Chapter XII -- The Silent Wire
Probably Jack Young and Dick reached the vicarage just about the time that saw Harry getting into trouble with the police for speeding. The vicar was still up, he had a great habit of reading late. And he seemed considerably surprised to find that Jack was not upstairs in bed. At first he was inclined even to be angry, but he changed his mind when he saw Dick, and heard something of what had happened.
"Get your friend something to eat and I'll have them make a hot bath ready," said the vicar. "He looks as if he needed both!"
This was strictly true. Dick was as hungry and as grimy as Harry himself. If anything, he was in even worse shape, for his flight through the fields and the brook had enabled him to attach a good deal of the soil of England to himself. So the thick sandwiches and the bowl of milk that were speedily set before him were severely punished. And while he ate both he and Jack poured out their story. Mr. Young frowned as he listened. Although he was a clergyman and a lover of peace, he was none the less a patriot.
"Upon my word!" he said. "Wireless, you think, my boy?"
"I'm sure of it, sir," said Dick.
"And so'm I," chimed in Jack. "You know, sir, I've thought ever since war seemed certain that Bray Park would bear a lot of watching and that something ought to be done. Just because this is a little bit of a village, without even a railroad station, people think nothing could happen here. But if German spies wanted a headquarters, it's just the sort of place they would pick out."
"There's something in that," agreed the vicar, thoughtfully. But in his own mind he was still very doubtful. The whole thing seemed incredible to him. Yet, as a matter of fact, it was no more incredible than the war itself. What inclined him to be dubious, as much as anything else, was the fact that it was mere boys who had made the discovery.
He had read of outbreaks of spy fever in various parts of England, in which the most harmless and inoffensive people were arrested and held until they could give some good account of themselves. This made him hesitate, while precious time was being wasted.
"I hardly know what to do -- what to suggest," he went on, musingly. "The situation is complicated, really. Supposing you are right, and that German spies really own Bray Park, and are using it as a central station for sending news that they glean out of England, what could be done about it?"
"The place ought to be searched at once every-one there ought to be arrested!" declared Jack, impulsively. His father smiled.
"Yes, but who's going to do it?" he said. "We've just one constable here in Bray. And if there are Germans there in any number, what could he do? I suppose we might send word to Harobridge and get some polite or some territorials over. Yes, that's the best thing to do."
But now Dick spoke up in great eagerness. "I don't know, sir," he suggested. "If the soldiers came, the men in the house there would find out they were coming, I'm afraid. Perhaps they'd get away, or else manage to hide everything that would prove the truth about them. I think it would be better to report direct to Colonel Throckmorton. He knows what we found out near London, sir, you see, and he'd be more ready to believe us."
"Yes, probably you're right. Ring him up, then. It's late, but he won't mind."
What a different story there would have been to tell had someone had that thought only half an hour earlier! But it is often so. The most trivial miscalculation, the most insignificant mistake, seemingly, may prove to be of the most vital importance. Dick went to the telephone. It was one of the old-fashioned sort, still in almost universal use in the rural parts of England, that require the use of a bell to call the central office. Dick turned the crank, then took down the receiver. At once he herd a confused buzzing sound that alarmed him.
"I'm afraid the line is out of order, sir," he said. And after fifteen minutes it was plain that he was right. The wire had either been cut or it had fallen or been short circuited in some other way. Dick and Jack looked at one another blankly. The same thought had come to each of them, and at the same moment.
"They've cut the wires!" said Dick. "Now what shall we do? We can't hear from Harry, either!"
"We might have guessed they'd do that!" said Jack. "They must have had some one out to watch us, Dick -- perhaps they thought they'd have a chance to catch us. They know that we've found out something, you see! It's a good thing we stayed where we could make people hear us if we got into any trouble."
"Oh, nonsense!" said the vicar, suddenly. "You boys are letting your imaginations run away with you. Things like that don't happen in England. The wire is just out of order. It happens often enough, Jack, as you know very well!"
"Yes, sir," said Jack, doggedly. "But that's in winter, or after a heavy storm - not in fine weather like this. I never knew the wire to be out of order before when it was the way it is now."
"Well, there's nothing to be done, in any case," said the vicar. "Be off to bed, and wait until morning. There's nothing you can do now."
Dick looked as if he were about to make some protest, but a glance at Jack restrained him. Instead he got up, said good-night and followed Jack upstairs. There he took his bath, except that he substituted cold water for the hot, for he could guess what Jack meant to do. They were going out again, that was certain. And, while it is easy to take cold, especially when one is tired, after a hot bath, there is no such danger if the water is cold.
"Do you know where the telephone wire runs?" he asked Jack.
"Yes, I do," said Jack. "I watched the men when they ran the wire in. There are only three telephones in the village, except for the one at Bray Park, and that's a special, private wire. We have one here, Doctor Brunt has one, and there's another in the garage. They're all on one party line, too. We won't have any trouble in finding out if the wire was cut, I fancy."
Their chief difficulty lay in getting out of the house. True, Jack had not been positively ordered not to go out again, but he knew that if his father saw him, he would be ordered to stay in. And he had not the slightest intention of missing any part of the finest adventure he had ever had a chance to enjoy - not he! He was a typical English boy, full of the love of adventure and excitement for their own sake, even if he was the son of a clergyman. And now he showed Dick what they would have to do.
"I used to slip out this way, sometimes," he said. "That was before I was a scout. I - well, since I joined, I haven't done it. It didn't seem right. But this is different. Don't you think so, Dick?"
"I certainly do," said Dick. "Your pater doesn't understand, Jack. He thinks we've just found a mare's nest, I fancy."
Jack's route of escape was not a difficult one. It led to the roof of the scullery, at the back of the house, and then, by a short and easy drop of a few feet, to the back garden. Once they were in that, they had no trouble. They could not be heard or seen from the front of the house, and it was a simple matter of climbing fences until it was safe to circle back and strike the road in front again. Jack led the way until they came to the garage, which was at the end of the village, in the direction of London.
Their course also took them nearer to Bray Park, but at the time they did not think of this.
"There's where the wire starts from the garage, d'ye see!" said Jack, pointing. "You see how easily We can follow it -- it runs along those poles, right beside the road."
"It seems to be all right here," said Dick.
"Oh, yes. They wouldn't have cut it so near the village," said Jack. "We'll have to follow it along for a bit, I fancy a mile or so, perhaps. Better not talk much, either. And, I say, hadn't we better stay in the shadow? They must have been watching us before -- better not give them another chance, if we can help it," was Jack's very wise suggestion. They had traveled nearly a mile when Dick suddenly noticed that the telephone wire sagged between two posts, "I think it has been. Cut -- and that we're near the place, too," he said then, "Look, Jack! There's probably a break not far from here,"
"Right, oh!" said Jack. "Now we must be careful. I've just thought, Dick, that they might have left someone to watch at the place where they cut the wire."
"Well, they might have thought we, or someone else, might come along to find out about it, just as we're doing. I'm beginning to think those beggars are mightily clever, and that if they think of doing anything, they're likely to think that we'll think of it. They've outwitted us at every point so far,"
So now, instead of staying under the hedge, but still in the road, they crept through a gap in the hedge, tearing their clothes as they did so, since it was a blackberry row, and went along still in sight of the poles and the wire, but protected by the hedge so that no one in the road could see them.
"There!" said Jack, at last. "See? You were right, Dick. There's the place -- and the wire was cut, too! It wasn't an accident. But I was sure of that as soon as I found the line wasn't working."
Sure enough, the wires were dangling. And there was something else. Just as they stopped they heard the voices of two men.
"There's the break, Bill," said the first voice. "Bli'me, if she ain't cut, too! Now who did that? Bringing us out of our beds at this hour to look for trouble!"
"I'd like to lay my hands on them, that's all!" said the second voice. "A good job they didn't carry the wire away -- 'twon't take us long to repair, and that's one precious good thing!"
"Linemen," said Jack. "But I wonder why they're here? They must have come a long way. I shouldn't be surprised if they'd ridden on bicycles. And I never heard of their sending to repair a wire at night before."
"Listen," said Dick. "Perhaps we will find out."
"Well, now that we've found it, we might as well repair it," said the first lineman, grumblingly. "All comes of someone trying to get a message through to Bray and making the manager believe it was a life and death matter!"
"Harry must have tried to telephone -- that's why they've come," said Jack. "I was wondering how they found out about the break. You see, as a rule, no one would try to ring up anyone in Bray after seven o'clock or so. And of course, they couldn't tell we were trying to ring, with the wire cut like that."
"Oh, Jack!" said Dick, suddenly. 'If they're linemen, I believe they have an instrument with them. Probably we could call to London from here. Do you think they will let us do that ?"
"That's a good idea. We'll try it, anyway," said Jack. "Come on. It must be safe enough now. These chaps won't hurt us."
But Jack was premature in thinking that. For no sooner did the two linemen see them than they rushed for them, much to both lads' surprise.
"You're the ones who cut that wire," said the first, a dark, young fellow. "I've a mind to give you a good hiding!"
But they both rushed into explanations, and luckily, the other lineman recognized Jack.
"It's the vicar's son from Bray, Tom," he said. "Let him alone."
And then, while their attention was distracted, a bullet sang over their heads. And "Hands oop!" said in a guttural voice.