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   Chapter 22 CAN IT BE THE OLD CHUM

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 7941

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"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!"

I

t 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 itself, and Tom had evidently put in all his hopes on that idea.

From the plan the chums fell to talking of other days. In the end, however, their whispers became more indistinct, then died out. Both were asleep.

Dick, as he slumbered and tossed, still felt the motion of that hideous prison train, but at last fell into deep slumber.

When he finally awoke he beheld Tom Reade, fully dressed in his uniform, seated at some distance under a little opening in the roof, reading a book.

"Awake, eh?" asked Tom, when he heard his chum stir. After glancing at his wrist watch, he added:

"You've slept nine hours and a half, and I guess you needed it. There is water for washing, and I'll consult our host about breakfast. What do you think of this way of letting in daylight? Toward night I shove this black cover over the hole in the roof, so that candle light may not show through the roof and give us away to the Germans."

Stepping to the chimney, from which the "ventilator" brick was still absent, Reade put his hand inside, finding a cord and giving it a gentle tug.

By the time that Prescott was partly dressed the door opened and the old peasant looked in.

"We are wondering what you can give us for breakfast?" Tom said in French. "Are eggs to be had to-day? Omelettes?"

"Yes, I can get eggs," nodded the old man.

"As you've not seen the color of my money yet," Tom continued, "please take this on account."

At first the old peasant hung back from accepting the proffered gold coin, though at last he took it, remarking:

"I will admit that I am poor, and yet it seems a crime to accept money from an American."

Half an hour later their host returned, bringing two hot omelettes, dark bread, potatoes and the inevitable pot of coffee.

"It is with difficulty that we keep food hidden," he murmured, in a low voice. "A dozen times the Huns have appeared and have taken from us all the food they could find. But we still have flour, potatoes and coffee hidden where they cannot find them. We shall hope to continue to exist until you Americans have helped drive the Hun from our land."

From the nearby road came the sound of moving trucks. The old man paused and shook his fist in the direction of the sound. After he had served the breakfast he climbed upon a stool, putting his eyes to the hole in the sloping roof and peering toward the road.

"Ah, the vermin!" he hissed. "A regiment of their accursed infantry marching toward the front. Oh, that your men and ours might kill them all this day!"

"Give us time, and we'll do it," Tom promised unconcernedly.

After breakfast the two chums talked almost without stopping until it was time for luncheon. In the afternoon Tom stretched, then walked toward the bed, declaring:

"When one has no chance to exercise I believe sleep to be the next best thing, even extra sleep. I believe that I can sleep until supper time. And after that--perhaps it will be tonight, Dick, that we make our fantastic effort to place ourselves on the other side of the German battle front!"

"The sooner the better," cried Dick, "only provided that speed does not waste our chance to escape."

"If we must go down in defeat," yawned Reade, "I believe we may at least look for the satisfaction of carrying a few Huns with us. I believe I have forgotten to mention the fact that I have my automatic pistol with me. It's hidden, but I could show it to you."

"I'm glad you have it," murmured Dick, as he closed his eyes.

"I never before felt the desire to slay human beings, but since

I've struck the French front I've had a constant desire to kill

Huns!"

"To-night, then," said Reade drowsily, "we may find the chance both to kill Huns and get back to the French lines."

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