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   Chapter 19 A GUEST IN PRISON CAMP

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 12986

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In the terrific din of the barrage-fire the men of the first German wave came on like so many silent specters.

They did not run forward, but moved at a fast walk. It was necessary that they save their breath to use in the hand-to-hand struggle that must follow.

Suddenly a French bomb left the trench, striking the ground just in advance of the oncoming Germans. The pink flash of the explosion lighted the set faces of three or four men of the enemy, one of whom went to earth as a fragment from the bomb struck him.

Then bombs fell fast, all along the line. Prescott, singling out an enemy while the flash lasted, let drive at him with a shot from his automatic.

Though several of the Huns fell, the advancing line continued unhesitatingly. The last few steps, past what was left of the barbed wire, the Germans hurled themselves at greater speed.

Then invaders and defenders clashed. German bayonets thrust viciously down into the trench, while French bayonets reached up to dispute them.

Dick had backed away from the fire step. His back against the further wall he was using his automatic pistol to the best advantage.

The first German to leap into the trench landed almost at the feet of Captain Greg Holmes, who had crouched to receive him. Rising, in one of his best old-time football tackles, Greg threw the Hun backward with fearful force, then sat on his chest.

"You're my prisoner!" Holmes shouted at the prostrate. "Try to rise if you dare!"

So hot had been the reception of the first wave that those of the Germans who did not manage to leap down into the trenches, recoiled in dismay.

Then the second wave of raiders came up, only to find that the French had recovered their second wind. Great as the odds were the French held their own, thrusting, shooting and clubbing with rifle butts.

From his position on his prisoner Greg fired coolly as often as he could do so without endangering a French comrade. He longed to rush in closer, but did not intend to let his prisoner get away. Only one German got close enough to thrust at Holmes, who shot him through the heart before the bayonet lunge could be made.

What was left of the first and second waves was being beaten back. Major Wells, Prescott and Noll Terry leaped to the parapet with two French soldiers in their section to beat back the foe.

Just then a third wave arrived. The fighting became brisker. Dick Prescott felt a weight against his head. He staggered dizzily, felt arms clutch at him, and had only a hazy notion of what followed.

The Germans went back, carrying a few prisoners with them. A minute later the enemy barrage lifted.

"You may get up now," Greg admonished his captive, as he leaped to his feet.

"You've accounted for one of the enemy," smiled Captain Ribaut, as he came up.

"Captured him at the first pop out of the box," Holmes declared proudly. "I told him to lie still, and he surely did. I'd have hurt him if he had tried to get away."

"How did you take him?" Ribaut asked, kneeling beside the still man.

"Threw him with an old football tackle."

"The Hun's neck is broken," reported the French captain, raising the enemy's head and letting it fall.

"What's that?" Greg demanded astonished. "Say, you're right, aren't you? And to think of all the good fighting I missed through holding on to that 'prisoner'! Dick will tease the life out of me! By the way, where is he?"

"I thought he went this way," Ribaut answered. "We must find him. I hope he wasn't hurt."

Thoroughly alarmed Greg wheeled and darted along the trench, looking for his chum. Then he raced back, going off in the opposite direction.

"Prescott isn't here!" he gasped, and sprang up at the parapet.

"Here! Don't do that," Major Wells called to him, in a low voice.

But there was no stopping Holmes. Bending low he raced along in front of the trench, looking for the body, dead or alive, of his chum.

Dick, however, was not to be found. Greg continued the search desperately.

Had the Germans sent up flares just then, and turned on their machine guns, Greg would have made an inevitable mark.

Captain Ribaut, more practical, sent a French corporal through the nearby sections for word of Captain Prescott.

"Captain Holmes, return to the trench," Major Wells ordered, in a hoarse whisper.

So Greg obeyed, in time almost to bump into Captain Ribaut.

"Four men from this platoon are missing, and presumably were captured by the enemy," said that officer. "I much fear that Captain Prescott was also taken away by the enemy."

"What? Captured by the Huns?" Greg demanded, divided between amazement and consternation. "Dick captured? Let me lead a force over to the enemy line to bring him back!"

"Only the division commander could sanction that," replied Captain

Ribaut, with grave sympathy. "And it is never done, Captain."

"Oh, I wish I had B company at my back, with A company thrown in for good measure!" quivered Greg. "But say, can't there be a mistake? Didn't Prescott go back wounded?"

"No; I have sent to the dressing station, and he was not seen there," Captain Ribaut replied.

At first Greg couldn't believe that his chum had been captured. When the probability of it did dawn on him nothing but his position as an officer kept him from sitting down on the fire step and sobbing.

"I'd sooner know he was killed than that he had fallen into Hun hands," Holmes sputtered. "But, if they have got him, then I'll make a business of mistreating Germans after this!"

Capture was precisely what had happened to Dick Prescott. It was not for long that he had remained dazed. Two German soldiers fairly dragged him across No Man's Land, his heels bumping over the rough ground.

Dick vaguely knew when the same men lifted him slightly and dropped him, feet first, into the German trench. He fell forward to his knees, and a German non-com raised him to his feet.

"What place is this?" Dick demanded. But he knew as soon as he heard laughing German voices around him.

"Well, if I'm captured, I gave a good account of myself first," Prescott muttered as he shook himself together, "I first captured two German spies and a German colonel and turned them over to the French. But poor old Greg! I'd almost sooner be in my present boots than in his, for he'll be frantic when he finds this out."

The same two German soldiers who had dragged him across No Man's Land were now permitted the honor of piloting th

eir distinguished captive back from the line. Leading him into a communication trench, they started with him for the rear.

Though he still felt dizzy, Dick found his head clearing as he moved along. He was able to judge that he had walked half a mile through the communication trench, then at least another half-mile along a road before he was halted at a hole in the ground.

"Go down here," said one of the men in German, and pushed Dick down a long flight of steps, leading to a large, electrically lighted dug-out at least twenty-five feet below the earth's surface.

"Only prisoners of rank received here, without orders," said a sergeant near the foot of the stairs.

"But this man is a captain," returned one of the captors.

"Of what army?"

"The American."

"Bring the prisoner here!" ordered a voice from the further end of the underground room.

Dick was hustled along, bringing up at last in front of a long table, behind which sat three German officers.

"You are an American?" asked the officer who sat between the other two. He spoke in English.

"Yes," Dick admitted.

"Of what regiment?" demanded the questioner.

"Infantry regiment," Dick replied.

"Yes, but how is your regiment known?"

"As an infantry regiment," Dick answered, though he knew well what was wanted of him.

"Are your American regiments numbered?"

"Oh, yes."

"How is yours numbered?"

"Numbered among the best, I believe," Dick returned, with a smile.

"You are a captain?"

"Yes."

"Then you know what I mean to ask, and you must not try to trifle with me. How is your regiment numbered? What is the number of your regiment?"

"Numbered among the best, as I told you."

"How long have you been in France?"

"Long enough to like its people, meaning those who belong here, not those who have come into France by force of arms."

"Captain, is your regiment on the line yet?"

"It's a line regiment, of course," Prescott replied dumbly.

"Captain," spoke the questioner angrily, "you must not try to make game of us! If you do not answer our questions you will regret it."

"And if I did answer them I'd feel ashamed of myself," Dick smiled blandly. "I'm going to take the liberty of asking you a question. If you were captured and questioned, how much would you tell that would injure Germany?"

"I'd tell nothing," replied the German officer stiffly.

"Same here," Dick went on smilingly. "I'm as strong for my country as you are for yours."

"But, Captain, you will have to tell us your name and rank, also the designation of your organization. That has to be entered on our records."

"I am Captain Richard Prescott, captain of infantry, United States Army," Dick returned, in a business-like way. "But when you go further, and ask me for information about the American Army, you need expect no sensible answers."

"Take this man to the temporary prisoners' camp, and see that he is put in the officers' section," said the questioner to the two guards who had brought Dick in.

So Dick was led out again, and once more escorted along a road. He judged that the walk from dug-out to camp must have been at least two miles in length. The "prison" to which he found himself taken consisted of a high barbed wire enclosure, with a small wooden building at one end, and another end of the enclosure fenced off for officers.

Into the building Dick was taken first. It contained only one room and was evidently used as a booking and record office.

Again he was asked his name by an officer behind a desk. As before

Prescott refused to state anything further than that his name was

Richard Prescott, and that he was a captain of infantry in the

American Army.

"But you will have to tell us more than that," objected the German officer blandly.

"I'll answer any questions you may put to me," promised Dick, "but I won't agree, in advance, to answer them truthfully."

Another bald effort was made to force him to answer questions, but Dick gave evasive replies that carried no information.

"Take the fellow to the officers' section," ordered the man at the desk, at last.

So through a dark yard Prescott was led between rows of prisoners sleeping on the ground. Some of them, too cold and miserable to sleep, stirred uneasily as the newcomers passed by.

It was the same in the officers' section. Though the night was cold, all prisoners were sleeping on bare ground in the open.

There were some four hundred prisoners in this lot, all French except Prescott.

In the officers' section he found some twenty men, also all French.

Two of them sat up as Dick entered.

"Hola!" cried one of them in his own tongue. "You are an American?"

"Yes," Prescott admitted.

"Come and join us. We have the best bed in this camp."

"It looks as if it might be hard," smiled Dick, glancing down at the men.

"Hard, but not so bad, after all," replied the other officer.

"See, we have removed our overcoats and spread them on the ground.

And we have two blankets over us. Come under the blankets with

us, and we shall all be warmer."

Dick hesitated. He wondered if he wouldn't be crowding them out of their none too good protection against the night air.

"If you get in with us," urged the first, "it will make us all warmer."

On the face of it that looked reasonable, provided he did not crowd either out under the edge of the blankets.

"Oh, there will be plenty of room," one of them assured him. "We can lie very close together. And you have no blanket if you sleep by yourself."

So Dick allowed himself to be persuaded. Then, to his surprise, they insisted that he get in the middle between them. This, too, he finally accepted, but repaid them in part by taking off his 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.

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