“Well,” said Chester to
the young Austrian officer, as they were returning
to their quarters an hour later, “you hold a
remarkably strong position here. And still, if
you are forced to fall back, then what?”
The Austrian smiled.
“We have considered all possibilities,”
he replied. “Back there,” sweeping
his arm about in a comprehensive gesture, “lies
Gorizia, the key to Trieste, which naturally is the
Italian goal in this section. Gorizia is exceptionally
well fortified, as you well know. We could defend
ourselves there indefinitely in the face of overwhelming
“But,” interrupted Hal,
“it is not necessary to capture Gorizia to take
“No,” said the Austrian
with a smile, “but it is necessary to take Gorizia
to hold Trieste. The mountains that overhang the
city are fortified with our great guns, which could
rain shells upon the city without danger of a successful
reply. The Italians know this, which is the reason
they have not struck at Trieste before. The same
goes for Trent, the other point coveted by the enemy.”
The party had stopped during this
discussion, but now moved on again. In this part
of the camp the tents were laid out in little streets
and avenues, and down these they walked slowly.
And suddenly the three friends were
treated to a disagreeable shock.
Closely followed by a guard, Uncle
John suddenly stepped from a tent and stood directly
in their path. He seemed stricken dumb with amazement
for a moment and then hurried up to them with a glad
“Chester! Hal!” he exclaimed in English.
For a moment the two lads were dumbfounded.
Then, realizing their perilous situation, Hal pushed
Uncle John away and frowned at him. He whirled
upon the Austrian officer.
“What is the meaning of this?”
he demanded sternly. “I did not know you
had lunatics here.”
Now Uncle John knew something of German
himself, and he caught this remark. He glared
angrily at Hal and then spoke to Chester.
“What’s the meaning of this, Chester?”
Chester did not reply, pretending
that he did not understand English. Uncle John
grew more angry.
“You young scalawags,”
he shouted, “what are you trying to do?
Have some fun with me? I want to tell you this
is no place nor time for fun. I want to get out
Hal and Chester each was afraid to
give Uncle John a signal for fear it might be seen
and Colonel Anderson made no move to interfere.
The Austrian officer turned a suspicious gaze upon
the three friends.
“Do you know this man?” he asked.
Hal shook his head.
“He evidently has mistaken us
for some one else,” he said. “Do you
understand what he says? It sounds like it was
English he spoke.”
“So it is,” replied the
Austrian. “He called you Hal and Chester
and also scalawags, whatever that means.”
Chester shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know him,” he said.
“Nor I,” said Hal.
“I’ve never seen him before, to my knowledge,”
declared Colonel Anderson.
The Austrian officer glared down at Uncle John.
“What’s the meaning of
this?” he demanded in broken English. “Why
do you accost these gentlemen?”
“Why?” exclaimed Uncle
John, dancing up and down in his rage, “why?
Because one of them is my nephew. What does he
want to deny he knows me for?”
“He says one of you is his nephew,”
said the Austrian turning to the others.
“Well, he’s wrong,”
declared Chester. “I’m sure none of
us ever saw him before. Let us go.”
The Austrian signified his readiness
and they moved off; and as they went along Uncle John,
glaring after them, shook a finger violently, and
shouted time after time:
“You young rascals. You’ll be sorry
He was still raging when the others
disappeared from sight among the tents.
“I wonder why?” he asked
himself repeatedly, when he was back in his prison
tent. And then suddenly it dawned upon him.
“What a fool I was,” he muttered.
“Of course they are here to get me out of this
and I came almost spoiling the whole thing, if I have
not done so. I ought to be licked.”
Meanwhile, the three friends followed
the Austrian officer back to their quarters, where
he left them.
“By Jove! that was a pretty
close shave,” remarked Hal, after the officer
had taken his leave.
“Rather,” replied Chester
dryly. “You would think a man of Uncle John’s
age would have more sense. I’ll tell him
about it good and strong when I see him again.”
“But great Scott! wasn’t
he mad,” said Hal with a laugh. “Did
you see how he glared at us? Wonder what he thinks
of us, anyhow?”
“Maybe he thinks he has made
a mistake,” put in the colonel.
“No, he doesn’t,”
declared Chester. “He knows us when he sees
us, all right, and I’ll bet he is doing some
tall thinking about now.”
“Well,” said the colonel,
“we have done about enough for to-day. I
vote we accept the officer’s invitation to have
dinner with him.”
“Same here,” agreed the others.
The evening and night passed quickly,
as did another day, and with the coming of darkness
on the second day, the friends began to think of a
method of making their way back to their own lines.
“We’ll have to make an
effort to take Uncle John with us,” said Chester.
“Sure,” agreed Hal and
the colonel, and the latter added: “I guess
we will manage it some way. Now, as to the matter
of getting by the outposts.”
“I can’t see as there
will be any difficulty about that,” said Chester.
“Fortunately we are known to most of the officers
around here by sight. They will think nothing
strange of the fact that we are making a tour of the
outposts. Then, if we can manage to catch a sentinel
off guard, we can nab him and run.”
“Sounds all right,” remarked
Hal. “We’ll try it. But first
we must get Uncle John.”
“Of course,” said the
colonel. “We’ll get him, all right.
In an hour, then, we shall move.”
The hour passed slowly, and it seemed
to all that the time for action would never come.
But at last Colonel Anderson, after a glance at his
watch, rose to his feet.
“Let’s go,” he said briefly.
The others followed him from the tent
and he led the way quickly to where Uncle John was
confined. In the distance they saw that a sentinel
stood on guard and that to enter by that way would
“You fellows engage the guard
in conversation,” said Chester, “and keep
talking to him until I rejoin you.”
The others asked no questions, but
signified that they understood. Chester let them
walk on ahead of him, and then made his way to the
rear of the row of tents.
He produced a knife when he stood
behind Uncle John’s tent and slit the canvas
silently. Inside Uncle John was reading by candle
light. Chester whistled softly, the old whistle
of his boyhood days at home, which he felt sure Uncle
John would recognize.
Nor was he wrong. Uncle John
looked around quickly and beheld Chester’s face
peering into the tent. Chester laid a finger to
his lips and Uncle John nodded. Then Chester
beckoned Uncle John to come toward him and the latter
did so. Chester enlarged the opening in the tent
with his knife and Uncle John stepped into the open.
“Follow me,” whispered the lad.
Uncle John asked no questions, but
obeyed. Two hundred yards from the tent, Chester
“Now you stay right here till I come back,”
He hastened away to join his friends,
who were still talking to Uncle John’s guard.
He joined in the conversation for
a moment and then announced that they might as well
turn in. They told the guard good night and walked
back to where Chester had left Uncle John. The
latter greeted them with silent joy; he realized that
to make a sound might betray them, and he was tired
of standing there by himself.
Colonel Anderson motioned to the others
to follow and led the way forward.
Swiftly and silently the four shadowy
forms made their way along in the shelter of the innumerable
tents; and finally they passed beyond the farthest
row and into the open. Rapidly they covered the
ground toward the outposts, and nearing them, slowed
Then they walked forward, talking quietly among themselves,
as though they were just out for an evening stroll. And then
“Halt!” came a hoarse command.
The four obeyed. A soldier confronted them with
“Who goes there?” he continued.
“Friends,” was the reply.
The man peered at them closely, and
still keeping them covered, raised his voice for his
superior. The latter came on a dead run.
He eyed the four in the darkness and
then motioned the soldier to stand back.
“It’s all right,” he told him.
The soldier saluted and walked away. The officer
spoke to Hal.
“You are out rather late,” he said.
“Right,” returned the
lad, “but we thought we would take a short stroll
before turning in. We had no idea we had wandered
so far from camp.”
“Oh, it’s all right,”
was the reply. “Who is that with you?”
peering at Uncle John in the darkness.
“Just a friend we have made,”
said Chester, a slight tremor in his voice, for he
had hoped that Uncle John’s presence would be
“I don’t seem to know
him,” said the officer, still peering intently
at Uncle John. And then suddenly he exclaimed:
He raised his voice in a cry for help;
and at the same moment Hal’s revolver butt crashed
down upon his head!