MoboReader > Literature > Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche

   Chapter 21 SEEKING DEATH MORE THAN ESCAPE

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 7633

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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.

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