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H. Irving Hancock.

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trench coat and spreading it over the blankets in such a way that
all three gained added warmth from it.

"How long have you been here?" Dick asked.

"Two weeks," replied one of the pair. "It is a wretched life. Had
I known how bad it was I would have forced my captors to kill me."

That was cheering news, indeed!

"We must sleep now," spoke the other officer. "There is little
sleep be to had here in the daytime, and then we can talk."

Dick lay awake a long time. A prisoner in the hands of the Huns!
All he had heard of the wretched treatment accorded prisoners
by the Germans came back to him. At least he had the satisfaction
of knowing that he was not a prisoner through any act of his own.




CHAPTER XX

ON A GERMAN PRISONER TRAIN


At last he fell asleep. When he awoke the sun was shining in his
face. He was alone, for his bed-fellows of the night were already
astir. They had tucked him in as warmly as possible before leaving
him.

Closing his eyes, Dick slumbered again. When he next opened his
eyes he sat up.

"Good morning, comrade!" called one of the two between whom he
had slept.

"Ah, good morning," Prescott answered in French, and stood up.
"My, but the mattress in this bed is a beastly one."

The officer who addressed him, a young man of twenty-five or so,
laughed good-humoredly.

"What time is breakfast to be had here?" Dick asked.

"I fear, comrade, that we shall not have any this morning, for
the news is that we are to be entrained to-day and sent away."

"To Germany?"

"It must be. And on embarkation mornings no food is served."

"They start us away hungry?" Dick asked.

"Always, so I have been told. But you are not missing much, comrade,
for you are not yet accustomed to the food the Germans feed their
prisoners, and no one eats much of it until he has been hungry
for a few days. Then something like an appetite for the stuff comes
to one."

Finding himself somewhat chilled and cramped Prescott began to go
briskly through some of the Army setting-up exercises.

"That is a fine thing to warm the blood," said one of the French
officers, "but I warn you that it will make you hungry."

The other French officers now came forward to make themselves
known to the only American officer in this prison camp.

"We are moving to-day," said one. "Will it be better in the new
prison than here, do you think?" Prescott asked.

"In some ways at least. We shall undoubtedly be housed in a wooden
building, and that should be warmer at night. Besides, I hear
we are permitted straw mattresses when in Germany."

"That begins to sound like luxury," laughed Dick.

"And there our friends can send us food through neutral agencies."

"Do you suppose, if they do, we shall be allowed to have some
of the food?" Dick asked.

"Some of it, at least, or our friends would quickly stop sending
it to us when they heard from us that we did not get it."

"It will be a dog's life," broke in another, "even with such better
treatment as may be accorded to officers."

Dick Prescott's heart was as stout as any American's heart could
be, but as he listened to the talk of his French brothers in arms
he could not help feeling glum.

For one thing, it was hardly for this that he had sailed from
America to be taken at the outset and to be shut off from all
service with the men of his own country!

A German under-officer who spoke French came to the wire to call
out:

"You officers will march from here soon. Begin to get your packs
ready. There must be no delay."

"It won't take me long," Dick told his new friends. "When captured
I had only my uniform and my pistol. The latter was taken."

He turned to, however, to help his French brothers who possessed
blankets, water bottles and other small belongings, for some of
them appeared almost too weak to prepare for the march.

The same order had been given to the enlisted men in the next
enclosure. For a few minutes there was some bustle over getting
petty belongings together and marshaling them into a pack that
could be slung over the back.

"Officers ready!" ordered the under-officer, returning. "Fall
in by twos and march after me to the office."

He marched the little detachment through the larger enclosure,
and in through the rear of the office building. Here there was
a roll-call. Then the officers, again in twos, were marched outside,
where a corporal and four soldiers fell in with them as guard.

Down the road the captured officers were marched for something
like a quarter of a mile.

"Halt, but keep your places in the ranks," ordered the corporal.
"Any prisoner disobeying will be shot."

"There is something that promises!" cried Captain Lescault, pointing
to the sky.

Southward, over the lines, appeared a squadron of swift French
airplanes, coming over the German lines. Almost instantly German
aircraft began to rise from the ground, going to meet the invaders
of the air.

Over the purring of the engines sounded the sharp, continuous
rapping of machine guns as the opposing craft fought each other.

Two German planes came crashing down to earth. More appeared
in the air, until the French flyers, outnumbered, turned and flew
back over the French lines.

"I believe our flyers got what they wanted," whispered the same
French officer to Prescott.

Five minutes later the Frenchman whispered exultingly:

"Ah, I was sure of it! Our airmen were spying for the artillery.
Now you shall see things happen."

In the air sounded a screech. Then, less than three hundred yards
further down the road a French shell exploded, overturning a motor
truck and killing both Germans on its seat. The truck itself was
a wreck.

Crash! Another shell landed in the road, bowling over two officers
at the head of a body of oncoming soldiers. The next shell landed
in a mass of marching German infantry, killing and wounding several.
Then, for five minutes a hurricane of shells descended on that
road, wrecking trucks, killing and wounding more than a hundred
men in German marching detachments, and chasing all troops from
the road.

"That does not win the war!" growled the German corporal in charge
of the officer-prisoners. "It is only French mischief!"

Hardly had the shell hurricane ceased when some hundred men, under
guard, came marching down from the prison camp. These were halted,
at the edge of the field, just behind the officers.

An hour passed before another detachment of prisoners was marched
down the road and halted. Later more came. Noon had passed before
the final detachment arrived.

It was wearisome, but Dick Prescott did not feel that he had wasted
his time. Full of the hope of escaping, some day, he had watched
covertly everything that he could see of German army life and
movements behind the fighting line. Also, from several incidents
that he witnessed, he gained a new idea of German military brutality.

One scene that made his blood boil was when a French officer, a
wounded man, and suffering also from hunger, let himself slide to
a sitting posture on the ground.

"Here, you!" ordered the German corporal advancing threateningly.
"You have been told that you must stand in line."

"But our comrade is weak from loss of blood," interposed another
French officer who spoke German.

"Take that for your meddling," retorted the corporal, landing
the back of his hand stingingly on his informant's face. It was
a humiliating blow, that a prisoner could not resent in kind.

"Get up," ordered the corporal, "or I shall aid you with my bayonet."

Though the words were not understood by the sufferer, the gesture
was. He tried to obey, but did not rise fast enough to suit the
corporal.

"Here," mocked the fellow. "That will help you!"

His bayonet point passed through the seat of the victim's trousers,
more than pricking the flesh inside.

"Coward!" hissed Prescott and three of four of the French officers.

"If you don't like it, and are not civil," raged the corporal
hoarsely, "I shall beat some of you with the butt of my gun."

Subsequently a French officer who had stepped a foot further than
he was supposed to stand was rebuked by the corporal's gun-butt
striking him on the knee-cap. After that the prisoner limped.

"These brutes ought to be killed - -every one of them!" Dick muttered
disgustedly to a French officer near him.

"Most of them will be, before this long war is over," nodded the
Frenchman, "but a soldier's death is too fine for such beasts."

Finally a German officer arrived. Under his crisp orders the
now long column of prisoners moved out into the road, forming
compactly and guarded by at least forty infantrymen. The order
to march was given. With only two halts the prisoners were marched
some eight miles, arriving late in the afternoon at a railway
yard.

Here the column was halted again for an hour, while the German
officer was absent, presumably, in search of his orders. When
the march was taken up again its course led across a network of
tracks to a long train.

"Why, these are cattle cars," uttered Prescott, disgustedly, when
the column had been halted along the length of the foremost part
of the train. "And, judging by the odor, these cars haven't been
cleaned."

"They won't be until we are through riding in them," returned
the French officer at his side. "This is what comes to soldiers
who surrender to the German dogs!"

Only one car was given over to the officer-prisoners, who were
forced to climb into the unsavory car through a side door. No
seats had been provided, but there was not more than room to stand
up in the stuffy car. Fortunately the spaces between the timbers
of the car sides gave abundant ventilation.

Into cars to the rear the enlisted prisoners were packed. To
stomachs that had been empty of food all day the odors were
especially distressing.

As the officer in charge of the prisoners came to the side door
of the first car Dick made bold to prefer a request.

"We have had no water all day. May we have a bucket of it in
here before the train starts?"

"There will not be time," replied the German officer coldly, and
moved away. Yet two hours passed, and the train did not start.

Suddenly German guns behind the front, along a stretch of miles,
opened a heavy bombardment. Dick and his French friends gazed
out at a sky made violently lurid by the reflection of the flashes
of these great pieces. Then the French guns answered furiously,
nor did all the French shells fall upon the German trenches or
batteries. The French knew the location of this railway yard.
Within twenty minutes five hundred large caliber shells had fallen
in or near this yard. Freight and passenger coaches were struck
and splintered.

Into the forward cattle car bounded the corporal who had tormented
them that day. Behind him, in the doorway, appeared the German
officer.

"Count the prisoners," ordered the latter, "and make sure that
all are there. We are going to pull out of here before those
crazy French yonder destroy all our rolling stock."

Fifteen minutes later, though the French shell-fire had ceased
coming this way, the train crawled out of the yard. It ran along
slowly, though sometime in the night it increased its speed.

Dick Prescott will never forget the misery of that night. When
the train was under way the cold was intense in these half-open
cattle cars. No appeal for water to drink was heeded.

Despite their discomforts, most of the prisoners managed to sleep
some, though standing up.

In the middle of the night Prescott awoke, stiff, nauseated, hungry
and parched with tormenting thirst. Though he did not know it
at that moment, the train had halted because of a breakdown in a
train ahead.

Along the track came that tormenting corporal. While a soldier
held up a dim lantern the corporal unlocked the padlock, sliding
the side door back.

At that moment an order was bawled lustily in German.

"Will you be good enough to repeat, Herr Lieutenant?" called the
corporal, glancing backward down the length of train.

Heavy footsteps were heard approaching. Corporal and private
turned to take a few steps back to meet their officer. Dick,
standing in the open doorway, saw that a fog had settled down
over the night.

Acting on a sudden impulse, without an instant's hesitation, he
leaped down, striking softly on the balls of his feet. Without
even turning sideways to see if German eyes had observed him,
Prescott stole across another track, and down to the foot of an
embankment.

"They'll shoot me for this!" he muttered. "Let them! Death is
better than being a German prisoner!"




CHAPTER XXI

SEEKING DEATH MORE THAN ESCAPE


In another instant the French officer who had been standing next
to Dick attempted the same trick. He had just gained the ground
when the German lieutenant, turning his gaze from the corporal's
face, and glancing ahead, broke off in the middle of his instructions
to cry out:

"There's a prisoner escaping! Halt him or shoot him!"

Realizing that he was hopelessly caught, and trusting to better
luck next time, the Frenchman held up his hands.

"Get back into the car," ordered the German lieutenant. "Corporal,
take the lantern and see that all the prisoners are in there."

As the corporal obeyed, the lieutenant looked in and nodded.

"There was no time for any to escape," he remarked. "We nipped
the first one. You are scoundrels when you try to disgrace me
by escaping. Just for the attempt of this comrade of yours, gentlemen,
you shall have no breakfast in the morning."

The door was moved quickly into place, the padlock snapped, and
then the guard turned to other matters.

Not a French officer in that car but would sooner have died than
betray the fact that Dick had slipped out of sight. Though they
themselves were still in the car, they prayed that he might find
either safety from the Germans, or that better thing than captivity,
death.

As for Captain Prescott, he had slipped into a field beyond.
When he halted to peer about he was perhaps sixty feet from the
train. Moving cautiously he made the distance another hundred
feet. Yet he did not dare to go far at present, nor rapidly.

"I'm out of the car, if nothing more," Dick reflected, inhaling
a deep breath of the foggy air. "I shall always feel grateful
to that German engineer. His blowing off steam made noise enough
so that my jump and my footsteps weren't heard."

One of Dick's feet, moving exploringly, touched a stone. Bending
over and groping, he found three fair-sized stones.

"Good enough!" he thought, picking them up. "Sooner or later,
to-night, wandering around in an American uniform, I'm going to
be heard and halted. I'll throw these stones at the sentry who
tries to halt me, and then he'll fire. After he shoots there'll
be no German prison ahead for me!"

This wasn't exactly a thought in the cheerful class, yet Prescott
smiled. More contented with his prospects he moved softly away.

For the first hundred feet from the embankment his shoes touched
grass. Then he came to the edge of a ploughed field. Here he
felt that he must proceed with even greater caution, for now most
of the train noises had ceased and he feared to slip or stumble,
and thus make a noise that might be carried on the still night
air to the ears of the train guard.

However, he soon struck a smooth path leading through the ploughed
ground, and now moved along a little faster.

"This is just where caution ought to pay big dividends," he told
himself. "A path is usually made to lead to where human beings
live and congregate. I'll stop every few feet and listen."

The first sound that came to his ears from out of the veiled distance
ahead made the young American officer almost laugh aloud. It was
the crowing of a rooster.

"If you know how hungry I am, my bird, I doubt if you'd make any
noise to draw me your way."

However, the crowing had given him a valuable clew, for he reasoned
that the barnyard home of Mr. Rooster must be near the general
buildings of a farm. These buildings he decided to avoid. So,
when he came to a fork in the path he chose the direction that
led him further from what he believed to be the location of the
farm buildings.

By this time he was moving more rapidly, though striving to make
no noise in moving. Suddenly he came to a road and stopped, gasping.

"I don't want anything as public as this," Dick told himself.
"Troops use roads. However, as I've reached the road, and want
to get as far from the train as possible, I believe I'll take
a look from the other side of the road. There may be a field
there better suited to my needs."

Directly opposite, at the other edge of the road, two tree trunks
reared themselves close together, looking tall and gaunt against
the white of the fog. After listening a moment Dick started to
cross the road to them.

Just as he reached the trunks he saw something move around the
further one, and drew back quickly. It was well that he did so,
for the moving thing was a man armed with an axe which he had
swung high and now tried to bring down relentlessly on Prescott's
head.

But Dick's arms shot up, his hands catching the haft and wrenching
the ugly weapon away from its wielder.

"No, you don't!" Dick muttered in English, taking another step
backward from the wild-looking old peasant who had attempted to
brain him.

"But a thousand pardons, monsieur!" cried the old man hoarsely
in French, and now shaking from head to foot. "I did not see
well in the fog, and I mistook you for a German. You are a British
soldier!"

"An American soldier," Dick replied in the same tongue.

"Then, had I killed you, grief would have killed me, too, as it
has already sent my wits scattering. For I am a Frenchman and
hate only Germans."

"Is this a safe place to stand and discuss the Germans?" asked
Dick mildly, in a voice barely above a whisper. "This road - - -"

"No, no! It is not safe here," protested the peasant. "Soldiers
and wagons move over this road. That was why I was here. I hoped
to find some German soldier alone, to leap on him and kill him - -and
I thought you a German until after I had swung at you. Heaven
is good, and I have not to reproach myself for having struck at
the American uniform. But you are in danger here. You are - - -"

"An escaped prisoner," Dick supplied in a whisper. "I have just
escaped from the Germans."

"If you are quick then, they shall not find you," promised the
old man, seizing Dick by the arm. "Come! I can guide you even
through this fog."

There was something so sincere about the old peasant, despite
his wildness, that Prescott went with him without objection.
Both moving softly, they stepped into another field, the guide
going forward as one who knew every inch of the way.

Presently buildings appeared faintly in the fog.

"Wait here," whispered the peasant, and was gone. He soon came
back.

"There are no German soldiers about the place," the old man informed
Dick. "I will take you into the house - -hide you. You shall
have food and drink!"

Food and something to drink! To Dick Prescott, at that moment,
this sounded like a promise of bliss.

To a rear door the old man led the American, and inside, closing
and bolting the door after him. Here the man struck a light,
and a candle shed its rays over a well-kept kitchen.

As Dick laid the axe down in a corner he heard a sobbing sound
from a room nearby.

"It is the dear old wife," said the peasant, in an awed tone.
"To-day the German monsters took our son and our daughter, and
marched them off with other young people from the village. They
have been taken to Germany to toil as slaves of the wild beasts.
Do you wonder, monsieur, that the good wife sobs and that I haunted
the road hoping to find a German soldier alone and to slay him?
But I must hide you, for Germans might come here at any moment."

Throwing open a door the old man revealed a flight of stairs.
He led the way to a room above. Here a door cunningly concealed
behind a dresser was opened after the guide had moved the dresser.
At a sign Dick entered the other room, only to find himself confronted
by another man, whose face, revealed by the candle light, caused
Captain Dick Prescott to recoil as though from a ghost.




CHAPTER XXII

CAN IT BE THE OLD CHUM?


"You know each other?" cried the old peasant, as he observed the
amazement of two young men. "You are enemies?"

As he saw the pair fairly hug each other he added hastily:

"But no! You are friends!"

Then he added, as if he were saying something new:

"Friends, quite certainly."

"You, Dick Prescott!" gasped the other young man.

"Tom Reade!" uttered the young captain delightedly.

The old peasant held the candle higher that he might see better
what was taking place. In that light Dick made another discovery.

"Tom, you're in uniform! Aviation service, at that!"

"What else did you expect?" Tom demanded. "Especially after I
wrote and told you all about it."

"When?"

"Last July."

"Where did you send the letter?"

"To you at Camp Baker."

"It was in July that we left Camp Baker for Camp Berry. Your
letter must have gone astray. I heard from the old home town
of Gridley that you and Hazelton had gone across - -something to
do with welfare work. I couldn't make it out," Dick hurried on,"
neither did I know where to address you."

"That's just it, though!" exclaimed Tom Reade, with a happy laugh.
"Welfare work explains it to a dot. We're working for the welfare
of the world by helping to kill as many Huns as possible!"

"But how came you to be here?"

"I might ask as much of you, Dick, as you and I appear to be in
exactly the same boat."

It looked rather ungrateful toward the old peasant who had brought
these old, old friends together, but for a few moments both forgot
him. When they remembered him they found that the old man had
gone, closing the door.

Then Dick told what had befallen him, after which Reade explained
that, three nights before, on a night flight over the German lines,
his plane had been damaged by a fragment of shell from an anti-aircraft
gun. Reade had been obliged to descend some forty miles behind
the German front lines. Fortunately he had come down in a field
near the house in which he now hid. He had cautiously come to
this house, and as cautiously aroused the inmates, reasoning that
they must be French and should befriend him. This the peasants
had cheerfully done.

"I've been hiding here since, and my machine was found, but I
wasn't," Tom wound up.

"You see, this room has no windows, and I keep very quiet, and
so, perhaps, I could remain here safely a month. But I won't.
I have plans for escape back to the French lines."

At this moment the door opened again. The old peasant came in
with a tray on which was a dish of smoking meat, dark bread and
potatoes and a pot of coffee.

"Now, since you are old friends I shall leave you," said the old
man smiling, as he patted both young Americans on the shoulder.
"But Monsieur Reade knows how to call me if I am wanted. Good
rest and stout hearts, young gentlemen!"

"We'll feast a bit!" cried Prescott eagerly.

"You will," Tom corrected. "I've had my evening meal and am not
hungry. Eat before the candle burns out, and while you do so
I will fix the ventilator for the night. When you have eaten
we can turn in on the bed, for we can talk there as well as when
sitting in the dark." Dick fell to ravenously on the food and
coffee, while Tom attended to ventilation by removing a loose
brick from a chimney, half of which was in this blind attic.

"We must pay this peasant well," Dick proposed, when he had nearly
finished the meal, "for I'll wager he is not rich."

"I can pay him all right," declared Reade, striking a hand against
his waist-line. "In my money belt I have a stock of American
gold. Gold is a money that is very popular in Europe in these
days of hardship."

Later the chums disrobed and turned in. There was abundance of
covering to the bed.

"Now," proposed Tom Reade, talking in whispers, "for my plan of
escape. It's dangerous, and it sounds impossible, fantastic.
But now that you're here, Dick Prescott, I feel equal to putting
anything through! So here's for the plan!"

It was dangerous enough, certainly, as Tom Reade outlined it.
It didn't even strike Captain Prescott as being possible of performance,
but he didn't say so. It was the only plan of escape that presented


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