Chapter VIII -- A Friend In Need
"As long as I can't be at home, I'd rather be here than anywhere in the world I can think of!"
Was it little more than a week, thought Harry Fleming, since he had uttered those words so lightly? Was it just a week since Grenfel, his English scoutmaster, had bidden the boys of his troop goodbye? Was it just two days since father and mother had been so suddenly recalled to the States? Was it just that very morning that he and his good chum Dick Mercer had been detailed on this mission which had led to the discovery of the secret heliographs so busily sending messages to the enemy across the North Sea? Was it just a few hours since the two Scouts, hot on the trail, had cached papers and motorcycles and started the closer exploration of that mysterious estate outside the sleepy English village, leased, so the village gossip had it, by a rich American who eccentrically denied himself to all comers and zealously guarded the privacy of his grounds?
Was it just a few moments since he had urged, even commanded, Dick Mercer to leave him, caught in a trap set for just such trespassers as they? Had he urged his chum to leave him in his agony, for the ankle was badly wrenched, and seek safety in flight? The terrible pain in his ankle and the agonizing fear both for himself and his chum made moments seem like hours and the happenings of these same moments appear as an awful dream.
He could hear, plainly enough, the advance of the two searchers who had scared Dick into hiding in the rhododendron bush, he could even see the gleam of their flashlights, and was able, therefore, to guess what they were doing. For the moment it seemed impossible to him that Dick should escape. He was sure of capture himself in a few minutes, and, as a matter of fact, there were things that made the prospect decidedly bearable. The pain in his ankle from the trap in which he had been caught was excruciating. It seemed to him that he must cry out, but he kept silence resolutely. As long as there was a chance that he might not fall into the hands of the spies who were searching the grounds, he meant to cling to it.
But the chance was a very slim one, as he knew. He could imagine, without difficulty, just about what the men with the flashlights would do, by reasoning out his own course. They would look for footprints. These would lead them to the spot where he and Dick had watched the raising of the wireless mast, and thence along the path they had taken to return to the wall and to safety. Thus they would come to him, and he would be found, literally like a rat in a trap.
And then, quite suddenly, came the diversion created by Dick's daring dash for escape, when he sped from the bush and climbed the wall, followed by the bullets that the searchers fired after him. Harry started, hurting his imprisoned ankle terribly by the wrench his sudden movement gave. Then he listened eagerly for the cry he dreaded yet expected to hear that would tell him that Dick had been hit. It did not come. Instead, he heard more men running, and then in a moment all within the wall was quiet, and he could hear the hue and cry dying away as they chased him along the road outside.
"Well, by Jove!" he said to himself, enthusiastically, "I believe Dick's fooled them. I didn't think he had it in him! That's bully for him! He ought to get a medal for that!"
It was some moments before he realized fully that he had gained a respite, temporally at least. Obviously the two men who had been searching with flashlights had followed Dick, there was at least a good chance that no one else knew about him. He had decided that there was some system of signal wires that rang an alarm when a trap was sprung. But it might be that these two men were the only ones who were supposed to follow up such an alarm.
He carried a flashlight himself and now he took the chance of playing it on his ankle, to see if there was any chance of escape. He hooded the light with his hand and looked carefully. But what he saw was not encouraging. The steel band looked most formidable. It was on the handcuff principle and any attempt to work his foot loose would only make the grip tighter and increase his suffering. His spirits fell at that. Then the only thing his brief immunity would do for him would be to keep him in pain a little longer. He would be caught anyhow, and he guessed that, if Dick got away, he would find his captors in a savage mood.
Even as he let the flashlight wink out, since it was dangerous to use it more than was necessary, he heard a cautious movement within a few feet. At first he thought it was an animal he had heard, so silent were its movements. But in a moment a hand touched his own. He started slightly, but kept quiet.
"Hush -- I'm a friend," said a voice, almost at his elbow. "'I thought you were somewhere around here but I couldn't find you until you flashed your light. You're caught in a trap, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Dick. "Who are you?"
"That's what I want to know about you, first," said the other boy -- for it was another boy, as Harry learned from his voice. Never had a sound been more welcome in his ears than that voice. "Tell me who you are and what you two were doing around here. I saw you this afternoon and tracked you. I tried to before, but I couldn't, on account of your motorcycles. Then I just happened to see you, when you were on foot. Are you Boy Scouts?"
"Yes," said Harry. "Are you?"
"Yes. That's why I followed -- especially when I saw you coming in here. We've got a patrol in the village, but most of the scouts are at work in the fields."
Rapidly, and in a whisper, Harry explained a little, enough to make this new ally understand.
"You'd better get out, if you know how, and take word," said Harry. "I think my chum got away, but it would be better to be sure. And they'll be after me soon."
"If they give us two or three minutes we'll both get out," said the newcomer, confidently. "I know this place with my eyes shut. I used to play here before the old family moved away. I'm the vicar's son, in the village, and I always had the run of the park until these new people came. And I've been in here a few times since then, too."
"That's all right," said Harry. "But how am I going to get out of this trap?"
"Let me have your flashlight a moment," said the stranger.
Harry gave it to him, and the other scout bent over his ankle. Harry saw that he had a long slender piece of wire. He guessed that he was going to try to pick the lock. And in a minute or less Harry heard a welcome click that told him his new found friend -- a friend in need, indeed, he was proving himself to be, had succeeded. His ankle was free.
He struggled to his feet, and there was a moment of exquisite pain as the blood rushed through his ankle and circulation was restored to his numbed foot. But he was able to stand, and, although limpingly, to walk. He had been fortunate, as a matter of fact, in that no bone had been crushed. That might well have happened with such a trap, or a ligament or tendon might have been wrenched or torn, in which case he would have found it just about impossible to move at all. As it was, however, he was able to get along, though he suffered considerable pain every time he put his foot to the ground.
It was no time, however, in which to think of discomforts so comparatively trifling as that. When he was outside he would be able, with the other scout's aid, to give his foot some attention, using the first aid outfit that he always carried, as every scout should do. But now the one thing to be done, to make good his escape.
Harry realized, as soon as he was free, that he was not by any means out of the woods. He was still decidedly in the enemy's country, and getting out of it promised to be a difficult and a perilous task. He was handicapped by his lack of knowledge of the place and what little he did know was discouraging. He had proof that human enemies were not the only ones he had to fear. And the only way he knew that offered a chance of getting out offered, as well, the prospect of encountering the men who had pursued Dick Mercer, returning. It was just as he made up his mind to this that the other scout spoke again.
"We can't get out the way you came in," he said. "Or, if we could, it's too risky. But there's another way. I've been in here since these people started putting their traps around, and I know where most of them are. Come on!"
Harry was glad to obey. He had no hankering for command. The thing to do was to get out as quickly as he could. And so he followed, though he had qualms when he saw that, instead of going toward the wall, they were heading straight in and toward the great grey house. They circled the woods that gave them the essential protection of darkness, and always they got further and further from the place where Dick and Harry had entered. Harry understood, of course, that there were other ways of getting out but it took a few words to make him realize the present situation as it actually was.
"There's a spot on the other side they don't really guard at all," said his companion. "It's where the river runs by the place. They think no one would come that way. And I don't believe they know anything at all about what I'm going to show you."
Soon Harry heard the water rustling. And then, to his surprise, his guide led him straight into a tangle of shrubbery. It was hard going for him, for his ankle pained him a good deal, but he managed it. And in a moment the other boy spoke, and, for the first time, in a natural voice. "I say, I'm glad we're here!" he said, heartily. "D'ye see?"
"It looks like a cave," said Harry.
"It is, but it's more than that, too. This place is no end old, you know. It was here when they fought the Wars of the Roses, I've heard. And come on -- I'll show you something!"
He led the way on into the cave, which narrowed as they went. But Harry, pointing his flashlight ahead, saw that it was not going to stop.
"Oh! A secret passage! I understand now!" he exclaimed, finally.
"Isn't it jolly?" said the other. "Can't you imagine what fun we used to have here when we played about? You see, this may have been used to bring in food in time of siege. There used to be another spur of this tunnel that ran right into the house. But that was all let go to pot, for some reason. This is all that is left. But it's enough. It runs way down under the river -- and in a jiffy we'll be out in the meadows on the other side. I say, what's your name?"
They hadn't had time to exchange the information each naturally craved about the other before. And now, as they realized it, they both laughed. Harry told his name.
"Mine's Jack Young," said the other scout. "I say, you don't talk like an Englishman?"
"I'm not," explained Harry. "I'm American. But I'm for England just now -- and we were caught here trying to find out something about that place."
They came out into the open then, where the light of the stars enabled them to see one another. Jack nodded.
"I got an idea of what you were after -- you two," he said. "The other one's English, isn't he?"
"Dick Mercer? Yes!" said Harry, astonished. "But how did you find out about us?"
"Stalked you," said Jack, happily. "Oh, I'm no end of a scout! I followed you as soon as I caught you without your bicycles."
"We must have been pretty stupid to let you do it, though," said Harry, a little crestfallen. "I'm glad we did, but suppose you'd been an enemy! A nice fix we'd have been in!"
"That's just what I thought about you," admitted Jack. "You see, everyone has sort of laughed at me down here because I said there might be German spies about. I've always been suspicious of the people who took Bray Park. They didn't act the way English people do. They didn't come to church, and when the pater -- I told you he was the vicar here, didn't I? -- went to call, they wouldn't let him in! Just sent word they were out. Fancy treating the vicar like that!" he concluded with spirit. Harry knew enough of the customs of the English countryside to understand that the new tenants of Bray Park could not have chosen a surer method of bringing down both dislike and suspicion upon themselves.
"That was a bit too thick, you know," Jack went on. "So when the war started, I decided I'd keep my eyes open, especially on any strangers who came around. So there you have it. I say! You'd better let me try to make that ankle easier. You're limping badly."
That was true, and Harry submitted gladly to such ministrations as Jack knew how to offer. Cold water helped considerably, it reduced the swelling. And then Jack skillfully improvised a brace, that, binding the ankle tightly, gave it a fair measure of support.
"Now try that," he said. "See if it doesn't feel better!"
"It certainly does!" said Harry. "You're quite a doctor, aren't you? Well now the next thing to do is to try to find where Dick is. I know where he went -- to the place where we cached our cycles and our papers."
Like Dick, he was hopelessly at sea, for the moment, as to his whereabouts. And he had, more-over, to reckon with the turns and twists of the tunnel, which there had been no way of following in the utter darkness. But Jack Young, who, of course, could have found his way anywhere within five miles of them blindfolded, helped him, and they soon found that they were less than half a mile from the place.
"Can you come on with me, Jack?" asked Harry. He felt that in his rescuer he had found a new friend, and one whom he was going to like very well, indeed, and he wanted his company, if it was possible.
"Yes. No one knows I am out," said Jack, frankly. "The pater's like the rest of them here -- he doesn't take the war seriously yet. When I said the other day that it might last long enough for me to be old enough to go, he laughed at me. I really hope it won't, but I wouldn't be surprised if id did, would you?"
"No, I wouldn't. It's too early to tell anything about it yet, really. But if the Germans fight the way they always have before, it's going to be a long war."
They talked as they went, and, though Harry's ankle was still painful, the increased speed the bandaging made possible more than made up for the time it had required. Harry was anxious about Dick, he wanted to rejoin him as soon as possible. And so it was not long before they came near to the place where the cycles had been cached.
"We'd better go slow. In case anyone else watched us this afternoon, we don't want to walk into a trap," said Harry. He was more upset than he had cared to admit by the discovery that he and Dick had been spied upon by Jack, excellent though it had been that it was so. For what Jack had done it was conceivable that someone else, too, might have accomplished.
"All right. You go ahead," said Jack. "I'll form a rear guard -- d'ye see? Then you can't be surprised."
"That's a good idea," said Harry. "There, see that big tree, that blasted one over there? I marked that. The cache is in a straight line, almost, from that, where the ground dips a little. There's a clump of bushes."
"There's someone there, too," said Jack. "He's tugging at a cycle, as if he were trying to get ready to start it."
"That'll be Dick, then," said Harry, greatly relieved. "All right -- I'll go ahead!"
He went on then, and soon he, too, saw Dick busy with the motorcycle.
"Won't he be glad to see me, though?" he thought. "Poor old Dick! I'll bet he's had a hard time."
Then he called, softly. And Dick turned. But -- it was not Dick. It was Ernest Graves!