Chapter XIV -- The Trap
The bullet that sang over their heads effectually broke up the threatened trouble between Dick Mercer and Jack Young on one side, and the telephone linemen on the other. With one accord they obeyed that guttural order, "Hands oop!"
They had been so interested in one another and in the cut wire that none of them had noticed the practically noiseless approach of a great grey motor car, with all lights out, that had stolen up on them. But now, with a groan, Dick and Jack both knew it for one of the Bray Park cars. So, after all, Dick's flight had been in vain. He had escaped the guards of Bray Park once, only to walk straight into this new trap. And, worst of all, there would be no Jack Young outside to help this time, for Jack was a captive, too. Only -- he was not!
At the thought Dick had turned, to discover that Jack was not beside him. It was very dark, but in a moment he caught the tiniest movement over the hedge, and saw a spot a little darker than the rest of the ground about it. Jack, he saw at once had taken the one faint chance there was, dropped down, and crawled away, trusting that their captures had not counted their party, and might not miss the boy.
Just in time he slipped through a hole in the hedge. The next moment one of the headlights in the grey motor flashed out, almost blinding the the rest of them, as they held up their hands. In its light from the car, four men, well armed with revolvers, were revealed.
"Donnerwetter!" said one. "I made sure there were four of them! So! Vell, it is enough. Into the car with them!"
No pretence about this chap! He was German, and didn't care who knew it. He was unlike the man who had disguised himself as an English officer, at the house of the heliograph, but had betrayed himself and set this whole train of adventure going by his single slip and fall from idiomatic English that Harry Fleming's sharp ears had caught.
Dick was thrilled, somehow, even while he was being roughly bundled toward the motor. If these fellows were as bold as this, cutting telephone wires, driving about without lights, giving up all secrecy and pretence, it must mean that the occasion for which they had come was nearly over. It must mean that their task, whatever it might be, was nearly accomplished -- the blow they had come to strike was about ready to be driven home.
"'Ere, who are you a shovin' off?" complained one of the linemen, as he was pushed toward the motor. He made some effort to resist but the next moment he pitched forward. One of the Germans had struck him on the head with the butt of his revolver. It was a stunning blow, and the man was certainly silenced. Dick recoiled angrily from the sight, but he kept quiet. He knew he could do no good by interfering. But the sheer, unnecessary brutality of it shocked and angered him. He felt that Englishmen, or Americans, would not treat a prisoner so -- especially one who had not been fighting. These men were not even soldiers, they were spies, which made the act the more outrageous. They were serving their country, however, for all that, and that softened Dick's feeling toward them a little. True, they were performing their service in a sneaky, underhanded way that went against his grain. But it was service, and he knew that England, too, probably used spies, forced to do so for self-defence. He realized the value of the spy's work, and the courage that work required. If these men were captured they would not share the fate of those surrendering in battle but would be shot, or hung, without ceremony.
A minute later he was forced into the tonneau of the car, where he lay curled up on the floor. Two of the Germans sat in the cushioned seat while the two linemen, the one who had been hit still unconscious, were pitched in beside him. The other two Germans were in front, and the car began to move at a snail's pace. The man beside the driver began speaking in German, his companion replied. But one of the two behind interrupted, sharply.
"Speak English, dummer kerl he exclaimed, angrily. "These English people have not much sense, but if a passerby should hear us speaking German, he would be suspicious. Our words he cannot hear and if they are in English he will think all is well."
"This is one of those we heard of this afternoon," said the driver. "This Boy Scout. The other is riding to London -- but he will not go, so far."
He laughed at that, and Dick, knowing he was speaking of Harry, shuddered.
"Ja, that is all arranged," said the leader, with a chuckle. "Not for long that could not be. But we need only a few hours more. By this time tomorrow morning all will be done. He comes, Von Wedel?"
"We got the word tonight -- yes," said the other man. "All is arranged for him. Ealing-Houndsditch, first. There are the soldiers. Then Buckingham Palace. Ah, what a lesson we shall teach these English! Then the buildings at Whitehall. We shall strike at the heart of their empire the heart and the brains!"
Dick listened, appalled. Did they think, then, that he, a boy, could not understand? Or were they so sure of success that it did not matter? As a matter of fact, he did not fully understand. Who was Von Wedel? What was he going to do when he came? And how was he coming?
However, it was not the time for speculation. There was the chance that any moment they might say something he would understand, and, moreover, if he got away, it was possible that he might repeat what he heard to those who would be able to make more use of it.
Just then the leader's foot touched Dick, and he drew away. The German looked down at him, and laughed. "Frightened!" he said. "We won't hurt you! What a country that sends its children out against us!"
His manner was kindly enough, and Dick felt himself warming a little to the big man in spite of himself.
"Listen, boy," said the leader. "You have seen things that were not for your eyes. So you are to be put where knowledge of them will do no harm -- for a few hours. Then you can go. But until we have finished our work, you must be kept. You shall not be hurt -- I say it."
Dick did not answer. He was thinking hard. He wondered if Jack would try to rescue him. They were getting very near Bray Park, he felt, and he thought that, once inside, neither Jack nor anyone else could get him out until these men who had captured him were willing. Then the car stopped suddenly. Dick saw that they were outside a little house.
"Get out," said the leader.
Dick and the telephone man who had not been hurt obeyed, the other lineman was lifted out, more considerately this time.
"Inside!" said the German with the thick, guttural voice. He pointed to the open door, and they went inside. One of the Germans followed them and stood in the open door.
"Werner, you are responsible for the prisoners. especially the boy," said the leader. "See that none of them escape. You will be relieved at the proper time. You understand?"
"Ja, Herr Ritter!" said the man. "Zu befehl!"
He saluted, and for the first time Dick had the feeling that this strange procedure was, in some sense, military, even though there were no uniforms. Then the door shut, and they were left in the house.
It was just outside of Bray Park -- he remembered it now. A tiny box of a place it was, too, but solidly built of stone. It might have been used as a tool house. There was one window; that and the door were the only means of egress. The German looked hard at the window and laughed. Dick saw then that it was barred. To get out that way, even if he had the chance, would be impossible. And the guard evidently decided that. He lay down across the door.
"So!" he said. "I shall sleep -- but with one ear open! You cannot get out except across me. And I am a light sleeper!"
Dick sat there, pondering wretchedly. The man who had been struck on the head was breathing stertorously. His companion soon dropped off to sleep, like the German, so that Dick was the only one awake. Through the window, presently, came the herald of the dawn, the slowly advancing light. And suddenly Dick saw a shadow against the light, looked up intently, and saw that is was Jack Young. Jack pointed. Dick, not quite understanding, moved to the point at which he pointed.
"Stay there!" said Jack, soundlessly. His lips formed the words but he did not utter them. He nodded up and down vehemently, however, and Dick understood him, and that he was to stay where he was. He nodded in return, and settled down in his new position. And then Jack dropped out of sight.
For a long time, while the dawn waxed and the light through the window grew stronger, Dick sat there wondering. Only the breathing of the three men disturbed the quiet of the little hut. But then, from behind him, he grew conscious of a faint noise. Not quite a noise, either, it was more a vibration. He felt the earthen floor of the hut trembling beneath him. And then at last he understood.
He had nearly an hour to wait. But at last the earth cracked and yawned where he had been sitting. He heard a faint whisper.
"Dig it out a little - there's a big hole underneath. You can squirm your way through. I'm going to back out now."
Dick obeyed, and a moment later he was working his way down, head first, through the tunnel Jack had dug from the outside. He was small and slight and he got through, somehow, though he was short of breath and dirtier than he had ever been in his life when at last he was able to straighten up - free.
"Come on!" cried Jack. "We've got no time to lose. I've got a couple of bicycles here. We'd better run for it."
Run for it they did, but there was no alarm. Behind them was the hut, quiet and peaceful. And beyond the hut was the menace of Bray Park and the mysteries of which the Germans had spoken in the great grey motor car.