided, therefore, to continue on.

Their disadvantage and handicap was now doubled, however, for while they
had lost all track of the enemy, there was no assurance that by this
time he had not discovered them. For all they knew he might be watching
their every movement. It increased their caution, and when, on the still
night, they heard the peculiar low whistle that probably no one else
would have noticed, or taken for a human sound—the code signal of the
three—Tom responded ever so lightly, and they sat down to wait until
Harper should come up.

When finally he did, they held another whispered council. They agreed
that while for the time being the search seemed hopeless, it ought not
to be abandoned; and they suddenly realized, too, that with an enemy
concealed somewhere in the darkness, it was highly dangerous for them to
attempt to proceed directly back to their own company.

In the denser darkness of a clump of bushes they halted to consider what
course they should pursue. Each turned his mind to a solution of the
problem. For several moments no word was spoken, and the faint rumble of
distant guns worked upon their dulled senses like a soothing lullaby.

Poor, tired, overworked and overwrought youths! They had forgotten to
take the inexorable laws of nature into their calculations. Even as they
attempted to think, they drowsed. Heavy-lidded eyes closed, and they
slept.

Now, if ever, were they completely at the mercy of a conscienceless
enemy, who might creep upon them and kill before they could make an
outcry or a move in their own defense.

Fate was stalking in the night.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XI

                          IN THE NICK OF TIME


HOW long they had been asleep Tom had not the faintest idea when with a
sudden, startled jump, he came to a bewildered wakefulness. He felt
deeply depressed, and he was distinctly aware of a feeling of alarm and
a sense of impending danger. He could not account for any of the
sensations. Whether someone had touched him, or he had been awakened by
a sound, he did not know. Perhaps he had been dreaming. He could not
tell that, either. Indeed, it was a full minute after he came back to
consciousness before he recognized his surroundings and realized where
he was.

Then he remembered that George and Ollie had been with him. He reached
over, touched them both. Ollie groaned slightly in his troubled sleep,
and Harper turned restlessly. They were safe, anyway. Tom tried to
fathom the strange feeling that possessed him, but he could no more come
to an explanation of what caused it than he could shake it off.

He peered into the darkness. Nothing there to cause alarm, so far as he
could see, but still that disconcerting feeling of some unknown,
unplaced menace. Tom decided to waken his pals. He was not afraid, in
the sense of being a physical coward. It was the baffling mystery of the
thing and what it might portend that was so disquieting. Perhaps it was
just overwrought nerves; or maybe the strange surroundings in which he
found himself when he awakened. He tapped Ollie two or three times upon
the shoulder, and nudged George Harper with his foot. He disliked to
deprive them of their sleep, but he felt that he must. It was not only
the necessity of talking to them about this strange feeling that he
could not get rid of; it was even more imperative that they return and
join their company, which at any hour now might suddenly be ordered to
renew the action.

But even as Ollie and George almost simultaneously grunted sleepy and
impatient objections to this treatment, although at the same time
opening their eyes and starting upright, Tom would have given a great
deal had he left them to their sleep—and silence.

For, hardly the fraction of an instant before they had given half
conscious utterance to their plaintive growls, Tom had seen, as clearly
as though it had been daylight, the head, then the shoulders and half
the body of a man rise suddenly from a shell hole ahead, as though
directly at the sound.

Instinctively Tom knew by the way the man moved that he was not wounded.
Equally obvious was it that whoever he was he was not an American, for
all this territory now was held by those forces, and one had no need to
hide if he was a friend.

This man was in the very act of swiftly climbing out of his hiding place
when Tom spied him. At the first sound of the sleepy voices he had as
suddenly dropped back and out of sight.

Never for a second taking his eyes from the spot, Tom warned his two
friends to silence in a way that quickly brought them to their senses,
and they crept close to hear his briefly whispered statement of what he
had seen.

Unquestionably it was the same man they had been seeking before they
dropped off to sleep. Each had a feeling of shame that they should have
weakened that way when there was an urgent necessity before them. How
long had they slept? It was a useless question. Two facts were apparent,
however. It was still night, so they could not have been out of the hunt
for long; and they knew the whereabouts of the enemy they sought.

One method of capture presented itself to them, and that was to creep
forward in a surrounding movement and then lay there, as close to the
hole as they might, without themselves being discovered, and wait for
the man to make his reappearance. They were without bombs and could not
attack that way. They had no rifles, either, and were entirely dependent
upon their automatics. Even with these, they realized, there was danger
to themselves in the positions they would be in, in any cross firing.

However, there was no other way open.

Caution, already a sort of second nature to them, was sharpened by the
knowledge that their presence also was known, and by the realization,
too, that this German—for there no longer was any doubt in their minds
as to that—should not elude them a second time, possessing as he did
information which must not fall into the hands of the Boche commanders.

As it turned out later, however, the man in hiding had good reason for
electing to take his chances on escape, rather than lay there until
daylight, when capture would be inevitable if he was then still alive.

While the three lads were yet some distance from the spot, proceeding in
a spread-eagle movement, Harper in the centre, the fellow made a wild
jump from the hole. Three shots rang out almost simultaneously. With a
groan the man crumpled up on the edge of what had been his hiding place.
The lads waited for a moment, to make sure it was not a ruse, then
swiftly ran upon him, all three covering him with their pistols.

Considering the darkness and the quickness of the shots their
marksmanship had been highly creditable. One bullet had hit the German
in the right hip, another in the calf of the left leg, while the third
had grazed his neck. He was painfully, although not critically wounded;
but he was entirely out of the fighting for the time being.

Tom stripped him of his automatic and made sure he had no other weapons,
but even wounded as the fellow was he tried to put up a resistance when
Ollie opened his blouse and abruptly drew forth a packet of papers.

“That means your finish, Fritz,” Harper ejaculated, but the wounded man
only grunted viciously.

“Search him carefully and see what else he has collected in the way of
valuable souvenirs for his superiors,” Tom instructed; and Ollie
continued to investigate every possible hiding place in or under the
German lieutenant’s clothing.

Evidently he had canvassed a large stretch of ground, for he was a
veritable walking library of secret orders, maps and photographs taken
from American officers. While Ollie was doing this, and Harper was
discouraging any resistance by a threatening play of his automatic, Tom
walked around to take a look into the shell hole. It had just occurred
to him that the captured German might not have been working alone.

In the darkness Tom took a false step. Before he could regain his
balance he went feet first into the hole and disappeared completely from
sight. When he landed it was with a grunt that told that the breath had
been pretty well jarred out of his body, and the Hun, even in the pain
of his wounds, laughed outright.

Ollie leaned over the hole and looked in. He expected to see Tom’s face
almost on a level with his. Instead, he could but dimly discern him,
several feet below.

“Holy smoke!” he ejaculated, involuntarily. And then, “Oh, Tom, are you
hurt?”

“No,” came the response, “only jarred. But this is _some_ shell hole.
I’m just beginning to get my breath. Felt as if I was dropped from an
aeroplane. My searchlight seems to be burned out. Drop yours down to me;
I want to look around. Easy now—reach down as far as you can and then
let it go. I’ll try to catch it.”

By mere good fortune he did. In an instant he had switched it on, and
its glare was followed by a quick gasp from Tom and an involuntary
expression of surprise.

“What is it?” asked Ollie, still leaning over the edge of the pit.

“What is it?” Tom repeated. “I don’t know yet, but it’s not a shell
hole, that’s one thing certain. There’s a long tunnel that leads away
under the ground here, and it’s big enough for a man to walk through. It
runs almost due north from here, so far as I can see, but the light’s
not strong enough to show how far it goes.”

“A tunnel!” Harper repeated, at the same time fixing the German with a
severe stare. But if the prisoner understood, he gave no sign. His only
expression was one of pain.

“Ollie,” said Tom, who now as a sergeant could command the other two,
although he had no disposition for any unkind or unjustified use of his
authority, “you’d better stay there and watch Fritz, while Harper drops
down here with me. We’ll trail along the secret passageway that the
Germans didn’t build for nothing, and see just where it leads.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him, you can bet,” Ollie answered, as Harper, by
the aid of the light Tom threw upward, dropped warily into the deep
entrance to the secret tunnel.

In another moment Ollie was left alone with his prisoner, and Sergeant
Tom and George Harper had disappeared from sight and sound, Tom in the
lead, flashing the searchlight’s rays before them as they went, Harper
following close behind.

They found the artificial passageway to be at no point less then five
feet in height, and on the dirt surface of the flooring were imprints
leading them to believe that many persons had passed back and forth
through there at a comparatively recent date. Its course was almost
directly northward, and the lads could at all times see some distance
ahead. Nevertheless they proceeded warily, not knowing what sort of a
trap might be set for them. The air was heavy and damp, but gave them no
great discomfort until they had proceeded for several hundred yards, and
then they concluded that the tunnel, whatever its purpose, had but one
outlet, and that was the one through which they had entered.

“Do you realize where this is leading?” Tom asked presently, as he half
turned toward Harper.

“Unless my sense of direction is all off,” George responded, “directly
under Thiaucourt.”

“Straight as an arrow,” Tom added, “and we ought to be almost under the
town by this time.”

No longer could they hear the dull rumble of the guns, and their own
voices echoed and re-echoed down the cavernous passageway, the only
interruptions in an otherwise dead silence.

“Hello!” exclaimed Tom suddenly, in a note of new surprise, and an
instant later the far wall flung back the word at them as though someone
there were repeating it in mockery. There was something unpleasant about
the situation. It was like wandering around aimlessly in the dead of
night in an abandoned house reputed to be haunted, not knowing what
startling surprises awaited one at any moment.

Tom’s exclamation escaped him when he noticed that the tunnel apparently
came to a dead end about twenty-five feet ahead. A moment later,
however, it was apparent they were approaching a right-angled turn.

Tom extinguished his own light to see if any ray came from down this new
passageway, but there was nothing but pitch blackness, in which neither
lad could discern the outline of the other.

Snapping it on again they proceeded slowly until Tom stood within a foot
of the abrupt turn in the wall. The new tunnel ran directly to the right
of the direction in which they had been approaching. With a sudden
forward thrust of his head, Tom took a quick survey of what lay beyond.

He drew back with a gasp, and his free hand fell upon Harper’s arm.

“Look!” was all he could say for the moment, and Harper, following Tom’s
bidding, drew in his breath sharply, then gave a low whistle.

They had made a discovery of tremendous moment! But had they made it in
time?

“Out! Out!” Tom ordered. “We may be blown to atoms any second if we stay
here.”

And indeed it was true. The sharp turn in the tunnel brought them into a
great cavernous chamber in which there must have been at least fifty
tremendous bombs, all connected by copper wires with a heavy cable which
hung suspended from the ceiling. It was obvious that during their long
occupancy of the St. Mihiel salient the Germans had dug this tunnel and
planted these mines, for just such a contingency as now existed—enemy
occupation of Thiaucourt. And while neither lad was an engineer, both
knew sufficient about bombs to realize that there were enough there to
blow the whole town site off the map and annihilate every person within
a radius of more than half a mile.

“Ten thousand men are quartered on the space that those bombs would blow
up, and the Germans may touch them off at any time! Run! Run!” Tom
ordered, and, setting the example, he bounded by Harper, the searchlight
held out before him, tearing toward the mouth of the tunnel as fast as
his legs would carry him.

“They’re probably waiting for that German lieutenant to return,” Tom
managed to speculate jerkily, without in the slightest reducing speed.
“It’s pretty clear now that he was down here—to see that everything was
all right—and put on—finishing touches.”

“Yeh,” agreed George, “and it just occurs to me now that he wore the
insignia of the Signal Corps.”

“Wanted those papers,” Tom supplemented, “so as to know when the largest
number of our men would be over the spot.”

“Uh-huh,” from Harper, but by this time neither had further breath to
spare on conversation. They were forcing themselves forward with every
ounce of energy they possessed.

As a gray light, barely discernible, loomed in the distance, they knew
that at last they were approaching the mouth of the tunnel, and that the
first streaks of dawn had appeared.

Winded as they were, neither had the strength to climb the smooth-sided
hole as the German evidently had done, by the main strength of the
pressure of his legs against the walls as he made his way upward.

George squared himself with widespread feet, and Tom mounted to his
shoulder. Ollie, who was still guarding the prize prisoner and awaiting
their return, began popping questions, even as he helped Tom out of the
hole, but the latter had no time for more than the essential facts then.

“Use your jacket as a rope and give Harper a lift out of that hole,” he
instructed, and while this was being done he partially regained his
breath.

“Now Ollie,” he continued, “go like the wind to the first officer of
Engineers you can find, tell him we’ve discovered that everything under
Thiaucourt is mined, and get back here with the necessary men as soon as
you can.”

He turned to Harper. “You stay here and watch this German. I’ve still
got breath enough left to make brigade headquarters in a very few
minutes. Don’t let Fritz get away under any circumstances.”

And at the same instant Tom and Ollie sped away in opposite
directions—Tom for the highest commanding officer he could find; Ollie
back over the ground they had traversed, past the grave they had dug,
and into the wood in search of an officer of Engineers.

Both knew that thousands of lives were at stake. Both put forth their
bravest effort. For both realized that if they succeeded at all it would
only be in the nick of time.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XII

                          THE DESPERATE CHANCE


AS Tom, in the gray of the breaking dawn, came pounding into the lines
which surrounded the thousands of sleeping soldiers, he nearly
precipitated himself upon the out-thrust bayonet of a sentry whose call
of halt he did not hear.

His breath coming and going in quick, sharp gasps, Tom managed to give
the countersign, adding, “Sergeant Walton, Company C.” The sentry
lowered his rifle and Tom proceeded; but a few yards further on he was
compelled to repeat the process. For once he wished that all sentries
were asleep on their posts.

At brigade headquarters he encountered a man who refused to get excited,
and who demanded to know in detail what it was Tom wanted before he
would waken his own sergeant to see if the message could be delivered to
the general.

“I tell you,” Tom blurted out, in rising tones, “the life of every man
here is in danger. This place is likely to be blown off the map any
minute. The whole place is mined. I’ve just seen the bombs—scores of
them—in a big underground chamber directly under the town. I’ve got to
speak to someone in authority.”

“What’s that you say,” demanded a staff major, suddenly appearing on the
scene. He had heard the last few words, and as he peered into the face
of Sergeant Walton, who immediately came to a salute, he seemed
instantly to sense the seriousness of the situation.

Briefly as possible Tom repeated his startling information. The major
rattled off some orders to the sentry and a sergeant who had appeared,
then left suddenly, telling Tom to wait right there.

In an incredibly short time the brigadier general, followed by most of
his staff, emerged hurriedly from a dug-out.

“You are certain of this?” the general demanded sternly.

“Absolutely positive,” Tom answered. “I fell into the mouth of the cave
myself, in helping to capture the German who had just come out of it,
and when I found that it was a long tunnel, leading directly northward
toward this spot, I led the way through it. We came upon a large
underground chamber practically filled with big bombs, all connected
with a cable. I should measure the distance we travelled as bringing
that chamber almost beneath where we are standing now.”

Had Tom himself thrown a bomb into the midst of the gathered staff
members it hardly could have caused greater consternation.

The general waited for no more. He barked a dozen orders to as many
different officers in rapid-fire succession.

“Come with me,” he instructed Tom and those officers who had not yet
been charged with special duties. He led the way quickly to a dug-out
further down the line. Before they reached it bugles were sounding, men
were tumbling out of their blankets, rubbing their eyes and looking
about sleepily. Staff officers were shouting the orders for immediate
movement. Officers and men who heard, looked around hurriedly for signs
of the enemy.

In the dug-out the general ordered one of the several men sitting at
telephone instruments to connect him immediately with the commanding
officer of the nearest unit of Engineers.

To this officer he indicated as definitely as he could the position of
the mouth of the tunnel, and ordered him to be there as quickly as
possible.

“To dig out mines,” he summed up. “They’re already connected up, I
believe.” And seeing the first of the thousands of men under him already
on the move for designated points beyond the danger zone, he took a part
of his staff with him, and with Tom in the lead, set out at a vigorous
double-quick for the point where George Harper still was guarding the
man whose movements indirectly led to discovery of the mines.

Meanwhile Ollie had encountered even greater difficulties than Tom in
his search for the commanding officer of the Engineers, for although he
went directly to the wood, he found only small squads at work there, the
main body having progressed in a circling movement to the northward of
the town, to prepare the pathway for the day’s advance.

When, after the greatest difficulty, he finally did locate the
headquarters of the colonel, he arrived there just in time to see the
latter and his aides departing at the head of a hundred men.

Saluting a lieutenant, Ollie started to tell him his story, but was cut
short with the information that the news already had been received and
they were then on their way.

“But you arrive at a good time,” the lieutenant added quickly, and
addressing a superior he informed him that Ollie could take them
directly to the spot.

And thus it was not without a justifiable feeling of being of some real
importance that Ollie was called to the colonel’s side, and walking
beside that officer, to direct the way, was plied with questions as to
the discovery. It was little enough that Ollie could tell, for Tom had
given him but a bare outline of the danger that confronted the troops.
Nevertheless the colonel thanked him warmly, not forgetting to add a
word of praise for all three of the lads after he had been told how it
happened that the mouth of the tunnel had been discovered.

“And you got your man after all?” he asked, when Ollie had finished,
having touched but lightly upon the fact that all three had at one time
dropped off to sleep.

“Yes, sir, he’s wounded,” the lad responded.

“Well, he’ll probably wish he had been killed outright,” was the
colonel’s cryptic comment.

As if in reply to that remark, German guns far to the north let go a
salvo of shells, several of which fell uncomfortably near. The colonel
glanced in the direction from which the projectiles seemed to come, but
his pace never wavered.

“Fritz seems to be out of bed, anyway,” was all he said, as another
shell exploded not a hundred yards to the left of them, throwing up a
veritable geyser of dirt and rock and splinters of steel.

As they came over a little knoll, Ollie pointed out where the tunnel
entrance was, and the colonel raised his glasses to get a better view as
he walked.

Approaching, from an about equal distance beyond the spot where Harper
and his prisoner sat, were the general and members of his staff. It was
when both parties were within fifty feet of the entrance to the
passageway that a shell exploded with such violence and in such
proximity that it knocked both Harper and his prisoner on their backs.
For a moment everyone thought they had been killed.

It was Ollie, who with a feeling of dread, realized the real damage that
that shell might have done; and as misfortune would have it his surmise
was right. It had landed directly over the tunnel, a few yards beyond
its entrance, and with such force as to cave the whole thing in!

As the general and colonel arrived almost simultaneously, the situation
and its necessities became clear. It required but a moment’s
investigation by one of the members of the Engineers Corps to verify the
fact that the passageway had been effectually blocked by a great wall of
earth caved in by the shock of the exploding shell.

The general held a short consultation with the colonel of Engineers, and
then called both Tom and Harper to them.

“Young men,” he said, “we are going to place a great deal of reliance
upon your judgment and sense of direction. A straight line drawn from
the entrance of this tunnel to the spot where the shell caused a cave-in
shows that you were right in saying that it ran almost directly north
from where you started. You are sure it takes no turns?”

“Not until the very entrance to the bomb chamber,” Tom answered quickly;
and Harper corroborated him.

“Very well,” the commander went on quickly. “If that is true, then we
are saved some unnecessary labor. It is not likely that we could dig
directly into the tunnel from any given spot, but we will proceed
directly northward to a point which you consider near to the chamber,
but yet a safe distance away, then try to effect an entrance.”

And with competent engineers directing a true northward course, they
proceeded rapidly toward Thiaucourt.

Tom, who had been considering the distance carefully, came to a halt and
saluted. “I would suggest, sir, that perhaps this is as near as is safe
to begin the digging.”

“Very well,” the general replied, and nodded to the colonel.

A moment later fifty men with spades were lined up before their
commander for instructions. He marked the spot where the tunnel might
be, and then, at right angles to the direction they had walked, or
almost directly east and west, he established an imaginary line.

“Dig along that, working toward this point at the centre,” he ordered.
“Somewhere along that line you should strike the tunnel. Proceed with
care after you are six or seven feet deep.”

Every man there had a fair idea of what depended upon cutting the
connection to those bombs before, somewhere to the north, a German hand
reached for a switchboard and turned on the current that would cause a
holocaust. Also, they knew that they were about the closest in proximity
to those hidden mines, so there was no lack of incentive for all the
speed that strength could muster.

Dirt flew out of that ever deepening and lengthening pit in a constant
cloud, piling up a high trench work on either side. But despite the care
to which they had cautioned, it was the muffled exclamation of surprise
from a man suddenly dropped downward with a great accompanying scraping
and crashing of earth, that heralded the discovery of the tunnel.

The general and colonel both smiled their congratulations to Tom and
Harper at the accuracy of their report. At the same time spades worked
with feverish haste, the man who fell into the tunnel was extricated
undamaged, and the hole was rapidly widened to let two or three in at
one time. Then another halt was ordered.

The colonel spoke.

“A short distance to the north of us is an underground chamber
supposedly filled with highly explosive mines. They are wired and, it is
believed, are directly connected up with the German lines. Apparently
the enemy has been waiting for the concentration of a large number of
troops here before touching off the mines. He may decide to do so at any
moment. I want volunteers to go into that chamber and sever the cable
connection.”

Instantly every man present stepped forward. The colonel’s face glowed
with pride, and the general nodded approvingly. This was the spirit
which made America invincible! One looking at the general’s fine
countenance saw there satisfaction, absolute assurance. A nation could
not fail with men like these! And they but typified the entire United
States army.

The colonel rapidly picked half a dozen of the men he thought best
fitted for the hazardous task at hand, and under the guidance of a
clean-cut captain they dropped into the tunnel and disappeared from
sight.

Agonized moments dragged by, and scarcely a word was spoken. The colonel
had suggested that all hands move further away from the danger zone, but
as he and the general gave no evidence of doing so themselves, none of
those present, no matter how they felt about it, showed the hardihood to
seem to want to escape, when a little group of their pals probably at
that very moment were struggling with the heavy cable which at any time
might be charged with the death-dealing current.

Every man present held his breath when the captain suddenly dashed into
sight, quickly lifted himself to the ground, and, grabbing a spade from
one and a pair of rubber gloves from another, started back over the line
which the tunnel followed to the bomb chamber.

“Connection’s cut, but I want to see something,” he told them.

As he began digging they gathered in a wide circle about him. Presently
he struck a hard metallic substance. With a wave of his hand he
requested them to get to a greater distance. A few more cautious jabs
with the spade and he stooped over, gripping something with both hands
and tugging upward with all his strength. The blood rushed to his face
and the veins on his neck and forehead stood out, but after a little the
thing he was pulling began to give way.

It was the severed cable. With a final jerk he pulled the loose end
through the ground, and all hands could see where the cut had been made.
At last the terrible menace was over. The captain looked triumphantly at
his superiors. He laid the cable on the ground.

“Don’t go near it,” he cautioned, “because—”

The sentence was never finished. There was a sudden sharp crackling, a
gasp of exclamations from the throng, and a shower of sparks shot into
the air from where the severed cable end lay upon the ground.

The Germans had turned on the current, but they had turned it on a
moment too late!

The narrow margin by which a terrible tragedy had been averted was
obvious to all. They stood about, awed and silent, watching the deadly
current expend itself in a harmless sputter.

The general himself was a man of few words. He summoned the lads to him.

“Young men,” he said, “I congratulate and thank you. You have saved an
army. It will not be forgotten.”

And the three youths flushed deeply as a lusty cheer went up from the
men gathered about them.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIII

                                CAPTURED


AS the three lads, hoping for a snatch of sleep before the orders came
for a renewal of the battle, settled into their blankets in a dug-out
which only forty-eight hours before had been occupied by Germans who
held forth there in that sublime assurance born of four years of
uninterrupted and practically unchallenged possession, Ollie Ogden
chuckled audibly.

“What’s the matter now?” demanded George Harper, none too graciously,
for already he had drowsed, and the injection of humor, particularly
when the cause was unknown, was not altogether pleasant.

Tom, too, looked sharply at his friend, but with other reason. For an
instant he feared that the low laugh was the first hysteria which is the
forerunner of one phase of shell shock—that dreaded punishment when taut
nerves break, the mind snaps, and a strong man temporarily is
transformed into a cowering, jabbering, pitiful hulk of his former self,
actuated by one thought, escape from the thing that caused his mental
wreck.

But Tom’s one quick glance was sufficient to assure him. To be sure
Ollie showed the same evidences of fatigue as did the others; but all
three had built up for themselves, in the sports and athletics at
Brighton, constitutions which it would require far more than their
experiences of the last twenty-four hours to break, harrowing as those
experiences had been, and Ollie was only giving vent to amusement at a
sudden thought that had flashed through his mind.

“What are you giggling at?” Harper demanded again, now only half awake.

“Remember that relay race at Brighton,” Ollie answered, “when you, Tom,
ran the first mile, George the second, and I was to finish with the
third?”

“Aw, can’t you ever forget that?” Harper interrupted, peevishly. “What’s
the idea of rehashing that thing again?” he added, suddenly forgetting
his sleepiness.

“I’m not rehashing it,” Ollie assured him, in soothing tones. “I was
just thinking about it, that was all.”

“Well, what’s that got to do with us and this war?” George demanded,
showing no disposition to abandon the subject which always was an
unpleasant one to him.

“Oh, it just occurred to me that it was somewhat of a parallel case in a
way.”

“What way?”

Tom also was evidencing an awakened interest, and cast another inquiring
glance at Ollie.

“I’ll tell you,” the latter answered, at the same time giving Tom a sly
wink which entirely escaped the other youth, who at that time with
belligerent movements was disentangling himself from his blanket, in
order to get into a sitting posture.

“Well tell us,” he snapped. “You might as well get it off your mind.”

“Now don’t get so peeved,” Ollie soothed again. “It’s nothing to get so
excited about.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” from Harper again. “Nothing to get excited
about, of course. Well, are you going to tell us what you were grinning
and sputtering about a moment ago?”

“Sure,” Ollie answered, “if you’ll just give me half a chance.”

“Go ahead, I’m not interrupting you.”

“You remember, Tom,” again giving him the wink, “that you got so far
ahead of the others that you had the race practically won at the end of
the first mile, when you touched George’s hand, and he was off, to
maintain that lead to the end of the second mile, when I was waiting to
finish up?”

“Yes,” Tom drawled, trying vainly to suppress a smile, while George
squirmed uneasily and had to interrupt with, “You always have to review
the whole thing, don’t you?”

As George seemed about to break forth with another impatient
interruption, Ollie turned to Tom again with another grimace. “It wasn’t
George’s fault that he started across country in the wrong direction,”
he went on. “We all know he didn’t do that on purpose. He ran like the
wind, all right, but it just happened that he ran the wrong way.”

There was a distinctly audible grunt of disgust from Harper.

“Yes, I remember,” Tom responded in tone so obviously sympathetic as
merely to aggravate the victim of the story further.

“Well, as I stood there with the relay men of the other teams,” Ollie
continued, “and as one after another they were touched off and were
away, I kept wondering and wondering what in the world could have
happened to Harper, and—”

“You’ve said all that at least a dozen times before,” the latter
interjected again. “What’s the idea of—”

“And finally the last man was away, and still I stood there, just
wondering and wondering—”

“And wondering, like a blamed idiot,” Harper shot out again, in deep
disgust.

Ollie went on as though there had not been an interruption to his
reminiscence.

“At last I gave up in despair and trudged back to Brighton. Remember,”
to Tom, “the race was over before George ever stopped. Didn’t even
hesitate until he’d reeled off about five miles, and then it took him an
hour to get back, after he’d realized he was away up the county and far
off the course of the race. Well, I just recalled how I felt, when I was
waiting there for something to happen, and nothing did. I was thinking
that those Germans, waiting for that mine to explode and send us all
into Eternity, must have felt somewhat the same way as I did.”

“Huh!” George Harper grunted, in deep disgust. But Tom and Ollie burst
into laughter which was none the less uproarious if suppressed by the
necessities of their present situation; and their merriment was not so
much at the predicament of the Germans, if the truth be told, as in the
mischievous delight they took in the increased misery with which Harper
heard this oft’ repeated tale of his mistake in that Brighton relay
race.

“Think you’re smart Alecks, both of you, don’t you?” Harper growled,
from the depths of his blanket, while distinct gasps of amusement
continued to come from Tom and Ollie as they wrapped themselves in
theirs; but a few moments later all three were sleeping as soundly and
as peacefully as though nothing more serious than the story just told
had disturbed the quiet routine and happiness of their lives.

And thus, too dog-tired even for dreams, as oblivious to all that was
going on about them as they were themselves for the time completely
forgotten by the officers and men of their own company, they slept on
and on, hour after hour, unmindful and unknowing that overhead—above the
dark and hidden hole in which they lay unheeded—their own advance army
had moved out, and entirely vanished in pursuit of the enemy; the whole
American movement pushing forward, circling about them, leaving them
alone, forgotten, abandoned.

The afternoon was well on the wane when Tom Walton, falling into a dream
of that foot race which had been the subject of their conversation just
before they slumbered off, awoke panting and as breathless as though in
fact he had just run a mile in record-breaking time.

For a moment he looked about the dark cavern dazedly, unable to remember
where he was or why he was there. Then slowly it began to dawn upon him
that he had been asleep for a long time, and he rose hurriedly, throwing
his blanket aside and hurrying up the short ladder to the outside world
above.

What he saw almost took his breath away. The thousands of men who had
been there when he and his two companions turned in for their
much-needed sleep were nowhere to be seen. The land all about was a
shell-torn desolation. Here and there lay corpses as grim reminders of
the awful struggle which had marked the taking of what once had been the
town of Thiaucourt; but so far as Tom could see there was not a sign of
life anywhere—except that which was betokened in the dull booming of
guns far, far to the northward.

Shouting to awaken George and Ollie, he descended part way into the
dug-out.

“Up, slackers!” he called, still rubbing the sleep out of his own eyes,
scarcely able as yet to fully comprehend the truth of the situation.

As the other two lads raised tousled heads inquiringly out of the warm
depths of their blankets, peering at him blankly as exhausted persons do
in that first instant of suddenly being brought back to wakefulness, Tom
was up and out of the dug-out again, taking a second survey of the
scene, reviewing the events which had preceded their turning in, casting
about in his still muddled mind for some explanation of the surprising
situation he found himself and his friends in.

What had happened? Why hadn’t they been summoned to join their company
whenever and wherever it went? A score of such questions chased each
other through his mind, to be capped with the utterly disconcerting
one—which way had the American army gone? Had it advanced, even beyond
sight and sound, or had it—had it been compelled to retire?

For an instant Tom shivered as though he suddenly had been struck by a
chilling wind, but in another he had regained his assurance and
confidence, for did not the booming of the guns to the north indicate
beyond question that there the battle raged anew—that in the quick
advance they had been forgotten and left there to sleep away their
fatigue?

Of course! And thus Tom quickly summed up the situation for his two
surprised friends when they emerged from the dug-out to demand excitedly
the whys and the wherefores of their sudden awakening.

“Apparently the whole army that was in this section has gone ahead for
two or three miles,” Tom told them briefly. “We were overlooked, which
is a good warning that we should not place too great a value upon
ourselves, or overestimate our own importance.”

“But when,” demanded George Harper, excitedly, “when did all this
happen? I didn’t hear anything.”

“Nor I,” added Ollie, not without a sense of humor, even in the most
trying situation, “and yet the evidence is pretty conclusive. Apparently
it did happen, and right effectively, too.”

“Yes,” Harper admitted slowly, and then added: “I wonder whether we’d be
classed as deserters or deserted?”

“I feel like I did the day of that race, when I—” Ollie began, but the
rest was lost as he dodged suddenly to escape a well-aimed kick from the
irritated Harper.

It required Tom’s diplomacy to restore peace and calm consideration of
what they were to do in the situation confronting them.

“Only one thing to it, as I see it,” said George Harper at last, “and
that is to head out toward the sound of those guns and just keep on
until we come up with some of our own men.”

“Yes, just keep on going, that’s you,” Ollie answered, his mischievous
nature again cropping out. “But how about your sense of direction?”

A tart reply which Harper already had phrased upon his lips remained
unsaid as he abruptly pointed upward to where a big aeroplane was
approaching them from out of the north. They stood silent as it came
swiftly and majestically down the wind toward them.

“An American,” Tom announced at last, when able to make out the markings
on the machine. “Wish he’d come down and give us our bearings.”

“Seems as if he was thinking of that himself,” said Ollie, as the ’plane
nosed downward in its approach. “Maybe he’s got some engine trouble and
is going to make a landing.”

“Changed his mind,” Harper remarked, as the machine passed over them,
took an upward tack again, then at a higher altitude began circling
about them. “Looks as though he was sort of sizing us up. Tom, why not
signal him?”

Acting upon the suggestion, Tom, who was the only one of the three who
could talk in the arm signalling code, began to reveal their identity,
while if the maneuvers of the aeroplane were significant, those in it
looked on with interest.

“Americans seeking our own lines,” Tom spelled out with quick upward and
outward jerks and sweeps of both arms.

The three youths waited for something that might be taken as an
acknowledgment or reply, but none came, or, if it did, they were too far
away to see it; and a moment later the machine swept to the eastward,
swooped down so close to the ground that for a time it was completely
lost to sight behind a nearby wood, then rose again and taking a wide
swerve east and north finally disappeared entirely.

“He’s polite, anyway, whoever he is,” Ollie commented as they gave up
hope of the pilot having any intention of returning to them. “He might
at least have dropped us a biscuit or two.”

“Which reminds me that I’m pretty hungry myself,” admitted Tom Walton.

“Ravenous, better describes my awful emptiness,” said Harper, “and I
don’t see any hope of eats around here. Let’s get started.”

They descended together into the dug-out to roll their blankets and get
their equipment, but they were not to move on just then with the freedom
they had expected.

The aeroplane, camouflaged as an American machine, had done some
signalling, too, but not to the boys from Brighton. Its mission in
descending almost to earth behind the wood had been to make the presence
of the Americans known to a small detachment of Germans which somehow
had escaped detection in remaining there, and which had been waiting for
darkness to fall, in order to make an effort to skirt the long American
lines and join their own, further on.

And while Sergeant Tom Walton and Privates Ollie Ogden and George Harper
were down in the dug-out, totally ignorant of what was going on above,
half a dozen of these Germans had crept up and concealed themselves in
positions most advantageous to the capture of the Americans.

The three youths had not moved fifty feet from the dug-out when without
the slightest warning, or time in which to fight back, they found
themselves entirely surrounded, a bayonet point jabbing the stomach and
back of each of them.

There was absolutely nothing they could do but surrender, and this they
did at the command of the officer in charge,—a lieutenant of cavalry, as
the lads noted from his uniform and insignia.

“A fine mess we’re in now,” Tom ejaculated, as their guns were taken
from them and they were instructed to march ahead of their captors.

“Wonder where we’re bound for?” Ollie whispered in reply.

“Some place where they’ve got some eats, I hope,” George Harper summed
up, and as the first shadows of night began to fall they were herded
into the Germans’ hiding place, where they found a dozen more Huns.

Preparations of some sort were going forward, but to the extreme
disappointment of the famished youths it was apparent that it was not
for the serving of food. And it was not long before they became aware
that they were in for what looked like a long and fatiguing march,
although they had not eaten for many hours.

“Well,” said Ollie, when that matter seemed settled beyond all hope or
doubt, “we ought to be glad they didn’t shoot us, anyway.”

The sharp glance of a German near them was sufficient to warn them
against any further conversation.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIV

                          JOHN BIG BEAR—SCOUT


BY short stretches the Germans and their three American prisoners had
been pushing forward now for nearly two hours. The Huns were not in
ignorance of their own danger of capture, and their progress was made
with the utmost caution, the major number, with Tom, Ollie and George,
forming a central party, ahead of, behind and on either side of which
scouts reconnoitered constantly to avoid contact with American outposts.

Even in the silence and secrecy that was necessary in that cautious
advance, the American youths had more than a taste of Hun treachery and
brutality. Apparently the Germans knew that their prisoners were hungry,
from having overheard their remarks immediately after their capture.
They were made aware of their parched thirst when the lads asked for
water.

And to aggravate their misery so far as possible, although the lads were
too proud to let it be seen that the acts even annoyed them, the
Germans, singly and in pairs, would walk directly in front of or beside
them, munching thick slices of their own brutal-looking brown, or rather
black, bread, or thrust the opening of a water bottle to the lips of one
of them, only to withdraw it quickly with a low laugh when the youths
thus sorely tempted would try to get at least a swallow of the craved
water.

“They’re barbarians; they are without human instincts or feelings,” Tom
hissed into the ear of Ollie, who walked in the middle of the trio, “so
try not to mind anything they do. Our best course is to ignore what they
do in their efforts to punish us, and to avoid aggravating them any
further.”

At that moment Harper stumbled over a fallen tree branch and fell to the
ground, splintering and crashing the dead wood.

A gutteral oath just behind him was accompanied by a sharp bayonet jab
in the ribs. Harper was about to let out an involuntary cry of mingled
pain and anger when Tom, who well enough knew the result would be more
punishment, cautioned him, “Say nothing.” The Boche, who did not
understand English, peered at the sergeant inquiringly through the
darkness, but as Harper got up he did nothing worse than give him a
vigorous shove forward.

They were now closely skirting a long fringe of wood that seemed to run
almost directly northeast and southwest, and even the men who were
stretched out ahead and on either side as “feelers” for the American
forces kept well within its shadows, for the rising moon was bathing the
whole countryside in its light, and objects, particularly if they were
moving, could be discerned at a considerable distance. Occasionally they
came upon the body of a dead soldier, the stark and staring eyes
acquiring an added touch of ghastliness in the pale lunar light.

Occasionally the dull hum of an aeroplane motor would be heard in the
distance, its sound rising to a roar as it approached and passed, but
practically all the time it was within hearing the small band of Germans
remained in hiding among the trees, and although sometimes the lads
could see the machines so plainly that it seemed they might attract
attention to themselves with a shout, they never were discovered by the
pilots or their observers.

As this continued, and the distance covered made it seem as though they
must now be paralleling, if not actually already by, the American lines,
the youths became more and more depressed. The aeroplanes passed above
them without knowing they were there, and thus far not a single American
patrol had been encountered. The outlook was not encouraging. It began
to look as though Tom Walton, George Harper and Ollie Ogden were to be
ushered out of hostilities and into a German prison camp for the
duration of the war.

Without a spoken word, but in glances as eloquent as any speech, the
young men questioned one another as to the possibilities of escape; but
though each cast about desperately in quest of what might look like the
slightest promise or the smallest opportunity, none presented, and the
three tramped on, striving to go along so quietly and unobtrusively as
to allay all suspicion upon the part of their captors that they might
even be contemplating escape. Each felt that if they could succeed in
this, then the Germans might become less watchful, and perhaps, later
on, when the Huns were more weary with their tramp and constant caution
of attracting attention to themselves, they might drop behind and not be
missed until they had made good their escape.

Optimism is an American characteristic, but particularly it prevails in
the happy, care-free, sturdy American youth, and these three lads were
of the sturdiest stock and could trace their forebears back to
Revolutionary times.

It is good, too, that invariably with optimism goes courage and
self-possession, or Sergeant Tom Walton might have gasped out his
astonishment, or cried out in involuntary consternation, when he
happened to glance upward just as a Boche in front of him struck a match
to light his pipe.

There in the branches of a tree just above him, almost near enough for
him to have touched it with a slight jump, a face peered down at him!

It was all in the space of a few seconds, but as the man there in the
branches stared back at him, not a muscle of his countenance moving, his
eyes blinking ever so slightly from the sudden flare of light from the
match, Tom recognized in that swarthy personage one whom he knew—a man
of iron strength, of indomitable will, of almost uncanny ability in
following a trail—John Big Bear, Indian scout for Uncle Sam, one time
crack rider and dead shot with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West!

Tom Walton could have shouted then and there from sheer happiness, for
he recognized in John Big Bear the equal in strength, courage and
swiftness of action, of any six Germans who could be picked from the
Kaiser’s crack Prussian Guards. But instead of shouting, or even by any
other utterance or slightest sign, permitting John Big Bear’s proximity
to become known, Tom simply flashed back a look of understanding, to
which John Big Bear vouchsafed but the slightest nod, and then the match
went out, darkness again closed them in, and the Indian scout was left
to the rear, still perched in the tree to which evidently he had climbed
the better to observe the numerical strength of the enemy he had heard
approaching.

It was perhaps a hundred yards further on, and while they were still
hugging closely to the shadows of the wood, that Tom had an opportunity,
a few quickly whispered words at a time, to impart a knowledge of what
he had observed to Ollie. And a little later Ollie, by the same guarded
process, informed George Harper.

They were now prepared for any eventuality, for they felt absolutely
certain that John Big Bear, to whom all three had been friendly on more
than one occasion, never would permit them to be taken prisoners to the
German lines without some brave effort at rescue.

The question agitating the minds of the three lads was whether he would
attempt this alone, or by assistance which he might procure from the
nearest detachment of Americans.

Knowledge of John Big Bear’s nature made it more than an even
supposition that he would try it without going far afield for other
assistance, and especially did the lads believe this to be true now that
he was certain that they knew of his proximity; for once he launched his
plan, whatever it might be, he could count upon their assistance to
carry it through.

Naturally, therefore, they were keenly on edge, and at the slightest
untoward sound, even so slight that the Germans themselves did not seem
to notice, they were ready either for a wild dash for liberty, a running
fight, or a man-to-man struggle right upon the spot.

But the lads themselves, expectant as they were, hardly were prepared
for the wily Indian warfare of John Big Bear.

They were in a particularly shadowed spot when Tom thought he heard the
slightest grunt, or it might have been a suppressed hiccough, from the
German not two feet away from him and acting as their guard upon the
right. There wasn’t anything at all unusual about the sound. Tom turned
a merely casual glance in that direction, and but for a slight nudge
from a lithe form which had carried the German speechless and motionless
to the ground, he would have come to a sudden halt.

John Big Bear was at work! And already he had disposed of one Boche—or
was at that instant disposing of him—and without a single one of the
other Germans realizing that anything had happened.

As Tom continued on he managed to cast one sidelong glance at the two
forms locked together upon the ground. With his powerful left hand John
Big Bear, trusty scout for Uncle Sam, had the German in a throat
stranglehold, and before the under man could begin to writhe free, or so
much as utter a groan, a knife which the Indian held in his uplifted
right hand descended with tremendous force and unerring aim.


    [Illustration: With His Powerful Left Hand John Big Bear had the
        German in a Throat Stranglehold.]


Tom knew that the Hun had died instantly and with only a flash of pain
as the steel blade penetrated his heart!

Instinctively, rather than by any sound he heard, Tom knew that John Big
Bear, as silently as the wild animals he had stalked years before in his
native woods in the great northwest of the United States, was
approaching again. He gave Ollie the barest nudge, and he in turn
relayed the warning to Harper.

Tom felt a slight touch upon his arm. It was startling, even uncanny, to
know that a man could move so silently and stealthily that he might be
right beside one and his presence remain unknown until he, himself,
revealed it. In the darkness the Indian pressed a finger against Tom’s
lips, then put the automatic pistol which had been the German’s into his
hand.

“Wait!” was the one word he barely breathed into Tom’s ear, and the
latter knew he was only to use the firearm when John Big Bear directed.
And he was entirely content to trust to John Big Bear’s judgment in such
an emergency as this.

A moment later the German who had been stalking along beside George
Harper, as the guard on the left, went the way of the Hun before him.
Like a panther the Indian leapt upon him, strangling the breath from him
and swiftly bearing him to the ground at the same time, and all so
silently that no one else was the wiser.

Each of the lads realized what they had not before—that it was a crafty
determination to learn all that could be taught him about his own work
in life, and not any lack either of strength or agility, which had
caused the Indian time and again to go down to apparent defeat in
wrestling matches with a powerful and practiced Japanese athlete who was
a member of Company M in their same regiment.

This Jap, descendant of a race of men noted for their agility and
wrestling ability, their strength and suppleness and cat-like quickness,
was an acknowledged peer of that mat, even among men of his own
nationality, but more than once, after he had thrown John Big Bear only
with the most evident effort, the lads had seen him look at the Indian
in a silent questioning way, unconsciously shaking his head ever so
slightly.

The truth was, as they learned later, he had sensed that John Big Bear,
did he care to, could have proved himself more than a match even for
this expert wrestler, for the Indian was bigger, stronger, equally as
quick and lithe and agile. And in the last match they had seen between
the two, the Indian had rapidly bent and twisted, side-stepped and
squirmed until he had just the hold upon the Jap which so many times he
had studied the Jap getting upon him, and then, as though his opponent
was a mere child, he had lifted him into the air and placed him,
impotent and shoulders squarely down, upon the mat.

The gleam in the eyes of the Jap as he rose was not that of hatred or
revenge, but rather of good sportsmanship, mingled with a look that told
of a suspicion confirmed. John Big Bear had been learning every trick
that the Jap knew, without once revealing any of his own; and the Jap
realized that except by accident he never would throw the Indian in a
serious contest again.

These were the tactics that were being brought to bear now upon the
helpless, unsuspecting Germans, and one at a time they were being
rendered forever hors-de-combat and relieved of their weapons which in
turn were handed over to the three lads.

But if John Big Bear was strong, able and self-confident, so also was he
daring, as he proved beyond all doubt that night.

Having disposed in quick succession of the three Huns who were nearest
the three youths, and who had been acting as their guards, the Indian
was able to whisper something into their ears which made their hearts
beat a little faster in startled surprise and admiration.

“No kill ’em all,” John Big Bear muttered in a low tone. “Take ’em
prisoner like ’em took you. Show ’em heap big s’prise party. Show ’em
American kill if want, take prisoner if want. Take ’em in, show ’em Heap
Big White Chief Persh.”

The lads waited in awed silence for John Big Bear to make further
revelations of his plan. All this time they were walking the same
measured step as though nothing at all had occurred.

“Maybe kill ’em lieutenant,” the Indian continued. “Anyway get ’em
uniform on me. Lead ’em to American lines. You follow. No get by you.
See?”

The lads did see. John Big Bear somehow was going to get into the German
lieutenant’s uniform, without any of his men realizing the substitution,
and lead them directly into the American lines, with their supposed
prisoners bringing up the rear to prevent their escape.

“You know whistle?” John Big Bear asked, by way of indicating the signal
he would give, when attired in the uniform and taking over the
leadership of the German officer.

They had heard it before. It was a sound like that of some distant bird
crying in a wood. No one would suspect it came from a point less than
half a mile away. John Big Bear was a ventriloquist in that respect.

The march continued. Within fifteen minutes they heard the distant,
dismal bird-call that signalled that now John Big Bear was leading the
Germans in the guise of their lieutenant. A moment later they left the
edge of the wood and struck out into the open. The lads saw one of the
Germans try to approach the man he thought to be his officer. John Big
Bear waved him back imperiously. The march continued.

Twenty minutes more elapsed when suddenly, in a spot which the glare of
the moon made almost as light as day, and just when some of the Huns had
noticed the decrease in their number, John Big Bear swung about, an
automatic in either hand.

“Stick ’em up,” he cried, and his manner was so menacing that the
Germans, whether they understood the order or not, after one glance
behind them, which showed them their erstwhile prisoners as their actual
captors, were so dumbfounded that they did not even attempt resistance.

“Take ’em guns,” the Indian ordered, and Ollie Ogden carried out the
instruction with alacrity.

“A regular arsenal,” he commented, as he gathered in the last weapon and
divided the burden with Tom and George.

John Big Bear marshaled the Germans into a double file line.

“Heap step,” he shouted abruptly, and again the Germans responded as
though the Indian vernacular was their method of daily intercourse.

They stepped—and at such a lively rate that in another ten minutes the
startled challenge of a sentry informed them that they were within the
American lines.

“Got ’em heap fool prisoners,” was John Big Bear’s response to the
sentry’s demand; but the man was a member of the same company with the
Indian, knew his voice, his value and his idiosyncrasies. He peered just
long enough to make certain that it was John Big Bear, with a batch of
Boche prisoners, and then summoned the corporal of the guard.

The colonel in charge of that particular section of the front was
passing at the time, heard the call and stepped over. In a very few
seconds he had gathered what had taken place.

He started to commend John Big Bear.

“Ugh!” the Indian interrupted, at the same time walking away, as though
the colonel was nothing more than another private in the ranks, “Not
hard ketch ’em. German big wind, no fight. Heap fool.”

And thus John Big Bear dismissed the incident and strode to the quiet of
a well-earned rest.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XV

                      THE STRUGGLE UNDER THE WATER


AS John Big Bear stalked away without even so much as saluting the
commander of the regiment, the colonel stood gazing after him
reflectively, the suspicion of a smile twitching at the corners of his
mouth. There were several things the colonel might have done, for John
Big Bear’s action distinctly came within the official definition of
unbecoming conduct, even insubordination.

But after all it is often not so much the act itself that counts, as the
motives behind it; and whereas such conduct as the Indian’s might have
been deliberate disobedience in one of a different nature, the colonel,
who knew men, and who particularly knew the hidden courage and devotion
of John Big Bear, merely looked after the Indian as he strode away,
muttering something under his breath which, as Ollie Ogden caught it,
was far from suggesting the guard house or a court martial.

The boys were standing aside, waiting to learn where their own company
was stationed, and the colonel had turned for a moment to speak to
another officer who had come up.

“A fighter from the ground up,” Ollie heard him say, undoubtedly
referring to John Big Bear.

“Yes,” the other man replied, “the only trouble I have is in holding him
in restraint. He constantly wants to go out and clean up the whole
German army himself. I must say he hasn’t much respect for the Huns. I
believe a dozen men like him could demoralize a whole Boche regiment.”

And the lads became aware for the first time that the speaker was their
own captain. They saw, too, that he carried his left arm in a sling. A
pang went through them as they realized the action their own company
must have been in that day while they were sleeping in the dug-out under
Thiaucourt; but the thought also brought with it all that they had
accomplished, and though not disposed to flatter themselves, they felt,
and justifiably so, that on every occasion they had fulfilled their duty
whenever and in whatever guise it presented itself.

The colonel and captain, who had been conversing in low tones, turned
and approached the three lads. The captain recognized them for the first
time.

“Well, well,” he exclaimed. “Here you are, apparently well and sound,
and we thought the three of you were gone. Have you been with another
unit? Just arrived I see. What’s the report, sergeant?”

Briefly, but clearly, Tom explained everything—how they had slept on
while squads and companies and battalions and regiments and brigades and
even the entire division moved out; how they had awakened to find
themselves alone; of their capture by the twenty Germans, and later,
under the leadership of John Big Bear, of their turning the tables on
those of the Germans who remained living after the Indian got through
his work.

Sergeant Tom Walton did not spare himself or his two pals in what looked
to them like unforgivable carelessness in having slept so soundly that a
whole army moved out over their heads without their having heard a
sound; neither did he seek to embellish the account of their later
daring accomplishment.

The colonel and captain listened in silence until the report was
concluded, but the lads found no censure awaiting them. The colonel
nodded his head approvingly and again called the captain aside. They
conversed for several minutes, apparently giving grave consideration to
some important project, and then called the youths over.

“Our company has been pretty well shot to pieces, boys,” the captain
began, “but the success of this entire drive of course depends upon the
manner in which every unit carries through its especial mission. And
ours is a difficult one tonight. The men have been fighting all day, and
those who are not dead or wounded are so utterly exhausted that they
hardly can be asked or expected to do anything further tonight.”

The colonel was gazing at them intently. The captain paused for a
moment. The young men remained at rigid attention, waiting to learn what
new service or sacrifice lay before them. Tired as they were, they knew
that they had rested and slept since other members of the company had,
and that they had not endured the awful conflict of the day, under which
hundreds of their friends had gone down. And besides, there was
something exhilarating and thrilling in receiving some commission
directly from the captain, in the presence, and undoubtedly with the
approval, of the commander of the regiment.

“We are not more than a quarter of a mile from a swift but narrow
river,” the captain continued, pointing off to the right, “but we were
unable to get further before darkness. Most of the enemy are on the
other side, but a strong rear guard is holding the near bank.

“To properly lay our plans for the morning it is necessary that we have
some definite idea of whether the Germans have decided to make a
determined stand here, or whether the main force is retreating beyond
the other side of the stream, leaving only this comparatively small
guard to harry and delay our advance.

“As I have said, our men are exhausted. It is necessary that we send out
scouts to reconnoiter. You men already have gone through a great deal
that has earned you the respect and admiration and commendation of your
officers. Do you feel that you can go forward on the difficult and
dangerous mission that I have outlined? I would send John Big Bear with
you, but he has been through enough in the last forty-eight hours to
kill an ordinary man. Are you men prepared to take up this necessary
task?”

“We are,” the three young soldiers answered in unison, and at the same
instant from out of the darkness behind them came a deep grunt and John
Big Bear stepped forward.

“Young ’em fellas go; me go, too,” the Indian announced briefly

John Big Bear had been listening! The captain swung on him suddenly, his
lips already framing a reprimand, when he caught the colonel’s eye. The
latter merely gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head, and the
captain at once changed his tactics.

“John Big Bear,” he announced, as though it had been he instead of the
Indian who had decided the question, “you and Sergeant Walton and Harper
and Ogden are assigned to report upon the approximate strength of the
enemy forces on the opposite bank of the river, and also whether they
are preparing to make a stand there, or are moving on.”

The four men saluted and a moment later were lost in the darkness. It
was not until they were crawling well within the enemy outposts that
they remembered that with the exception of John Big Bear, who had
equipped himself with a regulation automatic and plentiful ammunition,
the others had only what cartridges were in the revolvers they had taken
from the Germans.

And it was almost at that instant that an alert sentry discovered their
presence. He fired point blank from a distance of not more than fifty
feet, and Ollie Ogden felt the bullet whistle by his head.

Bang! It was John Big Bear’s unerring aim, and the Boche was laid low.
But in that moment a dozen of the enemy suddenly rose into sight, and
there was but one course open—a running fight toward the river bank, for
the position of the Germans was such that retreat to the American lines
was cut off, even had the four men been disposed to turn back.

Just as they reached the edge of the river a suppressed grunt from John
Big Bear indicated that he had been hit, but he did not go down.

“In big water,” he shouted to the others, and with a simultaneous splash
they dived into the river.

All were excellent swimmers, but as they came up close together, far out
in the stream, the outlook was far from encouraging. The bank from which
they had jumped was lined with hostile men, and directly approaching
them was a boat containing at least half a dozen others, evidently
engaged in ferrying back and forth, gradually depleting the rear guard
which had been left upon the American side.

With one long breath the four men dived again, but not before Tom had
noticed that John Big Bear was swimming only with his right arm, his
left seemingly out of commission.

When they came to the surface again they were above the boat, which was
a raft-like affair, but still at a point between it and the American
side. Before their whereabouts had been discovered John Big Bear had
formulated a plan and in a few swift words imparted it to his
companions.

Inhaling all the air they could, in order to remain under water as long
as possible, they dived for the third time. The three lads swam with all
their strength down stream and ahead of the Indian, to a point just
behind the boat.

There, until it seemed that their lungs would burst, they waited. Unable
to stay down longer, each struck out again for the top. They lifted
their heads into the air not ten feet below the boat, and just at an
instant when, if the situation had not been so serious, they could have
laughed outright.

John Big Bear, giant of a man that he was, with the strength of a
Sampson despite his wounded left arm, had come up unsuspected on the
upper side of the boat, and, despite the weight of the men in it, had
with one deft and tremendous upward push turned it over. Or, to be
exact, with the men all lined up on the opposite side, waiting to take
pot shots at the swimmers when they came up where they thought they
must, he was just in the act of turning it over, with their unconscious
assistance, when the lads came up for air.

The Germans had neither time nor thought for shooting then. It all had
happened so suddenly, as most things did that were engineered by John
Big Bear, that they were seized with consternation as they hurtled
headlong into the river.

Each of the lads had his gun ready, butt end outward, for the struggle
that must ensue. John Big Bear, working with one arm and shoulder, as he
had to, was having all he could do to right the boat again.

There were shouts from the American side of the bank which indicated
that another raft loaded with men was trying to put out. A Boche came up
beside Tom Walton, gave one wild stare at him and dived again, just as
Tom’s revolver butt hit the water with a resounding splash. Ollie at
that moment was struggling in the grasp of a gigantic Hun. With three
quick strokes Tom was beside them. He managed to hit the enemy a
terrific blow over the head, which released Ollie, but a moment later it
was George Harper who had to come to Tom’s rescue as a German who had
dived under him dragged him gasping and breathless, below the surface.

Some of the Germans had fled down stream as fast as their swimming
abilities could carry them, but enough had stayed to make it a terrible
struggle, with all the odds upon the enemy side.

Firing had ceased on the bank when it was seen that Americans and
Germans were all mixed up together in the water, but no sooner had John
Big Bear righted and crawled into the boat than bullets began to whiz
around his head.

This angered John Big Bear, and it’s bad business to get an Indian mad.
He is likely to do some damage. John Big Bear was no exception to his
race.

Lying flat in the boat, he leveled his revolver over its side. Pop! And
a Boche who twice had nearly drowned Ollie Ogden went down to a watery
grave. The sight so disconcerted the other Huns who had seen it that
they immediately dived. John Big Bear’s gun continued to speak as one by
one they came to the surface again. Instantly all dived. The lads saw
only two finally reappear. Whether the others had been killed or
drowned, or had made their escape in the darkness, they never knew.

Nor did they much care. It had been the most exhausting experience they
ever had been through, and as they climbed into the boat which John Big
Bear managed to maneuver to them, and each laying to the oars struck out
with all their strength for a point of safety down stream, they were
thankful enough to have escaped alive.

A bullet had smashed John Big Bear’s shoulder, and all were half frozen
from the icy water and chilling winds. But they had learned that for
which they had been sent. The rear guard left on the American side of
the stream was rapidly being ferried to the opposite side, and no shots
worth speaking of had come at them from there. Undoubtedly the Germans
were continuing a hasty retreat under cover of the night.

And with all the strength they had remaining in them, after half an
hour’s rowing had brought them to a place of safe landing, the lads ran
back into the mainland, to report to their commander and get hot coffee
and into dry clothes.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVI

                           THE DEATH DUNGEON


EVEN as the lads had started from the river’s edge inland to where their
own lines stretched away to seemingly endless distances south and east,
the moon which had been such a handicap to them in their sortie against
the Germans hid its light behind gathering clouds, and that which had
developed into a steady drizzle before they reached their company’s
quarters was now a veritable downpour as they turned in for the night.

Truly, they were in France! As Ollie remarked between vigorous tugs at a
mud-caked and water-soaked shoe that was reluctant to leave an aching
foot, it was unbelievable that it could rain anywhere else with such
persistency and in such quantity.

“I don’t know what country is on the opposite side of the earth from
France,” he said, with a vehemence engendered by the weather, his shoes
and the experiences he had endured, “but I’ll wager it’s a mighty
fertile land whatever and wherever it is.”

“Hope it grows men who know how to keep quiet when others want to
sleep,” a deep bass voice grumbled out of the darkness of a corner which
the boys up to that moment had thought unoccupied.

“Buck Granger!” George Harper almost shouted. “Of all things unexpected!
When did you get back?”

“Caught up with you again about noon,” Buck answered drowsily. “They
thought they had me for keeps, I guess, but I’m limping along all right.
I’m back to hand Fritz something as good as he gave me.”

The meeting took on the characteristics of a family reunion, for really
the lads had not realized what a warm spot Buck occupied in their hearts
until he had fallen, as they thought, mortally wounded, the day before.
And so, despite his sleepy protests, they kept up a running fire of
questions and conversation for the next ten minutes.

“Well,” said Buck at last, as though in retaliation, “now that you’ve
about pumped me dry, suppose I turn the tables and ask what you fellows
have been doing out so late as this?”

“Fair enough,” answered Tom laughingly. But before they were half
through telling him of their experiences of that evening, and all they
had been through since he had last seen them, Buck was sitting up wide
awake and plying them with interested queries upon this and that phase
of their harrowing escapes and thrilling captures and adventures.

“Say!” that energetic youth finally ejaculated. “I’d have given a whole
lot to have been along.”

“Wish you had been,” said Ollie, with deep sincerity. “There were times
when we certainly needed you.”

“It means certain and early promotion for all of you, of course,” Buck
went on, “and promotion is certainly worth striving for; but it isn’t
that so much as just having been through such things.”

The other three lads nodded in silent assent.

“Just imagine, Tom,” Buck Granger went on, with increasing enthusiasm,
and turning toward the newly-made sergeant, “just imagine the yarn that
will make for a little snoozer you’re joggin’ on your knee when you’re a
grandfather, eh?”

“Say, look here,” Tom interjected, in a startled tone.

“Oh, that’s all right,” Buck went on. “You expect to be a grandfather
some day, don’t you, if you get through this all right?”

“Your mind certainly can cover great distances in a short stretch of
time,” Tom objected again.

“Yes, but that story will make any kid proud of his grandpap,” Buck
continued, while George and Ollie chuckled at Tom’s evident discomfort.
“Why, that would make any youngster wish he had been living in the days
of the taming of the Boche, just to have knocked off a few of them
himself. Yes-sirree!”

And when Ollie knew by the sound and regular breathing on either side of
him that both Tom and George were sound asleep, and he himself was about
dozing off, he heard Buck mutter, in a self-accusing tone, “By gosh, I’m
an unlucky guy; nothing like that ever happens to me.”

Then Ollie slept. It could not have been long thereafter that Buck
Granger also drifted off into the land of sleep, to have this rest
interrupted with vivid dreams of personal participation in all the
incidents that his three friends had so modestly related to him.

What wakened Buck he could not tell, but he knew it was hours later and
that the rain was still falling and that it was yet dark, although
probably beyond the hour when, had it been clear, dawn would have been
breaking. But it was not the mystery of what had wakened him that
bothered Buck so much as it was that terrible feeling that possessed
him—that unexplainable, indefinable feeling that we all have at times,
when for some unknown reason we feel certain that something is wrong and
we know not what, or why we feel it so keenly.

The four youths were billeted in the small section that remained
standing of what once had been a cow-shed. Yes, here once had been a
fertile farm, the home and the support of a thrifty Frenchman and his
family. And now it was a vast shambles and ruin, with only a part of the
cow-shed remaining as tragic testimony to its earlier estate. Not very
luxurious quarters, you may think! But real luxury, after all, when
compared to water-logged trenches and rain-soaked, rat-ridden dug-outs.

As Buck first came out of his sound sleep he was conscious only of the
ceaseless, pitiless hammering of the rain upon the rusted tin roof of
the shed within which he lay—conscious only of that and of the
indefinable feeling, which he could not overcome, that something was
wrong.

And there is nothing that so unpleasantly grips the mind and the
imagination, and causes the heart occasionally to miss a beat, as that
tense waiting, waiting, waiting which accompanies a premonition of
impending evil or danger—born of no one knows what—which comes to one
with sudden awakening in pitch darkness and amid strange surroundings.

So it was that even as Buck Granger lay there, fully aware now of where
he was, and listening to the even breathing of his three friends who
were stretched out not more than ten feet away from him, something
happened which seemed almost to make the blood freeze in his veins.

It was a moan! Weak, subdued, but distinctly audible, it came from
directly beneath him, as though out of the very ground upon which he
lay.

Buck Granger was no coward, but there are some things which, calmly
accepted if not easily accounted for in the assurance and
self-possession which one feels in daylight, seem to verge upon the
supernatural in the darkness and mystery of night.

The hand which Buck Granger passed swiftly across his now wide staring
eyes was as cold as ice. For a moment he lay there as though hypnotized.
And then the moan was repeated, this time so subdued as to be scarcely
audible, but all the more uncanny for that very fact. With a quick
movement that brought him to his hands and knees, Buck literally dived
across the black space to where the other three men lay, landing
directly beside Tom Walton.

“Tom!” he whispered shrilly into the latter’s ear. “Tom! Wake up! It’s
Buck Granger! There’s something queer going on around this shack!”

Tom, who had been partially aroused by the first mention of his name,
came upright into a sitting posture as Granger spoke jerkily of the
mystery at hand; and he sat up with such suddenness and force that his
head, striking Buck directly under the chin, nearly dislocated the
latter’s neck and as narrowly escaped cracking Tom’s skull.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” the young sergeant demanded, also in a
hoarse whisper, as they both rubbed their respective injuries.

“Listen!” Buck responded; but there was no necessity, for just at that
instant the moan was repeated for the third time, now as clear and
distinct as the first time Buck had heard it.

“Great Scott, that’s wierd,” Tom exclaimed, almost involuntarily. “What
is it? Who is it? Where does it come from?”

“I don’t know who or what it is,” Buck whispered back, “but it seemed to
come right up out of the ground where I was asleep, and you’re right,
it’s wierd enough.”

“When did you hear it first?” Tom asked in a low tone, at the same time
cocking his ear in the darkness for a repetition of the strange sound.

“Just a moment ago—heard it twice,” answered Buck. “Let’s waken the
others and make a light and see what we can find.”

Tom reached into his pocket and drew, forth an electric searchlight
which he immediately switched on. Their first act was to squint around
in the glare of the light into every crook and cranny of the little
cow-shed, but there was nothing unusual to be found, nor was there any
further sound.

“I’ve always heard that ghosts fade into thin air and cease all sound
when a light appears,” said Tom, trying to speak lightly.

“There’s no such thing as a ghost, as you and I both know,” Buck
responded, resenting anything that might tend to make him look foolish.
“That groan came from a man, and whoever he is or wherever he is the
fellow isn’t far away from where we are right now.”

“What’s the matter with you two, anyway,” demanded Ollie Ogden, suddenly
sitting up and rubbing his eyes, and at the same time so disturbing
Harper that he too, awakened.

“Wait a minute or two and you’ll know as much as we do,” Tom replied.

But they did not have to wait that long. The words had hardly died on
Tom’s lips when something most resembling the sighing of wind through
the bare branches of trees, but which all four knew to be a human sound,
reached their ears. And just as Buck Granger had said, it seemed to come
from directly out the ground, at the spot where he had been sleeping.

Tom took the pocket searchlight over to that part of the shed and began
an examination. He laid his ear to the damp earth, but could hear
nothing. Then playing the light over the ground, he got down upon his
hands and knees for a closer examination. Standing around him and gazing
over his shoulder, the other three carefully followed his every move.

He was moving around almost in a circle, when accidentally, in a quick
turn, he kicked a section of the shed wall heavily with the heel of his
boot. He drew up suddenly, and the other lads crowded closer to him.

“Didn’t that seem to you to have a peculiar sound?” he asked.

“It certainly did to me,” George Harper replied.

“Like tapping a rotten watermelon,” said Buck Granger, in language more
descriptive than elegant.

“Sounded hollow, anyway,” put in Ollie Ogden.

“That’s just what I thought,” said Tom, and to verify their verdict he
tapped the partition again. It gave off the same empty sort of sound.

“Ah, ha!” exclaimed George Harper, leaning over Tom’s shoulder, and
examining the woodwork above the sergeant’s head. “I guess this explains
it. Looks like some sort of a secret door.”

He had been tracing the outline of a scarcely perceptible crack which
ran from the floor to a height of about three feet, then across for two
more feet, where it joined another vertical one which paralleled the
first. Also he had found what anyone might have taken for a knot-hole at
first glance, but which closer examination showed to have been made,
apparently for the purpose of pulling the thing open.

“Try it again,” Tom suggested, as George, with one finger crooked into
the aperture, gave it a tug without any seeming result. “Try it again; I
thought it moved a little.”

With considerable effort Harper managed to twist two fingers of his
right hand into the hole, and again gave a sudden jerk; but the only
result was a slight vibration, while George vigorously rubbed his two
pained digits.

“Wait a minute,” Ollie suggested, and going across the shed he picked up
a piece of iron shaped at the end like a stove poker. “Try this,” he
suggested.

“Let somebody else do it,” said Harper. “My hand feels as though it was
broken.”

Tom took the iron, fixed the end into the hole and gave a mighty yank.
As the secret door gave way under his weight, Tom suddenly and
unceremoniously and without advance preparation took a seat on the floor
at the far side of the shed.

At any other time his fall might have caused some merriment, but no one
paid attention to it now. They were too busy examining a little
apparatus in the closet-like aperture in the wall of the shed, which now
stood exposed to full view. The mechanism resembled, in fact was almost
a replica, of the dial on the front of a combination safe. The only
difference was that this disc was marked only with an S at the top, an O
at the bottom, and with a line running part way around it, near the
outer edge, with an arrow at the bottom end, showing that the small
lever over the dial was always moved from the top downward to the right,
and then upward on the other side.

“S and O,” Tom read off, gazing at the queer thing as he joined the
others. “And it points to S now. Why, that seems to be clear. It means
‘shut’ and ‘open.’”

“If it’s connected up with any signalling apparatus a complete
revolution of that lever also might sound an S.O.S.,” suggested Buck
Granger.

“Or it might mean ‘slip out’ while the slippin’s good,” put in Ollie.

“Oh, it might mean any one of a thousand things, such as ‘stop orating’”
George Harper spoke up, impatiently, “but I’m inclined to believe Tom’s
right. Let’s try it, anyway.”

Tom was just reaching for the small lever when another suppressed moan,
unquestionably from directly beneath their feet, arrested his hand.

“There’s someone down there under the ground,” said Tom, in an awed
whisper. “I believe there’s some connection between that person and this
thing here. I’m going to try it anyway. Suppose you fellows stand back
there against the opposite wall, in case anything happens to me when I
turn this lever. And Ollie, you hold the light so that it will be
directly on the dial.”

Not knowing what to expect, the three youths stood with their backs
against the opposite wall, staring at Tom’s hand as the fingers closed
on the lever and he began turning it toward the mark O, in the direction
the arrow indicated.

Slowly he pushed it round until the point was directly over the O. Tom
stepped over to where the others were, and he was just in time. There
was a sucking sound, such as is made by drawing one’s boot out of oozy
mud, and then _the ground where Buck Granger had slept began to move
upward_!

The lads stood huddled together. The ground, which proved to be but a
very thin layer, gave way, and a trap door lifted itself slowly into the
air.

Tom was the first to move. He stepped over and peered down into the
hole.

“Great guns!” he gasped, in a quivering voice.

The others were at his side in an instant. The sight was a staggering
shock to all.

There, on the bottom of a black cavern that apparently extended under
the whole flooring of the cow-shed, lay two bodies. Both were in French
uniforms. Obviously one man was dead. The other moved slightly and gave
another low moan that showed he was alive, although not conscious. Three
huge rats scampered away in fright as the light was thrown upon them.

“Ollie,” said Tom, again taking the leadership, “you get a surgeon as
quickly as you can. We’ve got to get that fellow out, and save his life
if possible.”

Without a word Ollie was gone on the errand directed, while Tom, holding
to the hands of George Harper and Buck Granger, lowered himself into the
subterranean prison, the floor of which was not more than five feet
below that of the shed.

Tom turned the living man over so as to see his face. It was drawn in
lines of suffering and fixed in an expression of absolute terror. The
whole body was emaciated almost beyond belief.

“Poor fellow,” murmured Tom, as he placed one arm under the shoulders of
the soggy and mildewed uniform. “Left here to go stark mad and starve to
death. Probably heard death rattle of his companion here as the rats
were gnawing at him. Ugh!”

The man weighed no more than an average boy of fifteen or sixteen years.
Tom raised the body carefully, lifted it to the height of the shed
floor, and into the hands of the two youths waiting there. Tom himself
was just climbing out of the pit when Ollie and a surgeon entered.

“What have we got here?” the latter asked, as with businesslike
precision he strode to the still form on the floor, the boys making way
for him.

In a few brief words Tom explained—told how Buck Granger first had been
awakened, then how all of them had heard the moans, and of the discovery
of the secret switch, and then of the cavern and the bodies within.

As Tom spoke the surgeon cast a queer look at him, but an instant later
he was working over the unconscious Frenchman, a hand on his pulse, his
ear to his heart.

“Weak,” he announced at last, “mighty weak. If he survives it will be
because you men reached him not a moment too soon. But at that he may be
a hopeless lunatic. We can’t tell about that yet—especially when a man
has gone through what this one evidently has.”

The surgeon again looked down at his patient. “Why,” he ejaculated
suddenly, “he wears a major’s uniform—infantry, too.”

It was true. The ghastly ruin of a man that lay before them once had
been a battalion commander in the French army.

“Discovered at last,” the surgeon murmured, more to himself than the
others.

“What?” demanded Tom, quickly.

“The terrible torture prison that we all have heard about, but never
knew how to locate.”

The surgeon paused for an instant as the unconscious man made a feeble
movement.

“Unquestionably,” he continued, “this is the Hun chamber of horrors
known throughout the Allied armies—the Death Dungeon.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVII

                         JOHN BIG BEAR AVENGES


IT was breaking daylight, the rain had ceased and the sky was clearing
when stretcher-bearers arrived to remove the unfortunate Frenchman from
the squalid shed which had been the roof of his dungeon prison.

A steady and terrific pounding of the big guns in the rear had begun.
And as though the first shot had been the signal for general activity,
the vast area occupied by the American troops became suddenly peopled
with thousands of khaki-clad men. They swarmed here, there and
everywhere, apparently springing to life and action from nowhere.

The individuals formed into small groups, and these in turn rapidly
mingled with and became parts of larger units; and thus uninterruptedly
the process continued until, in the briefest conceivable time and with
remarkable system and precision, and even before the sun was well above
the horizon, an army had been reassembled and was ready to follow the
creeping barrage which would be laid down by hidden artillery, as soon
as its present firing had mowed away wire entanglements and other
obstructions which aerial observers already had reported the Germans as
having left behind them as they began another day’s retreat.

The direction of the firing indicated that it was along a line
stretching far to the northward, and as time wore on it became apparent
that the extreme upper end was swinging eastward in a movement of which
the section of line where Company C remained was the pivotal point. Nor
was the object of this strategy, and the part to be played in it by
those surrounding the pivot, long in doubt.

For four miles almost due east of Company C, the American lines
stretched out unbrokenly where they had smashed back the southern leg of
the St. Mihiel salient. Not only had this line remained invincible to
each successive effort of the Huns in counter attack, but it had slowly
but steadily advanced northward, in absolute keeping with the
prearranged schedule by which every unit was to go forward.

This line, and the troops around the pivot on which the turn was being
made, were to hold firm for a time, and then advance but slowly, if at
all, until it had been fully determined whether the enveloping movement
being swiftly carried out by the left wing was a success or failure.

If it accomplished its aim, and closed in, or pocketed, the retreating
Germans before they could make their escape, then but two courses would
remain open to them—suicidal battle, which must mean ultimate
annihilation, or surrender.

The big question of the day was whether the already routed Germans could
get through the neck of the bottle-shaped line in which their pursuers
now were closing in upon them, before even that escape was cut off.

But if that section of the line in which the lads were stationed was not
to advance at once, at least no man there was inactive, for there was
more than enough to keep everyone busy during every moment of the time
that they were waiting for the word that would send them again into the
life and death struggle in which the contending armies were engaged.

Red Cross units which had not been able to keep pace with the rapid
advance now were coming up and making ready to go forward with the first
of the doughboys to carry on the offensive.

Trucks in apparently never-ending line were replenishing the company
kitchens, bringing up more men and munitions; wireless tractors were
pushing to the very front of the lines to maintain complete
communication between the foremost and division and brigade headquarters
when once the drive in that sector should begin.

Tractors, and mules only a little less powerful, were bringing forward
some of the heavy guns, new field hospitals were being set up, and in
every department of the great game of war big preparations were under
way.

“Doesn’t look as though it was intended we should loaf around here very
long,” said George Harper to Phil Godwin, another member of Company C,
who came hurrying up at that moment.

“That looks like a pretty safe prediction,” the other man responded,
“but where on earth have you been. I’ve been hunting you and Ollie Ogden
for half an hour. Major Barton, down at the hospital, sent me after you
two and Tom Walton. Just found Tom, but do you know where Ogden is?”

“Right there,” answered Harper, for Ollie had at that moment arrived
from another direction and was standing almost directly behind the man
who bore the message.

“Major Barton wants to see us at the hospital,” Harper explained. “I
wonder what he wants us for.”

“Why,” Ollie answered quickly, “Major Barton was the surgeon who treated
that Frenchman we found under the cow-shed. Do you suppose it is in
reference to that?”

“It must be,” said George, “although at the time I did not connect the
two things. Do you know where Tom is? The summons also included him.”

“Yes, just down the line here,” Ollie replied, at the same time leading
the way toward where Major Barton awaited them.

“Maybe that poor Frenchman has died,” was Harper’s comment, after they
had told Tom their own speculations as to the call for their presence at
the hospital.

“I sincerely hope not,” said Tom, “although it wouldn’t be much of a
surprise if he failed to survive such barbarous punishment as that. He
was more dead than alive when we reached him. By the way, where is Buck
Granger?”

“Captured,” answered Ollie Ogden, without an instant’s hesitation.

“What’s that?” the other two demanded of him in unison, coming to an
abrupt halt and turning to face the bearer of this rather startling
news. “What did you say?” Harper asked again, unable to believe that he
had heard right.

“Captured,” Ollie repeated briefly.

“Well holy cats, when and where?” Tom exploded. “I didn’t know there
were any Germans in this immediate vicinity, except those who are our
prisoners.”

“I don’t believe there are,” answered Ollie, making desperate efforts to
repress a grin.

“Look here,” George Harper exclaimed impatiently, at the same time
grasping Ollie by the shoulder, “quitcherkiddinow, wadayamean, Buck
Granger’s captured?”

“You talk like a machine gun,” Ollie responded, sparring for time. “I
meant exactly what I said—Buck was captured.”

“When?” Tom Walton demanded.

“About an hour ago.”

“Where?”

“Oh, only a short distance from where I was.”

“Who captured him?”

Ollie made ready for a quick dive away from the immediate reach of his
two companions.

“One of the field hospital outfit,” he answered quickly, at the same
time jumping to safer quarters. “Said he had no business out for another
day or two, with his wound.”

Whatever pleasant hostilities Tom and George may have contemplated were
abandoned with their arrival at that moment at the place to which Major
Barton had summoned them. They entered in silence, and the major met
them at the door.

“I’m glad you came when you did,” he greeted them, “but weren’t there
four of you? Where is the other man?”

“Cap—,” Ollie began, but Tom, with a quick frown and a surreptitious
kick which made Ollie wince, squelched him before the word was finished.

“Buck Granger is his name, sir,” Tom answered. “But he was suffering
from a slight wound himself, and he got out earlier than was intended.
They sent him back to the hospital this morning, to remain for another
day or two.”

“I see,” Major Barton replied, with the flicker of a smile playing about
the corners of his mouth for an instant. “Wouldn’t stay put, eh?”

“I guess that was about it,” Tom answered.

“But they captured him,” added the irrepressible Ollie, and the surgeon
joined in the laugh.

“Well,” he said, “I suppose you can imagine why I sent for you boys.
It’s in reference to that Frenchman you rescued from the death dungeon.
I believe he will pull through all right, but he is in for a long siege,
and what he needs most, of course, is nourishment and rest. So, when he
responded to treatment a while ago and regained consciousness I
determined to send him back to the base hospital, where he will get just
the sort of treatment he requires. I think he can stand the trip without
any bad results.

“But when he realized where he was he regarded it as nothing less than a
miracle, for he had given up all hope of escape from his underground
prison. He insisted upon knowing how his rescue had been accomplished,
and as he showed wonderful vitality and recuperative powers, we told
him. When we informed him we were about to send him back to a base
hospital he insisted that he see you boys before he went. So, if you are
ready, we will go in.”

As they passed down the double row of cots in the improvised
hospital—that mercy station where men receive first aid before, if their
wounds are sufficiently serious, being sent back to the base hospital,
where better facilities and attention are possible, they saw many men
whom they knew personally, others whom they recognized by sight. Brave
fellows, at least temporarily incapacitated for further battle, they lay
there weak and helpless, smiling wanly and wistfully as the lads, with a
nod and a kindly, cheering word for each, passed by.

When they came to the cot of the Frenchman they recognized an
improvement already. Hair and beard that had been matted and tangled had
been combed out. He had been bathed and clothed in fresh linen, and the
mental relief that came with finding himself safe was reflected in his
countenance. But he was pitifully weak, as the lads realized when he
feebly grasped the hand of each.

As the French soldier began to speak, Tom saw John Big Bear standing
just a few feet away from them, evidently waiting for them, obviously
listening to all that was said. He had just received a second treatment
of his slight wound in the shoulder.

“I never expected to get out of that place alive,” the Frenchman gasped
weakly. “They tell me I must not talk much, but I wanted to thank you
before they took me away from here. If it had not been for you lads I
probably would be dead now. The other man who was in there with me died
twenty-four hours before I lost consciousness, and I could not have held
out much longer.”

The man spoke almost perfect English. And this was explained in his next
remark.

“I lived for ten years in your country,” he said, “and now I owe my life
to the intelligence and courage of four of its bravest sons.”

He moved restlessly, and the lads saw for the first time that the four
fingers and thumb of his left hand were gone. He saw them looking at the
disfigured member.

“Not by a bullet or shell,” he said, by way of explanation, “but cut off
with a hatchet, one at a time over a period of ten days, by the same
Germans who finally thrust me into that hole to die. They were enraged
because I refused to give them military information. They cut off the
little finger, and gave me forty-eight hours in which to think it over.
They repeated the process every two days until only the hand remained.
Why they did not start in on the other I do not know.”

The grunt of rage which came from directly behind the lads caused all to
turn, and the Frenchman to look inquiringly. John Big Bear had heard
enough. He was striding away toward the door. And while his only
language at the time was a series of deep grunts, could they have been
interpreted they would have been to the effect that while his ancestors
might have scalped a few whites, they never cut men’s fingers off to
force a secret, and it was a pity, after all, that the Indian nation had
not survived and prospered, to scalp every German who had the slightest
warlike disposition.

“Our friend,” Tom explained to the mystified Frenchman. “And a brave and
loyal fellow he is, too, although he seems a trifle queer to strangers.”

The Frenchman nodded, and, seeing the attendants approaching with a
stretcher, to convey him to the waiting ambulance, he asked them to
remain until he was actually started away.

The lads walked beside the emaciated officer, and as they emerged
through the wide doorway they saw John Big Bear standing outside,
apparently in deep and unpleasant meditation.

Looking beyond him Tom saw a group approaching—half a dozen German
prisoners being taken to the rear under two American soldiers as guards.
A moment later and he realized the first prisoner to be one of those
whom they and John Big Bear had brought in. His exclamation attracted
the Indian’s attention, and also that of the man on the stretcher.

John Big Bear looked at them without the slightest change in expression,
but the effect upon the man who had been rescued from the dungeon was
instant and startling.

With a cry that was almost a shriek he pointed at the big German in the
lead. The recognition was apparently mutual, for the latter’s face went
as white as chalk, his step wavered, and even though it was apparent he
was making a tremendous effort to maintain his self-possession, his
hands shook.

“The beast!” the Frenchman shouted, his weak voice breaking into an
hysterical sob. “It was he—he—who cut off my fingers. It was he who
threw me into that pit to die.”

In that tense instant a shot rang out. The big German crumpled and went
down in a heap without so much as a sound. If anyone there knew from
whence that shot had come, he made no mention of it, and there was no
investigation.

The others gathered about the German who had gone down, but he had died
instantly—shot directly through the heart. John Big Bear, with just a
perceptible grunt, turned and walked away.

Tom Walton, glancing after him, saw the Indian push something down into
his pocket; that was all. The tortured Frenchman had been avenged.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                       THE DEATH OF SNOOPER JONES


ALTHOUGH what meagre reports there were to be had indicated that the
long swing of the left wing of the American army was progressing
favorably, the orders for the big push by the men in the pivotal sector
did not come that day. The constant roar of the big guns, with
occasionally a big German shell dropping near enough to do considerable
damage, kept them on the tiptoe of expectancy and ready for any
emergency; but aside from the rather routine work that falls to men of
an army temporarily at a standstill, and which they were allowed to do
in relays, the men got a longer and more beneficial rest than they had
had since the drive was inaugurated on September 12th.

On the following morning, however, came orders which cast doubt upon the
entire success of the project of bottling the Germans up in a pocket of
the salient. Had that been accomplished, the artillery would have
smashed away until the ambushed enemy either had surrendered or been
annihilated. Instead, came orders to forge ahead with all speed, and
gain contact at the earliest possible moment.

“We’re going to chase them clear to the Rhine this time,” Tom heard one
officer say to another, and indeed the preparations that had been made,
and the manner in which the orders to move were carried into effect,
made that seem possible, even if not the actual intention of the present
assault.

Indeed, the Americans pressing in from the west, and the French bearing
down from the north, with other Americans bringing an even stronger
upward pressure from the south, had so thoroughly routed the Hun armies
that they were fleeing precipitately, abandoning guns and munitions as
they went, but making every effort to so destroy these, as well as all
roads, bridges, etc., that the Allies might not make use of any of them.

And with the enemy thus in costly and undignified flight, with never a
chance to stop even for a few hours to reorganize, and with all the
boasted discipline and morale of the German forces destroyed beyond all
hope or possibility of re-establishment, the Allied commanders were well
content for the time being to conserve their own men and supplies by
vigorously prodding the Huns in their flight whenever and wherever they
seemed to lag.

The orders to go forward came at about 8 o’clock on the second morning.
They went in heavy marching order and with full rounds of rations. It
looked, indeed, as if they were bound upon a long journey this time, and
as it turned out they were.

As they swung off in a cloud of dust—for the ground had dried out pretty
well during the preceding day—they were preceded overhead by flocks of
scouting aeroplanes. With them along the roads and through the fields
went trucks loaded with munitions and food, while behind these came the
light artillery, and, far, far back, the heavies.

Two hours march brought them to a point where the entire army came to a
halt while the scouts and pioneer infantry went ahead to reconnoitre and
destroy the first of the wire entanglements thrown behind them by the
fleeing Germans.

The quick pop of guns and the rattle of rapid fire as these men
approached a thick wood which lay just ahead was ample proof that the
artillery had not dislodged all of the Huns, and that snipers and
machine gunners were hidden there as a rear guard to delay the American
advance long enough to permit the main German army to get away.

The American fire from the north had died down to little more than an
occasional bombardment, and necessarily directed at a long angle to
prevent shelling the other troops which were now making the advance.

Company C was one of the five units deployed to attack and take the
wood. As the men started forward the officers in command of the various
companies again gave a warning which the men had heard repeatedly before
going into an attack.

“Do not touch a dead German for any purpose whatever.”

It was not that the situation was any different here from what it had
been in other battles in other places, but the order was issued as a
matter of course and to keep it fresh in the minds of the advancing men.

At no time during the war were the Allied armies even accused of looting
the dead; but where great masses of men are drawn together in thousands
there are bound to be exceptions to any rule—men so selfish and
unprincipled that they would place the gratification of personal desire
above the sacred repute of their army and their country if they thought
they could do so and escape detection.

And the Germans, knowing this, and probably expecting far more of it
from the extent to which it was done without hindrance or scruple by
their own officers as well as men, with that cupidity born of vicious
minds had time after time used this very weakness of men as a means to
their sure and sudden destruction.

In the dead of night they would send back electricians over the field on
which a battle had raged, and, picking out German corpses, these workers
would put cheap but costly-looking rings and other jewelry upon the dead
men, and then attach these to wires, through which ran deadly electric
currents as soon as the work was completed and the trap set.

Any man of the opposing army advancing on the following day who so far
succumbed to the temptation thus deliberately set, as to attempt to take
off any of this seemingly valuable jewelry, instantly got a
death-dealing shock which invariably threw him into the air with sparks
shooting from his body, after which he fell to the ground a seared and
scorched and eternally disgraced corpse himself.

“They haven’t had time to doctor up any of those bodies along this
route,” Ollie Ogden heard a man just ahead of him mutter, and looking up
he recognized “Snooper” Jones, so nicknamed because he was constantly
meddling in somebody else’s business and never attending to his own. He
was the most despised man in the whole regiment for his lack of pride
and patriotism, and knowing the feeling and lack of respect and esteem
in which he was held, he did not seem in the least to care.

Nobody knew just where “Snooper” Jones’ home was, if he had any, but it
was known that he had been a draft dodger and that he had been picked up
by Government agents along with half a dozen others of that cowardly and
disreputable character in a raid conducted one cold night upon the
loungers in a railroad station in one of the large eastern cities.

In other words, “Snooper” Jones, to use a common expression, had been a
bum. He was a drone bee in the industrial hive of organized society. He
was a waster of his own time and energy and a burden upon others. He
consumed without producing. He took, and gave nothing back.

“I’d like to know,” an exhausted and exasperated lieutenant once had
flung at “Snooper” Jones, “what your aim is in life.”

And “Snooper,” consciously or unconsciously more truthful than he ever
had been known to be before, answered, “I haven’t any.”

The army, that great purifier and energizer of most men of “Snooper”
Jones’ character, had failed to make any visible change in him.

“Like the lily,” his top sergeant had said of him, “he toils not,
neither does he spin. But unlike the lily, he is not good to look upon.”

All of this was passing through Ollie Ogden’s mind as they tramped along
and from time to time he could hear “Snooper” Jones grumbling to the men
on either side of him, neither of whom paid the slightest attention to
him, except occasionally to cast upon him a withering glance of scorn
which was at the same time a storm warning which kept him silent for a
time.

Ollie’s contemplations were abruptly cut short as they seemed suddenly
to jump right into the very maelstrom of battle.

In quick succession, as though by a time clock process, the Germans from
their rearmost heavy guns had planted half a dozen highly destructive
shells right into the ranks of the advancing Americans, and
simultaneously, as they skirted what they thought an uninhabited wood,
machine gun nests had opened up a devastating fire upon them.

It was not until later that they realized that their quick advance had
brought them directly upon the rear guard of the German army which,
encumbered as it was by the huge paraphernalia which it carried with it
in its flight, could not move nearly so rapidly as did the pursuers.

The fighting was as bitter as any during the war, and over ground that
already was littered with the bodies of dead Huns—victims of terrific
shrapnel fire poured into their lines as they fled.

Every inch of ground was bitterly contested up to the point where the
licked Germans saw it was useless to hold out further. To silence this
fire it was necessary for the Americans to pick off the snipers and
stalk and capture or demolish the machine gun nests. Bullets fell about
them like hail.

Into the very thick of this Tom Walton and George Harper saw a man rush
forth, rapidly set up a tripod on top of which was a black box affair,
and start turning a crank.

He was a moving picture operator, officially designated with the
American Expeditionary Forces and especially assigned with that
brigade—one of scores of intrepid, courageous fellows who under
circumstances of the greatest stress seemed to show the greatest calm.
These were the men who were preserving to future generations the living,
moving history of America’s participation in the World War, and a dozen
times a day when the panorama of battle was swiftly moving they
fearlessly and without the slightest evidence of outward concern, risked
their lives in the performance of their duty.

Buck Granger once had remarked that this particular operator must bear a
charmed life. Truly it had seemed so, for time and again the lads had
seen him stand forth, motionless except for the regular rhythm of his
right hand which turned the crank of the camera—a challenge and a target
for every German sniper and machine gunner within range. And yet he had
escaped, up to the present, without a scratch.

But here, for the time, the fire was more concentrated than either Tom
Walton or George Harper ever had seen it before. An officer shouted to
the movie operator to drop out of sight. But even if the latter heard,
the warning came too late. A shower of bullets shattered and knocked
over the camera, and in the same instant the operator himself pitched
forward on his face. From where Tom lay he could see that the man did
not move a muscle, after the first convulsion which followed his fall.
He had been killed instantly.

Officers and men of the ranks were being picked off mercilessly as they
crept forward to get within reach of the hidden machine guns. It was at
this juncture that another branch of the service took a hand. It all
showed, too, that the commanding officers were every instant in close
touch with every changing development of the attack.

The order came for the Americans to fall back several hundred yards. To
the mystified Germans it was a maneuvre not then to be explained. It was
inconceivable that the Americans should be retreating, and yet that
seemed to be exactly what was taking place. But the Germans in the wood
had their visions obscured from their own approaching doom.

Up from out of the west, and straight for a point directly over the
natural fort of the enemy, swooped a dozen heavy bombing planes. It is
doubtful if any German in that wood ever knew what happened to him.
Simultaneously every plane let go its full cargo of destruction, and
these highly explosive bombs, descending straight as arrows, struck the
ground at almost the same time, and with such a detonation as to shake
the surrounding country as though by an earthquake. The entire wood was
demolished. Trees were lifted from the ground and split to splinters.
Nothing lived there after that work of death had been carried out.
Devastating ruin had been wrought suddenly and completely. The ground
was torn to great depths and a shower of wood and rock and other debris
was shot fifty or more feet into the air.

It was after they had passed through this monumental wreckage, and were
crawling forward upon the opposite side, that Ollie Ogden, intent upon
getting around a clump of bushes so that he could get a view of a sniper
he knew to be hidden there, found himself but a few yards away from
“Snooper” Jones.

The latter was edging forward in a declivity of ground, and for an
instant Ollie marveled at the courage and persistence of the man—but
only for an instant. For looking slightly ahead, he saw that “Snooper,”
thinking himself hidden from human sight, was crawling toward the body
of a German, his intention obvious in his every movement.

Ollie could not shout a warning without attracting a concentration of
bullets upon his own position. Unseen by “Snooper” Jones, all he could
do was lie silent and watch. “Snooper” was now within a couple of feet
of the body which lay with right hand outstretched, a ring upon the
third finger.

With ghoulish greed Jones covered the short intervening distance and
with a quick snatch reached out for the ring.

Even the German sniper hidden in the bushes gave a startled utterance of
astonishment at the suddenness of what happened.

The body of “Snooper” Jones, shooting forth sharp streaks of bluish
flame, was lifted two feet into the air, and then dropped back a
scorched and withered and motionless mass.

“Snooper” Jones had paid the death penalty!

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIX

                          THE SCOPE OF IT ALL


AND now, as the days passed and the fighting settled down to more of a
desultory routine than it had been in the earlier stages of the terrific
struggle, these men who had earned a new glory for the United States and
American arms began to get a new perspective on what it was they had
accomplished in squeezing that big bulge out of the enemy line. For the
first time since the drive began they had opportunity to take account of
stock, as it were, and to realize what it was they had done in
administering ignominious defeat to these supposedly crack troops of the
Kaiser—troops that had rested and trained over a long period while
holding the St. Mihiel salient as a constant menace over all that
section of France immediately beyond.

What was it that these Americans had accomplished? They had set the tide
of war against the Hun hordes—started them upon the retreat which ended
in defeat and disaster, and thus began the ending of the worst war in
all human history.

Within the second day of the big drive the Americans had taken
Thiaucourt, Thillet, Hattonville, Herbeville, St. Benoit, Jaulny,
Vieville and Xammes, and Boche prisoners to the number of more than
15,000. As a matter of fact the German character is such that he is only
courageous when victorious, only daring when fighting in excessively
superior numbers, and optimistic only so long as fortune smiles upon his
side. Let the conditions be reversed and his courage turns to cowardice,
his daring becomes cringing fear, and surrender and safety become his
dominant thoughts.

Thus it was as the Americans pushed on, overcoming all obstacles,
fighting and conquering, even against great odds and under the most
severe handicaps. The Germans, once realizing the invincibility and the
determination of the armies in pursuit of them, lost their vaunted
courage, ignored orders, cried “Kamarad! Kamarad!” in treacherous
beseeching for mercy, throwing themselves upon the very principle of
humanity which they had defied and attempted to destroy.

Nor had the boys themselves come through the terrible battle and their
own harrowing experiences entirely unscathed. Tom, who had escaped
wounds, was now bewailing the misfortune which had led him, crawling,
one day during the attack, through a clump of weeds which had badly
poisoned the left hand and arm. He had had two days under a surgeon’s
treatment, and though on the way to speedy recovery, still had the
damaged member swathed in drug-soaked bandages.

George Harper could tell what it felt like when a bullet cut its way
across his scalp, just a fraction of an inch above the point where it
would have meant his instant death. As Ollie put it, George had
established a new style of coiffure for the army, parting his hair
across, in the direction from ear to ear.

Ollie’s own optimism, however, was often strained as his face twitched
with the pain from a badly sprained ankle which compelled him still to
hobble around with a cane. And Ollie could trace his own pain and
discomfort directly to a German, although the latter paid the worst
penalty in the scrimmage, which involved the Hun, Ollie and a Frenchman
who had come upon the scene in time to participate in the conclusion of
the hostilities.

It was one of those personal encounters which were so frequent in the
fighting in the woods. Ollie had come face to face with a Boche nearly
twice his size in a thick clump of trees whose heavy foliage made the
place almost as dark as night in mid-day. The German was out of
ammunition, but evidently having heard or seen the young American
approaching, he had the butt of his rifle posed for a crashing blow over
Ollie’s scalp when that wide-awake youth realized his position and the
necessity for instant action. It was too late to retreat, and he had
lost his own gun ten minutes before and also was without bullets for his
revolver.

He dodged, just as the gun descended, and as the heavy butt of the rifle
came down upon his shoulders he grabbed the German by the legs and upset
him. But Ollie also went down at the same time, and under the weight of
the massive Boche. He wriggled free and had partially arisen when the
German again threw his more than two hundred pounds of avoirdupois upon
him. The force of the impact was such that something had to give way,
and it was the ankle upon which most of the load came. In the excitement
of the moment Ollie did not even feel a twinge of pain, for it was a
life and death struggle, with all the odds in favor of the German. It
was just at that moment that the Frenchman put in his appearance. With a
glitter in his eyes that seemed to reflect all the stored-up wrath and
hatred of France against the German race, the poilu raised his gun,
butt-end first, just as the German had done when Ollie came upon him.
But this time it was the German who was the intended victim, and he
could not escape while the youthful American retained his iron grasp
around his knees.

It was all over in an instant, but when Ollie tried to rise his left leg
caved under him. The Frenchman gave him a helping hand, but even when he
was upon his feet he could not walk, could not even touch his left foot
to the ground, while the jar and shock of trying to hop sent
excruciating pains shooting all the way to his hip.

So the Frenchman, who was not very tall, but extremely broad of
shoulder—a man who had been a hard-working, peaceful farmer until the
barbarous German armed mobs had come coursing over neutral Belgium and
into France—had taken him upon his back and had carried him for more
than half a mile to the nearest first-aid station.

Thus it was that all three lads, although able to be moving around, were
on the sick list and were called upon, if at all, only for the lightest
duties. And so it was, also, that when the great summing up came—the
casting of the total, so to speak—when every agency that had been
brought to bear or had participated in the campaign was taken into the
accounting, the three lads were brought into that semi-clerical,
altogether pleasant and highly informative task.

It afforded them an entirely new impression of the magnitude of a single
big battle in war, when they learned something of what had taken place
in that now historic St. Mihiel Drive, of which they were themselves no
small or unimportant part.

All had seen the vast telephone system in operation, a system which was
changed and extended and contracted almost hourly as the tide of battle
swung back and forth and the advance steadily continued. Nevertheless it
was in the nature of a revelation to know that no less than ten thousand
men had been engaged in operating it. And supplementing all this, a
silent corps of three thousand carrier pigeons had flown back and forth,
faithful and often martyred servants in the great cause of humanity,
fulfilling their duty unquestioningly, unerringly with that rare sense
of direction which man has never fathomed.

More than six thousand telephone instruments were connected up to five
thousand miles of wire in the system already mentioned, and together
with the pigeon service supplementing it, it afforded a service
rivalling that of many fair-sized cities.

Ollie Ogden, going through the figures set forth in one set of reports,
uttered an involuntary ejaculation as his total correctly showed that
during the drive four thousand, eight hundred motor trucks had carried
food, men and munitions into the lines. And in addition to this, miles
of American railroad, both standard and narrow gauge, carrying
American-made equipment, assisted in the transportation of men and
supplies throughout the period of advancing conquest.

Of the more than one hundred thousand detailed maps, together with some
forty thousand photographs, completely showing every foot of the ground
over which the battle was to be fought, the youths knew before the drive
was fully launched. But significant as these facts were of the scope and
thoroughness with which the battle was to be carried out, they were not
prepared for the proofs of American efficiency which their present
duties brought before them.

Apparently no contingency was overlooked, and it was this care in
preparation which figured so largely in the sustained drive which
utterly routed the theretofore self-confident Germans.

The hospital facilities that were provided for the care of the sick and
wounded included thirty-five complete hospital trains, with no less than
sixteen thousand beds in the advanced, or almost front line, sector, and
fifty-five thousand such additional beds behind the lines. That not more
than ten per cent of them ever had to be used was a matter of natural
gratification and another proof of the expert strategy which directed
every mile of the advance. Nevertheless the preparations had been made,
in the event that they were needed, and this sort of leadership served
but to strengthen the confidence and determination of the American
fighting forces.

During every daylight hour that the battles raged, the records as well
as the personal knowledge of the boys showed, the skies constantly had
been swept by squadrons and fleets of aeroplanes, preventing aerial
observations by the enemy, attacking the moving infantry, artillery and
supply trains of the retreating Germans, and at the same time most
effectively directing the fire of the American artillery, with the most
devastating effects upon the demoralized Hun forces.

In all a total of one hundred and fifty-two square miles of French
territory, and seventy-two villages, which the Germans had held for four
years, were captured outright in the drive, and for the reduction of the
German defenses which they had thought impregnable, and for the creeping
barrage which almost invariably preceded the doughboys in their attacks,
more than a million and a half shells were fired by the American
artillery, making the territory being traversed by the fleeing Germans a
great charnel country of death and destruction.

With a remarkably small casualty list to themselves, everything
considered, the American forces took no less than sixteen thousand
prisoners, which was only a small proportion of those annihilated in the
merciless advance, and to this conquest of territory and men they added
the taking of one hundred and eleven guns, many of them of large calibre
and great distance range, and great stores of munitions and supplies
which the Boches had not time even to destroy in their headlong flight
back toward the Rhine.

But most significant of all, as Tom with pride of his country pointed
out, as the boys in the approach of evening got together to compare
notes, was the confidence displayed in advance that all of this would
take place, exactly as it had been planned and according to scheduled
time and program.

And that it all had been expected, counted upon, taken for granted as
practically assured before the first gun was fired, was evidenced by the
fact that every arrangement was made for the use that was made of more
than ten thousand feet of moving picture film, actually portraying the
Germans in their disorganization which speedily grew to a rout and
presaged their early and certain defeat in a war which they had
precipitated upon the whole world and practically all civilization.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XX

                          WELL-EARNED REWARDS


“HAVE you heard the news?”

Buck Granger came bursting into a little group of men which included
Sergeant Tom Walton, George Harper and two or three others.

News! It is the great thing for which an army looks and watches and
waits. News of a campaign to be launched, of an attack to be expected,
of the men who have been in hospital or are missing, of the things that
are going on back home where every soldier himself wants to be. News!
The word always makes men forget their aches, their pains, their gossip
or chatter to hear it.

“What news?” demanded George Harper. “We haven’t heard it. What is it.”

“The Germans are asking for an armistice. Austria has already followed
the example of the other German allies, set first by Bulgaria, and now
Germany practically admits herself defeated and is suing for time in
which to determine terms of peace.”

“What!” a couple of men ejaculated in unison. “Where did you hear that?”

“From a Frenchman and an American half a mile below, who have just
returned from Paris,” Granger explained, as breathlessly excited as were
his listeners. “It’s gospel, too, for I heard the men repeat it to a
captain and a major.”

“Why, that means the ending of the war, with complete victory for the
Allies,” put in Sergeant Tom.

“Hooray!” shouted another, unable longer to control his enthusiasm, “and
that means that we’ll soon be starting home to the good old U. S. A.”

Like wildfire the news spread throughout the camp, and apparently it
soon was confirmed from more authoritative quarters, for the officers
themselves seemed lifted to a new sphere of happiness, and made no
effort to keep down the jubilation which now ran high among the men.

Ollie Ogden, coming past one of the branch telephone posts, responded to
a mysterious beckoning of a friend in the Signal Corps.

“Heard it?” that young man asked, in lowered tones.

“No; what?” was Ollie’s reply and query.

He was drawn aside, and for two or three moments he lent willing ear to
the whispered words of the other man. His face was a marvel in changing
expressions, but as he turned a questioning look upon the Signal Corps
man, the latter concluded with, “It’s absolutely true; I got the message
myself. The date’s set for November 11th, and this, if you’ll recall, is
mighty near that date.”

Ollie waited for no more, but hurried along to where he knew he would
find Tom and Harper. He was surprised to find that apparently everyone
else knew of the reported request of the Germans for an armistice, but
it was left to him to be the bearer of the information that the request
had been agreed to, under certain stipulations, and that, tentatively at
least, November 11th was the day that had been agreed upon for the
suspension of hostilities.

It was in the very height of the further excitement caused by this
confirmatory news, that a messenger arrived to say that the three lads,
together with one or two others, were wanted at brigade headquarters.

“What for?” George Harper asked.

“I have my own suspicions it’s not for anything unpleasant,” the
messenger replied with a knowing grin, “but at the same time it’s not
for me to say or begin predicting, and if I were you I’d hustle right
along without asking any more questions.”

The advice was good in that the lads could do naught else, and there
evidently was nothing to be gained by interrogating the other fellow
further. So in ten minutes they were at brigade headquarters, while
several companies stood at attention and a stern looking French
major-general stepped forth before the men who had been summoned from
several different units.

The purpose almost instantly was made clear, and Tom Walton, at one end
of the line, was the first to receive a French decoration. Although all
of the men had heard much about such proceedings, they were not entirely
prepared for what happened immediately after the general, without a word
or other sign, had pinned the emblem upon Tom Walton’s blouse.

The soldier of France grasped the American sergeant by the shoulders,
firmly planted a kiss upon his right cheek, then turned him slightly and
for the edification of all the onlookers, repeated the process upon the
left.

And thus, to the suppressed amusement of the scores of men who witnessed
the ceremony, and to the consternation and confusion of the young men
who were the principals in it, the award of honors and the accompanying
osculatory salutations continued, until every one of those who had been
summoned there had received the badge of his valor, together with the
embrace and kisses upon the cheek which are a part of the French custom
of such recognition of deeds of sacrifice and heroism.

As speedily as they could, when the ceremony was over, Tom, George and
Ollie headed back to where the men of Company C were gathered; but not
yet was the work of the day concluded.

Their captain had been seeking them, and to him they were bound at once
to report.

“I congratulate you,” he said, as the youths appeared before him, “for
not only have you today received the Distinguished Service Cross from
the French Government, and well earned them, too, but the higher command
of your own army has also recognized the value of your services, in
promotions which the colonel has just certified to me.

“Sergeant Thomas Walton you are henceforth a second lieutenant in the
United States army, and I herewith hand you your commission duly
signed.”

Before Tom even could give utterance to the surprise and gratification
which for the moment overwhelmed him, the captain had turned to the
other two boys.

“We may be upon the verge of peace,” he said, “and yet again one never
can tell what the next hour will bring forth in war. But whatever
occurs, whether hostilities be continued or suspended, both of you are
advanced to positions of sergeant—and in announcing these advancements
or promotions I am proud to say that they were hard won and are well
deserved, and that I wish you three young men the greatest of happiness
and the very best of luck.”

The world war was about at an end. The three boys from Brighton had been
tried and found capable in every task that had been placed before them.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was corrected.
    ○ This book was written in a period when many words had not become
      standardized in their spelling. Words may have multiple spelling
      variations or inconsistent hyphenation in the text. These have
      been left unchanged unless indicated with a Transcriber’s Note.
    ○ The author’s spelling of “caloused” has been corrected to
      “calloused,” and “sappling” to “sapling.”
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_); text in
      bold by “equal” signs (=bold=).





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