Chapter VII -- A Close Shave
Probably Dick did not realize that he was really showing a high order of courage in going while Harry remained behind, caught in that cruel trap and practically in the hands of enemies who were most unlikely to treat him well. In fact, as he made his way toward the wall, Dick was reproaching himself bitterly.
"I ought to stay!" he kept on saying to himself over and over again. "I ought not to leave him so! He made me go so that I would be safe!"
There had been no time to argue, or Harry might have been able to make him understand that it was at least as dangerous to go as to stay -- perhaps even more dangerous. Dick did not think that there was at least a chance that every trap was wired, so that springing it would sound an alarm in some central spot. If that were so, as Harry had fully understood, escape for Dick would be most difficult and probably he too would be captured.
"I'm such a coward!" Dick almost sobbed to himself, for he was frightened, though, it must be said, less on his account than at the thought of Harry. Yet he did not stop. He went on resolutely, alone, as he got used to the idea that he must depend on himself, without Harry to help him in any emergency that arose, his courage returned. He stopped, just as he knew Harry would have done, several feet short of the wall. His watch told him that he had time enough to make a dash, had several minutes to spare, in fact. But he made sure.
And it was well that he did. For some alarm had been given. He heard footsteps of running men, and in a moment two men, neither of them the one they knew as the sentry, came running along the wall. They carried pocket flashlights, and were examining the ground carefully. Dick sensed at once what they meant to do, and shrank into the shelter of a great rhododendron bush. He was small for his age, and exceptionally lissome and he felt that the leaves would conceal him for a few moments at least. He was taking a risk of finding a trap in the bush, but it was the lesser of the two evils just then. And luck favored him. He encountered no trap.
Then one of the men with flashlights gave a cry that sounded to Dick just like the note of a dog that has picked up a lost scent. The lights were playing on the ground just where they had crossed the wall.
"Footsteps, Hans!" said the man. "Turned from the wall, too! They have gone in, but have not come out."
"How many?" asked the other man, coming up quickly.
"Two, I think -- no more," said the discoverer. "Now we shall follow them."
Dick held his breath. If they could follow the footsteps -- and there was no reason in the world j to hope that they could not! -- they would be bound to pass within a foot or two of his hiding- place. And, as he realized, they would, when they were past him, find the marks of his feet returning. They would know then that he was between them and the wall. He realized what that would mean. Bravely he nerved himself to take the one desperate chance that remained to him. They were far too strong for him to have a chance to meet them on even terms, all he could hope for was an opportunity to make use of his light weight and his superior speed. He knew that he could move two feet, at least, to their one. And so he waited, crouching, until they went by. The light flashed by the bush, for some reason, it did not strike it directly. That gave him a respite. Fortunately they were looking for footprints, not for their makers.
The moment they were by, Dick took the chance of making a noise, and pushed through the bush, to reach the other side. And, just as the cry of the man who first had seen the footprints sounded again, he got through. At once, throwing off all attempt at silence, he started running, crouched low. He was only a dozen feet from the wall he leaped for a projection a few feet up. By a combination of good luck and skill he reached it with his hands.
A moment later he had swarmed over the wall and dropped to the other side just as a shot rang out behind. The bullet struck the wall, chipped fragments of stone flew all over him. But he was not hurt, and he ran as he had, never known he could run, keeping to the side of the road, where he was in a heavy shadow.
As soon as he could, he burst through a hedge on the side of the road opposite the wall, and ran on, sheltered by the hedge until, to his delight, he plunged headfirst into a stream of water. The fall knocked him out for a moment, but the cold water revived him and he did not mind the scraped knee and the hurt knuckles he owed to the sharp stones in the bed of the little brook. He changed his course at once, following the brook, since in that no telltale footprints would be left.
Behind him he heard the sound of pursuit for a little while, but he judged that the brook would save him. He could not be pursued very far. Even in this sleepy countryside he would find it easy to get help, and the Germans, as he was now sure they were, would have to give up the chase. All that had been essential had been for him to get a few hundred feet from the park, after that he was safe.
But, if he was safe, he was hopelessly lost. At least he would have been, had he been an ordinary boy, without the scout training. He was in unknown country and he had been chased away from all the landmarks he had. It was of the utmost importance that he should reach as soon as possible, and, especially, without passing too near Bray Park, the spot where the motorcycles and the papers and codes had been cached. And, when he finally came to a full stop, satisfied that he no longer had anything to fear from pursuit, he was completely in the dark as to where he was.
However, his training asserted itself. Although Harry had been in charge, Dick had not failed to notice everything about the place where they made their cache that would help to identify it. That was instinct with him by this time, after two years as a scout; it was second nature. And, though it had been light, he had pictured pretty accurately what the place would look like at night. He remembered for instance, that certain stars would be sure to fill the sky in a particular relation to the cache. And now he looked up and worked out his own position. To do that he had to reconstruct, with the utmost care, his movements since he had left the cache to the moment when he and Harry had entered Bray Park.
But the chase had confused him, naturally. He had doubled on his track more than once, trying to throw his pursuers off. But by remembering accurately the position of Bray Park in its relation to the cache, and by concentrating as earnestly as he could to remember as much as possible of the course of his flight, he arrived presently at a decision of how he must proceed to retrieve the motorcycles and the papers.
As soon as he had done so he hurried on, feverishly, taking a course that, while longer than necessary, was essential since he dared not go near Bray Park. He realized thoroughly how much depended on his promptness. It was essential that Colonel Throckmorton should learn of the wireless station, which was undoubtedly powerful enough to send its waves far out to sea, even if not to the German coast itself.
And there was Harry. The only chance of rescue for him lay in what Dick might do. That thought urged him on even more than the necessity of imparting what they had learned.
So, scouting as he went, least he encounter some prowling party from Bray Park silently looking for him, he went on hastily. He was almost as anxious to avoid the village as the spy headquarters, for he knew that in such places strangers might be regarded with suspicion even in times of peace. And, while the war fever had not seemed to be in evidence that afternoon, he knew that it might have broken out virulently in the interval. He had heard the stories of spy baiting in other parts of the country; how, in some localities, scores of absolutely innocent tourists had been arrested and searched. So he felt he must avoid his friends as well as his enemies until he had means of proving his identity.
Delaying as he was by his roundabout course, it took him nearly an hour to come to scenes that were familiar. But then he knew that he had found himself, with the aid of the stars. Familiar places that he had marked when they made the cache appeared, and soon he reached it. But it was empty; motorcycles and papers -- all were gone!