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

   Chapter 23 THE DASH TO GET BACK TO PERSHING

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 17641

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"After dark, by a whole hour!" whispered Reade, after waking, striking a match and looking at his wrist watch. "Hustle, Dick!"

Tom's next act was to light a candle. "Want supper?" he asked.

"I could eat it," Prescott replied. "But what's the use?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why waste time with eating when there's the slimmest chance to get away?" Dick continued.

"It may be hours before we can really put our plan into execution."

"Our plan?" repeated Dick. "What on earth did I have to do with making the plan? But, if you feel that we're not wasting time over a supper I'll admit that I am ready to eat."

So Reade summoned their host, as before.

"Is the night good and foggy?" Tom asked, when the aged peasant appeared.

"There is not a trace of fog, monsieur," was the reply. "Still, the sky is cloudy, and the night is dark."

"That's only second-best weather," grumbled Reade. "However, I'm impatient to have a try to-night. I think we will try for it. Can you help us?"

"Undoubtedly I can find out how clear the coast is," replied the old man. "I would be glad to do far more than that for you."

"If you can supply us with supper," Tom proposed, "and then find out the news, it will be a great service."

Later, while the chums ate, the old peasant went abroad. Tom and Dick were waiting impatiently until he returned.

"All is as well as it will be any night," the Frenchman reported, and added details.

"We'll try it, then," Reade decided, after glancing at Prescott, who nodded.

"And may you succeed!" cried the old peasant fervently. "And may you both come safely through the war, and have the good fortune to slay Huns and Huns and Huns!"

"Promise me, my good old friend, to use your axe only for chopping wood," Dick urged,

"And I will promise to think of you whenever I have the chance to destroy a Hun."

"It is a bargain, then!" cried their host.

"It will be kept, on my side," Dick rejoined gravely.

"And on mine, too," agreed the old man.

It was quiet abroad when the three stealthily left the house. The Americans had wished to leave a word of cheer with the peasant's wife, but she had fallen asleep and they would not disturb her.

Through a wood and across fields their guide led the young Americans until they neared the spot they sought.

"From here on one will have to be cautious," suggested the Frenchman. "You are about to cross a road, and then, on the other side, one comes to the aviation station."

"Then here is where you should leave us," Dick remarked considerately. "Very likely we shall fail and be sent on to a prison camp, this time in irons. Perhaps we shall be shot. But we do not care to let an old man, and a Frenchman follow us to a death that he should not invite."

"I would go with you until I see you safely in sight of the station," objected the Frenchman.

"It seems unnecessary, and contemptible in us to risk your life along with our own. Do you understand the lay of the land, Tom? Can you find our objective without risking the life of our good old friend here?"

"I am sure that I can," Reade nodded. "Like yourself, Dick, I feel that he should not come further with us. And see here, monsieur. You have not asked our names, neither have we known yours. Some day, when all around here is French territory again, and the beastly German has gone forever, we shall want to look you up, or write you. I am Lieutenant Tom Reade, of the American aviation service, and my friend is Captain Richard Prescott, of the American Infantry."

"And I am Francois Prim. My neighbors call me Papa Prim."

"Show us the way we are to go, Monsieur Prim," Dick urged.

"It is simple," replied Papa Prim. "You see, without fail, the little building to which I am pointing, over by the roadside?"

"Yes."

"That was our school-house. Now it is an office for the Prussians. They have a battalion or more of infantry camped in the field across from the building. They are a guard to keep us afraid. Sometimes one will see three or four regiments camped further along on that field, either regiments going to the front or coming back for rest. Now, from that building you turn and go in that direction"--Papa Prim made a motion with his crooked forefinger--"and so you come to four sheds that are easily missed in the night, for they are camouflaged so as not to attract the eye of French flyers in the day time. From here it will be the first shed that you come to that is more likely to be open at night. In each shed are two airplanes. They are kept here for the purpose of sending up at night when French planes pass over to bomb railways or perhaps to bomb German towns. When our own French airmen come then these airplanes shoot up into the sky and give battle. But the Huns have lost twelve planes here in half that number of months," Papa Prim added proudly, "and only lately have enough new ones arrived from Germany to make up the eight required for this station."

"Where do the airmen sleep?" Dick interjected.

"In the camp with the troops; in the hangars there are no sleeping places."

"And the hangars are at some distance from the troop camp?" Tom asked.

"The troop camp begins over that way," Papa Prim continued, pointing, "for, as you will understand, there must be ground on which the airplanes may run before they rise. So there is some distance. I came near forgetting to tell you that, behind the hangars, are four tents in which the hangar guard sleeps."

"And how many sentries at a time walk post around the hangars?"

Dick inquired.

"I do not know," confessed Papa Prim, "but I do not believe there are more than three or four sentries on duty at a time. Of course, there are other sentries on post at the camp."

"And airships leaving fly directly over the camp?" Tom wanted to know.

"You have said truly," replied Papa Prim. "And are there anti-aircraft guns in the camp?" Tom asked.

"In the troop camp, so I have heard, but I have not seen them," answered Papa Prim.

Removing his steel helmet and taking it in his left hand, Dick bent over, seizing Papa Prim's hand.

"Good-bye for a little while, monsieur," he said earnestly. "We go away with hearts full of gratitude to your own fine, loyal heart. May you prosper and be happy, with your children safely returned from Germany. May all good things in life be with you. Our thanks will always be with you, and our thoughts often of you, monsieur."

Tom Reade took leave of Papa Prim in equally hearty and grateful words.

The two Americans watched the slim, bent old figure plodding homeward. After looking the ground over critically, they stole forward on their way.

"I didn't want him to see what disagreeable business we may have on our hands within a few minutes," Dick whispered. "But see here, Tom, I've just remembered that you didn't pay Papa Prim for all his trouble, as you had planned."

"Didn't I?" Reade chuckled. "I did it without any dispute from him, either. Dick, I wrapped five twenty-dollar American gold pieces in cloth, so they wouldn't jingle, and stuffed the whole tightly into a small canvas bag. While you were talking I slipped it into one of his blouse pockets. Papa Prim will find the money there, and he'll know who put it there, but he won't be able to return it."

"American gold?" Dick echoed. "If the Germans ever know of his having American gold they'll think it reason enough for hanging him."

"No, they won't," Tom retorted, "though they would undoubtedly think it reason enough for taking the money away from him. But I've seen plenty of American gold in France, and plenty of English gold, too. Anywhere in the world gold is gold, and having American gold isn't proof, during this war, that the possessor got it from an American. I'll wager that there is plenty of American gold locked up even in Germany. But the Germans will never find Papa's gold. Papa Prim will hide it until the day comes when, like the good Frenchman that he is, he can turn that gold into a French war bond."

Nearing the former school-house that had been pointed out to them, the two chums took their bearings afresh. Crossing the road one at a time, with utmost stealth, they reached the other side without having been challenged.

A little further on they espied a German sentry, pacing post. Waiting until the fellow had gone to the furthest limit of his post, the chums, flat on their stomachs, crawled forward until, on looking backward, they judged it safe to rise and move on crouchingly. Then they came in sight of the aviation station.

"Better crawl all the way now," Dick whispered. "We have reached the point where any attempt at speed will be sure to place a few bullets in our bodies."

Tom nodded, without speaking. It was trampled, withered grass thro

ugh which they now crawled. It offered fair concealment, but there was danger of making a noise that might betray them to a keen-eared sentry.

At last, near the first hangar, they reached a spot where two trees stood close together. Crawling to this shelter, they still remained lying down, though the tree trunks gave them greater safety against being seen.

In front of the hangars paced a sentry; at the rear another soldier walked post. At some distance from this latter sentry stood four tents, in which, Papa Prim had declared, slept the reliefs of the guard.

"I see how we could get the sentry at the rear," Dick whispered, after a few minutes' silent survey. "But it's at the front that we want to get in, and I don't see any way of creeping up on the front sentry without the rear sentry seeing us and firing. That would give the alarm."

"Then we've got to 'get' the rear sentry first?" Tom asked, his lips at his chum's ear.

"That's it."

"Nasty business, and double chance of losing the game."

"It's the only way, Tom, unless your head is working better than mine."

For some minutes Tom Reade studied.

"I guess it will have to be the rear sentry first," he conceded.

At that moment a small door at the rear of the hangar opened.

The two friends heard the noise, and judged by sound more than sight.

"Sentry!" said the man who had stepped outside, in a low voice.

"Herr Lieutenant!" responded the man. "I am not locking the door, sentry. I shall be back before long."

"Very good, Herr Lieutenant." Passing to the front of the hangar this German aviation lieutenant waited until the sentry there had reached him, then delivered the same information, after which the aviation officer strode off briskly toward the troop camp that could be only vaguely seen in the distance.

"It sounds as if he intended to make a flight," whispered Dick uneasily.

"That wouldn't be so bad," Reade replied. "It will be worse if his machine is out of order and he is coming back to fuss over it."

"We must make our break now," Prescott whispered.

"Lead the way," answered Reade. Fortunately, at this moment, the sentries were at the outer ends of their posts. Bending low, keeping his gaze on the sentries, Dick scurried noiselessly over the ground until he paused, erect and panting, under the shadow of the building near the rear.

So far safe, for Reade was with him an instant later. While the rear sentry finished his post at this end just beyond the hangar, the front sentry, as far as had been observed, came only as far as the sliding doors of the hangar.

"Get your automatic ready!" Dick whispered. Then they heard the rear sentry coming toward them.

There came that tense instant when the sentry's passing form loomed up within three feet of Captain Prescott. Losing not an instant Dick sprang upon him with the bound of a panther.

There was no outcry, for Dick's fingers sought and found the fellow's throat, encircling it. Wrenching the enemy soldier off his balance, Prescott laid him low, the man's bayoneted rifle falling across his body.

It was Dick's eyes that said, "Ready, Tom!" Reade hesitated for a second or so, then struck the prostrate, choking enemy between the eyes. It was a fearful blow, and the man collapsed.

"One down, but we must get the other!" Dick whispered sternly.

They stole forward along the side of the building, Dick in the lead. Peeping around the corner he saw the sentry almost finishing the nearer end of his post. Back came Prescott's head like a shot. He waited until he knew by the tread that the sentry had turned and was going back over his post. Then it was that Dick stole upon him from behind. Another leap, a grip around the man's throat, and sentry number two was on his back, where Reade gave him the grace blow.

Without a word the chums picked up this sentry, carrying him around to the rear. Then Dick sought the small rear door of the hangar. It opened softly, and they entered, closing it behind them.

All was darkness in here until Reade, producing his pocket electric torch, threw a beam of light over the scene.

While Dick stood still, now holding the automatic pistol, Tom took a rapid look over each of the two air machines.

"This nearer one looks like the newer, better one," Reade declared.

"I'll look over the machinery to make sure that the engine is

all right and that I understand the engine and the controls.

Her machine-gun is ready for business and we may need it."

Dick stood patiently by, wondering how soon the guard was due to be relieved. If that happened soon, and the knocked-out sentries were discovered, the chance for escape looked like three less than nothing!

"All right," whispered Tom at last. "I can handle her, and there is water enough in the radiator and the gas tanks are filled. Now, then, we must open the doors as noiselessly as possible."

Dick taking the left-hand one, Tom the right, they rolled the doors back. These moved almost noiselessly.

"Here's the way you turn the engine on," Tom whispered, holding the torch and getting Dick up into the cockpit of the craft. "Turn it on as soon as I say, but not a second before."

Placing himself in front of the propeller Tom gave it a few brisk turns.

"Now!" cried Tom, leaping back. The ignition caught at once. Tom clambered over into the cockpit, Prescott now being in the observer's seat forward.

With the wheel in his hands and his feet resting against the controls Tom Reade suddenly dropped all apprehension. He was as much at home now as Prescott was with an automatic pistol in his hand.

Waiting only until the engine had gained its speed without missing,

Tom cried:

"Ready, pal!"

Out through the open doorway Reade sent the airplane "taxying" or running along the ground.

Across the field toward them came racing a German aviator with a startled look on his face. He had to jump out of the way as the "taxying" airplane bore down on him. But he reached for his automatic and brought it forth.

"Stop!" he roared. "Turn out the guard!" Bang! bang!

Two bullets whizzed by Tom's head. Prescott fired three shots instantly, one of them taking effect, for the German officer went to earth and lay there, his pistol now silent.

From behind the hangar several members of the guard came rushing from their tents. By the time they were in front of the hangar they could shoot only by guess, and might hit their own comrades in the troop camp. So they fired into the air, wildly, rapidly.

So much shooting was bound to rouse the troop camp, and did. The sentries came out on the jump. While some fired star shells that lighted the sky, others took quick aim with their rifles.

Aiming at the figures on the ground as best he could, just as Reade left the ground for the air, Prescott fired, loaded and fired, jamming in a fresh magazine whenever the automatic became emptied.

Twenty feet up in the air, fifty, a hundred! Tom Reade rose as fast as he could make the machine move. More star shells, and now the anti-aircraft guns came into action.

At three hundred feet above the ground shells exploded about the fugitives. One lucky shot of the enemy would be enough to bring them to earth.

The pistol was now too hot to use further. Dick sat back, closing his eyes, while Reade drove at all the speed he could compel, ever rising higher. Both Americans knew that other anti-aircraft guns further south would be turned upon them.

Finally Tom, after a glance at the barograph, roared at Prescott:

"Five thousand feet up on a dark night, and we're going to fifteen thousand feet. All we now have to fear will be other German aircraft, but there'll be fleets of them sent out to look for us!" Prescott nodded, though he could not hear in the roar of the motors and the rush of the air past him.

A mile below them the blackness of the night was punctured by a lively little volcano of red and yellow jets. A dozen anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the fugitive airplane, whose course must have been telephoned along the line. Some of the shells burst so close that fragments of metal whizzed about the ears of both Americans; some of the shells went far wide of the mark, but at least two of the gunners followed the moving craft for the distance of a mile with an accuracy that caused the two fugitives in the sky the liveliest uneasiness. The gunners were aiming by the sound of the engines.

"Give us fifteen minutes more at this speed,"

Tom roared, "and we'll be back over our own French lines!"

They were soon going at terrific speed, fifteen thousand feet up in the air, when a terrifying peril beset them.

Out of the blackness ahead, bearing straight at them, came a dozen

German airplanes in splendid formation!

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares